The object of refuge

Three Jewels (dKon.mchhog gsum), the inner Three Roots ( gsum), and the secret Three Kāyas (sKu gsum).

1. The “Three Jewels” are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Saṅgha.

Buddha in Tibetan is Sangs.rgyas. Sangs means dispelled: the Buddha has completely dispelled all ignorance and has awakened from the sleep of ignorance. rGyas means increase or expand: the Buddha has measurelessly expanded all wisdom infallible qualities.

Dharma in Tibetan is Chhos. In general, Chhos means all kinds of phenomena. According to worldly ego, Chhos means all phenomena which cause saṃsāra. But in this case, Chhos is the antidote to saṃsāra and consists of all spiritual wisdom appearance. According to the Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna, Dharma is the Buddha’s teaching of the “path to liberation” ( chhos), which includes the Dharma of precept and the Dharma of realization, as explained in chapter 10. In particular, for the Vajrayāna, Dharma includes the “Dharma of result” (‘ Bras.bu’i chhos) which is the complete purification of perceptions so that all appearances are the Buddha’s body, speech, mind, qualities, and activities, and the maṇḍala of the deities, buddhafields, etc. All these results are attained with the realization of the Vajrayāna teachings.

Saṅgha in Tibetan is dGe.’ dun. dGe means virtue. ’Dun means to strive toward one-pointedly. The Saṅgha are those who practice virtue on the path of Dharma. There are two kinds of Saṅgha: the Saṅgha of ordinary individuals (’i’i dge.’ dun) and the Saṅgha of sublime beings (’’i dge.’ dun). The Saṅgha of ordinary individuals are those who practice the path of accumulation (Tshogs lam) and the path of application (sByor lam). The sublime Saṅgha are those who practice the path of seeing (mThong lam), which is the realization of the truth of dharmatā or natural mind, the path of development or meditation (sGom lam) and the path beyond practice (Mi.slob lam), which means all study or teaching and practice have been exhausted, as they are no longer necessary. There are two systems of explaining the path beyond practice: one system says that it is the final path to reach buddhahood; the other says that it is buddhahood itself, and there is no longer any path.

The Saṅgha who follow the Mahāyāna path are called the general outer Saṅgha (Thun.mong phyi.yi dge.’ dun). The Saṅgha who practice the Vajrayāna teaching are called the extraordinary inner Saṅgha (Thun.min dge. ’dun), or inner Vidyādhara Saṅgha (Rig.’ dzin dge.’ dun).

2. The Three Roots are the lama, the yidam, and the khadro.

Lama (guru): La means that which is most precious, life itself. “Ma” means mother. Just as a mother has great love and compassion for her children, and acts with this love and compassion for their benefit, so the lama acts with unobstructed compassion to benefit all sentient beings.

Yidam (deva): Yid means mind. Dam means an inseparable bond through pure samaya. According to the minds of all individual practitioners, there is a special deity with whom they have an inseparable connection.

Khadro (ḍākinī; Tib. mKha’.’ dro): mKha’ means sky; not the ordinary sky, but the sky or space of the dharmadhātu. ’Gro means to go. Wisdom mind goes without obstruction in the sky of the dharmadhātu. The khadro performs the activities of the Buddha.

3. The Three Kāyas are the dharmakāya, sambhogakāya, and nirmāṇakāya.

Dharmakāya in Tibetan is Chhos.sku. Chhos means all phenomena. sKu means body. The true nature of all phenomena is without substance, shape, color, or form, not coming or going, not dwelling any place. It is without any reality; it is great emptiness. All phenomena are completely pervaded by or entirely contained within great emptiness: this is the emptiness-body or dharmakāya.

Sambhogakāya in Tibetan is Longs.spyod.rdzogs.sku. Longs means wealth, spyod means to use or enjoy, rdzogs means complete, sku means body. Sambhogakāya means the body of complete enjoyment of the wealth of pure perceptions.

Nirmāṇakāya in Tibetan is sPrul.sku. sPrul means to emanate or create. sKu means body. The unobstructed compassion of the buddhas is the basis of the nirmāṇakāya because the emanation bodies of nirmāṇakāya come from this unobstructed compassion.

According to the view of the vehicle of cause, concerning the Three Jewels, the only perfect refuge is the Buddha. The Dharma is the path which one follows to attain buddhahood. Once this state has been attained, the path is transcended, just as the boat in which one crosses a river is left behind when the other shore is reached. The Saṅgha are the arhats and bodhisattvas, those who have not yet reached the state of buddhahood, so they are not considered omniscient. But one must not be careless, because while one is still on the path, one must rely upon the Dharma and the Saṅgha.

According to the view of the vehicle of result, the Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha are from the beginning the phenomena of full enlightenment. They are the inseparable manifestation of the three kāyas, filling the dharmadhātu. The immeasurable appearances of the Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha; the lama, yidam, and khadro; and the nirmāṇakāya, sambhogakāya, and dharmakāya are the inexhaustible, beginninglessly pure maṇḍala of Samantabhadra.

THE SMALL GOLDEN KEY to the Treasure of the Various Essential Necessities of General and Extraordinary Buddhist Dharma


Translated by Lisa Anderson