The greatest thing in our life is to take refuge with the Triple Jewel. You have to be serious about taking refuge with the Triple Jewel. Don't treat it casually and don't act on a whim. First of all, you have to choose a real Bright-Eyed Good and Wise Teacher to take refuge with. That way, when there is some principle you do not understand, you will receive proper guidance that will allow you to gain insight into the Buddha's knowledge and views. Don't go and join the non-ultimate sects and listen to the instructions of deviant teachers. It is not only now that non-ultimate sects and deviant teachers have become so widespread. They were also very numerous when the Buddha was in the world. At that time, there were ninety-six non-ultimate sects and seventy-two heterodoxies, and they flourished much more than the Proper Dharma. People joined these non-ultimate sects simply because they did not understand truth. Non-ultimate teachings can do a lot of harm, because they can easily lead you down the wrong road. Once on the wrong road, you may want to gain some benefit, but you will only suffer harm. This is very dangerous. On the other hand, when you take refuge with the Triple Jewel, you get a share in the Treasury of the Proper Dharma Vision and the Wonderful Mind of Nirvana.
You must look for good and wise teachers. The wise and the unwise are intermingled, even among the left-home people. They are not all the same. When you mistakenly join a non-ultimate sect, there is great harm; however, if you blindly follow the Dharma spoken by a deviant teacher, the harm is even greater.
Therefore, all of you Buddhist disciples, don't let it happen that you seek to ascend but end up falling into the hells instead. Don't let it be that you wanted to get happiness, but suffer boundless misery instead. That's why I said that taking refuge is a matter of the highest priority; nothing is more important. You must treat it as especially important. When you take refuge with me, you have to consider clearly and really know the path.
Each of you must bring forth the utmost earnesty to repent before the Buddhas of your past offenses. If you are really sincere in repenting, then the karma of your offenses will all be eradicated, and your good roots will grow. But if you do not repent with sincerity, the karma of your offenses will still remain, and your good roots will not grow. So, it all depends on your sincerity and concentration; do not let your mind get distracted, avoid stupid and false thoughts, and restrain your wild mind and nature.
You must be true and sincere when taking refuge. If you simply go through the routine in a perfunctory manner, there will be no response.
In formally taking refuge with the Triple Jewel, if you have solid faith, then it will be easy for you to practice purely and even become a Buddha. If your faith is weak and your conduct is impure, then you can forget about becoming a Buddha. You have a hard time just being a person. Ah, not to mention you laypeople, even left-home people will fall into the hells if they do not cultivate. Therefore, all you laypeople should do your best and work hard. In Buddhism, don't be someone who is absent-minded and disrespectful. Revere the Triple Jewel, make offerings to the Triple Jewel, believe in the Triple Jewel, and serve the Triple Jewel all your life. Then you will have a response in the Tao. If you cannot do this, then even after you take refuge, it is like you have not taken refuge at all, and you will not get any response.
Every morning when you first get up, you should make the Four Vast Vows before the Buddha. These are the vows which every Bodhisattva should make. You should make these vows in the morning, and in the evening you ask yourself, "Living beings are limitless. Have I saved them? I vowed to cut off the endless afflictions. Have I cut them off? Ah, if I haven't, I must cut them off. If I haven't saved living beings, then I must save them. If I haven't gotten rid of my afflictions, I must eradicate them. I vowed to learn the boundless Dharma-doors. Have I learned them? No? I must learn the boundless Dharma-doors. However busy I am, I have to spend some time to recite a Sutra or read a Buddhist book -- that's what is meant by vowing to learn the boundless Dharma-doors. I vow to accomplish the unsurpassed Buddha Way. I am still an ordinary person and haven't become a Buddha. I must hurry and cultivate." You should do this contemplation every day, making the Four Vast Vows in the morning and reflecting to see whether you have fulfilled them in the evening.