ADVICE ON NGONDRO (Rio de Janeiro 2008) part 1/3 by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
What I‟m trying to do is trying to maximize the benefit of the ngondro or the purpose of the ngondro. This is something that you can use; this is something you can use with all the ngondro texts, any kind, hmm. I have no, I have not written basically, I, I have not written a specific ngondro text here, if that‟s what you are wondering.
Probably I‟m wrong but when I observe, not only the dharma practitioners in the West, but today even in the traditional Buddhist countries; maybe I‟m wrong but the way – I kind of observe that the intention of doing the ngondro is becoming almost like a ritual. The culprit is actually the East, the Tibetan lamas you know.
See when you, when you give treatment to people who have ailment, you treat them according to their ailment. And most of the traditional approach, not the ngondro itself, the APPROACH to the ngondro is one – It came first from India and then from, mainly from the Tibetans, so the approach, approach of the ngondro is very sort of Tibetan, sort of, the treatment is very eh, the Tibetan; there‟s a lot of Tibetan thing, you know Tibetan attitude. I guess this is not only within the spiritual practice but it happens within many things, you know like appren, appren, apprenticeship.
For instance if you want to become a carpenter probably the master carpenter might tell within that culture or particularly with this person that he or she has to cook for him one year first. And then he can sharpen the knife for next, the next after that; and then he can only then touch the wood and so on and so forth. And this master carpenter may be having a specific reason. For instance, the master might want to see the seriousness, the commitment of the person. So therefore maybe suggest cooking for him for a year or something – how dedication kind of. Eh, master needs to know the motivation of this person wanting to become a carpenter, you know. And motivation, he‟s, yeah motivation mainly.
Now if there‟s somebody dress prettily, really wholeheartedly wishes to become a carpenter and this person doesn‟t have much time; if after, if someone following this master‟s tradition after hundred years huh, after hundred years somebody wishes to become, long after this master is gone, somebody wants to become a carpenter, really, really badly, desperately. And he or she doesn‟t have much time, but this new master really insists on this cooking one year. Now I don‟t know whether this is making sense.
On the other hand, maybe somebody comes to this master, this new, new master with not so much enthusiasm, sort of maybe as a hobby you know, or he or she happens to have lots of time. Then it is maybe wrong to ask this student to cook for only one year. Maybe this student needs to cook for seven years. This is a good example because also cooking really has, strictly speaking, nothing to do with the carpentering. So many times as a prerequisite practice, we are asked to do things that have nothing to do with what we are asking for, the dharma practice, let‟s say.
Now of course, we are talking, you know, we also have to talk about the ideal situation. You know we are talking about REALLY an ideal master who really knows what he is doing. That‟s difficult because the ideal; you know nowadays most of the masters, teachers – we can only follow the direction, you know we can only follow certain you know like contents, you know like; there‟s like a, like a cookbook, you know like first you put this, second you do this, third you do this. You just follow that, and it kind of work.
But a master chef doesn‟t need to do this thing. Master chef do completely opposite things sometimes and still comes brilliant food. Indian classical music is very deep. It‟s a very big study, I‟ve, I have noticed. And there‟s actually a case that a musician, a student diligently practicing music for many, many years. One day the master said as part of your practice, you have to get married and you‟ve to have children. And many, many years later, you know like he got married, children; children grow up, he raised the family, never really have time for practicing the music. But many years later, when the musician now, you know a family person, plays the music – it‟s like the perfect music because here maybe this musician is at last bringing some kind of emotion.
Now ngondro, the way I observe, I may be wrong here, is becoming a standard sort of prescription, sort of prerequisite. So you go to somebody, specially a Tibetan lama and then usually they say – Have you finished ngondro? Are you doing ngondro? – Something like that. All these have sort of formed a new trend or tradition or assumption that something like a hundred thousand prostrations has to be, eh, we have to get that out of the way first. You know that‟s the word – GET THE NGONDRO OUT OF THE WAY, you understand? That kind of attitude has sort of mushroomed.
In fact the word „ngondro‟ itself is an unfortunate name. The label „ngondro‟ is already itself is unfortunate label. It should not be referred as a ngondro. But these are all „catch-22‟ situations because having said that, for, for the human beings it‟s good to hear things like – okay you do this thing first, ngondro. So that‟s why the word like ngondro, the label like ngondro is necessary. Not only that, numbers, they give you like hundred thousand this, hundred thousand that. For instance like the number, you know I have discussed with many people the purpose of the number. Why should we count, you know? People don‟t like to count. People think it‟s, you know ego, building sort of; it ends up making you more egoistic because you count, you collect, you know all that argument, we hear.
So one can develop quite a good argument – Numbers are not necessary you know. We Buddhists, we should not really be caring about the quantity; it‟s the quality that counts. But then there is a challenge though; there is a problem here. Milarepa said (Tibetan phrase); Milarepa said – my religion is a religion of not deceiving oneself and not to be embarrassed to myself with myself. Now this is a very important point. If you don‟t have counting and all of that, there is no index system, so to speak to measure your practice. So you could be sitting on a comfortable cushion, thinking about other kinds of index such as financial index for whole morning. And you can think that you have practised. Meanwhile you haven‟t done anything. Now that is even more dangerous. So this is why numbers and all these, in a way, is quite important also; because it brings you, it confines you.
You know, we talk about the power of „now‟ – don‟t dwell in the past, don‟t think about the future, being in the present – that‟s the quintessential practice of buddhadharma. That‟s very well but whether you do it or not – there‟s no machine that tells you. I wish iPhone makes a device that says, that sort of rings a bell every time you go to the past, every time you‟re going to the future. Only you can tell. Only you can tell. So you could be sitting there until your butt swells and you could be dwelling in the past or dwelling in the future or completely be dull and think that you have practiced the dharma. This we don‟t know. Only you or a very qualified master can tell.
Not only that things like, profound things like being in the present; but even kind of more easier thing like being kind. We can always say – oh, you know I can always practice kindness; I don‟t need all this chanting and all that. But how much of our so-called kindness is manifested from selfishness. We don‟t KNOW, very difficult to judge. So it looks like all these stages, you know different grades, numbers, are also looks like it‟s kind of important. First you do the Refuge, then you do the Bodhicitta, all these kind of important.
Now, there‟re some challenges also. Time has changed even in the traditional Buddhist countries. In the ancient India, sadhus, practitioners begging food in the street, practicing the dharma, the ancient Indian looked at them as present-day‟s cancer, cancer research doctor. Wow! These people are doing amazing job searching for the truth for the rest of the world. So they offered them food, shelter, paid homage, respect. Now these sadhus are shooed away from the homes, city banks and all that.
Many of the ngondro teachings, literature that we have are written different time and different place. I am not saying they‟re irrelevant but they are written at a different time and for a different audience. Many of these instructions tell us – go to the mountains, become homeless, go and you know, dwell in the forest. The modern world does not allow you to do that. You can get arrested.
The system of the world today everywhere is getting the, the noose of the materialism, noose of; you know. There‟s a system is built you know like eh; the system like bill, system such as tax, it, it really; the noose of this system gets tighter and tighter in every situation.
You know like when I went to Bhutan this time – for the first time I hear from the Bhutanese – oh, I have to save some leave so that I can go to your teaching. This was not a, not a; this is a new phenomenon in Bhutan now. Saving leave – now this is a modern, modern problem, isn‟t it? Before Bhutanese, they just walk out of the office ANYTIME they like, you know kind of thing. Now there‟s something called „saving leave‟.
Support for the dharma practitioner is almost non-existent because it‟s not a profit-making thing, you know. It, it, it will not; eh, practicing the dharma will not, nothing to do with the GN.., what is it, eh GNP; will not be. We don‟t know where to put this, you know „practising the dharma‟ into.
Places like London – even to go out of your house, you feel like there‟s a tax just going out. When you come back, at least a little bit of money is gone; you know ten, twenty, thirty pounds already gone. Sometimes you, you come back empty-handed, no shopping bag in your hand, nothing; it‟s already gone. Your wallet is half empty. It‟s like a tax of breathing in and out.
Then there is another, there‟s also another problem here. I am talking about the ngondro still now. This is a problem; most of the ngondros started in the East, you know ngondro, all this ngondro business. So the society, the value is different, the thinking is different also. The East maybe, they are more face-saving oriented; the West maybe more guilt-oriented – neither better nor, you know, both are equal, yeah; one is no better than the other. So for instance, when we teach Vajrasattva; in the Vajrasattva, one of the main components of the practice is guilt. If you don‟t have guilt, then you don‟t practice. But this guilt gets associated with „original sin‟ in the West, which is totally non-existent in the East, I mean in certain Easterners. So that becomes very difficult.
Eh, East, in the East also there‟s a problem. Easterners have this strange stupid loyalty. They have really stupid loyalty towards something, their leaders or you know national leaders, their country or something like that. Loyalty or patriotism – and this get mingled with the guru yoga devotion, you understand. At the same time, in the West, individual rights are very important. What‟s this guru business? I don‟t want anybody telling what to do. Now the big point is – with all these challenges and problems do not mean that dharma needs to change – no, not at all.
Method of practicing the dharma may be needed to be altered here and there a little bit. First to become a dharma practitioner, it is really important to create the condition of the dharma practice. I am not talking about meditation cushion and you know like incense and all that. That, you know those are not that important but you can have it also, if you want. I am talking about creating the habit of dharma practice – so creating the world, creating the universe. Obviously we can‟t go round and make the whole universe and the world physically Buddhist sort of dharma-friendly universe. No – that we can‟t.
Culture also, dharma culture – we need to develop. And I think that‟s one very important aspect of the ngondro – to create that. To create that atmosphere, dharma practice atmosphere, okay so keep that in your mind first. Okay we will visit this later.
Now what is ngondro for? What is the purpose of ngondro? Actually ngondro is a mm, the concept of ngondro is actually tantric thing. Most of the ngondro, so-called ngondro texts or ngondro practices happen to be Vajrayana. But this does not mean that Shravakayana and Mahayana do not have preliminary practice, no. Okay, first the purpose of ngondro. The purpose of ngondro is really, primarily changing your value system. If you are really, really, really hungry right now and then if I say – top of this mountain, there is a bag of gold, why don‟t you walk up? Not that interested. Piece of bread is more valuable at the moment. Yeah, that kind of value I‟m talking about.
So to begin with, the purpose of ngondro is to develop this, AT THE LEAST develop this, at the least, if not revulsion, at the least this mind of „okay enough, I have enough‟. Not so important these samsaric things – power, position, friendship, attention – not so important; if I have it – fine; if I don‟t have it – fine. That kind of attitude, we have to develop and on the other hand, longing for liberation like the piece of bread, yeah. Gold, if I have it, fine, but at the moment no need, right because I‟m hungry – the food, piece of bread – really longing to develop that, THAT‟S primary purpose of the ngondro.
To be continued…
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