Having switched from Theravadan practice to Varjayana almost overnight during a particular retreat, I have been interested in doing ngondro for the last 5 years but I was ‘deter’ from doing it from one of my teachers a few years back. He told me to ‘serve’ instead of doing the practice and I did take advice to heart. It was about that time I started working on this project with more gusto. For a while, I had been researching doing a ngondro retreat where I can actually get the proper transmission but that was no longer an option in a pandemic year. Accordingly, I researched a number of virtual offerings by various teachers/sanghas and ultimately going to the Dudjom Tesar lineage for a number of reasons. Even though I had an affinity to Mingyur Rincopche’s Tergar offering and Dzongsar Khyentse Rincophe’s Ngondro Gar, after speaking with their program coordinators, I felt that the level of support from the program offer by Pema Osel Ling was what I was looking for. Besides the support from the group and resident lama, the fact that I have been to Pema Osel Ling a number of times and have a heart connection with the lineage made it a pretty clear choice for me.
I guess in ‘normal’ times, one would simply do the ngondro under one’s root teacher/sangha, but I was a bit surprised that ngondro wasn’t as widely accessible. To further complicate the manner, each school of the tibetan lineage has their own version of which liturgy to follow for their version of ngondro. At the end of that day, I suspect that although there are variations, the core practice of ngondro is the same and any version will be ‘fine’. What is interesting about the Dudjom Tesar lineage is that I am practicing the ‘concise’ version, which is in this time and age, a great version to practice in our busy lives.
So the format of the ngondro is pretty much like any habit that we want to learn and it’s about a daily practice. Of course there are goals such as 100,000 prostrations and etc and the point of it is to consistently practice so that you hit these milestones. Of course, the real exercise is when you’re doing the practice, are you just focusing on the mechanics of the practice or actually really training the mind. I sorta view the practice like any of the other habits that I have developed on the past years such as trail running. There are many times, the discipline carries the practice even though mentally/physically/spiritually you’re not in the ‘mood’ to do it that day. In the same way, there are many of days that I feel like I go through the motion but then there are definitely instances in the practice that it ‘works’ the way it should be. Without the discipline to be on the cushion, those moments of the magic of the practice has less probability of emerging. I suspect that over time, the practice ceases to be a ‘formal’ practice just as the idea that meditation ceases to be an effort after enough practice. As it stands now, very much early in the practice, it has been a good daily ritual for the ‘doer’ mindset in me. I have been setting monthly goals that I try to achieve but really it’s more of a reminder not to fall behind in the practice. I think what has been most surprising about the practice is how much I have enjoyed mantra recitations. Since my days of of being a college radio DJ, I hadn’t had a particular likening for my voice but for the most time, I am just my voice to ‘sing’ the mantra and it’s opening up some things for sure!