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.

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Lama Zopa Rinpoche blessing food as an offering to lepers, Bodhgaya, 1990. Photo by Andy Melnic.
19: Additional Advice
The yoga of sleeping

When you go to bed, do so with the divine pride that you are Chenrezig. You have accumulated as much virtue as possible with your body, speech and mind during the day, and then when you go to sleep, you, Chenrezig, gradually melt into white light and absorb into the syllable HRIH at your heart. The HRIH then gradually melts into light and then disappears, like a cloud disappearing in the sky. Then, with your mind abiding in clear light emptiness, try to fall asleep.

If that is not possible, try to fall asleep by having devotion to the guru-deity, Guru Chenrezig, or by generating the special virtuous thought of compassion or bodhicitta for sentient beings. In this way your sleep becomes virtuous and meaningful. You make that part of your life meaningful.

The final morning

In Solu Khumbu there lived a highly realized ascetic lama called Khari Rinpoche, an incarnation of one of the Kadampa geshes. In his nunnery-monastery, near the river down below the Lawudo Cave, Khari Rinpoche established much practice of Chenrezig retreat.

According to Khari Rinpoche’s advice, on the third morning of a nyung nä, the final session would start in the early morning, at three o’clock, and vase water was given as soon as the people came into the gompa. People could then speak. (After the vase water is taken, the speech is released.) Food and drink were then immediately served. Each person was given a handful of crushed brown sugar mixed with water to drink. Perhaps this was to give energy to those who had stomach pain from fasting for a long time, but the monks and nuns said that they couldn’t drink it because it made them vomit. People were then served tea and thugpa, Tibetan soup.

Khari Rinpoche did this because many people found the practice too difficult when the fast was broken later and became discouraged from doing nyung näs in the future. Serving the tea and food at three o’clock allowed people to quickly recover from their thirst, hunger, exhaustion, pain or whatever other problem they were having. Khari Rinpoche served food at three o’clock mainly with the aim that many people would then do nyung nä retreat again and again.

Generally, food is served when the light starts. In some monasteries, food is served on the third morning only when the whole practice is finished—after the vase water has been blessed and the water passed around. However, food can be offered when the light starts in the eastern sky, whether or not the vase water has been given.

The session on the third morning is also shorter. If you’re not planning to take the Restoring and Purifying Ordination, just do the offering of your body to the buddhas and bodhisattvas. You don’t need to do prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas or to repeat the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names as many times, and you do the Praise to Chenrezig only about seven times. You have a choice about doing prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas and how many times you do them, but the Praise to Chenrezig has to be recited. You usually recite it at least twenty-one times but in this final morning session it can be recited seven times. That’s what is advised.

Even the mantras can be recited for half a mala or just a few times. Not reciting a full round of the mala doesn’t make your life more profitable, but it’s a personal choice.

If you are going to start another nyung nä immediately, the last session is very short. Have a breakfast of light soup and then start the next nyung nä. This is what you do when you do many nyung näs one after another: do a short session early on the third morning, have soup and then start the next nyung nä retreat.

There is a lighter way to do the practice. On the second morning, when you take the Eight Mahayana Precepts, make a vow to keep silence and not to eat or drink. At that time, you can make the decision not to drink until you get up the following morning instead of until sunrise. If you have made the particular vow not to drink until sunrise the next day, it’s not so comfortable if you drink earlier than that. Therefore, when you take the Eight Mahayana Precepts, you can make the decision not to have a drink until you get up the following day. In that way, when the session starts the next day, you can have a drink. Then, at dawn, when the stars are no longer bright and the sky is whitish in the east, which is the very beginning of the day, you can start the session. If you’re going to do another nyung nä right away, either between the two nyung nä sessions or at dawn, you can have soup. That’s the lighter way to do the practice.

In the strict way of doing it, you don’t drink the vase water until the whole session is finished, until the very end of the practice. You liberate the speech and then have tea after that. It depends on where you are, but by that time it’s usually after dawn.

According to the Western way of calculating, the new day starts from midnight, but according to the Dharma, the beginning of the day is defined by a whitish color appearing in the sky in the east. The very beginning of the day is when there is a change of color to white in the east, even if the rest of the sky is dark. If the weather is clear and you look at the eastern sky in the early morning before the sun rises, you will see a whitish color there. That is the beginning of the dawn time. The time from dawn until the sun rises is divided into three periods. Even while the rest of the sky is dark, there are two or three changes of color in the east. When the whitish color starts in the east, it is the very beginning of the day. That is the time of sunrise on this continent, and the time referred to when we say, “until sunrise tomorrow.” You can’t wait until the place where you are gets sunlight, as sometimes you might be somewhere that is surrounded by mountains and gets sunlight for only half the day. If you then had to wait until that time, it would become ridiculous. Until sunrise tomorrow refers to the sun rising on this continent, with the start of the white color in the east, and that is the beginning of the day.

The yoga of eating

Offer tea or food by thinking of it as nectar. Buddhas see as nectar even that which appears to us as simple ordinary water. Because buddhas have ceased all faults of the mind and completed the collection of merit, they see everything as pure. As Chenrezig sees tea or food as nectar, offer to Chenrezig that great enjoyment of nectar, the nature of which is extraordinary bliss and the function of which is to give extraordinary bliss.

When you eat or drink with this Chenrezig practice, visualize the syllable hrih, which signifies the holy mind of Chenrezig, at your heart, then make offering to that. Think that the hrih at your heart is the whole merit field—all the gurus, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha—then offer the tea or food. In this way all your eating and drinking also become virtue.

If there’s some food that you don’t like, it’s especially good to offer it. Because you’re giving it to somebody else and not taking it for yourself, there’s then no problem. It’s a psychological thing. That way you can accept the food, and also there’s unbelievable benefit from each offering of food or drink.

You can use the praise from the nyung nä text as an offering prayer by simply changing “I prostrate” to “I make offering”:

OM AH HUM (3x)
Chhag tong khor lö gyur wäi gyäl po tong
Your thousand arms signify a thousand wheel-turning kings,
Chän tong käl pa zang pöi sang gyä tong
Your thousand eyes signify the thousand buddhas of the fortunate eon,
Gang la gang dül de la der tön pai
You manifest whatever is necessary to subdue those to be subdued:
Tsün pa chän rä zig la chhö par bül
To you, Compassionate-Eyed One, I make offering.

Or you can recite the usual offering prayer:

La ma sang gyä la ma chhö
The guru is Buddha, the guru is Dharma,
De zhin la ma ge dün te
The guru is Sangha also.
Kün gyi je po la ma te
The guru is the creator of all (happiness).
La ma nam la chhö par bül
To all gurus, I make this offering.

With such guru yoga practice, every single enjoyment in daily life becomes a means to accumulate inconceivable merit, the greatest merit, because the guru is the highest object of merit, higher than all the buddhas. The guru is the most dangerous, most powerful object. Doing a tiny good thing in relation to the guru brings the greatest positive result. Doing a small bad thing, such as showing a little disrespect, however, brings the heaviest negative result. Therefore, if you offer sense enjoyments with guru yoga meditation in your daily life, you accumulate the most extensive, greatest merit from all those enjoyments. This especially happens if you can remember the guru during those times.

Since we are trying to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, as much as possible we should do everything with a motivation of bodhicitta so that the action becomes a cause of enlightenment. To make offering before we eat or drink is also part of the refuge practice. There are common and specific precepts that come with taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and one of the common precepts is to offer everything that we eat and drink, even a candy. Doing these practices in our daily life is very important. It’s Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s skillful means of enabling us to incidentally accumulate merit by making our actions in daily life become good karma.

Otherwise our eating is the same as that of a dog or a cat. First of all, our having a human body should make a difference; and second, because we listen to Dharma we then have to practice it.

Another offering prayer you can use is:

Dag sog khor chä tshe rab tham chä du
May we and all those around us, in all future lives,
Kön chhog sum dang nam yang mi dräl zhing
Never be separated from the Guru-Three Rare Sublime Ones,
Kön chhog sum po gyün du chhö pa la
Always be able to make offerings to the Guru-Three Rare Sublime Ones,
Kön chhog sum gyi jin lab jug par shog
And receive the blessings of the Guru-Three Rare Sublime Ones.

This is an excellent prayer, a perfect prayer, with nothing missing. It’s a short but very rich prayer that is done for you; for the people who gave you food, clothing or other help; for all those sentient beings who suffered or died for your food or drink; and for all the rest of the sentient beings. It’s the best prayer because, from your side, you’re doing something to repay the kindness of others.

And receive the blessings of the Guru-Three Rare Sublime Ones means the realizations of the whole path, from guru devotion up to enlightenment. Developing all these realizations depends on creating the cause for them, merit. You accumulate merit in two main ways: on the basis of the field of sentient beings and in relation to the holy objects of Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. You need to always create merit, not only in this life but in all lifetimes. You, the benefactors and all sentient beings need to accumulate merit by making offerings to the Guru-Three Rare Sublime Ones all the time. The practice of making offerings to the Guru-Three Rare Sublime Ones is extremely important. If you want to develop your mind, this is what you should practice. You should study, understand and practice the ways of accumulating merit by making offerings.

To be able to do this, you first need to meet the Guru-Three Rare Sublime Ones. If you don’t meet them, you will have no opportunity to do this practice, to accumulate merit in dependence upon holy objects. And it won’t happen if you meet a wrong path and a wrong object of refuge, who cannot guide you away from disturbing thoughts but only makes your disturbing thoughts increase. A wrong object of refuge cannot guide you away from the lower realms, and everything you do will then become a cause of suffering.

Therefore, it’s extremely important to pray to meet the Three Rare Sublime Ones. Those who don’t meet the Three Rare Sublime Ones but ignorantly follow wrong objects of refuge with blind faith experience much suffering and always create the causes of suffering. Everything depends on meeting the Three Rare Sublime Ones. Receiving the blessings of the Three Rare Sublime Ones depends on creating the cause by making offerings to the Three Rare Sublime Ones. Being able to always practice making offerings to the Three Rare Sublime Ones depends on meeting the Three Rare Sublime Ones.

The yoga of washing

In the morning, even on the day of complete fasting, you can still wash your mouth. That is part of the practice of keeping clean.

I don’t know how it happened, but one student in New Zealand was somehow told that you shouldn’t wash your mouth. She then tried to clean her mouth with toilet paper. She thought it was terrible and checked with a Kagyü lama, who told her it wasn’t right. She thought that I had taught her non-Buddhist things.

Mantra recitation

During a nyung nä (and maybe also when you do any other retreat), if you have bad dreams at night, if you did the mantra recitations without controlling your sense doors, while possessed by interferers or experiencing disease, carelessly, while having an upset body or mind, or past the proper time, in the daytime you should recite one hundred times the mantra of the lord of the race of the deity. The mantra of the lord of the race looks as if it should be the mantra of Amitabha, but in the text it says to recite any of the essence mantras of Chenrezig, the lord of the Lotus race. (Normally, mantras should not be recited during sunrise or sunset or at 12 o’clock. It doesn’t mean not to recite prayers at those times; it refers mainly to the recitation of mantra.) Here, in the nyung nä practice, you should recite any of the essence mantras of Chenrezig one hundred times in the daytime.

In any case what’s being recited is the Chenrezig mantra, either the long or short one. The long mantra of Eleven-Face Chenrezig contains the heart mantra. Here it might mean OM MANI PADME HUM. Otherwise, you would be reciting the same mantra.

You can then count the mantras you recite. Without reciting this mantra one hundred times in the daytime, even if you continuously recite the mantra, you cannot count those mantras as part of the retreat. You must recite one hundred times the mantra of the lord of the race related to that deity when something like that happens. After doing that, you can then count the mantras of the deity as part of the nyung nä or other retreat.

Shortening sessions

You can use the long nyung nä sadhana but shorten it in accordance with how much time you have and how you want to do the practice. Where there are offering verses followed by offering mantras, for example, you can just do the mantras and leave out the verses. And when you are visualizing Chenrezig, you can recite the elaborate description for the self-generation, and for the front generation you can just say, “Chenrezig, with one thousand eyes and one thousand arms.” As long as you visualize the general aspect, it’s fine to abbreviate in that way. As long as the main body of the practice is done, you can abbreviate the elaborate descriptions.

Apart from the final session on the third morning, when you can recite it seven or fewer times, you have to recite Praise to Chenrezig twenty-one times. You must do this, even if you’re doing a short nyung nä session. Some people did not clearly understand this and were doing very few of the praises. It then becomes a very easy nyung nä.

While Praise to Chenrezig has to be recited at least twenty-one times, you have a choice about doing prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas and how many times you do them. There’s no exact number of prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas. If you have no time, you can leave out the prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas, or do far fewer. But it’s best to at least recite the names of the Thirty-five Buddhas, because reciting each name one time purifies many thousands of eons of different negative karmas.

You can also abbreviate the recitation of the mantras. In a nyung nä, you can recite one mala of OM MANI PADME HUM in the first session. In the next session you can recite the long mantra, or if you’re short of time you can recite the long mantra once or three times and then recite the essence mantra, TADYATHA OM DHARA DHARA DHIRI DHIRI DHURU DHURU ITTI VATTE CHALE CHALE PRACHALE PRACHALE KUSUME KUSUME VARE ILI MILI CHITI JVALAM APANAYE SVAHA. His Holiness Song Rinpoche said that reciting the essence mantra is the same as reciting OM MANI PADME HUM 100,000 times.

Chenrezig great initiation

If you haven’t received a Chenrezig great initiation, it’s very good to receive one so that you become fully qualified to do the nyung nä practice. Actually, I create the cause of hell by revealing secrets to those whose minds haven’t been ripened by initiation. Explaining to those who have taken a Chenrezig great initiation or a Highest Yoga Tantra initiation is fine, however. If someone has taken a Highest Yoga Tantra initiation, there’s no doubt that explaining to them is not revealing secrets, unless they’ve lost faith in tantra after having taken the initiation.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama says that nowadays in the West many people have misconceptions about what tantra means because they see statues of Highest Yoga Tantra aspects, with the male and female deity embraced. Many people think that Buddhist tantric practice is the same as Hindu tantra (though His Holiness did not say this). They see tantric practice as simply having sex, as if there’s no difference from ordinary life. Therefore, His Holiness thought that rather than letting such wrong conceptions spread, it’s important to explain the meaning of tantra. It’s better to do that than to allow people to have negative ideas about tantra. I think that whether a person sees tantric aspects as bad or good depends on their mind, on their wisdom and their interests.

If you have received a Highest Yoga Tantra initiation but not a lower tantra great initiation, all of the profound meditation instructions can still be explained. But they cannot be explained to someone who hasn’t received even a lower tantra great initiation. Even if someone has a lot of faith, it’s still not comfortable to reveal those meditations to them. It’s generally strict. Most of the meditations cannot be taught, especially those explaining the transcendental wisdom of nondual clarity and profundity and the ways of generating yourself as the deity. For those you need to have received a vase initiation of lower tantra.

However, a mixture of people usually do nyung näs, with some new people and other people who have received initiation and also done nyung näs in the past. Explaining the meditations helps those who have received initiation have a clear idea of the way to meditate so that the practice is then more enjoyable and more effective, becoming a remedy to samsara and a cause of enlightenment.

Tsog offering

If you wish to offer tsog at the end of a nyung nä, you can do Gyalwa Gyatso tsog offering. The Gyalwa Gyatso tsog offering written by Lama Yeshe can be used to offer tsog to Chenrezig.