Ngöndro (Tib. sngon ‘gro). The preliminary or ‘foundation’ practices of Vajrayana Buddhism are profound and powerful means for effecting a deep purification and transformation, at every level of our being. Not only do they prepare the practitioner for the profound path of Vajrayana and teachings of Dzogchen, but they also lead him or her gradually towards the experience of enlightenment.
The foundation practices begin with a series of life-changing contemplations—the outer preliminaries—embracing:
—the uniqueness and opportunity of human life;
—the ever-presence and deeper meaning of impermanence and death;
—the infallibility of the cause and effect of our actions, karma;
—and the repetitive cycle of frustration and suffering that is samsara.
These reflections inspire a strong sense of renunciation, an urgent desire to emerge from samsara and follow the path to liberation, which forms the foundation for the specific practices—the inner preliminaries—of:
• taking refuge in the Buddha as the guide, the truth of his teaching (the Dharma) as the path, and the example of his practitioners (the Sangha) as companions on the path, so awakening a confidence and trust in our own inner buddha nature;
• giving birth to love and compassion—Bodhichitta, the heart of the enlightened mind—and training the mind to work with ourselves, with others, and with the difficulties of life;
• accumulating merit and wisdom by developing universal generosity and creating auspicious circumstances, through the Mandala Offering;
• finally, in the practice of Guru Yoga, which is the most crucial, moving and powerful practice of all, we unite our mind with the wisdom mind of all the buddhas and so awaken the wisdom of realization.
In Tibetan, ngön means ‘before’, whilst dro means ‘to go’. So ngöndro is usually translated as ‘preliminary practices’, or ‘foundation practices’.