The lineage of refuge, which began when Lord Buddha gave refuge to those first five disciples, has continued for the past 2500 years uncontaminated, unbroken and uninterrupted. I first received it from my supreme master His Holiness the 16th Karmapa. Since then I have continued to renew my refuge with many masters. I last renewed my refuge with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, when I visited his monastery while he was in Tibet. This is my refuge lineage and when I conduct the refuge ceremony the participants become part of it. They join the ocean of countless beings who are the Lord Buddha’s followers and receive his blessings. This is what it means to receive the transmission of refuge.
So when I give refuge, I am continuing the lineage that the Buddha started, that is all. I am able to give refuge because my master gave me refuge. It is not as if I am giving it on my own behalf. Those taking refuge are like the light bulb on the ceiling and I am like its switch, but the light does not really come from the switch, it comes from the powerhouse, and Buddha Shakyamuni is the powerhouse. The reason the light comes on is because there is an unbroken line from the powerhouse to the switch and then to the bulb. Likewise the lineage of the Buddha continues unbroken through to those taking refuge.
This lineage continues because of two things: devotion and compassion. Masters should have compassion for their disciples and disciples should have devotion to their masters. If this is the case, the line will not break. When these are missing, the line breaks and no matter how intensely you push the switch the light will not come on, it will not shine. You can beg the switch as hard as you like, and you can change the light-bulb a hundred times, but the light will not come on. There may be nothing wrong with the switch or the bulb, but if the line is broken the light will not come on. Fortunately for us the line is unbroken and we can still receive refuge. Still I do not want people to misunderstand and think that I can give refuge myself. I can only give refuge because of lineage.
Tai Situ Rinpoche
from the book Ground, Path and Fruition
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