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Observations placeholder

Six Dharmas of Nāropa - 08 Gtummo - The Practice of Vase-Breathing



Type of Spiritual Experience


All the successive steps are leading up to a kundalini experience.  In the Six Yogas, “either the method of meditating on the gTummo or the short ‘Ah’ at the Transformation Center of the navel is used to gather the Prana into the Central Channel”.

Through the practice of Dumo the prana is led to the Central Channel.  The Dumo practise is divided into three groups:

 (1) Meditation on the Three Pillars.

(2) Meditation on the Clear Words.

(3) The practice of Vase-Breathing.

Note that although I have included the descriptions separately these three practises are inseparable from knowing the manner of the entrance, remaining, and dissolving of the prana in the Central Channel resulting from the Dumo practice.  Having started the fountain, you need to know how to turn it off

A description of the experience

The Practice of Vase-Breathing

Following the preceding instructions, the yogi should first clearly visualize the nerve [nadi = Tib. rtsa. Ed.] system in general, then concentrate on the center of the Central Channel at the cross section of the three channels. Next, the yogi should meditate on the four words in the different nerves; especially should he concentrate on the small Ah word in the Central Channel at the Navel Center. If this mind-holding object can be stabilized, the mind and prana will converge to it. Thus the mind reaches the state of concentration and the pranas are collected. This is stated in the Tantra of Bde-Mchog and the Expounding Tantra Sambhodra of Hevajra.

During the practice of Vase-Breathing, the yogi should also meditate on the four words in the four Chakras. This is taught by the great accomplished yogis the Black-Practitioner, Lawaba, and Ocean-Born, as well as in many holy scriptures, especially in those important pith-instructions of the Perfecting Yoga given in the Tantras. But that the four words should all be visualized, is not given, even in the instruction of Vase-Breathing Practice in the Whisper Teaching.

The Yogi should well acquaint himself with the meditation procedure as given in the preceding instructions. Through this practice the pranas will enter into the Central Channel and by the power of the fire of Dumo the Bodhi-Heart will be melted—thus the Four Blisses will definitely arise. But there are many Tibetan teachers who give the teaching of Dumo in a manner which combines all the practices of nerve (Rtsa), word, and Vase-Breathing at one time and declares that it is for the sake of promptly producing the Dumo experience that the combined practice is given.

"The taking-in, the filling-up, the dissolving,
 And the shooting like the arrow are the four steps."

This stanza shows the four special steps of the Vase-Breathing practice that was found in the pith-instructions of the gurus in the past and favored by them. There is a certain commentary which says that "the four" means the four bases; this is a mistake, however, that was made through overlooking the text of the Tantras.

The physical preparations for the breathing exercise are the same as given before. The best time to practice this breathing exercise, according to the instructions of the accomplished Yogi Pag-mo-grub-pa is the time when the breathing runs equally (in both nostrils).

Pag-mo-grub-pa adds: "Although many gurus say that the best time to practice this breathing exercise is the time when the air runs equally (through both nostrils), (in the light of serious meditation) the breathing practice should be carried on day and night." In order to make the proper time explicit, this instruction is given first.

In general, the prana is the essence of the expression of the Buddhas. In this practice the exercise should be carried out when most of the Lotus-Shelter-Air ascends. This is stated in the Lotus Commentary of the Dorn Tyun Tantra.

Now, the explanation of the taking-in-air: The yogi should not inhale through the mouth but through the nostrils. He should not breath in roughly, but inhale gently and slowly.

Filling-up the air: After taking in the air, press it down and hold it. As the yogi inhales, he should think that the air comes in through the two nostrils and enters into the Right and Left Channels, filling them up (like breath inflating balloons made of entrails.)

Dissolving-the-air: When both channels, Right and Left, are full, all the air enters into the Central Channel with a "Whoosh."

At this time the yogi should swallow the spittle in the mouth and press the upper air down and pull the lower air up from both the lower gates to the small Ah word. Then the yogi should concentrate on his visualizations and hold his breath as long as he can. The holy Pag-mo-grub-pa said in his instructions-stanza: "From the Right and Left Channels the air enters into the Central Channel and fills it. When the breath can be held no longer, the yogi should release it for a very short time—the duration of snapping one's finger. The air left in the body should be used for the dissolving practice."

Though this instruction is somewhat contradictory on two points with the instruction given before, except the fourth step (the dissolving step), the other three (taking-in, holding, and exhaling the air) are expounded. The filling-up practice means inhaling the air that fills the Right and Left Channels, and the dissolving practice means the departure of the air from the two channels and its entrance into the Central Channel; thereby the Central Channel is filled with air, but the air in the Right and Left Channel is dissolved or emptied.

As to the manner of practicing the Vase-Breathing at the Navel Center, some claim that the lower air should not be pulled up, merely pressing the upper air down will do; others say that the yogi should press the air down at first, then, after a while, pull up the lower air three times. These sayings are wrongfully given through ignorance of the essence of Vase-Breathing practice. The right practice is to combine the Live-Prana above the navel with the Tur Sel Prana below the navel. As the Dom Gyun Tantra says:

"The up-going air and the down-going air
 Should be joined together by the mind."

This stanza explains the way of practicing the Vase-Breathing by combining or uniting the up-going and down-going prana. Thus we know that the up-going and down-going air should be combined and that they should not be pulled up simultaneously, but one after another. If there is no special reason for a particular meditation, the up-going air should be drawn and pressed first; afterwards, pull up the down-going air. It is not necessary to pull the down-going air three times.

"Shooting the air like the arrow." This illustrates the manner of expelling the air from the body. When the yogi exhales the air, he should visualize it arising through the Central Channel freely, like gas through a pipe. One should not visualize the air going out of the body through the crown of the head.

About the practice of drawing the up-going and the down-going air together at the Navel Center, one important point should be mentioned: some say the yogi should visualize the whole body full of Prana; some say the Prana should be visualized only full above the Heart Center or above the Throat Center. These instructions are unsound—because the true and sound teaching is to visualize the small Ah word whereupon the two pranas unite *. There are two reasons for this. First, through leading the Prana into the Central Channel, the Life-Prana and the down-going prana are unified. Second, through visualizing words, the essential mental concentration process is automatically completed. Furthermore, whenever the mouth of Ro-ma and Rkyang-ma are open, the mouth of the Central Channel is closed and vice versa.

Through the practice of Vase-Breathing, the out-going breathing from the Ro-ma and Rkyang-ma is stopped; and through visualizing the air entering into the Central Channel, the yogi eventually will be able actually to lead the incoming air into the Central Channel.

The manner and the duration of holding the breath are explained by Pag-mo-grub-pa as follows: In the beginning stage, practice on taming the nerves is emphasized. The yogi should not hold his breath to the point of strain. The yogi should hold the breath easily and not for too long. Gradually, he should increase the duration of the holding period. Until the breath becomes very smooth and submissive, he should not engage in the stronger breathing practices, such as shaking the upper part of the body and forcibly pulling up the prana. He should release his breath before he feels uncomfortable, and not try to hold it too long. Even if he tries to do so, it will not help the gathering of pranas in the Central Channel, for the prana will remain in the Transformation Wheel only a moment and then go outside. Although to hold the prana outside the Wheel Center for a long period will produce a little warmness and bliss, it does not help the prana to enter into the Central Channel.

In the practice of visualization, the yogi tries to visualize the subject clearly, but a clear image appears in his mind for only a short moment. To visualize a steady picture is difficult. In the after-meditation period, however, he will sometimes experience the appearance of a steady picture in his mind clearly, without any effort. In the same way he will learn that natural and easy breath-holding cannot come without practice and effort. Therefore, until the natural breath-holding or breath-remaining comes to pass, he should try to prolong the breath-holding exercise gently. Even if he exerts himself in holding the breath for a long period the prana will not remain at the place desired. Furthermore, too much exertion will cause many troubles and do little good, so, until the prana can be easily and naturally placed in the Navel Center, the yogi should gently prolong the breath-holding exercise. If one knows how to practice this exercise proficiently, one will be able to know whether the prana naturally remains and whether the prana can be led to the desired place.

The best time to practice Vase Breathing is neither just before nor just after eating, but when the stomach is neither too full nor too empty. The practice should be carried out without interruption, yet not for too long a period. At times the yogi should rest for a while.

During the Vase Breathing, word-visualization should also be practiced. The yogi should clearly visualize the four words—Ah, Hūṃ, Oṃ, Haṃ—at the four respective centers of navel, heart, throat and head that are knotted (by the nerves) as mentioned before.

Thereupon, the yogi should visualize an Ah word, the essence of fire and Dumo, blazing with brightness. This word-of-fire is then fanned and stimulated by the wind from the Privy Wheel, and its heat rises up and ascends to the Hūṃ, Oṃ and Haṃ words. The three words begin to melt, and the melted drops all fall to the Ah word and unite with it, becoming one. This one drop is the self-nature of the Innate Bliss, whereupon the yogi should concentrate. In this process of holding mind to the subject, the yogi should visualize the Dumo-Ti-Le burning with the tiny fire-tongue.

The yogi should visualize the melting Bodhi-Heart begin to drop from the respective Wheels and fill up the Ah word, and then concentrate on visualizing the Ah word until the signs of a stable visualization appear.

If the visualization becomes stable, the light of Dumo will shine. The body, both inside and out, and the things in the house can all be seen clearly as one sees the olive fruit in one's own palm. Thus it is important to visualize the Ah word shining with its burning tongue, clearly and vividly. Through this practice the brightness-aspect of Samadhi will increase, and a perfect Samadhi will be obtained.

The source of the experience

Six Dharmas of Nāropa

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Controlled breathing