Comments on “Some preliminaries: ngöndro”

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R. R. Mattei 2019-07-06

“The only way to teach is by example”.

When talking about Guru Yoga, you summed up all points.

We don’t need technicalities. No matter how good your writings and your vision might be, the one single point is missing: a LIVING example of the result.

Nobody cares for systems anymore if they don’t lead to a really good result. Today there’s enough direct knowledge of Tibetans and other Asians to see where Tantra leads. After more than a millennium, all that is left from it are legends of better human beings.

The good examples are more than scarce: they’re almost inexistent.

Almost nobody will understand a mahasiddha such as Dombipa and very, very few are the lamas that were arrested for, let’s say, 20 years to emerge even more noble than before. Not to mention that they’re almost all gone to death, leaving only precarious inheritors.

The majority of lamas both from East & West are no more than regular human beings, with nothing to show rather than technicalities and theories they themselves have no real use for.

Before naturalizing Tantra values & techniques, you should worry to make Shunyata/Anatman more practical, to make it relevant. It seems to be the highest philosophical standpoint humankind achieved and yet most of the masters don’t display even the tiniest sign of it.

I don’t care if Vajra masters are this or that, if they received Owl or Fox dakini texts, when they don’t have the same compassion as, e.g., the Zen master Ejo Takata, the dare of leaving their cosy developed-world lives to come to poor & violent countries and teach without restraints not only Dharma, but practical things to make our lives better. I don’t care if all the masters I’ve learned technicalities from believe in hocus-pocus because the bogus from Vajra is no pair to real life, that is drowning us in poverty and injustices that no Dharma or religion can deal with.

How difficult is to see a Thang Tong Gyalpo in the world! All we see are lamas, geshes and Radical Dzokchen evangelists that have no sign of compassion, talking about creativity, but struggling to pay the bills of their own institutions or being so complicated and arrogant that they make it very difficult even if one wants to translate their translations into other languages.

As the great former Dudjom used to say, it’s all poop packed in silk. Vajra is already dead. Long live to the mahasiddhas!

David Chapman 2019-07-06
"The only way to teach is by example".

Yup. That’s why I abandoned this project, and feel stupid every time my brain insists on adding to it. I hope it somehow benefits someone somehow somewhen. Perhaps a future era will have better circumstances, and our third-hand stories of glories past, preserved in a web archive, will prove useful. Perhaps that era will come sooner than we expect.

R.R. Mattei 2019-07-06

No, please. You shouldn’t feel stupid. The work you’re doing here is impeccable. The problem is not with you, it’s with superstition surrounding the subject, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid. There’s much light in your work. I’ve already said somewhere that I’d love to translate it into Portuguese and Spanish. You more compassionate than all the Aro gTer masters together, especially the lineage holders. You dare to FACE and speak the truth, no matter how it hurts.

The problem is with masters and students that value more the traditions, the techniques and/or the supernatural claims rather than the love and wisdom that should prevail. If people like Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil are more right than wrong, an era of material abundance is about to disclose. Maybe at that moment people will have more room for getting more clearly in touch with the goodness at their own hearts and care more for each other instead of doing potato-mouths and rolling their eyeballs because they’ve received some exclusive wang and we not.

If you allow me one suggestion, would be that you list and tell not third-hand past glories, but all you’ve seen in Vajra that really works, for you and others. Please, tell the happenings, even if you need to change names and use yourself a pen name, I don’t know. We just need to understand when and why you and Aro gTer are no more in the same vibe.

We need truth, love and wisdom. Not killer apps. However, we could be wrong about some supernatural claims. As I said in another comment, you should look for Phowa. You said nothing about it and I myself had some strange occurrences from it. The former Chagdud Tulku, when he taught it to me, said that this is the quickest practice in terms of result.

Maybe you could try to go deeper in your practice in many terms so you can hatch some shells that will enlighten your work here.

Mi'sen 2019-07-08
So ideally someone would invent a ngöndro that efficiently induces emptiness, is well-suited to contemporary people, and is in the style of contemporary Buddhist tantra.

A historical tidbit on fairly recent innovation (within the last 25 years or so) in ngöndro: I know that Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpche got his students — or at least, some of them — to practice from his teachings on Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness as a ngöndro. PSME starts from sravaka view and then moves through some study/reflection/meditation on increasingly subtle views on emptiness until the student gets some sort of introduction to Clarity-Emptiness, and presumably arrives at a required the base; understanding/experience of emptiness. Whether that is a) effective and b) in the style of contemporary Buddhist tantra is a different matter, of course.

David Chapman 2019-07-08

Oh, that’s very interesting! I knew some people who were doing that practice, but didn’t know that it officially counted as ngöndro.

Kenny 2019-07-17

I always love finding a new post from one of your sites in my feed reader; thanks again!

I’m reading thru the posts linked-to from the “Reinventing Buddhist Tantra” post and they’re all great too.

I do still feel like I’m waiting for juicy details about ‘how’ and ‘what’ is to be done with all of this, but then, like many times before, I think that maybe a big point (or the point) of all of the stuff about which you write is that there’s no real way for it not to be ‘left as an exercise for the reader’!


yetAnotherTim 2021-03-20

Hi David,
You noted in footnote 8 that you don’t recommend TMI as it has lead to bad outcomes for people doing it it at high dose. Are you confusing TMI with MCTB? I was under the impression it was the latter rather than the former that regularly resulted in dark night experiences. Last I investigated the TMI community, there didn’t seem to be many people speaking of dark nights at all. (I’m aware that Culadasa himself has been at the centre of a scandal a couple years ago but I presume that isn’t what you speak of)

If you were speaking of TMI, is there somewhere you stumbled across these outcomes that you could point me in the direction of?

As always, thanks for writing!


yetAnotherTim 2021-03-20

Hi David,
You noted in footnote 8 that you don’t recommend TMI as it has lead to bad outcomes for people doing it it at high dose. Are you confusing TMI with MCTB? I was under the impression it was the latter rather than the former that regularly resulted in dark night experiences. Last I investigated the TMI community, there didn’t seem to be many people speaking of dark nights at all. (I’m aware that Culadasa himself has been at the centre of a scandal a couple years ago but I presume that isn’t what you speak of)

If you were speaking of TMI, is there somewhere you stumbled across these outcomes that you could point me in the direction of?

As always, thanks for writing!

TMI and other dangers

David Chapman 2021-03-21

Yes, I wasn’t confusing them.

My recent page on meditation risks may be helpful as background for this.

I’m not a fan of MCTB, but that community emphasizes that bad experiences are possible (or even likely, or maybe even necessary within that system). That’s important for people going into a system to know up front. They also have a sensible page on what to do if you flip out on retreat.

TMI doesn’t acknowledge that bad outcomes are fairly common. (As far as I know? This is consistent with your finding it not talked about in that community.) I wrote the meditation risks page specifically because two people had recently told me about bad experiences with TMI, so I did a tweet thread about it. Several more people chimed in with “I and/or several of my friends have had catastrophic breakdowns due to practicing it,” so I’m confident that this is a thing. (You can probably find those if you search responses to that tweet thread, although they may be buried in side chains.) The community’s apparent unwillingness to address this issue seems likely to make it worse.

TMI and MCTB both derive from traditional conceptions of enlightenment as cutting yourself off from reality. TMI sends you in that direction unusually rapidly, which makes it particularly dangerous. Daniel Ingram’s conception of enlightenment is fairly non-traditional, and (to the extent I understand it) his system seems to swerve away from that derealization at some point.

Ask about ngondro....

Peter 2021-06-19

WHO and WHEN (precisely -> dates, names, circumstances) and for what reasons “composed” the ngondro like 1`th as the first overall “package”. Are there any historical traces of this something? I need the most accurate information on this subject that I can’t find anywhere. Thank you for any potential information.

Request to Turn the Wheels (of the Lambo)

Rafael Roldan Mattei 2021-10-13


I’m never tired of reading these sections on naturalizing Tantra, but I miss many of the older “Approaching…” texts that you took out.

“I have officially abandoned the whole ‘reinventing tantra’ project, so probably I’ll never write that.” <<

Oh, please, don’t do that! Turn the wheel! Turn it, please…
I don’t like the Rajneesh Osho guy too much, but some of his practices, such as the Dynamic Meditations, can help the whole thing.

It seems to me that 99.9% of people involved with Buddhism are deeply poisoned by the concept of enlightenment as complete detachment from the everyday world, whereas on the other hand, even the “greatest lamas” seem to have surrendered to the comforts of pasteurized contemporary life of social web and consumerism.

“Renaming the practice could sidestep the knee-jerk revulsion, and revising the method might eliminate its genuinely problematic features, but I’m not sure quite how.” <<

First, just replace the guru by the natural state and the preliminary practice by a way of “pointing it out” that precludes the figure of a lama.
The problem I see here is that we’ve been told a half-truth: that it is possible for a conditioned mind to have the Unconditioned pointed out so easily. As I said above, if even the leaders are prey to the Western lifestyle of consuming the world, what to expect of someone that usually approaches the path just looking for some relief from the problems of everyday life?

Naked truth

Jeff 2022-07-20

Dear David, there is so much truth and light in your posts! Thank you for speaking out, you are the hero for many of us sincere practitioners!

I felt huge relief from loneliness when I stumbled upon your blog. I’m happy I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

As for ngondro, I believe we have already developed a method to replace it - Enligthened Intensive by Charles Berner.

It’s the first method that really gave me a taste of enlightenment. I didn’t make it on my 1st seminar, but I did on the 2nd. And because of how its done, I find it to be the perfect preparation for tantra.

Its really one heck of a violent method but it works so well.

Somehow, somewhen, someone benefitted

Sam Reed 2022-09-01

I just wanted to submit a note of appreciation for the uncommon perspective of this page and the site as a whole. I had been planning to start the traditional ngondro of one of the Nyingma lineages this fall, but I admit that what I read here gives me pause.

I’d be curious to know if you are familiar with the late Harvard professor and meditation teacher Daniel P. Brown and his Pointing Out the Great Way method. Apparently students are guided through Mahamudra and Dzogchen without a ngondro requirement, which seems unusual. He says in an interview that psychotherapy is like a ngondro for Westerners–an intriguing notion (not to mention, for this well-therapized Californian, a convenient one).

Thanks for your time.

Daniel P. Brown and psychotherapy as ngöndro

David Chapman 2022-09-01

Hi, Sam, I’m glad you found this helpful!

I know only a little bit about Daniel P. Brown’s work. I do know a couple of clueful people who speak highly of it.

From what little I’ve heard, I’m slightly wary of his synthesizing psychotherapeutic ideas with Vajrayana. (If it’s the case that he does that.) I don’t think those are compatible.

However, psychotherapy as a preparation for Vajrayana, or as a complement to it, does make sense. Not technically as ngöndro, but as maybe a precursor or supplement to ngöndro.

In my spouse Rin’dzin‘s Evolving Ground system, the three-part “base” for Vajrayana practice consists of opening awareness meditation, ethical maturity, and personal autonomy. Psychotherapy could definitely be helpful in establishing the last of those, and probably ethical maturity as well.

They write:

Many therapies facilitate self-confidence. Therapies often consolidate boundaries and personal identity, self-worth, personal agency, and autonomous activity. They rely on narrative and commentary to clarify personal processes. This is valuable for skillful, emotionally mature relationships. Knowing yourself, your preferences, and your limits is important!

Opening awareness leads to another, complementary sort of confidence, based in a clear mind, free from commentary. This experience does not eliminate personal boundaries and emotions—neither does it consolidate them. It brings relational habits into view such that more choices and self-possibilities are available. In everyday experience this confidence leads to fluid, responsive activity.

Depending on your circumstances, you may want to practice self-confidence and self-worth in therapy before or alongside starting a meditation practice. If you have unprocessed trauma or difficulty dealing with your emotions, therapy can be a valuable complement to opening awareness.

Building it up to tear it down

Sam Reed 2022-09-04

Thanks for that, David. Makes sense. I’m fairly certain he does not, or did not, mix the two.

The quote you include is timely. It’s funny–approaching Vajrayana in my 40’s, I can dimly see that the work ahead is to undermine the very self I’ve spent the last couple decades working to strengthen, in however healthy a way. Or it’s to experience that self as made more of space than of particles. Or something.

Also intrigued by Aro Ter, I’ll have to check that out. Anyways–thoughtful stuff, all around.

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