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Buddhadharma : Summer 2014
SUMMER 2 0 1 4 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 51 Let’s say there’s a shiny new car at a dealer- ship. It appears to be perfect, but we still need to take it for a test-drive. The car that never leaves the shop is like a practitioner reciting nice words about compassion and selflessness without the opportunity to test-drive their intentions and aspi- rations. How do the bodhisattva ideals hold up when we actually interact with others? Problems within the sangha inevitably arise because we’re talking about unenlightened people trying to get along with each other. Jealousy, competition, and anger inevitably erupt. Although individual practitioners have unenlightened minds and com- mit unenlightened activities and get ensnared in ignorant understanding, the ordinary sangha still offers the best opportunity to apply dharma. We have shared ideals and shared goals, and we can turn to the lineage of teachers and texts for guid- ance. We should be able to hold a mirror up to each other in ways that others cannot. Taking Refuge in the Three Roots In Vajrayana practice, in addition to the three jewels—Buddha, dharma, and sangha—we take refuge in what we call the three roots: the guru, the yidam (or meditation deity), and the dharma protectors. The guru is the root of blessings, the yidam is the root of accomplishment, and the protectors are the root of activity. Taking Refuge in the Guru The guru or teacher is of utmost importance because of the interdependent connection between teacher and disciple. The Buddha who lived thou- sands of years ago cannot guide us to our own buddhahood as effectively and expediently as the guru. The living teacher embodies the wisdom of the practice lineage and functions like a lit lamp that has the energetic power to ignite the mind of the student. If you make a connection, you will get lit, too. This is what we call transmission. Transmission or blessing does not just come through formal rituals and ceremonies, or healthy? Why doesn’t he just pick up the beg- gars in Kathmandu and toss them into the pure land?” “Karma,” my father answered. “Everyone has their own karma to work out. No one, not even the Buddha, can change our karma.” I continued to press my father, asking, “If the Buddha can’t help people who are suffering, then why are all these people prostrating and chanting mantras and making offerings?” “They are changing their own karma,” he explained. “Only you can change your karma and make your karma. The Buddha cannot do that for you, but practicing dharma can. We pray to the Buddha, but even though the Buddha can- not change our karma, praying itself changes our karma. Seeing the enlightened qualities of the bud- dhas brings us closer to seeing those qualities in ourselves. In this way, practicing dharma becomes our active role in changing our own karma. Our sense of who we are begins to change.” In order to eliminate suffering, we need the supreme protector, which is dharma. It is dharma that can really save us from samsara. Only by following the path of dharma—which means practice—can we develop self-realization. Taking Refuge in the Noble Sangha There are two types of sangha: noble and ordi- nary. The noble sangha refers to the bodhisat- tvas, arhats, and other sages who have attained direct realization and hold the lineage of wisdom teachings. The ordinary sangha are members of our practice community. Both types play a criti- cal role in our development, yet we only take refuge in the noble sangha. While we are still in samsara, it’s important to take refuge in what goes beyond samsara, beyond ordinary. We keep our orientation toward what we aspire to grow into. We need to make the stretch. In general, people tend to minimize the impor- tance of the ordinary sangha: Buddha is a big deal, dharma is a big deal, and sangha is some- thing to put up with. Yet it’s within the ordinary sangha, monastic or lay, that the roughest edges of our arrogance and pride can be smoothed down a little. Americans—with their car obses- sions—have a good expression for this: “Where the rubber meets the road.” Wanting to take refuge is itself an indication of buddhanature. Why? Because we never accept suffering as the normal or natural human condition. (Opposite) Do Kyentse Yeshe Dorje (detail) Tibet, 1800–1899 Nyingma Lineage Collection of Rubin Museum of Art (acc.# P1996.19.5)