Six Yogas of Naropa: Complete State Preliminary Exercises and Tummo

What we have discussed up to now concerning the complete stage has been in its first section: the basis situation. Next, the path to follow is divided into two: 

  • The preliminary physical exercises, together with meditation on the body as an empty fenced-in pen
  • The stages of the meditations on the actual paths.

Complete Stage Preliminary Physical Exercises 

To practice the first of the actual paths, tummo, inner heat, we first need to remove various blockages from the energy-channels and clear out the disturbing energy-winds. To accomplish this, we need to perform the preliminary physical exercises, together with meditation on the body as an empty shell. 

The Ninefold Tastes of Breath Exercise

To start these physical exercises, we need to practice the “ninefold tastes of breath” (rlung-ro-dgu-phrugs). To begin, sit in the vajra position (rdo-rje skyil-krung) – in hatha yoga, called the “full lotus position” – with each foot resting on the thigh of the opposite leg. Touch the tips of the thumbs of each hand to the bottom joint of the fourth fingers of that hand and then wrap the other fingers over the thumbs, thus closing the hands into fists with the thumbs tucked inside. This is known as the “vajra clenched fist mudra,” vajramushti in Sanskrit and dorje khutsur (rdo-rje khu-tshur) in Tibetan. 

While visualizing yourself as a Buddha-figure, your yidam deity, visualize the central, right, and left energy-channels inside the body. The lower ends of the right and left energy-channels extend slightly below the navel and then curve upward and insert into the central energy-channel at the navel chakra. The upper ends of the right and left enegy-channels extend up to the top of the head, curve around back down and end at the nostrils. Visualize all this to begin the ninefold tastes of breath exercise. 

For the first three rounds of breath, visualize the lower end of the right energy-channel inserted into the lower end of the left energy-channel. It is like putting on a seatbelt in an airplane in which the right end is inserted into the left one. 

Keeping the fists clenched, raise both arms to chest level, shoot them out in front and then move them to the right so that they stick out horizontally from the right side of the body. Slide the left fist along the right arm from the hand to the elbow and then slap the left fist under the right armpit. Lower and bend the right arm over the left fist and, with the index finger of the right hand, block the left nostril by pressing the left side of the nose and inhale slowly through the right nostril. Then, with that same index finger, block the right nostril by pressing the right side of the nose and exhale slowly through the left nostril. Repeat this procedure, alternating inhaling and exhaling three times, while visualizing that all the blockages of the left energy-channel open up and the energy-winds of longing desire flush out with the breath exhaled through the left nostril. Remember to sit in the vajra position and to visualize yourself as the Buddha-figure deity throughout the entire procedure.

For the next three rounds of breath, change the positions of the lower ends of the left and right energy-channels and visualize the lower end of the left energy-channel inserted into the lower end of the right. Again, follow the same steps as before, but this time stick the arms out horizontally from the left side of the body, slap the right fist under the left armpit and, with the index figure of the left hand, block the right nostril and inhale slowly through the left. Alternate this three times with blocking the left nostril and breathing out slowly through the right, imagining that all the blockages of the right energy-channel open up and the energy-winds of anger flush out with the breath exhaled through the right nostril. 

Be careful not to put your finger in your eye or ear instead of on the side of your nostril! It is like when someone driving a car is stopped by the police and made to take a test to see if they were driving while drunk. They are asked to put their finger on their nose, but if they are drunk, they stick their finger all over their face because they can’t find their nose.

For the last three rounds of breath, visualize the bottom ends of both the left and right energy-channels inserted into the bottom end of the central energy-channel. Leaving the hands, still held in the vajra clenched fist mudra, resting on the knees and opening and closing with each breath, inhale slowly through both nostrils and exhale slowly through both, three times, imagining that the blockages of the central energy-channel clear out and the energy-winds of naivety leave with the breath exhaled through both nostrils.

This is the compete stage preliminary practice of the ninefold tastes of breath to clear out the main energy-channels.

Filling Like a Vase

Next, practice the breathing exercise called “filling like a vase” (bum-pa-ltar-dgang) or, more commonly, “vase-breathing.” While still sitting in the vajra position, with hands resting on the knees in either the vajra clenched fist mudra or the normal meditation position, and visualizing yourself as a Buddha figure deity, inhale deeply through the nose. While inhaling, swallow silently and, while swallowing, think that all the upper energy-winds go down with the breath to the navel region and are held slightly below the navel. While still holding the breath, tense the pelvic floor muscles, drawing the lower energy-winds up to the navel. Hold the two winds together just below the navel, as if holding them in a vase. When holding the breath any longer becomes uncomfortable, slowly exhale through the nose and then inhale deeply again. 

As a measure of the length of time to hold the vase breath, take one unit as the time taken to slap the right knee, the left knee, the top of the head and snap the fingers. If we can hold our breath for the time it takes to do that 21 times, we are starting to reach the proper amount of time of holding our breath. Gradually, with practice, we will be able to extend that. At first, of course, we will not be able to hold it that long. 

All the following exercises are done while still visualizing ourselves as a Buddha-figure deity and holding the vase breath.

Swiveling Like a Wheel

The first is “swiveling like a wheel” (‘khor-lo-ltar-bskor).  Sitting in the vajra position, hook with the right hand the big toe of the right foot resting on the left thigh, and in the same manner, hook the left big toe with the left hand. While holding the vase breath, swivel the hips and abdomen clockwise three times and then counterclockwise three times. Then, move the upper part of the body to the right, then the left, then from the back to the front and, lastly, from the front to the back. Just move the hips. This is something we need to practice to be able to do it properly.

Hooking Like a Hook

The next is “hooking like a hook” (lcags-kyu-ltar-dgug). Sitting in the vajra position with the hands in the lap with vajra clenched fists and holding the vase breath, bring the hands up to chest level and thrust them forward with strong force. Move both arms to the left, holding them horizontally to the left of the body, slowly draw the right hand along the left arm and the body to the right shoulder. Bring the left hand to the heart and then slap the left elbow down to the rib cage on the left side of the body. Repeat three times. Then do the same, three times, but this time, moving both arms to the right, bringing the left hand to the left shoulder, then the right hand to the heart and slap the right elbow down to the rib cage on the right side of the body. 

Shooting the Vajra Bound Mudra Up to the Sky and Tossing It Downwards

For the next one, “shooting the vajra bound mudra up to the sky and tossing it downwards” (rdo-rje bsdams-pa’i phyag-rgya gnam-du ‘phangs-shing ‘og-du bskyur), visualizing yourself as a Buddha figure, kneel on the knees with the body erect straight up from the knees. Hold the hands in the “vajra bound mudra” with the fingers of both hands clasped together, interlaced with each other, slightly bent upwards, with palms facing upwards slightly inwards and thumbs sticking out to the sides. While holding the vase breath, slowly and intensely raise the hands up the body and, as they reach slightly above the top of the head, turn the hands to face downwards. Slowly and intensely bring the hands down to the chest level and then, with great strength, forcefully push them down toward the knees with the fingers separated and outstretched.

In the Manner of a Bitch Vomiting, Straightened Like an Arrow

The last of these exercises is called “in the manner of a bitch (a female dog) vomiting, straightened like an arrow” (kyi-mo’i skyug tshul-gyis mda’-ltar bsrang). Visualizing yourself as a Buddha-figure deity, kneel with both hands and knees on the floor, with the hands held in the vajra clenched fist mudra and the head bent downwards, as far as you can, between the arms. Holding the vase breath, stretch the head slowly upwards and back as far as it will go, with the hands naturally lifting slightly up from the floor. Move the head slowly back down, placing the hands, still in the vajra clenched fist mudra, back down on the floor, and exhale forcefully, while making the sound “ha,” first under the right armpit and then under the left armpit. This is the way that a dog vomits. If we see a dog vomiting, we will see this motion.

Be sure not to lose the clarity of the visualization of yourself as the Buddha-figure deity. Immediately after exhaling, stand up very quickly and shake the right leg and then the left. Then, to have the energy-channels and blood situated well in the body, sit back down in the vajra position and crack the knuckles of the fingers of each hand, one by one. Then, shake the head and upper part of the body, while holding the vase breath and the visualization. After finishing that, rub the hands together.

These are the five exercises done while holding the vase breath. There are many further exercises but these five are sufficient. When we do all these exercises, we always breathe through our nose, not our mouth. Also, we should not expel gas. It is better to do the practices before eating; right after a meal, it may be difficult. Also, Tsongkhapa says in the text we must be very firm and decisive in our taking refuge, reaffirming our bodhichitta aim and visualizing ourselves perfectly as the Buddha-figure diety.

Meditating on the Body as Being Like an Empty Fenced-in Pen

Meditating on the body as being like an empty fenced-in pen (stong-rva bsgom-pa) has three stages: 

  • Visualizing the body as being hollow, empty inside, like the inside of an inflated balloon
  • Visualizing the external form of the body as like a rainbow, while the inside is empty 
  • Visualizing ourselves as the Buddha-figure deity, so that the external form of the figure is in the nature of a rainbow, and the inside is empty like the inside of a balloon. 

Doing this is very good for preventing sicknesses of the body and energy-channels. We can get all the further details on this from the teachers here, because it is extremely clear in the text. We should not be too concerned now, but just listen to the sound of the recitation of the text. Later, when we come to read and study the text ourselves, we will find that this will have made a very big difference in our understanding of the text.

Meditations on the Actual Paths

After we meditate on ourselves being like an empty fenced-in pen, we come to the meditations on the actual paths. Tsongkhapa says that according to the tradition of Marpa, the main emphasis is put on tummo. This is not something that Marpa just made up. This is the intention of the Buddha in the tantras and the intention of the arya, referring to Nagarjuna and his disciples.

The six yogas or practices of Naropa, then, are:

  • Tummo (gtum-mo), inner heat 
  • Illusory body (sgyu-lus)
  • Clear light (‘od-gsal
  • Transference of consciousness (‘pho-ba)
  • Entering the citadel (of a fresh corpse) (grong-‘jug
  • Bardo (bar-do), the intermediate period between death and rebirth.

The main objective that we need to accomplish is to have all the energy-winds go into the central energy-channel. To do this, the first method is called “tummo,” inner heat.

Tummo, Inner Heat

Meditation on tummo is divided into four stages:

  • Visualizing the energy-channels 
  • Cleansing the pathways of the energy-channels – namely, the 120 main energy-channels we discussed – by visualizing balls of light going through them 
  • Meditation on various syllables in the energy-channels 
  • The actual meditation on tummo. 

The actual meditation on tummo, inner heat, likewise is divided into four stages:

  • Stoking the flame 
  • Causing the flame to flare
  • Causing the dripping of white bodhichitta by the power of the flame
  • Causing the special type of dripping by the power of the flame. 

The explanations regarding tummo come from the oral and personal instructions of the lamas; Tsongkhapa himself used those mostly from the tradition of the translator Marpa.

When we have actually reached a stage of high realization and are going to embark on the complete stage practices, at that time we use a meditation cord or rope. The measurement for that is double the length of rope needed to wrap around our head and to clutch with two fists in front of our forehead. Being able to sit in the perfect posture of the seven-fold position of Vairochana is extremely important and crucial when doing the following practices.

Visualizing the Energy-Channels

When visualizing the various energy-channels, imagine: 

  • The 64 energy-channels of the navel chakra are red and all curving upwards. The shape of the internal part of them is triangular. 
  • The 8 at the heart are white, circular, and curving downwards. 
  • The 16 at the throat are red, circular and curving upwards. 
  • The 32 channels of the crown chakra are variegated in color, triangular and curving downwards.

The fact that the energy-channels of the two pairs of chakras are facing one upwards and one downwards represents the union of method and wisdom. Also, perfectly visualize the central, right and left energy-channels as explained before. Concentrate mainly on these three principal channels.

Cleansing the Energy-Channels

To cleanse the energy-channels, first imagine a very tiny ball of white light at the center of the heart chakra, where the 8 side energy-channels emerge. That white ball is where our mind is located. The white ball goes out into each of the side energy-channels and radiates light, which fills each of the energy-channels at the heart.

After cleansing the heart chakra, bring the white ball of light up to the throat chakra. The ball of white light is the focus of our consciousness in the center of the throat chakra. It looks around at the 16 energy-channels. It goes out to each of the energy-channels in the front direction, including those that branch from it to the left and right, radiating and filling them with light. It’s like we are in the central hall of a house and go into the various rooms that come off it. In this way, it illuminates and checks out the condition of each of the energy-channels of the throat chakra. 

Then, it goes up to the crown chakra and does the same thing, checking out and lighting up the 32 energy-channels of the crown chakra. 

Then, the white ball of light circles over the crown of the head, comes to the front of the forehead, reaches the end of the central energy-channel at the middle of the brow and emerges out the skin of our body. Of course, we are visualizing ourselves perfectly as the Buddha-figure deity. We look at the external form of ourselves as the Buddha-figure. We look down at the various things we are holding and so on. 

Then, the white ball of light goes back inside our body at the front of the forehead and does the same thing of checking out, as before, the energy-channels that branch out from the chakras – first the energy-channels at the crown chakra, then the throat chakra, the heart chakra, and then the navel chakra, illuminating them with light. 

The white ball of light then goes down a little bit further and emerges out of the body from the lower end of the central energy-channel. With this ball of light as the focal point where our consciousness is located, again we look at our body as the Buddha-figure deity and illuminate the entire body since it is all in the nature of light. We see everything from that perspective. 

The white ball of light then comes back into the body at the lower end of the central energy-channel below the navel, goes up to the navel chakra, illuminates all the side energy-channels as before and then goes back up again to the heart chakra and remains there, at the center of the heart chakra as a tiny dot of white light. 

This is the process of cleansing the energy-channels.

Visualizing the Syllables in the Energy-Channels

When visualizing the syllables in the energy-channels, referring to visualizing them in the center of each of the chakras, imagine:

  • In the center of the crown chakra, a horizontal moon disc and, hanging upside down from it, a tiny white syllable HAM
  • At the throat chakra, on a moon disc, a tiny red syllable OM facing upwards
  • At the heart chakra, hanging upside down from a moon, a tiny blue syllable HUM
  • At the navel chakra, on the center of a moon disc, a short syllable A, red in color. It looks like a small red vertical slash. There is a horizontal line as a head on it and on top of that is a crescent moon, a dot and a squiggle. It is in the nature of fire and light and is very tiny. 

All these discs and syllables should be very tiny like the size of a sesame or mustard seed. The upside-down white HAM at the crown chakra and the upside-down blue HUM at the heart chakra are places where the white bodhichitta drops are increased. Where the red short A is at the navel chakra is the actual place where the creative energy-drop of red bodhichitta is located. Both the short red A at the navel chakra and the red syllable OM at the throat chakra are the places where the red bodhichitta is increased. Imagine that they are just about to burst into flames.

Our consciousness is inseparable from the consciousness of the Buddha-figure deity that we are visualizing ourselves as and holding the pride of. The focal point of our consciousness now is at the short syllable A at the navel chakra. That is where our perspective of everything is, as that is where our consciousness is now located. This is the object of focus for the practice of tummo, inner heat. 

This is the visualization of the syllables in the energy-channels. 

The Actual Meditation on Tummo

Next comes the actual meditation on tummo, inner heat. Within this teaching there are many guideline instructions; however, there are certain things that are not allowed to be explained to those who are not proper vessels yet for practicing these teachings. There is a tradition in which these practices are only allowed to be explained to a very small group of individuals who are ripe. There is also a tradition of giving a general explanation to a larger group of people. 

If it is explained to large assemblies, when there is a portion that is not supposed to be taught explicitly to unreceptive disciples, the guru slips in a page or a few lines here or there, in between the oral transmission. Those people don’t realize what is going on; however, in fact, the whole thing is being transmitted in such a way that those who are not ripe or receptive can’t understand it. These are the different manners of explaining. This is the tradition we are following here.

In brief, however, the first section of tummo is stoking the flame – namely, the flame of the fire of tummo. This is done through various breathing exercises that bring the breath from the right and left energy-channels to the lower part of the central energy-channel where we are focusing at the navel chakra. Then, there are the various practices to cause the fire of the short syllable A there to actually flare up; we can get the various instructions when we are ready to do that practice. Then, as the flame goes up the central energy-channel, there is the “special flaring-up of the flame” since, at the throat chakra, the seed syllable there is also in the nature of the flame. 

This enhances the rising of the flame and eventually it reaches the chakra and syllable at the crown of the head, causing the white bodhichitta there to start to melt. It drips just like if drops of honey or melted butter were dripping down. Tiny creative energy-drops of white bodhichitta drip down from the crown chakra and, as they strike the flame at the navel chakra, cause the flame to grow even hotter and flare up even more intensely. This further causes all the elements of white bodhichitta to melt, so that all 72,000 energy-channels throughout the body become filled with white bodhichitta energy-drops. This brings on a great feeling of bliss throughout the body and induces the four stages of joy and so on, as this blissful consciousness induced in this manner is then applied to the cognition of voidness. In other words, these four stages of blissful awareness are utilized as the minds having voidness as their object. This, in general, is the procedure and process that is followed for the practice of tummo.

With the attainment of tummo, the energy-winds enter the central energy-channel at the navel chakra. The internal signs of this occurring are the same eight signs as those of the energy-winds dissolving in the central energy-channel: mirage-like vision, smoke-like, sparks in the air, small light at the end of a well, then white, red and black visions, and finally the clear light. The external sign is that the breath is of equal strength through both nostrils. Normally, the breath in and out of the nostrils is stronger on one side or the other.