Return life to ten directions
        To the most beautiful wisdom

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

        Return life to ten directions
        To the most beautiful wisdom
        Without form He is omniscient
        The Saviour and the Great Compassionate

        And to the characteristics of form
        The phenomena and the reality
        Limitless receptacle of merits
        And to the devotees

        Vow to save all sentient beings
        Eliminate doubts, evils, attachment
        Awake the faith in Mahayana
        The Buddha nature in endless fulfilment


        I take refuge in the Buddha, the omnipresent,
        The know-all of perfect wisdom, the most glorious,
        The formless, the Tathagata, the omniscient,
        The universal Saviour and the Great Compassionate.

        I take refuge in the Dharma, the teaching,
        Manifested as phenomena in cosmic reality,
        The limitless receptacle of excellent merits,
        And in the Sangha, the Monastic Order.

        I vow to save all sentient beings
        To discard their doubts, desires, and attachment,
        To awaken the right faith in Mahayana Buddhism
        So that all will attain spiritual fulfillment.


In this adoration, the author takes refuge in the Buddhist Triple Gem, that is, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, and makes a vow to save all sentient beings.

In Buddhist context, "to take refuge" does not mean hiding under some protection and running away from responsibilities. In many ways, it is the opposite of what the English term "refuge" connotes, as it demands much courage, effort and perseverance. The classical Chinese term "gui ming" -- literally translated as "return life" in the poem above, and usually termed "gui yi" in modern Chinese -- is more appropriate than "take refuge". It suggests giving one's life to a noble cause. The Sanskrit term is "namo".

The concept of the Buddha in the first verse is typically Mahayanistic. The Buddha is omnipresent and omniscient, transcending both time and space. Mainly because of inadequate understanding, and of reading Theravada literature which emphasizes morality, some people contend that Buddhism is not a religion, but a way of moral living. The Mahayana concept of the Buddha clearly shows that this contention is incorrect. Theravada Buddhists also regard their practice as religious; morality is only a preparation. When a Theravadin says "I take refuge" in the Buddha", he means not refuge in the person of Siddhartha Guatama, but in all the qualities and teachings of all Buddhas before, including and after Guatama Buddha.

The teachings of the Buddhas, and for us living in the present aeon, particularly of Guatama Buddha, are collectively known as the Dharma. The term "dharma" can also mean "sub-atomic particles" and "phenomena" as we have seen in the previous chapter.

The Sangha is the Buddhist monastic order. To be a monk is not to run away from society to have free food and lodging in a monastery, as some people erroneously believe and some unenlightened monks practise. There is a Chinese saying that becoming a monk calls for greater discipline and ability than becoming a prime minister or an army general!

The adoration above also illustrates two eminent characteristics of Buddhism, namely wisdom and compassion. Wisdom here refers to "higher wisdom", the unequivocal understanding that Enlightenment is attainable only when one can differentiate reality from illusion. The last verse above clearly shows Asvaghosha's boundless compassion. To Buddhists, Asvaghosha was not a mere mortal, but is a Bodhisattva, an Enlightened being who voluntarily postpones entering Buddhahood so as to help others in their spiritual quest. It is significant to note that he has vowed to save all sentient beings, including non-humans and non-Buddhists.



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