The Meaning of Refuge

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Essence of Devotion”

When we take refuge in the Buddha, in the Dharma, and in the Sangha, we consider that all of those are equal and they are all one, that they are inseparable. The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha are important; the Buddha, because only enlightened method and enlightened presence can bring enlightened result in the same way that apple seeds can bear apple fruit.  Grape seeds cannot. You see?  Enlightened seed will bring enlightened fruit.  So the Buddha.  The Dharma in that that is the perfect vehicle, the vehicle that has proven itself to transport all sentient beings across the ocean of suffering.

The Sangha because, within the spiritual Sangha, once you enter into practice and come into a relationship, which you automatically do by taking vows with your vajra brothers and sisters, at that point you have joined with the Sangha.  The Sangha becomes then a family.

Talk to some of my students and find out what it means to have a Sangha family.  Those of my students who came to the path in a very general way but don’t have experience of various sufferings such as the suffering of grave illness, or life-threatening situations or just terrible suffering on some sort of emotional or mental level, have found that the support of the pure Sangha which gathers around them at times like that, and supports them with practice and prayer and help and love and kindness, is absolutely essential.  Without the Sangha we would be incapable of keeping on.  It would be so hard.  It would be like a little sapling trying to survive in a hurricane. The Sangha is rich with that kind of support and help. Furthermore, it is the Sangha’s responsibility to propagate the Dharma. So the Sangha are considered to be an object of refuge, particularly those with robes and particularly also those who have taken the Bodhisattva Vow because, having taking the Bodhisattva Vow, we can see that they intend to benefit us. Therefore we can rely on them for secure friendship and not betrayal as in ordinary friendships. So the Sangha becomes very precious.  And that is the taking of refuge—the Lama, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

As for the Bodhisattva Vow, it is said that when one receives the Bodhisattva Vow, if one were to remain secure, absorbed, with a mind spacious and relaxed, absorbed mentally and emotionally and spiritually within the taking of the Bodhisattva Vow, that is to say, extremely mindful,  right there with it on a very deep level, appreciating and understanding and grieving for the suffering of sentient beings, as well as our own suffering, and seeing them as being non-dual and longing to help… You look at an AIDS march on TV and you look at people dying and you say to yourself, “Enough is enough!  This is awful.  This is unacceptable.“ You look at war and you look at the bodies of children laying broken and bleeding in the street and you say to yourself, “This is enough!  Enough, not acceptable!”  You look at hunger.  You look at homelessness. You look at all of it and you say, “Enough!  Enough!” To remain absorbed in that, to understand that this is the fate of everyone who is in cyclic existence without the method.  To remain absorbed in that, it is taught that, in that moment of absorption, if one were to give rise to such a depth of absorption that tears would come, then at that moment of absorption, you have removed 10,000 years at least, many thousands of years of gross karmic negative obscuration because, for that 10,000 years or however many lifetimes, we have been absorbed in ourselves. Self-absorption—I am!  I think!  I feel!  I will!  I must!  I need!  I have to have!  I’m like this!  We still are like that, aren’t we?  We still do that.  But that one moment of absorption in compassionate activity, with pure intention serves to purify so much of that, and gives us the method by which we can continue to remove all subtle and gross obscurations until we at last are free, and until we at last are able to return, ennobled and finally capable of leading others toward Dharma and making for them the auspicious connections so that their days of suffering, while perhaps not immediately over—well it won’t be like flip a switch and everybody is happy, I wish it were like that—but their suffering days, because of your absorption and compassion, are now numbered.

There are many students, of course, who have a connection with me and I will do my best. I will return life after life, not caring whether I am tired, not caring anything.  This isn’t just my idea. All the teachers, all the lamas, all the reincarnate lamas, those realized ones, will return without thought for themselves, until the very last one of those sentient beings with whom they have a connection, is finally liberated.  If they have to return even a hundred lifetimes for that very last one, they will.  I will.

Now if you take a similar vow, even if you can’t fully practice it, even if it’s just the first baby steps, there are those with whom you have a connection and I don’t have a connection, and neither do any of my teachers or any of the teachers who are able, but you have a connection to them simply through ordinary means.  They were your mother in some previous life.  Who knows?  You could have been a cockroach.  Some funny little corner in obscure reality where you have a connection with uncountable beings that no one with any realization has a connection with.  Do you know what that means?  You are their only hope and object of refuge.  You are their only hope.  So you must take this vow with complete absorption and think that you are taking it for their sake, for their sake, because they are waiting for you. And the moment that you take this vow for the first time with complete absorption and every time therefore that you continue to remind yourself and freshen that vow, their days of suffering are finally numbered.  So at that point these teachers all begin to nag a little bit and they say “Hurry.  Hurry, because they need you and there is no one else.”  So you must hurry for the sake of sentient beings. You must.

There are 3,000 myriads of universes, uncountable lives, connections that must be made and you should pray every day of your life, “Whether I have a good or bad connection with every sentient being, let it bring them to Dharma.  Let me find a way to be connected with all sentient beings and let me never pass into nirvana until they are all free.”  This is our prayer as a Bodhisattva.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

Beginning Spiritual Training

The following is respectfully quoted from “Reborn in the West” by Vicki Mackenzie:

‘There was no one to put me in touch with Buddhism. Not at all. The only thing that could have connected me, but didn’t, was that my mother took me to Coney Island and a palm-reader there told me I was an old Tibetan. That was all. I had no idea about Tibet. Not a clue. When I thought about Tibetans I thought of smelly old men on rugs!’

When she ran away from home on the advice of the police she headed for Florida, where she met a man, and married him. She had a baby and they moved on to an isolated farm in North Carolina. That was when Jetsunma’s spiritual story began. Finally away from the hubbub of city life and the distress of her own family situation, the greatness that was lying within her began to evolve. Without any particular emotion or even interest in her voice, she explained the extraordinary series of events that followed.

‘I started to have a series of dreams–I’ve had odd dreams all my life. And in these dreams I would be told what to do. A succession of very strange things happened.

‘Most of these dreams told me to look for a sign. The first involved meeting a an old woman, she was like a witch in a turreted castle. This woman placed a circle on my forehead and said, “This is who you are, now you have to commence.” Three days later a friend of mine asked me to go with her to this woman who did astrological charts, which interestingly are drawn in a circle. We thought it would be a bit of a lark, and so we went. This woman opened the door and, as surely as I’m sitting here, she was exactly the same as the woman in my dream. She had the same face and was wearing the same clothes. I remember breaking out in a sweat!

‘She was really old, but somehow I was very attracted to her. I remember looking at her and thinking she was beautiful. Anyway, she said she wanted to do my chart. After a while she came back and said, ‘My dear, I have nothing to say to you. Your whole life is laid out, you don’t need any advice from anybody.’ I think she was very skillful because she didn’t crystalize anything–she let it stay fluid.

‘Three days later I had another dream which showed me the farm where I was living, but there were extra cars outside the porch. A thunderstorm blew in, and the sky was unusually green. Well, three days after this dream–it all seemed to be happening in three-day-periods–I’d gone out shopping and come home with some friends in their cars and the thunderstorm happened. In the dream the voice had said, “When you see this, it is time to begin your meditation.”‘

To say Jetsunma was taken aback would be an understatement. She was just nineteen years old at the time, and wondered why these things were happening to a poor ‘girl from Brooklyn’. Furthermore, she had no knowledge of or training in meditation.

‘I went out to the front porch and looked at the scene to make sure it was exactly like my dream. It was. Then I went back into my bedroom and lay down! I knew that if I prayed for guidance I would get to learn how to meditate, as the dream had instructed. That was the start of my real spiritual training.” she said. It was to be highly individual and quite unorthodox.

‘The first thing I was “told” was that I had to make a very deep commitment that everything I did from here on would be a channel for blessings. So I use to do this meditation where I would say things almost as if I were chanting a mantra: “I commit myself to benefitting all beings, my life has no meaning other than the benefit of all beings.” Unbeknown to her at the time, she was uttering stock Tibetan Buddhist concepts in stock Tibetan Buddhist jargon. Every day she diligently continued feeling her way along her meditations.

‘The picture I had was of being a faucet–the water was in there, and I just had to turn the faucet on, kind of thing. I tried to align myself with the principle of broad-spectrum compassion.”

A Teaching to Give You Confidence

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Essence of Devotion”

Before I even met His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, who told me I was a Buddhist—I didn’t know this—I had been teaching; and I had been teaching about compassion and the empty nature of phenomena and the empty nature of mind. And you see, I thought that I thought this whole thing up.  I thought I had come up with this myself. So smart!  Oh well.  I thought that what was really missing here was a way for ordinary beings who have been involved in ordinary lives to switch tracks, to come to a place of profound renunciation and acceptance and compassion, and to take a vow that would somehow reach into every future life. I thought the only way to do that was to give them some extraordinary teachings, and make them understand the nature of suffering and the absolute necessity of compassion, and to have them turn their minds in such a way that compassion arose in their minds. In the same way that consciousness appears in the mind, compassion then also appears.  And that was my idea—that I had to find a way to do this.  So what I did was I began to give a bunch of teachings and eventually called a retreat. And those students that I thought were prepared to go deeper I took on retreat.

We spent a great long time looking at the world and praying for the world and taking responsibility for the world.  These students I taught and cajoled and loved and goaded and tricked and manipulated until they would agree to take responsibility for the world and to take responsibility for all sentient beings.  They just finally gave up and let me have my way.  From that came the writing of a Bodhisattva Vow and I knew that that was the most important turning point and experience in their whole spiritual evolution, and I explained it to them as such.  Well, this became a custom. We customarily gave the Bodhisattva Vow. I also began to develop the idea of refuge, of taking refuge in that which brings forth enlightenment, the Buddha nature.

Eventually I met Penor Rinpoche, and he told us that we were Buddhists and that we were practicing Buddhism. I didn’t know anything about Buddhists.  I didn’t know anything about anything . Penor Rinpoche came to me and announced to me that I was a Bodhisattva. I was practicing Dharma and I was teaching Dharma and I should keep on teaching Dharma, and I said, “O.K.”  Then he gave us the Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows. You see, I had already written this Refuge and Bodhisattva Vow and it didn’t sound anything like what he did because he gave us something in Tibetan!  We tried our best to repeat it, but I don’t think it was the same thing.  It was a lot more words!  So I was kind of a little tense about this and finally when I went to India, I had one of the lamas there translate the Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows and another set of vows that had also been written called the Renunciate Vows for Lay Practitioners, a deeper level of vows.  I had them translated into Tibetan and I confessed to my guru, Penor Rinpoche, that I had written these vows and that I had been giving them. I said I didn’t have any other vows and I knew that this was necessary and so, even though these aren’t the traditional vows, I would like your advice on what to do about this.  Well, he read the vows and he started laughing and slapping his knee. He thought this was a real gut wrenching hee haw, just laughing and rubbing his knee.  Then he said, “About the Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows, if you don’t mind, I think I will continue to give them in the way that I am accustomed to, simply because it’s difficult for a person to learn new tricks.  However,” he said, and then he drew himself up to his orthodox lama posture (he is a very orthodox lama), and he said, “I authorize you fully to give these vows.” And he said, “I authorize these vows fully as proper Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows in our lineage.”

That has never happened before.  There is a traditional way to give the vows and there is another way, and this is the other way. And at least in the Palyul tradition, he firmly encouraged me to give these vows as often as possible, with teaching.  He encouraged me to give them in the way that I have been giving them, because he felt that this is a manifestation of the same vow but done in such a way as to touch the minds and hearts of westerners so that they can remain fully absorbed at that pure moment of ordination which this is.  This is an ordination, an ordination of kindness.  So he fully acknowledged these as proper vows. That’s why, although they are a little bit different, they are considered to be appropriate, they are considered to be lasting and they are fully authorized in our tradition.  A very unusual occurrence, but very important for us as westerners.

The Power of Intention

[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]

Sometimes, although you are maintaining the bodhisattva vow internally and your intention is purely to benefit others, externally it may appear through [your] conduct or speech that you are breaking the vow. Although it may seem that a failure is occurring, if your actions and speech are motivated by bodhicitta, then no failure is occurring. That is referred to as a “reflection of failure.” For example, if it is necessary to commit a nonvirtue of the body or speech for the sake of benefiting others, that is permissible. In fact, not to do so could constitute a breakage of the bodhisattva vow. The motivation must be very clear. Whether your actions constitute a failure or not is determined by your own mind’s motivation. Here it is crucial to be careful, since losing the vow means taking lower rebirth.

From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008

Faults of Cyclic Existence

[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]

Of all worldly phenomena, whether great or small, nothing is permanent and nothing endures. Therefore, when you find yourself attracted to or attached to the happiness of existence, you must bring to mind the faults of existence. Consider that not even a single phenomenon is permanent, no matter how great, wonderful, or powerful it may seem. Consider especially how once that phenomenon [you associate with a happy existence] changes, you will experience nothing but suffering as the result. That way you can move your mind away from having strong attachment to impermanent phenomena and begin to change your habit of always following apparent phenomena based on [experiencing] temporary pleasure and attachment.

Think, for instance, about sentient beings that, due to anger and aggression, have accumulated the negative karma to fall to the hell realm. Those beings have accumulated tremendous negative karma that will keep them in the hell realm indefinitely. In that realm, unable to establish any positive causes at all, they will experience nothing but intense suffering. Think about the eight hot hells, the eight cold hells, as well as the peripheral hells surrounding them. Although it is inconceivable, think about the suffering that sentient beings in those hells must endure.

Then consider the deprived spirit realm. Think about the beings that accumulate an abundance of negative karma through the passions of avarice and strong desire. The result of such accumulation is rebirth as a deprived spirit. There are different categories of deprived spirits, such as outer and inner ones, but essentially they all endure inconceivable hunger and thirst that is insatiable. Furthermore, they never die from that; they just continue to suffer indefinitely, without ever being satisfied.

Next, consider the animal realm. Negative karma accumulated through the passion of delusion produces the result of animal rebirth. Animals suffer from basic delusion and ignorance, mistreatment by humans, and being preyed upon by one another. From the largest to the smallest, those who are as large as mountains to those smaller than the tip of a needle, all suffer from basic stupidity and ignorance, so they are unable to escape and are unable to do much more than just endure the karma in that rebirth until it is eventually exhausted.

Then consider the rebirth that is so difficult to obtain: that of a human being. Compared with the three lower realms of existence, human life seems very blissful; nevertheless, there is great suffering in the human realm. Human beings suffer from confinement in the womb and from the processes of birth, illness, disease, and growing old and the decline in their faculties, until eventually they experience the suffering of death and of leaving everything behind. Humans are subject to all kinds of indefinite circumstances and situations throughout the course of their life. Some die at birth, some die as infants, some as adolescents, and some as adults. Some die alone and unwanted or in an untimely manner.

In addition to the four great rivers of suffering, human beings experience—birth, old age, sickness, and death—humans experience compounded suffering. For example, humans suffer mistreatment at the hands of their enemies, and they suffer when they lose their loved ones. In fact, they suffer from fear that precedes the actual events themselves. Humans also suffer from not getting what they want and from having to accept what is not desired. They even suffer from acquiring what is desired, because then they have the fear of losing that. Against their will, humans endure all these unexpected consequences.

Many people think that after they die and leave this life they will easily return as a human being. Many believe they will just be able to return to a happy state of existence, such as the one they might now be accustomed to. That is a mistake. I can guarantee that unless you have the specific karma to do so, you will not take another rebirth as a human being. Without the karma that creates the causes for it, the result of human rebirth is impossible. Make no mistake about it.

Next, consider the god realm. Gods remain in their realm where they experience immeasurable bliss and happiness for long periods of time. They all have their own palace and gardens, wish-granting trees, and celestial food; everything in their external environment is inconceivably wonderful. Internally they experience only happiness and bliss throughout the entire course of their life. Eventually they exhaust their karma for that rebirth. Prior to that, the dying clairvoyant gods see the place of their future rebirth, which in most cases happens in the hell realm. They take such a rebirth due to having exhausted all tainted virtue that brought them rebirth in the god realm, and then nothing remains for them except an abundance of weighty negative karma. The vast storehouse of merit they once possessed is spent, and they have nowhere to go but to the lowest hell realm. Seeing the irreversible fate that awaits them, and knowing it is too late to reverse that, they experience tremendous suffering. They are powerless to reverse their karma of having to fall from the celestial realm of the gods to the lowest realms in existence.

Buddha therefore taught that there is not even a needle point’s worth of true happiness in samsara. Now you can understand the meaning of that teaching. Even if there is happiness, it always changes because it is impermanent. Happiness in samsara occurs as the result of the karma produced to cause it. Once that cause and result are exhausted, that happiness becomes something else, which is why the term cyclic existence is used to express the nature of life in the six realms. Sentient beings pass from rebirth to rebirth, revolving on this endless wheel of changing realms in dependence on their own karmic accumulations.

If your hair were to suddenly catch fire, you would immediately, without hesitation, try to put out that fire. Likewise, by understanding that cyclic existence is by nature permeated with suffering, and by understanding that it can never be anything other than that, you should immediately, without hesitation, focus on putting out the fire of cyclic existence. Focus totally on effort to extract yourself from this endless suffering of cyclic existence, so that you can achieve the state of permanent bliss and happiness, the state of fully enlightened buddhahood.

Thus it is taught that in order to be successful in reversing strong attraction and attachment to cyclic existence, we must practice dharma. Through the practice of dharma we can reverse attachment to existence and gain more momentum toward liberation, to the point where we realize the state of permanent bliss and cease to return to samsara.

From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008

The Middle Way: From a Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow by HH Penor Rinpoche

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The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

This leads to the third stage concerning the aspect of adjusting one’s intention [which is the first of four aspects of the preliminaries to the ritual for receiving the vow]: transcending the two extremes of samsara and enlightenment by vowing to maintain the middle way. The practice of the enlightened mind, bodhicitta, involves two levels, the aspirational and the practical. Maybe you’re thinking, “If we reject the suffering of the three realms of existence and avoid attraction to the quiescence of the hearers and solitary realizers, what is there for us to obtain?” What we are to obtain is the state of bodhisattvahood, which is dependent on bodhicitta cultivated for the sake of self and others. It is only bodhicitta that leads beings from the suffering of existence to the state of fully enlightened buddhahood. We must avoid the two extremes: the quiescence of ordinary nirvana and the endless cycle of samsara. It is only through cultivating bodhicitta that we can truly follow the middle way.

Through cultivating bodhicitta you will purify all nonvirtue accumulated in the past, present, and future, and compassion and all noble qualities, including the ability to meditate in samadhi, will blossom in your mind. As you dedicate yourself to the welfare of others, the [strength of your] vow will increase to the point where are you are truly able to help sentient beings as limitless as space. You will be able to bring limitless beings to enlightenment, until the ocean of existence is emptied. The Buddha taught that without the cultivation of the precious bodhicitta, there is no chance to achieve the state of fully enlightened buddhahood. Therefore, for the purpose of all other living beings, with great enthusiastic joy you should give rise to the precious bodhicitta and engage in the actual practice.

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: Aspects to Receiving the Vow

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The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

In general, dharma consists of many divisions an distinctions of spiritual teachings, while at the same time the nature of all dharma is that it has the potential to liberate beings, both temporarily and ultimately, from the suffering of cyclic existence. The main cause or seed for that [liberation] is the cultivation of bodhicitta. Various traditions exist for the bodhisattva vow ritual and training. The lineage for these particular teachings, which was passed from Nargarjuna to Shantideva, is known as the tradition of the Middle Way as well as the lineage of the bodhisattvas.

There are four aspects related to receiving the bodhisattva vow: receiving the vow itself, ensuring the vow does not degenerate, repairing the vow if it is damaged, and methods for continuing to cultivate and maintain the vow.

The first aspect of receiving the vow itself has three aspects: the individual from whom one receives the vow, oneself as a qualified recipient, and the ritual for receiving the vow.

First, the individual from whom one receives the vow must have strong faith in the Mahayana vehicle and must be a true upholder of the vow. He or she must be someone within whom the vow abides and should also be someone who is very learned concerning the vehicles, particularly concerning bodhisattva training. Such a person must never abandon bodhicitta and must always keep the vows pure, even at the cost of his or her own life. That individual must also be a practitioner of the six paramitas of generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation, and prajna, and must never engage in any activity that contradicts them.

According to the tradition of Nagarjuna, the way to receive the vow for the first time is from a spiritual guide. Later, if an individual’s vows degenerate, and if a spiritual guide is then absent, the person can restore the vows in the presence of an image of the buddha. It is not necessary that they be restored in the presence of a spiritual guide.

The second aspect for receiving the vow itself concerns the individual who qualifies to receive it.

According to the tradition of Nagarjuna, all sentient beings who desire to receive the bodhisattva vow qualify to receive it. The only exception is types of gods in the formless realm, called gods devoid of recognition, which are gods that lack cognitive abilities. With this one exception, basically all sentient beings qualify to receive the vow. But those who qualify in particular are those who have supreme knowledge, which refers to those who know what the bodhisattva vow is and what the benefits of receiving and maintaining it are. Such individuals are particularly worthy recipients because they have profound compassion and are able to use that compassion to bring both temporal and ultimate benefit to other beings. In short, any individual who has an altruistic attitude and wishes to take the bodhisattva vow qualifies to receive it.

The ritual [which is the third aspect of receiving the vow itself] also has three parts: the preliminaries, the actual ritual, and the concluding dedication. The preliminaries have four parts: adjusting one’s own intention, supplicating the objects that confer the vow, taking the support of refuge, and practicing the method for accumulating merit.

 

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow by HH Penor Rinpoche

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche India

The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

Let us begin by considering limitless space. Then consider just as space is limitless, so too are parent sentient beings.

Since beginningless time, every sentient being has been our own parent in a past lifetime, and every sentient being from each of those lifetimes only showed us inconceivably great kindness. We must recognize that. We must also recognize that we have obtained that which is so difficult to obtain: the precious human rebirth–and that we have met with the doctrine that is so difficult to meet: the doctrine of Lord Buddha. Recognizing these things, we must understand that the best way we can repay the kindness of all parent sentient beings is by placing every one of them in a state of fully enlightened buddhahood. Therefore, (all of you here) please cultivate this aspiration. Having arrived at this critical juncture, you can now make your choice between samsara and enlightenment.

Now that you have obtained this precious human existence, you must extract its essence in order to make it meaningful. What makes this life meaningful is engaging with the spiritual path rather than just pursuing worldly activities for this life only, such as activities to increase wealth and material endowments or [activities to achieve] fame and personal gain. What makes this precious human existence meaningful is striving to realize the nature of this life.

This precious human existence is extremely rare. The following analogy illustrates just how rare it is: Imagine that upon the surface of a vast ocean floats yoke tossed continuously by wind and waves. Within that ocean swims a blind tortoise that surfaces for air once every hundred years. Of course, it is possible for the tortoise to emerge with its head [passing] through the yoke that bobs on the surface, but the chances that this will occur are extremely rare. Obtaining this precious human birth is just as rare as the tortoise surfacing for air one time in a hundred years with its head [passing] through the bobbing yoke. Surely this [surfacing] is possible, but it is so difficult and unlikely that it is next to impossible. Obtaining the precious human birth is likewise difficult.

If you use your precious human body just to accumulate an abundance of negativity, then you will certainly fall to the lower realms. If you accumulate the non virtue to fall to the hell realm, for example, you could remain there for the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of years, for incalculable periods, where you would experience inconceivable suffering. Eventually your karma there would be exhausted, and you would make it out to the peripheral hells; from there you would eventually make it to the deprived spirit realm and then eventually to the animal realm. In all these lower realms you would experience nothing but suffering; furthermore, you would accumulate only nonvirtue, because not even the thought of virtue exists in these realms. That is why if you fall to the lower realms of existence, you will remain there indefinitely, circling from hell to animal to the deprived spirit realm and so on, endlessly. Very few [beings] actually have the good fortune to leave the three lower realms. Considering this, you will appreciate just why it is so difficult and rare to obtain human rebirth.

Renunciate Vow for Lay Practitioners

Enthronement

The following vows were composed by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo who received permission to offer them to her students from His Holiness Penor Rinpoche:

Renunciate Vow for Lay Practitioners

From this very moment forward I offer this life as a gift to the three precious jewels. My pure intention is to accomplish the purpose of Self and Others – Supreme Enlightenment – quickly and surely. Thus I vow that all my life, every portion, shall be used to accomplish that goal.

  • All my activities shall accomplish that goal.
  • All my thoughts and feelings are directed toward that goal.
  • All my possessions shall be to strengthen and support that goal.
  • I shall seek all appropriate teachings, empowerments, and spiritual activities in order to secure that goal.
  • My own enlightenment is now considered to be equal to, and non-dual with the enlightenment of others. Therefore I vow to support fully and without hesitation the practicing spiritual community.
  • I vow to support fully and with unconditional love the three precious jewels and their manifestations: the Sangha and temple.
  • I will not kill.
  • I will not lie to accomplish selfish purpose.
  • I will not steal.
  • I will not become intoxicated and therefore forget my purpose and vows.
  • I will not engage in adultery, or promiscuous activity by which my intention will be compromised.
  • I fully intend to do all that I can to accomplish the liberation of all sentient beings and my own equally.
  • I consider the realization of all beings to be equal with my own and of equal value.
  • I fully support the spiritual community and its purpose on earth.
  • Should any activity or possession or relationship be contrary to these purposes I will systematically change it or eliminate it from my life.

This I promise so that there will be an end to hatred, greed and ignorance within my mindstream and within the three thousand myriads of universes and so that myself and all beings shall achieve the precious awakening.

Bodhisattva Vow

I dedicate myself to the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings. I offer my body, speech, and mind in order to accomplish the purpose of all sentient beings. I will return in whatever form necessary, under extraordinary circumstances to end suffering. Let me be born in times unpredictable, in places unknown, until all sentient beings are liberated from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Taking no thought for my comfort or safety, precious Lama, make of me a pure and perfect instrument by which the end of suffering and death in all forms might be realized. Let me achieve perfect enlightenment for the sake of all beings. And then, by my hand and heart alone, may all beings achieve full enlightenment and perfect liberation.

Refuge Vows

I take refuge in the Lama

I take refuge in the Buddha

I take refuge in the Dharma

I take refuge in the Sangha

The Fifth Root Downfall of the Bodhisattva Vow

Offering

The following is respectfully quoted from a commentary on the Bodhisattva Vows by Geshi Tashi: http://www.bodhicitta.net/BODHISATTVAVOWS.htm

5.    Taking Offerings Intended for the Three Jewels

Taking offerings intended for the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is considered a root downfall. Here the Buddha means any buddha image as well as the actual Buddha himself. At Jamyang we make many offerings to the big Buddha statue in the main gompa. Why is it so bad if you steal something from a statue? It is just a statue. Peter Griffin built it out of plaster. We all know that. But still, it is more than that. Within the statue are many, many mantras and there have been so many strong prayers made to the statue. So this is no longer just an object made by Peter. After he completed it many great masters such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Denma Locho Rinpoche have blessed it and many people, with sincere conviction, have made prayers in front of it. It is not just an image, it is an inspiration, and, for a Buddhist practitioner, it really represents the Buddha. 

So things offered to the Buddha’s image are offered to the Buddha. It is the same with any holy object – a statue, a stupa, a thanka. It is not as if the objects ‘own’ the offerings. But although there is no one who says, ‘This belongs to me’, taking those offerings is the same as stealing from a buddha. The offerings have been sincerely offered, so it is very important to learn how to handle those objects with great sensitivity. 

In the monastery, handling the monastery’s things is a very sensitive issue – not for only those monks who have the responsibility of looking after those things but also for people coming from outside. Traditionally, Tibetan people are very, very careful. Even when having a cup of tea in a monastery, they pay a lot of attention because the object they are using is really dedicated towards the Three Jewels, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This is true of any property that belongs to a community, but much more so a spiritual community such as a monastery or a Dharma centre.

It is a very sensitive point. When Nagarjuna was asked to become the monk in charge of the monastery property, he completely declined. There is a prayer which he wrote requesting not to be born in charge in a monastery because he saw how heavy a downfall it was if that property was mishandled.

People contribute things to Dharma centres with a sincere heart, really wishing to help the development of the community. Because places like this are such powerful objects, if we misuse their possessions we are creating a much heavier negativity than if we misuse a normal person’s possessions.

And of course, taking without permission is much, much heavier than if someone in charge gives you something and you misuse that.

It is the same with taking from the Sangha. ‘Sangha’ very strictly speaking refers to a person who has a direct realisation of emptiness, or more generally to fully ordained monks or nuns but very loosely speaking, Sangha can refer to people who are practising the spiritual path. It is very important to know how to use things which belong to that kind of community. 

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