Three Jewels Refuge & Prayers’ Teachings

by H.E. Garchen Rinpoche

3 – Jewels Refuge

Tashi delek to all my sangha and dharma friends, I’m happy to see all of you and you made a huge effort to come here to this center. I’m very grateful for that but all the hardships that you endure for the sake of the dharma is said to be an incredible merit. For example, Milarepa endured many hardships for the sake of the dharma. The more hardships he endured the greater was the merit. This hardship is also not meaningless; it’s actually very meaningful.

Thank you all for coming and I am offering you this milk of immeasurable love that comes from the Buddha’s begging bowl. It is indeed an ocean of immeasurable loving kindness. And such an ocean of loving kindness can pervade all sentient beings in the three realms of samsara because they all possess Buddha nature.  This is the bowl that was created by the Buddha out of immeasurable loving kindness.  It is inexhaustible love and this love is the protection for our mind in samsara and nirvana. On the outer level it protects us from the elements and on the inner level , it protects our mind.  Such loving kindness pervades all beings, so tashi delek to all of you.

Any kind of offering you make for the sake of the dharma is also a great merit. It will be very beneficial later on in future lives. All the hardships that we endure for the sake of the dharma become a practice of the six paramitas. The paramitas of generosity, ethical discipline, patience diligence, meditation and wisdom. Such an act for the sake of dharma is multiplied by hundreds and thousands of times. So, it will definitely not be wasted.  Due to the kindness of Khen Rinpoche who organized this, we can now speak about the refuge. And also due to the kindness of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Buddhists have some understanding about the refuge and motivation of bodhicitta. For the refuge it generally is the outer, inner and the secret refuge. In relation to that there is also the three levels of the path. The Pratimoksha, Bodhisattva and the Vajrayana vehicle.

In the Pratimoksha which is the vehicle of individual liberation, that vehicle speaks much about the meaning of refuge. In the bodhisattva path, the focus is on the inner refuge which is one’s own mind. Then what is the ultimate refuge? The Buddha actually said himself that all sentient beings are actually Buddhas. When you see the nature of your mind, you recognize that the refuge is actually inside of yourself.  Buddha nature pervades all beings and fundamentally our true nature is like a vast ocean. So, sentient beings are actually Buddhas and they are only obscured by adventitious or temporary stains. That temporary stain is the stain of self-grasping. Because we are attached to ourselves, we create many negative habitual patterns or karmic imprints. That creates this division between self and others.  That leads to many thoughts of attachment and anger. The six afflictive emotions lead to the manifestation of the six realms of samsara. Here, on our refuge card it says “do not commit any wrongs. ” That basically means not to harm anyone. Then, it says “perfectly practice virtue”. That means to hold on to love with body, speech and mind. Love is what we call virtue.

If you have the cause of virtue, you will experience happiness in all future lifetimes. Temporarily, you will always be born in the higher realms and with the cause of love, you will ultimately attain enlightenment. Then, it says on the card “completely tame your own mind.” In brief, we must purify our own mind and once the mind is purified, you will recognize that Buddha is actually present within your own mind.  That is what we call the secret refuge which is the hidden Buddha within our own mind. This is what you can understand from this refuge card here which I have created myself. And I really want to add the most important teachings. Also in the refuge card, it says “I take refuge in wisdom, the heart essence of the Buddha.” The heart essence of the Buddha is your own wisdom. After you have tamed your own mind, you recognize that the wisdom is within your own mind.  The Buddha mind is like a vast ocean and the minds of sentient beings is like ice-blocks. Ice-blocks temporarily experiences a lot of suffering, but ultimately, the ice is also water. In order for the ice to melt, we have to tame our own mind. That which is to be tamed here is this temporary obscuration which is self-grasping. Because where there is self-grasping, the other six afflictive emotions arise. And these temporarily lead to the appearance of the six realms of samsara.

The ice ultimately is also nothing else but water. So, all of these is the relative truth and not the ultimate truth. But temporarily on a relative level, it is true that virtue leads to happiness and non-virtue leads to suffering. Once suffering is experienced, that karma is gone and doesn’t exist again. Then, there is still Buddha nature and it has never changed.  Buddha nature is beyond birth and death, so that is the ultimate truth. It is the pure nature of the mind. When you realize the nature of the mind, you realize the ultimate truth and that is really the ultimate refuge. So that’s the meaning of “I take refuge in wisdom, the heart essence of the Buddha.”  From now onwards in all lifetimes that is the refuge within yourself. You are your own true refuge. Then next, it says in the card ‘I take refuge in love and compassion, the heart essence of the dharma.” Lord Jigten Sumgon said that the 84,000 dharma teachings have the root in bodhicitta. That is really the mind of love and compassion.

How has it happened that the water froze into ice? It is because of self-grasping, the afflictive emotions and our habitual tendencies. When we speak about taming our mind, we are really melting this ice-block and purifying the temporary karmic imprints in our mind. In order to melt this ice-block, we need heat or fire which is love and compassion. That is really the essence of taking refuge in the dharma.  In brief, we need to recognize how precious and important love and compassion is. The actual protection is the dharma; it is our own love and compassion. Then, it says “I take refuge in virtuous friends, the heart essence of companions.”  The spiritual friend or master guides us and shows us the basis, the path and the result . The path of Pratimoksha, Bodhisattva and the Vajrayana. For example, in the Gelugpa tradition, they have created this image of an elephant that starts out black in color. Then, it’s being led along the way upwards and at the end the elephant is white. Similarly, even though we possess Buddha nature, we are temporarily obscured by the darkness of ignorance. That means we have not realized the nature of our mind.

An animal is a symbol of ignorance and as we go further up we realize that there is no self. When we realize that there is no self, we become a Buddha. An on the ultimate level, there is no duality. That is what we ultimately realize when we realize non-dual primordial wisdom. This is also referenced in the 7 verses of supplication to Tara for protection. In there, one verse mentioned that beings do not recognize that their own mind is self-born non-dual primordial wisdom. When one realizes that, one finds the Dharmakaya great mother. Most individuals don’t realize that and that is why in the prayer it says “it is so difficult to realize one’s own mind.” So, the ultimate refuge is the Buddha within our own mind. It is the Dharmakaya , the great mother. And the Sambhogakaya is often said to be Vajrayogini or Vajravarahi. But all the deities are Sambhogakaya and they are all the same.  Then, it is said the Nirmanakaya is Tara and she appears in this world to benefit sentient beings directly. So, there are many but they all have a single essence. There is a great diversity in samsara and nirvana, but it all comes down to a single essence. This is a unique understanding that we have in the Buddhist view. Even though there might be millions of different Buddhas, what they teach and accomplish is one and the same thing. They do not have a separate mind. That is really what we need to realize.

How can we realize that the mind is non-dual? Once we realize that, we realize the Great Mother Dharmakaya within ourselves. So, in that 7 verses of supplication prayer to Tara, it says “Mother Goddess of Mindfulness please protect us.” So where can we find this Mother Goddess of Mindfulness? We can find the Dharmakaya Tara within our own mindfulness.  That is something that we learn from the spiritual friend. Mindfulness is the one that engages in everything. All our mundane and dharma activities are done with mindfulness. Even our worldly activities are done with the same kind of mindfulness. One time I had a discussion with Khenpo Tenphel about this wisdom and he said that there are two kinds of wisdom.  There is worldly wisdom and a transcendental wisdom. To me, however my point of view is that there are no two wisdoms. There is only one wisdom. It is just like a difference whether one’s mind is facing inward or projected outward. But it is still the same one mind. Milarepa also said that aside from realizing the nature of one’s own mind, there is no other perfection of wisdom than that.

So, attaining the state of Buddhahood basically means to realize the space-like nature of one’s own mind. That is your ultimate protection which is the Mother Goddess of Mindfulness. Our afflicted thoughts are eliminated through mindfulness. If you recognize them with mindfulness, you can transform them with a mind of love and compassion.

In the secret mantra Vajrayana, we practice the deity and the path of the three roots. So here, we purify the obscurations of our body by visualizing the deity. We purify the obscurations of our speech by reciting the mantra. And we purify the obscurations of our mind by cultivating bodhicitta. In this way, we purify our mind and when the mind becomes purified, then we realize non duality; and we see the ultimate refuge which is our own mind.  Therefore ‘I take refuge in wisdom, the heart essence of the Buddha.’ There is no need to look for the Buddha outside of yourself. The Buddha is your own true nature. So later during the refuge vow, Rinpoche will say ‘Tab Yin No ‘ which means ‘this is the method ‘ . The refuge is the method for you to attain enlightenment. Basically what this means is you are not yet a Buddha that’s why you still experience difficulties, but now you are given a method to actualize the nature of your mind.

Thus, it is mentioned in the 7 verses of supplication to Tara. You will then realize your ultimate. That is the method which is to realize the ultimate Dharmakaya Mother within yourself. One’s own mind arises from outer space so mind and space are inseparable. And your body consists of the five elements, so you are a microcosm of the universe.  For example, your flesh is the earth element, your blood is the water element, your breath is the wind element and your inner heat is the fire element. And your mind is the space element. Because you possess all five elements within you, you can experience the world because the five elements ultimately are the deity.  Everything that happens through the five elements is a Buddha activity. The inner refuge is to eliminate self-grasping; the perception of self and other. When self-grasping diminishes, then you will recognize how your own wisdom is the heart essence of the Buddha. So, I am just giving you an outline here but Khenpo can explain in more detail. You will receive this Refuge card and there are a few things to repeat. You will come up to get your hair clipped and receive your refuge vow.

Wherever you go in the world , the refuge is always the same in all the different Buddhist traditions. There is no difference. Not just Buddhism, all religions are essentially the same; they all have a refuge. The ultimate purpose of any refuge is to protect us from suffering. But there is a temporary and an ultimate protection. Buddhism protects us from suffering on an ultimate level by realizing our true nature .  By attaining enlightenment in the true expanse of Dharmakaya and recognizing our own mind as the greatly blissful primordial awareness. It is said that on the level of Buddhahood, even the two truths do not exist. That is because when you realize the nature of mind, the two truths do not exist separately. Ultimately, there is just the ultimate truth which is the space-like Dharmakaya.

Milarepa also said when you recognize that your mind is not separate from space, then you have realized the Dharmakaya. Generally, a refuge can really be found in all the different religions and they all are extremely beneficial.

It is just sometimes a religious practitioner engages in selfish activities which leads to biases between religions. Then, one religion harms another religion. But the fault of all that is just self-grasping. In the 37 bodhicitta practices, it says ‘all suffering without exception comes from wishing for one’s own happiness.’ Ultimately, everything is contained in the 37 bodhicitta practices. So, dharma friends, please keep that in mind.  On the outer refuge of the basis are the three jewels. Then the path or the inner refuge are the three roots ; the Lama, the yidam and the dakini. The essence of the Lama is the Buddha. The essence of the yidam is love and compassion. For example, any male who possesses great compassion really is Chenrezig and if they are female , they really are Tara.  So, they just temporarily appear in various forms as a result of karma but their fundamental nature is actually the deity. Ultimately, self and other are not separate. The more bodhicitta one gives rise to , the more one becomes like Chenrezig. So that is the path and then the result are the three kayas; the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and the Nirmanakaya. When the dualistic perception of self and other have completely disappeared, then you attain enlightenment in the space-like Dharmakaya.

From the compassionate energy of Dharmakaya arises the Sambhogakaya as a manifestation of great compassion. For example, if you recite just a single mani mantra with all mother sentient beings in mind and cultivating compassion again and again, you really are that Sambhogakaya deity. Now on the refuge card, it says ‘we need to abandon harming others and its cause. We need to accomplish helping others and its cause.  When immeasurable love and compassion arise within your mind, then whoever you meet you will be concerned about them. A sign that immeasurable love has arisen in somebody’s mind is that whatever suffering in the world they hear about, it will affect them. Recognize that the method to protect beings from suffering is loving kindness. They experience suffering as a result of their own lack of loving kindness, so what they need is loving kindness.   If you have that, then you have the fundamental protection on the basis. Coming back to the result of the three kayas, the Dharmakaya is the space-like expanse that is beyond birth and death. And from that arises the Sambhogakaya which is like a rainbow in the sky. The manifestation of the Sambhogakaya transcends birth and death . It is the natural manifestation of the mind. It is the pure illusory form of the deity.

That mind which transcends birth and death possesses the qualities of omniscience, compassion and power to grant protection. For example, with omniscience, they know the minds of all sentient beings. They know of all their temporary confusions, afflictive emotions and karmic imprints. For example, if you get very angry and you recognize the anger, then you will find that it is not actually there.  This is how the Buddhas see our afflictions. They are illusory and don’t actually exist. Buddhas have realized that all appearances are an illusion. It is just an appearance of our karmic imprints. It is said that all the six realms of samsara are Nirmanakayas and the inner essence of their mind is the Buddha. They only temporarily appear like ice-blocks, but ultimately there are no real sentient beings that exists.  That is why on our refuge card it says ‘when one is skilled in a pure perception of the universe and all beings, the vows of the secret mantra are complete. ‘ We must recognize that on the basis, ultimately everything is pure and what appears as impure is just a temporary obscuration. It is not how things really are so when you understand that, then there is no more basis of saying “I am a Buddhist or he is not a Buddhist” and so on.

Regarding the Sambhogakaya, there are many yidam deities that appear as a result of various aspiration prayers. But at the same time, within a single yidam deity, all yidam deities are complete. Similarly, within a single Guru, all the three jewels of the three times are complete. For example, the Guru’s body is the Sangha, speech is the dharma and the mind is the Buddha.  With the speech for instance, the Guru gives us the method and introduces us to karma, cause and effect. On the outer level, the Guru is the embodiment of the three jewels. On the inner level, the Guru is the embodiment of the three roots and on the secret level, the embodiment of the three kayas. So, the Guru is the embodiment of these 9 jewels. The Guru also introduces us to the fact that all of these qualities are within our own mind.

When you realize the nature of your own mind, you realize that Buddha is the Dharmakaya. The Sambhogakaya arises from within your own mind. For example, in Chakme Rinpoche’s Aspiration Prayer of Dewachen, it says that from Amitabha’s right hand manifests a hundred million Chenrezigs. And from his left hand manifests a hundred million Tara emanations.  So, the meaning of that is anyone who possesses love and compassion is actually the deity.

When you give rise to love and compassion, then this love will pervade all beings. In this way, you will be able to benefit all sentient beings and you can fully trust in that. So, the outer are the three jewels, the inner are the three roots and the ultimate are the three kayas. That means when you see the ultimate nature of your own mind, what you realize is that the empty essence of your own mind is the Dharmakaya.

The natural clarity is the Sambhogakaya so the mind is empty but it is not just nothing. There is also clarity and that’s the Sambhogakaya. This nature is compassionate; it is an all-pervasive natural compassion and that quality is called the Nirmanakaya. This compassion also pervades the five elements and there many ways in which the five elements grant protection to sentient beings. Your own body also comprises of the five elements.   In brief, you need to understand that everything has Buddha nature. Therefore it is also said that everything that is done in this world or in the field of knowable things is done by the Buddha. If we experience suffering, it is just a temporary result of our own karmas. If you understand this, then your mind will become very open and spacious. So, you can fully trust in that because it is within yourself.

So again, when one is skilled in a pure perception of the universe and all beings , the vows of secret mantra are complete. That is the ultimate level of taking refuge. In our refuge card, we have this outer, inner and secret refuge contained. It explains the way in which we take refuge and how we first eliminate self-grasping. Then the grasping of self and others separate and ultimately how to realize the nature of the mind leading us to the ultimate refuge.  One very important thing about the refuge vow that we have not mentioned before; is one verse in the 37 practices where it says that ‘one should cherish one’s spiritual master even more dear than one’s own body because it is through the spiritual master or the virtuous friend that our qualities will increase like the waxing moon.” This virtuous friend is the one who gives you the refuge vow but that is not the only one. It starts with our kind mothers so we should recognize the kindness of our mothers and also the kindness of our country.  If we wouldn’t have a country then the people in the country would have no way of surviving. Of course, due to individual karma, there are all kinds of countries with different leaders but in general people need a country to survive in a certain place. So, the country is very kind and the goal of the country should be to benefit their people. And that is really a great accumulation of merit.

For example, when you think “my mother has been so kind, my country has been so kind, I want to benefit them “, then you accumulate great merit. There are some people who do not have a lot of dear ones, but they do love their dog, for example. Whenever they love their dog, then again you can remember the kindness because through the dog you are able to cultivate love. So, it gave you loving kindness. Whenever loving kindness arises that is a great merit and that merit is important for future lifetimes. There are actually so many opportunities to accumulate merit, but we mostly don’t recognize them and they just go wasted. For example, people don’t really pay much attention to love. Love is really very changeable in their minds, they feel that I loved that person yesterday, but today I don’t love them anymore and so on. So, what the Buddha taught us is a method to accumulate merit and that is nothing else but to accumulate love.  When you accumulate love, it is like accumulating money in a bank. But instead of a normal bank, you are putting it into the treasure house of all the Buddhas where it will always remain. So, when love arises, recognize that now you have accumulated great merit. And when you dedicate this great merit, then it will not become wasted.

When we practice yoga, our main focus is on the outer physical level. But it also connects to a quality of the Buddha dharma. A quality of the Buddha dharma is that we develop this eye of wisdom which we apply in whatever activities we engage in.  First of all, in the Buddha dharma, we take refuge and then we cultivate a motivation of Bodhicitta. Someone who doesn’t follow a religion might think that this is what Buddhists do but we do not need refuge or Bodhicitta. But that is actually a mistaken way of thinking about things. Lord Jigten Sumgon had said that Buddha only taught the fundamental nature of phenomena. All the Buddha did was to show us the nature of samsara and nirvana and the nature of our mind. Just how things actually are.

On the relative level Buddha taught us the nature of karma, cause and effect. For example, when we practice Qigong we are mainly focusing on the outer physical body and our health. But our physical health relies on the body and the body is composed of the five elements. The five elements really sustains everything in this world; the entire outer natural environment and our bodies.  The elements give us protection and according to the Buddhist view, the actual cause of protection which also connects to the outer elements is love. Love is the only cause of happiness which is what we understand in the Buddhist view. If we don’t understand this then we might hold mistaken views. For example, nowadays there are some scientific views that are a little bit mistaken.  Some say that it is really not necessary to love your parents. If one holds such a view, then the continuum of love between mother and child becomes interrupted. Then, this continuum of love in our minds become interrupted. Love really is our only protection and love is something that we have to cultivate in all kinds of situations.

So the body on the outer level consists of the five elements. Then one might think that ‘my body is separate from your body’. But, that is also not ultimately true because the five elements are interrelated. The five elements support everything that appears and exists. The entire universe and all sentient beings.  For example, if we do not have the water element then how would it be? No trees would grow and we would not be able to survive. In this way we should understand the quality of each of the five elements. If you understand the qualities of the five elements then love for those elements arises. Love can really arise in any circumstance, but nowadays we lose our love.  For example, there are two friends together who loved each other at first but then they lose their love. According to the Buddhist view we must cultivate immeasurable love and for that we need to understand the qualities of love. First of all we must cultivate love for our parents, our Gurus and our teachers. Meaning our mundane teachers who teaches us various things. Also teachers who teach us yoga for example and they all are extremely precious.

But if we fail to put our money in that Buddha-bank, then we can very easily loose our merit. It is said that a single moment of anger destroys the virtues accumulated in many eons. For example, two people love each other but they start fighting and in an instant all that merit of love they had is gone. The Buddha gave us a method to recognize even the smallest opportunities to cultivate merit. Then, once you have recognized that, the Buddha taught us how to seal that merit through dedication prayers so we never lose our merit.  So, the Buddhas have dedicated their merits for the benefit of all sentient beings.  And if we dedicate in the same way, then it is just like we are adding a drop of water into the vast ocean. Once we have merged our merits with their merits, then it will never become wasted. Therefore, in this verse in the 37 practices, it says “we should cherish our spiritual friends even more dear than our body.” Because our own body will be lost when we exchange bodies. But the merits that we accumulated will go with us into our future lifetimes until we attain enlightenment.  If you have this merit to bring with you, then temporarily you will take birth in the higher realms and ultimately attain enlightenment. And this merit that you take with you is loving kindness. So, recognize how precious it is.

For example, if you develop compassion for a little ant, then recognize that now you have created merit. That is due to the kindness of the ant because of the ant you are able to create a lot of merit. And also remember the kindness of your parents, your country and your teachers.   If you drink a cup of milk, remember the kindness of the cows; that is why we have milk. So if you think in this way, they will actually also benefit from that. You benefit others and achieve happiness yourself. So that is a very important point that is not always highlighted but it is really important to recognize these opportunities of accumulating merit all around us. Even if it is a slight action, it can become great if you dedicate it. For example, in the King of Aspiration Prayers for Excellent Conduct’, it says that if you dedicate the roots of virtue for all sentient beings, it can never become wasted.

So, that is extremely important. Next coming to the refuge , we will repeat a few supplications for taking the refuge vow. You will receive a card but many of you might not have received that card. Then you can come up and Khenpo will clip your hair. Regarding the Sambhogakaya, this is Tara and Tara actually saved my life 8 times. That is the power of the Sambhogakayas. Whenever I encountered a dangerous circumstance I immediately remembered Tara.  The deity knows of our supplications because that is the quality of the three jewels. With their omniscience they know the minds of sentient beings. Tara protected my life 8 times, so that is why there is this particular image of Tara here. Also, somebody has made a picture story of how Tara saved my life 8 times and also a film on that. It really shows my great trust and faith in Tara and I know that Tara is within my own mind. It is always there because she is together with my own mind. She is the natural manifestation of the pure aspect of my own mind.

Kuntuzangpo Prayers

In terms of the outer world, we have to be very careful to protect and purify our environment. This is especially important nowadays and on the inner level, we have to purify our mind. That is the main message of the dharma. So, where did the tradition of the Buddha dharma come from? It came from Buddha Shakyamuni and generally there are many different religions, religious teachers and many different paths.  But they all come down to purifying one’s mind and in that sense they are all the same. The special method that the Buddha taught was that we have to purify self-grasping. If we do not purify our self-grasping, then we will continue to suffer. As it is said in the 37 Bodhisattva practices, all suffering comes from wishing for one’s own benefit. So, with such an understanding, if we analyze if this self that we grasp at exists or does not exist. Then we will come to an understanding of it is non-existence. That is called selflessness. That is also the wisdom and understanding of selflessness that we have to develop. From Buddha’s teaching of the dharma then arose the sangha or the noble community. The sangha is extremely important because they are the ones who can show us the path to happiness and how we can avoid suffering. If we do have the path of the dharma and someone to show us the path then we can reach our destination. It’s like if we have a car and know where to go and how to get there then we can reach our destination.

So, people who practice the dharma are like people who have a car and who know how to get to their destination. On the other hand those people who do not have the dharma are just like tiny insects running around without knowing where to go or what to do.

Among the different religions, there is the religion of the Buddha. When we speak of this tradition, we should not only think of one single Buddha. But in fact there are innumerable Buddhas. Some Buddhas may only appear in the future and other Buddhas like Buddha Shakyamuni had appeared in our time and they have turned the wheel of dharma. The main teaching that Buddha Shakyamuni gave when he turned the wheel of dharma was that we have to tame our minds. He said that we have to tame our minds and that is the teaching of the Buddha.  So, what does it mean to tame our minds? To understand this we have to know that all beings are actually Buddhas. They are only temporarily obscured by adventitious stains. Where do these adventitious stains come from? They just naturally appear when we grasp at a self and think of “I” or “mine”. We usually consider sleep as happiness. When we can sleep well we feel happy but when we cannot sleep we become crazy. The happiness from being able to sleep well comes from your mind’s nature. What you are actually experiencing is the happiness of your mind.  There are also many different traditions of Buddha dharma in this world. But, they all come down to the two truths; the ultimate truth and conventional truth. Sometimes because there are so many different traditions, we hear different kinds of teachings and think that they are all different. That is not the correct understanding: this is not how it is. Although the Buddha has taught 84,000 heaps of teachings, they all come down to a single essence. If we elaborate, there are innumerable teachings of the Buddha, but we also have to know how to condense this into a single essence.  This single essence is one’s own mind and within one’s own mind, all of samsara and nirvana are included. So this is the single point we have to understand and if we understand this then we will also understand that the Buddha and sentient beings are actually not different. They all have the same nature and the same mind. And this same mind is the ultimate truth.

I have already given explanations on this Prayer of Kuntuzangpo on a few occasions and also many other teachers regularly explain this prayer. So, there is no need to go into much detail at this moment. But to summarize, the Prayer says there is a single ground yet two paths and two fruitions. The single ground that the prayer is speaking of here is the Buddha nature that is present within all sentient beings. It is the nature of the mind. Then it says “yet two paths”; these two paths are the path of bodhicitta and the path of self-grasping.  Through the path of self-grasping, we are born in the six realms of samsara. Through the other path of bodhicitta, we temporarily practice the six perfections and ultimately attain Buddhahood. It is just like the nature of water; there is only one nature of water but there can still be clean water that we drink and also polluted water. Although all waters are of one nature there are still a distinction between pure and impure. Therefore, the prayer says “there is a single ground yet two paths and two fruitions, and magically displays as awareness and unawareness.’ In the prayer it says “realizing this you are a Buddha, not realizing it you are a sentient being wandering in samsara.” Being a sentient being in samsara means that there is suffering and that is not something that happens in the future. But it is actually what we are experiencing at the moment. For us at the moment, there is a big difference between happiness and suffering. But if we understand karma, cause and effect then we will also understand that we can purify our suffering; and that suffering will slowly diminish.

The Kuntuzangpo Prayer comes from a Dzogchen Tantra called ‘Revealing Samantabhadra as mind of unimpeded openness’. What does this refer to? At present we are caught up in the idea of a self and of others. We truly believe in the existence of self and others. Due to this grasping at a reality, we are like crazy people and sometimes we become so crazy that we even commit suicide. All these comes because our dualistic grasping. We have attachment for happiness and we want to avoid suffering. This is the state in which we are caught up now and we have become like frozen ice blocks.  This Prayer of Kuntuzangpo opens up our minds and let this ice block melt and therefore it is revealing Samantabhadra’s mind or intention of unimpeded openness’. It says here “reveal the unimpeded openness’. So, what’s the difference between revealed unimpeded openness and the openness that is not revealed. The difference lies in whether you have realized the nature of your mind. Once you have realized the nature of your mind, your mind becomes like hot water. This happens once you cultivate loving kindness and compassion for sentient beings.

When you think of others, then your mind becomes like a great ocean of hot water . So that is the mind of the great Mahayana vehicle and once your mind has become like a vast ocean of warm water, it cannot freeze again or caught by self-grasping. That is the state in which you realize the conventional truth and you understand that suffering is not real suffering. Such an understanding is the quality of having understood the conventional truth.   The Prayer starts with the words “Citta – Ah’ . It means that the grasping at an existence of a self is not there anymore and you abide in such a state. In such a state, mind and space become one. There is no grasping at a self and other. Therefore, the Buddhas had taught that all beings are primordially Buddhas . So, they are Buddhas from the very beginning therefore it continues here in the Prayer where it says ‘there is one single ground yet two paths and two fruitions.’  The Buddha taught about selflessness. He taught that although we think a self exists , we cannot actually find or identify the self.  That is called the discrimination of knowledge that realizes selflessness. But still we as ordinary sentient beings, we think that an ‘I’ or a self exists. Usually, we consider our body as our ‘self’. But if we investigate further , our body actually is impermanent and it will die one day. But the self does not die so the self cannot be the body. Next, we might think that the self can be found in the mind. Indeed if we look into our minds, then we see that there is a consciousness that constantly has this notion of an ‘I’.  But it is really important that we understand where this notion of an “I” or ‘self’ come from.

There is a story of a Drugpa Kagyu Lama who once gave guiding instructions to one of his students. He was guiding him to an understanding of the nature of mind and he did that by telling his student to go home and bring him his “self” or “I” tomorrow morning. The student then went to look for the “I” but he couldn’t find it. He thought that this “I” is something that does not exist. Then the next morning he went back to his teacher and the teacher asked him what happened and if he found the “I”. The student said “No Rinpoche I did not find the “I”; it does not exist.  Then the Lama asked him why do you come here then ? The student then replied “Rinpoche because I came to receive dharma teachings’. So then, the Lama immediately said this is the “I” when you said “I” came here to receive dharma teachings. That is the “I”. The “I” or the “self” is something that temporarily comes into existence and continuously arises again and again. It accumulates on the nature of our mind like snowflakes falling down. This happens as long as we have this feeling that “I” have to be happy, “I” need happiness or “I” have to avoid suffering.  As long as we have such a grasping, then this notion of an “I” will continuously accumulate like snowflakes. Generally, this world that we live in is created by our collective karma. We all have contributed to this outer existence of the world. Sentient beings that exist in this world are each created by their own individual karma. So, this is how samsara comes into being. It manifests in the form of the outer world and the inner sentient beings.  When we speak of self-grasping then what is its antidote?

One of the precious methods that we can use to eliminate self-grasping is to recite or shout the syllable ‘Hung’ as soon disturbing thoughts arise in our minds. It is also said in the 37 Bodhisattva practices that we always have to be mindful in whatever we do. We have to be mindful about the rising of this notion of an ‘I’ and as soon as such a notion arises in our minds then we can dispel it with the syllable ‘Hung’.  This is the method on how to deal with conceptual thinking and disturbing thoughts that come up in our minds from beginningless time until now. This is really important to understand and we have to know what are the shortcomings of this notion of an ‘I’. Then, once it appears we can dispel it with the syllable ‘Hung’. If we do that then there is no grasping at self and other in this moment.

King of Aspiration Prayers

 So today dharma friends, we are going to speak about the King of Aspiration Prayers for Excellent conduct. This is a prayer that is practiced throughout all the different Buddhist lineages. Everyone considers this King of Aspiration Prayers as most precious and a very important practice.

To put it in simple terms, for people like myself who do not have much learning how can we understand this ‘Excellent Conduct’? For example, we can think of the different people in a country who engages in excellent conduct. There are some people who are quite famous for their excellent conduct, and when we hear their name we remember what they have done and we like them. Or even on a smaller scale, animals sometimes also display excellent conduct towards each other.

So where does such excellent conduct come from? It comes from loving kindness and we all have that but it is extremely subtle. For the most part, it is suppressed by self-grasping. Even though sentient beings do possess loving kindness, it does not become very beneficial or useful to them. Just like if you only have a little bit of water , you can’t really do so much with it.   Whereas when it rains, then all the plants and the entire environment will grow. We all have loving kindness but it is very weak due to self-grasping. To eliminate self-grasping and grow our loving kindness, Buddha gave us the method of cultivating bodhicitta. That is really the essence of the prayer for excellent conduct.

If you have a good intention, then your activities will be positive. If they are positive, then there will be positive results. Here we are not just thinking about ourselves, but we are also thinking about others. Most people only think about themselves and their own purpose. Samsaric sentient beings only care about themselves and their love is very limited. That is why even though sometimes they do experience happiness, they always turn that into a lot of suffering.

All the Buddhas of the three times gave rise to the precious bodhicitta and they gave us a method to cultivate bodhicitta where it has not yet arisen. To not let it decline where it has arisen and to further increase bodhicitta. That is really the root essence of the Prayer for Excellent Conduct.  Somebody who has a good intention of bodhicitta will engage in good actions and they will experience positive results. Anyone can become like that. If everyone would have a good intention, everyone’s activities would be excellent and everyone’s results would be positive.

This prayer is a method given to us by all the Buddhas to cultivate such good conduct. The quality that makes Buddhist teachings precious is really love and that is something you find in all religions. There’s not one religion that does not rely on love. It is just that there is a difference when it comes to the amount of love which is being developed or their skillful means that are being applied.

Everyone who has a mind wants to be happy and if we want to be happy , we need love. There is no other cause of happiness than love and that is what we call merit. You have merit if you possess love and often people causally say that when they see a person who is doing really well in life then they say ‘oh this person has a lot of merit.’ Or if they have a lot of difficulties then they say “oh this person doesn’t have merit.’   But what really determines whether one possesses merit or not is whether or not they possess love. Humans or animals possess love to varying degrees. Depending on the degree of love that we possess, we experience varying degrees of happiness and suffering. So, when we say ‘May sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness’ , we are really saying ‘May they possess love.’

So, the teachings are a method to cultivate love where it has not yet arisen. To not let it decline where it has arisen and to further increase love. That is the intention of all the Buddhas of the three times. All the religions in the world possess that and all sentient beings want to experience happiness. And that is why cultivating love and understanding this is so important . That is why we say the dharma is so precious.  This is a method to cultivate love especially when we are in the face of difficulties. For example, I myself when I was in prison and experienced great difficulties, I received this small booklet that contained the Prayer for Excellent Conduct together with an outline of that prayer written by other Rinpoches. It is printed on golden scrolls which is also printed on your book.

If you would ask anyone about a chunk of gold and this little dharma book , which would they prefer? Most people would choose the gold and wouldn’t think that there is anything special about a book. But actually, when you are in the face of suffering then that book really becomes very valuable. In fact even if you have a chunk of gold, it creates a lot of suffering in itself because you have to hide it and protect it and so on.  In the 37 Bodhisattva practices, there are two important verses and it says that “all suffering without exception comes from wishing for one’s own happiness. The perfect Buddhas arise from the altruistic mind.” So we need to cultivate love and then the other verse is about patience. “To all those who desire a wealth of virtue, all those who do harm are like a precious treasure.”

So, what we need is love and patience. These two verses really became very important to me during my time in prison. In prison, I thought that this is my time to practice patience and this suffering arises as a result of self-grasping. Whatever experience now in this life is the result of my actions committed in previous lives. And for the future if I want to avoid more suffering, I must eliminate self-grasping.  Seeing it in this way, I was able to tolerate or accept the hardships I experienced.. So, during this time in prison, Nangchen Adeu Rinpoche wrote this prayer and gave it to me. For some context during this time in prison, if any of the prison officials come to know of any of such activity, they would put iron shackles on us and beaten immediately.

It was quite a sensitive activity but he wrote these words down because they are very meaningful. So what he wrote is an outline to the Prayer of Excellent Conduct which is what you see in Italics this book. Then, he passed it on to me and it became something that I protected even with my own life. So, this is the text that I had received from him which is in the beginning of this book.  Regarding the first one, there are five preliminaries. The first one is gathering the accumulations of merit. We already mentioned before what merit actually is. That is why we should understand that merit does not just mean that we are going to spend our entire life in retreat and just practice. That is not the only way of accumulating merits. There is merit to be accumulated in whatever we do. First of all, that is because we all possess Buddha nature; it is always there with us.  Buddha nature is empty and its empty nature is always present, but it is obscured by self-grasping. For as long as there is self-grasping, there is virtue and non-virtue in our minds. When we separate from self-grasping, we are able to cultivate true merit which is immeasurable and compassion.

Where can we find this cause of merit of love and compassion? We find it a mother and child; even in the animal realm. So, that is why we say that we see all sentient beings in the six realms like a mother sees her child.  In the animal realm, an animal mother takes care of her child. It gives the child milk and protects it. Then when they stay together they experience great happiness. Between a mother and her child , the mother gives everything to her child so she practices generosity. She practices ethical discipline because she doesn’t want to harm the child. She also practices patience because no matter how troublesome the child is, she doesn’t get angry at the child or harm him. She always sustains an ongoing stream of love for her child. That really is meditative concentration.  She is diligent in all of these activities but the only thing that is often missing is the perfection of wisdom. Because the mother thinks “that’s my child” so she feels great love for her child but she doesn’t feel the same kind of love for anybody else. Because of a lack of wisdom, the mother also lacks skillful means. Therefore, the activities are partially merit but also the other half is self-grasping. The mind is still obscured by self-grasping so therefore the activities still become a seed for samsara.

So, the Buddhas gave us a method to cultivate true merit and they taught us how to accumulate this merit. First the way we need to recognize merit is that merit is loving kindness and it must be protected with patience. The Buddhas essentially taught us to cultivate immeasurable love and when love is immeasurable, this is what gives love it’s great power. For example, if the intention is so vast, it is just like you are planting countless seeds into a field and there will be a lot of crops.  But the mistake we often make is that we don’t recognize the opportunities for accumulating merit all around us. If you think of a piece of rock, when the sun shines on it, then you can see little stars pervading that rock and it glitters. Actually, it is pervaded by gold and we consider gold to be very precious, but we also don’t know how to extract the gold from the rock. It is said that the essence of earth is really gold, but we just don’t know how to extract it.