Our reader Victoria recently asked us for help with the pronunciation of Atisha’s Refuge and Bodhicitta prayer, so we created a video in which Lobsang takes you through the prayer in Tibetan, first at normal speed, and then word by word, so that you can follow along.
First, here is the common refuge prayer written in Tibetan script, translated to English, and finally written out phonetically in Tibetan:
Until I am enlightened, I take refuge
In the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Through the merit I create by practicing giving and the other perfections
May I attain Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings.
Sangye choe dang tsok kyi chok nam la
Jang chup bar du dak ni kyap su chi
Dak gi jin sok gyi pay sonam kyi
Dro la phen chir sangye drup par shok
Video: Lobsang shows you how to pronounce the short refuge prayer in Tibetan:
A little bit about the refuge prayer:
Generally speaking, this refuge prayer is commonly used by Tibetan Buddhists, who call it kyamdro1. Tibetan Buddhists “take refuge” in the Three Jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), and the Sangha (the spiritual community of Buddhists).
The idea of “taking refuge” is both very simple and very deep.
On one level, it simply means to take shelter or protection from the danger, trouble and suffering of human life, both our current and future lives, by turning to the Buddha, his teachings, and the community of Buddhist spiritual practitioners. In a sense, the act of taking refuge is what distinguishes Buddhists from non-Buddhists.
On another levels, taking refuge is the first step on the path to Enlightenment, as taught by Atisha (982-1053 AD), a great Indian Buddhist master who traveled and taught in Tibet, and who is sometimes referred to as the “refuge lama.” The Tibetan refuge prayer is also called Atisha’s refuge prayer.
It isn’t entirely clear if Atisha actually wrote the prayer, or if it simply has become associated with him because of his devotion to teaching the deeper concepts of refuge. In his great text, the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, Lama Atisha lays out the Lam Rim tradition of the graduated stages to the path of enlightenment, including various levels of refuge.
These matters are far beyond our training and understanding, but on a very simple level we like the often-stated idea that a person taking refuge is one who wishes to attain Enlightenment, by following the Buddha as her guide, the Dharma as her path and the Sangha as her traveling companions.
While the version we are discussing today is the most common, Tibetans also sometimes use this Sanskrit version of the refuge prayer:
I go for refuge to the Buddha,
I go for refuge to the Dharma,
I go for refuge to the Sangha.
Video: His Holiness the Karmapa reciting the refuge prayer
- Kyamdro is the way it is pronounced, but the written form is closer to kyapdro.
Resources and More About Atisha and Taking Refuge
- The Life of Atisha, at the excellent Berzin Archives
- Nice page all about taking refuge
- Tibetan Language Institute: Excellent source for learning classical Tibetan language
- Free Study Aides Page from the Tibetan Language Institute
By Lobsang Wangdu