Refuge – the Doorway to Buddhism
by Drukpa Choegon Rinpoche, Thutop Choekyi Wangchuk


Refuge is a complete path of Buddhist. It covers the aspect of Theravada, Mahayana and the highest teachings of Dzogchen and Mahamudra in Vajrayana.


Refuge is not only an essential foundation stone in Buddhism; it also strengthened all the higher practices as we progress to the more advance stages. That’s why learning refuge properly and thoroughly; knowing it completely and deeply why it’s important, how it’s important, and how one should take refuge and practice refuge with in-depth understanding, will benefit one’s practices tremendously. Then, one would be a very down to earth, authentic and depth practitioner.

When Atisha first came to Tibet, lots of Tibetan practitioners are drifted off-ground … all are preoccupied with deep tantras, high meditation … However, the basic fundamental Dharma was not very strong, yet everybody is talking about very high teachings. Some masters just spread these advance teachings all over … It’s a little like today’s world where everybody is talking about Dzogchen, Mahamudra and high Tantric practices. When very high meditation is being taught, whether those high meditation takers, have completed the basic practice of Buddhism? Very often, they didn’t. But yet they are already up there.


When Palden Atisha, the great Indian Buddhist master was invited to Tibet, he sees this extreme confusion about the correct practice in Tibet. Atisha has very high reputation as a learned one, a remarkable master and scholar, yet once again, he made the refuge very important in Tibetan Buddhism. He put so much emphasis on refuge, until he was given a nickname – the ‘Refuge Pandita’. Atisha spent about 17 years in Tibet, translating texts and reintroducing the pure Dharma, which was largely distorted after a period of persecution. His presence in Tibet was instrumental in reinvigorating Buddhism, and bring about the resurrection of another golden age of Dharma in the Land of Snows.

If one does not have the fundamental understanding of refuge, then basically you have missed the main project – building the foundation. It’s as if you are trying to make a very big house, but yet you ignore or neglect the quality and solidity of the groundwork. Even you, apparently seems to be succeeded in building the most magnificent palace, it could never stay for long. A tiny landslide is enough to tumble the entire structure. Similarly, engaging in high tantric practices or meditation without proper preliminaries, will not bring the real long-term benefits of authentic Dharma.


On the basic level, taking refuge in Buddhism, means we go for refuge in the Three Jewels – the Buddha – the goal of the path; the Dharma – His teachings as the path itself; and the Sangha – the spiritual friends who assist one’s progress towards the goal. They are a true and worthy refuge, as they have the power and methods of deliverance us out of the ocean of samsaric suffering.

What we are seeking in refuge is protection from the samsara itself and all of its sufferings; and under their shelter, we learn and practice the methods follow the path Lord Buddha has laid before us, and attain His realisation. So, we should understand that the nature of this outer refuge is provisional, because when one has realised the absolute nature of reality, then one has obtained the ultimate refuge.


The notions of refuge vary. In Theravada, the notion of taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, is included in the Mahayana and Vajrayana as well. When we say the Mahayana aspect of refuge, the Bodhicitta, also comes in the Vajrayana. However, the notions or meanings in the Mahayana and Vajrayana, such as Bodhicitta, is not necessarily existed in the Theravada tradition.


For example, in the Theravada perception, I want to be free from samsara; samsara is full of pain and suffering. The one who could take me or guide me out of this cyclic existence is the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. By taken refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, I can then be free from this miserable samsara. The notion, essentially, is to get away from the painful cyclic existence to nirvana. It is just like when some disasters happened, we naturally want to escape and take refuge in a safer place, far away from the catastrophes, such as the traumatic, distressing, terrifying thunderstorm, earthquake, invasion, etc. Taking refuge in Buddhism is basically to work on establishing oneself to an absolutely secure settlement, from the samsara to nirvana. This is the primary notion of refuge.


The notion of Refuge in Theravada also applied in Mahayana and Vajrayana, i.e.: seeking protection in the Three Jewels from the ever painful samsara. However, Mahayana way of refuge is a step further and deeper.

Taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, is to be like them, because my wish is to help all beings. But without practices, I will not have the capacity to do so. So, I enter into the practices, I wanted to be like you Green Tara, Guru Rinpoche or Lord Buddha, so that I could be equally benefited to all beings. It has a little sense of Bodhicitta; Bodhicitta combined with refuge.

The notion is to help others. Not just I, trying to be free from the samsara. The wish is to be freed from samsara, but the aim is to help all beings. By becoming just like you, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, I will then have more capacities to help. So, the refuge in this context already covered the sense of Bodhicitta. The nature of the refuge is no longer focused on self. But this kind of notion does not exist in the Theravada perspective, where it’s just me who wanted to be freed. This is called ‘So Sor Tagpa’ in Tibetan, means Self Liberating Sutra, i.e.: self-liberation from the samsara.

The Vajrayana and the Mahayana’s notion of Refuge and Bodhicitta is the same. Cause the Vajrayana way of bodhicitta is no other than the Mahayana way. There is nothing that we can go beyond the Six Paramitas. Vajrayana is part of the Mahayana tradition. Within the Mahayana tradition, there is Vajrayana. And their bodhicitta practices and the emptiness perspective is also the same. Nevertheless, when it comes to how to realise emptiness, the method is different in Vajrayana.



The outer refuge means we generate faith and devotion toward the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Taking refuge in Buddha as the teacher, in the Dharma as the path, and in the Sangha as companions. This is the approach of the Basic Vehicle in refuge. Understand that Buddha, he himself has realised the absolute truth or reality. He is teaching us what he has realised, not something that he was told or taught, nor something that he created. His realisation is attained through the path of practice. Just like what Buddha did, we accumulate merits and approach the path, eventually we will realise the truth. That’s why Buddha is being taken as a teacher, as he showed us the path.

Dharma is the path or practices we take to realise the ultimate truth. We walk the path exactly as what Lord Buddha has laid before us through which he attained enlightenment. If we follow His teachings and practice accordingly, will lead to the same fruition.

Sangha is a noble community that sustains and propagates the teachings of Lord Buddha. We rely upon their encouragements and spiritual assistance along the way on our journey to enlightenment.

Every refuge prayer in Vajrayana contains few verses that carry the similar meanings … “may we attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings” … In this way, the refuge practices cover the Mahayana aspect of Bodhicitta that entails the compassionate wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all mother beings and to put that aspiration into action through one’s practices.


The Inner Refuge is one step further, that linking it to the inner practices. This exists only in the Vajrayana tradition. Here, one generate the extraordinary devotion to the authentic guru, and engage one’s body, speech and mind, sincerely and purely, in serving the guru and practising the sublime Dharma under his guidance and blessings.

Then, one takes the meditation deities or yidams as support in one’s practices; and the dakinis as one’s companions in the path. One has the notion that the whole existence is the nature of emptiness, and whatever one see is a form of illusion. So, now the sense of understanding refuge is a little deeper. The entire phenomena is the mandala; the form is the deity, and the sound is the mantra. In this aspect, the Guru, Deva, Dakini became the inner refuge.


The highest Secret Mantrayana way of understanding refuge is related to the true nature of mind. Realising the indestructible, unchanging natural state of one’s mind — the inherent co-emergence or primordial wisdom, is the ultimate refuge.

Therefore, a simple word of refuge encompasses the essential practices of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana, including the highest aspect of the Dzogchen and Mahamudra ways of realising the true nature of mind in ultimate refuge. It covers all aspects of meditation in entirety. So, refuge, in the reality is very deep and profound. It is practically a complete spiritual journey.


Refuge taking ceremony is part of refuge. After taking refuge, there are commitments and things to be practised, such as not harming deliberately, knowingly. Respecting the Dharma, not abandoning them. Following the teaching of Buddha as much as possible. Remembering the Buddha-Dharma-Sangha often, and relying upon them with faith at all times, good and bad … Then, gradually we learn to rely on our own fate and karma.

Relying on them become an interesting theory later, because we do not believe Buddha is a creator, nor he creates everything. So, Buddha cannot change our fate. Relying on them means we are relying on their teachings, that their teaching’s messages are: “We are responsible for our own self.” Then, we start doing good deeds, abandoning negative actions that brought forth bad karma.

Thus, relying on them does not mean we just make them happy and closed our eyes doing nothing, and expecting everything will be ok. Relying on the is to rely on their teachings, their advises. Basically, their advises is that, “I cannot do anything for you. Your karma is your own karma, so you have to clean your karma. You are responsible for your own fate, and all your experiences are manifested according to your own deeds.”

So, gradually one learned and accepted that not the Three Jewels nor the Three Roots can grant one’s liberation or cure one’s sufferings. Nevertheless, by taking refuge in the Three Jewels, we receive their blessings and guidance to learn and practice the teachings accordingly, clarifying our doubts and pacifying the obstacles along the path. Through the two accumulations, karma purification and the blessings of one’s realised master, enlightenment is the fruition of our practices.

So, if you follow the refuge thoroughly, it is a complete path of Buddhist.


Do not harm or do not kill is the first step of Buddhism. Because anger as an emotion, killing is an act resulted from a harming mind. This is the main focus of Buddhist, and that must be abandoned. Evil deeds or negative karma or whatever we called it; among all the emotions, this are the most important aspect that Buddha emphasised. The anger, is the Buddha main focus. Buddha often taught on this. Theravada practice is basically focused on this, not to kill, not to get angry; that’s their main focus or practices.

When you take refuge, that’s the samaya you focus on, not killing, not harming, not to be angry. Then you go one step up in Mahayana, not only not killing, but helping; not only not getting angry, but generating compassion. In order to take the next step, you must first master the first step. You cannot practice compassion without first abandoning the harming mind. Now, you are not just not doing the negative aspect, but you are engaging in the opposite of it. That’s why “Maha” means bigger, greater – bigger heart, greater aspiration. For example, I am not going to kill, but if I have a bigger heart, I am going to save. I want to engage; I want to protect; I can put my life at risk, as long as I can save. If I died, it doesn’t matter, I am ready. For that it required a bigger heart, bigger effort. Therefore, entering into the “Maha” vehicle is said to have taken a higher or further step, where you encompass the welfare of other in your heart.

Logically thinking, without abandoning the first part, the harming mind, how can we engage in helping? So, the primary refuge commitment, is not killing, not harming. As we enter into Mahayana, then, it’s bodhicitta. Helping other, generating bigger heart and greater mind to liberate all beings from samsara; sincerely concern for all beings.

However, Refuge and Bodhicitta do not stand as two separate things. In order to practice bodhicitta, you must first have refuge. Without refuge, you cannot practice bodhicitta. But without bodhicitta, you can practice refuge. In order to practice the higher yana, one must first complete the teachings of the basic yana. That’s why when you intend to follow Vajrayana, you must first go through refuge and bodhicitta before entering into the Tantrayana practices – the generation and completion stages; the transformation of the illusional existence into the mandala; the form as the deity and the sound as the mantra, etc. Whatever higher practice that you do, you cannot abandon Refuge and Bodhicitta, which is the heart and core of all practices.


All the teachings expounded by Lord Buddha Shakyamuni comes down to Refuge and Bodhicitta. Thus, it’s worthwhile investing your time and effort in building the correct and in-depth understanding on Refuge and Bodhicitta, which shall form the indestructible solid foundation for all advanced practices in the later stage.

If you do not comprehend the inner meaning of Refuge, you cannot even practice the Hinayana, let alone the Mahayana. If you have no inclination towards Bodhicitta, you are not qualified to enter the path of Mahayana, let alone Vajrayana. Refuge and Bodhicitta are like a perfect pair of wings; that’s capable of freeing oneself and other from the ever painful and tricky samsaric existence.

Refuge and Bodhicitta are completed in the preliminary practice of Vajrayana, called Ngondro – the Fourfold Hundred-Thousand Preliminaries. These practices consolidating one’s foundation, making the solid base for higher practices. In the beginning part of the Ngondro, is a refuge and bodhicitta practice with physical engagement. One verbally recites the refuge verses while physically prostrating and mentally visualising that all beings along with you taking refuge in the sublime objects worthy of refuge in the Refuge Merits Fields, including the Three Jewels and the Three Roots.

Drukpa Choegon Rinpoche 1.


Perfectly give up belief in any true existence, there is no other generosity than this. Perfectly give up guile and deceit, there is no other discipline. Perfectly transcend all fear of the true meaning, there is no other patience. Perfectly remain inseparable from the practice, there is no other diligence. Perfectly stay in the natural flow, there is no other concentration. Perfectly realise the natural state, there is no other wisdom. Perfectly practice Dharma in everything you do, there are no other means. Perfectly conquer the four demons, there is no other strength. Perfectly accomplish the twofold aspiration. Recognise the very source of negative emotions, there is no other primal wisdom.

— Milarepa



















Two conditions must come together in order for us to realise the unborn nature of all phenomena: the inner and outer lama. When we build a proper foundation and follow an outer lama with devotion, it becomes possible to catch a glimpse of inner wisdom. This inner wisdom becomes a guide for us as well, and it is called the inner lama. In our individualistic Western culture, most people really like the idea of the inner lama! It is important to remember reliance on the outer and inner lamas together. We do not enter the path and then just follow our own intrinsic wisdom, which will likely turn out to be egoic. Without the inner and outer lama, even the practices of Dzogchen will not lead us to realisation quickly.

— Anyen Rinpoche

How can I learn to let go and watch my children make mistakes?
by Venerable Thubten Chodron

Q: How can I learn to let go and watch my children make mistakes? I want to let out of this suffering of worrying and nagging at them. — Concerned Mum

A: Good for you! When you worry and nag at your kids, you just create a lot of disturbances in your relationship with them. The kids won’t want to be around you because every time they are around you, you’re nagging at them, or worrying about them. So how do you let your kids make their own mistakes?

You realise that your job as a parent is to educate your children, teaching them good ethical values. By education, I mean teaching them how to be a good human being, how to be kind etc, and not just on subjects like Maths or English. You teach them how to deal with their frustration in situations where they cannot get what they want. That’s a very important life skill that parents need to teach their kids, because kids are going to experience that at some point in their lives.

So you teach them these skills and then you have to let go. You have to let them learn through their own experience. If we all look at our own lives, we can all see that sometimes we have to make mistakes in order to learn some very important lessons. Look at your own life experience, isn’t that true? Sometimes you had to do really stupid things to learn something very important. Maybe others tried very hard beforehand to tell you that it was a stupid thing to do but you couldn’t understand it. They talked until they were blue in the face, but you didn’t listen.

We all had to go through such experience. Only with that experience did we realise that it was a mistake. As a parent, you may want to protect your children from the suffering of making mistakes but you can’t. That’s not your job. At some point, or at many different points as your children grow up, you have to let them make their own decisions and, through making mistakes, learn that they have to be responsible for their actions.

It is very important that children learn that they are responsible for their actions, that if they do certain things, certain results are going to come – not only karmic results in future lives but results even in this lifetime.

Sometimes your kids just have to make mistakes no matter what you do. You’ve given them the tools, so it’s better sometimes that you just sit back and let them try and develop their own wisdom. Maybe they’ll do well. Maybe they’ll make a mistake, but that’s the way they’ll learn.

Do you still remember how you were as a teenager or young adult? We thought and behaved like we knew everything. When our parents gave us advice, we thought, “Why are they giving me this piece of advice, when they’re not very smart themselves?”

But as we grow older and make mistakes, sometimes we see the wisdom in our parents’ advice. But at that time we couldn’t see it. The only way we learn is by making mistakes. Remember the times when you stopped worrying and nagging at your kids, and they went out and did something very well. You were surprised then how much you could trust your kids. So give your kids some credit and stop worrying about them. Learn to trust them. Have faith in their own wisdom that even if they make a mistake, they’ll learn and it’ll be good in the end. Also they may not necessarily make a mistake. They may do something very wise. So in fact sometimes your advice may not be the best thing for them. You have to give them that kind of space.

Hatred is generally believed to be something that is ignited from external objects or beings. However, it must be understood and realised that we also play a part in causing a hateful situation. If we are in a position to internalise this fact then we won’t place all the blame on others and we can develop a forgiving attitude. This is a substantial step towards cutting through hatred. If you look in a mirror with a green face, for example, then you will see that same green face reflected back at you but if you have a pleasant face then there will be a similar pleasing reflection.

The point here is to realise your own fault and develop forgiveness for the faults of others. This will bring a positive attitude and emotions in your life and it will also have a positive impact on others, even if the other person is at fault. If you develop space to forgive then this quality will help you overcome suffering and develop a loving attitude to all.

— 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje














































Ven Wei Jue (惟覺老和尚) 12.

If a person stays in another’s house even for one night and receives food and drinks, he should not even wish evil for the host. Gratitude is what is praised by good persons (sappurisa).

Whenever prudent people have met a good person they don’t give up his friendship, nor do they spoil the service done to themselves. The fools, however, give up the friendship, and they spoil the service done to themselves.

Even if one would offer the whole earth to an ungrateful person, one could not please him.

Even a lot of service towards the fools is reduced to nothing, for fools are merely ungrateful.

A service is hopeless from one who has no gratitude who does not help in return. Is ungrateful and apathetic. His friendship is not won by the clearest good deed. One should hastily shun him with no bitter thought and angry word.

The wise ones indeed don’t give up the friendship, nor do they spoil the service done to themselves. Even a slight service towards themselves is not disowned, for the wise ones are full of gratitude.

— The Buddha

Buddhahood in Three Dimensions
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Chapter 1 of the Lotus Sutra takes us to Vulture Peak, near the city of Rajagriha in the kingdom of Magadha (present-day northeast India), where the Buddha has gathered with a large assembly of disciples, including Kashyapa, Shariputra, Maudgalyayana and Ananda, as well thousands of bhikshus and bhikshunis, including the Buddha’s aunt, Mahaprajapati and his former wife, Yashodhara. In addition, there are tens of thousands of great bodhisattvas in attendance, among them Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, Bhaisajyaraja (Medicine King) and Maitreya. Also present are many thousands of gods, including Indra and the kings of the nagas, kinnaras, ghandharvas, asuras and garudas. The ruler of Magadha, King Ajatashatru, and his royal family and retinue are also in attendance. This vast multitude of many different kinds of beings is present in the assembly when the Buddha is about to deliver the Lotus Sutra.

This not only sets the stage for the delivery of the sutra in the historical dimension, but also reveals the ultimate dimension. The vast numbers of shravakas and bodhisattvas, the presence of gods and mythical beings, give us our first taste of the ultimate dimension and show us that the opportunity to hear the Lotus Sutra delivered by the Buddha is something very special, a great occurrence not to be missed.

First, the Buddha delivered a Mahayana sutra called the Sutra of Immeasurable Meaning, then entered a state of meditative concentration (samadhi). While he was in this concentration, heavenly flowers rained from the sky and the earth quaked. Then the Buddha sent out a ray of light from his ushnisha [crown protrusion on a buddha’s head, symbolising the cosmic openness of an enlightened being], illuminating various cosmic realms. The entire assembly was able to see these worlds appear very clearly, and everyone was most surprised and delighted at the wonderful event that was taking place around them. In all these worlds, buddhas could be seen giving dharma talks to great assemblies of bhikshus, bhikshunis, upasakas and upasikas — exactly like the Buddha’s disciples in this world.

In order to understand the great importance of this teaching, the assembly that had gathered in this historical dimension had to be introduced to the ultimate dimension. In the past, in another cosmic realm, the Buddha Sun and Moon Glow had also given the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. So the miraculous events that were happening that day were only a repetition of something that had already occurred in another dimension of reality — the ultimate dimension, which is unbounded by our ordinary perceptions of time and space.

As far as the historical dimension is concerned, Shakyamuni was the buddha who was giving the dharma talk that day. From this perspective, the Buddha gave teachings for forty years, and then only at the end of his life did he give the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. But in terms of the ultimate dimension, Buddha Shakyamuni and Buddha Sun and Moon Glow are one and the same. In the ultimate dimension, never for a moment has the Buddha ceased to deliver the Lotus Sutra.

So, this opens two doors. The first door is that of history, the events we experience and what we can see and know in our own lifetimes. The second door is that of ultimate reality, which goes beyond time and space. Everything — all phenomena — participates in these two dimensions. When we look at a wave on the surface of the ocean, we can see the form of the wave and we locate the wave in space and time. Looking at a wave from the perspective of the historical dimension, it seems to have a beginning and an end, a birth and a death. A wave can be high or low, long or short — many qualities can be ascribed to the wave. The notions of “birth” and “death,” “high” or “low,” “beginning” and “ending,” “coming” and going,” “being” or “nonbeing” — all of these can be applied to a wave in the historical dimension.

We, too, are subject to these notions. When we look from the historical dimension we see that we are subject to being and nonbeing. We are born but later on we will die. We have a beginning and an end. We have come from somewhere and we will go somewhere — that is the historical dimension. All of us belong to this dimension. Shakyamuni Buddha also has a historical dimension — he was a human being who was born in Kapilavastu and died in Kushinagara, and during his lifetime of eighty years he taught the dharma.

At the same time, all beings and things also belong to the ultimate dimension, the dimension of reality that is not subject to notions of space and time, birth and death, coming and going. A wave is a wave, but at the same time it is water. The wave does not have to die in order to become water; it is already water right in the present moment. We don’t speak of water in terms of being or nonbeing, coming and going — water is always water. To talk about a wave, we need these notions: the wave arises and passes away; it comes from somewhere or has gone somewhere; the wave has a beginning and an end; it is high or low, more or less beautiful than other waves; the wave is subject to birth and death. But none of these distinctions can be applied to the wave in its ultimate dimension as water. In fact, you cannot separate the wave from its ultimate dimension.

Even though we are used to seeing everything in terms of the historical dimension, we can touch the ultimate dimension. So our practice is to become like a wave — while living the life of a wave in the historical dimension, we realise that we are also water and live the life of water. That is the essence of the practice. Because if you know your true nature of no coming, no going, no being, no nonbeing, no birth, no death, then you will have no fear and can dwell in the ultimate dimension, nirvana, right here and now. You don’t have to die in order to reach nirvana. When you dwell in your true nature, you are already dwelling in nirvana. We have our historical dimension but we also have our ultimate dimension, just as the Buddha does.

We also need to establish a third dimension of the Lotus Sutra to reveal its function, its action. How can we help people of the historical dimension get in touch with their ultimate nature so that they can live joyfully in peace and freedom? How can we help those who suffer to open the door of the ultimate dimension so that the suffering brought about by fear, despair and anxiety can be alleviated? I have gathered all of the chapters of the Lotus Sutra on the great bodhisattvas into this third, action dimension, the bodhisattva’s sphere of engaged practice.

Practicing the path and liberating beings from suffering is the action of the bodhisattvas. The Lotus Sutra introduces us to a number of great bodhisattvas, such as Sadaparibhuta (Never Disparaging), Bhaisajyaraja (Medicine King), Gadgadasvara (Wonderful Sound), Avalokiteshvara (Hearer of the Sounds of the World) and Samantabhadra (Universally Worthy). The action taken up by these bodhisattvas is to help living beings in the historical dimension recognise that they are manifestations from the ground of the ultimate. Without this kind of revelation we cannot see our true nature. Following the bodhisattva path, we recognise the ground of our being, our essential nature, in the ultimate dimension of no birth and no death. This is the realm of nirvana — complete liberation, freedom, peace and joy.

In chapter 20 of the Lotus Sutra, we are introduced to a beautiful bodhisattva called Sadaparibhuta, “Never Disparaging.” The name of this bodhisattva can also be translated as “Never Despising.” This bodhisattva never underestimates living beings or doubts their capacity for buddhahood. His message is, “I know you possess buddhanature and you have the capacity to become a buddha,” and this is exactly the message of the Lotus Sutra — you are already a buddha in the ultimate dimension, and you can become a buddha in the historical dimension. Buddhanature, the nature of enlightenment and love, is already within you; all you need do is get in touch with it and manifest it. Never Disparaging Bodhisattva is there to remind us of the essence of our true nature.

This bodhisattva removes the feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem in people. “How can I become a buddha? How can I attain enlightenment? There is nothing in me except suffering, and I don’t know how to get free of my own suffering, much less help others. I am worthless.” Many people have these kinds of feelings, and they suffer more because of them. Never Disparaging Bodhisattva works to encourage and empower people who feel this way, to remind them that they too have buddhanature, they too are a wonder of life, and they too can achieve what a buddha achieves. This is a great message of hope and confidence. This is the practice of a bodhisattva in the action dimension.

Sadaparibhuta was actually Shakyamuni in one of his former lives, appearing as a bodhisattva in the world to perfect his practice of the dharma. But this bodhisattva did not chant the sutras or practice in the usual way — he did not perform prostrations or go on pilgrimages or spend long hours in sitting meditation. Never Disparaging Bodhisattva had a specialty. Whenever he met someone he would address that person very respectfully, saying, “You are someone of great value. You are a future buddha. I see this potential in you.”

There are passages in the Lotus Sutra that suggest that Sadaparibhuta’s message was not always well received. Because they had not yet gotten in touch with the ultimate dimension, many people could not believe what the bodhisattva was telling them about their inherent buddhanature, and they thought he was mocking them. Often he was ridiculed, shouted at and driven away. But even when people did not believe him and drove him away with insults and beatings, Sadaparibhuta did not become angry or abandon them. Standing at a distance he continued to shout out the truth:

I do not hold you in contempt!
You are all treading the path,
And shall all become buddhas!

Sadaparibhuta is very sincere and has great equanimity. He never gives up on us. The meaning of his life, the fruition of his practice, is to bring this message of confidence and hope to everyone. This is the action of this great bodhisattva. We have to learn and practice this action if we want to follow the path of the bodhisattvas. The sutra tells us that when Sadaparibhuta was near the end of his life he suddenly heard the voice of a buddha called King of Imposing Sound (Bhishmagarjitasvararaja) teaching the Lotus Sutra. He could not see that buddha but he clearly heard his voice delivering the sutra, and through the power of the teaching, Never Despising Bodhisattva suddenly found that his six sense organs were completely purified and he was no longer on the verge of death. Understanding deeply the message of the Lotus Sutra, he was able to touch his ultimate dimension and attain deathlessness.

We have already learned about the infinite life span of a buddha in the ultimate dimension. In terms of the historical dimension, a buddha may live one hundred years or a little bit more or less; but in terms of the ultimate dimension a buddha’s life span is limitless. Sadaparibhuta saw that his life span is infinite, just like the life span of a buddha. He saw that every leaf, every pebble, every flower, every cloud has an infinite life span also, because he was able to touch the ultimate dimension in everything. This is one of the essential aspects of the Lotus message. When his sense organs had been purified, he could see very deeply and understand how the six sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind) produce the six kinds of consciousness. When his senses had been purified he was capable of touching reality as it is, the ultimate dimension. There was no more confusion, no more delusion in his perception of things.

This passage describes a kind of transformation that we too can experience. When the ground of our consciousness is prepared, when our sense consciousnesses and our mind consciousness have been purified through the practice of mindfulness and looking deeply into the ultimate nature of reality, we can hear in the sound of the wind in the trees, or in the singing of the birds, the truth of the Lotus Sutra. While lying on the grass or walking in meditation in the garden, we can get in touch with the truth of the dharma that is all around us all the time. We know that we are practicing the Lotus samadhi and our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind are automatically transformed and purified.

Having realised the truth of the ultimate, Bodhisattva Sadaparibhuta continued to live for many millions of years, delivering his message of hope and confidence to countless beings. So we can see that the Lotus Sutra is a kind of medicine for long life. When we take this medicine, we are able to live a very long time in order to be able to preserve and transmit the teachings in the Lotus Sutra to many others. We know that our true nature is unborn and undying, so we no longer fear death. Just like Sadaparibhuta, we always dare to share the wonderful dharma with all living beings. And all those who thought the bodhisattva was only making fun of them finally began to understand. Looking at Sadaparibhuta they were able to see the result of his practice, and so they began to have faith in it and to get in touch with their own ultimate nature. This is the practice of this great bodhisattva — to regard others with a compassionate and wise gaze and hold up to them the insight of their ultimate nature, so that they can see themselves reflected there.

Many people have the idea that they are not good at anything and that they are not able to be as successful as other people. They cannot be happy; they envy the accomplishments and social standing of others while regarding themselves as failures if they do not have the same level of worldly success. We have to try to help those who feel this way. Following the practice of Sadaparibhuta we must come to them and say, “You should not have an inferiority complex. I see in you some very good seeds that can be developed and make you into a great being. If you look more deeply within and get in touch with those wholesome seeds in you, you will be able to overcome your feelings of unworthiness and manifest your true nature.”

The Chinese teacher Master Guishan writes,

We should not look down
on ourselves.
We should not see ourselves as
worthless and always withdraw
into the background.

These words are designed to wake us up. In modern society, psychotherapists report that many people suffer from low self-esteem. They feel that they are worthless and have nothing to offer, and many of them sink into depression and can no longer function well and take care of themselves or their families. Therapists, healers, caregivers, teachers, religious leaders and those who are close to someone who suffers in this way all have the duty to help them see their true nature more clearly so that they can free themselves from the delusion that they are worthless. If we know friends or family members who see themselves as worthless, powerless and incapable of doing anything good or meaningful, and this negative self-image has taken away all their happiness, we have to try to help our friend, our sister or brother, our parent, spouse or partner remove this complex. This is the action of Never Disparaging Bodhisattva.

We also have to practice so as not to add to others’ feelings of worthlessness. In our daily life, when we become impatient or irritated, we might say things that are harsh, judgmental and critical, especially in regard to our children. When they are under a great deal of pressure, working very hard to support and care for their family, parents frequently make the mistake of uttering unkind, punitive or blaming words in moments of stress or irritation. The ground of a child’s consciousness is still very young, still very fresh, so when we sow such negative seeds in our children we are destroying their capacity to be happy. So parents and teachers, siblings and friends all have to be very careful and practice mindfulness in order to avoid sowing negative seeds in the minds of our children, family members, friends and students.

When our students or loved ones have feelings of low self-esteem, we have to find a way to help them transform those feelings so that they can live with greater freedom, peace and joy. We have to practice just like Never Disparaging Bodhisattva, who did not give up on people or lose patience with them, but always continued to hold up to others a mirror of their true buddhanature.

I always try to practice this kind of action. One day there were two young brothers who came to spend the day with me. I took them both to see a new manual printing press I had just gotten. The younger boy was very interested in the machine and while he was playing with it the motor burned out. As I was pressing one button to show the boys how it worked, the little boy pressed another at the same time and it overstressed the machine’s engine. The elder brother said angrily, “Thây, you just wanted to show us the machine. Why did he have to do that? He wrecks whatever he touches.” These were very harsh words from such a young boy. Perhaps hearing his parents or other family members use blaming language like this had influenced him and he was just repeating what he had heard without realising the effect it would have on his little brother.

In order to help mitigate the possible effects of this criticism on the younger boy, I showed the boys another machine, a paper cutting machine, and this time I instructed the younger one on how to use it. His brother warned me, “Thây, don’t let him touch it, he’ll destroy this one too.” Seeing that this was a moment when I could help both boys, I said to the older brother, “Don’t worry, I have faith in him. He is intelligent. We shouldn’t think otherwise.” Then I said to the younger boy, “Here, this is how it works — just push this button. Once you have released this button, then you press that button. Do this very carefully and the machine will work properly.” The younger brother followed my instructions and operated the machine without harming it. He was very happy, and so was his older brother. And I was happy along with them.

Following the example of Sadaparibhuta Bodhisattva, I only needed three or four minutes to remove the complex of the younger brother and teach the older brother to learn to trust in the best of his younger brother and not just see him in terms of his mistakes. In truth, at that moment I was a bit concerned that the young boy would ruin the other machine. But if I had hesitated and not allowed him to try and follow my instructions, believing that he would destroy the machine, I could well have destroyed that little boy. Preserving the health and well-being of the mind of a child is much more important than preserving a machine.

You only need to have faith in the action of Sadaparibhuta and very quickly you can help others overcome their negative self-image. Never Despising Bodhisattva shows everyone that they have the capacity for perfection within themselves, the capacity to become a buddha, a fully enlightened one. The message of the Lotus Sutra is that everyone can and will become a buddha. Sadaparibhuta is the ambassador of the Buddha and of the Lotus Sutra, and sometimes ambassadors are reviled or attacked. Sadaparibhuta was also treated this way. He brought his message to everyone, but not everyone was happy to hear it because they could not believe in their own buddhanature. So when they heard his message they felt they were being scorned or mocked. “Throughout the passage of many years, he was constantly subjected to abuse . . . some in the multitude would beat him with sticks and staves, with tiles and stones.” The mission of a dharma teacher, of a bodhisattva, requires a great deal of love, equanimity and inclusiveness.

Sadaparibhuta represents the action of inclusiveness, or kshanti. One of the six paramitas, kshanti is also translated as “patience,” and we can see this great quality in Sadaparibhuta and in one of Shakyamuni’s disciples, Purna, who is praised by the Buddha in the eighth chapter of the Lotus Sutra. While the Lotus Sutra only mentions Purna in passing, he is the subject of another sutra, the Teaching Given to Maitrayaniputra. In this sutra, after the Buddha had instructed Purna in the practice, he asked him, “Where will you go to share the dharma and form a sangha?” The monk said that he wanted to return to his native region, to the island of Sunaparanta in the Eastern Sea. The Buddha said, “Bhikshu, that is a very difficult place. People there are very rough and violent. Do you think you have the capacity to go there to teach and help?”

“Yes, I think so, my Lord,” replied Purna.

“What if they shout at you and insult you?”

Purna said, “If they only shout at me and insult me I think they are kind enough, because at least they aren’t throwing rocks or rotten vegetables at me. But even if they did, my Lord, I would still think that they are kind enough, because at least they are not using sticks to hit me.”

The Buddha continued, “And if they beat you with sticks?”

“I think they are still kind enough, since they are not using knives and swords to kill me.”

“And if they want to take your life? It’s possible that they would want to destroy you because you will be bringing a new kind of teaching, and they won’t understand at first and may be very suspicious and hostile,” the Buddha warned.

Purna replied, “Well, in that case I am ready to die, because my dying will also be a kind of teaching and I know that this body is not the only manifestation I have. I can manifest myself in many kinds of bodies. I don’t mind if they kill me; I don’t mind becoming the victim of their violence, because I believe that I can help them.”

The Buddha said, “Very good, my friend. I think that you are ready to go and help there.”

So Purna went to that land and he was able to gather a lay sangha of five hundred people practicing the mindfulness trainings, and also to establish a monastic community of around five hundred practitioners. He was successful in his attempt to teach and transform the violent ways of the people in that country. Purna exemplifies the practice of kshanti, or inclusiveness.

Sadaparibhuta may have been a future or a former life of Purna. We are the same. If we know how to practice inclusiveness, then we will also be the future life of this great bodhisattva. We know that Sadaparibhuta’s life span is infinite, and so we can be in touch with his action and aspiration at any moment. And when we follow the practice of inclusiveness of Never Despising Bodhisattva, he is reborn in us right in that very moment. We get in touch with the great faith and insight that everyone is a buddha, the insight that is the very marrow of the Lotus Sutra. Then we can take up the career of the bodhisattva, carrying within our heart the deep confidence we have gained from this insight and sharing that confidence and insight with others.

Therapists and others in the healing professions, dharma teachers, school teachers, parents, family members, colleagues and friends can all learn to practice like Sadaparibhuta. Following the path of faith, confidence and inclusiveness, we can help free many people from the suffering of negative self-image, help them recognize their true buddhanature, and lead them into the ultimate dimension.

Thich Nhat Hanh 82.

The essence of the highest teachings lies within a simple moment of awareness.

— Khandro Rinpoche