From the Vajrayana perspective, establishment of confidence occurs on four levels. These are known as chi-kyab5 or outer refuge; nang-kyab6 or inner refuge; sang-kyab7 or secret refuge; and yang-sang kyab8 or most-secret or ultimate refuge.
These levels relate to the nature and method of the vehicle being practised. The outer level describes the theg-men or theg-chung, and theg-chen.9
The secret level is seen in two ways, so I shall explain both. As we are at the Lam Rim Buddhist Centre which follows the New Translation School or Sarma13system – I shall explain that first.
According to the Sarma schools the secret level is inner tantra, the Naljor La-na medpa’i Gyüd14 or highest union continuum. This is subdivided into the father, mother, and nondual Tantra phases.15 According to the Nyingma or old translation tradition to which I belong, the secret refuge is the three Inner Tantras. These three are Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga.
The most-secret or ultimate level is Dzogchen, the great completeness or great completion.
That gives you a healthy collection of foreign words. It is especially useful to have the Tibetan words at your disposal in order that you can check what I have said with other Lamas, and that you can compare my translation of terms with those of other sources. Understanding all these words however, is not as important as understanding the meaning of the four levels of kyab. Understanding is not dependent upon such lists – so I would not worry excessively about them.
From the outer perspective, we are establishing confidence in the actuality of sang-gyé, chö, and gendün16 – Buddha, dharma and sangha. Let us look first at the meaning of these words and then we can explore their meaning in an experiential context.
Sang-gyé: the word sang-gyé means ‘complete open wakefulness’. This is the state exemplified by Shakya Seng-gé17—Lion of the Shakyas—the manifestation of Padmasambhava appearing as identical with Shakya Seng-gé – Shakyamuni Buddha.
Taking refuge in sang-gyé means establishing confidence in the actuality of liberated beings – and confidence in ourselves as innate Buddhas.
Chö: the word chö means the teachings of the vehicles according to whichever system of dharma one follows. Here we establish confidence in the actuality of insight and method as they have been handed down through the lineage to which we belong. We can have confidence that these methods have been tried and tested over several millennia. Dzogchen lineages date back over three thousand years.
Gendün: the word gendün means community – our practitioner-friends and associates. There are—broadly speaking—two communities: the gendün marpo and gendün karpo18 – the red and white communities of practitioners. The gendün marpo are the nuns and monks, and the gendün karpo are the ngakmas and ngakpas – the gö kar chang lo’i dé.19 You could think of them as the sangha of Buddha Shakyamuni and the sangha of Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel – but both belong to both.
Sang-gyé: with Sang-gyé we are establishing our confidence in Buddhahood as an innate quality of ourselves and all beings. This is made possible by witnessing these qualities in the being of the Lamas with whom we study. The Lama is a portal through whom we witness the nondual state. If we have glimpsed the panoramas offered by such a portal we can establish confidence in Buddhahood.
Chö: with chö we are establishing our confidence in that which has been taught by those who have acheived complete open wakefulness.
Our confidence is based on having entered the portal of those teachings and having discovered for ourselves that they are experientially accurate. Chö is sometimes seen as the Buddhist canon – but actually, chö is limitless. Chö is the answer given whenever there is confusion. Styles of samsara are limitless and therefore chö is limitless.
Gendün: with gendün we are establishing our confidence in the vital presence of those who are practising. We are acknowledging the discovery that we are able to derive support and inspiration from others. I have seen people change so much through their practice and I am confident that anyone who practises will see changes in other practitioners. Finding joy in the development of our vajra brothers and sisters not only inspires us – but destroys any perverted sense of competition. If you can change and grow, I know that I can change and grow. Gendün therefore offers something wonderful to celebrate!
This establishes confidence in actuality – it is something real, powerful and personally direct. The more we open, the more we appreciate the power and efficacy of the teachings and the practices in which we engage.
Study and practice go hand in hand. Our study—or development of view—inspires us to practise. Our practice then confirms the reality of the view.
We assimilate the teachings both intellectually and experientially and—as our practice develops—we establish confidence in the possibility of being completely open and awake. This arises through our increasing capacity of insight, which is awakened through the unfolding of our own experience of practise.
Now let us look at nang-kyab, the inner refuge. From the Inner perspective we establish confidence in Lama, yidam and khandro.20 These are known as the tsa-sum21 – the three roots of Tantra. The Lama is the source of wisdom. The yidam is the source of power. The khandro or pawo is the source of inspiration.
The Lama is the teacher – both external and internal. He or she is the person who teaches us – the one who facilitates us to teach ourselves. The Lama mirrors us – reflects our nondual nature and shows us the pattern of our personalised version of distracted-being. Intrinsically however, the Lama is our beginningless enlightened nature. Some of you will be more familiar with the term ‘self-luminous wisdom mind’, but the meaning is the same.
Our relationship with the external Lama is the interplay of our nondual mind with the nondual mind of the Lama. It is a Vajrayana game of ‘hide and seek’ in which the Lama is trying to persuade us that we are not dualistically deranged. The game has been going on for so long that it should be tedious – but the Lama remains as playful as ever. It is this playfulness that is known as compassion.
Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche said, ‘‘Sentient beings see Buddhas as sentient beings – but Buddhas see sentient beings as Buddhas. This disparity causes Buddhas great irritation – and that irritation is known as compassion or pure appropriateness. The Lama gives us skilful remedies for the imaginary illness of dualistic derangement in order that we discover for ourselves that our illness is imaginary.
Yidam is the Lama manifesting in a visionary form and resonating with the liberated quality of a seed-sound and ngak22 – awareness-spell. Through receiving transmission we can absorb our attention and attune our intent in order to realise the Mind of the Lama and subsequently the tremendous power of that unlimited sphere of being. The yidam—or awareness-being—is a living symbol of the nondual state. They have been discovered in the visionary experience of great masters of all lineages. New forms of yidam manifest constantly in the visionary experience of tantric masters.
Khandro and pawo23 are the female sky-dancing and male warrior aspects of the nondual state. We discover the khandro principle when we begin to discover our spaciousness. We discover the pawo principle when we begin to discover our innate compassion. The khandros and pawos are the circumstances of the path – practitioners’ best friends. They are our environment: the earth, water, fire, air, and space which manifest as the conditions in which we find ourselves. When we realise that the entire phenomenal world is the dance of the khandros and pawos – every experience becomes a teaching. Every experience becomes a chance to break through our conditioning. Every experience becomes the possibility for liberation.
The khandros—as they are painted in Tibetan awareness imagery—often dance their wild dance on a flaming triangle. This is the symbol of the cosmic cervix – the womb-like quality of space that gives birth to everything, the unlimited origin of liberation and distraction.
The khandro is the mother of our experience and the vital nurturing energy that inspires our practice. The pawos are heroes who leap and stride through the battlefield of dualistic derangement in order to allow escape from the self-inflicted carnage of self-protectiveness.
Now let us look at sang-kyab, the secret refuge. From the perspective of the secret refuge we establish confidence in tsa, lung and thig-lé.24 Tsa are the spatial nerves or channels that constitute our subtle-body. Lung are the spatial winds that animate our being and provide energy and dynamism. Thig-lé are the essence of the elements and therefore the effulgence of the continuum of subtle awareness.
I should say a word here about the term thig-lé. It does not mean ‘drop’. Thig-lé is often translated as ‘drop’ but that is an oft repeated mistake. The word ‘thigs’ means drop and the homonym ‘thig’ means essence. I think the confusion arose in translating the word Nyingthig25 which means ‘heart essence’. I think early translators related the idea of heart with blood and therefore Nyingthig became heart drop – as in the most essential drop of blood in the heart. Thig—without an ‘s’—means the most essential point.
Secret refuge is known as secret because there is no way that anyone can relate to the secret refuge unless they have witnessed their being functioning in that dimension.
With secret refuge we are establishing confidence in the actuality of our being as a dynamic matrix of energy currents that are generated and absorbed by the empty essences of the five elements.
We establish confidence in the self-existent nature of tsa as the basis of enlightenment in tulku26 – the sphere of realised manifestation.
We establish confidence in the self-existent nature of lung as the basis of enlightenment in long-ku27 – the sphere of intangible appearance.
We establish confidence in the self-existent nature of thig-lé as the basis of enlightenment in chö-ku28 – the sphere of unconditioned potentiality.
Now let us look at yang-sang kyab, the most-secret or ultimate refuge. From this perspective, the concept of establishing confidence ceases to have a linear meaning. There is simply direct introduction to the state of primordial awareness. One remains without doubt. One continues in that awareness. These are the three last testaments of Garab Dorje29 the original human teacher of Dzogchen. Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche gave a wonderful teaching on this in London some years ago, called tsig-sum né-dek30 which means ‘hitting the essence in three epithets’. This teaching is the final ultimate confidence and the life-blood of all the others. The path and the goal have become identical.
We have direct experience of actuality through the methods of Dzogchen: sem-dé – the series of the nature of Mind; long-dé – the series of space; and men-ngak-dé– the series of implicit instruction. Direct experience of actuality means that we recognise our intrinsic nature in terms of ngo-wo, rang-zhin and thug-je31 – essence, nature and energy.
The essence is empty. The nature is clear and unimpeded. The energy is free of all barriers and is boundlessly compassionate. We have arrived at what is known as the kun-zhi32 – the basic ground of being beyond both duality and nonduality.
This is something of an explanation of refuge – of the establishing of confidence in actuality. As you see, it is a vast and profound subject. I have only painted a thumbnail sketch – but we are near the limit of this evening’s talk.
5. phyi sKyabs
6. nang sKyabs
7. gSang sKyabs
8. yang gSang sKyabs
9. theg dMan or theg chung – lesser vehicle or Hinayana; theg chen – the greater vehicle
10. bya rGyud, Skt: kriya tantra
11. thabs rGyud, Skt: upa tantra
12. rNal ’byor rGyud, Skt: yoga tantra
13. gSar ma
14. rNal ’byor bLa na med pa’i rGyud, Skt: annutarayoga tantra
15. pha rGyud, ma rGyud and gNyis med rGyud
16. sangs rGyas – Buddha; chos – dharma; and, dGe bDun - sangha
17. sha kya seng ge
18. dGe bDun dMar po and dGe bDun dKar po
19. gos dKar lCang lo’i sDe
20. bLa ma, Skt: guru; yi dam, Skt: deva – awareness being, meditational deity; and mKha’ ’gro dPa bo, Skt: dakini
21. rTsa gSum
22. sNgags, Skt: mantra – awareness spell
23. dPa bo, Skt: daka
24. rTsa, rLung and thig le, Skt: nadi, prana and bindu
25. sNying thig
26. sPrul sKu, Skt: nirmanakaya
27. longs sKu, Skt: sambhogakaya
28. chos sKu, Skt: dharmakaya
29. dGa’ rab rDo rJe – Prahevajra or Pramoda Vajra
30. tshig gSum gNad brDegs
31. ngo bo, rang bZhin, and thugs rJe
32. kun bZhi/i>