The Practice of Nyungney
A talk Given by Ven. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche
Translated by Ngodrup T. Burkhar, rough edit Cathy Jackson
Rinpoche is going to give a brief explanation on the Nyungney practice, the fasting practice with the precepts. This talk is mainly for people who have not done the Nyungney practice before.
Two Practices – Nyiney and Nyungney
There are two practices: One is called Nyiney, and the other, which we will be doing, is called the Nyungney practice. They are quite different. Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that they are the same, but that is not so.
The practice of nyiney is strictly for lay persons who do not have understanding of the Dharma, for those who simply regard the Dharma as something very special and wish to commit themselves to it as they are able. The practice involves keeping the eight precepts.Â There is no fasting, there is breakfast and lunch, and no dinner. There is not the commitment of fasting or silence, so one may talk and eat.
Probably some people know how to meditate and do, and some even don’t know how to meditate. Mostly, the nyiney practice is following the eight precepts. It is strictly a Hinayana practice, and very much a beginner’s Hinayana practice, making things simpler, quieter.
The Nyungney practice, on the other hand, is rather profound. It maintains practices of the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana vehicles. The foundation of one’s practice is maintaining the eight precepts of the Hinayana vehicle. On top of that, one then generates the enlightened attitude, [Bodhichitta], that of wanting to benefit and liberate all sentient beings through the practice. So there is Bodhchitta, and the practice is according to the Mahayana. Also in the Nyungney, the practice of visualization, recitation, supplication, and doing the liturgy – the sadhana.Â One is involved with the profound Vajrayana teachings, too. Thus, it is a very profound and beneficial practice.
In the Nyiney practice one does not take the Bodhisattva Vow or, for that matter, one does not take the ordination or the precept of, for instance, the monk, because it is only a one day’s precept. The commitment is personally for one’s own benefit, taking these precepts for a day, just for overnight.
Whereas, in the Nyungney practice, there is the taking of the Bodhisattva Vow, and the renewal, confirmation, further reaffirming of the precepts and the vows that one had already taken.
There is great benefit in this Nyungney practice in that one is doing the practice of all the three yanas, Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana. If one can commit oneself to such a practice, this practice alone could be one’s only tool or method necessary towards the attainment of enlightenment. So it is a very profound and beneficial practice.
This Nyungney practice, taking the precepts and the commitments from an unbroken lineage,
is important for one. The transmission from this unbroken lineage of practitioners is given to the participants of the retreat. That is very important. From the time of the great nun Gelongma Palmo in India, up until this day, there is an unbroken lineage of this practice.
Receiving transmission and precepts from this unbroken lineage is very, very beneficial. It makes one’s practice very proper and effective. Now once one has formally taken the precepts and received the transmission, there may comes a time when one wants to do this practice by oneself. At that time, it is wonderful if one [again] has the opportunity to formally receive such transmission and precepts from a teacher. But this is not necessary, since one had once formally taken and received such a transmission. If no teacher is available, one can renew the vows in the presence of the shrine and the enlightened objects of refuge. In this way one repeats the vows and begins the practice.
The Nyungney is a very special and a very skillful practice as mentioned earlier, because one takes the precepts only for an overnight. For instance, you would take it tomorrow morning until the next morning, and then take it again, [the second morning] renewing the vows and precepts. Yet, the benefit is immeasurable because in the light of the bodhichitta one would do such a practice, for the benefit, and for the liberation and the enlightenment of all beings, one makes the proper aspiration and the proper action of doing the practice. From that point of view this practice is a great friend and a great support in one’s regular practice as well as in commitment to the teachings in general.
When you take the precepts in the morning, you will take it with the clear attitude, with the aspiration that for the benefit and liberation of all sentient beings one is committing oneself to this practice. Havine this attitude clearly is very important.
The Precepts and Nyungney Practice
As far as the precepts themselves are concerned, one is keeping these for a very short time. You take them on the first morning until the next morning, and then again on the second morning you take them again. In this way, you keep the precepts for only two days. Therefore, the precepts are quite strict.
The Four Root Vows – These are the four main precepts.
I. Not To Kill: One of the regular precepts is nor to kill.Â This usually
means not to take the life of a human being or a to-be-human being. This is because a human being has the best opportunity to experience the state of awakening. That is why, from this point of view, the taking of human life is more harmful than taking any life.
But, when you take this precept for the Nyungney, for the two days, it is to not kill any beings at ail, be it a little creature, be it human beings, be it whatever. Not to kill intentionally any being. If you did not intend to, but suddenly, somehow it happened unintentionally, that is a different story.
II. Not To Steal: The second precept is not to take that which is not given to one. Again, not taking anvthina that is not given to one. There is no excuse if it looks like the other person doesn’t need this. Whether the other person needs it or not, whether it is a big thing or a small thing, the point is not to take anything that is not given to one.
III. No Lying: The third precept is not to tell lies. The general precept is not to tell a spiritual lie, meaning: not to deceive one’s teacher or not to wear the mask of the Dharma, trying to deceive other people, telling lies. In general, this is what the regular vow implies.
But here, not to tell any lies whatsoever is what is meant. Even in the way of a joke, which to a little extent could confuse somebody or create unnecessary apprehension or hesitation. One is not to lie even in the way of teasing or kidding someone.
IV. Not To Have Sexual Relations: the fourth precept is not to have sexual relations at all. Here again, since it is for a very short time, it is very strict. One will not have any kind of sexual relations. Not only that, but one is not to make any gestures such as smiling in a romantic way, or making gestures that might be quite romantic, that might distract others.
The Four Branch Vows
V. Not To Take Intoxicants: the fifth precept if not to take any intoxicants at all, be it alcohol, be it drugs. It is very strict because of the time situation: one should not even smell to see whether it is good quality or not. It is that kind of situation, because a certain amount of clinging and attachment is involved with that.
Not taking any intoxicants is like a fence. It protects the other Four Precepts. Once you get intoxicated, you might do everything. So, these are the Five Main precepts.
VI. A. Not to wear unusual ornaments, perfumes or anything to make oneself look ostentatious, out of pride, arrogance, attachment, to want to look good, beautiful. Whatever one regularly wears is a different situation. Not to make a big deal out of it and try to draw someone’s attention by trying to look different, more attractive, whatever may be one’s ideas behind this.
VI. B. Not to engage in any kind of games, dancing, singing, jumping around: Basically, these are all distractions. At this time, since one is engaging in very specific and disciplined practice, one is not going to invite any distractions or entertainment that might be distracting to one’s very special practice.
VII. Not to use a higher bed or higher throne: not to use other than what one regularly uses, not to make oneself look elevated. The point is to not have such ideas or not to put such ideas into practice.
VIII. Fasting – Not to have untimely meals: The first day one does not have supper.Â The second day one does not eat nor drink, at all. It says not to have untimely meals, meaning, other that the meal that is given or prescribed for such a practice, that one will not indulge oneself in untimely food.
If one engages in such a practice in such a special month as this one (the month of the Buddha’s Parinirvana), that of the month that the Buddha overpowered or conquered all negative hindrances, it is said by the Buddha himself, that the benefit of such a practice will lead one to ultimately experience such a state of realization as that of his.
Not only that: one physically and mentally engages in the practice. It is a very special practice, because there is a total involvement in that one’s body engages in doing of the prostrations and meditation. In this way, one’s body engages in the practice. One’s speech engages in the practice of reciting of mantras and recitation of the liturgy, the sadhanas.
One’s mind engages in the practice with the visualization of the deity, the meditation practice, as well as generating of the enlightened attitude. Thus, in this way, one is very fully involved in the practice from the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana point of view. It is a total involvement in the practice of the Dharma.
The Commitment of Keeping Silence
On the second day, there is, other than the recitation of the practice, the commitment of keeping silent, which is also part of the Vajrayana practice commitment. The purpose is that by keeping silent, one is not causing distraction, causing insult, abuse, whatever, and those unwholesome things that we usually cause to others through our speech. By keeping silent. we may have in the future transcended those patterns of having to be born mute, having to be born dumb or ignorant, completely stupid like animals. This is not only for ourselves, but by keeping silence, may this practice also cause sentient beings to transcend the sufferings of stupidity, and the sufferings of not being able to use one’s tongue in a clear and proper way. Transcending the suffering of not being able to communicate clearly and precisely and beneficially.
The Fasting Commitment
The fasting on the second day: In our lives we have been indulging in all kinds of food, causing all kinds of harm to all ki~nds of beings, directly and indirectiy. This time, through this fasting, whatever negative patterns one has accumulated from indulging in all kinds of food, creating all kinds of negative patterns, all of these may be purified. For the purification of such patterns, one does the fasting, and more so, because of the harmful patterns that one has accumulated, there is the possibility of one’s being born in the realm of pretas, that of the hungry ghosts. Through this practice of Nyungney fasting, may all sentient being and oneself be able to transcend the birth in the lower realm of the hungry ghosts. With this attitude, and in order to help oneself transcend such birth in the lower realms, one keeps the commitment of the fasting.
The Proper Attitude
As one undergoes this practice, because of the very extravagant and very spoiled habit one has had, one might feel a little strain, a little hardship. But at this time, one should have a very clear and determined attitude. One cannot deny that one has been involved, one’s body has been involved in doing all kinds of negative things. There is certainly a good possibility that
has created hell for oneself. At this point, when one is going through a little difficulty, one must bear this, of course.
By being able to bear this pain, this momentary difficulty, may one transcend the suffering of having to be born in the lower realms, especially that of the hell realms, where the intensity of the suffering is unspeakable. Not only oneself, may all sentient beings who could be born in the hell realms transcend such possibilities.
More precisely, through your practice, may this practice cause the liberation ofÂ beings who are suffering in the hell realms at this particular point in time. With this attitude, understanding, and determination you commit yourself to the practice.
The Nyungney Schedule
The first morning we will start the practice somewhere close to 5 a.m. Rinpoche would like everyone to be up at least by 4:30 and washed and ready by 5.00. You will then come to the Shrine Room. The Precepts will be given to one. You will repeat after Rinpoche and then you take the precepts, the transmission which has been explained. After you get up, and until lunch time, you may have some liquids to drink, like tea or water, but no solid food, not even a grain of solid food.
Then we will have lunch together. It is said according to the Vinaya
disciplines: one meal at one sitting. Therefore, you will have the meal at one sitting. Before you sit down, make sure you have everything you need. If you have sat down and you thing you don’t have something you need, make sure you ask someone to pass it to you. There might be some people who are not doing the practice who could help, making sure that everyone gets whatever they need and whatever they want to have.
But once you have sat down and started your meal, you are not going to stand up. You only stand up when you have finished eating. If you have not finished eating and you stand up, that means you have stood up for good. You will not sit down again to restart your meal. You will eat at one sitting.
After the lunch, there will be short breaks here and there. You may continue drinking tea and water, after lunch, but you will not eat any solid food, not even a grain of solid food.
You can stay until 10 p.m. in the evening, drinking and talking, though of course it is not necessary to do so. But Rinpoche would like you to make sure you go to bed by 10 p.m. at least. Once you have gone to bed, it doesn’t matter when you get up, an hour after you went to bed or whenever. Once you have gone to bed, onwards: silence. You will not talk even if you get up after one hour. And you will not drink anything, not even a drop of water. From that time, bedtime onwards, one begins not to eat, not to drink, and silence.
On the second morning when you wash your face and brush your teeth, you will make sure you do not swallow a drop of water.
While we are doing the practice, it is not necessary that you go out for a stroll , but in case you have to go to the bathroom or feel you really have to go out for a little stretch, etc, you may do so. When you return to the Shrine room, go up to Rinpoche and receive the purification water and drink it. That’s the first day.
On the second day, after you have gone to the bathroom and returned to the Shrine Room, you will still come and get the purification water [from Rinpoche], but you will not drink it. You will just sprinkle it in your hair.
As far as being able to follow the practice: the first day we will go over it and make sure everyone is able to follow and keep up with everyone else. After 10 p.m of the first day, through out the second day, until the morning of the third day. you will keep silence, you will not eat or drink anything.
On the third morning, you come back to the Shrine Room at 4:30 or 5 a.m. to do the final session of the practice. You will still be keeping silence, and will not have taken any liquids or food.
That third morning, when we have completed the final session and at the end, Bardo Rinpoche will come with the purification water.Â We will then all drink the purification water.Â That is the conclusion of the practice and the fulfillment of our Precepts and commitments. that we can then break the silence as well as break the fast.
Rinpoche would like to encourage everyone to participate in this very special practice with sincerity, and with joy. There is definitely a great cause for joy because It is a very special practice, a very special opportunity. It is miraculous that one has such an opportunity at this time to work for the benefit and liberation of all sentient beings. If this is not a joyful time, then when else is there? And off course, from the point of view of benefit, there Is also cause for great joy.
So Rinpoche would like to request everyone to do this with sincerity and joy. Even if you are going through a little difficulty, feeling a little tired, a little thirsty, whatever, here and there, you are fulfilling a very important purpose. Of course, any difficulty is bearable. Don’t be a coward, don’t withdraw. Be very strong, and the benefit will be yours. If you are not very strong, the benefit would not be yours. There would be the benefit of doing the practice but not the benefit of doing it sincerely. You would amplify the difficulty by ideas of how difficult it is. It is not difficult, as you will witness.
As far as keeping silent is concerned: since we are not used to this, we may be tempted to talk.Â It is just a question of reminding oneself that one has made a commitment not to talk. Just a matter of giving oneself a reminder, and you will find it is not necessary, either, to talk.
If you are not mindful of your commitment and you happen to utter a word, it is not breaking the vow, in terms of the totality of the vow. it is like a crack in the pot, a hole in the bag. It is not that the bag is totally out of use, or the pot. But still, the hole or the crack is not what is desired.