Not for Happiness

A Guide to the So-Called Preliminary Practices

Author : Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

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A radical guide to the ngondro, or preliminary practices of Tibetan Buddhism, in particular the Longchen Nyingthig Ngondro. Do you practice meditation because you want to feel good? Or to help you relax and be "happy"? Then frankly, says Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, you are far better off having a full body massage than trying to practice Dharma.

Rinpoche shows that genuine spiritual practice, not least the Ngondro preliminary practices, will not bring the kind of comfort and ease most worldly people crave. Quite the opposite in fact. But if your ultimate goal is enlightenment, Ngondro practice is a must, and Not for Happiness a perfect guide, containing advice for the aspiring practitioner getting started, including instruction on developing the mind of renunciation, discipline, meditation and wisdom, using your imagination in visualization practice, and why we need a guru.

"One of the problems we are faced with today is that ngondro practice is increasingly perceived as a kind of custom. It's not a new phenomenon. Customs and traditions have always grown up around spiritual methods. But today, almost the moment an aspiring vajrayana student ventures into a teaching, (he or) she is told that before anything else, she must complete the ngondro. Yet, the intention behind all Buddha's teaching is to transcend man made customs and culture...As your studies deepen, you will come to realize that ngondro is the most distinctive element of the vajrayana. Sadly, though, it is fashionable these days to try to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. New vajrayana students are learning to view ngondro as a hurdle they are required to overcome before being allowed to receive higher teachings. It is such a big mistake! And a potentially dangerous one, because it is virtually impossible to refute. Yet many hold this view, and the consequences are beginning to mushroom out of control. For example, in Buddhist circles where a kind of spiritual political correctness operates, even the gentlest suggestion that not everyone has to accumulate one hundred thousand prostrations is extremely unwelcome. The more people who think like this, the greater the risk that this precious practice will be reduced to meaningless ritual...Just because many time honoured Eastern traditions seem a little old fashinioned in today's changing world, we should not jump to the conclusion that they are now obsolete...Certainly, the customs and traditions connected with ngondro accumulations are still relevant for today's practitioners...The crucial point here is that the aim of ngondro is not merely the accumulation of numbers, but to penetrate our minds, ruffle the feathers of our pride and make a satifying dent in our egos." Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche.

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Most of us know that aggression is a problem, as are pride and jealousy, but the truth is that all emotions cause problems one way or another and each has a distinctive character. “Passion;’ for example, is starkly different from “aggression?’ Fundamentally, though, all emotions spring from one basic source, distraction. What is “distraction”? Clearly, it is not merely the sound of a chainsaw firing up or blaring Bollywood music that interrupts our meditation practice. On a more profound level, distraction is any of the emotional responses we are sidetracked by — for example, hope for praise and fear of blame, as well as its more subde manifestations, hke being spaced-out, distracted, lost in thought or worked up.


Since our fundamental problem is distraction, its fundamental so¬lution is to be mindful.There are an infinite number of methods for developing mindfulness that all fall into one of two categories:

shamatha or vipashyana.The point of shamatha practice is to make mind malleable. But a phant mind alone will not uproot samsara completely, we also need to see the truth, which is why vipashyana practice is so crucial.

Unfortunately, though, minfulness is difficult, mostly because we lack the enthusiasm to develop it, but also because our habit oflonging for distraction is both deeply ingrained and extremely tenacious. It is therefore vital for a dharma pnctitioner to develop renunciation mind and to recognise the defects of saniisara, both of which lie at the core of the Buddhist approach to training the mind.

The masters of the past suggest we shouldconstantly remind ourselves about: the imminence of death; the futility of our worldly activities; and the worst news of all, that there is no end to samsara’s sufferings. Just look around you and you will see that the world never ceases to churn out more and more of the same thing, and that the result is unremitting pain and unbearable suffering. It’s no surprise, then, as the great masters have pointed out, that to maintain mindfulness for as long as it takes to drink a cup of tea accumulates more merit than years of practising generosity discipline and asceticism.

Discipline, Meditation and Wisdom

Jamgön Kongtrul Lodro Tayé wrote that he aspired to accomplish the vast and infinite activities of a bodhisattva on his own, without having to deal with sycophantic servants, or subdue enemies, or endure the burden of many friendships, and he prayed, “May I remain in isolation and tame my mind."

The “taming the mind” Kongtrul Rinpoche refers to is categorised in Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings as the three higher trainings in discipline, one-pointed concentration and wisdom, and are excellent methods for protecting ourselves against Mara’s five arrows. The sutras tell us that Mara (Buddhism’s “devil”) is a tricky character and an expert archer. To avoid straying into the sights of one of his five arrows requires tremendous effort because each one is trained on our most vulnerable spots.

• The first of Mara’s arrows is aimed at those who feel great pride in their accomplishments or in their material or spiritual wealth.
• The second is aimed at those who are ignorant because they have no idea which activities and attitudes need to be abandoned and which adopted.
• The third is directed at those with wrong views, such as not believing in cause, condition and effect.
• The fourth is fixed on those whose forgetfulness continually distracts them from mindfulness.
• The fifth strikes those distracted by the eight worldly dharmas.

As practitioners, it is best not to advertise our weaknesses or expose them as targets for Mara’s arrows, so we must learn to protect ourselves, either by wearing armour or cleverly camouflaging ourselves with:

1. discipline, to contradict and unsettle our emotions;
2. meditation, to subdue our emotions so they do not leap out of control the moment they are aroused; and
3. wisdom, to uproot all emotion.

Training in discipline purifies wrongdoing and wrong thinking; training in meditation stabilises right view, right motivation and right action; and training in wisdom liberates us from the root of ignorance.

Were we to examine during the course of a single day all the different emotions that arise in one person’s mind, we would get an inkling of the unimaginable quantity and variety of emotions it is possible for sentient beings to feel.The Buddha has provided us with an antidote or training for every one of these emotions. For those who want to escape suffering, he taught the shravakayana; and for those who long to escape the extremes of samsaric life, have no interest in nirvana and instead cherish the wish to help all sentient beings become truly happy, he taught the bodhisattvayana. Both these vehicles (yanas) are complete paths that ultimately lead to liberation from delusion.

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