Vajrayana Refuge: Three Roots
In the Vajrayana tradition the importance of the guru or spiritual teacher is reflected in the refuge commitment that we make when choosing to follow this path.
In the Hinayana tradition we take refuge in the Three Jewels of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha for the duration of our lives, with the goal of seeking liberation for ourselves. In the Mahayana tradition we take refuge in the Three Jewels until we attain enlightenment, which may be many lifetimes from now, with the commitment to lead all other beings to enlightenment too. The Vajrayana refuge is based on the Mahayana refuge and, in addition, includes taking refuge in the Three Roots:
- Guru - we take refuge in our spiritual teacher and his lineage as the root of blessing or spiritual grace as through him we will come to recognise our Buddha Nature.
- Yidam - we take refuge in the meditation deities that connect us with the deepest truth of who we are and which express the different qualities of enlightened mind. They are the root of accomplishment on the path.
- Dakinis and Protectors - we take refuge in these in order to clear obstacles from our spiritual path and help us on our journey to enlightenment. They are the root of compassionate activity.
First we do the four ordinary foundations, also known as the 'four ways of changing the mind,' because they turn our mind away from worldly preoccupation and towards the path of the Dharma. They are a series of reflections:
- Reflecting on how rare and precious our human life is. We often take for granted our freedom of choice and how many opportunities we have as a human being (as compared to an animal). In order to put this in its right perspective, we are taught to appreciate that our human life with its freedoms and advantages is as rare as seeing a star in the daytime.
- Reflecting on the impermanence of everything that exists and becoming aware of the fragility and unpredictability of our lives. This helps us focus on the importance of applying ourselves to spiritual practice right now.
- Reflecting on karma, the law of cause and effect, and acknowledging that we shape our lives through how we act. This helps us focus on the importance of acting in wholesome ways and avoiding unskilful actions.
- Reflecting on the all-pervasiveness of suffering in life. This reflection is not to make us morbid or depressed, but rather to help wake us up to the way things really are and motivate us to practice the Dharma for the good of all living beings.
Having reflected deeply on these four truths and absorbed them right to the core of our being, we then embark on the four special foundations or ngondro:
- Prostrations and Taking Refuge. This involves taking refuge in the Three Jewels and Three Roots and generating bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment. It is accompanied by doing full prostrations, while reciting a refuge prayer and imaging the sources of refuge in front of us, symbolically portrayed on a lineage tree. This practice deepens the experience of refuge and purifies harmful actions connected with the body.
- Vajrasattva (or Dorje Sempa) purification practice. This involves visualizing the deity Vajrasattva above our heads and reciting his hundred syllable mantra, while imagining that all our harmful actions of body, speech and mind are purified in the process.
- Mandala Offering. During this practice we symbolically offer the entire universe to the sources of refuge again and again, while reciting a special offering prayer. The purpose of this practice is to accumulate merit, which means to generate a force of positive energy within our mind.
- Guru Yoga. The preceding purification and accumulation practices lay the ground for the devotional practice of Guru Yoga, during which we open our mind to the blessing of our guru and his spiritual lineage. Blessing is the connection between student and teacher whereby the student opens his mind to the wisdom of the teacher, and through this compassion, the teacher opens the door to his spiritual lineage transmitting the living experience of enlightenment directly into the heart of the student.
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