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Transcribing the oral tradition...
Candradasa, FBA Team
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
Kamalashila, Catalunya, Spain
Vajradarshini, Valderrobres, Spain
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
Sravaniya, Boston, USA
Viriyalila, Portsmouth, USA
Suvarnagarbha, Cambridge, UK
You can also listen to this talk.
... is n ot alwa ys taken v ery serio usly. I kno w that in India for instance, when there are pu blic m eetings, e ven m ass me etings, with various political figures on the platform and where there's a mainly non-Buddhist audience, some people still insist on giving the Refuges and getting everybody to recite them even though it has no significance. It's just recited as a sort of cha nt. Bu t this is really an abuse of the tradition.
In the Tantric Buddhism of Tibet on the contrary we find, not only that the Refuges are taken very seriously, but they're treated as an important spiritual practice in their own right, and this is how they come to figure, or the Go ing For R efuge and P rostration com es to figure in the Four M ula Yo gas.
Now as practised as the first of the M ula Yo gas as they are in the G oing Fo r Refuge and Prostration, three main elements and these are a visualisatio n, a rec itation an d the p rostration. An d these three m ain elem ents correspond to bo dy, spe ech a nd m ind. Y ou m ight have noticed in the course of the last few lectures, and even lectures which I've give n on o ther asp ects of B udd hism, that in Buddhism there's a constant reference to the distinc tion be tween bod y, speech and mind . Just as say the Christian tradition speaks of body, soul and spirit, in the same way the whole Buddhist tradition, not only that of Tibet, speaks of body, speech and mind. It's not just body, speech and mind in the literal sense, but we haven't got time to go in to that this evening. But these thre e, how soev er on e und erstand s them, ar e taken as exhausting the whole content of human, for want of a better word we call human personality. If we take our body, our speech and our mind, we've got us as it were. These are our three principal aspects, our three principal modes of functioning: the physical, the comm unicative, and the m ental or spiritual. So in any co mple te pra ctice, an y com plete spiritual practice, all three must be provided for. A nd this is why in the Going For Refuge and Prostration Practice there are these three elements: visualisation, which is something done by the mind, it's a sort of meditation, recitation, which is done by the speech, and prostration, which is done by the body. And in this way the w hole b eing, the whole perso nality, is involv ed.
Th is is one of the basic points of the Tantra, that it isn't enough to do something mentally, you've got to do it verb ally, you've got to d o it physic ally. Th e who le bein g, the wh ole p erson ality has got to be involved.
And this is, as I say, one of the main characteristics, one of the principal features, one of the dominant features, of all T antric p ractice .
Now first, the visualisation. So what is it a visualisation o f, this mental side, this mental element, in the Going For Refuge and the Prostration? This is the visualisation of what is known as The Refuge Tree. Now I'm sure you've all heard of the Refuges, but I don't suppose many of you have heard of a Refuge Tree, but this is what has to be visualised, a Refuge Tree. So what does a Refuge Tree look like? Because obviously if you don 't know what it looks like you can 't visualise it very easily. So I'm going to try to de scribe this, and I'm go ing to as k you n ot to so much fo llow m y word s as to try to sort of b uild up the picture within your o wn minds o f what the R efuge T ree lo oks like .
So you have to visualise first of all an enormous lotus flower, in fact a whole lotus plant. It has to be enormo usly big, as big as a great oak or a great elm, which is very, very big indeed. And there's one great thick central stem to this lotus and there are four as it were branches, rising out of the central stem, in the direction of the four cardinal points, north, south, east and west. So you've got the great central stem in the middle, and th en at the four ca rdina l points yo u've go t the four b ranch es. An d eac h of these five, that is to say, the central stem and each of the four branches, terminates in a gigantic lotus blossom, so that there are five flowers in all. So th is is what you have to visualise first of all, this enormous Refuge Tree, this great plant w ith these five enor mou s bloss oms .
Now when you've got that firm ly in your m ind, wh en you can se e that quite clea rly, then you direct your attention to the central lotus. And you should see, at the calyx of the flower, you should see the rows upon rows, the layers upo n layers o f petals, fo lded back , and the n right in the centre, as it were sitting on or in the calyx of that centr al lotus, one should visualise the founder of the tradition of practice, the tradition of Ta ntric practice, that is to say, to which one belongs. For the Nyingmap as of co urse this is Padmasambhava. For the K agyupas it's M ilarepa. For the G elugpas it's Tsongkapa and so on. B ut one visualises this figure, the founder of one's own particular tradition of Ta ntric practice, firm ly seated , right in the mid dle o f the calyx o f that centra l lotus.
So one visualises clearly, and not only visualises, but one thinks of that central figure seated there as b eing the embodiment of all the Buddhas, all spiritual perfections, all enlightenment, all wisdom, all compassion, all peace, all perfection, all concentrated in that figure, that is the sup reme emb odim ent, as it were, of o ne's highest spiritual ideal in all possible aspects, in all possible manifestations. So this is the next stage.
Then you go a little further. And you notice that the lotus has many tiers of petals, sort of folding back, more like a chrysanthemum than a lotus, but obv iously there are difficulties of representation. And then you visualise, underneath the figure of Padmasambhava or Milarepa, as the case may be, you visualise, one on top of the other as it were, one's other lamas or one's other gurus, terminating in one's own personal guru, and then above him but still below say Padmasambhava or Milarepa other gurus of the line, or other maste rs from whom one h as received instructio n, and so on .
And then lower down still one visualises, still in line with that central lotus, one visualises what are known as the four orders of Tantric deities: Buddhas ,Bodhisattvas, peaceful and wrathful, and so on, in other words, the deities of the four Tantras, the four classes of Tantra. And then lastly underneath them one visualises the da kinis and the dh arma palas .
Now you m ight be wond ering, what is this all ab out? And why do es one visualise in this way? It's pretty obvious why on e visualise s the founder of the lineage of Tantric spiritual practice, whether Padma sambhava or Milarepa, but why these others? Why the lama s? W hy the fou r ord ers of T antric deities? W hy the dakinis and dhar map alas? W ell these re prese nt the T antric o r Va jrayan ic, that is to say, the esoter ic aspe ct of the Three Refuges themselves. There are three exoteric Refuges, there are three esote ric Refuges and there are also three secret Refuges and three suchness Refuges. I think this is new grou nd to most peo ple, b ut this evening we are go ing on ly so far as th e three esoter ic Refuges.
The three exoteric Refuges are of course the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The three eso teric counterp arts of these are first of all the Guru, who is the esoteric counterpart of the Buddha, then the deities of the pa th, which are so rt of arch etypal embodiments or symbols of spiritual experiences which are the esote ric aspects of the Dharma, and then the dakas and dakinis and dharmapa las, which represent the persons or even the sp iritual forces, if you like the occu lt forces in the co mpa ny of wh ich, or w ith the help of which one practises and follows the Path and they represent the esoteric aspect of the Sangha.
So in other word s it mean s that in line w ith that cen tral lotus yo u've go t the symb ols of the esoteric aspec ts of the three Refuges. Sitting on the calyx of the centra l lotus flower first of all you've got the founder of the who le line of Tantric practice and underneath him (in order) the esoteric, or rather the symbol of the esote ric aspect of the Buddha Refuge, the symbols of the esoteric aspect of the Dharma Refuge, symbols of the esoteric aspect of the Sangha Refuge. So in this way you've got your esoteric three Refuges lined up vertica lly underneath that cen tral figure o n the ce ntral, or o n the ca lyx of the c entral lo tus blo ssom .
Right, having dealt with the first lotus, let us go on to the other lotus blossoms. You'll remember that there's one lotus blossom right in front, which is the southern one as it were. Well on that you've got Sakya muni, the human, historical B uddha , with other historical Bud dhas, usually there are just thre e, with the Budd ha of the past, Dipankara, to the left, and the Buddha of the future, Maitreya, on the right. So therefore, on the lotus blossom to the south as it were you have these representatives of the human and historical Bud dhas.
Then on the lotus to the left, that is the left o f onese lf, there are the Bodhisattvas, usually the eight principal or ten prin cipal B odh isattvas. A nd the y repre sent the S angha, the sp iritual community, in the purely M ahaya nistic sense . And they includ e, say, Av alokite svara, M anjusri, and so on.
Then the rear lotus, o r the lotus to the no rth beh ind the centra l lotus, on e sees a heap of sacred b ook s. And this of co urse re prese nts the D harm a, the sac red sc ripture s.
And then o n the lotu s to the right, the eas tern lotus as one m ay say, one sees an asse mblage of Arhants, those who'v e gaine d enlightenment or liberation for themselves alone. And they constitute the Sangha, the spiritual community, in the Hinayana sense. ...