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Taking Refuge

  Taking Refuge in The Triple Jewels

What is Taking Refuge?
  Taking Refuge means to return and rely. From where do we return from and to what do we rely upon? When we take refuge in the Buddha, we are returning from our deluded state of mind and relying upon an Awakened, Understanding mind. When we take refuge in the Dharma, we are returning from deviant views and relying upon proper views and understanding. When we take refuge in the Sangha, we are returning from pollution and disharmony and relying upon Purity of Mind and the Six Principles of Living in Harmony. Taking refuge in the Triple Jewels restores the complete wisdom and abilities of our Self-Nature. We will attain Purity, Equality, Honesty, Contentment, Compassion, and overall, True Happiness.

The Buddha Jewel
  Buddha" is a sanskrit word which means 'Awareness and Understanding'. When we take refuge in the Buddha, we vow to return from blind faith and delusion and rely upon Understanding and Awareness as a way of life. We are not relying upon the statues or Buddha-images, but rather the spirit of Understanding and Awareness they represent. ¡@¡@As students of the Pure Land Teachings, we learn to rely upon Amitabha Buddha's lessons on wisdom and compassion. 'Amitabha' stands for Infinite Light and Infinite Life. When we follow his teachings, we will attain wisdom, happiness, and longevity. This is taking refuge in the Buddha.

The Dharma Jewel
  Dharma" means 'Right Understanding and Views.' Delusion has obstructed us from seeing the true face of people and the reality behind matters and objects. This has caused us to look at life and the universe in a distorted and deviant way. When delusion is cleared and our minds are pure to an extent, we give rise to wisdom. With wisdom, we are able to see all people and matters completely and clearly. When our hearts are pure, we can see the past, present, and future. Only when we have clearly seen the Whole can our viewpoint and Understanding be considered 'Right'. ¡@¡@The Buddha's mind is pure without the slightest pollution and therefore sees everything clearly and entirely. We can rely upon the Sutras (recorded teachings of the Buddha) because they speak entirely of the truths the Buddha has seen. They teach and show us the way to attain Purity of Mind, to see life and the universe most clearly, and become just like the Buddhas. ¡@¡@As students of the Pure Land Teachings, we should rely upon the Six Sutras of Pure Land as guidelines of practice:

  1. The Sutra of Amitabha's Purity, Equality, and Understanding. 2. The Amitabha Sutra. 3. The Sutra on Observing Amitabha Buddha and His Pure Land. 4. The Chapter of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva's Conduct and Vows. 5. The Chapter on the Foremost Attainment of Great Strength Bodhisattva Through Buddha Recitation. 6. Vasubandhu Bodhisattva's Report on the Way to Reaching Pure Land. This is taking refuge in the Dharma.

The Samgha Jewel
  Sangha" means 'purity and harmony'. Today's world is full of pollution. Pollution of mind, spirit, views, and body. Even the earth and atmosphere are hazardly polluted. The Buddha taught, "The environment changes according to our state of mind." We should return from all these pollutions and rely upon purity of mind. Purity of Mind is the key to saving our Earth.

  There is also great disharmony in our world today, among spouses, families, friends, societies, and countries which has brought us much suffering and disasters. The Buddha taught us to rely upon the Six Principles of Living in Harmony to establish harmonious relationships between ourselves and others.

  As students of the Pure Land Teachings, we should rely upon the choice of wisdom and compassion as our way of treating others and dealing with affairs. Great Strength Bodhisattva represents wisdom. His choice of the Buddha Recitation method of practice is wisdom in its highest form. Kuan Yin Bodhisattva represents compassion; when we help introduce the Pure Land Teachings to others, we are practicing the complete compassion of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva. This is taking refuge in the Sangha.

  To the Buddha I return and rely,returning from delusions and relying upon Awareness and Understanding.

  To the Dharma I return and rely,returning from erroneous views and relying upon Proper Views and Understanding.

  To the Sangha I return and rely, returning from pollutions and disharmony and relying upon Purity of Mind and the Six Principles of Living in Harmony.



  Refuge Vow Ceremony

The Oral Commentaries
  of His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche.

  Today I am giving refuge. We are engaged in the ceremony of taking refuge. We say that we take refuge, or go for refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Those are the Three Objects of Refuge. Let us examine what these Three Objects of Refuge mean. First of all, in English and in Sanskrit, the name ‘Buddha’ seems to indicate or point to a particular person, but in actuality what is meant by 'Buddha' is a state of awakening which is composed of two factors. In Tibetan, the word is ‘Sangye’. The first syllable of the word is ‘Sang’, Sang means to have completely purified the mindstream of all the stains and defilements deriving from ignorance, or unknowing, in other words the primitive beliefs about the nature of reality. It is the elimination all faults, or negativity, from the mindstream. The second syllable is ‘gye’, which means to completely awaken and maximize all positive qualities innate to the mind itself. So it is said that essentially our own minds are awakened, they have awakened qualities. Bringing those awakened qualities to the fore is what is meant by ‘gye’. Then, putting the two syllables together is what is meant by the term ‘Buddha’ in the Tibetan teachings. This is something we have in us and can cultivate, because it is the seed of what we are. Now, there are three objects of refuge or three sources of refuge: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Those three are one, but they are not one single manifestation, they are three manifestations. The Buddha can be said to be the guide, or the one who shows the path, he is compared to the pilot of a boat. It is said that we need to traverse the infinite ocean of suffering of cyclic existence and reach the other shore, which is freedom from this suffering. In order to that, we need a pilot, or teacher, someone who knows the way. The teacher is the Buddha. The one who demonstrates the perfect path that leads to the complete cleansing and purification of the mindstream of all its stains and defilements. Bringing to the fore and maximizing all positive qualities. The Dharma is the path the Buddha demonstrates which actually leads to liberation from cyclic existence. Those who help us along the way, guiding us and ‘fine tuning’ our path, are the Sangha. These are the three manifestations, the three jewels of refuge. When taking refuge according to the procedure of the Great Vehicle (Mahayana), one should understand that one is seeking refuge for protection not for oneself alone, and not for any self-interest. Rather one cultivates the mindset that one is going for refuge in order to liberate all sentient beings.

  As for the enactment of the taking of refuge, one begins the process by making obeisance (prostrating) in a physical way. The start of prostrations begins by the folding of the hands in a particular way. The hands should be held together, with the thumbs tucked together in an elegant way. This is actually symbolic of a lotus blossom, which one offers to the objects of refuge to receive the benevolence of the sources of refuge. There are many ways this can be explained. In general you fold the hands in prayer gesture, tuck the thumbs together, and begin making prostrations, touching the hands to three places. Those three points, the forehead, throat, and heart chakras, symbolize that you go for refuge with your body, speech, and mind. The next thing act, the actual prostrating, symbolizes and subsumes the performance of refuge. You touch your two hands, two knees, and forehead to the ground. So, there are five points symbolizing the yearning to overcome the five primary poison mindsets of ignorance, attachment, aversion, jealousy, and arrogance. Touching these five points of the body to the ground means that you are going for refuge to overcome the virulent effects of those five poisons.

  At this point, the actual ceremony of taking refuge was performed, after which His Holiness resumed His teaching.)

  Now, you should all understand that you have just undergone an important experience. You have actually taken refuge. You have gone for refuge. This means that from this day forward you should develop a powerful impetus to practice buddhadharma, to practice the teachings of the Buddha. At least every day, you should make three prostrations and you can pray the short prayer of refuge. If you want to practice more extensively on a daily basis, you can practice preliminary refuge practices that are available in text form. This is a very great occasion. You have invited into your lives something very important and powerful. You should rejoice in that fact. Another reason that the taking of refuge is so special and so important is that it actually constitutes a level of ordination into the practice of Buddhism. There are various levels of what can be called ordination. You can be an ordained layperson where you can take vows to avoid the Ten Non-Virtues and practice the Ten Virtues of body speech and mind. You can be a novice monk or nun. You can be a fully ordained monk or nun. You can be a tantrika. There are many levels of ordination and ordained practice in the world. Taking refuge is the gateway into all of them. In addition, in the secret mantra Vajrayana, the main thing is empowerment and there is no way to attain empowerment without refuge. Therefore, it can be said that refuge is the foundation and the laying of the foundation is extremely important. Therefore, this is an extremely important occasion in which you participated this morning.

  It is said that the fundamental characteristics of the teachings of the Buddha and the practices of Buddhism are the interrelation of all things. The understanding of this interrelationship exists within the essence of Buddhism. Therefore, it is said that the Compassion of the Buddhas is related to the need of living beings. The compassion of the Buddhas is like a hook. When sentient beings take refuge as you have today, it is like you have put a ring that the hook can catch. Therefore, the hook and the ring are interrelated. The taking of refuge is the establishment of the ring in your being that can be hooked by the Compassion of the Buddhas. This is the entrance into all practice. If you wish to practice, you may practice. In any case, by undergoing this particular ceremony you received the blessing of the enlightened being we call Buddha. You have received the transference into your own mindstreams of the positive energy of the enlightened being we call Buddha. As far as the teachings of the Buddha are concerned, they are innumerable. It is said that there are 84,000 categories of the teachings and practices within the totality of buddhadharma. The essence of them all, if one wishes to apply them to oneself is to overcome ignorance, sins, stains, defilements, and negativities of emotions and primitive beliefs about the nature of reality through practice. If we were to boil it all down into a single phrase it would be this: “Do not enact any non-virtue, even the smallest non-virtue avoid, do everything positive; tame and train your own mind”. This is the essence of the teachings of the Buddha. Another way to look at taking refuge is that you enter into a partnership with the Buddha. We can say that there is a necessary relationship involved. It is said that the Buddha, by Himself, cannot liberate sentient beings from the effects of their negative karma. For example, the Buddha cannot wash away your obscurations with His hand. There needs to be a relationship between the way shown, the techniques given by the Buddha, and your own practice. It is like doing work on a computer: there needs to be both hardware and software for the work to be done. It is not something that can be done with the click of a computer key. It is not something that manifests automatically, but rather it is something you have to take an active part. Your own liberation will result from the powerful teachings of the Enlightened Being given to you as well as your own application of effort to these teachings. You need to practice in order to accumulate merit and eliminate the negativity of past karma, thereby opening the way to your own realization of the actual nature of being itself, which is the essence of Dharma. The Buddha has shown the way, now it is up to you to tread that path. As for the teachings of the Buddha, the Speech of the Buddha, you first need to hear the teachings, to take the teachings, to hear the Words of the Buddha. Then you need to think about what you heard, contemplate what you have heard. Investigate what you have heard. Test it, try it out, and see if it works. Then you need to meditate on what you have contemplated. The Buddha never recommended the dependence on instantaneous blind faith. Rather, he recommended investigation, testing, weighing, comparing, and contrasting: really getting into it. Then, because of what you discovered, based on discovering the qualities of the teachings in your lives. Developing faith should be something that is as valued as gold: you test it, scratch it, put it in various chemicals, it passed all the tests and you say: “AH this is really gold!” Then you value it appropriately. The Buddhdharma is like that, all the teachings and practices within Buddhism are like that. You hear them, you think about them, you try them out, and you see how they work for you. When they work for you, you develop faith, a faith that is a reasoned faith. It is not a meaningless leap of faith; rather it is based upon practical direct experience. The Buddha actually said “I don’t want people developing faith out of respect for me, or because they got a big flash from me. Practice what I teach, and if it works for you, then develop faith in me.” Don’t do it just out of respect for the outer trappings, but actually experience the inner essence of the teachings for yourself. That is the solid rationale of faith that the Buddha always recommended.

  It is important to understand that you have done something here by going for refuge that has many benefits. These many positive effects will begin to be felt by you in your lives and your mindstreams. In general, it can be said that you have entered the path to liberation. On a relative plane, it said that you have averted many harms that might otherwise have come to you. You will not be harmed or hurt in any way by the negative machinations of humans or non-human obstructers. The many sins, stains, and defilements that you have accumulated from beginningless time until now in your mindstreams have been cleansed and purified through the act of taking refuge alone. Vast stores of merit have been planted in your mindstreams. You have assured yourselves of something that can be of benefit to you, even at the moment of death. These are some of the relative benefits you acquired by taking refuge this morning.

  Translated by Michael Lewis / Transcribed by Ngakpa Jeffery Könchog Gyaltsen

  ©San Francisco Ratna Shri Sangha

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