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.

5. Guru Yoga

To abbreviate the preliminary prayers, which should be done five times, you can recite the nine-line prayer ngö drub kün jung thub wang dor je chang... and concentrate on the meaning.

From the very beginning of the prayer when "Mighty One, Thubwang Dorje Chang" (Vajradhara) is said, it is very important to not have the idea of a distinction between these various aspects of the buddhas and the gurus from whom you have received teachings directly. So from the very beginning you should start the prayer with the understanding of guru yoga and the purpose of practicing it. Then it makes sense and repeating the prayer of request benefits the mind. The unsubdued mind, which is like a very infertile, rough field needs to be subdued by receiving blessings. Then, like the crops, the realizations of the graduated path to enlightenment easily grow without obstacles in whatever path we train our mind, sutra or tantra. The path gets completed and we can enjoy the fruits and also help others, just as one can enjoy the crops from the field. So there are benefits at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the process of developing the mind.

Every time you say or hear the word “guru,” you should think of what it actually means: the dharmakaya, the transcendental wisdom of the non-dual bliss and voidness of all the buddhas. That is the absolute guru. This absolute guru manifests in various forms as there is the need, according to our karma, according to our mind. So when you say the nine-line prayer, from the very beginning it should bring to mind guru yoga. That will transform your unsubdued mind which does not see the gurus with whom you have Dharma contact as being in essence buddha, or, in other words, the absolute guru, the holy mind of all the buddhas, the transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness, which guides you by revealing teachings through various means, such as manifesting in an ordinary form. The unsubdued mind sees the gurus as ordinary, as separate from the buddha. You see, when the mind is transformed and is abiding in a devotional nature it sees these gurus from whom you have received teachings directly as inseparable from the buddhas, as manifestations of the absolute guru, the holy mind of all the buddhas, the dharmakaya. Trying to see the guru in that way is practicing guru yoga. When the mind is transformed from having wrong conceptions into realization—the correct way of thinking, the correct understanding, into a devotional nature—it is in a state of constant awareness that they are buddha. Such a mind is in guru yoga.

In order to develop both the method and wisdom aspects of the path in order to achieve the two kayas, we make offerings. There are two types of merit: merit of fortune and merit of transcendental wisdom. These are created in relationship to the holy object, the gurus, through preliminary practices such as the seven-limb practices and mandala offerings. Guru yoga is practiced on that basis, and then we make requests. If we make requests without guru yoga there is no feeling in the heart and we do not see much purpose in making requests; we feel like we are milking a horn. We will think, “What is the point of making requests to an ordinary person born from a mother’s womb and who has same body, flesh and everything? What is the point of praying, of making requests to somebody who is human being same as me? What am I doing here?” Even though we may be reciting a prayer there is no feeling. The mind is empty as though there is a hole inside your heart.

Visualize Lama Tsongkhapa above your crown and on the crown of each sentient being and recite the nine-line prayer. Nectars flow down and purify all the obscurations. Afterwards Lama Tsongkhapa absorbs into you, or enters your heart, and your body, speech and mind transform into Lama Tsongkhapa’s vajra holy body, holy speech and holy mind. The same thing happens to all the sentient beings.

The meaning of the nine-line prayer to Lama Tsongkhapa

Ngö drub kün jung thub wang dor je chang
Vajradhara, lord of sages, source of all realizations;

“The Mighty One, Vajradhara, originator of all realization.”3 From the very beginning remember that all the gurus, these ordinary aspects who guide you to enlightenment by revealing various teachings, are manifestations of the absolute guru. The Mighty One, Vajradhara, is a manifestation of however many gurus you have. That should be intuitive. You should recite the prayer with this awareness. The prayer we often say, “The guru is Buddha, the guru is Dharma, the guru is Sangha, and is the creator of all,” has the same meaning. “Originator of all the realizations,” also means the originator of all the three times’ happiness—temporal happiness as well as ultimate happiness—every single comfort, every single goodness.

Mig me tse wäi ter chen chän rä zig
Avalokiteshvara, great treasure of nonobjectifying compassion;

“Chenrezig, (the Compassionate-eyed-looking One), great treasure of non-truly existent compassion.” Relate this as before to the direct gurus.

Dri me khyen päi wang po jam päl yang
Manjushri, master of stainless wisdom;

Dü pung ma lü jom dzä sang wäi dag
Lord of Secrets, destroyer of the entire host of maras;

“Manjushri, who has stainless understanding. The owner of the secrecy, who destroys the multitudes of maras.” The gross mara is the ignorance holding true existence, the self-grasping ignorance, including its seed. The subtle mara is the dual view. There is also the external mara which exists and causes harm because of the internal mara. He who destroys the hosts of maras is the owner, or the possessor, of “the secrecy.”

Gang chän khä päi tsug gyän lo zang drag
Losang Dragpa, crown ornament of the sages of the Land of Snow:

Kyab sum kün dü la ma sang gyä la
To you, Guru-Buddha, embodying the three refuges,

Go sum gü päi go nä söl wa deb
I make requests respectfully with my three doors.

Rang zhän min ching dröl war jin gyi lob
Please bless me and others to be ripened and liberated.

Chog dang thün mong ngö drub tsäl du söl
Please bestow the supreme and common realizations.

“Tsongkhapa, the crown jewel of the learned ones in the snowland, Guru-Buddha, who encompasses all three refuges (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), I’m requesting you respectfully with my three doors: Please grant blessings that myself and others be ripened and liberated; I am requesting you to grant the general and sublime realizations.”

“General” refers to those eight types of realizations and the attainments. “Sublime” refers to the realization of Mahamudra, or it can relate to the realizations from guru devotion up to enlightenment.

Recite this five times with awareness of what I just explained briefly. I think His Holiness explained söl wa deb during the Lama Chöpa teaching: it is requesting our own and others’ wishes to be actualized. The main thing that we can wish for that we have not yet accomplished is the realizations of the graduated path from guru devotion up to enlightenment. 

As the great yogi Sangye Yeshe said: “Before what is called the guru there is not even the name ‘buddha.’ All the buddhas are manifestations of the guru.” If you are not aware of the absolute guru, if you do not relate to that, then this word does not make sense and many of the prayers in Lama Chöpa do not make any sense. Especially prayers such as the “Special One-Pointed Request” [LC 53] do not make sense. All the buddhas are manifestations of the guru, so Chenrezig, Manjushri and Vajrapani are the manifestation of the guru’s compassion, the guru’s stainless understanding, and the guru’s power. So, you should think in this way. You should not think, however, that it is only the buddhas and deities in nirmanakaya and sambhogakaya aspect who are the manifestation of their compassion and power and stainless understanding, and that it has nothing to do with the with the present gurus whom you can see all the time and receive advice and teachings from. Everything is integrated in the guru yoga prayer.

The direct gurus manifested in this aspect called Tsongkhapa; hence Lama Tsongkhapa—“To you, Losang Dragpa, at your feet I bow down and request.” The aspect is Lama Tsongkhapa, but remember that “Lama” in Lama Tsongkhapa indicates the absolute guru, the dharmakaya, the holy mind of all the buddhas. The absolute guru manifests in ordinary aspect according to your level of karma. So, these gurus are also in the aspect of Lama Tsongkhapa. The gurus from whom you have received direct Dharma contact are the embodiment of the absolute guru, the holy mind, the dharmakaya of all the buddhas. So, they are the buddhas manifest in this particular aspect on which we can impute the label “Lama Tsongkhapa.” Hence, Lama Tsongkhapa is the embodiment of all the buddhas, Dharma, as well as Sangha.

To you, Guru-Buddha (Tenzin Gyatso, Thubten Zopa, names of other gurus), embodying the three refuges,
I make requests respectfully with my three doors.
Please grant your blessings for myself and others to be ripened and liberated.
Please bestow the supreme and common realizations.

“To the guru-buddha, who encompasses all three refuges, I request respectfully with my three doors: please grant blessings to ripen my mind and the minds of other sentient beings.”

In other words, as a seed planted in a well-fertilized field which has all the necessary minerals grows easily, when the mind is ripened it is very easy to generate bodhicitta, very easy to generate renunciation, very easy to realize shunyata, without many obstacles. Also to ripen the mind for the generation stage as well as to ripen it for the second stage, the completion stage. So, you can relate to this passage in this way, asking for your own mind and the minds of other sentient beings to be ripened, and also to be liberated.

“Liberate” also can relate to liberation from the bondage of the self-cherishing thought, from the bondage of attachment or clinging to the samsaric perfections, and also bondage of being overwhelmed or caught in the iron cage of ignorance, the self-grasping. And then, relating it to tantra, liberated from the impure conceptions and impure appearances. So, it encompasses liberation from wrong conceptions with respect to the guru up to the subtle dual view, the last obstacle.

Now do the meditation of the guru entering the heart; or you can absorb him into yourself, and your own body, speech and mind are transformed into the guru’s vajra holy body, holy speech and holy mind. That is the essence. After Lama Tsongkhapa enters into your heart it is good to feel what is called enlightenment, the unification of the holy body and the holy mind, the meaning of the fourth initiation, the word initiation. The completely pure holy mind, (the absolute guru, the dharmakaya, the transcendental wisdom of the non-dual bliss and voidness,) and the completely pure holy body, (the completely pure subtle wind, the illusory body, which is the vehicle of that dharmakaya), is labeled Lama Tsongkhapa.


3 Lama Zopa Rinpoche has translated many of the verses in these teachings. Rinpoche’s original translations are enclosed in quote marks and set out beneath the latest FPMT verses, which are indented in this text. [Return to text]

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6. Karma »