In the Ngondro practice, the four foundations are also called the four reminders (that turn the mind towards dharma) because the student should think of these each time he or she sits down to meditate.
In many ways an understanding of the four foundations is the first step to entering the Buddhist path that leads to complete peace.
The first foundation is understanding the significance of being born as a human being and not as some other animal. It also involves recognizing the obligations that come with this precious birth.
The second foundation is realizing what is permanent and worthwhile in our lives as opposed to what is transitory. Clearly, to cultivate and pursue what is transitory is a foolish endeavor.
The third foundation is understanding karma; without understanding this law of cause and effect, there would be no motivation for helping others or avoiding harmful acts. Without understanding how we generate both positive and negative karma, we cannot possibly know what path to take towards permanent happiness.
The fourth foundation is understanding thoroughly our daily behavior and our present view of the world to see how it prevents us from achieving results on the Buddhist path.
To study the Buddhist teachings and then not to meditate – or do a regular spiritual practice – is like spending hours cooking oneself a meal and then not eating it.
What we learn about practicing the dharma—such as studying this book—is not like studying math or history in school. Unlike other kinds of learning, we don’t simply hear the information, learn it, and then tell others that we know it.
The instructions in many spiritual practices from basic sitting meditation to advanced vajrayana practices is to get in a comfortable and correct posture, to briefly contemplate these four reminders, and then to begin to meditate or practice.
I have seen beginning meditators recite these four reminders before their sitting meditation on the breath and I have seen high lamas recite these before doing an advanced practice.
Why is this? It is because when we do a spiritual practice we should leave behind all our worries, concerns, fears, ambitions of cyclic existence (or samsara) and concentrate on the dharma.
The way to do this is to contemplate these four foundations which tell us exactly why we should not look outwards at life’s cascading phenomena or be involved with our continuous internal stream of thoughts; rather we should look inward at our own luminous mind.
The four foundations or reminders were first brought to Tibet by the great Indian scholar Atisha in the eleventh century and were elaborated on by the famous Kagyu lineage holder Gampopa.
They are a part of the ngöndro practice of the Vajrayana and have guided tens of thousands of students in Tibet to remember what is beyond our relative existence.
Now, these same teachings also serve to guide tens of thousands of students outside Tibet.
To help a student put these foundations into practice, we have also included a teaching by Thrangu Rinpoche on meditation. This teaching is based on the oral mahamudra instructions of Drukpa Pema Karpo.
Mahamudra meditation is extremely important because it is the primary meditation of the Kagyu lineage and Pema Karpo’s text is a concise and thorough explanation of the path of tranquility and insight meditation from an extremely accomplished meditator.
Source: Based on Rinpoche, Khenchen Thrangu. Four Foundations of Buddhist Practice. Namo Buddha Publications. Kindle.by