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The Tibetan term Ngöndro (Wylie: sngon 'gro, Sanskrit: pūrvaka) refers to the preliminary, preparatory or foundational practices or disciplines (Sanskrit: sādhanā) common to all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and also to Bon. They precede the Generation stage and Completion stage.
The term ngöndro literally denotes meanings in the range of "something that goes before, something which precedes." The preliminary practices establish the foundation for the more advanced and rarefied Vajrayana sādhanā which are held to engender realization and the embodiment of Dzogchen, Heruka and Mahamudra.
Nevertheless, Vajrayana masters are careful to point out that "foundational" does not mean "lesser", that the practice of Ngöndro is a complete and sufficient practice of the spiritual path, and that it can take the practitioner all the way to full enlightenment.
In addition to what is generally denoted by the term ngöndro, preparatory practices may also be prescribed for senior and advanced sadhana, e.g.: "differentiating saṃsāra and nirvāṇa" (Wylie: 'khor 'das ru shan) is the preparatory practice of Kadag Khregschod or "cutting through to primordial purity."
The use of the practices of Vajrasattva, Mandala offering and Guru Yoga as preliminaries to the practice of anuttarayogatantra sadhanas was well established in India. In Tibet, the tradition came to include prostration practice and the accumulation of large numbers of each practice.
Outer and inner preliminaries
In general the preliminary practices are divided into two sections or kinds: the first are the common or ordinary kind of preliminary practices, and the second are the special or extraordinary kind of preliminaries.
- the freedoms and advantages of precious human rebirth
- the truth of impermanence and change
- the workings of karma
- the suffering of living beings within samsara
The above four contemplations are sometimes referred to as "the four reminders" or "the four mind-changers" or "the four thoughts which turn the mind towards Dharma."
Additional reflections may be included in the specific instructions on the outer preliminaries within different lineages, but the above four topics are the main reflections.
NB: the Four Ordinary Foundations should not be conflated with the Satipatthana.
The special or extraordinary kind of preliminaries consist of :
- taking of refuge in the three roots in conjunction with the performance of 100,000 prostrations (purifying pride)
- cultivation of bodhicitta (purifying jealousy). In some formulations this is included under 1.
- 100,000 recitations of Vajrasattva's hundred-syllable mantra (purifying hatred/aversion)
- 100,000 mandala offerings (purifying attachment)
- 100,000 guru yoga practices (purifying delusion)
These practices purify negative deeds and accumulate merit. Traditionally ngöndro practice is done for the enlightenment of the spiritual aspirant and for the benefit of all sentient beings. That is, the merit of doing the practices is dedicated to all sentient beings. These practices can take 1,500 hours of work to accomplish once. Some practitioners do them multiple times. In retreat, that might take six months. Done mixed into daily life it might take years.
Ngöndro is an essential practice of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism as well as the indigenous Yungdrung Bön tradition. Each of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism—Gelug, Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya have variations as to the order of the preliminaries, the refuge trees visualized, the lineage gurus and deities invoked, prayers etc.
Despite these differences all Ngöndro practices have as their goal the enlightenment of the practitioner so that he/she may be of the greatest benefit to all sentient beings, i.e. the cultivation of "bodhichitta". While some novices may feel that the Ngöndro are somehow "lesser" than various tantric practices, they are a complete path to enlightenment in and of themselves. The renowned Lama Patrul Rinpoche (1808–1887) is said to have practiced the Longchen Nyingthig Ngöndro repeatedly throughout his life.
Before receiving advanced tantric practices from a qualified spiritual teacher a Ngöndro usually must be completed and fully internalized. Without this foundation, practicing Tantra would be like, "planting a scorched seed, nothing will come of it." This was not the case in India or early Tibet, however, as the formalized Ngöndro known today was developed in Tibet.
- There are two cycles of Ngöndro in Bön, Zhangzhung sNyan-rgyud and A-khrid. There are some minor differences between the two, however generally the practices are:
- Opening the Heart
- Meditation on Impermanence
- Admitting Misdeeds
- Mandala Offering
- Purification Through Mantra
- Offering the Body
- Guru Yoga
Prostrations are part of this and each practice is accumulated 100,000 times.
- Lam Rim Ngöndro - sometimes enumerated as having nine rather than five components, with the additional ones being: (6) Dorje Khadro (Vajra Daka) practice, in which black sesame seeds are visualized negativities offered in a fire to the mouth of the fierce deity Dorje Khadro, who consumes them, (7) offering of water bowls, 8) Tsa-tsa (clay or plaster images of the Buddha), and (9) Samaya Vajra (Damtsig Dorje) mantra.
The various subsects of the Kagyu lineage tend to practice slightly different ngöndro practices. One of the most common in the Karma Kagyu lineage, called the Chariot for Travelling the Path to Freedom, was written by 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje. In the Shambhala Buddhist community, a Primordial Rigden Ngöndro written by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is practiced as a preliminary to various terma-derived practices received by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Practitioners later go on to practice the Karma Kagyu ngöndro and in some cases one of the Nyingma ngöndro practices.
There is also a recent English transliteration of Drukpa Kargyud Ngondro written by HH Shakya Rinchen, the 9th Jey Khenpo of Bhutan, titled " The Chariot of Liberation to the Vajra Abode" with detailed footnote and important commentaries by HH Jey Tenzin Dondup, the 69th Supreme Lord Abbot of Bhutan.
The Longchen Nyingthik ("Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse") is a Terma cycle revealed by the master Jigme Lingpa. Since its inception in the late 18th century, it has become one of the most widespread sets of teachings in the Nyingmapa tradition. It is particularly known and loved for its extensive commentarial literature, which includes practice manuals such as the famed Kunzang Lama'i Shelung ("Words of my Perfect Teacher").
These teachings were originally transmitted by the master Padmasambhava to King Trisong Deutsen, the Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal and the Lotsawa ("translator") Vairotsana at Samye Monastery in central Tibet. As the time for these teachings to spread was not yet right, they were then written in symbolic script by Yeshe Tsogyal, entrusted to the Dakinis, and hidden to be revealed at a later time. The king later reincarnated as the tertön ("treasure revealer") Jigme Lingpa. Then, recognizing the time was ripe for them to be practiced, put them down in writing and began to teach.
Jigme Lingpa was a reincarnation of two important masters, Vimalamitra and King Trisong Deutsen. As the embodiment of these two figures, Tibet's two primary Dzogchen lineages were combined in him—the Vima Nyingthik and Khandro Nyingthik, both of which are contained in the Nyingthik Yabshi. Hence, the Longchen Nyingthig terma cycle is considered a condensation of these profound teachings.
The texts that were revealed by Jigme Lingpa, in their present-day form, comprise three volumes, known as the Nyingthig Tsapod (Wylie: snying thig rtsa pod). The numerous treatises, sadhanas and prayers it contains deal primarily with tantric practice, in particular the 'stages of Development' (Wylie: bskyed-rim) and Dzogchen.
- Nam Cho Ngöndro
The Nam Cho is the "sky / space treasure" terma as revealed by Terton Migyur Dorje in the Palyul tradition. This Ngöndro practice is known as "Buddha in the Palm of your Hand" and is preliminary for Dzogchen practice, where one can realize the mind's nature. Terton Migyur Dorje received them from Arya Avalokiteshvara and Guru Rinpoche and then transmitted them to Karma Chagme Rāga Asya.
The uncommon preliminaries are: Refuge, Bodhictta, Mandala Offering, Long Mandala Offering, The Kusali Chod, Vajrasattva, Guru Yoga, Phowa, Chenrezig Generation in the Six Realms. It includes "The Vajra Verses of the Nam Cho Dzogchen."
- Sakya Ngöndro
The practice of ngöndros
Like other Vajrayana practices, ngöndro was once held in greater secrecy than today. Fifty years ago the only westerners that would have known about Ngöndro would have been Himalayan seekers such as John Blofeld, Heinrich Harrer, and Alexandra David-Neel. Today, with the spread of Tibetan Buddhism to the West, there are many practitioners working on different stages of ngöndro at the various Tibetan Buddhist centers in the West, in addition to practitioners at centers and monasteries in Tibet, Nepal, Ladakh, India and Bhutan.
Even though the practice of Ngöndro is now fully described in books available to the general public, some argue that it is pointless and counter-productive to initiate practice without receiving personal instruction from a teacher who has the required lineage training.
- Dharma Dictionary (2008). Preliminary Practices (sngon 'gro). Source:  (accessed: January 29, 2008)
- Charles Rockwell Lanman; Albert Payson Terhune (May 2009). A Sanskrit Reader - With Vocabulary and Notes. Read Books. pp. 193–. ISBN 978-1-4446-4005-2.
- Dharma Fellowship (2009). The Way of the Yogi. Source:  (accessed: Thursday February 4, 2010)
- Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Culture. Source "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-02-24. Retrieved 2010-10-18. (accessed: June 17, 2008),
- Khyentse, Dzongsar Jamyang (2012). Not for happiness : a guide to the so-called preliminary practices (First edition. ed.). Boston, Mass.: Shambhala. p. 42. ISBN 978-1-61180-030-2.
- Jamgon Kongtrul (2000). The torch of certainty. Boston: Shambhala. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-57062-713-2.
- Pettit, John W. (1999). Mipham's Beacon of certainty : illuminating the view of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection. Boston: Wisdom Publications. p. 81. ISBN 0-86171-157-2.
- Patrul Rinpoche 1998, p. xxxv.
- Sogyal Rinpoche 2009, p. 158.
- Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche & Trulshik Adeu Rinpoche 2011, p. 39.
- 'Prostrations' may also be subsumed within sadhana repetitions of various vinyasa forms of yogic discipline, such as Trul Khor, e.g.
- "Lama Gendun Rinpoche on Prostrations". Diamond Way Buddhism. Retrieved 2010-11-07.
- Longchen Nyingtik at Rigpawiki
- Approaching the Great Perfection Simultaneous and Gradual Methods of Dzogchen Practice in the Longchen Nyingtig (2003) Van Schaik, Sam, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-370-2 p 33
- Jamgon Kongtrul (2000). The Torch of Certainty. Boston: Shambala Publications (2000). ISBN 978-1-57062-713-2. p. 15
- Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press
- Khandro Rinpoche (2003), This Precious Life, Shambala
- Patrul Rinpoche (1998), The Words of My Perfect Teacher, Altamira
- Sogyal Rinpoche (2009), The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Harper Collins, Kindle Edition
- Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche; Trulshik Adeu Rinpoche (2011), Skillful Grace: Tara Practice for Our Times, Random House
- Blofeld, John. The Tantric Mysticism of Tibet. Prajna Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1982
- Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche. Ngondro Commentary: Instructions for the Concise Preliminary Practices of the New Treasure of Dudjom. Padma Publishing, Junction City, CA., 1995.
- Jamgon Kongtrul. (trans. by Judith Hanson). The Torch of Certainty. Shambhala Publications, Boston 1994. (This is a classic text by the great 19th century polymath, Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, with contemporary commentaries by Kalu Rinpoche, Deshung Rinpoche, and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.)
- Kalu Rinpoche. The Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism: The Gem Ornament of Manifold Oral Instructions Which Benefits Each and Everyone Appropriately. Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, 1999.
- Patrul Rinpoche, "Words of My Perfect Teacher", translated by the Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala Publications, Boston, 1994
- Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang, "A Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher" translated by the Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala Publications, Boston, 2004
- Dilgo Khytentse Rinpoche, "The Excellent Path to Enlightenment" translated by the Padmakara Translation Group, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca NY, 1996
- Jigme Lingpa, "Dzogchen - Innermost Essence Preliminary Practice" translated by Tulku Thondup, ISBN 81-85102-19-8, 1982/2002
- Third Dzogchen Rinpoche, "Great Perfection: Outer and Inner Preliminaries" (Khandro Nyingtik) translated by Cortland Dahl, ISBN 1-55939-285-1, 2008, 
- Entrance to the Great Perfection: A Guide to the Dzogchen preliminary Practices, translated by Cortland Dahl, ISBN 978-1-55939-339-3 
- Ngöndro Documentary
- Ngondro Practice
- Lotsawa House Ngöndro Series with translations of texts on ngöndro by Patrul Rinpoche, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and other Tibetan masters.
- www.diamondway-teachings.org Teaching on Chagchen Ngondro by Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche.
- Dudjom Short Ngondro
- Jigme Lingpa - Longchen Nyingthig Ngondro
- Migyur Dorje - Nam Cho Ngondro
- Dzogchen View of Tantric Ngondro