Guru yoga is one of the sets belonging to the practice of ngondro, where a person does 100,000 reptitions of something (mantra, mandala offerings, prostrations,etc). The practice has to be done continuously, without break, until the number is reached. Otherwise, a person has to start the count over.
What is It?
I think someone could argue that the entire ngondro practice itself is guru yoga because the practice is carried out under a teacher’s instructions and auspicices, as well as inspiration. I’m not sure how anyone could do this practice without some reliance on a teacher, I think the result would be very dry and uninspired.
As far as I know, guru yoga ngondro is common to all the Buddhist traditions of Tibet. For some, the focus is on Guru Ruinpoche, while in the Gelug tradition within which I practice, the focus of the practice is on the guru in the form of Lama Tsongkhapa. One recites the migtsema 100,000 times. Below is the Tibetan phonetics, and an English translation.
mig may tse way ter chen chen re sig
dri may kyen pay wong po jam pel yang
du pung ma lu jom dze sang way dag
gang chen kay pay tsug kyen tsong kha pa
lon zang drap pay zhab la sol wa deb
Avalokiteshavara, great treasure of objectless compassion
Manjushri, master of flawless wisdom,
Vajrapani, destroyer of all demonic forces,
Tzong Khapa, crown jewel of the Snowy Lands’ sages
Losang Dragpa, I make request at your holy feet
Preparing the Ground
I’ve heard many times that for a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner, the practice of ngondro is an excellent way to prepare for higher practices like Dzogchen, Mahamudra, and highest levels of Tantra. Within the Gelug tradition, doing the Lama TsongKhapa practice specifically is a great lead into tantra because someone is figuratively already half way in the room before they even enter (i.e.be well prepared to take on higher leveled practices).
While this sounds fantastic on many levels, I can’t see that doing this practice was a meal ticket to higher practices. If anything, I’m not sure if I’ll even be properly qualified for higher practices in this lifetime, considering that strictly speaking, a person needs the realization of emptiness and generation of bodhichitta.
What I’ve Derived From This Ngondro
I would say that I’ve found some sense of gratitude for this practice and this lineage. Starting from Tsongkhapa himself, thousands of practitioners have engaged in this practice and have gained realization. Its one of those things that is passed down from one warm heart to another. The practice of Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga (Gande Lha Gyama) itself contains the 7 limb prayer, and is supposed to encompass all 84,000 teachings of the Buddha.
One of the best benefits I’ve derived from this practice is not necessarily even doing the migtsema over 100,000 times and purifying karma and accumulating merit. Maybe that has happened, but its not something I can accurately gauge. However, I have gotten into the habit of doing the 7 limb prayer several times a day, through the habituation of doing this ngondro practice. I think if I all do the rest of my life is the 7 limb prayer several times a day, I think this has been time well spent.
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