The First Extraordinary Preliminary Practice:
Refuge, Prostration, and Bodhicitta Practice

Given by the 12th Kenting Tai Situpa at Palpung Sherabling, December 2004.
Transcribed by Chang Chin & Changchub Saldon


Teaching Chapter 8 & 9 and Practice Chapter 8

Now after four ordinary contemplations, preliminary contemplation is completed then you practice four extraordinary preliminary practices.

What are the four extraordinary preliminary practices?

The four extraordinary preliminary practices. They are extraordinary because by practicing each one of them you can reach Buddhahood. You just do the refuge, prostration, Bodhicitta practice only for rest of your life you can reach Buddhahood. Just like Milarepa. If you practice Dorjesempa only for rest of your life just like Milarepa then you will reach realization just like him; the same way with the mandala offering and the Guru yoga. And each one of them is extraordinary, complete practice. And each one of these practices is not missing anything. That's why it is extraordinary. In Tibetan Tun Mong Ma Yin Pa. Thun Mong Ma Yin Pa in extraordinary is perfect translation, perfect. Thun Mong means common, ordinary. Ma Yin Pa means which isn't. So you can't translate that better than extraordinary; XO extra ordinary. Now why then we have to practice all four of them instead of just one? Because Maha Mudra lineage is so rich so there are so many other methods: so many meditations, so many Yidam practices. Therefore this is organized as the preliminary practice. And why prostration first, Dorjesempa second, and Mandala third and Guru Yoga fourth? Why? The reason is Prostration is more physical oriented practice.

The first extraordinary preliminary practices ~ Refuge, Prostration, and Bodhicitta

Main thing about prostration is refuge and Bodhicitta. Refuge is devotion, isn't it? Bodhicitta is more compassion oriented, isn't it? You cannot say may I attain Buddhahood may all Buddha to attain Buddhahood. You're saying, may I attain the Buddhahood for all sentient beings to attain Buddhahood. Therefore it is more compassion oriented. So with devotion and compassion then you are doing the prostration physically. You have to be quite dedicated, and quite devoted and sincere to do prostration. Prostration is totally on the ground. Physically there is no way to express more devotion, and more dedication and more trust than that. What else you can do; expression maximum - the maximum expression of devotion and compassion. So we do this, one hundred and ten thousand times.

Refuge and Bodhicitta

So it is first practice because refuge and Bodhicitta is first. Without refuge you are not even a Buddhist officially. Of course unofficially everybody is Buddha in the making. But officially you become Buddhists after taking refuge. And you become Mahayana Buddhist by taking Bodhisattva vow. You cannot be Vajrayana without refuge and Bodhicitta, impossible. That is the foundation.

Visulization ~ Vajradhara Buddha

And you are practicing the Vajrayana because all that you are visualizing there is Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana all. You are visualizing Buddhas. You are visualizing Arhats. You are visualizing Bodhisattvas. You are visualizing deities. You are visualizing Gurus. And you are visualizing Buddha in the very special manifestation, the Buddha Vajradhara. It is Vajrayana Buddha - Vajrayana manifestation or description of Buddha. So blue color, the color of emptiness, the color of space, represents Dharmakaya. Formless. All the ornaments five Dhyani Buddha crown and all the other ornaments which represent Sambhogakaya Buddha. So physical feature which wears all the ornament represents Buddha Sakyamuni that is Nirmanakaya Buddha. Holding vajra representing method and bell representing emptiness. And crossing on his heart direction representing unity, non duality. So that is the Svabhavikakaya; the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya unseparable. Now as the visualization, actually this text, Maha Mudra Torch of Certainty, which is put together, compiled by first Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye of Palpung. This is the most comprehensive and detailed instruction and text on four, I meant all the preliminary practices, of course but particularly four extra-ordinary preliminary practice very clearly detail here instruction here. I think this is available both in English as well as Mandarin. Maybe in Cantonese, too. And I am sure it is in all other languages such as Spanish, Italian, Russian, French, and German etc. Now there is no self-visualization. You don't visualize yourself as anything. You just visualize, you just maintain yourself as you are. Everything else you visualize. So now we pretend we completed the four ordinary preliminary practices contemplation already. That will be done after four weeks. So it will be the beginning of February, 2005. Okay.

Refuge, Prostration, and Bodhicitta Practice Guide

Now you will say refuge and Bodhicitta as usual and Dorjechang Thung Ma prayer as usual if you have time. Otherwise the details Refuge and Bodhicitta is in the prostration practice itself. It is there already. So say lineage prayer, Refuge Bodhicitta, if you have time. Then you do four ordinary thoughts very quickly as I read them. You read them and as you read them you think of precious human life, death impermanence, karma cause and result, sufferings of samsara very briefly. Because you have done already one week on each already, detail already done so very briefly as you read it you contemplate them. So all of this time you are sitting, of course. Then you dissolve everything into emptiness, but that is very natural because everything is emptiness. That is because of our skandha we don't feel, we don't see as emptiness. Otherwise reality is multi-layer reality, countless, numberless, infinite reality. This is only one of the infinite reality; relatively speaking not even ultimately even relatively. Multi-layer reality. Even right now for some sentient beings we are in the middle of a city and big subway just rushing here for some sentient being. For some sentient beings we are in the middle of a mountain totally solid. For some sentient beings we are in the deep of space in between one planet and another planet. In the middle of deep space. Nothing. So but this I am only talking as a human being because mountain, middle of space, between planets and subway and I am talking as a human being. I am imagining as a human being of planet earth of twenty-first century you know. So it can be middle of two thousand years BC where no machines nothing middle of a desert right now for some sentient beings. For example, the water that we drink, for Gods, it is amrite, nectar. For fish, it is air. Flying in, and breathe and breathe out. For hungry ghost it is the most terrible untouchable thing. And for hell this is burning lava, flowing lava. I am talking about the Gods, and human beings, and animals, and hungry ghosts and hell of our kinds. So there is countless kinds, infinite kinds. Therefore it is not only ultimately everything is emptiness but relatively everything is emptiness. You know there are some people in this world who are not enlightened; who are not Buddha, but they can walk through the wall. And they can hear, they can see what is behind this wall very clearly as we see when we are outside the wall. They are inside the wall they can see what is outside the wall as we see if we are outside. They are not Buddha. They are just like us. They are happy. They are unhappy. They have all the defilements everything. Just some physical and senses differences. That proves very clearly the infinite reality. Another example, if you give your dog one million dollar right in front of him. He will tear it into pieces because dog likes to tear paper. If you take it away, he don't care. But if it is unedible piece of dirty bone, your dog will bite it, even it bleeds his gum. He bites it. If you want to take it away, most of the dogs will bite you. Some don't. So dogs with more wisdom they don't. Just like people. You know. Some dogs are more wisdom than the other dogs.

Visualization - Refuge Tree

So now dissolve everything to emptiness. So from emptiness, then your visualization manifests. You visualize your father on one side and your mother on another side. So all sentient beings, friends and enemies, and all sentient being, all mother sentient beings right and left and behind you like ocean of sentient beings, endless, countless. All facing same direction as you. So in front of all of you, beautiful meadow, green, flat, green. In the middle of meadow, beautiful lake filled with most sacred water we call. Something likes 'Kan Lu' (nectar). In the middle of that lake, wish fulfilling tree. And huge tree with four branches; one coming this way, one growing that way, one growing that way, one growing behind and one trunk in the middle. You can call it the four branches or you can call it five branches, because the middle one is trunk, you know. And the central trunk, the central branch, is the Guru; all the gurus of the lineage. So top is Buddha Vajradhara. Buddha manifests in the form of Buddha Vajradhara. In the middle is Guru Vajradhara. Your guru manifests in the form of Buddha Vajradhara. In between, all the lineage masters until your guru. So in this lineage guru then Marpa's Guru is actually Maitripa. Because Marpa had many great masters during his three trips to India and spending twenty-one years in India , out of which sixteen years and seven months with his gurus receiving transmissions. He has many masters. And his main masters are Naropa and Maitripa. From Naropa he received the transmission of the Kagyu, that means the oral transmission which is known as Ka Shi Gyu Pa. The four mainstreams of Ka oral transmission and one of them is named as Maha Mudra. And from Maitripa he received many transmissions but he considered Maitripa particularly his Maha Mudra Ji-Kan-Sun-Shi (Vajra Guru). Okay. So now, but Tilopa and Naropa are also part of the lineage. So they are in the space. Here and there. Tilopa here and Naropa here; not in the Buddha Vajradhara to Guru Vajradhara kind of line, but it is in the space here and there, Tilopa and Naropa. And out of many great masters, one of his master is known as Khadroma Miru Key Gyen Chen that means Dakini who is adorned with ornament of human bones. And she is also his Maha Mudra master. But not in the. Not here. Not in the, you know. Not there. Not under refuge tree. And of course, the Maha Mudra teaching is the teaching of Buddha which is transmitted by great masters like Tilopa, Naropa, Maitripa etc. And the Maitripa's teaching is known as golden rosary.

Now the visualization of the masters all the orders this thangka is the most updated accurate thangka and I think it have sixteenth Gaylwa Karmapa also here. For that way it is most updated and complete thangka. And here the front branch is for the deity. So in this thangka the Khorlo Demchog and Dorje Pagmo, the Vajravarahi and Chakrasamvara in union, is practiced here. And surrounded by field of the our main Yidams. Actually our main Yidam of the lineage is Vajravarahi. The reason is although the Chakrasamvara is the king and Vajravarahi is the queen But Vajravarahi represents the wisdom and Chakrasamvara represents the method; So in our lineage Vajravarahi is which represents the wisdom is main deity because method is for what, method is to acquire wisdom; method is to awaken the primordial wisdom. Essence of all sentient being is primordial wisdom. Enlightenment is the full realization of the primordial wisdom; because of that, Vajravarahi is our main Yidam. Now the tree on the right, the branch on the right, that means the right of the refuge, not right of you. Right of the refuge is over here. Right of you over there. So right of the refuge tree which is facing you that is the Buddha, the Nirmanakaya Buddha. The Buddha, Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya, Svabhavikakaya is right on top on the lineage. But the Nirmanakaya Buddha, the Buddha Sakyamuni, is over there in the center. And who is surrounded by all the Buddha which is represented by Buddha of ten directions. So the branch which is behind, that is the Dharma, so all the teaching of Buddha the text. The Vinaya, Abhidharma Sutra and Tantra and all of the teachings of Buddha is in form of texts on the branch which is behind; grows behind. And in thangka you cannot draw. Therefore just symbolically, right side here and left side here few books shelves, you know, are shown. And we call it text style are shown here and that is just to symbolize; otherwise we don't know how to draw behind it, you know. Now the left of the refuge tree which is over there, which is your right but left of the refuge tree. On that all the Sangha and holy Sangha on top and ordinary Sangha underneath. But of course holy Sangha, ordinary Sangha the difference is the Bodhisattvas like Avalokitesvara and Manjushri they are considered holy Sangha, And then all the Arhats considered second to them. They are holy Sangha too. Very very holy. So center is Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvas surrounded by other seven Bodhisattvas which are altogether known as eight Bodhisattvas. So three main Arhants are depicted here in the middle Kungawo (Ananda). And then Ananda's right is Sariputra. And Ananda's left is Mongalputra. So they represent the eight Bodhisattvas represent all the Bodhisattvas. And these three Arhants represent all the Arhants. So now that is the refuge tree. And now the underneath the branches, below the branches facing toward you are all the Protectors. And two-arm Mahakala is in the middle, and then surrounded by all the other Protectors of the lineage. So two-arm Mahakala is our main protector. And then in the space above, then all the masters of all the lineages. Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana all the great masters. Like clouds. Space filled with them.

Starting Prostration

So in front of them, you stand up and then do the prostration and say the refuge prayer. So the first refuge prayer first prostration you can say the whole thing. So that is the full refuge prayer that you do for the first prostration. So I mean for each session each session began the whole. Then after that then you can start from 'Drn Chen Tsa Wa Dang Gyu Par Che Pai Pal Den La Ma Dam Pa......' or 'Pal Den La Ma Dam Pa......' It is the same thing. So most people start from'Pal Den La Ma Dam Pa......' because few words shorter. So of course at the beginning you will be singing very slowly, quite slowly. You doing prostration also slowly. You doing the saying the prayer also slowly because you are not used to it. And once you get used to it then you said quite fast. And you also do prostration quite fast. If you are really doing two hours of practice everyday, it would take about a week or ten days to get into that stage. Unless you are doing lots of exercise, if you are not exercising then first couple of days you will be quite painful. Every muscle could ache. If you are a little be older, and your joints will ache, too. But joint ache is a little bit more serious than muscle ache. Muscle ache once you build up and stretched then it goes away. Some people even get cramps. So after some time you're reciting pretty fast. You have to say quite relaxed. It's very nice, smooth and fast. Many people like to do it, say the prayer very slowly but do the prostration quite fast. Fast as they can and then when they get tired then they sit down and chant the prayer for more. And then again get up and do the prostration and when they get tired they sit down and chant recite the refuge prayer like that. Many people like to do that. It is quite good. Body is just like a kid. You can spoil it. Or you can discipline. If you discipline, you know, then you can do many many things. A little be difficult then you stop, you know. A little difficult then you rest, then it would be just like that. But don't do Kunfu prostration. I saw lots of people like to do that. You know. Most of them also have their heads down. They have a permanent bump here. I don't know why but maybe they like to show you. I don't know. Or it just individual habit, you know. When I taught, I taught quite forcefully you know. So that is my habit. The same way, when they do prostration maybe they do it forcefully is a habit. I will give you some very very simple advices. Also used square like the towel sort of to slide that it is also good. Sliding. But the best is thick cotton glove with fingers open. Three fingers open that is the best. You don't have to look for the pad, you know. It goes away.Open fingers you can count the mala very easy. It has to be quite thick and you must have quite few of them, if they wore out. So wooden floor is very good and good marble is also very good but plywood is no good. Plywood. After sometimes plywood wore out then it would pieces will stick into your skin. Then you will be busy, you know, and you can't do prostration for a couple of days. You have to go to medication. Of course I don't have to tell you but sometimes people don't know. So if you need a solid wood. Planks for prostration board put the plank this way. Not like that. I don't have to tell you but some people don't know. Those of you who have the soft live which most of you do. You know. Then you need pad, you know, like something in the middle like blanket or big towel folded one in the middle so that is for the knee for the ribs and all these. But if you are young and tough you know and also you are not so fragile you don't need those. Wood is good enough. So when you do the prostration, now you are putting your hands together that means you are totally totally submitting and devoted and dedicated. You put your hands together. OK? So you put on your head, forehead, it means you confess and purify all the negative karmas of your body for the countless life time and karmas that are created to your body for countless life time. And you are requesting for blessing of the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, Guru, Deity and Protector for your body. So same thing with the speech here, same thing with the mind here. And only three, one, two, three. I see some people do funny funny things like But one, two, three. Very simple. Not up down up down. And then, you bend down and you are totally on the ground full stretch of your body like this. And that means you totally dedicated and totally devoted to Three Jewels and Three Roots for your purification and their blessing. And for the benefit all the sentient beings to reach Buddhahood.

Concluding practice and dedication

And then when you wanted to stop your prostration session then you sit down, sit down. Then you say the Bodhisattva recitation, Bodhicitta, Bodhicitta recitation. It means until I attain the Buddhahood, I take refuge to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. That is the Bodhisattva refuge. So here, you are saying 'Just as all the past Buddhas and Bodhisattvas took Bodhicitta and practiced Bodhicitta same way, I take Bodhicitta and practice Bodhicitta.' That is taking the Bodhicitta. Bodhicitta means I wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all the sentient beings to attain Buddhahood. That is Bodhicitta. So Bodhisattva have many many levels, some are until all sentient beings reach Buddhahood, they don't want to reach Buddhahood. Some they want to reach Buddhahood, and then help all sentient beings to bring to Buddhahood. All different kind of Bodhisattva aspirations. All of them is the same Bodhisattva. After this you repeat three times. Refuge and Bodhicitta you refuge recite three times. Then there three more shaloka that is related to Bodhisattva, Bodhisattva Vow. And the first is the self rejoice, second is commitment, third is the rejoice to the others. Those one you saying that I became part of Buddha's family, you know, because I have taken Bodhicitta today. So detail is in the translation. And then the second one is you're saying you will do your best to practice Bodhicitta as a Bodhisattva so you will not contaminate the lineage of Bodhisattva. And the third is you invite all sentient beings to enjoy all of your merits and wisdom, because you dedicate everything for all sentient beings. So that is rejoice to the others. And so this recitation you do one time. After that there few more prayers which are wishing all sentient beings to have Bodhicitta. And who have Bodhicitta may their Bodhicitta become more deeper and more profound. And also wishing all the Buddhas, all the Bodhisattva to fulfill their aspiration. And also wishing all the Buddhas' activities would flourish for the benefit of all sentient beings etc. They are Bodhisattvas' prayers. There is couple of them. So that, all of that prayers you said only one time. Then the last prayer that you say is four limitless thoughts. So limitless compassion, may all sentient beings be from suffering and cause of suffering. And second is the limitless loving kindness. First one, sorry, first one is limitless loving kindness. That is may all sentient beings be happy and be with the cause of conditions of happiness. That is the first one. I got it mix up. Jam Pa Tse May. So the second one is the limitless compassion. May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the cause of conditions of suffering. The third one is limitless joy. That is may all sentient beings always remain happy and with the cause of happiness and no suffering at all. Four is limitless impartiality. That is all that loving kindness, compassion, and joy is for all sentient beings, impartial. So all of this you don't have to any extra visualization, except when you're taking the refuge and Bodhicitta. You're taking it from all the Buddhas and Bodhisattva and Three Jewels and Three Root which have there already so you're receiving it from them. Only that. There's no other visualization here. Four thoughts you say three times. Then now is the conclusion of prostration practice. So here all of the refuge, Three Jewels and Three Roots, which you visualize there, under the refuge tree, included the refuge tree everything dissolve into the Guru Vajradhara, and Guru Vajradhara dissolve into light, just dissolve into light and that light dissolve into you, just like this. And you and Guru Vajradhara which is embodiment of Three Jewels and Three Roots become unseparable. And with that blessing, with that sense of blessing, you try to remain in that state of meditation for sometime. Then when you arise a thought, you know normally you would feel that, for some time that are naturally there will be thought arise, then when that happen, then you dedicate the merits for the benefit of all the sentient beings. You can say regular short dedication prayer or you can say long dedication prayer. Long dedication prayer is like Maha Mudra Prayer which is quite long. The shortest one that means because of this merit, may I realize the Maha Mudra and may all sentient beings, may I be able to lead all sentient beings to the realization of Maha Mudra. That means Buddhahood same thing. O.K. So with that the refuge, prostration and Bodhicitta practice, the first preliminary practice is completed.

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