As the taking of refuge is the foundation of Dharma, it is first of all necessary to receive its vows from a lama or qualified monk. But so that the taking of refuge becomes meaningful, mind firstly needs to sincerely confess its faults. If one dies without having confessed one's faults, bad future rebirths are then inevitable and one will be destined to helplessly wandering about in Samsara without any end of existences in sight. If our mind conceives of this terror, it will aspire towards purification.
- The Confession of Faults
It is necessary for us to combine the four following forces within our mind, if our practice of confession is to be effective :
- The first force is the force of support. For this, we visualise in the sky in front of us the assembly of lamas and the three jewels, similar to a gathering of clouds. We must rely entirely on this support.
- The second force is the force of regret: in front of this noble assembly, we consider with deep grief the faults we have committed and develop a strong sense of regret.
- The third force is the force of antidote : we then decide that we will not again commit such faults, even at the cost of our life or physical integrity.
- The fourth force is the force of restoring. Finally we rejoice that such a profound method has been able to purify our faults.
One will meditate like this
Lamas, Yidams, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the three times and ten directions, please think of me. I confess all faults and non-virtuous actions which I have committed by body, speech and mind since beginningless time under the influence of greed, anger and ignorance. I also confess all non-virtues to which I have induced others or which I have rejoiced in. In the future, I will not act like this again.
If one practises confession from the bottom of one's heart in this way, all faults are purified :
"That which is confessed, is purified".
These are the authentic words of the Buddha.
Then, in order to skilfully increase our virtues without effort and without having to search for an object (of virtue), it is necessary to develop a mind filled with joy and content about the virtues of all beings.
If we joyfully consider the virtues that others accomplish in the ten directions of space and three times, we have found the inexhaustible source of virtue, the virtue accomplished in one's mind. We should think :
"if only I could practise such virtues"
One should rejoice about all the virtues accomplished by the Perfect Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Pratyekabuddhas, Shravakas and all other beings. And the virtue we thus gather is inexhaustible and limitless.
In the Sutra "sDud Pa" it is said :
"If it were possible to weigh the central mountain and the three universes, this heavy weight still couldn't compare to the weight carried by the virtue which consists in rejoicing about the virtues of others.''
It is possible to explain the refuges in great detail, but one can summarise by commenting on the reasons, the objects, the method of practice, the benefits obtained and the rules to be observed.
- The three causes for taking refuge
They are : -fear -faith -compassion
-Taking refuge because of fear means that we take refuge because we are afraid of the suffering of Samsara for ourselves or others.
It is said in the Bodhicaryavatara:
"Previously I have not obeyed your words, now I am overcome with great fear; I take refuge in you. Please rapidly free me from fear".
For all those who are immersed into the suffering of existence, it is very important to take refuge in those who perfectly protect from this suffering.
-Taking refuge because of faith refers to the three types of faith :
- Faith which is derived from the love we have for the qualities and virtues of the refuge objects who are able to protect us from this fear and this suffering.
- Faith which comes from the desire to obtain a rank which is equal to them.
- Faith which stems from the certainty that we will obtain the same rank if we practise in accordance with their commands.
- Taking refuge because of compassion means taking refuge in order to perfectly protect all beings from suffering. When we reflect on our own suffering, eventually limitless compassion for the sufferings of others is born in our mind, and this is the third cause of refuge.
- Taking refuge without paying attention and in a very superficial manner is useless : One should be very well aware of the motives just explained. It is said in the Bodhicaryavatara :
"All recitation and practice, even if continued for a long time, are without any meaning if the mind is distracted".
- The Objects of Refuge
One takes first of all refuge in the root lama, who is the one who really shows us the supreme path, and equally in all the lamas of the lineage who our own root lama has issued from.
Further, one takes refuge in Buddhas who have accomplished their own benefit by becoming awakened beings, who are free from any imperfection and possess all qualities, and who, having nothing in mind but the benefit of others, incarnate from one existence to the other.
One takes refuge in the Dharma, the method for destroying suffering. It consists of the twin aspects of theory, which is contained in the three baskets of scriptures, and practice, which is the training in the three kinds of teachings: training in the highest ethical discipline (in particular the monastic path), the highest meditation (the thought of enlightenment, the path of Bodhisattvas) and the highest wisdom (the Tantric path of Mantras).
Finally one also takes refuge in the community or Sangha, which consists of all those who have entered the path before us.
- The Method of Taking Refuge
Having placed offerings in front of the supports of body. speech and mind of the lama and three jewels on the shrine, prostrate and sit down on a cushion in the meditation posture. In the sky in front of you, visualise the assembly of lamas, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Arahats as if they were really present.
Think that your own parents and all sentient beings of the six realms take refuge together with you. Your body forms the attitude of respect by folding your hands, your speech recites the refuge and your mind should be filled with the power of faith.
Then pray as follows :
"During my past lives I have not practised the teachings of the lama. It is because I have not genuinely gone for refuge with the three jewels that I have been suffering tremendously in the cycle of existence. From now on until I reach realisation, whatever good or bad may happen to me, I will entirely rely on the compassion of the refuge objects. Entrusting myself completely to the refuge objects, my mind will be filled with the certainty that the lama and the Buddhas are the teachers who show the path to liberation, that the Dharma is that path and that the members of the community are my companions in practising that path. May all actions of body, speech and mind of all beings including myself always follow the path of Buddha; the lama and the three jewels know..."
Thus pray full of devotion and your mind perfectly concentrated. You should think and wish that all the limitless number of beings take refuge as you yourself do, and, from the bottom of your heart, you should recite many times like this :
*We take refuge in the excellent, glorious lamas. We take refuge in the perfect. victorious Buddhas. We take refuge in the excellent Dharma. We take refuge in the supreme community.
Then pray :
Prostrating to the lama and the three jewels, we go to them for refuge. Please grant us your blessing so that our mind may be turned towards the Dharma.
"Bless us so that we may succeed on the spiritual path. Bless us so that all obstacles to our practice may be dispelled.
Bless us so that obstacles may be transformed to be aide on the path. Bless us so that, not even for a short moment, a thought contrary to Dharma occupies our mind.
Bless us so that love, compassion and Bodhicitta (Enlightenment thought) may arise and firmly remain in our mind.
Bless us so that we may rapidly attain the state of a perfectly accomplished, omniscient Buddha."
Praying like this, visualise that the refuge objects look at you in their omniscient wisdom, full of love and compassion. They help you and have the power to protect you. Settle your mind on this for a while.
Then conclude by dedicating the merit :
May my virtuous actions be a contribution to the end that all sentient beings, who have all been my own parents in innumerable past lives, attain the perfect state of Buddhahood.
It is important to always keep in mind the qualities and virtues of a Buddha. Try never to act contrary to the rules which are linked with refuge. It is said that any virtuous action accomplished without our being conscious of it is meaningless. Therefore always be mindful.
- The Benefits of Refuge
As refuge is the foundation of all other vows, the benefits of refuge are incalculable. It is said in a Sutra: "if merit derived from refuge could take a form, all the expanse of space would be too small to encompass it."
In short, as there are no refuge objects in the whole of the universe which could equal the supreme jewels, one should be very joyful to have found the best refuge objects now.
- The Rules to be Observed
These rules are logically implied by the taking of refuge. This is just like someone who wishes to be successful in his worldly business needs to avoid opposing the laws of the country he is in. Similarly, and even more so because we are concerned with realising the very purpose of this and future lives, i.e. unsurpassable enlightenment, we should never be in contradiction with the words and rules of the three jewels.
The first thing which is necessary after having taken refuge in general is to find a lama we can rely on.
Then there are rules which are necessary for each of the particular refuge objects :
- Having taken refuge in the Buddha, we will no longer prostrate to the worldly gods.
- Having taken refuge in the Dharma, we have to abandon everything which could harm others.
- Having taken refuge in the community, we should not choose friends among those who oppose Buddhism.
Also, even at the cost of our life or all of our riches, we must never give up the three jewels. Whatever sicknesses and sufferings we may have to experience, we will never act against the three jewels but, on the contrary, we will make special efforts to make offerings to the refuge objects, to the community and to religious practitioners and give to the poor and needy. We will pray for the happiness of all, in the present and future, and will follow everything the Buddha has taught.
All of our ventures, whether big or small, should be accomplished by placing wholehearted confidence into the three jewels.
The Buddha, through his wisdom, knows the dispositions of beings and the paths which suit them, and, through his compassion, turns beings away from their faults. Due to the power he has achieved through the perfect realisation of the two qualities of merit and transcendental wisdom, he has the power to perfectly protect those who place all their confidence in him and practise according to his teachings. It is only because, in our past lives, we have not relied on the refuge objects and have not practised their teachings, that we are still not liberated from the cycle of existence. It is not a reason to doubt the compassion of the three jewels.
It is said in the Mgon rTogs rGyan :
"Although the king of gods causes the rain to fall down, if the seed is bad, no sprout will be born. Likewise, although the Buddhas come to our world, no good will result (if we have no faith in the refuge objects)."
It is also said in the Bodhicaryavatara :
"If, from now on, we do not strain ourselves as necessary, all will worsen. Although innumerable Buddhas come to accomplish the benefit of beings, they do not wipe out the faults they have committed."
In summary, it is not certain that by our pure personal desire, without relying on the refuge objects, we can wait for our hopes to come true. Even if they became true, their future is not certain. It is always important to rely on the power of the refuge objects.
(Note: according to buddhist interpretation, a fault is any action by body, speech or mind which does harm to a sentient being. A virtue is any action by body, speech or mind which is beneficial to a sentient being)