It is not possible to taste the fruits of Buddhist practice without fully engaging with its radical horticulture. Fruit will not grow if the seed of view is not sown, watered, and fed by the energy of practice. I hope to proffer the basic principles of Dharma view and practice and offer a personal perspective on how we can remain engaged and inspired at all stages of our lives as practitioners.
Part of the practicality of the religion of Dharma is that each approach to the realised state includes a set of preliminary practices. These practices offer a way of experiencing the view of the method to be employed. The Tibetan term for preliminary practice is ngöndro6, which literally means ‘before-going’.
These practices are structured in sets of four – and in this respect, the teaching regarding ‘The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to Practice’7 could be described as the ngöndro for the entry level practitioner.
Having presented a simple perspective on some of the primary principles of Dharma, from the Nyingma point of view, I shall look in detail at The Four Thoughts as the means of focusing attention on the necessity of practice. Once we gain familiarity with Dharma view and practice, everything we encounter in our lives begins magically to transform of itself – into view and practice. At this point there can be no other activity in our lives apart from practice – and there can be no other perspective in our lives other than Dharma view. Our perception of our lives and our response to perception becomes rooted in view and practice; and because of this, nothing else remains feasible. This is both a liberating and an empowering experience.
To arrive at this point, however, requires mature involvement, unwithheld dedication, and an investment of ‘quality’ time. It requires involvement based in confidence, despite the protestations of conventional societal mores.
It requires dedication, despite the self-insulating sluggishness of self-protective inertia. It requires genuine application over time, simply because any path to proficiency requires time for dedicated involvement to reap the specified rewards. The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to Practice can be viewed as the ngöndro which keeps us in contact with view and practice as our experience and confidence develop. Through authentically contemplating The Four Thoughts, we can maintain our energy when boredom, confusion, and doubt periodically arise, generated by our habitual backlash of self-protectiveness.
This is especially important at the beginning of involvement with practice. The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to Practice keep us engaged, inspired, and encouraged.