Taking Refuge

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Field of merit from the Longchen Nyingtik Ngöndro

Taking Refuge (Skt. śaraṇa; Pali saraṇa; Tib. སྐྱབས་འགྲོ་, kyab dro, or སྐྱབས་སུ་འགྲོ་བ་, kyab su drowa, Wyl. skyabs 'gro or skyabs su 'gro ba ) is the foundation of, and entrance to, all buddhist practice. It is the basis of all vows and it marks the distinction between buddhist and non-buddhist. Khenpo Ngakchung defines taking refuge as "a commitment or resolution made to seek the protection of a special object through fear of one's own and others' suffering in samsara."

The Cause of Refuge

The cause of refuge is faith, and specifically irreversible faith.

The Essence of Refuge

The essence of taking refuge is, to accept the Three Jewels—i.e. Buddha, Dharma and Sangha—as your refuge, and make a decisive commitment to them, in order to be free from the fear of your own and others’ suffering in samsara. You accept the Buddha as your guide, Dharma as your path and Sangha as your companions.

The Objects of Refuge

The Duration of Refuge

Followers of the Basic Vehicle take refuge temporarily for as long as they live, and ultimately until they attain their own particular fruition. The followers of the Mahayana take refuge until attaining complete enlightenment.

Causal and Resultant Refuge

Khenpo Sönam Tobden says:

There is an example given to illustrate the difference between causal and resultant refuge: Imagine someone who is poor and suffering. On the one hand this person could ask for help from a rich person who gives refuge and protection. This is like causal refuge. On the other hand, this person could think, "Now I’m going to do whatever I can, by myself, to get rich." This is like resultant refuge.

The commentary to Finding Comfort and Ease in the Nature of Mind says:

In this regard, according to the vehicle of characteristics, the wish to attain the ultimate dharmakaya and realize it in one’s mind is the resultant refuge, and to take refuge in the Three Jewels as one’s guides until this has been attained, thus creating the cause for its attainment, is the causal refuge. See Yukhok Chatralwa Chöying Rangdrol, Taking Refuge.

The Precepts of Refuge

The great master Atisha was nicknamed the 'Refuge Pandita'

Chökyi Drakpa says:

As regards the precepts and benefits of taking refuge, in terms of precepts there are three things to be abandoned, three things to be adopted and three supplementary precepts.
  • Firstly, having taken refuge in the Buddha, do not take worldly deities such as local spirits as your outer refuge and do not make offerings to them. Having taken refuge in the Dharma, refrain from harming other beings. Having taken refuge in the Sangha, do not associate with non-buddhist extremists (tirthikas), or anyone whose behaviour is contrary to the teachings.
  • Regarding the three things to be adopted, having taken refuge in the Buddha, you should honour and respect any representation of his body, even a tiny piece of broken statue. Having taken refuge in the Dharma, you should respect and take care to preserve the written teachings, even fragments of paper bearing a single syllable. In the past, when Lord Atisha saw a scribe putting his pen in his mouth as he wrote, he cried out, “Atsama! That’s not right!” Having taken refuge in the Sangha, even a patch of red or yellow cloth from their robes should inspire you with faith.
  • As supplementary precepts, rely upon your spiritual master and practise without doing anything that violates or conflicts with his body, speech or mind. Listen to the teachings and follow the Dharma and the Sangha.

Patrul Rinpoche says:

In this, there are six specific precepts and five general ones.

Six Specific Precepts

In the specific precepts, there are three things to adopt and three things to abandon.

Three Things to Adopt

  1. Practise according to the words of the Buddha and then, without forgetting them, generate faith and devotion. Show respect even for broken fragments of statues and images of the Buddha.
  2. Exert yourself in studying, reflecting and meditating on the sacred Dharma. Show respect even for torn scriptures that represent the Dharma.
  3. Respect the sangha who are followers of the Buddha, associate with virtuous friends, and treat even tiny pieces of yellow cloth as objects worthy of reverence.

Three Things to Abandon

  1. Having taken refuge in the Buddha, you should not worship any gods who are still bound within the cycle of samsara.
  2. Having taken refuge in the Dharma, you should not inflict harm upon any sentient being.
  3. Having taken refuge in the Sangha, you should not associate with friends who hold extreme views.

Five General Precepts

  1. Do not forsake the Three Jewels, even at the cost of your life.
  2. Even in important ventures, do not seek other methods.
  3. Do not interrupt your regular practice.
  4. Encourage yourself and others to take refuge.
  5. Pay homage to the buddha of whichever direction you travel.

Oral Teachings Given to the Rigpa Sangha

  • Sogyal Rinpoche, Lerab Ling, Ngöndro Retreat, 6, 7 & 10 July 2011
  • Sogyal Rinpoche, Lerab Ling, Ngöndro Retreat, 18 & 20 July 2014
  • Khandro Rinpoche, Prajnaonline, 2021, Taking Refuge: The Foundation Of Buddha’s Path To Awakening, Part 1, available here

Edited Teachings of Sogyal Rinpoche

  • Ngöndrolink February 2006, 'Invoking the Presence of the Refuge', 3 January 2006, Kirchheim (available in English, French and German, ordernumber 441)
  • Ngöndrolink December 2008, 'Refuge, Part One' (order code 458)
  • Ngöndrolink February 2009, 'Refuge, Part Two' (order code 459)
  • Ngöndrolink April 2009, 'Refuge, Part Three' (order code 460)
  • Ngöndrolink June 2009, 'Refuge, Part Four' (order code 461)

Further Reading

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