Purifying the Karma of Body, Speech and Mind

9 March 2009 - 3:51pm 1 Comment

How We Can Engage in Prostration Retreats

These teachings on prostrations were given by H.E. Tsem Rinpoche to students of Kechara Media and Publications before they embarked on a group retreat to accomplish 100,000 prostrations. Rinpoche has explained that these guidelines can be followed for all group or individual prostration retreats now and in the future.

Setting the motivation
As we engage in any retreat or Dharma activity, we should hold our motivation at the highest level. It is very, very important that we engage in Dharma practice free from the eight worldly concerns. This is an excellent guide for us to check our motivation.

We should also constantly contemplate on the benefits of engaging in Dharma work and activity. We think that we are engaging in this retreat to transform our minds, purify our karma, create merits for our spiritual attainment and ultimately, be of benefit to many people.

To be free of the eight worldly concerns, we should avoid the following:

to be happy when we are praised,
to be unhappy when we are insulted,
to be happy if we receive any gifts,
to be unhappy if we don’t,
to be happy upon achieving reputation,
to be unhappy when we are unsuccessful,
to be happy when we are comfortable,
to be unhappy when we are not.

Throughout the retreat, we must maintain very clean and good samaya with our Guru(s). Clean samaya with our Guru is of utmost importance in the beginning, middle and end of any Dharma activity and practice.

If we are engaging in a group retreat with fellow Dharma students, we must be very harmonious and maintain good samaya with each other too. As we are collecting merits and purifying group karma collectively, group harmony, cooperation, sincerity and our united goals and motivation will help greatly to make our retreat more effective, powerful and meritorious.

Preparing for the prostration retreat

- Before we start doing the retreats, we should prepare a beautiful altar with representations of the Buddha’s body, speech and mind. This is so that when we do our prostrations, we are prostrating towards the Buddha’s body, speech and mind, thus creating the causes to attain the same. We should place on our altars:

  • An image (statue, thangka or pictures are permissible) of any Buddha we like.
  • An image of our Guru in front of the Buddha image.
  • A stupa
  • Dharma book (preferably the Lamrim Chenmo).
  • Ensure that the place of the retreat is cleaned very well

Make offerings on your altar such as water bowl offerings, eight sensory offerings, flowers, light or anything you think beautiful. The more extensive your offerings the better.

*If you are doing a group retreat with colleagues or fellow students, do not chatter idly or make jokes.

Preliminary prayers to begin each session

  • Sit in front of your altar and consciously say or think of why you are doing this practice, such as for
    • purifying negative karma
    • creating merit to support your spiritual work, attainments and understanding of Dharma
    • creating the causes to attain the same qualities of the Buddha’s body, speech and mind to be of ultimate benefit to all sentient beings
    • If this is too difficult, consciously think that you are engaging in this retreat so that everything stated in the Yonten Shigyurma prayers will come true.
  • Recite the preliminary prayers:
    • Taking refuge and generating Bodhicitta
    • Four immeasurable
    • Read the eight worldly concerns (to remind yourself that your Dharma activity must be free of these concerns)
    • Nine Attitudes of Devotion to the Guru
    • Lama Tsongkhapa’s Guru Yoga
    • 35 Confessional Buddhas (to be recited as many times as you wish)
    • The four opponent powers
  • Spend some time in meditation to contemplate the prayers above then,
  • Begin your prostrations

*If you are doing a group retreat, the whole group should sit together to do these preliminary prayers.

The prostrations

  • Do your prostrations while visualising your Guru and Yidam as one.
  • There are short, medium and long prostrations, but for prostration retreats, we engage in the long form.
  • Begin by standing with feet shoulder-width apart, bodies straight and hands folded, with your thumbs tucked inside our palms.
  • Then, recite
    • Namo Guru Beh, while touching your hands to the crown of your head
    • Namo Buddha Ya, while touching your hands to your forehead
    • Namo Dharma Ya, while touching your hands to your throat
    • Namo Sangha Ya, while touching your hands to your heart
  • You should think:
    • As you touch our hands to the crown of your head and forehead, take refuge in our Guru and Buddha. You think that we are purifying your negative body karma; that you create the causes to attain the same enlightened body as your Guru and the Buddha.
    • As you touch your hands to your throat, take refuge in the Dharma and all enlightened speech. Think that you are purifying your negative speech karma; you attain the same enlightened speech as the Buddha.
    • As you touch your hands to your heart, take refuge in the Sangha and the enlightened mind. Think that you are purifying your negative mind karma; you attain the same enlightened mind as the Buddha.
  • Go down, landing first on your knees. Put your hands down on the floor and slide yourself forward. As you go down, stretch your hands all the way forward in front of you until you are horizontally flat on the ground, face down, touching your forehead to the floor.
  • Slightly lift your palms off the floor, from the wrist.
  • Then come out of the prostration as quickly as possible, signifying that you come out of samsara quickly.
  • Repeat each prostration as many times as you like, all the while meditating on the qualities of the Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
  • If you get tired, sit quietly in front of your altar and rest until you wish to resume the prostrations. Contemplate on why you are doing this retreat.
  • You may use aids such as a mat, cushions, towels or gloves to ease your prostration practice.

Dedication prayers

At the completion of each session of prostrations, recite

  • 35 Confessional Buddhas
  • Completion Dedication prayers
  • Yonten Shigyurma

Additional Dedication Prayers

  • If you are doing a very long retreat, it is good to do a black tea offering and prayer before reciting the dedication prayers in each session. This helps to clear obstacles during the course of the retreat.
  • At the completion of the whole retreat, when you have achieved the number of prostrations you set out to do, it is very good to seal the merit of your retreat by doing a tsok puja.

There are two options:

  • Recite Lama Chopa and request tantrikas to recite the tsok section.
  • Recite the whole Lama Chopa puja (without tsok) on your own as a wonderful dedication.

Things to remember

  • During the course of your retreat, you must do a minimum of one session every day, with a minimum of three prostrations each session. This is very important for maintaining continuity throughout the retreat. If you break this daily requirement, all previous sessions will be annulled, and you will have to start all over again!
  • You can choose to do as many sessions per day as you like.
  • One complete session includes
    • Preliminary prayers and meditation
    • Prostrations
    • Dedication prayers

If you leave halfway through a session, then that session cannot be counted.

  • If you are doing the retreat as a group, the whole group must participate in every session for it to be included in your collective count.
  • It is extremely good if we make continuous offerings throughout the retreat such as candles, sensory offerings and all beautiful, good things. This helps us tremendously to create even more merit to support our practice and retreat.
  • People can also choose to sponsor retreatants to do the prostrations if they are unable to or do not have the time. For example, sponsors could offer a sum of money towards the centre of Dharma projects when the retreatant(s) has/have completed a stipulated number of prostrations. This is also an extremely beneficial practice for sponsors and will help them to create the causes to engage directly in this Dharma practice themselves in future.
  • During the retreat, you should not talk, make jokes; keep your handphone on silent to allow you focus better on your meditations.
  • Negative, difficult things may arise during the retreat. Regard these as purification of our karma that arises as we’re doing the prostrations. It is considered a very good sign if these negative things arise during retreats so we should not talk about it to others and complain. Think of these difficulties as good opportunities to control our minds and speech.

One Response to Purifying the Karma of Body, Speech and Mind

  1. [...] group of Kecharians led by puja coordinator, Leeann Lim has completed a prostration retreat at our Kechara House gompa and they have kindly dedicated the successful completion of the retreat [...]