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by Venerable Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche

Ngöndro Program 2001

Ratnashri Meditation Center, Sweden

We are living in the samsara, which means that we are in the state of delusion and confusion. We are tired and exhausted, but yet cannot get out of that state. Suffering is bound to come, one after another. Therefore, we are here to learn how to free from the delusion. We have studied Buddha and Dhamra and to conclude the study of taking refuge in the three jewels, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, we are going to focus on Sangha. Sangha consists of Dharma practitioners who study and practice the Dharma teachings. If we take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and then go on with the study of Dharma teachings, we become Sangha members. The opportunity to study and practice the Dharma is so precious and has inexpressible benefits. There is no better thing to achieve in life than to do this kind of practice. It is very difficult to hear Buddha’s name in this world. It is very difficult to have a chance to hear Dharma teachings and it is very difficult to have time and leisure to study the Dharma. The reason is because we all are working hard, making ourselves so busy in this world in search for peace and happiness and to free from suffering. This is the basic idea of life and there is no end to this. Successful business people are not satisfied no matter how successful the business would be. They are still looking for more. It is because there is no ultimate happiness and peace can be achieved no matter how successful a person can be. For that reason, we come to study the Dharma teachings, which give us instructions on how to attain peace and happiness and how to avoid suffering. That is why Dharma teaching is so precious. For those who study and practice the Dharma, their lives are much happier even though they live in samsara. Life is meaningful and instructive. The person has much peace and contentment in life. This is not a matter of culture. We are not changing our lifestyle, but rather we are making effort to understand and reshape our mind. We purify our delusion so that the light or wisdom from within has a chance to reveal itself. In that way, we see how fortunate we are to have opportunities to study and practice the Dharma. Otherwise, we spend our time chasing mirage after mirage without meaning. When we come to the Dharma, it is to realize what we already have within me, not try to get things from the outside. We all have to work within our mind.

It is very precious to be Sangha. There are enlightened Sangha and unenlightened Sangha. Unenlightened Sangha are those who study and practice the Dharma but still need to work hard and make much effort. Enlightened Sangha is one who has achieved the first level of bodhisattva or bhumis. From there, there are many levels to achieve, which eventually lead to enlightenment, buddhahood. When we achieve the first bhumi, we have dispelled the basic delusion. We just practice right from where we are and we do not have to change anything. We do not have to change culture, clothes or language. We do not have to go anywhere else. We just need to change the way of thinking, purify our delusion, develop positive and altruistic thoughts and sustain that.

To practice that, we chant mantras like OM AH HUNG or Guru Padmasambhva’s mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG or Tara’s mantra OM TARE TU TARE TURE SATTSOHA. We chant these mantras to develop our wisdom and compassion. We take refuge in Sanghas like Tara or Chenrizig because they are highly accomplished practitioners and their wisdom and compassion are much stronger. Their mind is more peaceful, more organized and has more strength. It is because they train and discipline their mind in a powerful way. They organize their mind at the right place through proper causes and conditions. They are highly accomplished masters and we can take them as our example. This is called taking refuge in the Sangha. Sangha basically means one who is inspired and train the mind to achieve liberation – liberation from suffering and liberation to peace and nirvana.

There are lay people Sangha members and renounced or ordinance Sangha members. Lay people Sangha member should have at least the five precepts – not taking life, not telling lies, no sexual misconduct and free from intoxication. Sexual misconduct causes lots of confusion, hatred and resentment especially if you are married. One needs to take at least these five precepts and dedicate the life in the study of Dharma in order to become a Sangha. In fact, if you keep these five precepts, life is peaceful, free from delusion. Mind becomes clear and one knows what to do, what to keep and how to free from unnecessary suffering. If the family members keep the five precepts, there is so much peace and calmness. Those who do not keep the five precepts, there is lots of confusion, hatred and resentment. The second type of Sangha is the ordinance Sangha who has received the monks and nuns ordination. If you are interested, you have the opportunity to become an ordinance Sangha and if you are not interested in that, you can take the lay precepts for lay practitioners. In any case, you have the same opportunity to study and practice the precious Dharma teachings.

Sometimes, we feel that Buddha is too high up there, so unreachable while we know so little and our mind is so fragile. In order for us who are unenlightened, who study and practice the precious Dharma teachings, to see how much we are progressing in our practices, we look at those highly accomplished great Sangha members like Tara and Chenrizig who also practiced. Read their life stories to see how they first started the study and practice of the Dharma teachings and how they progress on the path. We look at those great practitioners who give us inspirations to study and practice in the same way. This is called taking refuge in the Sangha. We take refuge in them and affirm, "I will practice as they did. They have indivisible, complete, one-pointed confidence towards enlightenment, buddhahood. They got the experience through study and meditation practices. They are such great and inspiring Dharma practitioners. I must take refuge in them." This is the reason why Sangha is there for us.

There are two types of Sanghas – hinnayana (or Shravakas or Pratyekabuddha) school and the mahayana (or bodhisattva) school. There are five paths towards complete enlightenment– path of preparation, path of accumulation, path of special insight, path of meditation and path of no more learning or the perfect path.

In the mahayana system or the bodhisattva school, there are ten levels to achieve. After achieving the first two paths (path of preparation and accumulation), from the third path on, there are ten bodhisattvas’ levels or bhumis to achieve. So we take refuge in them especially those bodhisattvas who have attained the eighth bhumis. They have great confidence and strength. They have purified all the gross delusions and only very subtle obscuration left to be purified. They have great skill, great mental power to transform things.

In order to be a good practitioner, to be a good Sangha, we study "The Four Foundations" or "the four ways to turn the mind" or the four preliminaries.

  1. Precious human life

This kind of leisure and endowment is supremely difficult to obtain. When we obtain this body which is easily lost, do not waste it meaninglessly, but rather use it to attain the ultimate liberation, joyous result.

The precious human life has two excellent qualities – leisure and endowment, which is very difficult to obtain. Leisure means having time. It is difficult to have time to study and practice because we keep ourselves so busy rushing here and there. We have lots of commitments, obligations and are facing lots of pressure. In fact, leisure is difficult to find in the whole of samsara. It is even more difficult to find leisure if we are born in other realms. Beings who are born in the hell realm are constantly suffering. Thus, they do not have time to study and practice. The same is true for beings in the hungry ghost realm. If you are born as an animal, you have no power or wisdom. If you ask a cat or dog to sit down and meditate, or teach them virtue and non-virtue, they have no idea what you are talking about. Even though they may be very clever and smarter than some human beings, they do not have discriminating wisdom to know what virtuous actions are and how to practice virtuous actions and what non-virtuous actions are and how to avoid them. They spend time looking for something, just want to get something. That is why animals have no time and opportunities to study and practice the Dharma. In god realm, beings experience lots of joy and happiness temporarily. Because of such great peace and happiness, they are not interested in the Dharma study. When mind is completely peaceful and calm with no suffering or problem, they see no reason why they should sit down and meditate. They feel relaxed already. Beings in the god realm are of that nature, so they do not have the leisure to study. Even in the human realm, you can be born in a place where Buddha’s name is not known. Some heard about the Buddha but are not interested in the Dharma study. Some do not understand or believe in the universal law of causes and result, that is, virtue brings peace and happiness while non-virtue brings suffering. They, too, do not have the opportunity to study and practice the Dharma teachings. Some do not have enough mental power to receive or to communicate Dharma teachings and to study and practice the Dharma. In all, we have to free from the eight unfavorable conditions. That is why having interest, time and conditions to study and practice the Dharma is so precious and rare.

Endowment is opportunities and good conditions. There are ten different types of endowments.

The above five conditions are obtained from within oneself. If any of the five is missing, there is no chance to study and practice the Dharma.

These five conditions come from the outside. If any of them is missing, we lose the chance to study and practice the Dharma.

Having these favorable conditions is rare like seeing evening stars during the day. There are only a few who have them. Look at animals, countless of them, living in the forest, in the oceans and in the air. If you were born as one of them, how can you study and practice the Dharma? At that time, no matter how much you suffer, you have to take it because there is no other choice. You do not have the chance to reason, to debate. We human beings have the right to go to the court to appeal; while in the animal world, there is no such opportunity. Moreover, they suffer so much when people torture them. They cannot defend themselves but to suffer. As human beings, we have the opportunity to look around, to find solutions to free from suffering. There are many ways even without Dharma. You can talk to your family, your friends and other people. You can move to different places. So you see how rare and precious it is to obtain the precious human life. So we cannot afford to waste life like animals do. Animals spend their time just to get food and shelter. They go from places to places to eat grass, to drink water. In that way, they die one day. If we do the same, we are like animals. Human beings can do much better than animals do because as human beings, we have great mental power and mental capacity.

There are three different levels of capacities – inferior, middle and superior capacities. Even when we are of inferior capacity, we still have opportunity to receive the Dharma teachings, to avoid non-virtues and negative karma to be reborn in the lower realms. Even if we are not free from samsara in this lifetime, we can make effort to be reborn as a human being again in the next life. However, if you constantly make negative karma, there is no way to be reborn as human again. When the mind is dominated by hatred and craving, we are making connection to the lower realm even in this lifetime. Our negative thoughts make us suffer miserably. But there is solution to that. Just look at the opportunity we have. Individually, we can achieve arhats to free ourselves from suffering. For supreme beings, they see suffering in the samsara and they want to free from suffering. They see also that all other sentient beings likewise desire to free from suffering. Thus, it is not enough just to free themselves from suffering. They cultivate altruistic thought to attain complete enlightenment for all sentient beings. There are many other ways for us to develop our capacities. For example, we can do the OM AH HUNG meditation to send wisdom and compassion to all sentient beings and to purify their obscurations. We can read the history and life stories of Buddhas or bodhisattvas who have helped countless sentient beings. They have that kind of capacities. Millions of people follow their path step by step. Thousands of years passed and they are still highly respected and admired. They study and practice according to the Dharma and they can achieve such high capacity. Seeing so many great opportunities we have, we cannot afford to waste time and energies but to develop ourselves to attain ultimate liberation. This is the only way to free from suffering and experience the ultimate peace. When there is no suffering, peace is just there.

Buddha gave an analogy showing how difficult it is to obtain the precious human life. Buddha said, "Suppose this whole world and planet is ocean. Underneath this ocean, there is a tortoise who is supposed to live for many thousand years. This tortoise is blind and only comes up to the surface of the ocean every 100 years. On the surface of the ocean, there is a yolk (a piece of log wood) which has one hole in the middle. The yolk is carried by the ocean waves. The tortoise has no eye to look for the piece of wood and the piece of wood has no mind to look for the tortoise. Every 100 year, the tortoise comes out to the surface for just a very short moment. The chance that the tortoise’s head will meet the hole of the yolk is very rare. However, it is even more difficult to be born with the precious human life. There are countless sentient beings in the world, human and non-human. How many are studying and practicing the Dharma sincerely and with great devotion? Very, very rare."

So we should rejoice and appreciate the precious human life that we have. We must have done something good in our past life to be born as human and to meet the Dharma teachings. Dharma comes to the west for only the last 20 to 30 years. Before that, there is not much Dharma to study. Rejoice and cherish such opportunity. Remind and uplift yourself to study and practice the Dharma diligently. With all the opportunities that we can purify our delusion and to free ourselves from suffering. We cannot stay arrogantly because this life can be easily lost. We can die any day. Life is so fragile like a bubble in the water.

  1. Impermanence
  2. The nature of all phenomena is impermanence. Death is a certainty for all who are born. Death can descend any time like a drop of morning dew on a blade of grass. Quick! It is time to make effort for the essence of Dharma.

    All phenomena, outer phenomena like oceans, mountains, rivers, sun and moon and all inner phenomena that lie within all sentient beings are impermanent. They change from moment to moment. The Rocky Mountains looks very solid but they are constantly changing. When earthquake comes, mountain collapses. When volcano erupts, the whole mountain is destroyed. All the rocks are dissolved into the fire. See how fragile everything is. When the fire becomes so strong, no matter how powerful rocks and metal are, they all dissolved into the fire like water. Everything is impermanent. Likewise, death is a certainty for all who are born. This is not being negative, but rather it gives us an opportunity to see what reality really is. Just look at ourselves, do we have the choice of not dying? Whether you believe in death or not, you will die anyway. That is why it is crucial to see the reality. We do not want to hear that because it is unpleasant and there is lots of suffering relating to that. If death is wonderful and pleasant, we would like to talk about that, won’t we? At the time of death, we want peace and happiness. To obtain that, we need to prepare our mind already now. At this moment, we are sacrificing our time and energy for tomorrow’s happiness. So, why not sacrifice our time and energy for the happiness and peace at the time of death.

    To prepare our mind at the time of death, it is very important to know more about death or the experience of death. When we sit down and meditate, take a deep breath and contemplate this way:

    Some day I will die. It is definite. But I do not know when. It could be tomorrow. At that time, do I have the confidence of dying peacefully and joyfully? When death comes, nobody can help. My best friends and relatives cannot help. My family members have always been so kind and loving to me. They do everything for me. At the time of my death, they too cannot do anything for me. I have to go through that all by myself. What kind of confidence do I have at that time? My body becomes corpse. My body, which I cherish so much, would be taken out from the house. No matter how important I used to be in the family, they cannot keep the body even for one day. No matter how dear those people around me are, they cannot keep me with them for one day. They will cry and scream. That is all they can do.

    Just contemplate on that. That is why I have to practice the Dharma. The precious Dharma teachings can help us at that time. If we can study and practice the Dharma well, from the experiences and realizations from our practices, we can die peacefully and joyfully. Reflecting on impermanence this way inspired us to study and practice the Dharma, on a day-to-day basis, without delay.

    This was what Milarepa did. He studied and practiced the Dharma every moment. He had no procession except just a clay pot which he used to cook his food (nettle). One day, he traveled from one place to another and he happened to fall down on the ground. The pot broke right a way. Just that moment reminded him so strongly of impermanence. He was so grateful to receive such a strong and fresh teaching. Normally, if we do not aware of impermanence, when the pot breaks, we would feel so sad and negative. "The only pot that I have is now broken. Oh! I am the unluckiest person in this world. Now I have to get another pot." We are not grateful to the fresh and strong teaching of impermanence. All phenomena are composite, especially this human life, depending on causes and conditions. We are living our lives moment to moment and we are moving closer and closer to death. The purpose of reflecting on impermanence is to release our attachment, hatred and anger. Everything is of momentary nature, why should I attach so much or hate that person so much? I am going to die and that person is also going to die. So what is the use of hatred? What benefit does that bring? Nothing! Just suffering! This is a very effective practice if we know how to apply it in the right way. If we hold on to our attachment, resentment and hatred in our mind, when we hear about impermanence, it is depressing. We would like to hold on to that. For example, we like the house very much. When the house is damaged by fire, flood or earthquake, we get very depressed. The reason is because we do not realize the nature of impermanence.

    Milarepa possessed nothing living in the cave. One day, his sister, who was also very poor, came to see him after many years of separation. She was very depressed and said, "Brother, there is nothing in this place. You have no food to eat and no clothes to wear. I am your sister feeling ashamed seeing you like this. You can go and beg for food. We are the worst people that exist in this world. Can you do something better than this?" She tried to encourage him to go down to the village to make a better living. Milarepa said, "Sister, please do not worry about me. I am practicing the Dharma. Life is impermanence and my teacher told me to do this way. Right now, you feel that I am not successful in life, but in reality, I am the most successful person in this world. I met the best teacher and received the most profound teachings. I am fully dedicated in the practice. No doubt in the future, I will achieve the best result that you cannot imagine." Still, she could not accept that. "You are saying so nice things but practically, you have no food." Milarepa said, "It does not matter, I can live this way. I dedicate my life this way to purify my negative karma. Life is so impermanence and I have no time to waste, no time to go and wander around. Every minute is so important and precious. If you look at my place, it looks crazy because there is nothing. Even enemies come will have sympathy. But when Buddha sees my mind, Buddha feels so happy and rejoice." Milarepa practiced so joyfully. He felt himself as being the most fortunate and successful person. He had that kind of mental power. That is why he could sustain that.

    It is important to reflect on impermanence in our daily life. See how quickly the cars passing by the highways. See how the watch is moving every second. Every moment is impermanent. Look at our mind, it moves so fast from thoughts to thoughts, never stops. See how impermanent all phenomena are. From there, we release all our attachment. Look at how fresh the flower is today; one day, it will dry out and fade away. That means that it is fading every moment. Look at people who are dying. I too will die one day. What should I do during that time? Everything is of illusory nature. So release all our negative thoughts to bring forth peace and calmness in the mind. Generate loving kindness and compassion and to inspire myself to study and practice these precious teachings. This is the purpose of contemplating on death.

    Death can descend any time like a drop of morning dew on the blade of grass. In the morning, when you look at the grass, there are many drops of dew on the grass and as soon as the sunshine comes, they all fall down on the ground and evaporate. See how we are breathing in and out every moment. If you just breathe out and not breathe in, our lives will finish. I cannot prove that I am healthy and young. People may die at the time of birth. Some die young while some die when they are old. Eventually everyone goes. At that time, no matter how much we cry, how much we say, "I love you. Please do not go." All just finish like a dream. Look at the impermanent nature and mediate on that and develop positive thoughts.

    It is time to make effort for the essence of Dharma. It is time because we have the precious human life and we have received the Dharma teachings and we understand them. Now is the time to study and practice in order to bring the teachings to the mind and to apply them. There was a great master who was so inspired to practice the Dharma teachings especially on impermanence. The master lived in a cave and there was a thorny bush at the door step which gave him a hard time to get in and out of the cave. His clothes were torn by the thorn every time he passed by. He thought, "May be I should clear this bush. But now that I got in the cave, I may not have time to get out. So what is the use to clear the bush? If I am dead inside the cave, there is no benefit to cut the bush. Forget it." He went on with his meditation practice. Then when he got out, the thorn again made it difficult for him to get out. So he thought, "May be I should cut this bush. Now that I am out, I may not have time to get in again. So what is the use of cutting this bush?" He was meditating like that all the time. When he achieved enlightenment, the bush was still there. Other people may think that he was so lazy because he did not cut the bush. But for him, it reminded him so much of impermanence. He was so inspired and so devoted. He was doing more important great things than just small causal thing. Contemplate on impermanence is very effective. We are living in the state of impermanence whether we believe it or not. Since impermanence is so close to us, we can reflect on it easily. It is so helpful and so useful to us.

  3. Karma cause and effect
  4. The fruit of one’s positive karma is happiness. Suffering is the fruit of negative karma. The inexorable karmic causation is the mode of abiding of all Dharma. Henceforth, practice the Dharam by distinguishing between what should be practiced and what should be given up.

    Karma is not a belief system. Sometimes, we say that we believe in karma or we do not believe in karma. If you do not believe in the karma, does it mean that there is no karma? Karma, in Sanskrit, means action. When you put action physically and mentally, that becomes a cause to bring the result. That is karma. In reality if we study carefully, karma is not just a belief system. Everything in this universe is constituted in the dimension of cause and result. We are creating cause every moment and we are experiencing result of our past actions. If it exists only within the belief system, which means that, if one belief in it, there is karma cause and karma result; if one do not belief in it, there is no karma cause and result. In that case, it is better not to believe it. Why worry about it at all since we are creating more negative karma than positive karma. It is better not believe in the karma. Just forget it and relax. Since this is not the case, karma is the cause that brings the result. In fact, we are experiencing the result and creating the karma cause at the same time. We do not know what will happen this afternoon or tomorrow because we do not know all the causes that we have created to bring the result that we are going to experience.

    Knowing karma helps us to become more responsible and conscious of our own actions. We better not make any karma to be born in the hell realm or the hungry ghost realm because sentient beings suffer terribly there. Even in human lives, we cannot bear even a small physical suffering, so how can we bear and tolerate the suffering in the hell or hungry ghost realm? We should make every effort not to make any negative karma. Positive karma brings happiness and it is a result of virtuous actions, while negative karma brings suffering and it is a result of non-virtuous actions. So all the beings in the lower realms – hell, hungry ghost and animal realm are suffering because of the non-virtues that they have created. To be a human being like us, we must done virtuous actions. Now that we are born with a precious human life with all the good opportunities, we should make every effort to progress further. Individually, we have to take responsibility. Happiness and suffering are all created by ourselves. The inexorable karma causation is the mode of abiding of all Dharmas, means that the whole universe is constituted within this law of cause and result.

    Henceforth, we should practice the Dharma by distinguishing between what should be practiced and what should be given up. Therefore, the ten virtues are the objects of our practice and the ten non-virtues are the are the objects for us to get rid of from our mind and our actions. When something goes wrong, instead of fear or worry, we should see it as opportunity to correct it and to apply the Dharma practice. See the impermanent nature of all phenomena. If I can fix the problem, I should try my best to fix it. If I cannot fix it, there is no use to worry about it. It is gone. This is the way to inspire and remind ourselves to keep doing virtuous actions and having virtuous thoughts. On the other hand, if we are not aware of impermanence, when something, which is not supposed to happen happens, we worry so much. We blame somebody else. When we do that, all the argument and negative thoughts arise from there. It creates such a negative environment.

    When we are in samsara, we take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Samsara has no absolute peace. Suffering is bound to come. I do not want all these suffering but I have no ability to free myself from suffering. Therefore, I am depending on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha to show me the path how to free us from the suffering of samsara. That is what taking refuge means.

  5. Suffering of samsara


In the three lower realms and even in the three higher ones, there is not an instant of absolute happiness. I will avoid the root cause of samsaric existence and practice the excellent path of peace to enlightenment.

The beings in the hell realm suffer constantly from extreme heat or extreme cold. Some beings stay alive inside a volcano. Under such hot temperature, even rocks and metals melt in the fire. So, you can imagine how much suffering those beings have. This is called the hot hell realm. They do not die because of the karma they have created. It shows the power of such karma cause. There are beings who live in snow mountains. Sometimes we see on the television how frogs freeze with the water during the winter and remain inactive until spring comes. Then when snow slowly melts away, the frogs shake their bodies and move again. Can you imagine staying frozen the whole winter, not able to move or eat? This is called the cold hell realm. Actually, the hell realm does not necessarily exist in a particular place. It can be anywhere.

There are lots of flies flying above the water but cannot land on the ground. They fly very close to the ground up and down the whole day. They want to drink the water because of the thirst, but they feel that somebody is preventing them to drink water. So they stay up and down like that the whole day. There are animals living in the middle of the dessert and cannot get any water for many days. They suffer from the lack of food and drink. This is called the hungry ghost realm.

Animals, as we can see, suffer so much from their stupidity. There is suffering the three higher realms too. Human beings are supposed to have much better lives and more opportunities, but still we suffer quite a lot. We suffer from sickness, aging and death. We suffer from not getting what we want and getting what we do not want. Even if we have good food to eat, good place to live, we still suffer. Suffering is bound to come. Seeing that nature, we must make effort to free ourselves from this cycle. Now that we have Dharma teachings and have lots of opportunities, we have to apply the teachings. When we suffer, we should understand that the causes of suffering we created by ourselves. Being depressed or sad does not help us to get out of that. We should renounce the cause of suffering and practice the Dharma sincerely. Dharma is the most precious thing we have in life.

The root cause of suffering in samsara is the ten non-virtues. We should avoid and renounce them. When we avoid all the nonvirtues, there is peace. For example, not taking life, when we respect our lives and protect other lives, we can live peacefully. Small bugs runs away from us in fear that their lives are endangered. If we can extend our protection to them, they too can live peacefully. When we harm other lives, it is like harming our own lives. The result of our actions will prevent our mind from having mental peace. Our mind is dominated by fear and suffering. When we protect other lives, we are protecting our lives as well. For example, when we do not pollute the environment, we are protecting the lives of all other animals as well as our lives. If we destroy the environment for some selfish reason, we have to experience the result of that too. Nonvirtue is not something that Buddha made up intellectually, but rather Buddha clearly see the consequences to both parties – for the one who does that and for the receiver and for both. When we do not engage in non-virtues, peace and harmony will come. When you see someone on the road and say, "Hi!" to that person, that person then smiles and say, "Hi!" back to you. Since that person get some benefit and he or she response back to you and as a result, you get some benefit back. This is how we can build a good environment, how the response goes back and forth. On the other hand, when someone comes by and you show an angry face, that person would probably not like it and response in an uncomfortable way. Thus, the environment becomes tense and uneasy. So this is about cause and result, virtue and non-virtue. It is simple, isn’t it?

Buddha clearly knew and saw that the suffering nature in samsara. Therefore, he gave us guidance and teachings that deal mainly with how to heal our mind. When the mind is healed, our body is healed. When we know how to relax the mind, it relaxes the body. When we know how to build the strength of the mind, we know how to build our strength physically. When our mind is in the wrong place, very fragile and full of negative thoughts, that ruins our health too. So we have to heal the mind, build the strength of the mind, bring clarity and peace to the mind. In that way, our body would be in good condition. When you are angry and aggressive, the whole body becomes tense and uneasy, even our facial expression changes. When we suffer mentally, our physical body suffers too. This is called causes and effect. It happens from moment to moment. Like walking, the first step is the cause of the second step. Without the first step, there is no second step. The second step is the cause to the third step. Without the second step, there is no third step. This is what cause and effect is. The first moment you sit down and meditate, it bring peace in the mind to the second moment, then the third moment and so on, continue in the mind. The moment we have aggressive thoughts, they become a cause to bring suffering in the mind. Suffering continues until those thoughts disappear. All the mental formation are formed in this way whether in a peaceful or negative.

Chenrezig is one of the greatest and most popular Sanghas. Most people know his mantra OM MANI PADMI HUNG. Why do we take refuge in Chenrezig? If you study the life story of Chenrezig, you learn that he was a great Boddhisattva. Even though he is enlightened, he manifests as bodhisattvas life after life for the benefit of all sentient beings until all sentient beings are free from suffering. Therefore, we put Chenrezig on the refuge tree as part of the Sangha. When we visualize Sangha, we place Chenrezig in the center.

In the beginning, Chenrezig was, like us, an ordinary person who was aware of the suffering nature of samsara and was inspired to free from samsara. He took refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. He studied and practiced the Dharma teachings. His compassion developed more and more. Especially, when he saw the suffering all sentient beings, he was overwhelmed. He developed such great compassion that he promised to stay in the samsara to help all sentient beings until all are free from suffering. Like that, he practiced and cultivated bodhicitta in front of many buddhas, for hundred thousands of buddhas and especially in front of Buddha Amitabha. Chenrezig said, "I would not attain enlightenment until all sentient beings are free from samsara!" In this way, he benefited sentient beings. One time, he checked to see if sentient beings suffered less. When he saw that sentient beings’ suffering was immense and that the number of sentient beings who suffer did not decrease, he was so overwhelmed that tears came to his eyes. The tears from the right eye transformed into Green Tara and the left transformed into wrathful Tara. Then Tara said to him, "You do not worry. We will help you to help all sentient beings in the samsara. Any one who need help, we will help them." Tara was called the daughter of Chenrezig. Tara inspired and encouraged Chenrezig. Chenrezig continued to benefit sentient beings one life after another. Then he cultivated such strong bodhicitta in front of Buddha Amitabha by saying, "If I ever only think of myself and my own peace, may my face racks into many pieces!" In another word, if his bodhicitta declined, may his head and face crack into many pieces. He created such strong commitment in practicing bodhicitta. Then after a long time, Chenrezig continued benefiting sentient beings, but suffering never decrease. Then one day, he thought, "I have worked so much and suffering is not getting less. It looks like it is not possible. May be I should just have peace for myself." As soon as he thought that, because of the precious powerful commitment he made, his face cracked into many pieces and immediately Buddha Amitabha appeared and said, "You do not think like that. I am here all the time to help you." So through meditation, Buddha Amitabha skillfully transformed his face into ten heads. On the top is Buddha Amitabha’s head. Buddha Amitabha said, "I am here all the time with you. Not only that, you have one thousand hands and in each hand, there is an eye. Altogether, thousand eyes and thousand hands." Through Buddha Amitabha’s blessing and Chenrezig’s skill, Chenrezig could manifest thousand kinds of manifestations in one instance to help and benefit sentient beings. Like that, Chenrezig progressed and his bodhicitta grew stronger and stronger. Still rightl now, Chenrezig continues his activities. He has vowed, "I will not attain enlightenment until all sentient beings are free from suffering in the samsara!" Therefore, we take refuge in Chenrezig. We are inspired by his motivation and the strength in his mind. Chenrezig cultivates his great compassionate mind for all the sentient beings. Therefore, if we take refuge in great bodhisattvas, study and practice the Dharma, their blessings are always within us. We take refuge in the Sangha to cultivate our bodhicitta just like them and follow the path step by step just like they did.

Great bodhisattvas do suffer when they train themselves to cultivate bodhicitta for the benefit of all sentient beings. Gampopa, for example, was an historical being who lived on this planet in Tibet around the 11th century. He was the foremost disciple of Milarepa. Gampopa studied medicine and became a very famous doctor. He was a very important figure in the medical history. He was married and then after some time, due to some contagious disease, his wife and two children died. Because of that, he saw the suffering nature of samsara, he promised himself to study and practice the Dharma. He dedicated a third of his wealth to offer to monks, nuns and lamas everywhere. The rest he kept for his meditation practice. He went to monastery to become a monk studying and practicing the Dharma. That monastery belonged to the Atisha, Kadampa school. There, he studied lots of sutras. He took all the ordination and monks’ vows. He studied during the day and meditated at night. He became such a great Dharma practitioner. All the teachers, monks and nuns in the school had high hope that he would become a great teacher. He studied all the vinaya, sutra system and vajrayana teachings. In addition, he received all the empowerments. He could meditate for days without eating food. He could breathe just once a day because his mind is so calm and peaceful. Everyone respected him. One day in the late afternoon, when he was in his retreat inside a cave, three beggars came. It was getting late and they were preparing a very simple dinner while discussing. "I wish we had a nice delicious dinner to prepare. Unfortunately, we do not have that." Another person said, "If you would like to make a wish, you should wish for something better than that. You can wish that you would be the King of Tibet who has the authority and power to rule over the whole country." Yet another person said, "That is also samsara. Being a king is impermanent. You should wish for something even better than that. You should wish to be like Milarepa, that is, to attain enlightenment in one lifetime. Then, like Milarepa, sometimes, you do not have to eat. You can fly and can manifest into many different forms. You should wish to be like that kind of person."

Gampopa, as soon as he heard the name, Milarepa, his mind and body were unsettled, trembling. He prayed and meditated the whole night. The next morning, he invited those three beggars to his meditation cave and he prepared a very nice meal as they wished. While they were enjoying the meal, Gampopa asked, "Yesterday, you talked about Milarepa, which I have not heard before. Where can I see him?" The man replied, "I have no idea where he is. I heard that he lives way up in the western Tibet. I also heard that many people go to see him." Gampopa asked, "Can you help me?" The man replied, "No, I cannot help you. I am not going there." Another man said, "I will help you. I am going in that direction, but I am not going to see him. You can go with me." Gampopa made all preparation. He went to all his teachers and asked for permission to leave. Some teachers said, "We do not really want you to go because we all have high hope and expectation that you would be a great teacher and we know that you will do a good job for the school and monastery. But we have no choice. You just go." He got permission from all the teachers and he set out for the journey.

Milarepa was eighty years old. He was giving teachings to all his disciples. Some disciples asked him, "Now that you are getting old, if you have to pass away, are there some special students that you can rely on, hold your throne and your lineage, as well as answer our Dharma questions?" Milarepa said, "I am a yogi. I do not expect that I have a special lineage. I have no throne and no monastery. But I will see tomorrow morning who will receive all my teachings." Everyone came the next morning. They looked to see who that person could be. Milarepa said, "From the center of Tibet, a great teacher is coming to receive all my teachings. He will take all the teachings and benefit all the sentient beings. He will promote Buddhas’ teachings. He is coming." Gampopa was on the road. After some time, the beggar said, "I have to go this way. You go that way. If you do not know the road, you may ask people along the road to help you." Gampopa went on and on, he began to feel sick. He had no company walking in an unknown place. He was tired after traveling for so many days with his travel bag. He got sick and felt down on the road, fainted. When he woke up, a monk was looking at him. He said, "You look sick." Gampopa said, "I am not feeling well. May be I will die. Would you please give me some water?" Gampopa felt much better after he drank. During that time, Milarepa was giving teachings to all his monks. While he was giving teachings, he stopped, kept quiet for a while and then smiled. All the students wondered what he was doing. One of the monks stood up, did prostrations to him and asked, "Why did you smile like that? Something happened to the Sangha members? Maybe some negative thoughts that you saw?" Milarepa said, "I see none of these here. The great teacher from the center of Tibet I mentioned got sick on the road. He felt down. Then the monk came, gave him water and he felt much better. This was what I saw." Gampopa arrived. Milarepa welcomed him. Milarepa was sitting on a piece of rock. Two disciples, Rechungpa on the right and Charwura on the left, supported Milarepa. Milarepa welcomed Gampopa. Milarepa gave special welcome instructions to Gampopa and Gampopa offered his offerings. Milarepa said, "If you want to receive teachings and want to practice, you have to live like me. You have to follow my way." Like that, Gampopa stayed for three years with Milarepa receiving teachings during the day and meditated in the cave during night. During those times, there were lots of experiences. Sometimes, Gampopa saw the seven medicine buddhas, thousand buddhas. He went to Milarepa to tell him what he saw and asked what he should do. Milarepa said, "Oh! This is nothing important. If you see medicine buddha, it is fine. Just continue your practice. If you see a thousand buddhas, that is fine. Just continue your practice." Then one time, Gampopa saw Chakrasamvara’s whole mandala vividly in front of him with all the deities. Again, Milarepa told him that that was not important. So he went back to continue his practice. Gampopa said, "Even though my lama said that it was not important. I felt good!" Gampopa stayed with him for another three years and received the complete teachings and meditation practice. One day, Milarepa said, "You saw buddha in nirmanakaya form with thousand buddhas. You saw buddha in sambogakaya form. Soon you will see buddha in dharmakaya form. That means that you will achieve enlightenment." Milarepa gave all the instructions to Gampopa and said, "You go to the mountain and meditate. Do not wander in the town. Do not talk too much with the people. Just stay by yourself and practice. After some time, you will see directly buddha dharmakaya. At that time, you will see me as a buddha, not like this old poor man. You will have a special devotion and then you can start helping sentient beings and start giving teachings." Gampopa left and he continued to do his meditation practices for some time. He actualized directly dharmakaya within his own mind, he revealed completely his buddha nature, directly and vividly. He made a special song at that time. He wanted to continue his meditation and he made promise and commitment to do another twelve-year retreat. At that time, a dakini appeared to him, "Instead of doing a twelve-year retreat, you better give teachings." Gampopa established his monastery there and started giving teachings. Thousands of students came to receive teachings. Since he had such great skills in teachings, many disciples benefited greatly from the teachings.

That is why we take refuge in Gampopa. By looking at his qualities and how he practiced the Dharma teachings, we are inspired to follow his path. Taking refuge in the Sangha means taking example in the Sangha. We follow their path in the study and practice of the Dharma. Since Sanghas like Milarepa, Gampopa were historical persons who study and practice the Dharma successfully and achieve high realizations, we can also do the same. We should be inspired, encouraged to develop and build such qualities.

Tara was like Chenrezig. Countless eons ago, there was a king, who was very devoted to Buddha and his disciples. The king has a princess who, like his father, was a devotee to Buddha and his disciples. For thousands of years, she did great service and cultivated her mind to achieve enlightenment by taking refuge in the Buddha , Dharma and Sangha. Because of her great deeds, some monks said to her, "In your life, you are in woman form. Next time, you should pray to be born as a man." The princess said, "Man and woman form are just illusory in nature. It does not matter. There are a few Buddhas who come in woman’s form. I will cultivate boddhicitta in woman’s form. I will practice Dharma and achieve buddhahood in woman’s form. I will manifest all the activities in woman’s form." Then she practiced Dharma and received teachings for thousands of years and kalpas. When she achieved high realization and saw the suffering of all sentient beings, her compassion and commitment was so powerful that she made promises, "If I do not benefit that many sentient beings, I will not eat breakfast. If I do not benefit that many sentient beings, I will not eat lunch." Like that, she dedicated her life to study and practice the Dharma. Lots of demons and maras were so afraid of her because she was so powerful. She got the name Tara, the liberator, who liberate all sentient beings from suffering. Dromla means she gave hard time to demons and maras. They were so afraid of her. She was a strong woman. She helped Chenrezig when he had a hard time helping sentient beings. She said to Chenrezig, "I will help you. You do not worry. If you need me, just call me and I will be there." Tara was known in the vajrayana system but not i Triyana system because of her bodhicitta practice was not emphasised i Triyana system. Of course, she was very popular i vajrayana system in Tibet and India.

Atisha was a great teacher in India in the 10th century. He is one of the prominent teachers at the Nalanda University in India. At that time, the university was the biggest in the whole world. Thousands of monks and great scholars were working there and Atisha was one of them. While he was in charge of the university, he had the opportunity to see Tara face to face and talked to Tara. When he went to Indonesia to receive bodhicitta teaching, he traveled by ship for thirteen months. On the sea, sometimes tornadoes arrived and all the ship went upside down and at that time, he prayed to Tara, "Please help me!" He composed some prayers and said them strongly. After he said those prayers, all the tornadoes were pacified. He became very successful and went to Indonesia. Indonesia was at that time a very big buddhist country. Suvarnadvipa Dharmakirti was the great master of bodhicitta who gave the teachings. Atisha went there to receive all the teachings of bodhicitta. The lineage came from Asanga. He came back to India. Then he wanted to go to Tibet. Many great teachers at the Nalanda University asked him not to go because they needed him to teach there. Some said that he should go. Atisha asked Tara what he should do. Tara said, "You should go because you will benefit so many sentient beings. Even though your life will be a little shorten if you go." So Atisha followed Tara’s advice. So Tara was popular in India among all vajrayana practitioners. Because of that, she became popular in Tibet. There were many great teachers who saw Tara face to face and received teachings to free from obstacles in the meditation practices. Tara was a great bodhisattva. Therefore, we take refuge in Tara as a Sangha. There are Green Tara, White Tara, Red Tara, in peaceful form as well as in wrathful form.

It is important to understand that we take refuge from where we are. Do not think that something magical will happen. There is no magical thing. We look at our weaknesses and use the Dharma teachings that we received to purify all our weaknesses. We purify all our negative thoughts and suffering without expectation. Just bring the Dharma to the heart and study with confidence. We follow enlightened people’s life and examples. We should feel fortunate to have such precious opportunity. We bring peace to our mind, to our family and our work place, and be a good example. In that way, we can help many sentient beings. We should do this without expectation. If people appreciate it, it is wonderful. They understand the meaning of what you are doing. If they do not respect you and do not understand, that is fine too. It does not matter so long as your mind is peaceful. That is most important. We do not have to change other’s mind. If they ask for help, we try our best to share our knowledge, methods, skills and wisdom sincerely without expectation. This is the best way to practice.

As we have already discussed, buddha nature is the primary cause to attain enlightenment, to free from samsara. To awake the mind, we first have to attain a spiritual master and Sangha who provide a good environment to study and practice the Dharma teachings. Then we get interested in the Dharma teachings. It is crucial to have Dharma connection from our previous lives. If you do not have such a seed to get interested in the Dharma, no matter how much you give good Dharma teachings to that person, he or she feels that the teachings do not make much sense. Then you may wonder why? That is because that person has no connection from other lifetimes. That is why it is so precious that we have interest in the Dharma teachings. Our mind will not die and this kind of interest has to come from within. We must have aspiration and motivation from previous lives, like this, "May I be born as a human being and may I meet the Dharma teachings. May I make such a connection to free from samsara to attain enlightenment." That kind of strong aspiration prayers we made. In addition, we have done good things in this life to avoid all the unfavorable causes, and put together all the favorable conditions. We are not here without any causes and conditions. So we see that and acknowledge such great opportunity that we have. Dharma is good because it not just tell us what to do and avoid, but it also points out directly to us the universal law, the reason why and how we should do things. Dharma gives so much descriptions, so many reasons to why and how. That gives us wisdom to follow on the path.

There are three faiths or three confidences in the Dharma.

  1. Trusting faith or confidence
  2. It means that one has faith in the universal law of karma causes and effects. One understands that positive karma will bring all the peace and harmony to lives and the negative causes will bring suffering. We see that through delusion, non-virtues is the cause that bring suffering in the lower realms while virtues is the cause to be born as human being and in the god realm. Follow the meditation path, we can achieve enlightenment, free from suffering of samsara. See that nature, investigate and understand that thoroughly. Faith and trust develop in this way. This is the faith of trusting. This is crucial because without knowing some sense of causes and conditions, causes and result, we do not have foundatation to study and practice the Dharma teachings. Everything depends on the cause, and that cause will bring the result. This is called trusting faith or confidence.

  3. Clear faith or confidence
  4. Seeing Buddha, Dharma and Sangha how much enlightened qualities they have – wisdom, compassion, skills, methods. Seeing the nature of their mind is so profound and vast, one develop clear confidence and faith in taking refuge in them.

  5. Longing faith or confidence

One yearns to free from all negative thoughts and non-virtuous actions. One longs to actualize the good qualities of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – loving kindness and compassion.

These faiths and confidences are very important in order that we study and practice the Dharma successfully.

We look at the highly achieved Sangha, great bodhisattvas, like Chenrezig, Manjushri and Tara. See what kind of qualities they have, what kind of realizations they have. They have the realization of knowing all sentient beings. The buddha nature that we have is free from all obscuration. For example, when the sun is covered by clouds, the cloud does not mix with the sun. The sun itself is never obscured no matter how thick the cloud is. But the clouds obstruct us from seeing the sun. Like that, our buddha nature itself is not obscured by any means. When the strong wind blows away the cloud, the sun appears. Likewise, through meditation practices, we clear up all the temporary obscuration. When temporary obscuration goes away, compassion and clarity manifest. That is why when we meditate. When the mind is calm and peaceful, good qualities will come up in the mind. When our mind is obscured by negative thoughts and delusions, we do not feel those good qualities. Great bodhisattvas have the ability to see that all sentient beings have buddha nature. They have very, clear, sharp mind and awareness. Their mind is free from obscurations and afflicting emotions like attachment. When you have attachment, mind gets so stuck and it does not go beyond that. When I am attached to this bell, all my attention focuses on the bell. Great bodhisattvas’ mind is free from such kind of gross obscurations. Their mind is free from subtle obscuration. When all the subtle obscuration is purified, their mind is so precise that they can see each and every individual’s mind clearly free from all karmic obscurations. They know all different nature of karma. Great bodhisattvas, who have the quality of such clear mind, have achieved the eighth bhumis. Efter the tenth bhumis going on to the eleventh bhumis, they become buddha. Great bodhisattvas do not have all the complete qualities like buddha has, but they have such good qualities with great critical insight and awareness and are free from obscurations. Therefore, we are taking refuge in the Sangha who have those qualities.

When we practice the Dharma, we are called Sangha members. We support each other, help to inspire each other. If we make mistake, we acknowledge our own mistake and limitation. If you acknowledge it, all the confusion dissolves. If you do not acknowledge that and show our arrogance, more conflicts will come and problem will arise. If we respect and support each other, we all can get much benefit from our practices. Being a good example is much more powerful than saying thousand words. You can say so much, but people do not pay too much attention. But if you set good example, people know what you are talking about. This is called Dharma practices. It is not just chanting mantra and closing eyes and meditating, we have to practice and purify our weaknesses every day.

Buddha is like a physician, a medical doctor. Dharma is like medicine and Sangha is like a nurse. The doctor needs to have good qualities to diagnosis the problem. If the doctor is confused, he cannot diagnosis correctly. If the doctor is qualified, any patient comes, the doctor can see clearly the problem. Buddha completely perceived and realized all the qualities of enlightenment and the nature of samsara. He described all the details about samsara. So the patient takes refuge in the doctor and follow the instructions given by the doctor. When we are sick, we take refuge in the medicine and the doctor. The doctor diagnoses the problem and subscribes the medicine. We are taking refuge in the doctor and the medicine. We take the medicine. In the hospital, there are nurses who give medicine to the patients. We follow their instructions and take the medicine accordingly. So buddha is like the doctor. Dharma is the medicine and Sangha is like nurses. Taking the medicine resembles the actual practices. Buddha describes all the outer causes of suffering. We have this kind of suffering because we have this kind of negative karma and obscuration. To free from that, buddha, like a medical doctor, taught all the Dharma teachings, ten virtues and non-virtues, loving kindness and compassion as well as bodhicitta. These are like medicine. Then Sangha members, inspire each other, are like nurses. Practicing Dharma is like actual taking the medicine. Practices like chanting mantra, meditating with mindfulness will reduce our limitation. Doing purification practices and other Dharma practices is called practicing the actual refuge.

We called Buddha, Dharma and Sangha as three jewels. In Sanskrit, the three jewels are called three ratna. These three jewels are most precious, not like ordinary jewels. Historically, there was a powerful jewel called the wish-granting jewel, that is, if one gets that jewel, it grants all things that we desire for. So some great bodhisattvas went to the ocean and talked to the nagas (nagas are servants who lived under the ocean) and gave teachings to them. The nagas, having received such great Dharma teachings, offered such a precious jewel called the wish-fulfilling jewel. When the wish-fulfilling jewel was brought on shore, within thousands of miles from there, people received whatever they wish for. So that wish-fulfilling jewel had such great power.

The wish-fulfilling jewel has the following characteristics.

  1. It is very difficult to find
  2. It is very pure.
  3. It has the ability to grant whatever one desires.
  4. It is the ornament of the whole world.
  5. It is superior to an ordinary jewel.
  6. Its supreme qualities never change.

Likewise, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is like the wish-fulfilling jewel.

  1. If we do not have enough virtue, we cannot hear about Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We have accumulated much merit to have the opportunity to receive the precious Dharma teachings. That opportunity is rare and not everybody has that. There are some planets for many kalpas have no name of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
  2. Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are free from all obscuration – obscuration of the gross like afflicting emotions and all the obscurations of the knowledge. Therefore they are very pure.
  3. Ordinary jewel can only give us wealth, but Buddha, Dharma and Sangha give us the qualities and the ability to completely free from samsara and attain enlightenment. This is what one can wish for.
  4. Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are the cause of the altruistic thoughts. By studying and practicing the Dharma, we can expand our mind as limitless as space. Since it has such great qualities, it is the ornament of the world.
  5. Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are supreme to all sentient beings both in samsara and nirvana. Wherever there is Dharma teachings, there is light and hope to free us completely from delusion and obscuration. That is why they are superior to any other thing.
  6. The supreme qualities of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha never change.

This concludes the teachings on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.



May all sentient beings gain the flavor of supreme victory and ride on omniscience; never turning back;
May all sentient beings gain the flavor of entry into the truth of the nondifference of all Buddhas,
and be able to distinguish all faculties;
May all sentient beings attain increase of the savor of the teaching
and always be able to fulfill the Buddhhas' teaching of nonobstruction.

Last updated on 2002-10-23.