Long Life Practice


Lerab Ling, 26 July 1998

Long Life Practice

Lerab Ling, 26 July 1998

One rainy summer’s afternoon in Lerab Ling, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche spoke about how and why in our tradition we should do long life practices then, at Sogyal Rinpoche’s request, went on to focus specifically on the Chimé Phakmé Nyingtik. The teaching turned out to be a crash course on how to do the Chimé Phakmé Nyingtik, including a brief yet complete instruction on kyerim practice. It is the shortest instruction Rinpoche has ever given on the subject and a very good starting point for beginners.

That day, the simultaneous translation into French was done by Stéphane Arguillère, and translation from French into English was done by Ane Samten Palmo.


 I’m talking about long-life practice this time because someone came and asked me to.

Generally, it can be said that all the sentient beings living in this world are the product of delusions and that those delusions are the result of our karma. Basically, we don’t actually die; mind does not die. However, mind is supported by a physical body, which is created by our delusions, and that body will live a short or a long life. Either way, because we have a body, that body will at some point die. A body that is born must die. Mind is supported by a physical form, so we must have a body. When mind and body separate, the body becomes a corpse, inanimate physical matter. So although mind is always mind, when mind and body are separated, 'body' will no longer be a body.

In every sentient being can be found what we call buddha nature, or sugatagarbha. And it’s thanks to the fact we have this nature that beings are capable of enlightenment. So the basis of enlightenment for sentient beings is buddha nature. Enlightenment, ‘buddha’, is very special, but if there were no basis for enlightenment, it wouldn’t be possible for anyone to become a buddha. In which case, the length of our lives – long or short – would be entirely irrelevant.

At the same time, we must have a physical body to follow the path that leads to buddhahood. And it’s said that of the six classes of beings, the human body is the supreme basis from which to attain enlightenment.

In the Way of the Bodhisattva (VII, 14) Shantideva said,

So take advantage of this human boat.
Free yourself from sorrow's mighty stream!
This vessel will be later hard to find.
The time that you have now, you fool, is not for sleep! [1]

This verse means that the human body is like a boat that’s extremely useful for crossing water. So the boat – the human body – is very important. But we aren’t often reborn with a human body, and so when we are, we must take care to make the most of it and avoid going to sleep.

The sutras describe about how the precious human birth is endowed with the eight freedoms and ten advantages, which shows how important this human body is. The sutras also explain how difficult it is to find such a body, using many examples, quotations and quantifications.

Guru Rinpoche said,

As the first of all activities,
The vidyadhara should achieve longevity!


If life is long it can be virtuous,
And the purpose of this life and the next can be achieved.

It’s good to live a long life because then you are able to fully accomplish the purpose of this and future lives.

How do we prolong life? With great compassion and many skilful methods, the Victorious Ones have taught a variety of ways of extending life, both common and supreme. The common methods include: ‘extracting the essence’ (rasayana) and using medicinal substances, as well as special breath and yogic exercises – all of which have a positive impact. Uncommon or supreme methods include: deity meditation, mantra recitation and dzogrim practice.

As longevity is so important, in every terma that Guru Rinpoche hid to be rediscovered by the tertöns, there is some form of long-life practice. Some tertöns revealed as many as five or six practices, others two or three. Therefore many long-life sadhanas exist.

Guru Rinpoche himself did a long-life practice in the Maratika cave, where he saw the actual face of the protector Amitayus, who granted him an empowerment with his vase. Guru Rinpoche was then blessed with an immutable vajra body which will last until the end of the kalpa.

When our human bodies are destroyed and our consciousnesses transferred to another field, we call it ‘death’; and when we emerge from our mother’s womb, we call it ‘birth’. And between birth and death, we live ‘long lives’ or ‘short lives’.

In one year there are 365 days, or 12 months. If someone lives for one hundred years, they are generally considered to have had a very long life. Although each day slips by easily and quickly, in one hundred years there are actually only 36,500 days. See for yourself: work it out on a calculator! Then work out how many days there are in sixty years – 21,900. As you can see, it’s very important for dharma practitioners to have a long life, but from a dharma perspective, it doesn’t really matter how long worldly people who don’t practice live. Worldly people, quite naturally, are absolutely convinced that they also need long lives. But as a dharma practitioner, you can see that a worldly life is full of negative activities. You can also see that it’s probably better for worldly people not to live for too long – this train of thought also exists in the teachings. Every day that a person who doesn’t practise dharma remains in this world results in the further accumulation of vast amounts of negative actions, the karma of which will ripen and be experienced in future lives. So the negativity accumulated by spending a single year as a human being in this world can only lead to rebirth in the hell realms, where the suffering is extremely intense, and where you have to remain for a very long time.

As the Victorious One has great compassion and many skilful means at his command, he has taught the supreme methods for prolonging life. Medical treatments, ‘extracting essences’, maintaining good health, breathing and physical exercises are all ordinary methods, and they are common to most cultures. Even termas, for example, teach us how to prepare long-life pills from medicinal ingredients, and explain breathing techniques and physical exercises for lengthening lifespans.

Once we have a body, we breathe in 21,000 times and out 21,000 times every 24 hours. It’s said that once we’ve exhausted our allotted number of breaths, we die. One of the signs of the approach of death is that our breath gets shorter, so to remedy that, the teachings suggest various methods, like ‘vase breathing’.

Similarly, the formation of the body depends on the five elements. This is why there are methods for lengthening a body’s life using the five elements. These are some of the ‘common methods’ which have now become well-known throughout the world. Many people have taken advantage of them and as a result live for quite a long time.

Even if we don’t mix both the ordinary and the supreme methods for prolonging life, by practising these methods we will lengthen our lifespans. But when we do long-life practices’ the ordinary and the supreme methods are brought together. And by practising both methods, we will attain both ordinary and supreme accomplishments. So, we can lengthen life through both ordinary and extraordinary meditation, by for example, gathering ordinary medicinal substances to make long life pills, and at the same time practising the extraordinary deity meditation. During deity meditation we spend a lot of time in samadhi and by doing so we bless the medicinal substances. This is how we bring together the ordinary and supreme methods.

Some breathing practices and physical exercises can be found in both Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions. But the practices found in Tantric Buddhism are different. For example, while tantric breathing exercises rely on the breath – obviously – they also involve the clear visualization of the three channels, five chakras and the deities residing within them. These are the special or extraordinary elements that brought into tantric practice. We recite mantras to invoke the wisdom mind of the wisdom deities, and the breathing practice involves ‘vase retention’ practice using the three syllables om ah hung. When we breath in, we visualize the syllable om, when we retain the breath we visualize the syllable ah, and when we breathe out we visualize hung.

So these long-life practices involve extraordinary methods. The special point you need to understand here is that all long-life sadhanas accomplish ordinary and supreme accomplishments. We therefore achieve the ordinary siddhi of longevity and the supreme siddhi at the same time. We first lengthen our lives, which, in the best case scenario, will eventually lead us to the supreme accomplishment of rainbow body; at the very least, during our eighty or ninety-year life we will attain realization as vast as space, and the ability to accomplish benefit for ourselves and others. Thus long-life practice can provide us with the opportunity to become good dharma practitioners.

Turning to how long we live, from the Buddhist point of view, whether we live a long or short life depends on our karma; basically the length of life is determined by karma. For example, if you protect and save life, you will have a long life; but killing and always being angry causes a life to be short. But we don’t have time to elaborate on this now.

Anyway, everyone should have a long-life practise. And it must bring together both the ordinary and the supreme methods. Which means you must be taught how to do such a long-life practice. There’s no need to teach you the ordinary methods because you already know them, and everyone I meet seems to have something to say about this. “Take walks,” they say, “Take exercise, don’t eat meat, and eat lots of vegetables and fruit”. Americans add, “Take a lot of vitamins!” Whereas Canadians and Europeans are less keen on vitamins. They say, “Spend more time in the countryside, communing with nature.”

Sogyal Rinpoche said I should explain the long-life practice called Chimé Phakmé Nyingtik, because according to him you have all received the empowerment.

On my way here Sogyal Rinpoche gave me the texts of the long-life practices that he keeps with him. One of them comes from a terma cycle revealed by Guru Chowang which was then transmitted by Buton, and can be found in the Great Treasury of Termas; it’s called ‘Gong Khukma’. Another of Sogyal Rinpoche’s texts is of daily practice from Tsedrup Sangwa Düpa, which was one of Ratna Lingpa’s terma revelations.

Chimé Phakmé Nyingtik is the practice of the mandala of deities that surround White Tara in union with Amitayus. I explained the history of this cycle thoroughly two years ago.

When we practise, whichever sadhana we’re doing, first we always take refuge and generate the mind of enlightenment. Next, all the negative forces that might obstruct deity meditation in the main part of the practice must be sent far away. You do this in the longer sadhana with an elaborate obstacle elimination practice, and in the shorter sadhana through the mantra recitation. This is followed by the descent of blessings and blessing the offerings, which come together in the Chimé Phakmé Nyingtik.

I. Enlightened Body: Visualization of the Deity Mandala

The Three Samadhis

In the main part of the practice, at the point when we meditate on the deity, we must ‘establish the structure of the three samadhis’. This is done in the same way for all ritual practices: the samadhi of suchness, the samadhi of Great Compassion and the causal samadhi. It is impossible to do this kind of practice without them.

  • The samadhi of suchness is emptiness meditation.
  • The second samadhi – the samadhi of Great Compassion – is compassion meditation. This means we meditate on emptiness and on our great compassion for all beings that fill the whole of space.
  • The third samadhi is the causal samadhi. This is where the outer environment and all the beings it contains – in other words the support and the supported, the palace and the deities – arises from the union of emptiness and compassion as the seed syllable, which is their ‘cause’. So the third samadhi is the meditation on the seed syllable.

The instructions specify that you “establish the structure of the three samadhis”. If you try to practise without the three samadhis, you really don’t know much about kyerim. If you want to do kyerim practice, you must understand, experience and realize the three samadhis. First you must establish a good intellectual understanding of what they are, and then you must think about and try to experience them. Unless you develop a good realization of these three samadhis, you will not be able to practise kyerim.

The three samadhis are not specific to long-life practices, they are an integral part of all Mahayoga kyerim practice. But in Dzogchen there are some kyerims that don’t use them.

For beginners, if you don’t know how to establish the structure of the three samadhis well, then the path of kyerim will not bring about fruition.

For details about the three samadhis and the reasoning behind this practice, we rely heavily on the sacred texts, which offer extensive explanations. When Khenpo Petse gave the explanation based on the Guhyagarbha-tantra last year he must have explained all this. [2]

But even if you have already received the detailed teachings, you must also receive and practise the pith instructions from the great masters, which pull together all the instructions you’ve received. You will then be able practise their essence. Without the pith instructions, the detailed explanations in the sacred texts aren’t very useful. The three samadhis teachings, for example, fill an entire volume, and a whole volume of teaching is far too much to bring to mind in an instant when you meditate.

At the beginning of all rituals, there are instructions about how to actualize kyerim and meditate on the three samadhis:

  • some of these instructions have four lines, one line for each samadhi;
  • some have one verse for each samadhi;
  • some have just one line for all three; and
  • some only have a mantra and no verse in Tibetan.

Secret Mantra is recitation and meditation.

This means that when you do a Secret Mantra Vajrayana ritual, you say the words with your mouth – “the words sound forth” – while your mind meditates on their meaning. We generally say things out loud so others can hear us, but when we do a sadhana it is not like that. The reason we say the words out loud during sadhana practice is to help us concentrate – to help our minds meditate. Just giving voice to the words can be done just as easily with a machine as it can with our own voices, but as we are not machines we must combine recitation with meditation.

For example, when a Vajrakilaya practice text says that the deity has “six arms and three faces”, we say those words at the same time as we imagine all those arms and faces in our mind’s eye. Just to say “three faces” without actualizing that picture in your mind is of no use whatsoever. I only have one head and no matter how many times I repeat that I want “three heads”, unless I bring to mind and meditate on myself as a deity with three heads, I will always only have one head.

As the three samadhis are so crucial, I’ll try to explain them essentially, according to the practice instructions.

1. The Samadhi of Suchness

If you have been introduced to rigpa by your teacher and have recognized the nature of your mind, then the samadhi of suchness is simply to abide by that state of recognition. You don’t have to do anything other than rest your mind in that samadhi – just leave the mind unaltered.

If you haven’t ‘recognized the nature of mind’ – to use Dzogchen terminology – which other approaches describe as ‘seeing emptiness’, then it’s not possible truly to meditate; your practise will be limited. So what should you do? As you recite the words that actualize the samadhi of suchness, gaze into the sky and consider your body is merging with space. Look at the thought that is present in your mind, and let mind rest as it looks at itself. In that instant, mind doesn’t see anything. Neither does it think, “I am not seeing anything”.

If you cannot practise like that either, just think, ‘All phenomena are emptiness’ that’s all you can do.
But of course, merely to think or say to yourself, ‘This is emptiness’ is not the same as having determined that ‘This is emptiness’ is the truth. The first two methods require that you recognize the view of emptiness which you then bring into your own experience. But in this third method, you just entertain the thought ‘All things are emptiness’; you don’t bring ‘emptiness’ itself into your practice.

2. The Samadhi of Great Compassion

Here, you see how all sentient beings have failed to realize emptiness and are therefore deluded. In reality there is no ‘delusion’, but sentient beings are caught up in their own dualistic perceptions, and it’s these perceptions that delude them. So, cultivate compassion for all deluded beings. Your compassion must be extremely vast, not small-scale compassion. And it shouldn’t be limited to one or two people, rather it should be immense ‘great compassion’ for all sentient beings, wherever they may be.

Actually, this compassion arises from the power (tsal) of emptiness and reaches every corner of space. It arises naturally like heat rising from fire, or a rainbow appearing in the sky. If it doesn’t happen naturally, you have no choice but to cultivate compassion deliberately, for example by thinking about, “...all these poor sentient beings who pervade the whole of space.”

3. The Causal Samadhi

Based on the previous two samadhis – the coming together of the two elements of emptiness and compassion – the third, or causal samadhi arises. When you practise Arya Tara, the causal samadhi takes the form of the seed syllable tam. So here you meditate on a white syllable tam. When it comes to the shape of the letters you visualize, although some lamas have said they should take the form of the Indian script known as Lantsa, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo said it wasn’t necessary. He said people could visualize the syllables in their own script, since the vajrayana teachings say the syllables that develop in the chakras when the aggregates, elements and ayatanas of the body are formed appear in the native script of your country. So, Tibetans can visualize the mantras in Tibetan, Chinese can visualize Chinese characters, Indians can visualize Indian script, and so on.

Visualization of the Deity Mandala

When you practise kyerim meditation, you should visualize the external world as a pure buddha realm – such as the Heaven of Great Bliss. And you should visualize all sentient beings as male and female deities, and all houses and buildings as palaces. [3]

In the middle of the deity’s palace, the causal syllable tam descends to rest on a lotus and moon-disc seat. It then transforms into Arya Tara, who is visualized as she appears in the thangka, inseparable from your own mind.

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo said that the difference between the visualization you create and the thangka is that in your visualization the Lord of Dance Amitayus is bright red; this is a secret instruction. And it’s because it’s a secret instruction that traditionally Amitayus’ colour is not shown on a thangka.

Now you meditate on the jñanasattva. At Tara’s heart, again on a lotus and moon-disc seat, sits the jñanasattva Amitayus, white in colour. The form of this Amitayus is the same as the most commonly known Amitayus, except that he is white. White Tara is the samayasattva, the ‘samaya deity’, and the Amitayus in her heart is the jñanasattva, the ‘wisdom deity’.

If you do an elaborate Chimé Phakmé Nyingtik practice, during kyerim you will have to visualize many deities, such as the Taras standing in the four directions, who pacify, enrich, magnetize and subjugate; and the four Gatekeeper Taras standing at the four gates. But for the shorter daily sadhana, you only have to visualize the three main deities, known as the ‘association of the three deities of long life’; Jetsün Tara, Amitayus and Ushnishavijaya. But you don’t have to visualize other deities of the mandala.

Visualize the samadhisattva in the heart of the jñanasattva. In this practice, the samadhisattva is a white syllable tam, which the text says sits on a lotus, sun and moon-disc seat and is surrounded by the syllables of the mantra-mala .

As you visualize the deities, also visualize at your three centres the three syllables that embody the vajra body, speech and mind of all the sugatas: white om, red ah and dark blue hung. Or, if you are doing a more elaborate practice, visualize Akshobhya, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi. Whichever you do, it is important that you consider them to be vajra body, vajra speech and vajra mind.

Next, you extend an invitation to the jnanasattvas. From the syllables of the three vajras, rays of light stream out to the pure buddhafields – like Akanishtha – to invite the jñanasattvas, who look very similar to the samaya deities that you have already been visualizing. Innumerable wisdom beings appear and pour into you, just as water pours into water. Think to yourself, “Samayasattva and jñanasattva have merged indivisibly, they are now one taste.”

Invite them by saying the four mantras – dza, hung, bam, ho – and performing the four mudras – hook, noose, chain and bell –. Dza emanates the Hook goddess who invites the wisdom deity; hung and lets out the Noose goddesses who receives the wisdom deities as they arrive, and the wisdom deities merge indivisibly with the samaya deities; from bam the Chain goddesses appear who please the wisdom deity and ensure that they remain with the samaya deities; finally ho emanates Bell goddesses, who welcome the wisdom deities to remain, continually and joyfully. With samaya tritha lhan ask them to stay and with a la la ho atipuho pratitsa ho do prostrations. Now make the outer, inner and secret offerings, after which you must offer praise.

These are the stages you go through to create a visualization, ‘kyerim’, and this is deity meditation. Actually, kyerim practice boils down to ‘clarity, ‘stable pride’ and ‘remembering the purity’.

1. Clarity

‘Clarity’ is to be able to see the deities in your mind’s eye and maintain a detailed awareness of those deities. This means you should be able to see the bodies, clothing and attributes of the principal deities and their retinues, clearly and distinctly – as clearly as a reflection of the sun or the moon on the surface of clean, still lake.

2. Vajra Pride

‘Vajra pride’ to how we differentiate between ourselves and the deity. When we follow the Mahayoga approach, we must abandon the kind of grasping that considers one to be better than the other.

We all have the ‘ground’, which is our ‘buddha nature’, but right now it’s masked by adventitious obscurations. Once these obscurations have been removed, it’ll become clear that your nature is exactly the same as the buddhas. Basically, you will see that there is no difference between your mind and the mind of the buddhas, or between you and the yidam deity. So you must maintain the kind of stable pride that knows there is no difference, if you could only purify your obscurations. If instead of stable pride, you start out with the dualistic notion that the deity is good and you are bad, then the practice will not work.

3. Remembering the Purity

To practise ‘remembering the purity’ elaborately, you must remember that every detail of the visualization – each deity’s face, hands, colour, hand implements, attributes, and palace, etc. – corresponds to specific pure qualities. If you practise more essentially, “All meaningful aspects – deities, mantras, mandala and so on – are simply an expression of mind and have no reality; they are nothing but the ground’s primordial purity (kadak), the wisdom of the dharmakaya”. To think in this way is remembering the purity.

Maintaining a clear visualization of the deities and stable pride are both aspects of kyerim practice, whereas remembering the purity is dzogrim practice. So, to practise kyerim and dzogrim at the same time, you must bring these three together. You do this by placing a thangka – the samaya support – in front of you, then you look at it. Focus on the painting with your eyes as you use your mind to concentrate on what your eyes can see. And don’t get distracted. Do this for a long time. Then close your eyes to check if you can see the image in your mind’s eye. If you can, then slowly start to train your mind to manipulate the image, by sometimes making it larger, sometimes smaller, and so on.

II. Enlightened Speech: Mantra Recitation

Reciting the mantra corresponds to ‘enlightened speech’.

We have been visualizing ourselves as Arya Tara.

  • Arya Tara is white in colour and in union.
  • At Tara’s heart is the jñanasattva, white Amitayus.
  • At Amitayus’ heart is the syllable tam, surrounded by the mantra mala.

tam emanates rays of light that shoot out of your fontanelle and transform into countless white Ushnishavijayas. Each Ushnishavijaya holds a vase in her left hand and a hook in her right hand. With her hook she gathers into her vase the essence of the elements – fire, air, space, earth and water – along with the life-force, merit and strength of all beings, gods and rishis who have accomplished so many mantras that they can live for thousands of years. The way they collect life-force is similar to the way bees collect pollen. Bees extract pollen without causing flowers any harm at all. In the same way, extracting the essence of all life-force and merit through samadhi brings no harm to others.

Some Gelugpa lamas have suggested that the visualizations used in various Nyingma long-life and wealth practices actually steals the life and merit from other beings. But all this method does is gather the accomplishments of long-life and wealth through meditation practise; it doesn’t involve stealing anything or causing any kind of harm. It’s like making use of the light of the sun and the moon to see by, which by no stretch of the imagination could be described as ‘stealing’!

We also visualize the Ushnishavijayas gathering all the wisdom, love, power, compassion and blessings from the Victorious Ones who have been freed from samsara – in other words the buddhas – and who dwell in an incalculable number of buddhafields. We also visualize their sons, the bodhisattvas and arhats, and so on. Their wisdom, love, etc, appear in the form of rays of light, the nature of which is longevity, and the Ushnishavijayas pour all this into their vases. Longevity, merit and strength increase, as does the wisdom of great bliss. And truly to receive the supreme and ordinary accomplishments you must have complete confidence that you have received them.

What is the nectar of great bliss? What’s it like? The nectar of great bliss is found in the god realms and is so potent that if it were sprinkled over a dry, dead tree, that tree would immediately burst into life, sprouting leaves and fruit and flowers. If this nectar were given it to an ordinary man, he would suddenly have the strength of a hundred elephants. And if it were given to an old woman, she would instantly regain the vitality of youth. As you meditate on this nectar, make sure it has all these kinds of quality and features. It is white like the moon, but at the same it’s as bright as the sun.

Recite the ten-syllable mantra as you repeat this meditation again and again. As you recite the mantra you should also practise the ‘vajra recitation’, which involves the retention of breath – ‘vase breathing’. If you cannot do vajra recitation, then you must recite the mantra out loud.

When you practise the daily sadhana, focus on reciting the ten-syllable mantra, om tare tuttare ture svaha, then recite a smaller number of accomplishment mantras, om tare tuttare ture hrih drung vajra jñana ayuké svaha, then do about one hundred of each of the dharanis of Amitayus, om amarani jivantiye svaha and Ushnishavijaya om amrita ayurdade svaha.

After that, follow the usual sequence: recite the mantra of the vowels and consonants, the mantra of dependent origination and the 100-syllable mantra, followed by a brief offering and praise. Then go through the process of dissolution, in which the visualized deity dissolves – the completion phase of dzogrim – and arises again very vividly. And finally do the prayers of aspiration, dedication and auspiciousness.

That was a very short, extremely essential way of presenting the daily Chimé Phakmé Nyingtik sadhana. (Unlike the time I received Chimé Phakmé Nyingtik teachings from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, when he taught every evening for more than a month!)

If you put into practice what I’ve just said, your practise will qualify as ‘basic’ practice – which is just one step ahead of not knowing how to practise at all.

This practice of Chimé Phakmé Nyingtik brings extraordinary blessings. I have given this short explanation because Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche – from whom you received the empowerment, (I was here for that empowerment too) – told me to.

[1] Śāntideva. The Way of the Bodhisattva. Translated by Padmakara. Shambhala Publications, 2011, p.99.

[2] Khenpo Petse taught the Guhyagarbha Tantra from 13 to 29 August 1997 in Lerab Ling when Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche was visiting.

[3] Rinpoche added that a detailed explanation of this would involve a great many things, for example, the basis of purification, the methods of purification, etc.




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