Tag Archives: wisdom

What is Ngöndro?

Ngöndro is a set of Buddhist practices that one chooses to complete at the request of one’s lama. Ngöndro can be translated as “to go before” It is therefore known as the four preliminary practices or the four uncommon or extraordinary preliminaries. The full practice may be compared to earning a bachelors degree in meditation as the practices usually take years to complete and when one is finished one normally receives a Yidam practice from his or her lama as sort of a graduation gift. Yidam means mind bond and is usually a lifelong practice. I will be describing the Karma Kagyu Chag Chen Ngöndro from the Ninth Karmapa here as this is what I practice.

The Ngöndro consists of four and sometimes five practices the four practices are:

1. Refuge and Enlightened Mind (prostrations)

2. Vajrasattva (diamond mind)

3. Mandala Offering

4. Guru Yoga

The fifth is commonly referred to as the small refuge and is completed prior to the four main practices sometimes as a trial to see if one is suited for the Ngöndro as it usually entails only 11111 repetitions. The four main practises increase in complexity and difficulty of visualization. They all consist of a mantra or exercise that must be repeated 111 111 times, yes that’s correct, one hundred and eleven thousand one hundred and eleven repetitions per practice. I am not kidding here this is why it takes years to do.

The total package of the Ngöndro can be compared to that of renovating a house or in this case your mind. When one has a house that needs total renovation one tears down the walls replaces the wiring and water pipes and anything else that is in poor repair. This is the prostrations, they are hard work require time and sweat, and you will feel them the next day actually for me it really hurt. But they do come with many benefits, as one develops in the practice so does one’s devotion, dedication, and one-pointedness to the lama and the entire transmission lineage. One purifies all Karma that is connected to the body and its physical actions; one can also become quite fit in the process and they open up blocked energies from our chakras. In each prostration we are aligning our body, speech, and mind chakras on a physical level with our prayer mudras that touches each of these centers and on an inner level as we alternate our inner focus or attention from one place to another. On the physical side, I found it very beneficial that as one develops their core body strength one can easily maintain excellent body posture both in and out of meditation. Correct body posture is incredibly helpful. It’s even not uncommon for a 1 pack to finally become a 6 pack. Likely the most important benefit is two-fold, firstly one begins to repeat the promise of the Bhodisatva every time we meditate. Being a Bhodisatva is not always easy but with practice, it can be. As motivation to do the prostrations one can imagine that we do the prostrations for others. I have personally met one yogi who traveled 500km doing prostrations as he went all for those who could not do them for themselves. Secondly, we begin to work with altruistic wishes such as “may all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness, may all beings be free from suffering and the cause of suffering, may they always experience happiness which is totally free from suffering, and may they remain in the great equanimity which is without attachment and aversion. These are very important steps on the path of the Bhodisatva.

The second practice of Vajrasattva or Diamond Mind is compared to the cleaning out of all the dust and dirt that has accumulated over the years and in the first part of the renovation once all the rough work is finished. Vajrasattva is intrinsically connected to emotions like anger, as one purifies even the most subtle and hidden aspects of the negative things that we have said, thought, or done since beginningless time. The mantra is quite long, 100 syllables to be exact, and one mala takes a minimum of 15 minutes. Here one can hone their concentration skills and enjoy the blessing and relief of removing even more negative Karma from one’s store consciousness. The practice of holding ones concentration so intensely can often, but not always lead to feelings similar to that of anger. This happens because we are in a subtle way creating the mental or inner conditions that are reminiscent of anger. As we develop with the practice we begin to see this narrowness or tightening in everyday situations as we really do become angry. The meditation is skillfully showing us that anger is coming, we then have realized the great gift of then being able to choose to react negatively or not. This is the essence of Vajrasattvas neckar it purifies our past response to anger and we are now only left with an unobscured observation of the situation. This deep wisdom can only grow from here into the openness we begin to develop in the next practice of the mandala offering.

The third practice is called mandala offering and it is for sure the most intricate and beautiful of all four practices. This is the fresh paint, new carpets, and beautiful decorating phase after the hard work of the renovation. Here one imagines universes of amazing and fantastic offerings for all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from all times and directions as one places piles of rice and semi-precious stones on a silver plate and wipes them away. We practice giving without regret or attachment and a deeper sense of thankfulness spills over into our everyday lives as one repeats the manta both on and off the meditation cushion. We may even begin to have an idea of what emptiness is, but don’t worry this idea is certain to change as do all ideas and concepts in Buddhism.

 

The fourth and final practice of the Ngöndro is Guru Yoga, this is meditation like many others in Tibetian Buddism because one directly meditates on the lama and in this case all the lamas of the transmission lineage. This seems only natural to invite everyone over to celebrate after your house is renovated and here the guests bring immense blessing for one’s future practice. On the subject of guru yoga, it would be irresponsible not to mention that when one is meditating “on” the Lama we are not meditating on a person with flesh and blood, we are meditating on a form of enlightened energy and light. This is a very skillful way in which to dissolve our selfish egos and to take on the profoundly positive and enlightening qualities that the lama represents. This effect is multiplied when the entire lineage is placed in mind above one’s head. Devotion and perseverance develop in the practitioner when one begins to realize and identify with the many exemplary examples of lives that were dedicated to the practice and teaching of the Buddha Dharma.

With an overview of the entire Ngondro practice, it is easy to see how all the individual parts fit in with one another. This is what is known as skillful means. Prostrations and Diamond Mind are heavily slanted to the Shinè side. While Mandala practice is almost entirely Laktong and the Guru Yoga is a combination of them both. The building up phase or the Kyerim phase is longer and more detailed in each subsequent practice and very clearly the Dzogrim phase moves from blessing to emptiness to a full Mahamudra experience. With this in mind, it is easy to see how the Ngondro really is the preparation for understanding the highest of the Kagyu Mahamudra teachings.

I have learned something very powerful from each and every practice and even as I am more than halfway through my second Ngöndro I can say that this experience keeps developing deepening far beyond what I could have imagined in the beginning. I have even considered doing Ngondro for the rest of my life as I personally know quite a few people who have done 5 or more Ngöndros and I am sure that they would say the same. If you are thinking that you may wish to undertake such a profound experience for yourself please ask many questions and find a Buddhist Centre near to you to get qualified explanations. The traditional “lung” or wind or word can only be received from a lama. Although it might seem oldfashioned or simply unnecessary a little tradition can go a long way.

QP

John Wheeler,​ Are we Observing or could we actually be Participating in the Universe?

” ‘Participant’ is the incontrovertible new concept given by quantum mechanics. It strikes down the ‘observer’ of classical theory, the man who stands safely behind the thick glass wall and watches what goes on without taking part. It can’t be done, quantum mechanics says it…May the universe in some sense be ‘brought into being’ by the participation of those who participate?”

John Wheeler

 

This statement from John Wheeler is game-changing. The movement from static observer status to that of a dynamic conscious participant is truly revolutionary or is it? Science is often slow to react to such outrageous ideas such as this. Remember how long it took us to accept that the earth was a sphere and that it orbited around the sun? Even Quantum Physics had taken its time in the last 100 years to become a household word where many have a basic understanding of at least some the simplest ideas it has proposed to mankind. How would science test John Wheeler’s aforementioned statement other than referring to the famous double slit experiment? How would one propose to observe the participation of the observer on a universal scale and in a scientific frame? This question has many philosophical ramifications as well. But when we want to explore these scientific and philosophical ideas perhaps we do not need to reinvent the wheel. Perhaps the Hermitic axiom of as above so below or as outside so inside might help us here to understand this very complex relationship we find ourselves in. If the answers we are seeking can be found within then we need’ent look further than to understand the Buddha Dharma and Adhyatma Vidya. The Science of Mind has for 1000’s of years clearly pointed out our conscious interactions with the form-based or objective world that we find ourselves in.

As a practitioner of the Buddha Dharma, I have come to understand observation and participation quite intimately. I observe my mind daily; both in everyday situations and in meditation. I examine my actions after I do them and I examine how thoughts arise, exist, and return to mind in meditation. I know that Buddha nature is in everyone and everywhere, and all living beings want to be happy and avoid suffering. I understand that we are participating in consciousness, both karmically and actively by choosing not only what we do and how we do it but how we see and understand everything around us. I have also grown to know freedom and wisdom very well. Freedom in both mind and in the world is the underlying cause of great bliss and joy. Wisdom and deep understanding are knowing not only how to do something but why, if, or when it needs to be done.

For example, the Buddha Dharma teaches us that there are 4 factors that maximize the effects of karma. They are 1) That we know and understand the situation, 2) Wish or plan to do it or wish or plan to have it done 3) Then do the act or have it done, and 4) Being happy or satisfied about the results afterwards. Let us examine two slightly extreme examples. The first, both before and during WW2 Adolf Hitler was chancellor of Germany no one should have had a better understanding of Germany’s situation better than him. He and his government planned the return of Germany to the top of the world stage. Then the plan was methodically enacted step by step. I think that even in his death Hitler was happy and proud of what he had done. Here all four factors of Karma are strongly realised. The next example is related but fictional. Let’s suppose that I was alive in Hitler’s time and I killed him before the first concentration camp opened up. I knew and understood the situation, I planned the act of his assassination and then carried it out. I was devastated to have killed someone but undeniably happy to have saved millions of lives and untold suffering. So here as well all four criteria are met for the strongest karmic imprints in one’s mind. OK perhaps, they are 95% met as I was not happy to have killed in the first place, but I was only happy with the result. Does this 5% make a big difference here? Of course, there is and its a question of wisdom and compassion.

Buddhism teaches us that there needs to be a balance between our actions of compassion and wisdom. When one acts or participates only with compassion we are soft and even mushy. We can be slow to stand up and act in ineffective ways. I think we all know how cold and hard pure wisdom can be. Imagine telling a loved one or family member the truth about something hurtful but in a direct and unloving way. Wisdom and compassion show us how to be loving and effective in the world. Sometimes the most compassionate thing to do is to act with wisdom and kill the Hitlers of this world or stand up and protect others and our freedoms that are constantly under attack. The question is one of motivation, do we act from love or anger do we benefit only ourselves or do we benefit all? Understanding the mindful identification of what is driving our participation in the universe is a central tenant of the Buddha Dharma. I would challenge everyone reading this to think about how your actions resonate not only within your personal lives but on a universal scale as well. Don’t just observe but participate actively for the benefit of all. Be the change we want to see in the world. Be the change that this world so desperately needs.

May the universe you”bring into being”by your conscious, active, and mindful participation be one of great bliss.

May all beings know and live in freedom and have the causes of freedom.

QP