Ken Holmes:

Taking Refuge


May 19, 2006 In Helsinki, Finland




Turn your loving hearts to all beings

and think about how all our thoughts have been dedicated to them.


Refuge and Bodhicitta:


San-gye chö dang tso-ji cho nam la  

chang chub bar-du da ni chab-su-nchi

da-gi gom-de ji-pay sö-nam ji

dro-la pen-chir san-gye dru par sho.


(In the Buddha, Dharma and noblest Sangha

I take refuge until enlightenment is reached.

Through the virtue generated by this meditation and mantra-recitation

may I achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of beings.)


Supplication to the Root Guru:


Pal-den tsa-we la-ma rin-po-che

da-gi tsi-vor pe-de den-shu la

ka-drin tshen-pö go-ne tse-zung te

ku sung tu tsi ngö-drup tsal-du sol.


(Most precious and resplendent root guru, seated on a lotus and moon throne above my head. I pray that you care for me with your great kindness and grant me all the physical, verbal and mental accomplishments (siddhi) of enlightenment.)


Refuge is the very heart of Buddhism. It's the very first thing, all the way through, it's the foundation for everything to do and at the end there is nothing… that's very important.


Today I'd like to try to talk about refuge in three main ways, first to try to capture the spirit of refuge, secondly to give you the technical information ought to be given in a talk like this and thirdly to take you through the ceremony; what you will be going through in this afternoon.


So, first the spirit of refuge. Refuge is the way it is translated in English, the idea is seeking help, support, protection and guidance. You may know that in Buddhism we don't put so much emphasis on the theological understanding of the universe, but much more on emphasis on direct work with our own mind.


As far as the largest questions about life are concerned, there are probably two options. Either there is something that is sacred, eternal, some very special spirit or mind behind the regular fabric of life – that's one possibility – and if it's there, it doesn't really matter what religions call it; if they call it God, if we call it buddha nature, it doesn't matter what anybody calls it, if it's there, if it is eternal and so powerful, it's there. And all our religions, beliefs, philosophies, our human attempts are trying to understand it, to relate to it.


The other possibility is that there is nothing there and all our religions are just human kinds of fantasy to make life a little bit more comfortable and explainable. And of course as individuals we each have to make our own decisions about our choices.


In Buddhism we have our own ideas about this eternal perfection, which is there. We think it is a perfect purity, its very nature is most profound and unimaginable love and compassion, its very nature is limitless wisdom, omniscience, and the last thing: it has the power to reach to individuals' lives, to help them.


That's what we believe. It's quite similar to what other religions believe. In our Buddhist traditions we don't all quite describe it the same way, but in Tibetan Buddhist tradition that is certainly what we do. What we differ in general from the other faiths is that we don't believe that the eternal perfection is the creator of the world and we don't think it's another being, a separate entity from ourselves. We think that it's the real nature of everything and everyone. When we take refuge what we are doing is placing our trust in that. We are looking for protection and guidance from it. And it's something quite indescribable.


So in Buddhism we have some marvellous words for it; words of total frustration, because it's beyond anything we can imagine, anything that our words can describe. So we call it: …hmm … hmm … That. That is an English word which comes from Sanskrit root Tatha, translation of that, and many, many thousands of people have found That. So we call them: "become That", which is in Sanskrit Tathagata. This is a state of most profound and never-ending happiness. So we call the people who found it "those who became happy", which is Sugata.


And I like to explain those words because sometimes Buddhism seems like a very exotic thing, it's like going to Thai restaurant or going to an Indian place, something far away and different. And these words have such direct and beautiful meaning in their original language. Like now we say Buddha, talk of Dharma… sounds exotic. Buddha means The One Who Woke Up. Dharma means "things". The One Who Woke Up taught us how things are. It's as simple as that.


    Akong Tulku Rinpoche leading the Refuge ceremony in Helsinki.


So anyone, when we are taking refuge, we are taking refuge in that sublime eternal state and in those who became that and whose radiance can help us. And the spirit of refuge is that that ...That becomes the most important thing for you. It's really the centre of your life. That's what you take for a refuge. That's where we place our trust because in the end, that's what we really are. It's what everything really is. It's the answer to all problems.


And in particular, it fulfils all… what we call two-fold benefit or two-fold duty. In Buddhist point of view, in Mahayana Buddhist point of view as human beings we have two real responsibilities. I don't know if you have political correctness in Finland yet, but we might express that these days as two possibilities. I'm old fashioned and heavy-duty, so I call the two duties. First we have a duty to ourselves: this wonderful thing as a human. And it goes so, so fast. And we need to make most of it as a duty to ourselves. Then we live in a world where there is really a lot of suffering, physical and mental. And we have duty to help and serve our fellow human beings and other sentient beings. And the finest strength and skill to fulfil both those duties comes from hmm…That. We really need to connect much more strongly with That, because by ourselves, while we are doing okay we are not getting as far as we could.


So when turn to that strength, then we see that the person who became that completely, perfectly, utterly, totally, purely, wonderfully was the Buddha. In Tibetan we call Buddha tönpa. It means two things. It means to teach. Buddha is someone who teaches us what to do. So, a teacher rather than a saviour. If the Buddha could have saved us we wouldn't be here now. We would have been saved long time ago. So the Buddha teaches us what to do. Tönpa also means to show, to demonstrate, so for us the Buddha is also an example showing a way to go.


When we take refuge, when we turn towards that timeless source of refuge, we usually take refuge in three things: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The Sanskrit term for this is triratna which is usually translated as the Three Jewels. According to the Tibetan commentary this word ratna has six meanings. And I think it's funny for people coming for the first time to us Buddhists and we say: "Well the main thing we do is we take refuge in the Three Jewels." They think: "Oh, must be diamonds, sapphire and ruby maybe or something." It really means the three most precious things ever, the most precious things in this entire universe. And today, when Rinpoche gives refuge, in fact he gives what is called the six-fold Vajrayana refuge. And there we take refuge in these three most precious things: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and three special aspects of those, which we call Gurus, Yidams and Protectors. Now I'd like to go through them one by one.


First is the Buddha. We explore the word Buddha. This root, Budd, when it went to Tibet gave them some problems and they translated it by two words which translate according to them its two main meanings. The first meaning is to wake up, so the word Budd means is the Awakened One, awakened person. And normally we make that awakened from the sleep of ignorance, because the nature of the buddha mind is wisdom. The second meaning of this word Budd, Buddha is to become complete, become full like a flower in its fullest bloom. So it means all the qualities of mind such as love, compassion, wisdom, skill, all of those are most complete and perfect.


When we take refuge in the Buddha we think of the Buddha on three levels. The first is the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. It would be better to put that second, but we usually put that first, so we do so. The second is the Buddha as the three kayas. Third is the Buddha as the very essence of our own mind, our own being.


So, first is the historical Buddha – that is the most obvious refuge: there was somebody in the past who achieved perfection of being. And then, you know, we are so lucky as Buddhists, because after his enlightenment he spent 45 years teaching. He was living in a country of great maturity in India, very civilised place with its own very advanced spiritual meditative traditions. So, in those 45 years the Buddha taught the ordinary people, kings and ministers, yogis and meditators, all sorts of people. The advice he gave now fills more than a hundred volumes of scripture. But the most important is that the community of followers, thousands of them gathered around him and he had really the time to bring so many of them to spiritual maturity, so that they could perpetuate his wisdom, his discoveries through time.


So the first, when we take refuge, is simply show our profound respect for this person who achieved what can be achieved and who showed us he way. And at the point of view we seek his life in India as being the end of hundreds of lives in progressive work, leading to that total purity and perfection. So there we got the historical refuge and story like you have seen in films, or you've read books of the life of the Buddha.


Then the movie that is playing in your mind, as you think of Buddha, is quite a sort of an Indian exotic thing in technicolour. But of course what he achieved has nothing to do with his place or appearance, but it has to do with his mind. So when we look at the Buddha in the second way through the three kayas we are looking much more at the mind which he became, which he achieved. So, there we are not looking at the journey of a historical person but it's something timeless, cosmic, it's forever. You know, the hmmm…   …That. We consider it as the three aspects, which are called the three kayas. Kayas are often translated as bodies. It's not a very nice way of doing it, because it gives the idea of rather concrete, separate things. It's better to say three aspects.


The first one is called Dharmakaya. This is buddhahood and enlightenment as only buddhas really can know it. It is That. It has no form, no shape, no colour. It is the very presence of wisdom, and that wisdom we can look at as two main wisdoms in Mahayana, five buddha families in Vajrayana. But the main thing is, it is wisdom, and in the Tibetan text they say: tonge nyinge nyinpo chen, which means voidness (i.e. wisdom), which has compassion as its very essence. That formless state is very rich in qualities, thousands of wonderful qualities. And those qualities are experienced very purely by what we call Bodhisattvas as visions and as sounds in a vast, vast territory or domain of experience that we call Sambhogakaya.


So, for instance the healing power, that timeless mind they will experience as Medicine Buddha. The unbelievable happiness that some people experience after they die and that liberates their mind, manifests to Bodhisattvas as Amitabha Buddha. I'd like to give an analogy – sometimes analogies help, sometimes they make things complicated. This analogy is of a diamond. A diamond is a very simple carved structure.


Now imagine you have a large diamond here. Cut diamond. As I turn it, so many different patterns, colours, amazing sharp ones, green light, blue light, red light. But are any of those colours actually in the diamond? Complicated patterns that you see, it’s the coming together of the whatever the diamond is and your visual brain capacity. If you see a particular pattern, I can't fish it out and give it to you to take home. The diamond is diamond, it just does it. So, the buddha mind, so many qualities, and these are experienced in many, many visions. It's the coming together of That and the very pure minds of the Bodhisattvas. And that is portrayed very poorly in Tibetan thangka paintings.


Now, let's say buddha mind also manifests to ordinary people like myself in times when our good karma ripens, in times when our minds are open, and people can have all sorts of awakening experiences. The most vivid of these is without doubt, we as a group of people we experienced the coming of the Buddha to this world, to India 2500 years ago. That was a very great moment, because Buddha gave these cosmic truths to our world, and then they lasted for 2500 years.


But then, after the historical Buddha what we call the supreme Nirmanakaya, the third kaya, we get other nirmanakayas, other emanations of the presences as great teachers, but they don't bring new teachings. They just carry and refresh the original teachings of the Buddha. These days some other great beings in the world like the Karmapa are seen as being also nirmanakayas, presence of that buddha mind in our world; to guide those people with good karma, with fortune to meet with them. So with the third kaya we have hmm… …That, experienced in three ways: as it is, through very pure eyes and through ordinary eyes.


So far we have Buddha as a historical person and as three kayas. The third thing is Buddha as the very essence of our own mind. Because those three kayas aren't anywhere else but in our mind. So, one day, through meditation we will discover them step by step. When we take refuge in the Buddha, that's very roughly what we take refuge in.


The second thing we take refuge in are the Buddha's teachings, which is Dharma. And his teachings, the various advice, techniques and information, this is contained in texts, words and ideas. In an outer way when we take refuge in the Dharma we turn into that body of technique of ideas, of information for our guidance, that shows the way. So the Buddha is the teacher and the Dharma is the way.


But the inner meaning of the Dharma is in fact our personal journey, our experience and how we are now, until our mind is hmm…  …That. The idea of the techniques is there just to help us, but the real Dharma is the changing way of experiencing realities. I suppose that's beyond words. Presumably what most people find, what goes by is that we change, we see differently, but it's just impossible to put that different way of seeing into any words, it's so fine. This journey of changing experience is the real Dharma.


Now that body of ideas and techniques is not just something that is in books, it has been kept very, very alive by continuing community of human beings since the time of the Buddha. The teachers' own personal journeys of Dharma have gone all the way to understand what the Buddha had to show us. So we take refuge in them and in particular we take refuge in those who have totally stable realization of buddha mind. We call them realized Sangha or high Sangha. In Tibetan Buddhism, in Vajrayana Buddhism we add three more refugees which we call the Three Roots, three sources.


So the good news is that the Buddha achieved perfect wonderful enlightenment. Bad news is that you missed him about 2500 years. So even if you got very excited about what he did and took the first plane, it's late. But if you met a real Guru – and there aren't many of them – but an authentic Guru, then what that person gives you is just the same as what the Buddha would have given you. A perfect Guru acts like a mirror. In that mirror we can understand ourselves so that we can change. And it's a bit like a half-mirror where we can get a reflection and see through. We see through the Guru to the buddha mind. The Guru fulfils that function until the time that we discover the buddha within. This is why we value authentic Gurus very much and why they are the special aspect of the buddha refuge.


The Dharma is vast; very, very big. So much advice, so many techniques. In Vajrayana after we have done all preliminaries and all preparation there becomes a point when the Guru helps us to develop what we call Yidam practice. Yidam means actually what joins or links the mind and in that practice you will have all the techniques and advice which you need to become enlightened. When we consider the inner aspect of the Dharma, which is this personal journey, Yidam helps to make it.


Very often we reify the Dharma, the Buddhist teachings to pharmacy. In pharmacy some medicines put your blood pressure up, some take it down. Some help you going to toilet; some help you stopping to go there. All sorts of medications suited to different problems.


The Buddha taught the Dharma, the way things are and in particular he taught it in a way that helps us to shed our suffering and find happiness. He gave all sorts of teachings that help people in different ways. None of them is right or wrong, better hat the others. It's like no medicine is the best medicine, it depends on what illness you have got. Just like it's no good me giving you my medicine and saying: this is great, it really worked – you should try it, because your case is different. So we don't need to swallow the whole pharmacy of Buddhadharma. Yidam practice is all we need, it is tailor-made by the Guru for our own case. So it's a very special aspect of the Dharma-refuge.


Now the third root or source are the Protectors. In cinema you never saw something so scaring. You have seen them (in pictures). These are special skills or energies that we develop in Vajrayana practice. They stop us in going wrong in our practice. These days cars have those beeb beeb in reverse when you are getting closer. This is an inner force that goes beeb beeb showing that you are not doing something right. That is something within you. Normally the Sangha are your outer friends and guides and other beings who also help us to find the way and avoid mistakes. But these inner forces and energies that stop us from going astray are very, very precious aspect of the Sangha-refuge.


So, that's it this afternoon. (Akong) Rinpoche will give refuge in the three most precious things and the three roots or sources. They are called roots because the gurus are the root of… it is usually called blessing. That's what it usually means, power. The Yidam is the root of our accomplishment and the Protectors are the root of our skilful activity.


Now, when we take refuge we become buddhists. So it is our first step on the way. And after that we renew refuge every day, many times a day, so that it becomes the foundation of all we do as Buddhists. Because our connection with That is really the mental basis for everything we do. The more we can be open to buddha mind, the more it can help us.


You might wonder what's the point of taking the ceremony in public, going through the performance. You might think, oh well, the Buddhist teachings are what I meant. Well, the text explains that when we make a vow or commitment, which this Buddhist ceremony is, from the time you take that vow on until the time you break it or give it back, there is non-stop benefit. It explains the difference between the sort of thoughts that come everyday, come and go and the sort of things that are in our mind continuously. Not in a Buddhist context, in any context. For instance if you are a part of an army and you are fighting an enemy and your very deep intention is to destroy the enemy, it is not just when you are fighting on the battlefield face to face with the enemy but you made that sort of aggressive destructive karma. This is because it's burnt into your being you are making aggressive karma all the time.


And more generally there is something very obscene, like there is some sadness, disappointments, angriness that colour our being all day long for years, months, days on end. Whereas when we are taking a positive vow like refuge from a Lama who actually possesses the lineage and we go through the ceremony properly, then we establish root of virtue from the moment we establish it onwards and it's doing profound good during all our life.


The next section is called "small print", a contract. It is a commitment what you are signing up for. Whatever are the do's and don’ts when you take refuge. There aren't many but few important ones. Usually every time that Akong Rinpoche gives refuge he says the main thing you train in is to try to live as lovingly and compassionately as you can. All of the Buddha's teaching is really an explanation of the skill of compassion. Compassion for oneself and others. That's the main thing.


But it says in a more traditional text that if you have taken refuge, then maintain it, try not to forget it and if possible strengthen it. Refuge is a state of mind, it's remembering a wonderful thing, it's the buddha mind, trusting it. That's expressed in many simple prayers which we did in the beginning. So, usually the small print is that we do the prayers once a day or as often as we can.


One thing which is recommended in many texts is that you dedicate your first mouthful of food when you eat to the Refuges. They don't need to eat, it's just a symbolical gesture. You just give yourself a profound moment of remembering the value of the magnificence of the Refuges before you start to eat. It very quickly becomes a reflex and if you eat many times a day like me, it means that you remember your Refuges 6 – 12 times a day. Of course when we come to really value the Dharma and when we try to help maintain it, we help make the centres, support the Buddhist teaching.


We have many representations in Buddhism of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha: statues, images, texts. In themselves they are just pieces of metal, pieces of paper, and bits of printed cloth. Some statues are beautiful, some are not very nice. Part of the small print is always to respect the images, whether they are nice or not, because of what they represent.


And same thing with the sangha, they might be sort of very young immature monks or nuns, not very well behaved. Even then we try to feel respect, because it's the sangha in general that is maintaining the Buddhist teachings. In a very realistic way it's a wonderful thing when somebody gives themselves to Dharma, becomes a monk, becomes a nun, and we shouldn't expect them to change from one day to the next, one year to the next; human change is very difficult. Sometimes people are being overcritical to the sangha. They assume as soon as you put robes on you have to behave perfectly, very unrealistic. So it's feeling respect and we always try to keep texts and images in high, clean, nice places.


Another set of advice looks at Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in their essence. So if you take refuge then for us Buddha is the main teacher. That's our priority. It says that while we maintain very broad respect for all other loving and compassionate religions, we remember that our own way is the way of the Buddha.


The very essence of Dharma, the Buddhist teaching is how to stop suffering. How to stop hurting ourselves, how to stop hurting others. So it says it's very important at the time we take refuge we make real effort not to hurt anybody anymore. I think for most people probably the area in which this is most relevant is speech. Within our families, with parents, with children, with brothers and sisters very often bad habits have developed and we use our speech as a weapon. That is really a terrible thing. Speech should never be a weapon. So we try and make an effort; we can't expect to be perfect from one day to the next, but we really do need to try to make an effort to never harm anyone again.


And then, the sangha, our good friends, you know the ones who should help and guide us, quite practically it says: if you find that when you spend time with certain people you start become worse as a human being, your bad habits take control, you lose the good qualities, then it's better to distance yourselves until you have the strength to be with those people and not being affected. So I hope you don't have any friends like that, but if you do, the idea is that you work on yourselves until you have the real strength to help them.


That's more or less the small print. When Rinpoche gives refuge he also asks people to observe the five precepts for 24 hours after the ceremony. Normally the five precepts are something else. There is refuge, there are precepts and there is bodhisattva vow. So the five things we are asked to observe 24 hours are not to kill, which is maybe not too difficult, because it's not mosquito season yet. Not to steal, not to lie. Not to lie – this is not to lie for self-interest. No sexual misconduct, which for the 24 hours means abstinence. And no intoxicants, which means no alcohol, no pleasure drugs, no tobacco. But of course prescribed medical drugs are fine.


We have another 10 – 15 minutes to go through the ceremony. The ceremony is very simple. It is repeating the formula of refuge after Rinpoche in Tibetan. This is preceded by a request for refuge and you do that in English. I don't know if you need a translation. He has you repeating his words in English. So we are saying: "Please Rinpoche, give me refuge." Actually he asks you to say your name, and we go through these repetitions twice. The first time you say your regular worldly name. Then, after the request we repeat the six-fold refuge in Tibetan. Before you say each one of the six, you have a translation in English and in Finnish. After we have gone through the six-fold prayer each person who is taking refuge for the first time comes up to Rinpoche and there is a hair cutting ceremony.


If you have already taken refuge but you want to renew it and refresh it, that's fine. So you go through the repetitions in Tibetan, but there is no need for coming up for the hair cutting ceremony. When the new ones come up, Rinpoche does few different things. One thing is that he cuts tiny piece of hair. Don't worry, you won't look any different afterwards!


We were in Zimbabwe earlier this year, and while he was giving refuge quite a few Zimbabwean people realized afterwards that most of the women wear wigs. Because they have quite short, spare hair and you can see their skull, so even they are poor, most of them have wigs. One of them who came for refuge took the wig off and we realized Rinpoche had given refuge to wigs! We had a nice conversation with Rob Nairn who is our representative in Africa. He said: "They are wearing wigs, what you make of that?" Rinpoche said: "Cutting through force of ignorance!"


Okay, he cuts a symbolical bit of hair. This is because when the historical Buddha left his princely life, he cut off his hair with his sword. At the time hair, the way it was worn and decorated, was a sign of social status, so he had a prince's hairdo. And when he cut it off it was not just a sign of cutting off, which is merely a symbol of beauty, but also a sign of cutting of his worldly life, his royal life. For us this is a symbol of following the way of the Buddha.


Then Rinpoche will pour few drops of water on your head and this is a sign of purification, washing away the old, making way to new. He usually gives a blessing with his own relic box and then he will give you a card with a new name, Buddhist name.


That's it. So then, when everyone has come through that process, we sit down. Then for the second time we go through the request and the six-fold refuge. This time, when he asks you in the beginning to say your names, you say your new Buddhist name. And I forgot to say before, if you have already taken refuge and you have a name, you just say that refuge name twice.


The second time we repeat the six-fold refuge we should feel that we actually receive the transmission of refuge from all the Buddhas through our preceptor, Rinpoche. After that he will ask us to sit quietly for a while and consider what we have just done and also to consider if you want to take one of those five precepts for more that 24 hours, whether you would like to take it for a week or a month, three or four months, whatever.


And then, in the moment of actually receiving refuge Rinpoche snaps the fingers. So if you want to know the exact moment you look at your watch. After 30 years you can say: "Best moment of my life was…" Then he says tob nye do, which means "Have you understood what you've just done?" You have to reply yes, but we say lekso, which means "It is excellent," a Tibetan equivalent of "great".


When you take refuge, you simply become Buddhist. You have zero commitment either to the Kagyu Lineage or to Rinpoche. You have simply taken refuge to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, Guru, Yidam and Protectors. Of course some day you may want to make a deeper commitment to a lineage, to a master, we can do, but the fact that you have taken refuge with Rinpoche doesn't in any way imply that you have signed up a commitment with that person or with that lineage. You just enter the great garden of Buddhism. It's up to you to find which kind of Buddhism works for you, which teachers work for you. Plenty of time for that. Do you have any questions?


Question: I've been studying Buddhism for something like ten years and it has been my main interest, but I haven't taken refuge so far. I seem to be kind of testing or trying to figure out various teachings for myself, so I feel now I'd like to take refuge. But still some basic teachings like even karma and rebirth I'm not sure if I'm convinced by that, if that is actually the case. But there are certain aspects like teachings on the absolute, which obviously I don't really understand properly, they just have a huge draw on me, and these wonderful teachers certainly, so if one takes refuge in the Buddha and Dharma, does this mean that these things whether I agree with them yet or not, is it still okay to take refuge?


Ken Holmes: Absolutely. Sorting out these questions is part of the Dharma path. It is normally within that the time to find that timeless wisdom. On the way to that there are three steps to wisdom. One is actually to get very straight in your mind what the Buddha is teaching intellectually. Just make sure you have the facts properly understood. Then there is the second stage, which is a reflection or contemplation where you need to ponder: is that true, does it make sense to me, does it agree with what I feel. That is the stage of resolution of doubt, a very vital part. [The third stage is meditation – ed.]


So that's not a problem at all, and there are many Buddhist traditions anyway. They don't all agree with all these topics, either in theory or in stress you place on one thing or another. So the main thing when you follow the way of the Buddha is to find out what the Buddha did, to find out that truth, and whatever the truth is, that's Dharma. It's not Dharma because it's in a book or it's written down or words have been transmitted. If it's true, it's Dharma, that's it.


In Rinpoche's talk yesterday he quoted His Holiness Dalai Lama, what is a Buddha. Buddha is someone who from tips of their hair to tips of their toes is 100 % compassionate or someone who is seeking what is really the truth. That's very easy thing to say but to actually find out what wisdom means, what compassion means, that's a long journey.


Something I forgot to mention is offerings. People often might offer the white scarf, the khata, or make some other sort of offering and generally in the teachings on refuge it's said it's always good to make offerings. It says something one is particularly attached to is good to give away either as an offering here or give it away to somebody, because shedding the attachment is very much part of the Buddhist path.


Practically in the books it says: "If you make an offering there are two sorts of offerings." There are offerings to the shrine in the temple were the refuge takes place. Sometimes people bring flowers and incense and all sorts of things on a tray. Those sorts of offerings to the temple you make before the ceremony. If people want to make personal offering to the Lama who gives the refuge, normally that should come afterwards, after the whole thing has finished. Once it's all over people usually come up and bring a white scarf to the lama, he usually gives it back, and sometimes the Lama gives a little present for protection.


Many times I've said that and people forget. So when they come up for the hair-cutting they come up with the scarf and it's really not needed then. So don't worry so much about that, it's a very relaxed situation.


Question: In the past I was also interested in other philosophies and religions but persistently came back to Buddhism. It is the way or path to study. In terms of wandering around and finding bits of truth even outside Buddhism with Buddhism as the main focus or guide, what is the view of this?


Ken Holmes: I'd like to give a two-fold answer to that. One is from the point of view of ethics and the other from the point of view of pragmatism, let's say, practical reality. Ethically Buddhism is not exclusive in anything that can help your mind become wiser, more caring, which is great. Many of the Buddhist scholars have been in absolute thirst of knowledge and looked into everything they could understand better. But then, practically life is short and knowledge is endless and what all our teachers say is, if you really want to progress, if you really want to change, then you need to find one way and follow it through, whichever way that is. So that every day we have so many minutes and we have a choice what to do with those minutes. Each person's decision is whether feeding the intellect is necessary or not.


Question: I've taken refuge and repeated it many times and I was wondering, I would like to request a name from Rinpoche. Do you think it is just because of being greedy or is it appropriate to do that in the ceremony?


Ken Holmes: I'm not sure, it's probably all right but I will check it out. I've known people who had couple of refuge names, ordination names and yet they did not feel they got the right one! You can tell me which name you would like to have and I'll tell Rinpoche… (much laughter) The main point of the name is to help you strengthen up your refuge and to feel that's it, you are on the path.


Question: I don't smoke but what if I go this evening to a place where other people might smoke?


Ken Holmes: Yes, that's okay.


Question: I'm not very good in Tibetan language. So I feel a bit uncertain about repeating Tibetan prayers. Do we get a text?


Ken Holmes: No, but it's sentence by sentence, so you'll know the meaning of what you are saying. Rinpoche is a great believer in Lineage, he says he himself has been given the transmission to give refuge in Tibetan. He hasn't received the transmission to give refuge in English, so that's why he is doing it in Tibetan.


Question: I've read a book about Kagyu Line and its Gurus and it says you should have absolute respect to your Guru. So, if he says something you can't disagree, but on the other hand you can have your own opinion. How can you explain this contrast?


Ken Holmes: The relationship between someone and their Guru is something which develops with time. The Guru won't ask you to do something you are not capable of doing. When one can do what you are saying in the first place, which is to follow absolutely the teacher's advice, and to treat their speech like Buddha's speech, there is tremendous benefit, because usually by that time there is special energy in the place. Life can be very interesting, we very often confront with our own ignorance, problems and habits and this total trust in Guru helps us to break through our ignorance and habits. So, when somebody gets to that stage, when they can really handle that, then there is that degree of commitment. The Guru will not expect that from somebody who is still not capable of it and most people aren't. That's in general. With Akong Rinpoche he says it's no problem because he hasn't any disciples anyway. He only has friends.


Let's share our happiness with all other beings and in particular with those who take refuge today, let's hope that their experience is really superb. My own wish is that they achieve enlightenment before I do and I will be their first disciple.


Sö-nam de-yi tam-che zig-pa nye

tob-nay nyay-pay dra-nam pam-chay nay

jay-ga na-chi ba-lab dru-pa ye

si-pay cho-lay dro wa drol-war sho.


(Due to this good karma, may I achieve omniscience, defeat the harmful enemies within me, and free beings from the sea of existence

that is churned by the waves of birth, ageing, sickness and death.)