The two accumulations, merit and pristine awareness, must be fully accomplished in order to reach enlightenment.
In ngondro, mandala offerings represent a direct method to gather these accumulations.
The formal practice involves placing heaps of grains and jewels on a mandala pan and reciting an offering prayer. At the same time, we visualize the entire cosmos, extending limitlessly, with its full store of wealth, beauty, and pleasure.
Guru Rinpoche, embodiment of all sources of refuge, receives our offering, which creates immeasurable merit.
Resting non-dually in recognition of emptiness as the actual nature of the offering brings forth pristine awareness.
Within this cosmos lies our world system composed of Mount Meru, four continents that surround Meru in the cardinal directions, eight subcontinents, the sun, and the moon. Each continent is flanked by two subcontinents, which resemble it in shape and characteristics but are half its size.
The offering of the “three-thousand-fold universe” (meaning one thousand to the power of 3) refers to the billion such world systems that are encompassed by the enlightened influence of a single buddha such as our own Shakyamuni.
Since countless other buddhas also exert their spheres of enlightened intention in countless other universes, the total number of world systems exceeds ordinary limitations of comprehension.
Through expansive visualization, the three-thousand-fold universe with its billion world systems – including the wealth, virtue, positive qualities, and attainments we ourselves have amassed in the course of innumerable lifetimes – is presented to Guru Rinpoche as the outer offering.
Our body itself forms the inner offering, with the skin as a golden land, the spine as Mount Meru, the four limbs as gatekeepers, the eyes as the sun and moon, the five aggregates and elements as the five dhyani buddhas and their consorts, the eight consciousnesses and the objects of consciousness as the eight bodhisattvas and their consorts, and so forth.
The secret offering is mind’s nature as intrinsic awareness (rigpa) inseparable from emptiness.
Holding nothing back, we offer until we no longer grasp at appearances.
Full and expansive mandala offerings purify the fundamental downfall of sentient beings, which is attachment. When attachment is purified, we attain the vast perspective that recognizes and experiences the empty nature of all phenomena. Within this recognition the delineations of our ordinary perspective—of ourselves as the offerer, mandalas as the offering, and Guru Rinpoche as the recipient of the offering—simply fall away and the single, empty nature of offerer, offering, and recipient becomes apparent to us. It is this realization that brings about the accumulation of pristine awareness.
By establishing the bodhicitta aspiration that our mandala offerings purify the obscurations and increase the merit of all sentient beings, we enhance the accumulation of merit to an inconceivable scale.
Having set this motivation, we apply the six perfections to each step of the practice.
Offering the best substances on the best mandala pan we can afford expresses generosity.
Cleaning the pan and offering in a correct manner involve discipline.
Offering even though we are tired or have other obstacles of mind and body requires patience.
Offering consistently develops joyful perseverance.
Banishing distractions while offering focuses concentration.
Offering with transcendent knowledge of the essential emptiness of the offering makes evident our mind’s absolute nature as pristine awareness.
In daily life, the mentality of offering can enrich the most ordinary actions.
Each meal is an opportunity to offer food and drink to the mandala of deities within our body.
Any pleasurable experience—the beauty of nature, the glitter of a luxurious shop, the freshness of a child’s response—can be offered to Guru Rinpoche.
We do not have to own a jewel or flowers or silk to envision them as boundless offerings to the buddhas and bodhisattvas and to sentient beings everywhere.
This mentality of limitless generosity antidotes envy and a sense of impoverishment, and instills contentment.
The merit of such an attitude brings forth wealth, first in terms of mental well-being and then in terms of actual material abundance, as naturally as fire generates warmth and radiance.
We must take care, however, that we are not motivated merely by selfish desire for prosperity, because when we die, we will not be able to take one penny with us. Only merit generated with the underlying intention to benefit beings will stand us in good stead during the transitions of death, the bardo, and future rebirth.
Source: Based on Tromge, Jane. Ngondro Commentary: Instructions for the Concise Preliminary Practices. Padma Publishing. Kindle Edition.by