Fundamental teachings
Antidotes to not understanding how to achieve Enlightenment: Refuge
(from In Search of the Stainless Ambrosia, Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Jewel Treasury of Advice and Transformation of Suffering)
by Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche

Before cultivating Bodhicitta, we must know and perform the ceremony of refuge. Powerful worldly deities, mountains, great trees, Gods, nagas, parents or other relatives cannot give refuge. The reason is that to give refuge one must be free from all fears, suffering and the causes of suffering and confusion. As ordinary beings are not free from suffering, they cannot be objects of refuge. The Buddha is the one who is completely free from confusion, fear and suffering; the Dharma is the only path to acheive Buddhahood, and the Sangha is the only company in which to practice the Dharma.

The power of the refuge is illustrated in this story of the Buddha: When the Buddha was staying at Vulture Peak Mountain, there lived a man named Palbe who was a devotee of teachers. These teachers were jealous of Buddha and therefore counseled Palbe: "The man called Buddha bears the pride of someone empowered with omniscience. He has converted many young people into monks and nuns. This will bring harm to our kingdom. You must therefore do this: Dig a large hole outside your house, within which build a fire. Then place a thin covering of grass across the hole to disguise the trap. Second, prepare a feast in which the food is sprinkled with poison. A luncheon invitation will then be extended to the Buddha and his retinue. If the Buddha is omniscient as he claims, he will perceive the danger and decline to attend. If not, he and his followers deserve their death, either by the fire or the food." The following day, Palbe invited the buddha and his retinue for lunch. Lord Buddha realized the time was ripe to tame the householder, so he accepted the invitation. Palbe returned home convinced that the acceptance of the invitation signaled the deceit of the Buddha's claim to omniscience. But his wife watched his preparations with great fear. "If you kill the Lord Buddha," said she, "you will be filled with great remorse." Fearing that his wife would spread word of his intentions, Palbe locked her in a small room. Meanwhile, at Vulture Peak Mountain, the Lord Buddha gave Ananda the following instructions: "Although it has been customary for one of my disciples to lead the way, today no one should walk in front of me." Then, putting on his Dharma robes and gathering his bowl, he and his retinue walked to Palbe's homestead. He was escorted also by the gods Brahma and Indra. Upon his arrival at Rajagrha, the earth quaked six times. The gathering crowd was filled with awe. One upsaka, noting the Buddha's imminent arrival at Palbe's home, begged the Buddha to turn back, warning that Palbe had made harmful preparations. The Buddha replied, "Do you think that fire will bring me harm? Even when I took rebirth in the animal realm I was exempt from the dangers of fire. Now, I am enlightened, so what possible damage could the fire inflict? Because I have dispelled the fire of the three poisons of ignorance, desire and hatred, ordinary fire has no power to harm." When the Buddha placed his golden leg on the grass covering, the hole was transformed into a lotus-filled lake populated by buzzing honey bees. Gods complemented the new scenery with pots of sandalwood, and the crowd was filled with wonder. Meanwhile, Palbe and his teachers had been hiding in the house. Fearing that the noise of the crowd meant the success of Palbe's evil deed, Palbe's wife pounded down the door of her room. She was thrilled with happiness at the sight of the lotus-filled lake, and cried. As the Buddha came closer to the house, Palbe became frightened. The hair of his body stood on end and he prostrated before the Buddha. "Sugata," said he, "I have made a grave mistake on account of my involvement with wrong spiritual friends. Please forgive my wrongdoing which is a result of wrong view. In the future, I will never commit any evil deeds. Please stay, and I will never commit any evil deeds. Please stay, and I will prepare a fresh feast untainted by poison." The Buddha replied, "There is no need for you to prepare a different meal. Even when I took rebirth in the animal realm, I was immune to the dangers of poison. Now I am enlightened so I could not possibly be harmed by the dangerous substance. Before you distribute the food, recite the following verse: 'Ignorance, anger and desire are the three poisons of samsara; Buddha is free from these three poisons; Buddha will destroy the power of these poisons. The Dharma is free of poison. by the power of the Dharma, the poison will be purified. The Sangha is stainless; by the power of the nature of this excellent community, the poison will be purified.' Because I, the Buddha, the Peerless One amidst samsara, achieved Enlightenment, the poison will not affect my body. Because the dharma, the most perfect teaching, is distinguished by purity, the poison will not affect my body. The three poisons, anger, attachment and ignorance, afflict sentient beings. By power of purification through the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, the mind is completely guarded from these poisons." The Buddha thus purified the food of its poison, and Palbe took refuge in the Buddha. He memorized the verse, recited it three times and made offerings of the food. Thus, Palbe was tamed and became a great devotee of the Lord Buddha.

Anyone going for refuge must first be convinced of the suffering of samsara, and must have confidence in the Triple Gem as the object which can protect us from suffering. The Buddha is the embodiment of the three perfect forms (Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya), and is completely purified of all obscurations, perfected in wisdom and compassion, and possessed of all the great qualities. The Dharma consists of three categories of teachings which includes the wisdom of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as the truth of the path and the truth of the cessation. The Sangha includes those who motivate one to achieve Enlightenment. The ordinary Sangha consists of four or more pure monks and nuns. The noble Sangha includes those who have achieved realization beyond samsara.

However, the ultimate refuge is the Buddha because he is Dharmakaya, the nature of wisdom, the complete form of all Dharma, and the ultimate state of all the Sangha. He is beyond birth, arising and cessation, is completely pure, and is free from all desire. The Buddha is like the physician, the dharma like the medicine, and the Sangha like the nurses. Just as the physician explains the nature of the illness and its causes, and prescribes the necessary medicine, so did the Buddha describe all the different states of suffering in samsara and their causes. To help us be free of suffering and achieve peace, he gave us the Dharma. And just as we obtain medicines from a nurse, so can the Sangha support our practice. If one follows this path properly, one can be freed of suffering and achieve fearlessness.

Anyone desiring the refuge ordination should receive this from a living master. After taking refuge, the following practices are important: One must perform offerings physically and mentally to the Triple Gem wherever one may be; offer whatever is eaten or drunk; do not abandon the refuge for rewards, or even to protect your life. Through awareness of the great wisdom-compassion qualities of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, take refuge repeatedly. Having taken refuge in the Buddha, one should not then take refuge in worldly spirits or powerful deities because they are not free from confusion, and so do not have the wisdom to free others from suffering. Having taken refuge in the Dharma, one should not harm the life of any sentient being. The Dharma is the antidote to violence and confusion, so if one cannot help others, one should at least not harm them, because as oneself likes and searches for peace, so do all other sentient beings. Having taken refuge in the Sangha, one should not associate with persons holding wrong views (those opposed to the spiritual path), or not believing in karma. Generally, the fellowship of the Dharma is important. A medicinal plant growing in a forest turns the neighboring plants into medicine, and a poisonous plant turns the neighboring plants into poison. Just so, when we are in the company of spiritual persons we are inspired towards spiritual life, and when we associate with worldly persons we tend to fall into worldliness.

One should respect the Buddha and even images of him, elevating them as objects of refuge. One should also respect the precious teachings and even texts written about the Dharma. they should not be placed upon the ground. If you find a text on the ground, think: this is a precious teaching, containing the methods for purifying the mind's obstructions and achieving complete wisdom and compassion. With this understanding, elevate them. One should also respect the Sangha, and all the levels within it. These include both beginners and highly realized masters, but all are cultivating their mind to achieve Enlightenment. Therefore, one day all will achieve Buddhahood. They are unlike ordinary people. Bearing this in mind, we should treat them with respect, especially those who are monks and nuns.

The beneficial Aspects of the Refuge

- One enters into the Buddhist path. The ideal behind the Buddha's teaching is not just to make others Buddhist. Because of his wisdom and compassion, he developed a method to free all sentient beings from the limitations of confusion and suffering.
- The refuge ordination is the foundation of all the higher vow and tantric empowerments.
- This is a method for purifying previous negative karma and
- A protection from harm caused by humans and non-humans.
- One accomplishes all one's wish.
- One accumulates wisdom and merit.
- One will not born in the lower realms.
- One attain Enlightenment swiftly.

Although samsara is endless, we can through refuge, limit its boundaries. So this is a joyful path. When one studies and practices meditation, one should make effort joyfully, though one sometimes face obstacles.

The Three Jewels are like the sphere of the sun.
Their compassion is impartial and unfailing.
Take refuge from the bottom of your heart.
This is my heart's advice.
(from the Jewel Treasury of Advice)