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Don’t Speak Ill of The Three Treasures

October 23, 2013 Leave a comment

The 3 Treasures, also called the 3 Jewels, are the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. As Buddhists we vow to take refuge in them as our spiritual foundation, this means that we turn to them for support and guidance in our spiritual path.

Literally the Buddha refers to the founder of Buddhism; Sidartha Gautama, the Dharma refers to his particular teachings as recorded in the sutras, and the Sangha were the priests who followed him and practiced together.

Figuratively speaking, we commonly translate the ‘Buddha’ treasure to refer to the awakened nature of all beings. The ‘Dharma’ treasure means any or all teachings that we get from those who are awakened, and the ‘Sangha’ treasure is the community of people who practice together, both priest and lay.
We also interpret these treasures as aspects of ourselves. We embody all 3 treasures at once since we already possess the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha in our true selves.

By sitting in zazen we take refuge in the Buddha treasure, by listening to Dharma talks or reading books we take refuge in the Dharma treasure. In sharing our practice with our Dharma brothers and sisters we take refuge in the Sangha treasure. When we do any or all of these we heal our separation and suffering. No matter what we are struggling with or questioning, we can always take refuge in one or more of these treasures to gain insight, reassurance or support that can help us in our path.

So if we talk about the errors and faults of these treasures it’s important for us to appreciate how serious and profound a statement this is, and how important it is to be thoughtful and present. They mean so much to so many people, that we want to be careful and respectful.
This can mean talking about a particular teachers issues or actions, being critical of a different Buddhist denomination or sect, or gossip about the issues within our own community. And since we see ourselves as these treasures, we break this precept if we disparage ourselves in any way, or harm ourselves, which is the worst case scenario.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s important to point out what’s wrong or inappropriate with a teacher or community. This is why this precept should never be used to discourage people from speaking up about wrongdoing or abuse, which unfortunately, has happened before.

In this case it would go against the precept to be silent. We honor the treasures are when we speak up about what doesn’t look or feel right to us and we are all responsible for taking care in this way, even if it means saying painful things that none else wants to hear.

So an essential part of our practice is developing our ability to discern when we are talking about our teachers or community for selfish reasons while also being courageous enough to speak up when something is really wrong.

In our Sangha we emphasize compassionate communication, using I statements and taking responsibility when sharing our pain. We use horizontal structures such as ‘council’ and non-violent communication to empower everyone to share difficult things with support and openness without blaming others or gossiping.

It takes a lot of intention and determination to cultivate a culture of communication that is open hearted and willing to address problems and mixed feelings. But it’s essential for a healthy Sangha to have the means to express grievances and issues. More often, than not, we are blessed with wonderful Dharma brothers and sisters and teachers who are here to support us through the worst and best of our times.

So if we must speak ill of these treasures we can check our motives and our practice to make sure we are acting with as much integrity as we can.
It is a never ending practice to use right speech, and so we can count on breaking this precept regularly as we continue to grow. Sometimes just trying to be aware of ourselves while we are complaining or gossiping about these treasures is as good as it gets. But if we can cultivate this awareness then we have the chance to start taking responsibility for our feelings and judgments.

Taking care of our ourselves, our teachers and our community is the greatest gift we can offer the Dharma. Taking responsibility for how we talk about the Dharma is our chance to care for the teachings that have helped us in so many ways, ways we may not even realize.

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