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The Four Foundational Practices Lama Ole Nydahl The value of the foundational practices in Diamond Way Buddhism

cannot be overestimated. They work with the causes for one's troubles and remove the tendencies that prevent beings from recognizing and expressing their enlightened nature. Our main hindrance here is mind's tendency to cling to impressions that are constantly changing. Even though one was not angry before and will think of something else in five minutes, mind still experiences anger as real, acts upon it through body or speech, and thus creates fresh causes for future suffering. Being caught in this involuntary cycle is our usual state. We don't have the freedom to chose what we want to experience. Instead of this confusion, the Buddha wants us to experience the timeless essence that lies within us and has been there since beginningless time: mind's open, clear and limitless space. Mind has no form, colour, weight or size. It is radiantly clear and full of abilities, and has no limitations. As it recognizes itself, fearlessness, spontaneous joy and active compassion are always present. To bring about this state, free of difficulties and pain, Buddha taught different methods. For the rather fearful, he explained in detail the law of cause and effect and gave the vows of individual liberation. They allow one to avoid future trouble. For people with an appetite for mastering the world, he taught mainly the Great Way on compassion and wisdom, and for those with spontaneous confidence in their Buddha nature, he taught the extraordinary methods of the Diamond Way. They work from an absolute level and allow one to experience timeless truth directly. The most important Buddhist realization for each group is that of the emptiness of all things, that everything is changing and impermanent. Everything appears out of conditions, changes with them and then dissolves again. Yet, not only our way of experiencing things but also the objects themselves depend on our state of mind. This emptiness of all things can be understood incorrectly or correctly. It is wrong if emptiness is understood only intellectually and appears as "nothingness" or a "black hole", while the right understanding of everything being interdependent and having no essence of its own gives rise to freedom and limitless space. To reach this understanding, two kinds of accumulations are needed. The first is a gathering of massive positive and useful impressions in one's store consciousness - unwavering, solid and powerful impressions on which one can always fall back. Since it will take time before mind stops clinging to its impermanent impressions, also on a relative level it is better they be pleasant. Pleasant impressions bring about spontaneous confidence and a natural inclination to look within.

The second kind of accumulation is the accumulation having to do with wisdom. This wisdom is not the practical, worldly kind of wisdom, which is acquired in school or college. It is not about loading one's consciousness with more information. Instead, this wisdom helps mind become effortless and spontaneous by freeing it of concepts. It extends the freshness of the initial moment of experience, the state before events are labelled and entered into a system of likes and dislikes. One will thus act effortlessly and from intuition. The buildup of positive impressions relaxes mind and leads to human growth, and one understands ever better the importance of any useful action. Inner richness, the ability to perceive situations without filters, and one's ability to rest in whatever is there interlace. This state is the exact aim of the Four Foundational Practices. The Tibetan Buddhist lineages use various forms of these meditations at different stages of their students development. The ninth Karmapa Wangchug Dorje taught this step-by-step way when devotion had arisen. Its goal is the "Great Seal", or Mahamudra, meaning enlightenment. Chag Chen Ngondro, the Tibetan name for these exercises, means "preparation for ultimate realization" , where one's innate Buddhahood provides the basis, the way, and the goal. Being tantric or "total", these exercises involve body, speech, and mind. One lets feedback forms of energy and light appear like holograms in front or above, repeats their vibration (mantra), and finally dissolves with them into a state of naked awareness, which is the ultimate grave to all neuroses. Through their influence, everything already unfolds in a pure land, and mind's spontaneous wisdom can unfold ever more. The wisdom developed through the Foundational Practices is not superficial, due to the 111,111 repetitions each. It leads to the absolute state of the Great Seal, the realization of the joyful and self-liberating nature of all inner and outer phenomena. The point of the first and somewhat dramatic exercise, the taking of Refuge with prostrations and one's development of the Enlightened Mind, is to purify the meditator's inner energy channels and to build their strength and confidence. It is a very powerful physical practice and especially increases one's stock of good impressions. The second exercise, the 100-syllable mantra of the Diamond Mind meditation, produces both merit and wisdom. On a relative level, mind still needs to be purified from negative impressions, but moments of insight and oneness are experienced more frequently and also tend to express themselves in dreams. Life is till very personal, but instances of clarity gradually increase. The third part of the Foundational Practices, the Mandala Offerings, brings about both wisdom and positive impressions. Constantly building up perfect universes and knowing them to be mind's free play, while still giving everything to the Buddhas, creates massive inner richness based on space itself. One understands that receiver, gift and donor are all empty of any own nature and thus essentially one. The dissolving phase here becomes longer, and the inseparability of subject, object and action becomes ever more obvious.

The last exercise, the Meditation on the Lama, mostly focuses on the accumulation of wisdom. It is a meditation on one's lama, here Karmapa. Its core is known from the Guru Yoga Meditation on the 16th Karmapa and is preceded by many wishes to the lineage and several precious Great Seal explanations. Employed after the purification achieved by the first two exercises, and enriched by the Mandala Offerings, the last practice makes possible a timeless identification of one's lama's body, speech and mind with one's own. Devotion here opens being's minds; they receive the blessing of the lama's lineage and may experience true oneness. This accumulation of useful impressions may thus be observed throughout the entire Foundational Practices or Ngondro. In the beginning, the focus is on purification, on opening up and positive actions. Later, one's potential identification with enlightenment gains ever more importance. If we trust our Buddha Nature, and are willing to be here, now, it is possible to bring this inner diamond to perfect radiance. For those who have never worked with such methods, or only meet with them now, so many repetitions may sound quite mechanical. The best way to unveil one's Buddha Nature, however, is through the power of repetition. Even the most intelligent thoughts, which we consider of greatest meaning now, are like air bubbles; they burst instantly and cannot follow us when we die. Only that which forms a strong habit in our mind, which touches our totality by pointing to mind itself, is of help beyond the grave. During the process of dying, essential enlightenment energies awaken. If at that time we know Buddhas, yidams and protectors, we will recognize them and melt into their Pure Lands. Troubles appear from habitual negative attitudes; the repetition of liberating methods serves as their antidote. Through such methods, the veils hiding mind's essence are removed, and a steady source of power manifests. These preparations for the Great Seal are thus a solid step on one's way to enlightenment. The practices are repeated a hundred thousand times (one counts 111,111) and aim directly at recognizing mind's true nature. They cut through all illusions. When people first start meditating, even the intellectually well trained discover it to be difficult. Even though one's body may remain in one place, and one can stay aware of impressions which come and go, one's mind still becomes either restless or dull when directed towards itself. Just sitting in one place is not meditation. Therefore, in Tibet, calm-abiding meditation, called shine in Tibetan or shamata in Sanskrit, was only used in Diamond Way practice after the Four Foundational Practices, and only in rare exceptions concurrently. Having witnessed the demise of the Dharmadhatu groups and knowing the danger of the wrong, or "white wall" (not radiant diamond), kind of shine, I strongly advise doing the Ngondro first.

In Diamond Way meditation, we use our totality, practicing with body, speech and mind. If mind wanders during meditation, at least our speech stays with the mantra, and if this also fails, at least the feeling of the beads in one's hand keeps some part of our totality with the practice. Doing the prostrations first is reasonable. It puts us in the realm of true values, and the other steps follow logically. Though there is some debate over their sequence, all four practices were surely taught by the Buddha himself 2500 years ago. When the high culture of Indian Buddhism, with its monasteries, art, literature, and important places of meditation, was destroyed by Muslim invasions between 800 and 1000 A.D., many holders of the effective "tantric" Buddhist practices fled across the mountains into Tibet, where they stayed until the Chinese invasion in 1959. Through trade and other North-South contacts between the Silk Route and India, the first Buddhist influences had already reached Tibet around 600 A.D. The shamanism of the indigenous Bon religion had already split and the "white" Bon had integrated the ideas of enlightenment and karma. Since then, the Ngondro has been an integral part of Tibetan Buddhism. Some Tibetans have done the Foundational Practices twenty-five times, and sitting among them is like being surrounded by rocks. They are simply solid and don't need to prove anything. Kalu Rinpoche said it like this: "A sock doesn't get clean if you dip it in water just once." In the West, we gain much of the one-pointedness achieved through these exercises through the competitiveness in our schools and colleges. We have a better ability for concentration than those who are intellectually untrained, and we are immune against many of the temptations to which people in the East are today very susceptible. Therefore, surely most of us will not need twenty-five repetitions, but one or two do a lot of good. During the Foundational Practices, the greatness of the refuge becomes part of one's life. If one is able to open up to one's teacher's blessing, any work with mind becomes very productive and one may even "hitch a ride" much of the way. This "growth through identification" is a trademark of the Kagyu lineages, but one can only maintain its power through practicing. As already mentioned, because the foundational exercises are neither easy nor quickly completed, the wish to meditate directly on mind often comes up. Though it is a popular theme to teach - without sufficient good impressions and wisdom it won't work. During an hour of meditation, an untrained mind will at the most be focused for a few minutes. The rest of the time it is dull, follows thoughts and feelings, or strays into past or future. Therefore, at the beginning, it is not enough to "just sit" and one should avoid the dreaded "white wall samadhi", where one may feels pleasant and relaxed, but loses one's fangs and ability to act. According to Kalu Rinpoche, this kind of mere "calming" lowers our intelligence and can

even result in a rebirth as a big fish. The point is not to eliminate thoughts or to freeze mind, but not to care about thoughts and to enjoy mind's richness while bringing it back to the meditation again and again. After all, we want to discover our inherent fearlessness, joy, and active compassion; we can give nothing better to the world. Working inside the Buddha's refuge fields, any disturbance or drowsiness is mind's purification. We see the backs of the funny feeling and states of mind. They are on their way out, and the meditator can feel relieved. Thus, the Foundational Practices make our mind radiant like a diamond. The state of clear awareness reached through the Diamond Way is the unfolding of all our possibilities, and its foundation is the repetitive purification of body, speech, and mind through Ngondro.