At the start of this new year, there is a sense of hope, but also a great degree of uncertainty. Life is always uncertain, but during these current times that uncertainty has been highlighted. It’s become more obvious and more difficult to repress and ignore. Uncertainty often evokes worry and stress. As we start this new year, it’s good to remind ourselves that we have a shelter from this worry and stress in our practice and in our sangha.
The dictionary definition of shelter is that it is something, within which, a person is protected from harmful conditions. Our lives depend on different types of shelter. For example, this building shelters us from the weather – from the heat and cold, and the snow and rain. The government shelters us from chaos. The vaccine that is starting to be distributed will shelter us from the corona virus. Even on a planetary level there are shelters. The ozone layer shelters the earth from harmful solar radiation. Often, we don’t give much thought to all the shelters that protect us. We tend to take them for granted, but it is good to reflect on the benefit we receive from our shelters and be grateful for them.
Our Dhamma practice is the most important, most intimate, and most dependable of all shelters. It gives shelter to the heart. It shields the heart from the defilements – from clinging and aversion, from stress and worry. We occupy this shelter when we maintain nonjudgmental present moment awareness of this body and mind – when we have continuous knowledge of the movements that are taking place in the body and mind. When we are aware in this way, we take the perspective of the living knowingness that is at the heart of our life, and we lose our preoccupation with the pleasant or unpleasant qualities of the myriad things that are known, and which are constantly changing.
This shelter is available to all who wish to take advantage of it, and it can’t be taken from you. It is therefore the most dependable of shelters. We may lose our house, governments rise and fall, and holes develop in the ozone layer, but our practice can’t be taken away from us. Of course, we may choose to leave the shelter of our practice. The doors of this shelter aren’t locked. If they were, it would be a prison not a shelter. And, sometimes we do leave the shelter. Especially in the early years, people tend to frequently come and go from the shelter. They go out for a while. They get wet, and then they come back in. But, as our practice develops, we more and more appreciate the value of the shelter, and we learn that we can do everything that we need to without leaving the shelter. This shelter can come with us wherever we go.
And our practice itself also has a shelter, which is our sangha. Without a sangha, practice can easily dissipate when it’s left out alone in the elements. In the same way that our homes protect our bodies from the elements, our sangha protects our practice from the demands and pressures of daily life.
So in this time when uncertainty looms so large, let’s renew our gratitude for the shelter of our Dhamma practice, and for the sangha that protects that practice.