Once we have considered the causes and conditions of cyclic existence in the context of the four thoughts, the need to find release from this turbulent ocean of suffering becomes urgent.
We long to go beyond relative reality to absolute truth.
The impure experience explored through the outer preliminaries gives way to pure experience revealed through the extraordinary preliminaries of (1) refuge and bodhicitta, (2) mandala offerings, (3) Vajrasattva purification, (4) guru yoga, and (5) transference of consciousness.
Each of these practices sets the stage for realization of the absolute nature of all appearances.
Visualizations of Guru Rinpoche, Vajrasattva, and Amitabha engage the pure form aspect of the lama, and recitation of prayers and mantra the lama’s pure speech.
Meditative concentration and resting non-dually in the absolute lama call forth the lama’s enlightened mind.
Our faith in the lama at the outset of the extraordinary preliminary practices is consummated by the non-dual experience of the three secret vajras, that is, the experience of all form, sound, and mental events as inseparable from the vajra (enlightened) body, speech, and mind of the lama.
Seeking protection from samsara, seeking enlightenment, we find refuge in the Three Jewels of the Buddhadharma:
(1) In the Buddha Shakyamuni, who flawlessly demonstrated the path to enlightenment;
(2) In the Dharma, his teachings; and
(3) In the Sangha, those who follow the path he demonstrated and hold unbroken lineage transmission.
In Vajrayana, other names for the sources of refuge are the “Three Roots” and “Three Kayas.”
Through ngondro practice and the teachings of our lama, we come to view the sources of refuge—the Three Jewels, Roots, and Kayas—not as nine entities, but as nine facets of absolute refuge, interdependent and inseparable.
As Vajrayana practitioners, we take refuge from now until enlightenment with the bodhicitta motivation to lead all beings to liberation.
In the context of the Dudjom Tersar Ngondro, we recite prayers of refuge and bodhicitta together as we perform prostrations.
In other ngondros, practitioners recite refuge only during prostrations, and bodhicitta is completed afterward, as a separate practice.
However, in the oral instructions given by His Holiness Dudjom Jigdral Yeshe Dorje for the Tersar Ngondro, both prayers are recited.
Bodhicitta exalts our sense of refuge. We understand that all beings are ensnared in the predicament of samsara. When we pray for protection, we pray that they likewise will find safety and refuge.
When we pray for enlightenment, we pray that we can guide them to that same state.
We include all beings in every prostration through visualization, prayer, and intention.
Finally, here is an overview of the inner preliminaries:
Refuge creates a sense of protection and blessing.
Bodhicitta clarifies our motivation and arouses our compassion—we acknowledge our highest spiritual aspirations.
Mandala offerings generate the accumulation of merit and the revelation of pristine awareness that we will need to fulfill our aspirations.
Vajrasattva provides a method by which we can purify the obstacles to enlightenment—the mind’s poisons, habitual patterns, negative karma, and intellectual obscurations.
Guru yoga enables us to receive the pure qualities of the lama’s realization.
Transference of consciousness allows us to continue our path uninterrupted after this lifetime by finding rebirth in the pureland.
As we undertake ngondro, we acquire certain skills that we will use again and again in Vajrayana practice.
We learn (1) to contemplate, (2) to develop a visualization, (3) to recite prayers and mantra, (4) to perform prostrations and mandala offerings, (5) to dissolve the visualization, and (6) to rest in nonconceptual meditation.
We begin our practice with pure motivation, follow the lineage instructions in each section, redirect our attention whenever it wanders, and close with the pure dedication of virtue to all sentient beings.
In general, we learn how to meditate. Meditation means directing the mind, training it by repetition until it complies with our highest spiritual intentions.
At first, hindered by mental poisons, habits, and obscurations, we must exert great effort.
But once we have freed ourselves from tangles and confusion, meditation becomes effortless and carries over from formal practice into daily life, from day into night, from one life to another. No moment exists apart from the enriching revelation of meditation.
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.