Whom can worldly gods protect
Themselves imprisoned in samsara?
To take refuge in the Three Jewels
Who never fail those they protect is the practice of a bodhisattva.
You are aware of the importance and the rarity of the human life you now have, and you realize the stark immediacy of death. You feel a great disillusionment with this world, and have decided to yourself of distracting conditions and misleading influences, and to try to tame your mind according to the instructions of an authentic teacher.
Now, you are ready to cross the threshold of the Dharma and take refuge in the Three Jewels.
People naturally search for refuge, for someone or something to protect them from sorrow and torment. Some people turn to the powerful with the hope of achieving wealth, pleasure, and influence.
Others seek protection through natural forces, such as the stars, or mountains. Some seek aid through the power of spirits. But none of these mistaken objects of refuge are free from ignorance and samsara, and they therefore cannot provide ultimate refuge. Their compassion, if they have any, is partial and limited.
True refuge can only be provided by something that is itself totally free - free from the bonds of samsara, and free from the limited peace of a one-sided nirvana.
This quality of true refuge is to be found only in the Three Jewels - the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, with their absolute wisdom, non-biased compassion, and unimpeded ability.
The first of the Three Jewels is the Buddha. The qualities that characterise the Buddha can be seen in terms of three aspects, or dimensions, called kayas ('bodies') in Sanskrit-the dharmakaya, the absolute body; the sambhogakaya, the body of perfect endowment; and the nirmanakaya, the manifestation body. These three are all aspects of one essence.
The dharmakaya is the absolute, inconceivable, empty expanse of wisdom. The enlightened wisdom mind of the buddha is imbued with awareness, compassion, and ability. Beyond all conceptual elaboration, its expression is the five primordial wisdoms.
The sambhogakaya is the natural display of these five primordial wisdoms, arising as the five certainties - the perfect teacher, the perfect teachings, the perfect time, perfect place, and perfect retinue.
The sambhogakaya remains by nature unchanging and unceasing throughout past, present, and future, beyond both growth and decline.
Buddhas manifest as the nirmanakaya according to the different needs and capacities of beings, and thus the nirmanakaya appears in countless different forms.
For a bodhisattva on one of the ten bhumis, or levels, the buddhas manifest in the sambhogakaya aspect. For ordinary beings of great merit and fortune, buddhas manifest as supreme nirmanakayas, like the Buddha Shakyamuni.
For beings of lesser merit, buddhas appear in human form as spiritual friends. For those without faith in the Three Jewels, they appear in countless helpful forms, such as animals, wheels, bridges, boats, fresh breezes, medicinal plants, and so on. They manifest constantly to benefit beings through their limitless activity.
These three aspects of the buddhas' nature are not three separate entities. It is not as if they were three different persons. Of these three aspects, it is only the dharmakaya buddha that is the ultimate refuge.
But to actualize the dharmakaya refuge, we have to rely on the teachings given by the nirmanakaya buddha.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
från boken The Heart of Compassion - Shambhala Publications