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Going for Refuge - Questions and Answers Women-s Pre-ordination Retreat 1986

by Sangharakshita


'GOING FOR REFUGE' (Lecture given in Bombay in 1981)
Present: Sangharakshita, Ashokasri, Vidyasri, Sanghadevi, Varabhadri,
one. But you could say all the five Buddhas - all Buddhas whatsoever - in a
Vajragita, Christine Robertson, Tertu, Carla Remyn, Kathryn Boon, Pat
sense are Adi-Buddhas; that is to say, the archetypal Buddhas are Adi-Buddhas.
They don't arise in time, they've no beginning, in fact; they are aspects, so to
speak, to use that term, of something which transcends time, something which
Tape 1, Side 1 (marked as tape 2 on the tapes!)
transcends time and transcends space.
Sangharakshita: Yes. All right, first question:
But, in a way, Adi-Buddha is sometimes regarded as somehow going further than
the Five Buddhas; I suppose because if you have five Buddhas, you've got
Can you say something about Adi-Buddhas? How did they develop in
diversity, you've got multiplicity, and perhaps on the highest level of all there
relation to the Five-Buddha Mandala?
isn't that multiplicity - not as a real multiplicity, not as a real difference. And so
Adi-Buddha then seems to represent that; even though, as I have said, all the
Adi-Buddha seems to be a distinctively Tantric or Vajrayanic conception. Adi
archetypal Buddhas really are Adi-Buddhas. You could say that Adi-Buddha is
means primeval - or not so much primeval, primordial; or from the beginning.
an aspect of the Dharmakaya, the Dharmakaya being one.
So an Adi-Buddha is a Buddha existing from the beginning. But actually, of
course, it has nothing to do with beginning. 'Existing from the beginning' means
But on the whole perhaps it's best to say simply that the term Adi-Buddha draws
beginningless, because there's no beginning, no absolute first beginning. So it's
attention to the fact of the timelessness of Buddhahood; that it is something
generally considered, or generally understood, that the term Adi-Buddha draws
which exists, so to speak, from the beginning, in other words exists beyond time
attention to the fact that Buddhahood transcends time.
and beyond space.
How did Adi-Buddhas develop in relation to the Five-Buddha Mandala? That's
Carla: But do you have specific ones like Vajrasattva and Samantabhadra? Are
not easy to say, except that it seems that the Adi-Buddha concept was quite a late
there any more like that? .............

S: ... considering Vajrasattva and Samantabhadra as Adi-Buddhas - yes, because
One attains Enlightenment in time, so to speak, whereas the other is eternally
if you have recourse to iconography you have to give a distinctive form and
Enlightened, and there is no question of attainment.
shape. In a sense you could say the Adi-Buddha has no form, has no shape, but
none the less if you want to represent a scheme of iconography you've got to give
Ashokasri: Perhaps I'm being stupid, but I still can't quite see the difference
some form. Sometimes the Adi-Buddha, like the Dharmakaya Buddha, when
between Vajrasattva as an archetypal Buddha, coming through the samboghakaya
represented iconographically, is represented completely nude, to suggest its
, and Vajrasattva as an Adi-Buddha, coming ......
absoluteness. Strictly speaking, there shouldn't be a representation of the
Adi-Buddha, I suppose, but there are such representations.
S: Ah, you're probably getting mixed up on account of the fact that Vajrasattva
has a Bodhisattva form; so in one sense, in respect of his form, yes, he's a
Vidyasri: Well, that's what I was thinking when you said in a way it's an aspect
Bodhisattva, he belongs to a particular family, but in another sense he is not
of the Dharmakaya. I thought that the Dharmakaya couldn't be represented, so
really a Bodhisattva at all, he's a Buddha, he's the Buddha, he's even the
how can you say it's an aspect if it is represented?
Adi-Buddha, and as such doesn't belong to any particular family, transcends the
distinction of families. You find lots of Bodhisattva and Buddha figures have
S: Well, you could say that Buddhahood can't be represented at all. Amitabha
that dual aspect. On the one hand, they have a comparatively relative or limited
can't be represented, and so on. But none the less we do have representations.
place in a particular mandala or particular family; on the other hand, they have
I suppose there can be as many representations as there are ways of thinking
no limitations at all. They can be considered under a limited Bodhisattva aspect
about Buddhas and so on, thinking about Buddhahood. Really, they are beyond
as belonging to a family, or they can be considered as representing or embodying
thought. If you think about them at all, you can imagine them as having different
Buddhahood as such, beyond all distinctions of family.
forms and colours and attributes, and you can represent them in that way.
Again the difficulty arises when we think too literalistically. We think there
I suppose you could also make a sort of contrast between the archetypal Buddhas
definitely are five Buddhas, particular figures, either he [is] definitely a
who, as I said, in a sense are Adi-Buddhas and the historical Buddhas like
Bodhisattva or he's definitely an Adi-Buddha. But it's not really like that at all.
Sakyamuni, who are not Adi-Buddhas, in the sense that to outward appearances
It's like that only provisionally or for certain purposes or certain practices.
at least they attained Buddhahood in time; whereas the Dharmakaya at least is
eternally Enlightened. I say, the Dharmakaya at least, because with regard, say,
Ashokasri: I wasn't particularly thinking it was to do with just Vajrasattva, but
to Amitabha there is a sort of legend according to which he was once upon a time
- from the samboghakaya they're beyond time, so why have this distinction of an
the bhikshu Dharm kara, which means that he was once upon a time not
Adi-Buddha, who is beyond time but isn't from the samboghakaya ? ......
Enlightened, and therefore that he attained Enlightenment. But here you get a
curious sort of overlap between the historical and the archetypal.
S: Again, it's literalism, because in the case of the Adi-Buddha, the fact that
Buddhahood is beyond time is drawn out, so to speak, and embodied in a
But certainly as between the human Buddha like Sakyamuni and an archetypal
particular figure. It's just the same with all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas,
Buddha, usually, and also of course the Dharmakaya, there is that difference.
because is wisdom limited to Manjughosa? Is compassion limited to

Avalokitesvara? So in the same way, is timelessness limited to the Adi-Buddha,
even though you've got a particular Buddha, so to speak, for that particular
quality or that particular aspect?
But the short answer to the question is that Adi-Buddha means primordial
Buddha, and he stands for the timelessness of Enlightenment.
Ashokasri: Yes, but I was thinking that timelessness was a quality of - of the
archetypal realm.
Anyway, with question 2 we come down to earth.
S: Well, I think one must be clear what one means by the archetypal realm,
On page 10 of the booklet "Going for Refuge" , you say that out of the
because, as I explained the other day, in a way archetypes have got two aspects;
depth of his gratitude such a person would Go for Refuge. It would seem
inasmuch as - let's say you have an archetypal realm in the sense of the rupaloka,
that gratitude is an important factor in one's ability to Go for Refuge.
but the archetypes of that realm can be informed, or not informed, by a
In our culture, our response to being taught is often coloured by feelings
Transcendental content. As not informed by a Transcendental content, they are
of lack of confidence or that someone is being authoritarian.
within time, because the rupaloka belongs to the samsara; but as informed by a
Transcendental content, they do not belong to the samsara , they are so to speak
- something crossed out there -
Transcendental. So they exist, or can exist, under that sort of double aspect. So
an archetype not informed by the Transcendental is subject to time; an archetype
Do you think that if we find it difficult to experience this quality of
informed by the Transcendental but is filled by the Transcendental is not subject
gratitude, this is one of the factors which hinder our ability to Go for
to time.
Refuge wholeheartedly? What factors are involved in developing
Sanghadevi: ...

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