Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices
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Thread Starter: Balder
Started: 05-18-2006 3:10 PM
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  18 May 2006, 3:10 PM
Balder is not online. Last active: 12/7/2007 9:50:14 PM Balder



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Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices

I'd like to look at the idea of "integral formation."  If we want to educate ourselves or our students to think integrally and to gain deepened insight into specific issues, what particular issues do you think would be essential?

A number of traditions include a series of teachings and topics for beginning students to reflect on, as part of their "religious formation" or preliminary training.  Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism both have well-known practices for grounding practitioners and providing insights which are considered very helpful for those in the faith. 

An example in Catholicism is the Ignatian Exercises, which are typically used by monastics or retreatants, but which are being practiced more and more by the laity as well.  Here is what one priest says about the Exercises:

"The Spiritual Exercises are a way to go through a prayer experience to discover through praying and Scripture and the Church's revelation what your own deepest and most authentic desiring is, and to find the courage to enact that.

Another way to explain them is to say that Spiritual Exercises organize what is revealed to us through Scripture and by tradition into a coherent way of possessing revelation and giving yourself to the purposes that it opens to us."

In the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition, students and beginning monks and nuns typically take up the ngondro (preliminary) practices of their particular lineage.  The ngondro consists of nine meditations, each of which is repeated 100,000 times.  Performing 900,000 meditation exercises obviously takes a long time, and represents more of a commitment than the Ignatian Exercises (which can be completed in a month).

A key part of the ngondro is the "Four Mind-Changings" -- a series of themes which students meditate on in a variety of ways, and which are designed to lead to insights which inspire transformation of fundamental attitudes about one's relationship to life and one's spiritual practice.  Here are the topics students consider in the four mind-changings:

* The preciousness of human rebirth
* Impermanence and death
* Causes and consequences of karmic actions
* The painful quality of samsaric existence

I have not completed the full cycle of ngondro practices, but I have worked with all nine of the exercises, spending the most time on the above four reflections (as well as guruyoga and phowa).  The meditations on these four themes typically involve imaginatively inhabiting different situations or scenarios which illustrate them (say, thinking about being a prisoner on the last day of your life before you are executed; or about having a fatal disease; about lying on your deathbed at the age of 90), and exploring the feelings, recollections, and thoughts that arise as you "live" these experiences.  You may also read texts or listen to teachings on these subjects, to support your practice and to deepen your insight.  Meditating on impermanence, I would go with several friends to graveyards to meditate and wander among the tombstones, connecting to the names (and, imaginatively, to the lives and families behind them) of all of these people who have passed away.  In India, I would go to the burning ghats for the same reason.

The 9 preliminary practices (including the 4 mind-changings) clearly have a Buddhist orientation, and wouldn't necessarily be the reflections of choice for people with other backgrounds.  I mention them here mainly to give an example of the type of "formative practices" that I'm talking about.

The examples for reflection used in old Buddhist texts obviously come from another culture and time.  I have long considered a book project where I would collect essays and suggest alternative practices on these themes that modern people might relate to more readily and with more urgency.  Today, with this thread, I decided to expand that idea: to consider what sorts of practices and reflections might be helpful for students of Integral, perhaps as they engage their ILPs, or in conjunction with other traditional practices they also follow.

I have two questions I'd like to start out with.  First, what do you think of these sorts of practices?  On one level, their aim is to encourage a positive type of conditioning and development, rather than aiming (directly) for unconditioned awareness or something of that nature.  As "conditioning," it obviously has its limitations.  But this conditioning does not consist of mere memorization of doctrines or precepts; it involves looking repeatedly and in a concentrated way at important issues and questions, and responding to them imaginatively, creatively, and prayerfully.

Second, I'd like to ask for your input on the kinds of reflections and practices that might be most helpful, if an "integral preliminary practice" series was put together.

Here are some of my thoughts at this time:

* Reflections on interdependence (in light of ecological concerns, for instance).  Joanna Macy's Despairwork and Council of All Beings exercises come to mind.

* Reflections on impermanence (in light of universal issues of mortality, but also of the quickly changing conditions of modern societies and cultures, and the potential for nations or cultures to melt down or species to be wiped out)

* The preciousness of life (in light of Depth and Span, and the Basic Moral Intution)

* Reflections on the 4 basic or 8 indigenous perspectives (developing facility with consciously changing perspectives with regard to the self or other holons, including reversing perspectives or adopting others' perspectives)

* Reflections on the power of Karma and Creativity in shaping each quadratically unfolding moment (some TSK exercises would facilitate this*)

* The Big Mind meditation might also work well as a preliminary practice.

I believe many other foundational reflections would be useful; this is just a start.  I look forward to your thoughts and ideas.

Best wishes,

Balder

* I have a chart of TSK practices I put together which I believe can be used to work with and deepen insight into many essential ideas in Integral Theory.  I can post that later if anyone is interested.


  
  18 May 2006, 4:33 PM
elementstew is not online. Last active: 7/14/2006 10:31:10 AM elementstew

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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices
This might not be very helpful, but here it is.

I'd break it down into three components
- critical thinking skills
- observational prowness
- general knowledge

Those seem to be my three pillars these days after a few years integral immersion, contemplation and observation.

On critical thinking; I'm favoring more of a pure orange view on rationality these days. Transrational only seems to exist in a relative sense. What seemed like mystical truth or beyond comprehension becomes perfectly logical after enough data and contemplation. In this way the law of logic is as eternal and immutable as any law of nature. It is my daily observation that few people are capable of critical thought as a cognitive norm. Critical thinking is very taxing and difficult to maintain. It is logical that a prerequisite for integral thought is proper development of critical thinking skills. I wont go into Dunk's rant, but I think it is highly relevant.

On observational prowness; I hope that Davidu will join in here as his views and experience are similiar to my own. That is mostly about introspective skills, but I think exterior correlates are easily found. It's easy enough (if you have honed your own awareness) to see that most people are observationally retarded. I see it every day and marvel how people are unaware of things all around them. The significance of external observation pales in comparrison to introspection though, in a subtle way. This is the difference in gross and subtle awareness. Subtle awareness is essential for high-end development, period.

On general knowledge; Garbage in, garbage out. Need I write more?


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  18 May 2006, 5:06 PM
elementstew is not online. Last active: 7/14/2006 10:31:10 AM elementstew

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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices
I was assuming that we're talking about the average person. That could be anybody from blue to green. I figure if they're red then they are too young or pathological because they cant conform to blue rules and roles of a society and culture of mythic proportion.

I'd like to point out that some of the practices you mentioned were created prior to the establishment of science and modernity. The study of sciences may substitute for some of the practices such as impermanence (streching a mind through contemplation of geologic time), karma (laws of cause and effect, Newton) and the painful quality of samsaric existence (western psychology and insight training).

So for a starting point, I think that it would be prudent to focus on an orange level. I really dont think that blue needs to be addressed because most of this level is established in childhood and is deeply situated in culture and society. Blue is also situated to a good extent in a sub- or un- conscious level. So unless somebody has problem there, forget about it.

Another thing I think would be important is revisionistic studies. I think this is a major component of a green level of being. Integral is supposedly postconventional. I dont think that one can become postconventional if one hasn't been exposed to the heresy of the conventional.


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  18 May 2006, 5:19 PM
mcenter is not online. Last active: 12/24/2007 9:10:25 AM mcenter

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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices
For a dark hour or twain.



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  18 May 2006, 9:07 PM
Balder is not online. Last active: 12/7/2007 9:50:14 PM Balder



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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices
Hi, Stew,

You bring in some good points.  Development of the cognitive line is essential, whether through practices such as these or through more conventional methods.  As I understand the four mind-changings, as well as similar exercises from other traditions, the emphasis there is on affective development.  They are intended to deepen our feelings and our experience, not merely our ideation.  By allowing us to connect in a first-person, visceral way with certain basic facts of life, we may find our motivation and resolve strengthened and our empathy and compassion expanded.

I don't think we should imagine that we are beyond the need, in our culture, for concentrated affective and moral development.  In fact, I think we are rather challenged in these areas.  And it is possible to be well developed cognitively, and still not be able to connect on a deep level, affectively and empathically, with others.

To develop an "integral ngondro," we would of course want to engage several lines at once, to encourage cognitive, affective, and other dimensions of human being.  Some of the practices, and adjuncts to the practices, may naturally engage the aesthetic line, for instance -- through developing the capacity to visualize elaborate scenes in vivid detail, or through singing prayers or chants associated with some of the exercises, or whatever.

Thinking about the way you have expanded the original question, it occurs to me that what we may be looking at is an integral curriculum (in an ideal school) rather than just a set of meditation practices.  If we go in that direction, that would change the scope of this discussion, but I'd welcome that also.  And of course, an "integral ngondro" could be quite complementary to a larger course of education -- just one component part of it.

I agree that the ngondro practices were developed for members of largely blue and red societies, but I don't think they are only good for that level, even as they are.  The language and images and objects of reflection (say, mythological models of the universe) may need to be updated, but the facts of life remain relevant, and engaging them in a first-person way (in evocative images, not just 3rd person facts) will remain important, in my opinion.

Best wishes,

Balder

  
  19 May 2006, 5:07 AM
elementstew is not online. Last active: 7/14/2006 10:31:10 AM elementstew

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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices
Yo B,

I have only a minute so...

I didn't intend to lean toward the cognitive and it's interesting that you say the practices are geared more to the affective. Yes, I think that is essential (affective development), but feel that affective development cant be properly done without introspective skills - that's what I was pointing to.

Later,


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  19 May 2006, 8:05 AM
Helene is not online. Last active: 6/27/2007 7:13:53 AM Helene

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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices
"..to discover through praying and Scripture..." -

Years ago I wanted to travel, to be, to sit with Guru's, then one day I heard on the radio one Shambhala Yoga 'spiritual' teacher say "I'm not enlightened but it doesn't matter"...and I think that was the end of my 'wantings'. That is not to say, I didn't pay attention to my 'inner-soul' pointers and didn't follow up on it.

Like the time I  read   about a "sacred tree" on a nearby Native Reserve ...My familly and I  travelled several hours (both ways) in search for this tree...
Heck, the author's name, which now escapes me,  is of 'world-caliber stature' (Wilber mentioned him favorably) so I thought 'lets check it out!'

So we gets there ... with  breathless anticipation I asked the  nice   woman behind the store's counter (slash - costume making shop) to direct me to this "sacred tree" site ,  which a famous author mentions......"
 She looked at me kindly and gently said "all trees are sacred" Big Smile

And on a different note : March 97' at dawn...I scribbled in my bed-side note two words "hagai sage".
Later, asked husband if he knew what kind of name that was...He said "Jewish I think."
This puzzled me to no end .. "what if this name is in the dictionary?" .. It was! properly spelled and everything! "Haggai" - one of the (books) Old Testament's prohpets, which was news to me. So old-world language-archaic they all seemed!
 I didn't at all pay any attention to any of them! OK once I tried to read Job , but never finished it.

I found myself obsessing  ... I felt it was 'significant'...after reading the book it resonated...."rebuilt the temple". I knew it was healing time -dangle alone time. 

Still I wanted to talk about this with someone! husband suggested I talk to one of the prominent Jewish leaders in this area, whom he saw - attended  ages earlier, one of his lectures.
Found his name in the fone-book and rang . His wife answered and explaind  he wasn't able to talk to me that day, because of a religious 'holiday' (I apologised for barging in!) she said it was alright and told me to call the following day.
I didn't....somhow the obsession sizzle fizzeled  out.

 Maybe just as well? months later I read (edit!) almost a  full-page article with picture writ. by this rabbi and thought 'eh, not jiving exactly with his thinking on "evil".

H


  
  19 May 2006, 12:21 PM
Balder is not online. Last active: 12/7/2007 9:50:14 PM Balder



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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices

Hi, Stew,

Well, I think you were right to bring in and emphasize cognitive development.  It would be ideal for the series of practices to have elements which organically stimulate development in a number of lines at once.  I think some of the ngondro exercises work with introspective, affective, and aesthetic lines, and of course the "spiritual" line as well (if you treat that separately).

If we wanted to seriously develop something like this, I think it would be a good idea to do a study of how various lines in individuals are impacted through regular ngondro practice, to determine if it indeed has a measurable impact, and if so, what lines are most affected.  (I am using ngondro as an example, but joint studies could be done with Ignatian exercises, or similar Sufi practices.)

Wilber has stated on a number of occasions that recent studies show that regular meditation practice has a direct impact on moral/values development.  I don't think he's ever publicly cited the studies (that I'm aware of), but I take his word for it that these studies are relatively reliable.  However, I do question whether regular practice of something like shikantaza or mindfulness of breath is sufficient.  There are of course the troubling examples of lifetime meditators engaging in morally problematic acts, or of meditation teachers treating their students apparently without respect or empathy. 

Buddhist training includes strong moral and affective exercises to complement mindfulness/insight/awareness practices.  I expect this is for good reason, and not just a Blue "conformist/moralistic" artifact or whatever.

Best wishes,

Balder


 
    
  20 May 2006, 6:54 AM
elementstew is not online. Last active: 7/14/2006 10:31:10 AM elementstew

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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices
I still haven't seen anything which effectively defines the higher ends of the affective line or moral line. They just seem to stop at a green level. It all seems like opinion, conjecture and speculation. So in a sense, I dont think it can be developed. A spiritual line is such a loaded concept that it seems empirically meaningless.

I'm not saying that these things aren't real, but that there is a lack good research in the collective domains or I just haven't found anything that seems definitive.

I dont understand how you can just take someone's word without seeing the data for yourself (I'm refering to the meditation effecting morals studies). Aren't you a well-educated person who has been trained to check sources? Did you actually pay to have your critical thinking skills subverted?

I'm just bustin your balls and using hyperbole to make a point, call me an orange flatlander for my skepticism, but...

I agree that a moral/ethical component is essential and that minfulness training, affective development and cognitive development all create mutually reinforcing structures/dynamics. Do you remember Dunk's assertion that the moral line is the "leader" in developmental unfolding? I dont recall how you accepted/incorporated or rejected his insight.

I've been conteplating the aesthetic line for the past year or so and I'm leaning toward a theory that aesthetics are in part an outgrowth or blend of the cognitive and affective.

I have found the integral model to be very useful for mental exercise and if one is goint to pursue an integral formation or ciriculum then I guess the model is essential. But the model is only an abstraction and we need to look elsewhere to find any flesh. Perhaps The Politics of Lust should be part of the mandatory reading. The first chapter indicates that it is a truely four quadrant analysis on the issue. I also think that Hartmann's Unequal Protection does a great job of winding through the quadrants. Another good "integral' read is The Science of Good and Evil (Michael Schermer?).

BTW Balder, I think this is a great line of inquiry and I'm a little saddened by the lack of response while a relatively innane thread about Spam receives plenty of action. Pity.

I am curious why you keep going back to "old" stuff to use as a basis. The practices you cite are hundreds of years old, no?


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  20 May 2006, 7:58 AM
Helene is not online. Last active: 6/27/2007 7:13:53 AM Helene

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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices
I can't say I ever had any one  'formal' spiritual practice....Reki led me to places I never knew existed in the first place...Besides, at certain point in one's life-journey, one has no choice but to 'surrender' to , to trust something 'bigger' than us needs to be in charge.  Not talking psychotic-style "in-charge".

That's what I communicated to my Reiki teacher..."only my soul can teach me now" - thus she said in her full of gratitude note K.

Was it a bowl of cherry, this 'dangling alone time?' - not likely... not even close.

But Grace happens....and we can only marvel Music

I think it is  'Jacinda's' avatar - the woman - image  , whom I named "Eve", when I saw her...from Michelangelo's  Sistine ceiling depiction in 'creation of Adam' scene.

Soooo...there I was full of self-pitty , swearing to frig it all ... Then one day,  at dawn, I heard a loud whisper .. "doesn't matter have courage" , repeated several times (was on my left side) ..and noticed , became aware, my lips were mouthing the words... (no time to think) I turned my head to see who was there and glimpsed a lovely woman's head turning   in same direction. 

H
 




 
    
  20 May 2006, 10:07 AM
Balder is not online. Last active: 12/7/2007 9:50:14 PM Balder



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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices
Hi, Stew,

I'm replying in this abbreviated way because I only have a little time this morning.

1.  I expected you to take me to task for my comment about taking KW's word for it!  I would take myself to task if I really don't check out those studies, eventually, and evaluate them for myself.  I just meant, for the sake of this conversation, even granting that meditation alone initiates some sort of values line development, I still wonder if it is enough.  In fact, I doubt that it is.

2.  I agree that mindfulness training, affective development, and cognitive development are essential and can be mutually reinforcing.  I happen to think this is one of the beauties of formal Buddhist training, at least in the Tibetan tradition, where all three of these lines are developed at once: not only do you practice mindfulness exercises, you also train in meditation exercises for affective development, and you learn to engage in rigorous logical thinking and debate.  (I found in philosophy and philosophy of science classes at college that my Buddhist studies had prepared me to excel in those courses, such that my professor wanted to know where I'd studied logic and debate.)

3.  About going back to "old stuff."  I am using old models here as a starting point, but I am not insisting that we stick with them, particularly if we find something better.  I think research needs to be done in this area.  By the ngondro example, I wanted to point to a discipline which aims at affective development (among other things) and which works by repetition -- performing the practices for literally hundreds of thousands of times.  (Most Westerners don't want to take up something that daunting.)  I wanted to look at the types of things that these practices emphasize, how they go about developing those things, and then start from there to reflect on how such practices could be used in the context of integral training.

4.  I don't believe that all the known spiritual traditions stop at Green.  Green sees the emergence of the sensitive self, usually set in a relativistic context.  It is too much of a particular sociological, culturally dependent phenomenon to be taken as a universal template, in my opinion.  The higher ends of affective development in the great traditions point beyond the sensitive self to the realization of something beyond self, and in that context, to a universal altruism (bodhicitta) or self-emptying love (kenotic agape).

Best wishes,

Balder


  
  20 May 2006, 8:08 PM
elementstew is not online. Last active: 7/14/2006 10:31:10 AM elementstew

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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices
I didn't say that spiritual traditions stop at green and I dont believe a "sensitive-self" emerges at such a level either. Sensitive self might always be there or if it "emerges" then it's at a pretty young age. Kids feel plenty of sympathy and empathy. Nor will I deny that parts of traditions point to....something.....or that an occassional avatar can at least partially embody higher ends of development, but as a culture and society, no. I dont see any higher values than green displayed by any sub-culture, really. One might expect to see some definition with KW and II, but it doesn't look like anything but the cognitive aspects thereof even make it to green.

So, tell me how some of the old practices work the affective. Can you tell me what defines higher levels of affective development? Is emotional mastery possible? What does it look like?

Or how about the high ends of the moral? Compassionate pragmatism? or is that compassionate conservatism?


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  21 May 2006, 8:07 AM
Helene is not online. Last active: 6/27/2007 7:13:53 AM Helene

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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices
Well...I know that 'something' is puling us...This 'something',  I learned, is 'intelligent' ...an intelligent flow of  'information' , which speaks to us most often through symbolic 'soul-language' - THAT - which directs every moment.
THAT,  which is aware of our every intension, is what  directly 'plugs' us in , into its infinite possibilities of creativity.....and 'cognitivity'.

How am I doing THAT?!! Smile You want to talk about  'glee waving masters who sit in the sky and wave to me??? Big Smile

OK, so I waved first and yelled out "I see you!" Cool...after my ex directed my attention to look at the sky, during this am's Union Tantra.

And speaking of ex-es' father...I swear, he drove us crazy because we didn't walk lock-in-step with his world-view. And YES!  - we were therefore very judgmental.
And then he was dying.... and all I could feel was COMPASSION  for him!

A couple of days after his passing , (while in bed) my hand reached ouy for a dislodged pillow and my head lit up like a Idea. I Smile when upon walking realized the pillow was under my head.

Thanks THAT! Big Smile

Monday am change edit = the part about 'head lighting up'

H






  
  21 May 2006, 9:56 AM
Davidu is not online. Last active: 12/17/2007 12:41:12 PM Davidu



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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices

Hi,

I've been away for a couple of days and I'm about to leave for a couple of more, but I wanted to offer a quick thought.  Sorry if this seems disjointed.

When I was growing up there were moments in my life when I noticed mental space, but had no frame of reference with which to recognize the meaningfulness of those experiences, and they simply passed, without any realization of depth or change in perspective.  There were moments when as a teenager I saw that at certain significant times I reached a key understanding that seemed to reorient all my understandings, but I couldn't retrace how I got to this new place.  I found it all very puzzling, but without any guiding reference, I simply moved on in whatever direction fear, desire, and circumstance took me. 
     Regarding the importance of recognizing the experience of mental space and change in self-image, Almaas says:

 

"Space always manifests in one's consciousness as the self-boundaries disintegrate. We can say either that space melts away boundaries or that the dissolution of boundaries allows space to manifest. It is one phenomenon. The dissolution of boundaries cannot be separated from the emergence of space. So here we see the role of space in inner change: there is no lasting change without a change in self-image. There is no change in self-image without the dissolution of self-boundaries, and there is no dissolution of boundaries without the action of space."   ["The Void: Inner Spaciousness and Ego Structure," A. H. Almaas, (Berkeley, Diamond Books, 1996), p105]

 

If I had been taught as a younger person about self-image, ego, and its workings than say, in my thirties when things really started to get freaky, perhaps I would have evolved sooner.  Who knows, it seems logical, anyway.  I actually didn't arrive at any practice until my late forties.  And that's my point.  It seems a shame, perhaps.  
     As I think Balder is pointing out, what guidance is there for the young (don't know what age) that would be essential for spiritual development?  I think recognizing our inner space and the structure of mental boundaries would be key. 

As Balder implies, there are many ways to approach this recognition and understanding.  It can be taught within just about any religion or belief system, which has the benefit of a moral umbrella. 
     This is all I have time for right now...   

Regards,

David
    

P. S.

So, Ngondros, make that a synonym for initiating 'exercises' that can focus attention on what is happening internally, in order to develop a degree of discernment, while orienting the student in the present moment, seems to me to be essential.  The themes that can be taken up are obviously dependant on what is valued by the care givers who have seen from a deeper and wider, more inclusive perspective.




[Long - Vastness] ... "Presence 'is', yet is open-like a drawing in the sky..." Tarthang Tulku
 
    
  21 May 2006, 5:14 PM
Balder is not online. Last active: 12/7/2007 9:50:14 PM Balder



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Re: Integral Ngondro: Preliminary Practices
Yes, Davidu, initiating exercises is a good way to put it.  I think I should take a little step back and maybe give a little more background on the ngondro, to more clearly define the aims and methods of ngondro before discussing its relevance in Integral studies.

In the following summary, I will draw on Chagdud Tulku's commentaries on the ngondro, since I have the book handy and since he was one of Wilber's teachers.  The ngondro is described as the "alphabet" of Buddhist Vajrayana practice -- the foundational elements that may be elaborated in almost infinite, creative variety.  The traditional aims of ngondro practice are three-fold: to turn the mind positively toward the dharma, to purify the mind of fundamental "obscurations" or psychological contractions, and to bring forth the qualities which are essential for awakening.  As Chagdud Tulku teaches the ngondro, and also as it is presented in the Yungdrung Bon tradition, the practices are held within and guided by the Dzogchen View.  The practices themselves, while fundamental and elementary, have the potential to awaken the individual to the lived meaning of the Great Perfection, the direct realization of the nature of mind (sems-nyid) as the union of emptiness and clarity.

Here are the nine ngondro practices as they are taught in the New Treasure of Dudjom:

The Outer Preliminaries (The Four Mind-Changings)
* Precious Human Birth
* Impermanence and Death
* Karma 
*
Suffering

(I briefly explained these four reflections in a previous post).

The Extraordinary Preliminaries
* Refuge (in which one calls to mind all of the teachers in one's lineage and all of those from whom you have learned and you take refuge in their wisdom, which is not separate from your own innate buddha-nature)
* Bodhicitta (in which you engage in internal and external practices for generating and developing compassion, equanimity, love, and joy, and you actively live the six perfections of generosity, moral discipline, patience, joyful perseverance, concentration, and transcendent knowledge)
* Prostrations (in which you meditate on taking refuge and generating bodhicitta while performing the physical act of prostrations, which involves training in moving the body impeccably and in alignment with one's heart intentions while also practicing visualization)
* Mandala Offerings (in which you ritually make offerings of rice and precious objects with a spirit of generosity and compassion, visualizing that all the riches in all universes are offered with love and devotion to the embodied principle of enlightenment for the liberation of all sentient beings.  The practice involves ritual movements and chanting)
* Vajrasattva (in which you perform a tantric visualization, creating the image of a wisdom being, Vajrasattva.  You first exercise "the four powers": invoking a wisdom being as a witness, confessing your misdeeds to this witness, vowing not to repeat the mistake, and then allowing light and nectar from this being to saturate your body and thoroughly purify you.  At the close of the meditation, the deity dissolves into light, which dissolves into you, and you rest your mind in unconditioned, nonconceptual awareness)
* Guru Yoga (in which you visualize an embodiment of Buddha, your very own Buddhanature, before you, and you chant to this being while generating devotional love and receiving purificatory blessings of your body, speech, and mind.  This meditation also ends with the dissolution of all images in the dawning recognition of the nonconceptual nature of mnd)
* Transferrence of Consciousness (in which you practice moving tigles or points of energy-awareness in your body and then outside of your body, again dissolving awareness into boundless space)

I have not given the full descriptions of these practices, but the above gives you a general idea.  Some of them contain many supplementary practices and reflections which are designed to help you fully embody their fruits.  Some involve bringing mindfulness and intentionality to daily interactions, as we learn to treat others with generosity, lovingkindness, and equanimity, for instance.  Almost all of them involve resting in nonconceptual awareness before and after the practice, one of the points of which is to allow you to take a middle path between recognizing that all of these visualizations are actually products of your own mind, while also being able to deeply draw on the relative fruits and insights and the positive conditioning that these intentional constructs nevertheless convey.

In the Yungdrung Bon tradition, the ngondro practice series would include Chod, in which you visualize a dakini chopping up your body into many pieces and offering it as food to all sentient beings in the cosmos.  The practice works on shamanic, psychological, and nondual levels -- potentially all at once -- and allows you to face fear and ego/body fixation while also developing an altruistic spirit of love and generosity.

Obviously, some of these practices are unique to the Buddhist worldview, and would not be appropriate practices -- as they are -- for followers of other paths.  But they each work on universal qualities of human nature and the nature of mind which I think can be developed within multiple religious or philosophical contexts.  As I mentioned in the opening post, each of the ngondro exercises is performed at least 100,000 times, and some practice them throughout their lives.  So, there is the issue here of conditioning: this is an intentional effort at generating a specific type of conditioning, while also recognizing the emptiness and sheer virtuality and constructedness of all forms of conditioning.

A general question I have, if you have made it to the end of this post, is whether you think it would be worthwhile to build on the general principles and aims of ngondro and to develop something comparable for Integral training, or if such things should be left within their traditional religious contexts.  On the one hand, the ngondro (as I have just described it) cannot be divorced from the Buddhist worldview without doing violence to it or (very likely) watering it down.  On the other, if we are looking not so much at the specific contents of the ngondro, but more at the technology of the ngondro, we might be able to conceive of developing a similarly comprehensive form of training in an Integral context.

I'm not sure this is a good line of inquiry.  I'm tossing it out there for us to debate.

Best wishes,

Balder

  
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