Happy Tsog Day: How to Go for refuge

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 2 of a 44-part series.

Before we engage in any Dharma practice, we must first prepare our mind. We first prepare a shrine and our meditation seat, and then sit in the traditional posture. The most important thing is to maintain a straight back. We then turn our mind inwards. Since normally our mind is completely absorbed in the things we normally see and perceive, we need to first dispel all distractions. First, we can engage in some gentle breathing meditation, imagining that all our distractions and delusions are expelled from our mind in the form of black smoke, and we breathe in the blessings of our spiritual guide in the form of five-coloured wisdom lights representing the five omniscient wisdoms.

Once we have done this for a few breaths, we can then engage in a brief Mahamudra meditation on the nature of our mind. Geshe-la explains that our mind is by nature clarity and cognizing. Clarity means that our mind itself is formless. Because it is formless, it can cognize – or know – any form. If our mind had a form, then all objects known to our mind would also possess that form. Practically speaking, when we meditate on the conventional nature of our mind, we feel as if all our normal, ordinary thoughts dissolve away, like clouds back into the sky, and we are left with an infinite expanse of clear light that is a universal field of knowing. Nothing appears but the clear light, but we see this clear light as an all-pervasive field of knowing. It is like a three-dimensional blank canvas upon which any thought can be generated and known. We should feel as if our gross conceptual thoughts have completely ceased and our mind becomes completely still. We then rest in this inner stillness where everything is completely calm.

We can then generate the causes of going for refuge – namely fear and faith. Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that we should generate a fear of samsaric rebirth like we would if we were trapped in a circle of fire. Normally we do not like generating fear and we jump straight to faith, but this is a mistake. It is primarily because we do not have a genuine, heart-felt fear that our refuge – even after so many years of dedicated practice – remains superficial and intellectual. Only when we are truly gripped by genuine fear will our refuge be qualified. Geshe-la explains that the root cause of samsara is we identify with our ordinary body and mind as if it were ourselves. In short, we remain in samsara because we identify with it as ourselves. We are like a fly on flypaper – stuck to samsara. I imagine that I am standing on top of small island surrounded by a vast molten ocean of lava and fires, in which countless hell beings are drowning. I am quite literally trapped in a circle of fire. On this island are those close to me – such as my family and work colleagues – and all living beings in this world in the aspect of human beings. The island is made of crumbling sand that is rapidly sinking into the molten ocean of samsara, gradually taking everyone I know and love into the fires of hell. Inside the ocean of fire, we can occasionally see sea monsters of the Lord of Death rising up, capturing those who have fallen off of the island, dragging them down into the depths of hell below. Myself, my family, my work colleagues, and everyone else is similarly stuck onto samsara, like flies on flypaper, and we are all sinking. It is important to remember that this is not a metaphor, this is our actual situation. We are stuck on to the island of our human bodies, sinking rapidly into the circle of fire surrounding us, swallowed up by the sea monsters of the Lord of Death, dragged down into the abyss where we may not re-emerge for countless aeons. We should let this fear touch our heart.

Then, to generate faith, we can imagine our root Guru in the aspect of Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang appears in the space in front of us, surrounded by all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the three times. They have come, like helicopters, to rescue us before we sink into the fires of hell. All we need to do is let go of our grasping at samsara and grab onto the hook of our Guru’s compassion, and he will bring us to the pure land. How do we let go of samsara? Through the practice of the three higher trainings – moral discipline, concentration, and wisdom. With moral discipline, we let go of all behaviour “I”nconsistent with the Dharma. With concentration, we let go of distractions thinking about samsara. And with wisdom, we let go of grasping at identifying with samsara. Why do we let go of samsara? Because we do not want to sink ourselves and because we want to become a helicopter-like Buddha ourselves so we can extend the hook of our compassion to those we love just as our spiritual guide has done for us. With this mind of fear and faith, we then go for refuge according to the Sadhana.

With a perfectly pure mind of great virtue,
I and all mother sentient beings as extensive as space,
From now until we reach the essence of enlightenment,
Go for refuge to the Guru and Three Precious Jewels.

Namo Gurubhä
Namo Buddhaya
Namo Dharmaya
Namo Sanghaya  (3x)

A perfectly pure mind of great virtue refers to our minds of fear and faith as described above. With the second line, we recall ourselves and all living beings trapped in the circle of fire, sinking into samsara. With the third line we recall the final destination of our spiritual training is to bring ourself and all living beings into the clear light Dharmakaya, or Truth Body, of all the Buddhas. To go for refuge – the fourth line – we promise to make effort to receive Buddha’s blessings, turn to Sangha for help, and practice Dharma. For our refuge practice to be qualified, we need to have a very clear understanding of what, exactly, is our problem. Normally, we blame our external circumstances for our problems, but when we go for refuge, we recall the difference between our outer problem and our inner problem. Our outer problem, such as having to pay taxes, is solved through outer means; but our inner problem, our actual problem, is our deluded reaction to our external circumstance. The Three Jewels cannot help us pay our taxes, but they can help us mentally relate to doing so as an act of giving to all living beings, for example. The Three Jewels can help us change our mind towards our outer circumstance, so that everything becomes a cause of our enlightenment instead of a cause of suffering.

Unlike other practices, in Offering to the Spiritual Guide our refuge practice has two uncommon characteristics. First, we explicitly go for refuge to the Guru, recognizing him as the synthesis and source of all the other Three Jewels. Second, we recite the refuge prayer in Sanskrit to recall the original language Buddha taught in. This makes us feel more closely connected to the origin of these instructions.

2 thoughts on “Happy Tsog Day: How to Go for refuge

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