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Refuge and Prostrations



If authors or other authorities have not prostrated...


I just realize that you cannot divide the whole thing into the three groups of three practices mentioned here, but that you have to separate the practice of «Taking Refuge» into the practices of «Taking Refuge» and «Prostrations».


Here I suggest that you first make a certain number of prostrations with the shortest escape formula,


I take refuge in my teachers, male and female deities,


and then sit down with the same visualization and recite the same number from a multi-line Refuge Verse, until you have made 100,000 repetitions of each of them.


After the dripping drops of you sweat after the prostrations (hopefully), you can sit down and recite with the same visualization, a multi-line escape formula, whereby you quickly stop sweating. This will make you feel well and learn to appreciate the other beneficial effects of the prostrations.

Regarding the Sutra system, the practitioner takes refuge in the three jewels which are the Buddhas, their teachings, and the spiritual community, while in relation to the Tantra system, one also take refuge to the guru, to the meditation deity and to the Dakinis or the female energy manifestations. These are known as the three roots. However, according to Dzogchen, the main object of refuge is the guru or the realized master. It is this Master who directly shows the practitioner the natural state in the context of an intimate personal encounter and dialogue. This is the refuge in the absolute sense, the direct introduction into the nature of the mind, but with regard to the Sutra and the Tantra, there is also the refuge in the relative sense, which has also proven itself in practice.


Here in the Bön tradition comes first the Bodhichitta, because the purpose of attaining enlightenment is the foundation on the spiritual path of the Mahayana and is the basic motivation for the following. However, taking refuge is not just the loud repetition of some formulas or the reading of some well-meaning religious words. «Refuge» means absolute trust and generates total devotion to the Buddhas, their spiritual teachings, and the spiritual community. Taking refuge depends on one's faith and devotion.


If the practitioner has a genuine and passionate devotion, then the refuge will be very strong, effective, and powerful. All of this depends too on the individual practitioner's decision, his trust, and his dedication. The Ultimate Refuge is the principle of enlightenment all the time within the individual mind-stream, but in the concrete sense, the practitioner creates refuge by opening unreservedly and by surrendering to it. It's the same with the sun in the sky. It's there all the time, but first you have to come out of the shadow of the cave to receive it and enjoy its light. For this reason, you should practice the Bodhichitta and the refuge every day.


The most important thing here is to have complete faith in Buddha. For this reason, one does not trust in the worldly gods or spirits of nature, nor take refuge in them. For these worldly gods and spirits, no matter how powerful, long-lived or clever they may be, they are not enlightened and still belong to the order of existence oriented to Samsara. Because the Buddha, on the other hand, is an omniscient and enlightened being, there is nothing higher than Buddha who has completely surpassed Samsara. Therefore, one should not rely on the worldly gods, who speak by divination and clairvoyance, and put this over the word and power of Buddha. In the behavior here, the refuge flows to Buddha. And since one has recourse to the teachings of the Buddha, the Dharma, or the Bön, one should show in the scriptures and the spiritual books, general pictures and photos of the Buddhas, Stupas, and temples and so on.


And finally, you take refuge in the spiritual community of the Bodhisattvas, who use the sentient beings incessantly and lead them to the liberation of Samsara. Why must one take refuge in this Bodhisattva community? At the beginning of their spiritual careers, they swore to help all sentient beings and escort them from the prison of Samsara to liberation. And because they've spent countless lifetimes in the perpetual practice of teaching, they've developed the knowledge and ability to do just that. You are no longer just an ordinary being who is blinded and powerless in Samsara, but you form a spiritual community whose purpose is to inspire and guide the spiritual evolution of this planet to the realization of Buddhahood, what is the ultimate goal of every evolution. The practitioner comes to participate on this collective effort. Therefore, you should not speak badly of one of the spiritual brothers and the spiritual sisters, and do not contradict or divide within their spiritual communities. These are the vows of refuge.


According to the Sutra system, it takes the countless lives of three immense Kalpas to attain Buddhahood, and there are many obstacles to this process that are visible and invisible along the way. What can the ordinary practitioner do? For this reason, one takes refuge in the Buddha, the teaching, and the spiritual community of the Great Bodhisattvas, as well as to the guru. These represent the four precious jewels. But among them, the guru or Lama is most important. This is because the Buddha lived long ago and is now only a memory, whiles the Guru or the Master, here and now, is in this life. He is able to delegate to the practitioners the empowerments that mature the mind stream and the secret verbal instructions that clear the understanding. The various Nirmanakaya Buddhas long ago spread the teachings of the Dharma throughout their respective earthly careers, and these teachings have been preserved as a guide in today's world.


The Guru or the Master is here and now, precisely and specifically in this present situation, the representative of Buddha. He introduces us directly to the nature of our own mind. He does this in the same way as Tönpa Shenrab, Buddha Shakyamuni, or any other Buddha in the matter did. However, it is not necessary to take an exam to see if a guru has exactly the same characteristics as the various historical Buddhas. Rather, it is sufficient to know if he transmits the teachings in the right way and in the same way as the previous Buddhas. This is why the practitioner takes refuge to the guru.



Visualization of the Refuge

The following visualization should be used more often in the course of the preparatory exercises in order to familiarize you with it. It was mentioned somewhere «either Tapihritsa or the Refuge Tree», but this «either or» does not apply in this context.


Of course, if you're familiar with the visualization of the entire tree, you can just visualize Tapihritsa to reduce the time spent on it. However, it would be better to visualize your Lama as Tapihritsa while choosing a simple form (one aspect at a time) of the entire Refuge ꟷ Lama, Yidam, Buddha, Teaching, Bodhisattva, Khandro and Protector ꟷ or visualize of the four highest objects ꟷ Lama, Buddha, Teaching and Bodhisattva ꟷ, such as the three times bowing.


(click to enlarge)


In the middle of the tree is the Sambhogakaya aspect of Buddha Shenla Ökar, also known as Kunzang Shenla, adorned with the crown, dressed in precious silk and adorned with the jeweled ornaments. He sits cross-legged and holds a precious jewel in the hands held in the Samadi Mudra.


Above him flies a Garuda (Khyung), the king of birds and the symbol of Dzogchen teachings. Then in the sky above him are three groups of figures, like billowing sheep-clouds: the gurus of the various lines of the Bön teachings. The central group immediately above the Sambhogakaya consists of the various abbots of Menri Monastery, the largest figure among them being Nyame Sherab Gyaltsen even in their midst. In the sky above the head of abbot Sherab Gyaltsen, the three lines are for the Bönpo Dzogchen teachings, with the line extending from the Zhang-Zhung Nengyü in the center up to the zenith of the sky, where its ultimate transcendent source, the Original Buddha Kuntu Zangpo, sitting in quiet contemplation.


The other two lines of the gurus are to the right and left of this central column of forms. Together, these three Dzogchen lines are known within the Bön tradition as rdzogs snyan gsum, Atri, Dzogchen and Nengyü. On the left side of the three Dzogchen lines is the line for the Vinayas or the monastic disciples, descending from the figure of Tönpa Shenrab, and on the right is the line for the secret Mantras or Tantras, descending from the figure of Shenla Ökar.


In the sky on the far right is the field of the nine enlightened teachers or Buddhas who represent the ninefold transmission of the mind, and opposite to the left, there is a group of figures representing those of the five paths in the tradition, namely the ways of accumulation, application, vision, meditative development and eventual realization.


To the immediate left of the central Shenla Ökar there is a large group of Yidams or meditation deities, including a group of the more wrathful Inner Yidams belonging to the Higher or Inner Tantras, and below them the group of more mixed Outer Yidams that belong to the lesser or outer Tantras. Then on the right side, so to the left side of the Buddha, there is a collection of wildly dancing naked Dakinis with Yeshe Walmo, the two-armed form of Sippe Gyalmo, in the middle. Beneath the Buddha and this field of the Yidams and Dakinis, which represent the Three Roots, there are the hosts of the various protectors and guardians of Bön.


In summary, this entire Tree of Congregation or Field of Merit is known as the Refuge or as the Source of Refuge.


There are two phases in practice:


1. the visualization of the tree of assembly and
2. the presentation of prostrations while reciting the Refuge formula.


Recitations and prostrations are performed one hundred thousand times in the course of the retreat.




Pray with fervent devotion the verse given below. But the practitioner can also use the many different invocations and escape formulas found in various practice manuals, but should stay with one and the same recitation.




To Master Shenrab, the highest source of the Trikaya,
To all the Sugatas of the three times, the protectors of all living beings,
To the pictures that are their representations, the scriptures and the Stupas, that are all our support,
And to all the Shenrabpas of the ten directions, which are the lights on the way to liberation,
To these four sources of refuge, I and all other beings take refuge as we make our prostrations before them.



Visualization for the Prostrations

One visualizes the tree of the assembly in the sky before and over itself, as described. In the middle of the tree is the Root Guru in the form of the Sambhogakaya Buddha Shenla Ökar, surrounded by thousands of miniature figures of the Three Jewels and the Three Roots. Thus the sky before the practitioner is everywhere filled with the glorious and luminous appearances of the Sambhogakayas and the Nirmanakayas as a living presence. They fill the entire sky. One should think that one actually sees the Buddhas in heaven in front of oneself to whom one prays.


Beams of light come from their hearts and ascend into the sky. These rays bring blessings or spiritual energies of enlightenment in the form of wisdom beings or Yeshepas, which coming down as miniature images of light, like snowflakes, and these are picked up by the tree of assembly. This visualization actually represents something created by the practitioner's finite discriminating mind. However, these two, the Wisdom or Gnostic beings and the Symbolic beings, are intertwined and unified, always one and inseparable, like the pouring of water into water. In this way, the visualization is guaranteed and provided with a life and a unique intelligence and is therefore more than something that is created only by your own mind and imagination.


In the visualization you multiply your own body and lead all other beings to take refuge and to carry out prostrations. The bows can either be in the short form where you simply kneel and touch the ground with the palms of the hands and forehead, or in the long form where you lay the body completely flat on the floor and bring your hands together over your head, which is recommended for the preparatory exercises. In any case, once you have created the visualization, you stand upright in front of that visualization, feeling with the belief and firm conviction that the objects of refuge actually exist, meaning that you can actually see and hear them and they know, what you do. Put the palms together with a small cavity in front of the breast as if you are holding a great precious jewel that you now offer to the objects of refuge, especially for Kunzang Shenla, from whom you request the empowerments and initiations.


Before each pass, place your own palms together first in front of your forehead, then in front of your throat, and finally in front of your heart, thinking that you are receiving the empowerments of Kunzang Shenla's body, speech and mind. When you bring your hands down, you think that you have purified all past karmic traces and darkening.


Then lie down on the floor so that both knees, both palms and forehead touch the floor.


Think that it cleanses the five poisons, which are the emotional defilements. When you stand on your feet again, you feel that you are now in the pure dimension of enlightenment, the sacred space of the objects of refuge. As you exhale, you recognize the original purity of this dimension.