The Practice of Eight Nyung-Nes
By Lama Lodu Rinpoche
We have performed the eight nyung-nes practice at KDK for many years. I led the first time it was performed in California in 1977. At that time, no one had an idea of Nyung Nes, and more than that they had very little knowledge of Buddhism and especially Tibetan Buddhism. Since then, different lamas have come to different centers, and Nyung Nes has become the most favorite practice of all the lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. It is difficult, but at the end, the result brings them joy and they repeatedly want to do it again. I think in America, someone who is a true Buddhist practitioner, Nyung Nes is the most true and effective Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist practice.
This traditional practice comes down to us from the buddhas Kashyapa and Shakyamuni and the sutras provide many accounts of how it has been benefitting beings for countless eons. Nyung-nes can be done at any time, but it is felt that the ceremony is most powerful if it is performed during either the full or the new moon, as the Buddha himself taught. Nyung means reduce, and nes means sustaining virtue. Together, these words signify both the reduction or elimination of negativity and the sustaining and abiding in virtuous activity of the Body, Speech and Mind.
I have found that the practice is an extraordinarily effective method for purifying past negative actions. Once you have done nyung-nes with a qualified teacher, you can then do it on your own anytime you have the opportunity. Some of my students have done one hundred nyung-nes cycles consecutively.
The first day—or preparation day—is called ‘nyen-ne’ and is a day of partial fasting. Some people choose to participate in this day only. The second day, which is called the full-moon day, is a day of complete silence and fasting. One two-day cycle (preparation day plus full-moon day) equals one nyung-nes. Going through the two-day cycle eight consecutive times, beginning at the dark of the moon and continuing until the moon is full, comprises the eight nyung-nes practice. Tibetans especially like to do this during the first or fourth months of the Tibetan calendar. The first month or new year is called Bumgyur-dawa. The fourth month, or Saka-dawa, commemorates many of the miraculous activities of the Buddha’s life, i.e., his descent from heaven, renunciation of the world, turning the wheel of the dharma, and attainment of enlightenment. At KDK, we have always done eight nyung-nes during the fourth lunar month.
The core practice of nyung-nes, which includes the visualization of the 1000-arm Chenrezig, brings together the three vehicles of the dharma. Taking the precept vows reflect the discipline of the Hinayana; undertaking these vows with bodhicitta and the wish to bring all beings to enlightenment brings in the Mahayana view; and including the creation and completion stages with visualization of the deity reflects the Vajrayana aspect. This powerful combination gives one an overview of the vehicles as mere empty appearance, devoid of inherent reality, which is in itself a complete teaching on enlightenment.
Before nyung nes begins, practitioners take the eight sojong or precept vows before dawn. The vows are:
To refrain from killing
To refrain from stealing
To refrain from sexual misconduct
To refrain from consuming intoxicants
To refrain from untimely eating (in this case, one cannot eat after noon on the preparation day, and on the full-moon day one abstains from all food and liquid)
To refrain from sitting on a high or luxurious seat or bed (for example, a chair covered with rich brocade or leather)
To refrain from wearing ornaments, perfumes, or fancy clothes
To refrain from singing, dancing or playing music (even walking outside alone, one must be mindful not to jump or run because it may harm tiny beings such as ants or worms, or beings that one cannot see)
Once the vows are taken, they must be kept for 24 hours, after which time they will either be renewed or relinquished. On preparation days, there will be a light early breakfast and a vegetarian lunch before noon, when we will make offerings together. At lunch, once you begin to eat, you cannot move from your seat until you have finished. If you want to eat or drink something more, you must ask someone who has not yet sat down to bring it to you. After lunch there will be time for questions and clarifications. On preparation days you may drink water, juice, milk or any liquid other than alcohol up until the time you go to sleep.
From the moment you wake on the second, or full-moon, days you may not speak or consume any food or liquid. At the end of eight consecutive cycles of nyung-nes, the final silent fasting day will occur when the moon is full. The day after that, in the morning, nyung nes will be concluded and we will celebrate with a feast offering and extensive dedications. You will find that you have been through a profoundly purifying experience and your understanding of the dharma will be much deeper.
Although the nyung-nes teaching is more than 2500 years old, it is still absolutely immediate and fresh, having been passed down in an unbroken lineage from guru to disciple, from Shakyamuni to Manjushri, Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Chandrakirti, and eventually to Depankara and many other masters who brought it from India to Tibet. It also creates a link to the mahasiddha Bhiksuni Shrimati (Gelongma Palmo), who used this practice, which she received directly from the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, to attain complete awakening.
I have seen the nyung-nes practice heal physical and mental afflictions and lead practitioners to greater insight and wisdom. The power of one’s commitment to the vows, combined with great discipline of mind and body, creates a force of purification so strong that obstacles and hindrances simply melt away.
This year, in keeping with our long tradition, we will perform the eight nyung-nes in the fourth month of the Tibetan lunar year, the holy month of Saka-dawa. Please see the Newsletter Schedule below for details concerning dates and pre-registration.