In Karma Kagyu lineage the practitioners typically begin their serious practice path of Mahamudra meditation by practicing outer and inner preliminaries, called Ngondro in Tibetan. These practices include four contemplations, that help to turn the mind away from the mundane concerns of one’s present life and toward the attainment of liberation from suffering and ultimate freedom, enlightenment. The four contemplations that change the mind are precious human life, death and impermanence, karma and the suffering of samsara.
These four contemplations were the main focus of the teachings on Saturday and Lama Rabsang really emphasized the importance of understanding these in our heart, not just intellectually. If we truly understand them, our mind starts to look a way out of the cycle of samsara, in which we just go continuously up and down, from life to another life, aeon after aeon. This underatanding forms the basis then to the next four practices: Taking refuge and developing bodhicitta, Vajrasattva purification practice, Mandala accumulation practice and receiving the blessings through the Guru yoga. If we don’t understand the four ordinary contemplations, there might not be enough momentum to keep us diligent, persevering and inspired in our practice through hundreds of thousands of repetitions of the extraordinary practices. The four extraordinary practices are methods helping us to soften our mind, train it in letting go of our arrogance, pride, ego grasping, selfishness, greed, anger, desire, ignorance – in other words our kleshas and our hardened habitual tendencies.
After the first teaching day there was a clear inspiration in the air: many who had been pondering whether to start the ngondro or not, felt confident after Lama’s talk. Lama Rabsang had made it sound possible, something worthwhile the effort, but also something that people can work with in their own schedule. If you believe in auspicious coincidences, there was one such a sign above the Centre after the teaching day finished: a beautiful rainbow! We were all looking forward to the Sunday teachings.
Sunday was reserved for learning the four extraordinary practices and there were people who were starting from beginning, some who needed to learn Vajrasattva, some who wanted to get their act together regarding Mandala offering practice and those who had some point in their life started the ngondro but stopped, and now wanted to get back to it. Lama Rabsang explained everything in detail, and how the Ngondro is done according to the tradition. One can of course do prostrations, Vajrasattva mantra, Mandala offerings of Guru Yoga prayers, but Lama Rabsang explained that if we were to do Ngondro properly, we need to follow the text the tradition and how we have received it from our teacher. It is a transmission to a sacred practice, composed by 9th Karmapa, and we cannot go changing it according to our liking. There is a blessing in a way it has manifested. So, we did the practice together a couple of times to get a hang of it and to build confidence. We saw also how to do prostrations: how to put your hands, when to say the prayer, what to visualise and when. We were also told that if we need to rest in between, we should not rest by lying down on our face in the middle of the prostration, but rather then just sit and meditate! All these little details one would not know without a teacher and the transmission. It became very obvious that there are some things that we cannot get from Google. A lineage transmission of genuine practice is one of them!
Written by: Pauliina Kossi
More photos of the weekend HERE
Below some accounts from the students who started the Ngondro.
I have just returned home from an inspiring weekend at Palpung, ready and enthusiastic to begin the Ngondro! Lama Rabsang taught us so joyfully, explaining the reasons to undertake this practice, bringing the depth of the stages and visualisations to life, and wonderful chanting of the Tibetan text. It was so interesting to hear about Lama’s own experiences of his Ngondro and retreat. The Palpung community generously shared their knowledge and experience with us newbies; although we are aware that this will be a challenging undertaking, it is wonderful to be part of a group of genuine practitioners, all trying to do the best we can. Among the seriousness of the teachings, so much laughter made the daunting task of learning the Ngondro so much fun. How can we not do our best, with Lama’s smiling face still firmly in our minds, reminding us to be happy and what a wonderful opportunity to deepen our practice this is? I will try to keep Lama’s joyfulness in my heart through the dark winter mornings
I read and made preparations until becoming paralysed as my mind was too full of objects to consider. Finally I completed the practice and through the week notice: a stronger connection with my intention and motivation for being on this spiritual path and a confidence that it is a tried and tested one. This renews a more joyful attitude to practice. I am no longer preoccupied with the vast number of repetitions to be achieved, it just feels like a meaningful way to start each day and to keep doing that. The pauses for contemplation and shifts to physical prostrations, visualization and mantra repetition and the transitions between these activities focuses and integrates body, speech and mind with wholesome activity in a way that I can make sense of.
The teachings I have received from Lama are fitting into place and those “foundations” that were missing are being clarified.
Thank you once more and blessings to you that this work continues.
Love from Ruth
Thank you for a wonderful weekend; it was extra special for me because I took my Refuge vows with Lama Rabsang.
Lama was very kind and patient as he led me through the ceremony, and I felt supported by the sangha who could be heard renewing their vows behind me. It was a magical moment in time which will stay in my heart always.
Over the weekend Lama gave us insightful and uplifting teachings on the big subject of the Ngondro, illustrating the text with his great stories and answering our questions clearly and with patience. I feel so grateful that we have such a kind, wise and good humoured Lama.
Thank you all for making last weekend such a joyous time,
Karma Dechen Yeshe (Jenny)