Abiding in the Retreat

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Abiding in the Retreat: A Nyung Nä Commentary combines several teachings given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche on nyung nä, a powerful two-day practice associated with Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion.

Order your print copy using the Add to Cart link on this page or order the ebook from your favorite vendor. You can also download the entire book as a PDF file, and read several chapters online.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching in Singapore, 2010. Photo: Tan Seow Kheng.
14. Requests Through To Invocation
Requests to the Lineage Gurus

After taking the Eight Mahayana Precepts, make requests to the lineage lamas of this nyung nä practice, which was handed down from Chenrezig to Bhikshuni Lakshmi. All these lineage lamas, who achieved Chenrezig, have incredible life stories describing how they practiced and achieved realizations (see chapters 3 and 4). Request each of them to grant you the same realizations. As you do, it’s good to remember their life story and generate a strong wish to become like them. It is very inspiring.

Recite the requesting prayer with the awareness that all these lineage lamas generated bodhicitta, renouncing themselves and cherishing others. While they generated all three principles of the path, especially remember how they all generated bodhicitta and how they all achieved Chenrezig. By bearing much hardship in doing many nyung näs, they purified all their past mental stains and completed the path to enlightenment. They then brought great benefit to other sentient beings and to the teaching of Buddha. Being aware of their qualities and actions, you then make the requests.

You can visualize all the lineage lamas piled up above your crown, with each lama seated above the crown of the one below. After you have made the request to one lama, he absorbs into the one below. The lineage lamas gradually absorb in this way until they have all absorbed into your direct guru, the lama from whom you received the Chenrezig initiation. That direct guru then absorbs into your heart and you think that you have generated all the realizations of the direct and indirect nyung nä lineage lamas.

If this isn’t effective for your mind you can also do the visualization in another way. Visualize all the lineage lamas in front of you, emitting white nectar beams that constantly purify you and all other sentient beings. As you finish the request to each of the lineage lamas, with mention of his name a replica of that lama absorbs into your heart and you think, “I have achieved all the realizations of the path and the result. I have completed the two paths of method and wisdom and achieved the result, the two kayas.”

Once the actual requests to the lineage lamas are finished, with Kelzang Gyatso, the Seventh Dalai Lama, the rest of the verses in the requesting prayer describe the three principles of the path and the graduated path of Action Tantra, the path having sign and the path not having sign.

The verse that begins Please bless me to renounce all the perfections of cyclic existence . . . , talks about renouncing all samsaric perfections and then generating bodhicitta.

The next verse, Please bless me to eliminate ordinary appearance and grasping . . . , describes the six graduated steps in generating yourself as Chenrezig.

With the next verse, Please bless me to accomplish each and every common attainment . . . , you ask to be granted blessings to generate the realizations of Action Tantra, from the practices of the concentration with four-branched recitation, and then to complete the eminent concentration with the yogas of concentrating on fire and sound.

With Please bless me to uproot the two obscurations . . . , you then ask to be granted blessings to achieve the great concentration that gives pure liberation, and in that way, with the accumulation of skillful merit, to eliminate the two obscurations.

With the dharmakaya and the holy form bodies that fulfill the wishes of sentient beings, you then liberate all sentient beings: Please bless me to attain soon the complete direct exalted wisdom regarding all phenomena . . . 

Instantaneous Generation

After all the lineage lamas have absorbed into you, you become empty. Out of emptiness then generate yourself as Chenrezig.88

I instantaneously arise as the holy body of the Great Compassionate One.

Generate yourself as one-face, two-arm Chenrezig, who is like White Tara but male and without the eyes on the hands, feet and forehead. Like White Tara, Chenrezig holds a lotus in his left hand, and his right hand is in the mudra of granting sublime realization.

You have to generate yourself as the deity because you can’t do the blessing of the offerings to the merit field with the appearance and conception of yourself as an ordinary being. The purpose of generating yourself as the deity at this point is to be able to bless the offerings. This is besides the general tantric purpose of meditating on the path that is similar to the four result-time purities. The general purpose of visualizing yourself as the deity, the place as the mandala and so forth is to transform everything into pure appearance.

The person who is most qualified to do nyung nä practice is someone who has received a Chenrezig great initiation because this allows them to self-generate as the deity. However, this is not a strict requirement.

It’s very common in the East for laypeople to do nyung näs. Since many laypeople there don’t know how to read, they can’t read the text; they simply take the vows, do the prostrations and recite OM MANI PADME HUM all day long. As I’ve already explained, my mother couldn’t read at all; she couldn’t recognize even one syllable, not even OM or KA. But she did many nyung näs. Laypeople in the East often do nyung näs, even though on the second day many people collapse. In the break times, many of them are to be found lying on the gompa floor or outside on the ground, looking as if they’ve just lost World War III.

In the East, even though many people may recite prayers or read texts, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can meditate on what they are reciting. In the West, it’s very different. Once something is translated into English, everyone knows the meaning of what is being said. Even someone who hasn’t studied Dharma still has the intellectual capacity to understand the meaning of the words.

Blessing the Action Vase

In the action vase you put saffron water with an Action Tantra pill, which contains the twenty-five Action Tantra substances.89 You can get these pills from the Tibetan Medical Center in Dharamsala, the tantric colleges or some monasteries.

You also put a small branch from a tree in the vase. If possible, the tree should have some fruit on it. The text says to use a milk tree, but that’s not always possible. If you can, use a small branch from a fruit tree or a tree with milky sap.

Blessing the Offerings

Eliminate interferers to the offerings by reciting the action mantra OM PADMANTAKRIT HUM PHAT and sprinkling water from the action vase. Visualize that millions of red one-face, two-arm Hayagrivas, a wrathful aspect of Chenrezig, are transformed from the syllable HRIH at your heart and chase away all the interferers abiding in the various offerings. (Or you can think that the drops of water you sprinkle become millions of Hayagrivas.) The interferers are chased away beyond the ocean and it is impossible for them to come back. The wrathful deities then dissolve back into the syllable at your heart, from where you transformed them.

Even if you don’t do this particular meditation, you can just think that the offerings are blessed. Generating faith is important in tantric practice.

According to Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, when sprinkling water from the action vase in father tantra practices, sprinkle it toward the right side, and for mother tantra practices such as Cittamani Tara, Heruka, Vajrayogini and Gyalwa Gyatso, sprinkle the vase water toward the left as part of left-side conduct.

Also, Gomo Rinpoche explained that when you sprinkle the water, you can draw the Tibetan letter chha with the small branch, toward the right side in father tantra and toward the left in mother tantra. (Although Gomo Rinpoche didn’t actually mention the sides, it accords with Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche’s advice.)

Whenever you offer water, flowers, light, food or any other offering, whether on an altar or somewhere else (you might see a beautiful flower in a garden or a forest or by the roadside, for example), you should first bless the offering with the mantra OM AH HUM and then offer it. OM signifies Buddha’s holy body, AH signifies Buddha’s holy speech and HUM, Buddha’s holy mind; you are blessing the offering in the essence of Buddha’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind.

If you don’t recite OM AH HUM to bless the offering, different kinds of spirits, or interferers, who abide with each offering take the essence of the offering. There’s a particular interferer abiding with water, flowers, light, incense and so forth. Also, if you make an offering without blessing it, various obstacles to the mind can arise. For example, if you offer a flower without blessing it, an interferer takes the essence of the flower so that it does not become a pure offering, and the interferer then causes you to develop desire. If you offer water without blessing it, your mind gets very distracted and you can’t concentrate well.

When you offer anything, immediately bless the offering with OM AH HUM to stop the interferers.

Refuge and Bodhicitta

I go for refuge, until I am enlightened,
To the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Supreme Assembly.

In the refuge verse, the first two lines contain two types of refuge practice: causal refuge and resultant refuge. To the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Supreme Assembly contains the causal refuge and until I am enlightened contains the resultant refuge. You are practicing both types of refuge.

To achieve your ultimate goal of freeing all sentient beings from all their suffering and its causes and leading them to enlightenment, you yourself need to achieve enlightenment. In order to achieve enlightenment, you need to actualize the Dharma. By actualizing the Dharma, you then become a buddha, an omniscient being. Without actualizing the Dharma you can’t be liberated from all the faults of the mind, all the obscurations; and without removing all the obscurations, you can’t become a buddha. Actualizing the Dharma is what enables you to remove the obscurations. By actualizing the Dharma you also become Sangha. Your own Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are the resultant refuge, and this is the main refuge.

However, you can’t accomplish this by yourself. For example, to become a qualified doctor, you have to depend upon learning from other experienced doctors. Like that, to achieve your own resultant refuge, your own Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, since you can’t do it by yourself, you have to rely upon the external Buddha, Dharma and Sangha that are separate from your mental continuum. By relying upon them, you are able to actualize the Dharma and become Sangha and then Buddha.

To the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Supreme Assembly contains the causal refuge, which is possessed by the minds of others, and until I am enlightened contains the resultant refuge, your own future Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Sangha usually means four fully ordained ones living in pure vows, but here the Sangha you become by actualizing the Dharma is the absolute Sangha.

There are absolute Buddha and conventional Buddha, absolute Dharma and conventional Dharma, and absolute Sangha and conventional Sangha. The absolute Buddha is the holy mind of dharmakaya. The conventional Buddha is the nirmanakaya or sambhogakaya form that sentient beings can see. The absolute Dharma is true path, the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, and true cessation of suffering. Conventional Dharma is the scriptures that contain Buddha’s teachings. Absolute Sangha is one who has realization of true path and true cessation of suffering. Anybody, whether ordained or lay, who has these realizations is absolute Sangha. But conventional Sangha have to be ordained, specifically four fully ordained ones living in pure vows.

By my collections of generosity and so forth,
May I become a buddha to benefit all migrating beings.

Here, and so forth refers to the rest of the six paramitas.90 We dedicate all the merits we accumulate to achieving enlightenment in order to benefit all migrating beings, which means all suffering sentient beings. The Tibetan term used here is dro wa, which I prefer to translate as “transmigratory being” rather than “sentient being,” as transmigratory being is very effective in causing compassion to arise. Hearing “transmigratory being” is a little different from hearing “sentient being,” which is sem chän in Tibetan.

There is no doubt that when you hear the word dro wa, or transmigratory being, and think of its meaning, compassion has to arise. Why? Because transmigratory being means that sentient beings have to migrate without choice. They have no freedom because they are totally controlled by karma and delusion, especially the ignorance not knowing the nature of the I. Because their consciousness is under the control of karma and delusion, they continuously have to migrate to another samsara, to another set of suffering aggregates, in one of the six realms, and then experience all the sufferings of that realm.

Because they are not free from what controls them, karma and delusion, they then die and are again reborn, either in the same realm or in another realm, where they have already reincarnated numberless times in the past. They again experience all the suffering of that realm and then again die. It goes on continuously like that. There’s nothing new—they’ve already been born numberless times in each of those realms, experienced all the sufferings there numberless times and died there numberless times.

Until we actualize absolute Dharma—true path and true cessation of suffering—and become free from samsara, we have no choice. No matter how much we suffer from sickness, hunger, thirst, heat, cold, old age, birth, death, being separated from desirable objects, worry and fear about meeting undesirable objects, and not finding satisfaction even when we have found the objects we desire, we have to go through all these problems. For example, when we have a serious disease, particularly one that no medicine can cure, there’s nothing we can do: we have to experience it. We have no choice. Since we have migrated into this samsara, since we have taken these aggregates, we have no choice: we have to go through these sufferings.

Until we become free from samsara, we have no freedom: we have to experience so many problems. We are like somebody who has to spend their whole life in prison being controlled and tortured by others. If we were free from samsara, we wouldn’t need to experience these problems. Even if other people tried to harm us, we couldn’t be harmed because we would have no cause to receive harm; we would be free from that cause.

It is the same with animals who are tortured by having to pull or carry heavy loads. They have no choice; they have to suffer because they have taken another samsara under the control of karma and delusion.

Sentient beings do not migrate with freedom but without choice, under the control of karma and delusion. They migrate to another samsara and again suffer. From there they again migrate to another samsara and again suffer. Like that, they go around and around continuously in the six realms. The word transmigratory means beings who are completely caught in the suffering of samsara. Transmigratory beings experience suffering that results from their past karma and delusion, but on top of that, while experiencing that suffering, they again create the causes, karma and delusion, to experience further suffering in the future. So, it goes on and on. This word transmigratory explains the entire suffering of samsara that sentient beings experience.

In this way we have been continuously suffering under the control of the root of karma and delusion and of suffering: the ignorance grasping the I, the false I, which doesn’t exist. I’m not saying there’s no I; there’s an I that exists and there’s an I that doesn’t exist. There’s an I that exists, but we don’t realize that I. What is it? It is the I that exists in mere name, merely imputed, or labeled, by the mind. It can be said that because of not having realized that I, we have been reincarnating continuously in samsara, experiencing suffering and dying during beginningless rebirths. You could say that all this comes from not having realized the I that exists, the I that exists in mere name, merely imputed by the mind.

On the other hand, we totally believe in the I that doesn’t exist, the false I. It’s a false I, but we believe that it’s true, that it really exists. That wrong concept is what has kept us in samsara during beginningless rebirths up to now. From that wrong concept, all the other delusions then arise, which then motivate karma, which then leaves karmic imprints on the mind, which produce future samsaric rebirth. This is how we’ve been experiencing all the sufferings of samsara numberless times during beginningless rebirths up to now.

When you think of the meaning of transmigratory being, there’s no doubt that compassion has to arise because it expresses how sentient beings are suffering and how they have been suffering from beginningless time. It’s not that their suffering began some eons ago. They have been suffering for time without beginning—that’s what is most frightening. Sentient beings, including us, have been suffering from beginningless time.

The term transmigratory being gives the whole idea of how much sentient beings are suffering, totally trapped in so many wrong concepts and hallucinations, which then motivate karma, which then causes them to experience all those sufferings. It is continuously like that.

Thinking about sentient beings and how much they’re suffering makes you think that you yourself must do something to help them. The best time to do that is now, in this life, while you have all the opportunities to practice Dharma. To be fully qualified to help others, you yourself need to actualize the path; you yourself need to be liberated and enlightened. The whole foundation is to practice Dharma.

This is why I always emphasize that this is almost the only life where we have all the freedom that enables us to be liberated from samsara and achieve enlightenment. Since we have this freedom, we should take the incredible opportunity that we have in this life.

Refuge and Bodhicitta is a short prayer but it has very deep meaning. It contains the whole graduated path to enlightenment: refuge, renunciation, bodhicitta, the six paramitas. If you recite this prayer while thinking of its meaning, you then generate bodhicitta. This practice alone makes the day meaningful. When we meet a friend, find a job or receive a gift, it makes us very happy; it makes our day. The practice in this one verse alone makes our day; it makes our day and our life meaningful. We accumulate infinite merit when we recite this prayer one time while meditating on its meaning and generating bodhicitta. It is because we generate bodhicitta, the thought to achieve enlightenment for the sake of infinite sentient beings, that we accumulate infinite merit. Each time we recite this prayer and generate bodhicitta we gain infinite merit. That’s why it makes our day.

It’s very important when we recite this prayer to meditate on its meaning.

If we also practice awareness that the merely labeled I is doing the merely labeled practice to achieve the merely labeled enlightenment, wisdom is also contained there.

Generating Bodhicitta

With the thought wishing to liberate transmigratory beings,
I shall always go for refuge
To the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha
Until I reach the essence of enlightenment.

With the thought wishing to liberate transmigratory beings, I shall always go for refuge is particularly expressing taking Mahayana refuge. There are different ways of taking refuge according to the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana.

Invocation of the Merit Field

Next you invoke the merit field in front of you and then accumulate merit with the seven-limb practice, which begins with the limb of prostration, in which you prostrate to all the beings in the merit field.

You, as Chenrezig, emit beams from the HRIH abiding on the moon disc at your heart and invoke the Great Compassionate One and the rest of the merit field. In space in front of you, visualize an extensive thousand-petal lotus on a wide stem. Standing in the center of the lotus is Thousand-Arm Chenrezig. Above Arya Chenrezig are all the direct and indirect lineage lamas of the nyung nä practice. Around Chenrezig are all the deities of the four classes of tantra; then the Thousand Buddhas of the Fortunate Eon, the Thirty-five Buddhas, the Medicine Buddhas and other buddhas; then the bodhisattvas; the dakas and dakinis; and the Dharma protectors, who are around the edge of the lotus. You then make prostrations to this merit field.

If you can’t visualize all the different deities in the merit field as described in the text, just think that Guru Chenrezig is the embodiment of the whole merit field: all the direct and indirect lineage lamas, the four classes of tantric deities, the buddhas, the bodhisattvas, the dakas and dakinis and the Dharma protectors. Just think that the whole merit field abides in each pore of Guru Chenrezig, then do the prostrations.


88 This is only if you have received a Chenrezig great initiation or a Highest Yoga Tantra initiation. Otherwise visualize Chenrezig in space in front of you, on the crown of your head or in your heart. [Return to text]

89 The twenty-­five substances comprise five scents (white and red sandalwood, nutmeg, camphor, Kashmiri saffron), five medicines (heart-­leaved moon seed, Indian salamin, salep orchid, cuttlefish, white sweet flag root), five jewels (gold, silver, pearl, lapis lazuli, and coral or conch shell), five grains (barley, rice, wheat, lentils, sesame) and five outer nectars (honey, white crystal sugar, curd, milk, butter). [Return to text]

90 Morality, patience, perseverance, concentration and wisdom. [Return to text]