The Qualities of Taking Refuge
Dear friends near and far
I hope that this Guru Rinpoche Day email finds you all well and happy and that your dharma practice is flourishing. From this month onwards, in these emails I would like to share some short teachings by Guru Rinpoche, the second Buddha and incomparable Lotus-born master who we remember and honour on this tenth day of each month.
To begin, I’ve chosen a profound teaching on refuge that Guru Rinpoche gave in answer to a request by the dakini Yeshe Tsogyal. In these few paragraphs and using simple and direct language, Guru Rinpoche conveys some of the most crucial points of dharma. His words carry such blessing and as such have the power to immediately kindle inspiration and insight within us. If you read them with a clear and undistracted mind and with a pure motivation, they will really be able to benefit you:
The Master Padmakara of Uddiyana, who appeared as a nirmanakaya in person, was asked by Lady Tsogyal, the princess of Kharchen: “Great Master, please be kind and teach the basis for all Dharma practice, the means by which to end birth and death, a little cause that has immense benefit, a method that is easy to apply and has little hardship.”
The nirmanakaya master replied: “Tsogyal, taking refuge is the basis for all Dharma practice. The Three Jewels are the support for all Dharma practice. The means that brings an end to birth and death is to take refuge along with its subsidiary aspects.
Lady Tsogyal asked: What is the essential meaning of taking refuge? What is its definition? When divided, how many types are there?”
The master replied: “The essential meaning of taking refuge is to accept the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as your teacher, path, and companions for practicing the path, and then to pledge that they are the fruition you will attain. Thus taking refuge means a pledge or acceptance. Why is such an acceptance called taking refuge? It is called taking refuge because of accepting the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as the support, refuge, and protector or rescuer for being freed from the great fear of the sufferings and obscurations. That is the essential meaning of taking refuge.
The definition of taking refuge is to seek protection from the terrors of the three lower realms and from the inferior view of believing in a self within the transitory collection1 as is held by non-Buddhist philosophers.”—Dakini Teachings, Rangjung Yeshe Publications
1 “The transitory collection” refers to the continuity of the five aggregates.
The Outer Way of Taking Refuge
Lady Tsogyal asked: Concerning the outer way of taking refuge, what is the cause of wanting to take refuge? In what object does one take refuge? What kind of person takes refuge? ….
Master Padma replied: The cause of wanting to take refuge is fear of the miseries of samsara, trusting in the Three Jewels as the place of refuge, and, moreover, accepting the Three jewels to be the objects of refuge and the protectors of refuge.
Through these three you give rise to the intention of taking refuge. In general, one wants to take refuge due to fear of death….
In what object does one take refuge? You should take refuge in the Three Jewels. Who can bring an end to birth and death? It is exclusively the omniscient Buddha who is free from all defects and who has perfected all virtues. Therefore, only the Dharma he has taught and the sangha who uphold his doctrine are able to bring an end to the cycle of birth and death of self and others. Since these are the sole objects of refuge, you should take refuge in them.…—Dakini Teachings, Rangjung Yeshe Publications
The Inner Way of Taking Refuge
The nirmanakaya master Padmakara was asked by Lady Tsogyal, the princess of Kharchen: To which inner objects does one take refuge? What kind of person takes refuge? Through which manner or method does one take refuge? ….
The master replied: Regarding the objects of refuge, you should take refuge in the guru, yidam, and dakini. The person who takes refuge should be someone who has entered the gate of Secret Mantra. The manner or method is to take refuge with devoted and respectful body, speech, and mind. Regarding the particular attitude of taking refuge, you should take refuge by perceiving the guru as a buddha, not abandoning the yidam even at the cost of your life, and continuously making offerings to the dakini….—Dakini Teachings, Rangjung Yeshe Publications
The Benefits of Taking Refuge
Lady Tsogyal asked the master: What good qualities result from taking refuge? The master replied: Taking refuge has eight good qualities.
You enter the group of Buddhists. Having taken refuge in the Three Jewels, you are called a Buddhist….
You become a suitable vessel for all the vows such as the Individual Liberation. Correspondingly, if you lose your refuge vow, it is said that all the vows based thereon are also destroyed….
The vow of taking refuge in the Three Jewels diminishes and brings to an end all karmic obscurations accumulated throughout all your past lives. That is to say, your obscurations will be totally exhausted through the special taking refuge, while through the general taking refuge the karmic obscurations will diminish….
You will possess vast merit. The mundane merits of long life, good health, splendor, and majestic dignity, great wealth and so forth, result from taking refuge. The supramundane unexcelled enlightenment also results from taking refuge….
You will be immune to attack by humans and non humans, and immune to the obstacles of this life….
You will achieve the fulfillment of whatever you may wish for. When the genuine taking refuge has arisen in your being, it is impossible not to accomplish whatever you intend….
You will not fall into the lower realms, evil destinies, or perverted paths….
The final benefit is that of swiftly attaining the true and complete enlightenment. What need is there to mention other benefits!
It is said in the Mahayana teachings of Secret Mantra that one can attain enlightenment within this single body and lifetime. This means that without a doubt you will swiftly attain enlightenment. So it is necessary to cut the misconception of thinking that it is enough to take refuge just once in a while. You should take refuge again and again both day and night. Then you will definitely swiftly attain true and complete enlightenment.
Master Padma said: If you exert yourself in taking refuge, you do not need to practice many other teachings. There is no doubt that you will attain the fruition of enlightenment….—Dakini Teachings, Rangjung Yeshe Publications
Please try to reflect upon the meaning of this profound teaching and apply it as best as you can in your formal practice as well as in daily life. I am sending this from the Garisson Institute in New York while keeping you all in mind and sending many prayers and aspirations.