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Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said:
- When we take our first steps on the Path, we are not yet capable of helping others. To accomplish the good of others, we must first perfect ourselves, by purifying and transforming our minds.
The foundation practices begin with a series of life-changing contemplations—the outer preliminaries—embracing:
These contemplations are known as the "four thoughts".
These reflections inspire a strong sense of renunciation, an urgent desire to emerge from samsara and follow the path to liberation, which forms the foundation for the specific practices—the inner preliminaries—of:
- taking refuge in the Buddha as the guide, the truth of his teaching (the Dharma) as the path, and the example of his practitioners (the Sangha) as companions on the path, so awakening a confidence and trust in our own inner buddha nature;
- giving birth to love and compassion—bodhichitta, the heart of the enlightened mind—and training the mind to work with ourselves, with others, and with the difficulties of life;
- removing obscurations of all kinds through the purification and healing practice of meditating on Vajrasattva and reciting his mantra;
- accumulating merit and wisdom by developing universal generosity and creating auspicious circumstances, through the mandala offering;
- finally, in the practice of guru yoga, which is the most crucial, moving and powerful practice of all, we unite our mind with the wisdom mind of all the buddhas and so awaken the wisdom of realization.
It is sometimes said that
- prostrations remove the obscurations associated with the body,
- recitation of the hundred syllable mantra removes obscurations associated with speech,
- mandala offering removes obscurations associated with mind, and
- guru yoga removes the obscurations of all three: body, speech and mind.
Versions of the Ngöndro
Ngöndro (Tib., Wylie: sngon 'gro, pronounced "nundro"; known in Sanskrit as pūrvaka) refers to the preliminary, preparatory or foundational 'practices' or 'disciplines' (Sanskrit: sadhana) common to all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and also to Bön.
Nevertheless, Vajrayana masters are careful to point out that "foundational" does not mean "lesser", that the practice of Ngöndro is a complete and sufficient practice of the (Buddhist) spiritual path, and that it can take the practitioner all the way to full enlightenment.
The use of the practices of Vajrasattva, Mandala offering and Guru Yoga as preliminaries to the practice of anuttarayogatantra sadhanas was well established in India. In Tibet, the tradition came to include prostration practice and the accumulation of large numbers of each practice.
Outer and inner preliminaries
In general the preliminary practices are divided into two sections or kinds: the first are the common or ordinary kind of preliminary practices, and the second are the special or extraordinary kind of preliminaries.
The common or ordinary preliminaries consists of a series of deep reflections or contemplations on the following four topics:
Additional reflections may be included in the specific instructions on the outer preliminaries within different lineages, but the above four topics are the main reflections.
The special or extraordinary kind of preliminaries consist of :
taking of refuge in the three roots in conjunction with the performance of 100,000 prostrations (purifying pride)
cultivation of bodhicitta (purifying jealousy). In some formulations this is included under 1.
100,000 recitations of Vajrasattva's hundred-syllable mantra (purifying hatred/aversion)
100,000 mandala offerings (purifying attachment)
100,000 guru yoga practices (purifying delusion)
These practices purify negative deeds and accumulate merit. Traditionally ngöndro practice is done for the enlightenment of the spiritual aspirant and for the benefit of all sentient beings. That is, the merit of doing the practices is dedicated to all sentient beings. These practices can take 1,500 hours of work to accomplish once. Some practitioners do them multiple times. In retreat, that might take six months. Done mixed into daily life it might take years.
Ngöndro is an essential practice of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism as well as the indigenous Yungdrung Bön tradition. Each of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism—Gelug, Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya have variations as to the order of the preliminaries, the refuge trees visualized, the lineage gurus and deities invoked, prayers etc.
Despite these differences all Ngöndro practices have as their goal the enlightenment of the practitioner so that he/she may be of the greatest benefit to all sentient beings, i.e. the cultivation of "bodhichitta".
Before receiving advanced tantric practices from a qualified spiritual teacher a Ngöndro usually must be completed and fully internalized. Without this foundation, practicing Tantra would be like, "planting a scorched seed, nothing will come of it."
There are some minor differences between the two, however generally the practices are:
The various subsects of the Kagyu lineage tend to practice slightly different ngöndro practices. One of the most common in the Karma Kagyu lineage, called the Chariot for Travelling the Path to Freedom, was written by 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje.
In the Shambhala Buddhist community, a Primordial Rigden Ngöndro written by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is practiced as a preliminary to various terma-derived practices received by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
There is also a recent English transliteration of Drukpa Kargyud Ngondro written by HH Shakya Rinchen, the 9th Jey Khenpo of Bhutan, titled " The Chariot of Liberation to the Vajra Abode" with detailed footnote and important commentaries by HH Jey Tenzin Dondup, the 69th Supreme Lord Abbot of Bhutan.
The Longchen Nyingthik ("Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse") is a Terma cycle revealed by the master Jigme Lingpa. Since its inception in the late 18th century, it has become one of the most widespread sets of teachings in the Nyingmapa tradition.
These teachings were originally transmitted by the master Padmasambhava to King Trisong Deutsen, the Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal and the Lotsawa ("translator") Vairotsana at Samye Monastery in central Tibet. As the time for these teachings to spread was not yet right, they were then written in symbolic script by Yeshe Tsogyal, entrusted to the Dakinis, and hidden to be revealed at a later time. The king later reincarnated as the tertön ("treasure revealer") Jigme Lingpa. Then, recognizing the time was ripe for them to be practiced, put them down in writing and began to teach.
Jigme Lingpa was a reincarnation of two important masters, Vimalamitra and King Trisong Deutsen. As the embodiment of these two figures, Tibet's two primary Dzogchen lineages were combined in him—the Vima Nyingthik and Khandro Nyingthik, both of which are contained in the Nyingthik Yabshi. Hence, the Longchen Nyingthig terma cycle is considered a condensation of these profound teachings.
The Nam Cho is the "sky / space treasure" terma as revealed by Terton Migyur Dorje in the Palyul tradition. This Ngöndro practice is known as "Buddha in the Palm of your Hand" and is preliminary for Dzogchen practice, where one can realize the mind's nature.
It includes "The Vajra Verses of the Nam Cho Dzogchen."
Today, with the spread of Tibetan Buddhism to the West, there are many practitioners working on different stages of ngöndro at the various Tibetan Buddhist centers in the West, in addition to practitioners at centers and monasteries in Tibet, Nepal, Ladakh, India and Bhutan.
Even though the practice of Ngöndro is now fully described in books available to the general public, some argue that it is pointless and counter-productive to initiate practice without receiving personal instruction from a teacher who has the required lineage training. </poem>