Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Refuge & Bodhisattva Vow
Public teaching given online
October 27, 2021 (Lhabab Düchen)
Note 1: This is an edited transcript of a live teaching, and should not be taken as Rinpoche’s final word. Every effort has been made to ensure that this transcript is accurate both in terms of words and meaning, however all errors and misunderstandings are the responsibility of the editors of madhyamaka.com. Please see note.
Note 2: This transcript includes footnotes with clarifications and more information about Tibetan and Sanskrit Buddhist terms used in the teaching. Please click on the superscript number to read the footnote. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s name is abbreviated to “DJKR” throughout.
[Note: The English-language video is missing the first 9 minutes of the teaching, which has been reconstructed from the Chinese-language video. Most of Rinpoche’s words are inaudible behind the Chinese translation, but the audible parts are transcribed below. This first part of the transcription will be updated when a complete English audio/video recording is available. The transcript of the remainder of the teaching is taken from the English-language video and follows below. YouTube links for both videos are at the top of the page.]
First of all, thank you for inviting me to do this.
[…] for somehow becoming a vehicle
[…] take refuge and the bodhisattva vow. And this is also a chance for us who have already taken refuge and the bodhisattva vow to
[…] reconnect to the
[…] especially on this special day. More and more, many of us realize that [the] Dharma is the only undeceiving source [or] object of refuge. Only through giving ourself
[…] the truth will we then find some temporary peace and ultimate liberation. Until then, no matter how much
[…] we make
[…] economically, politically, one way or another we are always going to be bound, we are always going to be entangled. And [we will] keep on bumping into some sort of disappointment. And I think now more than ever, the disappointment comes really fast because we have
[…] unfortunately or fortunately, we have so much information available. I mean, basically you get to know what’s happening in Bronx, New York
[…] this efficiency also makes our anxiety very efficient. And along with that, we get alienated faster. We become directionless faster.
[…] so, more and more, if you pay some attention you will realize that only by surrendering, not just partially but wholeheartedly to the Dharma, will we have some sort of solace. And once we learn to trust and surrender to the Dharma, we then automatically have
[…] to the teacher, the Buddha, and the system or the community that upholds or shares this truth. So this is why Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are the unfathomable
[…] never-failing objects of refuge.
[…] so with this in mind, even though we have already
[…] once again let us take refuge. And since we will be taking the bodhisattva vow, as a foundation to taking the bodhisattva vow, [taking the] refuge vow is indispensable. So I myself, even though I am somewhat appearing as a preceptor right now, but actually
[…] I’m taking refuge together with you, especially today [on] this special day. We will all think that the Buddha is in front of us. [And] just merely [by] thinking that he is in front of us, just [that] mere thought that he is in front of us has already materialized, so to speak, the Buddha in front of us. This is why it is stated in many sutras that
[…] because at the end of the day, in Buddhism and especially in Mahayana Buddhism, Buddha is really not historically bound
[Note: the English video recording starts here.]
[…] he achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, and so forth. The Buddha is none other than this mind, this cognizance, this very knower, this awareness. [The] one that is doing the talking, [the] one that is during the listening. When [this] mind is left alone, uncontaminated by all kinds of fabrication, this very [mind] — [this] naked uncontrived mind — is the Buddha. So, because of that, even just the mere thought of the Buddha invokes the Buddha right in front of you. So, let us think of this for a few moments.
And for those [of you] who, like me, are still bound by symbols, we love to have some sort of a tangible [physical] Buddha. So for those of us, I’d like to just show you a statue of the Buddha. And think that this statue is not bronze or gold or silver, but [is] in fact the Buddha Shakyamuni — standing, sitting, walking, however you wish.
(2) Taking refuge
Thinking that, please do three prostrations. And then please fold your palms together and repeat this refuge verse three times1From Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara, II:26, trans. Padmakara Translation Group.:
jangchup nyingpor chikyi bar
Until the essence of enlightenment is reached,
sangyé namla kyapsu chi
I go for refuge to the Buddhas.
chödang jangchup sempa yi
Also I take refuge in the Dharma
tsoklang dézhin kyapsu chi
And in all the host of Bodhisattvas.
So [reciting this] three times, basically what you’re saying is, “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, and I take refuge in the Sangha”. With this, you should consider that you have taken refuge in the Triple Gem2Ed.: in this teaching, DJKR says “I take refuge to …”. This has been changed to “I take refuge in …” throughout..
Misunderstandings about taking refuge
Now I’d like to tell you a little bit about refuge. Sometimes I feel that there are several different kinds of misunderstanding [about refuge]. Some people seem to think that refuge is a bit like a Christian baptism. You can judge [for] yourself after I explain.
Generally, we have been told that when you take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, that is the time you become Buddhist. Yes, broadly speaking, you can say that’s correct. But I want you to think about it after I explain to you what our attitude towards refuge should be.
And also, there is a subsequent mindset that once you take refuge, then you kind of have to do [some] “homework”. [For example] every day, you are supposed to do refuge recitation for at least a certain amount of time. I’m sure you have heard something like this from certain teachers. And I will not refute that, because it is a skillful means. Many times teachers tell us these things, because one tells somebody who wants to follow a certain discipline, “Okay, You need to do this every day”.
Even in the explanation of refuge, we hear things like “As someone who has taken refuge in the Buddha, one is not supposed to then take refuge in anyone who is not enlightened as an ultimate object of refuge”. In other words, if you have taken refuge in the Buddha, then it doesn’t really make sense for you to take refuge in something like, let’s say, a god of trees or god of water as your ultimate object of refuge. Of course, [when it comes to a] relative object of refuge, I think there’s no problem here.
So sometimes these kinds of ideas [might] derail our idea of refuge.
Taking refuge in the Dharma
There is something that I [would like] to share, and I’m sure many of you have heard this thousands of times. But I [would like] to emphasize this. Let’s say [that] some of you [here] today have never taken refuge. This is the first time you are taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. And some of you are doing this with the mindset, “Okay, All compounded things are impermanent. Everything that is made, compounded, created is impermanent. That’s the truth. And I surrender to that. That’s it, that’s the final truth”.
It’s a bit like [surrendering to the truth that] “All fire is hot”. There’s no doubt [about whether] maybe sometimes the hot fire becomes cold. Or [it’s a bit like] all water, as long as it’s water, is wet. That is the truth. And we accept this truth, we surrender to this truth. And this is why if you don’t want to get wet, you don’t go [into] water. That’s the benefit [of knowing this truth]. Or if you want to get wet, then you go under the water. So, you know what it is [Ed. i.e. how things are in reality]. [This is] what you get when you know the truth.
Fundamentally, we are talking [about taking refuge as something] this simple, this level of simplicity. I want some of the new participants here to understand this. So today, if some of you have really come to a conclusion that, Yes, all compounded things are impermanent. And nothing in our life, especially that is something to do with our emotions, will give us ultimate satisfaction. Okay, it might give us a little bit of satisfaction for a day or two, or even a year or two, but 100% unchanging satisfaction is not going to happen.
So if some of you sort of accept that this is the truth — this is the truth that I’m surrendering to. And then also, everything is just my projection, actually. Things like “good”, “bad”, “right”, “wrong” — all these are just my projection. They do not exist outside, independent from your projection. So, if you can surrender to that truth. So today, if some of you have done that, with a really rational mind, with a sober mind, and then you think, Yes, this makes sense. This is unfailing. It’s never going to be [the case that] one day when you wake up, some compounded things become permanent. It’s never going to become like that. So [this truth is] unfailing.
Taking refuge in the Buddha
If you can really surrender to that truth, therefore you [will] then also have a strong admiration for the person who taught that [truth], which is the Buddha. And then you like this guy, Wow, he really found that. He really nailed it, as Americans say. He nailed it, he really found the truth. And it’s not [as if] because Buddha said everything is impermanent, suddenly everything became impermanent. It’s not that.3Ed.: i.e. the Buddha did not present the truth as some newly-created revelation. Rather, he was pointing out the truth or nature of phenomena as it has always been.
Buddha taught the truth. So you are impressed. This is how human beings work. We love, we like, we respect, we admire someone who really makes sense. [Someone] who gives us sensible ideas, ways, paths, and solutions. We love them. We respect them. That’s natural. So some of you today [might] think “Oh, yeah, this is good. He’s right”.
Taking refuge in the Sangha
And then also you [you wish to] associate with the community or the system that believes in these truths. [This is taking refuge in the Sangha].
Basically, if you have that [i.e. these three aspects], you have taken refuge. After tonight, probably some of you may never [again] chant this refuge prayer. What I’m saying is, you have taken refuge.
Taking refuge is like a rite of passage rather than a baptism
So after [hearing] this, then you decide [if taking refuge is like Christian baptism]. Yes, it is true that when you take refuge, you become a Buddhist, but it’s not really something like a baptism. I don’t think so. In Buddhism, taking refuge is really a ceremony. It’s like a rite of passage, like suddenly you have become an adult. It’s a rite of passage. Some cultures have this, where suddenly, Oh, now I’ve become a man. Now I’ve become a woman. Now, finally, I wake up to something. So for some of you, maybe this is your rite of passage, sort of. Wow.
Another thing is that right after this refuge, right after accepting that all compounded things are impermanent, many of you will forget it. Of course, you will forget it. It’s not [as if] you are going to think about this [all the time]. [But if you forget] that does not mean that you suddenly become not Buddhist.
We practice in order to remember the truth
It’s a bit like how many times in our lives we forget a certain truth. Because we get distracted so much. But if you sort of “tune” yourself again, you [can] recollect, “Ah, I know this, I just forgot about it”. So, this is why in Buddhism there are practices such as recollection of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. “Recollection”, they call it. There is even a sutra. [We do these practices because] we’re trying to remember [the truth].
This is also why we chant the refuge prayers. It’s really to remember. It’s a bit like, let’s say, you know that water is wet. But suddenly, I don’t know, the ceiling falls on your head. [You have] a little bit of brain damage and then dementia. And then you forget that water is wet. So then probably you walk into the shower with your full suit. That can happen. Of course. But then someone reminds you, or you [remember], “No, no, no. If I go to the shower with my full [suit on], I’m going to get wet. Because the truth is that water is wet”. So, this is something that I wanted to share.
Anyway. Many of you have heard this millions of times. I’m sorry. Those who are already getting bored. Hearing a broken record, again and again.
(3) Bodhisattva vow
The bodhisattva vow is the most beautiful vow
Now [we come to] bodhichitta, which is today’s sort of main ingredient, so to speak. Since we have taken refuge, we now have a ground to take the bodhisattva vow. And I really urge you, I really encourage you to take the bodhisattva vow. This is a one vow that there is no reason to not take. I mean, this is the most beautiful vow. It’s a more beautiful vow than “I will take a vow to build one hundred hospitals” or “I will vow not to kill, not to steal, not to lie”. They’re all very, very beautiful. But this one is a million times more beautiful.
Why? Because this is a vow to awaken sentient beings to the truth that we have been talking [about] earlier. Because that’s the best gift you can give. Yes, of course, a hundred hospitals — fantastic. I’m sure it will help a lot of people. But there are still going to be sick people. And then beside that, there are so many, many other problems. Hospitals can really make you win a prize for being the greatest philanthropist, and that could really shoot your ego up to the ceiling. So that kind of thing can happen.
Awakening others to the truth
I mean, it’s like a mother can give a baby a toy or a sweet to temporarily dampen the tantrum or sadness or demands of the baby. Fine. Or [the mother might] say nice things, stroke [them], you know. But more importantly, the mother will like to tell the baby the truth. Eventually, the mother is always trying to tell the truth.
This is happening, actually, in a very profound way. Just recently I was with a woman who has children, and the children are already asking about death. And I have noticed that many times, parents try to sort of cover it up. That’s a little risky. Children are going to find these things out. But I understand. Parents don’t want to talk about death. If a six-year-old girl is already talking about death, it’s very awkward. I understand. But sooner or later, a parent has to tell the child the truth, basically.
So, wishing to awaken sentient beings to the truth. This is the quintessence of the bodhisattva vow. So please, I encourage you to take this vow. Again, please think that all the buddhas and bodhisattvas are in front of you. And again, for those who wish to have some sort of image, I’m going to have the Buddha statue on the screen.
Please recite what I what I say4From Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara, III:23-24, trans. Padmakara Translation Group.:
jitar ngöngyi déshek kyi
Just as all the Buddhas of the past
jangchup tukni kyépa dang
Have brought forth the awakened mind,
jangchup sempé labpa la
And in the precepts of the Bodhisattvas
dédak rimzhin népa tar
Step-by-step abode and trained,
dézhin drola pendön du
Likewise, for the benefit of beings,
jangchup semni kyégyi zhing
I will bring to birth the awakened mind,
dézhin duni labpa lang
And in those precepts, step-by-step,
rimpa zhindu labpar gyi
I will abide and train myself.
For a long life, take the bodhisattva vow
So that’s the first recitation. We will do two more. But I want to say a few more words about bodhichitta. I’m sure many of you want to live long. I’m sure. That’s why you take those vitamins. That’s why you go to the gym. That’s why you go [and] walk. I’m sure you all want to be looking good, living long. Longevity. Do you really want to live long? Now I’m telling you, if you want to live long, you should take the bodhisattva vow. The reason is that you need a big vision as your project, so that your drive and will to live long is worthy and good.
I mean, let’s say your vision is just to cook omelettes, why would you want to live long? Okay, maybe for about a year you want to cook omelettes again and again. But after a while, you know, it’s just so sad. It’s so boring. You need a big project. You really need a big project, so that your drive, your force [is directed well]. There’s a driving force, an energy. So this is [one reason] why you need to take the bodhisattva vow, if you want to live long. So please take the bodhisattva vow again, one more time.
[DJKR recites bodhisattva vow in Tibetan]
To get people to like you, take the bodhisattva vow
I want to say some other things [about] why you should take the bodhisattva vow. I’m sure many of you want to magnetize people. I’m very sure. You want people to like you, right? You want to seduce people, you want to make people like you, don’t you? I mean otherwise, [what is the purpose of all] this Prada, Hermès, perfumes? All this hair shampoo? Why?
All this is so that people will like you. Yes, of course you should use those. Prada, Gucci, hairstyle, nail polish, please don’t stop. Do that. But [taking the bodhisattva vow] is the real formula that will make people like you, not just a few neighbours, but all sentient beings. Can you imagine this? Ghosts, gods, demons, nagas — all [of them] liking you, and liking you genuinely. Not just a social etiquette kind of liking you. You understand? But them really liking you. This can only happen if you have a genuine wish to awaken others. So with this in mind, please take the bodhisattva vow again.
[DJKR recites bodhisattva vow in Tibetan]
To overcome fear of death, take the bodhisattva vow
Okay, one more. And this is the last one. One more reason why you should take the bodhisattva vow. I’m sure many of you are afraid of death. After death, then what? You know what I mean? Death. End. Then what? Ah. Take the bodhisattva vow. This is just a beginning. Taking the bodhisattva [vow] means that after death, [there’s] more work. There are many more things to do. This is just the beginning.
So your attitude towards death will be like this [DJKR takes hold of the lapels of his jacket], “I’m wearing this”. And your attitude towards death will be be like this [DJKR sniffs his jacket], “Oh, this needs a bit of a laundry situation here”. [So you] take [it] off, and you’re looking forward to putting on your new shirt. [Your attitude to death will be] like that, because you want to go on. More. Continue. So [take] the bodhisattva vow because you want to awaken sentient beings.
And you should not think in a small minded [way]. Some of you may think, “I don’t want to come back here. It’s just too tiring. Gosh, I really just can’t handle the traffic, I can’t handle the domestic problems”. Don’t think like that. Because it just means that you haven’t understood how to have fun, so to speak.
It’s a bit like if you know if you like playing Mahjong, let’s say. Staying the whole night? Not a problem. You almost like it. So if you can really develop this wish to awaken sentient beings, [then] coming to this samsara again and again, even going to the hell realm — it’s fun. You will do it. As Shantideva said, you will come like a swan gliding onto the lotus pond5From Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara, VIII:107:
Those whose minds are practiced in this way,
Whose joy it is to soothe another’s ills,
Will venture into hell of Unrelenting Pain
As swans sweep down upon a lotus lake.
Trans. Padmakara Translation Group.. So, with this attitude, please take the bodhisattva vow. I’m sorry, this has become the fourth, because I’m a little bit disorganized. But let’s do it again. Why not?
[DJKR recites bodhisattva vow in Tibetan]
Okay, now, I will say a few words. So please contemplate on this. You should think, “Today, my life has become fruitful. Today, I have become the child of the Buddha, heir to the Buddha. Like a beggar, like a destitute blind beggar bumping into a treasure mine. Today, amidst these emotions I have bumped into this mind to awaken sentient beings”.6From Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara, III:26 and III:28:
Today my life has given fruit.
This human state has now been well assumed.
Today I take my birth in Buddha’s line,
And have become the Buddha’s child and heir.
For I am like a blind man who has found
A precious gem inside a heap of dust.
For so it is, by some strange chance,
That bodhichitta has been born in me.
Trans. Padmakara Translation Group.
And now declare this to all sentient beings, especially gods and asuras. There’s a story that every time we take the bodhisattva vow, the asuras and the gods are extra happy. So please declare this by thinking, “Today, I have become the servant to the sentient beings and the buddhas. Therefore, all god and asuras rejoice.”7From Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara, III:34:
And so, today, within the sight of all protectors,
I summon beings, calling them to Buddhahood.
And, till that state is reached, to every earthly joy!
May gods and demigods and all the rest rejoice!
Trans. Padmakara Translation Group.
And now think, “May I be the guide for those who are lost. May I be a lamp in the darkness. May I be a bridge to cross. May I be a boat to go across the ocean. May I be medicine for those who are ill. In whatever form or shape may I be useful, so that I will lead sentient beings to the awakened state”.8From Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara, III:18-20:
May I be a guard for those who are protectorless,
A guide for those who journey on the road.
For those who wish to cross the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.
May I be an isle for those who yearn for land,
A lamp for those who long for light;
For all who need a resting place, a bed;
For those who need a servant, may I be their slave.
May I be the wishing jewel, the vase of wealth,
A word of power and the supreme healing,
May I be the tree of miracles,
For every being the abundant cow.
Trans. Padmakara Translation Group.
Since this is a very special occasion, because we have taken the refuge and the bodhisattva vow, let me now recite some auspicious verses.
[DJKR recites auspicious verses in Tibetan]
[END OF TEACHING]
[Siddhartha’s Intent organizer]: Thank you Rinpoche. So we will now begin our mini-mönlam where we will be reciting the Heart Sutra, The Sutra of the Three Heaps, and Samantabhadra’s King of Aspiration Prayers. We will be reciting in Sanskrit, English and Chinese in the main room, but please feel free to recite in your own language. The link to download the prayers in French, Japanese, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish is in the chat box [Ed.: the link to the prayers on the Kumarajiva Project website is at the top of the page]. Please understand that some prayers might not be available in your language yet. In that case, please follow the recitation in the main room. The English and Chinese text on the screen is available for download in the chat box and will also be available for download on the Kumarajiva website. The term “mönlam” means the path of aspiration9mönlam (Tibetan: སྨོན་ལམ་) = aspiration, supplication, good wishes – see mönlam.. As we recite, let us generate the aspiration in our hearts to liberate all sentient beings from suffering, for all to be their own masters, and to achieve enlightenment.
Note: to read footnotes please click on superscript numbers
Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio