Our mind is often compared to a field that has the potential to manifest a plentitude of fruits: the fruits of “compassion and wisdom”, the realization of the true nature of our mind, here referred to, as the state of “Mahamudra”. In order for this to be accomplished one needs to previously have sowed the proper seeds through the process of “listening, contemplation and meditation”. Then, in order for the seeds to develop properly, well and smoothly the ground must first be cleared of the stones and weeds – of our negative karma and tendencies and enriched with the fertilizers of positive potentials of the mind. Within the deep path of the Mahamudra, the process of purification and enrichment of the mind is achieved through the four preliminary meditation (or four foundations) practices of Mahamudra, called “The Ngondro”.
The term “Ngondro” in Tibetan literally means “that which precedes” and indicates that this practice is a preliminary process to further practices such as the advanced Guru Yoga practice of Milarepa, Gampopa, Karma Pakshi etc., as well as to high tantric Yidam practices such as Dorje Pamo, Korlo Demchog, the Six Yogas of Naropa etc, all combined with Mahamudra transmissions.
This preliminary practice of the Karma Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, is a direct way and method that can bring forth our fullest potential, even just within one lifetime, by eliminating all the veils that keep us from experiencing and expressing our true, enlightened nature.
″ Generally the Ngondro is a great and very powerful practice and a must, for someone who wants to follow a highly spiritual and authentic path like the one of the Mahamudra lineage ″
Mahamudra is a Sanskrit term which literally means “great seal”, refers to the unchangeable highest qualities of the true essence of our mind which is stamped with the same seal, the seal of ultimate reality and is the highest realization that a spiritual practitioner can achieve. Mahamudra is the absolute view of what is referred to as enlightenment. It is a unique process that shows us how to experience this continuity of immense blissful clarity and unhindered spaciousness of the mind with all its limitless qualities like transcendental wisdom, active compassion and fearlessness and so make one’s life meaningful for ourselves as well as for others.
″ The Mahamudra lineage has stayed alive throughout the eons by being passed on from great enlightened Kagyu masters to their students uninterruptedly up until today ″
The Mahamudra state of mind is expressed also with other terms like, Maha-Ati, Dharmadhatu, Dzogchen, Tataghata-garba etc.
The 9th Karmapa, Wangchug Dorje, was the actual author of the Ngondro practice text as we know it today, which in Tibetan called the “Chag Chen Ngondro” (Chagchen is an abbreviation of the term Chag Gya Chen Po which is synonymous to the Sanskrit Mahamudra).
The Ngondro practice includes: The general preparation- the four basic (or fundamental) thoughts & the actual four Mahamudra preliminary practices.
The general preliminaries refer to the four basic thoughts which are:
- The difficulty attaining a precious human body,
- The impermanent nature of all phenomena,
- The universal law of cause and effect (the law of karma), and
- The futility of samsara which only results eventually in suffering.
These four basic thoughts -that were firstly extensively explained by the historical Buddha- are not meditation practices but simply contemplation thoughts that by reading them, help the practitioner to cultivate the right basis and motivation in order to gain a better understanding on the importance of meditation.
After having developed a state of mind of renunciation towards samsara and the sincere wish to deepen one’s dharma practice for the welfare of all beings then our Ngondro practice will have the aspired results.
The actual four Mahamudra preliminaries that one concludes consecutively are the following:
- Prostrations: This is a practice that deepens the true meaning of the taking of refuge in the three Jewels as one, also develops Bodhichitta – the enlightened or altruistic attitude of benefitting others which is based on love and compassion for all beings,
- Vajrasatva (Tib. Dorje Sempa): This is a practice which purifies negative accumulated seeds in one’s sub-conscious and obscurations of body, speech and mind,
- Mandala offering: This is a practice which enable us to quickly accumulate immense merit and cut through the clinging to self and phenomena,
- Guru Yoga: This is a practice which opens the practitioner to the blessing of the lineage and the enlightened master which is essential for a Vajrayana practitioner in order to reach state of Mahamudra.
Each of the 4 Ngondro practices contains either a mantra or a small prayer that is to be repeated within each practice in all 111.111 times. The Ngondro is the source of many qualities, through which a practitioner begins to make important changes within her/his mind-stream through body, speech and mind.
Although these practices are known as “preliminaries or fundamentals” they are not just something that you do in the beginning, finish and then leave behind, because they are the very essence, the basic foundation of the entire path of Mahamudra. The more you understand them, the deeper your practice becomes and once you really practice within the state of Mahamudra, then you will discover that everything was already included in the preliminaries.
For someone who wishes to start Ngondro two basic things are required:
- The oral transmission or the “transmission of the speech” called in Tibetan Lung, the blessing-permission of the entire Ngondro Sadhana text, which is read aloud to the practitioner in order for her/him to receive the blessings of the lineage &
- The analytical oral instructions called in Tibetan Tri which consists of detailed explanations from a commentary on how to do each practice.
All the above are given from an authorized Rinpoche or Lama of The Karma Kagyu lineage through which one receives the “permission” to do the practice and have the aspired results through the energy blessings. Of course you will then need the actual Ngondro Sadhana text.
For the Ngondro practice you don’t need a specific empowerment but you should have taken refuge already and if possible the Bodhisattva Promise in order to start it. Nevertheless if there is a possibility to receive The Vajrasatva empowerment from a Rinpoche is highly recommended.
If you wonder how it is humanly possible to finish so many repetitions, then the answer is that you will need to give yourself a 30-40 minutes practice time every day, and this combined with some discipline, diligence and enthusiasm that understands the immense benefit of this practice. Like this there is no doubt that you will certainly complete your Ngondro like many others did before you!
By Lama Mariangela the resident teacher of Athens Buddhist Center, KDCL-BodhiPath.