The results of our retreat depend upon the appropriate preliminary practices, which we engage in prior to retreat. Inner realizations do not arise magically form the earth, nor do they fall from the sky. Gaining deep experience of the practices depends upon certain inner conditions, which we can create by engaging in the preliminary practices. Just as a farmer needs to prepare the ground before he plants his crop, so we need to prepare our mind before we can hope to harvest a crop of spiritual realizations.

There are many people who are very interested in meditation but who, not understanding the importance of the preliminary practices, neglect them and consequently are disappointed when their efforts in meditation do not yield results. They are like a farmer who fails to weed, fertilize, or water his field, yet still expects his crop to flourish. The more conscientiously we practise the preliminaries, the more easily we shall gain realizations form our practice of training the mind.

The preliminary practices perform three functions: they purify our mind of negativity; they accumulate merit, good fortune, or positive mental energy; and they help us receive the blessings of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Purifying our mind is like removing rocks and weeds from a field before sowing the seeds. At the moment our mind is polluted by the imprints of negative thoughts and the potentials left by all the non-virtuous actions that we have performed in the past. Until we remove this negativity from our mind through the practice of purification, it will obstruct the growth of virtuous qualities and our meditation will not produce results.

Secondly, we need to endow our mind with the strength to support the growth of Dharma realizations by accumulating merit. Merit is the positive energy created through virtuous actions. Just as well-fertilized soil will produce an abundant harvest, so if our mind is enriched with merit we shall harvest a bountiful crop of spiritual realizations.

Thirdly, we need to receive the blessings of the holy beings. Unless our mind is watered by a rain of blessings, or inspiring energy, from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, it will remain like a dry field in which the seeds of spiritual realizations sown through meditation are unable to grow. The way to receive blessings is to develop strong faith and devotion in the holy beings and request them to bless our mind. Just as a rain can bring a desert to life, so if our mind receives the blessings of the holy beings our virtuous potentials will be activated and spiritual realizations will grow in our mind.

The principle preliminaries prior to retreat are:
–    going for refuge
–    prostrations
–    water offerings
–    displaying pictures of the body and mind of Buddha
–    Vajrasattva mantra recitation
–    Mandala offerings
–    Guru yoga
–    Samayavajra mantra recitation
–    Vajradaka fire offerings

For more information see ‘The Joyful Path of Good Fortune’ by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso