Visualizing the Three Jewels
Stages of the Path #55: Refuge Ngöndro Part 4
Part of a series of short talks on the preliminary practice (ngöndro) of taking refuge.
- The vast lineage and the profound lineage
- The remaining parts of the visualization
- Visualizing in this way helps us know we are not alone by ourselves. We’re surrounded by holy beings.
We’ve been talking about the visualization for the refuge practice. Yesterday we talked about Shakyamuni Buddha in the center and described what he looks like. Here it says, “In the space on his right,” although I’ve often heard it as “on a throne on the right,” so I think either way, “sits Maitreya surrounded by the spiritual mentors of the lineage of extensive deeds.” This is often called the Vast Lineage because it is the bodhisattva conduct that’s very vast in terms of benefitting sentient beings throughout the universe by generosity, ethical conduct, patience, and kindness. All of these kinds of practices are done to benefit others, so it is called the extensive deeds practice. Around Maitreya are all the lineage lamas from that lineage.
To the Buddha’s left sits Manjushri, who is the Buddha of Wisdom. And that is the wisdom that realizes the ultimate nature. Of course, it includes all the different kinds of wisdoms, but especially that one. Around him are the spiritual mentors of the Lineage of the Profound View. It is called the Lineage of the Profound View because it is a very profound and correct view of the nature of reality. To be able to have the experience of that directly, that is what leads us to liberation.
In front of Buddha Shakyamuni is my own root spiritual mentor in the aspect of giving teachings. The right hand is like this and the left hand in the lap. He is surrounded by all the spiritual mentors with whom I have a Dharma connection, and they’re seated upon lotus, sun, and moon.
In the space behind Buddha Shakyamuni sits Vajradhara, the Victorious Lord of Myriad Tantras, surrounded by the Lineage of Spiritual Mentors of the Blessings of the Practice. Vajradhara is the form that the Buddha appeared in when he taught tantra, and so all those lamas who teach those different tantric practices are there.
In the four directions around Shakyamuni Buddha, in a ring outside of where the Buddha is and the four groups of teachers, you have the deities Guhyasamaja, Chakrasaṃvara, Vajrabhairava and Kalachakra with their maṇḍalas. In a ring around them are all the meditational deities. In a ring around them are the Buddhas. In a ring around the Buddhas are the bodhisattvas. The ring around the bodhisattvas are the hearer arhats and solitary realizer arhats, then another ring with ḍakas and ḍakinis, and another ring with the Dharma protectors. The four directional protectors, in innumerable peaceful and wrathful aspects, are in their respective seats. The worldly protectors don’t sit on the big throne with all the objects of refuge; they sit below it and are helping to guard the Dharma.
On either side of the lineage spiritual mentors who conferred empowerment, teaching, and instructions of the Vinaya, Sutra and Abhidharma, and Tantra are splendid stands with their teachings of the holy Dharma, represented by brilliantly radiant texts.
When we have the visualization with the Buddha and then the four groups of teachers—that is representing the gurus—then the rings of the meditational deities and the rings of the Buddhas—that is the Buddha Jewel that we take refuge in. The Dharma Jewel is the texts that are on stands beside all the lineage lamas. The texts that they’ve written explain the path to liberation and enlightenment represent the Dharma Jewel. Then the circles of bodhisattvas, arhats, ḍakas, ḍakinis and Dharma protectors represent the Sangha Jewel. That’s the Sangha Jewel. All of space is filled with objects of refuge.
It is nice when you do this visualization because, sometimes, we might feel like, “Oh, I’m all alone on this spiritual path and nobody else is interested in Buddhism,” and “Who do I have to talk to about my spiritual yearnings and questions?” When you do this visualization, you see, “Oh, there are lots of people who are interested in the Dharma, lots of people who want to talk about the things I want to talk about, lots of people who know more than me that I can learn from.” You feel really inspired and you want to take refuge in them and develop those relationships. You realize that you aren’t all alone in an unwelcoming universe but the universe is filled with holy beings who are sitting there, waiting to help you in the Dharma and share the Dharma with you!
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.