Behind the Dharma Wheel: Empirical Results

Lama Karma Drodhul’s last Ngondro Retreat, May 25-27

KTD Abbot Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche gave a Chod Empowerment this past winter at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra.  It was very powerful.

He closed that evening by telling those in attendance at the empowerment that we had to do Ngondro.

Ngondro (pronounced NUUN-droh) is the foundation practice designed to place you firmly on the path of Bodhicitta. The first part consists of prostrations, visualizations and chanting.  I won’t get into the whole explanation here because it’s quite complex, but in any case, hearing this advice from Khenpo Rinpoche made me think about my own history with Ngondro.

I had started and stopped doing this practice a few times since I arrived at KTD in April, 2011.  Stuff would come up and I would say, “What’s the point”? and “I don’t feel like it,” was pretty much on a loop in my brain.  That’s when I knew Rinpoche would be one of my greatest teachers.  Why?  Because I listened to him and I believed he was speaking directly to me.  Which, if you know Rinpoche, he was speaking to all of us – individually and collectively – that night.

I take leaps of faith every so often but for the most part I need to see it and experience it myself before I believe it.

What inspired me to do Ngondro initially was seeing empirical results from one of my colleagues.  She, like most of us can have a tough time with the mundane and other people; your kleshas (Sanskrit word for mental states that cloud the mind and manifest in unwholesome actions), really come up when you work and live in a spiritual community.  Working and living at KTD can be a faster track to a healthier mind; but it’s uncomfortable at times to say the least.  Anyway, she blossomed into this kinder, more rational individual.  There was a marked difference in her behavior and it wasn’t artificial; I knew she was practicing daily. She was also willing to help me.  Sort of giving back freely what was given to her.  That was the first part of this journey.

I spoke with others here who were at different levels of this four-part practice, initially to commiserate rather than to get real help.  Some of my friends and staff members tell me they were doing up to 400 prostrations per day and will be doing thousands a day once they enter into 3-year retreat this September. I balked and responded “ummm I have a job… here at KTD… how can I manage that?”  Came to find out that they were also working at the time…  And yes it’s possible and no, I do not do nearly that many.

A few weeks ago, I was ready to hear more and get help with the visualizations associated with the practice.  I can get overwhelmed easily with information about Buddhism and getting used to this new part of my mind being activated is well… new. I knew that at this point I was missing out on a fuller experience and an enjoyable one; one that I heard about.  My friend kindly went through the text line by line with me and explained the Refuge Tree to me and directed me to Lama Karma Drodhul when she wasn’t able to answer.  Lama Karma, a resident Lama who teaches Ngondro is a champion for this practice and is always available and supportive, even via e-mail when bringing the Dharma halfway across the world.

Speaking with others and knowing that they proceeded incrementally was so helpful. Sometimes things that feel right are still awkward in the beginning.  The rest of your body and mind can take some time to get with the program.

The gift is it’s changing my mind.  Thank Buddha.

— Anne Hulett

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