True Refuge—God or Dhamma?

revised on 2021-07-28

Dhamma Talks by Mogok Sayadaw; 14th January 1961

[The Buddha and ariya disciples were great differences from all worldlings—puthujjana which meant man with full of defilements (kilesa). So, worldlings include all ordinary humans from religious leaders, philosophers, politicians, economists, scientists, wealthy people, etc. the lists will never end. After his enlightenment the Buddha was looking for a teacher who he could depend on because without a teacher was not good. But he could not find anyone who could surpass him in sīla, samādhi and paññā. So, he took the Dhamma as his teacher. This was not worldly dhamma, truly Noble Dhamma. Even worldly dhammas there are two types—unwholesome and wholesome.

Unwholesome dhammas lead to suffering, problems, disharmony, chaos and destruction etc. (many kinds—we can see this in the world situation today.) Wholesome dhammas are the opposite but by itself cannot transcend dukkha, birth, old age, sickness and death. It cannot immunize from unwholesomeness. So, beings still can have the chances to fall into woeful existences (apāyas). Even at near his death the Buddha not appointed his successor. He appointed the Dhamma as his successor and teacher of all his followers—including all kinds of living beings because all beings are part of nature—the dhamma means natural phenomena and natural laws and principles.

This was the wisest thing to do. Throughout human history we will only find people choosing or appointing their religious and political figures; to act as their teachers or leaders. Later these teachers and leaders had problems within the communities and became corrupted. Even we could find these kinds of leadership in later Buddhist communities, because man was easily corrupted as worldling. But natural laws and principles are never changed and universal, if have to change man has to change his mind and not Dhamma. If change the Dhamma will become Adhamma—non-Dhamma of the Buddha. By not changing the Dhamma, it will last longer; people do not confuse with the teaching and practice, and will have the good results.

Wholesome dhammas are the foundation for human survival and progress. We can see this in some suttas on the universal Monarch—cakkavattirāja, because they ruled the world according to the Dhamma, they depended on the Dhamma, took the Dhamma as their refuge, then were revering, cherishing, doing homage to the Dhamma. The Monarch, his governments and all the citizens followed and behaved accordingly to the Dhamma—such as Directing oneself rightly (Atta-sammā-paṇidhi-ca), well mastered discipline (Vinayo ca susikkhito), etc. that it could be called Golden Era—peaceful, harmonious, happiness, progress and well-being. (see all these wholesome dhammas in the Maṅgala Sutta, Suttanipāta). If we observe today world there are more bad leaders and governments around the world than before, a lot of chaos going on.

Why is that? Because these people are taking refuge in the unwholesome dhammas which represent a blind man. A blind man has eyes, but he cannot see the shinning and brilliant Sun which represents the Dhamma, which can see and penetrate the blind man internally and externally very clear. Therefore, the Buddha called worldling as blind worldling—andha-puthujjana. Dhamma represents Buddha and the Ariya Saṅgha because if no Dhamma and there will be no Buddha and A. Saṅgha, vice versa. The tiratana—Buddha, Dhamma and A. Saṅgha are inseparable. They are true refuge and with Dhamma can solve all the ills of the human problem.]

When someone falls off a ship or a boat and drowns, whom is he going to rely on then? That's when you have to rely on yourself. Here you are all drifting with the current of taṇhā water. Taṇhā is asking you to work for the matters of family members (wife and children) and business. You’ll arrive to the four apāya (woeful existences) if you sink in the taṇhā river. Let you busy with all these matters (worldly affairs) and you’ll sink in the kilesa water. If you look at this and that houses all are drifting in the water of kilesas, and no one has anything to rely on yet. But there is a path factor raft (the raft of maggaṅga—Noble Eightfold path) for a reliance. It’ll not become the five path factors (karaka-maggan) if you do not practice and contemplate—as for the eight path factors, it’s still very far away. For a drifting person in the river he’ll end up in sinking in it. He’ll never rise up again if sinking in it.

(This is not an exaggeration the Buddha himself gave an analogy to Mahānāma as like a pebble falling into the water bottom could not rise up again—this referred to a worldling. A sotāpanna is like butter that never sinks to the bottom of the water which refers to the woeful and terrible existence—apāya.

You have to rely on yourself means not the physical body—it refers to the maggan—path factors. You cross the water (taṇhā) with your own maggan raft, and you will get your own Nibbāna. Just because you don't get it through dāna and sīla, it doesn't mean you don't have to rely on them. But it needs your own maggan raft. (Dāna and sīla are far causes). Why do I have to encourage you strongly? Because you all are still empty-handed with it. All the human businesses are drifting in the kilesa water. You are in foolishness with losses.

(These words seemed insignificant but has profound meaning behind it. Any living beings born as a human being is a very rare chance. The Buddha himself grave a simile of a blind turtle and a yoke with a single hole on it. A blind turtle in the sea every hundred years it emerged to the surface only once. The yoke also was floating on the water. The turtle’s head went into this single hole was very difficult indeed. In the same way, if a being falls into hell, it is harder for it to come back up again to the human world than a turtle's head meets the hole of a yoke in the ocean. Most human beings only indulgence in sensual pleasures, so they also in heedlessness to do good and merits. They are just wasting their times and good chances by doing foolish things with one’s life.)

You were sent by Dhamma to human world. There are three kinds of Dhamma—unwholesome, wholesome and Nibbāna. Unwholesome dhammas send beings to bad destinations (dugati), wholesome dhammas to good destinations (sugati) and the path factors to Nibbāna—the ending of Dukkha. So, you have to go wherever by the Dhamma. Dhamma is natural fixed course and always in this way after the winter and summer will come (God is not and not–existence like the atta concept). Dhamma will function with its natural fixed course. You can’t make wishes for it. This is utu niyāma—the natural fixed course of temperature (weather). Kamma niyāma—the natural fixed course of action is beings will be born in any places or arrive to any places send by kammas. It’s nothing to do with your own power and ability. Therefore, you have to rely on the Dhamma. After death, you have to go with the arrangement of Dhamma.

It is the cause of the Dhamma (not by God or the Creator) that makes the difference between people. These are Dhamma niyāma—the natural fixed course of natural phenomena. The Buddha said that you had to rely on yourself—atta hi attano nātho (Dhp. 160). It does not mean this physical body, but it refers to the Dhamma. You all are using it wrongly as—we have to rely on ourselves. This body is non-self and who can own it?

I’ll give you the story of the verse—gatha mentioned by the Buddha to the monks.

[ Sayadaw told the story of Kumāra Kassapa’s mother who had strong attachment to her son Ven. Kumāra Kassapa, who was an arahant. When she had got no respond from him, and she came to her senses and saw the fault of any attachment. She was already a bhikkhunī herself for some years already. After putting down her attachment and with the practice became arahant. The Buddha spoke the following gatha:

One indeed is one’s own refuge; no one be a refuge to us. With oneself thoroughly tamed can attain the refuge— Nibbāna, Which is difficult to achieve. (from Dhammapada—Atta Vagga—Self Verse 160)

Human beings will never solve their problems and sufferings if they are always looking for outside power to help them. Their minds are the Creators and their Saviours are also their inner qualities of the mind—the wholesome and transcendental Dhammas. ]

When you are alive, contemplate the impermanence of phenomena. At dying, also contemplate the impermanence of phenomena and die with it. And then all the impermanent phenomena (khandha or dukkha) cease here and the path factors (maggaṅga) lead to Nibbāna.

revised on 2021-07-28

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