Ngondro Challenges

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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby Totoro » Fri Jun 08, 2012 3:05 am

I think you may find this book helpful to your situation. Dzongsar Rinpoche details clearly the pitfalls we may encounter when doing ngondro, what are the common problems to expect (very helpful when we find out that the difficulties we encounter in ngondro are sometimes 'common' and sort of 'expected' and we don't get too hung up or bogged down by it), what to do about it,why we do ngondro, how it helps us, what it is, what it isn't, etc. And Rinpoche makes it very relevant to the situations of non-Tibetans leading ordinary crazy lives. The advice is applicable to ANY ngondro you are doing.

http://khyentsefoundation.com/2012/03/rinpoches-newest-book-not-for-happiness/
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby Karma Dorje » Fri Jun 08, 2012 4:45 am

Congratulations on losing weight! That's wonderful progress.

Ascertaining validity is an indispensible part of the Buddhist path. Doubt is normal and healthy as long as you don't obsess over it. Keep investigating ceaselessly to the extent of your understanding and asking your lama questions. It's his job to remove your doubts, just do your part by investigating first and then telling him what you had done and how you had reasoned. A teacher will never be upset with you coming to him or her with well meaning questions after you have explored them yourself.

I highly recommend the book Indisputable Truth as a starting point for your questions:

http://www.amazon.com/Indisputable-Trut ... 9627341274

In general, just relax and be kind to *yourself* as well as those around you. That is an essential attitude, particularly if you suffer from depression. Just remember: it's never as big a deal as you think it is right now, and YOU are also a fit object for your own compassion. You really have to stop picking on yourself and berating yourself for doing too little. Think about whether you would treat a friend of yours the way you treat yourself. Would they still be your friend? If not, your first task should be to make friends with yourself.

Everyone is a completely unique window on the world. Spend some time marveling at your own five senses and mind, appreciating your own unique perspective. Without that, it's very difficult to develop genuine compassion for others.

Be at ease, and be happy! We are all rooting for you!
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby simhamuka » Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:11 am

It's good to hear that it's going better.

Regarding the idea that you're not doing enough (one mala when you should be doing two, etc.), I realize that's probably the depression talking, but perhaps a suggestion from Gyaltrul Rinpoche would also help: he said to do just a few more than you plan. Just ... five beads more. Maybe ten extra.

I internalized this to such a degree that I forgot he had said it! I thought it was my own idea, but then I was reminded. It works very well. It shifts the mindset to "... just a little more." And those little five and ten beads add up.
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby Challenge23 » Fri Jun 08, 2012 5:46 pm

Thanks very much for everyone's responses.

Re; weight loss. One thing that I would like to point out is that changing one's lifestyle to reduce calories and increase exercise has some interesting elements in it that relate to the Dharma. You have to learn to accept things you don't like(in my case a rather sour type of yogurt and the discomfort of running) and avoid things you do like because they are harmful in excess(sodas, in my case).

In regards to the other responses I thank you for them. I am taking a day to really think about the carefully before responding so that I can give a response that is as wise as I can make it.
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby Challenge23 » Mon Jun 11, 2012 2:13 am

It's interesting. One of the things that ngondro has most definitely done is that given me a more clear idea about the Dharma then I had before I started. Now I'm sure you guys are going to smile at this but I was one of those individuals who thought that Buddhism was not a religion in the same way that Christianity(my birth religion) or Neopaganism(my religion before I took Refuge) is in that faith was something that was not necessary and magic was something that was, at best, totally optional. I also believed that Buddhism was a way to become happy in the same way that eating at a Michelin star rated restaurant or winning the Super Bowl makes one happy. Or at least be happy in the way that some blissed out yoga people seem to be(and in order to counter the suggestion, I can't really do yoga due to an operation I had when I was born).

However, I am rapidly beginning to think that I was mistaken in my assessment. The Dharma leads to Enlightenment which is not happiness and requires faith(and sometimes works like magic). I'm still going to complete the ngondro because I am almost mind numbingly bull stubborn. I just don't honestly know right now if I'll be Buddhist after I'm done.
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby simhamuka » Tue Jun 12, 2012 4:04 am

You make me think of a comment my teacher made: "I have a great deal of respect for those who take their time to decide." I think it's better to be stable, stubborn about it, than to get all excited and then -- fwip! -- you're off chasing the next shiny thing.

I talked to one of the teachers at Nitartha Institute who did the three-year retreat in Nova Scotia. He said he hit a point in the retreat when he was playing the damaru and ringing the bells, and he just went "what the hell am I doing here?" He had to reevaluate his whole path and it was pretty tough. He'd been practicing I think twenty years at that point. And he had great results from that retreat according to his teachers.

He told me this story in response to my own period of questioning, where after about ten years of practice, I had to go back to basics and decide if I believed any of this stuff. Reviewed the four noble truths, all the way up through the path. Sounds like you're doing that hard review now. Good on you. You won't have to do repair work on your path ten years from now.
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby Challenge23 » Thu Jun 14, 2012 4:23 pm

simhamuka wrote:You make me think of a comment my teacher made: "I have a great deal of respect for those who take their time to decide." I think it's better to be stable, stubborn about it, than to get all excited and then -- fwip! -- you're off chasing the next shiny thing.

I talked to one of the teachers at Nitartha Institute who did the three-year retreat in Nova Scotia. He said he hit a point in the retreat when he was playing the damaru and ringing the bells, and he just went "what the hell am I doing here?" He had to reevaluate his whole path and it was pretty tough. He'd been practicing I think twenty years at that point. And he had great results from that retreat according to his teachers.

He told me this story in response to my own period of questioning, where after about ten years of practice, I had to go back to basics and decide if I believed any of this stuff. Reviewed the four noble truths, all the way up through the path. Sounds like you're doing that hard review now. Good on you. You won't have to do repair work on your path ten years from now.


Thank you very much. That is exactly what I'm doing. I'm going from the Four Noble Truths into the philosophical underpinnings of the Dharma to make sure that I know what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and that I have realistic expectations from the activities. I think that part of it is that I was/am asking the Dharma to do stuff that it wasn't really meant to do.

From what I'm reading the Dharma isn't there for the purpose of(to name a few) to increase overall happiness, to treat serious and innate psychiatric conditions(such as extreme anxiety and depression, schizophrenia, etc), or to treat extreme cases immediate physical suffering(for example, tuberculosis or HIV). The purpose of the Dharma seems to be Enlightenment. Those other things are possible side effects but if I need those specific things I would be best served to go via other avenues(a therapist, doctor, etc.).

Of course, there are example of very accomplished practitioners for whom that may not be the case and the Dharma(for lack of a better term) can fulfill the capacity of doctor, therapist, whatever. However, they are the exception and perhaps a goal to work towards but not where I am now(or most likely will be for quite some time). For now a healthy dose of albuterol and reciting the Medicine Buddha mantra will cure an asthma attack much faster than the Medicine Buddha mantra alone(with apologies to John Dillinger).

Another thing I've noticed is just how profound the disagreements are in regards to even significant parts of the Dharma. For example, in the Pali canon it seems that if you get Enlightened your consciousness is gone from this cosmos while here in the Nyingma approach it is more nuanced and complicated but basically even after Enlightenment there is something-ish there. Or some people who think that if you meditate it will make you absolutely miserable for a good portion of your life with little reward while other schools seem to think that Enlightenment only takes slightly more effort than finding blood orange greek yogurt in a grocery store. And then there are the Stephen Batchelor schools where Buddhism is basically new atheism and/or a school of psychotherapy but with cooler outfits and more laid back.

Next month I'm attending the annual public teaching for my group which is basically on the three fundamentals of view, action, and meditation. I hope that this will be able to clear up some of my doubts. I won't lie. I do feel a little slow because most of the people in my group are doing super complicated and elaborate practices with mandalas, phurbas, drums, channels, visualizations, and all that(they are doing a two week retreat right before the public teaching) while I'm still trying to perform the very simple task of trying to answer the questions, "What are we doing here? Why are we doing this? Is this even a good idea? Should we have hobbies/doctors/therapists?" which everyone else seems to either already know the answer to or just don't care about.

And yes, this is whining. But as you pointed out this is my hard review. And when I'm done no matter which path I end up on I will know exactly why I'm on it and be able to defend my decision against anyone. Which if that is the only result of the Ngondro practice I would find it worth the price of admission.
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby simhamuka » Fri Jun 15, 2012 3:00 pm

Didn't the Buddha start by asking those questions? "What are we doing here? What are the solutions to birth, old age, sickness and death?" If the Buddha asked these question it seems to me they're important questions for us to ask. It's not like he didn't know the answers.

Coincidentally, my teacher just put out a post about how to approach the path: http://www.tibetanbuddhistaltar.org/201 ... -the-path/

Challenge23 wrote:Thank you very much. That is exactly what I'm doing. I'm going from the Four Noble Truths into the philosophical underpinnings of the Dharma to make sure that I know what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and that I have realistic expectations from the activities. I think that part of it is that I was/am asking the Dharma to do stuff that it wasn't really meant to do.


Which if that is the only result of the Ngondro practice I would find it worth the price of admission.


You're making a lot of sense to me.
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby Dechen Norbu » Fri Jun 15, 2012 3:07 pm

Many people would argue that your teacher is not an adequate person when it comes to giving advice about Buddhadharma.
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby simhamuka » Fri Jun 15, 2012 6:20 pm

Dechen Norbu wrote:Many people would argue that your teacher is not an adequate person when it comes to giving advice about Buddhadharma.


Based on what?
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby Dechen Norbu » Fri Jun 15, 2012 6:31 pm

This will be a subject that I won't discuss any further, but our members have the right to know that Alyce Zeoli, aka as Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo is a teacher surrounded by polemics and due to that many consider KPC a controversial 'Buddhist' group.
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby Challenge23 » Fri Jun 15, 2012 6:57 pm

Dechen Norbu wrote:This will be a subject that I won't discuss any further, but our members have the right to know that Alyce Zeoli, aka as Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo is a teacher surrounded by polemics and due to that many consider KPC a controversial 'Buddhist' group.


Thank you for your input and your restraint.

Do you have any thoughts in regards to the doubts I've brought up or the doubts that come up in the Ngondro practice in general? Did you have such things happen to you? How did you resolve it? Do you worry about this type of thing at all?
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby Dechen Norbu » Fri Jun 15, 2012 8:14 pm

I believe you are just trying to keep things honest. You are avoiding lying to yourself. That's a good thing.
Instead of doing things because everyone is doing them, you are questioning. That's good.
But there will come the time when you need to try to find the answers and keep your practice, ngöndro or other. I may even say that many of those questions you have will be answered exactly by practicing. Practice leads to insight. Insight is experience, direct experience and that is much better than belief. If, however, you have many nagging doubts, it will be hard for you to practice. When possible, try to schedule an appointment with you teacher and talk with him about your process.
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby Dechen Norbu » Fri Jun 15, 2012 8:20 pm

Off topic posts will be removed.

I only cautioned our members because there are polemics about that particular teacher. They have every right to know that. The link you posted, simhamuka, doesn't contain one text alone. It's a link to a site that serves as a vehicle for many opinions from that polemic teacher. That is why I alerted our members to this fact.

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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby simhamuka » Fri Jun 15, 2012 8:35 pm

Challenge is doing the practice.

Dechen Norbu wrote:But there will come the time when you need to try to find the answers and keep your practice, ngöndro or other. I may even say that many of those questions you have will be answered exactly by practicing. Practice leads to insight. Insight is experience, direct experience and that is much better than belief. If, however, you have many nagging doubts, it will be hard for you to practice. When possible, try to schedule an appointment with you teacher and talk with him about your process.


Right there at the end you'll see:

Challenge23 wrote:And when I'm done no matter which path I end up on I will know exactly why I'm on it and be able to defend my decision against anyone. Which if that is the only result of the Ngondro practice I would find it worth the price of admission.


That's pretty determined.


P.S. Challenge has talked to her teacher. It's further up the thread. Her teacher told her to keep going with the practice, and that's exactly what she's doing.
Last edited by simhamuka on Fri Jun 15, 2012 9:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby simhamuka » Fri Jun 15, 2012 9:12 pm

[...]
Jetsunma's [...] did ngundro. I know because I was there. I did ngundro with her, prostrations right alongside her. She wore me into the ground when I was nineteen and she was, I think, forty-ish. I paced her. It was 400-500 at a clip, and she was doing four sessions a day (I don't know if all four sessions were refuge). And she finished, because Gyaltrul Rinpoche came back and gave extensive teachings on tsa lung and tigle. More extensive, I can say now, than what's generally given. There's no way a teacher like Gyaltrul Ripoche would give those kinds of teachings to someone who hadn't even finished ngundro. Not a chance.

It boils down to: the most important part of ngundro is the four thoughts. Without those, you can't stand your ground in Dharma. That's what's in that link.
Last edited by Dechen Norbu on Fri Jun 15, 2012 11:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Off topic portion removed
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby Adamantine » Sat Jun 16, 2012 4:40 am

Challenge23 wrote:
Dechen Norbu wrote:This will be a subject that I won't discuss any further, but our members have the right to know that Alyce Zeoli, aka as Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo is a teacher surrounded by polemics and due to that many consider KPC a controversial 'Buddhist' group.


Thank you for your input and your restraint.

Do you have any thoughts in regards to the doubts I've brought up or the doubts that come up in the Ngondro practice in general? Did you have such things happen to you? How did you resolve it? Do you worry about this type of thing at all?


Challenge23,

Ngondro has no power in-and-of-itself. This is important to remember in the process of engaging with these practices. Just mumbling some mantras, or going through the physical motions of prostration, or mandala offerings, with a mind that is distracted or insincere, or not focused, or without a deep intention-- this will not necessarily do much. I am not accusing you of this, but I know from experience that when doing ngondro every day, there are inevitably times when the full heart and clarity of intention will not be at a maximum, if there at all. I believe that it can be easy to get into a routine-like rut, where one is just going through the motions. Why? Because our conventional mind (call it ego or neurotic mind or whatever) is very adept at habituating anything into it's own field, thereby immunizing itself to the threat of expansive and deepening glimpses into experience devoid of it.
So it is really important to focus with real depth, and reinvigorate that space in your heart that is sincere in it's seeking of refuge, that deeply and palpably feels that great compassion for the suffering of all beings from which bodhicitta arises, etc. I am not implying that you don't do this.. but I am just saying it is very easy for all of us to get into habits of practice where these fundamental things are treated with lip service but are not engaged with in the depth that brings meaning and transformation. The point is re-orienting our minds, it is not to fulfill some formula or accomplish a set number. The numbers are there to keep us in a momentum of seeking that depth. It also really helps to immerse oneself in the practice for extended periods, that enable one to allow the practice to deepen and deepen and work on oneself in such a way that the power of the continuity takes effect and the glimpses of the real meaning and resonance of them become incredibly vivid.
This is why I can not recommend enough doing even a short retreat, or a series of short retreats on your ngondro practice. If you can spend 2 or 3 hour sessions of consistent practice continuously, traditional style: wake up at 3am, first session.. take short break for meals, in the afternoon rest for a couple hours.. and keep practicing like this until 9pm, then sleep. --Your Lama will tell you the right schedule for yourself-- you will have a different experience of the practice. Even if you can't take time off from work, then do weekend retreats. You can take the phone off the hook if you live alone, and do retreat in your home or apartment, etc. Or better yet, use a cabin in a retreat center that has a sacred atmosphere. The best is to do a 7 to 10 day retreat, to start with, and you could always do longer if you have a flexible schedule: 3week, one month, 3 month. But like I said, even just a weekend, or a long weekend like this you will have a new experience of the practice. These are the times when the real meaning penetrates the mind in profound ways, and this living taste pervades your life, so even when you may again be in a rut of formulaic recitations, you have this memory, a reminder of the profundity and essence of the practice that you will always carry with you. I think it would be a shame to make any decisions about your practice or relationship to dharma without giving yourself some time like this in a retreat context. But remember, as long as we are not at some high level of realization, our conventional minds will produce doubts.. this is just inevitable. They are worth exploring, but you also need to explore the depths of direct experience, --not just base your judgement of experience on a dabble of practice for short periods. I hope this helps.. if you have spent time in retreat than ignore this unsolicited advice!
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby simhamuka » Sat Jun 16, 2012 5:17 am

Adamantine wrote:This is why I can not recommend enough doing even a short retreat, or a series of short retreats on your ngondro practice. If you can spend 2 or 3 hour sessions of consistent practice continuously, traditional style: wake up at 3am, first session.. take short break for meals, in the afternoon rest for a couple hours.. and keep practicing like this until 9pm, then sleep. --Your Lama will tell you the right schedule for yourself-- you will have a different experience of the practice. Even if you can't take time off from work, then do weekend retreats. You can take the phone off the hook if you live alone, and do retreat in your home or apartment, etc. Or better yet, use a cabin in a retreat center that has a sacred atmosphere. The best is to do a 7 to 10 day retreat, to start with, and you could always do longer if you have a flexible schedule: 3week, one month, 3 month. But like I said, even just a weekend, or a long weekend like this you will have a new experience of the practice. These are the times when the real meaning penetrates the mind in profound ways, and this living taste pervades your life, so even when you may again be in a rut of formulaic recitations, you have this memory, a reminder of the profundity and essence of the practice that you will always carry with you. I think it would be a shame to make any decisions about your practice or relationship to dharma without giving yourself some time like this in a retreat context. But remember, as long as we are not at some high level of realization, our conventional minds will produce doubts.. this is just inevitable. They are worth exploring, but you also need to explore the depths of direct experience, --not just base your judgement of experience on a dabble of practice for short periods. I hope this helps.. if you have spent time in retreat than ignore this unsolicited advice!


This is very good advice.

If you have the kind of job where it's possible, you can also do a semi-retreat.

The way it worked is I would get up in the morning, do practice right away. Then I would go to work reciting the mantra (not for the accumulation, just to keep it going). Then (at the time I had a quiet job in an office of about five people) I spent the day listening to teachings if I was the only one in, or reciting mantra if I could. I had post-its on my computer to help mindfulness. Then continued the recitation in the traffic on the way home. I'd grab dinner, then straight to practice until bedtime. Then I got to do retreat all weekend.

It had the flow of retreat even though I was working full-time. I think it really helped.
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby Yontan » Sun Jun 17, 2012 11:27 pm

Challenge23, figuring out how to work through our own blocks is a difficult part of the path. Sometimes we need many different methods and it's not simply that this one didn't work so I must try another one.
If you're committed to finishing your prostrations, it may help to simply do them without asking what benefit. Don't forget the visualization and maybe set a minimum daily, do just that for a long time. Even if it's just twenty-one.

You really are coming for refuge, so it is important that you see the suffering that our confused grasping brings us, and feel that you are coming to the Three Jewels to find refuge, sanctuary from it all. And you're doing it with the intention of all beings doing it along with you. As for happiness, how can life not be happy when you've removed suffering and its cause? Genuine kindness, better friendships, better choices in life... all of these come with realizations. You are not striving for a blank nothing. You are actualizing your natural state, which has nothing to do with anything modern or ancient, it is you.

The Four Boundless Thoughts and tonglen may help as well, just randomly throughout the day, to bring motivation. If we really believe enlightenment is possible, and that aside from it we only have endless suffering, and we develop our connection with others who are also suffering, it becomes natural to come to the Three Jewels. The 100,000 number is not magic. It sucks to break your time goal, but things happen. Getting finished with ngondro isn't nearly as helpful as doing ngondro, if you catch my drift.
Hope that helps some.
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Re: Ngondro Challenges

Postby Dechen Norbu » Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:44 am

Adamantine wrote:
Challenge23,

Ngondro has no power in-and-of-itself. This is important to remember in the process of engaging with these practices. Just mumbling some mantras, or going through the physical motions of prostration, or mandala offerings, with a mind that is distracted or insincere, or not focused, or without a deep intention-- this will not necessarily do much. I am not accusing you of this, but I know from experience that when doing ngondro every day, there are inevitably times when the full heart and clarity of intention will not be at a maximum, if there at all. I believe that it can be easy to get into a routine-like rut, where one is just going through the motions. Why? Because our conventional mind (call it ego or neurotic mind or whatever) is very adept at habituating anything into it's own field, thereby immunizing itself to the threat of expansive and deepening glimpses into experience devoid of it.
So it is really important to focus with real depth, and reinvigorate that space in your heart that is sincere in it's seeking of refuge, that deeply and palpably feels that great compassion for the suffering of all beings from which bodhicitta arises, etc. I am not implying that you don't do this.. but I am just saying it is very easy for all of us to get into habits of practice where these fundamental things are treated with lip service but are not engaged with in the depth that brings meaning and transformation. The point is re-orienting our minds, it is not to fulfill some formula or accomplish a set number. The numbers are there to keep us in a momentum of seeking that depth. It also really helps to immerse oneself in the practice for extended periods, that enable one to allow the practice to deepen and deepen and work on oneself in such a way that the power of the continuity takes effect and the glimpses of the real meaning and resonance of them become incredibly vivid.
This is why I can not recommend enough doing even a short retreat, or a series of short retreats on your ngondro practice. If you can spend 2 or 3 hour sessions of consistent practice continuously, traditional style: wake up at 3am, first session.. take short break for meals, in the afternoon rest for a couple hours.. and keep practicing like this until 9pm, then sleep. --Your Lama will tell you the right schedule for yourself-- you will have a different experience of the practice. Even if you can't take time off from work, then do weekend retreats. You can take the phone off the hook if you live alone, and do retreat in your home or apartment, etc. Or better yet, use a cabin in a retreat center that has a sacred atmosphere. The best is to do a 7 to 10 day retreat, to start with, and you could always do longer if you have a flexible schedule: 3week, one month, 3 month. But like I said, even just a weekend, or a long weekend like this you will have a new experience of the practice. These are the times when the real meaning penetrates the mind in profound ways, and this living taste pervades your life, so even when you may again be in a rut of formulaic recitations, you have this memory, a reminder of the profundity and essence of the practice that you will always carry with you. I think it would be a shame to make any decisions about your practice or relationship to dharma without giving yourself some time like this in a retreat context. But remember, as long as we are not at some high level of realization, our conventional minds will produce doubts.. this is just inevitable. They are worth exploring, but you also need to explore the depths of direct experience, --not just base your judgement of experience on a dabble of practice for short periods. I hope this helps.. if you have spent time in retreat than ignore this unsolicited advice!

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