V.V. Kalu Rinpoche




IN THE SADHANA of the One Hundred Families of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities, the Refuge reads as follows: "I go for Refuge to essence, nature, and compassion," which is to say, to the essential emptiness, the natural clarity, and the unimpeded compassion and awareness of the mind; "I go for Refuge to bliss and nonconceptuality," which are the three qualities of meditation experience; and finally, "I go for Refuge to the fruit, I go for Refuge to the dharmakaya, the sambhogakaya, and the nirmanakaya."



Therefore, if someone practices and completes the 100,000 recitations of the Refuge vow and the accompanying 100,000 prostrations, this is exceedingly wonderful and extraordinarily, incalculably beneficial. The result of this seemingly quite simple practice is to cause oneself to gradually obtain Buddhahood, to bring oneself gradually to freedom from the sufferings of samsara, and, beyond that, to be protected in all one's lifetimes from fears, dangers, and sufferings.


If the practice and meaning of going for Refuge become joined to or instilled in one's stream of experience, then faith in the Three Jewels and the Three Roots will arise naturally and automatically. As a result of that faith, practices that lead to the accumulation of merit will be very easy and will come naturally. For example, offerings are ordinarily made of flowers, incense, lights, and so forth; but anything one experiences with the senses that is pleasing, one will immediately see as an offering to the Three Jewels and the Three Roots. Anything that is beautiful to the sight, that smells good, that sounds beautiful, and so forth, one will use as offerings. For example, if one is walking along the road and one sees beautiful flowers or fine houses, anything that is pleasing, then one will immediately think of them as offerings and offer them to the Three Jewels and the Three Roots. By means of this process and this attitude, one will gather a vast accumulation of merit.


Therefore, all the Kagyupas of the past began their practice with the taking of Refuge. By relying upon Refuge as the foundation and basis of all practice, they came to realize the ultimate Refuge, which is the taking of Refuge in one's own ultimate attainment of dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya


In our present situation as humans, we feel that we are extremely intelligent, that we are free, and that we have control or power over our own situations. We feel we can do whatever we wish; but if we examine the situation, we'll see that we have neither freedom of body nor freedom of mind, because the actual power in our situations is in the hands of our karma, our mental afflictions, and our habits. If we were free then we would always have been and would always be happy. We would never become depressed, and nothing unpleasant would ever arise in our mind. If we were free, then we would always remain the same. We would have always been young and would remain that way. But we don't. We have absolutely no control over it. Every second of our lives we are growing older. Eventually we are going to die.


If we have intense faith and are able to entrust ourselves to our lamas (gurus), and then the Three Jewels, and supplicate them with complete sincerity, then it is possible to eliminate, or at least lessen, these obscurations because of the power of compassion of the Three Jewels.


That is the meaning of taking Refuge and the engendering of bodhicitta. The attitude of awakening must go along with that. The attitude that one engenders when one speaks of bodhicitta is an attitude that is with reference to all sentient beings; the actual essence of one's consideration of all beings is compassion. This has to be developed in a certain sequence. One must begin by understanding the actual situation of all beings. Then by meditating upon this, one will develop the attitude and will become accustomed to and trained in it.


The situation that must be understood is that wherever there is space, it is filled with sentient beings. There are so many sentient beings that one can say they are numberless. Each sentient being has been one of one's parents so many times that the number of times that any given sentient being has been one of one's parents is a number beyond reckoning, as the Buddha said. Also, there is not any single being that has not been one's parent. At the time when beings were one's parent, they showed the same kindness toward one as one's parents in this life. This means that, for example, if one had been a human being in a lifetime, one's mother in that life would have carried one in her womb, continually worrying about one's fate, whether one would be born alive whether one would be healthy, and undergoing incredible suffering and sacrifice in order to keep one alive. After one had been born, one's parents would have looked after one and sacrificed everything for one's benefit and welfare. Every sentient being has done this for each of us countless times.


An example of the way that the rebirths can occur comes from the time of the Buddha when a disciple of Buddha's, an arhat named Katayana, went begging one day and came across a woman sitting by the side of the road with a small child in her lap, which she was caressing very fondly. The woman was eating fish, some of which she was feeding the child. A big dog was trying to get the bones of the fish from the woman. She was scolding the dog, kicking it away, and trying to avoid giving it any fish. With his extraordinary cognition, Katayana examined the lifetimes previous to the present lives of these beings. He saw that the fish had been the woman's father in her previous lifetime, the dog that she was beating had been her mother, and the child that she was cuddling in her lap had been her worst enemy, someone who continually reviled her and caused scandal about her, and someone whom she herself had fought viciously as well.


All sentient beings, who have been one's parents countless times, and countless times been as kind to one as our parents in this life, are going through an unending and intolerable experience of suffering through wandering round and round in the six realms of samsara. This is actually an ocean of suffering because what is being experienced is, in any form of birth, only suffering. As denizens of the hells, beings experience the agonies of heat and cold; as hungry ghosts, the agonies of hunger and thirst; as animals, the suffering of killing and being killed for food and survival; as humans, the four great sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death (and beyond those sufferings, the eight or sixteen lesser sufferings as well); as asuras, the sufferings of jealousy and constant fighting; as gods, the sufferings of death and falling to a lower rebirth.


If one actually understands the fact that these beings who have been so kind to one are undergoing an endless experience of intolerable suffering, then one will give rise to the attitude, "What can I do, what can be done to establish all these beings in happiness and freedom from suffering?" This is the beginning of loving-kindness and compassion. This is the reason why we recite, "May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness; may all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. " The cause of happiness is the practice of virtuous action, and the cause of suffering is the practice of unvirtuous action. So the attitude--understand this--that is automatically, necessarily given rise to at this point, is the aspiration that all sentient beings, right now, experience happiness and be free from suffering, and also that they accumulate the causes of their future happiness and be free from the accumulation or causes of their future suffering. This is the development of loving kindness and compassion.


Further, the nature of the mind of every sentient being is emptiness. Not recognizing this, sentient beings grasp their minds as an I, as an ego. Beyond that, they do not recognize that the nature of confused appearances of samsara, which relies on the mind, is impermanent and changing. Not recognizing this, they undergo endless and continual suffering. If one understands this as well, then it is impossible that one will not give rise to compassion automatically.


The mind of any one of us, or of every one of us, has no form, no color, no shape; therefore, it is empty. But the mind is not simply empty in that the mind can experience various objects that arise: sight, sound, and so forth. So the mind has a quality of clarity. That which actually experiences these is the awareness, which is also a quality of the mind. So the mind is actually the inseparability or integration of emptiness, clarity, and awareness. However, as the clarity and awareness themselves do not possess form, color, size, shape, etc., they do not pass beyond the essential emptiness of the mind.


Since the essence of the mind is emptiness, there is nothing in the mind that can die or be destroyed, which means that we have always had this mind and, until we attain Buddhahood, we will continue to take rebirth and undergo the sufferings of samsara. This can be shown by an example. The mind is empty in the sense that space is empty, and it is impossible to kill or destroy space.


This can further be illustrated by examining the situation of mind in the various stages of life. When we are born, or more specifically, conceived, the parents do not see a mind come floating into the womb. There is no material form to the mind of the being that enters the womb. There is nothing to be seen. When someone dies, one does not see a mind come floating out of the body. There is no materiality or form or physical existence to the mind as such that can be perceived. Even during our lifetime we can't find, pinpoint, or describe the mind with reference to any kind of material, physical, or real characteristics. Thus, it can be established that the mind is emptiness. In both the Hinayana and the Mahayana, it is accepted that direct realization of the emptiness of the mind is the realization of the egolessness of the individual.


Although the mind of every sentient being is empty in this way, every sentient being conceives of this empty mind as an I, as an ego. At the same time, because of the radiance or projection of the mind, which is inseparable from the empty aspect of the mind, there are the confused appearances that we experience. For example, as human beings, we experience the confused appearance or hallucinations that are characteristic of the human life. The nature of these is like a magical illusion, like a dream, like the reflection of the moon on water, like a rainbow, and so forth. We could say that it's very much like film or television. In the case of television, there is a small box. The images that we see do not exist as such any where, and certainly aren't what they appear to be. It's hard to say where they are coming from, but they certainly do arise in this small box. That is very much like the nature of hallucinations or confused appearances of samsaric existence. The illusory nature of what we experience can be seen most clearly by examining the dream state. One can see very clearly by examining the process of dreams that everything we experience is actually nothing other than the mind. Because what happens when we go to sleep is that our minds become dull and stupid and as a result, we experience a variety of hallucinations. At the time, these appear to be of the same nature or quality as what we experience when we are awake, except that when we wake up, we can't find them anymore. They have disappeared. For example, when we are dreaming, we might see places, people, objects, and events, but when we wake up they are not around us. They are not even inside our body; they are nowhere. They were simply projections of the mind. Everything we experience is like that.


The nature of these experiences is something that arises or appears while it is nonexistent. The actual manner in which we experience things is through what is called the "three bodies." The physical body in which we experience the waking state is the body of complete maturation. Then the body that we seem to experience in the dream state is called the habitual body or body of habit. The body that we seem to experience in the interval after death and before the following rebirth is called the mental body. In this way, all sentient beings who have been our parents take that which is impermanent to be permanent, that which is untrue to be true, and that which is unreal to be real. Because of this they wander through the three realms of samsara, undergoing suffering. Understanding this will cause one to think very strongly that one must free all sentient beings from this and bring all these beings to the state of Buddhahood. However, at the same time, one will understand that the only way that one can bring other beings to Buddhahood is by obtaining it oneself first. So at this point, the intense motivation must develop to obtain Buddhahood and engage in the methods that will lead to this.


Therefore, when one arises in the morning, one should first of all take Refuge and then give rise to the enlightened attitude, the attitude of awakened bodhicitta. Giving rise to the attitude that "everything I do today, for the rest of the day, will be done to the benefit of sentient beings in order to bring all beings to Buddhahood" will cause all of one's virtuous actions during the day to increase in power dramatically. Even ordinary actions during the day, within that frame of reference, that attitude, will become virtuous, will become causes for Buddhahood. Therefore it is said that the engendering of bodhicitta and the carrying of it through one's activities is like the magical elixir that turns to gold what ever metal it is painted on.



If the attitude is good, then the progression through the 1,000 stages will be good. If the attitude is poor, then the progression through the 1,000 stages will be poor. For that reason, there is no instruction more profound or necessary for the attainment of Buddhahood than this one instruction on the arousing and maintaining of the attitude of awakening and also, by means of this attitude of awakening of bodhicitta, engaging in activity for the benefit of sentient beings. This is some thing that bodhisattvas not only performed in the past, but will continue to do until samsara is emptied of sentient beings.


Therefore the distinction between someone who is a practitioner of Buddhadharma and someone who is not is the taking of Refuge. The distinction between a practitioner of the Hinayana and a practitioner of the Mahayana is the arousing and development of the attitude of awakening.


Let us dedicate the virtue of the teaching and listening of the Dharma this morning to the Buddhahood of all sentient beings.


Taken from a teaching given at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra on the weekend of October 24, 1986.

© It was translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso and edited by Krista Schwimmer.