Thursday January 1, 2009

The morning session was devoted to the Refuge Vow, which was given in Tibetan, Chinese and Korean. His Holiness began by explaining the meaning of refuge and why we needed a refuge. First he pointed out that from the time of our birth until our death we were dependent on others. The very nature of our lives meant we had to rely on other people. These people, including family and friends, who protected and cared for us were a form of refuge. Also, everyone wished to be happy, as witnessed by the many people who wrote to him or sought audiences to ask for help – failing businesses, illnesses, and other unhappiness.
It seemed we were unable to free ourselves from suffering and problems. Thus, we needed to look for a way to free ourselves completely. We needed to find the ultimate refuge. Someone like a doctor might be able to help us temporarily but in the end we still suffered sickness, ageing and death – and we had to experience these lifetime after lifetime.
So what would an ultimate refuge be? It had to be one which could help us rid ourselves of the root causes of suffering, and this could only be done by someone who had already accomplished this. Prince Siddhartha had grown up in sheltered luxury but when he left his palace and encountered the four sufferings, he abandoned his comfortable life and the son he loved very much, in order to find liberation. He renounced palace life, practised austerities, and finally attained enlightenment. Thus the Lord Buddha has the qualifications to give us refuge.
The other two jewels are the teachings of Lord Buddha and the sangha.
Lord Buddha had taught all the external causes that could free us from samsara, not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of all suffering sentient beings.
The noble sangha were the people who were practicing the path the Lord Buddha taught. The extended sangha could include our dharma friends and those we practised with, the people who supported us in our practice.
With faith in the Three Jewels and practice we had everything we needed in order to liberate ourselves from samsara. Taking the Refuge Vow was to take the first steps on the path, and involved making a commitment to keep the precepts. His Holiness advised people that if they felt daunted by the responsibility of taking the Vow, they should think how marvelous it was to take refuge in the place where the Buddha had achieved enlightenment.

Having taken the Vow, three things had to be abandoned. The first was trusting in worldly gods. Going for refuge meant we had chosen to follow a genuine path in order to free ourselves, something which would bring us to ultimate, stable happiness.
The second thing to be abandoned was harming sentient beings. This meant harming them with the intention to harm them. Sometimes the very nature of our lives meant that we might harm others unintentionally. We harmed sentient beings intentionally because of attachment and afflictive mental and emotional states, so we had the responsibility to train our minds in order to tame them, to stop the causes which made us harm others.
The third thing to be abandoned was harmful and evil friends. These were the people who could influence us negatively and lead us away from the path. We needed to cultivate good friends from the sangha; in this context all our dharma friends are our sangha. His Holiness explained that because he had so many students, it was often impossible to give individual help and advice, so it was very important for his disciples to help and support each other.
Having taken the Vow, three things had to be respected: all Buddha images, every single syllable of Dharma, and every piece of yellow robe. It wasn’t the robe itself but it represented the noble ones who wore it. There were also the common precepts: reciting the refuge three times daily (His Holiness admitted that the recitation in the middle of the night was a little difficult these days)!; offering the first portion of food in remembrance of the kindness of Buddha and of the Three Jewels; helping anyone who wished to take refuge; never trivialising the Three Jewels.

The afternoon session focused on a question from the audience: how could lay practitioners combine busy lives with dharma practice.
His Holiness began by saying that this was a frequently asked question. People wanted to make progress in their practice, yet work often drained them of physical and mental energy. Practising in the shrine room was not enough; often we left our practice behind there! A new way was needed which brought work and practice together as complementary. People suffered from internal and external pressures, which could place them under such severe stress that they felt they were going crazy or they became sick or even committed suicide. It was important to be able to distance ourselves from such emotional pressure, so the question was how to use our practice to achieve this.
The word ‘practice’ (the Tibetan word is nyamlen) means a ‘feeling in the mind’, but it is more than a feeling; it has also to manifest through body and speech. Practice means to transform our minds and hence change our conduct and our speech. In this way we can also change the environment around us and our relationships with our families and friends. If we pray for world peace we need the impetus to work for world peace.
We all need a home; if someone is under a lot of pressure at work, returning home to a loving family, where they can relax, have a cup of tea, talk with the family, makes them feel relaxed and at ease. We also need a home for our minds: a place of contentment and rest. We have to build this for ourselves.
If we fail to give our minds a place to stay, they become like a street child – neglected, troubled, sad and getting into trouble. The nature of mind is clear and knowing, not ignorance, and we use these characteristics of the mind – its luminosity – to recognize its inner peace. When we die we lose all our possessions but we are not separated from the nature of the mind. When we look at our minds, we often just see discord and forget that the true nature of our mind is virtuous and good. In order to develop peace of mind we have to practice, but there are some mistaken views about what practice is.
First of all practice isn’t like a job. Usually when we have a job there are fixed working hours. If we treat practice like a job we go to the shrine room, do our practice, but there is no habituation, no transference into our lives beyond the shrine room. To get rid of large obscurations we needed to start removing small ones, step by step, every day, all day The Tibetan word for ‘meditation’ is related to the word which means ‘to become accustomed to’, or making something a habit. If we don’t train ourselves in compassion, how can we sit in the shrine room and say, “May all sentient beings be happy.”?
Secondly, practice isn’t like homework set by the lama for his students. An example of this is the Ngondro (preliminaries). Some people become very expert at prostrations. They use a smooth board and they prostrate really fast, as if they’re doing physical exercise. What’s the point of doing it like that? Practice is about transforming our minds not completing 100,000 prostrations. In the end some people look back and say, “All I did was count!” Nor is practice something to show to the lama, like showing the teacher your work. We have to own the practice. We are doing it for ourselves and not for someone else. Some people go to their lama and say, “I’ve done my Ngondro.” And when the lama says, “OK. Now you can practise a yidam deity” they mistakenly view it in the same way as if a teacher was giving them a good grade.
The third fault is treating practice as ritual – reciting mantras, visualizing the meditation deity, making the mudras etc. The point of practice is to transform our minds, so we need to constantly check if this is happening. We often miss the profounder meanings, for example, in the four-armed Chenresig, his four arms represent the four immeasureables.
We can extend our practice beyond the shrine room by observing and reflecting on the world around us. Consider the four seasons. At one level wintertime might just mean time to put on warm clothes. But when we practise we can see the changes as a manifestation of impermanence. In summertime there are wonderful flowers, but they die, so, reflecting on this, we can really begin to understand that everything changes and everything is destructible.

Work could become part of our practice too. Many people work in manufacturing companies, in which case they could think: we make high quality products that will benefit the world. This becomes a form of generosity because generosity is not just giving things away (when the Buddha completed the paramita of generosity there were still plenty of beggars) but rather a mindset which wants to give. Thus dedication could also be a form of generosity.

2009.1.1  法王噶瑪巴─第三期華人宗門實修: 噶舉祖師教言 The Second Day of Karmapa's Lineage Practice Teachings


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