Introduction to the Four Foundations

Ngöndro is a collection of practices known as “The Four Foundations.” These practices form the fundamental ground for all Tibetan Buddhist practice and for higher Dzogchen practice. His Holiness Penor Rinpoche gave the Nam Chö Ngöndro teachings and practice for the first time in India in 1980 to Karma Kuchen Rinpoche, Chögtrul Rinpoche, Gyankhang Tulku, and three or four other tulkus. Also present were the only three Palyul khenpos living in India at that time, Khenchen Pema Sherab, Khenchen Namdrol, and Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso. During the one-month retreats offered at the monastery and upstate New York Retreat Center, His Holiness Penor would practice the short Daily Practice version of the Ngöndro with the assembly of retreatants every day. After the completion of the section known as “Guru Yoga,” His Holiness would give Heart Teachings. Many of these Heart Teachings are now available in the book published post-humously, An Ocean of Blessings.

Ngöndro is so powerful a practice that His Holiness was known to allow students who were elderly and had not completed Tsa Lung Tummo practice but who had a very strong foundation in Ngöndro to receive Dzogchen teachings. In any case, all that is contained and learned in Ngöndro is contained in the so-called “higher” practices.

As the foundation of the teachings of the Buddha Dharma, Ngondrö consists of contemplation, insight, purification, offering and devotion practices. First are what is known as the outer preliminaries which turn the mind towards the practice through contemplating the preciousness of human birth, impermanence, suffering, how cause and effect (“karma”) work, and so on. Anyone Buddhist or not can practice the outer preliminaries. Second, are the inner preliminaries. This includes Refuge and Bodhicitta (loving-kindness practice), the Mandala Offering, Vajrasattva Purification, and Guru Yoga. Traditionally the student needs to complete 100,000 repetitions of each part of these preliminaries although the master may require more or less as the master judges from the student’s capacity.