Taking Refuge: Taking Control of Our Karma

29 April 2010 - 12:15pm Comments Off

Earth Day is commonly used to foster an appreciation for the environment. It has been forty years since the first Earth Day, but the world is in greater peril than ever and climate change is the greatest challenge of our time. At the rate we humans are going, someday the sun will dim and the earth be destroyed. It is an ending that the Buddha predicted a long time ago, the same ending that has been chronicled in the Lamrim – we do not need any scientific hypotheses to arrive at that possibility.

Call it Armageddon, call it the end of the world, whatever; as Buddhists, we do not resign ourselves to that fate. Knowing it will happen, we do something to change things for ourselves and others. In saving ourselves, we gain full control to help others.

The first step towards achieving that control and freedom is to take refuge in a being who already has that control. From them, we can learn how to take control ourselves. This must be a being who is beyond a god; this must be a being beyond the limitations of karma; this must be a fully enlightened Being. Taking refuge in this outer being (e.g. Lama Tsongkhapa) reminds us to take refuge with the inner being, ourselves. Our inner, true being is the kind, good, patient and loving self – this is what is known as our Buddhanature, a consciousness and potential possessed by all sentient beings.

For 84 people, they had a different celebration of Earth Day when they took their first steps towards ultimate control and liberation, to gain the ability to help the whole world and themselves. Going through a ceremony that was perhaps only 10 minutes long, these men and women took refuge with His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche.

To mark such an auspicious occasion, Rinpoche gave another profound teaching on the meaning of refuge – he explained that it is not the ceremony but what we do afterwards that constitutes real refuge. Rinpoche advised that all disparity in this world can be explained by karma and like all phenomena, it is not permanent. It can be changed, manipulated and purified. Karma explains to us what is wrong so we can do something about it; it tells us we can do something about the situations we currently and will find ourselves in. By understanding karma, we end up taking responsibility and not blaming others…and the first step towards changing karma is taking refuge.

Buddhist refuge is taking refuge in the possibility of becoming a Buddha, and from then living our lives within that possibility and working towards the aim of becoming a Buddha. After taking refuge, we refrain from certain things that bring more harm to both ourselves and others. These things also cloud our mind, and make us even more unable to reach our spiritual goal.

By taking refuge, we do not change overnight but we make a conviction to change from that day onwards. From the moment we take the refuge vows, we collect the merit of keeping the vows. Rinpoche demonstrated the benefit of taking vows by using the example of killing. He explained that without vows, not killing does not help us to collect any merit or demerit. However, by taking a vow and then refraining from killing, we collect the merit of not doing so.

Rinpoche ended his talk with an emphasis on the importance of sticking to one Lama, one Buddha, one centre, one lineage and one practice. Explaining that this helps the practitioner to derive the full benefit of a practice, Rinpoche said that Dharma practice is not a buffet, where you pick and choose what you want on a plate. Taking refuge in a lama means trusting the lama – we should apply consistently all of his teachings, without discriminating what we like and do not like, or find difficult.

For many, 23 April 2010 was the beginning of a whole new journey, to develop their mind and Buddhanature towards the ultimate goal of living a life that benefits others.

For those who understand, refuge is a very precious thing - this lady flew in from the United States just to take refuge with Rinpoche!

After the ceremony, those who had taken refuge gathered to make three prostrations and offerings to Lama Tsongkhapa

Offerings of flowers, light and food were made

Offerings of prayers were also made

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