Then and Now, Class 19

Section 1

This is the nineteenth class in the Then and Now, February 26, 2008, looking at refuge, the vow of the individual freedom leading into the Bodhisattva Vow.

Last week we looked at the three jewels. Looking at them, as they say in the Tibetan tradition: the outer, inner and secret. One way of thinking about outer, inner and secret, is the outer has to do with what we experience in terms of what we see, what we hear, what we touch really through the senses. So that’s the historical Buddha and the teachings that have come down to us through the centuries in the Buddhist canon. And the sangha of those who have taken monastic ordination. The inner refers to the principles or the ideals. So at this level, or this way of interpreting the three jewels, the inner is the Buddha principle: the principle of being awake. The Dharma is the actual experience of the teachings rather than just the understanding of the teachings. So it’s the arising of compassion in our experience, rather than just understanding what compassion is. And the sangha, in this interpretation and in the Tibetan tradition, is the noble sangha, the first bodhisattvas. So it is that sense of engaging this practice deeply for the welfare of others and being inspired by the ideals of compassion and emptiness and so forth. And then the secret, this is what we could also call the mystery. Again I want to emphasize that mystery here means something that can be experienced but can’t be put into words. So, this level of interpretation and Buddha is the emptiness of experience, the Dharma is clarity of mind which makes it possible to know, and sangha is the unrestricted arising of experience without falling into confusion.

Section 2

Now the question that I asked you to consider, and wanted to discuss with you for a little while, is: what needs to happen for you to take refuge seriously. You all recall that question? So, what needs to happen?

Molly: I’m not sure I like the term, “taking it seriously.” But I kind of got past that and I came to a constant returning, kind of like meditation itself—commitment, vigilance. One other thing that came to me was I would need to let go of a sense of who I think I am, or my identity or myself which was one of my questions I guess. Sort of like what does that mean. And then you asked about physical and emotional—

Ken: What arises physically, emotionally when you entertain this question?

Molly: So I came to a softening, sadness. Kind of like there needs to be a taking down of all the boundaries.

Ken: I’d like to clarify my question because when I listen to you, it seems that you may be describing what taking refuge, the result of understanding or actually taking refuge would be. When I used the term that you don’t like, “taking it seriously,” I meant something closer to what you referred to in your answer, which was a sense of commitment. So another way of posing this question is, what would be required for you to take this on as a commitment for yourself, of course—that’s really what it is. And that’s what I was getting at, so, can you elaborate on that?

Molly: Well, I could go in the direction of actual time commitment in my life.

Ken: Again, you are one step further than what I am trying to get at. I mean I am not asking you what commitment would you be willing to make, etc. Last week we discussed these ideas. Okay? And they seemed to make sense, etc. And between hearing about those ideas and coming to the direct experience of the emptiness, clarity and unrestricted experience, there’s a path of practice, and as you say, the path of practice is going to take a commitment in time and energy, etc. So that’s here. What I am talking about is how to go from having heard about these, to the point of, okay, this is something that’s really important and I am going to act on it. What needs to happen there? Do you follow?

Molly: I’m not sure…

Ken: Okay.

Molly: …I have…

Ken: All right. Randye.

Section 3

Randye: I know for me, what would put me over that threshold was the realization that what I was doing wasn’t working, and I wasn’t happy with my life.

Ken: Okay. Chuck.

Section 4

Chuck: I wasn’t here last week, but I think that one of the important things is impermanence and death. They make you see what’s important.

Ken: Yes, I think that’s very true. So that’s what pushes you over the threshold.

Chuck: Right.

Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Susan.

Section 5

Susan: There are a couple of things. One was I was remembering what Shantideva had said about how you must feel a disgust for this life. And it didn’t make complete sense to me at the time, but I can sort of see what he means. I don’t quite know how to explain it but it’s kind of knowing what’s possible and experiencing what is—I guess is the best way.

Ken: Okay, one way of talking about that disgust for this life is to be very clear. In saying that, Shantideva was referring to the phrase that I like to use, disgust for the world in which we think we live in, which is this world of shared experience. And saying: “Oh, I can’t find any peace or satisfaction in that world.” And so we let go of that and start dealing with the world of actual experience.

Susan: Yes. I guess I just wanted to add the other part of that. There’s a feeling of opening and being where you’re supposed to be. When that does happen that also provides the impetus to commit to…

Ken: Okay.

Susan: …work.

Ken: Steve, did you have a comment?

Section 6

Steve: What propelled me I think initially, was a rising sense of an imbalance between some clarity in some areas and none in others. It was a “so what did it take or what does it take?,” was a feeling there was a split happening.

Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Lynea?

Section 7

Lynea: Some variety of failures, humiliations and close calls.

Ken: So I should lead new students into dangerous situations, should I?

Student: I do it without any help.

Ken: They’ll get into dangerous situations without any help from me. I see. Okay.

Section 8

I want to go a step further here. And I’m going to have to be more explicit in my question and stop hinting around. Most of you here have taken the vow of refuge, I think possibly everybody. What was the significance of that for you? Why was that important? [long pause] The silence is deafening! Lynea.

Lynea: For me it was a commitment to be willing to look, even when I forget to look.

Ken: Why was it important to take a vow, to go through such a ceremony? Because I know a few of you were quite persistent. You bugged me for anywhere from six months to a year. How long was it, Molly? Yeah. So obviously it was something important that you felt you needed. No criticism here, I think this was really good. But what was important. This is what I want to get at. Do you want to say any more? It wasn’t enough just to—and this is where I was trying to go with that question “what needs to happen to take it seriously,” because, okay you can read about it, take it in, study, learn it in a class, etc., and as you say, take in death, impermanence, what did you say? Many failures, and a few close calls…

Lynea: Yeah, some combination of failures, humiliations and a few close calls.

Ken: And, but there’s something else that each of you felt was important and necessary.

Lynea: For me it was externalizing the knowing, ritualizing it in a certain way, means that there’s something when, I cannot connect to it; practice, experience or whatever, that—

Ken: Something occurred in time.

Lynea: Something occurred in time and it’s something to return to.

Ken: Okay. Anybody else?

Section 9

Molly: There’s something about doing a ritual like that in front of people and also making a commitment to your teacher or the person who gives refuge…

Ken: Yes.

Molly: …and conducts the ceremony.

Ken: And what is that?

Molly: I don’t know.

Ken: Interesting. Okay. Julia, do you have anything to say on this?

Section 10

Julia: I was thinking along the lines of what Lynea was saying about commitment.

Ken: Go on.

Julia: It’s a willingness to keep…basically you’re committing to a path where you continuously open to what you don’t know. So it’s a path of exploration and opening. It’s a step that’s a representation of a faith in a process. So it’s a combination really of a commitment and a step into faith.

Ken: And why is it important to ritualize it?

Julia: Because there’s no going back.

Ken: Why is there no going back only if you ritualize it?

Julia: Because I think that the mind is very sneaky. So you can say: “Well, you know I had fingers crossed behind my back, or I did it on Wednesday and I wasn’t feeling so well, or something.”

Ken: Nobody was looking.

Julia: Nobody was looking. That’s right. Like eating chocolate standing up so it doesn’t have any calories in it. But it’s different when you do it publicly. You’re witnessing something so I suppose in that sense it is kind of like a marriage, where you standing up and declaring something.

Ken: Yes.

Julia: It does make a difference. I guess I don’t quite understand the mechanism by which it makes a difference. But it does.

Ken: This is what I am inviting everybody to explore in this question. Cara.

Section 11

Cara: When Julia said that I just thought it’s like the spiritual equivalent of just moving in together or getting married.

Ken: Yeah.

Cara: Because when you are just living together and you’re in your separate space, there’s always the opt out. But marriage requires a lot more—

Ken: It’s more difficult to opt out of marriage.

Cara: It’s a lot more difficult to opt out of.

Ken: Okay. Randye?

Section 12

Randye: For me a big part of the ritual is getting out of my head and not intellectualizing it and experiencing moving into a space that other people have gone before. And it’s kind of joining that path.

Ken: Joe.

Section 13

Joe: It occurs to me that what happens when I personally make a vow or a promise is that I use a lot of mechanisms that in other circumstances might not be very fruitful or skillful. And I use those mechanisms in the service of something that will be more skillful and fruitful. For example, it’s important to me to feel that I’m a person who keeps their promise. So it’s a sense of self that’s involved there. But it’s in service of something that I think is worthwhile. So what I’m doing is building a bond, and in a sense concretizing or—not concretizing self—but using a mechanism which would lead to a sense of self in the service of something other than self.

Section 14

Ken: Yes, I think there’s something a little mysterious about all of this. Because if you go back to the distinction that Susan was raising, that this is about letting go of our seeking security or safety in the life in which we think we live, and looking for, not really security or safety, but freedom from the vicissitudes of experience in the act of experience itself—the emptiness, clarity and unrestricted arising. But as several of you have eloquently expressed, doing this, making that commitment in the world in which we think that we live, actually provides an impetus of power or support for that more interior exploration. It’s quite interesting. I mean in a certain sense, when you’re taking refuge, you’re saying in the world of shared experience and interaction, “I’m out of here, and I am serious about this!” Steve.

Section 15

Steve: I’m wondering if there’s certain exercises we’ve talked about. Once you said that there was someone that decided that every time a door shut, or closed during the day…that if it’s not that different, that it’s just another way or tool to remember what we are doing.

Ken: Oh, I think so. Yes. It’s a very powerful tool. And what I am trying to explore is the power. How does it have so much power and why is that power important? Randye, you had a comment.

Section 16

Randye: A little more about what I’d said before about taking the path others have taken, which is that there’s a sense that there’s a safety net. Sitting in the not-knowing is scary and staying in the not-knowing is even scarier. And the safety net, the grounding, the foundation of doing that, is knowing that others have done this before. I think that’s for me a part of that ritual.

Ken: Okay. Julia, you had a comment.

Section 17

Julia: Yes, my comment was similar in the sense that you say that we’re doing this in the world of shared experience, but it’s a different world of shared experience, I would argue, than the one of everyday life. In the sense it is the shared experience of people who collectively have committed to this path, or are in the process of doing that. So Randye’s talking about antecedents, I’m talking about something that is more contemporaneous. But this idea of a series of individuals making a commitment to something which is to be awake in their own lives, is something which is collectively outside of the sort of social programming or norms. Most rituals are to indoctrinate people or include people into social hierarchies. This is a different kind of a ritual where collectively you’re jumping off the cliff, if you like, together.

Ken: Yes.

Julia: So it has a very different flavor from other types of more highly socialized rituals.

Ken: Okay. Susan.

Section 18

Susan: Another possibility is that there are also three levels to the actual ritual itself. There’s outer, inner and secret. And especially when it’s conducted with a field of awareness. So, if you’re talking about the mysterious who knows what’s happening on these other levels. It could penetrate in a certain way.

Ken: All right. Any other comments anybody would like to make on this? Because this is a way of leading into looking at the vow of refuge itself. Lynea. And Joe.

Section 19

Lynea: For those of us who waited a very long time to take refuge, I think that part of what’s significant is, it’s an acknowledgement, at lease in my case, of gratitude but also acknowledgement of the experience of the practice itself.

Ken: Okay. Yes. Joe.

Section 20

Joe: I’m just wondering if it can be unpacked even more than as far as we have taken it here. The actual answer I got to, after going through all of the stages of the questions you asked, and physical, emotional and story wise, the actual answer I got to on a concrete level, was, I need to unpack it for myself a little bit more so it’s even simpler. And I think one can; I haven’t yet but I have the intuition that it can be unpacked again.

Ken: I see. Okay.

Section 21

Let’s turn to page 141 in Kenchog Gyaltsen’s translation. In Guenther’s translation it is page 103.

It says,

in the common ceremony the disciple supplicates the master to perform the ceremony, the master makes offerings in front of the three jewels, if this can not be arranged, the disciple visualizes the three jewels in space and mentally do prostrations, and the disciple repeats after the master, please hear me all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, please hear me hear me master, my name is for this time until I achieve enlightenment, I take refuge in all the Buddhas the supreme beings among the two legs.

That’s literally what the prayer says, in Tibetan it’s krang gnyis rnams kyi mchog which means the “Supreme among the two-leggeds” which refers, of course, to humans not to birds.

I take refuge in the Dharma the supreme freedom from all attachments, tshong rnams kyi mchog, I take refuge in the Sangha, the most excellent of all communities.

The longer ceremony, the more involved ceremony goes through three stages. Preparation, which is basically creating suitable conditions for the expression or the establishment of this motivation. Then the actual ceremony. You see that the wording is the same. There are a few more steps. And in this more involved ceremony, you will see at the bottom of page 142, this quotation from the Naga King Anavatapta requested sutra, this is referring to the deeper level of refuge, what we call the secret or mystery level. And I want to go through this because this is a very good example of what I think are certain translation problems.

Those who realize all phenomena are non-existent, and have no form, no perception, no characteristics. See the Buddha perfectly. That is taking refuge in the Buddha.

I want to focus on the phrase, “realize all phenomena are non-existent and have no form, no perception and no characteristics. What do you understand by that? What is comparable and one in Guenther is,

By knowing all entities to be non-existent and to see them as incapable of being given form, and primary characteristics are being taken as entities in themselves, but to see them as being perfect Buddhahood is taking refuge in the Buddha.

Anybody want to explain that one? No. A lot of shaking of heads. It’s kind of like gobbledygook, isn’t it. It’s going to make me popular.

First off, the term ”realize.“ It’s used quite frequently in spiritual circles, as in a realized person. And come to realization. When I first encountered Buddhism many years ago, that was pretty standard vocabulary. But whenever I looked up realize in the dictionary, the first meaning of realize is to bring something into being, as in ”realize“ a profit. So you bought something at five dollars, it’s now worth ten dollars, when you sell it you ”realize“ the profit. You make the gain real and now you have actual cash in hand. But I also had a difficult time figuring out what that had to do with spiritual understanding.

This is an example of a word which has come, I’m not sure who started using the word realize in this sense, but it’s a word that has gained a particular meaning in the context of spiritual practice and is actually quite divorced from everyday English. It’s one of the reasons why. And so, who realize all phenomena are nonexistent. Now most people come to me and they say, ”Something has changed.“ But I think it’s important to make this much more specific. I can’t remember what the word is in Sanskrit but the word in Tibetan is rtogs pa and to the best of my understanding it has the meaning of ’knowing directly’, unmediated by the intellect, unmediated by emotional projections and so forth. It is direct and immediate knowing. Now, there’s actually quite a bit of western lore which doesn’t even acknowledge such a form of knowing—that all knowing has to be conceptual. This is not true, of course, but there are certain schools of thought in western circles that don’t have any notion of a knowing that is unmediated by intellect or emotional projection or anything like that.

Now, the second word that is extremely problematic here, from my perspective, is the word phenomena. It’s a Greek word and arises in the pair noumenon and phenomenon. Noumenon referring in some way to the spirit or the knowing spirit, and phenomenon referring to what is known, i.e, things out there. So whenever we use the word phenomena, we are talking about the objective pole or the object pole of experience. But this is not what is meant here. The word, of course, in Tibetan, which is Chos, which is Dharma in Sanskrit, and doesn’t refer solely to the object pole, it refers to experience itself. It can be experience of self, it can be experience of knowing, it isn’t just a knowing a sensory object or a projective object of any kind. So, this could be recast as: ’those who know directly that all experience doesn’t exist as entities’. That’s what non-existent is. Existence here has a very definite meaning in Buddhism. It means it exists on its own. It isn’t dependent on anything else. But all experience from the Buddhist point of view arises in relation to something else. If it’s a subject it arises in relationship to an object; if it’s an object it arises in relation to a subject. And in this sense, no experience exists independently, and it’s not actually talking about objects like ’water bottle’. It’s talking about the experience of form, like round, things like that. These things don’t exist in and of themselves.

Section 22

Now, this is a much more accessible experience than most people think. To know that everything is non-existent, means that everything has to disappear. That’s how I know it. No, this is much more accessible than that. You come into this direct knowing, and even though things arise, you see very, very, directly that they are, to use the traditional metaphors, because they are totally appropriate, they’re arising like reflections in a mirror. Now, the reflection of an object in a mirror, doesn’t exist as such, but it’s a vivid experience. And this is what this is referring to here.

And have no form, no perception and no characteristics.

Again that’s referring to, I think Guenther’s translation is actually better here. He says:

..see them as incapable of being given form in primary characteristics,

and one might say that they don’t have ‘actual’ form. Like for instance, if you look at the reflection of an object in a mirror it appears to have form but there isn’t anything there which has form. It appears to be something but there isn’t anything there which actually is something. Do you follow? That’s what this is referring to.

Section 23

Now, then the next thing,

…to see them being taken as entities in themselves.

That’s good. But the next phrase,

but to see them as being perfect Buddhahood.

[sighs] and Kenchog Gyaltsen’s says,

see the Buddha perfectly.

Here, Buddha means, in a very definite sense, emptiness. What they’re saying is: when you experience directly the ephemerality of experience, that is knowing, and I would prefer using the word knowing rather than seeing, that is knowing the nature of things. That’s taking refuge in Buddha. You follow?


One who realises all phenomena are the nature of dharmadhatu is taking refuge in the Dharma.

Urgh. I would prefer to translate this as: when you experience directly that all experience is pure being—which is the clarity aspect of mind—that’s taking refuge. Now again, if you go back to our example of the mirror, on the one hand you have the emptiness of experience of the forms in the mirror, that there isn’t anything there. On the other you have the fact that they appear vividly. You see them. When you experience that vividness and emptiness simultaneously, you know what you’re seeing. You’re seeing a reflection in the mirror. Okay? Similarly, when you experience the vividness of experience and the no-thingness that we’ve just been referring to, then your relationship with experience shifts, and there’s a clarity, a natural clarity, and you understand experience, in a very rough sense, as a kind of a manifestation of that clarity. Then your relationship with it shifts. It’s no longer seen or regarded as something other. This is taking refuge in the Dharma, at the secret level or the level of mystery.

Section 24

And then:

One who realizes the composite and the non-composite or non-dual, is taking refuge in the Sangha.

What does Guenther do with that. I prefer Guenther’s translation here:

To see the conditioned and unconditioned as not to be split up into a duality.

Now one way of getting at this—the story is told of Dogen, that he came across a couple of monks who are arguing about the nature of things. They were looking at a flag that was flapping in the wind and trying to determine whether it was the flag that moved or the wind that moved. And Dogen just said, ”You’re both wrong, it’s the mind that moves.“ Another teacher, sometime later said, ”Dogen was wrong too.“ I agree with that teacher, I can’t remember his name. When you see things directly, there may the appearance of movement but there is no movement. There is nothing to move. Sounds a little strange. And so what they were referring to here is that, when you’re completely present, then experience arises without restriction and there isn’t any sense of it being composite or not composite, or conditioned or un-conditioned. It is just experience. One actually moves beyond that duality. That duality happens to be very useful in describing the path and so forth, but they aren’t intrinsic qualities of any experience. So, does this help make this paragraph a little bit more comprehensible? Julia.

Section 25

Julia: In the flag, is there not also a dynamic element there, in the sense that when you’re completely present you’re not revisiting the past, which is where the flag was the moment before?

Ken: That doesn’t arise there actually. I suppose in the sense that there isn’t a sense of time.

Julia: Yes, I see.

Ken: See, time is dependent on a sense of self. We know this. When you have a headache, how quickly does time pass?

Julia: Very slowly.

Ken: When you are completely engaged in something, how quickly does time pass?

Julia: Can’t say.

Ken: Yeah. So there is a very intimate relationship between time and self, or sense of self.

Any other questions or comments on this before I move on?

Section 26

Now, if one happens to experience this when taking refuge, that’s very good! But basically what’s happening most of the time in the ceremony of taking refuge is the seed for that experience is being planted or one’s being oriented in that direction.

Section 27

Then the third part of this is a conclusion where you make offerings, and so forth, out of gratitude for that. Now, as we discussed at the beginning, rituals are important. They’re important for all of the reasons that you described. A couple of the principle ones being that something takes place at a certain time, and it renders one accountable and prevents one from saying, as Julia was saying, you know, you had your fingers crossed and so forth. It’s not absolutely necessary that that be ritualized because some people are able to make commitments on their own and to make that shift. But for many people it’s just extremely helpful. Part of that, is that the physical acting out and the going through a process is not simply an intellectual process. There’s an emotional and physical process, so it speaks to us and resonates with us at a deeper level. And that I think is one of the primary purposes of ritual is that it engages the whole person, rather than just a part of it. And we can read this book and go, ”Yeah, that’s a really good thing, I am going to do that.“ But that doesn’t penetrate very deeply, when we are present and in front of another person, and say ’I’m going to do that”. The squirm factor is much higher.

Section 28

Many of you know that one of my favorite books is by Uchiyama Roshi, the Refining Your Life. And I was at a Buddhist teachers conference in 2001 and I ran into a monk who’d actually met Uchiyama and basically studied at his monastery for a year. Didn’t have a lot of contact with him, but was allowed to be present when Uchiyama was conducting an ordination ceremony for some monks. Now, in Japanese Zen tradition everything is completely scripted. That is, before you go into the ceremony somebody takes you through the whole ceremony and says, “Well, the abbot is going to say this, and you say this. And then the abbot will say this and you say this. And the abbot will say this.” And so you know your lines completely. There are no surprises whatsoever.

This monk that I was talking with, said, Uchiyama’s presence was so powerful and his voice so piercing that when he asked “Are you going to take on this commitment blah, blah,blah”, and the monk said, “Yes I’m going to take on this commitment”, the new monks were sweating with fear. It was really being taken into them very, very deeply. Even though everything had been scripted, the presence of the moment was actually like [deep inhalation] and they were really, really feeling it.

Section 29

One other comment on ritual. Rituals such as refuge, and most rituals and most rites, develop from a desire to celebrate the value of these kinds of understandings. And that celebratory aspect is very, very important. Celebration very closely related to joy. And it really is an expression of joy which is put into a ritual form. What tends to happen is that once it’s put into a ritual form, then the emphasis shifts to observing the form and the sense of celebration and joy tends to fade away, and one loses connection with it. And that’s when the celebratory rites become empty rituals.

So, we’re going to be discussing the bodhisattva vow in quite a bit of detail over the next couple of weeks. And I just wanted to put this note in there because even though it’s a very formal ritual, it is really a celebration of this arising of this form of motivation, this sort of motivation in the individual, and that celebratory aspect is very, very important to keep in mind. Refuge itself, the refuge vow, is also a celebration of the arising of, the recognition of, as you were putting it Randye, This life isn’t working for me! That’s being celebrated. And I think this is another reason why such rituals are important, is that it’s not only you or the aspirant here making a declaration or making a commitment in the presence of another person, it is that other person, whether it be the teacher, other people who are present celebrating in this very ritual form, the arising of this. So it’s also a, if you put it in simple psychological terms, a being seen. But if we interpret that in spiritual terms it’s also, by being seen you’re having an experience of not being separate from this way of being. So I think it’s not just the part of making a commitment; it’s also being seen and being celebrated. And if you remember the discussions we’ve had about power, there’s a very close relationship; joy is the emotion that is associated with power. So that in terms of the immeasurables, when somebody celebrates what you are doing, this plants a seed which is your connection with power. And that’s very important in the context of these vows because it is the willingness to just go and do what is necessary, which is the principal aspect of power. That seed is being planted, that potential or possibility is being planted in you through the ceremony, not only by you making the commitment, but also by you being recognized and celebrated by others.

Any comments or anything anybody wants to say on that? Steve?

Section 30

Steve: I’m just thinking about that on a more basic level, that when you do any kind of ceremony, you are physicalizing something that you were thinking about. You’re giving it a physical manifestation which is walking and doing things. For one thing, we remember physical actions more than thoughts, and so it’s making physical something that if we just thought about, wouldn’t imprint as much. I think.

Ken: I think you’re quite right. Yep. Randye?

Section 31

Randye: A long time ago you described three ways of knowing: an intellectual knowing, emotional knowing, and a perceptual knowing.

Ken: Roughly. Yep.

Randye: And you’ve used a phrase that stuck with me, which seems to be coming up now. Which is that your way of relating to the world changes. And the realization, I think, at least for me taking refuge, is that it changed how I behave in the world.

Ken: That’s where we’re going next. Thank you. Great segue. Okay.

Section 32

There’s the training in refuge. And this is what’s on page 143. The three general trainings, honoring the three jewels which is something you can ritualize in your life. One of the ways is whenever you sit down to eat you offer the food to the three jewels. It’s equivalent to the Christian grace —you’re not actually asking for a blessing, you’re just making an offering. You’re making an offering to them. And bowing to the three jewels. All of these are ways of honoring what you have come to be the basic orientation in one’s own life. Time and time again, I’m asked, ‘When you bow in Buddhism, why do you bow and who are you bowing to?’ Because from the perspective of the Ten Commandments this is really bad stuff. In Buddhism we don’t settle for small graven images, we like really big things.

This comes up when we go up to Mt. Baldy, and somebody who is new will say, why do we bow when we go into the Zendo? and so forth. Bowing has always been a very important part of Buddhist practice. It’s regarded as an antidote for pride because you’re lowering your body. It is a form of practice which everybody follows, and so when the Dalai Lama comes into a temple he does three prostrations in the same way that any of us does. When Kalu Rinpoche enter temples, he would always do that himself. Age has nothing to do with it and so forth. And we bow to Buddha because not as a savior, or as a creator or even as a higher being of any kind. But, as a person who showed us what is possible and showed that it’s possible to come to this awakening, which we call Buddha. And so when one’s bowing to the Buddha, one is acknowledging that potential and honoring it within oneself. And this is why many people have a shrine or a small place in their house where they have a Buddha image, or something along those lines, because it is a way, a symbol again, of making a place for that in their lives. This has nothing to with worship, in the sense of asking to get something. Many, many people practice that in Buddhism, but that is not what Buddhist practice is about which is why the Dalai Lama has, on more than one occasion, said that most people who practice Buddhism would be much happier in another religion where there are such things as worship and so forth.

Section 33

Not forsaking the triple jewel even at the risk of one’s life or for great rewards.

Again this goes back to what we discussed in the discussion of faith several chapters ago. Stuff comes up in us. We let go of that commitment to know the empty clarity of experience, and get caught up in our confusion. We go step out of that life of immediate experience. That’s what’s being referred to here.

Repeatedly taking refuge by recollecting qualities of the triple jewel.

The more that we take this in, just reminding ourselves, repeating prayers and verses which reflect that, then this is just a way of instilling these perspectives and this way of approaching life, more and more deeply in us.

The three particular trainings, having taken refuge in Buddha, one should not take refuge in other deities.

Other deities here, means taking anything else as a source of ultimate refuge. So feeling that medicine will save us, feeling that a relationship will save us, feeling that money will save us. And there are many people who do precisely this—you know, the perfect tan, the perfect hair, the perfect clothes. You may think that I am being specious here, but those are actual discussions I’ve had with people. You know: “I could never wear that! I could never dress like that!” As if dressing a certain way protected them from something. Ultimately.

Having taken refuge in the Dharma one should not harm other sentient beings.

The reason for this is that the intention of the Dharma is to end suffering. If we’re causing suffering for other beings, we’re going against the basic intention of the Dharma. Now, many years ago, a very long time ago in the 70’s, I was in Seattle visiting some friends that I had met originally in Rinpoche’s monastery in India. There is a very distinguished lama visiting Seattle at that time, Dilgo Khyentse, and they were hoping that their seven year old son would choose to take refuge with Dilgo Khyentse. And they were quite upset that he was completely adamant that he was not going to. And so I was staying with them and was sitting out the back door step, with Jesse, this young boy. So I just bought it up casually and said: “So, you aren’t going to take refuge with Dilgo Khyentse?”

And he said: “No way!” And I said: “Oh, and why is that?”

And he said: “Look, it’s bad enough you walk along the sidewalk and you step on an ant, that’s worth kalpas in hell. Once you take refuge, its way worse than that! I’m not going to do that!”

So I explained to him a little bit, the difference between unintentional and intentional action. So that relieved his anxiety, so he ended up taking refuge, and his parents were very happy. The fact is going through the course of life, it is impossible to go through the course of life without causing difficulties for others. You know, you drive down the street and bugs smash into our windshield. It’s endless. But to the extent that we can, then we don’t cause harm for others. And I also make a distinction between hurting others and harming others. Harming others is causing them real damage. There are lots of situations where somebody may have hurt feelings or something like that. We need to do things either because of our work or family obligations, which is going to hurt somebody. But it’s not done with the intent of harming them and hopefully it’s done in a way which doesn’t actually harm them. I just found that that’s a useful distinction for me, anyway. Maybe its helpful for you.

Having taken refuge in the Sangha, one should not rely on heretics.

Well, it’s a bit strong. The ideal here is, this goes very much to what Julia was saying about taking refuge, that you hang out with like-minded people. Now that, here in Los Angeles, and most quarters of the contemporary world, it’s not possible because we live in a pluralistic society. We don’t get to choose everybody with whom we work or interact, so insisting that we only interact with certain people… Well, I mean, it would be possible if we could create a whole community. And to some extent Christian fundamentalists do exactly this. They want to have Christian fundamentalist psychotherapists, accountants, and attorneys and so forth because there’s a shared understanding there. My interpretation of this is that in the circumstances of our lives we’re going to interact with people, but these are not the people who we are influenced by, in what is crucially or centrally important in our lives. And so what is crucially and centrally important in our lives, that is we associate with people who have similar things like that, so we have that reinforcement and support and that’s basically the central idea connected with sangha. Sangha is often translated as community, but community often carries the idea of mutual dependence. Everybody forms a community and this person does one thing and this person does another, and all the different functions are taken care of by different people in the community.

Sangha doesn’t mean community in that sense. But if it does mean community at all, it’s a community of shared intention. And that’s actually the word in Tibetan. The word for sangha in Tibetan is dge’dun. Dge is the word for virtue and dun is the word for to seek or to intend, so that these are people who intend virtue. Understanding sangha as a community of shared intention, rather than a community of mutual dependence, is a very important distinction in my mind.

Section 34

The three common trainings are to respect the Buddha jewel in every form even a piece of tsa-tsa, and tsa-tsa is a miniature replica which is used in various ceremonial forms in Tibetan Buddhism.

To respect the foundation of the Dharma jewel, the books and the texts of the precious Dharma, even in one syllable, and to respect the precious sangha jewel, the dress of Buddha, even the patch of yellow cloth.

Yellow, or saffron being the cheapest of dyes in India, and hence that was the color that was used. Now, there are different interpretations. If there’s a cheaper dye in your country, that’s the one you would be using for the robes which is why many of the monks in Japan wear gray.

The intention of this last one is that to bring attention in every aspect in one’s life. So that you aren’t neglecting or evading your commitment, in even very subtle ways. That’s what I think the intention here is. Now, people can get really uptight about this stuff, and we have had plenty of that over the last few decades with people.

So you know, “Oh, you know the letter ‘A’ represents perfection of wisdom, and you let that letter fall on the floor!” Well, we have a hard time in our society, because we got print all over the place, and who knows what the karma is for trashing a Dharma document on your computer without going through the proper ritual. I’m being a little facetious here. What is it—[unintelligible] ones and zeros. We have all these depictions of Buddhas all over the place. There was the case of Victoria’s Secret putting out that Buddha bikini a few years ago, which just sent the Buddhist world nuts! You can still look it up. It’s on-line. Buddha images on this bikini, which was actually quite popular. But there was an immediate write-in campaign to Victoria’s Secret from Buddhists all over the world. And the Korean government got into terrible trouble because when they put the image of Buddha on their currency. In a pluralistic society, I don’t know how we handle this stuff. Each of us have to make our own decisions about what’s appropriate or not. But you can get the general sense of it. In Korea Buddhists felt it was terrible to associate Buddhism with the currency. And I can see that. At the same time large Buddha image was a symbol for the country of Korea. So I can also see the government’s point of view. These are the kinds of things we have to wrestle with.

Section 35

The next section is about the benefits of refuge. I think it’s worth reading through those, interpreting them on an internal basis. I want to point out another strange form of English right on the bottom of page 143:

Refuge becomes a cause for purification of all the negative karmas accumulated earlier.

Well, if I give you a bit of gold ore, and ask you to purify, what do you purify? You purify the gold, you don’t purify the stuff that makes it impure. But here you have: “You purify the negative karma.” No we don’t purify the negative karma—that would make pure, negative karma. One has to be very alert because these kinds of idiosyncratic uses of English have crept into Buddhism. It’s very unfortunate because it makes it into a kind of Buddhist-hybrid English.

One will not fall into the lower realms.

And I’m just picking that one out as an example. When you take refuge, you’re forming an intention. If that intention is formed deeply enough, as some of you have said, it changes your relationship with life, in particular, it changes your relationship with some of those very basic emotional reactions. You may go there, but you can’t go there in the same way because you know there’s something wrong about it. Wrong, not in the moral sense, but wrong in the sense that it’s against this intention. It’s not helping you wake up and be present.


Now the rest of the chapter is on what’s called the pratimoksa in Sanskrit. I just want to cover this very quickly. Pratimoksa is another form of ordination. Its technical name is the Ordination of Individual Freedom and concerns specific actions. The core of it are four actions, not to kill a human being, not to steal anything of value—and anything of value means a weeks supply of rice, or more, so you can translate that into our culture—not to lie about your spiritual attainments and not to have inappropriate sexual relations. For a monk or nun, that means celibacy, for a lay person it means one has sexual relations within the context of the relationship one is in. Those form the core of the individual freedom vows. So there isn’t actually a vow in Buddhism that you aren’t going to take life, its when you take these vows you aren’t going to take the life of a human being. It’s extended, in principle, to you avoid taking life as much possible. But that is the actual vow. There is a fifth vow, which is also regarded as important, and that is not to take anything that has been fermented. That’s usually generalized more now to not taking any form of intoxicants. And the reason for that is that intoxicants cloud your mind and prevent you from acting appropriately and is regarded as very important because when you’re clouded by intoxicants you can do any of the other four.

It goes through these various reasons, why is this important, all of this is being talked about as a basis for the bodhisattva vow, which we’ll be starting on next week. Being able to restrain your actions is a form of discipline so you aren’t acting out of emotional reaction all of the time. Developing that ability to act intentionally rather than reactively is a suitable basis for forming the bodhisattva resolution. Also, as we have discussed in other contexts when you act morally, when you act virtuously, the mind is naturally clearer and lighter.

You have the scriptural authorities, and they’re endless—he just quotes one or two here—and then goes through the various kind of reasoning. You may ask why don’t I give this level of ordination? It’s because I’m not a monk. One actually has to take this level of ordination. The way I was trained from someone who has the complete ordination, which is the monastic thing. Those four basis vows are elaborated into two hundred and fifty-three, or in the case of women into three hundred and sixty something. The reason for that is that those who have devoted themselves full time are regarded as being the repository for those vows. Now there are other Buddhist traditions in which there is tradition of lay people providing the spaces for ordination to lay people, but that wasn’t the tradition of my own training.

For myself, the way I approach this, most of you are familiar with the ten non-virtuous acts. I take those as very good guidelines, they include all of this. I’ll just close with this story from my time with Rinpoche in India. One day this couple showed up. They’d been driving around India with a caravan. Now if any of you know the roads in India, they are difficult enough to negotiate with a car, and this was back in the seventies when the roads were much worse. And here they were driving around India with this large caravan. He’s quite a character, this guy. He sat down by Rinpoche and described how he traveled to galaxies and solar systems all over the universe, and met all of these incredible beings everywhere, and he was just delighted to meet just another incredible being, meaning Kalu Rinpoche. And so this discussion went back and forth, and before he took his leave he said: “If there’s one thing you want me to tell people, Rinpoche, what it is? ”What is your message to the universe because I will go a spread it.“

And I just had to hand it to Rinpoche, he quoted this very famous verse, which is one of Rinpoche’s favorites, ”cease to do evil, learn to do good, tame you mind, these are the Buddhist teachings.”

And those four lines, you’ll hear them quoted again and again. They’re really, really good to take to heart. As you work with them, or as your practice matures, you will find there’s many many levels just in those. ’Ceasing to do evil’, that stops us from harming other beings. And it’s the basis of morality. ‘Learn to do good’ is the basic expression of compassion, of helping others. ‘Taming your mind,’ this is the quality that Buddhism, probably more than any other religious tradition, emphasizes because it’s what makes everything else possible. And as you come to be able to form a relationship with this thing we call mind so that we can actually form intention, rest in attention, then everything becomes possible and we can come to know the nature of experience and be freed from the projections of thought and self. So this is the four line summary of Buddhist teachings. It’s something that is well worth memorizing, taking to heart and just keeping with one. I heard Rinpoche so many times and translate so many times, I didn’t have any choice about memorizing it. But maybe you do.


Now, what I’d like you to do over the next week, I know you’ve done something like this before but I’d like you revisit it. In both your meditation and in your daily life, I would like you to experiment, and this is in keeping with the vow of individual freedom, when you contemplate or actually do something unwholesome, what effect does that have in you? And when you contemplate or actually do something that is wholesome or virtuous, what effect does that have in you? And again, as we’ve done all along here, physically what arises, emotionally what arises, in terms of awareness, what arises? It’s good to revisit this again and again because it’s very, very important. And the clearer we can be about that, the sounder basis we have for how we actually act in the world and in that way, determine the environment we’re creating for ourselves, for our practice and for our lives.

Any questions on that? Thank you very much.