Monday, March 20, 2006

The Dharma Marathon

A couple of weeks ago, I launched into Ngondro, a.k.a. the Preliminary Practices. I'm studying within the Sakya lineage, so I'm using the book compiled by HE Deshung Rinpoche and edited by my root guru, HH Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche. After several months of work, I've managed to work about 1 to 2 hours of practice in every day, so I can make decent progress over time; I also plan to take several retreats throughout the year, of several days at a stretch, in order to get in some intensive practice.

The folks at my monastery have been wonderful assistance in my practice, up to and including Rinpoche. Rinpoche advised it was best to memorize the practices, so I've been working on memorizing the individual practices, as well as the lovely Dedication of Merit in the book that is a complete litany of the various stages of the path according to the Sakya tradition.

For me, the largest stumbling block so far has been shedding the view that this is some kind of race, like I'm running the Dharma marathon. When I began doing the refuge prayer, for example, I would rattle it off like an Arhat on X ("Wetakerefugeinthevenerableholygurustakerefugeinthe..."). I would also find myself speeding up the count as I reached the guru knot of my mala, like a runner who caught the finish line in his sites. I've been working to slow this down by telling myself that I am in the presence of the Guru and many other holy beings when I perform the ritual.

Just as I wouldn't ask my lama to "speed it up a bit", I shouldn't rush through any element of Ngondro just in order to finish it. The point of Ngondro is not to reach 100,000 executions of each exercise per se, but to develop single-pointedness of mind, and strengthen the resolve for liberation.

At least I have something to keep me busy for the next several years. It sure beats the hell out of how I was spending my time before now.

I bow down before my root guru, who is my most excellent ally in my struggle to liberate all sentient beings!

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