Lama Gursam kindly shared teachings on Refuge during our retreat this past April. Our friend John Wenz from Milarepa Meditation will present further teachings throughout the year on the first Monday of the month.

An Introduction to Refuge by John Wenz

June 6, 2011

As His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche says:

“We take refuge in Buddha, our own transcendent awareness, our mindful awareness, and

our compassion. The root of all Buddha’s teachings is Bodhicitta – Love and Compassion. It is all contained

in The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas:

1. Do no harm (do not act in anger about any sentient being, benefit sentient beings, help them in any way you can)

2. Practice virtue

3. Tame your own mind

If from the depths of our hearts develop the motivation: “May I purify my mind for the sake of all sentient beings”, then that mind will attain enlightenment.”

From Garchen Rinpoche, Refuge Teachings on 3-19-2011, You Tube: 20110320 PM 0405

1. An Opening Kernel of Dharmadhatu

In Praise of Paying Homage to Sentient Beings (Sattvaradhanastava)

To have respect for me means [to act for] the welfare of beings, not any other [kind of] respect.

Those who do not abandon compassion are the ones who have respect for me.

Those who have fallen, being in a state of abandoning compassion,

Can be uplifted from that {state only] through compassion but not through anything else. [1]


Those who take care of sentient beings with compassion

Both please me and carry the load of the teachings.

Those who possess ethics, erudition, compassion,

Insight, and clarity always venerate the Tathagata. [2]


I reached accomplishment because I benefited sentient beings –

It is only for the welfare of sentient beings that I have assumed this body.

Those who harbor harmful intentions toward sentient beings,

Why would they resort to me, being the ones who disrespect me? [3]


Looking after the benefit of sentient beings is veneration –

It offers joy to [my] mind as the one being venerated.

But any veneration whose nature is harmful or which hurts others

Is not, even if well performed, as it does not comply with [me as] the one being venerated. [4]

My wives, children, riches, grandeur, kingdom,

Flesh, blood, fat, eyes, and body

I sacrificed out of loving-kindness for these [beings] –

So if you harm them, you harm me. [5]

To promote the welfare of beings is the supreme way to venerate me,

But to inflict harm on beings is the supreme way to harm me.

Since sentient beings and I experience happiness and suffering in the same way,

How could someone who is hostile toward beings be my disciple? [6]

It was for sentient beings that I achieved virtuous deeds, pleased the protectors,

And attained the paramitas, solely being grounded in the welfare of the assembly of beings.

Through my mind being eagerly engaged in the welfare of beings, I vanquished Mara’s power.

It was by virtue of how sentient beings  acted in all kinds of ways that I became a Buddha. [7]


If there had been no beings, cherished like friends, through all my lifetimes,

On what basis had loving-kindness been established here, what had compassion focused on,

What had been the object of equanimity, joy, and so forth, for whom had liberation and such occurred,

And for whose sake had patience been cultivated for a long time with a mind set on compassion? [8]


It was precisely those wandering through [various] forms of existence,

such as elephants, to whom I should generosity many times.

It was these very sentient beings who approached me as the vessels

for my gifts and whom I had take them.

By virtue of these sentient beings wandering through various forms

of existence, my compassion flourished.

If I were not protecting these sentient beings, for whose sake was

this welfare provided? [9]

If there were no beings in samsara – which abounds with [situations of them] heading for disaster –

Who have grown so accustomed to arriving [nowhere but] in the realm

of Yama through playing their parts in spinning through their lives,

Why would I – the Sugata, this amazing great being – wish to liberate them from samsara,

If there were no sentient beings whom I cherish? [10]

For as long as my teachings that instruct the world are shining brilliantly

You people who long to benefit others should remain.

Studying again and again what I did for the sake of sentient beings, you should never grow weary of it,

Without becoming exhausted, should apply this body [so that it embodies]

the essence of my words. [11]


1. How Do We Take Refuge in Modern Times?

A. The Basics: One Two Three

“First, we take refuge in the three jewels: The Buddha, his teachings, and the community of those who practice these teachings.

1. To take refuge in the Buddha does not mean to supplicate some other person for help. Rather we appreciate the qualities of Buddhahood as the supreme state of liberation and omniscience that is the true nature of our mind and thus strengthen our resolve to accomplish this state ourselves.

2. Taking refuge in the dharma indicates our determination to actually apply the means that enable us to attain Buddhahood.

3. To take refuge in the community of practitioners of these methods means to open up to our spiritual friends who help us during this journey and to be ready ourselves to help others who travel with us.”

p. 155, Karl Brunnholzl, The Center of the Sunlit Sky, Madhyamaka in the Kagyu Tradition, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, 2004, (Numbering and formatting adapted for presentation)


B. Deep Motivation for Buddha, Deep Motivation for Ourselves

“In the life story of the Buddha, we see that it was the realization of suffering – the suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death – that inspired his search for liberation. In the same way, our own search for truth can be inspired by our deepest fears. It takes courage – guts really – to look at things as they are. But if we’re open to it, we may see that suffering is not what it seems to be. The willingness to look at suffering is the precursor to genuinely taking refuge.

We are all search in for a place to rest, a place where we can feel secure and at ease. And in some form or another, we are always taking refuge in something. The search for refuge expresses a fundamental desire for happiness. It may lead us to Dharma – or it may lead to unreliable refuges that leave us vulnerable to tremendous suffering.”

p. 39, Dzigar Kongtrul, It’s Up to You, The Practice of Self-Reflection on the Buddhist Path,      Shambala Publications Inc. , Boston, 2005

The foundation of the four common preliminaries prepared us for this significant step of Refuge;

1. Precious Human Life

2. Impermanence

3. Karma Cause and Effect

4. The Sufferings of Samsara


Have we deeply considered these preliminaries and applied them to our lives?

C. Introduction to Inner and Outer Refuge


“The first step in practicing Buddhism, according to the three traditions of hinayana, mahayana, and vajrayana, is to take refuge. The seed or the cause for taking refuge is a feeling of interest and closeness to the three objects of refuge: the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. On the outer level, the Buddha is the person who gave the teachings; he is the guide. The dharma is the teachings; it is a guidebook that describes where to go. The sangha are the beings who follow the path described by the dharma. There are different levels of sangha – some members of the sangha are highly realized beings and some are beginners, but anyone who follows the Buddhist path is a member of the sangha. This is the outer meaning of refuge.

The three refuges also have an inner meaning related to the mind. The mind’s primordial nature is totally pure, clear, and enlightened from beginingless time. One’s own pure awareness is the primordial buddha. Buddha actually means the perfect understanding that is free from all deluded and dualistic thinking. This is the absolute buddha.

Maintaining the qualities of the primordial nature and radiating them to all sentient beings is the inner meaning of taking refuge in the absolute dharma. Dharma is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as “protection.” Practicing the dharma protects the mind from delusion and duality. The mind contains tremendous, vast qualities that cannot be put into words. The primordial nature of the mind includes a completely nonviolent attitude of infinite loving-kindness and infinite compassion toward all beings, and these qualities are known as the dharma.

The inner sangha is also contained within the mind. Sangha is a Sanskrit word meaning “inseparable.” This refers to the inseparability of clarity and emptiness as the true nature of the mind. These qualities are always present as the unity of skillful means and wisdom. Clarity and emptiness are always present, and that is the meaning of the absolute sangha. “

p. 24-25, Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche & Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche, The Buddhist Path, A Practical Guide from the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, 2010














As His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche says:




“Practice Love and Compassion. This is the Jewel Heart of all the Buddhas – Bodhicitta. Love is actually the precious jewel.”




This completes what the Bhagavat spoke to the sixteen great sravakas in the passage called “Alkaline River” in the Bodhisattvapitaka [sutra], summarized in verses by master Nagarjuna as In Praise of Pleasing Sentient Beings.

Translated by Karl Brunnholzl, In Praise of Dharmadhatu, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, 2007




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