Friday, 10 June 2011

Nyungne, a great purification practice

This weekend I will be attending a Nyungne Retreat and I am very excited about it, because the meaning behind it is so simple yet so profound. This also coincides with the Saka Dawa month (2 June to 1 July) on Tibetan calendar, which is the most auspicious time for Dharma practice. This period any virtuous actions and merits is multiplied by 100,000 times. And on the 15th of Saka Dawa (15 June) itself, all merit is multiplied by 100 million times! 

The Nyungne practice is based on the practice of 1000-Armed Chenrezig (千手观音) who is the embodiment of the love and compassion of all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future. He is a great Bodhisattva who continually benefits beings. Hence, he is regarded as the source of all blessings.

The fasting practice of Nyungne is a well known, highly popular, and profound purification practice. One set of Nyungne consists of 2 days of practice. The first day is the preliminary day, and the second day is the actual fasting day. One takes the Mahayana 8 Precept vows, and on the preliminary day one eats only one meal with drinks for the entire day. The meal is completely and purely vegetarian, free from meat, onions, garlic, eggs, etc. The next day is a complete fast with no meals or drinks, and one must also be silent.

Anyone can do this important fasting practice. The only requirement is that if you are not a Buddhist, you must take the refuge vow as well as the bodhisattva vow, and you must receive the empowerment for 1000-Armed Chenrezig. 

The Mahayana vehicle consists of 2 paths; sutrayana and tantrayana. In tantrayana, there are 4 levels; action tantra, performanace tantra, yoga tantra and anuttara yoga tantra. The practice of Nyungne belongs to both action and performance tantra.  Action tantra here means that practitioners try to develop insight mainly through physical actions such as fasting, washing ourselves, and many other things that need to be done if the doctrine is to be followed strictly and precisely.

The source of this practice is a revered historical Buddhist figure known as Gelongma Palmo (or Lakshminkara) who is one of the 84 mahasiddas. She was actually an Afghani princess who hailed from Oddiyana during a time when Afghanistan was a great Buddhist nation. Padmasambhava (otherwise known as Guru Rinpocche or 莲花生大士), who is considered second only to Shakyamuni Buddha, is also known to have come from Oddiyana, which is now in northwest India. 

Gelongma Palmo was a very learned, fully ordained Buddhist nun. However, her previous negative karma ripened and she was striken terribly with leprosy. In a dream her father appeared and told her to pray to the 1000-Armed Chenrezig. On awakening, she felt slightly better, and was able to chant Om Mani Padme Hung. She continued her practice for 6 months when Manjushri 文殊菩萨 appeared in a dream and told her to go to the temple of Shenpal and meditate on Chenrezig there. She did so and by the end of a year she had visions of Tara, Amoghapasha, and all the dieties of action tantra, and eventually 1000-Armed Chenrezig. Through this practice, her leprosy was cured and all 84,000 samadhis associated with all varieties of Dharma arose within her. She returned to Oddiyana, became a yogini and attained the 10th level of a Bodhisattva. From her the lineage of this extraordinary Nyungne practice tradition began.

The benefits of this practice are extensive. To give an indication of the benefits of doing just one Nyungne, the Tantra of the 1000-Armed Chenrezig states that the practice can overcome the obscurations and wrongdoing accumulated throughout 40,000 eons of continuous samsara. Specifically, the fasting of body (food and drink) purifies the obscurations of body.The fasting of speech (silence) purifies the obscurations of speech. And the fasting of mind (meditation etc.) purifies the obscurations of mind.Those who wish to make their human life meaningful must do one Nyungne practice at the very least. One practice is just two days, but those two days go a long way as far as your unending future is concerned.

In the Sutra of Great Liberation, one of the most profound purification prayers, Buddha Shakyamuni mentions that if someone were to recite this sutra, such enormous purification could take place that even if they had the karma to be born in the hell realm, they might only experience a little headache instead. The benefits of Nyungne practice are very much like that, meaning that if you suffer at all, it goes a long way toward your own karmic purification. Nyungne practice is very effective and brings quick results, temporarily perfecting Dharma conditions. So this lifetime, one can have long life and good health, fulfilling the need for Dharma practice, especially developing Loving Compassion and Bodhicitta from the heart. 

Doing full prostrations, fasting and be silent
During practice some people may feel a little bit of hunger and thirst. But a little bit of hunger and thirst is absolutely worth going through when it is for the purpose of truly overcoming one’s own future pain and suffering and that of all other sentient beings in the world. Some people are willing to climb mountains or sky-dive or bungee-jump for momentary exhilaration, which are just minute and short-lived, but still they are willing to go through such moments. In comparison, I feel the enormous benefits of the Nyungne practice outweigh the hardships that one goes through.

It is mentioned that being able to complete 8 sets of Nyungne in this lifetime should bring us more joy and happiness than receiving all the wealth in the entire world. As happy as you might be to receive all the wealth in the whole world, it would still be for a short period of time. The benefit of true practice has no limitation. It is planting good karmic seed for your future as well.

I was asked why I wanted to attend this Nyungne retreat. I did some research and upon learning about all the beneficial results of this practice, I decided immediately to participate without qualms.  In time to come, if the opportunity arises, I would like to do a complete set of 8 Nyungne.  Consider... 16 days out of a lifetime is NOTHING considering the immense benefits. The sacrifice and discomfort of 16 days of prayers, prostrations and fasting is so minute when you can reap the benefits of the practice for your future liberation. It's like buying insurance for your future lifetimes, not just this lifetime.


  1. Thanks for your post, very informative. A local FPMT center in my country will be organizing a Nyung Ne retreat soon and I intended to take part the moment i heard about it. Extra information from this post really gave me extra motivation. Again, thank you.

  2. Can anyone identify the source of the Chenrezig used at the top of this article?


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