Summary of previous days of teachings:
For the last few days, we have been going through the Four Foundations and we have already talked about the three first ones: the Precious Human Life, Impermanence and Karma. What we have said so far is just a guideline, a menu, on which we should build our own understanding. It is not because it is written like this that you should think like this! It may be a fact, but even if it so, if we do not understand it through our own experience, with our own mind, then it is no use. What is said is just a guideline, a hint, thanks to which we have to find our own way. This is true even for the Buddha’s words. He may have left hundreds of volumes of teachings, but they are just guidelines. They are not commandments: “This is the thing! Take it or leave it!” They are just a pointer, on the basis of which we try to understand on our own. It is important to understand that it is not because I say something is like this that it must be like this. Even if it is the truth - and it is the truth - if you do not understand it from your own experience, just believing that something is the truth will not change you..
There is also a continuity, a logical sequence, in the order of presentation of these Four Foundations. Thinking of the Precious Human Body, we look at our opportunities, we see what we have, what we are. But although we have this very rich and powerful potential, it will not remain with us forever. That is why we think about impermanence. We will not live forever, but if our death was a complete end, if nothing of us were to remain, it would be all right. However, nothing actually ends, finishes or disappears altogether. Everything is interdependent, compounded, interrelated and therefore one thing causes another. There is almost nothing which does not cause something else to happen. There is a continuity, and a continuity of our own experience too, it is not completely discontinued. Whether we will evolve towards a better position, a better experience or towards a worse situation and more problems, depends on our actions, on how we develop our own path. To understand that is the contemplation of karma. We now come to the 4th foundation: Samsara.
We continue our reflection: we do something that gives results, these give rise to new actions, that in turn generate more results. It goes on and on. What is this situation like? Is it nice and wonderful, or are there some problems, some things we would like to change? This is what we contemplate.
Samsara, as we have discussed many times, is not so much a place, the world around us, as a mental attitude, a mental state. What does our present mental state look like? If we have no problems at all, if everything is nice, everything is good, then it is all right. We do not need to do anything else. However, if it is not the case, we should try to see what are the problems inherent to this way of life, to this way of thinking, and what are their causes. These are the things we need to think about. When we look at our life, or at others’ lives, we see that there are lots of problems, lots of sufferings. The Buddha did not suffer from poverty and he had all a human being can wish for, but he looked at life and saw birth, old age, sickness and death. How do these affect us? Can we escape them or not? We all have to die, we all get old and sick, and although we do not want it, we always get or meet what we dislike and do not get what we actually want. These problems always make us suffer. They happen continuously, again and again. Of course, they change: we solve a problem, but then we get another one! What are the main causes, the main reasons of these problems arising? And if everybody has to go through old age, sickness and death, why does it bother us so much? Why does it make us suffer so? When we consider this, we find out that the main problem is our way of looking at things, our way of reacting towards them. We are conditioned in such a way that we almost necessarily get into turmoil.
The text of the Ngöndro says:
One is constantly tormented by the three kinds of sufferings. Therefore, samsaric places, friends, pleasures and possessions are like a party given by an executioner, who will then lead one to the place of execution.
Cutting through the snares of attachment, strive for enlightenment with diligence.
Traditionally, when we look at our life, we can distinguish three kinds of sufferings.
The first is the suffering of suffering. When we have actually a problem like getting what we do not want or not getting what we want, or when we experience actual pain, something that really makes us miserable, something very negative, very unpleasant that makes us suffer, that is what we call the suffering of suffering.
Of course, nobody likes it - although there are exceptions. I have heard many people tell me: “This is very painful, but it is life, all right, I like it”. However, the kind of problem they encounter does not just happen once to disappear forever when solved. Those problems that really make us suffer will happen again, because we are taking them as necessary and they becomes a habit. We take for granted something we are used to. We do not want to get rid of it because we have got attached to it. Many people get attached to their sufferings! They identify so much with their sufferings that they consider them as “me”. They do not want to let them go because they feel that if they did, they would not exist any more. Because of this, they do not realise suffering as suffering. They consider it as something that is - maybe not really good - but part of their own life. The story is told of someone who had been burning in hell for a very long time. When his term came to an end and he was released from hell, he turned back to shout: "Please do not let anybody sit in my place!” This is no rare exception, it is happening all the time. Buddhists are sometimes accused of being very dull, very serious people, always contemplating on sufferings. It may be true - or not. When we are talking about sufferings, it is in a way the opposite. We should understand suffering as suffering, we should not see suffering as something nice. We should know what is what, be able to see things clearly and accept them as they are, and then do what we need to do about them: work on sufferings and get out of them. That is the main issue.
This morning, we were talking about “acceptance”1, and I think it is important to understand what we mean by this. “Acceptance” is not a passive attitude by which we just let things happen without reacting. That is not what we mean by acceptance. It means that we see whatever is going on exactly as it is, not colouring it, not hiding it under a carpet, not cheating ourselves by pretending it is something else. Seeing it as it is: “This is this, all right. This is suffering, all right.” And then we do whatever is necessary to get out of it, we work on the causes of suffering, in whatever way is appropriate. That is the approach.
But it is not all: if we look at it more closely, even when we are not actually suffering, when we have no definite problem, no actual pain, we still fear change. That is the second type of suffering, the suffering of change. We are all right now, but we know it is not going to last. Especially when we have everything, when everything is fine and we have no problems, we worry all the time that something might happen, that something might change. That worry, that fear is constantly at the back of our mind, in our heart.
And then the third type of suffering is the suffering inherent to the nature of everything: everything changes, continuously and completely, nothing remains as it is, even from one moment to the next. Nothing is permanent. When we contemplated on Impermanence, we saw that everything is compounded, made of many different things put together. Everything is affected by everything else, therefore everything changes constantly, nothing remains static. There is a continuous flow and therefore we cannot rely on anything, there is this unreliability.
If we look carefully at these three kinds of sufferings, , we realise that we are always in a way a little anxious, nervous, unsettled, we are always in a slightly unpeaceful state.
The greatest benefit we can get out of the contemplation of Samsara - after having recognised its recurring problems - is to realise that we can get out of it. There is a problem, but it is not something that we cannot get rid of. Samsara is basically - to make it very simple - a state of mind where we have a continuous alternance of aversion and attachment. We label: “This is very bad, I should not have it, I am afraid of it.” That is aversion, and aversion is, I think, the most important ingredient in the sufferings of Samsara. When we feel aversion for something, we necessarily want to escape, to run away from it, but we cannot run away from it, because aversion is in our mind. Aversion gives rise to fear, and because of fear, we develop attachment. Attachment and aversion are like the two sides of a coin. Because of aversion, we have fear, and because of fear, we try to cling to something, in the hope it might be what we need to make all our fears go away. But even if we run after something and are able to grab it, it never gives us complete peace and happiness because the problem lies in the way our mind reacts. Therefore we continuously run after one thing after another. For instance, first I think that, maybe, I need this glass. Maybe this is the one, maybe if I get this glass, I will find lasting happiness. Then I go, I run and run, I do different kinds of things, I work hard, I hurt others, I undergo many difficulties and problems, and finally, I get hold of that glass. But then I find that nothing changes. I am still sad, I still have problems, the fear is still there. Then I think that I was wrong: “No, it is not the glass, it is the flower!” Then again, I run after the flower, with many hardships. At last I get the flower: “Yes! Now I have it!” . But the next moment I find out that nothing has changed. Everything is still going on as before. Attachment, this running after things, comes from fear, from aversion.
That aversion/attachment mentality, that way of reacting, is Samsara. In such a state of mind where we are always running away from something or running after something, we cannot have any peace. This is why we talk of the “Wheel of Samsara”. The water flows day and night under the mill making the wheel turn day and night, it never stops. That is the point of similarity with Samsara. We have to run all the time without ever resting. We are always trying to avoid something or to get something. This mentality keeps us in a state of constant suffering. This is something we really need to look into deeply, because if we fully understand what Samsara is, we will also understand the possibility of getting out of it. When we get out of the samsaric mentality, all our problems vanish at once, because we no longer feel any aversion towards anything. Whatever happens is all right, is good, is wonderful. And as we do not fear anything, we do not have to cling to anything either. Attachment is the need to cling to something because we feel we cannot do without it, because we would be threatened if we did not have it. Sometimes, people ask me whether there is any difference between love and attachment. There is a great difference! Attachment is self-oriented, we are clutching to something just for our own sake. Compassion and love are directed towards others, not towards ourselves. When we are feeling genuine compassion, genuine love, it cannot turn into hatred. On the contrary, attachment can turn into hate in just a second. That is the difference.
If we understand very clearly, deeply the samsaric state of mind, we also understand the possibility to get out of it and that means we are on the Path, we are actually practising Dharma. Real practice of Dharma comes from knowing what we can do. That is the main lesson we can learn from the contemplation of Samsara.
Is it possible that we also develop attachment towards Dharma, towards our practice of Dharma?
It depends. It is possible that you get attached to Dharma also. As I explained, attachment comes from aversion,. The main difference lies in the way you understand things. If you see the problems clearly, if you know that if you do this, that is going to happen, and then you practise what you can call “Dharma” or whatever, according to that understanding, that is the Path, that is good. But if you say “This is my Dharma, this is my religion, if anybody says something against it, I’m going to fight for it!” then, that is attachment, it is not good and it will not help you.
Gampopa, the chief disciple of Milarepa said that: “Dharma which is not practised as Dharma can lead you to endless sufferings.”
“Dharma” is a word, a concept, we can call it Dharma or religion or whatever. You can use it in a very bad way if you like. It’s up to you. It is because Dharma has not always been used in a “Dharmic way”, that many people have so much resistance to religion. So many people reject religion completely, and not only in the West. “Religion? NO!!” That is because there have been people who used the name of religion to work for their own benefit, their own purposes and ego. Dharma, religion, spirituality, is a very important part of every human life, therefore it is the easiest thing to use in order to arouse people’s emotions and sentiments. If I say “I, Ringu Tulku, want something to be done, you all come!” - you would not come! But if I say ‘Buddhism is in danger, you are all Buddhists so you must all come with me!” - you all come with me, although I may be the only one in danger. I can use it that way. It can give rise to very sad situations. That is how it happens.
You said that attachment comes from fear, and you also said that attachment and aversion are like the 2 sides of the same coin. Can we also say that fear comes from attachment, or desire? Because there are so many, many things we can be afraid of - accidents, spiders, mice, ... . Can we say that some of our fears come from unconscious desires, desires we cannot consciously accept and that we transform into fears?
Certainly yes. They are the two sides of a coin, but fear - aversion is a better word, because out of aversion comes fear. Aversion is more basic, more general. Aversion is not a specific fear, it is a general, basic way of reacting: “this is bad, I do not want it”. Why some people have more fear of spiders than snakes or vice-versa, depends on their personal experiences. Sometimes, people may develop fear for ... just nothing! Some people fear loneliness. I know someone who cannot walk a 100 yards alone. He is afraid. He can’t walk alone. His fear is so strong that he has physical reactions, he perspires, he shivers. But if somebody is with him, he can go anywhere! Of course, it is in the mind, still ...
And some people fear the crowd, they get afraid if there are more than two people. I know a Tibetan lady who cannot see more than one person at a time. She has shut herself in her room for more than 10 years. She sees her husband and her daughter, that is all. Nobody can see her. She is in a kind of retreat ...
What is the best way of dealing with our fears, what would be the best attitude to deal with the fear of the future?
Well, I do not know. The whole purpose of the practice of Dharma is in a way to get rid of our fears. The fear of the future is the same as any other fear. If we think too much about the future, how it may be, how it should be, how it may turn out like this or like that, then we develop fear. Maybe the best way would be to be able to work and be in the present. It is not easy, of course, but if anything really worries us, makes us fearful and anxious, is a source of pressure and tension, it is because we think too much and negatively either about the past or the future. When we feel lots of tensions while doing something, it is not just because of what we do in the present. What we are doing now is not giving us any pressure, but it is all the things we have in our mind, related either to the past or the future, that are giving us all the pressure. Therefore, we should learn how to be a little more in the present - because if we really do the right thing in the present moment, then the future is already more or less taken care of, so that we do not need to worry too much about it now. In general, the best way is to adopt this attitude I mentioned before: “Do your utmost, hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” When we have that attitude, I think we will have less fear for the future. In any situation, there is only this much we can do! If you can do something, then do it. If you cannot, just leave it! The following saying by Shantideva2 helped me quite a lot:
“If you can change it, what is there to worry about? If you can’t change it, what’s the use of worrying about it?”
That attitude really helps, because if we cannot change anything, it is no use to worry, and if we can change the situation, we do not worry, we just act and change it!
THE FOUR SPECIAL FOUNDATIONS
In the preliminary practices to Mahamudra, there are 4 general foundations which we have already gone through in a “hotchpotch” way, followed by the 4 Special Foundations, or inner Ngöndro practices, which belong more specifically to the Vajrayana, as they are the specific preliminaries for the particular practice of Mahamudra. These four preliminaries are:
We have been talking about refuge many times in the past, and we have explained it in detail two years ago, while going through Gampopa’s book, therefore it will not be necessary to talk too much about it. In the Ngöndro, we find a more practical way of generating refuge.
There are actually two, even three different ways of going refuge. It can be understood at different levels.
“Going refuge” may not be a very nice word. I do not know, it may sound very nice to you, but to me, as a refugee, it doesn’t sound very nice. “Going refuge” means that we need something or somebody to rely on. We have to find a goal, a purpose, an objective, something we can look forward to. For the last few days, we have gone through the different aspects of the foundations, like for instance Samsara. We have supposedly come to realise through contemplation that the samsaric way of living, the samsaric state of mind is very painful, full of sufferings, but that there is a way, a possibility to get out of that state. How can we do that? Can we do it easily on our own, or do we need some guidance? Going refuge is actually finding a model, a path, a guidance. There is something that we can actually attain, become or discover. There is somebody, or something which can actually give us the guidance. That is the outer refuge.
Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are what we can rely on, they can grant us protection, the final release, the freedom from the sufferings of the samsaric state of mind.
In a deeper, more inner way, going refuge is to know that we have the possibility to find our inner truth, to realise our true nature - that basic state which is not stained by the samsaric state of mind, that we have this possibility to eliminate and transform our samsaric state of mind into an enlightened state of mind, which we call the Buddha nature, or our basic goodness, our enlightened nature. When we understand that we have the potential to rediscover that true state of mind, which is beyond suffering, beyond our constant running, our being totally overpowered by either aversion or attachment, we go refuge to our true nature that is present within us.
Going refuge means that we acknowledge there is something we cannot do on our own, therefore we need the help of somebody or something else. That is the literal meaning of taking refuge. We acknowledge that we do not have the insight, the knowledge, the know-how, the relevant pieces of information to get ourselves out of the samsaric state of mind, of our sufferings and problems. Therefore we go for help to somebody who has been able to get himself out of the samsaric sufferings, who knows how to do it. We go refuge to the Buddha, because he is a person, or a being who was capable of doing just that, he has the understanding, the experience and the realisation of how to do it. At the first level, when we go refuge to the Buddha, we see him as a model, a guide, as somebody who has trodden the path, who has accomplished the great task of getting out of the samsaric state of mind. Whatever we want to do, in any field, we cannot get the understanding, the idea, realisation or information from someone who has no experience of the subject. Nobody can guide us unless he/she has walked that path. If we want guidance, we need somebody who has actually gone that way, therefore we go refuge to the Buddha who is the only being who has actually reached the end of the path.
And we go refuge to Dharma because it is the actual path. The Buddha is the teacher. The Dharma is the experience of the Buddha on his way to the realisation. Dharma is what the Buddha experienced, what he realised, what he saw, and therefore, if we follow the same way, we will get the same understanding, the same realisation. Dharma is the guidance that the Buddha left for us. It is the Path we can tread.
Somebody who has been to Tibet can write a book on how to go from one place to another, how to find a bus, or a horse, or a truck. If we go to Tibet, we can use that travelogue and follow its instructions, and maybe we will get where we want.
Therefore we practise Dharma. Practice here means that we first understand it, and then we experience it on our own. It is not the Buddha’s path, it is our own path we have to find.
Dharma is usually defined as having two aspects:
The first consists in the teachings given by the Buddha, (which are like the travelogue), the Kangyur and Tengyur and all the various books.
The second is our own experience and that of the people who have trodden that path. That is the real Dharma and not just the teachings, the written words of the Buddha. It is what we actually experience when we go through the teachings and apply them to ourselves.
Then we take refuge in the Sangha. The Sangha consists of the beings, the people who have done that, who have put the Buddha’s teachings in their actual experience.
Why do we need to go refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha? It is because if we go refuge to Buddha, we also need the Dharma. The Dharma is the path, and without it, we could not find our way. And without the Sangha, we could not find the Dharma. Therefore we need to go refuge to all 3 together, and when we go refuge to one, we actually go refuge to them all. Why then do not we just say that we go refuge to Buddha? Wouldn’t that be enough? This might, however, lead to a misunderstanding. If we just went refuge to Buddha, it would sound as if we were going to the Buddha sitting there, all-compassionate, all-knowing, all-powerful, and then pray to him “I go refuge to you, please save me!” and he would answer “All right!”(and save us). We should not get that idea. Therefore, it is repeatedly, insistently mentioned that we should not only go refuge to Buddha, but also to Dharma and Sangha. It is hammered in us. Whenever we say a prayer, we say that we go refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, because it is not enough to go refuge to the Buddha and expect that we will be saved: we have to tread the path, to find the way, to practise ourselves, and then only can we make some progress. This is one way of going refuge: the Buddha has already got enlightened so we go refuge to Buddha because we can get help from him, he can show us the way.
Another way of going refuge is to go refuge to the Buddha within. I mean, our own intrinsic nature, our real basic goodness is the Buddha nature, the enlightened state, and to discover it is our main objective. Our real journey is to find out our true nature, the unveiled state, the state which is not covered, not confused, not wrapped up in different kind of things. Our final ultimate goal is to find out our true qualities, our true face, we could say, to be able to bring out our basic Buddha nature.
To go refuge to Buddha is to find our direction, our own way, our own purpose. We see that now, we are confused, we are in a samsaric state. All our problems are there because we do not see, we have not developed, not uncovered our true nature, which is the enlightened state. Therefore, this is what we need to do for ourselves: Buddhahood is what we need to find, it is our aim. If we have that strong sense of direction, of purpose, that is going refuge to Buddha.
And then the way, the means that the Buddha gave us to achieve this objective is the Dharma, and the Sangha is the same as we explained before.
We can look at Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in two different ways, but actually, it comes to the same thing.
Here, in the Vajrayana way, we also take refuge in the Lama, Yidams and Khandros. In a way, they are the same as the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Buddha is the guide, the one who has the experience of the path, who gives the teachings, and likewise, it is the Lama who has the experience, who gives the guidance. Therefore, going refuge to the Lama is similar to going refuge to the Buddha.
In Vajrayana, the “yidam” is the actual practice, the path, the way to unveil our own Buddha Nature and enlightenment. Therefore, going refuge to the Yidam is almost like going refuge to the Dharma.
And the Khandros - or Dakas and Dakinis - these are the Sangha, the community, the spiritual community which keeps and protects the Vajrayana teachings. In general Buddhism we talk of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and in Vajrayana, we call them Lama, Yidam and Khandros, but these are the same. When we visualise the refuge tree, we have these six groups: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, Lama, Yidams and Dakas, and also the protectors.
So far we have discussed the meaning of Going Refuge, but in the Ngöndro practice, we do it in a more visual way: we create a mandala.
If we just say “I go refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha”, it is rather theoretic, academic and intellectual. If we want to actually go refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, we have to make it more experiential, it has to feel real, as if it were really happening. Therefore, the main thing is to generate our own devotion, to open up so that we will be able to fuse our mind with the mind of the Buddhas, to receive the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in ourselves, to unite ourselves with these principles, with these understandings in an experiential way. In order to do this, we use a skilful means: we visualise a tree, a mandala, and we take refuge not in a theoretical way, but as if we were in the actual presence of all those beings. We try to feel the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, the Lama and all these beings as actually present, and then we try to merge our own mind with the Buddhas’ mind, we try to receive the actual ... “blessing”, you can call it, or mindstream, or energies of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in ourselves - and not just ourselves, but all the sentient beings too.
If we follow the Mahayana or Vajrayana, we try to become a Buddha not only to help ourselves, but to help all sentient beings. Therefore whatever we do, we do it with a broader, a more compassionate, a Bodhisattva-like attitude. This is why we include all sentient beings in our refuge visualisation.
Talking about visualisation, many people have problems to visualise. So many people, especially in the West, tell me that they cannot visualise: “Oh, I cannot visualise at all!” Then I ask them whether they have any plan for their vacation. “Oh yes!” they answer. “So, where will you go?” “Well, maybe to Barcelona, it’s quite nice, or maybe Hawaii.” And they tell me they will “...go to the beach, you know, beautiful beach, sand, green pure water, palm trees...” Well, that is visualisation, isn’t it? If you can bring to your mind a clear and lively image, what more is visualisation?
So here, we visualise according to the next of the Ngöndro, which says:
In the middle of a lake, in front of me, there is a great wish-fulfilling tree. It has a main trunk and five branches. At its centre, where the branches leave the trunk, my root-guru, in the apparent form of Dorjé Chang (Vajradhara) sits on a lion throne, lotus, sun and moon. He is surrounded by all the gurus of the “Oral Transmission” (Kagyü Lineage). In front of him are the yidams, to his right the Buddhas, behind him the sacred Dharma teachings, to his left the Sangha and below his throne are all the male and female Dharma-protectors and guardians. Each of these groups is surrounded by an ocean of others like them.
All our mothers from the past are standing on the beautiful green pastures on the banks of the lake. With full concentration, we all take refuge and resolve to reach enlightenment.
That is the visualisation. We visualise the wish-fulfilling tree, and on top of it is Vajradhara, or Dorjé Chang. He is blue in colour - actually who this figure is does not really matter that much - I mean that it can be many things, it can change according to different Guru Yogas, different refuge trees. The main thing is to feel that this central figure - in whatever form it appears, Vajradhara or whatever - is the mind, the enlightened state, the enlightened heart of our guru, and not only our guru, but all the enlightened beings. It is their amalgamation in one, because all the enlightened states are one, the same understanding, the same experience. Our guru and all the enlightened beings, the energy of all the enlightened beings, of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is concentrated in that central figure. That is the main visualisation.
Around him is the whole lineage through which the Mahamudra teachings have been transmitted3 - because these are the Mahamudra preliminaries. All the beings, the Lamas, the masters through which the Mahamudra was transmitted are on top of the main image, going back to the primordial Buddha Vajradhara.
Then on the four sides, there are the Buddhas to the left, the Bodhisattvas and Vinaya4 Sangha to the right, at the back the Dharma represented by books, and in front the Yidams, or deities and their mandalas. All around are Dharma protectors5 of all kinds. This is the refuge tree.
Here, the main element is the Guru, in whatever form he appears. Of course, we cannot be very clear about all the others. We cannot clearly see them, but we can feel them, that is the most important thing. What we try to do is to feel that in front of us is the living Buddha, actually alive, living, radiating enlightened energy. The whole mandala, the whole galaxy of enlightened beings is in front of us. With devotion, trust and faith, we and all the sentient beings around us try to go refuge to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, Lama, Yidam and Kandro. And when we think “I would like to follow the instructions of the Buddha, I would like to become a Buddha myself, I would like to get enlightened”, that is going refuge to Buddha - “Therefore I would like to follow the Path”, that is going refuge to Dharma - “therefore I am ready to take the advise, the guidance of the Sangha”, that is going refuge to Sangha. With this understanding, with that intention, we all say the “refuge prayer”:
I, and all beings in number as vast as space, take refuge in our very kind root Guru, whose very nature is the combination of the body, speech, mind, qualities and activities of all the Buddhas of the 3 times and ten directions. He is our source of the 84.000 dharma teachings and the Lord of the Realised Sangha6.
Saying this prayer with devotion, we try to open ourselves, to open our mind, because our real intention is to awaken our Buddha nature, to make it blossom. When we try to open ourselves to the refuge, then our Buddha nature can come out, can blossom. Devotion is the most suitable state of mind, the most suitable emotion to open ourselves up completely. It is an emotion which is very pure, clear, open, awake and strong. It is not confused, disconnected or disturbed. If we can create, rekindle a real, intense devotion, it is the most suitable state of mind for the meditation. Many masters got the true realisation through devotion, because in a state of devotion, our mind is completely open, ripe, ready for the realisation of our true nature, it is neither disturbed, nor dull or confused, it is free from all negative emotions. When we are in a state of devotion, we are in the right state of mind, we cannot be angry, jealous or proud. It is said that usually, the real Mahamudra experience, the real insight or realisation always comes through devotion. What happens is not that we receive the blessings from our Guru because we feel devotion for him, that he grants us the experience of Mahamudra as a "reward" for our devotion. That is not how it works. We understand clearly ourselves because it is the most favourable state in which we can meditate. The most fertile ground for the Mahamudra meditation is devotion. Therefore, we first generate devotion, and then say this prayer, which is followed by another refuge prayer:
We take refuge in our most kind root Guru and in all the Gurus of the Lineage,
We take refuge in all the Yidams of all the Mandalas7,
We take refuge in the perfectly realised Buddhas who have transcended suffering,
We take refuge in the noble Dharma,
We take refuge in the realised Sangha,
We take refuge in all the Dakas, Dakinis, Dharma protectors and guardians endowed with wisdom eyes.
Usually, when we take refuge, we also simultaneously do prostrations. Prostrations are a physical, mental and symbolic way of working mainly with our pride. When we do prostrations, we submit ourselves, we humble ourselves, which is a way of working with our ego: we lower it before the refuge tree or whoever. Sometimes, people do 100,000 prostrations, sometimes more than that.
There is a very nice text, it is actually a prayer, written by Sakya Pandita8 - a very great master of the Sakya Order who lived in the XIIth century - which gives the symbolism of prostrations:
Homage to the Guru
Namo Manju Shriye Jamphel Yangla Chak tsal lo
Namo Sushriye Legpe Pala Chak tsal lo
Namo Uttama Shriye Swaha Chok Kyi Pala Chak tsal lo
As I prostrate to the Three Jewels9
May all the beings be purified of their negative deeds and defilements
As I join my two palms
May the methods and wisdom combine together
As I place my joined palms on my crown
May we reach the Ultimate Realm
As I place my joined palms on my forehead
May all the negative deeds and defilements of body be purified
As I place my joined palms on my throat
May all negative actions and defilements of speech be purified
As I place my joined palms on my heart
May all the negative thoughts and defilements of mind be purified
As I join and separate my two palms
May I work for the benefit of beings with the two Rupa Kayas10
As I kneel on the ground
May all the samsaric beings be liberated from the negative lower realms
As I place my two hand and ten fingers on the ground
May we gradually proceed through the ten Bhumis11 and five Paths12
As I place my forehead on the ground
May we attain the Eleventh Bhumi13
As I bend and stretch my forelimbs
May I work for all beings through the four types of activities14
As I stretch and contract all my muscles and nerves
May all the knots on our channels15 be freed
As I bend my spinal cord forward and backward
May we all have our energy channelled through our central channel
As I stand after touching the ground
May we never remain in Samsara but be liberated from it
As I prostrate again and again
May we not remain in Nirvana but lead the beings of Samsara
By the power of this prostration we are presently doing,
May we for the moment have good health and prosperity in life
May we be born in Dewachen16 (Sukhavati) when we die
May we attain the Perfect Enlightenment very quickly.
This prayer - which has to be said after making prostrations to the Representations of the Triple Gems - with stage by stage benefits and meanings of prostrations - is seen to be important and thereby was written by Sakya Pandita.
1 During a private interview
2 Shantideva(7th-8th cy.) Famous Indian proponent of the Mâdhyamika school of Mahayana. Almost nothing is known for certain as to his biography, except that he was a monk at the University of Nalanda. He is the author of the Bodhicâryâvatâra.
3 Lineage of Mahamudra: Buddha Vajradhara > Tilopa (988 - 1069) > Naropa (1016 -
1100) > Marpa (1012 - 1097) > Milarepa (1040 - 1123) > Gampopa (1079 - 1153) > Dusum Khyenpa (1st Karmapa) > the succession of Karmapas.
4 Vinaya: part of the Tripitaka (Indian Buddhist Canon), or “3 baskets”, the Vinaya pitaka codifies the rules of behaviour and ethics for monks and nuns.
5 Dharma protectors (Dharmapala) (Chö chyong/ chos skyong en tibétain):
can either be powerful non-humans converted to Buddhism, who have vowed to protect the Buddhist doctrine and its practitionners, or wrathful manifestations of the Buddhas’ activity
6 realized Sangha = the sangha of Bodhisattvas
7 Mandala (chil khor/dkyil ‘khor): center and surrounding, it can mean different things:
- a symbolic graphic representation of a tantric deity’s realm of existence, it can be either a mental visualisation or a graphic representation serving as a support for meditation,
- a representation of the entire universe
- the offering of the universe
8 Sakya Pandita (1182 - 1251) Reknowned Master of the Sakya School of Tibetan
9 The 3 Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
10 The 2 Rupakayas are the Nirmanakaya and the Sambhogakaya
11 10 bhumis:stages of realisation and activities through which a Bodhisattva progressses on its way to Buddhahood.
12 5 paths: different stages of the path towards Enlightenment. The 3rd path, (vision or seeing)corresponds to the 1st bhumi. (for a more detailed explanation of paths and bhumis, see teaching on Gampopa’s Dagpo Tardgyen)
13 11th bhumi = Buddhahood, Enlightenment
14 4 activities: 1) Pacifying (outer negativities as famine, illness, conflicts, and inner
negativities like negative emotions)
2) Increasing (outer positive situations and inner spiritual realisation)
3) Magnetising (mastery over outer and inner energies)
4) Subjugating (all negative forces)
15 channels: refers to the belief in the existence of a “subtil” body, of which constituents are channels, in which circulate “winds” of energy and “drops”. These channels can be blocked, impeding the good circulation of energies.
16 Dewachen: Pure Land of Great Felicity of Buddha Amithaba. A Pure Land (zhing
khams) is :
- a place manifested through the wished of a Buddha or a great Bodhisattva, where beings can be born and progress towards Enlightenment without ever falling back in lower realms of existence
- any place when it is perceived as a pure manifestation
© Ringu Tulku