Brief Instructions for the Preliminary Practices

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

These instructions were dictated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche and transcribed by Ven. Thubten Dekyong in Aptos, California in April 1999. Lightly edited by Ven. Constance Miller, FPMT Education Department. All errors are the fault of the editor.

See Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book for more advice on preliminary practices.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching outdoors at Manjushri London (currently Jamyang Buddhist Centre), 1983. Photo by Robin Bath.

Brief instructions on accomplishing the recommended preliminary practices: Purifying obstacles to enlightenment and accumulating the merit necessary for the attainment of enlightenment for all sentient beings.

Herein are some basic instructions regarding the preliminary practices whose purposes are (1) to purify obstacles to achieving the realizations of the path to enlightenment for other sentient beings, (2) to purify the defilements, negative karmas, and downfalls, and (3) to collect extensive merit. All of these factors are necessary conditions for achieving the realizations of the path to enlightenment for other sentient beings.

Each preliminary practice should be done 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 yoga of various other deities. 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 these 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.

Reciting a lam-rim prayer every day is the fundamental practice of everyday life that renders each day of your life the 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. And this is the main goal of your life, the purpose of living. So by doing 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 Principal 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 information you have learned from reading other authentic Buddhists 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 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 meditating on guru devotion, or impermanence and death, or meditating on how this life's human body is highly meaningful, or meditating on the suffering nature of samsara, or by 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 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 happen. 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 during 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, who explained that this was the meaning of Lama Tsongkhapa's verse: to live your life in the experience that is generated in your morning meditation session. Thus, your working life also becomes meditation, becomes unified with Dharma and with your meditation 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, and 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.

In the case of large numbers of preliminary practices, you can do some of them while not in retreat and while doing a job. But the most of the large numbers of preliminary practices should be completed in retreat. Retreat means a weekend retreat, or retreats of seven days, fifteen days, one or two months or years, or even a lifetime. When you do a preliminary practice retreat, the first session should concentrate on a guru yoga practice with an emphasis on guru devotion meditation. This is always good. Then do a half hour, more or less, of lam-rim meditation. For the rest of the session—an hour, an hour and a half, or two hours—do preliminary practices. The length of the session is up to your convenience. In this way your preliminaries retreat also becomes a lam-rim retreat. The lam-rim meditations render your preliminary practices very powerful for purification and for accumulation of merit. Your preliminary practice also makes your lam-rim meditation extremely effective to quickly transform your mind into the path to enlightenment.