3.B.2 From The Daily Preparatory Practices (Jorcho) by the Third Dalai Lama (1543-1588). From The Dalai Lama, The Path to Enlightenment (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1982), presented by Jose Cabezon

  • Text

In a quiet place pleasing to the mind erect an altar with an image of your teacher, a statue of the Buddha, a stupa, and a scripture. Upon this altar daily arrange offerings both fresh and pure. Fix a comfortable meditation seat for yourself, and either four or six times a day sit there in the seven point posture of Vairochana, performing the following liturgy, and meditate as instructed.

Begin by taking refuge:

To my teachers I turn for refuge.
To the Buddhas I turn for refuge.
To the Doctrine I turn for refuge.
To the Spiritual Community I turn for refuge.

Then contemplate the four immeasurable thoughts in accordance with the following verse:

May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes.
May all sentient beings be without suffering and its causes.
May they never be separated from the happiness beyond suffering.
May they abide in that equanimity beyond attraction to those who are close and aversion to those who are distant.

Now recite the verses of Mahayana refuge:

I turn for refuge to the Buddha, Doctrine, and Supreme Community
From now until I attain enlightenment.
By the merits of practicing the six perfections
May I obtain enlightenment for the sake of all.

[The meditator then visualizes that everything dissolves into emptiness and from that emptiness, visualizes the spiritual teacher in the form of the Buddha surrounded by various bodhisattvas and saints. Visualizing various offerings being made to this “assembled field,” one recites verses of offerings, and one confesses past non-virtue. Then one recites:]

Long over-powered by attachment, anger and ignorance,
Countless negative deeds have I committed
With acts of body, speech, and mind.
Each and every one of these I acknowledge.
I lift up my heart and rejoice
In the perfections of Buddhas and bodhisattvas
And the arhants’ training and beyond,
And in the virtues enacted by living beings.

O lights unto the ten directions,
Buddhas who have found the stage of enlightenment,
To all of you I turn in prayer”
Turn the incomparable Wheel of the Doctrine.

Enter not into the peace of nirvana
But work for the good of living beings.
For as many eons as there are specks of dust
Stay with us and teach us, I pray.

By whatever small merits I may have amassed
By prostrating, making offerings,
Confession, rejoicing, and asking the Buddhas
To remain and teach the Doctrine,
All of it I dedicate now
To attaining supreme and perfect enlightenment.

[There follows the recitation of a famous prayer that is a synopsis of the “stages of the path” (lamrim) and the practice ends with this verse:]

In all future lives may I never be parted
From the perfect gurus or the pure ways of Doctrine.
May I gain every experience of the paths and stages
And quickly attain the stage of Holder of Adamantine Knowledge.

  • Commentary

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, daily spiritual practice often takes the form of ritual. Rituals are recited using melodies and accompanied by visualization. This passage, excerpted from a famous ritual called The Preparatory Practices, orJorchö, is meant to be performed several times a day ( at least by those who are serious adepts). Many Tibetans do this practice once a day.

Through oral commentary, as a student one learns the specific visualizations that are to be done and the emotions that are to be evoked during each portion of the rite. The ritual begins with the quintessential Buddhist act: going for refuge to the teacher and to the three jewels (Buddha, Doctrine, and Spiritual Community). This is followed by the recitation and meditation on the four immeasurable thoughts (love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity). One then ritually generates the desire to attain enlightenment for the sake of others, called bodhichitta, the cornerstone of Mahayana Buddhism.

Then, after visualizing one’s teacher in the form of the Buddha surrounded by various saints, one visualizes making a series of offerings to the assembled field, including prostrations, and even an offering of the universe itself. One then recites lines from a famous Indian prayer, called “The Prayer in Seven Parts.” The prayer includes confession, rejoicing in others’ virtues, requesting the Buddha not to enter the peace of nirvana but instead to continue to live in the world and to teach, and finally, dedicating the merit of one’s own virtuous deeds to achieving enlightenment for the sake of others.

In the full rite, but not included here, there follows the recitation of a prayer which is meant to provide an overview of the entire Buddhist path to enlightenment. The practice ends with a prayer requesting that, in life after life, one always meet with one’s teacher and the Doctrine.

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition contains hundreds and perhaps thousands of rituals like this one. Some are simpler. Most (especially the esoteric rites of the Tantras) are much more complex. The Jorchö is precisely the type of practice that someone would engage in when he or she is taking the first steps on the spiritual path.


  • Video

Participants from five religions ask if spiritual life and daily life need be integrated or whether there is an alternative model to compartmentalize them. Discrete spiritual practice, practiced by retreating from worldly tasks, can inform daily life and perhaps practicing it in isolation is the only way to draw fully on spiritual resources and gain strength from them. Seclusion and isolation may be the ideal path. The role of ritual is examined. Sometimes it enables one to integrate the spiritual life into daily life but sometimes it becomes a replacement for spirituality. Is the purpose of ritual that ritual becomes redundant or is ritual an essential means of maintaining spiritual awareness?

This discussion can serve as an introduction to 3.I.1, a discussion focused on the theme of ‘Ritual’.