Quote for the Week:
In the teachings on Buddha-essence or Buddha-nature, the Buddha spoke of those whose nature was pure and of clear light, pure since beginningless time, endowed with the 32 features of enlightenment and existing within the bodies of every sentient being. The Buddha taught [in the Uttaratantra] that like a very precious jewel wrapped in a dirty cloth, it lies permanent and unchanging wrapped in the cloth of the aggregates, sensory spheres, and sense sources eclipsed by anger, desire, and ignorance and tainted by the impurities of conceptuality.
— Chandrakirti’s Lankavatarasutra.
Last Week’s Study
Last week, we were read the beginning half of the second chapter on Khenpo Gangshar in Vivid Awareness.
The Uncommon Preliminaries (or Ngondro (page 30-34 of Vivid Awareness)
These four preliminaries are called “uncommon” because they are connected to advanced Vajrayana practices. For example, you don’t need to do (although it is always highly recommended) ngöndro to do Shamatha and Vipashyana, Chenrezig, Medicine Buddha, or the White Tara practice in the practice book. But you would do this for Vajrayogini or Chakrasamvara.
The uncommon preliminary practices we use were written by the 9th Karmapa in the 1600s (good article on him in Wikipedia) when most Vajrayana practitioners were monks or yogis who had a great deal of time to practice. This ngöndro practice can be gotten from KTD in pecha form in 122 pages. One does 100,000 refuge prayers with prostrations, 100,000 Vajrasattva mantras, 100,000 mandala offerings, and 100,000 guru yoga prayers.
In 2006, the 17th Karmapa was requested to make a shorter ngöndro version which Westerners who worked could do (monks still have to do the original one). This 6 by 6 inch booklet has only 24 pages and still has all the essentials of ngöndro (including the 100,000 of each preliminary). There is also a longer instruction booklet that goes with the practice booklet.
To do ngöndro practice, you have to get permission for a qualified lama and get instructions beyond what is in the practice booklet.
I asked Thrangu Rinpoche if he preferred his students to do the ngondro practice in English or in Tibetan and Rinpoche said either one is all right. I then asked him whether he thought doing 100,000 of prostrations and then going one to do 100,000 of Vajrasattva, etc was better than doing 10,000 prostrations, then 10,000 Vajrasattva etc. and then going to the next 10,000 and Rinpoche said either way was fine.
A Review of the shorter Ngöndro for Western students
To just give an idea of what the ngöndro practices involve and why we do them I will go through describing the four practices based on the new 17th Karmapa version.
Taking Refuge by the 17th Karmapa
” Now it is time to take the refuge vows. Before taking the refuge vow, it has all been just words, but when we take the vow, it should not be merely words: if we are really and truly saying the words, they should be meaningful and they should be said with feeling. To bring about this feeling, take what is already present within your being and combine it with the refuge vow. If you combine taking refuge with the Dharma that is present within you right now, I think it will have feeling.
If we can’t find the Buddha whom we are taking refuge in, there’s no way we can take refuge. When we look to see where there might be a buddha, we might look for someone who matches what the Buddha described as a buddha—someone who has extinguished all faults and who has all the, qualities—but nowadays there isn’t really anyone who has extinguished all faults and who has all the qualities. But there is the lama present before us—the spiritual friend to whom we are connected, who teaches us the Dharma and shows us the path—so we make the lama the Buddha’s representative and think of them as a buddha.
But the spiritual friend is just someone for us to follow; we can’t take the spiritual friend and whack the afflictions over the head with him. What we can use to hit the afflictions over the head is the Dharma. There are many things that we can say about the Dharma, although I have already explained the main points. At this point we do have subtle virtuous thoughts present within ourselves. Those might be faith, devotion, loving-kindness, or other such thoughts. Additionally, we instinctively had virtuous thoughts when we were children. We should remember all these thoughts now and evoke them especially. We should think that because of them we can start to practice and that because of them we are going to embark upon all the paths.
In my case, for example, I remember what it was like when I was four or five years old. Since I was a nomad, my family slaughtered animals. When an animal was killed, I naturally felt compassion or something like it, and the feeling was strong and intense. That was when I was four or five, but now I am getting into my twenties. I have read many books and occasionally done a bit of practice here and there, yet I have never since felt any compassion that could rival what I felt when I was little. This is why calling the qualities and love that we innately have to mind and bringing them into our Dharma practice is so much better than hundreds or thousands of conceptually fabricated practices.
Many of you have Dharma friends, but usually you only think about the lama and do not particularly pay any attention to your Dharma friends. Yet you should keep your Dharma friends in mind, and consider how you can create Dharma connections with one another and develop those Dharma connections through harmonious samaya commitments with one another. Considering this, you should rely upon each other. This is how you should think of the Three Jewels as you go for refuge today.
After having given you the refuge vows, I have a hope for all of you. Of course it is important for you to keep all the precepts I explained as well as you can—that is generally just how it is done. What I have to say from my own part is that I have no particular hope that now that I have given you the refuge vow, you will do your practice so well that in the future you will be able to perform great miracles, awaken to Buddhahood, grow an ushnisha on your head, and have wheel designs on the soles of your feet. It is of course good if that happens, but I have no specific expectation of that. If I had such expectations, I should hope for the same for myself, but I haven’t grown anything yet.
The main point is that on this earth, communities are extremely important. If communities act in negative ways toward each other, it harms the entire earth. If communities act well toward each other and do good things, it brings good things to the whole world. Now that you have gathered here and I have given you the refuge vow, the main thing for all of you is that you take greater responsibility for this world. I hope that you develop more courage to work for happiness in the world, and that when your courage increases, all the particular intentions you now have for this world do not just remain mere thoughts but can really and truly be demonstrably shown on this earth. Do as much as you can as an individual to train in altruism and loving-kindness, and then do what you can to bring happiness from the small scale of within your family up to the larger scale of society in general and to all beings in this world. This is what I personally hope of you now that I have given you the refuge vows.” End of Karmapa’s teaching