Taking Refuge in Bodhicitta
Before we move on, let's talk about some basic ideas, which will make the following parts easier to unfold.
First let's talk about practicing Buddhism.
What are we practicing when we practice Buddhism?
If it weren't original but obtained through efforts, sooner of later it will be lost without enough efforts or the right conditions.
This time you may win the championship, but next time it could belong to someone else. Thus anything in the world that is obtained through efforts isn't ultimately secured.
The reason is that the worldly standards are often formed artificially and vary according to different environments, geographical regions and cultures. The Original Purity we talk about here is not formed by differentiation.
Such purity resembles the love of a mother to her child. She loves her child so much that she simply cleans up the child's diapers whenever necessary without discrimination. Such an indiscriminate mind would consider the child's excretion as clean.
When we make distinctions, there are individual objects. However, just like the ocean or river, everything is in fact mixed, and one person is like one drop of water, one grain of sand, or one pebble in it.
A drip or grain of sand seems differentiable from the ocean or river; nevertheless, before it was distinguished the whole ocean or river was a unified totality. The truth is that all were originally in oneness, until we started to make artificial distinctions.
When we are healthy we may have the energy to make differentiation and to fight over it, but when we encounter sufferings like those due to traffic accidents, senility, and illness, the problems would become even more insoluble.
After Sakyamuni saw the sufferings of old age, illness, and death, he gave up his power and role as a prince, reflected upon how human beings could pass their lives peacefully and overcome the sufferings of old age, illness and death, and he finally reached Buddhahood.
Sakyamuni Buddha was capable of breaking through any subtle spiritual attachment, even released attachment to fine attainments of Dhyana, and returned to Original Purity. Limitless Oneness transcends spatial and temporal limitations.
What does it mean by "taking refuge"?
Taking refuge seems to be the first step, but in real life who would suddenly believe in anyone? When we were little, our parents might have led us to take refuge in a Dharma teacher, but later when we grew up, our thoughts might have changed. So that need not be a case of taking refuge in earnest.
Hence, to have reached this step, one had more or less known some Dharma, had learned what Buddha taught us, had realized what's truly beneficial to us, and thus wanted to take refuge, and would not run away afterwards.
This no longer belongs to the theoretical part of Dharma, but has exceeded the levels of "knowing" and "thinking" to reach the level of "practice." Only when one has reached the "practice" stage will there be genuine taking of refuge in the Dharma.
Nevertheless, this would be too far-fetched to ordinary people's experiences. Where would the "original" be? If it were originally there, then we need not do anything because it was originally there already, and we have never left it. Therefore, theoretically speaking, we need to take refuge in the Triple Gem.
We take refuge in the Buddha because Buddha was a person with the experience of right awakening, and had realized Limitless Oneness. Even though physically he had entered Nirvana, but in reality even now he can still help us and communicate with us.
However, ordinary people would not know how to contact sentient beings that had attained enlightenment, nor could they recognize such beings. Therefore, we need to depend on reliable teachings that came down to us.
Thus, when we can't find the Buddha, we simply follow these teachings. As to taking refuge in the Sangha, some people with experiences in Dharma practices would know how to practice would be in accordance with the Dharma or not.
Such people are not confined to only monks or nuns, but also include lay Buddhists that have practiced long and obtained experiences of attainment. However, when it is thus understood sometimes certain problems would arise.
And there are people who claimed that only certain teachings were authentic, as were originally taught by Sakyamuni. So how are we supposed to discern if the teachings were correct and if a person had real practice experiences?
There is one criterion, namely, to decide by the presence or absence of Bodhicitta.
Bodhicitta has another meaning, namely, as an aspiration toward this goal—may all beings soon attain Buddhahood; it aims not only at one's own liberation but also takes into equal consideration the liberation of all sentient beings.
So whatever we do, in addition to wishing that they would overcome the current hardships, we also pray that through this Dharma connection they would eventually become Buddhas. Therefore, we need to practice diligently in order to help others leave sufferings and attain happiness sooner.
Some Buddhists are bothered by the fact that they could not persuade their family members to practice Dharma. If you want to wait till their conversion to start your Dharma practice, chances are you'll never obtain any significant result in practice for the rest of you life.
If, however, we treat everybody equally, and can see that people have their own courses and times of maturity in practicing Buddhism, and hence we just try our best to spread and preserve Dharma in the world.
Then, even if we died first, they could still have the opportunity to encounter Dharma. Such would be real salvation; otherwise, it would be just ignorance. Salvation activities that are wise would treat all equally; eventually it will reach everyone sooner or later.
Even though Dharma is harmonious and would give different teachings to suit the propensities of different people; nevertheless, we could sometimes be unaware of our own confinement by concepts. But if we go by Bodhicitta, we will naturally know how to do.
Therefore, being cheated or not becomes not an issue. In this way, we don't lose anything, but just approach ever closer to Bodhicitta time after time.
The reason is that pure Bodhicitta is sustained in spirituality through Gurus from generation to generation. Buddhas transcend all spatial and temporal limitations. Some people said they could not find the real place to take refuge in.
We could say to Buddha, "I think what you taught is right, and I am willing to follow your teachings and practice accordingly." Therefore, no one could say, "you can take refuge in Buddha only through me." All such claims are mistaken.
In Tantric Buddhism, the power to grant direct blessings could be transmitted from generation to generation. Since Buddha had entered Nirvana, even though he can still function, nevertheless ordinary people could not sense it.
Therefore, the power to grant blessing was transmitted to some great disciple. Hence, if from generation to generation the rules of conducts are well observed and genuine Bodhicitta is sustained, then the blessing power of Dharma can be retained in the world.
Even though what he said was not mentioned in any Sutra, he is actually teaching you how to practice Dharma. What are written in the Sutras are principles; as to how to apply those principles in daily life one should follow the direction of the Guru one has faith in.
So, in Tantric Buddhism, if you do everything according to what Guru says, you will unknowingly realize that you have become different from others. Since you are used to being trained, many egoistic perspectives have been polished away.
Therefore, Guru includes Dharma. And since he is an expert in this, Guru of course also includes Sangha. Guru is even more important than Dharma, since he is the one that actually teaches you in person. Whoever feeds you with milk is the real mother.
As to problems arising from following an incompetent Guru, this issue still needs to be decided by resorting to Bodhicitta. If your Bodhicitta were sincere, it would not become a real problem even if you followed a fake Guru.
Ordinary people have limitations at many levels, even if they practice in accordance with Dharma principles, after groping for some time they might have gone astray and yet still could not realize the mistake.
Under the guidance of Guru, you will be able to escape from the unnecessary confinement that you used to self-imprison yourself.
With only one indication from Guru, you could move one step outward, and this step could be the blind spot that you would otherwise never notice. So it's very advantageous if one has a Guru to follow.
Way to Follow a Guru" on the handouts
Among the twelve, nine are directly related to the way to follow a Guru. You can tell they are arranged more or less chronologically from a few years ago up to now.
One of the ten was entitled "Counterfeit," which is more on the negative side, and hence not included here.
These two works are of broader scope, so I didn't include them under this topic.
Let's now read them one by one.
- Hard enough to know how to choose a Guru,
- Not to mention being turned off by a sour one.
- Be truthful to Bodhicitta and practice solidly,
- Approach gradually with eyes open, and dedicate oneself to the Dharma!
This poem is about how to stay near and rely on a Guru. Some people may be at first very devoted to some Guru, but later something happened, and they would become very discouraged and disappointed, and suffer deeply from it.
If we find a Guru who doesn't covet for anything but knows what to do as matters arise, this is a genuine virtuous teacher. In this case, it would be better that we follow and practice solidly under this Guru.
We shouldn't turn to one Guru when someone says this Guru is good, and then turn to another when someone else says that one is good. If we keep turning around like that, we would be like floating duckweeds without roots to grow up on.
Each poem originally was written with a comment attached, which you could read by yourselves afterwards.
- Addressing as "Guru" is easy but listening to is hard;
- One statement unacceptable would lead to disappearance.
- Serving with diligence and learning constantly in attendance,
- Only then could be blessed with Grace to turn into a dragon.
Those who had engaged in Buddhist practice would have opportunities to encounter Gurus that they could follow and rely on. However, one could not follow a Guru the way one makes friends nowadays. Some people might politely address one as "Guru" one day, but later, when he came with much expectation while what the Guru said wasn't what he liked to hear, he would simply disappear.
You can't expect Guru to give you lectures everyday, as what you could learn from lectures are merely theories.
This is to learn through daily-life experiences. Only after long-term of such practice through imitation will one receive blessings and hopefully become a Dharma instrument capable of saving sentient beings.
- Realization of Dharma permeates daily life;
- Behavior and conversation remain just ordinary.
- Attending the Guru to learn eventually the subtleties,
- Refined transformation would emerge unnoticeably.
Then you will realize that to save sentient beings is so difficult—you have to self-adjust in order to accommodate sentient beings. Otherwise, before you could reach and help them, they would have run away already.
- Only humble attitude could benefit from guidance;
- Empty the mind in order to contain Dharma nectar.
- Learned indications revealed at opportune juncture;
- One poke brings to life the freedom to turn around.
Whenever some matter arises, Guru's way of dealing with it differs from one's own thinking, then one might realize that Guru was thinking like that and hence handling like that. This is as if when you encountered a rock on the road, you don't really need to touch or move it.
Instead, all you need to do is to go around it. An indication like this from Guru turns your thinking around and shows the flexibility and liveliness of Dharma. So if you learn to deal with things differently, you could gradually learn the way to attain liberation.
- Regarding Guru as no different from Buddha,
- In original oneness all distinctions fade away.
- Mind without grasping accepts things as such,
- Spreading Dharma to help all without waning.
For example, some people are attached to the literal expressions of Dharma, and have too many personal interpretations with regard to actual practices, nonetheless, a real Guru would not argue with those people.
Thus, if you just listen to Guru instead of worrying too much about theories, then you can learn the real stuff.
- Only those that humble themselves could be taught;
- Apprentice begins after having attended the teacher.
- Sincere and obedient one gradually masters the role.
- Yet the current trend is like ordering courses in cafe.
To be close to Guru somewhat resembles the case of Zhang Liang who learned military strategies only after having helped tie the old master's shoes three times. Same rules apply to learning worldly knowledge.
You cannot attend Guru closely in this way, and cannot really learn anything well.
- Where to place one's refuge is voluntary;
- Protector of liberation never coerces any.
- Compassionate concern spreads over all;
- Takes lots of wisdom and merit to follow.
- Guru entered Nirvana but has never ceased teaching;
- His absence in the flesh rendered real intentions seen.
- While strenuously upholding heavy load of salvation
- Real appreciation of the grace of lineage arose in me.
This poem is about receiving indications in dreams on how to handle matters from Guru Chen even though he had entered Nirvana. Although his physical body is no longer present, he has never stopped his teaching.
(That is the collection of praises composed by him.) Then he showed me a rectangular framed picture with some leaves in it that were left blank.
To paint the picture into red means to compose a Red Chenrezig ritual based on the pattern of his fire puja rituals. Thus twelve years after Guru Chen's Nirvana and only with his permission did I compose the ritual.
Besides, I have composed only two fire puja rituals. The Manjusri ritual was composed only upon someone's request and after having received some inspirations. The Earth Treasure Bodhisattva ritual was requested, but I have not done it yet because so far I have not received any inspirational permission.
I wanted to make prostration, but they said no need. I did anyway. They both laughed. So I stopped.
Guan Yin raised her right hand and wrote some mantra in the air. Immediately I felt some power came to me and filled up the whole body. Previously, Guru Chen's rituals were designed for one type of activity each.
But nowadays there are more people asking for help through fire pujas, so I hoped to combine the three activities of pacifying, increasing, and inducing in one ritual. Guan Yin knew that this would require great spiritual strength, so she granted me the blessings.
With such blessings, I was then capable of performing the first Guan Yin fire puja to yield intended results. Therefore, although Guru Chen left his physical body, he is still incessantly helping and saving sentient beings beyond boundaries of time and space.
For example, although some people had never met Guru Chen, and yet they could still dream of him and receive teachings from him. Besides, people acted one way when Guru Chen was alive. Once he left us, most people showed different thoughts.
Now when I am sustaining the Dharma activities, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Protectors would gather to help and change situations. So when matters arise, if we uphold Bodhicitta, they would evolve themselves, and we don't need to worry.
- Following orders faithfully is the tantric way to take refuge in Guru.
- Relying on someone to such extent could hardly be taken seriously.
- Long since one had realized Guru's attainments through inspirations,
- Only then knew one to abide by teachings sincerely and accurately.
Many of those who can follow a Guru like this have had real inspirational experiences, which led them to realize the kindness, compassion and wisdom of Guru, and thus enable them to follow his teachings and guidance.