Buddha statue quiet lake
Bodhisattvas in Training and Taking Refuge
Listen to this talk:
Brother ChiSing and Ven. Tashi Nyima: Bodhisattvas in Training and Taking Refuge (32 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing and Ven. Tashi Nyima
May 4, 2014 - Dallas, Texas

ChiSing: So, I'm going to just share a few thoughts that I've been reflecting on, and it relates to this month of enlightenment that we are celebrating, especially with the sub-theme of healing and wholeness and wellness. I don't really have any order that I'm going to share them in, and then Tashi will also share as well. So I will try to just take 10 minutes, and Tashi can take 10 minutes for a total of 20.

So, I went to this wonderful seminar this weekend at the Kotsanis Institute, which is a medical clinic in Grapevine. Dr. Kotsanis, who is from Greece, is the founder, and he specializes in integrative medicine, as well as alternative or holistic. He is an M.D., doctor, and I'm really glad that we have someone like that in Texas. I think there are a few other centers I have heard of, too, so I will have to check them out as well, just so I can give recommendations.

So this weekend retreat was called, "Truly Healed." A man named Marcus, who was German by birth but now lives in Australia with his wife and has a son, he was leading the workshop. And it was a really good workshop. I must say, it was one of the most informative workshops I've been to in the last 40 years. So I highly recommend it. Truly Healed. I will send you a link. Actually, I think—did I send it yet? I don't know. But I will send it in the next e-mail.

And there are so many different things I am learning through this process of my own healing journey through cancer, and I'm beginning to start realizing that the deeper truth in me has a purpose for this right now. My surface, human, ego self of course does not have a clue, but I am starting to realize there is a purpose for this, and it has definitely been a catalyst for me to transform my own personal life as well as to be so much more educated now on true health and wellness. And, my hope is that I can be truly healed and then share with others what I've learned.

So, one of the things that I noticed about the seminars—of course, there's always going to be something that I'm going to disagree with or question or maybe there is something that seemed to be left out a little bit. And that is normal for any retreat on a seminar, workshop, whatever. You just take what you can from it and then that is what is best, rather than focusing on too much criticism. But one thing that was left out I felt was we talked about seven different levels of healing, including physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, relational, etc., etc., etc. but when he talked about the energy body, he did not really go into many specifics on practices about what could be helpful, and I thought I was a little bit lacking because I had just come back from a 10 day qi gong retreat, and qi gong is many different things, but it kind of has movement, mindfulness, and intention of energy, so I felt that that was a little bit lacking because that is a very, very powerful modality in the healing process which should not be overlooked.

And as we were going through all these different modalities of healing and listing them and the different parts that they help with and how really it is not wise to only just choose one modality or one treatment because it is much more effective—because many of these things work synergistically together, so one thing may help with one aspect, but by itself, it is not strong enough, whereas when it is joined with something else, it creates a synergistic, much more powerful effect. So, we were looking at that and how it is much wiser to combine different things and make sure that they don't necessarily contraindicate with each other.

But as we were getting more and more into the details of things, I started to feel, ugh, this is too complex, too complicated, and part of my goal is I want to find healing for myself and share it with others, but in a way that is accessible, that is not too complicated or too complex. Of course, everyone has their specialties, and we need specialists, people like mathematicians. They really are in a realm of their own minds with all that mathematical equations. I mean, it is quite complex, and certain artists, musicians, are very complex in the way they do their music. So it is important that we do have specialists.

However, for the majority of people, I think it is also important to have something accessible. So I started to realize, oh, okay. So he is trying to specialize or at least point to people who specialize in certain modalities, and of course you can go deeper and deeper and more complex and more complex into each modality until your head pops open, but for the vast majority of people, I don't think that is helpful, because what that can lead to actually most of the time is a feeling of hopelessness or desperation or fear because you feel like oh my gosh, if I don't do this just exactly right with this and this and this and this and then the other, I am just doomed, right?

Or like, oh my gosh. There are so many toxins. If I don't get rid of this and this and this, there is no way. How can I possibly be healthy? Because we really live in a toxic environment. We might theoretically call this the Pure Land of the Buddha, but on a practical level on how humans have acted on this planet, this Pure Land is more like a purgatory. I don't want to say hell realm, but I will say purgatory just to be nicer. We live in such a toxic environment, and our medical system is quite full of—I don't know. How can I say it nicely? Contradictions. And so we are not born into a world that is very conducive to full health. There are so many toxins in most women, as well as men—but the women who are pregnant, when their baby is born, the average American baby is filled with at least 200 different toxins already in its body to start with.

In a way, you might think that in Christian terms as original sin. We are already born into such a mess as it is. But if you focus only on that, you don't realize that within this purgatory, it is the Pure Land also, because despite all of those toxins and despite all the messed up environment physically as well as psychologically that we are born into, somehow so many of us can come through, come through it all with so much light and love and life.

But one of the things, as I was saying, with this complexity, I started to realize, well, there is actually different angles of approach to healing. One is like if your car breaks down, sure, you could try to take the whole entire thing apart and then put it back together again, or the same with the TV or computer. Sure, if it breaks down, you could completely take the hardware all apart and examine everything and then put it back together, but for most of us, that is overdoing it, so really, you can kind of overdo it, the complexity.

Another approach, instead of taking everything apart and putting it back together is well, just switching the program were getting an expert to help you fix the program. You don't have to completely take the entire hardware apart. Same with the car. Sometimes it just needs some more fuel or some oil or a new battery. You don't have to take the entire car apart and put it back together. So in the same way with healing processes, yeah. You can go over all the different toxins, all the different treatments, all the different enzymes, all the electrochemical aspects. I mean, you can do all that, which can be helpful. For some people, certain aspects are necessary to look at, because they have been ignoring them. You know, your digestion, your food, nutrition, all these different things.

You could do that, but you can also just change the program, which in this case means you can create a more powerful immune system, both physically and energetically. In Chinese terms, we call that chi. So you can either do all the detail work, or you can also focus more on creating a more powerful inner and outer chi field of energy. Many people have found healing by changing their diet were doing this treatment or that treatment or whatever, fixing all these different things. That is one way of doing it, but I have also heard of people who, they didn't change much at all, other than practicing energy work or qi gong, so then their energy field and the energy in their bodies starts to do the healing for them. So you can try to do all the detailed work, or you can let your chi energy do all the work for you. So that is a different approach.

Of course, I personally think that it is best to do both, because I personally do not always know how to generate the more powerful chi energy, you know? So I need to do some nutritional changes. I need to do some exercise changes. I need to do other things, get rid of toxins and things in my environment. Those kinds of things—electromagnetic toxins as well. We have too much electromagnetic and other kinds of radiation in our environment, so I want to work on those, but at the same time, I can't get rid of all of those. I mean, I cannot change everything in my environment, so, I also need to work on my chi energy field, which can be my defense force field, and also it has the wisdom of its own that knows where to bring the energy.

And one last thing I will share—and there are many more things I could talk about, but I don't want to go over time. I believe that as spiritual facilitators or teachers or leaders, we really have basically three jobs. And you know, you might find that you too have this kind of job on some level in your field or in your relationships. So the first job is basically to help people to actually have faith in the path of enlightenment or faith in holistic health or faith in whatever it is you're wanting to help people with, because a lot of people, they are not even going to come to meditation or come to a holistic health practitioner because they don't even believe in that yet. So part of our job is to educate and to help people have enough reasons to believe in it, right? To believe in health, holistic health, to believe in meditation, to believe in spirituality, whatever it is that you're wanting to help people with. If they don't believe in it, they're not going to do it. So the first job is to educate and help people realize that is something good to believe in, convincing people very gently by education or by example.

Our second job is then to help those people who do believe in this stuff to actually practice it. That is actually the majority of my job here. You already believe in it, but you just don't have a strong enough motivation to consistently practice. So in a way, part of my job is to be more of a cheerleader, to remind you every week that yes, you can do it. And so you believe in it, but it is just so hard for you to stay consistent, so part of our job is to motivate you as a cheerleader and to continue to remind you that yes, you can do it. You can have faith in yourself, and you can follow through, and it is so helpful when you do it as a group, because that creates a much more powerful chi energy.

And then my third job, our third job is for those who already are practicing consistently, we have to also remind ourselves that the practice is not just for ourselves, but it is for the sake of the whole world. So, then the third job is to teach or assist practitioners and how to more skillfully share. So how do you say it? What kind of words do you use with certain people? What kinds of actions? What kind of strategies in your particular field of influence? So maybe you're working in the education system for children and youth. Maybe you're working in the science field. Maybe you're working within religion. How do you skillfully share this path, whether it is enlightenment or holistic health or spirituality in general? How do you share it in those fields so that people will believe in it enough to then practice it, right?

So, that is why it is important to do it as a community, because sometimes, you get ideas from others on how to share and more skillful ways. For example, I learned about sharing very wonderfully—I don't always do it well, but I'm getting better at it. Different people with different personalities, different belief systems, how to say it in such a way that they can really hear it, because when I—for example, if I'm talking with fundamentalist evangelical dogmatic Christian or Muslim or whatever religion, I cannot talk about Buddha this, Buddha that, okay? They're not going to hear it, because all they're thinking is, idol, idol, idol. That is what they were taught. So I take their language, their concepts, their words, and I speak on that level.

And if I specialize in speaking with a particular group, such as Christians. Because that is what I grew up in, I specialize in that. Well, I can then also look at Scriptures and quotes from other Christian ministers and other concepts from the tradition and relate it to mindfulness and to meditation and to enlightenment, but in their language. So that is skillfulness.

So you see, these are our three jobs as bodhisattvas in training. First of all, to help people to believe in this path. Second of all, to help those who do believe to actually practice consistently to help them get more consistent, and third, most of our consistent practitioners then how to not get into the trap of just being self absorbed, but also to go out and be an effective, skillful light in the world. So, that is all I have time to share, and I am so grateful to all of you for practicing this month of enlightenment. These are three ways that we can manifest that enlightenment as our job. Because you know, that is our real job. You might have a human job, such as being an accountant or a nurse or a teacher or a retail assistant or whatever—administrative assistant or musician—but that is really not your real job. Your real job is to be a bodhisattva and to be on the path of enlightenment for yourself, but also for the benefit of all beings. So with that, I will pass the baton to Tashi.

Tashi: What is refuge? I remember there are many different varieties and schools in Buddhism, and without criticizing others, we can only represent our own, just like you acknowledge—I trust you acknowledge that other languages are perfectly fine ways of communication, but you may not necessarily speak those languages. You speak your language. So, in terms of Buddhism, we also speak our language. So in the Jonang lineage, which is not a Tibetan Buddhist lineage—it is a Buddhist lineage with historical Tibetan connections—we understand refuge to be fundamental.

There was a great Indian Buddhist teacher by the name of Atisha, who was known as the refuge guru because he said that everything in the path of spiritual cultivation is actually encapsulated, included in taking refuge. We take refuge in the Buddha and the dharma and sangha. There are many levels at which we can look at that, but when we take refuge in the Buddha and we truly take refuge in the Buddha, we are not taking refuge in some historical figure. We are not even taking refuge in some great teacher. That is also a fact. We are taking refuge in our true nature, and our Buddha essence, in our enlightened nature, in our own—not potential. That is actually a misunderstanding. Our actual Buddha nature, what is close is this coloring of imperfection, this coloring of afflicted emotions, this coloring of wrong views. Our true essence is pure enlightenment. So when we take refuge in the Buddha, Buddha means the awakened one. When we take refuge in the Buddha, we are taking refuge in our own awakening.

When we take refuge in the dharma, the dharma is the teaching. The dharma is the practice. When we take refuge in the dharma, we are taking refuge in the path, in the skillful method of reclaiming, recognizing our own the nature, our own natural imperfection. That is what the dharma ultimately is. There are 84,000 collections of teachings in the Buddhadharma, and all of them are meant to do one thing and one thing alone: help us recognize the cause of our suffering and remove it. That is all. The Buddha said, "I have been teaching for 49 years everyday." He said, "I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the removal of suffering."

When we take refuge in the sangha, there are many ways of understanding sangha. When you say sangha, there are many different definitions. The ordained community is also sangha, but when we take refuge in the sangha, we really mean—we are talking about those who have found the dharma to the point where they have realized their own Buddha nature. Why? Because they give us certainty. They give us the conviction that we also can do this, that it is not something that exceptional people do. Actually, ordinary people are exceptional. If you read the sutras, there are more Buddhas sitting in one atom than there are ordinary beings in all the universe. We are the minority. We are the exceptions. Buddhas are the majority. So don't think that enlightenment is for special people. We are actually special right now. So that is the sangha we take refuge in.

So we take refuge in our own Buddha nature. We take refuge in the way of recognizing our Buddha nature, and we take refuge in those who have shown us the way to recognize our Buddha nature. In many ages, at the time of getting refuge, five precepts are given. The five precepts are fantastic and wonderful, and they are the true beginning of the path. The five precepts are not to kill any sentient being, not to steal and not to take anything that has not been freely given, not to engage in sexual misconduct, not to lie or use harsh language, and not to become intoxicated.

However, in the Jonang lineage, we understand wonderful as our precepts are but if we take them on the same occasion as we take refuge, we undervalue the vows of refuge. There are six vows of refuge. I think when one enters refuge, one should know what one is doing. Actually, that is one of the things. One is asked to recite, "I know what it is I am doing." So what are the six vows of refuge? There are two for each of the three jewels. Regarding the Buddha, we say that we accept the Buddha as our primary teacher—not as our only teacher, but as our primary teacher—and that we will respect and honor all representations of the Buddha. Regarding the dharma, we say that we will accept the teachings of the Buddha as our primary practice and that we will respect them, honor all texts that present the dharma to us.

And regarding the sangha, our vow is that we will seek the association of fellow practitioners of the dharma, and we will avoid intimate connection with those who are inimical or hostile to the dharma. That doesn't mean that you can't mix with people who are hostile to the dharma. It means intimate association is voluntary and chosen. Just like if you are, I don't know, if you belong to a particular political party, you usually don't go to the convention of the other one, and you do not seek out the association and perhaps do not subscribe to their publications. So the idea is that you don't want to generate conflict, and you do not want your practices to be constantly challenged either. That is all. So the six vows of refuge, to accept the Buddha as the primary teacher and to respect all representations of the Buddha, to accept the dharma as our primary path, and to respect all texts that represent the dharma—that means all written texts. That is why we don't place dharma books on the floor. We don't step over them, etc. And regarding the sangha, that we actively seek out the association a fellow practitioners and we avoid intimate association with those who are hostile to our practice.

Everything in the dharma is voluntary. There is no need to do anything. Nothing is mandatory. When things are mandatory, they actually are not valuable. There is an Indian saying that is very wonderful. They love—I don't know. They're almost like ditties. And one that I found particularly interesting was—and please forgive me, but you have to do it with a little head shake. A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. You can't impose your view on people. It is useless. It will tell you they agree, but they don't. So everything in the dharma is voluntary.

So, we have a way of offering refuge that is completely voluntary, and those of you who want to take refuge for the first time—is anybody taking refuge for the first time?

ChiSing: Three? Or how many? Raise your hand higher. Oh, great. Three.

Tashi: Then we will ask you to come in first at the end of the ceremony, and those who are renewing refuge that you have already taken? All right. And those who will just want to support those taking refuge and then eventually come for a blessing?

ChiSing: The rest of you.

Tashi: So you are free to join us in reciting these prayers or not. I need to make a clarification. In Buddhism, when we pray, we are not praying to somebody out there. All prayers, all invocations are to different aspects of your own Buddha nature, of your own natural perfection. All others are actually mirrors. You are looking at your own nature reflected back to you. We do not bow or prostrate to anyone except that true nature which is our reality. So all these prayers, when we have prayers to the teacher, we have prayers to the lineage, we have prayers to the Buddha of purification.

We have many prayers. They are prayers to different aspects of our own Buddha nature, just like many of you, you have different names for different people. Your mother calls you by one name or a nickname. If your children, your children call you another name. If you have a significant other, your significant other calls you by a different name. At work, you're probably somebody else, too. Right? We are all different people. You're just called different things depending on how you are looked at. Does that make sense?

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch