Guidelines on the four special preliminary practices


January 1, 2013


Refuge and prostration

Firstly, we should visualise in front of us the wish-fulfilling tree and on this wish-fulfilling tree, on the five branches, we visualize the lama, the Buddha, the dharma, the sangha, the deities or yidams, and then the protectors. We visualise ourselves as the leader or chant master, facing towards the tree. On our right side we feel the presence of our father, on the left the presence of our mother. In front of us, we visualise our enemies, because generally it’s more difficult to have compassion for our enemies so therefore we place them in front of us. Behind us are our family and relatives, and then all other beings of the universe surround us. Together, the whole assembly pays homage with body, speech and mind, prostrating and reciting the refuge prayer.

The Gyalwang Karmapa commented that sometimes the refuge prayer is counted separately from the prostrations, so you need two malas. But maybe that was not necessary. While you do the 100,000 prostrations, he instructed, you recite the refuge prayer as much as you can. The actual refuge you do with devotion and with your mind is more important than the prostrations. It is even said that if you have physical difficulties so that you cannot do prostrations, there is no need to do them.  It is enough to do the refuge practice 100,000 times correctly with good motivation.

The most important part of the practice is the refuge and bodhicitta. It’s the basis, the most important foundation of all the practices of Buddhism. When you rest from prostrating you should generate the bodhisattva’s intentions and then take the bodhisattva’s vows. Do that three times, and after you have done that you also recite the rejoicing that you have taken the bodhisattva’s vows and also make the dedication or the prayers of bodhisattva’s intentions.
You need to study; you need to listen to longer or more detailed explanations of these teachings, before you actually do the practices.

The Vajrasattva 100 syllable mantra recitation

Visualize Vajrasattva alone on top of your head, facing in the same direction as you. This is not according to the anuttarayoga tantra, but according to the yoga tantra – and their instruction is that Vajrasattva is sitting in the bodhisattva action posture, so the right foot is extending out a little bit. The big toe of Vajrasattva’s right foot is touching the crown of your head, so the flow of nectar from his big toe can enter into you.

You have to visualize the 100-syllable mantra at Vajrasattva’s heart chakra. It doesn’t matter whether the letters are facing out or in. The most important thing is to apply the four powers of purification. This, the Vajrasattva that you visualize on top of your head, is the power of the support. Then the mantra that we do, and the nectar that flows through you, feeling that this purifies all the negativity, is the antidote. Your regret for all the negative deeds that you have done is the third power. The fourth power is the resolve that you will not do these negative things again. With these four powers you purify negativities.

The Mandala offering

This is for the accumulation of merit. You can use barley or rice or whatever you have. Usually you wash it and spread it with saffron, and moisten it with saffron water. First you recite the 37-point long mandala offering, then the short 7-point mandala offering, composed by Atisha Dipankara.  You count recitations of the short mandala offering. After each 100 short mandala offerings, you should recite the long one again. But the most important thing is that you feel that you are offering everything–all your wealth, all your possessions, your body, speech and mind, all your positive karma and everything that you have, all the positive things, positive actions of the past, present and future. It becomes a very strong positive accumulation of merit because you’re making an offering of everything.

Guru Yoga

In the guru yoga practice,  according to the Karma Kagyu tradition, you first visualize yourself as Vajravarahi, because that is the main yidam of Dusum Khyenpa, but you will need an empowerment for this;  at least an  anuttarayoga tantra empowerment  or the Five Dhiyani Buddhas empowerment or similar. If you haven’t received those empowerments, but have received an empowerment such as  Chakrasamvara,  you can also visualize yourself as the particular yidam whose empowerment that you have received . Then you visualize yourself as the yidam, and then in front of you – not on top of your head – facing you, you visualize the lama. Then you recite the guru yoga according to the text.

You can recite the Preliminary Practice of Mahamudra or you can do the Four Session Guru Yoga by the 8th Karmapa. If you do the latter, you should recite Karmapa Khyenno first. This was usually followed by the Prayer to the Four Kayas, which should be recited again and again with deep devotion. Nowadays people often recite the prayer I pray to the Precious Lama instead, and count as they do so.  The session concludes with a prayer as Calling the Lama from Afar. There’s a short Calling the Lama from Afar prayer composed by the 5th Shamarpa. So you can recite that also, before you take the four empowerments, and then you take the empowerments.

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