Brief Guide to the Stages of Visualization for the Ngöndro Practice
With the chariot of your great and immeasurable bodhichitta, [ii]
You brought the sunlight of the teachings of secret mantra-
Orgyen, King of Dharma, I keep you forever in my mind!
The enlightened vision of the vajra vehicle of Ancient Translations,
All condensed into its quintessence, like a drop of dakinis’ life-blood;
A treasure arising as the spontaneous expression of reality itself—
O Guru, Lord of Dharma, you who brought us these teachings, protect me!
In a single vessel, you gathered the vital elixir of the great and secret teachings
And with this, you satisfied your fortunate disciples, bringing them to maturity and liberation—
O kind and gracious master, I rely on you until I reach enlightenment!
Having begun with this verse of homage, I shall now set down, in one place, the steps of visualization for the ordinary outer and inner instructions of Longchen Nyingtik.
When taking refuge, consider that the place where you are seated is made from various precious substances: a buddha realm, beautiful and pleasing to the mind, without any undulations, and smooth like the surface of a mirror. [v] At its centre, in front of you, is a wish-fulfilling tree with five main branches, its leaves, flowers and fruit filling the whole of space in every direction.
Slightly above the central branch, seated upon a jewelled throne supported by eight great lions, and upon seats of lotus, sun and moon, is the incomparable treasury of compassion who embodies all the buddhas of past, present and future¾one’s own glorious root lama. He appears in the form of Orgyen Dorje Chang (the Great Vajradhara of Oddiyana), his complexion white with a tinge of red. [vi] He has one face and two hands, and is seated in the posture of royal ease. With his right hand, he holds a golden five-pronged vajra in the threatening gesture. In his left hand, which rests in the gesture of equanimity, is a skull-cup brimming with nectar and containing the vase of immortality that is also full of deathless wisdom nectar, and ornamented on top by a wish-fulfilling tree. He is united in an inseparable embrace with the consort Yeshe Tsogyal, who is white and holding a knife and a skull-cup. On his body, he wears a silk cloak, monastic robes and gown. On his head, he wears a lotus hat.
On the branch before him is the Buddha Shakyamuni, surrounded by the thousand buddhas of this Fortunate Aeon. Their bodies are white, yellow, red, green and blue in colour, and they are all in the supreme nirmanakaya form, wearing monastic robes. They are adorned with the thirty-two major and eighty minor marks, such as the crown protuberance, wheels on their feet, and so on. All of them are seated in the cross-legged “vajra posture”.
On the branch to the right [vii] are the bodhisattvas, the Eight Great Close Sons [viii] surrounded by the sangha of noble bodhisattvas. As a sign of their tireless and constant efforts to benefit beings, they are all standing in the posture of equanimity. They are adorned with the thirteen ornaments of the perfect sambhogakaya.
On the rear branch, encased within a lattice of rainbow light, is the Jewel of the Dharma in the form of piles of books, the vowels and consonants making their own sound. At the top are the six million four hundred thousand tantras of Dzogpachenpo.
Above Guru Rinpoche’s head are all the masters of the Dzogchen lineage, from the dharmakaya Samantabhadra down to your own kind root lama. They are seated one above the other, the throne of an earlier master slightly above the head of the next.
Surrounding Guru Rinpoche are the root and lineage masters above, the assembly of yidam deities in the central section, and the mamos and dakinis below. In between are all the Dharma protectors of both wisdom and action. Consider that the males all face outwards, acting to avert any obstacles or hindrances to the Dharma or the attainment of enlightenment, and to prevent any obstacles entering from the outside. Whereas the female Dharma protectors all face inwards, acting to ward off any obstacles or hindrances to the Dharma or the attainment of enlightenment, and to prevent any accomplishments from escaping.
Seated to your right and left are your father and mother from this present life. In front are all the sentient beings of the six realms and three worlds, led by your bitterest enemies and those obstructing forces that do you harm. Together they form an enormous gathering that covers the entire surface of the earth.
As a physical demonstration of your respect, you all perform prostrations. To show your respect vocally, you recite the verse for taking refuge. And with a mind that is respectful, you form the following resolve, cultivating a feeling of ardent longing and complete and heartfelt trust:
Whether my situation is high or low, in happiness or sorrow, in circumstances good or bad, from this day on, I shall neither ask my father nor seek my mother’s advice. Nor shall I decide by myself. Instead, I shall rely on you, the true objects of refuge, the Three Jewels. To you, I shall make offerings. You will be the only objects of my practice.
Recite the refuge verse, “KÖN CHOK SUM NGÖ…(In the Three Jewels, and their essence…)” and then, at the end of the session consider that, as a result of your devotion to the refuge assembly, countless rays of light¾white, yellow, red, green and blue¾stream out from the various deities. As they touch you and all sentient beings, your karma, disturbing emotions, habitual tendencies, negativity and obscurations accumulated throughout beginningless time are purified completely, just as when light from the rising sun shines into a cave it dispels the darkness within. In an instant, you and all the other beings fly up with a whirring sound, like a flock of birds scattered by a sling-stone, and dissolve into the assembly of refuge deities.
Then the refuge gradually melts into light. In front, the buddhas all dissolve into Shakyamuni. To the right, the bodhisattvas all dissolve into Avalokiteshvara. To the left, the noble sangha of shravakas and pratyekabuddhas dissolves into Shariputra. They all dissolve into the Dharma at the back, and then this entire Jewel of the Dharma dissolves into Guru Rinpoche. All the surrounding masters, yidams, Dharma protectors and guardians also dissolve into Guru Rinpoche who then dissolves slowly into the light and disappears.
Rest for a short while in a state that is free from conceptual reference. Then, as you rise from this meditation, recognize all that appears and exists as the form of the refuge deities and dedicate the merit.
When generating bodhichitta, the dissolution of the refuge deities follows the same sequence as above, but here Guru Rinpoche dissolves into you, and you consider that the absolute bodhichitta present within the minds of the objects of refuge arises clearly in your own mind.
All the special experiences and realizations of the profound path are prevented from arising by your harmful actions, obscurations and habitual tendencies. There is no method for purifying them more profound than the meditation and recitation of the Lama Vajrasattva. The way to practise it is as follows.
Consider that you remain in your ordinary form. At an arrow’s length above your head, upon a lotus and a moon disc seat, is a brilliant white syllable HUNG which becomes, in essence, your glorious root master, the incomparable treasury of compassion who embodies all the buddhas of past, present and future. He is in the form of the sambhogakaya Buddha Vajrasattva, white in colour, and as bright as a snowy peak lit up by a hundred thousand suns. He has one face and two arms. With his right hand, he holds a five-pronged vajra of awareness and emptiness in front of his heart. With his left, he rests the bell of appearance and emptiness upon his left hip. His two legs are crossed in the vajra posture, and he embraces, in an inseparable union, his consort white Vajratopa (Dorje Nyemma). Their bodies are not like those of ordinary beings, but are pure and composed of light.
At Vajrasattva’s heart is a full moon disc, and upon it is a white syllable HUNG, as fine as if it were drawn with a single hair. The HUNG is encircled in a clockwise direction by a string of letters forming the hundred syllable mantra. They are like the horns of cattle (meaning that they are close together and yet they do not touch). As you recite the hundred syllable mantra, ensuring that the four powers are complete, imagine that the white bodhichitta nectar drips down from each syllable of the mantra garland.
Flowing through the body of Vajrasattva, the nectar emerges from the point of union with the consort, and then, passing through the “aperture of Brahma” at the crown of your head, it cleans the entire interior of your body. Everything impure pours out of your body from the two lower orifices, the soles of your feet and all the pores of your skin. All your physical illnesses are flushed out in the form of rotten blood and pus; all negative forces are expelled in the form of fish, snakes, frogs, tadpoles, spiders, scorpions and ants; and all your negativity is expelled as smoke, black liquid, clouds and vapours.
The golden earth beneath you opens up to reveal King Yama, the Lord of Death, surrounded by all the male and female beings to whom you owe karmic debts, and those who seek your life in vengeance. As you recite the hundred syllable mantra, the impurities pour down into their open mouths and into the hands and arms they raise expectantly towards you.
At the end, imagine that Death and all the others beneath the earth¾every kind of karmic creditor and all those who seek your life in vengeance¾are completely satisfied. Past scores have been settled; debts have been repaid; the desire for vengeance has been pacified; and you are cleansed of all your past negative actions and obscurations. Yama closes his mouth and fists, and lowers his arms. The earth closes over once again.
Imagine that your body now becomes transparent inside and out, like an immaculate crystal vase. At the crown of your head is the chakra of great bliss with its thirty-two radial channels curving downwards. In your throat is the chakra of enjoyment with its sixteen radial channels curving upwards. At the level of your heart is the Dharma chakra with its eight radial channels curving downwards. At the level of your navel is the chakra of manifestation with its sixty-four radial channels curving upwards.
As the shining, white bodhichitta fills these four chakras, you receive the four empowerments (vase, secret, wisdom and precious word); you are purified of the four obscurations (karmic, emotional, cognitive and those of habitual tendencies); and you accomplish the four kayas (nirmanakaya, sambhogakaya, dharmakaya and svabhavikakaya).
Lama Vajrasattva is pleased and, smiling at you, he says:
Son/daughter of an enlightened family, your negative actions, obscurations, impairments and breakages of samaya are all purified.
Granting his approval in this way he melts into light, just like butter that is placed on a hot stone, and then dissolves into you.
Now you yourself appear in the form of Vajrasattva, exactly as you visualized him before. In your heart is a moon disc, the size of a flattened mustard seed. At its centre is a blue HUNG. In front of the HUNG is a white syllable OM; to its right is the word VAJRA in yellow; behind it is a red SA; and to its left is a green TVA.
As you recite the mantra (OM VAJRA SATTVA HUNG), immeasurable rays of coloured light emanate from the syllables and make offerings that delight all the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions. The blessings of their body, speech and mind come streaming back in the form of light and rays of light that dissolve into you, so that you obtain all the supreme and ordinary accomplishments. This establishes the interdependent conditions for benefiting yourself through realizing the dharmakaya.
Then consider that the rays of light touch all the sentient beings dwelling throughout the six realms of the three worlds, purifying their karma, disturbing emotions, habitual patterns, negativity and obscurations.
The entire outer world becomes the buddhafield of Abhirati (‘Manifest Joy’), and all the beings within it are transformed into white, yellow, red, green and blue Vajrasattvas, all of whom recite the mantra OM VAJRA SATTVA HUNG, creating an immense humming sound. This establishes the interdependent conditions for benefiting others through attaining the rupakaya. As it is said:
Actualizing the benefit of self and others through the emanation and re-convergence [of light], cognitive obscurations are purified.
At the end of the session, visualize that the whole universe—the pure realm of Manifest Joy—dissolves into the beings within it, the Vajrasattvas. Then, all of these Vajrasattvas dissolve into you, the principal Vajrasattva. Gradually, you too melt into light from the outside inwards, dissolving into the OM at your heart. The OM then dissolves into the VAJRA, the VAJRA into the SA, the SA into the TVA, the TVA into the shabkyu of the HUNG, the shabkyu into the A-chung, and the A-chung into the body of the HA. The body then dissolves into the head, the head into the crescent, the crescent into the bindu, and the bindu into the nada. Finally, the nada too dissolves, and you remain for a short while in a state that is without conceptual reference.
When you arise from that state, recognize the whole outer universe and the beings contained within it as the environment and inhabitants of the pure realm of Manifest Joy, and dedicate the merit.
Gathering the Accumulations
1. Mandala Offering
Begin by arranging the five piles of the accomplishment mandala. In the centre is a pile representing Buddha Vairochana, surrounded by the deities of the buddha family. In the East is a pile for the Buddha Vajrasattva [x] and the deities of the vajra family. In the South is a pile for Buddha Ratnasambhava and the deities of the ratna family. In the West is a pile for Buddha Amitabha and the deities of the padma family. And in the North is a pile for Buddha Amoghasiddhi and the deities of the karma family.
Alternatively, as in the Refuge practice, you may consider that the central pile represents your own root master in the form of Guru Rinpoche, with all the masters of the Dzogchen lineage above him. In this case, the pile in front is for Buddha Shakyamuni and the thousand perfect buddhas of this Fortunate Aeon. The pile on the right is for the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, surrounded by the noble bodhisattva sangha. The pile on the left is for Shariputra and Maudgalyayana and the noble sangha of shravakas and pratyekabuddhas. The pile at the back represents the Jewel of the Dharma in the form of piles of books.
For the offering mandala, recite “OM VAJRA BHUMI AH HUNG…etc.” (from the Thirty-Seven Point Mandala Offering) and arrange the outer realm in stages. One arrangement of piles symbolizing the four continents with Mount Meru in the centre constitutes one world. A thousand of these make a “first-order universe of one thousand worlds”. Multiplying this a thousand times produces a “second-order universe of one thousand times one thousand worlds”. Then, multiplying this by a further thousand, we arrive at what is called, “a third-order great universal system of one thousand million worlds”, or a “cosmos of a billion universes”.
Imagine throughout all these worlds the most exquisite enjoyments of gods and human beings, and offer them all to your master and the deities of the nirmanakaya. This is the offering of the ordinary mandala of the nirmanakaya.
Next, imagine Akanishtha Ghanavyuha complete with all the inconceivable features of a spontaneously manifest sambhogakaya realm, as well as countless offering goddesses, such as the goddess of beauty and so on, and offer them all to your master and the deities of the sambhogakaya. This is the extraordinary mandala of the sambhogakaya.
Then, upon the base of the mandala, which represents the unconditioned dharmadhatu, place small piles representing your attachment to appearance and whatever thoughts you may have. Offer this to your master and the deities of the dharmakaya. This is the special mandala of the dharmakaya.
2. Accumulation of the Kusali: Chöd
You are in your ordinary form. In the sky before you is a precious throne supported by a lion, elephant, peacock, shang-shang bird [xi] and horse. Seated there, upon a lotus, sun and moon, and piles of silken cushions, is your own root master. Surrounding him, upon an inconceivable variety of seats, including lotuses, sun-discs and corpses, are the masters of the lineage above, the yidam deities in the space in between, and the mamos and dakinis below. Around them all are the hosts of Dharma protectors and guardians.
Seated below are all the beings of the six realms and three worlds.
If you are familiar with the visualization stage (kyérim), you can recite “PHAT!” and simultaneously eject your consciousness along the central channel and out through the “aperture of Brahma” at the crown of your head, where it is immediately transformed into Tröma, the Wrathful Mother.
If you are not yet accustomed to this kind of visualization practice, begin by meditating on your consciousness as Tröma, and, then, as you utter the syllable “PHAT!” consider that she shoots out through the crown of your head.
In either case, Tröma—the essence of your consciousness—is black, and has one face and two hands. With her right hand, she is waving through the air a curved knife for cutting the three poisons at their root. It is this that she now uses to slice your skull, along the level of the eyebrows, from your body, which has grown huge, fat and greasy, and is as large as the entire billion-fold world-system. Tröma uses the skull to make a skull-cup equal in size to the entire cosmos of a billion worlds. With her left hand, she picks up the skull-cup and places it, with the brow facing her, upon a hearth made of three human skulls, each as large as Mount Meru. Then, with the hooked knife in her right hand, she lifts the whole corpse and places it inside the skull-cup.
Now visualize in the space beneath the skull the vertical stroke of a letter A, red, with the nature of fire, and hot to the touch. Above the skull, there appears a white syllable HAM with the nature of nectar. As fire blazes up from the A-stroke, it heats the skull-cup until the corpse melts into bubbling nectar, and anything foul or impure is expelled in the form of a frothing scum.
The HAM begins to melt in the heat of the fire, and from it drops of nectar begin to fall. Rays of light shine out from the HAM to the buddhas and bodhisattvas, so that their compassion and blessings dissolve into the nectar in the skull-cup in the form of wisdom nectar and blue light-rays. Finally, the syllable HAM also dissolves into light, and melts into the nectar in the skull-cup.
The Variegated Feast
Steam rises from the boiling white and red wisdom nectar. It takes the form of inconceivable offering materials, such as the eight auspicious symbols and seven attributes of royalty—parasols, victory-banners, canopies, golden wheels with a thousand spokes, white conch shells spiralling to the right, and so on—which are offered to the guests above. It is transformed into whatever substances the yidams, dakas, dakinis, Dharma protectors and guardians find pleasing, and they are delighted by the offerings.
Below them, all the beings of the six realms of existence receive whatever they wish for, whatever it is they desire. Those who want food receive food. Those who wish for clothing receive clothing. Those desiring a home receive a home. Consider that all their wishes are fulfilled and that they are satisfied.
The White Feast
Then above them the inconceivable gathering of root and lineage masters, buddhas and bodhisattvas absorb the nectar through their tongues, which have the form of hollow vajra tubes. Consider that they are pleased and satisfied, and that you complete the accumulations, purify your obscurations, and receive all the supreme and ordinary accomplishments.
The assembly of yidam deities consume the nectar, absorbing it through hollow tongues shaped like vajras, wheels, jewels, lotuses, or crossed vajras. As a result, you complete the accumulations, purify your obscurations, and receive all the supreme and ordinary siddhis.
In the space in front of the skull-cup, the wisdom and activity Dharma protectors now take their share of the nectar through the hollow sunbeams of their tongues, with the result that obstacles and circumstances unfavourable to your Dharma practice and enlightenment are dispelled.
Next, if you are experienced in visualization, consider that you emanate inconceivable throngs of activity performing dakinis, as numerous as sentient beings, each of them holding a wisdom skull-cup filled with wisdom nectar that they offer to every single being.
Alternatively, you could imagine that you yourself, as Tröma, use the skull-cup in your hand to scatter nectar, satisfying all the beings of the six realms and purifying their karmic vision, sufferings and habitual tendencies.
Think especially of those beings, male and female, to whom you owe karmic debts incurred in your past lives throughout beginningless time.
There are debts that shorten our lives because we have killed; debts that plague us with illness because we have attacked and beaten others; debts that make us poor because we have stolen. There are debts for protection given by superiors, for services rendered by inferiors, and for help and support from equals; and there are debts to overlords and underlings.
When each of these male and female creditors has had their fill, you are freed from your karmic obligations, your debts are repaid, you are delivered from their deadly vengeance and purified of all your harmful deeds and obscurations.
All male beings attain the level of noble Avalokiteshvara, and all the females attain the level of Jetsün Tara.
Recite “PHAT!” and then rest in a state free from any concept of an offering, one who offers, or a recipient to whom offerings are made.
Then there is the instruction on Guru Yoga, which is a practice for arousing the wisdom of realization in the mind. The purification of buddha fields requires great strength of concentration, so consider that your surroundings—for as far as your perception extends—are the realm of Lotus Light, perfect in all its features.
You are at its centre. To ensure that you are a suitable vessel for the empowerments, to create the right interdependent conditions for following the master, and as a support for arousing Guru Rinpoche’s wisdom of bliss and emptiness, consider that you are, in essence, the dakini Yeshe Tsogyal. In form, however, you appear as Vajrayogini: red in colour, with one face, two hands and three eyes that gaze longingly at the heart of the master.
With your right hand you play a skull-drum, held aloft, to awaken beings from the sleep of ignorance and confusion. Your left hand holds a hooked knife for cutting the three poisons at their root. You are naked except for your bone ornaments and garlands of flowers. And you are visible yet insubstantial, like a reflection in a mirror.
In the sky, an arrow’s length above your head, visualize a lotus with a hundred thousand petals, upon which there is a sun-disc, and then a moon disc. Seated upon this sun and moon disc seat is your glorious root master, the incomparable treasury of compassion who is the embodiment of all the buddhas of the past, present and future. He appears in the form of the Great Vajradhara of Oddiyana (Orgyen Dorje Chang) with one face and two hands.
With his right hand he holds a five-pronged golden vajra at his heart. In his left hand he holds a skull-cup brimming with nectar, containing the vase of longevity that is also filled with the nectar of deathless wisdom and ornamented on top by a wish-fulfilling tree. Cradled in his left arm he holds the three-pointed khatvanga (trident) symbolizing the Princess consort (Mandarava). Its three points represent the essence, nature and compassionate energy (ngowo, rangshyin and tukjé). Below these three prongs are three severed heads, dry, fresh and rotten, symbolizing the three kayas. Nine iron rings adorning the prongs represent the nine yanas. The khatvanga is also adorned with locks of hair from dead and living mamos and dakinis, as a sign that the Master subjugated them all when he practised austerities in the Eight Great Charnel Grounds.
On his head he wears a lotus hat and on his body he wears a silk cloak, Dharma robes and gown. His two feet are in the royal posture.
All around him, within a lattice of five-coloured light, appear the eight vidyadharas of India, the twenty-five disciples of Tibet, the deities of the three roots, and an ocean of oath-bound protectors. Your visualization should be so vivid that your ordinary perception simply ceases automatically.
As you recite the Seven Line Prayer from, “Hum! In the north-west of the land of Oddiyana” to, “GURU PADMA SIDDHI HUM”, invoke the environment and inhabitants of the Glorious Copper Coloured Mountain, and consider that they dissolve into the assembly of deities you have visualized.
Then, multiply your body as many times as there are atoms in the universe, and perform prostrations. Make inconceivably vast offerings of both actual possessions and those created by the mind. Confess all your harmful deeds and obscurations, accumulated throughout beginningless time. Consider that they are purified by rays of light which emanate from the hearts of the deities in the field of merit, touching a black pile on your tongue, within which are gathered all the harmful actions, obscurations and habitual tendencies of your body, speech and mind. Rejoice at all the positive actions that have ever been accumulated, absolute and relative. Implore the buddhas to turn the Dharma-wheel of the three yanas. Request them to remain until samsara is completely empty and not to pass into nirvana. Dedicate all the positive actions accumulated in the past, the present and the future as the cause for all beings attaining enlightenment.
When the time comes to practise “Invoking the Siddhi” say the prayer, “O Guru Rinpoche, Precious One…” (JESTÜN GURU RINPOCHE) once after every hundred recitations of the Vajra Guru mantra. Then, when it is time for “Invoking the Blessing” say, after each hundred recitations, the prayer beginning: “I have no one else to turn to…” (DAK LA RÉ SA…) and ending: “Purify our emotional and cognitive obscurations, O powerful one!” (…DRIP NYI CHONG SHIK NÜ TU CHEN).
When it is time to receive the accomplishments, recite “In the Guru’s forehead…”(GURUI MIN TSAM…) and receive the four empowerments. Then, as a result of your devotion and longing, the master assumes a compassionate expression and smiles at you, his eyes filled with love.
From his heart, a ray of warm, red light shoots out and as it touches you, Vajrayogini, you melt into a sphere of red light the size of a pea, which shoots up towards the Guru like a crackling spark and dissolves into his heart. Then the Guru also dissolves, and you rest in the unborn state of the dharmakaya: utter simplicity without concept or reference. Then dedicate the merit.
Translated by Adam Pearcey and edited by Janine Schulz. There are many similarities between this text and sections of Patrul Rinpoche’s most famous work, kun bzang bla ma’i zhal lung, and we have been greatly influenced by the style and choice of terminology in Words of My Perfect Teacher, masterfully translated into English by the Padmakara Translation Group.
[i] The five degenerations are: the degeneration of life; the degeneration of karma, or activity; the degeneration of the times; the degeneration linked with emotions; and the degeneration of the view. See Guru Yoga, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1999, p. 50
[ii] Bodhichitta is immeasurable, or countless (གྲངས་མེད་, grangs med), both in terms of its duration (because it is cultivated for countless aeons) and in terms of its object (because it is directed towards countless sentient beings).
[iii] This refers to Rigdzin (vidyadhara in Sanskrit) Jikmé Lingpa.
[iv] The six lineages are the mind-direct lineage of the victorious ones, the sign lineage of the vidyadharas, the aural lineage of realized beings, the lineage empowered by aspiration, the lineage of prophetically declared succession, and the dakini’s seal of entrustment lineage.
[v] Compare verse 35 from Chapter 10 of the Bodhicharyavatara:
May lands everywhere be pure,
Not harsh and covered in rocks,
But flat like a level palm,
And smooth as lapis lazuli.
[x] Kunzang Lama’i Shelung has Akshobhya here in the place of Vajrasattva.