How to Practice Longchen Nyingtik

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Dola Jigme Kalzang

Deities of the Longchen Nyingtik

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Words of the Siddhas

How to Practice the Heart-Essence of the Vast Expanse[1]

by Dola Jigme Kalzang

With devotion I pay homage and take refuge at the unblemished lotus feet of our sole refuge, father and lord of siddhas, the king of Dharma! Please grant your blessings so that we fortunate disciples may bring our minds in harmony with the sacred Dharma.

To those of you who are my students, monastics and mantrikas alike, who have faith and strive for liberation, I shall impart some general advice on the essence of the oral instructions.

There are limitless gateways to the scriptural transmissions of the excellent teachings spoken by the blessed Buddha, yet they can all be summarized as the two categories of sūtra and tantra. The path of the sūtras is common to both the Lesser and Great Vehicles, while the path of mantra is a unique feature of the Great Vehicle. The Dharma teachings of the Great Vehicle, whether sūtra or mantra, are encapsulated in the three higher trainings, so they are precisely what we need.

The three higher trainings consist of the practices of discipline, meditation and wisdom. According to the sūtra path, there are limitless ways in which the three precious collections of teachings (Skt. tripiṭaka) explain these three trainings, and they may be known from other sources. Here I shall explain them in accordance with the meaning of the Unsurpassed Tantras, in a manner that is suitable for all, monastics and tantrikas alike.

In general, the foundation of the Vajrayāna‘s vinaya is to avoid the proscribed and natural misdeeds according to the vows of individual liberation, the bodhisattva vows and the vows of the Mantra Vehicle. Specifically, you should not transgress any of the vows related to the four empowerments, or what must be adopted or avoided in terms of meditation and post-meditation, food or the five things to be maintained. That is the higher training in discipline.

According to the intent of the father tantras, the three types of discipline are as follows: the discipline of refraining from negative activity is to bind your attachment to ordinary appearances (caused by habitual tendencies) as the mudrā of your special deity. The discipline of gathering virtue is to strive to increase the accumulation of merit through the generation phase and the accumulation of wisdom through the perfection phase. The discipline of benefitting beings is to strive to put the interdependent circumstances of skilful means which benefit beings and the teaching in place, such as the enlightened activities of pacifying, enriching, magnetizing and wrathfully subjugating.

Skilful means and wisdom are indivisible at all times during the stages of the generation and perfection phases. Take the crucial points of the conduct of the six transcendental perfections as the foundation: generosity consists of the offering practice with or without concepts; discipline is to carry out such practices unerringly; patience is the ability to accept any kind of hardship or internal or external suffering as a support for practice; diligence is to be unrelenting in whatever you undertake; meditative concentration is to focus one-pointedly on goals until they are accomplished; insight is to understand, experience and realize the way things are. Then, having established the framework of meditation with the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment, to understand the way things are with the view of the eighteen types of emptiness is the higher training in meditation.

According to the intent of the mother tantras, the three types of meditative absorption are as follows: the meditative absorption of ordinary beings is what is practiced by people like you, who have merely set out upon the path of mantra and who take aspiration as the path. The meditative absorption of perfect discernment occurs when understanding develops into experience. The meditative absorption of the tathāgatas occurs when, in one instant of reality, you recognize the faults of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa through examples, referents and signs, possess the stainless eye of Dharma, and actualize the great seal of empty bliss.

When the wisdom of the perfect nature—the way things abide on the absolute level, which is inconceivable and inexpressible—is actualized based on the guru's pith instructions and through the view of Trekchö, which lies beyond the conceptual mind, the reflections of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa of the dependent nature are brought into the expanse of the four visions of luminosity, and so the imputed nature’s habitual tendencies of delusion vanish within the primordial ground of basic space. That is the higher training in wisdom.

According to the intent of the non-dual tantras, the three types of wisdom are as follows. The wisdom of hearing occurs when the meaning is understood simply by listening to the spiritual instructions of an authentic guru. The wisdom that arises from contemplation occurs when, having assiduously analysed the meaning of what was taught, one’s understanding of interdependently originating phenomena deepens. The wisdom that arises from meditation occurs when the meaning of all these teachings is brought together through meditation on the ground of Trekchö and the path of Tögal, so that realization dawns from within, causing the signs of progress on the path to ripen externally.

If I were to explain this based on the great texts, it would be difficult for you to fathom. It will therefore be much more profound to follow the tradition of pith instructions. Whatever virtuous acts you do should be done with the three noble principles in mind. This is a vital and crucial point of the practice, so don’t neglect it!

As practitioners of the Great Vehicle, first take refuge in the Three Jewels and take as a foundation the three things to avoid, the three things to adopt and the three supplementary precepts. Then, contemplate how all compounded things are impermanent, how whatever is defiled entails suffering, how nirvāṇa is complete peace, and how all phenomena are in reality empty and devoid of self. These comprise the view of the four seals that are the hallmark of the Buddhist teachings, which are followed by the insiders. Knowing that both the view and the conduct of the outsiders—the tīrthikas—are very different indeed, and, from our own side, knowing the crucial points that prevent one from confusing what must be adopted and what must be avoided, one then proceeds to the actual practice, which has three parts.

1. Virtuous at the Beginning

For the virtuous beginning, there is the instruction on purifying the mind through the common preliminary practices. First, while contemplating the reasons why the freedoms and advantages are difficult to obtain, train in taking refuge and reciting the refuge formula one hundred thousand times, without confusing the words or the meaning, for one month.

Then, while familiarizing yourself with the reasons why the world and its inhabitants are impermanent, generate the mind set upon awakening one hundred thousand times, again without confusing the words or meaning, for one month.

Then, spend a month training your mind by recognizing the faults of saṃsāra. With an understanding of the truth of suffering, visualize and recite the mantra of Vajrasattva, the purifier of the karma and negative emotions which give rise to suffering, until signs appear. At least, recite the hundred-syllable mantra one hundred thousand times and the six-syllable mantra a million times.

Then, for one month familiarize yourself with the causes and effects of karma and train in what to adopt and what to avoid. In this way, you will cast far away the path of non-virtuous actions, the reality of the origin, which needs to be abandoned. Relying on the skilful means of the truth of the path through which one actualizes the truth of cessation, such as the ten virtuous actions [which need to be taken up], understand the eightfold path of the Noble Ones.[2] It is crucial that you strive single-pointedly in the practice of maṇḍala offering as a skilful means for gathering the accumulations [of merit and wisdom]. Offer at least one hundred thousand maṇḍalas.

Then, while contemplating the benefits of liberation, immerse yourself for one whole month—not including time spent on other forms of gathering the accumulations—in the preliminary, main and concluding sections of Chöd, the profound practice of the Kusāli. Wandering around haunted places and so on is only for those who have some warmth in the practices of generation and perfection and as a means to enhance realization; it is does not correspond to what is being explained here, and is therefore not to be applied in practice.

Then with a thorough understanding of how to rely on a spiritual friend, both mentally and in actuality, and while recalling the qualities of holy beings, meditate on guru yoga. Recite the following before the seven-branch prayer:

In order to attain awakening, I and all other sentient beings
Pay homage from the depths of our hearts
To all the victorious ones and their heirs,
Who abide in the infinite pure realms of the ten directions.

Connecting the words with their meaning, offer one hundred thousand prostrations. Immediately thereafter, recite the seven-branch prayer one hundred thousand times and, as is explained in the commentary The Application of Mindfulness,[3] the guru-siddhi mantra ten million times. Then, conclude by reciting Mahāyāna aspiration prayers and so on. This is the unerring tradition of our Omniscient Guru.

2. Virtuous in the Middle

Virtuous in the middle concerns the common instructions on the generation and perfection phases. The samayas of meditative equipoise connected to the vase empowerment are the stages of creation. They can be known from The Staircase to Akaniṣṭha.[4] The samayas of meditative equipoise connected to the secret empowerment are the practices of skilful means relying on one’s own body and the practices of prāṇāyāma. They can be known from The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel: The Scroll of the Aural Lineage for the Prāṇa-Based Perfection Stage of Bliss and Emptiness. The samayas of meditative equipoise connected to the third empowerment are the perfection phases of the two paths of skilful means and liberation relying on another person’s body. They can be known from The Concealed Meaning of the Path of Method called Buddhahood Without Meditation. All these belong to the gradual path and, as they must be explained at the right time, I shall not elaborate further here.

3. Virtuous at the End

Virtuous at the end concerns the instructions of the uncommon path of the Natural Great Perfection through which one ascertains the way things actually abide. Here we practice following the Yeshe Lama, the foundation and heart of all commentaries on the various tantras of the heart-essence pith instructions in the Land of Snows. For the preliminary practices there are the two sections of rushen.[5] After the first section, which is dealt with in the instruction manual, you should train according to the inner rushen. The alternation of the two types of physical purification and the four ways of purifying speech should be done according to the instruction manual, which explains their meaning completely. Regarding the purification of the mind, thoroughly search for where mind arises, where it remains and where it disappears to. No such place can be found. Rest in the state of natural ease beyond the identification of any agent who analyzes and become rejuvenated.

The main practices are Trekchö and Tögal. The view of Trekchö—the ground—is the natural face of the dharmakāya, the way things are. Unerring realization of the lamp of naturally arisen wisdom requires the simultaneous perfection of view, meditation, conduct and result through the path of the ‘four ways of leaving things as they are’.[6] And the special method for this is the path of the four visions.

For the practice of Tögal, in which luminosity appears outwardly, you need to understand the place of abiding, paths, gateways, objective-sphere, wind-energies, awareness, focal points, and so on. Through the postures and gazes, you will directly experience the true nature of awareness and easily discover primordial liberation. How the visions increase and diminish, as well as the signs and measures and the supplemental instructions can be found in the guidance manual.

In this day and age, most people hope that they will be liberated in the bardo,[7] and the crucial points that enable you to do so and which you should all be familiar with are as follows: here, in the bardo of this life, you must arrive at a definitive understanding through listening and contemplating, and therefore take to heart the meaning of the example of a swallow entering its nest. You should know the signs that occur during the bardos of the moment of death, dharmatā and becoming; what is confusion and what is liberation; and what you should engage in and what you should disengage from. You must also know the reasons behind them all. Then, when the time comes to put your knowledge into practice at the moment of death, you must clarify all that is not clear, as in the example of a young girl looking in a mirror; you must be fearless when facing the pure realm of the dharmatā as in the example of a child jumping into its mother's lap; and when the bardo of becoming dawns, you must definitely take to heart the pith instructions that explain how to avoid other places of rebirth and travel to a pure realm, as in the example of restoring a defective irrigation canal by inserting a spout.

All you who have met me and requested me to teach the Great Perfection should strive to put these instructions into practice; then your life will be meaningful. I beseech you, please hear me and take this to heart!

This was written by Dzogchen Lama Zhönnu Yeshe Dorje for the benefit of some of his own beginner disciples at Rongwö Ngakmang. Virtue!

| Translated by Han Kop, reviewed by Sean Price and edited by Barry Cohen, for the Longchen Nyingtik Project, 2022. With many thanks to Tulku Dawa and Khenpo Sonam Tsewang for their clarifications.


Tibetan Edition

'Jigs med skal bzang. “klong chen snying thig gi sngon 'gro gtong tshul grub pa'i zhal lung” in sde dge 'jigs med skal bzang sku phreng snga phyi'i gsung rtsom phyogs bsgrigs (BDRC W1KG6249). 1 vol. 4–8

Secondary Sources

Jigme Lingpa and Getse Mahapandita Tsewang Chokdrub. Deity, Mantra and Wisdom: Development Stage Meditation in Tibetan Buddhist Tantra, translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2007

Vidyadhara Jigmed Lingpa. Yeshe Lama, translated by Lama Chönam and Sangye Khandro. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2008.

Version: 1.2-20220401

  1. The Tibetan title refers specifically to the preliminaries (sngon 'gro) but we have omitted this here in order to reflect the content of the text, which covers the main practices as well.  ↩

  2. The eightfold path consists of correct view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration.  ↩

  3. The Application of Mindfulness: Instructions of the Unique Great Perfection Preliminaries of the Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse, by Jigme Lingpa  ↩

  4. Jigme Lingpa, Staircase to Akaniṣṭha: Instructions on the Generation Phase of Deity Practice (bskyed rim lha'i khrid kyi rnam par bzhag pa 'og min bgrod pa'i them skas).  ↩

  5. i.e., the outer and inner rushen.  ↩

  6. Tib. cog bzhag bzhi  ↩

  7. What follows is a presentation of the four bardos: the natural bardo of this life (rang bzhin skye ba'i bar do), the painful bardo of dying ('chi kha gnad gcod kyi bar do), the luminous bardo of dharmatā (chos nyid 'od gsal gyi bar do) and the karmic bardo of becoming (srid pa las kyi bar do).  ↩