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Dzogchen Thodgal (Togal): Namkhai Norbu’s Dzogchen Thodgal (Togal): Namkhai Norbu’s POV Versus Mine

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by L. Ron Gardner Ron Gardner

[Note: [Note: This is  This is a book review of “The a book review of “The Crystal and the Way of Light” that I posted at Amazon on Crystal and the Way of Light” that I posted at Amazon on December December 12. A follow 12. A follow-up to this -up to this review review, ent , entitled, "The Demystification of itled, "The Demystification of Dzogchen Thodgal (Togal)" was posted Dzogchen Thodgal (Togal)" was posted at Integralsp at on D on December 20.] ecember 20.] There is not a sing There is not a single living Dzoghen master/teacher who really impresses le living Dzoghen master/teacher who really impresses me – but the b me – but the

best of the bunch, est of the bunch, IMO, is Nam IMO, is Namkhai Norbu. I wasn’t looking to read another book by Norbu; I’d already read f  khai Norbu. I wasn’t looking to read another book by Norbu; I’d already read f our (see my our (see my five-star revi five-star review of “The Cycle of Day and Night” and four-star review of “The Supreme Sou ew of “The Cycle of Day and Night” and four-star review of “The Supreme Source”), but rce”), but when I recently rea when I recently read Jackson Peterson’s “The d Jackson Peterson’s “The Natural Bliss of Liberation” (see my two-star Amazon Natural Bliss of Liberation” (see my two-star Amazon review), which con review), which conflates the term “kundalini” w flates the term “kundalini” with the Tibetan term “thigle” (which means “bindu, ith the Tibetan term “thigle” (which means “bindu, sphere, bead sphere, bead, drop, essence,

sphere of light, spherical drop, spot, dot, droplet, seed-essence”) I was , drop, essence, sphere of light, spherical drop, spot, dot, droplet, seed-essence”) I was intrigued: I h intrigued: I had not encountered this conflation before. I ad not encountered this conflation before. I Googled “thigle and kundalini,” and sure enou Googled “thigle and kundalini,” and sure enough gh I was led to excerp I was led to excerpts from “The Crystal a ts from “The Crystal and the W nd the Way of Light” – ay of Light” – and so I purchased and so I purchased the book the book The editor o The editor of the book writes that it took four years to complete the project of putting this boo f the book writes that it took four years to complete the project

of putting this book together k together and th and that he c at he continually revised the manuscript before it took ontinually revised the manuscript before it took its present form. But its present form. But despite all this effort, despite all this effort, the book is j the book is just a disorganiz ust a disorganized jumble of talks intermixed with charts, ed jumble of talks intermixed with charts, plates and appendixes – and there plates and appendixes – and there are still plen are still plenty of slopp ty of sloppy grammatical errors. y grammatical errors. Before Before I get  I get further into the negatives of this book, I’ll talk about its positives. It provides some further into the negatives of this book, I’ll talk about its

positives. It provides some interesting diagrams and charts detailing the constituent principles of interesting diagrams and charts detailing the constituent principles of the various groups and divisions of  the various groups and divisions of  Dzogchen teachings. Dzogchen teachings. For example, there are three series of Dzogchen teachings – Semde (Mind), Longde For example, there are three series of Dzogchen teachings – Semde (Mind), Longde (Space), and Mennagde (Special or Secret Instruction) – and the four “yogas” that enable one to enter into (Space), and Mennagde (Special or Secret Instruction) – and the four “yogas” that enable one to enter into contemplation in each series. I’m very familiar with the three series, but the further breakdown of each of  the series into four “yogas” was new to me.

Norbu provides some provocative material correlating the Hindu tantric descriptions of subtle-body anatomy (chakras, nadis, pranas, etc.) with the Tibetan. And he makes some statements that I found interesting (but don’t necessarily agree with). For example, as earlier stated, he conflates “kundalini” and “thigle,” and tells us that this energy is more concentrated in the chakras. But as is typical with Norbu, the depth of his descriptions and analysis leaves much to be desired. For instance, any description of  kundalini, in a Dzogchen context, that doesn’t explain its relation to the Sambhogakaya, the Blissing/Blessing Light-Energy Body, is incomplete and lacking – and Norbu’s doesn’t explain this interrelation.

Norbu discourses on the three energies -- Dang, Rolpa, and Tsal – that supposedly, respectively, correlate with the three Kayas: Dang with the Dharmakaya, Rolpa with the Sambhogakya, and Tsal with the Nirmanakaya. But I don’t buy these correlations. Norbu tells us that Dang energy is limitless and formless, but from my perspective, that describes the Sambhogakaya, which, in contrast to him, I don’t view as a “Wealth Body” of subtle, stepped-down, emanated energies. To my mind, the Sambhogakaya is the unborn, unmanifest, ceaseless Blessing/Blissing Clear-Light-Energy of the Dharmakaya, and as such is always outside of space-time.

I have a real problem with “closed-fist” spiritual teachings, so my face puckered into a frown when I read the following from Norbu regarding Thodgal (Togal), the “highest Dzogchen practice,” which follows/complements Tregchod (Treckho) in the Mennagde, the highest Dzogchen series: “Continuing beyond Tregchod there is the practice of Thodgal, which means ‘surpassing with the sense that ‘as soon as you’re here, you’re there.’ This practice is genuinely secret, and it is not appropriate to give more than the most basic description of it here. This is not the same as an instruction for practice. Thodgal is found only in the

Dzogchen teachings. Through the practice of it one is able carry one’s state of being rapidly to the ultimate goal.” According to Norbu (though he doesn’t elaborate beyond this), “through the development of the Four Lights, the Four Visions, of Thodgal arise, and working with the inseparability of vision and emptiness one proceeds until the realization of the Body of Light is attained.” I say that Norbu doesn’t fully grokThodgal. “Thodgal” means to “leap over” [to the “Other Side”], which is the Sambhogakaya, the same Light-Energy as the Christian Holy Spirit

and Hindu Anugraha Shakti. Upon this direct, immediate connection, which bypasses or supersedes Tregchod (the volitional attempt to “cut through’‘spiritual materialism,’’’ meaning all that obstructs the connection to Spirit, or Sambhogakaya), the mystic merges with and channels this Supernal Influx. The Sambhogakaya is this Body of Light (or Blessing/Blissing Light-Energy). Over half of this book consists of “magical-mystical” stories narrated by Norbu, and many of them are hard to believe, along the lines of what one finds in Carlos Castaneda’s

books about the Brujos/Brujas. But one story is easy to believe, because it illustrates Norbu’s failure to understand Thodgal. Norbu’s master tells him to begin Thodgal practice, and so he does after an amazing dream in which Jigmed Lingpa (the great self-proclaimed reincarnation of Longchen Rabjam), as a young child, meets him in a cave and reads him words about Thodgal.

I say that one cannot just begin practicing Thodgal in the manner described by Norbu. One can only begin to practice it upon Initiation, or Baptism, by the Spirit, or Sambhogakaya, itself.

Norbu describes the Four Visions, of Thodgal thus: “The first of the Four Visions of Thodgal is called the “Vision of Dharmata (or ‘nature of reality’) and the second vision is the further development of the first. The third is the maturation of it, and the fourth is the consummation of existence.” I’ve long known that mystical Christianity and Dzogchen are virtual mirrors of each other – and I may be the only spiritual teacher who explicaties the correlations between the two mystical traditions, which I’ll now do so regarding theFour Lights/Visions.

I believe that the First Vision correlates with Baptism, the second with Confirmation, the Third with Sancifying Grace, and the fourth with Divine Union/Beatitude. Each of these Visions” is simply the intensification of the descent of the Holy Spirit, or Sambhogakaya (which the great Buddhist scholar Christmas Humphreys defines as “Divine Power”), until consummating Divine Union, or Supreme Beingness, is realized. “Dharmata” is a synonym for Such-ness/Is-Ness/ Being-ness, and the union of the “vine” of one’s soul (or consciousness) with the “vine” of Spirit, or the Sambhokaya’s Clear-LightEnergy, “produces,” or unveils, Di-vine, or Supreme Beingness, the Dharmata. This is coincident with attaining a Light Body, because the Sambhogakaya is the Light Body (or Dimension).

In some Yogacara schemas, the 7th to 10th stages of the 10 stages of a Bodhisattva’s en-Light-enment are simply the progressive intensification of the descent of the Dharmamegha (the Dharma Cloud). The final full descent of the Dharmamegha (or Sambhogakaya) into the Tathagatagarbha (or Sacred Heart-center), yields Bodhicitta, or “Tathata” (Suchness or Beingness, which is the same DivineCondition” as the Dharmata. My guess is that the Dzogchen tradition simply “borrowed” the final four stages of a Bodhisattva en-Light-enment, and “mystified” it by “packaging” it as “secret Thodgal teachings.”

I’ll be developing/elaborating the correlations between the various schools of Buddhism (and Christianity and Hinduism) further when I get around to writing my books on Buddhism and Dzogchen. Until then, there is Namkhai Norbu, probably the best of the current crop of Dzogchen masters/teachers.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Eliot December 18, 2014 at 10:26 am

Hi Mr. Gardner,

I read somewhere once that Thodgal means to “leap-over the forehead”. I think the practice which you teach is closer to Trekchod which has four different “stabilisations”

1: Mountain-like which I think is merely getting past concepts to direct experience, this is the level which all public texts teach at. Just resting non-conceptually.

2: Ocean-like which is what it feels like when you are abiding in the Vajra Waves ie Holy Spirit. You gently rock back and forth and it feels like you are on a boat in the ocean.

3: Rigpa. I can’t say, haven’t gotten this far.

4: Vision. Correlates with Thodgal in some way that’s all I know.

I think Thodgal is a series of shortcuts through “Leaping-Over” the phenomenal visual field to the noumenal visual (indeed omni-sensorial) field (light-being in itself) which is projected through a channel from the Hridam to the eyes.

The four lights are actual lights that one sees just beyond the visual field and can increase the intensity and area of effect of the Vajra Waves or Holy Spirit when “caught/realized” by gazing fixedly at the edge of vision. This is very laborious and thus most people just work on Trekchod. 1: Right side 2: Left side 3:Bottom 4:Top (forehead)

When one finally succeeds in “leaping over the forehead” the Rainbow Body is within reach. This is just a theory from my experience and research, not an official teaching. Hope it does no harm to share. Also your frustration with Dzogchen authors is understandable, but they have vows not to reveal certain things publicly such as the Vajra Waves and Thogal and so forth, so you really have to receive the teachings directly. The books are just to spark interest and draw in people for the most part.


L. Ron Gardner December 18, 2014 at 11:37 am

Eliot, I have never read any Dzogchen book where Togal is described as to “leap over forehead.” To “leap over” is to immediately (or “spontaneously”) move from Treckho (attempting to “cut through spiritual materialism, one’s mind forms and attachments) to to a direct connection to the “Other Side,” Spirit, or the Sambhogakaya (the Clear-Light continuum). Hence, Togal is often defined as “spontaneous presence.”

The great Dzogchen master Longchen Rabjam described Togal as, “resting in the continuum of the radiance of Awareness. ” That’s exactly what it is, which is tantamount to channeling the Holy Spirit. One channelsClear-LightEnergy. Since it is “clear” there are no visions to be seen. Whatever is seen is manifestation. The Clear Light itself is Unmanifest. The Clear Light is feltintuited, nor visually perceived.

The channel between the eyes/crown and Heart-center is called “Kati” in Dzogchen and Amrita (or Atma) Nadi by the Hindus. It is the Samhogakaya, the Blessing/Blissing Clear-Light-Energycurrent of the Dharmakaya. The Light has been described as Grace Waves, because Light behaves like waves, and yogis experience this wave-like motion. I don’t care for “closed fist,” or secret teachings. If you can direct us to books or teachings that elaborate on what you’re saying, please do so.


  Eliot December 19, 2014 at 9:31 am

Mr. Gardner,

From the Rangjung Yeshe Wiki entry on Togal: [Notes: str–thod – forehead; rgal – transcending; so, “transcending from the level of the forehead or peak]…[instantaneous] passing over, by passing [lit. to for the skull] overpass…bypass, overpass, by passing, passing over, “to skip the grades”, “bypass gradual steps” Here is the link:

So there is a sense of Leaping Over the Forehead which skips the gradual steps of attainment in some way. Transcription of an oral teaching in Barcelona, Spain. Oct 3, 2010. Chogyal Namkhai Norbu “In the Dzogchen teaching of thogyal, what does thogyal mean? Tho means forehead. Your forehead is in front of you.”

“Gal means ‘passing’ and in Tibetan it is a verb. We say chuwo gal, we are crossing a river. We are crossing from here to there. This is the real meaning of thogal. How can we pass? When you learn Dzogchen teaching such as thogal, there are four visions, in succession, with very precise instructions connected with your position, breathing, the way of gazing and the way of using your senses. When you follow these instructions precisely, you can feel them, you can have these visions. That means you are integrating your existence in this thigle, in chonyi ngon sum, your potentiality of sound, light and rays that manifests in front of you. The fourth stage means that you have completely succeeded in totally integrating your existence in this thigle. In that moment you have the realization of the Great Transference. You no longer have death because in general it is our physical body that dies and in the Great Transference our physical body has already been transferred into the thigle.”

And the reason for “closed-fist teachings” is explained also:

“There was once this teacher of the Dzogchen lineage called Dzing Dharmabodhi who was a very famous teacher. But Dzing Dharmabodhi didn’t give teaching to just 2 or 3 people. He had hundreds and hundreds of students that he gave teaching to, just like me…There were many generations after Dzing Dharmabodhi that did not manifest Rainbow Body, the reason being that Dzing Dharmabodhi gave teaching in a public way. From that period, they continued in that way for many generations. …If you want to have something like the Rainbow Body, you need to do practice secretly, personally, not talking about it too much, then you can have realization and you can also have Rainbow Body. It is also very important to understand this.”

The implicit reason being that when taught openly, many will not grok it but nonetheless teach it to others thereby corrupting the teachings. This is illustrated by the modernNew Agemovement which began with some effective and authentic teachings on the chakras, kundalini, energy work, crystals and so forth, but by spreading this information without really grokking it the whole movement is degraded into ineffectual non-sense as you point out in your many book reviews (which I appreciate by the way). Recently the “Yeshe LamaJigme Lingpa’s Dzogchen Atiyoga manual was made available on Amazon. This was previously held secret and is regarded as the foremost practice manual for Trekchod and Togal.

Heres the link: ie=UTF8&psc=1 Another book of interest would be “Naked Seeing: The Great Perfection, the Wheel of Time, and Visionary Buddhism in Renaissance Tibet” which is a western academic study of Togal and KalachakraEmpty Forms” practise.

Link: ie=UTF8&psc=1

Basically I think that the Dharma you teach is a bit biased towards the”One” and against the “Many”. Trekchod emphasizes “Primordial Purity” which is what you refer to as the Clear-light, the Unborn, The Uncreated and so forth.

Togal on the other hand emphasizes “Spontaneous Presence” which includes the ceaseless presencing of phenomenon, and their integration back into “Primordial Purity” through the faculty of vision.

Since the nature of reality is Light-Energy, the quickest way to realization is through the sense which deals with light, vision. In your teachings you speak of the Kati crystal channel and the Amrita nadi only in it’s connection from crown to heart. If there is also a connection to the eyes, then might there be some practice that utilizes this avenue in addition to the crown/heart channel? I say yes, and that’s what you might not quite grok about Togal. I hope you don’t find this too confrontational, as I very much respect you and your teachings.


  L. Ron Gardner December 19, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Eliot, I do not find your post the least bit confrontational; the last thing I’m interested in is attracting individuals who blindly accept everything I say or write. I like people who question and consider everything. I’m that way myself, and if I wasn’t that way, I never would have figured out how it all comes together spiritually I appreciate your friendly and open attitude, and I think it adds spice to this site to have people like you posting comments here. I was kicked out of two Dzogchen sites in a matter of a couple of days simply for posting POVs that were unorthodox. I’m glad to say, I’m not like that.

That being said, let me state my POV more bluntly: I don’t think that any of the Tibetans, including Norbu, really understand Dzogchen. The practices you described aren’t true Dzogchen; they are exclusive-reductive tantric-type practices. True Dzogchen deals with Presence (DharmakayaTreckho), Power (Sambhogakaya-Togal) and Poverty (Nirmanakaya-self-emptying), and Norbu’s Togal practice (described above) has nothing to do with the Great Perfection.

Regarding the links, I have no interest in buying anything Keith Dowman translates (see my twostar review of “Natural Perfection”). And the other book is $31 for a Kindle edition. What an overpriced joke. If you send me copies of these books, I will happily read and review them. I will be posting an article — “The Demystification of Dzogchen Togal” — at an d at my Facebook page (L Ron Gardner) within a few days, and I look forward to your response to it. Given that I will be posting that article, I won’t get into elaborating my POV on Togal further in this comment.


  Louis January 13, 2015 at 6:49 pm

Hi, Just dropped on this interesting article, two things came to me : 1- there is a lot of focus here on very analytic and conceptual elaboration on thodgal, I think it’s really not good to go so far in such analytics. I honestly not at all convinced that this will help in any way praticionners in any constructive way. I just don’t see the point… 2- Namkhai Norbu is a realized master, he doesn’t write book to convince an describe analytically reality, analyse it and make conceptual sense out of it. He writes them because his great wisdom shows him that this will be the way to bring more students to the ultimate realisation (in this case). When I read the texts of this subject, I see clearly stains of conceptualisations, and I’m not

convinced at all.

On this, all this information is very interesting, although I really don’t see on a practical level how this could help someone progress on the path, “knowing” as nothing to do at this level. Or very very little usage… Experience and instructions are. All the best to you both, Cheers Louis


  L. Ron Gardner January 13, 2015 at 11:48 pm

Louis, I don’t at all agree with your POV. I don’t think Norbu is Self-realized, and I will continue to deconstruct his teachings, which I believe serves a positive, rather than a negative, function.


  efn April 5, 2015 at 11:56 am

Overall, I don’t find this article illuminating or impressive, likewise with Ron’s comments following. A lot of perennial claims which he just blindly asserts and fails to rationally justify or demonstrate, and a lot of far reaching claims about Dzogchen and redefinitions which he fails to  justify historically or doctrinally. Lastly, certain historical claims which no academic Buddhologist would agree with as there is no evidence for nor reason to think they are have any merit, yet he just blindly asserts them as if blind assertions hold weight of some kind.

It seems quite clear he doesn’t know Tibetan very well, because he is using secondary off-hand attempts at translations to muddle to the discussion, and all in all has given no reason for anyone to remotely suspect that he understands Dzogchen at all. You might understand something, but calling it Dzogchen seems wholly unjustified. It appears there is some arrogance to this man, and based on his apparent inability to actually argue his positions, or make clear his unfounded conjecture as distinct from fact, it isn’t surprising he has been banned from forums, as he attempts to write with an air of authority (even smug authority), but fails to live up to that insofar as the actual content he presents.

1/10, would be funny as a “troll” and nothing more; not even provocative questions.


  L. Ron Gardner April 5, 2015 at 3:00 pm

efn, I stand by my article, and welcome anyone to argue that true Togal is anything other than conducting Clear-Light Energy, or the Holy Spirit.


Rowan St John June 1, 2016 at 9:20 pm

Dear L. Ron Gardener – It seems all paths are the one path in the highest teachings of any traditions that end with this similar result of dissolving the notion of a self entity or a conceptual self, but I agree that N. Norbu is not a living Buddha as of the moment, or is he? More about that later. First of  all the name of Jackson Peterson’s book is “The Natural Bliss of Being” unless he has a few titles for the same book…I am closely following his work with a fairly open minded enthusiasm and skeptical attention.

Anyone who proclaims to have reached a state of no ego is likely still working with one in my humble opinion. I practice Togal as a result of a series of events that led me to the texts and teachings of that so called practice…I don’t know the technical names for every practice and I find it all quite fascinating and irrelevant in the end. But it is

necessary to communicate it. Togal is not a visualization and it is not something we can conduct as clear light energy…I’m unsure what you mean by that statement and I’d like to hear more. Norbu has never been clear to me in all the retreats I’ve done at his Tsegyelgar in Conway, MA. What is being pointed to is often something that can’t be conveyed anyway. I spent the weekend with the Bon tradition’s world leader Gwalya Menri Trizin the 33rd Abbott of the Menri Monastery which is the home of the living Bon Tradition. He

taught Ah Tri Dzogchen for the weekend in New Jersey. It was very clearly translated text and his own words on Dzogchen and what I realized is no one could really follow it. It was so complex and difficult to comprehend from the mind perspective, that it will only make sense to those who are ripened and ready for that truth to appear to them. Call it magical thinking etc….but it seems we are trying to grasp something with the mind that is ungraspable. It can’t be conceptually understood. Togal shows the phenomenon of

thigles that exist in the eye where Dzogchen claims that we need to be stable. The eye being stable will stabilize the mind. The visions are empty appearances and not so relevant as to the state of one’s mind as a result of the eyes becoming stable. The jump over is just a title. Irrelevant. It’s like the naming of the Thigles, which is just a

way to point to the phenomenon we experience in common. It seems the jumping over is reference to the most direct kind of cutting through the samsaric mind. It deals with the light body surely and that body is relative to the solidity of the conceptual mind. In stabilizing the eyes one can experience a natural dissolving of any self entity or

conceptual identity as a result and the light body is naturally purified of whatever obscurations have continually reified the notion of  someone existing here or there…So maybe the jumping over relates to that cutting through to the body of light through any obscured selfing that happens…Unsure as of this moment, but it would seem that this type of answer comes naturally to those that sustain the mind of clear light by no effort of their own…Anyway Thanks for the article and your point of view…


Rowan St John June 1, 2016 at 9:28 pm

Right the story of Namkai Norbu that I wanted to further comment on was that I met him and shook his hand and I have studied with a student of his. I have also read his books and have attended his retreats and never really took in much of what he was saying due to the language barriers I experienced. Also at the time I couldn’t comprehend it anyway. What I believe now is there is no way to conceptually get this stuff. We type words and talk about it all but we are wasting time because it is that very thing that we cannot

describe that we are trying to point to. So Norbu may very well be at a point of dissolving his light body from what he understands…I’d say it would take time to know the truth for oneself of these types of things…How would we comprehend it until we experience it for ourselves? It cannot be conveyed through words. In a sense we are all expressions of “it” already and we have no where we need to reach to experience “it….” So maybe in a sense he is an enlightened being who is getting very close to experiencing the essence of these teaching for himself. It’s worth contemplating