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Lama Ole Nidahl book about Karma Kagyu:
Practical Buddhism:
The Karma Kagyu Path

Lama Ole Nidahl book. Practical Buddhism: The Kagyu Path. Karma Kagyu.

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About the Author

In 1969 Ole Nydahl and his wife Hannah became the first Western students of H.H. the Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu tradition in Tibetan Buddhism. After their years of practice in the Himalayas, he authorized them to teach and start centers in his name. Ole transmits the blessing of the lineage and travels, as an authorized lama and Buddhist meditation master.


Excerpted from Practical Buddhism: The Kagyu Path by Ole Nydahl, Carol Aronoff

Once one has become part of the Karma Kagyu family, entering into its awareness stream of great yogis like Marpa, Milarepa and the Karmapas, it is most important to make everything in life a practice, to use all experiences as a step along the way. The direct path to Enlightenment, as practiced in Tibet, works with both the energy and awareness of Mind, i.e., with its clarity and space.

We begin our path with an analysis of conditioned existence, seeing the unsatisfactory and impermanent nature of all things and recognizing that only Mind in its absolute, limitless essence of emptiness, clarity and unobstructed awareness really exists.

Then we take refuge in what is always and absolutely true: the Buddha, meaning the ultimate goal of Enlightenment, the realization of our own primordial nature; the Dharma, as the way leading us there; and the Sangha, the practitioners helping us on our path. For fastest results, we especially take refuge in the Lama, enabling us to meet with the blessing, inspiration, profound methods and protective power which make quick transformation possible.

It is essential, right from the beginning, that we do everything, both during practice and in life, with the thought of others in mind. Otherwise, results will at best be shallow and of little lasting benefit.

The most effective way to plant this awareness firmly in our mind is through the Bodhisattva vow. We promise to become enlightened for the benefit of others, working to bring all beings to Buddhahood. We awaken this wish for enlightenment not only at the beginning of each meditation, but as often as possible in our daily life. With such motivation, there are no limits to our possibilities, whereas an ego-centered life brings little freedom or joy.

Next on the path, we do Ngondro, the four preliminary practices (refuge and prostrations, Dorje Sempa visualization and 100-syllable mantra, mandala offerings, and Guru Yoga). Seeding the mind with positive impressions and purifying the subconscious of negative habitual patterns and fixed ideas, these practices provide the essential foundation for further growth. Done with altruistic motivation, they help safeguard against ego inflation and spiritual pride, along with providing confidence for our mind to look deeply within.

After Ngondro, there are two ways to go, each named after one of Marpa's main teachers.

For those able to keep many commitments and do lengthy retreats, there is the path of Naropa, which begins with the outer, inner and secret practices of identifying body, speech and mind with a particular Buddha (Enlightened) aspect or yidam, suited to each individual's capacities.

Once we have in this way ennobled our view of the world, so that experience is transparent and spacious, the Six Doctrines of Naropa are used to awaken our inner energy systems through deep breathing and visualization. This permits strong and convincing contact with our basic Enlightened nature.

In addition, for those fortunate enough to have a suitable partner, there is the exceedingly quick way of merging space and bliss through secret union practice.

The goal of all this is Mahamudra, where all fabrication drops away through the union of subject, object and action, and our limitless potential is released, leading to the attainment of Buddhahood.

The second path, that of Maitripa, Marpa's other main teacher, is more easily integrated into modern Western life. Here again, we begin with Ngondro, but after that, Shinay (Sanskrit, Shamatha) becomes the main practice, done on the highest level of identifying body, speech and mind with those of the Buddha and Karmapa.

Without Ngondro, however, and correct teachings, simply sitting for untold hours will only deaden the brightness of our mind and is therefore not advised by leading Tibetan masters. Too often it produces that dependency and robot-like behavior in Westerners which is the opposite of what we wish to achieve.

Through this calm abiding (Shinay), the librating state of Lhagton (Vipassana) then arises, the experience of penetrating insight and intuitive wisdom which eventually brings us to the great ocean of Mahamudra. Effective for 2,500 years, these graded methods are responsible for the amazing number of liberated and enlightened beings the few million practitioners of the Diamond Way have given our world. Although the basic principles are the same in all civilized religions, those of building up positive impressions and wisdom, the range of methods here is beyond compare and the emerging experiences of bliss and awareness, along with the increasing subtlety of the practices, keep the path continuously challenging, fulfilling and fresh.

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