Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga (Ganden Lha Gyäma)

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Tushita Meditation Centre, Dharamsala, India 1986 (Archive #266)
Ganden Lha Gyäma: The Hundreds of Deities of the Land of Joy

In this commentary, Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaches on the Ganden Lha Gyäma practice, often translating the Tibetan verses line-by-line. The teachings were given by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Tushita Meditation Centre, Dharamsala, India at the end of the Second Enlightened Experience Celebration held in March 1986.

The teachings were edited and assembled in this format by Uldis Balodis. First published by Uldis Balodis and Kopan Monastery in 1990. Lightly revised by Sandra Smith, September 2020. Tibetan terms checked and revised by Ven. Gyalten Lekden, September 2020.  

Please note: A Highest Yoga Tantra initiation is not required for Ganden Lha Gyäma practice, however, this teaching includes specific instructions suitable for Highest Yoga Tantra initiates. Rinpoche also teaches on more general lamrim topics including the preliminary practices, refuge and karma.

This commentary is now available for download as a PDF file.

7. Refuge in the Three Jewels

Refuge is one of the four major preliminary practices in all four sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

His Holiness explained details of the visualization of the merit field during the Lama Chöpa teaching so I will not go over that here. His Holiness explained the elaborate one and the All-encompassed One, the Jewel tradition, which has all the objects of refuge in one aspect, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. That is visualized in front of yourself at the height of the forehead, a distance of one prostration-length away. In space there is a high, extensive jeweled throne upraised by eight snow-lions. Above that is a variegated lotus, moon disc and sun disc. On that sits in essence your own kind root guru, in the aspect of Shakyamuni Buddha. If you have the understanding that it is in essence your own kind root guru, blessings are received more quickly. Visualizing the guru in the aspect of a buddha such as Shakyamuni Buddha, or as in many sadhanas where the merit field is visualized in the aspect of the deity, greater blessings are received. His Holiness Zong Rinpoche used to advise this. He has a golden-colored holy body, a pinnacle on the crown, one face, two arms, the right one in the mudra of controlling the earth, the left in the mudra of concentration, holding the begging bowl filled with nectar.

Even just the way Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is sitting symbolizes or explains his having subdued his own four maras, so he cannot be harmed by them. He himself conquered the four maras and then by revealing Dharma destroys the maras of other sentient beings. His Holiness Serkong Rinpoche used to tell the story about the mudra of his right hand, controlling the earth. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha told Indra, “That you have much power, that you are born in a deva realm having much wealth, is because in the past you practiced much charity.” Then Indra said, “So, you are my witness that I created those causes and I now have this result of being born in the deva realm and having much wealth and control; but what’s the proof that you became enlightened?”

I don’t remember clearly the details of how Rinpoche explained this, but Guru Shakyamuni Buddha said, “I achieved enlightenment by having completed the two types of merit.” Indra said, “Who can prove this? Who is your witness? My being like this is verified by you, but who is your witness?”

“I have a witness,” said Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, and put his right palm on the earth and immediately the earth goddess appeared in front of him and said, “Yes, it’s true what Guru Shakyamuni Buddha said. It is true that he completed the two types of merit and became enlightened.” So Indra, and the maras, felt very ashamed. I think it was Indra; however, it signifies having destroyed the mara of the deva’s son.

There is another story that Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and the mara, or Indra, discussed this with each other and then the earth goddess came—but having destroyed the mara of the deva’s son could also mean the evil god of desire, who wears a garland of flowers and who shoots five arrows which somehow become the condition [for desire to arise]. I think His Holiness mentioned in one of the teachings that these five arrows do not mean material arrows—the main meaning of the arrows is the disturbing thoughts. The arrows are: fighting, pride, being distracted, being extremely distracted, and being unconscious. So, they are interferences for those who are trying to live in pure moral conduct because they change the attitude. One thing they do is change the recognition. They change the attitude, for example from one of renouncing worldly life to being attached to worldly life. They also cause anger to arise and hence fighting and disharmony in the family and between guru and disciple. Also, when we try to meditate they bring distractions and when we try to practice charity toward sentient beings they do not allow it by arousing miserliness. The mara of the deva’s son causes various harms like this. We have not conquered this but Guru Shakyamuni Buddha did, so they cannot harm him. So, the right hand in the mudra of controlling the earth also signifies that.

The nectar that fills his bowl signifies having destroyed his own Lord of Death, his delusions and his mara of the aggregates. If we practice the holy Dharma as taught by Buddha then Buddha destroys our own four maras: the mara of the deva’s son, the Lord of Death, delusion, and the aggregates.

The holy body is adorned with a saffron-colored robe and the holy signs and exemplifications. It is extremely calm and clear, in the nature of light. Radiating from all the pores of the holy body are light rays. Uncountable numbers of Guru Shakyamuni Buddhas emanate on the rays to work for sentient beings. Having finished their tasks, they return and absorb back through the rays. The two holy legs are in the vajra posture.

Around Guru Shakyamuni Buddha are the direct and indirect gurus, buddhas, bodhisattvas, dakas, dakinis and protectors. First there is large throne and five smaller thrones on that. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha sits on the central throne. Behind him is Vajradhara surrounded by the lineage lamas of the blessing of the practice. On his left is Manjushri surrounded by the lineage lamas of the profound path, and on his right Maitreya Buddha surrounded by the lineage lamas of the extensive path. Then there are the three lineages of the Kadampa geshes: those following zhungpapa, män ngagpa and lamrimpa lineages.9 Then after that Kadam Sarma—Lama Tsongkhapa and his disciples. On the front three are your root guru and your other gurus to the right and left, all facing toward the guru in the form of the main figure, Shakyamuni Buddha.

However, we should feel that the root guru visualized as Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and the root guru in front are oneness; in different aspect but of the same essence with all other gurus. This is one meditation technique. We may have much devotion toward some gurus and do not see many mistakes in their behavior, but with one or two we may find it very difficult to generate devotion because we see them as being full of mistakes. Because the guru is the root of the path to enlightenment, in their lamrim teachings Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo and other lamas taught a technique to develop devotion to those gurus which is to think that they are the embodiment of that guru for whom we have strongest devotion and in whom we do not see mistakes. This is the advice on how to develop devotion and eliminate the appearance of mistakes within our own mind.

You may have heard the story about Drubkhang Rinpoche,10 whose cave is just above Sera College. He had one guru from whom he had learnt the alphabet but he did not visualize him in the merit field because he saw him as being full of mistakes. For many years he meditated on lamrim but no realizations came. So he went to ask his root guru for advice. His guru asked him, “Did you leave out any gurus in your visualization of the merit field? Go back and check.” He returned to his place of meditation and counted all the gurus and found that his alphabet teacher was missing. He went back to tell his guru, who advised him, “You have had no attainment so far because that guru from whom you learnt the alphabet was missing. Now you should meditate on that one as the principal being of the merit field.” I have heard different versions of this advice, one that he should be visualized as being the embodiment of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, the principal being of the merit field, another that he should be visualized on the crown of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. Immediately he did this meditation, realizations came so easily, like rainfall. Je Drubkhangpa’s biography relating how he practiced lamrim is unbelievable. It is so interesting, and so inspiring, especially how he practiced bodhicitta. We can understand the importance of having to develop devotion toward all of our gurus from that story.

In front of each of the merit field figures are beautiful tables with their understanding of the teachings in the form of scriptures (lung gi chö) on them. The definition of lung is a teaching which came from Buddha and has virtuous qualities. One meaning of Dharma is realization (togpäi chö),11 and the other is understanding of the teachings or scriptural Dharma, (lung gi chö).12 Lung because that virtue or quality has to be in mind or thought. So each one’s understanding of the teachings is in the form of texts which are in the nature of light. The pages are of gold, the letters are of silver and radiant, each one making its own sound, with nectars dripping from each letter. Here it says they are in front of each of them, but I have also heard that the scriptures can be on their right side. Then the texts are positioned so that the front edge of the letters face oneself, and if they are visualized as Tibetan scriptures the label of the text, which has a piece of brocade, faces toward oneself. It is the same with all the refuge and merit fields. For example, in the Vajrayogini field of refuge the root guru in the form of Heruka is in the center and behind him all the scriptures are piled up with the front edges of the letters facing oneself.

All the merit field beings are in the aspect of being extremely pleased with you. You should recall the qualities of the merit field, recall their kindness, and while your mind is in a state of great devotion, think: I and all mother sentient beings since beginningless rebirths until now have experienced the various general sufferings of samsara and in particular the three lower realms. When you recite the prayer you should feel strong fear of the three lower realms of suffering and of the general sufferings of samsara, such as the six or eight types of human suffering. Feel true suffering and the true cause of suffering strongly and think that it has been experienced numberless times, without beginning. Still it is so difficult to see the depth of and the end of the samsaric sufferings. In the lamrim prayer in Lama Chöpa [LC 87] it says:

Violently tossed amidst waves of karma and delusions,
Plagued by the many sea monsters of the three kinds of sufferings,

I do not know what these sea-monsters are—crocodiles or dolphins or whatever—but they are the three types of sufferings and many of them attack us. The waves come constantly, one after another, and they are so strong and difficult to stop; likewise the disturbing thoughts come one after another. Within each twenty-four hours, even within each hour, they come one after another. They are so strong it is unbelievable.

For example, you may have anger so strong that you do not want to practice patience or anything else, and the only thought is to do what the anger dictates. It is unbelievably strong. Even if you have heard teachings on the thought training practices or patience so many times, and are so used to these practices, at the time it is difficult to remember them. It is similar when the mind is overwhelmed by attachment: the mind becomes completely dark, like a dark room and we are completely overwhelmed by it. It is like a tidal wave that completely washes away whole cities. With self-grasping ignorance it is like this every second.

When you are overwhelmed like that you cannot think of anything. Somehow there is no space in the mind at all to think of any meditation techniques. So, you accumulate karma. You have already finished experiencing so many of the results—the three types of suffering—of those karmas created by disturbing thoughts, but so much is left to be experienced. There is an inconceivable amount left to be experienced. On top of that which is not finished, due to constantly being under the control of the strong waves of delusion every day you continuously create karma which is the cause of the three types of suffering. You create more and more. It is difficult to see the end of even the past causes, but now, on top of that, you are accumulating more. Therefore, you can think in this way: “If I continue living in this way, having the same nature of mind, being under the control of disturbing thoughts every day, there is no end.” Being able to see, to feel, the endless samsaric suffering, make the request: “Please grant me blessings to generate the strong wish to liberate myself from the endless, terrifying ocean of samsara.” Still, it is difficult to see the depth of and the end of the sufferings.

“This time I have received the special body qualified by the richnesses and freedoms, which is highly meaningful and difficult to find. During this time I have met the precious teachings of Buddha which are difficult to meet. If I don’t make it possible to achieve the fully enlightened state, which is the sublime liberation, separation from all the suffering of samsara, right from this second, again I and all mother sentient beings will have to experience the general samsaric sufferings, and in particular the sufferings of the three lower realms. The Guru-Triple Gem who are abiding in front of me have the capability to guide us from these sufferings. I must achieve the state of omniscient mind, the fully enlightened state, for the sake of all the mother sentient beings, therefore I’m going to take refuge in the Guru-Triple Gem.” Thus you and the mother sentient beings take refuge to the Guru-Triple Gem.

Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo gave particular advice for meditating on the sufferings of the lower realms. First put yourself in the experience of those lower realm sufferings such as the hot and cold narak sufferings, and try to generate the feeling of how unbearable it is. Then, when you have some feeling of how unbearable it is, do the refuge practice, with beams of nectar being emitted which purify your negative karma. Now, if the thought arises, But I was not born in the lower realms; this is not happening, I’m just visualizing it, then think, Yes, I’m not born there yet but I have created the negative karmas to experience these sufferings. Being aware of those karmas, again the solution is to recall the Guru-Triple Gem and purify. In the first instance you generate the experience of the unbearable sufferings of the lower realms to which the solution is to practice refuge—to rely on the Guru-Triple Gem—and then purify. Secondly, remember karma, the cause of these problems, for which the solution is again to take refuge and purify. The third thing is to meditate on the qualities of the objects of refuge and then do the recitation and visualize nectar beams being emitted, at which time you can also practice purification and the receiving of realizations.

Refuge in the Guru

When you say la ma la kyab su chi o, your mind should be aware that all the gurus from whom you have received direct Dharma contact are in ordinary aspect but are in essence Buddha—either in relation to your own deity or to Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, whichever is more effective for your mind. There are quotations wherein a long time ago Guru Shakyamuni Buddha promised in front of his guru, Rinchen Nyingpo, that in the degenerate time, the time of one hundred year lifespans, also called the time of quarreling, “I’m going to subdue those sentient beings who cannot be subdued by the rest of the one thousand buddhas.” This time we have been born as human beings on this southern continent, and this is the time of hundred-year lifespans, the time of quarreling, during which time Guru Shakyamuni Buddha promised to guide us and subdue us. Among all the actions of the holy speech the highest is revealing Dharma in order to guide the sentient beings. There is no higher or better method to guide us, the sentient beings, from suffering than the revealing of teachings. So these gurus are doing this action of revealing the various teachings that are needed to lead us to enlightenment.

To mention it again: the guru who gave you even just the transmission of OM MANI PADME HUM, no commentary and no other teaching, planted a seed in your mind which at some time, maybe in this life, can become stronger due to your accumulated merit and you will then be able to understand the teachings by experience. When the seed ripens you will be able to meet the teaching, to listen to the commentary and to understand the teachings contained in the mantra, which explains the two bases: the path—method and wisdom—and the two kayas. You will be able to understand the teachings more clearly and deeply, be able to practice and generate bodhicitta, and be able to realize the path. Even if it does not happen in this life, the seed will be experienced in the next life and you will become expert in the meaning of OM MAIN PADME HUM. Like the stories about birds hearing Nagarjuna and Vasubhandhu reciting scriptures and in their next lives becoming monks and scholars who are expert in those teachings. Likewise in your next life you will be able to understand more and practice more and be able to realize the meaning. So the transmission of OM MANI PADME HUM the guru gave you gradually and definitely leads you to enlightenment—there is no doubt at all.

So, these gurus do the highest action, the same that buddhas do: guiding the sentient beings. If we do not point to these gurus as being Guru Shakyamuni Buddha guiding us and working for us, then who else? There is nobody else to point to. If we do not point to them as being those who do the actions which definitely lead us to enlightenment, the highest actions of revealing the teachings, whom should we point out? This is proof that these gurus are the embodiment of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha guiding us to enlightenment. Otherwise, what follows is that according to our wrong conception, according to our ordinary mind, some ordinary sentient beings are guiding us. If they are not the embodiment of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, the conclusion is that, although Guru Shakyamuni Buddha did promise to guide us, he became kind-of invisible. He is somewhere, but it is not clear how Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is guiding us now. Yet these ordinary sentient beings are guiding us to enlightenment!

The conclusion according to the ordinary mind is that Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is not giving initiations, not giving transmissions or commentaries, is not teaching tantra. It then follows that some sentient being is more skillful than Buddha in regard to guiding oneself. That is the mistaken view which follows if we take the side of the wrong conception. It further follows that the Buddha does not have an omniscient mind, has no understanding of the characteristics of the mind, or of the methods to guide others. Either that or he does have an omniscient mind but not the compassion to guide us. Or, he has compassion but not the perfect power to guide us. So you see, these many mistaken ideas can be used as arguments against the wrong conceptions. A buddha is one who has an omniscient mind, infinite compassion for all sentient beings and the perfect power to guide; one who has all these qualities is labeled “Buddha.” If these three are not complete he is not called Buddha.

Relating to what Guru Shakyamuni Buddha promised makes it very easy to think that the gurus are his embodiment, and so there is more feeling and it is easy for devotion, the root of the path, to arise without the doubts, Maybe the guru is a buddha, maybe he is not a buddha. At least leaning more to the side that he is a buddha. Our minds should be changed from the wrong conception which thinks that they are definitely ordinary beings, not Buddha.

Buddhas guide even the animals, those who are not human beings. We are human beings, having received the perfect human body with the eight freedoms and ten richnesses which is a better body than animals have. We can think, we have refuge in our mind, we are able to hear, able to understand, able to attempt to listen, reflect and meditate, unlike animals. So how is it possible that Buddha can guide animals yet cannot guide us? It is also very helpful to remember the four outlines of refuge: how Buddha is a worthy object to take refuge in in order to liberate us from all the dangers and the two obscurations. Buddha is so skillful in guiding others from dangers and fears, and is so skillful in liberating sentient beings from the two obscurations. Buddha has compassion for all sentient beings without discriminating between those close and those distant, so definitely Buddha has compassion for us. The last point is that Buddha works for all sentient beings irrespective of whether they benefit him or not, whether they make offerings to him or not, whether they like him or not. Therefore, Buddha definitely has compassion for us and definitely does the actions of guiding us. This is also very helpful for generating realization of correct devotion to the virtuous friend, which is to see the guru as being in essence a buddha.

Remember the quotations from Vajradhara in the lamrim, or whatever is most effective. Then, with the awareness that the gurus are all buddhas—if it is more effective, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha—begin the refuge formula:

La ma la kyab su chi o
I go for refuge to the guru.

During this recitation, with the awareness that they are all in essence Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, visualize the five beams of nectars emitting and being absorbed into you. The five beams could be like this: (from the top) white, red, blue, yellow and green, emitted from the five places of each of the merit field figures. If you are going to recite one rosary of the refuge prayer, do half for purification and half for receiving realizations. When you recite la ma la kyab su chi o or namo gurubhyah, nectar beams radiate from the central Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and from the root guru, and from all the lineage gurus together.

It is important for your own mind to convince yourself to the extent that you lean more to the view that the gurus are Buddha; to see their essence as Buddha is the main thing in guru yoga. If you see and feel a separation it is not guru yoga. If you recite la ma la kyab su chi o without the awareness that they are Buddha there is no feeling, and no inspiration to purify. Recite the refuge prayer having convinced your own mind that they are in essence Buddha—then it will be very effective.

It is very good to remember any advice that the guru gave you, and any mistakes that you have made with respect to it, such as having gotten angry or had heretical thoughts, disregarded the advice or broken the pratimoksha, bodhisattva or tantric vows. Think, “With this guru I made such and such a mistake, with this one such and such.” Remember those very strongly then purify the general negative karma and the particular negative karma accumulated in relationship to the guru—such as having harmed the guru’s holy body, having disregarded the guru’s holy speech or having disturbed the guru’s holy mind, or having had heresy arise and so having criticized or given up the guru. That includes everything; but it is very effective to remember each of the mistakes that you made with each guru. In this way your refuge will be very, very strong and powerful; and also your repentance will be much stronger and so will the purification. In this way in such a short time much negative karma can be purified that was accumulated in relationship to the guru.

When you have completed the recitation for purifying think that your body is completely purified of the dirty liquid or smoke or coal, or whatever you visualized, which came out through your pores and the lower doors. It is like when your body is very dirty and you have a shower, all the dirt is washed away; or like when you wash a dirty glass. Then think: “Now I am completely purified. Not even the slightest negative karma accumulated in relationship to my guru exists.” Try to generate strong faith in this. During the half of the recitation of la ma la kyab su chi o which is for purification meditate more strongly on the white beam nectar. It is explained that visualizing such nectar is a preparation for achieving the illusory body and visualizing beams is a preparation for achieving clear light.

When you do the receiving of realizations visualization then have stronger concentration on the yellow beam nectar. While reciting la ma la kyab su chio imagine receiving all the qualities of the guru. When you finish think that you have received all the qualities of the guru’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind.

If you do not think of the guru as buddha from the beginning then this practice will not give any feeling. So if you can recall each of your gurus with the awareness that he is a buddha, then all the qualities of each of their holy body, holy speech and holy mind is received. I also find it effective to visualize at the end that a replica of each of the gurus is absorbed to myself.

The same meditation can be done with respect to the other sentient beings whom you see. While you are thinking you are purified then you can also think that the other sentient beings are purified; and when you have received the realizations you can also think that the sentient beings have received all the realizations of the guru. So, the basic outline of the practice of refuge is purification, receiving realization and coming completely under the guidance of the gurus. The practice of refuge consists of basically these three things.

The refuge common to the followers of the Lesser Vehicle path—the hearer, listener and self-conqueror—is based on the fear of all samsara and devotion to the Triple Gem. Mahayana refuge, as well as being a reliance upon the buddha, Dharma and Sangha, is based on compassion which feels as unbearable the sufferings of other sentient beings. In the first prayer in Jorchö, the refuge prayer which I talked about, it does not say, “I and mother sentient beings take refuge...,” but that is what should be meditated. When you meditate and you start reciting the prayer, la ma la kyab su chi o... or namo gurubyah... as His Holiness explained, first purify all the sentient beings of the six realms visualized in their actual present forms, and the second time visualize all of them in human form. This is an effective meditation technique. In the commentary on Jorchö it explains to visualize all sentient beings as having the suffering nature which they do have, but with human forms, which makes it easier to visualize them reciting the prayer all together, with yourself as the leader. So, everyone is saying, la ma la kyab su chi o... along with you. However, the meditation is the same—taking refuge all together. I think in the Kagyu tradition in the preliminary practices and refuge prayer, besides the meditation there are also the words, “I and all sentient beings are going to take refuge... I and all sentient beings are going to prostrate... I and all mother sentient beings equaling the infinite sky are going to take refuge in the precious Guru-Buddha...”

Refuge in the Buddha

When reciting sang gyä la kyab su chi o the negative karma of actions such as causing blood to flow from tathagatas is purified. You might think this is a strange thing to include because you have not done it, however, as we cannot remember what negative karmas we have accumulated throughout beginningless samsaric rebirths, it is possible that you have. The mara Dülhäjin13 threw stones at the Buddha and although Buddha does not have an ordinary body and blood and bones as we do, because of their karma it appeared to ordinary sentient beings that blood flowed. Also, discriminating holy objects such as statues of the holy body of the Buddha as bad and good. That includes statues and paintings of Buddha and things like that. One yogi brought a Manjushri statue to Lama Atisha and asked, “Is it good or not? I paid four golden coins for it.” Lama Atisha answered, “There is no such thing as a bad or good Manjushri holy body, but the craftsmanship of the artist is middling!” So, if you want to make a comment you have to say something like Lama Atisha said rather than  saying, “Oh, this Tara’s body is very thin,” or too fat or something—that is disrespectful because it is kind-of saying that there is some fault in the holy body of a buddha. Then, using statues as security when you borrow something—in other words using it as a common object—is disrespectful. Doing business like buying and selling holy objects not with devotion and not to benefit other sentient beings but while seeing them as ordinary materials is bad. Also destroying stupas or statues with an evil mind like anger, or taking out the mantras and things which fill them.

All the negative karmas, the general and particular negative karmas, accumulated with respect to buddha, of having broken and degenerated the advice and precepts of the Buddha—sang gyä kön chog, the Precious Sublime One—are included. When we took refuge we took the three precepts of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha which are to be practiced, the advice on three practices to be followed and the advice on three things to be avoided. Having taken refuge in Buddha we should avoid relying on a wrong founder who reveals a wrong path. What we should practice is, while recalling the qualities of Buddha, viewing a statue as the actual Buddha even if it is broken or made of clay. It should be placed in a clean, high place, not thrown in the garbage or stepped over, regardless of what material it is made of, even if it is broken. Even a piece of it must be respected.

If you are going to recite one rosary of sang gyä la kyab su chi o, divide the recitation into half for purifying all general negative karma and the particular negative karma accumulated in relationship to Buddha, of having broken the precepts of the Buddha; the other half for receiving all the qualities of Buddha’s holy body, holy speech, holy mind. During lamrim teachings and when we study the eighth chapter of Abhisamayalamkara or the Seventy Topics, we hear details about the qualities of Buddha’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind. We should remember those teachings at this time.

The holy mind has two qualities: understanding and compassion—millions and millions of times greater compassion toward yourself than you have. It is inconceivable. The qualities of the buddhas’ actions are explained in the Gyu Lama (Uttaratantra) through nine examples. In this way the study of Gyu Lama becomes extremely beneficial for the mind. While you are reciting sang gyä la kyab su chi o you should recall whatever you know about the qualities, such as the four fearlessnesses, the ten powers, the eighteen unmixed dharmas, and think that you have received them.

When you do the refuge practice, especially when you take refuge in Dharma, the study of scriptures or philosophy such as Madhyamaka that you have done becomes effective; an understanding of Prajnaparamita philosophy makes your refuge practice very deep, very profound. The more you understand the greater your devotion will be. There will be much joy in your heart that you did the study because when you do refuge practice it will be so clear. Otherwise, right from the beginning your understanding of refuge will be very limited. What is explained is what you have to purify, what you have to separate from your consciousness, and what you have to achieve—which means the path, and the goal: the three bodies of a buddha. That is what all those extensive scriptures explain. So, the whole thing comes into the refuge practice.

When you say sang gyä la kyab su chi o, nectar beams are emitted from the four levels of tantric deities, and on the sutra level from the thousand buddhas of the fortunate era, the seven Medicine Buddhas and so on. At the end think that you have received every single quality that the buddhas have. Be completely convinced. And that the same thing has happened to all the sentient beings.

Refuge in the Dharma

When taking refuge in the Dharma, again there are three aspects, the three basic outlines of the refuge practice: purification, receiving the qualities and coming under guidance. While reciting chö la kyab su chi o nectar beams radiate from the scriptures which purify the general negative karma and particular negative karma accumulated in relationship to the holy Dharma. By having broken the precepts of the Dharma or been disrespectful to the holy Dharma, such as by avoiding Dharma, regarding texts as ordinary objects, which is disrespect to a holy object, or eating food bought with money from selling texts. All these negative karmas are completely purified. When you do the meditation of receiving qualities the main thing received in regard to the holy Dharma is the true cessation of suffering and the path—the uninterrupted path of right-seeing and the uninterrupted path of meditation, which means the wisdom directly perceiving shunyata. If you do not know much because of not having done extensive study I think it is good to relate it to the lamrim—having received the realizations from guru devotion up to enlightenment within your mind. Also the same thing—purification and understanding of the teachings and generation of the whole path to enlightenment—happens in the minds of all sentient beings. 

When you recite the taking of refuge in Dharma and visualize being purified I think it is very effective to think in this way: the nature of the ignorance holding true existence is unbelievably harmful—feel the harmfulness of ignorance as extensively as possible. Firstly, even without having realized it, intellectually we can see that what the Buddha said about how the I exists through being merely labeled on the base, the aggregates, by our thought is clearly true. The I exists by depending on the thought and the base, the aggregates; that is very clear, very logical. Not the slightest atom of an I not depending on the base and not depending on the thought exists at all, anywhere. No one forces us to believe in it; nobody says, “If you don’t believe that your I is truly existent I will put you in prison and punish you!” Nobody says, “I will confiscate all your savings and property if you don’t believe that the I is truly existent!”

In reality it does not exist, there is no such thing. Just like the million dollars in our own hand at this moment, it is completely non-existent. There is no reason, no purpose, no profit at all to believe and cling to the idea that I is truly existent, but constantly we cling to the concept that I is independent and is truly existent. The problems that come because of this are inconceivable. The cause of samsara, the ignorance holding true existence, is very funny; the way we think of, or look at, the I is so childish, completely nonsensical. That is the first thing. Then secondly, it is unbelievable how we get overwhelmed by strong attachment and anger and other disturbing thoughts because of that.

While you are saying chö la kyab su chi o remember and meditate on all these sufferings, the unbelievable problems and confusion, how you are completely overwhelmed by the various disturbing thoughts arising from ignorance. Then, contemplate karma and all the sufferings of the three lower realms, the sufferings of the upper realms, through to the twelve links. The sufferings of samsara are without beginning and are so difficult to end. Remember the whole problem, from birth through to death. This ignorance is so dangerous, so harmful, much more dangerous than one million poisonous snakes attacking you; much more dangerous than all the atomic bombs on this earth. Referring to these examples, think, “My ignorance holding I as truly existent is much more harmful than if all sentient beings became my enemy and attacked me, even killed me. It is much worse. Without this I cannot receive harm from a million poisonous snakes or millions of atomic bombs. Even everybody on this earth cannot harm me. But with this ignorance even if there is no danger from weapons at all, even there are no poisonous snakes, even there are no beings harming me, it causes me to create negative karma, it throws me into the lower realms and to experience sufferings.” So, have strong renunciation of the true cause of suffering, especially ignorance. It is very effective.

Of the four negative actions to be purified, the first is avoiding Dharma. In the Lamrim Chenmo and also Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo’s lamrim teachings it refers to a passage in a sutra where I think Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is telling the bodhisattva Jampäl that the karma of avoiding the Dharma is very subtle. I do not think it is saying it is very small, but that it is very heavy. I think very heavy is the common expression. It does not mean that it is small and can disappear after some time. Guru Shakyamuni goes on to say, “Jampäl, viewing some of the Buddha’s teachings as good and some as bad is avoiding Dharma. Thinking, ‘This is taught for the bodhisattvas, and these teachings are taught for the hearer-listeners, these for the self-conquerors,’ is avoiding Dharma.” That means thinking, “These teachings are not for me; these are for bodhisattvas; these are for the Lesser Vehicle followers, the hearer-listeners; these are for the self-conquerors.” Saying, “These teachings of Buddha can be practiced, those cannot be practiced,” or, “This is not for the bodhisattvas,” is avoiding Dharma. Saying, for example, “This teaching which explains the path of the listener-hearer and self-conqueror is for the followers of the Lesser Vehicle path, it is not for me,” is avoiding Dharma. Or perhaps, “Oh, I’m a Mahayanist, so I don’t need to study the teachings which explain the path of the listener-hearer and the self-conqueror, such as the teachings on the vows found in the Lesser Vehicle.” Saying, “It’s not for me.”

It is the same if the Lesser Vehicle practitioners say, “These are Mahayana teachings so they’re not for me.” I think it is the case particularly if they know it was taught by Buddha, but, I think, also if they do not know that it was taught by Buddha. Some of the Nepalese people who do not take teachings or initiations from the Tibetan lamas, who are more involved in the Theravadin path, think Mahayana was revealed by and did not exist before Nagarjuna. I think some people think this way in Sri Lanka and in other countries. They say what Tibetan lamas practice is completely something founded by themselves. In reality it was taught by Buddha so saying things like that becomes avoiding Dharma.

Saying, “This is not for bodhisattvas,” is avoiding Dharma because there is no teaching of Buddha that is not for the bodhisattva. Any teaching taught by Buddha is something that a bodhisattva has to know. Why? Because a bodhisattva’s main wish, main concern, is to work for other sentient beings, therefore the bodhisattva has to know which sentient beings have the karma only to be lead to nirvana, the sorrowless state of the hearer-listener, and has to reveal that path to them. And for those sentient beings who have karma to attain the sorrowless state of the self-conqueror, the bodhisattva has to know and reveal that path to guide them. So, in order to reveal those paths the bodhisattva has to know those teachings, has to study them. In other words, if the sentient beings have the intelligence, to lead them to enlightenment according to their karma. So, he has to know all the teachings of the four sects in order to lead the different sentient beings to enlightenment according to their karma. For somebody one sect’s teachings do not fit, they are difficult to understand, and perhaps the Nyingma teachings are more suitable, and faith will arise more easily. The sentient beings have different karma.

If you say, “The study of the Abhisamayalamkara, the Abhidharmakosha, or the Pramanavarttika [a text on logic] is just intellectual study,” and give them up, that is creating the negative karma of avoiding Dharma. Saying, “It just expands the intellect and doesn’t benefit the mind,” is a great criticism of the holy Dharma, and is putting down the Buddha’s teachings. This is quite a common thing to happen if a person does not know the initial practices well and has a lack of understanding and practice of the basic teachings about karma and refuge.

Thinking, “These subjects are too complicated for me,” or, “This is not for me,” is avoiding Dharma. For example, in the six-session yoga when we enumerate the mother tantra vows there are vows such as those concerning the two mudras—the transcendental wisdom mudra experienced through meditation and the action mudra experienced physically—and even though we have not reached that level, if we give up the wish to perform those practices, or if we feel some aversion, it is avoiding Dharma. It may not the right time, but we have to have faith in the benefits of those practices and wish to practice them when, in the future, we have reached that level of the path. They are the skillful means of utilizing attachment on the path. Similarly, even though we cannot understand the extensive scriptures now, we should not think, “This is not for me,” but should think, “I cannot understand now, but I will plan to be able to study and understand them in the future.” Then there is a wish, we are not rejecting it. It is advised in the teachings that we should make prayers to be able to study and be able to understand in the future.

Also Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo explained in the teachings on refuge that saying, “This is good and this is bad,” regarding the teachings of the four sects, which are teachings of Buddha, is also avoiding Dharma. These things basically happen because of a lack of understanding the first part of the lamrim outline—the four qualities of the lamrim teaching.

Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo used this example: though there are many things involved—the paint, color, brush and pencil—nothing is contrary to the production of a painting. Everything is helpful for producing the painting. The materials are all different but each is an aid to the other for actualizing the painting. It is similar regarding the Lesser Vehicle teachings and the Mahayana—both the Paramitayana and the four types of tantra teachings—and the different presentations of the teachings within the four sects of Tibetan Buddhism. Within the various teachings of the Lesser Vehicle, the Paramitayana and tantra, nothing is contradictory to a person’s achievement of enlightenment. It is the method for any sentient being to achieve enlightenment, therefore there is no contradiction.

The first quality is to understanding the meanings of the words, and realize all the teachings of buddha without seeing them as contradictory. The next quality is to see every scripture of the buddha as advice, which means there is not even one syllable to be neglected. This comes about through the study of lamrim—by listening, reflecting and meditating. Then, the quality of immediately finding the view of the buddhas. This means that with any study that one does such as of the five treatises, such as the Pramanavarttika and the Abhidharmakosha, one can easily relate their contents to the lamrim outlines of the paths of the beings of the three capabilities. One can relate to it as always being a commentary of the three principal paths, particularly on shunyata. As Lama Tsongkhapa mentioned in the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, the essential meaning of all the scriptures of the Victorious Ones is renunciation; the path which is admired by the Victorious Ones and their sons is the bodhicitta; the door for the fortunate ones wishing for liberation is shunyata.

If the appearance of dependent relation,
Which is unbetraying, is accepted separately from emptiness,
And as long as they are seen as separate,
Then one has still not realized the Buddha’s intent.

“As long as we see the meaning of non-betraying appearance—dependent arising—and the meaning of emptiness as separate, we still have not realized the pure view of the Buddha.” I think “still” here means that even if the person believes they have realized shunyata, even if they have had some experience and they interpret that as having realized shunyata, as long as the meaning of dependent arising and emptiness appear as separate, no matter how much they announce like the sound of thunder in all ten directions that they have realized shunyata, they have not realized shunyata.

By depending on the skillful captain, the guru, and entering the ship of lamrim, we can traverse the ocean of the extensive scriptures, and without danger we can then immediately find the pure view of Buddha, the three principal aspects of the path, the jewels of the ocean.

Also, stepping over scriptures, Dharma texts, is avoiding Dharma. This was said by Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo in the lamrim teachings. The lineage lamas commonly advise that if you know that putting spit on Dharma books when turning the pages is disrespectful, you will not copy others who do it. It creates negative karma, obstacles to realization, so you will not follow such an example. I have not seen Western people doing this, but anyway it is good to know. During some lamrim teachings in Darjeeling His Holiness Ling Rinpoche said that if you do this then you will get born in the vajra hell. His Holiness said that when you turn the pages of a text to count them or something, you should put clean water in a container and dip your fingers in it and turn the pages. If you do not know that these acts are creating the negative karma of disrespect there is the danger that you will copy somebody who does it. Also at that time His Holiness said to not drop newspapers into the toilet. It may refer to Tibetan newspapers, I’m not sure, but at that time it sounded to me like it meant English newspapers. During the Kalachakra initiation His Holiness the Dalai Lama said one should avoid disrespect to printed matter as much as one can, but in regard to English print there is not much choice because it is all over the place.

Another thing is marking certain lines or certain subjects in books in order to be able to find them or emphasize them. Many Tibetans, when they want to mark something in a book, use the dirt in between the teeth! I think this is because it was not easy to get glue in Tibet—it could not be bought, and this is the easiest thing to use. They take out the gunk then put it on the page and then stick some paper there to mark the place. Again, that is due to not having studied lamrim and not having practiced. I think if you make a mark as an offering, in the same way as when painting stupas or doing a painting of the Buddha, then it is meritorious. But if you make a mark while seeing it as an ordinary material, I think the karma is something else! Some other karma! Not merit, some other karma; possibly rebirth in the “black line” narak. Such actions accumulate the negative karma of disrespect. I even wonder about colors. When I am marking a text I have doubts about whether it is alright or not; but I think it might be alright because when we do a painting of Buddha there are different colors used. I think the main thing is the attitude.

There are also other things. If wind is blowing away pages and so on you can put rosaries and things like that on top; otherwise you cannot put objects on top of texts. That is stated in Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo’s lamrim teachings. When I returned from America after Lama passed away and went to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the FPMT Board members, I requested His Holiness to give some advice to the organization. I think a brochure or something, not a particular text, was offered and I think there was a stupa to be blessed. The stupa was placed on top of the brochure, and His Holiness said, “You should not put a stupa on top of a text.” It is good to know details like that; otherwise, through not knowing these details, we daily create obstacles to attainment.

On my last tour when I was in Hawaii I was very surprised when I visited some students’ house. I was so happy to see their altar. I am not sure how much of a professional he is, but I think he designed the house and the altar himself. He did not waste any part of the construction—every part was usable. He kept all the scriptures, the small Tibetan Library publications from many years ago, the scriptures translated from Tibetan, and the teachings, so neatly right on the top shelf. Then below he kept the statues. There is a glass front. It is very nice—all very clean and neat. Then the other side opens. You would not think there is something inside because it is just flat, but inside there are big damarus and cymbals and various things they brought from Bodhgaya or Dharamsala. I think he has everything there! That was the best set-up I have seen in a private house. I am sure there are others that I have not seen! But in their house on seeing the way the altar in the shrine-room is set up you would immediately know that this is a family who knows the refuge practice. So I told them this and they were happy to hear that they had done something good! 

Also when you wrap scriptures you should not do it as though you were packing luggage, like packing a rucksack! When you wrap a scripture it should be done with the attitude that you are offering robes; then during every moment that you are doing it you accumulate merit, the cause of happiness. So if you do not think like this you will miss an opportunity. You can accumulate such merit and dedicate it to every sentient being—so, it is an incredible thing. It is said in a lamrim text:

The negative karma of avoiding Dharma is this heavy: one who avoids the Dharma creates karma much heavier than that of destroying all the stupas on this earth; one who avoids the scriptures creates negative karma much heavier than that of having killed arhats equaling the number of sand-grains of the river Ganga.

If, like the Dharma scriptures, the holy objects such as statues or paintings of buddhas are kept respectfully and neatly in a high place it seems effective for the mind. If kept in disorder your meditations will be unclear, a lot of disturbing thoughts will arise, and you will not be able remember the object. The mind will be in kind-of disorder. When your altar is clean and neat then the mind is kind-of happy, calm and clear. It seems that there is some relationship, it affects the mind.

One thing is that Buddha’s teachings should be kept separate from other religious books which contain wrong advice on conduct, or wrong views. Normally when the lineage lamas teach lamrim they give this advice during the section on the practice of refuge. If on the altar Buddha’s scriptures and other books are mixed together it affects the mind and maybe interferes with gaining clear understanding and stable faith in the right view: karma and shunyata. The right view for worldly beings is understanding karma, and the other right view is of shunyata.

I checked well—almost each book—that the couple I mentioned earlier had, and they kept the books by lamas in one section. They were mostly those from Dharamsala, like the translated teachings of Geshe Sopa Rinpoche and Geshe Rabten Rinpoche. I am sure they must have read them all!

Also treat Dharma books with missing or torn pages with respect; if you see them lying on the floor or on the road respectfully put them in a high, clean place. You may be able to still see something, even one or two syllables, which is a teaching, some advice to yourself which reveals the path which liberates you from the two obscurations and which leads you to enlightenment— therefore it should be considered to be the actual Dharma. In Tibet and places like Solu Khumbu, where I was born, where there are rocks, and where it does not rain, they build small walls and paint them white, kind-of like a stupa, and they put scriptures with missing pages and so on into those. As they do not get rained on it is respectful. If there is no other choice at all, as a last resort, while reciting OM AH HUM you offer fire and burn them. Otherwise you and many other people create negative karma if they are put on the ground. The Kadam geshes, who were lamrim lineage lamas, because of their respect for the holy Dharma would pick out a piece of paper with letters on it even if it had been thrown into the middle of the toilet—in the middle of the things!—and put it in a high place.

I want to mention something in regard to avoiding Dharma: using scriptures as a material security deposit or selling them and using the money for buying food—that is, regarding the scriptures as ordinary materials. You may have heard the story about one great yogi of Chenrezig, Lama Serkhangpa. He and four monks were invited to the home of one family to do puja. I think the family had lost their wealth and they had sold their twelve volumes of Prajnaparamita scriptures and they offered food bought with that money to the yogi and monks. Right after he ate the food the great yogi got an incredible pain in his holy body. He checked and a white syllable AH was moving around inside his body causing much pain. As he often had visions of Chenrezig he asked Chenrezig what it was. Chenrezig told him, “This is because you ate food bought with money received from selling scriptures. You have very thin obscurations so that’s why you are experiencing the karma immediately. Why nothing has happened to the four monks now, why they are comfortable, is because after this life they are going to be born in the narak realms.” Then Chenrezig advised him to write a Prajnaparamita scripture with gold and to practice the drubtor14 to purify the pollution. That is a particular practice for purifying the pollution of having eaten food bought with money gained from selling statues and scriptures and things like that. So the yogi practiced this.

Once when the Sangha were having an interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama somebody raised the question about publishing books and Dharma texts and things like that and having to live on that money. As I recall His Holiness said, “If you work at producing books and there is no other way, then you have to live on money that comes from selling those books.” Regarding this I want to say that if you have other means to easily support yourself it is good, and it is better to choose that way. The main thing is that it depends on your attitude. Generally what you hear in the teachings is that you should not sell Dharma scriptures, statues, and so on. But, since there is nobody who makes offerings of statues and scriptures to everybody else, the two or three people who start a business to, say, make statues, whether their attitude is the thought to benefit others or the thought to benefit themselves, the thousands or however many they make give many other sentient beings some opportunity. Firstly, just buying for example, White Tara or Amitayus—the Infinite Life Buddha—makes the life of the owner or benefactor longer. If they buy it for somebody who is in danger of untimely death it causes their life to be longer. Having a thangka—painting—done is one of the methods to relieve someone from the danger of untimely death. Not only that, it purifies karma; it is often found through astrological or divination methods that if you make such and such a statue you will be purified and not get born in lower states but rather as a deva or human being— otherwise it would be as a spirit or yak or a naga! Without mentioning making offerings to the statue or painting.

Also every time the people who buy the statue or painting look at it they experience great purification. It is mentioned in the sutra teachings that even by looking at paintings or drawings of buddhas with anger creates the karma for that person to eventually see millions of buddhas. The disciples of Buddha were able to see Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, receive teachings and offer service; and, for example, those who have achieved the path of great merit are able to see the nirmanakaya aspect of uncountable buddhas. That is a result of their having been prepared by seeing paintings and statues of Buddha. Seeing such objects arouses faith and generates the wish to be like that. Then, people make offerings so it gives many sentient beings the opportunity to accumulate merit and purify their negative karmas. Even though these two or three people only intended to earn profit for themselves, so many others receive that great benefit. Even if these two or three people have to be born in the narak, by the power of those holy objects thousands of sentient beings create the cause of enlightenment. Every single virtuous thing they do with respect to the Buddha, such as paying respect by prostrating, becomes not just the cause of wealth in this life and future lives, not just a good rebirth, but is the cause of enlightenment, even if they have not generated a virtuous motivation.

You can see that if nobody publishes books, if nobody bears the hardships even if it is negative karma, then all the rest of the sentient beings do not get the opportunity to meet the Buddhadharma through reading, and to then listen, reflect and meditate in order to generate the path, which is the actual thing which will separate the obscurations from the consciousness. Why I wanted to bring this point up again is that if nobody produced these objects then at this point we would not have accumulated any merit by making offerings at the altar every day. We would not have accumulated so much merit with the holy objects that we have in the house. Our lives would be empty of all those merits which we have accumulated since we met Buddhadharma and started to practice refuge and bought or received these holy objects.

In a previous life when Maitreya Buddha was a monk he met a girl who wanted to commit suicide because of not having found a man. So, having generated unbelievable compassion he decided, “Whatever suffering, even the heaviest and longest narak suffering, I have to experience because of living with her, I’m going to experience it in order to protect her from the heavy negative karma of killing herself.” With such incredible, unbelievable, compassion he renounced himself completely, not cherishing himself even in the slightest, only cherishing the woman. As a result of living with her instead of the action being nonvirtuous and being the cause to be born in the narak it became a highly skillful method, a virtuous action which caused Maitreya Bodhisattva to experience forty thousand eons less in samsara. Similarly, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha when a bodhisattva traveling on a ship, because of his unbelievable, unbearable compassion which completely renounced himself and only cherished others, killed a man who intended to kill five hundred people. That caused him to spend one hundred thousand eons less in samsara.

It is important to have strong, unbearable compassion toward other sentient beings who are suffering because of not having the Dharma wisdom eye and to have the thought of completely renouncing yourself and cherishing others: Think, “I’m going to experience whatever suffering results. Whatever trouble arises from this, I’m going to experience it for the sake of others.” In this case you are not exchanging yourself only with one sentient being but with all those thousands of other sentient beings who get the opportunity to accumulate merit by doing listening, reflection and meditation practice because of having read those books. That is unbelievably great. If your attitude can be one of complete sacrifice like this, I think that due to its power it is great purification in itself, as in those two examples.

While reciting chö la kyab su chi o you should recall the qualities of the Dharma. The first quality is that the teachings of Buddha are not contradictory to each other. The second quality is that every single word of the Buddha appears as advice. The third quality is you immediately find the pure view of the victorious ones. Through listening, reflection and meditation practice on the lamrim these three things are realized by the practitioner. And due to this comes the fourth quality, that all your heavy negative karmas are naturally stopped.

When taking refuge in Dharma I think it is good to concentrate on how the Dharma guides; the same with Buddha and Sangha—having taken refuge in them, how do they guide us? That is very effective, it gives more inspiration.

The quality of, or the benefit of, the Dharma arises from guru devotion. I want to emphasize how the realization of guru devotion protects us from heresy, disrespect, and all the problems which arise from that. Seeing the guru as being in essence a buddha and having guru devotion does not allow heresy to arise. If heresy does not arise we do not accumulate the negative karma of disrespect with the body and speech. If there is no disrespect in the mind there will be no disrespect with the body and speech. So those eight shortcomings and those heaviest of negative karmas accumulated in relationship to the guru are stopped. As guru devotion is the root of the path, from that the eight benefits arise such as constantly becoming closer to Buddha.

By having correct devotion to the virtuous friend throughout the twenty-four hours, however much advice you follow, even one piece of advice, each second of doing that you get closer to enlightenment. The first benefit is that all the buddhas are pleased; the next is that you do not get influenced and do not receive harm from the maras and evil friends; all vices and delusions naturally cease; all the realizations of the path increase easily and immediately; you do not experience a shortage of virtuous friends in all future lifetimes; then, you quickly achieve enlightenment. So, the benefits of just the realization of guru devotion are inconceivable—they extend up to enlightenment and to every single sentient being that you lead to enlightenment by you yourself becoming enlightened. Think extensively of all the benefits of guru devotion and recite chö la kyab su chi o.

Then think of the benefits of renouncing this life and the entire samsara. I explained the benefits of shunyata meditation before. Then of how the two stages of tantra protect you. Then, without having bodhicitta how the self-cherishing thought gives you incredible harm, and how bodhicitta brings unbelievable benefit. This is very effective. Recite chö la kyab su chi o thinking of these benefits. It gives incredible inspiration, you want to have the realization immediately—you cannot wait for even a second!

The first thing that has to be renounced is the evil thought of the worldly dharmas, the clinging to this life. Firstly think from the negative view, that throughout the twenty-four hours the evil thoughts of worldly dharmas do not allow your actions to become pure Dharma. All your fears, expectations, worries, anxieties like, “Something is going to happen to me,” even though it is not happening. Our dissatisfaction, which brings depression and unhappiness, and many diseases of the body, all comes from the evil thoughts of worldly dharmas. Because of so much concern for food and clothing and reputation, the comfort of this life, we are unable to continue Dharma practice. If we try to do a retreat, even if we try to meditate for just one hour, we do not remember what we are supposed to remember, but what we are supposed to not think about all comes to mind! It even takes a long time to start! All this happens because of the evil thought of the worldly dharmas.

These things basically happen because of a lack of understanding of the first part of the lamrim outline—the four qualities of the lamrim teaching. But having achieved the realization of the perfect human rebirth, its usefulness, the difficulty of finding it, and impermanence and death—especially that the actual time of death is indefinite—(the realizations of the graduated path of the lower capability being,) we will feel an unbelievable loss, as though we have lost great mountains of gold, if we waste our perfect human rebirth for one hour or even a minute. Having even the realization of the perfect human rebirth, especially its usefulness and that it is difficult to find again, and on top of that that the actual time of death is indefinite, we cannot waste time. The stronger the realization of those meditations the more difficult it is for the evil thought of worldly dharmas to arise; it is easier for our normal actions like eating, walking or sleeping to become Dharma. There is no time for meaningless actions but plenty of time for Dharma practice.

If someone has found a definite understanding of karma then they fear creating even small negative karmas the same as they fear creating heavy ones such as breaking a root vow. They also see that it is so important to create even the smallest merit. As it says in one text: “By having found definite understanding of karma, please grant me blessings to avoid creating even the very subtle negative karmas, and to practice all virtues.”

So, if you think of the shortcomings and the problems caused by the thought of the worldly dharmas first, then next of the realizations of the graduated path of the lower capable beings, you will see the incredible benefits and feel what incredible tranquillity it brings to your mind, how it cuts off the obstacles. Like a continuously flowing river, the mind becomes free of the obstacles of the evil thought of worldly dharmas, and the mind remains in the Dharma day and night.

If you have studied the Abhisamayalamkara, sa lam or the Seventy Topics, which describe the paths and grounds (stages), you should recall those topics and do direct meditation on them while reciting chö la kyab su chi o. With incredible happiness you can scan the entire paths and grounds very extensively, and you can think of the benefits of having those qualities. Then this practice will be very profound.

During the second repetition of chö la kyab su chi o you can do the direct meditation on the tantra paths and grounds. Recall their qualities and benefits, how, if you practice, the Dharma refuge of secret mantra protects you from the obscurations, how tantra, the highest skillful means, guides you. Having received the four initiations the qualified vajra disciple becomes a receptacle for training his mind in the gradual path of generation (kye rim) which is complete in the characteristic that it leaves the potential to purify ordinary death, intermediate state and rebirth. Practicing the generation stage which is similar to the path of the three kayas enables one to achieve the path of the three kayas.

Then on the basis of that preliminary stage we achieve the seclusion of speech and due to that we are able to generate the seclusion of mind—the clear light of example—which is the direct cause of the dharmakaya. The practitioner who has had that experience of simultaneously-born bliss, the clear light of example, is the one in terms of whom we can talk about the achievement of enlightenment in one brief lifetime, since the direct cause of dharmakaya has been established. Then due to that we are able to achieve the impure illusory body, which is an incredibly skillful method allowing the possibility of achieving enlightenment in one very brief lifetime in a degenerate time. Becoming enlightened in one lifetime is possible through the practice of Kriya Tantra, but here we are speaking of being able to achieve enlightenment in one very brief lifetime in a degenerate time, and one reason this is possible is because of realizing the impure illusory body which is an incredibly skillful means of secret mantra.

Before the bodhisattva achieves the path of unification of the clear light of meaning and the pure illusory body, the realization of the clear light of meaning directly perceiving shunyata, which avoids the disturbing thoughts, and the pure illusory body which arises from that, and which has abandoned the disturbing thoughts, have to be realized separately. According to the Paramitayana, from the Mahayana path of merit up to the Mahayana path of right-seeing takes a numberless eon of accumulating merit; then the second numberless eon of accumulating merit takes the practitioner from there up to the eighth bhumi. And the third numberless eon of accumulating merit is for the eighth bhumi to the tenth bhumi. Now, all that merit that the bodhisattvas accumulate from the path of merit up to the tenth bhumi has to be completed before achieving the path of the clear light of meaning; and the skillful means for doing that is achieving the impure illusory body. So that is the incredible benefit of the impure illusory body.

After achieving the impure illusory body, the clear light of meaning, and then pure illusory body, are achieved. Then one again meditates in the clear light, and then achieves unification—the unified state of no-more-learning—which is the direct cause of dharmakaya. With the vajra concentration one completely eliminates the subtle dual view, and then one achieves the completely pure holy illusory body, and then the holy mind, the unified clear light having the seven qualities. Then without any motive or the slightest effort we are able to work for sentient beings spontaneously and without the slightest mistake according to their mental characteristics. It is like the one moon being reflected in all bodies of water. It has no thought to reflect, no motivation like, “I’m going to send a reflection into these waters,” but when it rises its reflection appears wherever there is water and no obstruction—in oceans and even in dewdrops. A buddha works for the sentient beings like that.

When reciting chö la kyab su chi o or namo dharmaya divide the time in half, say half a rosary for purification of general negative karmas, the impure conception and those things and in particular the negative karma accumulated in relationship to the holy Dharma. Then during the rest of the recitation, you concentrate on receiving the qualities and generating the realizations from guru devotion through to enlightenment. Here you can meditate on the Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra path and generating those realizations, thinking of the benefits and how we are guided through taking refuge in the tantra path. Then think you have generated all those realizations.

So here again there were the three things: purifying, receiving realizations and coming under the guidance of Dharma.

Refuge in the Sangha

Ge dün la kyab su chi o is taking refuge in the Sangha. Each of the three objects of refuge—Buddha, Dharma and Sangha—has an absolute and a relative, or conventional, truth aspect. So when we take refuge, we take refuge in all these. When we take refuge in Sangha we take refuge in the absolute Sangha—and that can be a lay person or a monk or nun, as long as the being has realized absolute Dharma, the true path and the true cessation of suffering. It does not depend on the form, it depends on the realization of the absolute Dharma—and the conventional truth Sangha. Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo explained in the lamrim that four pure gelongs constitute a conventional truth Sangha. Therefore when we say ge dün la kyab su chi o we are taking refuge in the absolute and conventional truth Sangha of the ten directions. We are not saying, “I’m going for refuge to the Tibetan Sangha but not the fair-haired Sangha!” This we should understand.

The question arose in my mind that if you take refuge in the ordinary Sangha is it the same as taking refuge in worldly gods? The lamas of the lamrim path emphasize so much that we should not rely upon the worldly gods such as Indra or Brahma and worldly protectors because they are not beyond samsara. We should not prostrate to and take refuge in worldly protectors and things like spirits even if they give material wealth and help because they cannot guide us from the lower realms. Ordinary persons are the same in that they are not free from samsara; but I think the main thing is what the Sangha are doing.

We cannot take the worldly gods’ life as an example, but the Sangha are an example. What they practice in their life is what we have to take as our example, what we have to copy, what we have to put into practice. What they do is protect karma by living in moral conduct—two hundred and fifty-three vows—the source of happiness up to enlightenment. If we put what the Sangha practice into practice ourselves it is the main method, the real thing, which saves us from the lower realms. The more precepts we take and put into practice through the inspiration or example of the Sangha, the more negative karma to be born in the lower realms get stopped. Also it purifies the negative karmas collected in the past. This is the real protection; this is the real means, the real rope or hook, to keep us from falling into the lower realms. So now we can see that there is incredible benefit in taking refuge in the Sangha.

Also, it is the Sangha’s responsibility to be the example for others by practicing moral conduct well; it gives incredible inspiration to other sentient beings. Being an example is the best way of guiding other sentient beings from the suffering of samsara. So in some ways it is a big responsibility. We can offer unbelievable benefit to other sentient beings if we practice well and become a good example. But if we are not a good example, we can throw the other sentient beings into the lower realms by causing them to lose their faith. So that is the way the ordinary Sangha guide; that is their particular function. Having the three qualities of higher training in moral conduct, concentration and wisdom is how the absolute and the conventional truth Sangha guide us. The main thing is being an example by having these attainments.

For example, when we hear or read Lama Tsongkhapa’s biography it makes us want to become like Lama Tsongkhapa—that is Sangha guiding us. Likewise, on hearing Milarepa’s life story we want to become like him, to have the same realizations; and we want to find a virtuous teacher just like Milarepa had. When I was somewhere between the ages of six and nine I had read Milarepa’s life story three times. At that time I did not know grammar and so on, I just read, but I think because I was young and my mind was clear, the effect was so strong—somehow the visualizations seemed quite clear. From that I had a strong desire in my heart to find a guru like Marpa, Milarepa’s guru.

There was a monk who took care of me when I was in Tibet and made the offerings to Domo Geshe’s monastery where I took the getsul [novice] vows and practiced memorization of the three volumes of texts according to that monastery’s tradition. He gave me the texts to memorize because I had learned to read in Solu Khumbu, Sherpa country. So, he asked me whether I would be his disciple. I said, “Yes, OK!” In Solu Khumbu when I was small I had a very strong intention to go to the greatest Nyingma monastery, Mindrolling, because all the monasteries in Sherpa country are Nyingma. Mindrolling is the main monastery where the teachings and initiations are preserved or received. However, when I was at Tashi Lhunpo, the Panchen Lama’s monastery there was one Sherpa monk who was a little bit like a dob dob.15 He had a shemtab which was black from butter, and he carried a long key. It did not seem that he studied or went to pujas so much; what he mainly did was travel back and forth from the monastery to the city. This monk wanted me to become his disciple. His name was Kachen; he was a Sherpa. My two alphabet teachers and one Sherpa man were with me. We stayed for seven days. We did not go for puja but we went to get the money! When the puja was almost finished you could still get in line to get money. I think maybe he showed us how. On our last night there this Sherpa monk insisted so much that I should stay and become his disciple. I do not think I slept that whole night; I was wondering how I could escape from this. Both of the teachers who were with me have passed away; they both agreed that I should stay there to become that monk’s disciple. But I did not have the slightest desire to become his disciple! I could not think of a way to escape, what to do. But fortunately the next morning, I do not know why, my gurus agreed that I could go with them.

My karma was to become a monk. Somehow I met one elder monk from Domo Geshe’s monastery fulfilling some responsibilities at a branch of the main monastery at a place called Phari. They sent monks to the various branches in India and around Tibet where they would stay for some years until a replacement was sent. I think everything was brought on by karma. I stayed there. The next day he gave me the Yamantaka sadhana to memorize—the long one! At that time I had a very old chuba and an old hat. The manager asked me to sit outside the door of the family’s house and memorize scriptures while they did puja inside. So I sat there and the family gave me tsampa and things like that. I think the next day I joined them in puja. Perhaps he taught me to say the Tara prayer by heart, but there was nothing in particular that I could learn from him. But anyway he was very, very kind. So I asked him, “Can you be like Marpa?” He said, “Yes.”

The conclusion is that I think I am unbelievably fortunate to have met many virtuous teachers with the same qualities as Marpa. The only problem is that from my own side I have not done a single practice properly. That is the whole problem. The problem is not of not having met a guru like Marpa—I have met so many gurus with the same qualities as Marpa. From the gurus’ side everything is perfect—whatever qualities Marpa, Milarepa or Naropa had, they also have. The reason nothing is happening is that I have not done a single practice properly.

Now, there is a big difference between taking refuge in even ordinary Sangha—those not free from samsara, who do not have the realization of absolute Dharma—and relying upon worldly gods. What the ordinary Sangha are practicing now is the path to becoming absolute Sangha. Doing the practice the Sangha are doing—living in moral conduct—is the essential thing which leads us to liberation and enlightenment. This is the way the Sangha guide us. One quality of the Sangha that we can see is moral conduct, that which we ourselves are unable to practice. Then, there can be many other qualities than we do not see. Having taken refuge in the Sangha, what we should abandon is following evil friends who lead us into wrong ways, opposite to what the Sangha practice, and to where the Sangha guide us. What we should practice when we see the Sangha is remember their qualities and respect the robes.

When we say sang gyä la kyab su chi o, that refers to the absolute buddha—the dharmakaya—and to the conventional truth buddha—the sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. We take refuge in both. Saying chö la kyab su chi o refers to the absolute Dharma—the true path and the true cessation of the sufferings -and the conventional truth Dharma—the scriptures. Then regarding the Sangha, the absolute Sangha are those who have attained the absolute Dharma and the conventional truth Sangha is four pure gelongs [monks]. When we say ge dün la kyab su chi o we are taking refuge in both the absolute and the conventional truth Sangha. So now we can see that there is no way we can criticize—that is the opposite to taking refuge. So, if we say ge dün la kyab su chi o or from the Lama Chöpa, sang gyä cho dang.... but then at other times, “Oh, that monk is bad; that monk is so impatient; that monk is so miserly,” and so forth, it is contradictory.

On the negative side what has to be purified is the negative karma of having caused disunity among the Sangha. Even if you have not done it in this life you cannot say you have not done it in past lives. If you can remember every single past life in beginningless rebirths and know that you have not created that negative karma it is alright! If that is for sure! There are some details that I think His Holiness mentioned during the Lama Chöpa teachings such as taking offerings that belong to the Sangha; in other words, using them for yourself. You have to get permission to use things that belong to the Sangha, even a broom. If you are going to use it for the Sangha then there is no need to get permission, but if you are going to use it for yourself then you need permission. Not having obtained permission, the karma is very heavy.

If you completely offer food and tea to the Triple Gem and then take it for yourself, I wonder whether it is stealing or not? If through cherishing other sentient beings it is used to be healthy and have a long life in order to benefit them by offering oneself as a servant to the Guru-Triple Gem or a servant to the sentient beings, that is a different matter. But my question is regarding when it is taken with self-cherishing thought after having offered it. I once asked His Holiness Ling Rinpoche this question and Rinpoche said, “It’s not that you have completely offered it—you have just offered the purity of it to buddha before you eat it, so it may not be stealing.” But my question is about the case where you offer it completely, not just offering the purity before you take it. When one picks up stones or plants or something from some place, even if they do not belong to a person one has to ask permission from the spirits who are living in that area. The great yogin Tre Kyorpön Rinpoche,16 now passed away, who reached the second stage tantra level of clear light and who guided many of the ascetic meditators such as Gen Jampa Wangdu (who gave us the lineage of the chulen practice), advised those monks that when they take flat stones for the mandala offering practice they should ask permission from the spirits living in that area—otherwise it becomes stealing.

If you are the manager of a monastery and while there is plenty to offer you offer very little food or tea—tea like just hot water!—or if somebody wants to offer a hundred thousand dollars and you say to them in an caring way, “Oh, you don’t need to offer that much,” thus cutting down the offerings to the Sangha—even if by one dollar—you receive very heavy negative karma. That is taking away offerings that belong to the Sangha. Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo used the example of a benefactor wanting to offer butter to the Sangha and the manager of the monastery taking a small slice and saying, “Oh, you don’t need to offer that much to the Sangha.” Even if he takes a small slice he receives the very heavy negative karma created by taking away things belonging to the Sangha. Another case is not offering things that you have decided to offer, such as a text.

The other very heavy negative karma is from criticizing the Sangha. It is said in the sutra teaching Dode Ökyi Gyälpo:17 “If we abuse a lower gelong our achievement of liberation is delayed by one eon.” You may remember this example from His Holiness Zong Rinpoche’s teachings. Dramze Serkya,18 who criticized the Sangha by saying, “You are like a tiger, and you are like a donkey,” and so on, using eighteen different animals, was born as an animal with eighteen different heads in his next life. This happened because of having met a nonvirtuous teacher, his mother, who advised him, “When you lose your debate with the Sangha call them nick-names.” Another story is of a person who criticized a monk, saying, “You are jumping like a monkey.” He was born as a monkey for five hundred lifetimes. Those actions are very, very heavy.

If we, who have perfect human rebirths, find it very difficult to practice Dharma, how could we practice while being in the bodies of dogs or monkeys? Think about this. Even with a perfect human rebirth there are so many difficulties, we cannot practice as we wish; having taken those other bodies it would be impossible. This thought arises in my mind sometimes. To use this human body is so unbelievably difficult—so many interferences arise from it. So there is nothing left to say regarding the opportunity to practice if we are separated from the human body. Already so much negative karma has been accumulated, so now the question is, how will it be when the appearance of this body of a happy transmigrating being—this human body—stops, and when the appearance of a lower realm arises? That depends on just this very fragile breath, this movement in and out. If the negative karmas are not purified, whenever this breath stops the appearance of the lower realm will be there. It is very easy for negative thoughts to arise and to create these karmas, especially of criticizing the Sangha and lay people. Negative karmas have already been accumulated but it is so difficult to find the time to purify them. Even if we find the time we are so busy with life, so distracted, thus it is difficult to purify completely. Therefore, knowing these things, it is extremely important to not create any more—to not give ourselves any more donations of negative karma!

Then we should purify any negative karma of having degenerated the precepts of having taken refuge in the Sangha. We should not step over robes, rather, we should respect them. If they saw a piece of red or yellow cloth on the road the Kadam geshes used to hold it above their head due to recalling the qualities of the Sangha. Because those who wear this cloth have incredible qualities, they used to put such cloth in a clean high place. When we see a member of the Sangha, whoever he is—whether he is an ordinary person, or an arhat, or a bodhisattva or whatever—from our own side we should think, “He’s my guide, guiding me from the fears of the lower realms, and from the fears of the whole samsara; he is protecting me from those dangers and guiding me on the path to enlightenment.”

When he was giving Jorchö commentary His Holiness Serkong Rinpoche used to tell us to visualize even the dob dobs from Sera, Gaden and Drepung! I think it is translated as “monk police”—those who bring thukpa and tea and so on. Rinpoche told us to visualize even those with the Sangha—pouring thukpa. I am just joking! Actually the Sangha—the bodhisattvas, hearer-listeners, daka-dakinis and protectors—in the Lama Chöpa merit field are transformations of Lama Losang Thubwang Dorje Chang, the root guru. But what I think what His Holiness meant is that if you visualize any other Sangha there you probably have to think that they also are an embodiment of the Lama Losang Thubwang Dorje Chang and are absolute Sangha. Anyway, whether we visualize them or not, when we say ge dün la kyab su chi o we are taking refuge in both those in the visualized merit field plus all absolute and conventional truth Sangha throughout the ten directions.

Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo in his lamrim teaching referred to something his guru Dhagpo Rinpoche said in Kyabgön Lama Rinpoche19—the Refuge-Savior-Guru: “If you criticize monks by saying, ‘Oh, that monk down there is very impatient; and that monk up there is very miserly,’ and so on, it means that you think you are better.” So when you say ge dün la kyab su chi o you have to create a new refuge: “To these, these and these Sangha (ge dün) I take refuge, but not those, those and those!” [Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo’s advice] is very effective for the mind.

Think that all those negative karmas you have accumulated with the Sangha are purified. If you are going to recite one mala of ge dün la kyab su chi o use half the recitation for purifying negative karmas—both the general negative karma, and particular negative karma accumulated in relation to the Sangha. Then think of the qualities of the Sangha and that they are generated within your mind. Regarding a bodhisattva who has not achieved the state of arhat before but is directly entering the Mahayana path, after having the realization of bodhicitta he generates the path of merit on which they constantly increase the thirteen types of merit; then on the path of action they realize the four noble truths through a mental image; and then become an arya being on the path of right-seeing. Then they achieve the first bhumi. Those of you who have studied Salam can remember all the qualities of the bhumis. Even if you have not studied that there are books which explain it which are very inspiring to read when you contemplate the qualities of the Sangha.

On the first bhumi the bodhisattva’s mind is able to focus in one hundred concentrations, is able to emanate one hundred bodies, each one having hundreds of bodhisattva disciples surrounding it, to whom it is able to give hundreds of teachings; he is able to go to hundreds of different buddhas’ pure realms and able to receive teachings from them. There are about twelve points like this, and each point is magnified one hundred-fold on consecutive bhumis. On the second bhumi it increases to a factor of a thousand: such as being able to emanate one thousand bodies. Then I think on the third bhumi it is 100,000-fold. But I do not know about the very last bhumi—I have no idea. It is numberless of numberless! It is very inspiring to remember the qualities of the Sangha. Arhats, having completely abandoned true suffering and the true cause of suffering, the root—ignorance—and even its seed, can perform infinite miracles such as manifesting a mountain inside an atom. I do not remember his name, but after Guru Shakyamuni Buddha passed away, one arhat was able to lead eighty thousand sentient beings to the right-seeing path within seven days by revealing the teachings; they all became arya beings by directly perceiving shunyata. This is an example of the incredible qualities and powers they have. Further qualities of the absolute Sangha: the dakas and dakinis have the transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness and the protectors have the quality of the four actions—pacification, increase, control and wrath.

Nectar beams are emitted from the bodhisattvas, the arhats (hearer-listeners and self-conquerors), the dakas, dakinis and protectors which enter one’s body and mind and the minds and bodies of all sentient beings and purify us of all those negative aspects which I mentioned earlier. Then we generate all the realizations that they have. Thus, you engage in the practice of the three outlines—purification, receiving their realizations, coming under their guidance—in regard to the Sangha. These are the three major practices of refuge.

There is also a way you can do these all together whilst reciting la ma yi dam kön chog sum la kyab su chi o for either one rosary or just a few times. I think this in mentioned in the commentary on the Jorchö practice. Yidam refers to the deities. Nectar beams are emitted from all of these objects of refuge and you do the visualization of purification, purifying negative karma in general and the particular negative karmas accumulated in relationship to the guru and Triple Gem, and then the generation of the realizations. Thus, you are doing the same thing.

So you can see from this very brief explanation of refuge how many heavy negative karmas that we often create naturally get stopped by just the understanding of refuge and karma.


9  Classical Tradition (Tib: zhungpapa; Wyl: gzhung pa pa); Instruction Lineage (Tib: män ngagpa; Wyl: man ngag pa); Stages of the Path Lineage (Tib: lamrimpa; Wyl: lam rim pa). [Return to text]

10  Drubkhang Gelek Gyatso (1641–1713). [Return to text]

11  Wyl: rtogs pa’i chos. [Return to text]

12  Wyl: lung gi chos. [Return to text]

13  Wyl: bdud lhas byin; Skt: Māra Devadatta. [Return to text]

14  Wyl: sgrub gtor. [Return to text]

15  Wyl: ldob ldob. A monk within the Gelug monasteries in Tibet who had less interest in studying and more in worldly matters such as appearance, sport and fighting. Dob dobs usually did much of the manual labor, as well as cooking, serving tea in assemblies and caring for elderly monks. [Return to text]

16  Wyl: tre skyor dpon rin po che. Here tre is short for tre hor¸ which is the largest khangtsen, or regional house group, at Sera Je Monastery. [Return to text]

17  Wyl: mdo sde’i ‘od kyi rgyal po. That is the title as mentioned in this teaching. The sutra referenced here may be: Serö Dampa Dodëi Wangpöi Gyälpöi Do; Wyl: gser 'od dam pa mdo sde'i dbang po'i rgyal po'i mdo; Skt: suvaraprabhāsottama-sūtrendrarājasūtra. [Return to text]

18  Wyl: bram ze ser skya; Skt: Brahmin Gaura (or Mānvagaura). [Return to text]

19  Wyl: skyabs mgon bla ma rin po che. [Return to text]