Preliminary Practice Resources

The purpose of doing preliminary practices is for you to purify obstacles to achieving realizations of the path to enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings—defilements, negative karmas and downfalls—and collect extensive merit. They are also done in preparation for longer tantric retreats. – Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Many of us have been advised by our teachers to complete a certain number of preliminary practices or are aiming to complete the traditional 100,000 of each preliminary. This can seem like a very tall order and difficult to complete, especially if we don’t have a conducive space to do them in.

General Introductions

Refuge in the Three Jewels

‘The entrance to the Buddhadharma is refuge, and the two causes for refuge are 1) fear of the sufferings of the lower realms and of all samsara, and 2) faith that the Triple Gem has the ability to guide us from those sufferings. Feeling this, you completely rely on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The entrance to the Mahayana is realizing bodhicitta.

Reciting the refuge formulas with bodhicitta is the action of a bodhisattva, creates much merit, and brings you closer to enlightenment.’ – Lama Zopa Rinpoche

The preliminary practice of taking refuge (including instructions on how to do the retreat) by Thubten Chödren

The Preliminary Practice of Refuge by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Refuge in the Three Jewels by Lama Yeshe

Refuge Ngondro Retreat instructions by Thubten Chödren

Refuge Nyondro Advice by Thubten Chödren

Image of the Refuge Merit Field

Stages of the Path #52, Refuge ngondro Pt.1 (guru refuge) with Thubten Chödren, recorded by Sravasti Abbey

Stages of the Path #53: Refuge ngondro Pt.2 (ngondro refuge visualization) with Thubten Chödren, recorded by Sravasti Abbey

Stages of the Path #54: Refuge ngondro Pt.3 (ngondro visualization verse) with Thubten Chödren, recorded by Sravasti Abbey

Stages of the Path #55: Refuge ngondro Pt.4 (ngondro visualization three Jewels) with Thubten Chödren, recorded by Sravasti Abbey

Mandala Offerings

Mandala offering is a powerful method for accumulating extensive merit in a short time. The Tibetan word for mandala is kyil.kor: kyil is essence, kor is taking—taking the essence. The term means taking the essence on the base of offering a mandala, and what you get from this is merit—the cause. Therefore the essence you take is the generation of the whole path, from guru devotion up to enlightenment, as well as the result, the unification of the dharmakaya and rupakaya. The cause is merit, the path; and the result is enlightenment. In other words, from this practice inconceivable temporal and ultimate happiness results. One is making unbelievable business with the merit field! – Lama Zopa Rinpoche

37 Heap Mandala 3D Illustration

37 Heap 2D illustration with instructions

37 Heap 2D illustration (tibetan)

How to Offer the Long Mandala with Thubten Chödren, recorded by Sravasti Abbey

Prostrations to the Thirty-Five Confession Buddhas

‘When making prostrations by reciting the names of the Thirty-five Buddhas, even only one prostration to all the Buddhas, Dharma, and Sangha becomes a cause for achieving enlightenment. Prostrations to statues, scriptures, and stupas create many causes for liberation from samsara and achieving success in this life. But prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas become a cause for enlightenment, which is a big difference.

In the past, when the Thirty-five Buddhas were bodhisattvas, they made many prayers to be able to benefit sentient beings, to easily purify our defilements and negative karma. When they achieved enlightenment, they achieved the Buddha’s ten qualities or powers, one of which is the power of prayer. So, their names have the power of all those past prayers. That is why, when sentient beings recite their names, they have so much power to purify defilements and eons of negative karma. Every single quality the Thirty-five Buddhas attained was in order to benefit sentient beings, there was no other reason or motivation for it, so we should use this advantage.’ – Lama Zopa Rinpoche

The Practice for Prostrations to the 35 Confession Buddhas

The Preliminary Practice of Prostrations

Thirty-five Buddhas Confession and Purification Practice Advice by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Motivation for Thirty-five Buddhas Practice by Lama Zopa Rinpoche (audio & unedited transcript)

How to Collect More Merit With Prostrations by Lama Zopa Rinpoche (audio & unedited transcript)

Dedicating the Merit of Prostrations by Lama Zopa Rinpoche (audio & unedited transcipt)

The Benefits of Making Prostrations by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Instruction videos on Prostrations by Thubten Chödren

MP3 Download of the practice

35 Confession Buddhas Image

How to Make Prostrations: Instructions with Thubten Chödren, recorded by Sravasti Abbey

How to Make Prostrations: Demonstration with Thubten Chödren, recorded by Sravasti Abbey

35 Buddhas Prostration guide with Ven Lozang Yönten

35 Buddhas short version (1x each group reciting) with Ven Lozang Yönten

35 Buddhas Prostration guide with Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s advice, commentary and mantra update with Ven Lozang Yönten

Vajrasattva Practice

“The practice of purification is one of the most important solutions to life’s problems.” – Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

‘Common to all four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, the practice of Vajrasattva is used to purify obstacles to spiritual development, negative karma and illness. Lama Yeshe, the inspirational teacher who strongly influenced the development of Buddhism in the West, found that the practice of Vajrasattva brought dramatic results for his Western students.’ [Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition]

The Preliminary Practice of Vajrasattva by FPMT

Vajrasattva Retreat Sadhana by FPMT

Benefits of Vajrasattva Practice by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Becoming Vajrasattva: The Tantric Path of Purification by Lama Yeshe (commentary)

Vajrasattva Meditation: An Illustrated Guide by Khenpo Yeshe Phuntsok

Teachings from the Vajrasattva Retreat by Lama Zopa Rinpoche (commentary)

Heruka Vajrasattva Tsog Offering by Lama Yeshe

Image of Vajrasattva

Burning Offering to Dorje Khadro

‘Making burning offerings to Dorje Khadro (Vajradaka) is considered to be “a golden Dharma” passed directly from Manjushri to Lama Tsongkhapa. It was one of Lama Tsongkhapa’s heart practices and, as such, has a special connection with the Gelug lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

The practice of Dorje Khadro comes highly praised for its power to purify negative karma in general, but especially for its ability to purify obstacles caused by broken vows and samaya related to highest yoga tantra. It also assists us in assembling the most conducive conditions for success in long retreats.

This practice is encouraged as a powerful way to help those who are sick or dying and as a method to readily clear the mind of challenging disturbing emotions.’ [Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition]

Commentary on the Burning Offering to Dorje Khadro: The Preliminaries by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Commentary on Burning Offering to Dorje Khadro: The Actual Meditation by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Commentary on Burning Offering to Dorje Khadro: Conclusion by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

The Preliminary Practice of Dorje Khadro by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Burning Offering to Dorje Khadro translated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Water Bowl Offerings

“Tibetans make water bowl offerings to holy objects because it doesn’t cost anything and it doesn’t cause pride to arise. If an offering costs a lot of money, pride can develop rather than rejoicing. In this way, offering water can become a pure offering and you collect a lot of merit. Water is wet, so offering it helps the mind become soft, rather than selfish and hard like a rock. With a soft mind one can develop loving kindness, bodhichitta, and the ultimate good heart.

Offering water bowls creates far more merit than simply seeing a holy object. Instead of thinking that the offering bowls contain water, which is how it appears to the human mind, you can create even greater merit by thinking that the offering bowls contain the purest nectar, which is how the offering appears to a buddha.” – Lama Zopa Rinpoche

The Preliminary Practice of Altar Set-up & Water Bowl Offerings

How to Offer Water Bowls by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Further Advice on How to Offer Water Bowls by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga

“Attempting the guru yoga practice of the inseparability of your own root guru and Lama Tsongkhapa establishes the root of all happiness from this life up to enlightenment. Attempting this guru yoga practice is that which causes all the teachings that you listen to and reflect on and meditate on to go to the right point. Go to the right point means to be of benefit. Every single teaching taught by Buddha — sutra and tantra — is only for the purpose of subduing your own mind.

That is the only purpose. So, whatever you do — listening, reflecting, meditating, everything — is for subduing your own mind. This guru yoga practice does that. Its purpose is to direct your mind so that listening is not outer listening, reflection is not outer reflection, meditation is not outer meditation — rather that they are inner practices and thus subdue your mind.” – Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga practice text following Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s instructions

A Commentary on Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga practice by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

Lama Tsongkhapa image

Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga Retreat with Ven Lozang Yönten, hosted by Shantideva FPMT-Israel

Guru Yoga for Everyone: Hundreds of Deities of the Land of Joy by Ven Lozang Yönten

Making Tsa-Tsas

The presence of holy objects in the world transforms the minds of sentient beings and helps them realize the path to enlightenment. In addition, the preliminary practice of making tsa-tsas purifies obstacles and creates positive conditions for this and future lives. This practice contains all the instructions needed for creating tsa-tsas, including the actual practice and practical advice.

“Even in this life, you will have less disease, your enjoyments will increase, and you will achieve long life and good reputation. It is the best method to betray death. Making tsa-tsas pacifies obstacles, bad conditions, accidents, and sudden diseases like heart attacks and paralysis. By making tsa-tsas you pacify enemies, interferers, and harms. You accumulate all merit, purify all obscurations, and in a future life, achieve the resultant three kayas.“ – Lama Zopa Rinpoche

The Preliminary Practice of Tsa Tsas compiled and translated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Commentary on Tsa Tsa Practice by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

What to do with Tsa Tsas by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Nyung Nä

Nyung nä practice is an intensive 2-day purification retreat that includes fasting, precepts, prostrations, prayers, mantra recitation, and offerings. Nyung nä is a practice based on the deity, 1,000 armed Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion, and is extremely powerful for healing illness, purifying negative karma, and opening the heart to compassion.

Doing even one Nyung Nä or “abiding in retreat” for just two days is said to be as effective as three months of other purification practices and is extremely powerful for healing illness, purifying negative karma, and opening the heart to compassion.

Nyung Nä Practice Book by FPMT

Nyung Nä Poster

Abiding in the Retreat: A Nyung Na Commentary: A compilation of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings

Nyung Nä Teachings from Lawudo by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Nyung-nä Practice: Prostrations and Offerings by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Oral Transmission of Nyung-Nä Text; Songtsen Gampo with Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Teachings from the Nyung-nä Retreat (Audio and Unedited Transcripts) by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Audio Recording of Nyung Nay sadhana text by Di Carroll:

Nyung Nay Recording Notes

Retreat Advice and Experiences: Preparing for Nyung Ne with Thubten Chödren, recorded by Sravasti Abbey

Retreat Advice and Experiences: Rejoicing After Nyung Ne with the Sravasti Community, recorded by Sravasti Abbey