By V.V. Kalu Rinpoche


At this time we are exeedingly fortunate in that not only have we all obtained a precious human body, a precious human birth, but based upon this, We have actually entered the door of the Dharma, have given rise to faith in the teaching, and actually practiced it.


The entrance into the door of the teachings of Buddhadharma is the taking of refuge in the Three Jewels. If one does not go for refuge with faith to the Jewels, but rather goes for refuge to worldly deities, and is unaware of the qualities of the Three Jewels, then one is not a practitioner of Buddhadharma. Therefore, it is said that the root of the Buddha's teaching is faith in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Because without faith in these, one will have no conviction about the validity of the teachings, and lacking this conviction, as well as lacking the conviction about the qualities of the Sangha, one will be unwilling or unable to study the teaching. Even if one does study them, to some extent, it will be like the games of children.



The word in Tibetan for the Three Jewels, "konchok," literally means "rare and supreme." The first syllable, "kon," means "rare." It points to the fact that the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha are like the rarest of diamonds in that only someone with the karmic connection and the necessary merit will even hear their names, let alone be able to develop faith in them and receive teachings from them. The second syllable, "chok," means "supreme" or "best," and again, like the diamond in the example, the Three Jewels are supreme in that by relying upon them, all of one's needs and wishes as well as ultimate freedom can be accomplished.


The essence of the mind is emptiness; the nature of the mind is actually the integration of emptiness, clarity, and awareness. The name that is given to the actual nature of mind is "yeshe" or wisdom, something that all beings possess. However, sentient beings do not recognize the actual nature of their mind to be what it is. This lack of recognition is like throwing mud or sand into pure water; it becomes sullied or defiled. When the lack of recognition is present, one no longer speaks of "yeshe" or wisdom, one speaks of "namshe" or consciousness. But the distinction between these two states of mind is nothing other than the presence or lack of recognition by the mind of the mind's own nature.


The failure of the mind to recognize its own nature is what is meant by the term "ma-rik-pa," or ignorance, the first level of obscuration or defilement in the mind. As a result of this ignorance, there arises in the mind the imputation of an "I" and an "other," something that is other than the mind. This dualistic clinging, something that we have had throughout beginningless time and that never stops, is the second level of obscuration, the obscuration of habits. Based upon this dualistic clinging arise the three root mental afflictions: mental darkness, desire, and aggression. Based upon those three afflictions are the 84,000 various mental afflictions, the third level of obscurations, called the obscuration of mental affliction. Under the influence of this, we perform actions that are obscured in their nature--the fourth level, called the obscuration of actions or karma. These four levels or types of obscurations are the cause for all sentient beings to wander in samsara. If these are removed or cleaned, then the inherent qualities of mind's nature, which we refer to as wisdom or "yeshe," will naturally manifest and spread like the rays of the sun. The word in Tibetan for the removal of these obscurations, "sang," means "cleansing," and the word for the spreading of the inherent qualities of the mind that occurs as a result of that is "gye," or "increasing." "Sang-gye," these two words together, is the Tibetan word for a Buddha. Therefore what is meant by Buddhahood is the recognition and realization of the complete purity of the mind.


When the nature of the mind becomes fully manifest, it possesses what are usually enumerated as twenty-seven extraordinary qualities, such as complete unchanging emptiness and great bliss.


In order to benefit those to be trained, the mind of a Buddha exhibits what are usually enumerated as thirty-two qualities, which are outlined as the ten powers, the four kinds of fearlessness, and the eighteen qualities of unmistakenness. A Buddha, for instance, knows the nature and situation of all of samsara and all of nirvana. He knows the past, present, and future of every sentient being.


Arising from these qualities of the mind of a Buddha are qualities of speech, traditionally sixty qualities, possessed only by a Buddha and not by any human or god. One such quality is that if a Buddha gives one teaching at one time to 1,000 people, each of whom speaks a different language and is from a different place, each single person will understand what the Buddha is saying. Beyond that, a Buddha has the capacity to teach in such a way that each single person receives the particular kind of teaching, at the same time, that the individual needs to receive. So, with one teaching of Dharma, a Buddha can give the remedy to each person for his or her particular strongest mental affliction.


The qualities of the body of a Buddha are experienced at various levels. Particularly the sambhogakaya, or body of complete enjoyment of a Buddha, is experienced only by bodhisattvas residing upon the eighth, ninth, and tenth levels of realization. It is a bodhisattva residing upon one of those levels who sees the forms of the sambhogakaya, Vajradhara, Vajrasattva, Avalokiteshvara, and so forth. The sambhogakaya is actually experienced as possessing the appearance with which we are familiar, the glorious silk garments, jewel ornaments, the pure form, and so forth. The actual appearance of the sambhogakaya is an expression of the complete possession by a Buddha of all qualities of the world and beyond the world.


In order to train ordinary beings, the Buddhas manifest as nirmanakaya, as in the case of the Buddha Shakyamuni. Such a nirmanakaya possesses what are called the 32 major and 80 minor marks of full Buddhahood. These include the "ushnisa" on the top of the head, the thousand-spoked Dharma wheels on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, and so forth. These qualities only arise on the body of a Buddha and not upon the body of any human or worldly god. They arise in such a way that anyone who sees the form of a Buddha immediately delights in it and finds it beautiful to see.


In this way, the qualities of the body, speech, and mind of a Buddha are superior to anything and anyone else. The actual excellence or superiority of a Buddha consists of the fact that a Buddha has the wisdom, compassion, and ability to give beings exactly what each needs in order to become free from the sufferings of samsara. So, in order to benefit beings, the Buddha teaches the Dharma, the second of the Three Rare and Supreme Ones, or the Three Jewels. And as sentient beings possess 84,000 mental afflictions (kleshas), the Buddha taught 84,000 teachings of the Dharma.


There are two aspects to the Jewel of the Dharma. The first of these is the actual words by which the Dharma is transmitted, the words of the Buddha, and the words and text which record them. The transmission of these is called the Dharma of transmission. But the meaning of these words, the realization of this meaning--whether it be the meaning of emptiness, the meaning of compassion, or from the tantric point of view, the meaning of the development and fulfillment stages--is called the Dharma of realization. So the Dharma of transmission and the Dharma of realization are the two aspects of the Jewel of the Dharma.


Those who listen to the teachings of the Dharma, study them, and put them into practice to an extent to which they can guide others are the Sangha. Among the Sangha, those who, through the practice of Dharma, have reached the first level of bodhisattva realization and reside in the first up to the tenth level of realization are called the "exalted ones." Those who, having listened to the teachings, studied them, and put them into practice, and residing on the two paths that are preliminary to the ten levels of bodhisattva realization and application, are called the "Sangha of ordinary individuals."


Therefore one must begin by becoming aware of the qualities of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and by understanding exactly what they are. By means of that, one will give rise to faith in them. One will be able to feel one's faith and go for refuge to them. It is necessary that this occur as a basis for the practice, but beyond that, the going for refuge must be something that is continually practiced and renewed in one's daily practice; this is extremely important.


The reason why the taking of refuge is so important is that at present we are immersed in samsara, which is an experience of suffering, an experience of impermanence, and an experience of constant change. If we wish to free ourselves from this, we cannot do so simply by ourselves. However, we can travel the path to liberation by relying upon the compassion of the Three Jewels. That is why it is necessary to go to them for refuge.


As ordinary beings, we do not know or understand the methods that we must engage in to obtain Buddhahood. For that reason we need a guide or a companion on the path to Buddhahood. This is something that can be explained by an example that is easily understood by Westerners. If one wanted to get from here to New York City and one tried to walk, one would either not get there at all or it would take a very long time. However, if one were to stand by the side of the road and put out one's thumb, then eventually some good minded individual would stop their car; one could get in and one would reach the city. It's the same way if we want to reach the City of Enlightenment. We have to hitchhike or take refuge in the Three Jewels.


The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha are beings or things that are separate from us, distinct from us. We are individuals and we are quite a distance from them. One might ask how it is possible to establish a connection. First of all, all phenomena arise through interdependence through the actions of causes and conditions. In the case of the path, what must occur is the coming together of the conditions of one's own faith, and the compassion and blessing of the Three Jewels. If these two come together, then the connection is established and one can travel the path.


The presence of the faith on one's own part and the compassion and qualities on the part of the Three Jewels is sufficient to create the connection. It does not depend on distance, like a television station that is sending out a TV program. If one has the box and the set, one can see the program. If the TV station isn't sending it out, then even if one has the TV set one can't see it. If the TV station is sending it out but one does not have the TV set, then one also can't see it . But in either case, if these two things are present, then regardless of the distance that separates the two, although there is no direct physical connection that one can see, the TV program still arrives somehow. In the same way, the actual blessing and compassion of the Three Jewels can be received, and one can enter through one's faith.


Another example is that the compassion, blessing, and power of the Three Jewels is like a hook, and one's faith is like a ring. If these two are present and connect one with another, then the hook will lead the ring and oneself, held by the ring, from suffering to happiness and finally to liberation.


This is the reason why all the lamas of the Golden Rosary of the Kagyu have always given and continue to give Refuge as the basis for the transmission of teachings; why, at any time when one receives teaching of Buddhadharma, one begins by reciting the Refuge; and also why when one practices the preliminaries, ngondro, the first of these is the 100,000 recitations of the Refuge accompanied by prostrations.


The root or basis is going for refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha--the Three Jewels. This could be called external Refuge. Beyond this, from the point of view of the Vajrayana, one goes for refuge to the guru as the root of all blessing, the yidam as the root of all attainment, and the dakini as the root of all activity. This is the internal form of going for refuge. Beyond that, to go for refuge to one's root guru alone--recognizing that he is the embodiment of the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, and the gurus, yidams, and dakinis, the embodiment of all these in one form, and possessing all of their qualities--is the secret form of Refuge.


The form of going for refuge that we use as Kagyupas is called the sixfold Refuge because it has six lines to it, three of which are devoted to the Three Jewels, and three of which are devoted to the Three Roots. The first two and the last of the six lines are devoted to the Three Roots and read:

Line 1: I go for refuge to the glorious sacred gurus.

Line 2: I go for refuge to the assembly of deities in the mandalas of the yidams.

Line 3: I go for refuge to the dakas, dakinis, and Dharma protectors who possess the eye of wisdom.


There is also an abbreviated form of the Refuge:

I go for refuge to the guru. I go for refuge to the Buddha. I go for refuge to the Dharma.


The first line, "I go for refuge to the guru," expresses one's conviction that the guru or lama is the embodiment of the Three Roots because his actual form, his body, is the guru; his speech is the activity of the dakinis and Dharma protectors; and his mind is the nature of the yidams. Following that, one goes for refuge externally to the Buddha, the Dharma, and Sangha. Therefore this shorter form of taking refuge also contains both the Three Jewels and the Three Roots.


It should be understood that the taking of refuge is not a process whereby the Buddha takes those who appear to have devotion to him and leads them to his side. Through taking refuge, one begins a process oneself which, going through various stages, will lead to one's own realization of the same state, the same experience as the Buddha.


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

© Translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso and edited by Krista Schwimmer.