This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
“An Oral Teaching by The Venerable Lingtrul Rinpoche, Kadak Choying Dorje on Peaceful Manjushri, A Treasure and Placing Buddhahood Within Reach” by His Holiness Jigmed P’huntsog Jungnay; Vimala; Ashland, Oregon; 2010.
The Three Scared Bonds (page 3) “Regardless of whether you are explaining the dharma to others, whether you are receiving such an explanation, whether you are engaging in formal meditation, or whether you are engaged in any dharma-related activity, there are three key points, termed the three bonds, which are extremely important to incorporate. The first of these bonds is the key point that your initial motivation for undertaking any one of these activities should be the motivation of bodhicitta, the altruistic and compassionate resolve that was referred to earlier. The second key point is that during the activity your mind should be focused one-pointedly, without any extraneous frame of reference distracting you or taking your attention away from what you are doing. The third key point or bond is that of the concluding factor, that of dedicating the virtue and merit of the teaching, or of listening to the teaching, or of meditating, or of practicing for the benefit of others. It is extremely important that these so-called three bonds or three key points be present in all of your formal practice and dharma-related activities.”
Bodhicitta (pages 14 - 17) “Returning to the initial point, it is absolutely crucial that those who are motivated to follow the Vajrayana path, within the Mahayana path, within the Buddhist tradition, give rise to bodhicitta. The only way to practice this path properly and effectively, in order to gain the goal that we are telling ourselves we want to attain, is to give rise to that motivation. So this brings us back to the first of the key points, the first bond, the motivation of bodhicitta, of why we do what we do as Buddhists, as Mahayana Buddhists, as Vajrayana Buddhists: we undertake all of this in order to bring benefit ultimately to all beings, not just ourselves. The value of giving rise to bodhicitta in this way, as the initial motivation for everything you undertake in the context of spiritual practice, is found in the fact that it is very easy to do once you understand the framework, and it is enormously powerful and beneficial as a factor in your path. The are more complex stages of the spiritual path that involve certain pitfalls or ways in which you can make an error that can leave you in big trouble if you don’t work very closely with a teacher and pay real attention to what you are doing in your spiritual practice. But in the case of bodhicitta, you cannot go wrong. All you have to understand is the context in which true love and true compassion for others is felt, and there is no way you can go wrong. There is no way you can mess it up; you can’t misuse it once you have understood the context of how to give rise to bodhicitta in the correct manner. Bodhicitta is the single path along which the buddhas and bodhisattvas traverse their own individual paths to enlightenment; they always have, they always will. If you follow the path of bodhicitta, that alone guarantees your enlightenment at some point. That is why it is indispensable and crucial from the onset to think that you are doing this for
the sake of all beings and to learn how to truly implement that as your motivation…. The transformative effect that this kind of motivation has on your practice is something that Shantideva, the great Buddhist master of India, noted in one of his writings. Whenever you commit a virtuous or positive action, you create what is termed a root of virtue, and that root of virtue is something that under ordinary circumstances, on a karmic level, leads to a positive result. Once that positive result has ripened and been experienced, it’s finished. However, if you commit that virtuous action and plant that root of virtue with an altruistic and compassionate resolve, imbuing that act with bodhicitta, you lend a quality to it that makes it inexhaustible. It no longer just plays itself out in the ordinary way that karma plays itself out – a good cause leading to a good result and that’s it. Rather, it continues to grow, it continues to magnify and it is inexhaustible. An ordinary beneficial action, however laudable and however beneficial in the short term, has a short-term result: it establishes a cause by planting a seed that comes to some fruition in the future and then it’s over. However, if you instill that same action with the motivation of bodhicitta, you will ensure that until you and all beings attain enlightenment, the benefit of that act will continue to flourish without being exhausted. It lends a different quality to the kinds of actions that you commit in this lifetime. You may be a perfectly good person who does positive acts out of a sense of civic responsibility or just because you are a very good person, but you do them without that sense of really doing them for the benefit of all beings. Those acts have some beneficial effect, and maybe you will realize the results in this lifetime or perhaps in some future lifetime, but with the ripening of those results, the process comes to an end on the level of those particular actions. However, by doing them with a mind imbued with bodhicitta, the benefit of such actions continues to grow. That is why this quality is so indispensable and so crucial. That is why it should be the very core of every practice. The very pith of our practice of dharma should be the focus that we continue to place on motivation, on bodhicitta. Remember that if you are truly seeking to gain enlightenment, as you all seem to be saying you are, try to find a buddha or a bodhisattva who has not attained that degree of complete awakening. Try to find someone. You won’t. You can seek forever, but you will not find an enlightened being who has not become enlightened through relying on bodhicitta…. In the true sense of the word, the first of these sacred bonds should ideally be something that is spontaneous, effortless, uncontrived and completely sincere – in short, something that we are not capable of at this point because we are beginners. So what we find useful as beginners on the path is a sense of emulation, of giving rise to bodhicitta by emulating great masters, by emulating buddhas and bodhisattvas, by saying to ourselves, “Just as all the buddhas of the past, present, and future have given rise, are giving rise and will give rise to bodhicitta in order to attain enlightenment, so too will I give rise to that quality of
bodhicitta.” We are emulating a role model of someone who embodies that completely altruistic and compassionate resolve. While it might be asking too much at this point to assume that we are going to be a complete incarnation of compassion, to be the very epitome of bodhicitta, we at least begin with this sense of emulation.”
Focus (page 19) “The second sacred bond, you will recall, is that during the main body of the practice, the teaching and so forth, one has an unwavering quality of focusing on the key point. The Tibetan is translated as “no fixed frame of reference during the main body of the teaching or practice”. And, of course, if your realization is that of Mahamudra or the Great Perfection, and you are completely immersed in the true nature of reality, then for you there is no fixed, ordinary frame of reference. So that is ideal. But again, on a practical level, what this implies is that whatever you are engaged in, whether you are listening to a teaching on a particular topic or engaging in a particular practice – perhaps a visualization exercise or part of the stage of completion, or whether you are following some specific point of Dzogchen practice – then at the very least, your mind is focused on that, to the exclusion of all extraneous distractions. So even though you might not have accomplished the complete transcendence of all fixed frames of reference in the ideal sense of the word, at the very least, you are focused upon that which is most effective and most relevant at the moment, which is whatever you are engaged in, whether it is receiving a teaching, practicing deity visualization, or whatever.”
Dedication (Page 24 - 26) “Now we should say something about the third aspect of the sacred bond, which is that of the conclusion: how we dedicate the virtue and merit of our practice for the benefit of others. What is it that we mean by dedication? We may quote Jetson Milarepa in this regard. In one of his songs he stated that between the yogin who meditates in the hills and the person who sponsors the practice by supporting the practice of that yogin with food or whatever, there exists such a connection that the two of them can awaken to buddhahood together. The root of that interdependence that exists between the two of them lies in the dedication. So there is a valuable connection, he was pointing out, between someone who practices and someone who supports that practice, and the value of that interdependence, the very root of it, lies in that sense of dedication, the dedication of the fruits and virtues of that practice between the two individuals. When we speak of the scared bond or sacred point of dedication, what is it that makes it truly sacred? The bodhisattva dedicates the virtue and merit of his or her practice without any hope of reward. It’s not as though we say to ourselves,
“Well, I’ll dedicate my virtue and merit to sentient beings, but that means they owe me one, and at some point I get to call in the debt, and they have to do something for me.” That’s not the approach in the Mahayana. That does not constitute Mahayana practice. Mahayana practice involves no hope of reward. One dedicates the virtue and merit for the benefit of others and only for the benefit of others, and does so not because there is any hope that if you do this, then that means they will be nice to you, and you will get all kinds of rewards from being such a good person. Quite the opposite: it’s just completely without hope of reward. Concerning the question of prayer in this context, we can identify two basic ways in which we pray, if you will. Some people tend to lump these together, but they are, in fact, two distinct processes of prayer. One is dedication and the other is aspiration. Dedication refers to what we do with what has already taken place. We have undertaken something of a virtuous or positive nature. We have completed that action, and we say to ourselves, “Now I dedicate the effect of having done that session of meditation or having given that gift to charity, or whatever; I dedicate the virtue and merit of that for the benefit of all beings.” In the case of aspiration, we may not be dealing with something that has already taken place so much as we are aspiring for something to take place by invoking the truth and the power of the Three Jewels, by invoking the blessing of the lineage. By invoking any number of factors, we may aspire for someone else or for all beings to be happy and healthy, to live longer, to enjoy greater prosperity. So aspiration is more a question of looking towards something, whereas dedication has more the sense of properly dispensing with what has already taken place. – the act of virtue that we have committed. We are dedicating the effects of that virtue and the merit resulting from that virtue for the benefit of others, whereas with aspiration we are looking toward what we aspire to be the case in the future. What does it mean then when we dedicate the merit and virtue of a teaching, of an empowerment, or of a session of our own practice or group practice? In effect, what we are saying is that we dedicate the virtue and merit of that particular act of virtue, be it a teaching, an empowerment, a session of personal practice or a group practice or puja, as that which exemplifies all virtue of the three times, all virtues that ever has been created, all virtue that is being created, all virtue that ever will be created – all virtue that is created by ordinary beings, such as ourselves, in a rather limited way, or all virtue and merit created by buddhas and bodhisattvas in a truly inexhaustible manner in their enlightened mindstreams. All of that is exemplified by this specific act of virtue in the present moment, and all of that is something that, in a sense, we bundle together. That is our offering; that is our dedication. All of that is dedicated in order that it may function as the unerring cause for the enlightenment of all beings. So it is a way of focusing on a specific act as a means of exemplifying all the virtue and merit that ever has been created, that ever will be created and that is being created in the present moment.
The Tibetan tradition of offering a kathag, the Tibetan word for the white scarf that is often wrapped around the offering one gives to the lama, is not an empty gesture; it’s not just done mechanically. In Tibetan culture it is the way of exemplifying all of that merit and virtue one is dedicating at that point with that offering. That simple little scarf in that moment exemplifies, for the person who understands, the symbolism that all of that virtue and merit accumulated throughout the three times, by ordinary beings, by buddhas, and bodhisattvas, is being offered. And again, we begin realistically with a sense of emulation, understanding that this sense of dedication is something that grows through practice and through our own realization and understanding. We begin with the attitude, “Just as buddhas and bodhisattvas of the three times and the ten directions have dedicated, dedicate and will dedicate the virtue and merit of attainments for the benefit of beings, so too do I now, at this moment, using this act of virtue as the model, dedicate the virtue and merit of all of my activities in the past, present, and future for the benefit of all beings.” We begin with that sense of emulation.
Summary (page 28) “These constitute the three key principles of the unerring path that will lead one to enlightenment, and they are the three indispensable elements of that path. The great Longchen Rabjam, of the Nyingma school, stated in one of his writings that when one’s motivation is imbued with bodhicitta initially, when one’s mind does not waver from the main focus of the teaching, the practice, or whatever the undertaking is, and when one’s roots of virtue that are cultivated in this way are dedicated for the benefit of others, one truly has discovered the unerring path to liberation and omniscience.”
REFUGE The Three Jewels (pages 29 - 36) “…I also understand that there are some people who are quite new to the tradition of Buddhism, and so it seems appropriate on this occasion to talk about the Three Jewels, to talk about the sources of refuge in which we place our trust as Buddhists, to talk about the positive qualities of the Three Jewels, and to give you some kind of background. This is primarily intended for newer students, but it may also be of use to older students as well. The reason why taking refuge in the Three Jewels is so important in the Buddhist tradition is because it is, in some formal sense and also in a very personal sense, the first step on the Buddhist path. It is what distinguishes someone who is a practicing Buddhist from someone who has not made that particular commitment
in his or her own individual life or situation. Just as the quality of bodhicitta is that which distinguishes the Mahayana or greater vehicle from the Hinayana or lesser vehicle of practice, the taking of refuge distinguishes the Buddhist path from nonbuddhist paths; it is like the foundation or the cornerstone of the entire path of Buddhist practice. If you are going to build a building, the first thing you do is dig down into the earth and lay a solid foundation, so that the building that you construct is solidly based and will not break down or degenerate quickly. In the same way, in order to assure that your practice is firmly based, you base it upon the foundation of taking refuge. So it is like the cornerstone; it is like that firm foundation. The particular term in Tibetan that is translated very loosely as the Three Jewels is kon chog. The term kon means that which is rare. Just as we term certain precious substances in the world as rare because they are difficult to come by, there is also a rarity about the qualities present in the Three Jewels. The second syllable, chog, means that which is most sublime or most excellent, and so it implies as well that which, in our world, in our own experience, is of a most sublime nature. That’s the etymology, if you will, for the term as it is used in Tibetan, kon chog, or as it is very roughly translated into English, the Three Jewels. The reason why we say the Three Jewels is because we recognize the highest principles in Buddhist practice to be the jewel of buddha, or awakened mind; the jewel of dharma, the teachings that lead one to that state of awakened mind; and the jewel of sangha, the community of those who help one on that path. So we speak of the jewel of buddha, the jewel of dharma, and the jewel of sangha, hence the term Three Jewels collectively. The Sanskrit term Buddha was translated into the Tibetan language as sangye; and again, to understand sangye etymologically, sang means awaken. In this sense, the state of an awakened mind is one that has awakened from the sleeplike ignorance or non-recognition of the true nature of being, and the term gye refers to the complete unfolding and increasing of all the powers and qualities latent in the nature of mind itself. With this awakening from sleeplike ignorance and the unfolding of all the latent, inherent qualities of mind, we have sangye or buddha, awakened mind, awakened being. Again, the Sanskrit term dharma is translated into Tibetan as the term cho, and there are actually several opinions among Tibetans as to the root of this term. One implies that it is to fashion, mold or shape, and the other is that it is from a verb meaning to protect, to guard. Either way makes sense, because the teachings of dharma provide us with a model or a process by which we can shape our minds, by which we can eliminate from our minds all of the negative and conflicting emotions that create suffering; at the same time there is a protective function of the teachings of dharma in that through following that path of teachings, one is given some shelter or refuge from the sufferings of the three realms of cyclic existence – the desire real, the form realm, and the formless realm. One’s direction, rather than being one of continually falling into that
confusion and suffering, is that of being guided toward enlightenment, toward one’s own awakening to buddhahood. In either of these senses, we have the word cho in Tibetan, meaning the equivalent of the Sanskrit term dharma, the teachings. The Sanskrit term sangha, which literally just means a community or a gathering, is translated into Tibetan as gendun, which literally means those who are motivated by virtue. We speak sometimes speak of the sangha as being comprised of those who are spiritually advanced and those who, like us, are ordinary human beings who are on the path and who are seeking that state of awakened being that is enlightenment, that is buddhahood. So the distinction is made between those who are of a spiritually advanced level and those who are ordinary practitioners on the path. In either case, the word gendun in Tibetan implies a gathering, a community, a group of individuals or beings who are no longer indulging in the nonvirtuous and confused tendencies of ordinary mind but are those who are motivated by, who yearn for, who strive toward that which is of a positive and wholesome nature in their own mind. That is where we get the term sangha, or its Tibetan form gendun – those who are motivated by or who strive toward virtue. As Buddhists, when we state that we take refuge in the Three Jewels, this implies that we rely upon buddhahood and, in particular, upon the Buddha as one who attained buddhaood and as that which demonstrates the path, just like someone showing one the way to go. We take refuge in the dharma, in the sense of relying upon the teachings that are the legacy of such a buddha, as the path itself that we are following; we rely upon the sangha as those who are our companions and guides on that path. That is what we really mean when we say, “I take refuge in the Three Jewels.” We mean that we are relying upon Buddha as the teacher, upon dharma as the path, and upon sangha as our companions on that path. In taking refuge, one implicitly acknowledges that the ability, the power to provide refuge – to provide shelter, to provide a protection, to guard against the sufferings and vicissitudes of the three realms of cyclic existence – lies within those principles that we term the Three Jewels. If one doesn’t believe that, then one isn’t really taking refuge – no matter how much one gives lip service to the formula, one simply doesn’t have that kind of trust and that kind of conviction that constitutes truly taking refuge. Similarly, if one does not have a healthy fear of the shortcomings and sufferings of cyclic existence, then one isn’t really taking refuge because one hasn’t appreciated what one is doing when one takes refuge. Out of a healthy fear of cyclic existence and its shortcomings, one takes refuge in that which is a source of the power and that which has the capability to bring one out of that suffering and out of those shortcomings. That is what it means to truly take refuge.
Taking refuge can be thought of in a number of contexts. In a more short-term or superficial way, people take refuge from certain fears or sources of problems in their lives. For example, if a wild animal attacks you, you may retreat into a building because the building provides a place of refuge. Now that’s a very prosaic example, but it’s an indication of what’s taking place when we take refuge. Because of the fear of the animal or the threat imposed by the wild animal, you run from it and seek a safe hiding place. In Tibet during the military occupation and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, we Tibetans took refuge in other countries. We became refugees. We came to India, we came to Nepal; some of us came to the United States of America and other countries to find refuge. In particular, we found refuge from the persecution that we experienced in our homeland. But that kind of refuge and these kinds of examples refer to a very temporary refuge; it only lasts during this lifetime. A person may flee his or her homeland and find refuge in another country, but that country can only provide refuge during that person’s lifetime. When that refugee dies, the country in which that person has sought refuge has no more power to help that person. In a similar way, it is only when a person has appreciated that from the highest state of relative conditioned existence down to the lowest hell, there is nowhere to find any true, lasting, eternal happiness, but there are only temporary states of happiness; the entire cycle of conditioned existence is fraught with suffering and dissatisfaction. When a person truly appreciates that, only then can that person appreciate the fact that the power to liberate someone from all of those shortcomings and all of that dissatisfaction and suffering lies within the Three Jewels. If someone is still entertaining thoughts of how wonderful it would be to be reborn as a god or how wonderful it would be to be reborn as a human being with lots of power and wealth, that person isn’t taking refuge, because he or she is still seeking some ultimate happiness where there is no ultimate happiness, still pretending that somewhere in the cycle of conditioned existence there is some eternal state of happiness that is a worthy goal. Once you as a practitioner have understood that the nature of conditioned existence is one of dissatisfaction and suffering, that there is nothing but this great shifting display of what is essentially frustrating, then automatically you begin to seek some source of refuge. You don’t have to think about it at that point: you are moved to try to find something, some source of power or benefit upon which you can rely in order to liberate your mindstream from that appalling prospect of remaining caught within conditioned existence. When you reflect upon the qualities of the Three Jewels, you discover that power and capability lie in the Three Jewels and nowhere within the realm of conditioned existence, because it is through relying upon those higher principles embodied in the Three Jewels that your mind can truly transcend duality, can truly transcend both the extreme of continuing in endless confusion in cyclic existence and the extreme of merely seeking personal salvation, without any thought for the welfare of others. But if you rely upon a more worldly force, be it a worldly god, be it a local spirit, or some kind of more powerful being within conditioned existence, although that
being may be far more powerful than you, if that being is still caught within the nature of conditioned existence, that being cannot provide that final kind of refuge. It is because the nature of the Three Jewels is not of this ordinary world of conditioned existence that the power to release one from this ordinary state lies in those principles. But again, if one relies upon a very powerful spirit or worldly god or some more powerful person, and one expects that other being to provide that ultimate refuge, one will not find a reliable source. At that point it’s like two people being carried away by a flood and trying to save one another – a laudable sentiment, but neither of them has the power to save the other because they are both being swept away by that flood. By relying upon a being, human or otherwise, that is still within the realm of conditioned existence, we will not have found anything like an ultimate source of refuge. We will have found something that is of this world, and therefore something that cannot take us beyond this world. Only by relying upon the awakened state of buddhahood that transcends ordinary conditioned existence, as our principle in practice, can we too transcend this ordinary state of conditioned existence. How one goes about taking refuge can be distinguished within the Buddhist context in three ways. There is the way in which a person of a small degree or an inferior degree of development, we might say, takes refuge; the way in which a person of middling degree of development takes refuge; and the way in which a person of a great degree of development takes refuge. A person who is of a lesser degree of maturity spiritually speaking is a person who is really only concerned with his or her own welfare and is someone who is afraid of falling into some lower state of existence as a hell being, as a hungry ghost, or as an animal, and therefore that person takes refuge by relying upon the Three Jewels as a means of assuring that he or she will be reborn in a higher state of existence as a god or as a human. If a person is motivated in this way, it is a valid form of taking refuge, but it is of a very inferior degree because of the nature of the motivation. That person is basically taking refuge because he or she is afraid of a specific kind of pain and wants to avoid it personally, without necessarily [having] any regard for the welfare of anyone else. As well, a person with an inferior kind of motivation, a less developed form of motivation, is someone who may take refuge within the context of a very short time frame, that is to say just for the rest of this life. Without thinking of any future lifetimes, the person just says, “From now until I die, I take refuge.” A person who is taking refuge on a more intermediate or middling level of maturity is a person who has perceived that all of the three realms of cyclic existence – the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm, from the lowest hell to the highest gods’ realm – are of the nature of suffering, and that ultimately there is no true happiness in any of these alternatives. The person then is motivated to attain what they perceive to be some kind of nirvana, a state of calm, a state of peace, a state of personal salvation from all of that suffering.
Again the time frame tends to be of a very limited nature. The person is thinking of taking refuge for this lifetime. The person of the highest kind of motivation, who is a truly superior kind of spiritual practitioner, is not satisfied with any of these more short-term solutions. Such a person is motivated to attain nothing less than fully awakened buddhahood, and until that attainment is achieved, the person refuses to fall into either the extreme of continuing to wander in cyclic existence or, on the other hand, to be satisfied with mere personal salvation at the expense of others’ welfare. This person is concerned with attaining nothing less than full and complete enlightenment, which does not fall into either of these extremes, neither one of remaining in a state of continued confusion nor one of merely releasing oneself personally, without taking the welfare of others into consideration. To which of these three levels of taking refuge should we aspire? As those who are practicing the Mahayana path, it behooves us to follow the Mahayana approach in taking refuge, which is to develop our motivation so that we are satisfied with nothing less than full and complete enlightenment – and that we are motivated to attain enlightenment that does not fall into either of these extremes, neither continued confusion nor mere personal salvation from suffering and pain. Our time frame again is not of a short-term nature, but it is the motivation to take refuge until all beings attain enlightenment. Therefore, for this reason, we state in the Buddhist tradition, “I take refuge in the Buddha as the most excellent of humans embodying awakened being; I take refuge in the dharma, the path that leads to the most excellent state of peace; and I take refuge in the sangha, the most excellent of gatherings, who are my companions on the path.” It is made with that kind of background and understanding of the enormous time frame and the immense goal before us that we take refuge. The Nine Points of Taking Refuge (pages 36 – 43) Now taking refuge is not a one-shot deal, so to speak. You don’t just go through the ceremony, take refuge, and that’s it. There is training involved. There is a kind of code that you commit yourself to when you take refuge. However, this training is not particularly arduous. There are certain principles involved in taking refuge: there are three points that are to be encouraged once one has taken refuge; there are three ways of acting and thinking that are to be discouraged; and there are other supportive factors, which are again three in number, that aid one’s practice once one has taken refuge. So we can speak of the training to mean one’s having taken refuge under these nine points or nine categories. Regarding the kinds of attitudes that one should foster and encourage in oneself, after having taken refuge in the Buddha, in the awakened mind, as one of the Three Jewels, one should maintain an attitude of respect for anything that
represents the ideal of enlightened mind, whether it be a small statue of a buddha or a deity, or any other symbolic representation, even on a conventional level. Similarly, once one has taken refuge in the dharma, in the teachings that lead one as the practitioner to that state of awakened being, it is important for that individual to show that respect even to the texts which contain the words and letters that embody and convey the ideas of the teachings, by not placing those texts in a low or an unclean place, but by always keeping them in a high and clean place. That is another way in which an individual can honour that vow of refuge and incorporate it into daily life. Once one has taken refuge in the sangha, even the robes and colors that are associated with the Buddhist sangha are worthy of one’s respect. In the Tibetan tradition, three colors have historically been considered appropriate for robes for the sangha. Those are red, yellow, and blue. But the point here is not so much the specific colors, but that those colors embody an ideal, and that the robes, which are worn by individuals who are practitioners, embody an ideal, the ideal of the sangha as one’s companions and guides on the path. So it is on that level that it is appropriate for one to develop an attitude of respect, even for something such as a robe or a piece of cloth that is of one of those colors, just as though one were relating to the actual jewel of the sangha itself. These are the three aspects of the training that you should foster or encourage once you have taken refuge. Once you have taken refuge in the Buddha, in the awakened mind as your source of refuge, the first of the three aspects of the training that you should discourage and eliminate in your conduct and your attitude concerns inappropriateness of taking any worldly or mundane god or demon or force, or whatever, as one’s ultimate source of refuge, precisely for the reason that was mentioned earlier. Such beings are still caught within conditioned existence itself and therefore cannot provide any ultimate source of refuge. On a more conventional level, there may be powerful worldly forces or worldly gods that can be relied upon to alleviate sickness or incidental dangers and so forth, but here we are talking about the ultimate source of refuge, that which is ultimately going to lead you out of confusion and suffering. That can only be provided by the jewel of buddhahood, by awakened being itself, the awakened nature of mind. To rely on anything less than that is basically to sell yourself short as a practitioner. Basically, you are taking something that is less than ultimate to be ultimate, and this refers not just to human beings but to all beings, of whatever size or shape or species. There are some people who feel that certain forms of life are worthy of respect, such as human life and perhaps larger animals, such as horses and elephants and household pets, and so forth, but that something like insect life is inconsequential, and that one can destroy insects without any consequences. But think of it from the point of view of the animal or insect or other being that is being killed. The fact that an insect has a smaller body than yours does not mean that insect wants to lose its life or doesn’t suffer when it loses its life: its life force is as vital as yours. Just as you would suffer from having your life force cut
short, so would a tiny insect suffer, even though from our perspective it may seem to be insignificant. So the second aspect is to avoid harming other beings, the encouragement to follow the path of harmlessness. To incorporate taking refuge in the dharma by expressing it as an attitude of harmlessness towards all other beings involves embracing all life, not just larger forms of life or those that are closer to us as human beings, but really expressing an attitude of harmlessness towards anything that has a mind and that lives. The third aspect of training on the level of what to avoid or what to seek to eliminate in one’s situation as a practitioner is that after having taken refuge in the sangha, one should not rely upon or come under the influence of those who hold extreme views. That is the literal terminology used in the text. In this particular culture, we don’t have the same kinds of problems that occurred in the past. For example, when Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava, was journeying from India to Tibet to spread the teachings, at a certain border region between India and Tibet there was an individual who had established a law that no buddhist teacher could cross that boundary. That was kind of an old historical grudge that had been fostered, and so it was necessary for Guru Rinpoche to exert very wrathful activity in order to break through that barrier in order to come to Tibet and to bring the teachings to the Tibetan people. There were occasions when the great Sakya Pandita, Drakpa Gyaltsen, while traveling from Tibet, where he was born, to India, would encounter holders of extreme views who would hold debates with buddhist pandits. The local rulers would insist that the loser would convert to the faith of the one who won the debate. A buddhist teacher who lost a debate was required by law, according to the local ruler’s interpretation, to abandon buddhism and take up the faith of the person who won the debate. We don’t run into that kind of thing in a culture such as this, where there is more religious tolerance, but among people around us, we do run into intolerance for our own views as practitioners – people who try to convince us that our teachers are charlatans, that the teachings are false, people who try to undermine our faith and our devotion and our conviction on the path that we have chosen to follow. That really is what corresponds at this point to what historically was perhaps a more serious social problem. Here people of extreme views are people who in some way personally try to undermine your faith and confidence in your spiritual process. As someone who has taken refuge, you are better off ignoring their advice. Those are the three points of training that are to be abandoned or eliminated. Now we come to the three points of training that are of a supportive nature. This means that once one has taken refuge, it is then of an extremely supportive nature to make a small shrine in one’s home or apartment, perhaps, with a statue or a text or some representation of the Three Jewels, as well as to place offerings there, if even just simple bowls of water. Ideally this is done on a daily basis. That is the first alternative, or it is at least done on a monthly basis on particular days such as the full moon or the new moon, which are auspicious days, or at the very least once a year. For example, the Tibetan New Year’s
tradition of Losar is a time when everybody makes sure that at least for two or three days they make offerings on a shrine in order to renew that sense of taking refuge in the Three Jewels. In any of those ways, according to one’s own capabilities, it is supportive for one’s practice to engage in that kind of activity on a regular basis, even if it’s only once a year, just to reiterate the connection that one has through taking refuge. Given that one takes refuge, then out of this healthy appreciation, this apprehension of the shortcomings and sufferings of the three realms of cyclic existence – given that one is motivated to attain nothing less than full enlightenment for oneself and all beings – this act accompanied with right motivation is an ongoing aspect of one’s practice. One doesn’t take refuge with that motivation at one point in time and then just drop it. One continues by literally repeating the vow of refuge, over and over again, constantly bringing to mind the qualities of the Three Jewels. It is also important that a person who has taken refuge be willing to explain to others something that they haven’t understood before – these are the qualities of the Three Jewels. That is what it means to take refuge; that is the value of taking refuge. That encourages someone to begin that sort of search in their own life, and it is a very valuable contribution that you can make to someone else. So it shouldn’t be something that you are embarrassed about, ashamed of, or unwilling to discuss, but rather something that you are quite willing to discuss with others. In their most complete description, these three so-called supportive trainings constitute first incorporating some regular formal expression of that taking refuge – through making offerings on a shrine or whatever, according to one’s own lifestyle; through continuing to exert oneself in taking refuge as part of one’s formal spiritual practice; and, where one finds that kind of openness or inquisitiveness on the part of others, by encouraging others to do so. Those are the three supportive trainings that go hand in hand with the taking of the vow of refuge. On a formal level, the kind of discipline that the vow of refuge requires is quite straightforward. These nine points that we have just discussed within a few minutes are all that there really is to it, which makes it far easier to keep than are some of the more complex and formal ordinations of the buddhist path. For example, if you are a fully ordained monk or bhikshu, there are 253 vows of the order that are to be observed. Four of these are the most serious because they are called defeats; that is to say, if you commit one of those four actions, your ordination is destroyed and you are no longer a monk, you are no longer fit to wear the robes. There are thirteen others that require that the entire chapter of the sangha gather to decide how one should purify oneself of that particular offense. There are some thirty moral downfalls and ninety secondary points of proper conduct for a fully ordained monk. There are four situations in which a
monk must offer individual confession for the commission of a particular act and 112 minor rules of conduct, dress, eating, deportment, and speaking, all of which constitute the 253 vows of a fully ordained monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. As far as the novice vows are concerned, there are thirty. If we want to look into the Vajrayana, the implications of samaya can go on for hundreds and thousands of rules, if we want to explore it in detail. Here we are only talking about nine pretty simple principles, and I think that makes them pretty easy to keep; it’s not a very demanding training. For a person who has faith and conviction in his or her mind, taking refuge in the blessings of the Three Jewels is palpable and directly accessible. There is no distance involved. No one person is more distant from the blessings of the Three Jewels than any other person, save due to the fact that there is or is not that faith and devotion in the mind of the individual. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor; it doesn’t matter whether you are from the Eastern Hemisphere or the Western Hemisphere; it doesn’t matter whether you are clean or dirty; it doesn’t matter what your personal qualities are on a conventional level – if that faith and devotion for the Three Jewels is in your mind, you receive the blessings of the Three Jewels. Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) said, “If you have faith in me, I am standing right in your doorstep.” It’s not as though we expect Guru Rinpoche to be just waiting to see who calls him and then that he runs over and stands next to their door. What he meant was as long as there is faith and devotion in your mind for guru Rinpoche, the presence of Guru Rinpoche is immediate. There is no distance to be traversed; there is no separation between you and Guru Rinpoche when your mind is filled with faith and devotion to Guru Rinpoche. You shouldn’t think that you are so unworthy that the Three Jewels are very distant from you, so you wonder how could you ever receive their blessings. The moment you have faith and devotion and conviction in your heart, you receive the blessings of the Three Jewels. It’s like a mirror: if the mirror is covered with dust or is in some way obscured, it won’t reflect an image, but the moment you wipe away the dust, the image is brilliantly clear in the mirror. The moment there is faith and devotion in your heart, you receive the blessings of the Three Jewels. Once an individual has taken refuge and has given rise to bodhicitta with the two points – the taking of refuge as the crux that determines whether or not one is following the buddhist path, and the taking of the vow to give rise to the quality of bodhicitta as the altruistic and compassionate resolve that determines whether or not one is following the Mahayana, the greater vehicle of buddhist practice – that individual enters into the doorway of the Mahayana. That is an unerring and infallible path that assures an individual’s own enlightenment and potential for the bringing about of enormous benefit for others.”
CONTENTMENT (Pages 126 – 129) “…His Holiness Jigmed P’huntsog says that to practice this path effectively, the person who does so must have within himself or herself a degree of contentment in that he or she has few wants on the material level; he or she must also have arrived at a degree of contentment on that level. Contentment means knowing when enough is enough. It is the kind of attitude that the person realizes when he or she knows that as long as there is enough to eat, enough to wear, and enough to take personal care of oneself on a material level, that is enough. Such individuals do not continually try to figure out how they can earn more, own more, or acquire more. Rather, they have arrived at a degree of understanding, that they have enough to meet their physical needs on the level of those basic physical human needs, and they do not seek more. That’s the basic interpretation of the term at this point. This also ties in with the idea of having few wants. When a person has realized that degree of contentment, he or she is not continually placing his or her hopes in the idea that further acquisitions or material gain will provide any greater happiness. Rather, that person has already arrived at a sense of contentment, a sense of understanding that on a material level, enough is enough, and that we don’t need to seek further to try to reinforce our happiness. This is in recognition of the fact that in general all of the worldly goals that we seek purely within the context of this life – all of the prosperity, all of the wealth, all of the security, all of the fame, all of the glory – have no true essence. They are not something that will last, and if that is our goal, we are deceiving ourselves. All we really need is enough to eat, enough to wear, enough to keep a roof over our heads – just enough to keep those basic human needs satisfied. The more we place our hopes and aspirations on increasing our security on the purely material level, the more we are simply fueling our desires. That is the nature of the process. When we want something, we find it is very difficult to satiate that desire. We have one thing and then we want something else; moreover we feel less satisfied, because we think that until we have more and more we are not in any way going to be truly happy. We can never reach the point of being satisfied by indulging in that or playing that out. Actually, we will never be satisfied as long as we still want and need more on the material level. In any case, all of those seemingly attractive goals on the material level only come about because one has the appropriate merit. If the previous merit has not been accumulated in one’s mindstream to allow for the experience of wealth, success, and so forth, merely grasping after these is beside the point. If one has the merit, these will come about. If one doesn’t, then one needs to work on the level of merit, not on the level of trying to grab fruition without establishing the
cause, and the cause in this case is the merit that leads to the fruition. If a person does not establish the cause, that person will not have the good fortune to enjoy the fruition. Rather than simply desiring the fruition, we need to address things on a causal level. Having covetous attitudes and continually placing our hopes in objects outside of ourselves – things that we could own or have or acquire – is really a false way of viewing things. Really, there is no benefit to following through without the right point of view, because you will not get anywhere. The way to approach it is from the point of view of the cause of merit leading to the experience, even on a mundane level of affluence, success, or satisfaction. ….His Holiness Jigmed P’huntsog states that if a person is truly bent on pursuing the path of dharma effectively, that individual must pursue it without any particular attachment to or fixation upon the ordinary levels of pleasure, success, fame, glory, and so forth that he or she might possibly obtain on the material level. If a person doesn’t place his or her hopes entirely in that direction and doesn’t fixate upon those, the person will find that their path is much more straightforward and free of obstacles. His Holiness Jigmed P’huntsog quotes from the teachings of the Buddha in which it is stated that the lessening of attachment and desire is a sign of a superior person. If we make any distinction at all on a spiritual level of people who are very ordinary and people who are superior, it is on the basis of where the person has really placed his or her focus. If a person has few wants and desires on this material level, it is a sign that the person has made some spiritual progress. Clearly, the more we indulge in the wants and desires of this lifetime, the more we tie up our time and energy, and the less time we have to practice. The less time we have to practice, the less time we have to free our minds from cyclic existence. As you can see, it is of great value, first and foremost, to adopt this attitude of contentment, because that will free up so much more of our time and energy for practice. For the person who follows the path of dharma, the focus shifts from that of being entirely concerned with this lifetime to that of being motivated instead to practice with a view of bringing benefit to himself or herself and others in future lifetimes as well. Instead of being entirely focused upon this lifetime, the person begins to think in much longer terms. It is really that basic. It is a question of whether or not you have time to practice, whether you have leisure to practice. This is the importance of these qualities. The reason why the emphasis is made here on this quality is simply because it frees up so much of your time and energy for practice – for something truly valuable. THE IMPORTANCE OF A QUALIFIED TEACHER (pages 129 - 132) For the person with this level of contentment, who then begins to practice a formal path – and in this context we are discussing the path of the Buddhist tradition – it is important to seek a guide, a lama or teacher qualified to impart the
kind of information and guidance that is needed to follow the path. It is very important to follow a teacher, a spiritual mentor, because that is the way you as the student allow your own positive qualities to arise in an authentic manner. If you don’t have that kind of guidance, but simply try to figure it out on your own, it will not work. You do need to rely upon some external source of guidance at the outset of your path in order to elicit those positive qualities that are latent within you. Of course, this is something that is emphasized again and again, and it causes some questions to arise in people’s minds. It is always being said that the lama is very important. What does that mean? Think of it in this way: According to one of the tantras, it is stated that before the teacher appears, not even the idea or the name of buddhahood or enlightenment is present. Each of the one thousand buddhas that will eventually have appeared during this eon in which we live will have attained that buddhahood by relying upon teachers. None of them will have just figured it out themselves. It will be by undergoing a training process of his or her mindstream that the being will become a buddha. It is important that you follow a teacher. It is also important that the teacher have the necessary qualifications. What does it mean that the lama or teacher must be qualified? First and foremost, the lama’s mind should embody, to a significant degree through realization, the qualities of view, meditation, and conduct according to the Great Perfection approach. Ideally, of course, the teacher would have realized the complete fruition of the Great Perfection. The second qualification is that the teacher should be compassionately concerned and involved in guiding students. Third, the teacher should have the wisdom and the knowledge to be able to deal with the various misunderstandings or wrong views that crop up in students’ minds as well as be able to dispel those through skillful teaching. Although we could discuss the qualifications of a teacher in great detail, these three qualifications will suffice in this context. When one has encountered such a qualified teacher, it is important to guard the connection with that teacher just as you would your own heart or your own eyes. One should really maintain that and honor that connection by serving, or more literally, the three ways of pleasing the teacher. Of the three, the ideal way is through your own practice. Nothing pleases a teacher more than to impart teachings to a student who then practices those teachings so that he or she personally realizes the fruits. That is the very best way to serve and please the teacher. The intermediate way to serve and please one’s teacher is through personal service, by attending the teacher, helping him or her with various building and publishing projects or anything tied in with dharma activities of the teacher. At the very least, one may honor the connection through material support of the teacher’s projects or by supporting the lama financially so that the dharma activities of that teacher can continue to flourish.
Given that you have found a teacher who is qualified, then in order to really serve that teacher, you should do so with a heartfelt attitude of devotion and respect. Then you will be receptive to the teachings that you receive, and you will be able to implement them as they are intended to be in your practice. This attitude of faith influences how you view the teacher when you are receiving teachings in various contexts. Even in the context of the sutra tradition, the dialectical or more exoteric Buddhist vehicle, the teachings that you receive are still most effective when you regard the teacher as inseparable from the presence of the Buddha Shakyamuni; it is as though you are taking teachings from the Lord Buddha himself. When you have that sense of reverence for the teacher, you are completely receptive to the teachings he or she is giving. In the context of the Vajrayana teachings, one should think of the teacher in a somewhat more intense way – as being the actual embodiment of enlightenment itself. It is with the deep conviction that one is actually in the presence of a buddha that one receives the teachings of the Vajrayana. Whan we come to the Great Perfection path of sheer lucidity, above and beyond the ordinary exoteric vehicle and that of the Vajrayana, the appropriate attitude for you to hold towards the teacher is that you are not in the presence of the nirmanakaya or even the sambhogakaya manifestation, but in the presence of the dharmakaya itself. Here, you are actually receiving these teachings from the ultimate nature of being, dharmakaya itself. The transmission is that direct. In the Dzogchen context of taking teachings, the teacher, in a certain sense, almost seems to eclipse that status of the Buddha, for a very specific and personal reason. No attempt is being made to suggest that the lama is in any objective way greater than the Buddha Shakyamuni or any other buddha in terms of qualities. It is in the context of the extraordinary kindness you receive from your personal teacher that the true value of that relationship becomes evident. While the teacher may be in no way superior to the Buddha in terms of his or her positive qualities, nevertheless, in terms of his or her positive influence on your life, the kindness and grace that you receive from the teacher is based on your view that the teacher is even more important to you than the Buddha. Although the Buddha left a legacy of teachings, and although Buddha Shakyamuni and other buddhas have appeared in the world, we have not in this present context had the good fortune to encounter those buddhas. But we have encountered the teacher who transmits those teachings to us, who teaches us about the kind of moral choices that are important in our life, and who teaches us the practices and stages of the path that we need to follow in order to work our way out of our own confusion and attain enlightenment. So for that reason this importance is accorded to one’s personal teacher in the context of receiving teachings in Buddhism.
ETHICS AND DISCIPLINE (Pages 132 – 138) “To take an overview of the path, we can begin by looking at someone who has reached a certain level of contentment and a diminishing of wants on a material level, and who is motivated by something beyond this lifetime and has begun to seek teachings and a teacher. Moreover, this person has found a teacher who is qualified and is someone upon whom he or she has begun to rely, and (this person) has entered into that path of practice. Another important element that we should note at this point involves that of one’s own ethics and discipline as an important foundation to one’s own practice. Ethics and discipline fall into several categories in the Buddhist context. On a very rudimentary level, there is the kind of discipline that assures one’s own individual liberation from suffering. Above and beyond that, there is the discipline and ethics of the bodhisattva path, and above and beyond that, there is the more secret level of discipline, which deals with Vajrayana, with tantric discipline. In terms of keeping discipline, it is important that we not overlook the level of discipline that assures our own individual liberation, whether for the ordained or the layperson’s vows. And there are a number of different levels of vows for novice monks and nuns, for the fully ordained, and for the various levels of laypeople; there are many different formal ordinations. Perhaps it is difficult in this culture to assume that there will be a strong monastic basis at this point; nevertheless, ordination for a layperson is an important foundation for one’s practice. Even if a person’s situation does not afford the life-style or freedom to keep that type of ordination, there are temporary ordinations. People are familiar with the fasting ritual (Tib. nyungne), which is part of kriyatantra, are aware of the ordination that is taken and maintained from one morning until the next morning. Even though this may seem like a very short-term commitment, nevertheless, sincerely taking that ordination and maintaining those ethics and that discipline for the twenty-four-hour period is valuable because it begins to lay a foundation in one’s mindstream, upon which positive qualities can grow. The point of discipline and ethics is to provide a foundation, like a fertile piece of ground in which a good crop can grow and yield a good harvest. The more a person observes and maintains this level of discipline and ethics in his or her lifestyle, the more that foundation is being laid for those positive qualities to develop in his or her mindstream. Again, depending upon the culture one is from and the context in which one lives, assuming a full monastic ordination may be unrealistic, but that does not mean that one cannot implement those basic principles of ethics and discipline through assuming the householder or layperson’s ordination. The vows are not extremely rigorous for a householder or a layperson. A person who chooses to take that path has various options open to him or her. The first of the vows is to avoid killing, and that refers to any form of life. The second vow
concerns stealing, taking anything that isn’t given to one freely under any circumstances or pretext. The third is the vow that deals with an observance of a wholesome way of expressing one’s sexuality with a partner, if one is in a partner relationship, so that one does not injure or bring mental or physical harm to others through a misuse of one’s sexuality. The fourth vow concerns speech. One’s speech should be honest, sincere, and well intentioned; one should not use harsh speech, lie, or conceal the truth in a way that causes confusion and harm to others. These are called the four root vows. The fifth vow, which is often mentioned in the context of the householder’s ordination, is to avoid using intoxicants that confuse the mind and make it difficult for one to maintain a clear and precise attitude towards one’s life. These vows can be taken in any combination. If a person takes even one of these vows, such as the vow not to kill, that constitutes one level of ordination or ethics and discipline. Or one may choose any two, three or four vows; of course, one may choose to take all five, which is known as the complete ordination for laypeople. Now it may raise a question in your mind that because you don’t do these things anyway, why should you take a vow? It may be the case that you never kill. You may be a gentle person who never takes the life of anything, even an insect. But if you don’t have the idea in your mind that you will not kill and that you will turn away from that kind of action, then without that kind of resolve, you won’t have the same kind of merit that comes from not taking life and having that resolve in mind at the same time. In the former case, it’s an innocuous action that doesn’t carry a great deal of merit or power with it. However, a person who has taken a formal vow to abstain from that behavior generates merit. Again, you may be a person who never steals and is very honest, yet at the same time, if you don’t have that resolve, you deny yourself the opportunity to make that a truly meritorious action, because with that resolve you lend power to the fact that you are keeping that particular ethical position. As you can see in each of these cases, there is value in making a formal resolve and going through a ceremony in which you formally dedicate your efforts to abstain from a certain kind of behavior and to follow another course of action in your life. As was mentioned just a moment ago, any of these vows in combination constitutes some level of a layperson’s ordination. The fasting ritual mentioned just a few minutes ago involves the four basic vows, with the sexual vow extended to one of celibacy for that twenty-four-hour period. There are also some incidental vows that are added, making a total of eight that are kept for a twenty-four-hour period. Again, you can take these vows with the understanding that you are only keeping them for twenty-four hours. Nevertheless, taking them sincerely and keeping them sincerely for that period of time generates a great deal of merit because of the resolve that goes into taking that stance to make that decision in one’s life.
To continue our discussion of the stages on the path of our hypothetical individual: He or she has found and is relying upon a teacher, has ventures onto the path of practice, has adopted whatever particular form of ethics and discipline is appropriate for his or her situation, and has begun the process of studying, which is literally termed hearing in Tibetan. Hearing the teachings means not just reading about them in books in a dry intellectual way, but actually receiving teachings in a very personal way from the teacher, whether it is teachings based upon the sutras, upon the tantras, or upon any of the auxiliary commentaries associated with those. The person begins a process of study and training to develop his or her mind. The value of going through this training is threefold. The first value is that hearing the teachings and the ideas that are embodied in these teachings plants seeds in your mindstream that will ripen into your liberation. So even though you may not be able to completely understand and realize a teaching as you receive it, nevertheless, a seed is planted. The second value of receiving teachings is that the darkness of ignorance in your mind is dispelled through the inner illumination that comes about with the understanding that the teachings bring to you. The third value is that there is a process of purification: in hearing the teachings and in understanding and reflecting upon them, you are actually purifying your mind from the effects of harmful actions and obscurations. In many Buddhist contexts, a person will blow a conch shell or ring a gong in order to announce the teaching. Even hearing those incidental sounds sets up a certain atmosphere in one’s mind that plants the seed of liberation and makes one more receptive to the teachings. There is a saying in Tibet that if even the sound of a gong or a conch shell can plant the seed of liberation, how much more so do the words of the teachings themselves. You might think at this point, “So, that’s it – I can just study; that’s all I need.” Not quite. Rather, once you have heard the teachings, it is further necessary to develop a kind of wisdom that comes through contemplation, by taking the words and the meaning of those words that you have received from your teacher and reflecting on them again and again, until you have really come to a thorough understanding. It’s not enough just to get the teachings once and think, “Oh yeah, I understand that.” Rather, you take the teachings and work with them, turning them over and over in your mind, reflecting upon the words and the meanings of those words until you have come to a really thorough inner understanding. Without this kind of wisdom born of contemplation, you will not come to the point where you can really practice effectively. You can go through the motions, but you won’t really be practicing in the essential way that is intended if you haven’t gone through this stage of contemplation, especially when it involves the teachings that are concerned with your personal practice. You have to reflect upon these again and again and again. You must be so thoroughly grounded in them that when you are in retreat alone in the mountains, you will not even think
about asking anybody for advice, because you are so completely certain about what you are doing. You must have that kind of certainty. Again, you might ask at this point if just hearing and contemplating the teachings is the whole picture. No, you have to go beyond contemplation to meditation. To develop the kind of wisdom that is born of meditation, you have to actually meditate upon all of the stages of the path, beginning with the four thoughts that turn the mind towards practice, up to and including the level of Great Perfection practice. In each of these stages you must hear, contemplate, and then actually meditate in order to totally internalize those teachings. The way in which meditation proceeds in the context of the Buddhist path, and in particular, the Dzogchen path, is that you begin with the four contemplations of the precious human existence, of death and impermanence, of the cause-andeffect nature of karma, and of the sufferings and shortcomings of cyclic existence, in order to initially turn your mind away from further involvement in cyclic existence and towards practice. Following this, you proceed through the ngondro – the ordinary preliminaries and the specific or special preliminaries that require the repetition of one-hundred thousand prostrations, one-hundred thousand refuge prayers, and so forth. Following that training, when your mind has been suitably prepared, then you can begin then to embark on the actual path of the Dzogchen practice. It’s important to understand that there is a value in this process. It is not an arbitrary process; it is not a penalty that is being exacted. It has a function. If a person is introduced immediately to Dzogchen teachings and practice without having gone through this process of purification, development, and preparation, the necessary qualities and realization simply won’t arise in that person’s mindstream. It’s as simple as that. If it were possible to just introduce everybody directly to Dzogchen, don’t you think teachers would have done that all along? There wouldn’t have been the need, generation after generation, to go through all of the prostrations, all of the Vajrasattva mantras, and all of the mandala offerings if they didn’t serve some purpose. They are an expression of the compassionate and skillful means of enlightened buddhas guiding sentient beings according to the capacities and needs of those sentient beings. Given that the nature of buddha activity is to bring benefit to beings, we shouldn’t think of these preliminaries as being some kind of harsh punishment that is being exacted or as some kind of annoying obstacle to receiving the real teachings. In fact, this is the only process by which one can become receptive to receiving the real teachings. So it’s important that we understand in this context that the preliminaries have a value and a function that is not in the least arbitrary.”
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