“Without relating to the relative truth in this way it is not possible to realize the absolute truth. Without using the body as a basis we cannot realize the true nature of the mind. In the same way, we need the relative practices, the skillful means, to know the nature of emptiness. The relative and absolute coexist; they always go hand in hand. It is very important to realize this.
On the relative level, we exist in samsaric suffering because of our delusion. By not seeing our true nature and being deluded when the physical elements come together, our illusory body is created. This illusory body seems very real until we see the true nature of things. Until we are com- pletely free from delusion, the body exists, suffering exists, and the three jewels exist as a source of refuge from suffering.
So, Ngondro practice begins with taking refuge in the three precious ones—the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Externally, the Buddha is the guide, the source of the Dharma; the Dharma is the path that Buddha showed; and the Sangha members are the people whose minds are turned toward the Dharma.
The Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha also exist internally and symboli- cally as a profound and skillful way to lead us out of samsara. From the point of view of absolute truth, even the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are within us. Our mind is empty, radiant and aware, and that is the precious Buddha. Externally, the Dharma manifests as words and meaning that are heard and practiced, but internally the Dharma is the empty, unobstructed and self-luminous display of rigpa, or nondual awareness. Externally, the followers of the Dharma are the Sangha, but internally the Sangha is the all-pervading, all-encompassing quality of the mind. The three jewels are inherent within us, but since we do not recognize this, we take refuge externally in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha with devotion. When you do Ngondro fully, you visualize the refuge tree with a fervent mind, do prostrations with a humble body, and recite the refuge prayer with meaningful speech.
At the end of the session, when you dissolve the visualization into yourself, you cultivate the realization that the practitioner, the objects of refuge, and the activity of taking refuge are merely reflections of your own rigpa. The refuge tree is your own creation. The instruction at that point is to simply remain in the nature of rigpa, because other than rigpa there is truly nothing to be found. The Buddha said in the Sutra of the Good Aeon:
I manifested in a dreamlike way to dreamlike beings and gave dreamlike teachings, but in reality I never taught and never actually came.
From the ultimate point of view, the Buddha never came and the Dharma never came. All this is mere perception, existing only in the apparent sphere of things. In taking refuge, the relative aspect is the object of refuge to which you offer devotion, prostrations, and so on, and the absolute aspect is the natural, effortless state of mind.”
His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche’s “Ngongdro Practice According to the Dzogchen View” excerpted from the Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches’ book Illuminating The Path: Ngondro Instructions According to the Nyingma School of Vajrayana Buddhism (pgs 20-21)
Photos from the recent Ngondro Retreat in Tennessee: Exploring the Essentials of Tibetan Buddhist Meditation & Practice with Lama Laia Pema Tsultrim, September 15-17, 2017, by Andrew Cook.
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