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Guru yoga practice

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All of the Buddha’s teachings are like stairsteps leading to dzogchen, the great perfection, which is the summit of the vajrayana. The key that opens the door to dzogchen is the practice of guru yoga. If you want to

practice dzogchen, you should first practice on Guru Padmasambhava, and then you will easily understand the dzogchen teachings. When you supplicate Guru Padmasambhava with a clear and peaceful mind, filled with devotion and bodhichitta, then his blessings and those of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas will help you to realize the true nature of your mind. For people who want to do vajrayana meditation it is very important to practice guru yoga.

Guru Padmasambhava represents the three jewels and the three roots — all of the objects of refuge. When you meditate on him you are not ignoring the other realized beings, because he embodies all of the buddhas of the ten directions and the three times. In particular, he represents your personal teachers and all of the masters of the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages. It is not necessary to visualize all the different buddhas; doing guru yoga and practicing on one buddha is enough to bring full enlightenment. Sometimes students wonder whether the meditation deities are simply created by the mind or whether they have a reality beyond the individual mind. All of them are existing buddhas as well as displays of our own wisdom. You can focus on the meditation deities to whom you feel the strongest connection and you do not have to practice on all of them.

A simple yet complete way to meditate on Guru Padmasambhava is to recite the Seven-line Prayer and the Vajra Guru Mantra. The preparation for guru yoga practice is the same as for sitting practice. Start with three

prostrations to the shrine, then sit down with good posture on a cushion and do the breath purification exercise three times. Although it is beneficial to have a shrine, it is not mandatory — wherever you meditate with good motivation is your shrine. Then, visualize in the space in front of you, a little above the level of your eyebrows, a lotus with five-colored petals. Above the lotus is a sun and moon seat on which Guru Padmasambhava sits in the royal posture. He has one face, two arms and two legs. His white, youthful body is a wisdom body made of light; it is not made of substantial flesh and bone. He is sitting in a five-colored, circular rainbow that is radiating wisdom light in all directions. See Guru Padmasambhava smiling down at you with compassion and loving-kindness. At this point take refuge and then arouse bodhichitta, the intention

to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. In this practice, while you are visualizing Padmasambhava with devotion, you are also cultivating compassion and loving-kindness for all beings.

After the refuge and bodhichitta, recite the Seven-line Prayer at least three or seven times. The Seven-line Prayer is very powerful. It was not composed by human beings; it came from the voice of the true nature, the

dharmadhatu state. At the moment when Guru Padmasambhava was born in the lotus, hundreds of wisdom dakinis surrounded him and chanted these lines. The Vajra Guru Mantra,


has twelve Sanskrit syllables which represent internal and external aspects of our existence. For example, in the Tibetan calendar, time is grouped in units of twelve — there are twelve signs of the zodiac, and cycles of twelve years, twelve months, and twelve hours. In Buddhism there are twelve links of interdependent origination and twelve acts of a supreme buddha. These groups of twelve are all connected, purified,

and balanced by this mantra. Even one recitation of the Vajra Guru Mantra has great benefit; it is not the same as repeating ordinary words. When you do this practice, recite the twelve- syllable mantra for as long as you have time. You should repeat it at least twenty-one times, or for one mala of 108 repetitions, or for ten malas, or one hundred malas — whatever you can do. If you are in a hurry to see Guru Padmasambhava, then

you should do more. You could begin by reciting the mantra at least 108 times per session, with the goal of reciting the mantra a total of one hundred thousand times. The sound of the mantra is also meditation, and you can use it as a technique to aid your practice. By concentrating on reciting the mantra musically, you can purify the channels and bodily systems. As well as keeping

the inner levels in proper balance, mantra recitation purifies external situations. You can use this technique to turn the whole world into a mandala of music. When you finish the mantra recitation you receive the blessings of Guru Padmasambhava. To do this, visualize seed syllables made of light in Guru Padmasambhava’s three centers: at his forehead is a white OM, at his throat is a red AH, and at his heart center is a blue HUM.

Visualize a strong white light, like a shooting star, coming from the syllable OM in Guru Padmasambhava’s forehead and entering your forehead. It brings the blessings of the vajra body and removes your body obscurations. Red light, as powerful as lightning, comes from the syllable AH in his throat and enters your throat, conveying the blessings of vajra speech, which remove the obscurations of your speech. A piercing blue

light from the syllable HUM at his heart enters your heart and you receive the blessings of vajra mind, so that your mental obscurations are removed. With this you should feel that all the subtle obscurations of your body, speech, and mind are gone and that you fully receive the blessings of Guru Padmasambhava.

At the end of the practice, visualize that Guru Padmasambhava dissolves into white light. This light moves until it is direcdy above you, then it enters your body through the top of your head and descends to your heart, filling your body with wisdom light that merges with your awareness. As much as you can, feel at that moment that your body is no longer solid, but has become a body of rainbow light. Remain inseparable from the

wisdom of Guru Padmasambhava without being distracted by thoughts for as long as you have time. Then, conclude by dedicating the merit of your practice for the benefit of all sentient beings.

There are many ways to meditate, but no matter which technique you use, you need to apply concentration. This involves keeping the mind on the object of focus. For example, when you recite mantras, you can

concentrate on visualizing each syllable of the mantra circling around like it is written on a wheel. Concentrating on each syllable while reciting the mantra helps to transform ordinary speech into vajra speech, and at the same time you are developing the ability to concentrate in meditation. Also, during meditation you need to apply mindfulness, to watch what your mind is doing, as a support for your concentration. This is the

basic instruction for beginning your daily practice. When you do vajrayana practice it is very important to establish a personal connection with a lama and with Guru Padmasambhava. By connecting with Guru Padmasambhava you receive his assistance in understanding the true nature of the mind. Doing guru yoga practice also brings a very close connection to your personal teacher, who exemplifies the realization gained

by the practice. When you connect with a personal teacher, you have an auspicious situation similar to that of Guru Padmasambhava’s twenty-five disciples, all of whom became enlightened by following the instructions of their teacher.Advice on Visualization Sometimes when students are learning to visualize they find it difficult to maintain the visualization. Since the meditation deities are displays of primordial wisdom,

their images are not solid objects. For instance, Guru Padmasambhava manifests in many different ways; his form and color are not definite. Sometimes Guru Padmasambhava might transform into a small bird who is singing outside your window. Sometimes he appears and sometimes he disappears. When his body of primordial wisdom disappears, you should not worry that you have lost touch with him; continue your meditation

so that Guru Padmasambhava will come back again and again and become more clear. The famous terton Migyur Dorje gave some advice about this. Migyur Dorje became a great master at an early age; he was only eleven years old when he began to discover terma. At the age of fifteen he told his students that Padmasambhava did not always look the way the paintings and statues depicted him. Sometimes he would look that

way, but at other times he would appear in different forms and perform different activities, so the students should not expect him to always appear in the same way.

There is a famous story about the way Guru Padmasambhava looked when he first appeared to Ratna Lingpa. Ratna Lingpa was a terton who lived in the fifteenth century. When he was born there were many auspicious signs that indicated he was a very special child. His family was wealthy and when he grew up he married and lived as a householder; he never studied in a scholarly fashion. He was twenty-four years old when he first saw Guru Padmasambhava. In many villages in Tibet, when people are young they get together to have parties that last all day and into the evening. During the daytime they do sports like archery, and at night they dance

and sing and drink chang, the Tibetan beer. The day before Ratna Lingpa saw Guru Padmasambhava, he had spent the day and night at a party with the young people of his village. The next morning he went out to take care of his animals. Since he was quite rich, he had yaks and sheep as well as farm land.

He put the animals on the grassland to graze, and then he sat down to copy a biography of Guru Padmasambhava. This particular biography was discovered by another famous terton named Nyang-ral Nyima Ozer. It

contains a very great prayer as well as a biography of Padmasambhava. Ratna Lingpa was very interested in having a copy of this chant so he could use it in his practice. As he sat there writing out the text, because of the archery and drinking and dancing the previous day he felt very tired and fell asleep. When he woke up he felt different; he felt joyful and fresh, and he looked up and saw a little old man standing in front of him. The

man had a long beard and long hair and was wearing a robe made of yellow cotton cloth. In Tibet they usually do not wear cotton. They wear woolen material, even in the summer, because it is so cool. But this old man was wearing cotton cloth and just standing there. Ratna Lingpa did not know how the man could have gotten there.

Immediately, the man picked up the text that Ratna Lingpa was copying and said, “This is the biography of Guru Padmasambhava discovered by the great terton Nyang. Do you have devotion to Guru Padmasambhava?” Ratna Lingpa answered, “Yes, since I was born I have had a special and unchanging devotion for him. That is why I am copying this. I am going to chant it as part of my practice.” And the man said,

“Oh, that is quite good; you are quite a good person.” Then, the old man jumped up, looked around and then asked, “Is there a mountain near here called The Hovering of the Garuda?” Ratna Lingpa answered that he did not know of any mountain named The Hovering of the Garuda, but he pointed to a far mountain that was called Garuda Mountain. The old man said, “Yes, that’s it,” and then he pulled out a roll of paper from his

chuba, which is a kind of Tibetan dress, similar to a kimono, in which you can hold many things. He pulled a roll of paper from his chuba and told Ratna Lingpa to open it and read what it said. When Ratna Lingpa read it he found that it described him by name, telling the name of his parents, the year and place in which he was born, and that when he was grown he would discover the terma teachings. It predicted the entire course of

his life. When Ratna Lingpa read this he felt very joyful, but at the same time he thought that it could not really be about him — it must be about someone else. But the letter even described the marks on his body. The letter also contained advice about what he should do in order to discover the terma. Because he was so happy, he said, “This is wonderful. May I copy this?” And the man said, “You do not have to copy it; I am giving it

to you. You should keep it.” By then it was midday, and Ratna Lingpa asked the yogi to come to his house to have lunch and rest. Since the yogi looked a little cold, Ratna Lingpa wanted to offer him some warmer clothes. They went to Ratna Lingpa’s home, but the yogi said he preferred to stay outside. Ratna Lingpa brought him butter tea, tsampa, chang, meat and cheese and offered it to him. Before eating, the yogi said many

prayers and made offerings. After lunch he gave Ratna Lingpa a lot of advice about following the instructions on the rolled paper. Since it was getting late and there were not any villages nearby, Ratna Lingpa invited the yogi to stay overnight so that he could reach another village during daylight. But the yogi would not stay. Ratna Lingpa said, “The night will be very cold and you do not have much clothing. I would like you to take

my new wool chuba and some food.” But the yogi refused, saying, “No, I will not need them where I am going. It is time for me to leave now.” They began walking and after a few steps the yogi stopped and said, “You must remember all the advice I have given you. You must have constant, pure devotion and continue to pray to Guru Padmasambhava. Always follow the instructions I gave you today.”

Then, he gave a few hints to show that he was Guru Padmasambhava. He did not say, “I am Padmasambhava,” but he gave some hints. Then, he pulled a small horn from his chuba and blew it in different directions. The moment he did that, he disappeared. When Ratna Lingpa saw that the yogi had disappeared, he thought that maybe the yogi was a magician and that the rolled paper he had placed on his shrine would be gone. He

ran inside to check, and saw that the paper was still there. After his meeting with the yogi, Ratna Lingpa’s whole demeanor and outlook changed. He was always very happy and his mind remained in the natural state. Even the vibration of his house changed. That evening when

his wife came home, she immediately asked why he looked so radiant. She noticed the house smelled different and wanted to know what had happened. Ratna Lingpa felt he should not tell her everything that had

happened. The yogi had told him that he should keep their meeting secret for three years. His wife kept insisting, and Ratna Lingpa was so happy that he finally showed her the roll of paper and explained how it had been given to him. Both of them kept this a secret for three years as he had been instructed. After three years, Ratna Lingpa began to discover terma in many places in Tibet.

Questions and Answers

Q: What do you mean by sentient beings?

A: We are known as sentient beings because we have consciousness, or mind. Among the six main types of sentient beings, human beings are one of the highest. As human beings we are not superior because of our bodies; there are many animals who are stronger physically than we are. We are superior because our minds are highly developed.

Our mental ability is not something that we have to work to obtain; we have it naturally. Yet this ability can be developed further, perhaps further than we might expect. For example, we have technology today that was unimaginable only a few hundred years ago. Whereas modern people have more power over the external world, in ancient times people had more inner wisdom power. There are many stories from India and Tibet of people who could fly in the sky and walk through walls. Also, they had the power to change things like fire into water and water into fire.

It is because they developed their inner wisdom that people in the past could do those things. Today these powers are beyond our imagination; we think they must be fairy tales or myths. Likewise, if we could tell people from the past about the things we experience now, they might think our experiences are just myths. Yet both are possible, both outer and inner power can be developed by the mind. Material developments and inner wisdom are both reflections of our minds.

Q: When you talk about mind, you seem to include the emotions. How are they part of the mind?

A: The emotions are part of the relative level of the mind. We can divide the mind into many aspects; there are at least fifty-two mental factors. All of the emotions, such as anger, attachment, jealousy, pride, and doubt come from ignorance, which is also part of the mind. These strong obscurations keep the mind from remaining in the natural state. The emotions are part of the confused mind, which is unstable and always changing.

Q: If you maintain a clear and empty mind for a week or a month, is that enlightenment?

A: That is getting closer to enlightenment. Whatever amount you practice, even if it is only one or two hours, is working toward enlightenment. But you should not expect enlightenment after one week or month of practice. Q: Do you think that meditation is the only way to reach enlightenment or do you think there are other ways?

A: Meditation is very important for attaining enlightenment, but I would not say it is the only way. You can meditate in different ways; you do not always have to sit still like a mountain to meditate. The Buddha taught many techniques for reaching enlightenment, but all of them are related to concentration and discipline.

Q: Do you have any advice on what to do when you realize you have not acted out of love and compassion, but have done something unkind? A: Generally, recognizing that you did something wrong helps to purify

your negative action and it decreases your tendency to act that way in the future. When you acknowledge your unkindness, your mind returns to the state of love, compassion, and wisdom, which can awaken you from further negativity. It is said that the only positive quality of negative action is that it can be purified. Recognizing that you behaved badly begins the process of purification; then you need to consciously decide that you

are not going to act that way again. Beyond having the intention to change your behavior, when you see that you have hurt others, you could do practices for them related to generosity, discipline, patience, and joyful effort. Concentration practices also help you become more pure and strong. The vajrayana meditation on Vajrasattva is particularly helpful in purifying negative actions. Q: Rinpoche, would you tell us about your

training? A: I was born in eastern Tibet. When I was four years old I began to learn how to read. In Tibet it was not like here — there were no kindergartens or preschools. Instead, we would go to a master who had only a few students. I had a master and other teachers as well, and sometimes my parents would teach me. As children we did not have the number of toys that you have here. We had a few toys, but we really did not have

time to play with them. My time was spent studying. In Tibet your thoughts were your toys. Learning to read Tibetan was considered very important, so we learned to read very quickly. We learned reading in three stages: alphabet, pronunciation, and spelling. After that came formal reading and the study of grammar. I also had to write in Sanskrit, using the ancient Sanskrit letters, which are different from those used now. When I

was about seven years old I started to learn and memorize certain rituals. In Tibet we memorized the words and the meaning of many texts, which we had to repeat to the master. We also studied history and the biographies of Buddha Shakyamuni and Guru Padmasambhava. I did that until age twelve, when I went to a large monastic university, where we learned the five major sciences and the five minor sciences. First, we

studied the early Theravadin teachings, which were brought to Tibet in about the eighth century, and then the mahayana teachings, and later, the vajrayana and dzogchen. I also learned astrology, medicine, art, and geometry. I studied there for about ten years, until I was twenty-one.

At that time we were having problems in Tibet because of the Communist Chinese invasion. There was guerrilla fighting in Eastern Tibet and it became so dangerous that we could not stay there. I left in 1960 and arrived in India in 1961. During that year I had some terrifying experiences, as horrifying as nightmares.

When I got to India I stayed in a refugee camp where I taught the children. In 1965 His Holiness the Dalai Lama called together the refugee Tibetan scholars and masters to ask us to keep alive the lineages and culture of Tibet. His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche asked me to attend, so I went. The conference lasted for about a year, with seventy-five great masters and scholars in attendance. That was in 1965 and 1966.

In 1967 the Indian government helped to open the Institute of Tibetan Studies, which is dedicated to saving the culture and knowledge of the Tibetan people. The Indian government helped His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche to start the Nyingmapa Studies Department at the Institute, and His Holiness asked me to teach there. From 1967 to 1983 I taught and helped organize that department at the Central Institute of Tibetan

Higher Studies. When we started, I was head of the department and the only person teaching Nyingma Studies. I had many responsibilities, including teaching about twelve classes every day. I first came to the United States in 1980, and came back again in 1983. Since then, I have been teaching in North America as well as in Europe and Australia. This is a brief account of my training. Q: At what age do people begin meditating in Tibet? A: In the Nyingma lineage in Tibet, the students started meditating at about age twelve, at the same time they began to learn the major sciences. It was only after I arrived in India in 1961 that my personal meditation practice developed. Sometimes in India I practiced for periods of two or three months. In 1966 or 1967 I had the opportunity to go to the mountains for my longest retreat of five months.

When I began studying with my master at the age of five, I saw him practicing in his meditation box. I was very small and did not know exactly what he was doing, but I was very interested. In the Tibetan tradition people often practice in wooden meditation boxes, which have backrests so that the practitioners can lean their heads back. I would stand on the porch and watch my teacher through the window. Since I did not have a

beautiful box, I gathered some stones and tree limbs and made a crude box to sit in. I really did not know about meditation; I wanted to imitate my master. Q: What is the role of faith in attaining liberation? A: In Buddhism, faith is a combination of confidence and devotion. It is the feeling of confidence and joy in the truth of the teachings. There are different ways to develop faith. One way is through hearing the dharma or

reading it. For example, when reading the life story of Buddha Shakyamuni or one of the great masters, you can suddenly feel great confidence and devotion deep within your heart. Sometimes faith in the dharma is developed through your own wisdom; nothing external is needed — you simply see that the teachings

must be true. For example, when you see that the world is impermanent and that everything exists through causes and conditions, you develop a feeling of certainty or faith through your own wisdom.

As for liberation, it is called tarpa in Tibetan. Tarpa means that you have completely removed all your suffering and confusion. You do not have to go somewhere else to do that; liberation is right here when you have removed your ignorance and have power over your own mind.

Q: Was the historical buddha, Buddha Shakyamuni, the first person to become enlightened?

A: No, Buddha Shakyamuni was not the first enlightened being. The Buddha taught in the mahayana teachings that there are thousands of buddhas in all directions. Also, every sentient being has the seed or potential for enlightenment. Buddha Shakyamuni taught that the first buddha is really the primordial state of one’s own mind. Since there is no buddha before one’s own primordial nature, we sometimes call the true nature “the primordial buddha.” Q: Is mindfulness the primordial nature?

A: Mindfulness is not the primordial nature, but it is part of it. Mindfulness is a technique, which is said to be the best helper for reaching the primordial state. Once we reach the primordial nature, then mindfulness radiates from that. Just as the sun has many rays, mindfulness is one ray emanating from the primordial nature.

Q: What do you mean by the primordial nature of the mind? A: In the higher levels of the Buddha’s teaching it is said that all the phenomena we perceive are simply displays of the mind. The deepest nature of the mind, the enlightened mind, is known as primordial awareness. All mental activities arise from primordial awareness, and if we recognize that, then enlightenment manifests in every thought and perception. If we do not

recognize it, then thoughts and perceptions continue to be obstructions that cause suffering. In order to awaken inner wisdom, it is necessary to break down the dualistic concepts that posit an internal subject and external objects. Typically, we

perceive ourselves as individual subjects who experience objects that are separate from the self; we feel distance and make distinctions between the two. The feeling of being a subject who relates to objects is simply a notion of the mind. The mind alone creates the concept of a separate self. Once that conception is formed we hold on to it, although from the primordial point of view the self does not really exist. To overcome duality

it is necessary to cultivate the equanimity that encompasses both subject and object. Practicing love and compassion is extremely helpful in terms of understanding the inseparability of outer and inner reality.

To recognize everything as the perfect activity of the enlightened mind is to realize the primordial nature of pure awareness. Sometimes this is called rigpa . Rigpa is the innermost, true nature of the mind, our

awareness which is fresh, uncompounded, and very open. Along with emptiness, rigpa contains clarity, loving-kindness, wisdom, and skillful means. Meditation reveals this awareness that we all have. To recognize the movements of the mind as the display of wisdom and to let thoughts arise and go their own way is called the natural flow of awareness. Maintaining

the natural flow of pure awareness is known as the king of meditation, the supreme understanding. This is the best way to practice as we meditate, chant, and recite mantras.

The meditation on Guru Padmasambhava, the embodiment of all enlightened beings, is a practical way to invoke primordial wisdom. The word buddha means the primordial awareness that consists of love,

compassion, and wisdom. When we visualize Guru Padmasambhava and chant the Vajra Guru Mantra, our potential wisdom is reflected in his image. The point of all practice is to bring out the primordial nature of the mind. When we are completely in the state of primordial wisdom, then that is enlightenment. Q: What is the relationship between dzogchen and bodhichitta? A: The dzogchen teachings are the highest teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni. From the dzogchen point of view, everything is totally equal in one profound state, without duality and distinctions. Dzogchen is the ultimate view of the true nature of mind, which includes love and compassion. When we practice dzogchen we develop compassion and loving-kindness; dzogchen practice cannot be separated from bodhichitta practice. We cannot ignore relative bodhichitta and accept

absolute bodhichitta; both are part of our true nature and both are part of dzogchen. For this reason, before we meditate, we take refuge and develop the thought of bodhichitta. After we meditate we dedicate the merit to all sentient beings. Whenever we practice or do any kind of beneficial activity, we

should not cling to it. At the absolute level, everything is totally pure and perfect in great emptiness. From that point of view, we are completely free from all dualistic concepts and clinging. Until we come to realize the emptiness nature, we continue to follow our thoughts, judging things to be good or bad, better or worse, dirty or clean. Even while we are following our thoughts, the ultimate reality does

not change. It is similar to the weather. When you see a cloudy, gray sky, you cannot see the sun, but that does not mean that the sun and the blue sky are not there. They are still there; the moving clouds do not affect them.

Your thoughts are like the clouds that hide the sun of wisdom. When you reveal your inner wisdom and understand your primordial nature, all of your relative experiences become dreamlike. The objects you experience do not actually exist as the solid entities they seem to be. These dreamlike illusions are obscurations that come from your mind, and you must work with your mind in order to remove them. The obscurations cannot be

burned away with fire or washed away with water, but they can be cleared away by bodhichitta and meditation. Bodhichitta and meditation are the best cleansers. When you practice with bodhichitta you will be able to reveal profound treasures never previously available to you.

Every person has the enlightened nature, but to actualize that nature it is necessary to practice bodhichitta, the love and compassion for all beings. Bodhichitta is universally precious; everybody appreciates it and everybody has the potential to develop it. Enlightenment is completely dependent upon developing compassion for all beings. The wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of others is the essence of both the

mahayana and vajrayana paths. When we develop inner wisdom, we can take care of all sentient beings, and radiate compassion and kindness throughout the universe. We can discover the true nature of the mind and of the entire world. In order to be able to do this, meditation practice is very important.

Bodhichitta is the root or the seed from which enlightenment develops. Bodhichitta is not found externally, but it is within your own mind. Although all of us have experienced love and compassion, these qualities need

to be developed further. One way to increase them is to do the dzogchen meditation of resting the mind in its own nature. This is because bodhichitta and emptiness have the same nature, the true nature of the mind. Practicing bodhichitta openly and freely will increase your understanding of emptiness because compassion and emptiness are inseparable aspects of the primordial state of being.


'dzam gling spyi dang yul khams 'di dag tu


At this very moment, for the peoples and nations of the earth,

nad mug mtshon sogs sdug bsngal ming mi grags


May not even the names "disease," "famine," "war," and "suffering" be heard.

chos ldan bsod nams dpal 'byor gong du ’phel


But rather may pure conduct, merit, wealth, and prosperity increase,

rtag tu bkra shis bde legs phun tshogs shog


And may supreme good fortune and well-being always arise.

by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche Padmasambhava Buddhist Center


Guru puja