we’ve been putting off this topic for a wee while, and now it is probably a good time to talk about our thoughts on Preliminary Practices.
- Different traditions have different energy practices
First of all, for those of you that are not very familiar with other spiritual traditions, you should know that one can find many instances of energy cultivation around the world. This should make sense, since this energy we talk about is nothing but part of human nature, and often it even arises spontaneously for some people. So one would expect different cultures from the world talking about similar phenomena.
Some of the most important traditions that work with this energy, however, can be more or less traced back to India. This is indeed the case with Tummo. Marpa learned Tummo from an Indian yogi called Naropa (hence the name of The Six Yogas of Naropa, the first of which is Tummo) and then taught it to his students in Tibet.
For someone that has studied and practiced some yoga from a Hindu tradition, it soon becomes fairly obvious that Tibetans were doing similar things. In particular the pranayama bit, in which you hold your breath (Kumbhaka) at the same time that you hold some muscles tight (Bandhas).
Having this in mind, it can be very interesting to look at the practices that were prescribed before learning Tummo (or Tummo-like techniques) in different traditions.
- Let’s start with Tibetan Buddhism.
Traditionally, in the Tibetan Buddhist traditions in which Tummo is taught (such as Kagyu, or Gelupa), one has to go through the following practices before Tummo can be learned:
– The four ordinary preliminary practices
- Appreciating human life and how lucky we are.
- Reflecting on Impermanence.
- Reflecting on Karma.
- Reflecting on Samsara
– The four special preliminary practices (Ngondro). Different Tibetan traditions show differences in the Ngondro, but generally look like:
- Taking refuge and Bodichitta
- Vajrasattva (purifcation)
- Mandala Offering
- Guru Yoga
Each of which imply a sadana, or reading outloud a text and following its instrucions (protrations, visualizations, hand movements, chanting mantras and offering stuff, etc.) and each of which has to be done 100.000 times.
There is a great little book about both ordinary and special preliminary practices by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche called The Ngondro.
– After you are done with your Ngondro, and upon empowerment of the right deity, like Heruka, or Vajrayogini, one starts the Generation Stage, in which one sees oneself as the deity, and visualices the inner channels, chakras, winds, etc.
– Finnaly, one can start with the Completion Practices, the first of which is Tummo, and then you do the rest of the Six Yogas of Naropa.
On the general path of Tibetan Buddhism we find Bruce Newman’s book A Beginners Guide to Tibetan Buddhism very good.
To get to the point where you can actually practice Tummo, if you’re a monk and can afford to go on retreat, can take a few years. If you are a layperson, and follow the traditional way, expect to spend a good 10 or 15 years practicing preliminaries. And that is one the reasons some teachers have been teaching Tummo more openly to westerners.
Also it should be said that Tummo is not one thing. It is a bunch of techniques that generally include the Vase Breath (you can find instructions on-line), and some exercises called Trul Khor and Tsa Lung, some of which can be seen in Lama Surya Das’ Tibetan Enery Yoga video, in the Yantra Yoga videos in Namkhai Norbu’s school, or in Wangyal Rinpoche’s Awakening the Sacred Body (see links below).
Let’s look at another tradition, to see what their approach to preparation for Tummo. Here is where things turn more interesting…
- Looking at Hindu traditions
If you spend some time reading and exploring some yogic hindu traditions and teachers (Satyananda, Yogani, Swami Maheshewarananda) you will find that they give you details of the exact techniques, including advanced pranayama (Tummo). Also, they lay out the system in front of you saying “here’s the whole set of teachings. Start here, and when you feel confortable with the new teaching go to the next.”
Attention, spoiler : The main technique of Tummo is something pretty much identical to Maha Bandha (Mula Bandha with Uddiyana Bandha and Jalandara Bandha) plus Kumbakha .
What do the preparations for Tummo-like look like?
I suggest you go to look at the sources and find exactly for yourself, but in general you do meditation, asanas, and then start working with basic pranayama, to which you go adding things like bandhas and mudras and maybe visualizations etc. and soon enough you are doing something very similar to what you do in Tummo. Then you do other fun things like Kechari Mudra (the sensitive readers be careful if you go to youtube to check this out…)
Probably in the old times things were not as approachable in those traditions as they are today, but that is how they have evolved and are taught by legitimate teachers.
- Comparing the two traditions
Comparing these two approaches, it might be difficult to avoid the temptation of skipping 10-15 years of prostations and looking for empowerments.
We are not saying that the traditional Tibetan Buddhist approach is bad, or that these preliminaries are not useful. Everybody that does them says that these practices are fantastic for you and provide great benefit. The Hindu approach however seems more doable to us.
One other difference between traditions might be of emphasis. The Tibetan approach tend to be more forceful: longer retentions and sometimes less care for the body (jumping and landing on your buttocks, like can be seen the video above) . And there probably are many things we are missing or cannot appreciate yet.
In fact, there is one more choice – learning Tummo from a none-traditional source, which could be on-line, books or friends or from one of the few Tibetan Buddhism Masters that teach Tummo more openly and don’t require you to do all the traditional prelimiaries. We have been extermely lucky and have had the opportunity to find one of those teachers.
So there you have some information. We don’t claim anything is better than anything else. We have chosen our approach, and we might change our mind in the future, who knows?
Oh, and remember, we might be wrong, so please feel free to comment on this post and tell us what you think!
Note: You can read on-line that there is a version of Tummo in some Taoist traditions called Kan and Li, but we haven’t had the chance to see that one in action. Wikipedia has an outline of the progress.