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17August2017

Ngondro Practice

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (2000)

I would like to give you some encouragement and further instructions on the practice of ngondro. Those people who practice ngondro can get a little of the blessings from the Ultimate Truth. You can say that we are doing ngondro to get to the Ultimate Truth.

I'm thinking that for the future of our center, we should have a group of genuine practitioners, not just those who come and join in the group practices once in a while, but genuine or complete practitioners. These genuine practitioners may be of different levels. There may be some monks and nuns, and also some lay people like yogis and yoginis, etc. This is what I'm thinking of having in this center.

For those who have completed ngondro, I congratulate them for being disciplined and determined to prepare themselves for developing a systematic approach to spiritual practice.

The secret or the principal message or issue in the practice of ngondro is the development of the Six Paramitas. On top of this, one also needs to practice devotion correctly. For instance, when you do a full prostration, it's not about making your body go up and down; the principal issue is that along with the physical prostration, your mind should also be prostrating. The genuine mind that is prostrating should be visualizing Vajrasattva, the dakas and the dakinis at the same time. If you can't visualize them clearly or thoroughly, you should at least think of the importance of the guru, the dakas and the dakinis.

The guru actually represents everything from the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha to the dakas and the dakinis. He can be seen as the embodiment of everything. This is for sure. If you want to view the guru as a separate essence from the other refuge objects, then the guru is the body, the daka or yidam is the speech and the dakini is the heart or the mind. These three are very important for you to understand because they are the most important energies of the body, speech and mind.

So we practice prostrations to train our body, speech and mind through purification. Because we have a lot of defilements, our channels or chakras are blocked. If there is no physical movement like these exercises, we cannot realize our own nature. Therefore prostrations are badly needed. In other words, it is a form of purification. For example, if a water pipe is blocked, you ca shake the pipe and hopefully water will then run through it. However, it may not work if there is a lack of water pressure. So devotion is like the water pressure. If there is no water pressure, even if you shake the pipe, the water still may not run through it. Therefore, at the same time of practicing prostrations which is helpful to clear our blockages, devotion is also needed. These two must be present in this practice.

Speaking about devotion, the external devotion can be manifested by developing appreciation towards the guru. For instance, you can appreciate the guru by thinking how helpful the guru has been; how precious the guru is in terms of being the embodiment of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha; how helpful his teachings have been for us, etc. and nothing more than that. This sort of appreciation has something to do with the understanding of, "What is a guru? Is the guru a person? Is the guru a Tibetan guy standing in front of you, or something else?" You should know this subject a bit more. If you know, then that itself is devotion.

Generally speaking, the inner guru is not a man or a woman. It is a form of wisdom. But then you may ask a question and argue, "Who is this person in front of me?" Then you can say that this person is the emanation of the guru, he is the tulku or the nirmanakaya. So appreciation goes to him or to her also. Otherwise, you can't reach out to the guru. So through this emanation, you are getting the guidance and the instructions. Therefore, devotion also goes towards the human guru. However, the guru needs to be understood as wisdom, which is a hundred or a thousand times more than just the human guru.

In the prostration itself, you are doing an exercise and purification, and at the same time you are also practicing refuge. When you recite the refuge prayer, "MA NAMKHA DANG NYAMPEI SEMCHEN THAMCHED/", you are practicing the Hinayana. When you think of Bodhicitta, you are practicing the Mahayana. And then at the time as practicing the Vajrasattva hundred-syllable mantra, you are entering the path of Vajrayana. Therefore, just the practice of prostrations and purification mantra includes the practice of Hinayana, Mahayana and the Vajrayana.

In the Nyingmapa tradition, they have five foundations in ngondro practice. The semkye or the Bodhicitta is practiced and recited separately. In our lineage, this is a little bit unique. We practice only four foundations instead of five, because the refuge prayer of "MA NAMKHA DANG/" already includes Bodhicitta. So even though we have only one recitation, it includes two forms of practices. This is why we have only four foundations.

Speaking about the qualities of a guru, let's take Gelongla Yontan (resident lama of DMYL) as an example. Gelongla has gone through all the ngondro practices under the guidance of my guru, the late Thuksey Rinpoche. He has also done a lot of retreats, including different serious retreats. Therefore, Gelongla has all the qualities of a ngondro master. You are very fortunate to have him as a guide. Masters should have the proper qualifications when they teach. They should have some insight or understanding of what they are teaching to their students. Some masters give lots of different teachings to their students and these poor students practice like hell even though these masters are not at all qualified. Some of these masters even say, "I have never done any of these practices, but I'm teaching you anyway."

Nowadays, many masters are like that, giving good teachings without being qualified themselves. If you daring enough to ask them, "Have you done ngondro?" they may answer, "I'm sorry, I haven't." This sort of answer is at least an honest answer, but some of them may even say, "I don't need to do this because I'm very special. You guys have to do this because you have lots of bad karma and defilements." If they are honest enough to say, "I'm bad therefore I haven't done even one ngondro," I think this is better for them.

Many people who speak very well tend to have no practice of the four foundations. And those people who have practiced ngondro tend to have no skills to speak well. It's funny that these two qualities often cannot come together.

It's important to understand what is the guru. Guru is like a master, who does not necessarily need to be the root guru. Whether he or she is a root guru fully depends on your own mind or realization. When you become realized, you will know who has made you realized and whoever this person is, he or she is your root guru.

This root guru can be anybody. He or she doesn't need to be some big Rinpoche, rich master or a highly respected person. The guru can be anybody in any form or presentation. But the authentic guru needs complete or thorough mind qualifications. The first is compassion. The second is wisdom; meaning that he or she should understand wisdom. The third is that through this wisdom, he or she should be teaching correctly. Nowadays, most of the unqualified masters are very good at teaching. Even without compassion and wisdom, by just knowing a little bit of the teachings here and there, they can talk with their brains, but this is not the qualification of an authentic guru.

For example, some of the 84 Mahasiddhas such as the great Indian masters Tilopa, Naropa, Maitripa, Kukurepa, etc. were shoemakers, farmers, tailors and servants looking after dogs. Almost none of them were sitting on thrones and wrapped in expensive brocades, even though they were the greatest masters. So we should know all these things ~ who are the authentic masters, what are their qualifications and that it's not important how they look externally.

Therefore, guru yoga is one of the principal practices of ngondro. The practice of prostrations, Vajrasattva and mandala offering are equally important, but guru yoga is the most important because devotion is the principal practice of guru yoga. Therefore, devotion should be developed right from the beginning, starting from the practice of prostrations and Vajrasattva. In other words, the entire practice of ngondro is actually the practice of guru yoga, even though one of the four foundations of ngondro especially emphasizes the practice of guru yoga.

Systematically, as I have explained earlier, by starting the practice of refuge, you are practicing the principles of Hinayana. And the practice of Vajrasattva, any kind of Vajrasattva empowerment is very badly needed. Actually, you should really get the initiation for the Vajrasattva practice; but these days, since it is not easy to get such kind of initiation, I think it's okay for you to at least have some kind of Vajrayana transmission. This can be given before you start the Vajrasattva practice by anybody who has the empowerment or transmission.

Then, after finishing first set of ngondro, the guru would tell you how many more sets of ngondro practice are needed. An experienced guru is able to tell you exactly how many you need. Generally we should be practicing fifty percent more than those guru did in the old days because we definitely have more negative karma than these gurus. It's usually not less than eight sets. I was telling my students not less than four sets because some of them are getting a little bit old and therefore even if they wish to practice more, they can't. Actually, just practicing ngondro for one's whole life is more than enough. Therefore, it's strange to see that many people want all kinds of other practices.

I always say that four sets of ngondro are good enough, but this should not be the limitation. The more you do, the better. Some of the yogis in our lineage have completed twenty, twenty-five or even forty sets of ngondro. One of my gurus finished fourteen sets of four foundations before he did the practice of Mahamudra. Even though this can be a little bit difficult, many people are able to do many sets when they are in serious retreats. In our case, because we have many other things to do, many other commitments, we are not able to do that many sets in a short time.

Gyalwa Yang Gonpa, one of the renowned masters in Tibet, realized Buddhahood in one lifetime. He told his disciples, "I have attained enlightenment through the practice of ngondro." Therefore he encouraged his disciples to dedicate their entire life to the practice of ngondro.

As I said before, the four foundations start with the Hinayana and the Mahayana and gradually lead to the Vajrayana. Therefore, the whole body of the Buddha's teachings is included in the four foundations and nothing is left out. There are many colorful teachings, but unless you are looking forward to becoming non-Buddhists, the four foundations or ngondro includes everything taught by the Buddha. It's all there.

As I mentioned earlier, before the Vajrayana practice, you should get an initiation of Vajrasattva or some kind of Vajrayana initiation. After this, you should start the Vajrayogini practice, which is part of the ngondro practice. Actually, this practice is not allowed to be publicly transmitted. But I thought that people might be able to get some blessings, therefore I gave the initiation the other night to the public. For those of you who are doing ngondro, you should be prepared to visualize yourself as Vajrayogini and guru on top of your crown. The Vajrayogini practice is actually part of the guru yoga.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

Question: In the text 'The Chariot which delivers the Excellent Blessings' by the eighth Gyalwang Drukpa, it is mentioned that the refuge is divided into outer, inner, secret and precepts. Could you kindly elaborate?

Holiness: You have to understand that refuge means taking refuge vows. The outer refuge objects are the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the inner refuge objects are the guru, daka or yidam and dakini, and the secret refuge object is your own Buddha nature. After you have taken refuge, you should know what you should be doing and what you should not be doing. This refers to the precepts of refuge.

Question: In the same text, it is mentioned that the offerings include the surpassable and unsurpassable offerings. What is the difference?

Holiness: Surpassable offerings refer to objects which are available in this world and which we can offer, such as flowers, cars, buildings, etc. And unsurpassable offerings are offerings beyond our imagination, which we call lana mepa. According to what is said in the text, I think unsurpassable offerings refer to the kind of offerings that we cannot imagine which are as vast as the sky. They are not substances that we can see or perceive. There is actually nothing for us to imagine. The Buddha believed there are hundreds or thousands of worlds apart from our own world and we don't really know, and we cannot imagine the offerings that are available in these worlds. So such kinds of offerings are vast, immeasurable and unsurpassable. They are absolutely beyond our imagination and we are also offering these to the guru, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

Question: Sometimes I have health problems and family problems and sometimes I have no time to practice. Is it okay to take a break in the middle of ngondro practice?

Holiness: Whatever problems you have while doing the ngondro practice, maybe you have financial problems, health problems, family problems, etc. you should not stop, you should not break down. For example, if a car is strong, no matter how bad the road conditions, it can still keep going. But if the conditions of the car are not good and it has no petrol, and on top of that the road is full of dirt, then the car cannot go on. Therefore, mind encouragement should not stop. Whether you are going fast or slow, or having a bunch of obstacles, you should keep up your practice, no matter how many years you have to take. You should tell yourself, "Even though I have a lot of problems, bad health, family problems, etc. I shouldn't stop." Like a good car, encouragement should not be stopped. The road conditions are not the first priority, but the condition of the car is. To practice with diligence and continuity is very important. How many prostrations or Vajrasattva mantras you are doing in a day is not a big issue, it may be the second or third most important issue. The first issue is that you should never stop, not even for one day.

You should continue to practice even though on certain days, you can only practice for fifteen minutes. Something has to be done everyday. You can't say, "I'm not doing it today, but I will make it up tomorrow." And then you may stop for two days, five days, and finally you may stop practicing forever. Your practice may disappear. Therefore, whatever happens, you should never stop your practice.

Question: Right after I finished my ngondro or practice of purification, if I killed someone, would I accumulate very bad karma?

Holiness: For example, if I have been doing very good things in the earlier part of my life and then doing bad things as I get older, and right before I die I kill a person, then the karma will definitely come back to me. The first results would be good, and I would definitely not end up in the lower realms and I would deserve whatever good things I have done in the earlier part of my previous life. For example, if I practiced morality, ethics, etc. in my past life, the merits accumulated would make me a king or minister or someone who has a lot of property, even though the bad karma would be hidden. But the credit would disappear day by day and once the credit is exhausted, there would be a time when the bad karma would ripen. So similarly, the good things such as purification will be there even though you have done some bad things in the latter part of your life, but at the end of your next life, you will still get the results of the bad karma. If you did very bad things even after your ngondro practice and you didn't die, I would advise you to ask Gelongla to teach you Vajrasattva purification again. You should do the purification practice again with strong regret, thinking, "If I die, I will go to hell, so I must purify my bad karma now." Then you do one hundred thousand times of purification practice and this purification will sort out your bad karma. Even though the negative karma is accumulated, it cannot ripen because the purification practice will rot this negative karma. For example, the seeds may be there, but then you may feel that it's a mistake to plant rice and you may decide not to have the rice field. So you can then take the seeds and throw them away, and instead of rice, you can grow mangoes, flowers, etc., whatever you like. This is the same thing with negative karma.

That's the reason why before you die, you should finish with good deeds and sort out all the bad deeds. Otherwise, even if you return in human form, you may not be a spiritual practitioner. For example, there may be somebody who was very powerful, who had a very long life and was hardly sick, etc., but he had no Dharma in his life. When his or her credits or merits are exhausted, he or she will go straight to hell and have no chance to progress even if he or she is doing a lot of good things in this life. So we should do good things and purify all our bad deeds with the practice of Vajrasattva. Now is the time and the great opportunity to practice. When we die, we will have no choice. I'm 85% sure that if we don't practice, it is almost impossible to get a good human rebirth where there is a chance to practice the Dharma and to be realized.