The Preliminary Practices, Ngondro, is something that one must have at least heard of when going a bit deeper into the practices of Vajrayana Buddhism. Ngondro is striking with the number of repetitions of certain practices: 111 111 prostrations, and the same amount of Vajrasattva mantras, mandala offerings and Guru Yoga practice. The numbers can be off-putting for some, inspiring and challenging for others, but if engaging in the practice, it seems that the high number does have quite a profound meaning. The most commonly practiced Ngondro in Karma Kagyu tradition, “The Chariot Traversing The Noble Path”, is taken from the collection named “The Instructions for the Co-Emergent Mahamudra Practice” composed by Jetsun Wangchuk Dorje, (IXth Karmapa 1555-1603).
Calling this practice a “Chariot” reveals something of how the practice may work: one jumps into the chariot, does the practices by putting their whole being in it, and once at the destination you might see that the views have changed from where you started. One’s own way of seeing the world can truly changed by this practice. The practice is like the vehicle, engaging in the practice becomes the path, and our own mind and its experiences are the views we are looking at and working with on the way. Ngondro can become a practice which develops perseverance, patience, diligence and discipline by doing the numbers. It can break deeply ingrained habits through repeatedly challenging them, over and over again – especially when we feel like not wanting to challenge them anymore. Some point the numbers and counting might become so tiring that the mind just gives in and it feels more important to “just do it”, no matter what or how long. It can challenge one’s ego in so many ways, but one thing that might come to mind by doing the Ngondro, is “Why am I doing this?” when repeating prostrations, mantras and visualisations hundreds of thousands of times. It makes one look at the motivation: “Am I doing this only for myself? Am I doing this because everyone else is doing it and I cannot be worse? Am I doing this with devotion? Am I doing it having care, love and compassion in my heart and in my being? I am doing it with serious, pushing, ambitious, hard attitude, or am I doing it with softness, flexibility and openness?”
If it seems difficult to find meaning and a good reason why we throw ourselves on the floor over and over again in the early hours of the morning when others are enjoying a nice sleep in their beds, or when we are tired from work yet we still go to repeat mantras and visualise offerings of pure realms while others are watching TV on a comfy sofa, the Four Thoughts are something to turn to. The Four Ordinary Foundations, also called The Four Thoughts That Turn One’s Mind to Dharma (Precious human life, Impermanence, Karma and Samsara) are something that at their best will lay a strong foundation to understanding the meaning of Dharma practice and then all the other so called “more advanced” practices (many teachers actually say how these four contemplations are something they keep on doing daily throughout all their lives which makes one think that they must be quite profound in themselves!). If the foundation is feeble, anything that is built on the top of that will be quite feeble as well. On the way, there are many times when turning back to look at the foundation seems more than necessary. However thanks to everything being in constant change all the time, every moment is a possibility to fine tune the motivation and find the inspiration by going back to basics.
Like any Vajrayana practice, every part of the Ngondro is complete in itself: Taking refuge and arousing the Bodhicitta motivation, then the main practice with visualisations, finishing with dissolution and dedication the merit for the benefit of all beings in all existences. The explanation of the meaning of Ngondro is given often as a practice of purification and accumulation. For example by doing prostrations ” We bow down to purify all situations from the past where we did not respect others. — Prostrations help us rely on something more meaningful than our pride and ego clinging.” (Lama Gendyn Rinpoche on the meaning of prostrations)
Ngondro can also build up confidence in the blessings of the Dharma practice and increase devotion, it can increase confidence in one’s own potential and ability to engage in sustained, and hopefully also joyful effort. Lama Gendyn Rinpoche talks about having confidence: “We should have confidence in the perfect qualities of the Three Jewels and be sure that their blessings can remove the veils from our minds. The blessing can appear and the purification is effective when our confidence in body, speech and mind meets the transforming qualities of the enlightened body, enlightened speech and enlightened mind – the sources of the refuge. If we do not have confidence and cannot open up to the Three Jewels, prostrations will only be like a play.”
If anyone is interested in starting this profound practice, they should contact a teacher who can give them instructions as well as the reading transmission for the text. The practice holds great blessings which come down through the unbroken lineage of great masters who have realised the essence of Buddha’s teachings.
The whole article about the meaning of prostrations by Lama Gendyn Rinpoche HERE
Written by: Pauliina Kossi
The Ngondro retreat at Palpung Wales on a cold and crispy November weekend was a wonderful opportunity to warm up one’s heart, deepen the practice over the couple of days as well as to feel the uplifting power of group practice.
BELOW THE EXPERIENCES OF NGONDRO RETREATANTS
The Ngondro retreat was special for me – practicing alongside others made the practice vivid and I found that discipline and focus came easily with the energy of group practice and boosted my motivation.
It was precious to have some time with Lama before he goes into retreat – he emphasised really believing and having confidence that our obscurations are being purified through the doing the practice.
I had a really warm feeling during the weekend, a sense of there being nowhere I would rather be in this moment than here, practicing Ngondro! (the food was delicious too!)
Love Jill x
A REFUGE FOR REFUGE
In the crisp November frost
As bangers bang and rockets screech outside,
A small band of friends, new and old,
Gather for practice
Finding peace and calm from the hectic world, beyond.
A rare opportunity – to take refuge
Prostrations, prostrations, and more prostrations,
Buddha, Dharma, Sangha
And then warming soup and cosy laughter. Followed by the wisdom, and guiding advice
From our precious Lama.
He is behind all, holding the space,
Holding us, giving the chance to practice.
How fortunate we are!
What a good opportunity to re-charge my motivation after a break in practicing, in the company of such lovely and dedicated people. Not to mention Marg’s brilliant cooking. Only problem is: it’s over so soon!
Being at Palpung is a joy. The centre is beautiful with a beautiful heart. Everyone is so welcoming and helpful (the food is amazing too!) I found my time over the weekend to be a breath of fresh air, very peaceful and happy. I wanted to stay longer. Thank you Palpung.
With love Lee
It’s always lovely to visit Palpung Changchub Dargyeling and this time was no exception. I felt that this weekend practice dedicated to Ngondro was very beneficial for me as I had the opportunity to both practice individually in my room and join other practitioners in the group sessions. It was really great to practice together and have the whole weekend dedicated to Ngondro. Every day I could feel my confidence growing step by step.