The Preliminary Practice of Refuge

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Detailed instructions on the refuge preliminary practice, from various teachings by Lama Zopa Rinpoche in India and Nepal. Compiled and edited by Ven. Thubten Wongmo.

Read more teachings on refuge by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. See also: Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book for more advice about the preliminary practices (Tib: ngön-dro) and Refuge in the Three Jewels.

Find links to Refuge in the Three Jewels eBook and PDF in the FPMT Catalogue.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the Lawudo Lama, in 1970.

Motivation for the Refuge Practice

The entrance to the Buddhadharma is refuge, and the two causes for refuge are 1) fear of the sufferings of the lower realms and of all samsara, and 2) faith that the Triple Gem has the ability to guide us from those sufferings. Feeling this, you completely rely on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The entrance to the Mahayana is realizing bodhicitta.

Reciting the refuge formulas with bodhicitta is the action of a bodhisattva, creates much merit, and brings you closer to enlightenment.1

Visualization of the Merit Field 

Visualize your mother, female relatives and all females on your left; your father, male relatives and all males on your right; enemies in front and friends behind you.

Refuge Object of the Guru-Buddhas 

In space before you, at the level of your forehead and about six feet from you is a large jeweled, golden throne supported by eight snow lions.

(Visualizing the throne too high or too low causes scattered thoughts or mental sinking).

There are five smaller thrones on top of the large throne.

On the central throne is your root guru in the aspect of Shakyamuni Buddha (seeing your guru as Lord Buddha brings great and quick blessings). His right hand is in the mudra of control, showing that Buddha has destroyed the demon of the gods.2 His left hand holds a bowl filled with nectar that destroys the four demons of the god of desire, the impure aggregates, the Lord of Death, and delusions. (By practicing the Buddhadharma, your own four demons are conquered.)

At Buddha’s heart is the transcendental wisdom being, Vajradhara. At his heart is the concentrating being, a blue HUM.

The essence of Shakyamuni Buddha is your root guru, the Dharma teacher who has been most effective and helpful for your mind.

On the throne in front of Buddha is your root guru in his ordinary aspect, but without any physical defects. His right hand is in the mudra of teaching; his left hand in concentration and holding a long-life vase filled with the nectar of immortality. (These two mudras symbolize your guru’s ability to teach while his holy mind is in meditative equipoise on emptiness while at the same time manifesting in sambhogakaya aspects to bodhisattvas who have achieved the path of seeing, as well as appearing spontaneously and effortlessly in various forms to ordinary beings according to their karma and propensities. Only a Buddha can do this; therefore, the hand mudras show that your guru is a Buddha.)

The mudra of teaching the Dharma also persuades the students to listen to the teachings and the mudra of concentration inspires them to put those teachings into practice.

The two main obstacles to achieving liberation are mental ignorance and physical death. The remedy to these two obstacles is the Dharma. The right hand is the Dharma that destroys ignorance and the left hand holding the long-life vase destroys the Lord of Death.

The little finger of the right hand symbolizes teaching the path of the less capable being from guru devotion to karma; the ring finger is teaching the graduated path of the middle being (true suffering, true cause and true path to the cessation); the middle finger is teaching the path of the higher being, including bodhicitta, the six perfections, the five paths and the ten bhumis and the two tantric paths of the highest yoga tantra. The thumb and index fingers show the result of the paths of the three capable beings the unification of the illusory body and mind of clear light.

Surrounding your root guru are all the gurus you’ve taken teachings from or had direct Dharma contact with, including the person who, with a Dharma motivation, taught you the alphabet of any language.3

The entire merit field, including all the gurus you’ve had Dharma contact with, all the buddhas, bodhisattvas, deities and so on are embodied in your root guru whose essence is the absolute guru, the Dharmakaya, the wisdom of bliss and emptiness. The absolute guru manifests in all those aspects. All these aspects are actually your root guru’s holy mind of non-dual bliss and emptiness. They are all one in essence, and not separate.

Your direct, living gurus are seated on cushions and those who have passed away are on a lotus and moon disc.

The direct gurus are looking at you and the rest of the merit field are looking at Lord Buddha.

The Indirect Lineage Gurus

On the throne to the left of Buddha is Manjushri surrounded by the lineage gurus of profound wisdom including: Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, his disciples Vidyakokila and Vidyakokila the second, Atisha and Dromtonpa (lay), Gonpawa, Neuzurpa, Tagmapa, Namkha Senge, Namkha Gyalpo, Sengey Zangpo, Namkha Gyaltsen, Potowa, Sharawa, Chekawa, Chilbupa, Lhalung Wangchug, Gonpa Rinpoche, Zangchenpa, Tsonapa, Mondrapa, Chokyab Zangpo, Tsultrimbar, Shonnu Od, Gyergompa, Sangyebon, Namkha Gyalpo, Senge Zangpo, Namkha Gyaltsen, Tsong Khapa, Jampal Gyatso, Kaydrub Gelek Pal, Baso Je, Chokyi Dorje, Gyalwa Ensapa, and Sangey Yeshe.

On the throne to the right of Buddha is Maitreya Buddha surrounded by the lineage gurus of extensive method: Asanga, Vasubandhu, Vimuktisena, Vimuktisenagaumin, Paramasena, Vinitasena, Vairochana, Haribhadra, Kusali, Ratnasena, Serlingpa, Atisha, and Dromtonpa, the three groups of Old Kadampas beginning with Guru Atisha - the last group is the Kadam Shungpawa with Potowa in the center; the central group is the Kadam Lamrimpa with Gonpawa in the center; and the first group is the Kadam Mengapa with Tsultrimbar (Chayulba) in the center. The new Kadampas combine the three old ones with Lama Tsongkhapa and continue down to His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche. There is an empty seat left at the end for the auspicious coming of future gurus.

On the throne behind Buddha is Vajradhara surrounded by the lineage gurus of the practice.

Surrounding these five thrones and five groups of gurus are four circles of tantric deities - the sambhogakaya aspect of buddhas - including two rows of Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra deities; around them is a circle of the Anuttara Yoga Tantra deities; then a circle of the Charya and Kriya Yoga Tantra deities.

Surrounding them is a circle of the nirmanakaya aspect of buddhas including: the thousand founding buddhas of the fortunate eon with whom we have connection: the Thirty-five Buddhas of Confession—powerful for purifying negative karma and broken vows—and the eight Medicine Buddhas who have promised to quickly grant all the prayers we’ve made in these degenerate times. This happens by visualizing them.

The Refuge Object of Dharma 

The Dharma, the understanding and realizations of the path of your lineage gurus, manifests as texts that they have written. The texts are on tables in front of each guru, but if they’ve written many texts they are on tables next to them. The pages are gold, the letters are silver with nectar dripping and making the sounds of their meanings. The texts are wrapped in brocade with their labels facing towards you. Everything is in the nature of light.

The Refuge Object of Sangha 

Surrounding the figures above is a circle of bodhisattvas, such as the eight disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Surrounding them is a circle of solitary realizer arhats with crown pinnacles like Buddha’s.

Surrounding them is a circle of hearer arhats in the form of bhikshus holding begging bowls, scriptures and other things.

Around them is a circle of dakas and dakinis; the dakas with their left legs bent alternate with the dakinis with their right legs bent as described in the Heruka Tantra.

Around them are the Dharma protectors including Kalarupa who protects the less capable beings by helping them to realize impermanence and death, Vaisravara who protects the middle capable beings by helping them to practice moral conduct, and Six-arm Mahakala who protects the highest capable beings by helping them to actualize bodhicitta. The protectors help us to obtain conducive conditions for Dharma practice and to purify obscurations.

Then there’s a circle of the guardians of the four directions with the eastern one in front of you. They are on clouds below the throne because they are worldly beings. They are white, blue, yellow and red. Only liberated beings are on the throne. (If it’s too difficult to visualize all this, just know, “this line is the Kriya Tantra deities” and so on.)

Everyone in the merit field (except your direct gurus) is facing the central figure, Shakyamuni Buddha, like in a sports stadium.

All these figures are made of rainbow light and are extremely radiant, like a golden pot with a flame inside. They are alive, discussing Dharma with each other and transforming into various aspects to work for beings, then reabsorbing their transformations when their work is finished. All the pores of their bodies are pure lands.4

They are very pleased to see you doing this practice of taking refuge and meditating on lam-rim instead of doing the opposite to what the buddhas and bodhisattvas have told you to do, like a mother whose naughty child does something good for once.

When you recall the qualities of kindness and so on of everyone in the merit field and see them being extremely pleased with you, just looking at the merit field fills you with joy and bliss. While the mind is in this state of strong devotion, generate the special jor-chö motivation:

Visualization of the Refuge Merit Field
(in verse form)

In space before me, amidst an ocean of offerings, is a large golden and jeweled throne supported by eight snow lions.

There are five smaller thrones on top of the large one. On each throne are cushions of a lotus, sun and moon discs.

Shakyamuni Buddha, master of the doctrine, sits on the central and slightly larger throne. Buddha is the essence of my root guru. He sits magnificently within a network of (golden) light. He wears the three saffron robes of a monk.

He sits with legs crossed in vajra position. His right hand touches the earth in the position of controlling; his left hand is in the meditation position holding an alms bowl filled with nectar.

His body of light is golden and radiates light to the ten directions. He is adorned with the crown pinnacle and the (glorious, resplendent) (major and minor) marks of a buddha.

His loving smile and eyes full of compassion bring bliss to my mind. His lips are red, his earlobes are long and his hair is dark blue. I never grow tired of looking at his majestic (glorious) form. I never grow tired of hearing his (enchanting) speech. My mind never grows tired of remembering his qualities of wisdom, compassion and all his perfections and attainments.

He displays extraordinary powers and skills to guide beings in all the worlds.

At his heart is the wisdom being, Vajradhara. At his heart is the concentration being, a blue HUNG.

On the throne to Buddha’s right is Maitreya surrounded by the lineage gurus of the vast practices beginning with Asanga.

On the throne to Buddha’s left is Manjushri surrounded by the lineage gurus of the profound view, beginning with Nagarjuna.

Behind Buddha is Vajradhara surrounded by the lineage gurus of the experience lineage of your deity.

In front of Buddha is your kind root guru in his ordinary form and without any defects. He is surrounded by all your direct gurus, facing yourself.

Surrounding these five groups of gurus are the four classes of tantra deities, buddhas, bodhisattvas, solitary realizers, hearer arhats, dakas and dakinis, protectors, and directional guardians.

The texts they’ve written are on beautiful stands in front of them. The letters emit their own melodious sounds (of Dharma).

My root guru looks at me with compassion and says, “Fortunate one, if you want liberation from cyclic existence, I will guide you.” His loving smile comforts and delights me.

I am surrounded by all the beings of the six realms in their actual forms. Overwhelmed by their sufferings they look everywhere for help and cry out pathetically.

Faced by so much misery, I look for protection and entrust myself to my protectors, the gurus and the Triple Gem from the depth of my heart.

Jor-chö Refuge Motivation

Since beginningless time I and all mother beings have been experiencing the sufferings of samsara; the six, eight and three sufferings and especially the miseries of the lower realms. (Feel strong fear of this beginningless suffering, the first cause of refuge).

It’s difficult to feel the depth of all this suffering or to see it ever ending because we have so much potential for suffering as the result of unpurified negative karma. And strong waves of karma and disturbing thoughts overwhelm us one after another, hour after hour, in each moment.5 So on top of the suffering to be experienced, we create further causes to experience the three types of suffering all the time, every day. If we continue like this there is no end to our miseries.

Now I have this precious human life qualified with freedoms and fortunes, that has the three great potentials and is difficult to obtain. I’ve met the rare and precious teachings of Buddha. If I don’t try to achieve liberation and full enlightenment from this moment on, I’ll have to continue to experience all the sufferings of cyclic existence life after life after life.

Who has the power to protect me from this misery? Only my gurus and the Three Jewels abiding in front of me. They have achieved the state free from suffering so they can rescue me from the fears of having to experience the various miseries of cyclic existence. They’ve actualized the cessations by practicing the true path. Since I want to be happy and don’t want to suffer, I need to be shown the right path.

The buddhas in front of me have achieved the stage beyond suffering, have eliminated all obstructions and have shown the path they followed to reach that stage. My gurus guide me in the path and the Sangha are friends who make me follow the path. The Dharma is the realizations of the path that lead to the cessations within the mind of a buddha by understanding the Four Noble Truths, especially the Two Truths. On the basis of the Two Truths, strong faith is developed in the infallibility of the refuge objects to protect me from the fear of endless suffering. Therefore I am going to take refuge in my gurus and the Three Jewels in order to become a buddha to liberate all beings from the sufferings of cyclic existence, particularly the two obscurations. (This motivation includes the two causes of taking refuge: fear of samsaric sufferings and faith in the guru and Triple Gem.)

Refuge Formulas

On the basis of such reflections you entrust yourself from the depth of your heart to the refuge objects and recite the refuge formula. Visualize all the sentient beings as humans, but experiencing their particular samsaric sufferings. You are the chanting leader and with deep trust in the objects of refuge, they chant along with you.

Lama-la kyab-su-chio
(I take refuge in the Gurus)

Taking Mahayana refuge is relying on the Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha while feeling unbearable compassion for all beings. “I and all mother beings take refuge in our gurus.”

Part of the mind is aware mainly of your root guru as well as your other teachers, while another part remembers negative actions accumulated in relation to them.

Remember that your gurus are not ordinary beings but are the same essence as Shakyamuni Buddha and all buddhas, including your personal deity. Use reasons to prove this.6

Meditating with the awareness and strong devotion that your gurus are buddhas is very comfortable and makes the purification process very powerful and effective.

With this awareness, recite the refuge formula.

Purification Visualization

While reciting the mantra, make strong prayers from the depth of your heart and imagine nectars pouring from the gurus, especially from your root guru.

Remember the mistakes you’ve done in relation in each of your teachers, simultaneously holding the awareness that each guru is the essence of Lord Buddha. (It’s not comfortable to purify with nectar coming from ordinary beings who have faults.) The stronger the repentance, the stronger the purification. Lots of negative imprints will be purified like this.7

Visualize five colors of light and nectar (white, red, blue, yellow, green) with the white ones being the strongest radiating from the five chakras of your gurus. The nectar flows through or slides down the beams of light. The light brings blessings to achieve the clear light and the nectar to achieve the illusory body.

Focus on the five main groups of direct and lineage gurus. The nectar enters your five chakras, and those of all the beings around you (visualized in human form but experiencing their particular sufferings), but focus on the white nectar flowing into your brow chakras.

The negative karmas and obscurations accumulated in this and past lives related to your gurus disappears, like dirt being washed away in a shower, or it comes out of your body in the form of dirty black liquid or smoke. The inky liquid sinks into the ground and into the mouths of harmful spirits or yama who live under the earth. Through the power of the blessings of the Three Jewels and your own prayers, the negativities become nectar-like and satisfy them. Then their mouths are sealed with a golden wheel. This visualization is a practice to prolong life.

While reciting the formula and receiving the nectar, clearly remember:

  • each mistake done with each guru until you feel strong regret. This quickly purifies loads of negative karma. (Check the Fifty Verses of Guru Devotion.)
  • remember the advice and commitments, especially the tantric ones given by your gurus that you’ve broken;
  • the degeneration of any of the three sets of vows;
  • having anger, criticism or heresy towards your guru;
  • harming their holy bodies or disturbing their minds.

At the end of the purification part of the session, imagine your bodies are crystal clean-clear and think: “We are completely purified of even the slightest negative karmas accumulated in relationship to our gurus. None of the negativities exist anymore, at all.” Have strong faith in this.

Receiving Qualities and Realizations

Concentrate more on golden beams of light and nectar flowing from the navel chakra of the merit field into yours. The essence of the five nectar beams is the qualities of each guru. The realizations and scriptural understanding and the blessings of their holy body, speech and mind, of long life and fortune are received. With the awareness that all your gurus are buddhas, their (realizations) and qualities of body, speech and mind are received.

End of recitation

You have been placed under the care and guidance of your gurus.

It is effective to imagine that a replica of each guru absorbs into yourself and each being.

Sang-gye-la kyab-su-chio (I take refuge in the buddhas)


The white light and nectar flow mainly from the tantric aspect buddhas—the four classes of tantric deities—and from the sutra aspect buddhas as the nirmanakaya manifestations; the thousand buddhas, the eight Medicine Buddhas and the Thirty-five Buddhas of Confession.

Purify all your negative karmas and obscurations created in relation to the buddhas in this life as well as those you don’t remember but were done in past lives, such as:

  • causing blood to flow from the holy body of a buddha
  • judging buddha images as being bad or ugly, rather than only criticizing the craftsmanship
  • using buddha images as financial deposits or hawking them
  • selling images as products without the thought to benefit others
  • taking images from stupas or altars
  • breaking the commitments of refuge in the buddhas:
    • to not rely on worldly gods or spirits or on teachers who teach the wrong path
    • to see any image of a buddha as an actual buddha, regardless of its quality
    • to put all buddha images in high, clean places and never throw them in the garbage or step over them.

Receiving Qualities and Realizations

Yellow beams and nectar flow from the merit field into you. You receive their qualities of body, speech and mind, including:

  • transcendental wisdom
  • inconceivable compassion that is a million times stronger than the compassion you have for yourself
  • the qualities of a buddha’s actions (as explained according to the nine examples in Uttaratantra [Tib: Gyu Lama] by Maitreya.)
  • the ten powers of a buddha:
    • 1. knowing the results of all actions
    • 2. knowing the wishes and aspirations of all beings
    • 3. knowing the dispositions of all beings
    • 4. knowing the abilities of all beings
    • 5. knowing the spiritual paths of all beings
    • 6. knowing the order of meditations to liberate each being
    • 7. knowing the past lives of all beings
    • 8. knowing the death and rebirth process of all beings
    • 9. knowing which obstacles have been abandoned by each being
    • 10. the four fearlessnesses of a buddha (a buddha is free from the two obscurations and has attained of all qualities of cessation so he has no fear about telling others to practice Dharma, etc):
      • a) fearlessness about his omniscience
      • b) fearlessness about having abandoned all obstacles and obscurations
      • c) fearlessness about knowing which obstacles need to be abandoned by others
      • d) fearlessness about guaranteeing that if others apply the opponents to their obstacles they will gain liberation
  • the four complete and accurate understandings of a buddha:
    • 1. of all the Dharma teachings
    • 2. of all the meanings of the Dharma
    • 3. of all the words of the Dharma
    • 4. of the ability of each being to teach the Dharma
  • the eighteen qualities not shared by arhats:
    • 1. a buddha’s body does not have any displeasing qualities
    • 2. a buddha’s speech does not have any roughness
    • 3. a buddha’s mind has perfect memory
    • 4. never leaving his meditative equipoise
    • 5. having no feelings of partiality
    • 6. always checking who is ready for enlightenment and helping that person accordingly
    • 7. having undeclining pure intentions
    • 8. having undeclining joyous effort
    • 9. having undeclining memory
    • 10. having undeclining single-pointed concentration
    • 11. having undeclining wisdom of emptiness
    • 12. having undeclining qualities
    • 13. having clairvoyant actions of body
    • 14. having clairvoyant actions of speech
    • 15. having clairvoyant actions of mind
    • 16,17,18. seeing the past, present and future with omniscience without becoming attached to or hindered by this knowledge

Completely decide you’ve received all the qualities of a buddha and have been placed under the guidance of the buddhas.

Choe-la kyab-su-chio (I take refuge in the Dharma)


White light and nectar flow from the scriptures, root texts and commentaries written by all the gurus.

It purifies abandoning the Dharma by:

  • being sectarian: criticizing or discriminating between any of the Buddha’s teachings including Hinayana, Mahayana or Tantra paths, the four sects, the four classes of tantra, by thinking, “these teachings are not for me, they’re only for Hinayana (or Mahayana) followers,” or judging and generalizing about a particular sect because of an individual person’s behavior.
  • thinking of any of the Tibetan Mahayana teachings as not having Buddha as their source and having been newly created by scholars such as Nagarjuna (because those particular teachings don’t fit your own mind).
  • thinking geshe studies are too intellectual or complicated and don’t benefit the mind, rather than planning to study them in the future.
  • having aversion to any practice, for example the practice of the action mudra in tantra rather than praying to be able to practice it in the future when you’re ready. (Any teaching taught by Shakyamuni Buddha and the other buddhas is necessary for bodhisattvas to know so they can given any teaching suitable to the disciples according to their karma and propensities.)

Through listening, reflecting and meditation you understand the four qualities of the lam-rim: all the teachings of Buddha are non-contradictory; even one word of the teachings appears as advice; seeing how all the various studies can be related to the three principal paths and the lam-rim purifies all negative karma.

(Avoiding the Dharma (scriptures) creates karma that is heavier than having killed the same number of arhats as grains of sands in the ocean.)

  • putting texts on the floor
  • stepping over texts
  • using saliva to turn their pages
  • putting even one letter of Dharma, even from Tibetan newspapers, in the garbage rather than burning it while reciting OM AH HUM
  • putting things on top of texts, even a mala, unless there’s too much breeze
  • putting Dharma texts on a seat
  • marking a text with the attitude that it’s merely material, rather than that you are offering color to the text, creating the cause to be born in the black-line hell
  • wrapping up texts as if they were pieces of luggage, rather than with the attitude of offering them cloth

(These actions of abandoning the Dharma by not seeing even one letter as advice cause obstacles to your realizations and the karma is heavier than having destroyed all the statues on earth)

  • not respecting even one page of Dharma by not picking it up from the ground and putting it in a high place.

(You should keep texts in a neat, clean place, separate from texts of other religions that explain wrong views. Otherwise the mind will have unclear concentration with many distractions and you’ll have obstacles to generate clear and stable faith in the right views of karma, emptiness, etc.)

  • putting up texts for deposit
  • selling Dharma books and statues for profit (remember the yogi and four monks who ate dinner with food bought from selling Prajnaparamita texts).8
  • not transforming actions into Dharma due to worrying about comfort and reputation, thinking, “something might happen to me”, causing dissatisfaction, depression, sickness and lack of concentration while practicing.
  • not purifying ignorance (of true existence) by remembering how this ignorance is more dangerous than poisonous snakes or nuclear bombs by producing overwhelming attachment and anger, causing karma for all the samsaric sufferings through the twelve links
  • having degenerated Dharma refuge commitments:
            a. not acting contrary to the Dharma, especially not harming others
            b. respecting even one (Dharma) letter as true Dharma

Receiving the Qualities of the Dharma

The Dharma—meanings, cessations and realizations—is visualized in the form of scriptures. Their meanings and realizations flow from the texts in the form of golden light and nectar.

Think about how the Dharma guides beings by bringing:

  • the realization of guru devotion that protects you from wrong conceptions causing heresy and disrespect towards your teachers and that brings faith in them. Practicing even one of your guru’s advices brings you closer to enlightenment.
  • the benefits of having the realization of the precious human life and death—the path of the lower being—so you don’t waste time on worldly concerns and you practice Dharma.
  • the benefits of the realization of karma—you avoid harming others even in small ways or breaking one vow and you take care to create even the smallest virtue. The mind feels peaceful and is free of obstacles.
  • the benefits of renunciation of worldly life and concerns, how it leads to liberation from suffering.
  • the benefits of the realization of emptiness (the true cessation of suffering)
  • the benefits of bodhicitta
  • the benefits of the two stages of tantra, of achieving the three kayas and the mind of clear light
  • remember the stages and paths as taught in Seventy Topics.

Thinking of these benefits gives so much inspiration to gain these realizations that you can’t wait one second to practice.

You are placed under the guidance of the Dharma.

Ge-dun-la kyab-su-chio (I take refuge in the Sangha)


All happiness depends on the Dharma, and the survival of the doctrine depends on the Sangha community. Therefore we must be very careful not to do anything negative in relation to the Sangha.

Beams emit from the bodhisattvas, arhats, dakinis and protectors. They purify negativities created in relation to the Sangha in this and past lives:

  • causing disunity in the Sangha
  • without permission taking or using the Sangha’s possessions for your own use rather than to benefit others
  • interrupting the offering of even one dollar as a donation to the Sangha due to attachment to the benefactor
  • reducing the amount of a donation to the Sangha by saying they don’t need that much
  • as manager, taking offerings meant for the Sangha
  • giving the Sangha’s offerings to others
  • criticizing, insulting or complaining about monks or nuns with a negative mind by saying they are impatient, miserly, etc., implying “I’m better”. This happens easily and is contradictory to refuge as you have a new kind of refuge where you are only guided by certain Sangha members
  • getting angry with the Sangha (causes rebirth in deserts)
  • physically or verbally abusing a monk or nun
  • calling a Sangha member by animal names. Remember the monk who was reborn as a fish with many animal heads
  • failing to make torma offerings to the protectors as promised
  • degenerated refuge commitments to the Sangha:
    • not relying on worldly gods and protectors, spirits, degenerate friends, tarot cards as they give temporary help but can’t guide you from the lower realms or samsara
    • respecting even a patch of red or yellow robe as the true Sangha
      • not stepping over ding-was (the Sanghas’ sitting-cloth)
      • not spitting on monastery walls 
    • respecting anyone wearing robes as the true Sangha.9

Receiving the Qualities of the Sangha

  • Sangha are role models for the pure practice of morality and karma. Keeping full ordination vows purifies so much negative karma, and is the actual protection from the lower realms and the source of happiness and enlightenment.
  • imprints to receive qualities of the absolute Sangha: realization of the true path and true cessation through higher training in moral conduct, concentration and wisdom.
  • imprints established to achieve clairvoyant powers, like making mountains small. Remember the arhat who led 80,000 disciples to the Path of Seeing in only seven days.
  • being guided by the conventional Sangha, or four pure fully ordained members. The Sangha’s responsibility is to practice well and be a good example and inspiration, rather than causing people to lose faith and thus leading them to the lower realms.
  • remembering the qualities of great yogis as described in their biographies, such as Lama Tsongkhapa and Milarepa, that inspire you to find the same quality of gurus as they had and to gain the same realizations that they did.
  • from Salam (Paths and Grounds), remember the qualities of a bodhisattva on the path of accumulation: the thirteen kinds of merit; the hundred types of concentration on the first bhumi; ability to transform into a hundred bodies; to give hundreds of teachings; to go to hundreds of pure realms. On the second bhumi these powers are multiplied by hundreds and continue increasing up to the tenth bhumi.
  • the three trainings of arhats
  • qualities of dakas and dakinis who have realized bliss/emptiness
  • the four actions of protectors:
    • pacifying: white beams coming from the protectors purify obscurations and
      negative imprints, disease, spirit harms and obstacles
    • increasing: the beams increase lifespan, fortune, wisdom and scriptural understanding
    • controlling: the action of controlling benefits people by teaching Dharma and providing material support
    • wrathful: wrathful actions subdue harmful beings by transferring their minds from their bodies to pure lands.

I am under the guidance of the Sangha.


Beams emit from the entire merit field.

I’ve completely come under the guidance of the Triple Gem.

Bodhicitta Practice

Reflect on the fact that all the beings surrounding you have been your own mother.

All beings throughout infinite space are equal in not wanting suffering and wanting to be happy. Their fate is extremely important. They’ve been kind to you in many ways.

All the past buddhas have achieved enlightenment for the sake of all beings and their actions are aimed at helping them, so as a follower of Lord Buddha it’s my duty to fulfill the wishes of the buddhas. I should make even small contributions to the happiness of others, even just reciting a prayer. Therefore I’ll use all my efforts and abilities for making others happy. Unless I become a buddha there’s no way I can perfectly help them.

On the basis of love and compassion, cultivate bodhicitta.

Special Bodhicitta

At any rate, for the sake of all mother sentient beings
I must quickly, quickly achieve the precious state
Of a complete and perfect buddha
Therefore I will practice the profound path of guru-deity yoga

Absorption of Shakyamuni Buddha

By your having generated bodhicitta, Shakyamuni Buddha is extremely pleased and a replica absorbs to you.

You become Buddha. Light radiates from you to all beings. There is a Shakyamuni Buddha on the tip of each beam of light. The buddhas land above the heads of each being.

Light and nectar flow from the buddhas into the sentient beings, purifying their two levels of obscurations. A replica of Buddha absorbs into them. Their negativities are purified, they generate the path and become enlightened in the aspect of Shakyamuni Buddha. Feel great joy that you’ve brought sentient beings to the state of buddha.

Unfortunately you’ve only imagined they are all enlightened. They are actually still suffering in samsara because of being under the control of attachment and aversion, feeling close to some beings and distant from others. Therefore you must practice the Four Immeasurable Thoughts, which is like a stimulant for the practice of bodhicitta.

The Four Immeasurable Thoughts

Immeasurable Thought of Equanimity:

How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings were to abide in equanimity, free of hatred and attachment, not holding some close and others distant.
May they abide in equanimity.
I myself will cause them to abide in equanimity.
Please, Guru-Deity, bless me to be able to do this.

Immeasurable Thought of Loving Kindness:

How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings had happiness and the cause of happiness.
May they have happiness and its cause.
I myself will cause them to have happiness and its cause.
Please, Guru-Deity, bless me to be able to do this.

Immeasurable Thought of Compassion:

How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings were free of suffering and its cause.
May they be free of suffering and its cause.
I myself will cause them to be free from suffering and its cause.
Please, Guru-Deity, bless me to be able to do this.

Immeasurable Thought of Joyfulness:

How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings were never separated from the happiness of higher rebirth and liberation.
May they never be separated from these.
I myself will cause them never to be separated from these.
Please, Guru-Deity, bless me to be able to do this.

Special Bodhicitta

No matter how difficult, for the sake of all mother beings
I must quickly, quickly achieve the precious state
Of a complete and perfect buddha.
Therefore I will practice the profound path of guru-deity yoga.

Absorption of the Refuge Merit Field

Buddha is pleased with your bodhicitta determination.


All the places of sentient beings absorb into the buddhas you’ve generated.

The lineage gurus (surrounding Vajradhara) absorb into Vajradhara.

The lineage gurus (surrounding Maitreya) absorb into Maitreya Buddha.

The lineage gurus (surrounding Manjushri) absorb into Manjushri.

All the deities absorb into your root guru.

The thrones absorb into the lotus seats.

The seats absorb into the gurus.

The gurus absorb into your root guru.

Your root guru absorbs into the heart of Shakyamuni Buddha (without dissolving into light).

Shakyamuni Buddha dissolves into blue light and absorbs into you at your brow chakra.

Meditate on the emptiness of the I.

From the transcendental wisdom and bliss, develop divine pride, “this is the truth body.” Then arise into the enjoyment body, and then into the emanation body of your deity.

From the syllable at your heart, light radiates to all the ten directions and purifies the environment and the beings in it. They transform into the nature of bliss and emptiness.

You see all phenomena as manifestations of emptiness and great bliss.

The impure places become celestial mansions and the beings become divine male and female deities.

End of session

End the session here, but one session a day do the rest of the Guru Puja from here. Do Verse 1, then do Verse 9 to the end of Guru Puja, including the lam-rim prayer.


1 Reciting the refuge prayer and mantras to benefit your present life to have health, wealth, etc, is not considered to be a Dharma action as it involves only the happiness of this life. Recitation with the motive to have good future lives involves attachment and craving for temporary samsaric happiness and the cause for rebirth in samsara but is defined as a Dharmic action because there is benefit beyond this life by renouncing attachment to the pleasures of this life. Recitation with the motive of renunciation of samsara is a cause of liberation from samsara. Reciting the prayers with bodhicitta is the action of a bodhisattva, creates great merit and is a cause of enlightenment. Reciting the refuge prayers and mantras has power because of the truth of Buddha’s teachings and its blessings that can even cure disease and prolong life. [Return to text]

2  The right hand controlling the earth has a story behind it. Lord Buddha told Indra, “You have lots of power and wealth because you were generous in the past.”
Indra replied, “You are the witness to the causes I created to be a powerful and wealthy god. But what proof can you produce showing that you are enlightened.”
Buddha replied, “I became enlightened by completing the two types of virtue.”
“How can you prove this?”
“I have a witness,” Buddha touched the earth with his right hand and the earth goddess appeared and said, “What Lord Buddha said is true.” Indra and the gods were subdued and ashamed.
Another interpretation of Buddha’s right hand position is having destroyed the god of desire who shoots the five arrows of negativities. Being distracted by attachment is an obstacle to those trying to live in pure moral conduct, anger causes disharmony in one’s family and community, distracted thoughts disturb meditation, miserliness interferes with the practice of giving.[Return to text]

You can exclude someone you’ve studied with but with whom no special relationship was formed, but you should feel equanimity and not have a critical mind towards that person. It’s advised to see anyone whose teachings have helped your mind as one of your gurus. If you find it difficult to have respect for a particular guru because of seeing his faults or mistakes, the way to stop those thoughts is to see that teacher as a buddha in essence. Also think of that teacher as being the embodiment of the guru you have little trouble seeing as a buddha. [Return to text]

The visualized refuge objects are the “causal refuge” because they bring about the “resultant refuge”, your own future attainment of Buddha when you are no longer dependent on the causal refuge for the sake of others. (This is Mahayana Refuge.) [Return to text]

The strong waves of karma and delusions come one after another, attacking you like sea monsters. For example, when you are very angry you don’t want to practice patience. You can only give in to the anger, because it’s so strong even though you’ve heard the teachings so many times. When the mind is overwhelmed by attachment, the mind is completely dark. The wave of desire totally overwhelms the mind. The actions done out of anger, desire and ignorance create negative karmic imprints that will ripen into painful experiences and we have so many of those unpurified imprints. On top of that, we constantly create more negative actions each day, each minute. So our suffering appears to be fathomless. [Return to text]

Refuge Preliminary
Guru devotion: reasons proving the guru is Buddha.

Padmasambhava said that if you don’t realize that your guru is Buddha you cannot become liberated. Therefore, reflect on the qualities of your guru and pray for blessings.

Receiving lam-rim realizations depends on receiving your gurus’ blessings which depends on your own devotion. Even if you intellectually understand all the sutras and tantras you cannot attain realizations of those paths without the blessings of your gurus. Therefore all realizations depend on the kindness of your teachers.

When you visualize any buddha or deity always know that their essence is your guru and vice versa. This way of thinking brings blessings quickly. Visualizing your guru in the aspect of Shakyamuni Buddha is especially powerful because Buddha is the present founder of Buddhadharma so you can see the source of your practices.

You need to stop your ordinary conception that any of your gurus are separate. This conception blocks the development of your mind and realizations of the path to enlightenment. The actual meaning of “guru” is the mind of all the buddhas, the Dharmakaya, the transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and emptiness. This is the absolute guru.

Guru means the source from which all the buddhas manifest into their various aspects, the source being the Dharmakaya. Without your guru as the source of all the buddhas and deities, even the name “Buddha” can’t exist. All the buddhas and deities in the merit field are actually the embodiment of the absolute guru, the Dharmakaya. The embodiment of the absolute guru is your root guru whose essence is the wisdom of bliss and emptiness.

The various gurus from whom you have taken teachings are all the same essence, the embodiment of the absolute guru is your root guru whose essence is the wisdom of bliss and emptiness. The various gurus from whom you’ve taken teachings are all the same essence, the embodiment of the absolute guru which is the Dharmakaya.

If you find it difficult to have respect for a particular guru because of seeing his faults or mistakes, the way to stop those thoughts is to see that teacher as a buddha in essence. Also think of that teacher as being the embodiment of the guru you have little trouble seeing as a Buddha.

Remember the story of Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen who meditated for years on lam-rim with no success until his teacher advised him to remember the guru he had been leaving out of the merit field and put that guru in the position of his root guru. Realization came like rainfall.

Remember that Shakyamuni Buddha made five hundred prayers to his guru, Rinchen Nyingpo, that during the time of the five degenerations he would guide the beings who all the other buddhas were unable to subdue. Think, “This is the degenerate times and I am one of those people Shakyamuni Buddha promised to guide.” I don’t have the pure karma to see my guru in the various sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya aspects, so he appears as an ordinary person to me.

All the oral transmissions, commentaries, vows, initiations, teachings and instructions that each of my gurus gives me definitely lead me to enlightenment, gradually eliminating the two obscurations and completing all the qualities and merit. If these gurus aren’t Shakyamuni Buddha guiding me as he promised, then who else is guiding me? No-one. So these teachers must be doing what Buddha promised he would do. Buddha even leads animals to liberation, so why not me? I have a precious human life with the eighteen qualities, so of course Buddha is guiding me. [Return to text]

If negative imprints are not purified, as soon as you stop breathing and die, the lower realms appear like waking up from a dream. As it’s so difficult to purify past imprints, it’s extremely important not to create many additional ones. [Return to text]

It’s OK to produce books with the thought to benefit by giving people the opportunity to create merit, to generate faith in the Three Jewels, to listen, reflect on Dharma, to remove obscurations and to attain enlightenment. Remember when Maitreya Buddha disrobed and married a girl to save her from suicide. [Return to text]

The Kadampa geshes, whenever they saw a member of the Sangha, would think “This person is guiding me from the lower realms and to enlightenment”. [Return to text]