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Refuge advice

Stages of the Path #63: Refuge Ngöndro Part 12

Part of a series of short talks on the preliminary practice (ngöndro) of taking refuge.

  • Saying each of the four mantras separately, 100,000 each, to focus very deeply
  • Different ways to do the practice
  • Not getting hung up on numbers

Stages of the Path 63: Advice (download)

To conclude about doing refuge as the ngöndro practice: we went over all the different visualizations and all the different things that you can think while you’re reciting the mantra and then some of the ways that you can do it. I advise saying each of the four mantras separately:

Namo Gurubhya
Namo Buddhaya
Namo Dharmaya
Namo Sanghaya

Do 100,000 of each one and then go to the next one, because that will allow you to really focus very deeply on your relationship with each of the four.

Another way to do it is to do all four, as a set, 100,000 times. You wind up with the same thing at the end, but it’s just a different way of doing it.

Another way to do it is in each session, do a sustained number of each one. Do x number of malas of Namo Gurubhya, and then that same number of Namo Buddhaya, and the same number of Namo Dharmaya and so on.

There are different ways that you can do it. You can do the practice either as a retreat when you’re doing four or six sessions a day. That really enables you to go quite deeply into it. It doesn’t take very long if you do it in a retreat. Or you can do it as a daily practice, maybe doing one session each day, but keeping it up each day and doing it.

It’s important that you don’t get hung up in all the numbers. As they say, doing 100,000 is actually the opportunity to do one with good concentration and complete awareness and some wisdom and bodhicitta. The idea isn’t to become just a chatterbox [Venerable Chodron mimics yawning through recitation] with your mind all over the place, but to try and focus your mind. It’s the focusing of your mind, and the meditation, the contemplation that you’re doing, that makes it a preliminary practice, not the number of recitations that you do. I think the number of recitations gives us some goal to work for so that when we do that, we have a sense of accomplishment.

We Westerners tend to take the number as something to get neurotic about and to worry about “because we’ll never say that many and, even if we did, it wasn’t done right.” That way of thinking is just useless and stupid and I don’t advise employing that.

Tomorrow we’ll go on with the lamrim prayer and start talking about karma (action) and its effects. When we take refuge, then the first instruction that the Buddha gives us is to observe our actions and try and refrain from destructive actions and do constructive actions.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.