Where Can I Be Safe?

seeking shelter

“Where O where can I be safe?

Only in giving up all wanting and trying!”


In Buddhism, “Taking Refuge” is a formal, ritualized gesture, indicating an aspirant’s commitment to and reliance on the “Triple Jewel”, which includes the Buddha, His Teachings (Dharma), and the Community of fellow practitioners (Sangha). Buddhists take refuge in order to gain relief from all afflicted states (or mental and emotional disturbances), as well as freedom from re-birth in this troubled realm (Samsara). Traditionally, it is an initiatory ceremony undertaken to confirm one’s status as an official “Buddhist” (in a somewhat similar vein as the Catholic ceremony of Confirmation, or the Jewish rite of passage called Bar or Bat Mitzvah).

Regardless of one’s religious intent, however, how often does “taking refuge” turn out to be just another strategic effort by the ego-mind to superimpose yet another layer of identification onto the architecture of the self-image (even if its ultimate purpose is the attainment of liberation)? In such a case, the new refugee may be nominally confirming their allegiance to a Buddhist affiliation, but perhaps that’s just one more label, and one more bit of baggage, that will need to be seen through and discarded eventually, if they are to truly realize who and what they are, prior to any name or limiting categorization.

In fact, everyone — Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike — is always seeking refuge as a matter of reaction to life. It’s a primary game of human consciousness, with numberless sub-forums devoted to this or that variation on the motive to have things be otherwise than they currently are perceived to be. We might prefer that life be happier, healthier, or holier. Perhaps we wish for more certainty and security, more order and control. Certainly, most of would like life to be less stressful, painful, or boring. We might hope to be more aligned to some consensus program promising redemption, salvation, enlightenment, or maybe just guaranteed a good seat in our fantasy of heaven when this life is done.

Some of the more enthusiastic players may even pride themselves on having found the one and only superior vehicle, and so dedicate themselves to this or that ride of conditional preference as the confluences of compounded hoohaw play themselves out, but how about this: no refuge, no path, no person walking any path. No progress and no deviation. Nothing bound, so nothing to flee. Already free, already free. Before any pursuit of refuge, already free!

On the other hand, maybe that’s all a bit too radical, leaving us with nothing to hold onto or cherish as a means to find shelter — no merciful raft to carry us across the river that we believe separates us from the other shore. Of course, the notion of some “other place” we supposedly need to get to can be investigated too. For example, is it true: do we actually need to go somewhere else, especially when we don’t even know where we are in the first place?

If we earnestly inspect our motives, our chronic and habitual dissatisfactions and complaints that prompt our seeking for refuge, we can notice a relentless mechanism in operation. Specifically, we can observe how we are perpetually setting ourselves up, dividing ourselves in two — first creating our own unhappiness via the play of comparative mind, and then seeking for some refuge from our own disturbance. It’s a vicious cycle that we are constantly reinforcing from moment to moment, extending even into our dreams at night, and certainly into all of our relationships.

Even for those who imagine that taking refuge in systems like Buddhism will yield some secure and peaceful retreat from the challenges of this world inevitably discover a “catch”. As the Tibetan teacher Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche notes: “It is such a mistake to assume that practicing dharma will help us calm down and lead an untroubled life; nothing could be further from the truth. Dharma is not a therapy. Quite the opposite, in fact, dharma is tailored specifically to turn your life upside down – it’s what you sign up for. So when you life goes pear-shaped, why do you complain?

Maybe a wiser approach would be to stop chasing an escape hatch and instead take the time to investigate what we are always doing to ourselves — what are we always up to? Stepping back a bit, we can notice how we typically make ourselves crazy buying into the conflicted propaganda of this world. For example, many of us first invest in borrowed (religious) beliefs about what miserable sinners we are, and then feel compelled to seek redemption from our own guilty self-images — some refuge from what turns out to be our own self-made nightmare.

Really though, what is so difficult about letting go of that stressful struggle – the incessant war with ourselves — and relaxing into the ordinary happiness of just being? If one could give up all wanting and trying in this very moment and directly recognize that everything is already and always spontaneously perfected, illumined, and unfettered — just as it is — then what need would there be for some further desperate search for refuge or saving grace? Rather, in such profound surrender, the whole phenomenal display could be appreciated from the free position of relaxed not-knowing — that place of pure wonder and grateful acceptance of the mystery of this vast Infinity.

In the eyes of such child-like innocence, what is, simply is – there is no need for fight or flight, much less any fixed conceptual designations in which we mentally fabricate a prison, and then spend the rest of our lives trying to escape it.

The Unknown is not a threat – it is our own backyard, where we can dance and play and love, or just lie back and quietly gaze as the white clouds of thought lazily drift through skies of bright blue, with no compulsion on our part to claim, identify with, or manipulate any of them.

Still, because we humans are the way we are, it seems we won’t truly let go and find lasting peace at heart until we discover this truth directly for ourselves – borrowed notions (regardless of their seeming authority or appeal) just won’t cut it. Thus, we might adopt various “expedient means” as tools along the way, such as taking refuge in an illusion in order to vanquish a more harmful illusion. This is the classical case of employing a thorn to remove another thorn. In any event, once it has done its job, it too is fit to be discarded (but not until then).

Among the various time-tested “expedient means”, True Inquiry/Meditation can be particularly effective, especially when supported by the discipline of silence and the practice of non-dwelling. Moreover, for the vast majority of aspirants, the services of a qualified Guide can prove indispensable. We all have our blind spots, and so a good teacher can help to point out certain critical aspects along the way that we might otherwise tend to overlook or ignore.

One issue that some aspirants face in regard to notions of progress, however, is the tendency to assume that they are finished and “done”, when they are actually not even halfway “there”. They may have an experience of the concept of freedom, but the actualization and embodiment of liberation is invariably another matter altogether. Pride can blind one to their own mirror, and so a grounding sense of humility will prove the best antidote.

Indeed, even harboring the notion of a “someone” having “arrived” or attained some state or condition of personal completion is an indication that one has still not really understood the utter emptiness of the self-image. Moreover, as Dogen Zenji sagely remarked: “There is no beginning to practice nor end to enlightenment; There is no beginning to enlightenment nor end to practice.”

Consequently, we find in the traditional literature all kinds of talk about levels and stages, partial and full realizations, exoteric and esoteric programs, revealed and secret teachings, schemes and devices, initiations and transmissions – all culminating in the confounding (to the ego-mind) Recognition that there has been nothing to seek for in the first place, no refuge to take, not a thing to attain, nor anything to grasp or turn away from. It is all empty and marvelous, with not a hair out of place. All along, a child has been assuring her doll at night that everything is going to be alright.

Nevertheless, until the maturity of that transparent state of fresh natural spontaneity is fully realized, it seems that there must be effort in some form or another. As Sri Nisargadatta noted, only “hard facts” can reveal the absolute nothingness of our self-image, and so we have work to do, even though, paradoxically, there is nothing to be done. He compared spiritual Awakening to a frayed rope eventually snapping. Our work, he said, is at the strands. If we are earnest and devoted, unraveling each fiber of the self-delusion with alert attention and persistence, the break is bound to happen, and Realization will be inevitable.

In any case, we need not postpone our happiness until some indefinite time in the distant future, when real happiness might somehow miraculously come along and find us. We can do the work, and still be happy now. Indeed, happiness is our work, and that work, that inquiry, includes recognizing all the ways in which we are habitually abandoning our natural happiness.

In other words, it is not about adding some happiness that is not already true of us, or escaping some unhappiness with which we believe ourselves to be cursed. Genuine Awakening is informed with the realization that we are not here so much to take refuge from unhappiness, as we are to discover that prior happiness which has never been lacking, never been threatened – our own true nature and condition.

prayer tree

“Happiness is our real nature.

That happiness does not depend on

our possessions or achievements.

Existence is the same as happiness

and happiness is the same as being.

That which is called happiness alone exists.

One’s own reality, which shines within everyone

as the heart, is itself the ocean of unalloyed bliss.”


~ Ramana Maharshi

dancing uni

About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: http://www.pbase.com/1heart Essays on the Conscious Process: https://theconsciousprocess.wordpress.com/ Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: http://feelingtoinfinity.wordpress.com/ Verses and ramblings on life as it is: https://writingonwater934500566.wordpress.com/ Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: https://themindthatneverwas.wordpress.com/ Verses on the Play of Consciousness: https://onlydreaming187718380.wordpress.com/ Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: https://themysteriousexpanse.wordpress.com/ Poems of the Mountain Hermit: https://snowypathtonowhere.wordpress.com/ Love Poems from The Book of Yes: https://lovesight.wordpress.com/ Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: https://travelsindreamland.wordpress.com/ Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: https://freetransliterations.wordpress.com/ Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: https://westernmystics.wordpress.com/ Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: https://spiritguidesparrow.wordpress.com/ Thank You!
This entry was posted in Consciousness, Nonduality, Spiritual Practice and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Where Can I Be Safe?

  1. marcel says:

    Great observations Brother, a lil bit for everyone here.
    Thanks for your Presence and function as always.

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Thank you, Brother, for your kind appreciation!

      Here is something related that addresses the issue, from Chögyam Trungpa:

      “To begin with, when we realize that the primitive idea of security does not apply anymore, it is very terrifying, threatening. That comes from the idea of looking for a secure home, to begin with, that you regard spiritual practice as something that secures you. But you come to the understanding that this is not so, that you have to give up the security and give up hope and everything. That gives new perspective to the whole practice. You tend to try to struggle with that, trying to interpret and to reinterpret–that giving up hope is the ultimate hope, giving up security is the ultimate security, and so forth. And we can go on like that, trying to find a way of twisting it around. But we realize that there is no hope, there is no way of finding a new strategy because shunyata is a hard fact. There is nothing you can con about it.

      Then, having accepted the whole thing, you can begin to relax. You begin to let things fall through you because you realize you have nothing really to lose. If you have anything happen there is something to gain. So that is the starting point where warmth begins to happen, generosity begins to develop. You have nothing to lose, therefore you have nothing to secure about anything at all. And the spontaneous quality of warmth and compassion is the expression of generosity. You become generous to yourself to begin with, therefore the expression of being generous to others becomes a natural situation.”


  2. Candace says:

    I love this! >>>>> For example, is it true: do we actually need to go somewhere else, especially when we don’t even know where we are in the first place?

  3. marcel says:

    Happen to come across this today… from the book:

    “After a few years of strenuous retreating, I ordained as a Buddhist monk and went on a pilgrimage to Bombay, India, in January 1980 to visit the renowned sage Nisargadatta Maharaj. I was introduced to him years earlier through his book I Am That. After a few days of bantering back and forth about my attachment to being a monk, he said: “You’re like a man holding a flashlight, trying to run beyond its beam. The view you are holding within the methods you are using is undermining your intent.” “You don’t understand Buddhism,” I retorted. “You don’t understand truth,” he replied. I was righteous, but he was right. I sat in front of him representing my Buddhist tradition, defending my meditation history, and asserting my spiritual direction. He was pointing somewhere I had not been, nor was prone to look. It was as if we were speaking different languages. As the days unfolded I lost my arrogance and identification with the Buddhist robes, leaving me naked and exposed. During one of our sessions a shift occurred, and the groundlessness on which he stood was seen. It changed forever my understanding of Buddhism, and the possibilities of the teaching reached far beyond the limited horizon I had previously set. By directly pointing to the truth, Nisargadatta destroyed my spiritual structure, purpose, and frame of reference. In their absence something awoke with an upsurge of energy that seemed impossible to contain, it exploded out with the revelation of where the Buddha was pointing. The path that Nisargadatta revealed was not a search but a find, not a struggle but an abiding, not a cultivation but something intrinsic to all. I had been committed to the long enduring mind of practice but not the essence, not the inherent freedom immediately available. From this vantage point there seemed far too much methodology in the Buddhism I had been practicing and not enough release. The Buddha’s Eightfold Path can either build upon or dismantle the sense of self, depending on how we use it…”

    for those interested, havent read it myself though apart from the online intro:

  4. Bob OHearn says:

    Another pertinent article about using illusion to remove illusion:


  5. Bob OHearn says:

    “The basics teachings of Buddha are about understanding what we are, who we are, why we are. When we begin to realize what we are, who we are, why we are, then we begin to realize what we are not, who we are not, why we are not. We begin to realize that we don’t have basic, substantial, solid, fundamental ground that we can exert anymore. We begin to realize that our ideas of security and our concept of freedom have been purely phantom experiences.”

    ~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

  6. Bob OHearn says:

    “Upon the subject of ‘safe space’, I would suggest to you to release this mindset. If you constantly encourage yourself to protect yourself in some safe space you are making a statement that there is something to be afraid of. Upon meeting a negative entity you will by default then focus all your energy on defending yourself against this unknown, thus empowering such entity to have more of an influence over you, for it will know you fear it by your intent to defend yourself. Perhaps an alternative means would be to envision yourself as a pure body of light to which no other being can penetrate, unless you so wish. For this in fact is a universal truth. You are wise to adopt this state of self-assurity that should any being, no matter how powerful they present themselves in appearance, and no matter how much they seem to take from you or do to you, they can never truly destroy who you truly are as a being. Such a thing is impossible. No matter how many times you fall, no matter how many times you are hurt by another, you will always possess the infinite ability to rise again and defy the will of any entity, foe or force that stands before you. Such is the truth I see in you, as it is in all beings I see, as I see and master within my own everpresence. I fear no other being, for I am everpresent and ever pervasive in the process to which I exist.

    Negativity, the dark side, whatever term suits the stage of your life will always remain everpresent. There will always be the duality of the spectrum of life, in order that experiences may be attained of Self. Being spiritual, being ascended, or being a human angel does not dictate one must cower and isolate himself within the box of his own creation. It is not for the person to reject one thing and confine themselves to another. But it is for he, or she, to open the door to all things, black, white and grey. It is for you as an infinite being to stand in the presence of all things, as THEY truly are, and be as YOU truly are, without fear, without doubt, and without expectation. It is for you to recognise the process that is all things, and that such a process is not something to be feared or fought, but loved and lived.

    If one is able to stand in the midst of considerable negativity, immense darkness or ones worse nightmare and prevail in will, in integrity and in love, he has not only mastered himself, but she has also mastered the process to which we are bound, and to which all are set free.”


  7. beyond words, nothing to add, thanks Bob.

  8. Bob OHearn says:

    “To take refuge in the true Buddha is to take refuge in our own Essence of Mind, He who takes refuge within himself must first get rid of the evil-mind and the jealous-mind, the flattering and crooked-mind, deceit, and falsehood, and fallacious views, egotism, snobbishness, contemptuousness, arrogance, and all other evils that may arise at any time. To take refuge within ourselves is to be always on the alert to prevent our own mistakes and to refrain from criticism of other’s faults. He who is humble and patient on all occasions and is courteous to every one, has truly realised his Mind-essence, so truly in fact that his Path is free from further obstacles. This is the way to take refuge in (the Buddha of) oneself.”

    ~ Hui Neng, The Sixth Patriarch of Zen

  9. Bob OHearn says:

    When we engage in the practice of discovering space, we should develop the feeling of opening ourselves out completely to the entire universe. We should open ourselves with absolute simplicity and nakedness of mind. This is the powerful and ordinary practice of dropping the mask of self-protection.

    Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

  10. Bob OHearn says:

    Taking refuge is the first step on the Buddhist path to inner freedom, but it is not something new. We have been taking refuge all our lives, though mainly in external things, hoping to find security and happiness.


  11. Bob OHearn says:

    “If you choose freedom, life will become magical. The life you’ll step into is one in which the Self is in hidden agreement with your humanness. The Self begins to harmonize with your life, and it may proceed in a way that you could never have predicted. The magical part is that the more you let go, the better it feels. The more you step into insecurity, the more you notice how secure and safe it is. Where you just stepped out of was unsafe. Everyone is so miserable because they seek security in things that are limited and always moving and changing unpredictably.”

    ~ Adyashanti

Leave a Reply to Bob OHearn Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.