Traditional Vajrayana

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Vajrayana: The Path of the Masters of the Past

Students who have prior familiarity with Buddhist principles, prior meditation experience, or a strong connection to Vajrayana Buddhism may decide to enter this path. One begins by taking the refuge and bodhisattva vows. This path was most commonly followed by the practitioners and great masters of the past in Tibet. As Phakchok Rinpoche is a primary lineage holder of the New Treasures of Chokgyur Lingpa or Chokling Tersar, this path centers around these profound teachings and practices.

Initial Practice

Reflection on the four mind changings​
Learning and focusing on the refuge precepts​
Students may choose to take additional precepts​
Bodhisattva vow​

Four Reminders for Noble Living

In the Buddhist tradition, we speak frequently about Four Mind Changings. The Four reminders, or Four Mind Changings that turn the mind towards the dharma are powerful contemplation on both life and

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Five Fundamental Precepts

Five Fundamental Precepts

Five Fundamental Precepts Establish a Basis for Ethical Behavior The Buddha taught that if we adopt these five fundamental precepts, we can avoid harming ourselves and harming others. Moreover, if we modify

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The Four Foundations, or Ngöndro practice is the gateway to the Traditional Vajrayāna Path. In this course, Phakchok Rinpoche and senior instructors provide detailed explanations and commentary on each practice according to the Tukdrup Barché Künsel ngöndro.

Ngöndro Milestones

Phakchok Rinpoche often reminds us that we should measure our own progress against milestones. We can do this with any type of practice—we first know what our practice should lead to, and then we make sure we are going in the correct direction.

Rinpoche discussed the milestones for the preliminary practices in teachings at RYG Cooperstown in 2017. Here, we present these milestones in an easy-to-follow chart.

First, Rinpoche pointed out the changes that should occur from practicing the outer preliminaries and taking them to heart. We should return to this chart repeatedly to see if our mindset and actions accord with these milestones.

Next, Rinpoche explained the milestone for the inner preliminary practices. As we proceed through each practice we should measure our progress by referring to this chart. Each one of the preliminaries helps us to clear away specific obstacles and to accumulate merit. As we repeatedly prostrate, for example, we should see our own pride reduce. Simultaneously. we can see our understanding of refuge deepen and become more confident.

We encourage you to print out a copy of this milestone chart and keep it in a place where you see it regularly. This way, it reminds you of the transformation you should be experiencing through the profound outer and inner foundation practices.

Self-reflection on our path is a crucial part of our practice. Here, we benefit from remaining open and honest about our own strengths and weaknesses. When we see progress, we can rejoice and be happy. And if we see, which most of us will, areas where we still need work, we can then make more efforts there.

Mahayoga and Beyond

From this level students from the Traditional Vajrayana and the Nine Yanas Pathways merge into one stream.

Anu- and Atiyoga

Restricted to senior students. Eligibility to continue to these levels will be determined by Phakchok Rinpoche.

The Twelve Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche​

Enhancement Programs & Educational Materials

Tibetan for Practitioners

Acquire basic Tibetan language skills so you can better engage with your daily recitations and visualizations! Samye Institute’s Tibetan for Practitioners home study program is designed for practitioners who wish to be able to read their practice texts directly in Tibetan, pronounce them correctly, and acquire some general knowledge of the language as well as key dharmic vocabulary. Many Tibetan lamas, including Phakchok Rinpoche, encourage their students to chant their practice texts in Tibetan. However,

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Empowerment: Tukdrup Barché Kunsel

Spiritual Foundation: Tukdrup Barché Kunsel Ngöndro. Students can practice the ngöndro either individually or in a group. An online Ngöndro program is available.

Tukdrup Barché Kunsel Ngöndro. Students can practice the ngöndro either individually or in a group. An online Ngöndro program is available.

The Practice of the Five Foundations: Refuge, Bodhicitta, Vajrasattva, Mandala Offering, Guru Yoga

Focus: Improving our character. Cultivating core values: Reliability, Kindness, Sincerity, Honesty, Humility, and Dignity.

Gaining firm stability: Stable confidence in karma, cause and effect; Renunciation; Bodhicitta (training in compassion); Devotion (Guru Yoga); Recognition (nature of mind meditation); Samaya (knowing the Vajrayana samayas and how to mend them)

Geksel: Removal of obstacles (supplication and aspiration)

Bokdön: Enhancement with supportive practices and multiplying merit.

Mahayoga and Beyond

From this level students from the Traditional Vajrayana and the Nine Yanas Pathways merge into one stream.

Three Inner Tantras

Students engage in the practice of Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga.

Amitabha Phowa Practice

Rinpoche suggests that all students take the opportunity to practice in a one-week Phowa retreat to gain confidence at this point in their journey.

Kyerim: Developing Stage

The students begin Mahayoga practice after having gained stability in the key principles of karma, bodhicitta, devotion, recognition, and samaya.


Empowerment: Tukdrup Barché Kunsel

Spiritual Foundation: Lamrim Yeshé Nyingpo and Tukdrup Barché Kunsel (Chapter 4: Guru Nangsi Zilnön, Yeshé Zangthal)

Practice: Three Roots

Focus: Learning and reflecting on the Mahayoga Samayas and establishing the view of the Mahayoga: perfect pure equality (kundzop dhakpa chenpo, döndam nyampa chenpo)

Three Roots

Lama: Guru Rinpoché: Concise Daily Practice and Trinlé Nyingpo

Yidam: Dorjé Sempa (peaceful) and Dorjé Phurba (wrathful)

Khandro: Kurukullā and Jetsün Drolma

Sadhana Ritual Courses

Samye Institute offers these support courses regularly in Nepal and also at some of our global centers. We are currently developing an online course that will serve the needs of those who cannot travel to Nepal to allow the students to immerse themselves in sadhana practice gradually.

Focus: Body, Speech, Mind, and Activity
Gain stability in the Four Nails that Bind the Life-Force
Familiarization with the sadhana and its ritual aspects

Maintaining the Practice (dü shi)

Students learn how to maintain practice throughout the day in all activities.

Focus: Refocusing on Phowa and Bardo teaching and training

Geksel: Removal of Obstacles

Bokdön: Enhancement

Anu- and Atiyoga

Dzokrim: Completion Stage

  • Having gained stability in karma, bodhicitta, devotion, mind recognition, and the Mahayoga view and samayas.


  • Nadi, Prana and Bindhu: These teachings will be given in detail to those students who engage in the Three-Year Retreat
  • Spiritual Foundation: Lamrim Yeshé Nyingpo and Tukdrup Barché Kunsel (Chapter 9: Guru Dzamling Gyenchok: Dechen Zangthal)
  • Practice: Six Vajra Yogas (Dorjé Chö Druk). These are Heat Yoga, Illusory Body, Luminosity, Dream Yoga, Phowa, and Bardo
  • Focus: Primarily on Heat Yoga, Bardo, and Phowa


  • Spiritual Foundation: Lamrim Yeshé Nyingpo and Tukdrup Barché Kunsel (Chapter 16: Guru Dechen Gyalpo: Ösal Zangthal)
  • Practice: Trekchö (Cutting Through)
  • Focus: Devotion and rigpa

Ngöndro (Preliminary)

  • Body: Vajra Position
  • Speech: Hung Practice
  • Mind: Minds Coming, Staying and Going (jung, né, dro sum)

Ngöshi (Main Part)

  • Three Vital Points of Pointing Out
  • Mahamudra Stage 3: Equal Taste
  • Mahamudra Stage 4: Non-meditation
  • Thögal
Geksel: Removal of Obstacles
  • Bokdön: Enhancement

Lifetime Practice

  • Guru Practice: Trinlé Nyingpo or Concise Daily Practice
  • Cultivation of Bodhicitta
  • Dzogchen: Trekchö

From time to time or on appropriate occasions one should also practice:

  • Bardo
  • Chöd: Cutting through Self-clinging
Tsok: Ganachakra offering

Optional Three Years and 45 Days Retreat

First Year:

  • Starting with two months of mind training and meditation
  • Ngöndro: Tukdrup Barché Kunsel Preliminary Practices

Second Year:

  • Ngözhi: Main Part: Three Roots
  • Lama: Five Months
  • Nature of mind meditation: One month
  • Yidam: Three Months
Khandro: Two Months

  • Nature of mind meditation: One month

Third Year:

  • Chenrezik Khorwa Dongdruk: Avalokiteshvara: Forty-Five Days
  • Six Vajra Yogas: One month each
Trekchö: Six Months

Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.