Khandro Rinpoche 2012 annual retreat: August 27th, Talk 1 – Introduction to ngondro

Maybe is it a good way to refer to the ati zabdon commentary of ngondro so those of you doing that ngondro have a strong foundation, especially with the understanding how important ngondro practices are. Ngondro has encountered all kinds of ideas – I’d like to say rumors. Somehow, modern day meditations imagine they can bring fruition to the Buddhist path through an intellectual approach only. Then comes practice of Vajrayana, mainly founded on the foundation of the Mahayana view.  However, it is also very common, both for westerners and in the east, we think we want to do some practice to attain Enlightenment to benefit sentient beings, but simultaneously, there is a difference between action and aspiration. We want to hope to attain Enlightenment, wish to attain Enlightenment, but don’t have the courage to actualize Enlightenment. So, the tendency is there to retain tendencies of intellectual understanding only, with pitfalls of coming up with many impediments.

One of the big obstacles is imagining there is plenty of time to sustain habitual patterns.  We do this by sustaining seemingly intelligent ideas, which are actually foolish and primarily originated from neurotic mind. For example, “You can put it off till you are ready.” From outward appearances it sounds sensible. In the mundane world, you don’t cook till you know how to cook. So we apply samsaric logic to path of practice of “unless you are really ready, you shouldn’t do something” or “not being honest with yourself.”  Ego is never going to come up with “I’m sorry, you will need to give me up.” We’d like ego to do so, but it won’t happen.  It sustains mundaneness and samsaric tendencies, so it is completely secure.  So, it becomes essential to contemplate the passage of time.

I was talking to Jetsunla earlier, as we walked around the land.  Some of you have walked the path with sincerity, diligence, exertion, and some of you have maintained stability. But we have also encountered people with great potential, a kind heart, very skilled, capable; someone who picks things up nicely, has devotion to the path, but then indulges the mundane. They may only have 1 or 2 weakness, but there is an inability to go past their self-created quagmire. There is even just an inability to cut through a single thought. Over 3-5 years, that is fine, but some have not progressed on the path after struggling for 10, 15 years, which is very worrisome. This leads us all to know that you are sustaining on theory. You feel good, dharmic, it is an expression of love, and gratitude, but simply allowing physical body to hold workday and agree with words but no more.

(You must allow mind) to be brought to point where you begin to understand transcending, going beyond theorizing, and incorporating into one’s own practices, for which entrance into Vajrayana is essential.

Vajrayana is not difficult, but we make it difficult.  Its rumors, many people who struggle working with one thing, what boils down to a single point.  That is resistance to actualizing what you thought was your motivation. Of course it is difficult. At some point, dharma must be powerful enough to sever all familiar attachments, Habitual things, how you articulate labels, how you allow concepts to be exaggerated: these are extremely difficult to let go of.

On the one hand, we understand selflessness, and resting on mind.  But we never see that in the being kind, to actually practice selflessness you need to have giving up familiarity with the way you allow thought, allow characteristics of concepts to proliferate.  Now to do it requires giving these things up.   Fear, reluctance, discouragement kicks in.  They join forces in coming up with all kinds of ideas. (Maybe) not placing blame on the outside: “the practices are traditional, I don’t get them.” Some good Buddhists blame themselves:  “I don’t do it, I don’t have the potential, and I don’t have the time.”  Good sounding ideas come up to shift the blame to self or to others.  But the ground on which your life walks shifts; it’s impermanence. Time passes, but repetition of same habits continues.  Need to see the movement of the passing of time.  Any moment you are in movement, sense the passage of time. You’ve been with dharma 10, 20, 30 years. For some of you, a lot of life has moved on.

Allowing a doubt, hesitation, impediments to be there.  A concept is nothing but a concept.  Simultaneously is the movement of time. What is left? A big head with a lot of profound theories, words, and expressions of the view.  But this resembles a head severed from a body. If they are not attached to one another, there is no life in it. In same way, all the potential of dharma.  Unless you are a meditatior who will be satisfied with theories alone, which be the same as someone who would be satisfied with holding a seed and visualize the tree it could be, and visualizing the taste of fruit. “Others have been on the path of planting the tree, growing it, growing fruit that feeds others.” If you are going to be satisfied with a visualized fruit, is your fruition.  Ultimately, it is illusory.  Some may have an– appearance, form, sound are illusory.  If so, should be no hope, fear, even clinging to the idea seed is necessary.  But you can’t keep clinging to the seed and pretend the fruit doesn’t matters.

So yes, we when begin talk about ngondro, it is difficult, but what isn’t difficult in life?  The broom or antidote to sweep the chaos we created has to be powerful. So, correct understanding is essential.

One of the doubts comes about because of the word “preliminaries.” The direct translation would be “something that precedes.”  Maybe the term itself (has issues). We are humans, so we are fond of judgmental ideas based on terminology.  I read a request for preliminaries.  Someone wrote “I had done part of ngondro, and then stopped, so I would like to return Vajrayana to go back to ngondro.”  “When you say “back to ngondro,” there are different ways to look at it.  What you sometimes say in English “back to basics.”

Preliminary is often misunderstood as “kindergarten of” which is a very wrong approach.  Why is it called preliminary? Maybe we should call it “leader of the practices of Vajrayana.” Preliminary is not (to be seen) as primary, but something that leads whole path of practice, almost that which gives directions. Great masters always did ngondro. For example, last week was the first anniversary of Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche‘s parinirvana. Even in his 80s, he would do ngondro.  2 years before he died, the last scolding I got from him was “you aren’t doing enough Prostrations.” I do 100 ever day! “I told him I did 50 Prostrations a day.  (Laughs)

There wasn’t a day that he didn’t do ngondro.  His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche did ngondro till the end of his life as his main practice.

Ngondro is not the prelude to get over with quickly. Patrul Rinpoche said, “The very foundation of the Vajrayana is that which has the power to bring about in oneself the most realistic approach to sdeveralcvens.”

It is extremely important to realize the importance of the preliminaries.  …. The process of the boundary of Vajrayana arises from direct understanding of Mahayana views.  All the appearance of forms, sounds, thoughts. When caught by mind that assumes that how things appear, sound, thoughts originate and you cling to them. you cling and you assume. Cling and assume, and then the subtle moment where you grasp, you grasp, articulate of assumption.  You are connecting to forms, sounds, and thoughts without time to understand fully. You understand based on a fleeting moment, only an assumption based on gain and loss.  This builds up sediments of deluded perceptions.  Deluded perceptions become not clearly thought and definitely not seeing things completely.   In the same way, you’re constantly relating to diluted sounds.  In the speed of trying to recognize, we go by appearance based on gain and loss rather than having the ability to open up to understand wholeness.

With thoughts, not wholly understanding aspects of thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  Thoughts aren’t deluded; we dilate them.  When impediments of rigid ideas of what appearances are become good or bad based on your preferences, then personal preferences, conveniences dominates our relationship with forms, sounds, thoughts.   Mahayana emphasizes understanding the whole nature, the complete nature of phenomena, the complete nature of sound, the complete nature of thoughts.  Are thoughts what we suppose them to be, or is there more? How is it we don’t understand the completeness of story?

You can’t give an unbiased true judgment without listening to the full story.  If some who comes with a complete…If you give judgment based on if you like them or not, are very partial, bias, and ignorant. Same is applicable to oneself, how one is relating to sound, how one is relating to thought, how one is relating to these appearances. You are giving to sound, thought, and appearances are powerful, and become causes, which bring about effect for self and others.  Karma is propelled by your options, judgments. If your opinions aren’t sane, then this brings about negative.  Sane is perceiving truly, wholly, completely.  Otherwise, it churns out unending karmas. Especially when based on partial view based on personal preferences, it is buildup of negative karma (due to) not having a mind able to look at things accurately.  So, Mahayana trains through compassion.  Hinayana trains to discipline self, Mahayana, trains through compassion to all sentient beings and trains to see properly.  The Vajrayana trains to see all things wholly at all times.  Compassion as motivation is important, but if you are relating every moment, why not relate completely to it as it is.

So, buildup of Vajrayana must be based on compassion and discipline. Hinayana discipline, then Mahayana, especially the view of nature of self, Chittamatrin, Madhyamaka, such a  mind working with view of emptiness of self and phenomena, not only able to think of them, but able to relate to all phenomena,  not enough to say “all phenomena is emptiness.” You need to walk out and be able to relate to phenomena from that perspective. So, phenomena method allows one to see.

Last few days, we talked about 7 branch offering, and said it is a very good bridge between theory and full engagement in meditation, able to bring about actualization – but not full actualization as in post-meditation practice.

Similar, many Vajrayana see the creation phase as a bridge between the intellectual view of Mahayana and fully actualizing the view in action in post-meditation practice.  To test oneself, a meeting ground is visualizations, recitations, and engaging body, speech and mind in methods of practice which allows to challenge you and see if your understanding of emptiness is truly there.

For example, During Prostrations, or in Vajrasattva, then mandala, then guru yoga, often we encounter impediments, and are not able to fully dedicate to the practice itself.  Best way? See how far you have come with Mahayana view.

On one hand, you can get a big head with all the info on emptiness of self and other.  On other, we are bothered by the number of Prostrations, we don’t see (or feel) a connection of the lineage tree, we ask “Is there a Vajrasattva? Can I not just sit and watch nature of mind?”  You will come with impediments.  Each of you can come up with 29-30 impediments, doubts, questions and answers on your own.  When this does come up, it is the meeting ground between aspiration and actualization.

Where I am hitting a resistance, what does it mean? From Mahayana point of view, there is no I’s body, no I’s mind, no I’s feelings. What does Mahayana say about feelings? What is feeling towards of Prostrations like what chandikirti, Shantideva etc. say are empty of nature?

We fool ourselves –” all those feelings are empty, but not this one, this difficulty I can’t overcome. “We bring preconceptions of our own mind, of our own concepts, of our own appearance, of our own sound, of our own thoughts. (Because of all this), with ngondro, 100,000 is a good number. A difficult number. That difficulty goes through all the hidden crevices of our minds, resistance to transformation. That is the moment to actually investigate the mind, and what you see isn’t something nice.  We make lots of aspirations, but there is reluctance to actualizations. We are in no hurry to attain Enlightenment.

In the beginning, we all say “how can one not want liberation?” But thorough ngondro … A good thing about ngondro and creation and completion are they are individual practices, so you don’t have to embarrass self in front of others.  It is individual Practice. Otherwise, your subtle reluctances would become somewhat embarrassing, embarrassing to oneself and embarrassing to the others. Longchenpa said, “If you peel ones skin, and say “there is naked awareness under this skin.” And then there is another skin.”  One is amazed and in wonderment about “what is defilement?”  Become amazed at the intricacies and stickiness of defilements such as anger and passion, and the layers and layers of subtle aggression, jealousy, self-grasping. Become amazed to see the layers of obscurations, (which should lead to) a more thorough understanding of lifetimes. Lifetimes are not so much to address many lives, but millions, billions of these obscurations.  100,000 is just the start.  Just the top and death of physical body, but lifetimes and lifetimes of these habitual patterns, again and again.  One finds has of surface a better direct taste of taming the mind.  Ones’ gross ideas of obscuration are almost a childish understanding of obscuration.  Better insight of complexity of obscuration.  Let go of very childish understanding of transcending mind, must more mature. Taming the mind isn’t that easy.  Many lifetimes of sustaining false deluded concepts won’t be that easy to erode.

The great teachers say things like if your whole body is filled with poison, if you are only treating one finger, it is medicine, but it may not be enough for the poisons in your whole body.

The practices you like to do, the little bits of recitations, forms are all very fine, but maybe not powerful enough to erode that level of sticky familiarization with obscurations.

For a Vajrayana meditator, it is addressing samsara and nirvana from courageous perspective, like a child growing up and becoming independent.

Where an animal is lead with a rope around their nose, A mature practitioner is not lead by something else, such as a theory, or a thought from someone else, but you take the rope and lead yourself, being your own guide, your own teacher.  But it requires support. At this time, the support that keeps your head afloat are methods, particularly refuge and bodhichitta, for building your own confidence of your own Buddha nature, of gaining confidence in not being deterred by obstacles.

Taking refuge in the 3 jewels and bodhichitta are ways of understanding Buddha nature in oneself, truly being able to manifest non-attachment to self and phenomena and knowing things as they are.  If you see properly, you won’t have attachment.

Through the understanding of the nature of self and phenomena, be able to manifest non-attachment to self and phenomena.  The test is, can you give away your world? This is the Mandala practice.  Guru yoga is working with basic nature, Buddha nature, as it is.

Refuge and bodhichitta are not just Prostrations; they also fill the mind with the pure qualities of Buddha, dharma, and sangha.  Bodhichitta gives direction.  Vajrasattva give confidence of inherent Buddha nature. When confidence of Buddha nature arises, mandala allows testing how much grasping you have released.  Guru yoga, is done when no long reliant on any references so that mind can know all appearances are n….entering in kyerim or utpatti creation stage.

5 practices and 5 views

One should see ngondro as giving direction in this way; knowing “the view of this practice is this”, knowing refuge is not just refuge. Of course there are many details. I will try not to go into too many details. Sometimes you all become very tired of the details.  But they are important, since a generation of future teachers must know the details; otherwise you will water down the classical texts. But some of you who have jumped in…I read a letter from one of you, talking about self discouragement.  “Until yesterday, I wasn’t going to do ngondro, but I reflected on self discouragement” very nice to see that.  But many people prior to you have had such inspiration. Some have done very well, but some hit a wall and get bogged down in the details.  It’s the western culture of relating to dharma instruction like you are relating to a manual, sort of a structure you are learning to build.  Relate to it as a creation of a beautiful garden.  If you get too technical, then the design of a garden will look horrible.  If some say, “put 3 flowers, 5 flowers, 6 flowers, 8 flowers there,” no matter how beautiful you try to make it, there is not a sense of freedom of blossoming on its own. Everything in a natural garden has a growth of its’ own.  Many things are collectively in a garden. This is the difference between designing a collective garden, but only seeing the 3 flowers here and this shrub there, and so on. If you only look at one detail at a time, miss beautifying aspect of all dharma.  When you take it into meditation, it needs to be more pervasive in the vastness of mind. The mind can hold a tremendous number of things. Being able to maintain many details is naturally engrained in the self.  For example, in the dinning tent, you see who is coming, you see who is going, and you can decide what to eat, decide what not to eat. You can even look at what someone else is eating, and then be listening to a conversation, and can answer, and can have all kinds of thoughts about liking and disliking. You are capable of doing 100’s of things at once. In that light, doing one mantra and visualizing a light going in and out are very simple.

When you get bogged down in details, be able to:

1)      See the wholeness of the thing, like a beautiful garden.

2)       Also know it is not a unique experience- not different from what you usually do – is just replacing with something new.

I would like to go into ngondro text with that understanding. But will give dorsem lung. The Ati zabdon ngondro is what I am reading.  (Rinpoche gives reading transmission)

Ngondro are of diverse kinds.

Tradition of Preliminaries related to Sadhana practices

The tradition of the Preliminaries is connected to terma, when Padmasambhava came and transmitted teachings in Tibet. He was able to transmit to his disciples who were accomplished, but some of the teachings were left to be found by manifestations of the 25 main disciples and Padmasambhava himself.    Each of the termas becomes a full cycle of teachings.  Each terma has a principal deity, such as Chenrizig, Vajrakilaya, etc.  Deities can be numerous, but they all gather in the single essence of Vajrasattva.

A cycle must have preliminaries, a main body of creation and completion, and a conclusion of mahamudra or mahasandhi (also known as Dzogchen). Primarily, they relate to the essential nature of mind. Based on many treasure teachings, on many deities, there are as many ngondro practices.

Since people know less, some talk about different Kagyu, Nyingma, and Sakya ngondro.  There are many ngondro in each lineage. For example, the Dakpo Kagyu lineage has a ngondro and there is also a Vajrayogini ngondro.  There is one ngondro all Kagyus do, but there is also one of each deity.  But we have gotten so used in the West to saying “Kagyu ngondro,” “Nyingma ngondro,” that when some teachers come here and don’t know about it, they get confused, and then you get confused.  So, there are countless kinds of ngondro.  Also, it is important to know which ngondro you are doing.  Some of you are doing ngondro without knowing the name of them. The one many of you are doing is the general ngondro.   There is the general ngondro to become a suitable vessel for the Vajrayana.  After that, then you do Utpatti and sampanakrama. Some of you will get (Padmasambhava practice) next year, some of you got the Black Vajrayogini, which had its own ngondro. In reality, we don’t have much time to do anything but ngondro! (laughter)

Nyingthig Ngondro is the heart of Nyingma.

Ati zabdon, “the heart essence of the ati yogi”, also the foundation ati ngondro is given to those wishing to engage in Dzogchen. The main deity is Vajrasattva.  This sangha has been doing the Vajrasattva sadhana for years, so I am giving this.

Each of the Ngondro practices is an antidote to an element of samsara. Ngondro starts us working with refuge; refuge is the antidote to the wandering romance we have with ignorance.

1)      Trust we have in samsara

2)      Devotion to deluded projections

3)      Surrender to defilements.

These three when sustained are romance with ignorance.  Devotions to deluded projection and the defilements are sustained, are the romance with the ignorance.  Refuge into the lineage is said to be the antidote to these three.


The generation of bodhichitta in ngondro is the antidote to self-absorption and self-grasping. Self-grasping is a habit that is rhythmic, in tandem with the rhythm with the beating of the heart. See how strong is the stickiness of a mind constantly beating with nothing but hope for self, or fear for self. Generation of bodhichitta in the preliminaries must be strong enough to demolish the fortress of self grasping attitude.


Vajrasattva is antidote to the innumerable lifetimes of familiarity with dwelling in lacking of awareness. Like our skin, like our own being it, as familiar as we are with our skin, we are as familiar with living without awareness. Vajrasattva must be powerful enough so that a mind so familiar with lacking in awareness is able to be awakened to the power of karma, cause and effect, and that then installing the strength of awareness.


Mandala practices are antidote to not understanding nor having time to understand the true nature of aggregates, elements, and ayatanas. Aggregates are form, feeling perception, formation, and consciousness.  Elements are earth, fire, water, wind, and space.   The 6 senses, 6 sense objects, and 6 sense consciousnesses are known as the 18 ayatanas.  Where we don’t understand the makeup of the aggregates, elements, and ayatanas is where we don’t understand the vast intricacies and the interdependence of the aggregates, elements, and ayatanas. Mistaken view builds up arrogance and ground of ego and the assertion of I find its places of growth.  Mandala practice is powerful practice to demolish this place of the growth of ego by enabling understanding of aggregates, elements, and ayatanas.

Guru yoga

Guru yoga practice is the antidote to the absolute disregard, or a state of being completely oblivious to the most precious and powerful intrinsic enlightened nature. The utter disbelief that the fundamental nature of primordially enlightened.   How many of you feel enlightened or not?  We always say “I don’t feel very enlightened.” Guru Yoga IS ABOUT going beyond that disbelief. Primordial nature is only obscured because you are more interested with the obscuration instead of what is obscured.

Whole life is often spent…to diverse forms of obscuration. The question “What does that obscuration obscure?” doesn’t occur.  The teachings say repeatedly “don’t follow, don’t follow” in order to diminish the preoccupations with obscuration.  Especially if you have Mahayana background, you are one move away, enamored by own movement, then… Rather than being struck by belief in obscuration, instead work with what is being obscured.  What is there is very pure inherent nature.

Guru yoga is the antidote to disbelief in the primordial enlightened mind. It is done to gain confidence such that the…

Through the Kagyu masters, etc. – to inspire us to sit is to be able to follow their example.   Came through their stead confidence in their inherent nature.

When through the stages of ngondro practices, will come up to confidence of Buddha nature. Form, that moment, are no longer reliant on any practice. As long as you think the obscuration is more powerful, will always need someone to prostrate to, hoe many more purifications before you are confidence in intrinsic nature?  Today if you can relax without being enamored by distractions, you are done with ngondro.  But if you are more enamored with ….

100,000 moments of resting in the nature of mind.

Guru yoga is supposed to be, when you dissolve guru’s mind into you, that your mind and his is indistinct.  If you can rest in that…

Until then, you are yourself deceiving there are impediments, that you are inadequate in some ways. Because of that, you do prostrations. because you feel  obscuration, then need to generate bodhichitta.

Mandala- keep putting the guru into yourself till you are sure the gurus mind and yours are one.

This is how to look from essential perspective.

We start with understanding that you don’t believe in Buddha nature as much. Those who are confident of Buddha nature don’t need to come back. (laughs)




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