Only when one has taken refuge in the Three Jewels, he has truly entered the School of Buddhism and is called a Buddhist. To me, becoming a Buddhist is the most important decision in our life. Being born into this world, going to school, marrying a wife and being a top scholar etc., will pale against taking refuge in the Three Jewels. After taking refuge in the Buddha, you become the son of the Buddha, the prince of Buddha, and a seed of enlightenment is planted deep in your being which will lead you to the attainment of Buddhahood one day.
Why do we aspire to become a Buddha (the enlightened one)? If we do not attain Buddhahood, we will remain stranded in the Six Realms of Cyclic Existence (Samsara), no matter who you are. Samsara consists of the Three Upper Realms (God, Demi-god, Human) and the Three Lower Reams (Animal, Hell, Hungry Ghost). Even the highest among men like the President or Chairman of a country, or the richest man in the world, are just one of the beings within Samsara. All sentient beings within the Samsara suffer from all the imperfections in life, mental afflictions and the incessant cyclic existence of birth and death. Sakyamuni Buddha said, “This world is an ocean of suffering.” So, regardless of your highest achievement and richest wealth, or poverty as a beggar, you are just a human being who must face the inevitable process of birth, aging, sickness and death; you will not be able to break free from this cyclic existence.
A student asked Sakyamuni Buddha, “How long have we been around in this cyclic existence?” Sakyamuni Buddha said, “Imagine your skeletons accumulated after each death piling up to the peak of Mtn. Sumeru or Mt. Himalaya, which would mean millions of times. However, you do not know it because of the lack of wisdom. You have been living and dying for so long, sometimes you were born a woman, sometimes a cat, sometimes a dog and sometimes a cow….. It has never come to an end." How meaningless! You have never been able to break free from this cyclic existence. Maybe if you did good in your past life, you will be born a richer person who can afford a good meal each time. However, you are still stranded in this cyclic existence. Only when you have taken refuge in the Buddha, you have obtained an opportunity to break free from the Samsara.
The Buddha Dharma is the highest teaching in this world; the rest are considered the Outer Paths. So, after taking refuge in the Buddha, you must not take refuge in the Outer Paths. Another word, after doing your doctorate, you do not go study in the primary or secondary schools. Taking refuge in the Buddha is the most important decision in your life. What do you do after taking refuge? “Do good. Avoid evils.” This is the fundamental behaviour of a Buddhist. You must not behave like an ordinary person who is greedy and do bad things to others; taking refuge will be a meaningless act then as it makes no difference from one who has not taken refuge. If someone has not taken refuge in the Buddha but he is a good person who did many good things, he fares better than those who have taken refuge. Those who have taken refuge in the Buddha should reflect on your own behavior and strive to do better than others. You must strive to eradicate your selfishness and serve others – help the sentient beings.
The teachings of the Buddha Dharma are vast like an ocean. It is impossible for you to learn and practice all in one life. However, we can focus on one teaching and not be over ambitious. What we just did was to focus on doing only one practice. There are many schools of Buddhism including the Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Pure Land, Zen etc. We belong to the Vajrayana. One of my lineage came from True Buddha School. I am a reincarnated master from the Nyingma of Tibetan Buddhism; I was the abbot of a monastery in Qinghai Province in China. When they found me, I was given the lineage of Nyingma. So, my practice is a union of both the True Buddha School and Nyingma.
The highest attainment in the Hinayana is Arahat. Pure Land Buddhism told you that the attainment of Buddhahood is very difficult, that you will need to go through a period of Three Big Kalpas before attaining Buddhahood; there is no such thing as attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime. The Pure Land School teaches the incessant recitation of the name of Amitabha Buddha. When one attains a steady mind through the recitation of the name of Amitabha Buddha, he can be reborn in the Western Blissful Pure Land and start learning the Buddha Dharma there. Why don’t we start learning the Buddha Dharma now? We can do it swifter here. Vajrayana believes in the attainment of Buddhahood in this lifetime because it has a very special method. There are four major sects in Vajrayana including Kagyud, Sakya, Nyingma and Gelug. Gelug belongs to H.H Dalai Lama. Kagyud has H.H Karmapa. Sakya has H.H Sakya Trizin. Nyingma has six branches; we belong to one of the braches called “Dzogchen” (Great Perfection).
The highest attainment in Vajrayana is the practice of “Dzogchen”, the peak of the Nine Paths. There were many patriarchs of Nyingma Dzogchen who attained “rainbow body” when they passed away. They passed away in a sitting posture and their physical bodies transformed into rainbow before disappearing into space. The Dzogchen practice of our school is indeed very inconceivable. Those who followed me to the Shandong Tour this time witnessed the appearance of rainbows wherever we went; it does have a connection with the Dzogchen practice. When you have accomplished the Dzogchen practice, you will attain Buddhahood in this lifetime and rainbows will appear wherever you go. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will follow you. When you accomplish your Dzogchen practice, you are just a living Buddha no different from Sakyamuni Buddha. So, it is important to know that only Refuge can lead us out of the Samsara.
If you ask me, “What is the benefit of leaving the Samsara?” The state of enlightenment is beyond words. It is beyond the comprehension of sentient beings. It is beyond the conceptual thinking of all men. Sakyamuni Buddha said, He could manifest numerous Emanation Bodies to help all the sentient beings in the universe. This is an inconceivable state of enlightenment. Spiritual practice is about getting oneself out of the Samsara first, followed by helping others to get out of the Samsara next. Share with others what you have learnt including the people around you, your kids, your family, your relatives and friends, gradually enlarging the circle to the whole universe and all sentient beings; wishing that they will take refuge in the Buddha and attain Buddhahood one day; transforming this world into a Pure Land is our ultimate aim.
Tonight, after taking refuge, you should do good and avoid evils, practice well for the sake of enlightenment, and share with others your attainment. Although Tantra can help one attain Buddhahood in one lifetime, it is actually not that easy. It requires you to focus fully on doing the practice, which is not easy. If you cannot attain Buddhahood in this lifetime, do it in your next life; if you fail to do so still in your next life, continue to do it in your next three lives, six lives, twelve lives……. One day, you will definitely attain Buddhahood! Anyway, Vajrayana is indeed a swifter path than other schools of Buddhism.
Vajrayana also requires a practitioner to abide by the precepts strictly. Our prayer book contains many important teachings, including the sadhana and precepts. A practitioner cannot transgress the precepts of Dzogchen. We have the Five Precepts, Fourteen Root Downfalls etc. Of course, I do not expect you to be able to abide by all the precepts immediately. You can start by abiding by one, two, three, four, gradually increasing the number. One day, you will naturally be able to abide by all the precepts. There is no immediate success or immediate Buddhahood; it requires a long period of practice. Precept is very important. When Sakyamuni Buddha was about to pass into Nirvana, His students asked, “When you are gone, where can we find our next teacher?” He told his students “Let the precepts be your teacher.” That shows the importance of precept. Everyone should abide by the precepts strictly, do good and avoid evils, and help others.
One more point. Vajrayana brothers and sisters are closer than our family members. Our existence spans across numerous lifetimes. When you pass away from this life, you will not recognize those people whom you are associated with in this life when you make a return in your next life. You will not even know where they have gone in their next lives. Your connection with them only lasts one lifetime. However, the connection among Vajrayana brothers and sisters will last forever. Once you have taken refuge in me, our connection will never end; you will follow me life after life to do your practice. This is a very profound affinity. Like the saying goes, “A teacher for one day will be one’s father for an entire lifetime.” “Father”, in our context, does not refer to a relationship that only lasts one lifetime; it refers to an eternal relationship. And you are eternal Vajrayana brothers and sisters. So, you must treat one another closer than your own family members. You will all come with me to the Blissful Pure Land in future.
A Dharma Discourse Given By Acho Rinpoche on 5 May 2013, in Shandong Province, China for seven Shandong students who just took refuge in Acho Rinpoche.