Taking Refuge



Receiving the signless precepts through the recitation of the three refuges


“Having finished repentance, I shall give you the formless precepts of the three refuges.”

The Master said: “Good friends, ‘take refuge in enlightenment [the Buddha], the most honored among two-legged beings; take refuge in the truth [the Dharma], the most noble [doctrine which sets people] free from the desires; take refuge in purity [the Sangha] the most honored among sentient beings.’  From now on you will call enlightenment your master and will not rely on other teachings which are deluded and heretical. Always prove it clearly yourselves with the three treasures of your own natures. Good friends, I urge you to take refuge in the three treasures in your own natures. The Buddha is enlightenment, the Dharma is truth, and the Sangha is purity. If in your own minds you take refuge in enlightenment [the Buddha], heterodoxies and delusions are not produced, you have no desires and are content with yourself as you are, and stand apart from the passions and physical wants. Therefore Buddha is called ‘most honored among two legged beings.’ If in your own mind you rely on truth [the Dharma], then, because there is no falseness in successive thoughts, there will be no attachments. Since there will be no attachments, [the Dharma] is called ‘the most noble [doctrine which sets people] free from the desires.’ If in your own mind you rely on purity [the Sangha], although all the passions and false thoughts are within your own natures, your natures are not stained. Therefore, [the Sangha] is called ‘most honored among sentient beings.’ The ordinary man does not understand and from day to day receives the precepts of the three refuges. If he says he relies on the Buddha, where is that Buddha? If he doesn’t see the Buddha then he has nothing on which to rely. If he has nothing on which to rely, then what he says is deluded.”‘

“Good friends, each of you must observe well for himself. Do not mistakenly use your minds! The sutras say to take refuge in the Buddha within yourselves; they do not say to rely on other Buddhas.  If you do not rely upon your own natures, there is nothing else on which to rely.”

The Traditional notion of the three-refuges takes on deeper spiritual significance in Hui-neng’s formulation. They are not mere external “signs” like Buddha (law giver), Dharma (law) and Sangha (external community). He says to take refuge in the three-treasures of one’s own Buddha-nature. Buddha=awakened, Bodhi-Mind; Dharma=Undivided Light of Absolute Truth; Sangha=the unified-mystical consciousness of all Buddhas. Taking refuge in this fashion one is purified within the Bodhidhatū, or the Undivided Awareness Realm of the Tathagatas. One is said to be wrapped in a preternatural ambience that radiates the Mystical Body of the Tathagata (Tathagata-kaya) that embodies Truth as an Undivided Movement (a symbiotic relationship) of Pure-Mind Revelation. A very good way to practice this realization is through Tozen’s Unborn Mind Dharani: http://unbornmind.com/2012/11/01/the-unborn-mind-dharani/

An Explanation of the Perfection of Wisdom

“Now that all of you have yourselves devoutly taken refuge in the three treasures, I shall expound to you on the doctrine of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā  (Mo-ho-pan-lo-po-lo-mi).Good friends, although you recite it, you do not understand its meaning, so I shall explain. Listen every one of you! Mahāprajñāpāramitā is an Indian Sanskrit term; in Chinese it means the Great Perfection of Wisdom, reaching the other shore. This Dharma must be practiced; it has nothing to do with recitations. If you recite it and do not practice it, it will be like an illusion or a phantom. The Dharma body of the practicer is the equivalent of the Buddha. “What is Mo-ho? Mo-ho is ‘great.’ The capacity of the mind is broad and huge, like the vast sky. Do not sit with a mind fixed on emptiness. If you do you will fall into a neutral kind of emptiness. Emptiness includes the sun, moon, stars, and planets, the great earth, mountains and rivers, all trees and grasses, bad men and good men, bad things and good things, heaven and hell; they are all in the midst of emptiness. The emptiness of human nature is also like this.” 

“Self-nature contains the ten thousand things-this is ‘great.’ The ten thousand things are all in self-nature. Although you see all men and non-men, evil and good, evil things and good things, you must not throw them aside, nor must you cling to them, nor must you be stained by them, but you must regard them as being just like the empty sky. This is what is meant by ‘great.’ This is the practice of mo-ho . The deluded person merely recites; the wise man practices with his mind. There are deluded men who make their minds empty and do not think, and to this they give the name of ‘great.’ This, too, is wrong. The capacity of the mind is vast and wide, but when there is no practice it is small. Do not merely speak of emptiness with the mouth and fail to practice it. A person such as this is not a disciple of mine.”

The Mahāprajñāpāramitā is the Rich-Noble Buddha-soil upon which rests the Platform Sutra. The Way to get to the Other Shore of Noble Self-realization is by putting on the Dharma-Mind of the Tathagata. Hui-neng says that if one merely goes around “mouthing the words” of the Dharma, their efforts will come to naught. The Buddhadharma is not for those attached to lifeless words that lay like squashed-flies on parchment, but for those whose practice unites them with the Buddhakaya Itself. The Great Bodhi-Mind of the Tathagata is vast, like boundless space; yea, it supersedes even the vast heights of Nagarjuna’s most eloquent and labyrinthine expositions of Śūnyatā itself.  Within the Mind of Bodhi Śūnyatā is Void of Śūnyatā itself AS Śūnyatā’s Voidness. Hui-neng continues by expounding on how this Noble Self-nature contains all the great ten-thousand things; yet you must not cling to any of them as they are all passing phantasms in the dreaming Mind of the Buddhas. Also, merely emptying one’s mind is equally non-sufficient as one has merely substituted their own notion of emptiness that somehow becomes the final answer to all their queries and predicaments of mind. Modern-day Neo-Advaitists fall into this latter avidyic category—as their mouths runneth-over with pseudo-enlightenment and vainglorious ramblings of greatest conceit; yet totally devoid of any notion of the Dark Principle that moves their spiritless tongues. Thus, they lack the necessary discipline and practice of Self-Recollection that Hui-neng espouses.

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2 Responses to Taking Refuge

  1. Jure K says:

    You’re doing very hard-work, I can’t even imagine – going through all these profound statements of the sages. I only hope your labour here will not go in vain – that, like Tozen predicted – it will be praised in the future. It’s like Nietzsche said – some things are written for people who are not even alive yet!

    The road towards faith is extremely hard. In a way, there’s nothing easier than faith. On the other hand, there’s nothing as hard. The Infinite Life Sutra says: “It is the most difficult thing among all difficult things to believe in this Sutra.”

    When we read the works of such people as Saint Augustine, John of the Cross, or Shinran, or even modern guys like Kierkegaard, we find out how difficult the religious journey can be!

    But reading Your words, or Tozen’s, turns me more towards Amida – in a strange way – because you serve to remind me how hard the Path of the Sages is, how intricate, how profoundly incomprehensible for people of modest minds and limited spiritual talent!

    • Bodhichild says:


      Thank-you for your kind compliments.

      As for your own self-reference; I dunno, I still haven’t lost hope in Sansiddhah. 🙂

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