A Brief Teaching on "Refuge"
By H.H. The 17th Karmapa

For sentient beings limitless as space to attain supreme Enlightenment understanding and observing "Refuge" is the most necessary.
Today, for the benefit of the devotees, benefactors and disciples of Hong Kong, I would like to present a brief teaching on Refuge, and hope you can fully understand the meaning of Refuge and correctly observe them.
There are three aspects of Refuge:
* The Roots of Refuge;
*The Essence of Refuge &
* The Commitment of Refuge.
The roots of Refuge are faith and compassion: trust and confidence in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,and compassion wishing to liberate all sentient beings from suffering. The faith of full confidence is to understand that the Three Jewels are your only and ultimate refuge, and to have heartfelt understanding of and trust in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Compassion for all sentient beings is to want liberate all sentient beings from all kinds of problems and sufferings in the ocean of Samsara.
What is the essence of refuge?
It is that:
*I have no other ultimate guide but the Buddha, and in this world, the Buddha Shakyamuni who has shown us the path for liberation;
*I have no other true path but the Dharma, and through contemplation and meditation, I will attain enlightenment without going astray;
*I have no other companions with whom to tread the path but the supreme Sangha. It is said that there may be two types of Sangha: the ordinary Sangha such as Biksu and Bishuni, and the Supreme Sangha who are Bodhisattvas such as those who have obtained the tenth bhumi. However, Sangha here means anyone who assist you in the Dharma path in whatever way.
Therefore, one should have these clear and unchanging commitments in one's mind that:
* One has no other ultimate Refuge other than the Buddha;
*One has no other true path but the Dharma;
*One has no other companions with whom to tread the path but the supreme Sangha.
The instructions on observing the Refuge commitments are many and can be categorized into the general and the particular and so on.
First of the general instructions is not to give up our Refuge even on exchange for your life, or for great awards. If someone were to pile up the greatest amount of wealth on one side and tell you it could be yours if you would abandon your Refuge, you would not want to give up your Refuge; not even for your life. Secondly, whatever sufferings and hardships you go through, you should not rely on anything but the Three Jewels. Third, you should always make offerings to the Three Jewels and the sacred objects of body, speech and mind. Fourth, you yourself should observe the Refuge and bring others to the Refuge of the Three Jewels as much as possible; it is not enough that oneself alone should abide by the Refuge precepts, one should try to bring others to the right direction; if somebody is going in a wrong way you should try to lead them on the right path. Fifth, you should make prostration to the Buddha of the ten directions, to the Buddha of whichever direction in which you are heading. This means to pay homage to the Buddha, morning, noon and evening.
Then there are the instructions on the particular precepts regarding the Three Jewels. First, if we go for Refuge to the Buddha we don't take worldly deities and gods as an ultimate Refuge. Since they themselves are in the Samsara, how can they help you to become liberated from it? So as it is said in the Thirty-seven ways of a Bodhisattva, one should not go to them for Refuge. Secondly, going for Refuge to the Dharma means to give up harming sentient beings, semchen. Semchen here includes not just those with four legs and hairy beings but all those who have senses and minds. One should give up killing and robbing, and should try to tread the path of non-violence. Thirdly, when you go for Refuge to the Sangha you should not spend time with negative companions; if you spend time with negative companions you will be led into negative ways and not in the positive ways.
There are three precepts to observe with regard to paying respect to the Three Jewels. First, regarding going for Refuge to the Buddha, you show reverence to the Buddha and their representatives. This includes putting Buddha images in a place of respect and making prostration and offerings and so on. Second, going for Refuge to the Dharma requires you to show reverence to the Dharma and its representations, even to a letter or a syllable by which the Dharma is written. Not to mention the books and Dharma materials. Third, taking Refuge in the Sangha, even those who are merely wearing the robes of the Sangha; even if you find a piece of red robe on the street, you should think that this is also representation of the Sangha and should not treat it in a disrespectful way.
Now for the three instructions on accordance. First, in going for Refuge to the Buddha, let you mind be in accordance with the Dharma. If we claim to go for Refuge to the Buddha but our mind is completely in opposition to the Dharma it is not all right. Let your mind be infused with the Dharma, we should let our speech be in accord with the Dharma. We claim to be taking Refuge in the Dharma, and so to let our speech go totally contrary to the Dharma is wrong. Therefore we try to give up telling lies, slandering others, and speaking hurtful word; we try to infuse our speech with the Dharma in our daily life. Thirdly, in going for refuge to the Sangha we should let our body be in accord with the Dharma. We should try to live our live in accord with the Dharma and give up negative actions of the body, such as sexual misconduct and so on.
What are the benefits of observing the Refuge precepts? We should not go for Refuge if there were no benefits. First, by going for Refuge we begin to practise Buddhism or Dharma. Second, we create a favorable basis for all precepts and levels of ordination. Third, we are protected from harm from human and non-human beings; all obstacles and harmful influences are pacified. Fourth, we will not be separated from the blessings of all Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in all our lives to come. Fifth, the effects of negative karma will be reduced. There are so many benefits that it is difficult to count them all.
The reason why I talk about Refuge is that we should not waste this life of ours which is endowed with the eight freedoms and ten opportunities. Of course there are many who are more learned that I am, but I have tried to say a few words on this. A fool like me doesn't know much, but if you keep it in mind I think there will be some benefits.
All the devotees in Hong Kong should always make efforts to observe refuge and have strong confidence and pay homage to the Three Jewels through practising the above teachings in general; and in particular, it is most important not to be discouraged, and preserve with devotion and confidence, our precious lineage of Karma Kamtsang. Since one follows the Karma Kamtsang Lineage, one should always practise the view and the teachings of the Lineage. Any subsequent diversion to the wrong view breaks the spiritual commitment which is not just breaking an ordinary material thing.
Finally I ask all of you to always keep these teachings in mind, contemplate theirs meanings and put them into practice in your daily life.
May all of you have good health and may there be happiness and well being in this life and other lives to come. I wish and dedicate that all positive deeds I have done in all three times will ripen for the benefit of all my mother sentient beings and especially you all. I request you all to engage in non-violence and abandon all harmful deeds towards any beings. I pray that there will be timely seasons, good harvest and the greatest prosperity and happiness for all the beings on this earth.
Due to my young age I am unable to serve the monasteries and the Buddhadharma very well at present, but I will ensure that I do not become a disgrace to my lineage in my contributions to the Dharma and the Lineage.
The above teaching was given by H.H.The 17th Karmapa, at the request of the Lama Jigme, Resident Lama of Karma Kagyu (H.K.) Buddhist Society for the benefit of the Hong Kong disciples and devotees on July 8th, 1998 at Tsurphu Monastery.
English translation was partly done by Raymond Leung, under the guidance of Lama Jigme, Lama Tenam and Khennpo Sherab; the rest was derived from the translation by Ven. Ringu Tulku (Nov.1998).

May His Holiness The 17th Karmapa Have Good Health,
Long Life And Always Turn the Wheel of Dharma!
May All Sentient Beings, Limitless as Space, Be Liberated
From Samsara And Swiftly Attain Buddhahood!
Whatever Merits Accumulated, However Small, Are Thus Dedicated.