Counsel to Chöying Wangmo

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Khenchen Ngawang Palzang

Khenchen Ngawang Palzang

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Counsel to Chöying Wangmo[1]

by Khenchen Ngawang Palzang

On the crown of your indigo tresses,
On the pollen bed of an open lotus,
Is our only father, no different from Drimé Özer—[2]
Sun of the Teachings,[3] please give us shelter!

Dear student,[4] if in your heart you long to be in tune with the Dharma,
It won’t do to talk a big game about all your plans.
What will you get from being a blustering blowhard?

Study the workings of that mind of yours well,
And whenever a toxic thought comes up,
Don’t let it roam freely; rely on antidotes.

Here on the level of ordinary people,
Inner afflictions are inevitable.[5]
Even so, it’s important to cut through each one as it arises.
Whatever kind of affliction rears its head,
Its instant antidote is to recognize its emptiness.
This is taught to be the supreme meditation,
But if you’re not there yet, you can meditate, for example,
On repugnance to remedy lust, love to remedy hostility,
And the categories of interdependence to remedy your benightedness.[6]

In short, whatever bad thought comes up,
Immediately recognize it, and,
Cutting through whatever you encounter, let it go.

Recognize even your neutral activities,[7]
Like crafts, and so on,
And make of them a path of virtue.

To all the holy Dharma’s contemplative practices,
Give yourself over with genuine trust
And steel yourself with irreversible faith.
You’ve got to gain conviction in the Three Jewels.
When you lay your own mind bare to yourself,
If you are not ashamed in the gaze of your guru, deity, Three Jewels,
Vajra brothers and sisters, or yourself,
Others may criticize you, but you really have nothing to worry about.

Against insidious thoughts that cling to this life’s experiences,
Apply the four thoughts that turn the mind.[8]

In each moment of working on your attitude,
Staying within the lines of
Mindfulness, vigilance, and precaution
Is the practice of Noble Beings.[9]

Without thinking that the foundational reflections that turn your mind
Are unimportant or arbitrary,
Train your mind in virtue.

Having investigated the harms of your mind’s afflictions,
Knowing your own faults,
If you don’t tame your own mind,
Others might bring you a bit to heel, but this will lay the ground for conflict.

Think how, no matter what you do here in saṃsāra,
All you feel is pain
And there’s no chance of finding some breakaway happiness.
Train that mind of yours again and again
In the genuine heart of sadness and renunciation.

The scope of the omniscient ones’ vision
Embraces the infallible field of karmic causation.
Look deep into your mind
At the minutiae of bad and good to be avoided and done.
If a single, subtle misstep,
Will land you in eons of anguish,
Then with all the bad you’ve done through beginningless saṃsāra,
How can you even talk about reaching a happy state?

Don’t spoil your mind,
Hanging on the lofty jargon of emptiness.

The foundation and support of all positive qualities,
The treasury of teachings on the path and its fruits,
Is the spiritual mentor who helps you on the path
And whom you should please in the three ways.[10]

The difference between a buddhist and a non-buddhist
Is a difference in refuge; in what they depend on.
It is important that you take refuge with confidence, wholeheartedly,
In the rare and exalted Three Jewels—
The teacher, the path, and your companions on the path.
Other than these, there is no refuge
From the dreadful and disturbing places
In the wasteland of saṃsāra’s woe.

Decisive refuge is the one true treasury.
Your own mother and father in this world,
Your own relatives, friends, and companions—
They are fetters fixing you to the appearances of this life.
Be wise to the futility of depending on them.

Give your entire life to Dharma.[11]
If it doesn’t suffuse your mind
There’s little point in more spiritual pursuits.
Geshe Putowa[12] said that
Foremost of all teachings
Are the contemplations of death and bodhicitta—
Let these two order your consciousness;[13]
They allow you to attain omniscient buddhahood
For the benefit of all beings who have been your mothers.
Train your mind from all sides
In the mind’s most marvelous feature,
This precious bodhicitta.

There are those without it, insincere practitioners,
Noble in bearing and assiduous in practice on the outside,
But whose creation and completion practices have no heart.
Do they not resemble zombies?

Kye ma! These days, in these degenerate times,
People expect to find the Vinaya in the color of robes;
They mistake hypocrisy for bodhicitta;
And exhibitionism for the practices of creation and completion.[14]
Don’t be like such charlatans.

Never forget to imagine the exemplary guru
Above the crown of your head.
If, with conviction and intense devotion,
You sing a yearning song to invoke the sacred promise
Of that true embodiment of all sources of refuge,
Their blessings and compassion will gather around you like clouds.
Meditative experiences and realizations, and the qualities of the paths and levels,[15]
Will develop in you like the waxing moon.

This pure devotion, sufficient in itself,
Is the source[16] of the Great Perfection’s view, meditation, and conduct.
Buddha Vajradhara praises it
Above all the paths’ many meditations.

My dear child, in the kingdom of unborn dharmakāya
The vital heart-essence of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa—[17]
Your true guru—
Is beyond meeting and parting.

I am pristine awareness in the form of an illusion,
An ultimate, spontaneously arising form[18]
Suffused with the supreme of all aspects.[19]
Pray to me from the bottom of your heart!
Spiritual guides are deities reflecting the nature of reality.
Pray to the perfect dharmakāya guru
Without childishly fixating
On what’s near or far or seemingly real.
Anyone who practices with devotion—
I am always there for them.
Students with merit are blessed.
Sublime and more common siddhis rain down on them.

In light of all this, if you hold to the life-force of devotion[20]
And practice unceasingly to merge with the guru,
Then, as you integrate harsh and difficult conditions,
It is certain that your path will become authentic.

Don’t neglect the great books on the foundational practices;[21]
Keep abandoning distractions and meditate
On the uncommon practices.[22]

Mind itself is the naked character of being—aware and empty.
Unsoiled by subtle or gross thoughts,
It is self-reposed, uncontrived, naked, and vivid.
Look into plain consciousness left free.[23]
With the threefold motionlessness,[24]
Meditate within the scaffold of the fourfold freely resting[25]
That are the enlightened perspective’s great channels.
Always exert yourself in the practice
Of self-reposed absorption in the innate nature.

How does “emptiness” help anything? It’s a mental construct.
Appearances harm nothing; they are dharmakāya’s dynamic energy.
In the grand single taste of all things,
Savor this nature without rejecting, accepting, hoping, and doubting.

Whether your mind wanders, or whether you experience stillness or stirring—it doesn’t matter.
As free as sketches on water,
Naturally arising, naturally free, the limitations of thoughts fall away.
Since everything that stirs in mind is empty, savor its voidness![26]

The foundational practices up to the main practice
I have fully explained to you.
Don’t be negligent. With conscious awareness,
Train until there is certainty in your heart.
Don’t get distracted; pour yourself into practice.
At times when you’re anguished,
Only the Dharma and the guru
Can give you refuge and protection.

Now that you have all the favorable conditions you need,
Commit yourself earnestly to the holy Dharma.
Don’t be proud of the prestige
Of heritage or wealth. Be unassuming.
Don’t be naïve and immature;
Carry yourself with honor.
Don’t let a superficial view of emptiness
Overshadow the infallibility of karmic cause and effect. Mind every detail.
Do not think that love, compassion, and bodhicitta
Are of little importance. Guard them in your mindstream!

When it comes to the illusory seductions of this life’s appearances,
You should spurn the eight trivialities[27] as you would a corpse on the road.
The key point of the practices of view, meditation, and conduct
Is to subdue afflictions with antidotes.

Otherwise, empty talk about the sūtras and tantras,
Is just the prattle of parrots.

Be the judge of your own mind,
And always keep your mindstream clean.

Previously, you trained well
In the beautiful words of the Omniscient One’s lineage.[28]
That is why you, the illustrious lady Chöying Wangmo,
Possessed of the four wheels,[29] have now asked me for advice.

In response, this was offered by Pema Ledrel Tsel
Whose life has passed him by in distraction
And who bears the semblance of a spiritual mentor who is supposed to help others.

Through this virtue, may obstacles on the path to enlightenment
Be cleared away for beings in their infinitude.
I pray that they may have every favorable circumstance,
And that the precious teachings of the victorious ones
And the eloquent words of the omniscient guru[30]
Flourish in a hundred directions!

Sarvadā kalyaṃ.

| Translated by Joseph McClellan with editorial assistance from Ninjyed N.T., 2023


Tibetan Sources

mkhan chen ngag gi dbang po. "mkhan chen ngag gi dbang pos chos dbyings dbang mo la gdams pa." In mkha' 'gro'i chos mdzod chen mo. Lhasa: Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang, 2017. Vol. 52: 349–353

mKhan po ngag dga'. "chos dbyings dbang mo la gdams pa." In gsung ʼbum ngag dbang dpal bzang. Chengdu: s.n., 1999. BDRC MW22946_501D97. Vol. 2: 51–58

Secondary Sources

Dodrupchen Jigme Tenpe Nyima. “Advice for Hor Özer.” Translated by Adam Pearcey., 2017.

_____ “Advice for Palseng.” Translated by Adam Pearcey., 2015.

Jigmed Lingpa. Yeshe Lama: From the heart Essence of the Vast Expanse of the Great Perfection, A Practice Manual for the Stages of the Path of the Original Conqueror. Translated by Lama Chönam and Sangye Khandro. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2008.

Khamtrul Rinpoche III, Ngawang Kunga Tenzin. The Royal Seal of Mahāmudrā: Volume One; A Guidebook for the Realization of Coemergence. Translated by Gerardo Abboud. Boston: Snow Lion, 2014.

Kongtrul, Jamgön. The Treasury of Knowledge: Book Eight, Part Three; The Elements of Tantric Practice; A General Exposition of the Process of Meditation in the Indestructible Way of Secret Mantra. Translated by the Kalu Rinpoche Translation Group. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2008.

Kretschmar, Andreas. Khenpo Kunpal’s Commentary on Shantideva’s Entering the Conduct of the Bodhisattvas, vol. 1. Andreas Kretschmar, 2004. Accessed Oct. 21, 2022.

Martin, Dan. A History of Buddhism in India and Tibet: An Expanded Version of the Dharma’s Origins Made by the Learned Scholar Deyu. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2022.

_____ . “Tibetan Vocabulary.” Accessed Oct. 21, 2022.

Ngawang Pelzang. A Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher. Translated by Dipamkara in collaboration with Padmakara Translation group. Boston: Shambhala, 2004.

_____ . Wondrous Dance of Illusion. Boulder: Shambhala, 2014.

Patrul Rinpoche. “Guide to the Stages and Paths of the Bodhisattvas.” Translated by Adam Pearcey., 2007. Accessed Oct. 22, 2022.

_____ . The Words of My Perfect Teacher. Translated by Padmakara Translation group. Boston: Shambhala, 1998.

RigpaWiki. “Twellve Links of Dependent Origination.” Accessed Oct. 21, 2022.

Trungpa, Chögyam. The Future Is Open: Good karma, Bad Karma, and Beyond Karma. Boulder: Shambhala, 2008.

_____ The Rain of Wisdom. Translated by the Nālandā Translation Committee. Boston: Shambhala, 1980.

Tsele Natsok Rangdrol. Circle of the Sun: A Clarification of the Most Excellent of All Vehicles, The Secret and Unexcelled Luminous Vajra Essence. Translated by Erik Pema Kunsang. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1990.

Windischgraetz, Michaela and Rinzin Wangdi. “The Black-Slate Edict of Punakha Dzong.” Thimphu: JSW Law Publishing, 2019.

Version: 1.1-20231122

  1. This Chöying Wangmo is listed among Ngawang Palzang's disciples as Jetsun Choying Wangmo in Wondrous Dance of Illusion (Ngawang Palzang 2014, p. 219). No further information about her is provided, and it is a common name for a woman. Judging from the instructions he gives her at the end of the text, she is clearly a student he values and respects, but it does not sound like she was a lama in her own right and may have been a practitioner from the aristocratic class.  ↩

  2. Longchen Rabjam Drimé Özer.  ↩

  3. His root guru, Nyoshul Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, 1829–1901. The last two terms in his name mean “sun of the teachings.”  ↩

  4. The term used is bu (“son”), but this can easily be an abbreviation of bu mo (“daughter”). Thus, care should be taken not to assume the gender of the term. The term’s affectionateness is of first important, so often neutral terms like “dear student” or “my dear” are more appropriate.  ↩

  5. Here, “inner afflictions” translates the common term nyon mongs (kleśa; “afflictions”): (1) unseeing, (2) anger, (3) pride, (4) desire, (5) jealousy. “Inner” is added just to fill out the meter a bit.  ↩

  6. Interdependence (rten 'brel) is synonymous with “dependent arising/origination” as explained in the doctrine of the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination. Understanding this doctrine is the remedy to benightedness or stupidity (gti mug), which is sometimes used as a synonym for ignorance/unseeing (ma rig pa).  ↩

  7. “Neutral” for lung ma bstan pa—lit. “not addressed in the scriptures” in the sense that some ordinary activities are not particularly good or bad on their own but depend on other factors to become good or bad.  ↩

  8. The Four Thoughts/Reflections That Turn the Mind (blo ldog rnam bzhi) are essential contemplations for anyone seeking to be a sincere practitioner. They are always included in the “outer preliminaries” section of ngöndro (sngon 'gro) or preliminary practices. They are extended contemplations on (1) the opportunity afforded by a human birth replete with the ten freedoms and eight advantages; (2) the impermanence of life; (3) the defects of saṃsāra; (4) the principles of cause and effect. See the Khenpo’s own discussion of these in Ngawang Palzang, Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher, pp. 17–82.  ↩

  9. These three terms have distinct subtle meanings. “Mindfulness” (dran pa) is presence of mind, a mind that does not drift away from the objects it’s engaged with to flutter about. “Vigilance” (shes bzhin) is the mind on alert to protect and re-assert its mindfulness. “Precaution/carefulness” (bag yod) has an ethical meaning; it is the mindful and vigilant mind that is heedful of right and wrong as it engages with the world. rkya bar nas is explained by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche as "to manoeuver between the boundary" or between (bar) straight lines (rkya).  ↩

  10. The Three Ways of Delighting/Pleasing the Guru (mnyes pa gsum). In ascending order of importance, these are to please the guru with (1) material support, (2) service, (3) sincerely applying the teachings to your own mind.  ↩

  11. “Give your entire life to Dharma” renders the famous idiom rang mgo nyi ma chos kyis thon/bton. Khenpo Chöga explains, “The phrase ‘spend your time with dharma practice’ [rang mgo nyi ma chos kyis bton] means ’as long as the sun is shining on one’s head, spend your time with the dharma’ [rang gi mgo la dus tshod yod pa chos la 'bad stsol btang dgos]. Atiśa said that life is short and the fields of knowledge so many that one cannot possibly know them all. Therefore, as we do not know how much lifespan remains to us, we should not even try to study everything but rather should use our time well. Atiśa advises that we should be like the swan, said to be able to separate milk from water. Just as swans extract milk from water, practitioners should be able to extract the most essential points of practice from the vast teachings of the dharma” (Kretschmar, Drops of Nectar, 439).  ↩

  12. Putowa (or Potowa) Rinchen Sel (1027–1105), one of the three main students of Dromtönpa, who was Atiśa’s main disciple.  ↩

  13. A loose rendering of gnyis po 'di la 'du shes (“two + these + to + perceive”). Alternative, even looser renderings could be, “[always] see things through the filter of these two” or “make these two indelible parts of your consciousness/perception.” We are unable to find this quote in the Kadam literature; it is likely a paraphrase.  ↩

  14. “Tantric practice is divided into two phases, the development stage and the completion stage. Lochen Dharmaśrī explains, “To summarize, the development stage involves transforming impure appearances into pure ones and meditating on the maṇḍala circle. In the completion stage, the aim is to realize the wisdom of bliss–emptiness.” The latter, he continues, can be divided further into two approaches, the conceptual completion stage and nonconceptual completion stage. He writes, “In this stage, one either meditates conceptually on the energies, channels, and essences, or nonconceptually by absorbing oneself in reality… Ju Mipham summarizes this phase as follows, “All the various forms of completion stage practice bring about the manifest appearance of pure wisdom by bringing the karmic energies into the central channel, though this may be brought about either directly or indirectly” (Dharmachakra Translation Committee, Deity, Mantra, and Wisdom, p. 173).  ↩

  15. The stages/levels and paths of the bodhisattvas. The Five Paths are (1) the path of accumulation, (2) joining, (3) seeing, (4) meditation, (5) no more learning. For an introduction to these and the more complicated Ten Levels, see Patrul, “Guide to the Stages and Paths of the Bodhisattvas.”  ↩

  16. The term here, gnas, has a rich range of meanings including “source,” “arena,” “environment,” “sacred site.”  ↩

  17. srid zhi—A phrase meaning all the possibilities of saṃsāric existence and nirvāṇa, the state of peace.  ↩

  18. “Spontaneously arising” or “form born co-emergently.” The Tibetan term lhan skyes or lhan cig tu skyes pa means “born together at one time,” and it is mostly used in Dzogchen and Mahāmudrā discourses when describing the simultaneity of a given thing’s apparent aspect and its empty aspect.  ↩

  19. rnam pa kun gyi mchog ldan dang ldan pa (Skt. Sarvākāravaropeta)—“An important technical term referring to the aspects of the sambhogakāya deities in their complete splendor and glory” (Trungpa, Rain of Wisdom, p. 369). More specifically, these are known as the Seven Aspects of Union (kha sbyor yan lag bdun ldan): “These seven aspects define the virtues of the sambhogakāya buddhas. According to Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, these are the following: ‘Whatever manifestations of realms, palaces, and forms there are, peaceful and wrathful qualities, they do not exist on a gross level. They are forms of śūnyatā endowed with all the supreme qualities. Therefore, they are known as possessing the aspect of being without self nature. The mind of those buddhas are completely filled with the wisdom of unchanging nondual bliss-emptiness. Therefore, they are known as possessing the aspect of union. Their body, speech, and mind are eternally filled with the taste of great bliss, free from increase and decrease. Therefore, they are known as possessing the aspect of great bliss. In the realm and palace, none of the chief and retinue, devas and devīs, have ever known suffering. They are completely endowed with all the good qualities of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa Therefore, they are known as possessing the aspect of complete enjoyment. Their wisdom of great bliss is free from meditation and postmeditation, neither increases nor decreases, and is without change or cessation. Therefore, they are known as possessing the aspect of freedom from interruption. As for themselves, they achieved such virtues, but through compassion, they eternally care for confused sentient beings. Therefore, they are known as possessing the aspect of having a mind completely filled with great compassion. Their buddha activity tames others at all times in all directions throughout the three times. Therefore, they are known as possessing the aspect of continuity’ ” (Trungpa. Rain of Wisdom, p. 342).  ↩

  20. This is not a literal rendering of the Tibetan idiom srog la bzung. The literal “seize the life-force” is awkward in English and our “drink the lifeblood” better conveys the essential meaning.  ↩

  21. This is most likely an exhortation to study and reflect on Patrul Rinpoche’s The Words of My Perfect Teacher and Khenpo Ngaga’s own commentary on it: A Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher.  ↩

  22. The “uncommon practices” here refers to the inner, or extraordinary preliminary practices (thun mong ma yin pa'i sngon 'gro). These are refuge, bodhicitta, Vajrasattva, maṇḍala offering, guru yoga, and offering the body. For a discussion of each of these, see Khenpo Ngawang Palzang’s Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher, p. 91–280. The outer, or common preliminaries (thun mong gi sngon 'gro), are the Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind—contemplations of (1) precious human birth, (2) impermanence, (3) the defects of saṃsāra, (4) karmic cause and effect—as well as contemplations of the benefits of liberation and how to follow a spiritual teacher.  ↩

  23. “Plain consciousness” translates the important (usually mahāmudrā) term tha mal gyi shes pa, most often translated as “ordinary mind.” We feel this translation risks being misunderstood as slightly pejorative when this term, in this context, is wholly positive. Moreover, specifically in Dzogchen, there is a discourse about distinguishing between [pure] awareness (rig pa) and ordinary mind (sems). In that latter context, “ordinary mind” has a negative connotation of being unenlightened. (See Dodrupchen, “Advice for Palseng” and “Advice for Hor Özer”). Regarding “ordinary mind” which we translate as “plain consciousness,” the Third Khamtrul Rinpoche writes, “What is called “the naked ordinary mind” (tha mal gyi shes pa rjen pa), uncorrected and unaltered, is something a person inherently has from the time of being a child not yet caught up in thinking. One has reached that very state, and there is no need to involve oneself conceptually in trying to improve or change it. There is no need to cleanse the flaws of contamination by the stains of temporary deluded concepts or engage in purifications (Khamtrul, The Royal Seal of Mahāmudrā, 289).  ↩

  24. “Threefold motionlessness” (mi g.yo gsum), or or “three unmoving faculties.” The Kalu Rinpoche Translation Group explains, “The three unmoving faculties (mi g.yo gsum ldan) are those of body, speech, and mind. The first, the body unmoving (lus mi g.yo ba), refers mainly to the eyes, held in a relaxed and natural way, focused in space at a level above the eyebrows, neither too open nor closed. one assumes the meditation posture and abandons all other physical activities. For the second, unmoving speech (ngag mi g.yo ba), one applies the essential points regarding speech as explained in the instructions of the three isolations. For the third, unmoving mind (yid mi g.yo ba), one applies the essential points regarding mind in accordance with the instructions of the three isolations. one focuses the mind sharply on the obscurity of space at the level where the eyes are focused, and remains without thoughts [a summary of Tāranātha’s Meaningful to Behold: Manual of Instructions on the Indestructible Yoga’s Profound Path, ff. 11b7-12b3]” (Kalu Rinpoche Translation Group, The Elements of Tantric Practice, 336n8).  ↩

  25. cog bzhag rnam bzhi. Sangye Khandro and Lama Chönam translate these as “four modes of placement.” In Yeshe Lama, Jigmé Lingpa explains these in the following way: “(a) Placement in the mountainlike view: After realizing the true nature—free of thoughts—as it is, remain in the naturally clear, great awareness that is not subject to mental efforts, grasping, or the usage of intentional meditation antidotes (against concepts]. (b) Oceanlike meditation: Sit in the lotus posture. Look at space in a state of openness. Avoid grasping at the perceptions of the six consciousnesses. Clear your cognition like the ocean free of waves. (c) Skill in activities: Abruptly relax your three doors of body, speech, and mind. Break free of the cocoon of view and meditation. Just maintain your clear, naked wisdom naturally. (d) Unconditional result: Let the five mental objects remain naturally as they are. Then natural clarity arises vividly within you” (Jigmed Lingpa, Yeshe Lama, 6). Erik Pema Kunsang translates them as the “fourfold freely resting.” Tsele Natsok Rangdrol writes, “At all times, as the core of your practice, exert yourself in [1] The view of the freely resting mountain – the unchanging realization of decisiveness in the state of space and awareness [2] The meditation of the freely resting ocean – the inseparability of appearance and emptiness beyond the concepts of fixation. [3] The instruction of the freely resting awareness – dissolving the covers of habitual tendencies and deluded clinging through imprisoning the chain of awareness-display… [4] The practice of the freely resting experience – nondistraction from the nature of the directly perceived wisdom [display] which remains ungoverned by dullness and sluggishness, thought diffusion and agitation, and which is unfettered by the experiences of bliss, clarity and nonthought” (Tsele, Circle of the Sun, 52).  ↩

  26. “Voidness” translates gtan med (“absolute non-existence”), which in philosophical literature is something to be very critical and wary of. In this line, however, Khenpo Ngaga, perhaps playing a little with language, tells Chöying Wangmo to sustain and protect the recognition of the complete unreality of all mental stirrings.  ↩

  27. “Eight trivialities” here stands for the “eight worldly concerns/dharmas,” ('jig rten gyi chos brgyad), the false paths of basing one’s happiness on gain and loss, feeling good and not good, praise and censure, and recognition and insignificance.  ↩

  28. The Omniscient One here is Longchenpa.  ↩

  29. The Four Wheels ('khor lo bzhi) are favorable conditions for a spiritual practitioner: (1) living in a favorable country (thun pa'i yul na gnas pa); (2) being able to follow a great being (skyes chen bsten pa); (3) having good aspirations (rang nyid legs smon); (4) having accumulated a store of merit (sngon bsod nams bsags pa).  ↩

  30. Longchenpa  ↩

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