“It is imperative to exert yourselves in the practice of guru yoga until you have grasped the vital essence of this practice. If you do not do this, your meditation will grow weaker and even though it creates some benefit, many obstacles will arise. Producing genuine understanding in the mind is not easy, so pray to your guru with uncontrived, fervent devotion. Eventually you will receive direct transmission from the enlightened mind of the guru and extraordinary realization, beyond expression in words, will arise.” (His Holiness Dudjom Jigdral Yeshe Dorje)

“The guru is like a wish-fulfilling jewel granting all the qualities of realization … he is the equal of all the buddhas. To make any connection with him, whether through seeing him, hearing his voice, remembering him, or being touched by his hand, will lead us toward liberation. To have full confidence in him is the sure way to progress toward enlightenment.” (His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche)

No one ever reached enlightenment without a mastery of guru yoga so profound that he or she was able to receive—without any resistance, distortion, or doubt—the transmission of the guru’s pristine awareness.

The Buddha Shakyamuni himself said that, without the lama, there can be no buddha. The supreme good fortune to receive this mind-to-mind transference of realization arises from pure samaya with our lama and preparation of our mind through purification and the accumulation of vast stores of merit. Our mind stands ready and receptive, like a well-tilled field waiting to be sown.

Transmission may occur in a formal empowerment or teaching, or it may come when we are least expecting it.

Stories abound of Buddhist practitioners experiencing dramatic, nondual revelations of absolute nature when their teacher struck them. The most famous of these stories concerns the mahasiddha Tilopa striking Naropa, who had begun as a great Buddhist scholar, then completely surrendered to Tilopa’s instructions even when they seemed exceedingly eccentric. After his years of devoted service to his guru, Naropa’s moment of supreme realization dawned when Tilopa suddenly hit him on the head with a shoe. From that point on, his realization matched Tilopa’s—there was no longer any separation between his mind and his teacher’s.

Usually, however, transmission unfolds gradually rather than in a single, dramatic moment. Each time we hear the teachings, their meaning for us reaches a deeper level. Each time we interact with our lama, our resistance softens. We begin to see the barriers set up by our own karmic patterns and habitual concepts.

The teachings of the dharma provide us with manifold methods to overcome those barriers, and each time we use them successfully we increase both our faith in the effectiveness of dharma and our faith in the lama’s realization. Our inner resonance with the lama grows stronger, and our longing for union, our devotion, our reliance on the lama evolve into a kind of spontaneous responsiveness.

Outwardly everything may appear the same; inwardly our heart is full and our mind expansive. Boundaries fall away before transcendent knowledge of the empty nature of everything. We realize that all along the lama’s realization has penetrated the dense layers of our obscurations.

Now, as those layers clear away, our openness allows us to receive our teacher’s mind-to-mind transmission, nondually, beyond words.

Words cannot capture the experience or even the individual qualities of the lama’s pristine awareness—boundless compassion, transcendent knowledge, nondual recognition of the three kayas as inseparable.

Naming points the way, but in actual moments of transmission, all the complexities of names and concepts fall away before infinite, ineffable simplicity. We rest in the absolute lama.

Anyone who has truly experienced this extraordinary transmission has no less than the deepest reverence for his or her guru and will never turn back before attaining enlightenment.

We begin guru yoga in the Dudjom Tersar Ngondro by visualizing ourselves as Vajrayogini and, in the space in front of us, Guru Rinpoche, inseparable from our own lama, embodiment of the quintessential form of all lineage lamas.

In the context of the practice, Guru Rinpoche reigns as the symbolic lama, the focus of our prayers and aspirations, the source of blessings and empowerments. We pray to Guru Rinpoche, imploring him to hold us in continuous compassion, during this and future lifetimes and in the intermediate states between lifetimes.

Having prayed in this manner, we begin repetition of the Vajra Guru mantra—Om Ah Hung Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hunga mantra so powerful it brings liberation to whoever continually recites it with devotion.

In the course of ngondro, we recite one million two hundred thousand mantras, one hundred thousand for each of the twelve syllables.

We should open to the direct perception that repeating the Vajra Guru mantra actually manifests Guru Rinpoche’s presence, that its resonance represents him in the (1) form of sound, that the mantra as speech remains inseparable from his (2) body and (3) mind.

The Vajra Guru mantra incorporates the essence mantras of all enlightened ones.

Om invokes the blessing of Guru Rinpoche’s enlightened body, vajra body;

Ah invokes his vajra speech;

Hung, his vajra mind.

Om Ah Hung together indicates that Guru Rinpoche encompasses the inseparable three kayas.

The mantra also holds the power of the five aspects of pristine awareness, usually referred to as the “five wisdoms.”

Vajra purifies anger and invokes the mirror-like wisdom of the vajra family.

Guru purifies pride and invokes the wisdom of equanimity of the ratna family.

Padma purifies attachment and invokes the discriminating wisdom of the padma family.

Siddhi purifies jealousy and invokes the all-accomplishing wisdom of the karma family.

Hung purifies ignorance and invokes the wisdom of dharmadhatu of the buddha family.

Vajra Guru (dorje lama) taken together indicates the unsurpassed realization and qualities of Guru Rinpoche as a supremely accomplished being who has brought the path of Vajrayana to consummation.

Vajra means that, diamond-like, his recognition of absolute nature cuts through ordinary concepts and poisonous emotions. He has attained the supreme mastery of the inseparable three kayas and accomplished all qualities of enlightenment through transcendent knowledge and pristine awareness.

Guru means that Guru Rinpoche embodies the gathered qualities of all enlightened buddhas of past, present, and future.

Padma indicates that Guru Rinpoche is the nirmanakaya emanation of Buddha Amitabha, lord of the lotus family.

Siddhi refers to the two kinds of accomplishment, ordinary siddhis such as supernormal powers and the supreme siddhi of enlightenment.

Hung invokes Guru Rinpoche’s blessing to grant the two siddhis.

The mantra recitation concludes with the bestowal of the four empowerments.

The realization of this formal practice extends into daily life, where it forms the basis of pure perception:

(1) All form is experienced as the form of the lama,

(2) All sound as the speech of the lama,

(3) All mental events as the mind of the lama.

This sacred outlook imbues every moment with the potential of guru yoga.

Source: Tromge, Jane. Ngondro Commentary: Instructions for the Concise Preliminary Practices of the New Treasure of Dudjom. Compiled from the teachings of H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche by Jane Tromge. Junction City, CA: Padma Publishing, 1995.