Amount Prostrating is good, but if trying to do a hundred thousand becomes a huge hassle and causes great difficulties, it is no longer Dharma practice. Since this is a ngondro practice that I wrote, when you practice, you can decrease the number a bit. You do not absolutely have to do one hundred thousand prostrations. The minimum is one thousand or ten thousand, or perhaps fifty thousand. Full prostrations are fine, and half prostrations are also fine. If you are able to do more, don’t limit yourself to a hundred thousand; it is also fine to do two hundred thousand. But even if you reduce the number of prostrations, you still must recite the refuge prayer at least one hundred thousand times. The most important thing to understand about prostrations is that a prostration is an expression or convention of body and speech that can show our respect. If doing this can demonstrate pure action of the three gates, it is a prostration. Otherwise it is not a prostration. If the prostrations we do fulfill that criterion, it does not matter how many times we prostrate. We can still gather the accumulations, and we have accomplished the primary purpose. Prostrations should be an expression of faith.
Visualisation Before me in the sky is the Guru Vajradhara, Surrounded by the gurus of the lineage of meaning and blessings Andgurus with whom I have dharmic connections of faith. In front are the yidams, to the right are the buddhas. All are surrounded by ocean-like retinues of their own kind. My mothers, sentient beings, and I stand together As the sources of refugegaze down upon us. One-pointedly, we go for refuge and arouse bodhichitta. First of all, when it says, “Before me in the sky,” that means we do not need to raise our eyes and look up, nor do we need to lower our gaze and look down. We look straight ahead, without glancing to the right or left. When we stand up to prostrate and put our joined hands to the top of our head, we make a shadow. It is said that we visualize the field of refuge as being far enough away that our shadow does not touch it. In the center of the field of refuge, you should visualize a jeweled throne supported by lions. It is okay for you to visualize as many or as few lions as you want. If you visualize four lions, they symbolize the four fearlessnesses.1 If you visualize eight, they symbolize the eight qualities of mastery,2 so visualizing eight is also fine. In any case, the lions should not be like drawings: they are real, three-dimensional, full-bodied lions, alive and trembling with breath. Their eyes are wide open and lined with red veins. Their claws are sharp. They are vivacious and glorious, with waving tails and manes. In any case you should visualize magnificent, living lions. It is fine to visualize either African lions or lions such as those drawn by Tibetans. The main thing is to visualize four or eight such lions to symbolize either the four fearlessnesses or the eight qualities of mastery. On the lions’ backs there is a throne, which should be square. There are many deities, so if you visualize a throne that is too small, you might feel they could not all fit. But if the throne is too high or too wide, no one could see it. If it is too large, we might not be able to get our minds around it. So how big should it be? When we look at it, it is square, but when we want to see what size it actually is, we should visualize it as being immeasurable. For example, if we look from here off to the Bodhgaya Mahabodhi Temple in the distance, it seems as if it would fit in our hand. But when we go there and look at it, it is huge and seems endless. In the same way, when we look at the field of refuge from afar, it is in front of us. When we look for its edges, we cannot find any edges. That is how we should think about and visualize it. As a symbol of the completion of the two accumulations, the throne is studded with gems and decorated with jewel ornaments. You can imagine it however you like, but it should be made of various precious things. In the middle of that large throne there is another, smaller throne supported by lions. On top of that there is a lotus, which represents being unstained by the faults of samsara. On top of that, visualize that there is a sun and moon seat, which symbolizes either relative and ultimate wisdom or means and wisdom. Visualize Vajradhara seated on top of those. How should we visualize the lama Vajradhara? Whom do we visualize? In the Geluk tradition, the Offerings to the Gurus ceremony is considered extremely important, because the principal figure of the field of refuge is visualized as having four traits: he or she is one’s own kind root lama and he or she is also simultaneously Tsongkhapa Lobsang Drakpa, the Buddha Shakyamuni, and the Vajrayana teacher Vajradhara. This is what is called “having the four traits.” The principal figure of the field of refuge must have these four qualities. The way I think about it, generally in our Kagyu practice, we consider that our own individual root lama is the most important for our own individual practice, and we visualize that lama in the form of Vajradhara as the principal figure of the field of refuge. There is nothing wrong with this, and there are many reasons for it, such as that we can receive the blessings more quickly and easily from our root lama. This is how it is in the context of our own individual meditation practice. However, in terms of the Karma Kagyu in general and Buddhism overall, this leaves a few traits that still need to be fulfilled. If we talk about the teachings of the Karma Kamtsang in particular, the Karmapa is the head of the lineage and the source of the teachings. For all of us practitioners who follow him, the founder of our lineage is the Karmapa—the Karmapa is like the father of the Karma Kamtsang. This is something we need to remember whenever we do any practice. If we do not, the Kamtsangteachings may decline somewhat. The way I see it, without practicing in this way, we will not be able to cooperate and progress together. It is like what happens among some Chinese students: it is as if they think that their own master is the most important and basically do not accept any others. We must not be like that. Here the main figure should be your own kind root lama and also the Karmapa, because this is a practice of the Karma Kamtsang tradition. Shakyamuni Buddha is the founder of Buddhism, so if we were not to value him, we would not qualify as Buddhists. Therefore, the main figure is also the Teacher Shakyamuni. Similarly, the master of the Vajrayana teachings is Vajradhara, so it should also be Vajradhara. I feel that visualizing the main figure as having these four traits is good in terms of Buddhism in general, in terms of the specific teachings of the Karma Kamtsang, and in terms of our own practice. This is not a question of me trying to elevate the Karmapa into a higher position just because I have the name Karmapa. To the right and left as well as in front and behind the principal figure are the lamas of the Kamtsang lineage of the realization of Dharma. There are also the lamas of the lineage of practice, who may not have developed realization but who do hold the lineage of practice. Likewise there are all the lamas, however many they may be, with whom you have made a Dharma connection or for whom you have developed faith even if you do not have a Dharma connection. Visualize these lamas to the right, left, front, and back, however you like, and imagine that they are all facing you. In front of the lamas, visualize whichever yidam deities you feel devotion for. In terms of this lineage, the main deity to visualize is the yidam Vajrayogini. To the right are all the buddhas, with Buddha Shakyamuni foremost among them. In the back is the genuine Dharma. The main aspect of Dharma is scripture and realization, or the truths of cessation and the path. We visualize this all in the form of scriptures or books. To the left is the Sangha of bodhisattvas who dwell on the high levels, surrounded by others of the same type. This is the same as in the case of the buddhas, who are surrounded by other buddhas similar to themselves. Think that the main bodhisattvas are the principal figures and that they are surrounded by all the other bodhisattvas. The direction they are gazing is downward, but when we say they gaze down, that does not mean directly beneath the sources of refuge. It is below and in front of them, where we visualize ourselves and all sentient beings who are as limitless as space, with ourselves foremost among them. There are many different beings, including humans and animals, and there are two ways to visualize them: you can visualize them in their own forms, or alternatively you can visualize them all in human form. Either way is fine. If you visualize them in their own forms, it is easy to imagine the suffering and feelings that each of these beings experiences. If you visualize them as humans, it creates a good connection for them to be born as intelligent humans with leisures or riches. It does not matter which of the two you visualize. You yourself are in the center of all sentient beings. Sometimes it is said that you should visualize your enemies in front of you, your father and mother on your right and left, and all other sentient beings behind you. It is fine to visualize it in that way, but it is also okay not to. The main thing is that you are in the middle. But it is not as if you pushed and shoved to get to the middle of a crowd. It’s like being on the top of a high hill and being able to see the whole area around when you look down. You are in the middle, but when you look around, all sentient beings can fit within your field of vision and in front of the sources of refuge. Otherwise, when you are focusing on the visualization and prostrating, you might wonder whether those who are behind you are prostrating or not. People often think this. So you should visualize that you yourself are in the center and that when you look around, you can see all sentient beings. Since you are imagining that you are leading them all in going for refuge and developing bodhichitta, mentally it is easier if you can see them all. If your room is very small, when you visualize a lot of people there is the problem that they do not all fit inside your room. For example, in a big hall like this one, we think a lot of people will fit, but if we are doing ourpractice or the ngondro meditation in a small room, we look a bit to the right and a bit to the left and see that they won’t all fit. Usually we make so much use of our five senses that it seems to us that whatever is in our thoughts has to exist on the outside. But it is not like that: Things that we think of do not need to exist on the outside. For instance, when we think, “Everyone is here,” while practicing, we might then think, “This might just work,” or we might think, “Is everyone going to fit in here?” Sometimes we think they won’t all fit. When we look with our eyes or use our five senses, we think that there is a limit from a point over here to a point over there, so what we have to imagine does not come easily to the five senses. Therefore when you practice, you should not look at the house, walls, or pillars. If you look with your eyes and see that not everyone will fit, it will just get worse. Relax your mind. Even if you have a tiny house, you can still have a dream with a lot of people in it. Take that as an example and do not make your five senses the judge make your imagination the judge instead. If you think about it this way, the visualization will be easier. In this practice, there are five jewels. The traditional ngondro texts normally include the jewel of the wisdom dharma protectors, which makes six jewels. However, the text I used as the basis for this practice leaves out the dharma protectors and has only five jewels. Therefore I did the same, so there are only five kinds of jewels here. The wisdom dharma protectors are left out and do not appear in the field of refuge. The reason for this is that although in ultimate terms it is appropriate to rely on the wisdom dharma protectors as a source of refuge, in terms of their form or the way they manifest, the dharma protectors appear as guardian servants and protectors of yogis, not as a source of refuge. This is why the dharma protectors are visualized as protectors but not as sources of refuge in the field of refuge, and it is why they are not included here. It is permissible to visualize the dharma protectors outside the field of refuge