Going for Refuge

The Dudjom Tersar Refuge Tree Thangka by Kumar Lama

In order to explore our Buddha nature and begin the journey toward enlightenment, you must understand the meaning of taking refuge. To take refuge daily is the most essential practice of all schools of Buddhism.

The Tibetan word for refuge is skyabs which actually means having a sense of closeness, full confidence, a warm feeling and trusting attitude toward the Buddha, his teaching and those who are devoted to making the teaching a living experience.

In the ngöndro practice we recite the refuge vow right after chanting the four thoughts which clarify the nature of samsara; in the light of this understanding, we take refuge. The Indian Dzogchen master Vimalamitra said, “Knowing clearly the situation in samsara as well as the qualities of enlightened beings, we can go for refuge.” First we must know the nature of samsara. There is nothing here we can rely on, take comfort in or plan to stay with. Everything is always changing and moving. Troubles follow one after another continuously, as if you’re in a tunnel which you have to dig by hand. Discouraged by the situation, the mind becomes unstable. In the face of this, we learn to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. This has many levels of meaning, but the act of going for refuge should always be accompanied by a feeling of closeness, warmth, and confidence. That’s the basic nature of taking refuge.

Love, faith and a sense of intimacy in relation to the Three Jewels open us to their influences which are of great assistance in removing our obscurations. Ignorance attachment, anger, jealously, doubt and pride are all obstacles which create uncomfortable situations for us throughout our lives. We must work to remove, transform, or purify them: we can’t just leave them like they are. They are the source of all our difficulties, bringing imbalances and troubles constantly. We have to look at them and deal with them. On the external level we can call on experts, people who can really help us change, those who have trod the path. All the buddhas and bodhisattvas were originally the same as we are. They were not higher or lower than normal sentient beings. However, through their extraordinary motivation, courage, commitment, and joyful efforts, they have become free of all negative emotions and mental obscurations, revealed their Buddha nature, and realized total enlightenment. When we seek assistance on the relative level, the buddhas have the knowledge and skills to purify our emotions and solve our problems so that we may become like them. That is the external aspect of taking refuge.

What is the nature of the Buddha? The Buddha nature is totally enlightened, completely free of all obscurations and habit patterns, radiant with love and compassion, and full of wisdom. That reality is known as the Buddha. When you are liberated from emotions, and are without mental obscurations, you are already naturally loving, compassionate and wise. These qualities are inherent in our being, as the Buddha clearly demonstrated. Buddhahood is not some novelty which the Buddha developed. He became enlightened through the destruction of all fetters and obstacles. That is the meaning of Buddha.

The Dharma is the method or body of techniques which help us awaken true love, genuine compassion and wisdom free from ego-clinging and neurotic games. Universal, unconditional love, selfless compassion, and transcendent wisdom pervade all samsaric beings, no matter their situation. The dharmic point of view is without divisions into higher or lower, close or distant. Everyone has the Buddha nature, everyone needs love, compassion and wisdom and nobody enjoys being subject to anger, jealously, pride, pain and so on. This knowledge is called the Dharma. It is a message of freedom which offers us techniques to purify all obscurations and totally reveal the ultimate state of the Buddha nature, the perfection of love, compassion, wisdom and peace.

The Sangha refers to those who practice the Dharma, who carry it in their hearts and minds, applying it according to their capabilities, joyfully, with courage and commitment. Some sangha members have a high degree of love, compassion and wisdom and some are only beginners, but all are motivated toward enlightenment, dedicated to the realization of benefits for all sentient beings. Also, the sangha can take the form of an individual who has some realization and begins to share and inspire other beings. That too is sangha. These companions serve as a source of inspiration and joy, setting examples for others to follow on the path toward enlightenment.

In English:
I take refuge in the Buddha
I take refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha

In Sanskrit:
Buddham saranam gacchami.
Dharmam saranam gacchami.
Sangham saranam gacchami

In Tibetan:
Sangye la kyab su chi-o
Chö la kyab su chi-o
Gendun la kyab su chi-o

The objects of refuge are the Three Jewels or the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

Who is taking refuge? Individuals are motivated to take refuge on the basis of their own interest, feeling of warmth, closeness, and confidence in the Three Jewels. No one can be pressured or forced into taking refuge. It only happens through individual joyful effort, by opening your heart and mind to the Buddha as your teacher, the Dharma as your path and the Sangha as your community of spiritual friends. That’s the true meaning of taking refuge and the way we should perceive the Three Jewels. We take refuge out of love for the teacher, the teaching and our companions. By means of this endeavor, we begin to explore and reveal our Buddha nature.

How long will we take refuge? Until we are enlightened. At that point, we will no longer need to take refuge externally. We’ll actually embody the objects of refuge. The notion of taking refuge is transcended when you become enlightened. That’s the general meaning of taking refuge as defined in the Buddha’s teachings.

In the special terminology employed in the Vajrayana, the inner objects of refuge are called the guru, deva and dakini or the lama, yidam and khandro and are referred to as the Three Roots. According to the inner tantra, we can distinguish three levels; externally we take refuge in the Three Jewels, internally we take refuge in the Three Roots and secretly we take refuge in the rtsa, rlung and thig-le, or the channels, winds and essence elements of the body.

To unite subject and object requires effort, so you must generate some activity when going for refuge in the most external sense. However, from the Dzogchen point of view, there is what is known as “refuge without effort.” This is also known as the ultimate or most secret object of refuge which is to take refuge within one’s own true nature of mind, to abide in the union of emptiness and clarity. To do this, we need a sense of being very close to the objects of refuge and to feel the energy of love and happiness in that relationship.

As sentient beings, we do not live in harmony with our original nature. Having wandered for a long time in samsara, we are unfamiliar with the truth. Enamored by our projections, we do not have much insight into our own mental events. Through actions based in dualism we separate ourselves from the true nature and become confused and deluded. In one way, taking refuge is returning to your own home, to the essence of who you really are, so you can learn how to be at ease here. Of course you can come and go as you please, it’s just that you’ve finally arrived at your permanent address. Knowing where you live inspires great confidence and joy, freedom beyond doubt and the cycle of hopes and fears. You have realized the ultimate state of democracy!

This is the prayer to say when you take refuge:
འདི་བཟངུ ་བྱང་ཆུབ་སྙིང་པོར་མཆིས་ཀྱི་བར༔
From this moment until attaining the essence of enlightenment,
I take refuge in the Lama, who is the Three Jewels.

Initially, the objects of refuge appear to be external. This is the ground and foundation. At first we need to get oriented on the ground, the earth; then we can begin to move. Do not just gaze off into the sky. We must learn to combine the realities of the sky and earth together; we cannot just deal with one half of the world. If you fixate on the sky you will stumble and hurt your self.


Taking refuge is important. All of the Buddha’s teachings are contained within the practice of taking refuge. What exactly did the Buddha teach? All his teachings relate directly to the realities of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The whole teaching is subsumed by these three topics! The Three Jewels are the embodiment of his entire communication. It is necessary to open ourselves with joy and confidence, to make an intimate, heartfelt connection with the objects of refuge, and then maintain this bond throughout all our daily activities.

The great master Atisha came to Tibet around the 11th century. Externally, his foremost practice was taking refuge. He recited the refuge formula all of the time and offered this teaching to many Tibetans. Because he chanted these lines constantly, many people thought this was all he knew. So they called him the Refuge Teacher. But long before Atisha came to Tibet, he already understood all of the Buddha’s teachings. Moreover, he knew many of the sciences of his time. He was the headmaster of Vikramashila monastic university which was like a twin to Nalanda. Given all of that, why did he focus on the refuge? Because he was fully aware of its importance in firmly establishing sentient beings on the ground of practice. Therefore, in communicating with the Tibetan people, Atisha emphasized the supreme virtue of taking refuge.

Grub-thob Than-stong rGyalpo

Another famous Tibetan master who lived around the 15th century, was a renowned Nyingma yogi whose name was Thangtong Gyalpo  whose name means “the king of empty land.” Having constructed one hundred and eight iron bridges spanning big rivers throughout Tibet, he was also known as the “Iron Bridge Builder.” Modern scientists have investigated his work and believe that he was the first man to build iron bridges on such a scale. He was also a famous terton, who sported a long white beard and top-knot. He is depicted holding a vase and an iron chain in his right hand. Nobody knows how he was paid or what sort of techniques he used, but the bridges have not rusted, and some of these structures are still in use. Even the communist regime has expressed their appreciation of his efforts, citing him as one of the only practitioners who actually worked for the common welfare. They like to promote him as an example of their socialist philosophy. His main teachings and practice consisted of taking refuge and reciting the six-syllable mantra of Avalokitesvara. He also added one more to the three objects of refuge–the Lama–so that it now reads: I take refuge in the Lama, the Buddha, the Dharma and Sangha. This style of taking refuge grew very popular, with the result that all of the lay people in Tibet now say, “I take refuge in the Lama and the Three Jewels.”

Dudjom Rinpoche III Sangye Pema Shepa, 2018, at Pema Osel Ling

According to the Vajrayana, these Three Roots, Three Jewels and Three Objects of Refuge are all present in the form of Guru Padmasambhava. The body of Guru Padmasambhava represents the Sangha. His speech represents the Dharma. The realization state of Guru Padmasambhava represents the Buddha. In this way Guru Rinpoche is the embodiment of the Three Jewels as well as the Three Roots. Guru Padmasambhava is our root teacher, like the lama. The realization state of Guru Padmasambhava, his love, compassion, kindness and wisdom, all represent the deity or yidam. His beneficial activities for all sentient beings of the ten directions and three times are known as dakinis, while those aspects which continue to protect and remove obstacles, are known as dharmapalas. In a very simple and convenient way, Guru Rinpoche alone is enough to take as our object of refuge.

Commentary on Ngöndro Practice according to
The New Treasure of Dudjom
by The Venerable Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche
Padma Shungchang (Craig Bialick) 1999


The Hundred-Syllable Mantra

📸 No information on thangka painter

The Meaning of the Hundred-Syllable Mantra
The mantra is a prayer evoking Vajrasattva’s promise. Here are the words with their equivalent meanings.

Most highly praised,

Vajrasattva! The sacred link between us—

Guard it closely. O Vajrasattva,

May you remain firmly with me.

May you completely satisfy me.

Make me blossom fully.

May you always be loving toward me.

Bestow on me all accomplishments.

In all my actions

Make my mind most virtuous.

HUNG (The vital seed syllable of Vajrasattva.)

HA HA HA HA (Syllables indicating the four boundless attitudes, the four empowerments, the four joys, and the four bodies.)

HO (A laugh of pleasure at those.)

O Victorious, Virtuous, and Transcendent One of all the Tathagatas,

You are the diamond—do not forsake me.

Make me a diamond holder.

O great being of the commitment,

May I be inseparably united with you.

This entails performing positive actions as antidotes to negative ones. In this case, it refers to the essential points of visualizing the deity, reciting the mantra, concentrating on the negative actions and obscurations being washed away, and so on.

This is to give rise to intense remorse for the negative actions one has performed in the past—as if one had taken poison.

This is the firm resolution to refrain from negative actions in the future, even if one’s life is at stake. These last two powers are complete when at the end of reciting the mantra, one verbalizes one’s parting, in verse or as prose, with such prayers as “In ignorance and confusion . . .” Even if one cannot do this, giving rise to true regret and recognizing the fault in future wrongdoing will automatically produce the resolution to refrain. There is not one of us who has not entered the door of the Secret Mantra Vehicle. And once we have done so, if we do not subsequently keep the commitments, we will go to hell; if we do keep them, we will attain Buddhahood. There is no other destination than these two. The Secret Mantra Vehicle commitments are very subtle, numerous, and difficult to keep. Even Lord Atisha said that after he had entered the Mantra Vehicle, he committed fault after fault in rapid succession. So for us who have few antidotes, weak mindfulness, and no vigilance (we do not even know the different categories of vows, nor the point at which we break the precepts), there can be no doubt that breaches of our vows are falling on us like rain. We should therefore do the practice of Vajrasattva every day and recite the hundred syllables twenty-one times. By doing so, our downfalls will be blessed and their fully ripened effect will be prevented from growing greater. And by reciting the hundred-syllable mantra one hundred thousand times, all our downfalls will be eradicated, as the Ornament of the Essence says:

Clearly visualize Vajrasattva Enthroned on a white lotus and moon: By reciting twenty-one times The hundred syllables according to the ritual, Downfalls and the like will be blessed And therefore not grow greater. Thus the greatest accomplished beings have taught, So do this practice constantly. If you recite it one hundred thousand times, You will become the very embodiment of total purity.

Torch Lighting the Way to Freedom
Complete Instructions on the Preliminary Practice of the Profound and Secret Heart Essence of the Dakini
By Dunjom Rinpoche Jigdral Yeshe Dorje 
Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group
Shambhla Boston & London 2011

We offer these words of advise to our sangha as we remember and pray for Venerable Dhomang Gyatrul Rinpoche who entered Parivirvnan on April 8th.

As Lama Tharchin Rinpoche said, in speaking of Kyabje Thinley Norbu Rinpoche’s parinirvana:

“It is like doing one mantra on a holy day where the merit multiplies by millions. During this time, we can remember Rinpoche’s wisdom, his kindness, how much that has penetrated our mind, how our lives would be inconceivable without him … We can come together and pray, make aspiration prayers together that immediately this life has set we can be reborn in the Pureland, that we can practice together and attain fully enlightened Buddhahood always together. Then we don’t have any separation, from life to life.”  

See Orgyen Dorje Den for Parinirvana of Venerable Dhomang Gyatrul Rinpoche Puja Schedule and Swift Rebirth Prayer


The Guru Yoga of Receiving Wish-Fulfilling Great Flawless Exaltation

📸 18 Century Chinese statue of Buddha Vajradhara SF Asian Art Museum

Prostrations to the holy Root Guru.

Definitely believing the most kind Root Guru is great Vajradhara and praying to him are the unmistaken essence of the path of Vajrayana. So therefore, whoever wishes can make effort in that way, encouraged by the weariness of samsara and uncontrived faith.

I take refuge in the absolute self-awareness Guru Who is never gathering or separating.
I develop bodhichitta in the great self-sustaining nature Containing all phenomena, the inconceivable Mahasandhi.

Thus, take refuge and develop bodhichitta.

The unobstructed, nonfabricated nature
Is actually seeing the great pureland of Dharmata,
The evenly open clear light of pervasive space,
The increasing, immeasurable palace of the experience of pure phenomena.
In the center of the joyful, self-accomplished array
Is the perfect culmination of the complete awareness Guru.
From the miraculous wisdom beyond thought, the exhaustion of phenomena, The great transformation of the youthful vessel body arises.
Yeshe Dorje Heruka260
Is the color of a radiant ruby, indivisible exaltation and emptiness,
With the face of sole awareness, always smiling in the zenith of ecstasy,
And two hands, the union of the actual two truths,
Holding a vajra, conquering samsara and nirvana,
And a kilaya weapon,261 completely annihilating the conception of ego.
Legs are extending in the gesture beyond samsara and nirvana,
Crushing the male and female rudras of dualistic phenomena.
Demonstrating the adornment of never abandoning all desirable qualities, Wearing the hero’s tiger skin around his waist
And bone and jewel ornaments,
He embraces the self-luminous wisdom Dakini in his lap,
Totally naked, holding a curved knife and a kapala of rakta.262
Both are in enchanting, youthful great exaltation.
From the beginning, self-manifesting and self-occurring,
The spontaneous nature accomplished from the beginning appears without visualizing.

Thus, see this.

To the Dharmakaya Root Guru, self-abiding in the original purity of the basis of Dharmakaya,
I prostrate by recognizing.263
I offer the unsought, self-occurring offering,264
The self-accomplished, unobstructed phenomena of the basis.265
I confess the deluded obscurations of temporary conceptions In great, primordially cleansed emptiness.
I rejoice in unmade, even pervasiveness,
The great, vast self-liberation of samsara and nirvana.
I request the turning of the wheel of the empty resonance of Dharma266
By the sounding of undestroyable, clearest, nonsubstantial speechlessness.
I pray to stay in the great rainbow body,
The profound great transformation of the youthful vessel.
I dedicate the unending, self-sustaining gathering of great merit In Dharmadhatu, free from effort and activity.

Thus, accumulate with the seven-branch supplication.267

Changeless, unceasing wisdom, the quality of purity from the beginning,
By coalescing with the youthful, indestructible union of great exaltation,
Is the one who binds all existence in the depth of the inconceivable ecstasy of impenetrable oneness.
To my self-awareness Root Guru, Samantabhadra, the unconditioned state,
Free from the aim of conceptualizing, I pray.

Liberated from the shell of the meditation of contrived thoughts,
The natural self-condition of never having meditated,
By the experience of confidence in samadhi, is leaving purity as it is without doing anything.
All the residue of samsaric phenomena is exhausted inwardly in stainless space.
May you only give the blessing of liberation in that self-Dharmata.

Thus, by one-pointedly praying when experiencing devotion and faith:

Lights emanate from the three vajra doors Of the glorious Guru Heruka.
By dissolving into one’s three doors,
All empowerments of wisdom body, speech, and mind are received.
The unbearable, flawless exaltation energy of the male and female wisdom consorts Intensely flames, and then melts into a sphere of light,
Dissolving into one’s sole, indestructible heart center.
The great empowerment of the blessing of transmission is obtained.
In the inconceivable expanse of wisdom mind, realization and liberation are simultaneous, Abiding in awareness of primordial purity, the greatest perfection.

Thus, abide in the state of even stillness, freed from all elaboration of thought, as much as you can. Then, when thoughts arise, see all phenomena, sound, and thoughts as the wisdom body, wisdom speech, and wisdom mind of the Root Guru, and then enter into Dharma activity.

📸 Dudjom Rinpoche by Sangharakshita 1958 Dungse Rinpoche ~ unknown

Thus, due to the request of one who has the wealth of devotion and samaya, Gelong Tamding Tshewang, who holds the life of Hayagriva, who asked for a Guru Yoga with precious upadesha, this is written by Jigdral Yeshe Dorje. Always auspicious. [This colophon was written by Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche. The colophon below was added by Kyabje Thinley Norbu Rinpoche.]

📸 Saraha Nyigna May 2013 ~ Original Photographer unknown

Due to Lama Tsedrup Tharchin asking me many years ago to write my own Guru Yoga, I translated this precious Guru Yoga full of the meaning of Dzogpa Chenpo into English as a substitute for writing one myself. May it benefit the lucky students of this degenerate time who have deep devotion and faith in the teacher who reveals the point of view of Dzogpa Chenpo, such as the representative of Samantabhadra, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, to attain enlightenment.

  1. Indestructible Wisdom Heruka, drinking the blood of samsaric suffering as a sign of liberating sentient beings from negative karma.
  2. The vajra in his right hand and the kilaya in his left
  3. The curved knife is in her right hand and the kapala (skull cup) is in her left hand.
  4. The recognition that one’s own mind is not different from the Lama is prostration.
  5. Within the land of Sambhogakaya, all flawless phenomena simultaneously, continuously, tangibly and intangibly exist, so they are the unsought self-offering.
  6. In this case, the basis is not alaya, or kunzhi (kun gzhi), which is the basis of samsaric phenomena such as the phenomena of the six realms. The basis is the original purity of Dharmakaya, so the phenomena of the basis is the pure Rupakaya of immeasurable Sambhogakaya, such as the immeasurable five Buddha families and purelands, and also of Nirmakayana’s land, emanated from This is the Dzogpa Chenpo teaching on ’khor ’das kyi rnam bzhag.
  7. This is nada, which cannot even be It is connected to wisdom air inseparable with stainless sky.
  8. yan lag bdun