Pema Rigdzin wrote:One never knows what obstacles may arise, what obscurations may still persist after completing the usual amount of a certain practice. For example, while still undergoing their training, many great lamas were told by their lamas to repeat ngondro more than once before being given the green light to progress to another practice, or do much more generation stage before moving on to tsa-lung, etc.
What you say is very true, but it still implies a system of being periodically evaluated by one's lama and getting meaningful feedback from him/her, which I like very much. I think my current lama forgets exactly which stages his students are at, so that's what makes me paranoid that he'll just forget about me, and that I'll just languish in the same sangha for years without having achieved very much. When I meet with him, his answer is basically, "Well, you should try and set up a retreat with some other sangha members," and I try to do it and then the times I propose don't work for anyone else, so I just end up stuck.
Pema Rigdzin wrote:As for long retreat vs daily practice at home, you may be underestimating how much the waves of karma can really get to raging during long retreat.
Hehe, perhaps you're right, but I still want to try.
Finding the right situation with the right lama can be quite challenging sometimes...
I've received a Vajrasattva empowerment, so I suppose I could recite the 100-syllable mantra, regardless of whether I get permission to begin Ngondro or not. Vajrasattva...the lord of Tantric Buddhism... I could use some of that right now.... Like you say, Ngondro is an ongoing process, so I might as well get used to that mantra. I suppose I could also prostrate to images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as well. Even if it won't "count" for Ngondro, it will still "count" by generating positive karma.
Oh, by all means, do aspire to do as much retreat as you can in your life and do all you can to make that happen, such as aspiration prayers and sponsoring and making whatever lifestyle alterations or sacrifices that may be necessary, and so on. Vajrasattva practice is very important too, so yeah, if you've received the empowerment for that, there can never bee too much Vajrasattva practice. And it's important to find a lama and a group that one jibes with, no doubt. If you're not getting what you feel you need out of this present situation, it's perfectly fine to find another lama and group that resonate with you to be your principal lama and sangha. One can certainly respect and appreciate a lama and his sangha but focus more principally on another organization that is a better fit. Also, as you say, prostrating to the images of the Three Jewels and such can never fail to "count" in terms of purifying negative karma, receiving blessings, removing obscurations, and generating merit and wisdom. So, whenever you do eventually begin ngondro, you will be that much closer to amassing the two accumulations. But hopefully you'll be able to begin ngondro soon.
When it comes to close guidance from the lama, what's worked for me is having my root lamas who are the center of my practice in terms of being the principal source of blessings and core practice instructions and guidance, but relying on other qualified lamas closer by who can fill in the blanks in terms of learning things like ritual or clarifying how to visualize some part of a practice or understanding some aspect of a sadhana that's not clear to me, learning academic subjects, whatever (though I do also receive that stuff from time to time from my root lamas). When it comes to my actual experience of practicing and verifying if my meditation is on the mark, or asking whether this or that is the right step or change in focus for me, etc, I go to my root lama with that. I only see him at most once a year, usually once every 2 yrs, but sometimes it's 3 yrs between visits. And the private interview part of it is rarely more than 10 minutes. But that causes me to really get to the heart of what I need to talk to him about. And I have so much work to do based on his instructions to me and where I'm at with them that I don't need to see him more often than that. I'd PREFER to, just because of my devotion to him and my attachment, but I don't really need to.
Anyway, I've really just been trying to stress that it's important not to devalue whatever Dharma practice you've done and continue to do before you get a situation going that really feels right. As you obviously ultimately recognize, it is never wasted or lacking in profundity. I wish you well, my friend, and pray that all your obstacles be dispelled and all conducive circumstances come about.