Finished Preliminaries

Finished Preliminaries

Date Posted:
October 2009

A student sent a letter to Rinpoche saying he had finished all his preliminary practices and asked how should he structure his daily practice.

My very dear one,
Thank you very much for your kind letter. It is unbelievable that you have done your preliminary practices, so I rejoice! Actually, I am jealous, because I didn’t finish my preliminary practices as you have.

My idea regarding your daily practice is first thing in the morning generate your motivation. Generate the bodhicitta attitude, meditate on death and impermanence, rejoice that you are still alive and have the opportunity to practice Dharma, make the determination never to be separated from the bodhicitta mind from now on, make the determination never to allow yourself to be under the control of the self-cherishing thought, then meditate on the all the harm received from the self-cherishing thought and all the benefits of cherishing others.

On different days, meditate more on the harm of the self-cherishing thought, and then on other days meditate more on the benefits of cherishing others. At other times meditate more on the kindness of sentient beings, how precious they are. Then do the practice of tong-len, giving and taking, while also reciting OM MANI PADME HUM as you practice tong-len.

Think that there is nothing more beneficial than to dedicate my life for sentient beings. Think that like myself all sentient beings want to achieve happiness and do not want suffering, therefore I must bring all sentient beings to enlightenment, I must free them from all sufferings and their causes, therefore I must achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible, and whatever virtuous actions I do (such as prostrations, reciting mantras, etc.) I am only doing them for the benefit of sentient beings. May all these actions only become causes for sentient beings to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible.

It would be very good for you still to do 100 prostrations in the morning to the Thirty-five Buddhas (if you can); this is very good. Then sit down and do your guru yoga. Guru Puja is the best, quickest path to achieve enlightenment, this was what enabled Milarepa to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime, and this is the quickest way for you to achieve enlightenment. This is the way countless others have achieved enlightenment in one brief lifetime. If that is difficult for you to do, then practice Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga, and on that basis recite a lam-rim prayer, mainly meditating on the lam-rim. When it comes to the section of the lam-rim (either in Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga or Guru Puja), then whatever section of the lam-rim that you are up to, spend longer meditating on that part, so as to continuously deepen your understanding of the lam-rim, every day.

Depending on your life situation you can do a session of lam-rim meditation during the day. Then in the evening you can do one set of prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas. Then sit down and recite 21 or 50 Vajrasattva mantras, purifying any negative karma that you have created that day. Living your life this way would be a very powerful way to purify negative karma and collect vast amounts of merit. Then, at the end of the day, dedicate in the best way, extensively and correctly, all the merits that you have created.

In this way you are taking the essence of this life, as Lama Tsongkhapa explained, by abiding in lam-rim all day. Depending on which section of the lam-rim that you are up to in your morning meditation, abide in it all day, so that all your actions become virtue, they all become Dharma. If it is guru devotion meditation, then for the whole day have your mind abiding in guru devotion, continuously, then you are collecting merits always, by remembering the kindness of the guru, having devotion toward the guru, and your mind is always kept in virtue. It is very important that everything you do is offered to the guru, whatever you eat you offer to the guru, when you wash and dress, you offer those things to the guru, so all your actions become service to the guru and you collect the most extensive merit in this way, very easily, and it is the quickest way to be enlightened.

In this way meditate and spend the day on each section of the lam-rim, as you work through them. The next day do the same with death and impermanence and so on, right through the entire lam-rim. Then when you have finished start again. Continue this way until you have stable realizations in the lam-rim.

I am including some previous advice below that I have given in regards to meditating on the lam-rim:

Each preliminary practice should be based on the practice of guru yoga, in accordance with the particular version of guru yoga that one does. The long versions include Six-Session Guru Yoga practice, Guru Puja practice, Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga, as well as the guru yogas of various other deities, such as Tara Guru Yoga. One practices guru yoga to receive the blessings of the guru so that the blessings become causes of the realizations on the path to enlightenment for others. During the guru yoga practice, you can focus on guru yoga meditation at different points of the practice, either after visualizing the merit field or during the direct meditation on lam-rim at the stanza regarding guru devotion. You should elaborate the meditation on guru yoga at one of those points in the practice for the purposes of developing guru devotion and realizing the guru as Buddha. This is done by meditating on the guru as Buddha with the help of textual citations and logic, as well as by means of your own personal experience that supports the mind that sees the guru as Buddha.

Read Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand for detailed information and background understanding on lam-rim meditations. Then, every day, use The Essential Nectar by Geshe Rabten for daily guided meditation instructions on how to practice lam-rim meditations. The other way to practice the daily meditations is to follow the Lamrim Chenmo guideline or the guideline at the back of Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. It is best if one can memorize this outline. Many Tibetan meditators, those who really meditated, memorized the outline. This is the basis on which to meditate. Meditate daily for two hours, one hour, half an hour, 15 minutes, whatever you can do, whatever your situation is. You can do four sessions a day, three, two, or one. The length of time is up to the individual. The most important thing is continuity, as this really helps. If one day you meditate a lot and then take a break or holiday from lam-rim, it won't develop the mind continuously. Whatever the length of time you can spend meditating on the lam-rim is good. Just don't stop meditating.

The meditation focus can rotate as suggested above, i.e. three months on guru devotion, then three months on the lower path, etc. Do this all the way up to emptiness, then start again with guru devotion. Continue these cycles until the realization of each stage is achieved. For guru devotion, continuously practice the daily meditations until you have a stable realization, when one can see all the buddhas spontaneously. Then meditate on the lower graduated path, from the precious human rebirth up to karma, but mainly on impermanence and death. This is the most important meditation since it helps one gain all the other realizations. After this realization, where you don’t have even the slightest interest in the happiness of this life, no clinging, only looking to the happiness of future lives, liberation or happiness of others, and having true renunciation, which could take weeks, months, years, then meditate on the middle path. When you have this feeling arising spontaneously, with renunciation of the whole of samsara, then dedicate your life to realizing bodhicitta, where you don’t have even the slightest thought of seeking happiness for oneself, only for others. You should have this day and night with the thought to achieve enlightenment. Also, meditate on emptiness, using any correct text, like the Heart Sutra or Mahamudra, a little each day. Meanwhile, continue to train the mind in the other lam-rim steps. After some time, you can try to achieve shiné by focusing on the meditation object suggested above.

Reciting a lam-rim prayer every day is the fundamental practice of everyday life that renders each day of your life most meaningful. When you recite a lam-rim prayer mindfully from beginning to end, your recitation becomes a direct meditation on the entire path to enlightenment. This practice leaves imprints, or seeds, of the realizations of the whole path to enlightenment on your mental continuum. This means that you come closer to enlightenment, which, in turn, means that you come closer to enlightening all sentient beings. This is the main goal of your life, the purpose of living. By practicing the direct meditation on the lam-rim, this is what happens in your life every day. There are various different lam-rim prayers: The Three Principle Aspects of the Path, The Foundation of All Good Qualities, and Hymns of Spiritual Experience are all by Lama Tsongkhapa. There is also Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo's long version of Calling the Guru from Afar. You can also meditate on any other prayers that contain the essence of the whole path to enlightenment. If the practice of tantra is also mentioned at the end of the prayer, that too is good. According to the number of times you do the direct meditation of the lam-rim prayer each day, you will receive that many advantages each time, each day. If you have received a highest yoga tantra initiation, then it is also good to recite the prayer of the graduated path of tantra. Again, if you recite it mindfully, it plants the seed of the whole path to enlightenment.

There are two different glance meditations: one is the direct meditation on the lam-rim, which is the foundation of the common path; the other is the direct meditation on the tantric path, which is the extraordinary path. This helps one to prepare for all the realizations of the path, in this life or definitely in a future life. When you meditate on the lam-rim, you can bring in the teachings and the information you have learned from reading other authentic Buddhist texts to add to your meditation and make it more effective. By reading and studying various teachings on guru devotion, you can add what you learned to the outlines of your meditation on guru devotion. You can do the same with many other teachings, such as the teachings on the nature of samsara, bodhicitta, emptiness, and so on. By adding material you have learned from other teachings, you can make your meditation more effective.

It is your guru's instructions that enable you to make your practice most productive to gain quick realizations. During the break time, during your life between your sitting meditations—not breaks from your Dharma practice—while you're standing, walking, or sleeping, you should try to live your life with the experience that you generated in your morning meditation. Live your life with the mind that has been transformed in the lam-rim—whether it was transformed by meditation on guru devotion, impermanence and death, how this life's human body is highly meaningful, the suffering nature of samsara, bodhicitta, or emptiness—whatever was the main focus of that meditation. In this way, not only do you make your life highly meaningful during the sessions, but your life also becomes most productive and highly meaningful even during the break times. This is because with that positive attitude, with the experience of the lam-rim, all your actions, first and foremost, do not become negative karma. This helps you always to be mindful to practice Dharma, to avoid engaging in negative karma, and thus, negative karma doesn't occur. By helping you to not create negative karma, then all your actions become causes of liberation and enlightenment, and therefore, the remedy to samsara.

This instruction about practicing in the break times is extremely important—it means that your meditation sessions help your life during the break times and that your break times become meaningful and fruitful. Lama Tsongkhapa, in the Foundation of All Good Qualities, was referring specifically to this practice when he talked about taking the essence of the precious human body all day and all night. This is also recommended and explained as the meaning by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: to live one's life in the experience that is generated in one's morning meditation session. Thus, your working life also becomes meditation, becomes unified with Dharma and with your meditations on the lam-rim, especially the lam-rim. In this way, you can keep your mind peaceful and stable always, your mind is no longer up and down; you have peace and satisfaction and fulfillment in your life. You can benefit others better and benefit them more with your positive Dharma mind, which is always a peaceful mind.

With much love and prayers ...