101. Tibetan Buddhism (IV)
The preliminary practices
are the approach in the preparation for the Tantric practice. In
Tibet, it is known as Ngondro, which means 'something that goes
before'. There are two kinds of preliminary practices, the first
is the common / ordinary and the second is special / particular.
Common or Ordinary Preliminaries -- Four Thoughts
It involves 'four thoughts'
that can turn one's mind towards the practice of Dharma providing
a solid foundation for the Tantric practice.
- Appreciation of the
precious human existence -- In Tibetan, it is called Dal-jor,
which means a freedom or opportunity difficult to come by. One
has to take the precious opportunity of being a human being on
Earth in this period of eon, so that one has the freedom to allow
for the spiritual development. There are many kinds of life existence,
known as Eight Hindered Existences. In some, one has no chance
to learn and practise Buddhism.
- Awareness of impermanence
of all phenomena -- Referring to the Three Dharma Seals or Three
Universal Truths, one should have a thorough understanding of
the Truth of Impermanence, the Truth of No-self, and the Truth
of Nirvana. As Milarepa said, " It was the fear of death
that drove me to the mountains, and I meditated for so long on
death and impermanence that I realized the deathless state of
mind. Now, death holds no fears for me."
- Understanding the
concept of Karma -- It is the causality between actions and experience.
It is the most significant belief in Buddhism, which explains
all causes and effects in the past, present and future. With the
understanding of Karma, we can take virtuous actions, whichcan
produce positive results in happiness and fulfillment, and can
prevent harmful or evil actions, which would otherwise bring us
suffering and pain.
- Awareness of the sufferings
and limitations of Samsara (i.e. reincarnation) -- We human beings
suffer from birth, aging, sickness and death. We have severe afflictions,
emotion and delusion, etc. due to our ignorance. The only solution
of relieving us from suffering is attaining enlightenment. The
practice of Prajna (or Wisdom) is the only way that can break
off our ignorance.
Special or Particular Preliminaries -- Four Mula Yogas
They are known as Four
Foundation Yogas, or Mula Yogas, which form the basis of Tibetan
spiritual practices. Mula is a Sanskrit word meaning root and foundation,
while Yoga simply means 'that unites'. It is considered as the entrance
to the Vajrayana, and is common in all Tibetan Buddhist school in
- First Foundation
Yoga -- Refuge and Prostration
In Tibetan Buddhism,
apart from taking refuge in the Three Jewels (i.e. Buddha, Dharma
and Sangha), the practitioner has to take refuge in the Three
Roots as well. The three roots are, namely, the Guru as the
root of blessing, the Yidam or meditation deity as the root
of accomplishment, and the Dakini or Dharma protector as the
root of enlightenment activity.
It consists of three
main elements, namely, prostration, recitation and visualization,
corresponding to body, speech and mind respectively. These three
modes of functioning correspond to the Threefold Body, namely.
Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya and Dharmakaya respectively. The mental
element of the first Mula Yoga is the visualization ofthe so-called
Refuge Tree, which is made up of various images, such as lotus
flower, Tantric deities, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas. The verbal
element of this Mula Yoga consists of reciting aloud a series
of verses expressing one's determination of taking refuge. One
takes refuge in the founder of the tradition - Padmasambhava
for the Nyingma school - as the embodiment of all the Refuges.
Finally, the physical element of this Mula Yoga is prostration.
Tibetan Buddhist devotees prostrate fully and rather dramatically,
flat on their faces with their arms stretching out in the front.
They can prostrate in full-length manner for a distance of several
hundred miles. One may think that it is crazy to do so. However,
according to tradition, one vows to up 100,000 prostrations.
This Foundation Yoga represents the Hinayana component of Buddhism,
which is regarded as the Basic Buddhism, concluding in taking
refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
- Second Foundation
Yoga - Development of the Bodhicitta
The second Mula Yoga
is the arising of Bodhicitta, the desire towards Enlightenment
for the benefit of all living beings, The practitioner has to
recite it for 100,000 times. (It is a common characteristic
of the Vajrayana that one does a practice for 100,000 times,
because the repetition can help penetrate into one's unconscious
mind.) Thus, one has to develop kindness and compassion for
all beings, as well as to cultivating sympathetic joy and equanimity.
Although such practices are common in both Hinayana and Mahayana,
people usually consider Mula Yoga as representing the Mahayana
component of Buddhism.
- Third Foundation Yoga
-- Meditation and Mantra Recitation of Vajravatta
The purpose of this
Foundation Yoga is to purify oneself of different kinds of obscurations,
confusion and negativity. Four forces or powers are required:
- The supportive
force from the individual commitment of the Hinayana, the
Bodhisattva vows of the Mahayana, or the Tantric Samaya or
commitment of the Vajrayana
- The force from
meditating Vajravatta, reciting the Mantra, as a process of
- The force from
repentance or remorse
- The force from
the strong will or commitment to purify ourselves of hindering
and harmful effects.
The Vajravatta meditation
is the single excellent and effective practice for purification
that is found in the Sutra or the Tantra teachings. It involves
a series of complex visualization of objects, seed syllables
of the Mantra, etc. (which is not to be elaborated here) The
effectiveness of the purification can be assessed from the external
signs/indications, such as the sun or moon rising in the sky,
finding ourselves in a beautiful meadow or at the peak of high
- Fourth Foundation
Yoga - The Offering of the Mandala
The Mandala practice
enhances the positive factors in attaining enlightenment. According
to traditions, two small metal plates, called the Mandalas,
are used as a basis for meditation. One of them is placed on
the shrine, with five piles of rice in a pattern, one in the
center and one in each of the four directions. This forms the
basis for the visualization of the sources of refuge, the Three
Jewels and the Three Roots, in the sky in front of the practitioner.
The other Mandala is held in the hand for making offerings.
The actual visualization
is built in stages. The first step is to create an idealized
conception of the universe in four directions, then the seven
attributes of the universe monarch (wheel, gem, consort, minister,
elephant, horse and general), and then the eighth attribute
is a great vase filled with treasures, which represent the eight
cardinal and inter-cardinal directions, including East, South,
West, North, SE, SW, NE, NW.
Next, the eight offering
goddess are visualized in the cardinal directions, namely, the
goddess of joy, the goddess of flower garlands, goddess of song,
and the goddess of dance, then the other four in the inter-cardinal
directions, i.e. goddess of flowers in SE, goddess of incense
in SW, goddess of lamps, light and illumination in NW, and goddess
of perfumed water in NE. The next elements are the sun and the
moon, the world systems of greater and greater order of magnitude.
One meditates and allows the mind rest in a state of formlessness,
non-conceptual awareness and tranguility.
In making offering,
one should not simply benefit oneself, but benefit all beings
out of compassion.