The Benefits of Taking Refuge
by Venerable Thubten Chodron

WE BECOME BUDDHISTS

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.

WE NEED TO BE ASTUTE

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.

WE SETTLE DOWN TO ONE PATH

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.

WE BEGIN TO PURIFY

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?

WE ESTABLISH THE FOUNDATION FOR TAKING ALL FURTHER VOWS

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.

THREE SETS OF VOWS

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.

REFUGE VOWS ARE THE DOOR

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.

WE CAN ELIMINATE RESULTS OF PREVIOUSLY ACCUMULATED NEGATIVE KARMA

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.

WE QUICKLY ACCUMULATE GREAT POSITIVE KARMA

OFFERINGS TO THE BUDDHA

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

不净观图片该如何运用在修持上呢?
懺雲老法師

一起欲念,马上观骷髅骨,就好。再是,平常要练习观、观得像真的一样。人死了,过几天,身上都变黑,那个难看哪、也脏。还有,死尸要是有味气了、也是难闻,叫尸臭。把骷髅骨图一展,小张也可以,大张当然更好。不过大张在屋里挂,在学校宿舍别人看见不欢喜、就用小张。常常观、常常观,一起欲念就观。普通叫欲火呀!这就是消防队的救火车一样──不净观,那很重要、很重要!多贪众生不净观。连吃饭也可以作不净观。明天吃饺子,饺子吃完了,后天呢?饺子都哪儿去了?大家都到厕所,拉在厕所里头,这也是脏,做不净观最好,多贪众生不净观。这就是不净观运用在修持上。男女做不净观,以至于饮食都作不净观,这就好。

每天,有时候早课后、或早课打钟的时候打坐作不净观好。欲念个人不同,还有一个时节、时期不同。大体欲念轻淡的、善根深厚,道心道念坚强的,这就可以修行。不过都得要对治。还有,有一阵子就是欲念很少;有一阵子欲念很多。总是准备作不净观最好。再是,众苦都是从这儿来的,想着不受苦,就不要起欲念。

或者再作五不净观。我们的身体,小孩儿不懂,以后渐渐懂、尤其信佛了,才知道身体这个血肉之躯是男精女血结合的。生产的时候,我小时候,邻居有一个太太,本来是寡妇,守寡负担不了生活、还两个孩子,她就改嫁,改嫁又经过一年两年、生产,在床上滚、生不下来。母亲说:该死了、该死了!就这样骂。过三天生下来了,俗家嫂嫂去看,回来对母亲说:还是倒生的。母亲和嫂嫂这么讲,就像参禅一样,我也不懂什么意思、还叫“倒生”的,怎么叫倒生的?等嫂嫂走出去,我问母亲怎么叫倒生?母亲说倒生的是腿先下来。我说:人生的时候,不都是腿先下来?像降落伞部队一样吗?母亲说:不是!生的时候都是头先下来的。我一听:唉呀!这不是颠倒中的颠倒吗!众生就是如此。那么生极乐世界怎么生的?是莲华化生。《阿弥陀经》里有七宝池、八功德水,有莲花青色青光、黄色黄光、赤色赤光、白色白光。青、黄、赤,一切宇宙人生所有的颜色就是这三种配合的。人生下来那个味道腥、恶;要是生极乐世界就微妙香洁。这就是有欲念、没有欲念的关系。再是,要不对治欲念,不把欲念观没有了,生死不能了。

再是欲念是假的、虚妄的,在美国看,这不是白种人黄头发蓝眼珠吗?黑种人就都是黑的难看,大红嘴唇像个血盆一样,黑种人也看黑种人美,白种人看白种人美,就是众生业障所使。还有,两人有夫妻的缘这个男女,彼此就看得美。要是能破、就超越生死。再高一点根基就是转念、不想它:“本来无一物,何处惹尘埃。”好!再是有欲念,脱不了人身,将来临死那天怎么办呢?生死怎么了呢?又去投生。人投生为人,就是依着欲念来的。狗呢?老狗生小狗也是这样,猫也是。一定想法怎么断,拜佛忏悔,求佛力加被,再是持咒、尤其楞严咒。早晨一起来就念楞严咒就是为的降伏欲念。《楞严经》中,阿难尊者那都是佛菩萨再来示现的,也是示现被欲念摩登伽女给控制住了,身不由己,这是根本问题。要是修得像广钦老和尚那样就好了,就没有这些。再是弘一大师当年在东京演茶花女,出家毅然决然做个苦行头陀,以后,那些行迹种种,就是开悟而有所证得的意境,给夏丏尊的信说是:“君子之交,其淡如水;执相而求,咫尺千里。问余何适,廓尔亡言;华枝春满,天心月圆。”那是开悟的意境、好!要是不断欲念,遇着狗胎,该生做狗就看狗胎好,该生猫就看猫胎好。还有,连百步蛇看着百步蛇也好。所以,欲念是错觉,不是真正的真心,业力所使。

五不净观,第一、种子不净,普通说是男精女血结合的,这是种子不净。第二、生处不净,从产门生的。第三、相不净,就是新陈代谢不净,喝了尿、吃了拉。第四、性也根本不干净的。第五、究竟不净,死了,变成死尸了。时常有时候到慈德寺,那时候,林居士的公子故去了,我去看,火化才抽出来,死尸就变成骨灰了。这样作不净观好,再是勇猛精进拜佛。

还有,有时提撕自己清醒,譬如猫在墙头上叫叫叫!可能是男猫找女猫,人也是一样,这就清醒,要没有这个就可以修行了。要不是,有夫有妇的,我们看这个很没有意思。要是这一念能控制得住、能把握得住,不受它调理,那就可以修行了,而且有时间。慈舟老法师七十多岁拿本书在那儿看,侍者是我一位戒兄,小戒兄对我说:你看老法师像个老学生一样,拿着书还这么卷着看。要是在家,劳碌奔波赚钱,夫妇好了就好,一个恼了也是动刀啊!

还有,对治欲念,一个人在山里,我问:倘使欲念来了怎么办?他说:我就厉声念佛!大声念念念…,念一会儿,没有了!再是自己有常常看的、特别欢喜的经,常常拜佛。再是同学、同参道友,彼此在一块修行这种生活,切磋琢磨,也少有欲念。一个人太空闲,大家在一块,再有什么困难的、也要忍耐,比一个人好。能海大师曾经到苏州灵岩山给大家开示,那时候灵岩山寺住众能有两百人,能海大师说:马铃薯一个一个洗很费事,要是两百个马铃薯一块儿洗,这么拨弄、用水龙头的水再冲,这样活动活动,一块儿洗较比快,就是彼此切磋。他在那拜佛,我看了心里欢喜、法喜充满,也感觉清净。有在阅经的,或者听梵音嘹亮,诵戒时忏悔、或者唱弥陀大愿王,都是大众同修之下切磋琢磨,高声唱念,较比能降伏欲念。再是知道欲念妄想都是幻妄不实,像天上的云一样,集合起来了,就成了雨,在寒带就变成雪,有时候还下雹子,一切因缘和合的。这时抖擞精神,我听说有两位同学早晨两点半起来就在那拜佛,很难得喔!青年像这样很不容易。他两点半起来,彼丈夫兮我亦尔,我也赶一块儿起来用功,就好。

欲念作不净观,再就是禅。对待的、就是不净观好;绝待的、就是禅──本来无一物。再是,从早到晚不让它闲,除了睡觉之外,还打瞌睡了再去睡,不让它起欲念再睡。还要多看看《高僧传》、《缁门崇行录》,可以多看看那个。

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)

从佛法观点谈感情问题
惠空法师

感情问题,从佛法立场来看,势必从生命现象的角度分析;因为感情,就是人与人之间的关系,譬如中国人讲的‘五伦’,就是讲君臣、父子、夫妇、兄弟、朋友之间的关系,也就是感情,而这正是实际的生命现象。这种生命现象,佛教把它分析为三个元素,就是惑、业、果报。但在这里我们把业跟果报看成同一个主体合起来讲,所以惑和业(果报)就是今天所要探讨的两个要点。

谈到惑,首先我们要了解‘感情’的内涵其实是非常复杂的,它是我们整个心性综合的表现。佛法把我们一般所讲的心绪、情绪、个性、感情通通列入‘心所’这一个观念,对于不同的心理现象、情绪变化,归纳分析成五十一个心所,这就是人性的内涵。人生有两种特质,一是善(善心所);一是恶(烦恼心所),在善、恶的特质中,各有很多的成份(心所),而这些成分彼此错综复杂的交合,就形成了种种不同型态的感情表象。所以,感情问题,如果我们只是从感情的表象去了解,就会受困于感情的多样化而掌握不到问题的核心。

比方说夫妻之间的关系,有的像兄妹,有的像父女,有的像朋友,有的像情人,甚至有的像仇人;同样的,爸爸对女儿,妈妈对儿子,也都有很多不同的类型。所以,只有当我们理解到人与人之间感情的最后关键点是人性深处的综合表现,是人性的本质,我们才能对感情问题做一个最忠实的评鉴。

什么是人性善、恶的特质呢?基本上,烦恼心所,是对我们心性有污染的成分,包括贪、嗔、痴、慢、疑、不正见等根本烦恼及一些随烦恼;而善心所,是指对我们生命有所提升的,如信、精进、禅定、慧、无贪、无嗔、无痴、轻安、不放逸、惭愧等等。一般说来,如果感情是纯净的,多半是从信、惭愧、无贪的立场出发,比方对元首效忠,对爸爸孝顺,这是从信出发,也就是他认为这样做是好的,正确的,接受这个观念,所以就产生了孝心、忠心的心理。可是就男女的感情来说,最核心的元素是贪(当然父子、兄弟、朋友、君臣之间也有部分是靠贪来达成的。)因为有贪,我们心性无法达到最深刻的纯净,而产生感情,感情的产生,是彼此得到协调、得到沟通。而如果两方面变成排斥,就是嗔。为什么会贪?会嗔?就是因为痴,这是人性最深刻的烦恼。

从上,我们已经到人性中,贪的元素,是男女感情的症结,接著我们再继续从贪的角度来分析男女的感情。贪的对象有很多,其中色贪第一、眷属贪第二,其它还有财、名、食、睡等,譬如有人贪太太的美貌,有人贪太太的钱财,有人贪太太烧的好菜,有人贪甜言蜜语,这都是贪著。但是男女之间贪著最深的情欲,这是维系男女感情最根本的东西。

男女的情欲有四个层次,这四个层次本质是一样的,但是程度有差别。第一层次是色,也就是贪著外在的美貌;第二个是情。所谓情是两个人心灵有了沟通点,不管任何沟通点,都会产生情。不但男女之间如此,朋友之间也是这样。所以,有时专家建议夫妻之间要找共同的爱好,其实就是找沟通点,也就是感情的培养。第三个是爱,爱已经是一种执著,就是不管你爱不爱我,反正我爱你!这跟情是不一样,它是不需要沟通的。第四个层次是淫欲。淫欲是生理的反应,比较污浊,不管有没有色、情、爱,它只是一种须要解决的心理反应。这四个层次,就是男女之间互相贪著的情执。所以如果没有办法超越这四个层次,就一定会堕入男女情欲的漩涡而苦恼。以上所讲的,是说男女的感情,不可以从某一个上来看。今天为什么会离婚?一定是彼此的贪著已经没有了,或是外面的贪著比对太太的贪著更强烈;而有的夫妻之间根本没有了吸引力,为什么又不离婚?这可能是为了面子,为了小孩。所以感情的问题,不是爱不爱的问题,而是心性清净与否的问题。

今天为什么他会爱一个不该爱的人,而舍弃他该爱的人,就是因为他烦恼重、太愚痴、善性太弱了。如果这个人他心灵纯净,他站在任何角度,都会把他的烦恼降伏,让他的善性激发,对方再怎么无理,面对再大的困难,他都不会使感情破灭。所以如何激发人的善性,降伏人的烦恼,才是彻底解决人与人之间感情问题的关键。今天我们看到任何感情的案子,都必须反省到人性的缺憾,知道必定是有烦恼障蔽他的心性,让他人性陷入无知的状态而造成错误的决定。这就是今天的第一个主题–惑。

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?

所以今天要了解到,生命的现象确实如此,以前种下恶因,今天要承受恶果,如果你没有业力的正确观念,就会埋怨,就没办法把恶果解掉。所以结论就是:从佛法的观点来看感情问题,在心性的立场上,要净化我们的心灵来解除烦恼的束缚而超越对众生的感情;在业果的立场上,要用报恩的心情跟行动来对待我们的怨仇而消除业果。这样才是面对感情问题,最有智慧的处理方法。