overview of teaching topics
For overviews of selected teachings offered by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and other Ligmincha Institute instructors, please choose from the links below.
Dzogchen (“The Great Perfection”)
Awakening the Luminous Mind
The Essential Wisdom of the Dzogchen Masters of Zhang Zhung
The Experiential Transmission of Zhang Zhung
Heart Drops of Dharmakaya
Ngondro: The Foundation of Dzogchen Practice
The Practice of the Six Lamps
The Practice of the Six Realms
The Seven Mirrors of Dzogchen
Tibetan Yoga (Trul Khor)
Zhiné: Calm Abiding Meditation
Bon Mother Tantra (Ma Gyu)
Bon Causal Vehicles
* * * * *
Dzogchen (“The Great Perfection”)
At the core of the dzogchen teachings is the view that all sentient beings are primordially pure, perfected, and have the potential to spontaneously manifest in a beneficial way. This capacity is within each and every one of us. It is our nature, yet we often find ourselves alienated and disconnected from ourselves and others as we rush about in our day-to-day lives. If we are willing to directly and nakedly encounter the experiences of our ordinary life, however challenging they may be, these experiences become the doorway to realizing our true nature, the doorway to inner refuge.
These teachings permit you to engage in the practice of meditation and reflection, to look intimately within and discover the jewel that is hidden in your ordinary experiences. Explore how to honor and respect the three doors of body, speech, and mind, and to recognize the opportunities for healing that life presents. Discover the inner refuge and the gifts of spaciousness, awareness, and warmth that can bring healing and benefit not only to you, but also to your relationships with others and the greater world.
Tenzin Rinpoche's teachings are based on his newest book, "Awakening the Luminous Mind: Tibetan Meditation for Inner Peace and Joy" (Hay House, June 2012), now available from Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore.
Just as clouds arise and dissolve within the clear, open sky, so do all our thoughts and emotions arise within the clear, open nature of our mind and then dissolve back to their source. The teachings of dzogchen enable us to discover and familiarize ourselves with this essential, primordially pure nature.
The 24 dzogchen masters of the ancient Asian empire of Zhang Zhung (located in what is now western Tibet) all achieved enlightenment and the rainbow body, the final result of dzogchen practice. Their wisdom teachings, originally transmitted orally from single master to single student, describe the empty, luminous nature of mind in poetic and pithy meditation instructions.
What makes these teachings unique is that for each of the 24 masters, his knowledge garnered from a lifetime of meditation practice has been distilled down into a single pith statement that is then handed down as guidance to the novice dzogchen practitioner. Students receive the teachings in a meditative setting that supports them in opening their hearts devotionally to each master in order to realize his essential wisdom.
Today, these teachings of the Twenty-Four Masters continue to be presented to students as a direct introduction to the natural state. The Bon dzogchen teacher combines commentary on the lives and teachings of the Zhang Zhung masters with guided meditation, including supportive practices to enhance the ability to connect with this timeless wisdom.
Nyam Gyu Dru Gyal wa’i Chag Tri
Dzogchen, also known as the "great perfection" or "great completion," is considered the path of self-liberation and the highest form of teaching and practice in the Bon tradition. For practitioners with the capacity it offers the potential for liberation during a single lifetime and within a single body. Until the late 20th century these ancient teachings were kept secret and offered to very few students of any generation. For all these reasons, attending the teachings can be seen as a precious opportunity for students of Tibetan Bon.
For more than a decade now Tenzin Rinpoche has devoted the Serenity Ridge Winter Retreat to teaching from The Experiential Transmission of Zhang Zhung (Zhang Zhung Nyam Gyu). This primary cycle of dzogchen teachings is from the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyud lineage, which along with A-Tri and Dzogchen is one of the three main dzogchen lineages of the Bon tradition.
Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche received his initial teachings from the Experiential Transmission at an early age from his first root master, Lopon Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche. These teachings served as a foundation for Rinpoche’s personal training, practice, and study, culminating in his completing the traditional 49-day dark retreat. Today they continue to form an integral aspect of Rinpoche’s teachings in the West.
In teaching the Experiential Transmission, Rinpoche draws from a text known as the Chag Tri (Nyam Gyu Dru Gyal wa’i Chag Tri). The Chag Tri has 11 chapters, taught at Serenity Ridge as a five-part series:
Part 1: The Ngöndro. This first part comprises the recitation and instruction of the preliminary practices, or ngöndro. The ngöndro is the authentic doorway through which a practitioner gains entry to the Experiential Transmission teachings and receives the blessings of its lineage holders. Its integrated series of nine preliminary practices help to tame the mind, turn the mind toward the path, and purify the illnesses, obstacles and mental obscurations that obscure the mind’s primordially perfect nature.
Part 2: Introduction to the Nature of Mind. The knowledge and skills learned here are applied in all parts of the cycle to come. In a deliberate and structured way, the Part 2 teachings present the foundational practice of zhiné as the skillful means to develop a calm abiding mind; and give instructions for dark retreat, sky gazing, and sun gazing as skillful means to develop stability in mindfulness. These practices ultimately permit experiences of innate awareness, or rigpa. In turn, when experiences of innate awareness are developed and stabilized in a methodical way through meditation practice, they confirm the direction of the practitioner’s journey and allow it to naturally unfold.
Part 3: The View, Meditation, Behavior, and Result of Dzogchen. Part 3 further guides students in developing inner clarity and integrating what they have learned into their practice and their lives. Practitioners will explore:
- how the base of naked seeing provides the self-introduction and the dzogchen view
- how the path of experiencing the clear light is the meditation
- how the secondary causes of being challenged to bring every experience to the path are the behavior
- how the fruition of developing confidence in the three kayas and finding one’s own place is the result.
Part 4: Removing Obstacles. Here students will receive teachings on how to overcome obstacles to their practice while sustaining and cultivating the results they have achieved during previous parts of the cycle. They will learn and engage in practices that work with the channels, prana and tigle, such as trul khor (Tibetan yoga), tsa lung, and additional support practices drawn from the Zhang Zhung Nyam Gyu, A Khrid and other sources.
Part 5: The Practice of Seven Cycles of Clear Light. During this final part of the cycle, students will receive guidance in tögel (pure vision) meditation and will engage in practices with the sky, sun and darkness. Tenzin Rinpoche will discuss the dark-retreat experiences of various teachers, including his own experiences; and will offer a brief explanation of the seven cycles comprising the traditional retreat of 49 days in total darkness. For those students who have completed Parts 1 through 5 and are ready to engage in the 49-day dark retreat, Rinpoche will be available to give personal, one-on-one guidance.
For detailed explanations about these dzogchen teachings, see Wonders of the Natural Mind: The Essence of Dzogchen in the Native Bon Tradition of Tibet, by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, available from Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore and Tibet Shop.
Additional supports for the practice of the Experiential Transmission are available from Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore & Tibet Shop:
The nature of our own mind remains hidden behind clouds of thoughts and emotions until a master directly points out the source, the essence, the “heart drop.” This is the method of direct introduction to dzogchen, the highest and most subtle path of meditation in Bon.
The Heart Drops of Dharmakaya teachings were composed by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen, a Tibetan master who upon his death in 1935 achieved the rainbow body, in which his physical body dissolved into light. Shardza Rinpoche was one of the most influential Bon teachers of his time; his works are used as textbooks in many Tibetan monasteries.
In these teachings, practitioners learn a series of extraordinary practices that invoke direct perception of the nature of mind. Unlike methods that involve watching the breath or otherwise calming the thoughts, these practices rely on body postures, sounding of Tibetan syllables, and simple visualizations to draw one quickly to an experience of one's essence.
These essential teachings are presented in the book Heart Drops of Dharmakaya, with commentary by Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, who is widely revered as the greatest living dzogchen master of the Bon lineage. This book is available from the Ligmincha Institute Bookstore & Tibet Shop.
“The Experiential Transmission is the centerpiece of my teachings in the West. I’ve often said that if I could have only one text, the Chag Tri manual would provide all I or anyone would need to practice and accomplish the path of dzogchen.
— Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
The ngondro teachings are the doorway through which you may enter the vast and profound Bon Buddhist path. A set of nine foundational or preliminary practices, the ngondro provides a solid foundation of understanding and experience upon which a strong spiritual life develops. It is often described as a friend that accompanies you throughout your spiritual life. The nine practices in the Bon ngondro are:
• Opening Your Heart
• Meditation on Impermanence
• Admitting Your Misdeeds
• Bodhicitta — Generating the Mind of Enlightenment
• Taking Refuge
• Offering the Mandala
• Purification Through Mantra
• Offering Your Body
• Guru Yoga
The more you devote yourself to these practices that tame, purify and perfect your body, speech and mind — and the more you become familiar with the experiences that these practices bring — the more you will find spiritual practice grounded within you.
NOTE: The ngöndro comprises Chapter 1 of the Chag Tri teachings from the Experiential Transmission of Zhang Zhung. It is essential to study and practice the chapters of the Experiential Transmission in sequence. Therefore, the ngöndro is a prerequisite for continuing to study the Bon dzogchen path of the Experiential Transmission each year at our winter retreat with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.
Support materials for study and practice of the ngöndro are available for online purchase from Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore & Tibet Shop.
The teachings of the Six Lamps are from the Oral Transmission of Zhang Zhung, the most important cycle of dzogchen teachings in the Bon Buddhist tradition of Tibet.
According to the Bon dzogchen teachings, the suffering of sentient beings can be traced to a single cause: our failure to comprehend that external appearances are only a manifestation of our own innate awareness. The teachings of the Six Lamps guide us to experience pure vision by recognizing the clear light of self-awareness in all levels of our existence:
• In the vast, infinite space that is the base-of-all
• In the space within our heart center
• In the subtle channels of our sacred body that connect the heart with the eyes
• In the external space surrounding us
• In all external visions
• In the visions we experience after death
The practice of the Six Lamps introduces us first to our inner light—helping us to overcome the internal darkness of ignorance, doubt and negative emotions. Then, it introduces us to the external manifestation of that light, helping us to overcome the external darkness.
During these teachings, through instruction and guided meditations one can learn to maintain one's connection with the inseparable state of emptiness and innate awareness and to perceive all aspects of one's environment with pure vision. Ultimately this practice is a path to self-liberation, enabling one to experience all visions of the bardo (the transitional state after death) as inseparable from one’s own essence, the essence of Samantabhadra.
Negative emotions such as anger, greed, and pride are the cause of all the suffering in our lives. According to the Tibetan spiritual traditions these emotions, which spring from ignorance of our true nature, are what have trapped us in the endless cycle of suffering known as samsara.
The teachings of the six realms, or six lokas, give us the means to profoundly recognize the negative emotions within us, clear them at a very deep level, and transform them into positive qualities that can empower and enrich our lives.
The knowledge of the six realms has for centuries been practiced in Tibet, particularly within the ancient Bon Buddhist tradition. In Bon this knowledge is found within the esoteric dzogchen teachings of the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud, one of the most important cycles of Bon teachings.
According to these teachings, every sentient being is born into one of six realms, each of which is associated with a given emotion:
- The hell realms are characterized by anger
- The hungry ghost realm, by greed
- The animal realm, by ignorance
- The human realm, by jealousy
- The demi-god realm, by pride
- The god realm, by lethargic pleasure.
As human beings we are of the human realm; yet, it is clear that aspects of all six realms are part of the normal human experience. During these teachings, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche will guide us to:
- recognize how the characteristics of the various realms are manifesting in our personalities, through our physical conduct, speech, and view and behavior of the mind
- clear these karmic obscurations of body, energy and mind, from the grosser, physical levels of experience to the higher, subtler levels of awareness
- transform our negativities into equanimity and other positive qualities. For example, love is the antidote to anger, just as generosity is the antidote to greed. Each negative emotion has its antidote, and each antidote is a doorway to one’s higher self, to one’s essence, to the joyful state of connection with one’s pure being.
Often, we fail to notice how a given emotion is shaping our personality and causing us to suffer. For example, we may come to identify with anger and remain stuck in it for years. But through the practice of the six realms we can become more fully aware of the darkness in which we have been living and begin to give light to that darkness. We can learn to guide our anger, tapping into its energy to move forward in our lives. When we are no longer blindly conditioned by our negative emotions and can cultivate their antidotes, our experiences of the realms can be more playfully and positively expressed. We can live more fully and productively.
Supports for the Practice of the Six Realms can be found at Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore and Tibet Shop. >
Dzogchen, also known as the "great perfection," is considered the path of self-liberation and the highest form of teaching in the Bon Buddhist tradition. For practitioners with the capacity it offers the potential for liberation during a single lifetime and within a single body.
The Seven Mirrors of Dzogchen is a powerful heart-essence teaching from the Tibetan Bon Buddhist tradition, offering a direct introduction to the clear, open awareness of the dzogchen view as well as methods for maintaining this state.
The seven mirrors are:
1. The heart mirror of the view
2. The heart mirror of the meditation
3. The heart mirror of the result
4. The heart mirror of conduct
5. The heart mirror that explains the pure realms and lands of samsara
6. The heart mirror of six-fold consummation
7. The heart mirror that explains the benefit of meeting with this teaching
The distinctive Tibetan practice of yoga known as Trul Khor incorporates breath, awareness and physical movement. This practice is a wonderful support for all spiritual practitioners, not just for those with an interest in physical yogas. By harmonizing the vital breath and guiding its flow through the physical and energetic dimensions, Trul khor can clear long-held blocks in the practitioner's body, energy, and mind, supporting the spontaneous arising of awareness during formal meditation and in everyday life.
Trul Khor: The Magical Movement of Tibet
By M. Alejandro Chaoul
Trul khor, or “magica l wheel” or “magical movement,” is a distinctive Tibetan practice of physical yoga in which breath and mental concentration are integrated with particular body movements. In contrast to Indian styles of yoga, in which the practitioner aims to hold a pose with the body still and the breath flowing naturally, in trul khor the practitioner holds the breath still while the body moves in such a way as to guide the breath, which in turn guides the mind.
Tibetan religious traditions have employed trul khor as part of their spiritual training since at least the tenth century. Although trul khor is found in all five Tibetan spiritual traditions, it is most prevalent in the Kagyu, Nyingma, and Bon schools. While trul khor may have been practiced much earlier and preserved only as an oral tradition, written texts point to the practice of trul khor by famed yogis of the eleventh through thirteenth centuries such as Marpa, Naropa, and Drugyalwa Yungdrung, among others.
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, who teaches trul khor at his Ligmincha Institute, says, “Trul khor is a wonderful daily practice, especially to control and handle the stress of our modern life in society. It has the power to balance the energies of mind and body, and it also helps enormously to support one’s meditation practices.” Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, who teaches trul khor under the Sanskrit name of yantra yoga through his Dzogchen community, describes the practices as a tool to understand one’s own true nature more clearly.
Within trul khor there are practices that work specifically with the energetic or subtle body. This is composed of channels (Sanskrit: nadis), vital breath currents (prana), and essential spheres (bindus), providing the landscape where the mind and the physical body connect with each other. The Bon Mother Tantra, among other tantric texts, explains that the mind rides on the vital breath (or energy) currents like a rider on a horse, and the two travel together through the pathways of the channels. As the breath circulating in the channels becomes more balanced, the channels become increasingly pliable, allowing the vital breath currents to find their own comfortably smooth rhythm. Put simply, our physical body, energy, and mind are said to be the three doors through which one can practice and eventually realize enlightenment.
Therefore, trul khor can be understood as movements that guide the energy linking the mind with the gross and subtle bodies. This brings internal or even mystical experiences and transformation to the practitioner. Also, with the help of movements that guide the mind and vital breath currents into different areas, the practice brings the possibility of healing the body-energy-mind system, which is the model of good health in Tibetan medicine. Until recently, Westerners were focused on receiving Tibetan teachings that develop the mind, but in the last five years there has been a growing interest in Tibetan physical yogas. While traditionally these practices were taught and practiced only after the student had undergone many years of meditation training, some Tibetan masters now teach it more openly, like many other meditative practices, yet with the appropriate supervision. Other teachers maintain the secrecy of the higher trul khor practices.
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche has based much of the trul khor practice he teaches on the ancient Mother Tantra. You can find a very good explanation of these teachings in his book Healing with Form, Energy and Light . Ligmincha Institute offers training specifically on trul khor that consists of four five-day retreats over a two-year period. Over the last five years, Ligmincha Institute has been collaborating with the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to design and implement a Tibetan Yoga program for cancer patients, utilizing the tsa lung trul khor from the Bon tradition. Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche follows the trul khor of Vairochana’s Union of Sun and Moon, on which he has written a commentary that will soon be published in English.
Other teachers of Tibetan physical practices in the West include Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, who teaches both public and advanced practices, and Lama Norlha of Kagyu Thubten Choling monastery, where trul khor is taught only as part of the three-year retreat. These physical yogas from Tibet have come to the West, as most Buddhist teachings have, through the needs of students. Feeling that mind practices lacked the “embodiment” aspect, many felt the need of physical movement with a spiritual component. Unaware of the existence of Tibetan yoga, or unable to meet the strict requirements for receiving the practices, they turned to hatha or other Indian yogas. Now that many trul khor practices are available to Western students, it seems that the magical wheel is turning.
M. Alejandro Chaoul, Ph.D., is a mind-body intervention specialist at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He is a senior student and instructor at Ligmincha Institute. This article is reprinted with permission from the March 2007 issue of Shambhala Sun magazine.
The practice of zhiné affords an opportunity to step out of the distractions of everyday life and come home to yourself.
The ability to maintain focused attention and abide in clear, open awareness not only enables you to live more fully in the present, it also cultivates spiritual awakening. The practice of zhiné (calm abiding) develops the strong, stable attention and stillness necessary to overcome the continual movements of the mind. When you train yourself to abide naturally in openness, the healing powers of a focused mind are revealed.
Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche refers to zhiné as the “medicine of tranquility.” Bon texts further speak of its power to create the real person. Zhiné is the foundation for all dzogchen practice; everything begins with zhiné, and its continued practice supports the practitioner all along the path.
While the focus of our zhiné retreats is on "zhiné on A" (gazing at a visual support) and "zhiné on sound" (verbally sounding Tibetan syllables), practitioners are also guided to devote their developing attention to the practices of guru yoga, nine breathings of purification, tsa lung, and the dedication of merit. These essential practices are applied in an unhurried manner that supports a deepening connection to the Bon lineage as well as to one's meditation.
New and beginning students learn to develop the powers of concentration necessary to calm the mind and experience inner peace. Experienced students find that zhiné deepens and enhances the results of their daily practice and brings glimpses of profound open awareness. Students of tantric meditation find that zhiné strengthens concentration for their visualizations; and students of dzogchen find it establishes the mindfulness necessary to abide in the open clarity of the Great Perfection.
Supports for the practice of zhiné are available at Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore & Tibet Shop.
Bon Mother Tantra (Ma Gyu)
Many of life's problems have to do with fear and attachment, the most basic obstacles to realizing one's essential nature. The ancient practice of chod is a creative and skillful method for dissolving these obstacles.
Chod literally means 'to cut.' Traditionally, chod practitioners (chodpas) would practice most often in external natural environments believed to harbor harmful energy from the spirits of nature, whose provocations were incited by disharmony between the human and spirit worlds. The chodpa would travel into the mountains, chanting with drum and bell, in order to conquer the spirits with a ‘sword of wisdom' and reharmonize the energy between the two worlds.
In the chod practice the fearful provocation of the spirits is also considered an external manifestation of one's own internal fear and attachments. Thus, one can emphasize confronting one's fear and emotion from the comfort of a meditation cushion.
In these teachings you will gain an understanding of how the chod practice can help overcome the ignorance, attachment and aversion that are at the source of all fear; and how it can unleash your potential for creativity, dissolve emotional conflicts, and help you reconnect to your natural state — the state that is innately open, aware and fearless.
It is said that the practice of dream yoga deepens our awareness during all our experience: the dreams of the night; the dream-like experience of the day; and the bardo experiences after death. Indeed, the practice of dream yoga is a powerful tool of awakening, used for hundreds of years by the great masters of the Tibetan traditions. Unlike in the Western psychological approach to dreams, the ultimate goal of Tibetan dream yoga is the recognition of the nature of mind or enlightenment itself.
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche's teachings on dream yoga are from the Mother Tantra (Ma Gyud), one of the most important cycles of teachings in the Bon Buddhist tradition of Tibet. During his retreats Rinpoche typically discusses the relationships between dreaming and waking and between dreaming and death. He also instructs in the “four preparations” for sleep and the uses and methods of lucid dreaming.
For more information:
- View a 9-minute video in which Rinpoche explains the practice of dream yoga at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Gls65GDMGQ
- In-depth information about dream yoga can be found in Tenzin Rinpoche's book The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep (Snow Lion, 1998), available for online purchase from Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore & Tibet Shop.
- Additional supports for the dream yoga practice are available at Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore & Tibet Shop.
- You can listen to an online interview with Rinpoche in which he discusses dream yoga ("Sleep as a Spiritual Journey") at Buddhist Geeks.
- An interview with Rinpoche about the fall 2008 dream yoga retreat at Serenity Ridge appears below:
About the Dream Yoga teachings — an interview with Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
On February 19, 2008, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche offered a brief overview of his October 2008 dream yoga teachings.
Voice of Clear Light: You have been teaching dream yoga many times over the past few years since the publication of your book The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. What will your teachings emphasize at this fall's retreat?
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche: As always, the core information remains the same, but the approach to the information, and particularly how the information is applied, changes from retreat to retreat. The longer I have been teaching and the longer my students have been practicing, the more simplified, direct and effective the teachings become. Hopefully, I can emphasize some of the more essential elements of the teaching with more effective ways of relating the practice to the modern lifestyle and modern individual. Basically, this fall I will be emphasizing the cream of the teachings, the nectar of the teachings.
VOCL: What is a new person likely to gain from attending this retreat? What is an experienced practitioner likely to gain?
TWR: For people who have been practicing, of course this is an opportunity to understand and connect more deeply, to apply the practice of dream yoga in a quintessential way. They can further explore what doesn't work for them and what can work for them. It's an opportunity to reinforce their practice.
For people coming for the first time, the dream yoga teachings may be a way to discover in their sleeping and dreaming hours a hidden time, a hidden space, a hidden way to practice meditation in their life — and through that opportunity, to further their spiritual development. Many people think to themselves, "I don't have time to practice." But if you are able to use sleep and dream as a way of practicing, it is like discovering many more years of time in your life for practice. We spend one-third of our life, or an average of 20 to 25 years, asleep. Depending on how much time you have left in your life, suddenly you have discovered 10 or so more years to do practice.
If you don't use this time for practice, you will be using it instead for the wrong things — for dreams of ignorance, for nightmares. If you can take over that time, clearly it's a great opportunity for change.
VOCL: How can engaging in dream yoga support the other meditation practices a person may be doing?
TWR: Many other practices we do, including forms of tantric visualization, require a foundation of feeling clear within oneself. Before transforming into the tummo goddess, for example, we engage in practices to clear our obstacles and obscurations. If I can feel clearer than before, then I can undergo a more complete and vivid transformation. I think dream yoga can be very helpful in that aspect of clearing.
Of course, one must also have a measure of clarity in order to practice dream yoga. That is why we engage in preliminaries like the practices of tsa lung and the nine breathings of purification. You need to have clear, open attention to the four major chakras as you fall asleep.
But dream yoga itself can be very clearing. For example, when you draw attention to the heart chakra while falling asleep, any pain you have been feeling in your heart will be the cause of manifestation in your dreams. Thus, your dreams will manifest in a way that reflects the pain you feel in your heart. During lucid dreaming, then, you are working with the heart chakra in physical, energetic and mental ways to clear that aspect of pain. Once you've cleared it, then the next time you draw your open attention to the heart chakra as you fall asleep, it will have another effect.
VOCL: Who is most likely to find dream yoga practice most accessible and have the best results from it?
TWR: People who have some more sense of light sleep, who have clear dreams, who are able to detach from the stresses of the workday as their evening begins … these people are most likely to be able to connect to the practice with good results.
For a dedicated practitioner on the spiritual path, nearly any moment of transition provides a potent opportunity for positive transformation, and never more so than at the Great Moment of death. Engaging in the powa practice of the Bon tradition of Tibet enables one to transfer one's consciousness directly into a pure realm at the time of death, thus increasing one's chances for liberation in a single lifetime.
In these teachings, students learn how to accept death as a natural and expected process; how to adopt the right attitude in preparation for death; and how to perform the powa practice at the time of death.
These teachings, from the Bon Mother Tantra, or Ma Gyud, are known to be particularly detailed, powerful, and in-depth.
According to the ancient Tibetan spiritual traditions, our planet is alive and sacred; and the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space are not just natural resources but can be considered fundamental aspects of a living universe. In fact, every experience one can have, from the sensations of one’s physical body, to the emotions, to the most fleeting of thoughts, is said to be composed entirely of these five elements in interaction.
During his five-elements teachings, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche typically guides us in connecting with the external elements to support us to internalize the essential vital qualities of the elements. Incorporating teachings of shamanism, tantra, and dzogchen, Rinpoche guides a unique meditation practice through which we can retrieve and deeply connect with the elemental essences and nourish and restore health and vitality.
By bringing the five elements into balance, we contribute to our own well-being as well as the health of our planet:
According to shamanic teachings, on a physical level, the ongoing destruction and pollution of our global environment can be said to provoke the spirits of nature, causing wide-scale disease, energy disturbances, and mental obstacles to arise. By harmonizing with the natural elements, we harmonize our relationship with these spirits.
According to tantric teachings, on an energetic level, the raw elements of nature represent subtler, more fundamental aspects of the primordial energy of existence. As such, the five elements play an essential role in emotional and psychological healing. For example, too much earth element can make us feel dull, drowsy, or lazy; but when earth is balanced in us it supports us to feel connected, secure, and confident.
According to dzogchen teachings, on the level of mind, retrieving and connecting with the elemental essences can support the practice of contemplative meditation. For example, the water element brings comfort and joy to experiences of open awareness; when fully developed in spiritual practice, it is mirror-like wisdom.
For More Information
• Healing With Form, Energy and Light: The Five Elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra and Dzogchen, by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. Snow Lion Publications, 2002. Available for online purchase at Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore & Tibet Shop >
• "Discovering the Sacred" — an interview with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche about the five elements, from Snow Lion Newsletter >
• Ligmincha Institute periodically offers an online course on "Introduction to the Five Elements: Healing With Form, Energy and Light." Learn these meditation practices in the comfort of your own home. Learn more >
• A wide variety of other support materials related to the Five Elements practice are available from Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore & Tibet Shop >
We spend one-third of our lives asleep — an average of 20 to 25 years drifting in the darkness of unconsciousness.
Centuries ago, Tibetan yogis developed the practice of sleep yoga to transform these dark hours of ignorance into a path toward enlightenment. A powerful tool for awakening, sleep yoga is more than a practice of the night. It helps us to integrate all moments — waking, sleeping, meditation, and even death — with the clear light of awareness.
The clear-light sleep practices are from the Mother Tantra, one of the most important cycles of teachings in the Tibetan Bön Buddhist tradition. Students learn the proper position of the body and of the mind during sleep; the images and visualizations associated with the practice; as well as physical exercises that support meditative awareness by clearing obstacles of the body, energy and mind.
An important support for dzogchen practice, the sleep yoga practices bring more clarity and lucidity to all experience. One performs them during normal daytime activities, during meditation practice, during preparation for sleep, and as one falls asleep. The primary goal of sleep practice is to open the door to the pure experience of rigpa — the luminous, open awareness that is the true nature of the mind. Ultimately, the purpose is to help the practitioner attain final liberation at the time of death.
For More Information
- Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche gives in-depth information about the sleep yoga practice in his book The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep (Snow Lion, 1998), available for online purchase from Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore & Tibet Shop >
- Additional supports for the sleep yoga practice >
- Comments from participants at a recent sleep yoga retreat >
Ultimately, the goal of meditation is to learn to abide with stability in clear, open awareness. You can enhance your ability to connect with and rest in this naturally joyful state by alleviating any physical distractions, emotional blocks, energetic or mental disturbances, or other obstacles to your practice.
The five tsa lung exercises are a step-by-step means for identifying and clearing these obstacles. These easy-to-perform yet powerful exercises can be used not just as a preliminary to other meditation practice, but also as a primary practice for enhancing the experience of open awareness in day-to-day life. They can help you to:
- clear gross obstacles such as those that cause disease or strong negative emotions
- clear or exhaust the momentum that drives obscuring thoughts
- clear subtle obstacles that disturb your ability to recognize and rest in your own natural mind.
In Tibetan, tsa means channel and lung means vital breath or wind (prana). Through bringing together the focus of the mind, breath and physical movements, in each tsa lung exercise you open particular chakras or energetic centers in the body and clear the obstacles that disturb and obscure you from recognizing the pure and open space of being. This pure and open space is the source of all positive qualities.
The five tsa lung exercises are described in detail in Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche’s book Awakening the Sacred Body (Hay House, 2011), available from Ligmincha Institute’s Bookstore and Tibet Shop.
To view a recorded public talk by Rinpoche on the tsa lung practice, visit: https://www.ligmincha.org/retreats/live-internet-teachings2.html
Bon Causal Vehicles
The Tibetan people traditionally view the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and space as pervading all of life and as the essential components of our entire worldly existence. The soul (la) is said to be composed of these elements at a very subtle level — and it is believed that a traumatic event or other shock can cause an individual to lose connection with the elements and become dispirited.
The ancient shamanic rites of soul retrieval (la gu) and life-force retrieval (tse gu) from the Mother Tantra of the Bon tradition are methods of calling on the living essence of the elements — the elemental spirits — to balance and heal the individual.
Just attending the ritual in itself brings a healing effect. Students receiving the teachings additionally learn how to diagnose the need for soul retrieval as well as how to perform it. Through ritual and meditation practice, they learn to overcome negative influences and bring back the positive qualities that are missing or reinforce the qualities that are weakened in themselves or in others. Cultivating these personal qualities, in turn, serves as a foundation for spiritual awakening.
In-depth information about the natural elements can be found in Tenzin Rinpoche's book Healing With Form, Energy and Light: The Five Elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra and Dzogchen (Snow Lion, 2002), available from Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore & Tibet Shop. Other supports for the practice of soul retrieval are also available for online purchase from the Tibet Shop.
Soul Retrieval: An Interview with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
In this edited excerpt from an interview published in Voice of Clear Light, February 2008, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche discusses the ancient Bon practice of soul retrieval.
Voice of Clear Light: Are soul retrieval and life-force retrieval two separate practices? How are these two connected?
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche: The text I will be teaching from has two parts: soul retrieval (la gu) and life-force retrieval (tse gu). These two factors are distinct, but they are integrally related. Somehow, the soul appears to serve as a deeper foundation of the life force. If the soul is healed, the life force is strong. If the soul is damaged, the life force declines.
VOCL: In the Bon tradition, what is the meaning of soul?
TWR: One way to look at your soul is as your spiritual essence: that which is fed by the activity of virtue. Another way we can look at the soul is as a balance of the five natural elements of earth, water, fire, wind and space at a very subtle level. In the Tibetan spiritual traditions, this balance of the characteristics of all five elements equates to one's spiritual essence.
In one individual, all five elements may be in balance. Another individual may naturally have a lot of fire in their personality, more so than other people. Yet, within each element there is always some level of the four other elements; for example, the fire element is comprised of space fire, air fire, earth fire, and so on. So, even someone with a fiery personality can have a healthy balance of the elements.
However, sometimes we can lose this balance because of negative karmic ripening; because of long-term pain, conflict, stress or tension; or because of lack of skill in dealing with situations that arise in our lives. When one faces more than one is able to digest or deal with, when it becomes too much, it begins to damage the individual. It does not necessarily affect your physical health right away, but it may affect your personality, your mood, or in a deeper sense, the emotions and thoughts that arise from that imbalance of the elements.
Someone with a lot of fire may normally have a sense of joy, of creativity, of enthusiasm, while still maintaining some sense of stability from the earth element and flexibility from the air element, for example. But when there is an imbalance of the elements, the person will not feel the same. They may feel unhappy, with no desire to do things, and no energy. If they live too long with that imbalance, over time they may become physically ill.
In the soul retrieval practice the practitioner can retrieve the elemental essences they need by connecting with nature, with the forces of time, with the forces of the enlightened refuge tree, of the healing spirits, of the support of the community of practitioners, of one's individual wishes, of ritual, of mantra — through all those things, formally or informally the practitioner is able to retrieve the qualities.
Sometimes we may be hit with a challenge, and before we can deal with it we are hit by another challenge. When there is a constant onslaught, we may feel like we can't cope anymore. As we are engaged with one problem, other deeper issues come to hurt us internally, and there is a pervasive imbalance of energy. When this cycle persists, soul retrieval is very necessary.
If you are deeply affected by a big shock or trauma that happens in your life, it will be because of the accumulation of past imbalances.
It is important when coming to these retreats not to think you are coming only to learn something in order to help yourself, or to come only because you work in a healing profession. Of course, you can come for those reasons, but most important, every now and then, you should attend a retreat like this to retrieve the qualities you need and help put yourself back on track. Internally, spiritually, energetically, you are coming back to that place where you are a healthy, balanced person.
The Sang Chö and Prayer Flag Rituals
“May I increase my life force, my vitality, my fortune, my power, my soul, my prosperity.”
During these troubled times on earth, many of us are suffering from limited support not only from the human realm but also from the world of nature and the spirits. The ancient Tibetan rituals of the wind horse provide a way to communicate clearly and directly with the spirits of nature in order to gain their support and raise one's prosperity, personal power and good fortune.
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche teaches shamanic rituals that Tibetans have practiced for thousands of years and which have their origins in the Bon tradition, the indigenous spiritual tradition of Tibet. During these teachings students have an opportunity to gain knowledge of practices such as Sang Chö and the raising of prayer flags, while intimately connecting with and raising the uplifting qualities and energies engendered by these powerful rituals.
“These rituals have been practiced throughout Tibet for thousands of years. What I hope for my own students is that whenever they are in uncertain situations, they will not be totally consumed by doubts but will have the ability to go beyond them and find the inner strength to make positive changes.”
—Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
The Five Warrior Syllables Practice relies on the power of sound to help heal physical illness, clear psychological and energetic disturbances, and support the spiritual practitioner to abide with clear and open awareness.
As described in the book Tibetan Sound Healing: Seven Guided Practices for Clearing Obstacles, Accessing Positive Qualities, and Uncovering Your Inherent Wisdom by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (Marcy Vaughn, editor), through this practice you can learn to:
- identify negative patterns and obstacles in body, breath, and mind
- clear these obstacles
- cultivate and manifest positive qualities in everyday life
Guided by the mind and carried by the subtle breath through the channels and chakras of the body, the power of sound helps to uncover positive qualities such as love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Through practicing with five sacred and powerful sounds known as the Five Warrior Syllables, you can transform your life and discern a clear path that begins with openness and leads to spontaneous, virtuous action in the world.
For More Information
- Participate in an online Tibetan Sound Healing workshop with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. Learn more >
- Rinpoche's book on the topic, Tibetan Sound Healing, is available from the Tibet Shop >
- Additional support materials for the Five Warrior Syllables Practice are available at Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore & Tibet Shop >
This ancient meditation practice and healing ritual draws on the compassion of the fully enlightened protector of Bon, Yeshe Walmo, who is the principal emanation of Sipe Gyalmo. The source of this healing practice is said to be Yeshe Walmo herself; and from her the stream of transmission has passed unbroken from master to master, to qualified Bon teachers of the present including Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche and Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.
The healing waters produced during the healing practice of Sipe Gyalmo are considered a powerful remedy for the physical illnesses arising in our modern times. When this practice is conveyed as a ritual only, those present can benefit from its healing energy and from receiving the healing waters. During retreats, students additionally receive supplementary teachings and transmission for the practice, enable them to continue doing this healing practice on their own when they return home.
The teachings of Sherap Chamma (Mother of Wisdom and Love) comprise one of the most important tantric cycles of Bon.
In many cultures the primordial female energy is seen as the origin of existence and the source of wisdom, love and compassion. The ancient Bon Buddhist tradition offers a method for retrieving and directly connecting with this divine feminine energy, bringing the potential for profound healing at all levels of experience—physical, energetic, psychological and spiritual.
The Sherap Chamma practice as taught by Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche permits students to deeply connect with their own innate wisdom and with the love and compassion that radiate from that wisdom. As always, Rinpoche presents these ancient teachings in a way that is fresh and relevant to modern daily life.
Support materials for the practice of Sherap Chamma are available from Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore & Tibet Shop.
Tenzin Wangyall Rinpoche guided the Sherap Chamma practice during a June 2009 live Internet broadcast. View a recording of this broadcast here >
As depicted in this traditional thangka image, Sherap Chamma, Mother of Wisdom and Love, is yellow in color, youthful in appearance, and beautifully adorned with the 13 ornaments of a peaceful deity. She sits atop sun and moon disks on a lotus throne. In her right hand, at the level of the heart, she holds a vase filled with the nectar of compassion. Her left hand holds the stem of a lotus whose blossom supports the mirror of wisdom, which reveals all passing phenomena as empty of inherent existence. Sherap Chamma, also known as Gyalyum (Mother of all Conquerors), is an important emanation of Satrik Ersang from the group of the Four Transcendent Ones. Included among Sherap Chamma’s many manifestations are the wrathful protector Sipé Gyalmo (Queen of Existence) and Yeshé Walmo (Magic Wisdom Goddess).
Since ancient times meditative practices from a variety of spiritual traditions have used sound and its vibration as an essential tool for healing. Through the singing and chanting of sacred syllables and mantras, spiritual practitioners, healers, and lay persons are able to purify and restore harmony to a range of physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual dimensions. Guided by the mind and carried by the breath through subtle channels, the power of sound opens the potential to heal illness and dissolve energetic disturbances.
The Tibetan Bon Buddhist tradition is one of the oldest and still-unbroken lineages of wisdom to make use of sound for the well-being of its practitioners. The knowledge of how to sing and chant Tibetan syllables in order to activate their healing potential is contained in a number of Bon texts, including the revered Mother Tantra (Ma Gyud).
During these teachings, students learn the relationship between the sounds of particular Tibetan syllables and their healing qualities, and are guided in the practice of sound-healing meditations.
For More Information
- Tibetan Sound Healing: Seven Guided Practices for Clearing Obstacles, Accessing Positive Qualities, and Uncovering Your Inherent Wisdom, by Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. Available for online purchase from Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore & Tibet Shop.
- Participate in an online Tibetan Sound Healing workshop with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. Learn more >
- A variety of other supports for Tibetan Sound Healing are available from Ligmincha's Bookstore & Tibet Shop.
Tummo, or the Fireball of Primordial Wisdom, is a practice that cultivates bliss while burning away subtle obscurations to abiding in the natural state of mind. Tenzin Rinpoche teaches from the text Ku Sum Rang Shar (Spontaneous Arising of the Three Kayas), written by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche, a Bon master who achieved the body of light, or rainbow body, in 1934.
Tummo refers to inner fire, inner heat, or wisdom. Its teachings include both tantric and dzogchen support practices to achieve liberation. These practices require an in-depth understanding of the subtle channels in the body and the movement of prana, or energy, through those channels. To clarify this knowledge and to reinforce the clearing of obstacles and obscurations, students therefore also learn and engage in the practices of the nine breathings of purification and the physical yogas of tsa lung and trul khor (Tibetan yoga).
Supports for the practice of tummo are available at Ligmincha Institute's Bookstore & Tibet Shop.