The six commitments of the family of Buddha Vairochana
The practice of the six commitments of the family of Buddha Vairochana function primarily to create the karmic causes to attain the form body of a Buddha. The form body of a Buddha is a conventionally physical force that, while existing outside of samsara, nonetheless operates within it in a way that is perfectly consistent with virtue. Its function is to provide a living example of how one acts in a way consistent with the Dharma and to provide living beings with whatever they need to enter, progress along and complete the path to enlightenment.
It is a mistake to conceive of the form body of a Buddha as somehow confined to the physical body of a single human being. It is something much, much larger. It is informative to use Geshe-la as an example. Conventionally, we can say that Geshe-la’s body in this world is that of an aging Tibetan monk. His speech in this world is the words that come out of his mouth and through his written words. His mind is what is inside his body thinking about the rest of the world. From one perspective, this is completely correct. But from a deeper perspective, we can say his larger body in this world is all of our bodies when we try put into practice his teachings with our body, his larger speech in this world is all of our speech when we try say things consistent with what he has taught us, and his larger mind is all of our own thinking to the extent that it has been influenced by his teachings. After he passes away, this larger body will continue to exist, grow and function in this world. Conventionally, we will say that he has died, but in a deeper sense he will live on in a different form. We are, even now, part of his body, speech and mind in this world. Christians have a similar concept of the living Christ. This is no different than the ways in which our loved ones “live on” through us when we carry forward and embody that which they have transmitted to us. By extension, we can understand the living Buddha’s form body in this world by seeing the evolution and development of Buddhism in this world, in all of its myriad forms, of which the Kadampa tradition is merely one part.
From a Tantric perspective, Buddha’s form body is not something that is somehow limited to just the things we would conventionally call “Buddhist.” But we can literally “inject” Buddha’s body, speech and mind into everything that appears to our mind. Whether the world we inhabit is samsara or the pure land, in the final analysis, depends entirely upon our own mental choices. One of the unique qualities of a Buddha is wherever you imagine them, they actually go; and wherever they go, they accomplish their function, which is namely to ripen and liberate living beings. If I view my boss as an emanation, he will function for me as an emanation. From his own side, he may see himself in a different way, but his view of himself does not limit in any way my view of him. He can, for me, function as an emanation. The same is true for everything we encounter, every physical form we come in contact with, every sound we hear, every idea or thought expressed. Everything can be viewed – validly – as the body, speech and mind of Buddha in this world. With such recognitions, we will experience our living reality as everything being the unfolding of enlightenment in this world.
The first three commitments of the family of Buddha Vairochana are to go for refuge to Buddha, to go for refuge to Dharma and to go for refuge to Sangha. In this post, I will explain in general what it means to go for refuge, and in the subsequent posts I will describe what it means for each one.
When people first encounter Buddhism and they hear the phrase “go for refuge” it sounds quite strange, almost cult-like. But the true meaning is actually something very practical. When you have a legal problem, you turn to a lawyer for help; when you have a dental problem, you turn to a dentist for help; when you have a delusion problem, you turn to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. It starts with the recognition of the nature of our problem, then transitions into an appreciation of how these three can help us with our problem, and it ends with our applying effort to change our own mind and behavior. The Three Jewels cannot help us fix our car, but they can help us have a better attitude about it breaking down. The Three Jewels cannot solve our legal or financial problems, but they can help us transform such problems into the path to enlightenment. As Buddhists we rely upon external help for our external problems just like everybody else, but we also rely upon the Three Jewels for our internal problem of our unhappy, negative, deluded states of mind. We have two different types of problem (external and internal) and therefore two different types of solution (external and internal). Our going for refuge to the three jewels is simply our turning towards them to solve our internal problem.