The author of “The Quiet Path”, Xi-a-rong-bo Khenpo, mentioned about taking refuge in this book. He said, some people thought that it is suffice to just have the Buddha in their hearts and that taking refuge is unnecessary. Actually, of course it is best to have the Buddha in one’s heart but it will not be suffice for one to be just complacent about the accumulation of merits in his past lives. Taking refuge in the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) is the only means to help us break free from the Six Realms of Cyclic Existence. Without refuge, we will be helplessly drowned in the ocean of samsara. So, it is insufficient to just bear the Buddha in mind. One should seek an enlightened master and take refuge in him, and obtain the lineage of transmission. He said, some of the practices have the pre-requisite of a lineage of transmission. If you do not take refuge, you will not be able to obtain the lineage of empowerment. You will not be able to obtain the lineage of empowerment regardless of how rigorous you do the practice because you have not acted according to the teaching. So, taking refuge is very important.
Master Atisha was a highly revered Buddhist Master in India and Tibet. He was one of the spiritual leaders in the early stage of establishment of Buddhism in Tibet. He stressed the importance of taking refuge and made it a point to expound the teaching in every assembly during his time in Tibet. He was thus being addressed as the “Refuge Pandita”. He considered taking refuge the most important practice. If an accomplished master like Atisha took it so seriously, one can guess the true importance of this teaching.
Without taking refuge, it will be very difficult for you to practice accordingly. He also said that one must go through the proper ritual of taking refuge before a qualified master in order to obtain the “body of refuge”. This is the right method of taking refuge in the Dharma. Without taking refuge, a person who offers incense and prostrates before a Buddha, or recites a sutra, cannot be regarded as a real Buddhist. He said, only one who has taken refuge is considered a true Buddhist. Especially in Vajrayana Buddhism, the lineage of transmission is very crucial.
He said, when you have decided to take the practice seriously, you must keep an open mind and learn, without your own opinions, from the Buddha. You will not be able to break free from the cyclic existence without learning from the Buddha. So, you should express your determination before a lineage of transmission that “I must attain Buddhahood! I must attain enlightenment!” and learn from the master of that lineage. However, taking refuge is not ordination. Sakyamuni Buddha transmitted the teaching of taking refuge in order to bring a person into the Dharma, enabling him to start walking the path of enlightenment. It does not require the person to become a monk or nun. He can practice as a layman Buddhist, at home. Both a layman Buddhist and an ordained practitioner can practice the Dharma and they stand an equal chance of attaining enlightenment.
It is important for you to obtain a refuge certificate and a spiritual name but it will be even more important for you to revere your Vajra Master and the Three Jewels, have full faith in them and obey them. You must never betray your Vajra Master and the Three Jewels in the face of great adversity, even at the risk of losing your life. There is nothing more valuable and important than taking refuge in a qualified master and the Three Jewels in this world. Taking refuge and learning the Dharma are the most important thing that you have done in this life.
All the teachings transmitted by Sakyamuni Buddha are spiritual jewels. The Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana give the same advice on taking refuge. The different schools of Buddhism are a result of the different methods taught by the Buddha for the different target audience, tailoring the methods to their different needs. All methods will ultimately lead the practitioners towards the path of enlightenment. There is no other way. So, we should not criticize any method for being the wrong one.
“Sangha” refers to the spiritual friends on the path of enlightenment. You must not take refuge in any Outer School (as opposed to the Inner School of Buddhism). According to Hinayana, four monks can form a Sangha (spiritual community). According to Mahayana, a practitioner who has attained the state of emptiness is a qualified Sangha, regardless of whether he is a layman Buddhist or an ordained Buddhist. Sangha is a source of refuge. In Vajrayana Buddhism, a Tulku or re-incarnated Rinpoche who is a layman Buddhist can be your source of refuge too.
After taking refuge in Buddhism, a student must observe the precepts. First, he must maintain a strong faith in the Vajra Master and the Three Jewels. No matter what happens, he must revere his Vajra Master and the Three Jewels. Second, he must place all the Buddha images, monk robes and Buddhist literatures at clean places and not simply place them anywhere or walk over them (which are acts of transgression). Third, a Vajra Master and the Three Jewels are the only sources of refuge; he must not take refuge in other parties.
Also, he said that we should feel sorry for the animals being killed for food in the market. A Buddhist should develop a sense of compassion towards all sentient beings and aspire to help them. Vajrayana Buddhism encourages vegetarianism. After taking refuge, it will be better if a practitioner can become a vegetarian. If he cannot do so due to health, work or other reason, he should at least refrain from killing live animals including fish, prawn etc. If he must continue to eat meat, he should just eat only three types of “Clean Meats”. Meat eating will create bad karma. Although eating three types of “Clean Meat” will also create bad karma, it is slightly better than directly killing the animals for food.
Many people mistaken that Vajrayana Buddhism allows meat eating, while Mahayana Buddhism widely practiced in China disallows meat eating. Actually, all schools of Buddhism including Mahayana, Hinayana and Vajrayana encourage vegetarianism. Nowadays, H.H Dalai Lama and H.H Karmapa are encouraging all Buddhists to embrace vegetarianism. Almost all Tibetan monks are vegetarians now, including the author himself who said a Vajrayanist must be a vegetarian.
A Dharma Discourse given by Acho Rinpoche on 16 Aug 2013