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Buddhism Essays and Homework
1.      Could the fact that the Dharma wasn't written by the Buddha himself be problematic? If so, in what ways?
2.      Imagine you are preparing to go for refuge. What necessary changes would you need to make in your life first?
3.      When going for refuge, are you relying on forces outside of yourself for peace of mind, or are the Three Jewels ultimately found inside yourself?
1.  Whilst it is true that the Buddha did not himself write down his teachings, and nor did for example Jesus Christ, Lord Krishna, etc, this does not mean to say that the words were inaccurate when they were written down.  The text does not quote which scholars doubt the accuracy, but this is certainly not an argument that I have heard amongst true Buddhist scholars.  Whilst some may now find it difficult to imagine that words could be so accurately remembered, in India 2000 years ago and before, there was a very strong tradition of verbal transmission, recording and repeating of religious texts.  Indeed even today in India it is not uncommon to find people who can recite complete volumes of religious texts without making a single mistake.  In the case of Buddhism there were a number of Councils in the centuries following the passing of Lord Buddha, specifically to discuss understanding and to check wording.  Therefore I do not accept the presumption of the question.
2.  Firstly I wish to point out that the text of the lesson is somewhat incomplete and possibly confusing.  This is no problem for someone familiar with Buddhism (I have been a practicing Buddhist for over 23 years and first took Refuge in 1991), but I fear that a detailed description of how one goes for Refuge within the Theravadian tradition, with no previous explanation of that term, and with no reference to Mahayana or Vajrayana could be confusing to some.  There is one line which mentions Zen, but apart from that other branches of Buddhism are ignored.   
However, in answer to the question, one should be clear that one wishes to dedicate oneself to finding an inner understanding which, especially in the case of Mahayana Buddhism, should be for the aim of helping other sentient beings.  Putting the Triple Gem at the centre of one's life is an anchor, a focus, a safe haven to which to turn, a source of joy and peace, and we should understand this before taking Refuge, no matter into which Buddhist tradition we go.
3.   An understanding of the Three Jewels is an exceptionally complex and personal issue which fills whole books and years of discussion!  Therefore to summarise a reply in a few lines is difficult!  My own understanding and belief is that the answers are ultimately internal to us, and if we only look outside we will never find the answers.  However, I believe that the Triple Gem is at the same time real and not simply something inside our own minds….it is inside and also outside, but what is the real difference between in and out?  Is it not all one?  Are we not all one?  "Inside" suggests that we believe in the ultimate existence of "me", and this, in my own understanding, is flawed.  Therefore, if ultimately "I" doesn't exist, how can the Triple Gem only exist within "me" - it would therefore also not exist.  And in a sense, as the Heart Sutra turns everything we think is real into unreality, and what we think as unreality into reality, perhaps it doesn't intrinsically exist, as nothing else does either…but then we are into deep Buddhist philosophy which is definitely beyond the scope of these few lines.
M D VICKERS
Taiwan

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