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Refuge, Renunciation, and the Four Noble Truths

Refuge (continued), Renunciation, and Four Noble Truths

Once we have a clear understanding of whom we take refuge with, to what
purpose we take refuge and why the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha
are qualified to be the ultimate source of refuge, then it's possible
that enlightenment or Buddhahood is achievable.
Each one of us has the same spiritual potential. Enlightenment is
achievable by every human being, regardless of their current situation.
The possibility of enlightenment is always there. But remember that
enlightenment is not a destination or physical place where we go to
abandon the physical or material world.
We must sincerely and honestly work for our enlightenment, based on our
clear understanding of who Buddha is and what the dharma and sangha are.
We must work with a teacher, with logical analysis, and with the help of
Only two principal types of meditation exist: shamata and vipassana.
Within the vipassana meditation is a strong element of analysis. Within
shamata meditation is a tranquil calmness; it is a calm, abiding
meditation without the care of thought. In shamata, there is the
distinct quality of knowing something without thinking.
With the help of these two meditation techniques, enlightenment is
achievable by every human being.
Taking refuge is very simple. It is the active act of putting trust in
the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha, with your heart open to their
spiritual guidance.
Although you may put your trust in and open your heart to the Buddha,
the dharma, and the sangha, you may have a sense something is not yet
complete, that you still seek other forms of refuge. If you are still
looking for some other form of refuge, there is something wrong; you
should not be there. If you have that feeling when you take refuge, the
act is not complete.
Consider marriage as an example. If you are preparing to marry, but
deep down you aren't fully satisfied with your partner, if you're still
looking, searching, then something is wrong right from the beginning.
So, if you have doubts, ask questions.

Precepts of refuge
The precepts are divided into two: negative precepts - as in, don't do
- and affirmative or prescriptive precepts - as in, do this.
First, it is most important, once you have taken refuge, to always make
an effort to get teachings from living masters and to see in that living
master manifestations of Buddha.
Second, once you take refuge, you should not cause harm to another
living being. The basis of the dharma is compassion, so you should not
cause harm.
Third, once you take refuge in the sangha, you should treat all sangha
members in a respectful manner.

Some of the proscriptive precepts
1. Once you take refuge in Buddha, you should not differentiate among
representations of Buddha. You should have the same attitude toward all,
whether they're made of clay or gold.
2. If you borrow money and put up collateral, you must not put up the
image of Buddha or pawn the image of Buddha. You should be respectful of
all dharma materials, including texts. Don't put a book about the dharma
or a thangka on the floor or in the bathroom. If you haven't taken
refuge, you could treat these objects as you would any other object;
once you have taken refuge, you must treat them with respect.
3. Once you have taken refuge in the sangha, you should not seek out or
associate with other non-Buddhists. In the time of Buddha, there were
many reasons for this. The main thing to consider now is that it's not
effective to share each other's views, particularly if each side is not
open to the other. There might be problems. You can still have a good
lunch together!
Altogether, the conclusion is that once you have taken refuge in the
Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha, you must live life in accord with
Buddhism's ethical discipline and the principles of karma.

Ritual for refuge

The ritual for refuge is simple, a ceremony that lasts fifteen to twenty
minutes and involves four things.
1. If you decide to ask for refuge, it must be of your own free will,
not because you were forced or because your friends are asking for
2. Once the request for refuge is accepted, you will be asked to
explain why you are taking refuge, how you set your mind, generated
special intention or motivation to take refuge. There should be some
form of renunciation. You should understand that the world in which
we're living is full of suffering; that is the world's nature. Your five
senses provide you experiences with suffering. You should have some
understanding of the impermanence of reality. And you should have some
sense that as long as you remain imperfect in this imperfect world,
there will be no room for peace.
3. You will put your right knee on the floor, your two hands on your
raised left knee, and enter a meditative state. The lama will recite the
refuge poem, and you will repeat it, three times in all. Then the lama
will click his fingers, and at that exact moment, you will receive
4. At the sound of the click, you should remain in your meditative
state, but at the same time you should be overwhelmed by a strong and
powerful feeling. You should rest in that feeling for a few seconds.
Then you will take your seat and receive your refuge name.

Renunciation means giving up something. Many think this means giving up
the material world. That is a misunderstanding. You are not giving up
your husband or wife and friends.
If you misunderstand, you will have a false renunciation. You will lose
your normal ability to function in your normal life in a normal world.
That is not good.
In France, one guy thought renunciation meant giving up everything, even
giving up showers for years. He failed to function in society. That is
false renunciation.
Yes, renunciation means giving up something, giving up the old habit of
being attached. Renunciation means understanding that you can remain in
the physical world without being attached to its pleasures or sorrows.
The material world becomes a source of pain not because there is a
physical world, but because of our emotions of attachment, of
unrealistic expectations.
Our perceptions are projected on external objects, and the objects
appear the way we project them to be. If we see the physical world with
delusions of anger, we'll find what we're looking for. That person or
object will appear the way the deluded mind wants; it will appear
We will find ourselves only moving from old problems to new problems. It
becomes a way of living, simply changing old problems into new problems.

You can say all our sense pleasures are in fact the beginnings of our
new cycle of suffering.
So, if we don't give up the old habit of attachment, simply running from
the material world won't solve basic problems.
Thus, renunciation is a spiritual act, a shifting of our focus from
samsaric pleasure to nonsamsaric pleasure. Samsaric pleasures are all
forms of pleasure dependent on external circumstances. Nonsamsaric
pleasure means peace and happiness which do not lead to craving for
Ordinarily, we are consumed, addicted to sensory pleasures, without
which we believe there would be no meaning to life.
But without renunciation, it would be very difficult to improve the
quality of our spiritual path. Spiritual practice eases our pollution by
mundane thoughts and concerns. Renunciation is a gateway to liberation.
And renunciation must develop based on an understanding of the Four
Noble Truths.

The Four Noble Truths

Buddha Shakyamuni attained enlightenment at the age of 35. For the next
45 days he did not give teachings. Then, he gave teachings for 46 years.
At the age of 81, he passed away.
He gave three rounds of public teachings, the Tridharmachakra (or the
three wheels of dharma), that are historically recorded.
The first public teaching was held in Varanasi. The explicit subject
matter of the first dharmachakra on the Four Noble Truths was the
essence, the bottom line of the entire Buddhist teachings, whether
Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana.
When Buddha gave his first public teaching, he wanted his message to
reach Hinayana students.
His second teaching was on emptiness. And his third teaching was on
In his first teaching, he wanted to reach Hinayana students, who believe
the individual liberation of a seeker is based on the seeker's spiritual
The Four Noble Truths say, instead, that the four truths are the
sufficient path to individual liberation. Buddha taught about
selflessness. People in the West confuse selflessness with emptiness.
Selflessness is sufficient to reach individual liberation, but not
enough to reach Buddhahood.
Here, things become very complicated. We are going from the small
village to the big city!
Theravada is one of the Hinayana schools. The Hinayana school has 18
subdivisions; Theravada is one of them. Theravada has survived; the
other 17 subdivisions died out. Because of that, some equate Theravada
and Hinayana.
At the time of Buddha's teachings, of course, these schools didn't
exist. There were four levels of mind or intellectual understanding. The
names and schools came afterward.
"Hina" means small. "Maha" means great. "Yana" means vehicle. But this
shouldn't be taken literally, as insulting. "Small" here refers purely
to an individual's spiritual motivation.
The second public teaching was on emptiness, the emptiness of inherent
existence. Things don't have one fixed, ultimate resting place. If they
had one fixed resting place, they would have inherent existence; they
would be self-sustaining.
If this cup exists inherently or has the quality of inherent existence,
it should exist as a cup before we name it "cup." Jack should exist as
Jack before his parents named him Jack, but we know that if someone
named him George, we would know him as George.
There are four schools: Vaibhasika (pronounced vie-bah-she-kah);
Sauvatantika (pronounced sowa-tan-tee-kah); Cittamatra (pronounced
chee-tah-mah-tra), and Madhyamaka (pronounced mad-gee-yah-mah-kah). The
first two are Hinayana; the second two are Mahayana. The first two
mainly search for individual liberation. The second two are not fully
satisfied with individual liberation, but are looking for more, for full
enlightenment in addition to individual liberation.
What is meant by individual liberation? How is it different from
enlightenment? Individual liberation means you have achieved cessation
of manifested delusions or emotions, and for your own spiritual
interests or well-being that is enough for moksha/nirvana.
But individual liberation is not enough for Cittamatra or Madhyamaka.
Members of these schools are not satisfied with attaining individual
liberation; they are looking for more than that. With individual
liberation, although the manifested emotions or delusions are ended, a
subtle residue is left behind in the mindstream. It disturbs, interferes
with helping others.
More than compassion or karuna is necessary. Mahakaruna is necessary.
Compassion is simply restraining yourself from harming others; it does
not include taking responsibility for others. Mahakaruna is not just
restraint; it is actively helping.
Without mahakaruna, you don't realize the subtle residue exists and
interferes with helping others. A lack of great compassion is
This residue left after individual liberation is not physical. Imagine
that it's like garlic; leave garlic in a jar for a few days, and even
after you remove it, the smell of garlic remains.
Obscurations of liberation include all forms of manifested emotions and
delusions and obscuration to knowledge, which includes subtle residue.
The residue causes you to repeat similar emotions in the future. The
more you get angry, for example, the more likely you are to get angry.
A great danger to individual liberation is that you would achieve
liberation from manifested emotions and delusions, reach moksha or
nirvana and be so consumed by the bliss or happiness of individual
liberation that you would forget the rest of the world.

The Schools
Cittamatra means "mind only." The Mind-Only school accepts or believes
or asserts that the mind exists inherently and the rest of the world is
simply projections of the mind.
Madhyamaka says that philosophical stance is incorrect and falls into
nihilism. Neither the mind nor the physical world exists inherently.
Each is interdependent, the knower and the known.
Buddha's second public teaching was on the emptiness of inherent
existence, which all four schools accept. His third public teaching was
on the emptiness of external existence. His teachings took into regard
his listeners' abilities to understand without falling into nihilism or
The First Truth says life is full of suffering; the Second Truth
establishes the cause of suffering; the Third Truth establishes the
possibility of cessation; the Fourth Truth establishes the path out of
suffering. The First and Second Noble Truths are an independent set of
cause and effect, as are the Third and Fourth Noble Truths.
The First and Second Noble Truths teach us that we are caught in
samsaric existence or fundamental confusion. The Third and Fourth Noble
Truths provide the ways and means to get out of samsaric existence.
The first truth says that life is suffering. Many think Buddhism is too
pessimistic, negative, depressing. That's because, right from the
beginning, Buddhism mentions suffering. But if we take time to examine
life, we must say, yes, life is suffering.
Without studying the Four Noble Truths, it might be difficult to
understand suffering or to understand real happiness. That's because we
actually confuse suffering and happiness. If we don't understand the
true meaning of suffering and the nature of samsara, it will be
difficult to understand why renunciation is important.
There are two types of suffering: physical and mental. When Buddha says
life is suffering he means both what we consider suffering and what we
ordinarily consider happiness. Both are based on our own imperfect
existence. Our imperfect existence itself is the cause of suffering.
I will mention three types of suffering: The suffering of sufferings.
You suffer because you are in physical pain. Our true existence is
suffering, plus we think we are suffering more. Second, the suffering of
change. Third, the suffering of pervasive conditioning.

Question: Can we do the refuge prayer said at the beginning of teachings
if we have not taken refuge?
Answer: It isn't negative to do so, but the words of the prayer can be
mere words.
Question: When we say the refuge prayer and we're here with you, is it
positive for us?
Answer: It's positive more in general than positive for a specific
Question: What was the timing of the Tridharmachakra?
Answer: All three took place in northern India in the space of one year.
The public teachings were not Tantric; Tantric teachings were given to
only a few people and not in public.
Question: What school are you?
Answer: The Tibetan view is the Madhyamaka view. And I hold this view.
Question: How are the Vaibhasika and Sauvatantika schools different?
Answer: In terms of philosophy, they aren't different. They do have
different texts.

Next time, we will talk more about the Four Noble Truths and the
different schools. If you don't know about the different schools and you
try to study more in depth, there will be more than suffering, there
will be maha-suffering!