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24 Nov 2018
46 min 46 sec
Isabelle Foley
Audio Overview
Creators: 
Marcia Schmidt

Teaching on the preliminary practices of the Künzang Tuktik cycle of the Chokling Tersar tradition.

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  • {Erik Pema Kunsang}...a sheltered from or protected from the dungeon of samsaric existence and being guided toward liberation from samsara. So with full of one-pointed yearning, respect and devotion, all of us, oneself and all sentient beings, bow down together before the objects of refuge with our body. With our voices, we chant the four-line verse of refuge. With our mind, we fully surrender and entrust ourselves to the hands of the objects of refuge. This is how to practice.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} With respectful body, we bow down, we respectful speech, we chant the lines of refuge and with respectful mind we completely surrender and wholeheartedly entrust ourselves to the objects of refuge. We take refuge not just for a short while or for this lifetime, but from now until we, ourselves, having attained perfect enlightenment, become the objects of refuge. This should be our motivation.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} What do we imagine as our objects of refuge? Externally the Three Jewels, internally the Three Roots and innermost the Three Kayas. In this way, these nine objects of refuge embody all possible objects of refuge. None are excluded.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The measurement of how long we should take refuge is from this moment onwards, for as long as we have not attained complete and perfect enlightenment.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} Who is taking refuge? Not just oneself, but all sentient beings of the six classes throughout the three realms — without a single exception.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The purpose is to ensure that all sentient beings, excluding none, attain liberation from samsaric existence. Not a single being is left behind in samsara.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} When we take refuge, how should we prostrate? First, stand up with an erect posture, with the legs straight and the feet parallel — not askance, not touching, and not spread far apart.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} First, we join the palms of our two hands together in front of our heart.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The palms should be like an unopened lotus-flower whereby the middle fingers are not touching — the ‘bud’ is just about to open, so the palms are not pressed flat together, but there is a hollow space inside.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The fingers should point upwards, not downwards — and not to the right or left — just straight up in the center of our chest.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} Our nose should point straight ahead towards the objects of refuge.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} This gesture, or mudra, is called the ‘mudra of the utterly pure dharmata’ — the utterly pure nature of things — which is a way of signifying that the nature of our mind is indivisible from the dharmakaya of all buddhas.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The moment we join our palms together at the level of our heart, this is the same moment we, with yearning devotion, bring the objects of the Three Jewels vividly to mind.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The ‘gesture of homage’ or respect is to join the hands in front of the heart — not as some people do whereby they lift their hands from the ground immediately above their heads in order to get quickly through the prostration.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} After (gesturing at our heart level), we raise our joined palms to touch the crown of our head called the ‘crown-chakra of great bliss,’ next we touch the throat called the ‘throat-chakra of perfect enjoyment,’ or sambhoga and then again touch our joined palms to the heart-center called the ‘heart-chakra of Dharma.’
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} What is the purpose of all this? When we touch our hands to our crown-center, we are paying respect to the Bodies of all the Awakened Ones, all buddhas. When we touch our hands to our throat, we are paying homage to the Speech of all buddhas, and when we touch our hands to the heart-center, we are paying respect to the Minds of all the buddhas.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} While paying respect to the Body, Speech and Mind of all buddhas, we simultaneously wish that the negative karma and obscurations of our own body, speech and mind may be utterly purified.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} After this, we make the ‘five-point homage of prostration;’ in other words, the five points are the forehead, the two palms and the two knees which we touch to the ground.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} This is a gesture of respect and devotion to the Body, Speech, Mind, Qualities and Activities of all the Awakened Ones. Touching our five points to the ground, we surrender and purify the five disturbing emotions of dullness, desire, anger, jealousy and pride.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} If we have great mental fortitude, we should, prior to bowing down, imagine that our body multiplies itself into 10, then 100, then 1,000, then 10,000, then 100,000, then millions and billions of replicas that prostrate in unison. This will increase the impact and effect of doing this practice.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} Not only our own body multiplies, but the bodies of all sentient beings as well.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang}Prostrations, according to the sutra system, are simply to bow down touching the five points to the ground. This is also called a ‘bent or half-prostration.’ But according to Vajrayana, ‘full-length prostrations,’ whereby after bowing down one stretches out the entire body, are recommended. Of course, all five points are still touched to the ground. According to Vajrayana, if one has committed one or all of the five negative deeds with immediate result one should definitely engage the body in a full prostration in order to purify these misdeeds.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} If one has committed one of the ‘five misdeeds with immediate result,’ which are: to have killed one’s father; to have killed one’s mother; to have killed an arhant or bodhisattva; to have maliciously caused blood to flow from a buddha; to have caused a schism within the sangha. then, this great misdeed can be purified if one invites male and female Vajrayana practitioners in a number that equals the number of deities in the mandala — for example, for a mandala of the peaceful and wrathful buddhas, one would have to invite 100 practitioners — and, in the presence of all of them, strip naked and, without hypocrisy or deceit, proclaim one’s misdeed. With remorse, one says, ‘I’m a great sinner.
  • Please have compassion for me.’ All of them, including oneself, would then recite the 100-syllable mantra while making full prostrations. Wholeheartedly doing just 100 prostrations together with 100 recitations of the hundred-syllable mantra would be sufficient to purify that negative karma. A full prostration is specific to Vajrayana practice.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} Rinpoche started out by saying, he said a lot. And I probably won't remember all of it but I think it is really worthwhile to write down and to make a transcript in the Tibetan afterwards. There is no way I will get everything but he started out by saying that the whole point of this practice is to purify negative karma we have created and to purify our obscurations. When we take a bath, we wash away a lot of dirt and sweat that has accumulated on our skin. In fact, the whole reason for taking a bath is to clear away this accumulation. It’s not that we leave half of it and say, ‘I took a bath so now I’m clean,’ when actually we are still half dirty. We don’t do this. In the same way, the point of the ngöndro practice is to remove the obscurations and become pure.
  • Therefore, the basic guideline for how to practice, how long to practice and so forth is the extent to which we have actually purified our obscurations. There is no real guideline other than total purification. Hence, doing prostrations and the other practices is not a matter of making ourselves as comfortable as possible — doing these things as mechanical exercises. This is definitely not the style of a practitioner, but the style of a Lhasa dignitary, who prostrates on top of a soft mattress with all kinds of cushioning devices on his knees, elbows and so forth to ensure that the practice will not hurt in any way or create the slightest pain. This is called the ‘VIP prostration,’ and I can almost promise that this style doesn’t really purify anything whatsoever.
  • There is another way of prostrating, which is the style of Peltrül Rinpoche, whereby you just prostrate wherever you happen to be, however the landscape may be — whether you are prostrating on the (smooth floor) in the main shrine-hall or outside where there are rocks, grass and so forth — bow down and stretch out full of devotion. Lay yourself down in front of the objects of refuge. Peltrül Rinpoche always practiced out in the vast meadows. He lived in a black yak-hair tent and he would do prostrations outside while chanting the Sukhavati aspiration prayer by Karma Chakmé. This is a prayer to be reborn in the pure land of the Buddha Amitabha.
  • It’s been said that, because Peltrül Rinpoche never bothered with a prostration board or any cushioning devices, he eventually wore down through the grass and even down into the soil where he prostrated leaving a deep indentation in the ground the exact size of his body. This is how most practitioners of the past, in Tibet, prostrated. They didn’t dress up in special prostration gear and glide in an especially soft place so there would be no pain. I have often seen people skin their foreheads and develop a callus, and sometimes skin the hands and knees (from prostrations.)
  • Rinpoche is not asking us to specifically do this in order to mutilate ourselves, but there is a tradition whereby one does not make too much fuss over one’s physical comfort. The whole reason for doing prostrations is to purify, not just to do ‘easy, comfortable Dharma practice’ — that is not the aim in itself. It is not self-mutilation, either, but to focus totally on the practice with full devotion. This is the main thing — it’s not like taking a bath or shower whereby you emerge still dirty. We should really remember this. One thing is true — the negative karma and obscurations are embedded in the alaya, or all-ground.
  • As long as this all-ground, which is the ignorant aspect, is not purified, it will still form the basis or support for more obscurations and negative karma. So, what truly needs to be purified is the basic ignorance. Since all of us here have put a lot of interest into recognizing the nature of mind, we need not set this aside while doing the purification practices — on the contrary, we should unify the two aspects of practice: the accumulation of merit and the accumulation of wisdom. The way to do this is, after bringing to mind and visualizing all the points described above, we look into the mind-essence while prostrating. In this way, we are able to purify not just the obscurations and negative karmas,
  • but also the very basis of ignorance upon which all obscurations and negative karma is based. To achieve complete purification (is the main point) not only when doing prostrations and taking refuge, but also during all the other practices. Try, after first visualizing, to remember the view of either Mahamudra, Dzokchen or the Middle Way and prostrate, chant and so forth while resting in mind-essence. This will increase the effect of the practice. Generally, it is said that when the practice is done correctly with mindfulness, rather than just doing it mechanically, the effect is multiplied 100 times. But if the practice is carried out while one is in the state of samadhi,
  • in other words while recognizing mind-essence, the effect is multiplied 100,000 times. In this way, if we can do a full prostration, without losing the view of mind-essence, that single prostration is equal to 100,000 prostrations. Repeat that every single time. We should definitely keep this in mind. At the time of the Buddha, which was called the Age of Perfection, it was sufficient to do the preliminaries four times 100,000 in order to have a complete result. Three other ages followed called the ‘two-endowed,’ the ‘three-endowed’ and finally the fourth period,
  • which we are in now, called the ‘period of adhering only to the superficial attributes.’ So, at this time, it is not enough to do two times 100,000 or even three times 100,000 — to achieve complete purification in this age we actually must do four times 100,000, meaning four full sets of preliminaries in a general way. Even though some of you may have already done a lot of Buddhist practice over the years, in order to at least get some part of the ngöndro underway, it is enough to do first 10,000 plus an extra 1,000 (of each practice.) This is all right, but on the other hand, if you really want to get down to it, you needn’t hold yourself back from doing as much as possible until you are totally purified.
  • It is not really the number that matters, but the degree of purification (which should be 100%.) The way to do this is by combining the accumulation of merit with the view. The whole reason for this, in accordance with a famous quote, is: "When obscurations are removed, Realization occurs spontaneously." The only thing that prevents realization is our own obscurations and negative karma. These practices remove these. When the mind is totally stripped of obscurations, realization is like a wide, clear open sky with nothing to obscure it in any way whatsoever. Another famous quote is: "Aside from depending upon the practices of removing obscurations, Gathering the accumulations And
  • receiving the blessings of a realized master, The application of any other methods should be known as delusion." How should one count prostrations? They should certainly be counted, and the method of counting is totally up to oneself. There are different approaches — some people hold a small rosary in their hand while prostrating; others put a rosary on the ground in front of them; some use pebbles to count — but it doesn’t really matter, whatever is most convenient.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} What is more valuable — a diamond or a room full of glass beads? In the same way, our practice does not depend on numbers, which we accumulate just to get the practice over with or to make it known that we are one of those amazing people who completed five or ten sets of preliminaries. (Some people practice) with a totally distracted mind, rushing through the practice as quickly as possible as though it were a mechanical chore which is carried out while one looks right and left without putting one’s mind much on it. What is really necessary is to focus body, speech and mind one-pointedly on the practice — that is what purifies the negative karma and obscurations. This is the real thing, like the authentic diamond, not just a room full of glass beads.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} How we practice really makes the difference. Compared to incorrect practice, proper practice multiplies the effects 100 times. In other words, doing a single prostration with pure devotion and a one-pointed mind is the same as doing 100 prostrations. Yet, compared to practicing without samadhi, practicing within the state of samadhi multiplies the effect 100,000 times. For example, reciting the hundred-syllable mantra just once while resting undistractedly in mind-essence has the same value as another person, who while being distracted and thinking of all different things, recites the hundred-syllable mantra 100,000 times. So, how one carries out the practice makes an enormous difference.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The verse for taking refuge is composed of words uttered by Padmasambhava, himself. This is not the usual way of taking refuge, but it is the ultimate refuge-taking. It contains the most absolute meaning. Three Tibetan words are combined: ngowo, rangzhin and tukche which can be translated respectively as ‘essence, nature and compassion.’ In one way, the entire ultimate meaning is expressed right here.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The first word on page 26, NAMO, means ‘I pay homage.’
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The first line: In the empty essence, dharmakaya.." refers to the fact that the very essence or identity of mind is empty. This absence of essence or identity is called ‘dharmakaya.’
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} Actually, within these four lines of refuge, the entire view of the Great Perfection of Dzokchen is already demonstrated.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The essence of mind is empty — that is dharmakaya.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} So, don’t think that the ‘empty essence’ means that the mind is temporarily empty just while we recognize — it is primordially, originally empty, rootless and baseless — it’s already like that. Like space. Is space primordially empty or just temporarily empty? Did anyone make space empty? Will space cease to be at some point?
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} Dharmakaya is all-pervasive, like space. Space did not begin at some point, and it will not finish at some point. There is no beginning or end. There is no limit in any direction, either. No top, no bottom.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang}You can travel upwards for 1000 times a billion years and never reach the top of space. If you could transform yourself into a garuda and fly through space, you would never reach a point where you could say, ‘Hey, here’s the top of space! There’s no more space.’
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} You could also drill a hole down through the earth and reach space on the other side. If you jumped into the hole and fell through to the bottom, you would actually never touch any bottom.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang}If you could mount a fabulous horse, and ride into any of the four directions in search of the limits of space, you never find the limits even if you rode on for a billion years.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} Does empty space have any physical form or make any sound? Can you smell it, taste it, or take hold of it?
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking} We should be able to take hold of anything that has physical form. Right?
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} Does space have color? The sky appears to have a blue tint, but that is not really space, itself. Space is right here, and you can see that it is colorless, can’t you? Space is primordially empty and has absolutely no root and no peak. Is that decided upon?
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The dharmakaya is similar to space, but space is just dead, open space without mind. The dharmakaya, itself, pervades to the same extent that space pervades, but the dharmakaya has the quality of cognition or self-existing wakefulness.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} Physical space has no cognitive quality — it doesn’t experience happiness or suffering. This is a kind of physical thing, but the enlightened mind of all the buddhas is the ‘knower.’ As far as physical space extends, thus far the knower within, the buddha-essence, also extends. When there is no periphery, how can there be a center. It is beyond any concepts.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} In the first line, we say ‘Namo’ or ‘homage’ to the empty essence, the dharmakaya, which extends as far as space extends.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The empty dharmakaya is primordially without root or base.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The next line: "In the luminous nature, sambhogakaya.." means it is by nature, or character, cognizant or luminous. We can know the emptiness of our mind, while physical space is not aware that it is empty. The knower inside, the subject, can know that it is empty — that is the enlightened mind.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} That emptiness, which knows itself to be empty, has the aware quality of cognizance and this is called sambhogakaya.
  • {Trülku Urgyen Speaking}
  • {Erik Pema Kunsang} The next line is: "In the manifold capacity, nirmanakaya.." ‘Manifold’ refers, here, to the unity of being empty and cognizant — this is a kind of energetic capacity.