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the three jewels

In Buddhism we have the three jewels; the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. They are indissociable from one another and form an integral part of the spiritual path. It is easy to lose the sense of being on the path though. Part of being on any path is being exposed to the possibility of losing it. To seek the path is also to accept to lose the path over and over again. To lose the path is to lose the self, the mistake of the self that we keep repeating. The mistaken self is ultimately invested in making the path into a journey from itself to itself. The path as the journey of one continuous mistake, in the words of Master Dogen, has to unfold before the true heart of the path is revealed. That revelation is the process of forgetting the self in the act of being remembered by all beings.

This is the risk of journeying: exposure to the perils of succeeding error with error. But peril is what sits at the heart of any experience. No peril no experience. Experience, from the Latin ex peri: crossing over danger. But it is here, closer to danger and to loss that, in the words of the poet Fredrich Hölderlin, we can also be saved and redeemed: “But where the danger is, also grows the saving power.”

The three jewels are a reminder that the path is always there before us. Our practice is the thread that passes through the jewels and, passing through the jewels becomes itself a jewel of inexpressible beauty. The practice is not about bringing the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha so much together, more so, it is the felt inner sense of their inseparability and interconnectedness or, in simpler words: being on the path is a deep expression of intimacy with life, the wholeness of a gathering where we are holding, being held and gathered by all beings.

In Zen, practice is continuous, without a beginning and without an end. It is the realization each time that we are stepping into something bigger and larger than our ego grasping sense of self. The stepping into are Buddha steps, where we step into is the Buddha-field. That field is always present, it is a presence and, because it is a presencing it is awake. Always present but no one's awakening: thus come, thus gone, the tathagata.

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