NN: Well this is a particular view, and it is not that you leave Sutra to enter the practice of Tantra. There are Lamas who say that Sutra has to be practised for a substantial period before Tantra, and from that point of view Tantra is approached in the language of Sutra. From the perspective of Dzogchen however, Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen are complete paths in themselves. Each vehicle can be approached directly if one meets the Lama who offers the teaching. In terms of Tantra, the experience of wisdom and compassion provided by Sutra is replicated in the Tantric sphere as inspiration or devotion.
Q: There is a Tantric ngöndro to bring us to the base of Tantra?
NN: Yes. The four practices of Tantric ngöndro enable the practitioner to experience emptiness. The non-referential quality of these practices enables us to let go of our ordinary view.
Throwing yourself on the floor over and over again, or piling grains of rice onto a disk surmounted by subsequent rings, are activities which do not make immediate sense. We are therefore pushed into an empty position. We have to let go of the idea that we ‘perform these practices in order to get to the good stuff’ – the ‘higher’ practices of Tantra. The flavour of each aspect of the Tantric ngöndro16 reflects the flavour of Tantra. If we do not value the ngöndro, then we are unlikely to successfully engage in the practice of Tantra.
Q: Is there a ngöndro for Dzogchen?
NN: Yes – the Four Naljors of Dzogchen Sem-dé: shi-né, lhatong, nyi’mèd and lhundrüp.17
17. Tantric ngöndro requires the accumulation of 100,000 repetitions of four practices. 1. Prostrations with recitation of refuge and bodhicitta: gu chag-tsal wa (gus phyag ’tshal ba) (Tibetan); 2. Offering: kyil’khor (’khyil ’khor) (Tibetan), mandala (Sanskrit); 3. Purification practice: Dorje Sempa (rDo rJe sems dPa) (Tibetan), Vajrasattva (Sanskrit); 4. Unification with the Mind of the Lama: Lama’i Naljor (bLa ma’i rNal ’byor) (Tibetan), guru yoga (Sanskrit). During his visit in 2004, Lopön ögyen Tanzin Rinpoche explained that in his tradition refuge and Bodhicitta are engaged with as separate practices, so that the Tantric ngöndro has five parts and a completion requires 500,000 repetitions of practice: 1. Refuge: kyab-dro (skyabs ’gro) (Tibetan); 2. Bodhicitta: Sem-kye (Sems bskyed) (Tibetan); 3. Mandala; 4. Purification: dorsem-gom-de (rdor sems sGom slas) (Tibetan); 5. Guru yoga.
18. Dzogchen Ngöndro: Aro’i naljor zhi ngöndro (A ro’i rNal ’byor bZhi sNon ’gro) (Tibetan). See Roaring Silence by Ngakpa Chögyam and Khandro Déchen (Shambhala Publications, 2002). The four naljors: naljor zhi (rNal ’byor bZhi) (Tibetan). These are: shi-nè (shi gNas) (Tibetan), shamatha (Sanskrit), remaining uninvolved; lha-tong (lhag mThong) (Tibetan), vipasana (Sanskrit), further vision; nyi-mèd (nyis med) (Tibetan), nonduality ; lhundrüp (lhun grub) (Tibetan), spontaneity.