The Buddha’s refuge in the Dharma
even after enlightenment, is itself a Dharma lesson,
to always take refuge in the Dharma.
A friend shared a phone group message about her long-time Buddhist relative, who recently ‘decided’ to convert to another religion, as urged by the daughter, and wanted to give her Buddha images away. It was an appeal for ‘adoption’ of the images. Yet, perhaps, one who does not just throw away the images still has some respect for Buddhism? Technically, a true Buddhist can never be converted away; while one who is converted away was not a true (enough) Buddhist in the first place, but still a ‘work in progress’ towards enlightenment, who unfortunately backslided on (or digressed from) the path to Buddhahood.
That said, it is often mistaken by those ignorant and quick to condemn, that Buddha images are for ‘idol-worshipping’. Well, just as a family photo as one’s phone wallpaper serves to remind of loved ones and common hopes, a Buddha image reminds us of our refuge in the Triple Gem and the ideal of Buddhahood.
On the shrine in homes and temples, Buddha images are also inspirational focal points for expressing reverence, humility, repentance, resolution… before which we practise prostration, circumambulation, chanting and meditation. (Interestingly, even churches use big crucifixes as focal points of prayer; not for literal worship.) However, the mother could had indeed been practising shrine rituals blindly, without proper understanding of their significance or the need to do more? Maybe she could not answer her daughter satisfactorily when asked about their rationale, and was ‘counter-convinced’ that they were ‘pointless’?
Why exactly, did the conversion occur? Was it due to wanting harmony at home, to prevent unhappiness due to rising religious tensions? Perhaps, but only in part. It should be mainly due to faith in the Buddha’s teachings being weak. This is why lifelong learning to deepen Dharma practice for experiencing its faith-verifying benefits is crucial. Confidence in the Dharma is in lack only when its understanding and realisation is in lack.
Just as the Buddha-to-be sat unshaken by the devious Mara’s (the evil one) distractions and illusions on the brink of Buddhahood, having firm confidence that he can realise full enlightenment, true faith will never waver even if threatened by Mara personally – what more a ‘mere’ human with probably good intentions. Unless it was part of an act, while faith in the Dharma secretly remains strong, the conversion case would be total and real. Perhaps, as in a number of cases, it was with some peer-pressure and ambivalence? The uncertainty could be signalled by not simply destroying the ‘idols’ (as in some drastic cases), preferring to pass them on to other Buddhists instead.
Truth be said, the best preventive measure against unwelcomed conversion would be to always learn the Dharma well, and to exemplify its worth via everyday practice everywhere – to become kinder and wiser Buddhists. Having the support of like-minded spiritual friends to encourage this is important too. If she had true faith based on Right Understanding, she would had been able to discuss the Dharma with her daughter in depth much earlier, and demonstrate why she is a Buddhist all along, even preventing the latter’s misconceptions about Buddhism being an inadequate spiritual path to True Happiness from arising. With potential of turning the tables, the daughter might even become interested in Buddhism? Sadly, conversions along the mother’s line are largely due to confusion on part of the converted, with them not being steadily rooted in refuge.
While many Buddhists (such as the mother once upon a time?) might imagine they will never be converted, we have to constantly check ourselves, on whether we really do understand the breadth and depth of the Buddha’s profound teachings. Otherwise, our ‘semi-refuge’ could be easily uprooted under challenging conditions. And the only way to keep checking is to continually learn the Dharma – systematically via detailed courses through qualified teachers, to cast ever more light of the truth on the otherwise hidden dark corners of doubt festering at the back of our minds. If we stop learning, and are suddenly spiritually challenged one day, we might be ill-equipped and promptly lose our bearings, with all the years of learning and practising the Dharma half-heartedly gone to waste. Until Buddhahood is attained, we must keep learning and practising diligently!
True refuge in the Dharma
only arises from our
true understanding of the Dharma.
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