Commentary on Vajra Verses on the Natural State
I. The virtuous beginning: the meaning of the introduction
II. The virtuous middle: the meaning of the main part
III. The virtuous end: the meaning of the conclusion
I. The Introduction
This has two parts: 1) the meaning of the title, and 2) the expression of homage.
1. The title
This refers to the line: “The Vajra Verses on the Natural State.” All phenomena are by nature emptiness, beyond arising, remaining and ceasing. In essence they are primordially pure, like space. Not produced by conditions, they are uncompounded. This has been elaborately explained as the so-called “element” or “buddha-nature” (sugatagarbha) in the profound secret teachings of the Bliss-gone Teacher, such as the sūtras revealing buddha-nature. The King of Samādhi says:
Pure, pristine, luminous,
Unwavering, and unconditioned,
This essence of the sugatas
Is the nature as it has always been.
As this says, the essence of the buddha-nature has always been pure since the very beginning. Adventitious stains have never been part of its primordial condition, so it is by nature pristine and clear, without any impurity. It is not a nihilistic void, but is naturally luminous. As it does not fall into any ontological extreme, such as existing, not existing, and so on, and is beyond any conceptual limitation, it is unwavering. And as it is untainted by conditions, it is unconditioned. The sūtras of the middle turning reveal its nature as the 'three gateways of liberation.' As The Sūtra Requested by Brahmā says:
All phenomena have the nature of emptiness, beyond conceptual reference.
All phenomena have the nature of characterlessness, beyond conceptual thought.
All phenomena have the nature of wishlessness, beyond acceptance and rejection.
In the tantras of the uncommon Secret Mantra this is described as the original, primordial ground, or the dharmakāya rigpa which is present as the ground, and so on. The Precious Treasury of Philosophy says:
This original, primordial ground or naturally arising wisdom, which is expansive and beyond limitation or bias, is empty in essence, like the sky. It is clear by nature, like the sun or moon. And it is all-pervasive in its compassionate energy, like rays of light. These three qualities have always been essentially indivisible, as the nature of the three-kāya wisdom.
If we realize this naturally arising wisdom, which is referred to in various ways, then it becomes the basis for nirvāṇa. If we fail to realize it [i.e.naturally arising wisdom], then saṃsāra arises. Basic space has always been unconditioned; it is natural and spontaneously present buddhahood. As all the qualities of buddhahood are complete within it, it is the sugata-essence. It is obscured by stains, so it is the ultimate all-ground (ālaya). And in essence it is primordially pure, so it is the wisdom of clear light. As it is beyond any form of limiting projection, such as 'existing' or 'not existing', it is profound emptiness and the view of the Middle Way. As it is free from all conceptual elaboration, it is the transcendent perfection of wisdom (prajñāpāramitā). And as it has always been beyond transition or change, it is suchness.
This original natural state of primordial purity, unaltered and ordinary awareness, the open, unimpeded dharmakāya, or lucid quality of wisdom awareness, is taught to have the nature of the seven vajra qualities. The Omniscient Rangjung Dorje said:
It is impenetrable to the minds of intellectuals.
It is impervious to conventional reasoning.
It is true, as it accords with the natural state.
It is incorruptible, difficult for the unfortunate to fathom.
It is stable, its essence being beyond transition or change.
It is unimpeded, pervading throughout, and penetrating all, saṃsāra and nirvāṇa.
It is invincible, as nothing whatsoever can hinder it.
The instructions for pointing out directly the nature of this great and universal precursor to both saṃsāra and nirvāṇa, the dharmakāya of the original dharmakāya buddha Samantabhadra are contained here, in these forty lines of infallible vajra speech.
2. Expression of Homage
At the beginning of this instruction of the Clear Light Great Perfection, there is an expression of homage to the extraordinary teacher, glorious Samantabhadra, the guide who has no origin or conclusion. He is the all-accomplishing king of wisdom, the Buddha who possesses the three qualities of self-origination: his buddhahood did not originate in the ordinary mind, his instructions did not derive from scriptures, and his fruition did not arise from a cause. To this glorious, original protector, the author offers homage beyond any involvement with the conceptual mind.
II. The Main Part
This has seven sections: 1) identifying the ground, path and fruition, 2) describing calm abiding and insight, 3) showing rigpa to be the three kāyas, 4) pointing out how this is spontaneously present, 5) showing how view, meditation and action are purified within basic space, 6) the pitfalls to be avoided, and 7) decisive resolution.
1. Identifying the Ground, Path & Fruition
The natural state of the ground is free from complexity,
And ground-appearances are rigpa-dharmakāya.
The path has always been clear of effort, from the very beginning.
When this nature itself is made manifest, it is the great source of freedom.
The fruition is not something separate and set apart.
The natural state of the primordial ground is free from the four or eight conceptual limitations. Anything can arise within the basic space of that intrinsic nature, or 'as-it-isness', just as anything can appear in the immaculate surface of a mirror. How is this? In the expanse of clear light, free from centre or circumference, whatever arises dawns as the display of primordial wisdom, without falling into the limited dimensions of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. The natural state of the primordial ground is thus beyond all conceptual limitation.
“Ground-appearances” here refers to the time at which the yogi directly perceives the ground that is superior in its essence to the indeterminate all-ground of impure saṃsāric experience. At that time, all clinging and fixation connected with delusory thought is naturally freed, without being rejected, and this is what we call “primordially pure rigpa.” Then, when the vajra chains of awareness, which appear as the unceasing radiance of spontaneous presence, are seen directly as objects of sensory perception, that is “seeing the dharmakāya”. As it says in the Dzogchen tantras, “Child of noble family, if you wish to look into the face of dharmakāya, become familiar with the vajra chains that are rigpa's radiance.”
The line “The path has always...etc.” refers to the fact that this ground and its ground-appearances are unconditioned. They are not dependent on other conditioned factors. The line shows that on the path, within the basic space that is free from effort and striving, the very consciousness that would eliminate or cultivate temporary risings has always been pure, from the very beginning.
When the primordially pure rigpa of the path stage is realized directly and freedom becomes extensive, there is awakening within the expanse of great primordial purity, the basic space that is the ultimate source of freedom.
These qualities of ground, path and fruition are not isolated from one another like separate tent dwellings. As the Uttaratantra puts it:
As it was before, so it is thereafter,
For it is, by its very nature, changeless.
2. Calm Abiding & Insight
When the fruition itself is present as cause,
Settling completely is calm abiding (śamatha).
Any sudden rising is rigpa's own radiance,
And vivid awareness is insight (vipaśyanā).
Directly, upon fading, there's primordial experience.
When the ultimate fruition is not yet manifest, but is present as a cause, the stillness that comes from allowing any rising thoughts to settle completely is calm abiding (śamatha). This is likened to an ocean free from waves. Any thought which arises all of a sudden through the radiance or expressive power of the real nature is the radiance of rigpa. When we are vividly aware of this, that is what we call “naturally arising wisdom”, or the “wisdom of clear insight” (vipaśyanā). As all thoughts are nakedly freed, and fade into the basic space of the dharmadhātu, this brings about primordial experience, in which we remain.
3. How Rigpa is the Three Kāyas
Remaining genuinely is the dharmakāya,
Accompanying awareness is the sambhogakāya,
Stillness and movement, non-dual, is the nirmāṇakāya.
This is what we call the “three-kāya rigpa.”
The first line refers to remaining genuinely in the uncontrived wisdom mind of primordial purity, in which phenomena dissolve, the natural state of the ground, beyond confinement and liberation. When this 'ordinary' state of awareness is recognized just as it is, without 'changing its fur' or 'altering its colour', then, as it is untainted by apparent objects externally and unspoilt by the clinging mind within, that is direct realization of the wisdom of dharmakāya, rigpa-emptiness. The fact that the spontaneous radiance, which is unceasing and the ground out of which saṃsāra and nirvāṇa unfold, is not blocked, but arises, while we are aware of it, is what we call the sambhogakāya. Even though the expressive power (rtsal) of compassionate energy arises as objects, if thoughts vanish without trace, so that there is no opportunity for habitual tendencies to form, and arising and liberation occur simultaneously, then we come to master the great wisdom in which there is no division between stillness and movement. The ceaseless arising of the display from the king-like dharmakāya beyond transference is said to be the nirmāṇakāya. The “three-kāya rigpa” is what we call the inseparability of these qualities.
4. How this is spontaneously present
While remaining at ease, there's no clinging to experience.
Vivid movements of mind are freed, ungraspable.
Liberated in vivid clarity, there's no post-meditative state of mind.
This is what we call the “spontaneously present three kāyas.”
When the mind's 'knot' of dualistic grasping is released and undone the essence of the primordially pure ground is beyond labelling or identification. It is unfathomable by the conceptual mind and inexpressible by words. It is beyond any objective reference that could be described, and the one who might describe it is no longer present. Even if one were to remain in this experience of all-penetrating, unimpeded dharmakāya, the wisdom that is beyond the limiting confines of hope and fear, uninterruptedly day and night, still it would not feature the slightest thought of attachment to itself. The Omniscient Longchenpa put it like this:
When perfecting realization of genuine primordial purity,
There is no one who wishes for such realization,
And in the realization itself, there is no conceit.
The yogi of illusion is thus beyond compare.
When movement of mind, which arises vividly through the expressive power of spontaneous presence, is freed by itself, it is beyond identification. As the Thalgyur says:
Free from the beginning, there is no basis for repetition.
Freed by itself, there is no antidote.
Nakedly free, it vanishes as it is seen.
As this says, in 'naked freedom' whatever thoughts arise, whether subtle or more apparent, are liberated with mere recognition, through the crucial point of their absence of any real essence. This is compared to meeting an old acquaintance. 'Self-freedom' means that, based on the crucial point of the absence of any antidote, whatever thoughts arise come into being automatically and are freed automatically, like a snake unwinding its own knots. 'Primordial freedom' means remaining in the primordial nature. Based on the crucial point of the absence of any basis for repetition, the naturally abiding ground has nothing to lose and nothing to gain. This freedom which is beyond benefit and harm is illustrated by a thief entering an empty house. Furthermore, it is also said, “Freed upon arising, there is no before and no after.” As this indicates, when whatever arises in the mind is clearly freed within the space of the dharmadhātu, it is like the example of writing on water. Just as writing and its disappearance occur at the same time, arising and liberation occur simultaneously for whatever thoughts appear. And, according to the Omniscient King of Dharma, this uninterrupted process of spontaneous arising and spontaneous liberation is a special feature of the Natural Great Perfection.
From the perspective of meditative equipoise, in which one does not waver from this natural essence of primordial purity, one is freed from the five aggregates, and even in the post-meditation of the unceasing radiance of spontaneous presence one is untainted by the eight ordinary modes of consciousness. With no distinction between meditation and post-meditation, the name 'post-meditative state' does not apply. Like a traveller arriving at the fabled island of jewels who might search for ordinary earth and stones but will never find them, once we reach a point at which all that rises in the mind becomes the display of primordial wisdom, even though we might search for instances of ordinary delusion we will not find them. At this stage, all phenomena based upon dualistic perception are freed by themselves, even without being rejected. Like last night's darkness, which vanishes spontaneously and without trace in the light of the rising sun, dualistic perception disappears, even if we can not say where it is that it goes. As the vajra ḍākinī said, “For the yogi free from limitation, like the dawning of the sun, this is the experience of dharmakāya. Emaho!” Indeed, if you realize this, it is what we call “the spontaneously present, unaltered yoga in which the three kāyas are experienced on the path.”
5. How view, meditation and conduct are purified within basic space
Without any deliberate view, it is beyond dullness and agitation.
Without deliberate meditation, it is entering the original 'womb'.
Without deliberate conduct, it is free from rigid notions or ideas.
One who has mastered this is a “lord among yogis.”
When gaining this kind of realization, there is no dualistic division into an object to be viewed and the mindfulness that is the viewer. Moreover, it is free from dullness caused by the diminishing of awareness's clarity and the agitation of thoughts directed towards objects. The fact that meditative concentration with a particular focus does not lead to enlightenment is explained in The Lion's Perfect Power:
Practising meditative concentration you will not see the meaning of dharmatā.
Naturally present absorption (samādhi) is free from any deliberative position.
Free from conceptual mind, the natural state is equal to the limits of space.
There is no thought through which objects of reference might be perceived.
As this indicates, there is not the tiniest speck of meditation to be cultivated, and this is known as “entering the original womb.”
When this kind of realization unfolds, it is free of something to meditate on and one who settles in meditation. It is also beyond any particular form of conduct related to post-meditation, as one is beyond all fixed notions or ideas about rejecting or cultivating the phenomena of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa.
Anyone who masters the wisdom of rigpa in the genuine state of the ultimate nature and who consequently gains power over all the phenomena of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa in their equalness, is what we would call a great lord among siddhas.
6. Pitfalls to be Avoided
If you are aware of a thought as it suddenly appears,
And can sustain the continuity of recognition,
That is insight (vipaśyanā) gone astray in character.
It can also be referred to as “post-meditation.”
But it's not the freeing of thoughts as dharmakāya,
And we must cut directly to the source.
While the mind remains in empty clarity, if you are aware of a thought suddenly appearing and you sustain that continuity, this is the insight that errs in terms of character. It is not genuine insight. It would be fine to label it with the term 'post-meditation'. It is not a state in which whatever thoughts arise are freed as dharmakāya. Rather, whatever mental afflictions occur first arise as an object, are then noticed with pure awareness or mindfulness, and are finally left to settle in their own place. But this is merely the approach of purifying movement so that thoughts become objectless and without root. What is needed is to cut directly to the source, so that, through the crucial point of freedom in the dharmatā nature itself, whatever afflictions and thoughts arise do not hold firm, but disintegrate, freed by their very nature in simultaneous arising and liberation.
7. Decisive Resolution
Rigpa has always been free from conceptual elaboration.
Conventions such as 'view', 'meditation' or 'conduct' and
Any clinging to them is cleared, without basis or origin.
Good thoughts, bad thoughts, and those in between,
Without slipping into any such categorization,
Are freed upon arising, without any agent to make distinctions.
As long as awareness does not lose its own ground,
There is no need for anything more than this.
In order to show how this 'ordinary' rigpa has always been free from conceptual elaboration from the very beginning, the text points out how the conventions of 'view', 'meditation' and 'conduct' are like mere impressions. No matter how the unobstructed radiance of rigpa arises, delusory perception is cleared by itself, without any basis or foundation for clinging to it. When it arises as positive thoughts they arise spontaneously and are freed spontaneously. And when it arises as negative thoughts they become the vast expanse free from all limitations. When remaining in the same state, even neutral thoughts vanish by themselves. Not falling into any position related to existence or non-existence, and without considering there to be an agent separate from freedom upon arising, maintain unaltered 'ordinary' consciousness, the inexpressible state of awareness and emptiness. If this does not lose its own ground, there is no need for any further, supposedly greater form of view or meditation.
1. How it is Unnecessary to Clarify Doubts by Consulting Others
Even if you were to meet a hundred scholarly monks, a thousand siddhas,
Ten thousand translators and pandits, a hundred thousand instructions,
Or a billion treatises, still there'd be no call to clarify uncertainty or doubt.
This pith instruction is the concentrated essence of many hundreds of thousands of canonical sources, treatises, tantras, commentaries and pith instructions, from hundreds of scholars, who are skilled in explanation, debate and composition, and monks, who are supreme among all those maintaining the vinaya; as well as thousands of siddhas with knowledge, love and power; tens of thousands of lotsāwas, who translated the teachings from Indian languages into Tibetan; and paṇḍitas, learned in the five sciences. Even if you were to encounter many millions or even billions of other treatises, still there would be no need to clarify uncertainty or doubt, as this is the final, definitive statement.
Samaya. Let the signs be absorbed.
To my only son, Khyentse Özer, this was given by the Samantabhadra of awareness in the manner of a transmission of blessings and realization. Do not show it to anyone, but conceal it in your heart.
Thus, in the Akaniṣṭha cave on the twenty-sixth day of the Month of Miracles, at a time when the ḍākinīs gathered during my dark retreat, I set this down on a side of precious paper.
This profound aural transmission is sealed with 'atham'.
Only this! Only this!
The contents are elaborated upon in The Words of the Omniscient One.
| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2015, at the request of Dza Kilung Rinpoche.
Here Yukhok Chatralwa makes reference to the literal meaning of the term for “yoga” in Tibetan, naljor (rnal 'byor), and its individual syllables “nal” (rnal), meaning “genuine state”, and “jor” ('byor) meaning “to unite with”. ↩