by H.H. the Twelfth Gyalwang Drukpa at Druk Toupten Tcheukor Ling,
Plouray, France on 1January 2000
Taking refuge is a formal way of entering the spiritual path. The informal way to approach the spiritual path is through the practice of what you do in your day-to-day life. Bringing your practice into your day-to-day life is the real and authentic way of taking refuge, or you could call it the informal way. However, the formal way of taking refuge, which involves an initiation, is what we are going to do shortly.
As you might have heard many times, the way of entering Buddhist practice is by taking refuge vows. Since the Buddhist theories and teachings are a philosophy and not a religion, one must truly enter into this sort of practice with a spiritual sense and with spiritual understanding. Developing a comprehension of the nature of the spiritual path is very important. You should understand the spiritual path as being the Universal Truth, rather than having any extreme views about it. The Buddha was the one who gave these teachings, but his teachings are not about any kind of fanaticism or religion. His teachings are principally an introduction to the Universal Truth, which is the truth that can be found everywhere. No matter what sort of belief you have or what sort of person you are, the most important thing is the Universal Truth. This is the essence of the Buddha's teachings.
Even though there are many different kinds of instructions that the Buddha has given, the essence of his teachings is an introduction to the basic condition of our lives. This is because we are in a strange kind of situation, in the sense that we don't really realize who we are. Therefore, we don't really know what life really is. Some people even ask me the question, "What is life? Please tell me." We can ask this kind of question because we don't know what life is, even though we are alive. We are not dead, we are here, we are walking, we are talking, we are alive… but we still don't know who we are and what we are doing. If we think about this, we will see that we don't really know. However, if we don't think about this, if we ignore it, then we just live with our ignorance. In this case, we only survive. It's not a bad thing that we survive, but Buddha Shakyamuni was trying to give a clear introduction towards the understanding of your life. Furthermore, he also wished that the spiritual path or spiritual practice can help you to improve your way of dealing with your day-to-day life. This is the Dharma, the real spiritual practice. You can say that Dharma is the process of developing your life. That is the teaching of Buddhism.
The Dharma really doesn't try to force anything or try to give you the idea that in order to be happy, you have to follow something. It doesn't say that you have to entertain someone, such as a particular person or a particular god otherwise you will be in trouble. If that is the way it is, then it sounds like it has become a religion. This is the reason why Dharma is a little bit different from religion. Of course, this doesn't mean that religion is bad. However, we should understand what religion is on its own and what religion is when combined with spirituality. This is very important to understand. If you don't understand this, confusion comes. Not only can confusion arise, but religion without spirituality can cause a lot of problems in our lives. For example, problems between married couples can arise because of different religions if there is any fanaticism attached to religious practice. If I am a fanatic about my own religion and a fanatic about my partner's religion then, of course, we will both have problems and clashes. This type of problem can also arise between neighbors and between countries. Instead of giving you peace, religion can give you problems. Then, the religion will be problematical, which is not the way that it should be. Religion should give you peace and give you a better life. The entire purpose of religion is to give you and the whole world peace. However, this will not happen if we have fanaticism or dogmatic ideas. This is really not helpful.
Unfortunately, even in Buddhism, many people have been experiencing these kinds of problems, such as sectarianism. This is very unfortunate and it is really a big misunderstanding. Misunderstandings have developed between the Mahayana, Vajrayana and Hinayana schools of Buddhism. These misunderstandings have been there for quite a long time. Also, within one yana there are different groups and different schools who don't understand each other very well. Actually, this is a misunderstanding of Dharma and because of this, there have been a lot of problems. Of course, it has not been such a huge problem, but nevertheless it has been there. I think that Buddhist people in many places have had many small problems such as this.
In Tibetan Buddhism, we have many schools such as Kagyud, Nyingma, Gelugpa and Sakya. We have these schools and we also have a lot of fanatical people. There are fanatical believers who believe that 'this is mine' or 'ours are better than theirs', etc. This is happening because the people who believe these things are those who don't know anything about true religion and the teachings of Buddhism. Maybe they are religious in the sense that they are faithful to their masters or faithful to whatever they are practicing, but that's all. They don't really know the authentic teachings and messages of the Buddha. That's the reason they are saying these things. In addition, now many western people are unfortunately being influenced by these beliefs. They say, "I'm 'this' or 'that'. I'm Kagyud or Nyingma, etc." This gives them a lot of pain in their hearts, and it is not good for their practice.
As you can see in Buddhist communities these days, there is a lot of nonsense being spoken about. This sort of thing is very unfortunate. I think that this should also be one of our revolutions. We should think about how we can bring a great revolution to our Buddhist communities, so that we can establish a sense of unification. I think that this is very important for the next century. We should add this to our list of things to be developed.
Buddha Shakyamuni said that, "If anyone sees me as a Buddha, then he or she is not really seeing the Buddha…. If anyone hears my teachings as a Dharma, then that person is not really hearing or not understanding Dharma." He explained this because if one really wants to see the Buddha and hear the Dharma, then he or she can only do this by actually going along the spiritual path. Through the spiritual path, then one can come to know the Buddha as being different from Buddha Shakyamuni and the Dharma as being different from the Dharma that we are listening to. This is a very deep and profound message from the Buddha Shakyamuni. However, unfortunately we are not able to follow this truth. Instead of actually following his essential teachings, we get things the other way round by looking at him as a Buddha and listening to his teachings and considering these as the Dharma, and that's all! When we follow this misunderstanding we become fanatical in our approach. This leads to the practice of only religion. In this case, the highest target we can think of reaching is to be a good practitioner of religion, and that's all.
This can become just one more additional headache. This is not something that we want. I think that this is not the aim of Buddha Shakyamuni and it is also not my aim. This is also not the aim of giving the refuge vows. We already have plenty of headaches, so why should we add one more to our life? The so-called Buddhist religion - it's not fun at all! It can also give a lot of problems.
When taking refuge, one should thoroughly understand the significance of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Buddha actually means realization. That is the reason why Buddha Shakyamuni didn't want us to see him as a Buddha. He more or less said that anyone who sees him as a Buddha cannot see the Buddha. I don't have to keep repeating this, but it is a great message. This message tells you that Buddha's teachings are not merely a religion, but a great philosophy. It is a great process, a way of developing your life.
In the practice of religion, something like the following would be said, "I am the Buddha or I am the 'whatever' and you have to follow me. If you don't follow me, then there is a problem." This is the language of religion. "If you follow me, then you follow my teachings." If you follow it's good, but if don't follow, then again there's trouble. This is the way of religion. However, Buddha Shakyamuni's way of giving teachings was to give instructions which were like suggestions or recommendations. He also gave some sort of messages on enlightenment, which is like an inspiration. This is so that you can receive some 'inspirational mind of enlightenment' to help you deal with your own life and develop some awareness, realization or cognition. This is what is called the teaching, the way that Buddha leads you. After that, Buddha gives you complete control, so that you can be your own leader in order to progress and step forward in your life. Whether or not you do this, fully depends upon you yourself. This is the reason why Buddha didn't want you to think that his teachings are the Dharma, Buddha didn't want you to think of him as the Buddha.
You are supposed to be seeing Buddha as realization itself, which is something completely different from Buddha Shakyamuni himself. This means something different from his form or his existence. Buddha also wanted us to hear the realized teaching or the Dharma as a form of realization. This is completely different from the words that he actually says. What he puts across to us verbally are the instructions and recommendations, which is just an encouragement or guidance. The basic thing to understand is that you have to go ahead by yourself. You have to find out what is the Dharma and what is the truth of nature and the truth of the universe.
The whole intention of taking refuge and of chanting and reciting mantras and etc. is really for you to inspire yourself. As I mentioned before, without the feeling of inspiration which can be attained through these practices, we will not be able to practice spirituality very effectively. We therefore need these practices to inspire us. For example, the picture of the Buddha which is on this 'Refuge Card' should inspire you so that you can be reminded to be a spiritual practitioner. My photo which is also on this card is not really inspiring, but it should at least remind you of what I said. It should also remind you about the practice and importance of spirituality.