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[This version: 2 August 1993]
This text addresses some of the most fundamental and delicate religious issues.
Therefore, it should be read, quoted and analysed in a mindful way.

by Lama Choedak

[reprinted with permission from the CLEAR MIND QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER No 10,
Aug-Oct 1993]
Copyright 1993 (c) by Lama Choedak Yuthok, Sakya Losal Choe Dzong, Canberra

Ngondro is an indispensable foundation practice for all those who have embarked
on the path of Vajrayana Buddhism.  By practising  Ngondro  with firm faith,
inspiration, diligence and patience according to the unmistaken practices of the
lineage and completing at least the prescribed number, one will cultivate a
solid foundation which is so vital in one's Dharma practice.  Even if one has
mastered the knowledge of many Buddhist Sutras and Shastras, the true
realisation and blessings of the Triple Gem,  Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and the
lineage Gurus  cannot be  obtained until one truly cultivates Ngondro practices.
While it is stimulating to hear the teachings on "Mahamudra", "Dzogchen" or
"sudden realisation", the true realisation develops from the lesser  to the
greater degree by purifying one's negativities and accumulating virtuous deeds.
In this real conventional world, application of the basic pinciples of the
teachings are more important than the end result, as results whether obtained
gradually or suddenly, are determined by the relevant causes and conditions.  If
it was not for the accumulation of merit and purification of negativitive deeds,
there will be nothing to do on the path of enlightenment. Philosophers and
dialectics can  indulge in endless and obssessive debates on the differences of
gradual and sudden paths, but humble devotees of the Dharma have to work for the
cultivation of a firm foundation through faith in the Triple Gem, diligence in
the purification of one's negativities; and unshakeable devotion in the Guru and
his lineage.

Practitioners who have not set their feet on the Ngondro practices can be seen
drifting from one teacher to another or from one tradition another without any
sense of direction and discipline in their practices.   Disciples who appear to
have had many teachers but lack true faith and discipline in themselves are lost
for they fail to practise  their instructions.  Without considering requirements
and committment of themselves as disciples, they will run hither and thither
between different lineages like a person, who has failed to secure a healthy
relationship.  They will not have any idea of loyalty, friendship and endurance
that is required on the path of Dharma, because they have not understood the
meaning of refuge and will therefore be reluctant to adopt foundation practices
as they are enslaved by their own ego and procrastination.  Until one can break
one's old habitual pattern through the prescribed foundation practices one
cannot modify one's old habit. It will be equally difficult to be able to see
the amount of negativies which are haunting one's mind, so one fails to see how
the three poisons of one's own mind are creating the sufferings.  One will be so
benumbed by one's own illusion that the need of the purification practice
through Vajrasattva meditation will not even occur in the mind.  Under these
circumstances, the notion of restraining from non-virtuous deeds and
accumulating virtue through the rite of Mandala offering will be almost
impossible to imagine, let alone doing it with faith and devotion.   For
practitioners who are in that state of mind, even if the Buddha himself
manifested in person, they will fail to  see him, but will be looking for
something else.  This is the reason why people must become familiar with the
four common foundations until their minds and hearts are matured by those basic
teachings before learning the uncommon practices and leaping forward for high
teachings.  For those who  haven't cultivated their foundation, no high
teachings or high teachers will be able to help them as their faith in the
lineages and teachings are yet to be  cultivated.  People who have  not adopted
a sound practice in their lives will not find happiness with whatever they might
do with themselves.

Unfortunately there are some teachers who profess the unsuitability of
traditional practices such as prostrations and Mandala offering to their Western
Dharma students.  It is very likely that those teachers who dissuade people from
following these traditional practices, never  completed the preliminary
practices themselves.  Or else they may have lost  faith in such practices due
to their own failure to experience the real benefit of those practices.
Deliberately telling the unsuitability of such practices is dangerous  and
misleading for they will water down the traditional practices.   The
over-emphasis on the reactive feeling of the individuals rather than how to
overcome such feelings and their causes will loose the depth and quality of
these practices. Authentic practices are aimed for the long term benefit of
oneself and others.  It is  different from short term emotional patch up
sessions. The practice of Dharma is not a sprint run, it is rather like a
marathon. Trees which  bear fruit take number of years to grow even if one takes
all the appropriate care for the seed, sprout  and so forth.  One can buy
artificial plastic trees made in Hong Kong for instantaneous decoration for an
emotional party but they are not comparable with the natural trees.  To be a
stable practitioner, one must be patient and diligent for without these two
basic qualities, it is difficult to be a practitioner.  Diligence and patience
will be truly tested  when one experiences the difficulties of maintaining the
practice.  Why is it easier to start many shortlived relationships but very
difficult to maintain one healthy relationship?  Practising Ngondro  not only
establishes a healthy relationship with oneself but it is probably the best
thing one can offer to oneself.   While we may have come several hundred years
after the eminent teacher who prescribed these practices, we still have the same
negativities for which these practices were prescribed in the first place.  One
must have the wisdom to distinguish between authentic teachings of the past
realised masters and the over-simplified version of ancient teachings into
modern theraphy sessions.  Sakya Pandita said:

"The precious gems stay at the bottom of the sea-bed, but the unwanted  rubbish
floats on the surface of the sea".

Fortunately  there are still few true lineage holders who will protect such
practices from the danger of deliberate degeneration caused by carelessness and
disrepect.  In order to find the precious gems of realisations, one must dive
deeper into the ocean of practice without being disheartened by the discharge of
one's own emotional negativities.  True practice begins when one resolves to
modify one's old behaviour by discovering one's own weaknesses and failures by
adopting the foundation practices.  One will prioritize one's practice, if it an
informed choice which gives rise to have  faith in the practice.  As each day,
week and year comes to their conclusions, one often wonders whether anything has
been achieved or not.  Well, if one is to faithfully  follow the prescriptions
of the Dharma by adopting these basic and yet most crucial  practices in our
daily lives, such question will not arise even at the time of death.  Attending
the Wednesday night practice sessions with fellow Dharma friends at the centre
is a good opportunity  where one can start to build a sound discipline in one's
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