What to do after Preliminary Practices

What to do after Preliminary Practices

Date Posted:
June 2010

This is a response to a student who wrote to Rinpoche after she had finished the list of preliminary practices he had given her and asked what she should focus on now.

My most dear one,
Thank you very, very much for your kind letter. I want to thank you a billion, zillion trillion times for your practice, for what you did:

  • 300,000 tsa tsas—wow!
  • 400,000 Dorje Khadro fire pujas—amazing!
  • 500,000 prostrations while reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names—wow, amazing!
  • 200,000 Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yogas—wow!
  • 200,000 mandala offerings—amazing!
  • Four nyung näs—amazing!
  • Vajrasattva, Yamantaka and Secret Chenrezig retreats—amazing!

That you are so obedient and have kept your mind in these practices is truly amazing. While the world has fallen into greater and greater turmoil, with more earthquakes, wars, problems and disease, you have managed to keep your mind in the Dharma, continued to practice, and been able to complete all these practices and accomplish these unbelievable numbers.

I wish everybody in the world could be like you. As you know, in the world, many beings have received a precious human body, which comes from a very pure cause—the practice of pure morality in the past—but still haven’t met the Dharma, haven’t met Buddhism. Therefore they are still living in complete ignorance—not simply the ignorance of holding the I and all other phenomena as truly existent, which they’re not, but the ignorance of not knowing Dharma, karma: what is to be practiced, which benefits oneself and others, and what is to be abandoned, which harms oneself and others.

Can you imagine this? Their actions create only negative karma because their motivation is ignorance, anger and attachment, mostly attachment to this life. Therefore their lives are totally wasted. Not only that, but they do not for a moment use their precious human body, which has the unbelievable potential to achieve any of the four levels of happiness,1 to create the cause of any happiness whatsoever.

And not only do they not use their most precious human body to bring about one of these levels of happiness but instead they use it to create the cause for rebirth in the hell, hungry ghost or animal realms. If you look at the world from your perspective it must seem as if everybody else is living like this and not purifying even one negative karma; that even the creation of one positive karma is extremely rare.

So you are the one luckiest, most fortunate people on earth. You have given yourself the great freedom of temporary happiness, liberation from samara and, best of all, full enlightenment, which will allow you to liberate numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering.

By doing each of these practices you have brought yourself closer to liberation and full enlightenment. Each practice, each session, each Vajrasattva mantra, each prostration with recitation of the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names, each tsa-tsa that you made and so forth is incredible. It’s the best way to repay the kindness of all sentient beings, including that of your parents.

With respect to what you can do now, you should study Geshe Sopa’s lamrim commentaries2 and I would like to offer you the first three volumes, which I’m sending you in the mail. This is my offering to you; please study them well in order to gain realizations. Plan to gain realizations, especially bodhicitta, in this life, but before that to realize first, renunciation of this life, then renunciation of future lives, and finally renunciation from samsara.

Do one meditation on guru devotion every day, following the outline in Liberation in the Palm of your Hand. Continue with that for as many months or years as necessary until you see the one guru as all the buddhas and one buddha as all your gurus. You must realize this from the bottom of your heart and it has to last for not just a few days, but for weeks, months and years, however long it takes for you to gain a stable realization.

The other meditation to do each day is that on the perfect human rebirth. Try to achieve the various realizations within the perfect human rebirth one by one, no matter how long it takes, however many weeks, months or years it takes for you to gain a stable realization.

When you have realized the perfect human rebirth, you feel that this life is most precious, like a wish-granting jewel. If you have a wish-granting jewel you receive whatever material object you pray for; when you realize the perfect human rebirth you understand that it is much more precious than numberless wish-granting jewels, even more precious than the whole sky filled with numberless wish granting- jewels, and naturally feel like that all day and night.

This is the feeling you need to generate through analytical meditation; when it arises, focus on it single-pointedly with fixed meditation. Feeling deeply that this perfect human rebirth is incredibly precious, you hold that feeling; it’s wish-fulfilling, unbelievable—through it you can achieve any happiness: that of this and future lives, liberation from samsara and enlightenment. This perfect human rebirth can bring you any happiness whatsoever but a wish-granting jewel cannot even prevent rebirth in the lower realms let alone help you achieve the ultimate happinesses of liberation or enlightenment. So you should have the strong feeling of how unbelievably, unbelievably precious this life is and this feeling should arise naturally for not just a few days but for weeks, months and years.

The next meditation is on the great usefulness of the perfect human rebirth. When you realize this you can never engage in meaningless activities for even a minute or a second. Should any of your actions not become Dharma you have a feeling of incredible loss; you feel it’s an incredible loss to waste even a minute of this life. Keep meditating on this until you achieve a stable realization of this topic that lasts for weeks, months and years, no matter how long it takes.

Next meditate on how difficult it will be to find a perfect human rebirth again. When you realize this you can’t waste even an hour, a minute or a second of this life. If minutes or seconds of this life pass without your practicing Dharma you feel as if you’ve lost a big sack of gold, as if you’ve just thrown away millions of dollars. Meditate until this feeling arises naturally and remains stable for weeks, months and years.

The next main lamrim topic is impermanence and death. Remember that you can die this week, even today. Every time you leave your house think that you might die before you get back. If you’re inside, think that you might die before you get the chance to leave. Death can arrive any minute, any hour. Practice this until the realization of the imminence of death arises naturally and remains stable for weeks, months and years, not just for a day or two. In this way try to realize impermanence and death. Along with this, try not to be attached to your family, possessions or even your body. These realizations should accompany each other.

Also do the full nine-round death meditation, thinking that death is certain, its time uncertain and that nothing but Dharma can help. Therefore, you have to practice Dharma right now and practice only Dharma. But practicing Dharma doesn’t mean only sitting in meditation. If it did you wouldn’t be able to practice Dharma when going out, working, eating or going to the toilet. You can practice Dharma no matter what you’re doing; it’s a big mistake to think otherwise.

The next topic is refuge. Recollect the qualities of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and totally rely on them. In your mind, rely on nothing else. Take refuge only in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. After reflecting on their qualities they should become the most important object of refuge in your life and always remain in your heart. That feeling should arise naturally and remain stable for weeks, months and years.

Then try to realize karma. Even small positive karmas should be created and small negative karmas avoided. Meditate on the four outlines of karma.3 Remember, you definitely have to experience the result of any karma you create—any karma created never gets lost and has to be experienced. Understanding this, you abandon even the smallest negative karmas and practice even the smallest positive ones. This is very important.

So this is just a very rough overview of the path of the lower capable being. The main thing you should do is meditate on every part of the lamrim in order to gain stable realizations. When you reach the end, go through it again.

Finally, I checked and there seems to be some obstacle for your life this year so you need to have one thousand long-life tsa-tsas made. I would like to sponsor these for you, so I have asked one of the nuns staying at my house to make these tsa-tsas and dedicate them to you.

You should also do the Amitayus sadhana and recite the mantra twenty-one times a day. It would be best for you to do this for at least the next six months but twelve months would be better.

Still, the most important thing of all is for you to meditate on the lamrim and try to experience the realizations. I also attach my advice for your daily practice—it contains some helpful resources and information on how to meditate on the lamrim that you should find useful.

In the meantime, continue doing one hundred prostrations while reciting the names of the Thirty-five Buddhas every day—more if you can, but at least this many. Also do some mandala offerings every day.

So for the moment that’s all the news from my side, but if you have things to say, you are most welcome to write to me any time.

With much love and prayers,

Lama Zopa


The four levels of happiness are the temporal happinesses of this and future lives and the ultimate happinesses of liberation from samsara and full enlightenment. [Return to text]

Steps on the Path to Enlightenment, Wisdom Publications. There are now five volumes in total. [Return to text]

Karma is definite; karma is expandable; you can’t experience the results of karma you have not created; karma created is never lost. [Return to text]