The Greatest Thing in Life,
Taking Refuge with the Triple Jewel
A talk given on on March 28, 1993, at Long Beach Monastery
The greatest thing in life is to take refuge with the Triple Jewel. You have to be serious about this. Don’t treat it casually, and don’t act on a whim. First of all, you have to choose a teacher of genuine understanding and wisdom to take refuge with. That way, when there is some principle you do not understand, you will receive the proper guidance that will allow you to gain insight into the Buddha’s knowledge and views. Don’t join “external sects” [sects that seek truth outside the mind] or listen to the instructions of misguided teachers.
It is not only now that external sects and misguided teachers have become so popular. They were also very numerous when the Buddha was in the world. At that time, there were ninety-six external sects and seventy-two cults. These flourished even more than the Proper Dharma. People joined these cults simply because they did not understand the truth. Such cults are very harmful, for they can easily lead you astray. You start out hoping to gain some benefit, but once you go astray, you will only be harmed. It is very dangerous.
If you want to take refuge with the Triple Jewel and enter the Treasury of the Proper Dharma Vision and the Wonderful Mind of Nirvana, you must look for wise teachers. However, even among left-home people, the wise and the unwise are intermingled; they are not all the same. If you make the mistake of joining an external sect, you will suffer great harm; and if you mistakenly follow the teachings of a misguided teacher, the harm is even greater.
Therefore, all of you who are studying the Buddhadharma, don’t let it happen that you seek to ascend but end up falling into the hells instead. Don’t let it be that you want to find happiness, but suffer boundless misery instead. That’s why I said that taking refuge is a matter of the highest priority; nothing is more important. When you take refuge with me, you have to consider everything clearly and recognize the path you’re taking.
Each of you should bring forth the utmost sincerity in repenting of your past offenses before the Buddhas. If you are really sincere in repenting, then your offenses will be eradicated, and your good roots will grow. But if you are not sincere, your offenses will still remain, and your good roots will not grow. So, it all depends on your sincerity and concentration. Do not let your mind get distracted; avoid deluded thoughts; and restrain your wild mind. You have to be true and sincere when taking refuge. If you simply go through the motions, you will not get a response.
If your faith is solid and your conduct is pure, then from the time you formally take refuge until you become a Buddha, you will not run into any great difficulties. If your faith is weak and your conduct is impure, then you can forget about becoming a Buddha. You will have a hard time just being a person. Not only laypeople, but even left-home people will fall into the hells if you do not cultivate.
Therefore, all you laypeople should do your best and work hard. Do not be absent-minded and disrespectful toward Buddhism. You should revere the Triple Jewel, make offerings to the Triple Jewel, believe in the Triple Jewel, and serve the Triple Jewel all your life. Then you will have a response in the Way. If you cannot do this after you take refuge, and you still act as if you had not taken refuge at all, then you will not have any responses.
Every morning when you get up, you should make the Four Vast Vows before the Buddhas. These are vows that every Bodhisattva should make. Make these vows in the morning, and in the evening ask yourself, “Living beings are limitless; have I saved them? I have vowed to cut off the endless afflictions. Have I cut them off? If not, I must cut them off. If I haven’t saved living beings, then I must save them. And if I haven’t gotten rid of my afflictions, I must cast them out. I have vowed to learn the boundless Dharma-doors. But have I learned them? No? Then I must do so.
No matter how busy I am, I ought to devote time to reciting Sutras and reading Buddhist books in order to learn the boundless Dharma-doors. I have vowed to accomplish the unsurpassed Buddha Way, but I am still an ordinary person, not a Buddha. I must hurry and cultivate in order to realize Buddhahood.” You should contemplate in this way every day. In the morning make the Four Vast Vows, and in the evening reflect to see whether you have fulfilled them.