The Dharma Wrapper
The first step along our journey begins with asking for help. Learning to ask for and receive that help is one of the greatest supports on this long road. This is another exercise I’ve stolen from the Buddhists (there will be more), but it has been well received by the Pagans I’ve worked with. It is similar to a grounding in that it calms and clears us before getting to work. However, here we do not simply ground to the planet, rather we ground to what to the planet grounds to, the Ground of Being.
The Buddhists call this kind of practice “Taking Refuge”. Originally I had a problem with this idea. It seemed to be asking me to leave the field of struggle and go hide somewhere. This seemed wrong to me, even if the hiding place was the lap of the Buddha. But a Lama once explained it to me: “Everyone needs help. Refuge is asking for help.” So, at the beginning of every practice, we take a moment to ask for help.
We ask for help from three kinds of sources. The most obvious source is the host of enlightened beings like the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. This includes beings of all classes, Gods, humans, animals and demons that have attained to enlightenment. Part of this group is also every other being that has vowed to work for the benefit of beings. Some Gods and other spirits have taken this vow and although they have not attained to the supreme enlightenment stand ready to help when asked. My understanding is that none of these beings will ever force help upon us, although they may wish us well. Instead we must ask for it.
The ultimate source of refuge is the Ground of Being. This “Ground” is a word-symbol or metaphor that refers to that source out of which all things and all beings arise in the same way as plants arise from the soil. This source is profound, in that there is nothing deeper, powerful, in that everything arises from it, and provident, in that it provides for and supports all things. The Ground of Being is inherently enlightened otherwise enlightenment would not be possible or even a concept. From this ultimate source, the very Ground of Being, we may draw all the resources and help we need.
The last source of refuge is nearest to home. Even though it is covered up by the muck of our karmas, within us is our already enlightened nature, which through practice we can expose and learn to live in. Regardless of how obscured it is it is always present in us and everyone around us. When we ask for help from this we are asking for help from our own innate enlightenment and that of those we work with and in doing so invite that part of us all to become more manifest. In life it comes flickering through because it is irrepressible. Our challenge is to cultivate it and make it present more and more over time. This practice draws on this awareness and begins the process of cultivation. The method itself is simple:
Practice 1: Refuge, the 3 Ah’s
- Asking for Help
- With your eyes open visualize a while capital letter “A” at your heart.
- Take a deep breath and sound a long “ah” (not “a”).
- Let the vibration center on the letter at your heart and let it radiate white light out in all directions. Let the light carry your sincere desire to be helped along the Path.
- While sounding and visualizing, imagine the Host of Enlightened Beings and all beings that have vowed to help, your favorite Gods and Spirits, in the space all around you.
- Imagine that they hear your “ah” and turn to face you, as does the enlightened part of you and everyone present, as does the attention of the Ground of Being.
- Receiving Help
- Close your eyes and take another deep breath.
- Sound “ah” and imagine all of those beings light up a white letter “A” at their hearts and as they join you in sounding “ah”, they radiate white light at you (and anyone you are working with). This light fills up your body with “all good things” and pushes out “all bad things”. Traditionally this is visualized as white nectar poured into your body through the crown of your head filling it like a vase, pushing out a black tarry substance that is all of the “bad stuff.”
- Sharing Help
- Having been purified and empowered by the blessing of these beings take a deep breath and open your eyes.
- Sound “ah” and visualize the “A” at your heart again. This time the Host of Beings sound “ah” with you, and you all radiate white light in all directions helping all beings that will accept it and wishing all beings well. You can imagine a wave of white light pouring over everyone you can imagine suffering and being liberated from their hurt and troubles. The nightly news is a good source of images for this.
Take a week to learn this practice. Do it when you first awake or over coffee or what ever is your morning ritual and before you start your day. Do it again in the middle of your day or when you first come home from work or school. Do it a third time before going to bed. Do it as slowly as you can. Later, when you combing this with other practices the investment of time will pay off. You will have this imbedded deeply enough into your psyche to make a more rapid pass through it effective.
The next practice is to be combined with the first as soon as you are comfortable with the 3 Ahs Refuge. It will conclude every practice we do and at first will seem counter intuitive. Yet experience has shown it to be essential if we do not want to be deflected from our goal. It is called “Dedicating the Merit”.
One of the negative side effects of magickal practice is an inflated ego. Conjuring the powers of the world, conversing with Gods and Angels, transforming ourselves in to vast and cosmic beings takes it toll on that part of our psyche that has to moderate the vagaries of our lives in the world. It tends to identify itself with the forces we work with and gets attached to the exalted states we achieve. It starts to think it really is those things and should be treated as such by those around it. To some extent this is true, but the problem is that we get bitchy or giddy or depressed after our practices and this destroys their benefit and generates conflicts with those around us. The Buddhists, having the opportunity to study the effects of their practices for hundreds of years and through many psyches, hit upon an elegant technique for preventing this: giving it all away.
I know it sounds strange to give away the benefit of your hard work but stay with me on this. When we give it away we dedicate the benefit of our actions to all beings. In the set of all beings is included ourselves. So, in this sense, we are giving away the benefit to ourselves, but not in a generic way. We explicitly dedicate the benefit to help all beings on the path to their release from hurt and their attainment to enlightenment. We are adding to the general thrust of evolution that effects all beings and in so doing align ourselves with that thrust and stand to benefit all the more from it.
The alternative is to try to hang on to the benefit or energy of the work we have done. The problem is that once our attention wavers the energy will collapse into our old patterns and habits that we are trying to change with the practice just completed. If this happens the habit or bad karma will only be ground into us more intensely. It is like trying to hang on to a drop of water by putting it on a plate. Given time, it will evaporate. However, if we put that drop into the ocean of the evolutionary thrust it will be saved and add to that great and beneficent power. The Method we will use for this is a simple pair of verses:
Practice 2: Dedication of Merit
May the benefit of this act and all acts
Be dedicated unto the Complete Liberation and Supreme Enlightenment
Of all Beings everywhere pervading Space and Time, So Mote It Be.
May the benefits of practice, mine (ours) and others
Come to fruition, Ultimately and Immediately
And we remain in the State of Presence! Ah!
The first verse is the general dedication of the merit of our actions. “Complete Liberation” is the code-word for the end of suffering. “Supreme Enlightenment” is the name for that state wherein all of our potentials have been realized. The last line states the focus of our dedication: all beings. In the Buddhist tradition they are referred to as all “sentient beings” those that possess “minds”. This is the largest and most all embracing concept of “mind”. It is everything that “feels” or reacts to its environment, so perhaps they might use the word “alive”. This raises the question as to what is “alive”? Since I have had some very interesting conversations with rocks, machinery, and forces of Nature, I just drop the qualifiers and say “Beings”. In order to point to all of them, the verse invokes the two interpenetrating realms in which all beings dwell, Space and Time, thus covering all places in the past, present and future. It may read like legalese but it is thorough.
The second part is a verse of well-wishing for all practitioners, including one’s self. Here we specifically add our energy in support of all who are on the Path. With the last line we enter into the State of Presence, that state where we are in deep communion and contemplation with the world we are in as we sound “Ah” one last time. While it may take a while to achieve this realization the steady use of it at the end of all practices is very effective. This final “Ah” is in essence the same as the last “Ah” in the Refuge practice and the same wave of benefit can be visualized here.