The Wish-Fulfilling Golden Sun of the Mahayana Thought Training

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal 1973 (Archive #488)

This book gives an overview of the Mahayana Buddhist path to enlightenment and outlines essential meditations and daily practices. The text was compiled from students’ notes from the second Kopan meditation course, March 1972, and first published for the third Kopan course in the fall of 1972. Over the next two-and-a-half years this version was revised several times by Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Nicholas Ribush for the various Kopan courses held during that period. An edition of the 1975 final edit was published by FPMT in 2016 and is available for download as a free PDF.

Meditation Two: The Three Lower Realms, Refuge and Karma

The main reason for our having to meditate on impermanence and death and the infinite other sufferings of the six samsaric realm is, that to reach Nirvana— everlasting peace and happiness—we have to surmount many obstacles and bear the hardships of Dharma practice, the method that brings this result. In meditation, we visualise and try to feel all these different sufferings. This gives us the energy and strength we need to destroy laziness and control samsaric problems, the greatest hindrances to Dharma practice, and as we practise we gradually eradicate all illusive minds and receive the realisations leading to those of the true nature of mind and supreme Enlightenment.

Each of the infinite past, present and future Buddhas attained Enlightenment and preceding realisations through the deep experience of these meditations on suffering, and the graded realisations of Bodhisattvas and Arhants are also derived from such practice.

Meditation on the suffering of the six samsaric realms is necessary:

  1. at the beginning of our practice, whereby our experiences make us enter the path of renunciation;
  2. in the middle, so that we are pushed or carried forward to the various higher levels of the path, overcoming any difficulties encountered with harder practices; and
  3. at the end, when our experiences bring Enlightenment, making us work as Buddha during every second, to lead each and every sentient being into Enlightenment.

The Buddha sees every relative existence and its Absolute nature. With great compassion and without error, he revealed many examples of suffering so that we might receive renunciation. The fully renounced mind is the sword that slays all samsaric problems and helps to cut us free from attachment, from greed, ignorance and hatred, and from delusions. There is no way to receive perfect happiness without this mind.

The renounced mind generates the mental energy required to control our physical and verbal actions, but does not arise suddenly, like temporary clouds. It comes from the clear, deep recognition that the nature of samsara is great suffering, and we can only develop this through meditation, placing ourselves in this intense suffering. Hence, we come to realise our own suffering, especially that which we have experienced in the three lower realms, and, thereby, can dispel such negative minds as greed, ignorance, hatred, pride, jealousy, etc. By feeling and fearing the suffering of these realms, we come to understand how suffering is caused by bad karma and happiness by good karma. These realisations compel us to strive for rebirth in the three upper realms.

To create good karma and collect merits, it is very important that we have the fear that arises from the understanding of the true evolution of karma. We don’t touch fire because we understand its nature and are afraid of being burnt. Similarly, by understanding the nature of bad karma and its suffering consequences, we should be afraid to create it. Only then shall we be conscious of the need to create good karma.

The Hells
The hell realm (narak) is the greatest experience of suffering. It is karmically created by the deluded mind and exists because of our karmic debt. There are also karmically-created hell-protectors with heads like animals, who prevent us from escaping until our karmic debt is paid.

The principal cause of the narak is craving.

There are eight hot naraks and eight cold, as well as occasional and neighbouring naraks, i.e., eighteen altogether. The following examples are almost nothing compared to the worst sufferings, which are beyond expression. These light examples were shown by the Enlightened Being as he perceived them.

  1. The hot narak (Tsa.nyäl)
    During this lifetime, whenever I am cold and crave for heat and grasp at its enjoyment, I am planting a seed and accumulating impressions on the consciousness for craving for heat at the time of death.
    At the hour of death, when I feel cold, my great attachment to warmth causes me to crave for heat and I die with great attachment to the physical body.
    After this I experience the intermediate state.
    As if waking from a dream, I should visualise my rebirth in the hot sufferings, as infinite as space.
    1. The reviving narak.
      In this the stage of least suffering, I am reborn amongst many other beings, who brandish weapons, trying to kill each other. Also, many karmically-created, sword-like weapons rain down slashing and piercing my whole body causing excruciating pain. As soon as I tremble and die, a karmically created voice is heard saying, “Again will you be killed.” I am spontaneously reborn onto the red-hot iron ground, only to be killed once more, being reborn and killed many hundreds of times each day.
      This continues until my karmically-deserved suffering is worked off. Rebirth in this narak results from being spiteful and acting out of hatred.
    2. The black line narak.
      As carpenters mark wood with red-hot wires, so the narak protectors make black lines on my body, which lies on red-hot ground, and then proceed to carve me into pieces with red-hot saws or chop me up with hot, sharp axes.
    3. The crushing narak.
      The narak-protectors put me and many other beings into crevices between two huge iron mountains, the shape of which resembles the heads of people and animals I have killed. Coming together these mountains squash me, and I fall onto red-hot ground with unbearable pain. The mountains separate, and my life is restored so that I can be killed like this, again and again, until this karma is expended.
      Other tortures in this narak include being rolled flat by red-hot rollers, being smashed to pieces as villagers smash rice and being ground in a mill. Each drop of blood and each piece of my body is conscious, and as they fall onto the red-hot ground I experience excruciating agony.
      Rebirth in this narak results from committing the three immoralities of the physical body—killing, stealing and sexual misconduct—with greed.
    4. The howling narak.
      I am trapped inside a burning house full of other beings. Because of karmic obscuration the house collapses and we all perish. This results from the strong desire to kill and cheat.
      Finally, I escape from this house, only to find myself trapped inside another, from which there is no escape. This is caused by holding wrong views and having strong cravings.
    5. The loud howling narak.
      Born in a pot of boiling liquid, the size of a large country, I am cooked like a fish, sinking and rising repeatedly with extreme suffering. Narak-protectors perforate my flesh with red-hot spears, which causes incredible pain, and flames issue from these holes. Then they place me onto red-hot ground where I am beaten, and carved into pieces. This is the result of harming others.
    6. The heating narak.
      I am forced to ingest blazing coals and molten metal, suffering greatly from burnt intestines. This results from criticising Holy Beings and telling lies.
      For corrupting Dharma, I am reborn in an immense frying pan and roasted like pop-corn. My tongue is seized, stretched flat to the size of a large city, staked out and ploughed up by an iron plough.
    7. The intense heating narak.
      Red-hot tridents enter my body through the soles of the feet and the anus, the points coming out of my shoulders and head. This is caused by harming others such as celibates living in the precepts and parents.
    8. The Avici narak.
      This is the worst suffering stage. My body is one with fire, and can only be recognised as a living being because of the cries of pain. It is melted down by the intensely powerful flames which come from all directions causing unremitting suffering.
      Rebirth in this narak is the result of killing religious people, denigrating the Dharma and breaking precepts.
      I suffer for a long time in these eight stages. Fifty human years are just one day for the samsaric gods of the senses (Gyä’en) and five hundred years for these gods is just one day for the denizens of the mildest narak, who live for five hundred years made up of such days.
      Five hundred years for these beings is just one day for those experiencing the next level, and so it goes on, in terms of time, down to the Avici narak. And as the duration of suffering increases, so does its intensity.
  2. The neighbouring naraks
    There are four of this situated at each side of the eight major naraks, so that there are sixteen surrounding each level.
    1. Here I get stuck in very hot quicksand, sinking deeper as I struggle to escape, and karmically-created beings come to eat my head, which protrudes above the surface.
    2. Drowning in a filthy quagmire, insects cause me great suffering by penetrating and consuming my body.
    3. Escaping from this, I find myself on a ground of swords pointing upwards, where I cannot step without cutting my feet. There are also trees with sword-like leaves, and savage dogs and birds with iron beaks that attack me.
    4. I am confined to a river by narak-protectors, who force boiling water and red-hot coals into my mouth.
  3. The cold narak (Dr’ang.nyäl)
    There are also eight main stages of cold sufferings where my agony is unimaginable and unlimited.
    On the first two levels my whole body blisters from exposure to a freezing wind. The blisters burst and re-blister.
    On the next three levels my pain increases progressively, and as I weep from suffering the intense cold, my teeth freeze together.
    On the last three levels my body cracks more and more. At first it is blue with a few cracks. These spread and increase in size, and my body turns red. Finally, split into more pieces, like a lotus, my body turns deep red and I experience the extreme cold suffering.
    The whole realm is completely dark. I am trapped in narrow crevices or forced to dwell beneath ice-mountains, almost one with the ice. Insects feast on my wounds, devouring flesh and pus. Mind and body are full of suffering.
    Yet these examples are mild compared to other experiences in this realm.
  4. The occasional narak
    These may exist on this earth in such places as deserts, and some people can perceive their existence.

The Realm Of The Pretas
The principal cause of birth as a preta is miserliness.

Pretas may be found in many different places, but there are certain locations that most of them inhabit. Wherever they are such areas are desolate and fearful.

They are very ugly in appearance. Their stomachs are enormous—miles wide, like large mountains, but always empty. Their mouths are tiny, like the eye of a needle, and their necks extremely thin and knotted two or three times. Their legs and arms are also very thin; often they cannot support their body and are forced to roll everywhere. They are hairy, and their skin is very dry, stretched tight so that blood vessels stand out prominently. If their legs strike each other as they walk, sparks may be seen. Blood and pus issue from their body, and some eat their own flesh, peeling off their skin.

There are three main sorts of problem that pretas experience.

  1. Hindrance of food
    The pretas spend their whole life suffering hunger and thirst. No matter how hard or how long they seek, they cannot find food or water. On seeing a beautiful lake from afar the preta runs to it with great expectation, but on reaching it finds that it turns into a lake of blood, pus and ka-ka, full of animal hairs.
  2. Outer hindrances
    After searching for such a long time the preta may find clean food and water, but as he approaches, is attacked and chased away by very fearsome karmically-created protectors with heads like animals.
  3. Inner hindrances
    Even though the preta eventually finds clean water that is not guarded by a protector, there are problems with the body. Only a little goes through the tiny mouth, and that usually dries because of the poison in its mouth. Even if it doesn’t dry, the neck is narrow and knotted, and it is difficult to swallow. Then, should any water reach the stomach, it bursts into flames, which come out of the preta’s mouth, or it turns into sharp knives which cut its whole body. Even if that doesn’t happen, the stomach is so large and the amount of food or water so small, that the preta can never feel satisfied. Either all that or the preta cannot eat the food it finds because of miserliness.

For these suffering, ignorant beings all things change into the opposite. In his Teaching, Lob.ding, Nagarjuna explained that if a preta tries to go to the tip of a rock protruding above the surface of the ocean, it is flooded over by waves which turn the whole place into a horrible eruption of fire, a strong wind blowing is spreading the fire. The preta wishes that rain would fall, but it is like iron balls dropping from the clouds; huge golden-coloured rocks hail down and red light flashes through its body. To the preta the summer moonlight is hotter than fire and burns them with great flames. In winter ever the hottest sun is extremely cold.

One human month is a day for a preta. The longest life for a preta is 50,000 years.

Amongst the specific causes of rebirth as a preta are theft, sexual misconduct, covetousness, preventing others from making charity, and calling someone else a preta.

The Animal Realm
The cause of rebirth as an animal is ignorance and stupidity.

I can understand the great suffering of these beings by visualising myself in the form of different animals and trying to feel their experience. Apart from the specific problems peculiar to each one, there are four general sufferings common to most animals.

  1. The suffering of being deeply ignorant and foolish.
  2. The suffering of being exploited by others. Practically every animal is prey for another there and suffers from being killed for food and eaten. They are also killed for parts of their body such as fur, skin, bone, horns, etc. So easily controlled by others, they are compelled to perform gruelling work under intolerable conditions.
  3. The suffering of hunger and thirst.
  4. The suffering of heat and cold.

Domestic animals or wild, those who fly or those inhabiting the Earth’s surface, those underground or those who live in the water—all experience these sorts of problem, and may remain in this realm for many eons.

Amongst the specific causes for rebirth as an animal are telling lies, gossip-mongering, heresy, breaking precepts, calling others, especially those in the Dharma, by animal nick-names, and sacrificing animals.

We should continue meditating on the suffering of the three lower realms until we receive the experience of this suffering. This experience generates effortless fear, a feeling arising from mere contemplation, and this energy stimulates us to maintain virtuous practice. Hence, we can reach Enlightenment sooner.

The following story gives us an idea of how we feel when we have received the realisation of this meditation.

Guru Shakyamuni’s disciple, Kü, had two nephews who became monks. After studying for only two days, they became lazy, and although Kü told them to renounce samsara and laziness they did not do so. So they were given to another disciple, Mong. gäl.gyi.wu.

One day, he took the two boys to a place where he performed a miracle showing the narak—they saw many beings suffering by being chopped, split and cut to pieces by others, and saw two large pots of boiling water. They heard the narak-protectors asking, ‘‘Who is to be cooked in these?”, and the answer, “Kü’s nephews will be reborn in these pots if they lazily waste their time after becoming monks.” This frightened them very much, and they suffered as if they would die right away. Mong.gäl.gyi.wu told them to apply their mental energy to the renunciation of laziness and its negative karmic results. So they became very energetic, and, if they recalled the narak suffering at meal-times, could not eat and would vomit.

On another occasion they were taken to a place where they heard violin music. Investigating this, they saw beautiful palaces full of goddesses and asked themselves, “Why are there no sons?” They heard the reply, “Kü’s nephews will be reborn here as sons if they practise Dharma energetically.” They were very pleased at this, and Mong.gäl.gyi.wu explained that they should be even more energetic, because this and many other good results would arise from energetic Dharma practice.

The boys asked the noble Mong.gäl.gyi.wu if they could be reborn in the lower realms after receiving an upper rebirth, and he replied, “Just as the rope that is used to draw water from a well has to pass around the pulley, so must you cycle in samsara until the cessation of delusion.”

They received the renounced mind and requested Teachings to help prevent them from creating any more deluded actions. He gave much Teachings, and they attained Nirvana.

Whenever we think we are suffering, we should remember the suffering of the three lower realms. It is difficult to feel because the negative mind becomes like stone to prevent this experience. But, looking into our mind and checking the amount of suffering, we should think, “How am I suffering? Other beings suffer far more than this.” Comparing our suffering with that of others gives understanding-experience. Recognition of our own suffering is a basic necessity for Dharma practice.

The experience of suffering is to tell us that we have created negative karma before, and that this is the result. This is the manifestation of our Holy Guru teaching us about suffering and karma.

Meditation on suffering has always been indispensable for the realisation of limitless, everlasting happiness, even in Guru Shakyamuni’s time. Understanding these experiences gives us the powerful energy we need to escape from the bondage of suffering quickly; it is the best medicine for our mental diseases. But the Dharma is not external; it is the safest, most priceless possession within—the work that has an end.

But many people—worldly, curious Westerners—pose as Dharma practitioners, and talk about higher, mystical realisations, expecting Enlightenment to come like a snowfall. They think that certain meditations, especially those on samsaric nature, and particularly that on the three lower realms, are ridiculous, funny or scary, and a complete waste of time. But by denying ourselves the experience of these meditations, we remain ignorant of the most important realisations of highly realised beings. Some of us “practise Dharma,” but with mere words and superior thinking, afraid of living in serious practice, which opposes attachment to the world.

Milarepa said:
Now be afraid of the eight restless stages, and remember impermanence and samsaric suffering. Rely completely on the saviours, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and be careful in the creation of karma.

According to his words we should try to avoid a samsaric rebirth, but the method is not yet within our grasp. Who has the perfect method to release us from samsara? Not earth, water, fire or air; neither sun, moon nor animal. Only Buddha, Dharma and Sangha have the perfect method to rescue us from samsara and the three lower realms of suffering. Therefore, they are perfect guides. Any being with perfect power can be a pure and perfect guide, whether he is called “Buddha” or not. Yet, even one who has the psychic power to fly through the air or to emit light cannot be worthy of our trust if he doesn’t have the power of a Buddha. To see clearly how the Buddha is the perfect guide, we must practise his Teachings and experience for ourselves the results of his perfect method. How is Buddha a perfect guide and why is his method perfect? Because

  1. he has released himself from all fears; those of
    1. Nyön.drib: the gross negative mind—delusions and obscurations— greed, ignorance and hatred. This prevents our attaining Nirvana. And
    2. She.drib: the illusive mind that sees the dualistic vision and has the defect of the impression of ignorance (delusion), which is the conception of self-existence. And
  2. he has extensive skill in rescuing each and every sentient being from the fears of delusion and its impressions. He works impartially for all sentient beings, whether they believe in him or not, and is pleased by the offering of attainment (sincere practice) rather than by material offerings.

When children are afraid or in danger, they always ask the help of their parents, and so should we always rely on the Triple Gem, our everlasting parents. Everlasting, because they are our guide not only for this life but until we attain Enlightenment.

Buddha is the founder of Refuge.
Dharma is the real Refuge.
Sangha is the helper on the path.

It is not enough that the guides have the perfect method—I have to co-operate with them. There are two main reasons for my taking Refuge, and the stronger my feeling of these, the stronger will my Refuge be.

  1. Great fear of samsaric suffering, especially that of the three lower realms, and
  2. the firm belief that the three Jewels have the sublime power to guide cause me to take Refuge.

Since beginningless time I have been suffering through lack of pure, strong Refuge in Buddha. The precious Dharma that he achieved and showed is also a worthy object of real Refuge, and so too is the precious Sangha, the followers of the path shown, because they help me to practise the Dharma.

I must receive Enlightenment to have the All-Knowledge of the Buddha and the Dharma, and until such time I have not realised fully the Refuge. It is very important to understand how Dharma is the real Refuge.

  1. The Knowledge Of Buddha (Sang.gyä kyi yön.tän)
    1. The Totally Omniscient Buddha’s Knowledge
      1. Svabhavakaya (Ngo.wo nyid.ku)
        The clear light nature of Buddha’s Holy Mind.
        The uttermost sphere of the two complete perfect purities, i.e., completely purified of both gross (Nyön.drib) and subtle (She.drib) obscurations.
      2. Dharmakaya (’ö.ku)
        The Omniscient Mind of the Buddha, fully seeing each and every Absolute and relative existence.
      3. Sambhogakaya (Long.ku)
        The most qualified Holy Body of form, which has five definite attributes:
        1. giving only Mahayana Teachings,
        2. existing until samsara ends,
        3. being surrounded only by Bodhisattvas,
        4. abiding in the definite realm of Og.min, and
        5. being adorned with thirty-two perfect qualities (Tsän.zang) and eighty minor perfections (Pe.j’ä), the most sublime of Buddha’s qualities
      4. Nirmanakaya (Trul.ku)
        The transformation of Buddha’s Holy Body into infinite aspects, according to the different sentient beings’ level of mind.
        It is the form in which the Buddha appears to ordinary beings.
        1. Guru Shakyamuni was seen as a bhiksu (monk) or Sangha, because the karma of the beings who saw him was such as to allow it.
        2. Statues, t’ang.k’a’s, etc., are all that can be seen in degenerate times such as the present. Guru Shakyamuni said that when people’s negative minds were strongly developed, he would appear only in the form of letters.
        3. Visualisations. Buddha’s Holy Body can be perceived in this form by using the powers of the senses.
    2. The Knowledge of the Perfected One’s Holy Body, Speech and Mind
      1. Buddha’s Holy Body
        His Body has every beauty, but does not have even one atom of matter nor the slightest resistance to matter. Buddha’s whole Body, his hair and nails included, are his Mind. Even one single hair sees each and every existence.
        He can transform his Body into countless different aspects according to the different levels of mind of countless beings. To some he appears in the form of animals, to others as a crazy foolish man, a king, a minister, or a beggar. He can appear in the form of letters, bridges where there are none, or as water for those who seek it. To guide fortunate beings who seek his assistance, at the right moment he can take the necessary form.
        In every tiny ray of light of Buddha’s Holy Body there are countless Buddhas—the seed of each of these different aspects of Buddha is within the mind of each sentient being.
        Only supreme Bodhisattvas can see all the major and minor marks of the Sambhogakaya, such as thousand-spoked wheels on his hands and feet, webbed fingers, copper-coloured nails, the double protuberance on the top of his head, peaceful narrow eyes, a curl on his forehead, etc.
      2. Buddha’s Holy Speech
        His Speech is extremely charming. Just to hear his voice brings great pleasure and peace to the mind, and release from greed, hatred, ignorance and suffering.
        He only has to speak one word to be understood in any language and according to the hearer’s level of mind, and one word can answer countless different questions at the same time
      3. Buddha’s Holy Mind
        His Mind has a twofold quality:
        1. The supreme quality of understanding, which incorporates the totality of both Absolute and relative existence. He fully perceives past, present and future simultaneously.
          For example, if all the trees in the world were chopped into small pieces, mixed up and thrown into the ocean, he could recall the origin of each piece, so great is his discerning Mind.
        2. The supreme quality of compassion, by which the Buddha is bound, just as sentient beings are bound by delusion. His great compassion is impartial, so he takes the utmost care of each and every sentient being.

        For example, if he were to sit between two people, one cutting him with knives, the other caressing him gently, his compassion towards both would be equal.
        Because Buddha’s Holy Body, Speech and Mind are one, the minutest portion of his Holy Body is also part of his Holy Speech and Mind, and can appear in numberless forms.
        The Holy deeds of Buddha’s Holy Body, Speech and Mind are intuitive, completely effortless and unremitting. They help each sentient being differently. His actions benefit greatly those whose minds have been properly prepared, just as more seed can be planted in a field that has been widened.
        If the total Knowledge of Buddha is kept in mind, my faith can be much strengthened. That faith causes the Bodhicitta to grow continually. Even the suffering of death is diminished by remembering Buddha’s qualities.
        The Sutra, Do.ting’i gyäl.po says:
        The body, speech and mind of the faithful often admire the Buddha’s Knowledge. As this strong faith continues, the guide of the universe can be seen day and night. Even when that person is suffering from illness nearing death he never loses sight of Buddha, and that suffering can never overcome his faith.

        Therefore, if I have full faith in my heart through having frequently remembered Lord Buddha’s Knowledge, the clear evidence of this Knowledge will give me faith in its products, the Dharma and the Sangha.
        When I take Refuge in Buddha, I am not allowed to follow those who lead me along the wrong path.

  2. The Knowledge Of Dharma (Ch’ö.kyi yön.tän)
    The avoidance of any action that creates negative karma is Dharma, and all actions that create merit are Dharma actions.
    Any methods free of negative mind are Dharma methods no matter how different they appear. But any method stained with greed for temporal life comfort, ignorance of the evolution of karma, or hatred is not a Dharma method, no matter how it looks.
    The positivity or negativity of any action depends on its impulse and its effect, and not only on how it is performed. It is most important that I check up on the likely effect of any action I am about to perform. If it fights the negative minds of greed, ignorance and hatred, it is a Dharma action. If it only helps to gain temporal happiness, it is a negative action. Effect is something I can see in my mind before performing the action; it is a matter of having understanding and wisdom.
    As there may be no difference in appearance between an action performed with deluded mind in a samsaric way and one performed with pure mind in a Dharma way, we cannot judge the actions of others from external appearances. It is what is in the mind, the creator, that is important.
    Dharma contains every path leading to Enlightenment, the true cessation of suffering. It contains all Absolute and relative existence, and every result deriving from the path. To achieve perfect Knowledge of Dharma. I must realise each and every existence, I must become Buddha. Therefore, any being who does not have perfect knowledge of all existence cannot guide me to release from samsara.
    Knowledge of the Dharma, the Teachings shown by Guru Shakyamuni, the Enlightened Being, causes me to receive perfect happiness—the happy result of following the happy path. This Knowledge breaks the continuity of samsara, cleans all delusion from the mind, and never betrays those willing to receive Nirvana. It always makes actions virtuous.
    The Knowledge of Dharma is infinite. The best way to see it is by living in the gradual realisation. Some people hide their ignorance as they would a jewel, and blame the Teachings for their increasing negative mind. This shows that they are not practising the real, pure Dharma.
    Through the serious observance of the prohibitive and permissive precepts shown by Buddha’s Teachings, and by trying to fully understand the Dharma, I may
    1. receive Enlightenment—the highest result,
    2. become an Arhant—the intermediate result, or
    3. achieve a better rebirth—the lowest result.

    The real Dharma is the abandoning of all defects—the true cessation of suffering, and the path of fully realising Shunyata. Fully completing these realisations brings Enlightenment, the All Knowledge: this is the Knowledge of Dharma. Hence Buddha himself is also the Dharma jewel and the Sangha jewel.
    When I take Refuge in Dharma, I cannot give harm to any sentient being.

  3. The Knowledge Of Sangha (Ge.dün gyi yön.tän)
    Whoever lives in the realisation of the path, the four Noble Truths, is Sangha. All noble beings having true Dharma Knowledge, the perception of the Absolute Truth of all existence, having removed all delusion are Sangha. So the Sangha has exalted power, as does the Dharma. When I take Refuge in Sangha, I cannot follow heretics.

Instructions In The Practice Of Refuge

  1. A statue of the Buddha, made of any material, should not be stepped over, but kept in a high place and revered as if it were a real Buddha, remembering his Knowledge.
  2. Any letters used to explain the Teaching should be respected as the real Dharma and not underestimated. Such books should not be placed on the floor or stepped over.
    The realised Tibetan ascetic, Sha.ra.wa said:
    Disrespecting Dharma and the person explaining Dharma causes one to lose Wisdom. There is no need to create more ignorance than already exists.
  3. Any monk or nun should be respected as the real Sangha.
    In Lhag.sam.kul.wa Guru Shakyamuni said:
    One should not despise the lower Ge.long (full monk). If one shows contempt for any lower Ge.long, one will not reach Liberation for one aeon. The monk should be respected according to his degree of ordination.
    As much as I respect Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, so shall I be respected by other sentient beings.
    In’i.gyal.po Guru Shakyamuni said:
    Whatever action we create, the result will return to us.

The Benefits Of Taking Refuge
If the good results of taking Refuge were to manifest themselves in form, there would not be enough room in the three worlds to contain them, so immense are the benefits. They are innumerable—more numerous than handfuls of water in all the oceans.

Yet, there are eight major benefits of taking Refuge.

  1. Becoming Buddhist (an inner being; Tib.,
  2. It is the basis of all ordinations.
  3. All previous bad karma is diminished.
  4. Extensive good karma accumulates.
  5. I cannot be afflicted by either humans or non-humans.
  6. I shall not be reborn in the three lower realms.
  7. It brings all success.
  8. I shall receive Enlightenment sooner.

Taking Refuge is, therefore, extremely important, and it is the basis of all Teachings:

To attain Enlightenment or to gain Tantric practices, I must complete the practice of the six Paramitas: the transcendental perfections of Charity, Morality, Patience, Effort, Concentration and Wisdom. To do so, I need the three higher trainings of Conduct, Concentration and Wisdom. The basis of these three is taking Refuge.

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If I take Refuge, how does God guide me?

Guru Shakyamuni said:
I have shown you the path to the eradication of samsaric pains: the follower who has passed as I have shown is the guide. So should you do it yourself.

As numberless followers of Guru Shakyamuni received Enlightenment through the actual Refuge, Dharma, if I too follow the path of Dharma, the actual Refuge jewel, exactly as was shown by Buddha, it will release me from every illusion. This is how Buddha guides me.

To achieve fully the most supreme peace, which is freedom from all sufferings and the removal of every single obscuration, it is necessary to actualise completely the whole path, the Dharma jewel. This starts by correcting each tiny action: avoidance and practice, which is called “observing karma.” Therefore, understanding karma is not only the fundamental path to Enlightenment but is even the root of all other perfections and happiness.

Some foreigners have the idea that karma is just an Eastern custom, or that it exists only for those who believe in it and not for those who do not, such as animals and people. Some think that, in fact, karma has no existence at all, merely being some unverifiable theory fantasised by certain Eastern yogis or by Guru Shakyamuni.

Such thoughts are highly erroneous and cause loss of temporal and ultimate peace for oneself and others. Should this poisonous mind be living in the hearts of even the readers of this book, by understanding that it destroys the perfect happiness of many future lives, they should cast it out like used toilet paper.

It may be thought that only Eastern people who believe have past and future lives, and have karma, actions and result: from non-virtuous actions arising suffering result—samsaric suffering—and from virtuous actions arising all happiness—perfect bliss, and freedom from the bondage of samsara. If this were so, then Guru Shakyamuni’s followers, such as the ancient Indian and Tibetan Holy Beings who understood each and every existence, would have shown unnecessarily the Teachings of karma from which the undesirable suffering arises. Moreover, Guru Shakyamuni, who had fully-knowing mind and was the founder of these Teachings on karma, this evolution of living beings, action and result, would have been the cause of the suffering of those beings who believe in karma. Also, if this were true for karma, then, by analogy it would be illogical to talk of going to hell for disbelieving the Ten Commandments, because only those who believed in and followed them would go to hell, whereas those who neither believed in God nor followed the Ten Commandments would not. Anyway, all such conceptions are completely wrong.

Living beings, human and non-human, who do not have belief in karma have various sufferings—no matter how much they try to gain comfort there is no satisfaction, and the limited comfort gained always finishes quickly. Thus, for them, there is no definite peace, and no control over the sufferings of death and rebirth. All this shows clearly that those living beings are not free of karma and that karma exists in fact.

As a common Tibetan proverb says:
Nothing happens as it appears in the mind—all is up to karma.

All our experiences of happiness and suffering depend on karma. No matter how much we desire happiness, if we follow ignorance alone, without respecting karma, we shall have nothing but suffering to experience. We ourselves create each karma. For instance, it is well known that, irrespective of how much some strive for life’s comforts, they continually suffer one problem after another, while others always experience comfort and happiness with hardly any effort.

Since we create the karma, and since to respect karma means to correct each tiny action, then how should it be observed? Avoiding non-virtuous actions and practising virtuous ones is observing karma, and to do so we must be able to distinguish between them.

As the great Guru, Nagarjuna said:
The action arising from hatred, greed or ignorance is nonvirtuous; the action arising from non-hatred, non-greed or non-ignorance is virtuous.

Also, the great Bodhisattva, Shantideva said
From virtuous actions all happiness arises; from non-virtuous actions all suffering arises.

So the action created by the poisonous impulse, harming ourselves and other living beings, is non-virtuous. The action created by the non-poisonous impulse, benefiting ourselves and other living beings, is virtuous.

Non-virtuous actions only bring the result suffering, causing lower rebirth and suffering even in the upper realms. Virtuous actions only bring the result happiness, such as birth in the upper realms and all happiness.

The worst interruption to creating virtuous actions is attachment to solely the comfort of this life. We should always be conscious of our actions of body, speech and mind, checking up spontaneously, and avoiding the least sinfulness and trying to create even the tiniest virtuous actions.

We should avoid drawing false conclusions on the basis of incomplete understanding and faulty logic, saying for instance, “There are no such results as happiness and happy rebirth from virtuous actions, or suffering and lower rebirth from non-virtuous actions, because I have never heard of nor been taught such things.” We are foolish to negate these truths just because we do not have that knowledge—it is the experience of even a great many ordinary beings who clearly see past and future, let alone that of the Enlightened Being who fully sees the three times and showed the path to discover all this.

There are even common examples to show that the evolution of this karma is logical. There are many karmas created which bring the result in the lifetime.

One Tibetan yogi, Sang.gyä ye.she, was giving Teachings to his disciples when his Guru passed by. He pretended not to see him, and after he had finished teaching he went to see his Guru. As he was making prostrations the Guru asked, “Why did you not make prostrations before?” The yogi replied, “I didn’t see you before.” So telling this lie caused both his eyes to drop out, and despite his Guru’s blessings he could not completely recover from this.

The Tibetan yogi, Log.pön ye.she zang. po, had an eye disease, so went to the spring to clear it. But the spring became like boiling water. Then he went into retreat to make the Tibetan Guru Yoga, Vajrabhairewa, but even this didn’t help much. So he requested another Holy Being for aid, and the latter dreamt of Tara, who explained that it was the result of not following the Guru correctly.

The great yogi, Milarepa, completed his realisations in the lifetime by following correctly the orders of his Guru, Marpa, and by renouncing his life for him.

The great Tibetan yogi, Drom.tö.pa, also followed orders correctly and totally offered service. In his later life he not only became far-famed but became the holder of the Teachings and made infinitely great work for sentient beings.

There are so many similar examples of ordinary people whose good actions to higher beings brought good results in the lifetime and whose negative actions in the early life brought bad results later. Some get killed as a result of killing others earlier in the lifetime; and it is analogous with actions such as stealing, torturing and cheating.

The Ten Immoralities Of Body, Speech And Mind
Each of these immoralities has three results:

  1. the result of the fullness of the sin,
  2. the result similar to the cause, and
  3. the result of the possessed cause,

and are as follows:

  1. Killing
    1. Rebirth in the hells
    2. Although reborn human, there is often much disease and a short life.
    3. Rebirth in an inauspicious, unpeaceful, horrible country.

    The worst forms of killing are matricide, patricide, and taking the life of an Arhant.

  2. Stealing
    1. Rebirth in the preta realm.
    2. Although reborn human, there is misery due to lack of possessions and to having possessions stolen.
    3. Rebirth in a country with many hailstorms.

    The worst forms of stealing are thefts from the Guru of the Three Gems.

  3. Sexual misconduct
    1. Rebirth in the preta realm.
    2. Although reborn human, the family or spouse are always accusing or hostile.
    3. Rebirth in a very muddy place.

    The worst forms of sexual misconduct are intercourse with a parent or Arhant.

  4. Telling lies
    1. Rebirth in the animal realm.
    2. Although reborn human, being accused as a liar and never being believed, whether speaking the truth or not.
    3. Rebirth in a filthy place.

    The worst form of lying is pretence of Siddhi, such as having control over delusion (e.g., greed and anger) or having realisations (e.g., renunciation and freedom). It is worst to lie to Arhants or Gurus.

  5. Slander
    1. Rebirth in the hells.
    2. Although reborn human, there is separation from relatives and friends.
    3. Rebirth in a very low or very high place.

    The worst form of slander results in separation of Guru and disciple, or disunity amongst a group of monks or nuns.

  6. Harsh speech
    1. Rebirth in the hells.
    2. Although reborn human, distressing words are often heard.
    3. Rebirth in a desert country.

    The worst form of harsh speech is the insulting of parents or an Arhant.

  7. Gossip mongering
    1. Rebirth in the animal realm
    2. Although reborn human, there is neither discipline nor virtue in speech.
    3. Rebirth in a place with reversed summer and winter seasons, when wells go dry.

    The worst form of gossip is to distract religious people; gossip is the lightest of acts, but the greatest waste of time.

  8. Covetousness
    1. Rebirth in the preta realm.
    2. Although reborn human, there is always dissatisfaction, discontent, and failure in ventures.
    3. Rebirth in an isolated area.

    The worst form of covetousness is the desire for a Noble Being’s belongings and spiritual instruments.

  9. Malice
    1. Rebirth in the hells.
    2. Although reborn human, hatred increases through never being believed.
    3. Rebirth in a place with only bad tasting food.

    The worst form of malice is the thought of committing one of the five inexpiable sins.

  10. Heresy
    1. Rebirth in the animal realm.
    2. Although reborn human, ignorance increases.
    3. Rebirth in a place bearing no crops or fruit.

    The worst form of heresy is disbelief in the Buddha, his path and his followers.

With any action one has to consider:

  1. impulse
  2. object
  3. the act
  4. completion of the act.

The results of the ten moralities are opposite to those of the ten immoralities.

The ten moralities are the basis of all happiness—of every realisation, of Nirvana, and of full, pure Enlightenment. So, abstinence from the ten immoralities is of much greater value than filling many universes with jewels. Things of material worth never bring happiness, realisations or Enlightenment; but they may cause further greed and suffering. Those countless jewels can all be lost without causing rebirth in suffering realms for many lives. Only Dharma practice allows fulfilment of the purpose of the human rebirth.

Karma Is Definite
Good karma causes happiness; bad karma causes suffering. It is not possible for good karma to result in suffering nor bad karma in happiness, just as a lethal, poisonous plant cannot bear life-saving fruit.

Mountains may crumble, oceans run dry, moons, suns and stars can fall, whole galaxies come and go, but the results of karma never change. Unless I attempt to avoid karmic results, they will certainly be experienced.

Karma Is Expandable
One tiny karma can cause many results, just as one small seed can produce many thousands. There are countless examples of expanded karmic results, such as a single second of anger with a highly realised being causing many eons of suffering in the lower realms.

The invention of the atomic bomb is another example. The inventor’s negative motive—desiring fame and reputation for temporal happiness—resulted in a negative creation and those who also contributed to this creation were caused to have negative actions. Further negativities resulted—the people of one nation became proud and callous, those of other nations became jealous and afraid. The bomb was exploded, bringing extreme suffering to innumerable beings. All those who contributed to the bomb’s creation will suffer for eons, yet the original hope was for peace and happiness. A very high scientific accomplishment, but its inventor will have to suffer each result that harmed others through his creation.

This shows how any external development cannot bring peace—the motives are temporal. If such means caused real, satisfied peace they would have been shown long ago by the Perfect One.

All pure, religious people take care in every action of mind, speech and body and try to accumulate merits—the results of good karma—as they know that happiness and suffering depend on karma.

The pure essence of Dharma is not to create bad karma. Religion is thus an infallible method of God, or Perfect Buddha; living in the nature of highest compassion, rendering not the least infinitesimal harm to a single sentient being.

It Is Impossible To Experience The Result Without Creating The Karma
I cannot suffer the karmic punishment of a thief if I do not steal. Nor can I enjoy a pleasant life without reason or cause, without being conscious of each of my actions.

The Result Of The Karma Created Is Never Lost
The specific result of any created karma is never lost, but need not be experienced if appropriate action is taken. The influence of karma can be stopped by insight into the nature of things and by attentive concentration to that which has been perceived.

As well as not creating further cause for suffering, I must avoid the results of past causes by eliminating the conditions required for their expression. It is analogous to the potential of a seed—a plant will grow unless the seed or the conditions, the four elements, are destroyed.

The Vinaya Teaching Dül.wa.lung says:
The accumulated karmas of even one hundred eons are never lost. If the aggregates (cause and conditions) and proper times coincide, those responsible receive the result.

The result of merits, happiness, can be blocked by the destructiveness of heresy and anger. Similarly, the potential of tremendous sins can be completely extinguished by deep, pure confession with great feeling, using the four powerful remedies:

  1. Taking Refuge in the Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
  2. Repentance, the strength of which determines the strength of the following:
  3. Penance, to purify negativity, and
  4. Vowing not to repeat the sin.

Confession is like a fire and negativities are the grain which can be burnt. Religious people fear the result of, and so confess, any negative karma. Likewise do they dedicate merits to Buddha when they create positive karma. They do this to bring happiness to all sentient beings.

Karmic result can be experienced during this life, the next, or in any future lifetime. What causes the countless billions of karmas to ripen at different times and manifest in samsara?

A Sutra says:
The heavier, closer or more habitual the karma, the sooner comes the result. If all are the same intensity, the result of the first committed comes first.

The Tibetan people regard the practice of morality as their constitution and as the best way to shape their lives. Monks keeping high vows are respected and recognised as pure and Holy objects, to be offered service. To the laymen, such as monks are as diamonds. Keeping precepts is far higher than working for the happiness of a secular life. Temporal happiness has been enjoyed since beginningless time, yet has brought no satisfaction.

Tantric practice, the method of achieving everlasting peace and complete freedom, must be based on the understanding of reality’s true nature—without the fundamental necessity of creating good karma it is all in vain, like trying to make a plant grow quickly by pouring water into space.

As realisations increase, profound points of the permissive and prohibitive precepts can be seen. But the most subtle points of karma are the object of only the Buddha’s thought. Even Arhants with great prophetic and other psychic powers had to ask Guru Shakyamuni about the deepest aspects of karma.

From the Profound Tantric Text, Guru Puja

With this prayer visualise:

Guru Shakyamuni, surrounded by Vajradhara, the Infinite Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Arhants, Dakas and Dakinis, many other Tantric Deities, the Protecting Deities, and all the Holy Gurus in the direct and indirect Lineage of the Teachings, sending much light to me and to all sentient beings, who are visualised as surrounding me.

This light is absorbed into me and into all sentient beings, purifying all negativities and obscurations and bringing all Knowledge—especially the Knowledge that being in the three lower realms has the suffering of being in a burning fire, so that from the heart I may take Refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and make great efforts in practice and avoidance and in the collection of merits.

evil gone lower realms suffering burning fire fear
heart from precious three to refuge go
sin abandon virtues heap all attain to
effort devotedly grasp to do please bless

(Please bless me and all sentient beings to fear the burning fire of the three lower realms of suffering, to take Refuge from the heart, and to continue putting wilful effort into actions to abandon all negativities and to accomplish all merits.)

After this prayer, complete the visualisation as described on pp. 16-18 and dedicate the merits with the prayer on the last page.