Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga (Ganden Lha Gyäma)

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Tushita Meditation Centre, Dharamsala, India 1986 (Archive #266)
Ganden Lha Gyäma: The Hundreds of Deities of the Land of Joy

In this commentary, Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaches on the Ganden Lha Gyäma practice, often translating the Tibetan verses line-by-line. The teachings were given by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Tushita Meditation Centre, Dharamsala, India at the end of the Second Enlightened Experience Celebration held in March 1986.

The teachings were edited and assembled in this format by Uldis Balodis. First published by Uldis Balodis and Kopan Monastery in 1990. Lightly revised by Sandra Smith, September 2020. Tibetan terms checked and revised by Ven. Gyalten Lekden, September 2020.  

Please note: A Highest Yoga Tantra initiation is not required for Ganden Lha Gyäma practice, however, this teaching includes specific instructions suitable for Highest Yoga Tantra initiates. Rinpoche also teaches on more general lamrim topics including the preliminary practices, refuge and karma.

This commentary is now available for download as a PDF file.

12. Prostration

Even placing the palms of your hands together respectfully in front of a holy object such as the merit field has eight good results. I think in the sutra teaching The Sutra on Offering Butter Lamps55 it is explained that we receive a good body, which includes having perfect organs and a beautiful or handsome form, of high caste, which people respect and obey. Also we will have perfect surroundings and helpers; we will be able to live morally; we will have devotion, or faith, which is the main factor for completing the accumulation of merits (without which we are like a vehicle without fuel unable to function; or like everything not functioning and collapsing in cities if there is no electricity); also we will have a very brave mind for the practice of Dharma and working for other sentient beings. We will have a mind brave in facing up to the delusions. Also, we will be reborn as deva or a human being; we will achieve the arya path, and we will become enlightened.

When prostrating you should keep your feet together. The significance of the mudra of prostration is: the hollow between the palms signifies dharmakaya and the two thumbs inside that hollow signifies rupakaya. These are the two results from completing the two paths—wisdom and method—within our mind. That includes the method and wisdom of the Lesser Vehicle (Paramitayana) path as well as the method and wisdom of the path of the secret mantra (the illusory body and clear light). By practicing the method and wisdom together we achieve the unification of dharmakaya and rupakaya.

Also keeping the two thumbs inside signifies offering a jewel, rather than prostrating with empty hands, with the palms flat, which is regarded as the prostration method of the anti-Buddhists, the followers of a path contradictory to Buddha’s path. As the Buddhist mudra of prostration signifies method and wisdom that in itself creates the merit to realize the base (the two truths) and the true path (method and wisdom), and thus rupakaya and dharmakaya.

If you have not generated into the form of a deity and are prostrating with your ordinary body, it is good to visualize it as being as tall as possible—like a mountain. Of course, if you prostrate having generated into a deity, such as Thousand-arm Chenrezig, you create much more merit. Doing it that way is much more skillful. However, you do not have the necessary level of realization to actually transform many bodies with many limbs and with many mouths accumulating merits by saying the prayer of admiration as can high bodhisattvas, but you can visualize. It is explained in the teachings that you should visualize that all the numberless bodies that you have previously taken are around you, in either the deity or human forms, and that you are prostrating together, with all sentient beings around you either in human form or also in deity form, as during the tsog offering—in nature they are suffering but they have a pure appearance.

In Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo’s lamrim notes from when he was receiving teachings from gurus such as Dagpo Lama Rinpoche it says that rather than prostrating with just one body, if you visualize many bodies you accumulate much more merit. You may find that strange, but it is similar to accumulating merit by mentally transforming offerings, which in itself is offering respect to the merit field. If doubts arise it may be easier to understand if you use that example. As I mentioned earlier, even if while making offerings your attitude is not transformed into virtue and is nothing other than the attitude of seeking happiness in this life, such an action accumulates merit and becomes a cause of the highest, the ultimate happiness, enlightenment, because it is paying respect to the merit field—the Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This is a particular case. If, while there is this incredible chance you do not do this practice through lack of faith or some other reason, as I mentioned earlier, the opportunity and the merit will be lost.

Begin prostrations with this mantra:


His Holiness Serkong Rinpoche explained the meaning of the mantra to me, but I think at the time I was eating kaka! I did not write it down immediately so I have forgotten. I think it is quite uncommon for someone to know the meaning of these mantras. The full-length prostration is according to the tradition of Naropa. It is said in the teachings that if we do it with the recitation of this mantra three times we receive the same merit that we would receive by doing listening, reflecting and meditation practice on the Tripitaka, the three baskets of teachings. Also that if we do three full-length prostrations with this mantra each day we will receive the benefit of being able to achieve the right-seeing path—the wisdom directly perceiving shunyata—in this life. Also we will not be afflicted by disease, spirits or human beings. One of the main advantages of doing prostrations with this mantra is that it increases each prostration one thousand-fold. When we take the pratimoksha vows we do the five-limbed prostration which is according to Vinaya.

To begin with, generate the motivation of bodhicitta very strongly. In order to be able to work for sentient beings we need to achieve the sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya—the rupakaya—without which we cannot work for sentient beings. The main body which works for sentient beings by revealing teachings and guiding them to enlightenment by various means is the rupakaya. We need to achieve the aspect of having the holy signs and exemplifications, so we need to create the cause.

Placing your palms above your crown creates the cause to achieve the holy sign of a Buddha’s crown protrusion. The palms at your forehead creates the cause to achieve the zhälpu,56 the white hair between a buddha’s eyebrow which is curled up clockwise and if pulled outwards springs back like rubber. That is one of the major signs. The inconceivable merit we need to accumulate just to receive this holy sign is explained in the lamrim. We have to create so much good karma for each single quality of a buddha’s holy body. In the sutra teachings it explains the particular causes of each exemplification and holy sign.

Prostrating in this manner purifies all the obscurations and negative karmas created by actions of body, and the undesirable results and true sufferings which arise from these causes. You achieve the vajra holy body of the merit field which you are prostrating to—if it is Vajradhara, then the holy body of Vajradhara; if Guru Tsongkhapa, that holy body.

Similarly, the mudra at your throat purifies all the obscurations and negative karmas accumulated by speech, and all the results, the undesirable sufferings, get purified, and it is a cause for achieving the vajra holy speech of the merit field.

Placing your palms at your heart purifies all the obscurations and negative karmas accumulated by actions of the mind, and all the undesirable results, and is a cause for achieving the vajra holy mind of the merit field. Your own body, speech and mind get transformed into the merit field’s or the guru’s vajra holy body, holy speech and holy mind.

As you do the prostrations, white nectar beams are emitted from the merit field. Think that they have purified all your obscurations, as well as those of all your past lives’ bodies, and those of all sentient beings. At the time you are prone a replica of the merit field you are prostrating to is absorbed into you as well as into all sentient beings. Feel oneness. Whether you are doing the five-limb or full-length prostrations, your forehead must touch the ground. Then as soon as it touches you should stand up. Gen Jampa Wangdu often used to say that represents getting up from—that is, being released from—samsara. Therefore, you should get up very quickly.

When Geshe-la was living in a cave below His Holiness Ling Rinpoche’s house a nun came. I think she may live in Nepal. I think her family is quite wealthy. She and Geshe-la are related, but not closely. She came with lots of offerings including big rounds of butter, to request teachings. What Gen Jampa Wangdu said was, “I don’t know anything to teach; the only thing I know is how to do prostrations—I can teach you that.” He said, “When you are prostrating, when you lie down you should get up very quickly; that signifies arising from samsara. That’s all I know, so take the offerings and go away!” I think she might have insisted very much, but she had to leave anyway.

During his Lama Chöpa commentary His Holiness mentioned that it is explained in the lamrim teachings that when we prostrate we should not keep our body bent over, without really standing up; it creates the karma to be born as some type of being which has a bent-over body. It is a preta or something like that. And if we lie down and do not stand up quickly then it is the cause to be born as a snake or other animal without legs which has to get about by sliding the body along the ground. I am not sure about the cause to be born as a narak being which goes about upside down with its head on the ground, but it may be due to not touching the forehead to the ground. These things happen because such manners of prostrating are disrespectful and the object to whom we prostrate is very powerful.

Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo said, and it is also in sutra teachings, that prostrating without straightening the body creates the karma to be reborn as an animal with a bent body because it is disrespectful to the merit field. His Holiness said that while we are doing prostrations we should do it correctly; “correctly” precludes all the main points which are disrespectful. Keep your fingers together, not separate like a chicken’s or duck’s, and not with fingers bent under into a fist which causes rebirth as an animal with hooves. This was said in sutra teachings as well as by Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo.

When you are doing many prostrations sometimes it might be tiring and boring to use just one visualization all the time. Then it is very helpful for the mind to do different meditations during the session. It seems this is helpful for overcoming tiredness or feelings of difficulty because it maintains inspiration. It seems that how well we are able to practice the preliminary practices, such as the prostrations, depends so much on the mind, not so much the body. If it is something that the mind enjoys and wants to do then even if there is some physical difficulty the mind overwhelms that. But if the mind has no interest then even without the need for there to be any great pain in the body it can find something very easily and use that as an excuse.

In the teachings there is no specific advice to think such and such while prostrating, but I think the following will be beneficial for when you do many prostrations every day or when doing a certain number as a preliminary practice before the actual retreat. Begin with the visualization I mentioned above, then after some time think about every single negative karma and every single disturbing thought created that day, or from beginningless rebirths. Think that without having purified even just one negative karma or obscuration you cannot achieve the state of omniscient mind and thus cannot perfectly guide even one sentient being to enlightenment. Thus they will not receive any guidance or benefit from oneself. This one obscuration or disturbing thought is interfering with the achievement of all temporal and ultimate happiness and success for others.

You could start with your own family or the sentient beings who are around you or that it interferes in the welfare of the human beings of this continent. It is so unbearable that it is interfering in even one sentient being’s temporal and ultimate happiness. Then consider the uncountable numbers of human beings and devas and the suffering transmigratory beings whose success in temporal and ultimate happiness it is interfering with. Not only that, but it interferes with the successful attainment of your own temporal and ultimate happiness. Then the desire to purify immediately will be so strong. You will not want to live with the obscuration even for a second. To think that you are prostrating in order to purify that is extremely helpful.

Another thing you could do is meditate on the guru while you are doing prostrations, thinking, “This is the way the guru is guiding me. The gurus have manifested out of dharmakaya as Lama Tsongkhapa and the two disciples because of unbearable compassion for me, who is suffering and obscured.” If you are prostrating to the Thirty-five Buddhas think that they manifested as those buddhas in order to purify all the obscurations and the negative karmas accumulated due to ordinary and impure views and wrong conceptions toward the virtuous friend; the negative karmas and obscurations accumulated due to having worldly concern—seeking and clinging to samsaric perfections; obscurations and negative karmas accumulated due to attachment and the self-cherishing thought; with the ignorance grasping the I as truly existent; and due to ordinary view and conception. This includes all wrong conceptions from wrong conceptions toward the guru up to the subtle dual view.

Think, “The gurus have manifested like this and are persuading me to do prostrations and in this way they are freeing me from these obstacles, and thus the path, from guru devotion up to enlightenment, is being generated within my mind. The whole of the graduated path of the beings of the three capabilities thus gets generated within my mind due to their revealing this method for accumulating extensive merit and purifying the inconceivable obscurations, and persuading me to practice it. Thus they are guiding me to enlightenment. The guru exists to be the object for my accumulation of merit and to reveal these methods for purifying and accumulating merit. Each prostration purifies so many obscurations and negative karmas causing rebirth in the lower realms, as well as obscurations and negative karmas causing me to remain in samsara and to fall into the blissful state of peace, the lower nirvana.”

Prostrate with the awareness, “This is the way my virtuous friends are guiding me to enlightenment.” It is very effective. If you relate to Chenrezig in this way during nyung nä retreats it makes tears come without control. That itself is meditation on kindness. How kind the virtuous friends are! It brings it all together, so it is very effective. The guidance manifesting each time you do a prostration is unbelievable.

It is mentioned in the Lankavatara Sutra that each time you prostrate it creates the unbelievable merit to be born as a wheel-turning king the number of times equal to the number of atoms of the earth covered by your body from the surface to where the earth ends. In the teachings it says to the “golden base,” however, to wherever the earth finishes. It includes even the small parts of the body such as the hairs and nails. This does not mean that you must be reborn as a wheel-turning king—Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is giving us an idea of how much merit we accumulate because to be born even once as a wheel-turning king requires the accumulation of inconceivable merit. Actually many of the wheel-turning kings are bodhisattvas and during their lives they not only have great wealth and perfect surroundings and power, but they again accumulate unbelievable merit with respect to holy objects and sentient beings. So we should think like that.

Therefore, if you prostrate at the highest place it is better; there is unbelievable profit! Once when I was in my room at Kopan it occurred to me that there would be a big difference in doing prostrations on top of the hill, where Lama planned to build a stupa. Maybe you should build a house on the top of Mount Everest for practicing the preliminaries. Such knowledge is given by the guru, so each time you prostrate the inconceivable merit is given to you by the guru. The causes from guru devotion up to enlightenment are given to you by the guru. So you can think of this related to [the awareness of the kindness of the guru]. The second method is to think, “This is how the guru guides me,” and to remember his kindness.

The third thing is to remember, as in the above example, how much merit you accumulate with each prostration. After each prostration you should dedicate all this merit—the cause—and its result—happiness, including enlightenment—completely, to every sentient being. Sentient beings are infinite so the merit you create is doubled and tripled, as you can do with money. It makes the mind so unbelievably happy to be giving something to the sentient beings. If you relate to prostrating in this manner suddenly strong compassion will arise, such that you will cry extensively. You will see how extremely kind sentient beings are to you, that they are suffering so much and that you have not done anything to repay them because of your selfishness. Even if it has been difficult to prostrate, the tiredness will disappear and you will want to do more and do them faster.

When a very discouraged mind arises it is very useful to think, “Even I die right now because of prostrating it’s OK. I have died during so many lifetimes because of creating negative karma, not from practicing Dharma. So even if I die now through bearing the hardships of practicing Dharma by doing these preliminaries, it’s OK, as my death will be worthwhile. Anyway, death will definitely happen—it is sure—and I can die at any time. So if I die now by practicing Dharma it is very worthwhile.” Thinking in such ways does not allow space in the mind for laziness, for excuses.

While you are prostrating remember and be aware of the infinite merits from each prostration and then dedicate every single merit and every single good result—temporal and ultimate happiness—to each sentient being after each prostration.

Benefits of the prayer to the Thirty-five Confessional Buddhas

It begins:

I whose name is (say your name) always go for refuge to the guru...

You mention your name where it says da ming in Tibetan. This causes some effect in the mind. In one way you could feel sad because you have created negative karma and are obscured. In another way you could feel happy because of having met a reliable object of refuge.

Reciting the first Buddha’s (Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s) name purifies 40,000 eons of negative karma. Sometimes it is said that 80,000 eons is purified.

Saying Buddha Dorje Nyingpö’s name, 10,000 eons of negative karma is purified.

RIN CHEN Ö THRÖ LA: 10,000 eons.

LU WANG GI GYÄL PO LA: 1,000 eons.

PA WÖI DE LA: 1,000.

PA PÄL GYE LA: 2,000. It is like inflation! Like the stock market! I’m joking.

RIN CHEN ME LA: 2,000.

RIN CHEN DA Ö LA: 8,000.

THONG WA DÖN YÖ LA: It is not clear here.

RIN CHEN DA WA LA: Purifies the five uninterrupted negative karmas

DRI MA ME PA LA: Purifies the negative karmas near to the uninterrupted ones. For example, stepping over monks robes or the shadow of, or animals belonging to, the guru. Also the shadows of stupas.

PÄL JIN LA: The negative karmas accumulated with anger.

TSHANG PA LA: The negative karmas accumulated with attachment.

TSHANG PÄ JIN LA: 10,000 eons.

CHU LHA LA: 1,000 eons.

CHU LHÄI LHA LA: 5,000 eons.

PÄL ZANG LA: 5,000 eons.

TSÄN DÄN PÄL LA: 7,000 eons.

ZI JI THA YÄ LA: 7,000 eons.

Ö PÄL LA: Immeasurable benefits.

NYA NGÄN ME PÄI PÄL LA: All negative karmas accumulated with ignorance.

SE ME KYI BU LA: The imprints of negative karma.

ME TOG PÄL LA: The negative karmas accumulated with the body.

SHANG PÄI Ö ZER NAM PAR RÖL PÄ NGÖN PAR KHYEN PA LA: The negative karmas accumulated with speech.

PÄ MÄI Ö ZER NAM PAR RÖL PÄ NGÖN PAR KHYEN PA LA: The negative karmas accumulated with the mind.

NOR PÄL LA: The negative karmas accumulated with respect to the Sangha by the Sangha, and possibly by lay persons.

DRÄN PÄI PÄL LA: The negative karmas accumulated by criticizing holy beings.

TSHÄN PÄL SHIN TU YONG DRAG LA: The negative karmas accumulated with jealousy.

WANG PÖI TOG GI GYÄL TSHÄN GYI GYÄL PO LA: The negative karmas accumulated with pride.

SHIN TU NAM PAR NÖN PÄI PÄL LA: It says subtle vices, karmas, mainly slander.

YÜL LÄ SHIN TU NAM PAR GYÄL WA LA: The negative karmas accumulated with all the delusions.

NAM PAR NÖN PÄ SHEG PÄI PÄL LA: The negative karmas from causing others to create negative karma.

KÜN NÄ NANG WA KÖ PÄI PÄL LA: The negative karmas accumulated by rejoicing in the negative karmas created by oneself and others.

RIN CHEN PÄ MÄI NAM PAR NÖN PA LA: The negative karma of avoiding Dharma.

DRA CHOM PA YANG DAG PAR DZOG PÄI SANG GYÄ RIN PO CHE DANG PÄ MA LA RAB TU ZHUG PA RI WANG GI GYÄL PO LA: Purifies the negative karma from degenerating samaya by criticising the guru.

When you prostrate to the Thirty-five Buddhas, the visualization to use is that from the Ganden Lha Gyäma practice. In the Lama Chöpa merit field there are the sutra aspect buddhas visualized below the deities of the four classes of tantra. These include the thousand buddhas of this fortunate era, the seven Medicine Buddhas and the Thirty-five Buddhas. From Lama Tsongkhapa’s heart, beams are emitted due to his unbearable compassion; on the tip of each beam is a throne decorated with pearls upraised up by an elephant. Pearls are white, and according to Lama’s advice the purification is more powerful if white is visualized, due to a dependent arising. Here Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is at the heart of Lama Losang, so you do not have to visualize Guru Shakyamuni Buddha again.

In this instance in the first row there are six buddhas, then four rows of seven. So the first row will consist of six (or seven) buddhas in Akshobhya aspect—in the same position as Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, the right hand controlling the earth, the left in the mudra of concentration. They are blue, except Luwang Gyälpo whose face and neck are white, while the rest of his holy body is blue. The next seven are in Vairochana aspect, and white color. According to His Holiness Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche, Vairochana’s mudra is [two fists, one above the other, with index fingers pointing upwards, the upper fist holding the index finger of the lower.] Sometimes you may see old paintings in which the mudra is like this. The next seven are in the aspect of Ratnasambhava. The left hand is in the mudra of concentration, the right granting sublime realization. The next seven are like Amitabha, with both hands in the mudra of concentration. The next seven are in the mudra of giving protection, or refuge, or guidance. The beams emitting from Guru Lama Tsongkhapa do not radiate straight out, but downwards.

Since reciting the name of each buddha has incredible benefits such as many thousands of eons of negative karma being purified, as you prostrate to each one it is very good if you can recite his name as many times as possible. If you can do that it is an incredibly skillful way of purifying quickly. A replica of the first buddha is absorbed, and then as you get up start reciting the name of the second one, Dechen Nyingpo. If you prostrate to each one three times it adds up to more than one hundred prostrations. That way it is easy to count without having to concentrate on counting beads or something. Also, you make prostrations with the refuge formula la ma la kyab su chi o....

Visualizing the Thirty-five Buddhas in this way is the simplest method. Another visualization is that which appeared to Lama Tsongkhapa while he was doing one of his preliminary practices for accumulating merit and purify obscurations by prostrating to the Thirty-five Buddhas. I think he did twenty times one hundred thousand prostrations—I do not remember exactly—in the cave called Wolka Cholung in Tibet. In those aspects they are holding different implements and so on. If you can remember how the Thirty-five Buddhas manifested to Lama Tsongkhapa you can do it that way. If you cannot comprehend that then you can do in the simple way, the thirty-five divided into the five dhyani buddhas’ aspects.

After you have finished reciting the names of the Thirty-five Buddhas you can also recite the prayer to the seven Medicine Buddhas. In these degenerate times praying to the Medicine Buddhas causes our prayers to quickly succeed due to the pledge they made in the past when they were training in the bodhisattva’s path. They made many prayers for sentient beings and promised to accomplish all prayers, therefore they grant blessings very quickly.

During the session do however many prostrations you intend doing and at the end of each session recite the last part of the prayer. In that way the remedy of the four powers is done perfectly.

I think three points on preliminary practices which Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo explained in the lamrim are particularly effective for the mind. Our mind is like rock or iron and so it’s difficult to purify and difficult to subdue, difficult to fertilize. Therefore, it is difficult for the crops of realization of the graduated path to enlightenment to grow. Therefore, it is very useful for the mind to hear advice based on some of the points from Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo’s lamrim. He said: “In order to accumulate merit you should do each prostration correctly, not just very quickly in order to complete high numbers.”

According to Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition when doing the preliminary practices, the totals such as one hundred thousand and so on are not regarded as the main thing. Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo advises that even if you don’t do many, the few that are done should be done correctly. He goes on to say: “Some people say that they have done the preliminary practices after having done one hundred thousand prostrations, and they have taken it very easy.” There are two ways of interpreting “taken it easy,” but what he means is that they have not been aware of the correct manner of doing them, have not concentrated on the object of prostration, the merit field, and have not been aware of the motivation. He means they were done imperfectly. Perfect prostrations are not easily done. So, we should not do that. He is saying you should not be too concerned about the numbers: “Prostrations should be done correctly, and if possible, many should be done.”


55 Tib: mareme bülwäi do; Wyl: mar me ‘bul ba’i mdo. [Return to text]

56 Wyl: zhal spu. [Return to text]