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Excerpted from Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers by Thich Nhat Hanh. Copyright 1999 by Thich Nhat Hanh. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"Mindful breathing brings you home."

  Thich Nhat Hanh, Going Home, Part 4

Finding Refuge in the Island of Self

In the Buddhist tradition, we practice taking refuge instead of receiving baptism. With a teacher and Sangha, or spiritual community, surrounding you, you join your palms, and say, "I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha." That also is the practice of going home. Your home is the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and they are all available in the present moment. You don't have to go to India to practice the Three Refuges. You can be right here to practice taking refuge. Your practice will determine if the feeling of being at home in yourself is deep or not.

When the Buddha was eighty years old and was about to die, he told his disciples they should take refuge in the island of self (attadipa). Because if they go back to themselves and look deeply, they will touch the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha in themselves. This still remains a very important practice for all of us. Every time you feel lost, alienated, cut off from life, or from the world, every time you feel despair, anger, or instability, you have to know how to practice going home. Mindful breathing is the vehicle that you use to go back to your true home where you meet the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Mindful breathing brings you home--it generates the energy of mindfulness in you. Mindfulness is the substance of a Buddha.

The Sangha, the community, is a wonderful home. Every time you go back to the Sangha, you feel that you can breathe easier, you can walk more mindfully, and you can more fully enjoy the blue sky, the white clouds, and the cypress tree in your yard. Why? Because the Sangha members practice going home all day, through walking, breathing, cooking, and doing their daily activities mindfully.

It's strange. You have been to Plum Village and received instructions on how to breathe, walk, smile, and take refuge; you took these back to your home and practiced. Yet whenever you return to Plum Village, you find that with the Sangha you can practice better than when you were home alone. There are things that you don't do easily when you are alone. But surrounded by members of the Sangha, suddenly these things become easy. You don't need to make much effort to do them, and you enjoy doing them a lot. If you had an experience like this, try to build a Sangha where you live.

A Sangha is our refuge. Taking refuge in the Sangha is not a matter of faith, or belief; it is a matter of practice. Talk to your child, your companion, and your friends about the necessity of having a Sangha. If you have a Sangha, you are safe. You can nourish your home and protect yourself. You can enlarge your home all the time to include the clouds, the trees, and the walking meditation path. As you have learned, everything belongs to our home, everything belongs to our Sangha.

You may think that if a person does not believe in the practice, he or she cannot be part of your Sangha. But if he or she is surrounded by three, four, or five people who practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful sitting, and smiling, one day that person may realize that she is more than herself. Even if you don't talk to him or her about your practice, she will realize that there is something in you that keeps you fresh, calm, and happy. You have the Sangha, the Dharma, and the Buddha in you. After that you'll be able to invite him or her into your Sangha. Taking refuge in the Sangha is very important. Not a day goes by when I do not practice taking refuge several times.

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