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Humility in practice

First of four months of Dharma offerings focusing on the Mahamudra ngondro practices.

Preparing to Go Forward

Formal Tibetan Buddhist spiritual development often centers in some way on engaging a ngondro, a series of practices which lay a solid foundation for the continued growth of study and meditation. The term ngondro literally means “before going,” or more figuratively, preparing to go forward.

In everyday parlance, we might think of the prerequisite classes in high school or college which prepare us to go forward with more in-depth study. Although some can skip prerequisites without qualm, most of us benefit from them. Indeed, spiritual masters often tout the ngondro as more important even than the practices to follow.

For the Karma Kagyu lineage of which we are a part, the ngondro focuses on preparation for Mahamudra, the signature meditative practice of the lineage. In addition to cultivating the qualities described below, the ngondro process is a journey towards getting to know ourselves as practitioners, facing our obstacles, and rejoicing in our interconnection with each other, lineage and realized masters, and the Buddha, font of all the teachings across Buddhist heritages.

Four Components

The Mahamudra ngondro consists of four practices: prostrations, Vajrasattva meditation, mandala offering, and guru yoga. Each has an immense impact, including immediate and subtle effects on body and mind, as well as long-term results experienced across time.

Prostrations consists of taking refuge in the lineage and generating bodhicitta, along with full-body prostrations. It is an exemplary way to identify any hubris, rigidity, spiritual arrogance, and the like that we may harbor, and encourage humility.

Vajrasattva visualization and mantra recitation is a powerful practice for generating the clarity that comes from loosening the grip of karmic habits and reactivity in our mind.

Mandala offering is a joyous practice that connects us with a sense of abundance, gratitude, and generosity.

All of these flow towards guru yoga, an immense practice which nurtures greater receptivity to wonder in our inner experience and amidst the world around us alike, awakening us to the power of blessing always at our disposal.

Despite their antiquity, these practices have great vitality and relevance for us as Buddhist practitioners living in the rapidly changing world of today. Dear to our hearts, we hope to support other practitioners in their exploration of the Mahamudra ngondro.

Ngondro Prep School

This Saturday, July 29, Prajna Fire inaugurates our Ngondro Prep School, a four-month journey into the Mahamudra ngondro, providing a glimpse of the entire arc of ngondro practice. We will meet on the last Saturday of each month to discuss one of the four Mahamudra prerequisites and try out the practice for the weeks to follow.

The first session focuses on Humility, including its importance to spiritual practice, and how the first of the four Mahamudra ngondro practices, combining refuge, bodhicitta, and prostrations, can help us reveal and break through rigidity and resistance that comes of harboring attachment to misconceptions about ourselves, other beings, life, and spirituality.

Our morning session focuses on summarizing the philosophical underpinnings of the practice. Here we learn about the role of refuge, bodhicitta, and prostrations in our everyday life, impacts on the subtle body, and how this ngondro component prepares us for the openness of mind that is central to Mahamudra practice:

  • What is refuge? Why it is valuable? How do we take refuge in the Three Jewels in such a way as to uplift and embolden our hearts in wholesome ways?

  • How can we understand and embody bodhicitta, the brave heart of awakening, in our practice day to day, starting right now?

  • How does prostrations embody the practice of refuge and bodhicitta--quite literally?How does it enliven humility? What is humility's vital role in instilling a grounded confidence, laying the foundation for how we aspire to continue our path?

After lunch, we will gather to recite the corresponding parts of the sadhana, or liturgy, with pauses for instructions concerning details of the practices at relevant points in the text.

Following practice, we have a break, then conclude with a discussion period to address any specific questions and share experiences of the relevancy of ngondro practice amidst today's busy lifestyle in the world.

After our Saturday session, Google Classroom posts will provide weekly guidance for trying out the refuge, bodhicitta, and prostrations practice on your own for the four weeks until the Vajrasattva meditation session on the last Saturday in August.

From August to October, our Prajna Sparks podcast will focus on the Four Thoughts that Reorient Mind to Dharma, a contemplative exploration of our experience of samsara (cyclic existence) which is integral to ngondro and all Tibetan Buddhist practice as a whole.

By the end of our four months together, we will have sampled the Mahamudra ngondro experience as a whole. First introduced to this holistic approach to practicing the ngondro by our root guru, Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, we personally have found to be a valuable way to go deeper into ngondro, as well as other meditation and everyday spiritual practices. The four practices do stand on their own, yet they are also interwoven in ways not easy to discover until the entire fabric of the ngondro stands before our experience.

Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa will be available throughout the Ngondro Prep School period to answer questions via email or in optional private teaching sessions, at each student’s discretion.

Is it Right for Me?

The series is particularly beneficial for committed Tibetan Buddhist practitioners with a connection to the Karma Kagyu lineage who seek to enhance their new or existing Mahamudra ngondro practice. Students curious about ngondro in general or in the Karma Kagyu Mahamudra lineage specifically are also welcome.

It is fine to participate in as few or as many of the sessions and practices as you like. Vajrasattva meditation in particular is a viable standalone practice, accessible to experienced meditators across Buddhist heritage, not only Tibetan Buddhist practitioners.

As with all spiritual practice, basic psychological stability is essential. We trust you to make that determination for yourself.

Beyond that, the refuge and bodhicitta recitation practice is available to anyone regardless of age or physical condition.

Repetition of full-body prostrations. the central physical dynamic of the practice, is strenuous and should be undertaken with care and attention to our body’s needs. Under the guidance of a qualified lama, most people will find a viable way to engage the practice in a manner custom-tailored to their situation. For example, many elderly Tibetans sustain active prostrations and circumambulation practices well into their nineties and beyond.


We are using the sadhana entitled Chariot for Traveling the Exalted Path, composed by His Holiness the Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje. English translation will be shared on-screen during the sessions. Copies of the same text will be available through our Google Classroom for download in PDF format at no additional cost.

You are also free to use your own copy of the sadhana in your individual practice. They are available for purchase at Namse Bangdzo Bookstore in Tibetan pecha format and in spiral-bound book form. Please note that, while the original Tibetan is the same, English translations vary, as do supplementary prayers which may be included. Your copy may not be the same as the version we use together.

Paraphernalia for prostrations can be as numerous as dust motes in the sun. No need to be concerned about identifying the full array until you are doing the practice. Nevertheless, a 27-bead wrist mala (or click counter), a pad to cushion the knees, two small slippy hand pads for sliding, and a small table for holding your sadhana text are frequently helpful. You will determine your preferences as you go forward.

Feel free to join us!


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All our Dharma offerings are available at FREE, DONATION, SUPPORTER, and BENEFACTOR levels.

Register for all four months or one or more modules of your choice, as you prefer.

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Schedule a free half-hour private teaching session to meet with either Lama Yeshe or Lama Zopa. Make your selection during booking.


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