Refuge Tree: Triple Gem and the Triple Root

Last time I talked about the purpose of Taking Refuge, and the Triple Gem, now I want to go a bit farther. In Vajrayana Buddhism Refuge often includes four, or six figures, rather than the three I introduced last time. No matter what happens those three will always be present, but because Vajrayana Buddhism is a lineage-focused initiation tradition you will often Take Refuge in your personal guru, your teacher. Now if you don’t have a teacher, or don’t feel that your teacher is worthy of Refuge (admittedly a dicey idea in Vajrayana, usually it’s better to understand they are inherently Enlightened and that is the part you Take Refuge in) you can use one of the major historical gurus, such as Padmasambhava or Lama Tsongkapa, I’ve also seen it suggested people use Vajradhara or Kuntuzangpo in this position, but have not been told that through my lineage. In Vajrayana the guru is of the utmost importance, in fact it’s often said that your guru is more important than the Buddha, because it is your guru who introduces you to Buddhism, without the guru you couldn’t encounter the Buddha. If you’re Taking Refuge and including the guru you just Take Refuge in them first, so it becomes “I Take Refuge in the Guru, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.”

Now the more complicated Refuge involves six figures, the Triple Gem, and the Triple Root. The Triple Gem is the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, as covered before. The Triple Root is the Lama/Guru, the Yidam, and the Dakinis. Your lama or guru is the teacher who initiates you and guides your practice. Your Yidam is your personal meditation tutelary deity. The Dakinis are…complicated, but they’re fierce female spirits who help bring on enlightenment, perhaps by any means necessary. When Refuge includes all six it tends to be broken into two parts, Gem then Root. “I Take Refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, the Lama, the Yidam, and the Dakinis.”

If you’re using Refuge in another system your guru, would obviously be your teacher, or a great teacher of your tradition, again much like the Buddha last time, you can visual an idealized teacher rather than a specific one. For the Yidam think about your practice, if you’re an occultist you might have a Patron/Matron deity of some sort, that’s the person you’d use as the Yidam to Refuge. Now if your personal deity is also the transcendent deity you use as a Buddha (as mentioned last post) that’s fine, see them in their different forms. Kali as Yidam could be the Wrathful Mother dancing on Shiva, while Kali as Buddha is the Force and Fabric that makes up the Universe and the Fire on the Edge of Time. For Dakinis you can use helpful and sacred spirits. While I’m not majorly found of the comparison sometimes the easiest way to explain Dakinis is to say “Buddhist Angels,” it’s not right, but it’s close enough that you get an idea. So picture here the angels or messengers or sacred helper spirits of your Path.

The Three Roots and Three Gems are reflections of each other. You can parallel the Buddha and the Lama, they’re both the teacher and guide. You can parallel the Dharma and the Yidam, the Yidam is your main practice, and Dharma is your practice, the Yidam is the focus of your teachings. Lastly the Sangha and the Dakinis are paralleled; they’re the community that is working on supporting you and uplifting you to Enlightenment.

You would be the central blue figure on this Tree

You would be the central blue figure on this Tree

Now in Varjayana it’s taught that when you Take Refuge you visualize/generate a Refuge Tree. This is a visual representation of the Three Roots and Three Gems. Depending on the practice, and the sect and tradition they’re laid out in different ways, but they’ll always contain the Buddha, and Lamas or the lineage, a variety of Yidams, generally a text is hidden in the image (the Dharma), and then dakinis, dharma protectors and people. You visualize this in front of you when you Take Refuge.

My lama has taught me to do it differently, instead of projecting the Tree in front of yourself you build it around yourself, so rather than having the Tree as something separate you’re making yourself a part of it, in fact, you are the Tree itself. I really like this method, Vajrayana practices take the external work of other systems and make it internal, instead of summoning a figure outside of yourself, you Become them, so why should the Tree be different? I also like it because many traditions around the world have something where you connect yourself to the Tree of the World, the Axis Mundi, and this slight change makes a Buddhist version of just that, with you as the Axis.

I’ll give a simplified English version of the practice first, and include the Tibetan after. I’ve never done it in English so I have to think through it as I go.

Sitting in a meditative posture know that you are the Centre of Reality, the World as you know it revolves around you.

With your right hand in the position of preparing to snap touch the Crown of your head. “To the glorious Lama I go for Refuge.” As you say this move your hand so it is pointing upwards visualizing the lama springing from your head into the space above you. When you say “Refuge” snap your fingers and see that snap Creating the image of the guru, making it solid and real, not just your imagination.

With your right hand in the position of preparing to snap touch your Third Eye. “To the glorious mandala of the Yidam I go for Refuge.” As you say this move your hand so it is pointing forward a foot from your face visualizing the Yidam springing from your Third Eye and standing in front of you. Again when you say “Refuge” snap your finger and solidify the image.

With your hand in the preparing to snap position touch your right temple. “To the Buddha I go for Refuge.” As you say this move your hand so it is pointing to the right while seeing the image of the Buddha leaving your temple to float off to your right, again when you say “Refuge” snap your finger and make the Buddha real.

With your hand in the snap position touch the back of your head, that bump on the other side of your skull from your eyes. “To all the sacred Dharma I go for Refuge.” Saying this move your hand to point backwards seeing a collection of Holy Texts flowing from your skull and piling up to become a solid foundation you can lean against. Again with saying “Refuge” snap to make it solid.

Touch your left temple in the same hand position. “To the great Sangha I go for Refuge” Saying this move your hand out to point to the left, seeing a collection of Bodhisattvas springing from your left temple to stand to your left, and again while saying “Refuge” snap to make the image solid.

With your hand in the position of preparing to snap, with your pointer finger pointing up say the following while moving your hand in a clockwise circle in front of your body, so that when you finish your hand is back where it started. “To all the Dakinis, Guardians, and Dharma Protectors I go for Refuge.” As you’re saying this and moving your hand see a collection of Dakinis, and Guardian figures leaving your heart to stand in a circle around you, to protect you, and your efforts, then when you say “Refuge” snap and make them solid.

This entire process should be done three times, when you get used to it the entire thing can take 45 seconds, though obviously it can take more depending on how much you want to put into it.

Take a moment to reaffirm the presence of all of them, I personally like to reconnect to all of them, so I see ethereal threads flowing from each of them back to the place that they emerged from. Don’t worry about holding the image the entire time you’re practicing, you’re just to make them clear and solid at the beginning to connect with the current, also these are not figures you banish, just leave them be and they will fade back into Emptiness and your Mind.

This is the Tibetan, the phrasing is a bit more complex. You’d do it the same way, except “Chio” is when you would snap each time.

Palden Lama Dampa Namla Chap Sou Chio

Yidam Chilkor Gyi Lhatsog Namla Chap Sou Chio

Sangye Chomdende Namla Chap Sou Chio

Dampe Cho Namla Chap Sou Chio

Phape Gendun Namla Chap Sou Chio

Pawo Kandro Cho Kyong Srungme Tsog Yeshe Khi Chyen Dang Denpa Namla Chap Sou Chio


One Response to Refuge Tree: Triple Gem and the Triple Root

  1. […] is talking about the process of taking refuge in the Vajrayana tradition over on his blog. I wanted to address how it is done in the Theravada […]

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