Practice Tonglen with Om Ah Hung

Practice Tonglen with Om Ah Hung

(Extract of Om Ah Hung Varja Recitation – teachings by Garchen Rinpoche in Garchen Retreat Center in Taiwan. Ina Dhargye translated Tibetan – English)

SP in B & WSo we cultivate such a mind of love when we, for example, think about the kindness that others have given us. So, we give rise to altruistic mind because we understand first of all it benefits ourselves. When we understand the benefit of that, that is the time we begin the practice of “Tonlen” of giving and taking.

So you can practice visualizing your guru or any yidam deity. And it does not matter whether or not the creation stage or the visualization of the deity is so clear. It is sufficient if a deity approximately appears in your mind. Actually, if just the color of the deity appears in your mind, it is sufficient.

And that is necessary because one’s own mind is like a mirror. In reality, there is nothing really there. We only fabricate this idea of self. So, when we change that, instead, think of the deity. Because the mind is like a mirror, the mind will become like the deity. We actually become the deity. That thought needs to be habituated over the over again, to the point you never forget about the deity.

Then, if you never forget about the deity, your mind has accomplished the deity. Of the deity, there’s the body and the mind. To attain the body of the deity is rather easy. When we think of the deity, the mind becomes the deity.

Then, what we really need to cultivate is the mind of the deity, and that is Boddhicitta, a wish to benefit others. At that moment, when that mind is present, the deity becomes the actual wisdom being. If that thought is absent, only the form is the deity, not the mind. Then, it is only a worldly god. That is something to be careful about. It is necessary that, when you practice a yidam deity, you always do so on the basis of a wish to benefit sentient beings.

Then, we think about the suffering of sentient beings and what is the cause of their suffering. The cause of suffering of all beings arises from the afflictions. For example, in this world, there are countries where there is much war. The cause of that are actions committed with the mind of hatred and jealousy.

And all of that arises ultimately from self-grasping, the wish for one’s own happiness, the selfish mind. That is where all sufferings really come from. There is no suffering that does not come from that. It all comes from self-grasping, hatred, jealousy and so on.

In brief, even the slighted suffering has its cause in self-grasping only. So, understanding that, then, you should think, is the self-grasping, the self of all the sentient beings in the three realms of samsara and my own self-grasping the same or not? When you really look at it, you will see it is exactly the same.

Then, define the self, where actually is that self? When you look at that, it is actually nowhere. It is only something we have fabricated. We are holding on to a self where actually there is no self.

Then, however, why isn’t it possible that we just let go of it? That is because we have habituated t to this idea since beginningless time in samsara. Therefore, the mind has become like ice-blocks floating on the ocean. The Buddha mind is like the vast ocean. The countless Buddhas, the ocean is vast, but there is no duality, no division in the vast ocean.

And the various enlightened activities of these Buddhas are like the waves on the ocean. On the other hand, the mind of sentient beings in Samsara is like blocks of ice. That is due to self-grasping. Due to self-grasping, we give rise to afflicted emotions. These emotions lead us to accumulate karma. These actions of karma place habitual imprint in the mind. These imprints then create Samsara.

So, that is really important to understand. The root of all Samsara is self-grasping. So, for another visualization, when you inhale air, you can think that I am inhaling all the self-grasping and obscurations of sentient beings.

Then, the air goes down to the navel where you visualize a fire flame, and think that the inhalation of self-grasping of sentient beings, all of that then dissolve into the fire at the navel, just like pouring oil into fire. So, think that, in this instant, all the self-grasping of sentient beings is burned away, and the self-grasping transforms into altruism.

So you inhale with Om, and you think in this way, bringing in all the grasping of beings. Then with Ah, it dissolves into the fire at the navel. Then, with Hung, you exhale, think that your own Boddhicitta or the self-grasping which has become altruism then is exhaled and pervades all beings.

So, first of all, we need to identify self-grasping. This is self-grasping. Then, we draw it in, and the we visualize now it has been burned away. Then it becomes an altruistic mind after having been burned away. Then, that altruistic mind has been exhaled with the syllable Hung. And think that that then pervades all sentient beings.
So, this is how you could visualize. Or, you can also visualize that when you inhale the air, that the self-grasping and the afflictions appear in the form of a dark or black smoke. Then, when you exhale, the pure air, having purified that, you can think that it is purified in the form of seed syllables or like rainbow forms of Chenrezig or Tara and so forth, whichever deity, then pervades all beings and brings them whatever they need. For example, if they need wealth, it brings them wealth. Or if they need children, it brings them children. Or if they need food, it brings them food and so on. And it creates Boddhicitta in the mind of those who have not given rise to Boddhicitta.

So, in this way, you can think it pervades all beings. Whether or not you have the capacity to pervade all beings, you can only see when you look at your own mind. So when you look at your own mind, you see first of all the vast suffering of all the sentient beings of three realms, you understand sentient beings are limitless, likewise, their karmic visions and imprints are limitless.

Then, next second, you understand the root of all that suffering is self-grasping. Understanding the third, you want to help them, you want to benefit them. If you have that wish to benefit them, then you have the capacity to pervade them. The greater love and compassion you have, the greater capacity you have to pervade all sentient beings. So, you pervade sentient beings with compassion and that purifies their obscurations. At the same time, you can also think that, this mind also pervades all the pure and there it makes offerings to all the Buddhas.

So, in this ability to benefit, you should have very firm confidence. This is how we can practice Om Ah Hung in the context of “Tonlen”.

A Wonderful Mind: Teachings on the Refuge, Bodhisattva, and Tantric Vows

A Wonderful Mind: Teachings on the Refuge, Bodhisattva, and Tantric Vows By Garchen Rinpoche

MEANING OF REFUApala with Jigten SumgonGE
If you have already received the refuge vow before, in all four traditions it is the same. The Three Jewels are always the same. So if you have received refuge before, you do not have to receive it again. But you may if you wish. But even if you have received it before, it is good to hear the introduction on the meaning of the vow again. When we take refuge, it is like a purifying and restoring ceremony. We purify our transgressions, broken commitments, negative emotions, and we restore our bodhicitta. Therefore it is good to receive the refuge vow again.

Some people take refuge because they understand with their wisdom that samsara has the nature of suffering, and they want to become free from that suffering. They know they can only become free if they rely on the Three Jewels. There are others who take refuge in the Three Jewels because they want to help other sentient beings. They know that alone they are not strong and they must therefore rely on the Three Jewels. So we take refuge in the Three Jewels with such a mind of wisdom and compassion. To have those is a great merit.

When we take refuge, we seek a protection from the vast ocean of suffering. Everyone wishes to be happy and no one wants to suffer. That, we all share in common. There are various systems in this world to protect us from suffering. The mundane systems only concern this life. Sometimes they can protect and sometimes they cannot. For this reason, many religions have appeared in this world. This is also the intention of the Buddha’s teachings. The word “Jewel” (Tibetan: Kon Chog) means “rare and supreme”. The most supreme source of protection is the Three Jewels. Also, the Three Jewels are rare because, unless we possess great merit and wisdom, we will not even have the wish to take refuge. You have the wish to receive refuge. That is a great merit and a sign that you have already connected with the Three Jewels in a past lifetime. There are not many who have this kind of merit and wisdom.

Actually, all sentient beings possess Buddha Nature. The difference between Buddhas and sentient beings is that the Buddhas are like a vast ocean, and sentient beings are like blocks of ice on that ocean. Sentient beings grasp at the duality of self and others, and therefore become like ice-blocks and wander in the six realms of samsara, suffering incredibly. And of all these different kinds of birth, even though we may obtain the precious human body, if we still do not meet with Dharma, we still will not know how to tolerate suffering in this life and how to create happiness in future lives. We must understand that happiness comes from causes. The cause of our happiness that we are experiencing right now is loving kindness and compassion. Through taking refuge, we understand this. We must also understand that our present suffering also has a cause. The causes are afflictive emotions. So when we take refuge, we learn about the need to abandon the causes, the afflictive emotions.

In the beginning we take refuge in the outer sources of refuge. We all have heard about the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The outer Buddhas are infinite. They are the Buddhas of the Three Times. The outer Dharma is the words spoken by the Buddha, the teachings on karma and so on. It is the method to free from suffering. It is the path. The outer Sangha is those who have entered the path of Dharma (practice) and have found freedom from suffering, and therefore have the ability to show this path to others. These are the Three Jewels. Today, in the context of giving you refuge, I am your Sangha. Having found liberation from suffering myself through having applied the Dharma practices, I have found that it is of great benefit, and I am passing this on to you, thinking that also it will benefit you.


Once we have taken refuge we should also understand the inner sources of refuge. The Three Jewels are not somewhere far away, separate from us. They are actually contained within our own mind. We must understand the connection between the Three Jewels and ourselves. This means the cause of the Three Jewels is actually present in our own mind. For example, the mind of the Buddhas is like a flower, and the mind of sentient beings is like the seed of that flower.

The Buddha shows us the way to actualize this potential, but the cause we already possess. It is Buddha Nature. Our own Awareness. Then, if we cultivate love and compassion, the Dharma is within us. And if we have these, we are Sangha. These Three Jewels within our own mind are our true protection, our real refuge. The way in which we take refuge is explained in the refuge card:

“I take Refuge in Transcendent Awareness, the heart essence of Buddha. I take Refuge in Compassion, the heart essence of Dharma. I take Refuge in Spiritual Friends, the heart essence of Companions.”

“I take Refuge in Transcendent Awareness, the heart essence of Buddha.” Our awareness is the heart essence of Buddha. The inner Buddha is our own mindfulness. That is what we take refuge in. It is our cause of enlightenment. It is the mind that recognizes “This is an affliction.” “This is love.” “This is compassion.” It is our own discriminating awareness. In the beginning there is a wish, “I want to take refuge.” In the middle, there is an awareness that thinks, “Now I have received refuge.” In the end, there is an awareness that thinks, “Now I must observe the precepts.” This awareness in the beginning, middle and end is one continuum. It is our mindfulness. This mindfulness is our inner Buddha. If we observe refuge precepts, we observe them through mindfulness and heedfulness. This is our discriminating wisdom. It discerns between what is virtue and what is non-virtue, what is the cause of happiness and what is the cause of suffering, what to do and what not to do. The Buddha is the one who has perfected this wisdom. We also possess this, but we need to purify our mindstream.

All sentient beings and all the Buddhas have the same mind. Our mind is the Buddha. This mind has the nature of water. When the water is completely pure, it is like enlightenment. And if the mind is temporarily defiled by different afflictive emotions and thoughts, then temporarily the water is dirty and one is a sentient being that suffers. But still, it has the nature of water. When we purify the mind of negative emotions and self-grasping through wisdom and compassion, the pure mind itself is the Perfection of Wisdom. That is the mind of Buddha. That mind is our own mind. That mind itself is the non-conceptual wisdom that transcends the Three Spheres (Duality of Subject, Action, Object). This also is the etymological meaning of the word Buddha (Tibetan: Sang Gye). “Sang” means to clear away. This refers to clear away grasping. “Gye” means to expand, vast. This refers to freedom that transcends the Three Spheres.

“I take Refuge in Compassion, the heart essence of Dharma.” If our mind already is the Buddha, then why is it that sentient beings are not enlightened? What is the difference between sentient beings and Buddhas? If the seed does not meet with conditions, it will not sprout. This is just like sentient beings not meeting with the Dharma and wandering endlessly in the six realms of samsara. In The Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices it says, “All suffering without exception comes from wishing for one’s own happiness. The perfect Buddhas arise from the altruistic mind.” It is because we give rise to a mind of self-grasping that we fall under the power of negative emotions. This leads us to wander in the six realms of samsara. The Buddha said: “Within all sentient beings is the Buddha. Sentient beings are only obscured by adventitious stains.” These stains are the stains of self-grasping.

To separate from the self-grasping mind, we must cultivate the altruistic mind. When we take refuge, we must recognize the preciousness of love and compassion, and then habituate to it, continuously. If love and compassion remains in our mind, we will become free of self-grasping. Throughout the six times of day and night, we must always remember sentient beings. That is the Dharma. The outer Dharma consists of eighty-four thousand Dharma teachings. But in brief, they are included in loving kindness and compassion. The inner Dharma is love and compassion. The real Dharma that we take refuge in, the actual Dharma, is our own love and compassion. This is the supreme protection. If we do not give rise to love and compassion, then even if we take refuge, we will not really be protected. We will not become true Dharma practitioners. When with wisdom we apply the method to abandon the causes of suffering, this becomes the path. Gampopa said: “Bless me that my mind becomes the Dharma. Bless me that Dharma becomes the Path.” For the mind to become Dharma is rather easy. What is more difficult is the second. The Dharma only becomes the path if we give rise to altruistic mind. Only then we will become free of self-grasping. To practice Dharma means to let go of self-grasping. Otherwise we cannot go beyond samsara.

“I take refuge in Spiritual Friends, the heart essence of Companions.” The Dharma is shown to us by Sangha, the guides on our path. If we cultivate love and compassion, then we become a Sangha. In general, Sangha has many qualities. But in brief, the qualities are love and patience. That is what makes Sangha “noble” or “superior”. Ordinary sentient beings have self-grasping. When someone hurts them, they revenge. But as Sangha, we cultivate the altruistic mind. Even if somebody hurts us, we practice patience. We protect over love. The essence of Sangha is virtuous conduct. A superior Sangha remains inseparable from an altruistic, beneficial intent towards sentient beings. You should think, “I am noble Sangha. When someone mistreats me, I will practice patience. I will protect love.” Then you are true Sangha. Then you will be able to protect yourself and others.

“Companions” or “Spiritual Friends” refers to any teachers in this world. They can be mundane, worldly teachers, or they can be Dharma teachers who are very precious. If we give rise to faith and respect for all our teachers, the qualities of these teachers will enter our own mind. As Gampopa said in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation: “The contributory cause is the spiritual master. The Method is the spiritual master’s instruction.”

The spiritual master actually is even more precious than our own body. In The Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices it says: “Holding sublime spiritual friends even more dear than one’s own body is the Bodhisattva’s practice.” The reason for this is that whatever we learn from our teachers remains like a seed in our mind. The wisdom of what we have learned remains in our mind. We can see this sometimes in little children. For example, some children are interested in learning things and also it comes easy to them. This is a sign that they have already learned in the past. And then there are other children, even though they might have the same parents, they have no interest in learning, and also it is harder for them to learn anything. This is because in many past lives they have not learned, not studied. This is in a worldly sense. But Dharma teachers especially teach us karma, and with this they give us the freedom to accomplish happiness in the higher realms, temporarily, and ultimately to attain enlightenment. When we are introduced to the causes of happiness and suffering, we receive the freedom to create our own happiness. Thus we should remember both kinds of teachers again and again, the worldly teachers and the spiritual teachers, and think of them with love.

We should see the spiritual master who gives us refuge as the embodiment of the Three Jewels. If you practice Lama Chopa, you understand how the Lama is the embodiment of the Three Jewels. The guru’s body is the Sangha. The guru’s speech is the Dharma, because it explains the words of the Buddha. The guru’s mind is the actual Buddha. Actually, everyone’s mind is the Buddha because we all have Buddha Nature. The Buddhas and sentient beings are like the mala beads on one mala string. The string is Buddha Nature. It is the union of emptiness and compassion. The enlightened mind of the Buddhas and the mind of sentient beings have a single ground. The Buddhas have perfected altruism while sentient beings grasp at a self and are afflicted, that is the only difference. Still, their nature is the same. All the Buddhas are included within the guru. Even within one Sangha, the Three Jewels are contained. In this way, I am representing the Three Jewels. My body is Sangha, my speech is Dharma, and the mind the Buddha. If you have this view, then qualities will arise in your mind.

In brief, the essence of inner refuge is to cultivate love. When we die, our wealth and possessions will not help us. We have no power to carry them with us. But if we have cultivated love and compassion, it is like a seed in our mind that we will bring forth with us. It is this precious bodhicitta (love and compassion) that will be the cause of happiness in all future lives.

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Meditating on the Non-Duality of Self and Others

Su Phu 2 at QB House in 2011Meditating on the Non-Duality of Self and Others -  Amitabha Teaching called Revealing the Path to Liberation by His Eminence Garchen Triptul Rinpoche

“Look at the mind that is free of subject – object duality!” This is the point that we will contemplate. When you do not grasp at subject – object duality, when you see the nature of the mind and rest in this nature, all dualistic fixations will diminish naturally. How are we to meditate on this?

There is an easy way to contemplate this. For example, there are two people, two friends who love each other. Ordinarily, there is the thought that this is ‘me’ and this is ‘him’. But when you look further into the truth of that, you will see that what you call ‘me’ and what you call ‘him’ is really the body; we appear in the form of two bodies, but the bodies will be destroy in the end when we die. It will be burn away by fire or carried away by water. The body is not the ‘me'; the body is impermanent, it is compound and therefore we can’t find the ‘me’ in the body.

We may then think that the ‘me’ is the mind, so you should look inside your own mind and try to find the ‘I’, the ‘me’ in the mind. When you look inside your mind, there is no ‘I’ to be found there, but there is love that you have for your friend. Then, a very strange feeling will arise. You will think: when mind watches mind and looks at the love that is naturally there, although you cannot see it, there is a pervasive love. It is just like space but you can’t obtain it, you can’t find it. It has no form. When you look at the feeling of love that you have for that friend, your love and his love are the same.

Hence, we are actually non dual, we are not separate. You love that person and that person loves you. This love is the same. Our bodies will be destroyed but there is only one mind. Our minds are one, just like there is only one thing called water in the world. When we understand this, we will understand the non-duality of subject and object of self and others.

This is how we should first meditate: thinking of two people and realizing that we are actually one. Although our bodies appear as two, our mind is actually one. If we meditate in this way, we can understand our true nature.


A River That Cannot Be Frozen


SP when young at Gar TibetYou are so fortunate to have met the Dharma with devotion. The essence of Dharma is the two bodhicittas: relative bodhicitta is the noble mind focusing on others; ultimate bodhicitta is emptiness – looking at your own mind.

If you find it difficult to see your own mind, it is due to obscurations which come from afflicting emotions. Transcendent wisdom dispels afflicting emotions. That wisdom is the blessing of the lama.

To receive the lama’s blessing, you need the sun of devotion, which in turn gives rise to compassion. A drop of tear by the force of devotion purifies or dispels a mountain of obscurations.

Generally speaking, Buddha and sentient beings are like one river. Buddha, however, realizes the nature of the self and, free from doubt, sees that all the activities of samsara are like a dream or illusion. Buddha’s mind abides like the nature of space, like a river that cannot be frozen. Sentient beings, on the other hand, have not realized their own nature, and their minds are influenced by conditions which cause afflicting emotions. This is like meeting very cold water and freezing, the ice then becoming like a rock that cannot be broken.

If the heat of devotion and compassion melts this frozen mind, one will realize there is no difference between oneself and Buddha. Therefore, the single most important source of blessings is devotion. It is like a hundred rivers going under one bridge.

When you look at your mind just after strong devotion, that awareness is the cause of attaining enlightenment. Within that, look again at the very face of awareness. It dissolves into emptiness – both subject and object.

A beginner does not believe it, but this dissolution is Buddhahood. Therefore, Tilopa said, “Seeing nothing is the supreme insight.”

It will not last long, so meditate for a short time, again and again each session. This will dispel obstacles and enhance your meditation.

Devotion is the single essential point. When you practice devotion, visualize the lama in front of you in space as actually residing there. The lama’s mind is Buddha, so when you supplicate, the blessing will be definite, and the lama will keep you in his or her mind.


[This Mahamudra teaching was taught by Garchen Rinpoche at Gon Gar, Nangchen (in Kham, Tibet), in August 1995, for James Pittard. Venerable Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche subsequently translated it at Jangchub Ling, Dehra Dun, India in September, 1995. This translation was first published in the quarterly newsletter of the Tibetan Meditation Center- “Dharma Wheel,” Spring 1996]

The Five-Fold-Path of Mahamudra – blessing lineage

The Drikung Kagyu is called the “blessing lineage”, faith and devotion to the guru is considered to be the most important.Garchen

Through guru devotion, it is possible that we can gain liberation in a single life time with a single body. It is said that depending on the compassion of the guru and the devotion of the disciple, realization is transmitted from one mind-stream to another mind-stream. That is called the blessing linage. — Garchen Rinpoche

That is because samsara and nirvana have the same ground, a single ground, and the guru has gained realization free of any doubt. When the disciple has clear faith and free of doubt, the transmission begins to flow.

“If you keep that clear in your mind then in the future whatever path you engage in, whatever teachings you receive, it is all contained within these five levels of the path.  There may be a slight variation of different lineage gurus and the visualization of the refuge tree, but it really all comes down to that meaning.  As it is said, the wisdom of expanse of all the Buddhas is a single one, and from that perspective there is no distinction between the different philosophical lineages.  It is very important that we give rise to a pure view free from any bias towards any system or linage.”  — Garchen Rinpoche

After we cultivate bodhichitta, we meditate on the Yidam Deity and through this practice we realize the nature of the external universe and the sentient beings in it.  We meditate on the devotion to the guru (guru yoga).

After that then we engage in the practice of Mahamudra, the ultimate truth.  Through which we will be able to see the nature of mind as it is.  In another word, to see reality as it is.  At the end we seal it with dedication.

In the Nyingma tradition we may call it Dzogchen, in the Kagyu tradition we may call it Mahamudra, in the scholarly tradition we may called it Madhyamaka or the Middle way in the sutra tradition we may call it Shamatha and Vispashyana.

From the perspective of the practice, when you just engage in a practice of one single session for one hour, five-fold-path must be completely contained with in this one hour of practice.  All practice must begin with taking refuge, altruistic mind generation, Yidam Deity, Guru Yoga, Mahamudra and seal with dedication.  What ever we do, even with just one single mani mantra, the five-fold-path must also be contained.

“So if you know how to practice the five-fold-path then you know how to implement it in any of your practices.  So really all the practices, as Chime Dojre has explained, must contained this five-fold-path of Mahamudra” — Garchen Rinpoche





The Five-Fold-Path of Mahamudra – the gradual path

All of the lineages of Buddhism practice the gradual path.  Lam Rim, the Path and Fruition,  The Words of My Perfect Teacher, and Jewel Ornament of Liberation depends on what lineage one belongs to.  Each of these teaches the same, it begins with:

  1. Contemplating the four thoughts that turn the mind,Garchen Rinpoche
  2. Bodhichitta
  3. Yidam Deity
  4. Guru Yoga
  5. Ultimate Truth, Mahamudra
  6. Dedication

That is called the “five fold path”.  We have all heard that all Buddish practices have bodhichitta as their root.  Without bodhichitta there is no dharma practices, all practices must grounded in bodhichitta.  In the beginning,  we must cultivate “relative bodhichitta” and practice the creation stage of Yidam meditation.

The Drikung Kagyu is called the “blessing lineage”, faith and devotion to the guru is considered to be the most important.  Following the virtuous path requires faith. Without faith, virtue cannot develop in one’s being.   What is faith?  The Jewel Liberation listed three types of faiths: trusting, longing, and clear.

Thus, the Ten Dharmas Sutra says:

Virtuous qualities cannot grow
In a person without faith,
As a green sprout
Does not shoot from a burnt seed.

Also, the Garland of Buddhas Sutra says:

A worldly person with little faith
Cannot understand the Buddha’s enlightenment.

Therefore, one should develop faith.
The Noble Profound Representation Sutra says:

Ananda! Fuse your mind with faith. This is the request of the

I. Trusting Faith. Understand that this faith depends on the topic “cause and result”—the Truth of Suffering which comes from the Truth of Causation. Furthermore, it comes from trusting that happiness in the desire world is the fruit of virtuous causes. Trust that the suffering of the desire world is the result of nonvirtuous action. Trust that the happiness of the two higher realms is the result of unshakable causes.
Trust that by engaging in the nonvirtuous actions of body, speech, and afflicting emotions, which are called the Truth of Causation, one obtains the five afflicted skandas, which are called the Truth of Suffering.

II. Longing Faith. Understanding the extraordinary nature of unsurpassable enlightenment, one follows the path with respect and reverence in order to obtain it.

III. Clear Faith. Clear faith arises in one’s mind by depending on the Three Jewels. Develop devotion for and interest in the Buddha as the teacher who shows the path, the Dharma which becomes the path, and the Sangha which guides one in order to accomplish the path.

The Abhidharma says:
What is faith? It is trust, longing, and clarity regarding cause and result, truths, and the Three Jewels.

What is devotion?  The literal meaning of “devotion” in Tibetian is “mogu”,  “mo” means to aspireaspire to gain liberation from the suffering of samsara for ourself and for others.  “gu” means to show respect to the holy dharma teaching.

“If we have no doubt within our mind-stream then the realization can be transmitted from mind-stream to mind-stream through the compassion of the guru and the devotion of the disciple.   That is the meaning of devotion  — realization is transmitted from mind-scream to mind-stream.”

Our teacher, Garchen Rinpoche said:  “We relied on the guru who has gained realization in the view, and if we listen carefully to the instructions of the guru we can begin to realize the meaning of the two truths”

So what do we do?  We aspire to gain liberation, we listen to the instruction, we put the instruction to practice.  We study the dharma, we practice the instructions that is given to us by our teacher.  That is called “faith and devotion”.

Vows and Commitments

Drikung Dharma Center


Garchen Rinpoche

To understand sacred commitments related to Vajrayana empowerments, it is necessary to place them in the general context of Buddhist vows.

Refuge vows

Those who follow Buddha’s teachings begin the path by first taking the refuge vows, placing themselves under the protection of the Three Jewels, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Lay people and monks

It is then possible, if the disciple has personal aspiration, to take the vows of a lay person (Sanskrit, upasaka; Tibetan, genien).

There are five vows:

  1. not killing,
  2. not stealing,
  3. not lying,
  4. avoid sexual misconduct, and
  5. not consuming alcohol.

They can be taken at once or partially, for a complete lifetime or a definite duration of months or years.
Taking these vows is not an obligation. In many Buddhist countries, men and women, without taking them formally, try to respect the ethical ideal that they represent by avoiding the ten negative acts and by practicing the ten positive acts.
Historically, it was often the case that kings governing these countries were eager to integrate the essentials of this ethic into their legislation.
On a more elaborate level, lay people will practice refraining from sexual misconduct by being chaste. The practitioner is then called brahmacharya (Tibetan, tsangcho genien).

Then come the monastic vows: minor ordination (Sanskrit, shramanera; Tibetan, getsul) and major ordination (Sanskrit, bhiksu; Tibetan, gelong).
Traditionally, one counts seven different ordinations that allow one to observe perfect ethic:

  1. upasaka men and
  2. women,
  3. shramanera men and
  4. women,
  5. bhiksu men and
  6. women,
  7. to which the women students (Tibetan, gelopma) are added, representing a type of vows reserved for women.

Temporary or definitive vows

In Tibet the monastic vows-shramaneras and bhiksus-were taken for life. It was not conceivable that the person who had taken monk’s robe could leave it in his lifetime. In Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and in other Buddhist countries, the same vows can be taken for a lifetime, but also for limited periods of weeks or years. These two approaches are not contradictory, as both seem to have been envisaged by the Buddha himself.
In Thailand, the custom of temporary monastic vows has even been institutionalized. It is a duty for young men and women to devote at least few months of their existence to monastic life, by taking vows allowing them to live in a monastery. At the end of this period, those who wish can renew their vows and definitively adopt monastic life.

Otherwise, young people return to lay people’s life and establish a family. This monastic period is looked at as a proof of the quality of the individual. Boys or girls who would not
submit to it would have difficulty in getting married, because there would be a question as to whether they possess the moral qualities and necessary rigor to manage a family.

The different types of vows defined under the expression of individual liberation vows belong to the Hinayana.

In the Mahayana, there is another type of vows called bodhisattva vows, that are transmitted by various authentic lineages.

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