Excerpt from Mountain Dharma teachings given by Khenpo Damcho Dawa in Kagyu Samye Ling 2011.
Translated from Tibetan to English by Ken Holmes.
Rinpoche again requests us to enter into the teachings with a good motivation of the bodhisattva, turning our hearts of loving care to each and every sentient being, their infinite numbers throughout space, wherever it is, longing to bring each and every one of them to utterly pure, perfect enlightenment, and thinking that we are studying the Dharma towards that end.
When we attend Dharma teachings in general with this good motivation at the outset, then we need to listen well with our ears, we need to keep our mind clearly focused on what’s being said as we go from topic to topic, and in general we need to use what we are in terms of body, speech and mind to the very best. That means that as we sit, we sit properly and without fidgeting and distraction. And then our mind not only listens and tries to follow as clearly and one-pointedly as possible, but also our position of mind should be one that’s so happy to hear the Dharma that it’s one that is pleased, happy and settled, and longing, yearning for enlightenment.
If we can do that, then even study can become something unimaginably beneficial. It becomes a whole practice itself; it becomes something where we cannot estimate the benefit. So, not just listening to Dharma teachings, but this faculty of hearing that we have, even listening to Dharma music through the various prayers and so on, the benefit of that should never be underestimated, it can be so great.
When it comes to listening to a teaching, following these ideas, although we hear the words and ideas, our own attitude, approach to that is quite critical or determinant, critical in that sense. The way we should listen is with aspiration, with longing for knowledge, for enlightenment, for freedom and so on. With faith, devotion and openness, and more than anything, with confidence. And the teachings are there, so that we do gain confidence in the ideas that are being evoked. If we just listen without either aspiration or trust, faith and devotion, and the confidence in the process of learning, there won’t be much benefit.
We are now turning our studies and thoughts toward the next topic, seeking refuge. Doubtless we already know something about refuge; we have received teachings on refuge, we have taken refuge. But even though that’s the case, have we really seized what it is? Actually refuge is more profound topic than it may seem and it has many categories; there are many reasons for taking refuge. There are many aspects to the refuge.
The great master Atisha said that one needs to really know refuge, understand it well, for the rest of the practice to make sense. If we don’t have proper understanding of refuge, then although we may take refuge, this state of mind, which is refuge, will not be right and actually our Buddhist practice could be more like non-Buddhist practice, the practice of other religions, because our basic approach to it, which is the refuge, is not quite right.
Rinpoche explained two words, which in Tibetan are chap dro; in English we say taking or seeking refuge. Sometimes you see literal translation: going for refuge. It’s not so good. What is the meaning of this refuge? It means we are seeking protection from two things mainly: protection from suffering and protection from fear.
When we consider refuge, then the main reason we take refuge is for our own benefit and protection. When we consider later the bodhisattva vow - the main reason why we take that next precept or next degree of commitment - that’s mainly for the benefit for all other beings. But the main point for taking refuge is to protect and help ourselves. What refuge represents is a very special method, which brings protection from our fears of the sufferings of all existence.
As far as taking refuge itself is concerned, there are two aspects to considering it, knowing about it. These are called causal refuge and result refuge. Or we could say: refuge as a cause and refuge as result.
We need to know the characteristics of each of these visions of what refuge is. For the first one, the causal refuge is the method that Lord Buddha taught as a cause for our development, and the essence or quality of it has to do with "other". That means there is something "other" - the refuge is - which has such wonderful qualities and strengths that we turn to them seeking for protection and guidance in our own Dharma journey.
And so, we turn to these three externals to seek help, and in our own path they become the cause for own achievement on the path. Then they are very clearly defined as the Three Refuges, where the Buddha is the teacher of the path, Dharma is the path and Sangha are our companions on the path, who are there along with us, to help us as we travel that path.
So, generally those three, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, as the teacher on the path, the path and the companions on the path, that’s mainly what is taught, when refuge is taught. It’s mainly what people know, when they know about refuge. And they hear the detailed presentation: the qualities of the Teacher, the qualities of the Dharma and the qualities of the Sangha. That is the simplest form of refuge and that is the form that we need to practice.
And when we take refuge in that way; as a cause for what we are going to do, then the main quality that we need from our side is trust, to have certainty in the qualities of those other things to help us along our path. So, in this it needs three little known things we place our trust to help us.
The result aspect of refuge, the second one, is not so much focused on other, but more focused on our own commitment to achieve something ourselves. There we have the same three refuges, but there the Buddha, who is the most perfectly awakened being, most perfect bodhisattva, through that what the Buddha really means, we have the commitment to achieve that ourselves. We are committed to bringing out that result in ourselves.
To give a very simple worldly example between the nuances between those two is that the first one, the causal refuge, is like there are other good cooks and we turn to them to get the nice food, to receive their food and be nourished by it. The second one, the result refuge, is like the determination: I’m going to learn to cook like that, so I can cook my own food.
To put it in another way: for the first one, the causal refuge, somewhere out there there is Chenrezik, there is Manjushri and the other pure and sacred beings. We turn to them, take devoted refuge in them and seek their help, blessing and so on. For the result refuge we know that what we truly are inside is Chenrezik and we try to achieve it. We know that truly inside we are Manjushri, Manjushri’s wisdom, and we are trying to bring that out.
Of course the very notion of refuge, seeking help and support, taking refuge, is something that is not unique to Buddhism. What makes the distinction is that in which we take refuge. There are the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. They are known as three most precious things, triratna. Those who seek refuge in those most precious fields of refuge are Buddhists, and those who take refuge in other things, other beings and so on, are non-Buddhists. That’s what makes the distinction where we seek help and support.
The notion of seeking refuge is very much part of everyone. It happens from the time you are conceived as we develop in the mother’s womb and then are born, in our first weeks and months we naturally take refuge in the mother. We turn to the mother for food, for help, for guidance. And gradually we grow up, we go to school, we turn to our teachers for help, they are the ones we naturally turn to for guidance and help, and protection sometimes.
As life develops we meet other people and institutions, things we turn to when we need some help and guidance. Apart from that the very notion of refuge is present, other than taking refuge in people, when we seek shelter in stable dwelling, when the weather is bad, when the wind is strong and the rain and hail is falling. Then we seek shelter, we seek refuge in a building that can protect us. There are many ways; it’s a very natural thing for human beings when they are afraid or don’t know, to turn to something for help.
But all of those things to which we turn for help, are worldly things, and the help they can give us is worldly help, however much that can be. So, these are called worldly refuges.
And then, to get more examples, if all of a sudden we were very unwell, we get ourselves to the hospital as our place of refuge. If we feel hungry we go to a café or a restaurant as our refuge to get some food. Through that sort of examples we can understand, how seeking refuge, help, protection, and support is something that happens all the time, but then, all of those are worldly refuges. That’s not what we are looking at here, when we talk about refuge. Here we are looking at the very highest refuge, that which can offer the highest support and protection.
We need to understand the difference, because otherwise we can get mixed up. For instance somebody might be hungry, and when they are hungry, they start saying: "I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha," many times. When they finish, they are still hungry, and they do some more: "I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha." After a while they think: "It doesn’t work, I’m still hungry." But if you are hungry, then you need to take refuge in a restaurant. It’s a material situation and the help and support you need is the material help of food in a restaurant. So, we need to see what we mean by refuge.
It’s said the highest, ultimate refuge is what we are looking for help with. What we are looking protection from is samsara itself and all of its sufferings, when we are looking at it more generically and externally. And then when we are looking internally, it’s our mind’s confusion and illusions. There we are looking for help in order to get beyond that suffering.
Another example: you might have a bad headache and then start praying to the Guru, praying to the refuges. Keep praying to them, still your head hurts. Keep praying to them, headache is not gone. Then you might think: “Well, this refuge doesn’t work. Here I am, taking refuge as sincerely as possible, still my head hurts. There again, what you need to take refuge in, is medicine, you need a pill, because it’s a material situation. And although it’s true that in that particular case there is a psychosomatic component and sometimes faith can make the power of medicine enhanced, here the main idea is to understand what we mean by refuge. When we talk about refuge, it is taking refuge in what can take us beyond – not these little worldly things, but beyond the whole ocean of samsaric suffering, get us out of that whole situation.
So then we turn to the highest refuge. Whatever is capable of taking us out of that ocean of samsaric suffering is a true and worthy refuge, and we take refuge in it. We need to know that, because otherwise our faith becomes what people call blind or stupid faith.
The refuge needs to be able to take us beyond the ocean of suffering. That’s precisely why the Three Jewels are the best refuge. Because what does the Buddha do? The Buddha is the ultimate refuge, because suffering by its very nature, by its very definition is something which is mental: it’s our mind that suffers. So, what the Buddha does is give the teachings on how to work with the mind, how to transform the mind, so that mind goes beyond its suffering and finds stable, reliable happiness.
That’s why it’s worthy to take refuge in the Buddha, the teacher who gives us the teachings to enable us to transform the mind. In that process we also indirectly work with the body, because body and mind are much related. Because the process is one of mental transformation, our trust in the teacher is absolutely vital. When we take refuge, confidence in the teacher and the teachings is very determinative and we need the clearest, strongest confidence as possible, and then this process of mind transformation can work.
If on the contrary, we are very much split, and one part is in a way turning to the Dharma and another part is heading to another direction, then that lack of confidence, that two-mindedness or doubt is something which can quite undermine the application of the Dharma-method.
So, if we have those two things, faith and trust in the teachings, that’s what enables the real power or what we call the blessing of the teaching to come in, and it makes it very effective. When we look at the whole process, it’s what brings together the various causes and conditions that make it really work. And when that blessing works, then the medicine can be very effective.
But as it happens, although that faith that we need is a faith so strong that it is stronger than even the power of life itself, it’s something that is a concern of mind no matter you live or die, you trust the process. That kind of rock solid, crystal clear faith and trust is not something that we are used to, it’s not something that we have had before. Because we are not used to it, we need to train in it and develop it.
When we direct our faith we direct it to what is worthy of that trust, but when we look around, we see that all over the world people direct their faith and trust in all sorts of ways and this is not what we are doing as Buddhists. Sometimes people put that heartfelt trust and confidence in what for them are the devas. So it could be Brahma or Ishvara or any of those Indian deities that we can see many people turn to. Their total trust is placed in those other beings as the source of their help.
And sometimes it’s placed in places, sacred sites, hills, mountains, or trees. Sometimes it’s more astrological, it’s in the planets, in the cosmos, the universe. Sometimes it’s in ancestors or in tombs and people go to the tombs of the ancestors, tombs of famous people, and they place all their hope and trust in those. We see this process of taking refuge in many different ways in the world around us and that’s not what we are doing in the Buddhist ford.
We need some understanding of the way in which people in the world take refuge in either beings of this world or invisible beings considered to be beyond this world; the various gods and other forces. And we need to distinguish between that and the way in which we place our hope and trust in what is truly capable of helping us the way we want help.
When we talk about the Three Jewels, the Buddhist refuges as being the ultimate refuge or the transcendent refuge, then it’s because we understand that all those other refuges can help sometimes, temporarily they can be of help with this or that depending on who they are: the people of this world, the organizations, certain energies and forces can be temporarily helpful. But what they can’t do, what they are incapable of doing, is helping us all the way to liberation that is freedom from samsara.
The actual word for Buddhist in Tibetan is nangpa, it means someone on the inside, and the term which I suppose we translate as non-Buddhist, means those on the outside, external. If there isn’t refuge in the three most precious refuges, then all of rest of buddhadharma can’t really be entered into. Because it’s a state of mind, that trust is the basis for everything that follows in the Buddhist path.
To give an example, if you have a property like Samye Ling, and all around Samye Ling there is a boundary fence with gateways, then unless you actually come inside, then you are always outside. The way in is through the doorway and then you are inside. So, when we talk about Buddhism or Buddhist practice with all of its study and methods and so on, then the actual way in to all of that is the mentality of refuge. Without that first step you haven’t actually gone into the world of the work you are doing to do the rest.
We need to be very clear about this. When it says: unless you have taken refuge in the Three Jewels, then you can’t do all the rest of the Buddhist activities, the study and all the other things, we don’t mean it’s only if you have gone through the formality of refuge ceremony that you are entitled to do those things. We are not talking about religions, formalities and entitlements. We are looking at the nature of what’s going on, something very profound, actually.
And to understand why that’s the case, we need to understand the nature of these two aspects of refuge; refuge as a cause and refuge as a result. And through understanding those very properly, very deeply, it becomes obvious, that unless we have the refuge, the rest of it is ineffective.
So we need the refuge in the three most precious refuges, triratna. When we consider those, it’s quite interesting, because each of those becomes the most important refuge for the different types of Buddhists. When we look first amongst the Hinayana Buddhists, what we call the shravakas, for the shravakas the monastic community, the Sangha is the most important and vital refuge of the three.
When we look the second main category of Buddhist practitioners, which we call pratyekaBuddhas, for them it’s the teaching, which by far is the most important refuge, and the Buddha and Sangha are secondary. It’s the information and technique, which is really vital.
And then, when we look at the Mahayana, the bodhisattvas, for them the Buddha is by far the most important refuge, as the model and example.
When we talk about those three, the shravakas, the pratyekaBuddhas and the bodhisattvas, often there is a tendency to think of them in geographical, historical terms as the main traditions that were present in India and ancient Asia at the time when Buddhism flourished there. So we think there were shravakas and pratyekaBuddhas and some were bodhisattvas. But equally we can apply those three categories not out there to groups of people but in here to our own mentality. And they apply to different states to mind.
The first one is when we ourselves want to become what is called an arhat. Arhat in Tibetan means the one who overcame the enemy. The enemy is our own suffering. When the main thing for us is this longing to get rid of the suffering, which we know, because it’s who we are, it’s in us. And when the method that we’ve understood to do that, we know that if we can conquer the illusions of ego, we can defeat the enemy of suffering and defilements and achieve a state of peace and freedom. If there is that mentality, mainly we are looking at the shravaka side of ourselves or shravaka state of mind. It’s called the Shravakayana, and yana means the ability to carry. It’s how much you can carry; what sort of weight you can carry onward.
There we are also looking at a mentality, which is mainly preoccupied with oneself. There isn’t either the ability or the wish to do that for more than oneself. It’s preoccupation one must sort out, overcome it, and become free from it. If there is that sort of mind, then it’s that we are talking about when we talk about Shravaka, not historical groups but a psychology. And somebody with that psychology will mainly turn to the Sangha, because there you have the community that are practicing and have the methods and instructions to help you overcome the ego illusion.
Those were few words about the shravakas. And next come the pratyekaBuddhas. By now you are probably thinking: “PratyekaBuddhas! What on earth that’s got to do with me? We don’t even see them these days; it’s something one hears about back then in India, far, far…” No it’s not. It’s right here inside us. The shravakas and pratyekaBuddhas are not some sort of other creatures far away in time and space. They are mentalities that we find in ourselves and all around us.
There are people and maybe even ourselves, whose main preoccupation is to find out how to sort all this out that I am, how to find some freedom. Maybe amongst us there is this loner quality not really concerned with all the other people and whatever they are getting up to. We want to practice in a way that sorts ourselves out. This is what we mean by those shravaka and pratyekaBuddha mentalities.
To take the example of food just to indicate the mentality: it’s when your main preoccupation is yourself. So you want to get in there and get your food and then go and eat it in your corner. And that’s really all you care about. You are not really looking at other people, who has got what and feeding them. Main thing is you get the food, go away, eat it and are nourished. This is what we are calling shravakas in Buddhism as far as their relationship to Buddhist teaching and practice is concerned. It is mainly this preoccupation in sorting out your own mind and your own life. And this is not at all to say that’s a bad thing. Not at all, what the shravakas do is very wonderful, adorable. But we are just looking at it practically for what it is, as a mentality where number one, oneself, is the main preoccupation.
We now focus the second category, the pratyekaBuddhas. Pratyeka means “by oneself,” Buddha means “awaken”, so, those who awaken by themselves, or on their own. And these are special cases of the shravakas, they are very brilliant shravakas. Which means that while the Buddha is in the world, they receive the shravaka teachings and they very quickly understand the whole thing of self being an illusion and the idea of no-self. They can work very, very effectively, they go beyond the notion of self and find freedom.
But more than just finding freedom from samsara by conquering the delusions of persona or personality they heed the Buddha’s teaching in a very accurate and intelligent way. And in particular they go to meditate in charnel grounds, which they had in ancient India. They had in many societies places where bodies are just left to rot, and they go and meditate there.
In particular they look at the bones of the skeletons. They look at a bone and they think: “That’s because of death. Why do people die? They die because before they lived and it’s the end of life. But why are they born into a life? They are born into a life because of the karma they created in the previous life. Why did they do that? Gradually they work back through what we call the 12 links of interdependence, all the way back to ignorance. And they have very fine understanding of the 12 links. It’s their specialty. So they’ve gone beyond suffering and attained a state of arhat, someone who has gone beyond suffering. But on top of that freedom they have brilliant intelligence.
Now, even though that’s the case, there is a characteristic to these: they are loners, they love to be alone, and they don’t like society very much. They are brilliant loners, lone wolves. And so they tend to go to the forests and mountains to isolated places, and there they practice. And because of that there is one class of pratyekaBuddhas, which is called in the text the rhinoceros, because of this love of solitude, the fact that they are loners.
They do help others, but they don’t help others in the way a Buddha does, by teaching. It’s not through their speech, it’s through their body and their example. And because they have many miraculous abilities, through their mastery of one-pointed meditation on the interdependence, they can display many things: transformation of the elements, they can sit and meditate in fire and all sorts of things. And this is very inspiring for other people. And so people tend to emulate them in their meditation, but they don’t actually receive teachings. PratyekaBuddhas tend to get fed up with people after a while and they go off somewhere else. They go off to more solitude now and then. From time to time people are benefitted by their physical presence.
There is another group of pratyekaBuddhas and these are not called the rhinoceros-like pratyekaBuddhas, because they tend to cluster together in small groups. They have companions who are brilliant liberated minds like themselves. So although those little groups tend to stay in solitude and they form clusters together, they are not just individuals on their own. The main point here is that for these of the three refuges the Dharma is the most important refuge, in particular, all of the teachings on the 12 links of interdependence, karma cause and effect, because their main specialty is this insight to the teachings.
Now we move to the third group, which are the bodhisattvas and for the bodhisattvas of the Three Jewels the Buddha is the most important refuge, because the Buddha is the living example of what they themselves are going to be or attain. The bodhisattvas take refuge in the Buddha as their principal focus, their main focus.
Previously we had a question about what constitutes the ultimate refuge. We won’t have the time to really explain it, but just to say few words about ultimate refuge. Firstly we look at the sharavakas. The shravakas and pratyekaBuddhas are taking refuge in the Hinayana way. Hina means lesser and yana means strength to to carry something. So hinayana means lesser strength to carry. This is because the main thing one is carrying to liberation is oneself. What one is carrying is one person principally. Although there is some spin of others, it’s mainly one person who is being carried to liberation. So it’s called Hinayana, the lesser capacity or vehicle.
There the whole reason for taking refuge is in order to seek the help and support one needs in order to liberate oneself. In the Mahayana, which means the greater strength to carry, the intention with one takes refuge, is to benefit not only oneself, but other beings as well. In fact, in its fullness it embraces all beings. So this is a great strength to carry, where one carries not only oneself to liberation, but the whole reason for taking refuge is to be able to carry everybody to liberation.
Then the question might come to mind as to: are the Three Jewels really the ultimate refuge? Well, actually, not quite. In real truth only the Buddha is the most ultimate of the refuges and not the Dharma and Sangha. When we consider the Dharma, in the end it’s something that will be left behind, because the Dharma is the vessel, which carries us across the ocean of samsara to the safety. So if we take that analogy, you would very much need the Dharma to get to the other shore, but once you’ve reached the other shore, then you are on dry land, you don’t need the boat anymore. You leave the boat behind. The Dharma has this livable quality. And when we look in terms of an absolute refuge, something that is always a refuge, then from that point of view the Dharma is not an absolute, lasting refuge.
When we consider the Sangha, then the Sangha by their very definition, because they are not Buddhas, still have some suffering. They are not totally beyond suffering. So, from that point of view they are not the ultimate 100% refuge.
Then one might start thinking, in that case do we really need to take refuge in all three: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha? There is great benefit in it. This benefit is considered through three sets on things. We look at the benefit of the refuge in terms of the three yanas, in terms of three aspirations and in terms of three types of activity. These teachings are very excellent; they are given in Mahayanauttaratantra. In another way we can consider it that the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha really are like the body, speech and mind of ultimate reality.
What is the Buddha, actually? There is the Buddha as Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya, and other kayas sometimes. So then, what is the Buddha we are taking refuge in? We need to know, so we need to get some information first about the Buddha.
There are various understandings according to the yanas, and for instance the shravakas in fact have done lot of very interesting, thorough research about what the Buddha actually is. Because of that at the time of the Buddha those, who had really thought about it, wouldn’t prostrate to the Buddha, because according to the Buddha’s own teachings one would not prostrate to his body. His body was the last remaining bit of his samsara: his flesh and bones, his body, some of reprints and the remaining last fragments of whatever karma he had to exist. That was their understanding of the Dharma.
So they wouldn’t prostrate to the body, because it was like prostrating to samsara. What they would pay homage to and take refuge in, the ultimate refuge, was not the physicality of the Buddha but the profound wisdom in the Buddha’s mind and in the Buddha’s heart that he had imparted to them. So for them that wisdom was the refuge but not the physical presence they wouldn’t prostrate to.
And then in their analysis they make a distinction between what is compounded and not compounded. The body of the Buddha was something compounded by causes and conditions whereas his wisdom was non-compounded. It’s a similar thing with Dharma. The Dharma in terms of scriptures and ideas is something compounded. So, the concepts of the scriptures and so on, which represent the Dharma, are not for them the ultimate refuge, but the wisdom that they convey, is.
And the same thing for the Sangha. The Sangha is the presence of the body of the bikkhus and bikkhunis and so on. They are not the refuge for the same reason, because these are piles of skandhas, these are representations of samsara and so, they are not the ultimate refuge. But then, whatever true wisdom the Sangha carries in their heart and mind, that is the ultimate refuge. So they made those very reasonable distinctions.
And they did have faith; you must not get this wrong. They did have faith, they did make prostrations. But what they are prostrating to is the truth of cessation and truth of the path in those ultimately true aspects. And they did that with great devotion with those notions of their meaning in mind. They wouldn’t prostrate to the four truths; the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering of the truth of the path. They would prostrate to the truth of cessation beyond suffering.
Now we shift to the Mahayana Sangha. They take refuge in the Buddha as being uncreated and non-compounded, and non-compounded as having eight qualities of virtues. The difference is in the way they envisage the presence of the Buddha. They don’t envisage the presence of the Buddha as the last remains of samsara and therefore as impure bunch of aggregates. They see the manifestation of the Buddha as precisely that, a manifestation to benefit the disciples. So that manifestation is neither impure nor compounded, its very nature is uncompounded with these eight qualities. So for them the presence of the Buddha is worthy of refuge and respect.
There we have started entering a territory, where we see these rather different conceptions of Buddha in terms of the historical Buddha. How should we understand it? We should understand it and we can understand it through the Tibetan term for Buddha, which is san-gye, two syllables.
The first one means “freed,” “awakened” or “purified”. It means a Buddha is a being; let’s say a mind to be that is totally freed from all stains, totally freed from all obscurations. And then, when we ask what obscurations, then on a grosser level we have the obscuration of the klesha, the afflictions, and on a more subtle level somebody who is free from the obscuration. It’s called the obscuration to true knowledge, which is the dualistic mind. Free from the obscuration to true knowledge, duality. And then on the very, very subtle level someone who besides being free from those two, is free from what we call the finest latent traces. The Sanskrit word is vasana. And these are very subtle underground imprints of the past, all of those as well.
So the first syllable of Buddha in Tibetan means someone 100% free from those obscurations. And then the second syllable gye means “fully developed”. It’s someone or a mind in which every possible quality is at its total fullness, rather when like a flower is fully blossomed.
Then in Tibetan we have another epithet for Buddha, which is tsom den de, the Tibetan translation for bhagavat or bhagavan. There are three syllables. First one, tsom, means “defeated”. It’s the one who has defeated the four negative energies, the four maras. The second syllable den means “accomplished” or “possessing”. So this is: possessing six great qualities of the greatest beings. And the third syllable de means “transcendent”. It means one who has transcended both extremes of samsara and nirvana. When we translate the word bhagavat, it means the victorious, transcendent, accomplished one.
And our understanding of what the Buddha is, should also embrace Buddha’s compassion, because that transcendence, that freedom, that victory over the maras and so on, all of that is not just for own benefit. The whole reason for all of those fully blossomed qualities and for those freedoms is in order to benefit all beings. And the compassion, what we call or define as the Buddha, is something that lovingly cares for each and every being like a mother cares for her only child.
Not only that, when we use this word Buddha, we should understand the omniscience of the Buddha. The omniscience is defined as knowing every single knowable thing just as it is. And then furthermore, when we understand this word Buddha, we should understand that there is another quality of power or ability, and this is the ability through teaching to dispel the suffering, darkness and defilements in the minds of others. Sometimes when we sum up “the Buddha”, it’s these three key qualities, which have just been elucidated. It is as omniscience or wisdom, compassion and ability.
Now we have been given some idea of what we mean when we use this word “Buddha”. It’s toward that pure mind, that pure being, as a Buddha that we turn to as someone to teach us. And then what they teach, their teachings to us form the path that we follow. What they teach us is the path we should follow, and then as we follow that path, the guides and friends who help and support us, these are the Sangha. When we take refuge, that’s what we can have faith and confidence in, those Three Jewels as the teacher, the path and the companions on the path.
Actually the three most precious refuges is a huge topic and the different ways of understanding those three and the categories and then the way they are understood according to different types of Buddhists, different refuges is an amazingly vast and interesting topic. So, what Khenpo Rinpoche is telling us here is a very simple meaning, very simple version, but it really defines the heart of the matter. It is something that is easy for him to teach as a teacher, it is easy for you to grasp as students and it is easy for the interpreter to interpret .
So then, if we go to Karma Chame Rinpoche’s teachings, it says that the first approach is we should understand the three most precious refuges, triratna in their basic or common way. From that point of view the Buddha is the historical person, who definitely lived and taught in India some 2500 or 2600 years ago. That being who became enlightened and then taught the way to enlightenment or liberation, is the Buddha and we take refuge in the Buddha.
The teachings that he gave, the very nature of which is the transcendence of what defiles and afflicts the mind: anger and hatred and all those things; the teachings that he gave are the Dharma. So then we have the Dharma as the Tripitaka, the 12 sections of actual teachings historically that are recorded and accepted by all the Buddhists as the body of the Dharma.
And then the Sangha are the companions and friends on the path. But then in particular we are looking at those who already have reached some degree of liberation, so those who have reached one of the four main levels or result: Stream Entrants, One Time Returner, Non-Returner or Arhat.
Those are the three most precious refuges. But then they have a presence in our own life, a presence like ambassadors or regents. Representing those for us we have the images of the Buddha, which are like the Buddha’s representations in our life, or sometimes the stupas, chörtens, that have the relics that represent, symbolize the Buddha’s body. So they are the representatives of the Buddha refuge in our life. And then the Dharma texts and teachings are the representative of Dharma in our lives. And then the monastic community is the representative of Sangha, who have reached the four degrees of liberation. So we turn to those as being the living presence of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha in our lives and respect them as the refuges. So, they are the refuges and it is in those that one takes the refuge in the basic way, Hinayana way.
These are of course relative refuge. There was a time when you could actually go and take refuge in the Buddha, when the Buddha was in this world. And then listen to his teachings which were the direct Dharma and then be surrounded by the Sangha of arhats and so on. They are those three directly present. But then as just explained, these days we have these representations in our own life, which are the Buddha images, the chörtens and the Dharma texts and teachings and the body of the Sangha, which are representatives. It’s a relative truth, but the relative truth of the Three Jewels is represented by those.
In the description of the three most precious refuges the Dharma is mainly the Four Noble Truths. So in the shravaka way of refuge, the Hinayana way, one takes refuge in the historical Buddha, the Four Noble Truths and then the Sangha, and one does that from now on until the end of this life. One takes refuge until death. If we look at the Mahayana refuge, the refuge is understood in a different way. First, the Buddha is not so much the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, but it is the Buddha kayas. So there we look at the Dharmakaya and then the form kayas (Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya). That’s the Buddha we take refuge in.
And then the Dharma that we take refuge in, are the three baskets, the three collections of teachings: vinaya, sutra and abhiDharma. And then the Sangha in which we take refuge are the Sangha of realized bodhisattvas, bodhisattvas in the ten levels of liberation.
And then we take refuge in the Three Jewels with that understanding of them, not just until we die but from now until we ourselves are enlightened, until we reach the heart of enlightenment. And furthermore, in the Mahayana, we take refuge in those Three Jewels from now on until enlightenment with the main focus of being able to benefit all sentient beings.
So in the Mahayana that’s the understanding in the sutra level of Mahayana practice. If we turn now to the Vajrayana level of Mahayana, or tantric level, then we have four main classes of tantra: kriya tantra, charya tantra, yogatantra, highest yogatantra. And we consider the first two of these, which are kriya tantra, the activity tantra and charya tantra, conduct tantra.
In those first two levels of tantra Buddha is mainly understood through an explanation of the three kayas: Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya. The Dharma is mainly understood through a collection of tantras, appropriate to the kriya and charya tantras. And then the Sangha are those yogis or practitioners, who have achieved the five Buddha families. We take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in those ways.
And in those first two levels of tantra, kriya and charya, the duration of refuge is the same as in regular Mahayana, which is from now until enlightenment is reached. And also the motivation is the same: one is taking refuge in order to bring all beings to liberation.
Now we move to the third class of tantra, which is yoga tantra, and in yoga tantra the Buddha is mainly understood through the Five Buddha Families or five classes of Buddhas. The Dharma is understood through the Dharma teachings of the yoga tantras. So it’s the yoga tantras of that level which are the Dharmas one is taking refuge in. And the Sangha Jewel is represented by the realized bodhisattvas and (female) bodhisattvis. And the duration of the refuge and the motivation is the same as before, until the enlightenment of all beings.
Now we move on to the fourth category and that is highest yogatantra, anuttarayogatantra. There the Buddha Jewel is conceived as the Five Buddha Families. The Dharma Jewel are the scriptures in particular of the highest yoga tantra. And the Sangha Jewel is represented by the Dakas and Dakinis and the Dharma Protectors.
Concerning the last one, the Sangha Jewel, when we talk there about the Dakas and Dakinis and Dharmapalas (Dharma Protectors), then it is to be understood that it is only those who themselves are fully liberated, because amongst the Dharma Protectors, Dakinis etc., there are worldly classes of Dakinis and Dharma Protectors. So, not those, only those as it’s called, with the eyes of true wisdom. And the duration and attitude is the same.
When we go from there to what is called one aspect of tantra, the tantra of profound personal advice, often loosely translated as oral transmission, person to person advice, in that case the Buddha Jewel is the body of the Guru. So the physical presence of the Guru is the Buddha we take refuge in. And the speech of the Guru is the Dharma, in which we take refuge. And the mind of the Guru is the Sangha Jewel. Those are the Body, Speech and Mind of the Guru.
Then we have the body, speech, mind, qualities and activities. The qualities of the Guru are represented by the deities of the mandalas taught by the Guru. The Guru becomes the embodiment of the deities of the mandala. The activity is performed by the Dakas and Dakinis. Also in Vajrayana or Tantrayana the Guru becomes all of the refuges in one. So, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, all in one. All the Gurus, Yidams and Protectors, the Three Roots or sources all in one. So all six main refuges, the Three Jewels and the Three Roots are all gathered together in one sole refuge.
And in fact from that point of view one’s Guru is even more precious, more special that the Buddha, because the Guru is present in our life. From that point of view the very notion of Guru means the one, who gives us the opportunity in this one human existence to achieve total enlightenment.
With that sort of understanding very often the refuge is voiced as fourfold and we take refuge in the Guru, in the Buddha, in the Dharma and in the Sangha. In Sanskrit it’s Namo Gurube, Namo Buddhaya Namo Dharmaya, Namo Sanghaya. There one is taking refuge in the most precious sources of refuge, but then first and foremost in the Guru, because as we’ve just heard, the Guru is the very embodiment of all of the sources of refuge in one, who can bring us, if we practice, enlightenment in this very body, in this very life.
So then, we have as much as possible exceedingly pure perception of the Guru as being the one who brings that possibility and who embodies the various refuges. And we turn to the Guru in the spirit of the causal refuge, when we turn to somebody and look for the help on our own path of practice. And then at the same time we are becoming committed to achieve that state of Vajradhara, the state of enlightenment within ourselves in this body, in this life.
Disc 2, track 5
Khenpo Rinpoche again asks us to adjust our motivation, so that we enter these teachings with the very finest of motivations: that of the bodhichitta, whereby we turn our hearts toward loving care to all sentient beings throughout the vastness of space, and we long for to temporarily bring them to pure land of Dewachen and ultimately to utterly pure and perfect enlightenment. And so we see our Dharma studies as part of that process.
And not only should we have the correct motivation for entering to the teachings, but as explained previously, then as we are heeding the teachings, we should avoid the three faults of a pot and the six stains and the five ways of misconceiving the teachings. And we should also practice on the positive side the four conceptions of being the patient, getting the medicine from the doctor and applying the Six Paramitas. And there is a special way what we do when there is a Dharma teaching.
In our Dharma studies we are learning from this teaching by the great siddha and scholar Karma Chame Rinpoche, his Mountain Dharma teachings. We are looking at some of the first chapters of those. We already received teachings on the chapters on Four Ways of Changing the Mind: precious human existence, death and impermanence, karma, cause and effect and the drawbacks of samsara. And then we moved on to a chapter that deals with taking refuge, which is the way of entering to the buddhadharma practice.
Yesterday we saw that the very meaning of taking refuge is to seek help, support, protection from the ocean like sufferings of samsara and from our own fears; fears of samsara, fears of our own inner confusion, turmoil and so forth. In order to go beyond those sufferings we need to turn to the highest of all the various things in which we can take refuge, and yesterday we had a presentation of quite what that is, a presentation of the three most precious things, the triratna.
If you remember, the very concept of seeking help or seeking refuge, apply on a worldly level and on a transcendent level. On a worldly level we can seek help and protection from worldly things of various sources, but here we are looking into what is beyond the world, what is transcendent, where we need to seek our refuge, if we want to go beyond the world.
We saw that for worldly things, for the things of this life we can receive help from our parents, from institutions, from temples, and people turn to powerful worldly beings, powerful worldly forces like devas, invisible sources. But when it comes to liberation from the ocean of samsara, then all of those refuges, parents and so on, don’t qualify to be an ultimate authentic, ultimate refuge, because how can we get freedom from samsara from them, when they themselves are not free from samsara?
And then we saw that as far as the true or ultimate refuge is concerned, we have two ways of conceiving of it: one is refuge as a cause or causal refuge, and the other is refuge in terms of the result we want to achieve. So, causal refuge and result refuge are something that we should come to understand.
We saw that with the causal refuge, refuge as a cause we turn to the three most precious things, the triratna, seeking help for our path. Yesterday we had a presentation in which these three most precious things, the Three Jewels, are viewed to be in the shravaka, the Hinayana tradition, in the Mahayana and then going on from there in the Vajrayana, the tantric level, looking through the kriya tantra, charya tantra, yogatantra, highest yogatantra, and so on. We had this presentation what we mean by Buddha, Dharma, Sangha from each of the points of view.
If we now move directly on to where we left the teachings yesterday, as we were progressing through these different levels of tantra, then today we come to the highest level of all within the oldest tradition, the nyingma tradition. There in the highest yoga tantra, which itself has its subsections, we have the atiyoga as the highest. From the atiyoga point of view when we say Buddha, we mean the Dharmakaya manifest as Samantabhadra, which means “the utterly good”, the utterly good Dharmakaya. So, Buddha Samantabhadra.
The Dharma then becomes the collection of atiyoga tantras specifically, the six million four hundred thousand collections of atiyoga tantras, and the Sangha Jewel becomes the gathering of the Vidhyadharas, the Wisdom Holders and the Dakas and Dakinis, that are enlightened. And the attitude of refuge in those three is something that is concerned with this very moment, it is concerned in each instant with the reality of those three being the refuge instant after instant for ourselves and all sentient beings.
With that concluding note now we have seen something of the meaning of the three most precious things, the Three Jewels, triratna, according to all of the levels of Buddhism and when we say all of the levels of Buddhism, if we take the nyingma presentation, then it’s called according to the nine yanas. Now we’ve gone through all of that step by step to see what we are taking refuge in.
In Karma Chagme Rinpoche’s presentation of refuge there are more or less two topics, there is what we need to know and understand about the refuges and we have more or less covered that now, and there are also the refuges from the point of view of practice itself as the stuff of practice, stuff of meditation.
Looking at this causal aspect of the refuge, what we take refuge in as seeking help as a cause for our path, then we have heard now what we need to know about, what those refuges are, but now we come to the second point: how do you actually apply this in practice? And this is different according to the different traditions.
We start with the traditions that are based mainly on the self-liberation vows, pratimoksha traditions, the shravaka traditions and there we have understood how they conceive of the Buddha Jewel, the Dharma Jewel and the Sangha Jewel. When they take refuge, they don’t feel there is any need to specifically visualize or imagine the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha in front of you.
The reason for this is the Buddha’s omniscience. They feel the Buddha as being all-knowing, omniscient, because the Buddha has the perfection of six qualities of clear cognition. The Buddha knows all beings at all times. Because of this omniscience of the Buddha, there is no particular need to focus on in some of the Buddha in one particular direction or place, because the Buddha’s omniscience is with us all the time. From that point of view, when one takes refuge, it’s more placing one’s mind in the refuge and protection of the omniscient Buddha. Whatever the Buddha is with his omniscience, we are just simply trusting in it without focusing on it specifically.
And this same notion of Buddha’s omniscience being present with everyone all the time is also echoed in the prayer for rebirth in Dewachen and we have the Dewachen practice and prayer from Karma Chagme Rinpoche himself. In there it says that through the Buddha’s omniscience the Buddha knows precisely every single word and thought of every single sentient being. Precisely and clearly without ever mixing them up. From that point of view we don’t need to summon the Buddha, we don’t need to stimulate the Buddha’s compassion and say: “Please, think of me,” as if waking up the Buddha and particularly asking them to focus on ourselves, because all the time, at every moment, every single being, whatever they are thinking, whatever is going on in their mind, is apparent in the clarity and omniscience of the Buddha.
This is the case that the Buddha is omniscient, and from that point of view there is nothing to summon and focus on, because that omniscience is with us all the time. However, in the Mahayana way there is a benefit of specifically focusing on the Buddha, summoning the Buddha and so on, because this gives us on the relative plane a possibility of really gathering the two accumulations in a powerful way.
And so, we actually follow what happened during the time of the Buddha’s life, when during his life in the land of Magadha and so on, when it was the time of teachings, there would be the gathering in which the Buddha was invited to come down and sit, the Sangha were called to gather, and visible and invisible beings all gathered there, and then the Buddha gave the teaching. So, even though the Buddha’s wisdom has omniscience, nevertheless there were these specific gatherings together that gave great blessing and benefit of receiving the teachings.
Following that model in the Mahayana we do visualize the Buddha in front, we do think of ourselves in the presence of a manifestation on the Buddha, and this gives us a very clear focus, a field before which we can gather the two accumulations. The two accumulations are the accumulations of goodness or merit, punya and the accumulation of wisdom, which doesn’t have focus, primordial wisdom. Punya and jnana, merit and wisdom.
The focus of the Buddha surrounded by the various Sanghas in front of us we can take the refuge commitment, which is a very positive act of punya, make offerings and so on. We can gather the accumulation of goodness and then, when that is done, we can then – second stage – let our mind rest in the state of wisdom. We gather the accumulation of wisdom by recognizing the voidness of everything that is taking place in this relative practice, or sometimes the field of refuge, the field of accumulation in front of us, dissolves into the infinite space of Dharmadhatu.
There are different ways of doing it; the main point is that in the second phase we gather the accumulation of primordial wisdom through the practice of voidness. This is for us a more effective way, even though the Buddha is omnipresent and omniscient.
There is an interesting distinction between receiving the refuge vow or the commitment for the first time and taking refuge in general. So from the time of actually taking the vow and then taking refuge again and again afterwards, there is a difference that Rinpoche is explaining and he said something that might be interesting to think about. That is because some of us are more curious than others about the technicalities to understand these things precisely.
So the first thing we look at is when we formally take refuge, when we enter the doorway of Dharma and receive the refuge commitment, the precept, the vow, for the first time. There when we look at the instructions on how that should take place, which we find in the vinaya teachings, in one of the three collections of Lord Buddha’s teachings, the vinaya, then actually we find many categories.
And quite how it should take place, depends on who we are when we take these vows and precepts. What level of the precepts, in what context we are taking them: whether the ones of a lay person, whether the ones of a novice, whether the ones of a fully ordained member of the Sangha and so on. The way they must be taken and from whom we are taking them from, will vary.
So, if one is a lay person and taking the simplest form of refuge, then such and such a gathering of the Sangha comprising the novice Sangha and so on is sufficient to be able to transmit the refuge lineage to us. But if we are already ourselves a novice then it needs to be taken from a defined gathering of fully ordained Sangha. And if it’s the fully ordained Sangha, then it needs to be taken from the fully ordained Sangha that already has the realization, those who are the elders of the Sangha, the great figures of the Sangha.
And then again, for bodhisattvas, if one hasn’t got the realization of voidness, then we take the refuge in the bodhisattva context from different beings, but then if we have more realization, it needs to be taken from bodhisattvas with a greater degree of realization. In fact the formalities of refuge, how properly we can receive the refuge transmission when we first take the vow, is clearly defined like that.
So that is one thing, it’s a one off thing, or one of each stage at least. But then having entered the doorway of Dharma and having received the refuge precept, then afterwards we train in it day after day and we take refuge every day. So, when we first take refuge, we take the vow very necessarily in front of the real presence of the Sangha.
But then afterwards, as we train in that, we get used to it, we meditate on it and it becomes what is called “meaningful meditation”, when we bring the meaning of something more and more to life, and we actually come to know it actually much better day after day through our practice. The way we do that is perfectly sufficient by visualizing the field of refuge before us or just by feeling that we are in the presence of the Three Jewels.
So, concerning the second of those things, where day after day we renew our refuge and we do the meaningful meditation or the meditation on the meaning of it, so that we go deeper and deeper into it, there we don’t need to be in the presence of the Sangha qualified to give us the refuge, we just imagine or visualize ourselves in the presence of the Three Jewels through their representations, and we take refuge, make offerings etc.
When take refuge like that in the sutra level, there is no mention of Gurus. We take refuge simply in the Three Jewels; the Buddha Jewel, the Dharma Jewel and the Sangha Jewel. And as evoked by the very famous three Sanskrit lines: Namo Buddhaya, Namo Dharmaya, Namo Sanghaya, we pay homage to them, we take refuge in them. And then when the procedure for taking refuge, making prostrations and so on is finished, we spend a moment without focus, so in what has no objector no focus. And in order to do that either of the fields of refuge we’ve taken refuge in, dissolve into the space of truth, Dharmadhatu, or sometimes the visualization is that these visualized fields of refuge return to their own place and we rest in a state nothing particular to focus on. That’s the way it’s done in the sutras.
Now we move to the way we take refuge in the Vajrayana. As we have seen there are four main levels of Vajrayana or tantra: kriya, charya, yoga, and highest yoga. In those, if we consider in general the first three, kriya tantra, charya tantra and yoga tantra, when we take refuge we have the field of refuge, which is visualized in front of us. And because we are now dealing with specific Yidam practices, because that’s what the tantras are, you have whichever Yidam it is, directly in front of you, that’s the main focus of refuge. That Yidam will be accompanied by whatever accompanied deities form part of that Yidam’s mandala. And then above the particular Yidam will be the guru, the lineage of the gurus of transmission of that practice. It’s in that type of the field of refuge that we start the Vajrayana practices of kriya, charya and yogatantras.
With that visualization we take the commitment of refuge. This includes the Gurus and this is what is invoked in Sanskrit, when we say Namo Gurube, Namo Buddhaya, Namo Dharmaya, Namo Sanghaya, so then we have now four. In Tibetan Lama la chap su chio, Sangye la chap su chio, Chö la chap su chio, Gendun la chap su chio. In English: I take refuge in the Gurus, I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha. Here, as explained yesterday, it not only incorporates the Guru and the Gurus, but those Gurus are understood as being all of the refuges in one. They are the quintessential refuge.
So when we actually make our refuge statement or commitment, then it actually includes the Guru and the Three Jewels, and then having taken it, there is this second step, the wisdom step of voidness and again for that either the field of refuge in front dissolves into voidness or returns [to its own place]. But in these first three tantras there is no dissolution of the field of refuge into oneself. It dissolves into voidness, that’s the main point.
In the fourth level of tantra, highest yoga tantra, whichever Yidam, whichever practice it is, is there in front of us as the largest or the main figure, and that Yidam is surrounded by the cloud hosts of all of the refuges, so the Yidams on mandala, but then also all of the Buddhas, all of the Dharma representations, all of the Sangha of all the different levels and then the various Dakas, Dakinis and Dharma protectors. So these vast cloud hosts of all the worthy refuges surround the central figure. And then above the central figure is one’s own Root Guru accompanied also by all the Lineage Gurus of transmission. So then one takes refuge in that again. What one says by way of taking refuge is four-fold Guru, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.
Then, when we look particularly at the Mahamudra tradition, this is something many of you are probably very familiar with. There the specific way in which we take refuge is with a refuge tree in front. In this wish fulfilling tree of refuge emerging from a lake all of the refuges are set. It has five main branches and centrally we have the depiction of the main Buddha surrounded by Lineage Gurus. There the Guru is central in the form of Buddha Vajradhara surrounded by the Karmapas and the Mahamudra Lineage Gurus. On each of the branches we have the Buddhas to our left and Bodhisattvas to the right, the Dharma teachings at the back, the various Yidams a bit lower than the central figure, all the Dharma Protectors, Dakas and Dakinis form hosts of clouds around at the bottom and then in space all of other tantric lineage holders.
As probably many of you know then we do the refuge prayer. There the refuge prayer is very comprehensive one, where it addresses first one’s own Root Lama, most kind of all, who is the very embodiment of all of the totally wise and realized Buddhas of the three times, who is the very presentation of presence of the 84,000 sections of Dharma, who is the very presence of all of the realized Sangha and who is most kind to us and the representative of the lineage of Gurus. And then also we take refuge in the Yidams and the deities of the mandala, in the most utterly pure and perfect Buddhas, in the Dharma teachings, in the realized Sangha and in all of the Dakas, Dakinis and Protectors possessing the wisdom eye.
That’s the refuge prayer we do, including the first part, which we don’t recite 100,000 times, which expresses the Guru as being the embodiment of all of the Buddhas of all the 84,000 sections of Dharma and so on. That is the long form of refuge, very comprehensive, all inclusive form of refuge. But again, the meaning can be shortened as four things: I take refuge in the Guru, I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma and I take refuge in the Sangha.
This is something that many of you would know from the extraordinary preliminary practices for Mahamudra, where we take refuge in that way 100,000 times. There, one may wonder, we have the refuge tree with its five branches. Why five? There are four main refuges. There is a reason for this.
When we consider what is called Mahamudra, actually Mahamudra can be presented in three ways or under three aspects. There is sutra level Mahamudra, there is tantra level Mahamudra and there is quintessential Mahamudra. Sutra, tantra and essential.
When we are taking refuge in the preliminaries for Mahamudra, this preliminary refuge is a refuge that suits to all three of those levels of Mahamudra. That embraces all three of them, so there is no specificity whether it is this level of Mahamudra in the refuge or that level. When we take the preliminary refuge, it covers them all in one go. And that’s why we have the five branches. So the sutra level Mahamudra refuge is the sutra level of it, it’s to take refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
So then the way they are represented in this five-branch refuge tree, is that the Buddhas are on the – as we are facing it – what for us is the left hand branch, but from the point of view of the Guru up in the tree is the right hand branch. So then we have the Buddhas, one of the five branches, which for us as we look at it, is the left hand one. And then we have the Dharma texts at the back of the tree in pigeon holes. That’s the Dharma refuge. Then to our right, to the tree’s left, is the realized Sangha. That is the Sangha refuge. So we have Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.
For the tantra level Mahamudra we have the Three Roots, which are the Gurus, the Yidams, and the Dakas, Dakinis, Dharmapalas / Dharmaprotectors. The Gurus are at the central or at the heart of the tree. Our main Guru surrounded by the Lineage Gurus. The various main Yidams of the Lineage are immediately in front of those, lower between us and the Gurus. And then the Dharmapalas, Dakas and Dakinis with wisdom eyes are arranged around at the bottom of the tree. In that way our field of refuge incorporates the sutra understanding of refuge and the tantra understanding of refuge with all the fields.
There we have the visualization we use, that is inclusive for the sutra and for the tantra aspects of Mahamudra. And that field of refuge is common for those. It’s a little bit different when it comes to the very special aspects which are the Six Yogas in the Kagyu tradition. There the details of the Yidams and also the Dharma Protectors are a bit different.
The way we take refuge in the field of refuge is that in the centre is our own Guru but in the form of Buddha Vajradhara. So although the actual form that we are visualizing is the form of Buddha Vajradhara, the feeling of what we are visualizing, is the presence that we know of our own Root Guru. So it’s our own Root Guru in front of us, but not in his worldly form but in the perfect form of Buddha Vajradhara.
And then immediately above the Root Guru are the Gurus of the Lineage of Transmission of Mahamudra that he conveys to us. And so above his head one above another, are the Gurus of the Lineage of Transmission that we ourselves are receiving or are part of. So then, above his head there is First Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa, there is Gampopa who was his Guru, above him there is Milarepa, who was Gampopa’s Guru, above him Marpa, who was Milarepa’s Guru, above him Naropa, above him Tilopa and then above Tilopa the source of the Mahamudra Transmission, which is again in the form of Buddha Vajradhara.
So then in this refuge tree in front we actually have two Buddha Vajradharas, the original Buddha from whom this transmission of Mahamudra came, the Lamas of Lineage down to our own Root Guru, who is most kind to us, because it is from our own Root Guru we receive the transmission. And that Root Guru is felt in the way that we felt through the Mahamudra transmission, through the teachings. But nevertheless, even though there is the feeling we are familiar with, the presence, the actual form we see the Guru in is his utterly pure form, Sambhogakaya Vajradhara Buddha.
That’s the way the field of refuge is visualized specifically in the Mahamudra preliminary practice, and then having established that visualization one takes refuge, one says the words of refuge while at the same time doing prostrations. The prostrations are a way of purifying our body and they also accompany the act of taking refuge. So, in the way of the sutras we make the prostrations in front of the field of refuge, and because faith, devotion is such a vital part of the Mahamudra practice, then taking refuge with deep, deep faith is very important as we do prostration after prostration.
That’s the general sutra way. There is a tantric or Vajrayana way of doing the prostrations, which is more vigorous with breath retention, but in the ordinary sutra way we make regular prostrations in front of the field of refuge and then we recite the traditional refuge prayer. Then there is also a special wordy refuge prayer that is considered to have very great blessing. It comes from the great Atisha, one of the great bringers of Dharma to Tibet. But then the meaning is still the same; what we are taking refuge in are the Three Jewels and Three Roots, but with special attention to the Guru as being the embodiment of those.
When the taking of refuge is finished, so if for instance it is a session of prostrations, one is taking Refuge with faith, making prostrations at the same time as one says the prayers, then at the end the field of refuge doesn’t simply dissolve into voidness. In this Mahamudra tradition and indeed in the highest yogatantra tradition, anuttara yogatantra, in there the field of refuge dissolves into oneself. It doesn’t just dissolve into void, it dissolves to oneself and one receives the transmission and blessing.
There we saw that in the Mahamudra and in the highest yogatantra tradition the field of refuge, which is in front of us at the end, dissolves into us. So it dissolves into light which dissolves into our own heart centre. When it dissolves into the heart centre it becomes the very presence of the hri or hridaya, the quintessence of everything. With it there we rest as best we can in a non-contrived state.
When we are in that state of practice, the quintessential nature is that of voidness. However, that voidness is Dharmakaya. Dharmakaya is voidness, so voidness is what we mean by Dharmakaya. However, that voidness is not a mere absence; it is not simply nothing at all, just emptiness. That voidness is the void nature of mind’s clear manifestation. So the second aspect is mind’s clarity, clarity meaning its ability to manifest. So the manifestation of mind or the clarity of mind is the quintessential meaning of Sambhogakaya. So we have voidness and clarity.
And in this absolutely indivisible union of voidness and clarity is something which occurs uninterruptedly as uninterrupted manifestation. So that uninterrupted nature of whatever is manifesting clarity is the quintessential meaning of Nirmanakaya. So, there we have mind’s voidness, clarity, and uninterrupted nature as being the quintessential meaning of three kayas.
And those three things, although they could be defined separately in themselves, can never be separate things. So the fact that they are one by nature is what is meant by the Svabhavikakaya. Svabhavikakaya is the quintessential kaya, the quintessential unity of voidness, clarity and uninterrupted-ness.
The meaning that was just described by Khenpo Rinpoche of the quintessential nature of the four kayas: Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya and Svabhavikakaya, that is what we mean by result refuge. Most of the explanation we had yesterday afternoon and so far in this morning has been about the causal aspect of refuge, where we are taking refuge in something, which has to whichever degree described another-ness about it, and we are taking refuge in that as a help to our own path, a cause for our own path. But now we come to what has just described, when the refuge is dissolving into us and then we remain uncontrivedly in our true nature, in our own being, in our own mind.
That is the result refuge. It’s the result in as much as that is the ultimate truth. That’s where it all ends up, in the direct recognition of the void nature of mind. That voidness is the true and ultimate nature of mind. It is what we mean by the term Dharmakaya. Dharmakaya simply means “the body of all things”. We have this technical term: it is the body of all things, the voidness, the void nature of mind. And so we rest in that and we realize that void nature to be something which manifests with crystal clarity continuously. It can manifest anything at all. So that ability to manifest is what we call minds clarity. We understand that is Sambhogakaya and then the uninterrupted nature of that, constant nature of that is the Nirmanakaya.
But the point here is that this state, which has many special names, is called the uncontrived state. Sometimes it’s called the ordinary mind or the natural mind. Sometimes it is called the living moment, the actual instant. So this has to be the nature of mind, not as something conceptual or abstract, it is actually the nature of each living instant. With each instant there is the voidness, clarity of manifestation, and there is an uninterrupted nature of that. So the three kayas are present in that living moment.
And this is something that is experiential, in other words we need to experience it, not to have a mere idea of that. It is actually how it is, when we get the profound experience. So that’s why this is the result refuge and that’s what we are committed to bringing out in ourselves. So when we learn to experience it that that voidness, clarity and the uninterrupted nature need to be experienced without clinging and attachment, without conceptual perception and so on.
These are some words a bit beyond the boundary of this teaching, because these are words of what to do with the actual practice of Mahamudra, not so much to do with these preliminaries for it.
When we take refuge in the result aspect of refuge, then we are taking refuge in this quintessential nature of mind, which is void, clear and uninterrupted. So in some of the texts, for instance here with Karma Chame Rinpoche, we have the text to do with the peaceful and wrathful deities, it is called the shi tro and so on. There in the words of the prayers that are used, when we take refuge, we take refuge in that which is – and then there is a word which is hri gewa, in the Mahamudra language, these terms are very hard to convey. It means shimmeringly brilliant, shimmeringly fresh. So it’s in that state that we take refuge, it’s in that truth that we take refuge.
There the refuge is not a conceptual refuge, where we are using abstract concepts and placing our trust in some idea. We are talking more about this experience of the living moment, which is so shimmeringly vivid, so alive, so fresh. In the reality of that moment the meaning of voidness, the meaning of clarity, the meaning of uninterrupted manifestation is very clear, and it’s that result that we take refuge in.
And that result we take refuge in is something, which is what we truly are. It’s there as the very basis of all being. It’s not something other. This is why it is the result refuge. We are taking refuge in the very truth of reality or our mind itself. From that point of view, this ultimate aspect of refuge is something that we first need to be introduced to. And the introduction to this true nature of our mind is a very important part of our Mahamudra process. First it needs to be softened; the term “pointed out” is used. It actually means we need to be introduced to it, and then after that we need to become more familiar with it. Then we need to realize it properly and then get some mastery and constancy of the realization.
This nature, to which we need to be introduced, is the basis of ourselves. It’s sometimes given the name “ordinary mind”, or at least that’s how it’s translated these days. The ordinary mind, ordinary awareness in Tibetan is tamal gyi shepa. So when we see that term, which is used, then we need to understand what it means. And it doesn’t mean ordinary awareness or ordinary consciousness in terms of the rough and tumble of the play of our everyday mind and how it normally thinks and what it normally has as its imagery. When we look in to the Sanskrit origins of that which becomes tamal gyi shepa in Tibetan, then we see the very meaning of the term. It means what is our very nature, or what is the natural state. So this means the truth, the enlightened mind, not the everyday confused mind. So although it says ordinary mind, it means this most natural mind, or that which is our very own nature.
As we have seen we need to discover that nature through being pointed out or us being introduced to it by our Mahamudra Guru. And that takes very much, it takes very special circumstances for this recognition of the truth of mind or the true nature or these three kayas to happen. Khenpo Rinpoche was saying it in the beginning.
What is it then? Just now we have seen that Dharmakaya is mind’s voidness, Sambhogakaya is mind’s clarity and Nirmanakaya is its uninterruptedness. But what about the Dharmakaya where we have these naked Buddhas, and what about the Sambhogakaya where we have all the costumes and the silks and the five Dhyani Buddha crowns, and what about the Nirmanakaya where we have Buddhas with their robes and 32 signs, the head mounds? What about all those, aren’t they the three kayas?
To explain that Rinpoche is saying that when we get to the truth of refuge, what refuge ultimately is, it is these three qualities of the mind. We need that to be pointed out. But in order for that pointing out and recognition to happen, first on our side we need to develop tremendous, profound, constant faith and devotion. At the same time we need to really be sick and fed up with samsara, to have turned our back on it, true renunciation of worldliness and of what is petty, and then we need to have done the preliminary practices that prepare us. And when it happens, it’s not something that is given to us from the outside by the Guru; it’s something that is awakened within us.
So the term to explain it, it says so sor rang gyi rigpa. It means each one has to experience it on their own accord, from within. It’s our own intelligence that recognizes the nature of our own mind. It can never be given to anybody; all of that faith, devotion, practice, faith, renunciation makes the mind going to a state where it’s possible for it to recognize its own nature.
So then, the quintessential point is: that’s how it is, that’s there all the time, it’s our basic nature. It’s all a question whether that nature is recognized or not recognized. In a way it’s as simple as that. Until it’s not recognized we have the Buddhas as these abstract concepts that we take refuge in, but then, when the nature of mind is recognized, then its innate voidness, clarity, uninterrupted nature is the true meaning of the three kayas. It’s a direct experience.
Now this is wonderfully explained by the Third Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Dorje. Not in many words but very properly explained, and then also by the subsequent Karmapas in their texts.
What Khenpo Rinpoche was just telling us about is a very sacred and profound topic. It’s the most important of the topics. And so it will be excellent if we can come to understand more of what those particular ideas mean. Not only understand them but put them into practice, so that we actually realize them in our own lives. Anyone who realizes those profound meanings just described, finds most lasting or reliable of happinesses as deep inner happiness and a lasting and reliable happiness.
This is because what we are discovering is just the simple truth of our own basic nature. It’s basically what we are or what mind is. That basic nature is there, but in order to recognize it, which is the key difference, we must practice, we must meditate. So then we have the basic nature, upon which we have our path of practice, so we know about the basis, that’s already there. The path of practice to help us recognize and stabilize what’s actually there, and then, with time that becomes realization, where that ever presence becomes continuously recognized. Then we talk about realization. So we talk about basis, path and then the fruition as our realization. And all of those three stages of practice are to do with something, which is intrinsically part of us. It is not a question of realizing something which is other, it’s a question of realizing what our basic nature is.
It may be when we first hear about these things, that they are far away sounding concepts. So we hear that the basic nature of what we are is voidness, but that voidness has constant clear manifestation and then it’s uninterrupted. And these represent the true Dharmakaya nature of the Buddha. And then the Sambhogakaya manifestation and then the Nirmanakaya’s compassionate presence in the world and so on. When we hear that, because it doesn’t ring with any actual experience we have had, doesn’t correspond to something we have experienced ourselves, it just sounds like profound talk or something that the Lamas teach, but it doesn’t really resonate with us maybe at first.
What the Lamas’ teachings are telling us is about what is there, and that’s why we do the practice. Because it is truly practice or the training step by step that these words actually become a reality for us, something that we realize. Like if we take the example of learning the alphabet, then at first it’s very strange, it’s something totally new. And then you hear the “a, b, c, d”, letters of the alphabet. If you take it on from there, not just hearing the letters once, but the teacher asks you to say them again and again. So then you learn them by heart and you put them together and then you start to make simple words, complicated words.
We can see it takes a process of evolution step by step so that you can in the end get to the point of reading very fluently and reading very interesting things. If the first steps aren’t accomplished, that long training in each of the letters of the alphabet and putting them together, then the rest can’t follow. So, for us even though this is our basic nature, this is why at first we are told about it, then we have all the steps of the practice, so that bit by bit we shape and train our mind so that we gradually can start savor the meaning of these words.
As far as the actual training is necessary, in order to savor the meaning of this, then meditation is vital. Simply studying, simply mastering the concepts of this won’t bring tremendous benefit at all, we need to actually practice, we need to put this meaning into practice. And then we need to meditate. But then for that meditation the personal guidance of a Guru is also absolutely vital. So it’s vital we meditate, it’s vital that we meditate according to our own teachers’ instructions and then things can move forward and actually get the taste of this.
If it simply remains conceptual, then we can hear these notions, they make some sort of abstract sense to us, they have some sort of abstract meaning on that level, but this is not really the point. What we need to do is put them into practice. And so the traditional example that is given for that corresponds to these days: it would be a sweet in a cellophane wrapper. In the old days it’s molasses that is wrapped in something. These days it’s a sweet in a cellophane wrapper.
So, all these words, talking about the three kayas, emptiness, voidness, clarity and so on, is what wraps up this reality, which is like a delicious sweet. If you have only eaten the wrapper, chewed the cellophane – that’s not the point. And if you’ve got a pocketful of sweets, that’s not the point. The point is that you take the sweet out of the wrapper and you actually savor the delicious taste of the sweet itself.
So then, when it comes to Mahamudra or these very profound, such meaningful teachings, we need to practice. And that practice is not just formal practice on a cushion. It means all of our life becomes a putting this into practice, an application of the meaning of these teachings. In particular it means recognizing the nature of our mind poisons. First we need to recognize the nature of our mind poisons, our passions, our anger and so on and then we can recognize the wisdom nature of mind.
It would be very hard is not impossible just to recognize immediately the wisdom nature of mind. First we need to recognize our own mind’s defilements and then to look at them very properly according to Guru’s instructions. Then we can discover more about the mind. This is why our practice in each living moment becomes the way of bringing this to life.
In order to do that we need to practice in a most proper way. This means sitting properly in the right posture. We are working with this mind, which is described as very busy. In Tibetan literally it means the mind does nine times what it didn’t need to do even once. The mind goes here and there, sometimes it’s very much up, sometimes it’s very much down. Sometimes it’s a bit quiet, sometimes it’s busy. This is the mind you need to work with and recognize. In order to do that we need certain degree of discipline. We sit with some degree of discipline and then we let the mind internalize itself just a little bit. So there is this little bit of turning inwards, which gives us some quiet and objectivity.
When we sit like that, slightly internalized, with slight discipline of the posture, then the mind sometimes settles. But of course because of its habits thoughts come up, ideas come up. Now in a normal course of events these carry our awareness away. Our central awareness, our main focus gets carried away with a thought, gets totally preoccupied by it, sucked into it, one might say. What we learn to do is not to suppress that activity, but at the same time we are not being totally enveloped by it and carried away by it. On the contrary what we are doing, is mindfully and very sort of clearly and vividly being aware of it, but in a very natural and relaxed way. This is what we are trying to do. So it’s not at all a question of suppressing those thoughts, it’s not a question of being carried away by them, we let them wander, we let the mind go where it will.
But at the same time there is this mindful, very clear awareness of what is happening and just letting it to happen. It’s like say, mother keeping an eye on a child that is playing around, going here and there. And just keeping an eye on it and becoming vividly aware of it. This becomes the object of our naked, mindful awareness. As we do that we need to find the right quality of tension, so that we are neither over disciplined and sitting there in a very sort of rigid way with a rigid idea of meditation. At the same time we are not letting our mind just wander, because it’s being absorbed into the thoughts and the feelings. This is a particular skill.
When we can do that, when we are helped to do that through the meditation instructions, what we find is that that mind settles naturally. One of the terms that is used, is that the mind is naturally settled, because this clear permission of the mind to do what it wants but not to absorb us, that’s the basis for mindful awareness and presence, living in a moment. Through doing that the mind is naturally settled. That’s one thing. And then, because we are not either suppressing or modifying, the mind gradually learns how not to contrive. We talk about uncontrived-ness. Contrivance means we are actually trying to meditate in a certain way, fix the mind into this or that shape. So we learn not to contrive, and to let things naturally settle.
When we train in such a way, through finding the right way to meditate like that, what will happen because the mind is naturally settled and it’s losing its busyness to try to contrive and fix and arrange all the time, then from time to time it will settle quite profoundly. There are no thoughts, no projections; it’s just a very calm mind.
At other times that calmness is interrupted because a thought happens and then that thought engenders another thought. It’s like links of a chain, that thought triggers another thought etc. Sometimes there is a succession of mental activity. When the mind is active like that, it’s called the moving mind and when the mind settles again and it’s just very quiet without thoughts, it’s called the still mind. The training is to be clearly and mindfully present with the mind in its stillness and with the mind in its movement. Both of those aspects are what we mean by shamata or shine or peaceful stability; whether the mind is actually at peace or moving, we have this one-pointed, clear mindfulness that accompanies the stillness and its movement, its activity.
But then, what will happen is that probably first, during the times of stillness that very still peaceful mind will be able to recognize its own nature, as it has been described earlier, its void nature. With teacher’s help we understand the meaning of voidness. The meaning of voidness that is found in the quiet of stillness can be maintained as that still mind starts to move, come active and think. The void nature of the busier mind can also be recognized. That’s when mind’s clarity becomes very vividly appreciated, because even though the mind is moving in its various activities, then this void, yet clearly manifest aspect becomes very evident.
And then the nature of Dharmakaya, Sambogakaya, the different kayas, can be recognized. As one becomes more mature in the experience of the mind at peace and moving, then that recognition of voidness and clarity is what is meant by insight or vipashyana (lhak tong). So when there is the insight of the mind’s void nature, void, yet clear – void, clear, uninterrupted – this is the lhak tong, the insight, whereas the one-pointed, mindful awareness with either stillness or movement is the shamatha aspect of the mind. So with the training in that what emerges is an understanding of these special terminologies, like the shimmeringly vivid, very alive, moving mind. These are special terms that are used in Mahamudra. They become the living truth, we see how the voidness and clarity is such a sparklingly fresh, new experience.
That’s to say few words about the result aspect of refuge. When we talk about this profound true nature of mind as just has been done and how to practice it, there we are looking at what we are taking refuge in as the commitment of practice.