My three jewels

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Scott just completed module 7 of SAFE (Sravasti Abbey’s Friends Education), an online course. This is his final paper for the course.

If a friend came to me and said, “I have a gift for you!” I would be very pleased. When the gift turned out to be three precious jewels, clear and flawless, colorful and beautifully faceted, I would be very happy indeed! If they further said, “Together they can fulfill any virtuous wish!” in that case I would be completely elated! (If not a little incredulous!)

Three diamonds on a maroon colored cloth.
If a friend gave you three wish-fulfilling jewels, what would you do with them? (Photo by Alexander Antropov from Pixabay)

What would I do? First I would test them. Let’s just make a virtuous wish and see if it comes true. But what should I wish for? A virtuous wish would have to be free from harming, and free from self indulgent attachment. A virtuous wish couldn’t benefit one person at the expense of another. A virtuous wish couldn’t cause division. It would be like, if you wanted to wish for something, you’d have to wish for it for everybody.

Hmm… maybe I could wish for everybody to have a million dollars? Then I’d get a million too! But would that be fair for everybody? To Jeff Bezos that would just be like any other Tuesday morning. To somebody living in the streets, they might think it was a hallucination, or immediately go into panic mode, about how they would conceal it before somebody tried to kill them for it. That’s not gonna work.

Maybe I could wish for world peace! That’s a good old standby! Everyone would like to live in a peaceful world right? Okay maybe not everyone, People who work in the military industrial complex would lose their jobs, but maybe they could be retrained? People who are living in a state of oppression, might just have to bite the bullet on this deal, at least until a peaceful solution could be found. People holding onto power through violence, or the threat of violence probably wouldn’t appreciate it too much if I wished for world peace, but screw those guys!

Ah shoot… but if I say, “screw those guys” my wish wouldn’t be benefiting everybody. That would mean I have to extend my compassion to everybody!?!? Even the jerks?!

See!! This is how they get you! These Buddhas, running around giving away magic wishing stones.

So what can we wish for? I guess we could wish for everyone to stop being jerks! I mean.. I guess that would include me too at times, but I’m willing to take one for the team on this deal.

“Okay Buddha, that’s my wish: For everybody to stop being jerks!”

Then the Buddha says, “Ok, your wish is granted, but you have to stop being one first.”

This is where the Buddhist’s path begins.

So you take your three jewels, and you ask the Buddha: “Got any advice on how I stop being a jerk?”: He says, “Abandon killing, abandon stealing, abandon unwise or unkind sexual behavior, abandon all lies, concealments, and exaggerations, and quit poisoning your aggregates with intoxicants, they are already poisoned enough.”

Then they turn you loose on the path to enlightenment.

If I had to give my refuge ceremony an Amazon rating, I would give it five stars, even though it happened on Zoom, in my dirty office / garage. I was wearing my new white shirt that I’d bought just for the occasion, and black pants. And there I was, kneeling in front of my webcam, on the rocky carpet covered concrete floor, my dog just off camera thinking this must mean it was time for pets.

People from all over the world kneeling in front of their webcams, in their living spaces, looking just as hopeful as I was. We had all undergone a global pandemic, and a wave of especially crazy world leaders. Everyone was probably feeling just as fed up with samsara as I was at that point.

I can remember feeling like I would have liked to have gone to the Abbey and taken my refuge in person, but that somehow if I didn’t take it now, I might not ever get the chance again. Who knew when or if the pandemic would ever subside so they could open the Abbey to the public again? Who knew if I’d survive the pandemic, or not?

Then Venerable Chodron came on the screen, and gave us all our magic wish-fulfilling jewels. She explained what they were, and what they meant, and how to use them. She tells us to keep them on us at all times, and to honor them. To remember them three times in the morning, and three times before bed. She tells us to remember to feed them. Offer our food to them first, then we can have some. She tells us every new moon or full moon we should repeat this ceremony to keep our refuge fresh in our minds. Then she tells us to repeat after her.

When it was all over my shins and knees were a little sore, yet I felt like I was floating in this little bubble of joy. I felt like I really could stop being a jerk with practice, and at this point, I was happy to have the opportunity to even try. I took my three jewels and my new name, and thanked Venerable Chodron, and went on my way. I was a Buddhist now, and I had something to show for it.

That’s been about a year ago now and, unfortunately for everybody, the process of me learning not to be a jerk continues. Every day I make the wish: “I take refuge until I am awakened in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. By the merit I create by practicing generosity and the other far-reaching attitudes, may I attain Buddhahood, in order to benefit all sentient beings.”

Every day I carry those gems with me. Every day, it’s a new opportunity to learn from the Buddhas, the Dharma, and the Sangha about how this self-grasping, self-cherishing mind, so full of ignorance and affliction… really isn’t the only choice for an identity.

It’s a tough lesson to understand, and an even tougher one to practice, but I’ll get it eventually. All three of the gems say it takes a while sometimes. I hope everybody packed a lunch.

As luck would have it, I got the chance to take some more precepts from Venerable Chodron just yesterday morning. Again on Zoom, this time in my living room, wearing the same white shirt I wore last year, not worn since, and still stainless. (That’s my precept taking shirt now)

I received the eight Mahayana one-day precepts, and again I would give it a five-star rating! After taking the precepts, and a lovely guided meditation by Venerable Chonyi, the Zoom session ended, and I was there in my living room going … “OK … 24 hours. What can I do that’s virtuous??” Then I kind of watched as my self-grasping, self-cherishing mind recoiled in horror, grasping at any of the normal material comforts of a Saturday morning and being told firmly, “No. We’re not doing that today.”

I kind of expected an all-day all-out war with my spoiled little mind, but as it turned out it wasn’t that bad. I fed my dog, did an offering practice, and then meditated on the Green Tara sadhana, with tonglen as the lamrim meditation, my favorite meditation session, and it felt great. When I got done, I was really cold, so I took a nice hot shower, and then it was time to make lunch. I made curried rice with beans, and had a crumpet with butter on the side. A nice blueberry fritter or two for dessert, and watched some dharma on Youtube. I took a nap, got up and did some kitchen “deep cleaning.” Then I lit some candles and did a nice long Vajrasattva sadhana with a mala for each of the four precepts I hold, and after that it was time for bed.

It turned out to be a really beautiful day! I’d left my blue book open to the page with the “Dharani of Pure Ethical Conduct,” just in case I had to run back to the book and recite it, but I didn’t have to do that even once! Instead of being a 24-hour all-out war it turned out to be a nice break, complete with naps, and a nice vegetarian lunch.

I should give my craving mind a “time-out” more often. It seems like the little brat is behaving a little better today!

I’m very grateful that I had this opportunity to take this 12-week deep dive course, about what these gems are, and how we relate to them, how to use them properly, how to honor them properly. How in taking refuge in them, we are also taking refuge in ourselves. The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha that we become are just as much a part of that wish as universal enlightenment and universal peace are.

Thanks so much to the Abbey, for offering these SAFE Courses, to Venerable Chodron and the Buddhas, for the teachings, for Venerable Jigme for moderating, and the whole lineage for preserving the precious Dharma!

With Metta,

Thubten Ngodrup (Scott Proctor)

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