The Benefits of Taking Refuge
by Venerable Thubten Chodron


The first benefit is we become Buddhists. You may say, “What is so great about becoming a Buddhist? I am already a member of this club and that club and that other club, what do I need another membership card for?” Becoming a Buddhist is not joining a club and getting a membership card. Rather it means that we are starting on the path to enlightenment. So, one of the benefits of taking refuge is that it initiates us onto the path to enlightenment. Of course we can create good karma without taking refuge and you can be doing practices that are beneficial to yourself, but the meaning of becoming a Buddhist is that you are actually stepping onto the path that the Buddhas follow. You are trying to go in that same direction that the Buddha went.

This can bring up the whole subject of, “Well, is Buddhism the only path that is going to lead you to enlightenment?” Here’s another example that might help to illustrate this point. For instance, there are many roads from here that will take you downtown. There is more than one way to go downtown. You can drive a long way. You can drive a short way. You can go on the highway or you can go on the side streets. But not every road that you take from here where we are now will lead you downtown. We tend to go to extremes of saying, “It’s got to be Buddhist and if you are not a Buddhist you are going to hell.” That is completely erroneous. On the other hand, thinking in the other extreme and saying, “Everything is the same and all religions are the same,” is like saying you can drive any direction that you want from here on Fifty-Fourth Street and you will end up downtown. But that is not true, because if you drive north from here you will end up in Vancouver and not downtown! So I think we have to use our discriminating wisdom and not get hung up on words and labels – that is not important, but we do have to look at the meaning and what is going on.


When we take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha we are saying that we have examined the qualities of the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, know something about the path, have confidence in it and decide that this is the direction that we want to go.

There may be other teachings that are very good. All religions have something good in them. All religions exist to bring human happiness. By taking refuge, however, we are declaring that this particular system is something that speaks to our heart. We have confidence in it, are going to follow it and therefore we make a clear decision in our lives. I think that is important.


I am always talking about the example of someone studying crystals on Monday night and holistic healing on Tuesday night, etc. We can continue to do that. There is no pressure to take refuge. It is our own spiritual practice; we are the ones that are responsible. But at some point we might actually want to find one principal direction and settle down and devote ourselves to that.

For instance, when you are young you date a lot of guys, but at a certain point you will probably get married. It is like you get tired of going out with all these different guys, so you think marriage might be better. Of course, marriage brings a whole new set of headaches, but you do have the opportunity to go deeply into the relationship that way. Well, marriage here is analogous to taking refuge. Becoming a Buddhist and taking refuge does not mean you do not learn about crystals and holistic healing anymore. You can still learn about those things, but you have your principal priority designated and that cuts out the confusion just as getting married cuts out the confusion of fifty million guys. But taking refuge does bring you some new headaches initially because you have to start looking at your mind.


It is not that Buddhism brings headaches to us, but sometimes the idea of commitment to one path can make a lot of stuff come up in our life because that is when we really begin the process of purification. When we begin to purify, all of our junk comes up.

When we begin to meditate, we have to look at what is in our mind. Whereas when we go from one spiritual thing, to the next and to others, it is like we are in a spiritual amusement park, getting amused by all the external things, so of course we do not look at our mind. But when we take refuge, we have to start looking at our mind. That is why I say practising is like living in a garbage dump initially. But there is hope. I firmly believe that it is possible to transform the garbage dump into something better, but we have to start at where we are.

If we do not take refuge, even though we may create a lot of good karma, that karma will not be dedicated for the attainment of enlightenment, because we have no faith in enlightenment and no faith in the Buddhist path.

So this first step of making a commitment, becoming a Buddhist, entering into the Buddhist path, really clarifies where we are going. Then when we create good karma we can dedicate it for the attainment of enlightenment. Whereas, if we do not really have much confidence in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, we may create good karma but we will not dedicate it for the attainment of enlightenment because if you do not believe in enlightenment, why would you dedicate the good karma for that?


The next benefit of taking refuge is that it establishes a foundation for taking all further vows. The reason for this is that taking refuge confirms in us that we want to attain liberation. Taking refuge confirms that we want to follow the path set out by the Buddha and thus having confirmed that, it sets the stage so that we can actually take the different levels of precepts or vows that can help us accumulate good karma and help us abandon our habitual confused behaviour.

Also, if your refuge is very strong you will keep your vows well. If your refuge is not very strong, then you will not keep your vows well. If you have not taken refuge, then you will not follow the precepts. If you do not believe in the path and the goal that the Buddha explained, you will not follow the method to get there.


Refuge serves as the foundation for taking any further vows or initiations. There are actually three sets of vows that one can take as a Buddhist. The first level is called pratimoksha or individual liberation vows. These include the five lay precepts, the monks and nun’s vows and also one-day vows. The second type of vows is called the bodhisattva vows. The third type is the tantric vows. These are in order of how easy or difficult it is to keep them. In other words, the individual liberation vows are the easiest to keep because they point out physical and verbal behaviours that are to be abandoned. The bodhisattva vows are more difficult to keep because they point out mental behaviours to be abandoned, as do the tantric vows which are even more difficult to keep.

Nowadays, because initiations are given very freely, sometimes people’s first exposure to Buddhism is through an initiation. They might say something like, “I’ve taken this and that initiation but I am not a Buddhist.” Actually, refuge vows are given as part of the initiation ceremony, but if the person does not consider himself a Buddhist then he has not taken the bodhisattva vows or the tantric vows. And if you have not taken those, you have not taken the initiation. So people may say they have taken an initiation, they may think they have and that’s okay, there is nothing wrong with saying that or thinking that, but if one has not taken refuge in one’s heart either in a separate ceremony or in the earlier part of that initiation, then one really has not taken an initiation.


That is why taking refuge is the door to the Buddha’s teachings. It is the doorway that you enter into to be able to commit yourself to any of the further practices. Like I repeatedly say, somebody can learn Buddha’s teachings and practise them without being a Buddhist. If something the Buddha taught helps your life, practise it. It does not matter if you have taken refuge or not.

But now when we talk about taking refuge we are talking of actually settling down and getting into the path and doing it. It is a different level of involvement. The advantage of taking refuge is that you get to take precepts. You are probably going, “Ugh, I get to take precepts. Who wants to take precepts! When I take the one-day Mahayana precepts, I can only eat one meal a day. I can’t sing and dance. I can’t have sex. I can’t do this. I can’t do that. Why is this an advantage?” Well that shows us something about what we think is important in life.

The advantage of taking precepts is that it acts as a framework for us to become more mindful, more aware of what we are saying, thinking and doing. If you take a precept to do, or not do, something that has been in your mind all day, you become much more aware of what is going on instead of just being on automatic mode. Taking precepts is very beneficial that way. Also, by keeping the precepts, we continually create good karma no matter what we are doing as long as we are not directly breaking the precepts.

There is a refuge ceremony for people who wish to take refuge. When you take refuge, you automatically take the precept not to kill. In addition, if people want to take any of the other precepts at that time they may, because taking refuge gives one the ability to take the five lay precepts for one’s life and one gets all the advantages of taking the precepts.


The third advantage of taking refuge is that it helps us to eliminate the negative karmic imprints on our mindstream. Previously in our confusion we may have acted destructively in verbal, physical and mental ways. We have those imprints on our mind and they will bring consequences. Taking refuge helps us because if we take refuge, we take vows, and observing the vows helps us to purify our past negative karma.

If we take refuge, we are also more likely to do the other practices that help us to purify, like doing the four opponent powers and doing purification meditation. Also if we take refuge, we have a deeper connection with the Buddha and by making offerings, doing prostrations and so forth to the Buddha, this also helps to purify our negative karma, because we are generating very positive attitudes when we are doing these practices.

Taking refuge can be a very strong purification of all the different karmas that we have created.



The next benefit of taking refuge is that it enables us to create a vast store of positive potential for very similar reasons. In other words, if we take refuge then we are more likely to engage in the practices that are going to create positive potential in our lives. Also when we take refuge, because of the qualities of the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, they become very strong objects for us with which to create karma because of their qualities. If we make offerings to the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, we create a very strong, powerful karma compared to making an offering to our best friend, unless your best friend is a Buddha!

In other words, according to the level of a person’s spiritual realisations, the qualities they have and their relationship to us, we create karma. Some people and some things are heavier objects karmically for us than others. The Buddha, Dharma, Sangha are heavy because of their qualities.

If we have taken refuge and are prompted to make prostrations or offerings or serve the Buddhist community in some way, then because of the qualities of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and because they are very strong objects with which we create karma, we create a lot of good karma through our prostrations, offerings and so on.

This is because the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha have the qualities that they do, any way in which we help them, becomes us helping all other sentient beings because the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are working for the benefit of all those sentient beings. This means if you help the Buddha and help people who are working for the benefit of other sentient beings, as you help them, they in turn help a huge array of people.

Practising forgiveness does not mean accepting wrong doing.

— His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama










This unique, free and well-favoured human form is so difficult to obtain. Since we have actually attained it this time, let us endeavour to unfold the realisation of its full potential, and not leave it to rot.

— Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro

The Guru and the Great Vastness
by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

For a follower of the yana of individual liberation or the Mahayana, there are the sutras and the shastras. The sutras contain the direct teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, whereas the shastras are commentaries composed later by a disciple of the Buddha, such as Nagarjuna. Moreover, there are instructions on how to practice. For instance, many chapters of Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva contain very clear instructions.

Studying the dharma can be compared to learning how to drive. There is a driving manual that explains what things are, how they work, the rules of the road and so on. Similarly, the sutras and shastras contain the basic knowledge you need in order to practice the dharma. When you actually learn how to drive, you receive personalised instructions based on your individual skills, your driving teacher’s style and the various practical situations you encounter. These are not necessarily presented in the same order as the information in the manual. Instructions can come in most unexpected ways.

In Vajrayana, there are the tantras as well as the pith instructions. For centuries, dharma practitioners have studied the tantras while practicing according to the pith instructions. Some students place great emphasis on the tantras, the actual texts which contain the theory of the view. Those who are intellectually or academically oriented can get quite caught up in explanations and theories. Other students who are more emotionally oriented tend to get caught up in the instructions. This was a common fault in the past and continues to be so today.

Let’s suppose you have devotion, trust and the merit of having met a qualified master. For you, a mere instruction from your master can potentially lead you somewhere, even without elaborate explanations on the theoretical aspects of the tantras. Your practice could be as ridiculous as being told to have a cup of tea every hour, but it could still untie your knot of delusion and take you to a state where you are released from all kinds of grasping and fixation. This, however, is quite risky, as our devotion is often temporary and fickle. In fact, because our devotion is most often not based on even a minimal understanding of the view, it is little more than a manifestation of our insecurity. If this is the case, our devotion can become rather unhealthy.

Moreover, the merit to encounter a true, qualified master is extremely rare. Of course, I do not wish to discourage you by any means. You can always aspire to one day meet a qualified master and develop the virtues of devotion and trust. If you have such good fortune, you don’t have to read the driving manual; all you have to do is listen to your teacher and do as he or she says. But that’s quite difficult.

Pith instructions appear in many different forms. Although we often talk about them as supplementary, the ngöndro teachings are actually pith instructions. They come directly from unbroken lineages of gurus, out of lineage masters’ experiences and visions. If you want to know why Vajrasattva, guru yoga and mandala offering work, then it’s good to study a text like the Guhyagarbha Tantra, which elucidates the ideas of equality and purity and explains why everything is pure and equal from the beginning. When applied, the tantric texts and the pith instructions complement one another.

The ngöndro contains advice to help us stop our chain of thoughts. Personally, I have found it wise to follow Jamgön Kongtrül’s suggestion to spend at least half of the session just sitting and developing a sense of renunciation by contemplating impermanence and such. Doing so actually sets the atmosphere and tunes your mind so that at least some inspiration arises to actually practice. Otherwise, as samsaric beings, we have so much to do and everything is so significant — from petty shopping lists to important meetings. If you let such mundane matters bother you, they will. But if you reflect on impermanence and the like, even for just a few minutes, your mundane, incessant thoughts will at least temporarily pause. That’s quite important.

After that, if you want to elaborate, it’s good to clear the stale air. As I said, pith instructions like this one can sometimes seem illogical. For instance, if you are oriented more toward the path of individual liberation or Mahayana approaches, you might wonder what the stale air is and why it is so important in the ngöndro practice. Of course it has its own enormous theory in the Guhyagarbha Tantra, but you might question why we have to subdue the gross and subtle winds [prana] and why this results in our whole perception changing.

In spite of the numerous explanations, there’s the simple fact that clearing the stale air helps us break the chain of thoughts that we are experiencing. Moreover, clearing the stale air tunes us in to renunciation mind and purifies our perceptions. Normally when we practice we don’t spend much time on these things and so our practice tends to be rather weak.

Having evoked renunciation and cleared the air through the nostrils, next be confident that the place where you’re practicing is not ordinary. You will not find such a suggestion in the other vehicles; it is exclusive to Vajrayana.

The whole purpose of dharma practice, whether ngöndro or the main practice, is to understand the great purity and equality. This is the great vastness, longchen — the vast space where everything fits. Everything! The different schools of Buddhism variously call it nonduality, the realisation of emptiness, the union of samsara and nirvana, and so on. The fact that everything is nondual is not a recent invention nor a Buddhist one; it is the actual nature of phenomena from the beginning. As the Buddha said, “Whether the buddhas appear on this earth or not, the essence of phenomena never changes.” The nonduality aspect, the great vastness, is unchanging. It has never been fabricated, nor is it something that we create.

What does this mean in practical terms? Devotion is integral to being a Vajrayana practitioner. Wanting to be free of delusion implies accepting that we are deluded. Within our deluded state, we have to learn and believe that we need to create a pure reality. Here comes a pith instruction: this is why we have to think that the place where we are practicing is not an ordinary place. If we never abandon our impure ordinary perceptions of the mundane world and our mundane lives, we will never break out of our delusion. As Vajrayana practitioners we must learn right from the beginning to crack this shell open.

So, when taking refuge you must not think that the setting is ordinary, but rather that it is a pure realm. Then visualise the object of refuge in front of you. It is crucial in Vajrayana to understand that the object of refuge — the guru — is the embodiment of all the buddhas as well as of the dharma, the sangha, and the devas, dakinis and dharmapalas. Basically, all objects of refuge are embodied in the guru.

Now, unless your teacher specifically instructs otherwise, normally one does not visualise the object of refuge, the guru, in his ordinary form. I say this because many of us here have received teachings from the great Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, and in his guru yoga he instructs us to visualise him in his ordinary form, as however we have seen him. That’s his instruction and we have to follow that. I’m sure there’s infinite purpose behind it. But generally, in most of the ngöndro instructions, you visualise the guru in the form of Guru Rinpoche or Vajradhara, not in the form of a human being. This too is a pith instruction and there are lots of reasons for it, but they all come down to the same point: recognising the great purity and equality.

In our ordinary human, rational mind, we think that it is much easier to visualise our guru as we remember him or her. Most of us have never seen Vajradhara or Guru Rinpoche. Even if we know what Vajradhara looks like, he is still pretty impossible to visualise: a blue being with thirty-two major marks and eighty minor marks. The thirty-two major marks are incredible and inconceivable, such as webbed hands and a tongue so long it can reach across his face. Are you supposed to visualise your guru as a duck or a dog? It sounds silly, so we would rather simply remember what our guru looked like in the flesh. Besides, that’s how we got inspired in the first place. All these fanciful details go against our normal thinking pattern. Nevertheless, according to most ngöndro instructions, it is necessary to visualise one’s guru not as an ordinary being but rather as Guru Rinpoche.

Our practice is feeble and we have tarried on the path for a long time, primarily because we always see the guru as an ordinary being and not a buddha. We cannot imagine him or her as a buddha. Instead we consider him a normal person who has likes and dislikes similar to our own.

In his explanation of guru yoga, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö notes the importance of how you approach your guru. Usually we think, “I like him because he’s a decent human being; he’s kind, he’s compassionate and he’s a good man.” But according to Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, the blessing you will receive corresponds to your level of devotion, and in this case, it is not much. You too will become tolerant and a good person, but your aim is wrong. Our aim is not to become a good person or a tolerant person. Our aim is not to become a little bit better than the rest but to attain enlightenment. Enlightenment is beyond good and bad and everything.

If you have a high aim such as enlightenment, you have to change your attitude. As Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö explains, believing your guru to be a shravaka or an arhat is much better than thinking that he or she is just an ordinary, decent human being. If you think of your guru as an arhat, then you will receive the blessing of individual liberation. If you think your guru is a mahabodhisattva on the tenth bhumi, you will receive an equivalent blessing. If you think your guru is the Buddha himself — that is, you don’t imagine it but actually see him as the Buddha in person — then definitely you will receive the Buddha’s blessings. And in Dzogchen and Mahamudra, if you realise that it is actually your own buddhanature that is manifest in the form of the Buddha or the guru, you will receive the blessing of seeing everything as the Buddha, everything as the guru.

So it is important to visualise not only the place as pure and special, but also the object of refuge, your guru, as an extraordinary being. If you think about this, you will realise that many of our spiritual difficulties are ridiculous. Many of our doubts and fears are simply due to a lack of pure perception. We try to see our guru as someone special, but not really as a buddha.

You would not necessarily expect it to be so difficult to think of your guru as the Buddha. I’m slightly more fortunate than most of you because I have seen numerous great masters. Many of you, especially the younger ones, are quite unlucky because you have to put up with teachers like us. It’s very understandable if you have difficulty thinking that we are the Buddha. But if you find it difficult to think that we ordinary lamas are the Buddha, it is actually because you lack understanding of the great vastness of purity and equality. With the view of great equality and great purity, you can slowly learn to see all ordinary beings, such as many lamas these days, as buddhas. This is quite important to do.

It’s actually the same when you take refuge. What you are declaring is, “I accept that I have the buddhanature. I accept that I can be purified. I accept that my being is the great equality and great purity.” This is essential as the foundation not only of Vajrayana, but also of Buddhism as a whole. Otherwise, we are taking a very theistic approach to our refuge practice. We consider the Buddha, dharma and sangha to be saviours — a panacea of sorts — and we take refuge with the expectation that they will solve all our problems, whether mundane or spiritual. That is a very theistic slant.

Refuge can be understood on many different levels. However, I repeat, do not forget to apply pure perception, especially in Vajrayana. Think, “This place is not an ordinary place but a pure realm. My guru, my object of refuge, is not an ordinary being but a buddha.” When you say this there is a tendency to think that you are imperfect, due to seemingly unstoppable habitual patterns. But as Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö said, “Never forget that this guru who is sitting in front of you, whom you are trying to think of as a buddha, is not an ordinary being but in fact the manifestation of your own buddhanature.” It is a very beautiful path, you know.

Usually when we take refuge there’s a sense of being lower than the object of refuge. You, a pathetic being, need to be saved and you take refuge in this very wholesome, omnipotent being. Refuge usually feels like that. But you will know they are not separate at all if you understand the great vastness and the prana, nadi and bindu,[i] and the guru, deva and dakini of the bigger picture.

A brief summary is in order. Tune your mind, clear the stale air, and think that you are sitting in a pure realm. Next, visualise your guru with all of his or her retinue. When you start you usually invoke your guru as the human being for whom you have to buy the plane ticket to fly here to see. I guess it can’t be helped, but then try to think that this ordinary form is your own perception. In reality this being is not what you see with your eyes and hear with your ears; he is Vajradhara or Padmasambhava, depending on the text you are using. Finally, think that your guru, as Vajradhara or Padmasambhava, is actually a reflection of your own buddhanature. By doing so, you complete the circle of taking refuge, from the most ordinary level to the highest, which has such a great benefit. It actually makes you familiar with this idea of the great purity and equality, which is the whole purpose. It’s really incredibly important.

Nowadays, many people think that the guru is like a dictator, which is a big misunderstanding. Of course, I’m sure that some gurus do act like dictators but that has nothing to do with the true notion of a guru. Moreover, the Asian concept of a master as a father figure, like Confucius, is also incorrect. I’m bringing this up because I think that as the East and West are now so closely connected, Western Vajrayana students might tend to think guru yoga is another system supporting the roles of master and servant. Superficially, guru yoga can appear almost criminal: whatever the guru says is right, and even if he says something wrong, you should think that it is right. If you see him do something impure, it is due to your lack of pure perception. My goodness, there is no justice at all! So it is really important not to forget the great purity and equality. This becomes extremely clear at the end of the practice when you dissolve with the guru. Confucius never said the servant and the master should dissolve into one. That’s a big difference. The whole purpose and very essence of both the ngöndro and the main practice is to mingle your mind with the guru’s.

When we say dissolve, it does not mean that you are like a bag and the guru’s mind dissolves and pours into you. That would still be hierarchical. Instead think of a pot. Inside the pot there is space, and if I break the pot, the space inside it and the space outside it becomes one. So whether it’s your mind mixing with the guru’s mind or the guru’s mind mixing with your mind, it’s basically the same. That is the Vajrayana approach. Vajrayana students should never forget this.

At the end of your session there is the dissolution stage. This is where we become indivisible from the guru. We know that everything is nondual, that everything is equal and pure from the beginning. When we talk about equality, we are talking about the equality and purity of samsara and nirvana, along with that of the guru and disciple. We can grasp intellectually that the guru is a perception resulting from our merit, devotion and so on, but when we practice we can’t help actually thinking that the guru is out there.

Even at the beginning of the Longchen Nyingtig ngöndro there are many stanzas taken from the various tantras and sutras reminding us of why a spiritual companion or master is so important. After that there is Calling the Guru, a beautiful composition by Jigmey Lingpa, invoking the guru from the heart. It clearly elucidates that the guru is not an ordinary human being out there, nor is the guru someone who is going to dictate how you should live your life. It’s not like that at all.

The first stanza of this song invokes the guru from your heart. It is a very beautiful and poetic metaphor: the guru dwells within your own heart. This is totally different from our ordinary perception, whereby we think that the guru is external and separate from us. The heart refers to buddhanature. And one of the infinite manifestations of buddhanature is faith, and as a reflection of this, devotion. For instance, when passionate people look at another being, because of their passion, they see a beautiful object. When aggressive people see another being, because of their aggression, they see an ugly enemy. When devoted people see through the devotion manifested from their buddhanature, they see their guru or spiritual companion.

Jigmey Lingpa says, “From the blooming lotus of faith in the center of our heart, kind guru, our only protector, please arise to protect us from misfortunes. We are tormented by intense kleshas and karma; please remain on top of our head.” We invoke the guru from our heart and place him above us as if he’s a higher, superior being. But please never forget that in all the Vajrayana practices, and especially the Anu and Ati Yoga practices, one always dissolves the guru, or merges with the guru. This is called receiving the empowerment (abhisheka) or initiation from the guru. Light radiates from his forehead, then from the throat and next from the heart, and this light dissolves into you. Finally, you or the guru dissolve into the light and the two of you merge and become indivisible.

I think this aspect should be emphasised because many of our practices seem to have gone a bit off course. We exert ourselves in visualising the guru in front of us, praising him, supplicating him, begging for his blessing and so on. But we are content with doing the dissolution and merging for only a minute or two. Instead we should spend an equal amount of time, if not more, on the dissolution phase. My father, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, emphasised this a great deal. He told some of his students in Bhutan to practice receiving each of the four empowerments for a year. I think this is good advice because we tend to spend so little time on the dissolution stage.

Dissolve the guru into yourself, like water dissolving into water, then remain in that state of oneness as long as you can. If you prefer, you can visualise the guru instantaneously and repeat the process over and over. In fact, that’s encouraged, especially if you have received any Dzogchen instructions from your masters. If you have recognised, of course, train in rigpa, the nature of mind. But because of our habitual tendency, as soon as we watch the nature of the mind, or the state of merging our mind and the guru’s mind, we drift into all kinds of distractions. Therefore, it is often helpful to “fence in” the mind. If you have a flock of sheep or herd of cattle that you want to lead in a certain direction, you build a fence so that they go where you want them to go. Likewise, continuously visualising the guru in front of you, dissolving into him and watching that state of mind is called fencing.

It is very easy for us to say, “Rest in the nature of the mind.” But who knows whether we really are doing so or are simply in a coma? Are we in the state of experiencing the all-ground (alaya), which is like complete numbness? Or are we totally distracted, making plans for the future or rushing after the past? Are we so completely distracted that we don’t even realise it? If we continue in that vein, it’s all a big waste of time. Instead, a wise approach would seem to be repeatedly visualising the guru and dissolving him into you while watching your mind. As Longchenpa said in the Treasury of Pith Instructions, “Again and again, meditate in short periods but many times.” And when finishing the session, of course, never forget to dedicate the merit.

Though much he recites the Sacred Texts, but acts not accordingly, that heedless man is like a cowherd who counts others’ kine. He has no share in the fruits of the Holy Life.

Though little he recites the Sacred texts, but acts according to the teaching, forsaking lust, hatred and ignorance, truly knowing, with mind well-liberated, clinging to naught here and hereafter, he shares the fruits of the Holy Life.

— The Buddha, Yamaka Vagga (The Twin Verses)









第二部分谈到业、果报的问题。我们常讲的一见钟情就是如此。今天你不是碰到他,就结不了婚,这就是业力,就是你的果报(当然这并不是每个人如此的。)所以,中国人讲夫妇结合的两种因素,一是报恩,一是报仇。恩爱夫妻是报恩来的,恩尽义绝,下辈子就不会结为夫妻;要是恩情还未了或 越结越深,下辈子还是要结为夫妇,跑不掉的,所以我们不能随便喜欢人。今天我们了解业力的力量就知道,夫妻之间反目,一半属于业力,一半属于烦恼。就是因为你跟他有仇,所以他故意让你跟他结婚,让你爱他爱得很深;让你痛苦。如果夫妇间有这种情形,不要怨对方,从业力立场来看,你今天被报仇了,要知道这是你以前对不起人家,你要甘之如饴的接受,而且反过来要感谢他、珍惜他,不要再结仇了。今天你跟他做对,他也就跟你做对,仇就结得更深了。他恼害你,你承受下来,我好好对你,将恩情来赎我以前的不好,只有这样,才能把怨仇解掉,否则怨仇没有解掉,下辈子还要再来结仇,何苦呢?


The dominant ignorance leads to the karmic cycle. Because of this ignorance, you have karma. Because of karma, your ignorance gets stronger. It covers the rigpa more. The sequence begins with ignorance in Tantra as well as in Sutra. For example, the twelve nidanas begin with ignorance. Because of ignorance, we commit wrong actions such as harming oneself or others. Therefore, ignorance comes first in the sequence.

Because we have gone through the cycle of the twelve nidanas so many times, often we feel that it comes from karma. Because of this, we have further ignorance and go around the loop again. So the cycle begins with ignorance, which can be intensified further with negative karma.

— 7th Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche



The Power of Unbearable Compassion
by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Practices of loving-kindness and compassion are indispensable elements of all religious traditions. These are qualities everyone can practice, regardless of their religious affiliation or ancestry. In fact, training to develop loving-kindness and compassion provides a bridge between all religions and all the many parts of our global society.

I am a Buddhist, but I still have to live my life as a member of the larger world community and take full part in society, where Buddhism is not the only spiritual tradition. There are many different forms of religion and spirituality, and there are also many different types of people, including those who are inclined toward religious or spiritual approaches and those who are not.

Since our world community is so very vast and diverse, it is important for us to respect the entire range of religious and spiritual traditions, not setting ourselves up as “opponents” of any other tradition. The way to accomplish happiness in the world is to do meaningful work in one’s own life, with a positive motivation that sees all people and all traditions as equal.

Humans are set apart from other types of sentient beings by their ability to naturally connect with sharp intelligence and with nonviolence, loving-kindness, and compassion. From the moment we are born, we are constantly chasing after happiness, thinking of ways we can become happy and free from suffering, and we actively try to bring those desires to fruition. The propensities toward loving-kindness, compassion, and nonviolence we display in following this quest for happiness demonstrate what makes human beings unique.

For any species of sentient being to continue existing, the members of that species must have affection for each other and they must support each other. In order for our human community to survive, we must nurture and sustain connections of love, compassion, nonviolence, and altruism. These connections are what will allow us not only to survive, but to make our lives meaningful. If we concentrate on ensuring that these connections are present, that in itself will be enough.

All of the Buddha’s teachings are based on refraining from harming others and engaging in helping others. It is therefore of great importance for Buddhists to have these two principles as the ground of their practice. The roots of Buddhist practice are the attitudes of altruism and non-harm. In other words, the roots of Buddhist practice are loving-kindness and compassion.

Of these two qualities, compassion is foremost: in general, we develop loving-kindness by relying on compassion. In the beginning, therefore, compassion is more important. Our compassion must have a broad focus, not only including ourselves but all sentient beings.

Why must our compassion include all sentient beings? Because all sentient beings — oneself and others — want to be happy and free of suffering. This basic desire is the same for everyone. Nevertheless, most of the sentient beings we see experience only suffering; they cannot obtain happiness. Just as we have a desire to clear away the suffering in our own experience and to enjoy happiness, through meditating on compassion we come to see that all other beings have this desire as well. Other beings are not only worthy of our compassion, they are also what cause our meditation on compassion to be possible at all.

According to the Mahayana teachings of Buddhism, all sentient beings are our parents of the past, present, and future. This means that, of all sentient beings, some have been our parents in the past, some are our current parents, and some will be our parents in the future. There are no beings who are not, in the end, our parents. For this reason, all sentient beings have a connection of affection toward us. They have a connection of kindness toward us. But these affectionate and kind parents are trapped in a state of suffering, unable to actualise their desire for happiness. So it is crucial for us to begin meditating on compassion for them, in this very moment.

When we practice various kinds of meditations on compassion, it is not enough for us simply to feel a compassionate sensation in our minds. We must bring our meditation on compassion to the deepest level possible. To make our compassion as deep as possible, we must reflect on the suffering of sentient beings in all six realms of samsara, the wheel of cyclic existence. These sentient beings who are undergoing such intense suffering are the same beings who are our kind parents of the past, present, and future. In short, we are intimately connected with all of these sentient beings.

Therefore, since we are connected to all of these beings, it is possible for us to further our connection to them by bringing them benefit. The most excellent connection we could possibly make would be to cultivate the heart of compassion for them and to think of ways we can reduce their suffering. Reflecting on our connection to these beings, we must engender a level of compassion that cannot bear their suffering to endure any longer. This great, unbearable compassion is extremely important. Without it, we might be able to feel a compassionate sensation in our minds from time to time, but this sensation will not bring forth the full power of compassion. It cannot form the basis of a comprehensive practice.

On the other hand, once unbearable compassion takes birth in our hearts, we will immediately be compelled to altruistic action. We will automatically start thinking about how we can free sentient beings from suffering. Therefore, the way to develop altruism is through meditating on compassion. When our compassion becomes genuine and deep, our actions for the benefit of others will be effortless and free from doubt. That is why it is so crucial for us to deepen our practice of compassion until our compassion becomes unbearable.

Unlike our usual kind of compassion — meditating now and then on the general notion that sentient beings experience suffering — unbearable compassion penetrates and moves our heart. If we were to see someone trapped in a raging fire, we would not hesitate to assist that person. Right then and there, we would immediately begin thinking of and engaging in ways to extract him or her from the fire. Similarly, with unbearable compassion, we witness the suffering of all sentient beings of the six realms and immediately seek ways to free them from that suffering. Not only do we genuinely try to free them from suffering; we are also completely willing to endure any obstacles we may encounter on our path to freeing them. We are unfazed by complications and doubts.

All sentient beings have basic compassion. Even people we would generally consider ill-tempered have compassion; they simply have not brought their basic compassion to a refined level. If ill-tempered people did not have any compassion at all, it would be impossible for them to develop compassion by practicing on the path. All beings have compassion, but their door to the mastery of compassion has thus far been locked. So even though it may seem that some people have no compassion whatsoever, everyone has at least a small seed of compassion. That small seed can grow into great compassion; the potential we all have for great compassion can be made manifest.

Though the great, noble beings can let the full extent of their potential for compassion shine through, we ordinary beings cannot. Though we have the seed of compassion, we do not have the compassion we want. Precisely when we need compassion the most, we cannot access it; the door of our compassion is closed.

Even as we understand that loving-kindness and compassion are so important, we will also find it is quite difficult to fully and genuinely incorporate them into our experience. What prevents us from cultivating our heart of loving-kindness and compassion further is the mental afflictions, especially anger. Emotions such as anger inflict the greatest harm on our path to authentic compassion. For this reason, we must take an honest look at our emotions and ask ourselves, is this emotion benefiting me? Or is it of no benefit at all? We need to engage in a detailed, introspective analysis. If our investigation reveals that these negative emotions are of no benefit, the vital next step is for us to take a similar outlook toward our emotions altogether, all the time; we must see problems as problems, shortcomings as shortcomings.

Let us consider the example of anger. The Buddhist teachings contain rich descriptions of the shortcomings of anger. They describe how anger and aggression produce a slew of unpleasant results, both in the immediate future and in future lifetimes. While some of those teachings might seem to apply only for those who actually believe in the existence of future lifetimes, the buddhadharma’s descriptions of the shortcomings of anger are still relevant for those who do not hold this belief. When we become angry, our face changes and we take on a frightful appearance. We become unattractive to others; even those who are close to us find it difficult to be around us. Since anger in us instills fear in others, it greatly hinders our relationships.

When we clearly see the shortcomings of anger and the positive qualities of loving-kindness, our practice of loving-kindness and compassion becomes strong and we feel delighted about training in these qualities. When we are delighted about training in these qualities, we exert ourselves all the more strongly. When we exert ourselves more, the results we experience also become much more powerful. Being able to discern what is beneficial and what is faulty, therefore, is very important.

Without such discernment, our compassion can become susceptible to the same old habits. Perhaps, when trying to practice compassion, we are treated angrily by someone. We habitually respond by looking at that person in a negative light and resenting him or her. But if we have a deep understanding of the problematic aspects of our negative emotions, and can see them to be like illnesses, we will no longer see aggressors who harm us as bad in themselves. Rather, we will understand that these aggressors are not acting out of their own free will; they are afflicted by the illness of their own negative emotions. Once we are freed from resentment in this way, we are free to grow our loving-kindness and compassion limitlessly, without obstacles.

There are many other obstacles that can prevent our practice of compassion from reaching its full power. From among all of these adverse conditions, one of the foremost is jealousy. Jealousy can rob us of our freedom and interrupt loving relationships between people. Jealousy occurs when we cannot tolerate others being happier than we are. When we continually feel we need to have others below us and have no one equal to us, that is jealousy. When we are controlled by jealousy, we only feel comfortable when others come to us for assistance; we only feel at ease when others are looking to us with hope. We cannot stand being in situations where others have something that we need.

Moreover, in this era many people in society feel that these manifestations of jealousy are justified. Many people seem to believe that when we have competitive attitudes toward others, and when we want to vie aggressively against others for some reward, this is not only acceptable but to be encouraged.

To make our compassion strong and to make our seed of compassion ripen, we need the path. When we enter the path of compassion, we begin to connect with the compassion we need in order to help others, and beyond that we begin to develop the compassion we need in order to attain enlightenment. We already have compassion, wisdom, and many other positive qualities, yet our mental afflictions are far stronger than all of these most of the time.

It is as if the afflictions have locked all of our positive qualities away in a box. One day, we will open that box and all of our good qualities will spring forth. We will see that we do not have to go looking for our compassion, trying to get it or buy it somewhere. It is not available for purchase anywhere in any case. What we will discover is that compassion is present in our minds spontaneously. At that point, a wealth of excellent qualities will become immediately available to us.

One of the ways that people in Tibet generate compassion is by visualising the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara, and reciting his mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM. I have memories of my mother’s mother from when I was young reciting the mantra of Avalokiteshvara all the time. Even though she was blind, she continued to recite mantras with great diligence. She always had a cheerful demeanour and smile, as if she didn’t have any problems at all. She always maintained a graceful and dignified presence, and the gaze of her eyes was like that of a normal, seeing person. Such is the power of practicing loving-kindness and compassion. The great affection for and continual supplication to the bodhisattva of compassion was a binding force for our family. My grandmother passed it to my mother, and my mother passed it to me, and I am passing it to you, like an heirloom or an inheritance. My family was not wealthy in a material way, so this is what I have to offer as my main family heirloom.