ChiSing: Thank you, dear friends, for your practice tonight so far. Tashi and I will give a short dharma talk. I will start by sharing a little bit on the three refuges and five mindfulness trainings. I would also like to see if there are any questions from anyone in the room. Maybe the new people might have some questions. You can also feel free to ask right now or sometime later. Don't be shy.
So, I remember the first time that I took refuge in a formal way. It was at a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in Santa Barbara, California. I believe it was 1998. I have been to different spiritual ceremonies before, and what was interesting about this particular ceremony of taking refuge was that I actually felt a very powerful sense of support from the universe. It felt very sacred to me, and it felt very supportive. It was as if there was actually real tangible spiritual energy that was being transmitted in the ceremony down from many, many centuries of practitioners all the way to the present moment.
So, to me, it is not just a ceremony, and it is not just a ritual. There is something very real to it, something very tangibly real. Whether you feel it or not, I do believe that there is something tangibly real that is being transmitted, all the love and support and encouragement of all of our enlightened teachers and enlightened beings throughout the centuries of practitioners who have carried forward this practice all the way to the present. So we can feel that energy of support. So if you are contemplating the possibility of taking refuge in these three jewels, I highly recommend it.
And when we practice in the five mindfulness trainings, in my tradition we usually have them together; the three refuges and the five mindfulness trainings come together. That is not always the case in the other traditions. For example in Tashi's tradition, you can do them separately. But in my tradition, the reason why we also have the five mindfulness trainings along with the three refuge ceremony is to remind us that when we take refuge in enlightened teachers and take refuge in the teachings and practices that are offered to us, and as we take refuge in the community of practitioners who support us as a community—that this is expressed, it is embodied and manifest in these five basic practices of nonviolence and reverence for life, generosity and non-greed, sexual responsibility, deep listening and loving speech, and also healthy consumption.
So as we continue to practice the refuges and allow the refuge is to transform our lives, we will start seeing how it also transforms us in these five areas. So I might share some more little bit later, but I would like to ask Tashi to speak for a little bit now.
Tashi: Good evening.
Audience: Good evening.
Tashi: Taking refuge is wonderful. I fully agree with Brother ChiSing. It is very powerful. And because of this, when we are feeling very powerful, it should be entered mindfully with awareness and should be understood. Taking refuge in the three jewels is not coming to some external source. It is not coming to a being called a Buddha, a doctrine called a dharma, and a group of practitioners called a sangha and asking them for perfection.
In fact, when we actually do the ceremony, in the Jonang lineage, we are very explicit about who is the Buddha, what is the dharma, what is the sangha, and you'll hear me say as part of the ritual, "The Buddha is non-dual wisdom. The Buddha is a body of truth. The Buddha is a teacher. The Buddha is your own pure mind." You'll hear me say about the dharma, "The dharma is inseparable in qualities. The dharma is the body of glory. The dharma is divinity. The dharma is your own pure speech." And you will hear me say about the sangha, or the community, "The sangha is inconceivable activity. The sangha is the body of compassion. The sangha is the perfector. The sangha is your own pure body."
So in our lineage, we understand that we are not going outside ourselves for perfection, but rather inside for perfection. All external perfection can fail you. Actually, if you are under a ledge, the ledge may fall on you. But if your perfection is within, then it always goes with you.
As Brother ChiSing said, it is something to give refuge and five precepts—you call them mindfulness trainings—together. In the Jonang lineage, we do not. Now, difference is not opposition. Difference is just different. And the reason we do it separately is because when you take refuge, you actually take six vow sof refuge. I would like you to know what those are if you are interested in them. And the reason we give them separately is not to minimize the importance of the six vows of refuge and not to throw away some attention from the five precepts, which are also very important. Again, it difference is not opposition. It is just difference.
So, what are the vows that we take when we take refuge? We take two vows in remembrance of the Buddha, remembering who the Buddha is, right? Your own primordial wisdom. So we vow to honor the Buddha as our primary teacher and respect all representations of the Buddhas and holy ones. Those are the two vows in reference to the Buddha.
In reference to the dharma, the dharma is your own pure speech. Your speech is also energy. I vow to follow the dharma of my primary path and respect all the dharma texts and teachings. And then respect to the sangha. We take these two vows: I vow to seek the association of fellow dharma practitioners and avoid intimate connection with those who are hostile to the dharma. If you are ever near a maternal figure, whether your mother or somebody else—you know what I mean—anybody of whom you would say, "She is such a mom"—don't they always warn you about hanging out with the wrong kind of people, and they encourage you to hang out with the right kind of people?
Well, that is basically what we are doing here, but we are taking that vow ourselves, that we will see out the association and avoid intimate connection—not regular connection. It is unavoidable. Intimate connection with those who are hostile to the dharma. Now, hostile to the dharma does not mean that they are not Buddhists. Hostile to the dharma means that they actually oppose your spiritual cultivation, that they seek to deter you from your meditation, from your practice. They seek to deter you from love and compassion. I trust and pray that you don't know many people like that, but if you do, the advice from the Buddha is to keep your distance from such people.
All right. So, now that you know a little bit more about what it entails, if you are interested in taking refuge, by all means come forward. One of the beauties of Buddhism is you can actually give back your vows. Did you know that? You know, a central teaching of Buddhism is anitya. Anitya means impermanence. So everything changes, and we acknowledge that, so if you choose to make vows, you can always give them back, but please know that it is better to give back a vow then to break it. It is like when you make a promise to a friend, right? If you can't keep it, it is better that you tell them that you won't be able to keep it than just break it, right? Same thing.
Remember the vows you are making fundamentally to your own self, to your own Buddha nature, to your own enlightened essence. And I would submit that it is better to keep the vows even to yourself than to break them. So that is all I am going to say right now, and I need to do some preparation prayers, so if you have anything else to add.
ChiSing: Yeah. Well, we have five minutes. Any other dharma sharing? Are there questions or comments about our practice in any way?
Female: I have a comment about taking the mindfulness trainings or the precepts. I was fortunate to receive them from Thich Nhat Hanh two years ago, and one of the senior monks was explaining to us just as our teachers are explaining now, and he said to me, "You do not have to take them all in one session."
He said, "If you do not really feel in your heart that you are ready to take this certain one yet, that is fine. Take the ones you really feel you are ready to commit to, and I promise you the one you didn't take will continue to kind of render in your thoughts, and you will get better awareness of it, and shall decide, well, maybe I do want to become vegetarian or whatever that your stumbling block is in that precept." So that made it possible to stand up with complete integrity and take the three that I was ready to take. It has been very helpful.
ChiSing: Thank you. So, others, please feel free to share. Yes?
Female: So this can be done in addition to the religion that one already has, right? Because we are not—like she was saying, not giving up one thing. You are just taking refuge in the Buddha.
ChiSing: Yes, for the most part. If you have a faith tradition that you are already established in, taking refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha can be in addition to it for you. Yes. Unless your religion is very opposed in some way to the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. But yes, it is possible to have dual affiliation. In my opinion, Buddha and Jesus, for example, are buddies. They are friends. Any more sharing? For those who have taken refuge and maybe the five mindfulness trainings, how has that been going for you? Yes?
Female: I think it just opened up another spiritual energy. You know, talking about people that might be opposed to one's spiritual path, I definitely have found who is in support and who is not. So, it kind of focused my practice a little more.
ChiSing: Since we are having the ceremony tonight, we will not have our usual discussion and sharing, so this is the time if you want to say something, please. Anybody else? All right. Well, during the ceremony you can take refuge for the first time. That is what I will offer. And then after that, we will just do a general blessing for everyone who wants to renew their vows or commitment. And we have a white scarf, khata, to give to everyone who takes refuge for the first time today, and for those who are renewing, I have some lotus flowers to give you. And for those who just want to be blessed, I will give you a little diamond to remind you of the jewel of your true nature.
So, anyway, everyone can be blessed today, whether you are taking refuge or not. So now let Tashi explain what we're going to do...