Ngondro is practice with so many benefits, but a main benefit is it prepares the ground of the mind for realizations and attainments. Through the practice of ngondro, one can engage in extensive purification and generation of merit.
One example often used to describe the process of cultivating the mind is comparing it to a garden. First someone has to take away all the rocks, broken glass and weeds. Then one plants the seeds and gives the soil water and sunshine. In the same way, purification removes the weeds and generation of merit adds the good conditions for good qualities to grow. Ngondro is a very complete practice, and past great practitioners have used ngondro to attain enlightenment. There are many practitioners who have made ngondro a practice to be done during their whole lifetime.
Ngondro is right now one of my favorite practices, and is something practiced by all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Its also a preliminary practice to taking higher teachings and practices, like dzogchen, mahamudra, and intiations into the highest yogas of tantra. Many people also do ngondro before entering a long retreat in order to remove obstacles.
There is some variation between the schools of Tibetan Buddhism on what ngondro is, but generally it involves 100,000 repititions of something like mantras, prostrations, mandala offerings or other practices. A person adds an additional 11% to make up for errors, so it comes to 111,111. Here’s is a link to wikipedia with general information on ngondro. Of course these are just general guidelines, other lamas are known for giving large ngondros, for example Lama Zopa. He says because we’re in such a degenerate time, we need to do more in order to account for this. Its not uncommon for Lama Zopa give give ngondros to people in the area of 300,000 – 400,000.
Some people think that ngondro is an out dated practice that doesn’t have a place in the west. Venerable Thubten Chodron has a great article refering to the practice of ngondro and its application to western practitioners and on the path to enlightenment.
I find that the practice of ngondro generates a very special and interesting experience. When I first started ngondro, my teacher gave me the practice of reciting the refuge lines. Ngondro requires someone to make a commitment to complete the practice all the way and keep a joyful effort in doing it, because someone has to finish the practice in continuous days. If a day is skipped, someone has to start the count all over, so commitment is a very important thing.
When I began, I hadn’t really understood how daunting it would be, I was very inspired to begin. Inspired was good, but more understanding on my part would have prepared me better. Mainly its because during this practice, alot of my dillusions opened up to me very strongly, and found out later that is a common experience during ngondro. I noticed I would have moments of doubt, thoughts of running away and quitting, irritation, confusion and so forth. When I was doing ngondro, it would have gone more smooth if I had more experience in mind training practices because I would have had more antitodes to my dillusions. Unfortunately I didn’t have many antitodes, so i basically gritted my teeth and pushed my way forward through the practice. Through stretches it was a practice of “will power,” which basically means no joyful effort because I didn’t understand the practice very well. I completed the 100,000 recitiotions plus the required extras for errors, but I strained myself through a lot of it. But I did complete it, so its something I can look back on and rejoice in.
I’ve started up a new item of ngondro during the summer, and I’m finding it very enjoyable now. What I’m starting to understand is that when strong emotional reactions occur, its my opportunity to really examine these things and to let go of them. If it wasn’t for ngondro, many of my dillusions would go under the radar and never become addressed. During ngondro, I came to an understanding that I have an problem with anger. Most people who know me would say I’m patient and very kind. Ngondro helped me understand that I actually do have a problem with anger, and it manifests in many ways. Anger isn’t just about yelling or giving silent treatment. Thoughts of irritation, like judging others and complaining about things, this I found to be anger also, it was quite shocking.
Its like cutting open a log and finding everything rotten in it. I got a chance to sit face to face with these things, and have a better idea of what to throw away and why. Ngondro is one of my favorite practices, so I’ll be blogging more about it in the future. I would say that if one has a chance to start ngondro, that is really worth it to go all the way. The main thing is to have some mental antidotes available to things like anger, doubt, and so forth before beginning to really make the practice of ngondro fruitful and joyful.