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Ngondro preliminary practices? Dedication of merit?

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Ngondro preliminary practices? Dedication of merit?
dedication of merit esoteric ngondro preliminary practice tibetan
Answer
3/8/11 10:03 PM
Hello,

I'm wondering if any practitioners out there have experience with formally practicing Ngondro, the preliminary practices of esoteric Tibetan Buddhism. I'm reading The Word Of My Perfect teacher, which is a pretty comprehensive but not aways detailed description of these practices. If you do, I have a few questions for you...

1) What was your lifestyle like while you were practicing Ngondro? The text (from my understanding) seems to suggest that one really has to renounce all wordly concerns - job, family, school - in order to successfully undertake these practices. But what did you do?

2) Did you have a teacher? Does the Tibetan esoteric tradition consider the guidance of a teacher indispensable for the preliminary practices, or only for the post-preliminary practices of whatever particular school you're in?

3) What, specifically, did you do for meditation? The text instructs students to absorb each teaching by first generating bodhicitta, then meditating on the teaching, then dedicating merit. However, except for generating bodhicitta, the text never goes into details about how to do these things. Since the meditation called for here (which is meditating on a concept like impermance or the suffering of particular beings) is quite different from the insight traditions I'm familiar with (and this is presumably because the practices are meant as preparation for esoteric insight practices), I don't really now how to, for example, meditate on the suffering of the hell-beings. Any thoughts?

4) Similar to 3, what do practitioners actually do to dedicate merit?

Rigpa Wiki has the following for a Dedication of Merit prayer:

Dzogchen Dedication Prayer
KUNZANG DORJÉ CHANG CHEN MEN CHÉ NÉ
DRINCHEN TSAWÉ LAMA YEN CHÉ KYI
DROWÉ DÖN DU MÖNLAM GANG TAB PA
DÉ DAK TAMCHÉ DAK GI DRUBPAR SHOK
From the Primordial Buddha Samantabhadra
Down through the lineage to my own gracious root master,
Whatever their prayers and aspirations for the benefit of beings,
May I be the one to accomplish them single-handedly, here and now!

Thanks for your input,

Jimi

RE: Ngondro preliminary practices? Dedication of merit?
Answer
10/5/12 9:46 AM as a reply to Jimi Patalano.
I also would be grateful for any comments on the subject.
I recently came across a 3 months Ngondro retreat that got me very intrigued =)) I'm considering writing to them.

RE: Ngondro preliminary practices? Dedication of merit?
Answer
10/5/12 1:56 PM as a reply to Jimi Patalano.
Jimi Patalano:
Hello,

I'm wondering if any practitioners out there have experience with formally practicing Ngondro, the preliminary practices of esoteric Tibetan Buddhism. I'm reading The Word Of My Perfect teacher, which is a pretty comprehensive but not aways detailed description of these practices. If you do, I have a few questions for you...


I'm not the best person to answer, since I haven't done Vajrayana in 5 years and I didn't finish ngondro, though I'd like to go back to it once I'm done with all of the vipassana and samatha I'm currently doing (probably a long time from now). I did take an excellent month-long ngondro course in 2003 taught by the monks of the Palyul Monastery at their Upstate New York retreat center as the first part of their Dzogchen course. See http://palyul.org . I also went back for the 2nd and 3rd parts of the course.


1) What was your lifestyle like while you were practicing Ngondro? The text (from my understanding) seems to suggest that one really has to renounce all wordly concerns - job, family, school - in order to successfully undertake these practices. But what did you do?


I was unemployed and straight out of university when I started it and have been working full time in a 9 to 5 job since about 6 weeks after taking the ngondro course. If you do ngondro for 3 hours a day, it should take you a year or two. Other people who have actually finished it can provide more accurate metrics. You can have a mostly normal life. One issue that lamas frequently don't mention is that someone who is serious about accomplishing a diety meditation the traditional way, as opposed to just as a fancy movie-like audiovisual vipassana and samatha, has to practice some sort of ejaculation control or regulation on the frequency of sex to accomplish the energetic part of the practice. This issue obviously doesn't affect women. I don't really remember being told this for ngondro. This may only be after you learn certain higher practices and specific lineages probably have specific practice instructions regarding this. Monastic lineages and non-monastic lineages (a lot lamas aren't monks) might have different advice. I'm not sure. Also, there are techniques that allow a practitioner to make this more manageable. I didn't learn them, since I wasn't clear on this restriction at the time.


2) Did you have a teacher? Does the Tibetan esoteric tradition consider the guidance of a teacher indispensable for the preliminary practices, or only for the post-preliminary practices of whatever particular school you're in?


Yes, the late Penor Rinpoche. He had just retired from being the head of the Nyingma tradition and was still the head of the Palyul branch of Nyingma. My ngondro class was also taught by Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso and Khenpo Tenzin Norgay. They're both excellent teachers. Khenchen travels an enormous amount and may very well end up in your area at some point to teach ngondro. You need to have someone show you how to chant the texts properly. You also need empowerments for Vajrasattva and Padmasambhva (in order to do guru yoga). Different lineages will offer different empowerments and have different figures with which to do guru yoga. The Palyul ngondro prayer text takes about an hour to chant without the accumulations. Other lineages like Dudjom Tersar are more compact and can take something like 10 minutes of chanting for the prayers. They are basically the same thing, it's just that the shorter versions are summaries of a sort. That's how it works in Nyingma. What little I've seen of Kagyu was the same.


3) What, specifically, did you do for meditation? The text instructs students to absorb each teaching by first generating bodhicitta, then meditating on the teaching, then dedicating merit. However, except for generating bodhicitta, the text never goes into details about how to do these things. Since the meditation called for here (which is meditating on a concept like impermance or the suffering of particular beings) is quite different from the insight traditions I'm familiar with (and this is presumably because the practices are meant as preparation for esoteric insight practices), I don't really now how to, for example, meditate on the suffering of the hell-beings. Any thoughts?


A typical session of ngondro meditation is as follows: Chants (lineage prayers, blessing the syllables, boddhicitta, aspiration prayers, etc...), prostrations while chanting and visualizing the triple gem, mandala offering (while chanting and visualizing, of course), long and short vajrasattva mantra and meditation, guru yoga chanting plus the specific guru yoga mantra and visualization for my lineage (in this case Padmasambhava), more chanting (dedication of merits, long life prayers) and since I was practicing an Avalokitesvara terma, an Avalokitesvara sadhana (more chanting, plus visualizing Avalokitesvara in the 6 realms and saying his mantra). This is a form of Buddhism for people who like to sing. While you can whisper the whole thing, ngondro really isn't quiet. Some Zen folks once dropped by the Palyul retreat center at the end of the Summer retreat after their retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. I asked them how their retreat was. They said it was quiet. When asked how mine was, I replied "noisy!"

While doing accumulations, typically you choose one of prostrations, mandala offering or vajrasattva and do a huge amount of that one until you hit 100 000 accumulations and then move on and do 100 000 of the next one.

Regarding the suffering of hell-beings, among other things, you can just imagine people in physical and mental pain with a special emphasis on people who experience hatred. You can also do tonglen for them, which involves imagining the pain and suffering of beings, taking it from them into yourself while breathing in and breathing out light and goodness and love back to them. I haven't done this in a long time, so I might be a bit fuzzy on the particulars.

The teaching on the 6 realms exists in both Mahayana and Theravada. At the end of every day in the Mahasi-style vipassana retreat I last went to, we would do metta chanting to send loving kindness to beings in all realms, starting with beings in the hell realms. The concept of the 6 realms can also be applied to people (as in regular human beings) with mental states that correspond to those idealized realms. People who experience hatred and pain are in the hell realm, people who experience jealousy are in the angry god realm, etc...


4) Similar to 3, what do practitioners actually do to dedicate merit?

Rigpa Wiki has the following for a Dedication of Merit prayer:

Dzogchen Dedication Prayer
KUNZANG DORJÉ CHANG CHEN MEN CHÉ NÉ
DRINCHEN TSAWÉ LAMA YEN CHÉ KYI
DROWÉ DÖN DU MÖNLAM GANG TAB PA
DÉ DAK TAMCHÉ DAK GI DRUBPAR SHOK
From the Primordial Buddha Samantabhadra
Down through the lineage to my own gracious root master,
Whatever their prayers and aspirations for the benefit of beings,
May I be the one to accomplish them single-handedly, here and now!

Thanks for your input,

Jimi


Like everything else in Vajrayana, there's a prayer for dedicating merit. The above is one of them. Every tradition and sub-tradition has their own. They're all good. When you start this stuff, your teacher or retreat center will give you a book or booklet that has all the prayers.

If ever I go back to this stuff, I'll learn to draw first.

RE: Ngondro preliminary practices? Dedication of merit?
Answer
10/5/12 4:09 PM as a reply to Jigme Sengye.
I'm so glad you're on this site, your posts are always really good.

You can also do tonglen for them, which involves imagining the pain and suffering of beings, taking it from them into yourself while breathing in and breathing out light and goodness and love back to them. I haven't done this in a long time, so I might be a bit fuzzy on the particulars.

That sounds about right to me, although I think the inhale is to be visualized as like black light or something and the exhale as white light. I know Jake on here is familiar with tonglen so hopefully he'll post something about this if he's got anything to add.

RE: Ngondro preliminary practices? Dedication of merit?
Answer
10/7/12 2:55 PM as a reply to Tommy M.
Tommy M:
I'm so glad you're on this site, your posts are always really good.

You can also do tonglen for them, which involves imagining the pain and suffering of beings, taking it from them into yourself while breathing in and breathing out light and goodness and love back to them. I haven't done this in a long time, so I might be a bit fuzzy on the particulars.

That sounds about right to me, although I think the inhale is to be visualized as like black light or something and the exhale as white light. I know Jake on here is familiar with tonglen so hopefully he'll post something about this if he's got anything to add.


Well, different people experience these practices according to temperament in my understanding. I have always been an incredibly poor visualizer. Luckily the vajrayana lineages that I've interacted with place a strong emphasis on the 'feel' of the visualizations. For me this applies to vajrayana visualizations and to things like tonglen, which I guess is technically mahayana. In both cases my experience is more tactile.

Tonglen is awesome, by the way, in my humble personal opinion. It's a very straightforward practice in that it directly confronts our tendency to reject unwanted experiences and cling to wanted experiences, so it also works on that sense that there is 'someone in here' to be harmed or benefited by bad and good experiences. Some people find it very heavy and difficult to 'breathe in' suffering and 'breathe out' beneficial mindstates. As the basis for this kind of practice, there needs to be some confidence in mind's capacity to transform these energies, in my experience.

RE: Ngondro preliminary practices? Dedication of merit?
Answer
11/15/12 10:01 AM as a reply to Tommy M.
Tommy M:
I'm so glad you're on this site, your posts are always really good.

That's very kind of you to say. Since this thread is on the subject of ngondro, I'm curious to know if you got a chance to try out mandala practice. If you did, how did that work out for you? Same question for Jimi. How's ngondro treating you?