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The View of sPyi ti yoga

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The View of sPyi ti yoga

Jean-Luc Achard

CNRS, CRCAo, Paris

Great Perfection (rDzogs chen) teachings are generally understood as being classified into three categories of instructions known as the Mind Series (sems sde), the expanse Series (klong sde), and the Precepts Series (Man ngag sde). The origin of this tripartition is traditionally credited to Mañjuśrīmitra, the main disciple of dGa’ rab rdo rje.1 A little later, Śrī Siṃha (8th century), a disciple of both dGa’ rab rdo rje and Mañjuśrīmitra, is said to have divided the texts belonging to the Precepts Series into four cycles: outer (phyi), inner (nang), secret (gsang), and innermost secret (yang gsang or gsang ba bla na med pa).

2 A few centuries later, another classification of what are obviously works belonging to the innermost secret section started to be used in the works of Nyang ral Nyi ma ’od zer (1124–1192) and later by Gu ru Chos dbang (1212–1270). in some of these works, the highest teachings of the Great Perfection were presented as being classified into:

1. ati yoga (the Supreme Yoga, most obviously the works belonging to the innermost secret cycle),

2. sPyi ti yoga (Yoga of the Crown),

3. yang ti yoga (Yoga of the Quintessence) and

4. mtha’ chen (the Great Limit).3

  • i would like to thank Marianne Ginalski and windsor Viney for their suggestions and corrections on earlier drafts of this paper

. 1 The historical existence of dGa’ rab rdo rje has not been proved so far and the hagiographic events occurring during his life have been questioned by historians. There are elements reminiscent of the birth of ’Chi med gtsug phud in the Bon tradition, which have an allegorical (or even alchemical) meaning whose interpretation seems to have been lost (if it was ever known) by the rNying ma tradition. Upon discussing the matter of ’Chi med gtsug phud’s birth with modern Bon po lineage holders, it seems that the symbolical meaning of its unfolding is totally unknown to them and that it is simply taken as face value or as a protohistorical account. In other words, the narrative is not something that needs to be interpreted but should be considered as an historical account. it should also be noted that comparing the births of dGa’ rab rdo rje and ’Chi med gtsug phud with that of Moses (Guenther, Wholeness Lost, p.26 n. 56, the myth actually comes from the legend of Sargon the Great) only takes into account superficial narrative elements, instead of hermetic features such as the encoded meaning of their fate as children abandoned in a pit of ashes (for dGa’ rab rdo rje and ’Chi med gtsug phud [on the meaning of the ash pit, see Claudine Leduc, “Mythologie, théologie,...”, p.145]) and to the flow of the Niles (for Moses). From an alchemical perspective, the difference is more than pertinent. A convincing hermetic interpretation of these births still remains to be formulated with a perfect knowledge of the symbolism behind the so-called narrative elements.

2 G. Dorje & M. Kaptsein, the Nyingma school of tibetan Buddhism, pp.332-333. This fourfold classification is actually the result of a complex approach to classifying the teachings of the Great Perfection. on this theme, see also Klong chen pa, theg mchog mdzod, vol. I, pp.82 et seq. it is interesting to note that Klong chen pa does not use the classification of ati, sPyi ti and yang ti in his exegetical works such as the treasury of Philosophical tenets (grub mthamdzod) for instance, whereas he actually quotes the thig le kun gsal (one of the major sPyi ti Tantras) in several of his works (gNas lugs mdzod, [[Bla ma] yang tig]], etc.).

3 In the vast majority of these works, the classification is presented as threefold (a ti, sPyi ti and yang ti). in some cases, thod rgal (as a Vehicle, see below) is added instead of the Great Limit, the recurrent set being that of a ti, sPyi ti and yang ti. Since the system of sPyi ti yoga will be the main theme discussed in this paper, i will only very briefly introduce the basics of a ti, yang ti and mtha’ chen. As stated above, the a ti class seems to correspond, in the later system of Nyang ral and Gu ru Chos dbang, to what are generally known as the seventeen tantras (rgyud bcu bdun).

As to the corpus of yang ti, it is generally presented as being divided into two groups: 1. the cycle of the Black Quintessence (yang ti nag po’i skor), and 2. the cycle of the Brahmins’ Quintessence (yang ti bram ze’i skor). The texts making up these two groups are to be found in the rNying ma’i rgyud ’bum collections. In the course of time, several revelations pertaining to the Black Quintessence were made, down to the 20th century, whereas it would seem that the corpus of the Brahmins’ Quintessence remained limited to the set of Tantras of this group included in the rNying ma’i rgyud ’bum. in other words, it would seem that all yang ti revelations made from the 14th to the 20th century belong to the Black Quintessence only. The system of mtha’ chen or “Great Limit” is said to be entirely “oral”, even though some mentions of the term mtha’ chen appears here and there in the gter ma literature, down to the late 19th century with for example reference to it in mChog gyur gling pa’s Bar chad kun sel. So far, I have not noticed any mention of this mtha’ chen expression in works at my disposal, be they twentieth century indigenous texts or original works written during these first years of the twenty-first century. Several modern masters questioned on this subject have simply confessed to not knowing anything about it. The problem with this mtha’ chen system is that its name seems to be used with various meanings or referents. For instance, in O rgyan gling pa, it stands for the ultimate stage, above that of ati yoga and realized at the level of the eleventh bhūmi, Kun tu ’od kyi sa. Still in o rgyan gling pa’s bKa’ thang sde lnga, it is clearly presented as the last of the twelve Vehicles, and it appears generally, as we have seen above, in the fourfold scheme of a ti, sPyi ti, yang ti, and mtha’ chen.

1. Studies on sPyi ti yoga

The system of sPyi ti yoga has been the object of an interesting study by h.V. Guenther, although both the rendering of the translated excerpts and the lexicon used by the author have prevented him from actually conveying the real meaning of this system of practice. when reading Guenther’s work on this subject, one has the strong impression that sPyi ti is an over philosophical system with no practice whatsoever. In fact, as in several of his works, Guenther has failed to understand the difference between the ultimate state described in rDzogs chen texts and the actual Path leading to that same state. Therefore, most of his renditions of the texts and the conclusions he draws from his readings give a very partial view of the actual teachings of the Great Perfection. i do not intend to condemn him here in any derogatory way: on the contrary, one should definitely appreciate the fact that he was one of the first individuals (in some cases more than 60 years ago) to actually use rDzogs chen texts in his researches and published works. However, one must also insist on the fact that the lexicon he used — elaborated by latetwentieth-century thinkers (heavily influenced by phenomenology and modern physics) — has without doubt totally undermined his capacity to convey the true meaning of these texts. Even though Guenther regularly criticized “ethnictranslators, he himself created and maintained his own work in a sometimes grotesque lexical cage from which barely any meaning found a way to escape, and this, despite his vast knowledge of Buddhist lore.

The next work officially published on sPyi ti was my own Le Cycle de l’immortalité adamantine which represents a later stage of the sPyi ti teachings, organized in a mode that is definitely quite similar to that of the innermost secret cycle of the Precepts Section. for instance, this cycle revealed by sPa gro gter ston introduces the main practice (dngos gzhi) of rDzogs chen according to the standard sNying thig scheme of Cutting through Rigidity (khregs chod) and Passing over the Crest (thod rgal).

sPyi ti Tantras do not use this terminology to describe the practice of the Great Perfection, nor do they use the very specific terminology of the sNying thig–related cycles, such as the “four Visions” (snang ba bzhi), or the “four (or Six) Lamps” (sgron ma bzhi/drug). it is interesting to note that with sPa gro gter ston, the practice of sPyi ti yoga falls within the structural lines expounded in the sNying thig literature. Nothing of the sort was clearly evident in earlier expositions of sPyi ti teachings (in Nyang ral and Gu ru Chos dbang), not even in O rgyan gling pa’s bKa’ thang sde lnga]] which describes sPyi ti as a Vehicle (theg pa).

Since the publication of these two studies a short but interesting presentation of the doxographical category of sPyi ti has appeared in D. Germano’s paper entitled “The funerary

Transformation of the Great Perfection”.

Before moving on to the description of the view of sPyi ti, it should be mentioned that the practice texts of sPyi ti exhibit salient differences with the actual class of sPyi ti Tantras. from the practice texts, it is clear that we are on a similar ground to that of the sNying thig, as can be seen in sPa gro gter ston’s cycle of instructions, but also in the individual works of the sPyi ti category in bDud ’dul rdo rje and Klong gsal snying po revelations. we can also see that Sog bzlog pa considered sPyi ti and yang ti as ranges of thod rgal practice, which means he certainly had in mind the practice-oriented cycles, rather than the Tantras of these two classes. in particular, the sPyi ti Tantras do not show any of the characteristics of thod rgal practice, either in its preliminary form or in its main practice.

2. The actual view of sPyi ti

Since Guenther’s study of sPyi ti has baffled many a reader, I want to address here, as one of several contributions planned on the same subject, what is traditionally defined as “the View of sPyi ti” (spyi ti’i lta ba) in its own words. The notion of a View (lta ba) in Buddhism has nothing to do with how one envisions the world or anything else, as some modern Tibetan Lamas teach these days, but rather it concerns the actual philosophical perspective one must maintain in order to progress on the practice of the Path, without straying into deviations (gol sa). in other words, what is experienced during the practice of the Path must be evaluated according to the diverse modalities composing the View or theory which precisely prevents erring into deviations.

In most cases, explanations dealing with the View of Dzogchen actually describe what is defined as the natural state of the Base (gzhi’i gnas lugs), the Base being the actual, authentic abiding mode of the Mind. in this respect, the View explains three main modalities designated as the three wisdoms of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen gyi ye shes gsum): essence (ngo bo), Nature (rang bzhin) and Compassion (thugs rje). The undifferentiated expression of these three wisdoms is what is designated as the Great Primordial Purity (ka dag chen po) which is the main representation used to describe the View in sPyi ti Tantras. in this respect, according to the mTshams brag Collection of ancient tantras (vol. 10, p.641-642), the view of the sPyi ti yoga is defined as follows: Then gSal dag rin chen asked The Revealer sKye med ka dag:

«— How is the uppermost sPyi ti yoga (explained)?»

The Revealer replied to his retinue:

«— Emaho! Ô most extraordinary marvel!

This sPyi ti yoga which is the Peak of the Nine Vehicles is not found from the outside but found within oneself.

As to this particularly special and extraordinary supreme Vehicle, The view of the sPyi ti of the Great Perfection is as follows:

The world of appearances and existence, of Saṃsāra and Nirvāṇa, is entirely

Liberated as the great Primordial Purity without support

(within which) arises the Contemplation free from being, non-being, and intentions.

(Therefore) abide naturally in this unaltered (state)

Which is devoid of action, effort and exertion,

Unborn, insubstantial, and transcending the mental in its result. Ema! Such an extraordinary and wonderful teaching Does not come from anywhere other than the “A”.

Alala ho! Everything entirely liberates within this Great Primordial Purity

thus he spoke.

From the tantra of the Clear Expanse of the utterly pure ocean, the Celestial Expanse blazing with the lights of the sun and Moon, the Victorious Peak of (all) tantras, such is the ninth chapter, revealing the Vehicle of sPyi ti.

3. The text of the chapter

This short abstract has been translated using three different versions of the text, all quite close to one another, as can be seen in the annotated transcription below. I have primarily used the mTshams brag edition of the rNying ma’i rgyud ’bum (manuscript), and checked the gTing skyes version (manuscript), as well as the sDe dge xylographic edition.

rNying ma’i rgyud ’bum (mTshams brag ed., vol. 10, pp.641-642) /de nas gsal dag rin chen gyis/ /skye med ka dag ston pa la/ /gong rgal spyi ti ji ltar lags/ /zhes zhus pas/ ston pas ’khor la bka’ stsal pa/ (p.642)/ e ma ho ngo mtshar khyad par ’phags/ /theg pa dgu rtse spyi ti yo ga ’di/ /gzhan nas mi rnyed rang las rnyed/ /theg mchog ngo mtshar khyad par can/ /rdzogs chen spyi ti’i lta ba ni/ / snang srid ’khor ’das ma lus par / /ka dag rten med chen por grol / /yin min rtsis gdab med pa’i dgongs pa shar/ /bya btsal rtsol bsgrub med pa ru//zang ka rnal mar gnas pa’o//skye med dngos med ’bras bur blo las ’das//e ma ngo mtshar rmad byung chos/ /gzhan nas mi ’byung a las byung/ /a la la ho ma lus ril por ka dag chen por grol/ /ces gsungs so/ /rgyud kyi rtse rgyal nyi zla ’od ’bar mkha’ klong rnam dag rgya mtsho klong gsal gyi rgyud las/ /spyi ti’i theg pa bstan pa’i le’u ste dgu pa’o/.

4. Commentary

Then gSal dag rin chen asked The Revealer sKye med ka dag :

gSal dag rin chen is a bodhisattvic figure belonging to the retinue of the Buddha sKye med ka dag in the present text, i.e. the tantra of the Luminous Expanse revealed by Nyang ral Nyi ma ’od zer. his name means the “Pure and Luminous Jewel”. he plays a crucial role in the sPyi ti teachings since he is defined as the compiler (sdud pa po) of some of them, as well as the main interlocutor of the Buddha revealing these texts. In the tantra of the Blazing Lights of the Lamps, he appears as a compiler of the Buddha’s teachings, as well as the enunciator of all the requests made to the Buddha and forming the general structure of the Tantra itself. He is evidently the same as gSal dag khye’u chung who appears in the tantra of the Blazing Lights of the Lamps (sgron ma ’od ’bar ba’i rgyud), as well as Rang snang gsal dag appearing in the tantra of the Quintessence of the sun and the Moon (Nyi zla snying po’i rgyud).

The Buddha sKye med ka dag is the Revealer (ston pa) of the Tantra. his name means “Unborn Primordial Purity”. He is evidently the same as dNgos med ka dag chos sku (“the insubstantial and Primordially Pure Absolute Body”) or Ka dag dngos med chos sku of the Blazing Lights of the Lamps (sgron ma ’od ’bar, passim). This Tantra also shows that this Revealer is none other than Samantabhadra for he is sometimes designated dNgos rnal ma kun bzang, (“Samantabhadra, the insubstantial Genuine State”).

In fact the two figures of gSal dag rin chen and sKye me ka dag are simply symbols for the two aspects of the natural state: Clarity (gsal ba, with gSal dag rin chen) and emptiness (stong pa, with sKye med ka dag). The entire Tantra thus appears as an atemporal dialogue between the Clarity aspect (gsal cha) of the natural state, and its counterpart known as the empty aspect (stong cha) of this state.

«— How is the uppermost sPyi ti yoga (explained)?»

The request formulated by gSal dag rin chen sets the subject matter of the present chapter. Its main theme is thus the definition of what sPyi ti yoga is. in general, sPyi ti is understood as meaning something general (spyi) but this is actually not the case here, since the various topics that are dealt with within sPyi ti Tantras are anything but general. The texts of this category clearly define sPyi ti as the uppermost (gong rgal) or highest category among all Dzogchen teachings. This might create some doxographical confusion though, in particular when comparing its instructions with those of yang ti or the Great Limit (mtha’ chen).

The Revealer replied to his retinue:

This means that the rest of the chapter contains the actual explanation of the Buddha sKye med ka dag himself.

«— Emaho! Ô most extraordinary marvel!

This refers to two things: the extraordinary nature of the request which enables the Buddha to set the wheel of his teachings into action and the extraordinary nature of the contents of its teachings.

This sPyi ti yoga which is the Peak of the Nine Vehicles

In the Nyingma tradition, there are several ways of classifying the teachings of the Buddha into nine, ten, and sometimes twelve Vehicles. Most of these classifications have not survived in practical usage, except for that into nine. in this case, the ninth is considered to be the Vehicle of Dzogchen and its ultimate peak is represented by the sPyi ti yoga teachings. The instructions pertaining to that category are usually associated with Padmasambhava (8th c.) and their rediscoveries by Nyang ral Nyi ma ’od zer (1136-1204) and Gu ru Chos dbang (1212-1270).

In the classification into twelve Vehicles (such as in the surviving proto-doxographical works of o rgyan gling pa), Dzogchen is the ninth Vehicle as usual, but it is composed of three subdivisions which are also styled Vehicles (theg pa). In this case, Dzogchen is equated with ati yoga. Then, the tenth Vehicle is that of the sPyi ti yoga ; the eleventh is that of the yang ti yoga ; and the twelfth is the vehicle of the Great Limit (mtha’ chen). Such references to higher categories of Dzogchen teachings, said to surpass those of ati yoga stricto sensu, have survived at least down to the revelations of mChog gyur gling pa in the 19th century. Since then, practically no one has used these unusual categories, especially that of the Great Limit which remains more than obscure.

Is not found from the outside but found within oneself.

This verse is actually very explicit. Its subject is given in the previous line, and is the sPyi ti yoga itself. in this context, this does not really refer to a doxographical element among the Nine Vehicles, but it rather refers to the state of Dzogchen as expressed in the sPyi ti yoga. This state is our natural, authentic condition, expressed in terms of emptiness (stong pa) and Clarity (gsal ba). Such a state is not to be found outside oneself, in vain quests or research. it is the true nat ure of the Mind which is therefore to be found within oneself. In technical terms, it is defined as the abiding mode (gnas lugs) of our real nature.

As to this particularly special and extraordinary supreme Vehicle,

The Vehicle of the sPyi ti yoga is said to be special, extraordinary, and supreme basically because its perspective and contents are actually superior to those of other Vehicles. Its superiorities are defined as threefold :

1. it is particularly special (khyad par can) because it contains the instructions through which one is directly introduced to one’s true nature ; in other words, the teachings of the sPyi ti yoga are based on the direct introduction (ngo sprod) to the nature of the mind. This does not actually differ from other rDzogs chen teachings, but it describes this nature in terms which are said to be both understandable by erudite scholars and non-erudite practitioners;

2. It is defined as extraordinary (ngo mtshar) because it describes the key points (gnad) of the main practice of rDzogs chen, namely khregs chod and thod rgal, in a way which is comprehensive and profound. it does so because it is said to be entirely based on the experiences of the Buddhas and Knowledge-holders (rig ’dzin) of the lineage (and in particular on Padmasambhava’s teachings and instructions);

3. it is styled as supreme (mchog) because there is no teaching superior to it among the Nine Vehicles and because, through the realization of its actual meaning and its practice, the supreme qualities of the natural state are experienced by the practitioner in a way which is both swift and easy. The view of the sPyi ti of the Great Perfection is as follows:

This line simply announces what the View (lta ba) of the sPyi ti yoga is and how it is defined. As other doxographical components, the sPyi ti has a specific Meditation (sgom pa), a particular Conduct (spyod pa) and a fruit (’bras bu). As explained in the next verses of the root-text, the main definition of the sPyi ti yoga View is that of the Great Primordial Purity (ka dag chen po). This aspect of the original condition of the natural state is actually the same as the pure realm of the Youthful Vase Body (gzhon nu bum sku’i zhing), namely the

There (fol. 330a), the Buddha explicitly states that sPyi ti must not be envisioned through the dualistic approach of the two truths (bden gnyis) since it radically eradicates elaborations associated with phenomena which are dualistically grasped. This superiority of the sPyi ti to those teachings based on the two truths is affirmed because the actual experience of the natural state is defined as “particularly superior to the intellect and its grasping thoughts” (fol. 330a: gnyis bzung chos rnams spros pa gcod). Basically, sPyi ti, as are all other rDzogs chen teachings, is considered as superior (’phags) because it transcends the intellect absorbed into striving and achievement (fol. 332a: rtsol bsgrub blo las khyad par ’phags).

state of the Absolute Body (chos sku) endowed with the qualities of abandonment (spangs, of obscurations) and realization (rtogs, of the true nature of the mind). This state is defined by Klong chen pa in his treasury of the supreme Vehicle as that of the inner Clarity (nang gsal) of the natural state.

in the tantra of the Beautiful auspiciousness (bKra shis mdzes ldan gyi rgyud), this Great Primordial Purity is defined as follows : What is known as the great Primordial Purity” is the state abiding before authentic Buddhas arose and before impure sentient beings appeared ; it is called the great Primordial radiance of immutable awareness.

The world of appearances and existence, of Saṃsāra and Nirvāṇa, ...

This verse covers three different themes: 1. the world of appearances and existence (snang srid), 2. Saṃsāra (’khor ba), and 3. Nirvāṇa (’das pa). This threefold complex thus refers to the realm of phenomena (snang srid and ’khor ba) as well as to the unconditioned state beyond conditioned phenomena (’das pa).

[1]. The world of appearances (snang ba) and existence (srid pa) concerns everything that manifests as a knowable object, both in terms of relative or absolute truth. According to some interpretations, appearances refer to the universe and its display in the ten directions and the three times, while existence refers to beings living within this universe. But in a simpler way, the expression “appearances-cum-existence“ (snang srid) points to whatever exists and manifests as opposed to nothingness. All that manifests in this way pertains to the category of Saṃsāra or to that of Nirvāṇa, depending on its being conditioned or not. In this verse, the text actually refers to “everything” in the largest and most common usage of the term.

[2]. Saṃsāra is the conditioned mode of being. Some people regard Saṃsāra as the outside world, whereas in its actual, true meaning Saṃsāra is nothing else than dualistic grasping, ignorance and reification. The outer world is not Saṃsāra. Otherwise, when reaching Nirvāṇa a Buddha would leave our world. The Nirvāṇa of Buddha Śākyamuni demonstrates the contrary and illustrates the reason why there is no contradiction in having a Buddha concretely reach the unconditioned state of Buddhahood in this conditioned world.

[3]. Nirvāṇa is the non-conditioned mode of being. it is characterized by the absence of dualistic grasping and of ignorance. Generally, “Nirvāṇa” is defined as the non-conditioned state beyond sorrow, and here it refers to the opposite of Saṃsāra since the text’s purpose in this line is to encompass all phenomena and states beyond and embracing conditioned phenomena.

... is entirely

Liberated as the great Primordial Purity without support

In this statement, the Buddha sKye med ka dag explains that everything is already entirely liberated in its own nature. What does that mean? It means that once one abides in the real nature of one’s mind, nothing (such as passions, poisons, etc.) needs to be liberated since the non-regressing abiding in that state is entirely perfect in itself. However, it is precisely at that point that numerous practitioners deviate from the correct View (lta ba yang dag pa). what the Buddha sKye med ka dag describes is the condition of the natural state of rDzogs chen, not the state of the rDzogs chen pa (who until realization is ultimately obtained remains conditioned by many things). As Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche has said numerous times in his teachings: «The natural state is itself perfect but the practitioner is not.» This means that the practitioner has to improve his own condition in order to reach a threshold of authentic realization from which he will not regress.

in this respect, simply being introduced to the natural state and understanding how it “works” is far from enough. one needs to become familiar with it through actual practice, such as that of sky gazing (nam mkha’ ar gtad),56 etc., and through the integration of four things into the experience of the natural state. These four things are : 1. integrating the activities of the three doors, 2. integrating the six associations of consciousnesses, 3. integrating the specific activities of the mind, and 4. integrating the diversity of situations likely to arise during the practice and outside formal sessions.57

The Great Primordial Purity of the natural state is defined in the original verse given above as without support (rten med) because it does not depend on anything that might support it, create it or affect it in one way or another. This state remains entirely pure of all karma and karmic traces, and abides in its own primeval condition as the coalescence of Emptiness and Clarity (stong gsal).

It should be mentioned here that, even though the Great Primordial Purity (ka dag chen po) is the central conception regarding the View of sPyi ti, it is not discussed at length in the sPyi ti Tantras. Of course it is mentioned in some of them (in a very limited way, and not in all of them), but it is never described. Generally, it is said in these texts that the Fruit consists in obtaining the Great Primordial Purity, or some similar statements. However, no description of this state is given in these texts. In the Commentary on the sgron ma ’bar ba’i rgyud (pp.234-235), the Great

Primordial Purity is described as the state of the primeval essence (thog ma’i ngo bo) abiding before any Buddha or sentient being arose. it is of course the coalescence of emptiness and Clarity (stong gsal), and it is from its natural potential that the wisdom of the spontaneous Nature (rang bzhin lhun grub kyi ye shes) arose with all its fivefold characteristics, enabling the natural dynamism

(rtsal) of this state to manifest in its unceasing, manifold variety. In the Commentary on the sKu gdung ’bar ba’i rgyud (pp.518-519), this Great Primordial Purity is conceived as the Base (gzhi) or essence of authentic Reality (yang dag pa’i chos nyid) which has primordially never experienced delusion. It is therefore the state of the Mind (sems nyid) existing before the arising of delusion, before the epiphanic manifestations of the Base (gzhi snang).58

Awareness, simply went back to his ordinary habits of life and regressed from the level of realization he had reached during the direct introduction (ngo sprod). See P. Kvaerne, “Bonpo Studies”, pp.37-38; Achard, Les instructions sur le a Primordial, pp.40-41. it is also interesting to note that the whole process behind the direct introduction is to reach an instantaneous (cig car) understanding which itself leads to a gradual (rim gyis) realization through the process of familiarization (goms pa) with this state.

56 except for later texts such as those of the tradition of Pa gro gter ston or bDud ’dul rdo rje and Klong gsal snying po, there is no explicit description of such practice in the texts of sPyi ti. for the time being, i should most certainly limit that assertion to the sPyi ti Tantras only, and consider it as a privisional observation until the peculiarities of the practice of sPyi ti appear more clearly from the study of the

Tantras themselves. It is however clear that the differences between the cycles of practice (sgrub sde, i.e. the later gter mas of the three gter ston mentioned above in this note) and the corpus of sPyi ti Tantras (rgyud sde) show a definite influence from the classical Man ngag sde practice on the former.

57 in general, this constitutes the program of integrating (bsre ba) the experience of the natural state, in the context of khregs chod, into every activity. This program is of course progressive and is actually performed during an eighteen months retreat.

58 in the tantra of the Natural arising of awareness (Rig pa rang shar), the Great Primordial Purity is defined one of the two aspects of the primordial Base itself. It says: «— It is stated that the Base is of two sorts:/ The Base of the Great Primordial Purity and/ The base of the manifoldness of Spontaneity» (p.632: gzhi la rnam pa gnyis su gsungs/ ka dag chen po gzhi dang ni/ lhun grub sna tshogs gzhi ru ’dod).

(Within which) arises the Contemplation free from being, non-being, and intentions.

The state of Contemplation (dgongs pa) which arises by itself when one abides in the nonregressing experience of the natural state is a state of pure and total knowledge devoid of subject and objects. It is a state in which mental projections about its own nature, etc., simply vanish by themselves. Thus, while abiding in this state of Contemplation, the Mind is not focused on anything nor is it

thinking “this state is existent” or “this state does not exist”, etc. It is even beyond intentions (rtsis gdab) which are simply mental elaborations incapable of “grasping” the true nature of the mind. Therefore, entrance into this state of Contemplation is direct, even though the path leading to it might be gradual, depending on the capacities of the individual. (Therefore) abide naturally in this unaltered (state)

The practice leading to the access to the state of Contemplation is the core of all rDzogs chen teachings. it relies on what could actually be described as an actual absence of particular practice. one should just enter the state of Contemplation (dgongs pa) without any artifice. This means that this practice does not rely on specific key points such as those of the Generation (bskyed rim) and Perfection Stages (rdzogs rim), although these same key points might induce in some practitioners such a state. However, for strict rDzogs chen practitioners, Guru-Yoga and Sky Gazing are the main means enabling the access to the state of Contemplation in a totally unaltered mode.  

Which is devoid of action, effort and exertion,

The direct experience of the state of Contemplation (dgongs pa) is that of the flawless flow of Reality (chos nyid) in which Mind itself (sems nyid) is both the subject and object of the Contemplation. Therefore, there is no action to accomplish in order to enter that knowledge, no effort to produce in order to experience it, and no exertion to cultivate in order to maintain it.64 one should just remain in this self-discerning (rang rig) nature which is likely to host thoughts or non-discursive experiences.65

Unborn, insubstantial, and transcending the mental in its result.

When clearly experienced, the state of Contemplation is lived through as a continuity which is defined as unborn (skye med) because it has never been created by any cause (rgyu) and will never be destroyed by any circumstances (rkyen). it is insubstantial because it does not exist within the confines of matter, form, color, etc., which are the characteristics of conditioned phenomena. it transcends

the mental (blo) because it is entirely beyond the scope and possibilities of the mind (sems) since the latter is entirely dependent on sense data as well as self-referential elaborations. This state of utter perfection transcends dualistic grasping characterized by ignorance (ma rig pa) and abides in the sapiential mode of Awareness (rig pa). in its ultimate aspect, i.e. at the stage

64 in other words, there is nothing to look for since the state that one is looking for already abides within oneself. This conception is pregnant throughout rDzogs chen teachings.

65 Several other sPyi ti Tantras share a similar approach and wording in order to define the natural state beyond seeking, effort, etc. for instance, in the sNang srid kha sbyor, the Victorious Samantabhadra explicitly states: «— That which exists from the beginning within us/ Does not have to be sought through effort, exertion, or action» (fol. 216a: rang la ye nas yod pa la/ /rtsol bsgrub bya btsal mi ’tshal

te/). This primordial principle existing within each sentient being is the Sugatagarbha (bde gshegs snying po), on which see Karmay, the great Perfection, pp.184-185. One should also note that the technical expression bde gshegs snying po does not occur in the sPyi ti Tantras themselves. of the result or fruit of the Path, this state is experienced within the natural display of Bodies and wisdoms which are the true expression of the natural state itself.

Ema! Such an extraordinary and wonderful teaching with the interjection Ema!, the Buddha sKye med ka dag expresses his marvelous recognition of the natural splendors of this state. in the logic of these sPyi ti texts and instructions, there is nothing more direct and more precise in the revelation of the natural state than these extraordinary teachings of rDzogs chen. Their nature, styled here as wonderful (rmad byung), is beyond the causal Paths of Sūtras and Tantras.

Does not come from anywhere other than the “A”.

if one were to summarize all the texts and secret instructions of Dzogchen, then one should simply say “A”, which is the symbol of the natural state itself. it symbolizes the primordial Base (gzhi) of this state, as well as its visionary Path (lam) and perfect fruit (’bras bu). in fact, all teachings of the Great Perfection are not revealing anything else than the pure essence of the natural state of the Mind, rendered here by the symbolic letter “A”, the source of everything.

Alala ho! Everything entirely liberates within this Great Primordial Purity.

alala ho! is also an interjection here expressing the amazement the Buddha experiences at revealing these teachings of rDzogs chen. The primordial A which symbolizes the original, everlasting purity of the natural state, is used to illustrate the state in which everything liberates naturally without any effort, or artifice. Simply abiding in this unadulterated condition of the natural state, not regressing from it and contemplating the natural arising of its visionary marvels, this is the true purpose of the practice of rDzogs chen.

As we have seen, the sPyi ti definition of the rDzogs chen view is mostly centered on the notion of Great Primordial Purity (ka dag chen po), a particular representation which is consistent with the rest of the Man ngag sde literature in general. it must be stated though that this Great Primordial Purity should not be identified with one of the seven statements regarding the Base (gzhi bdun), namely the statement defining the Base (gzhi) of the natural state as being pure from the beginning (ka dag).74 in his theg mchog mdzod, Klong chen pa has

demonstrated that this definition is partial and not consistent with the actual experience of the natural state. Indeed, this Great Primordial Purity is conceived as the undifferentiation of Emptiness and Clarity (stong gsal dbyer med), in which emptiness corresponds to Primordial Purity (ka dag) and Clarity to Spontaneity (lhun grub). Therefore, the definition of the Base as the Great Primordial Purity as it is defined in sPyi ti Tantras fits perfectly well with that of the rest of the Great Perfection literature on the subject.


1. western sources

Achard, Jean-Luc
—— Le Pic des Visions, Etude sur deux techniques contemplatives dans les traditions rNyingma-pa et Bon-po de la grande Perfection, Mémoire de l’EPHE, Paris, 1992, 284 pages, inédit.
—— L’Essence Perlée du secret, Recherches philologiques et historiques sur l’origine de la grande Perfection dans la tradition rNying ma pa, Brepols, ePhe, 1999.
—— “Rig ’dzin Tshe dbang mchog grub (1761-1829) et la constitution du rNying ma rgyud ’bum de sDe dge”, Revue d’Etudes tibétaines, no. 3, Paris, Juin 2003, pp.43-89.
—— Les instructions sur le a Primordial, volume I, Histoire de la lignée, Sumène, éd.
Khyung-Lung, 2007.
—— Le Cycle de l’immortalité adamantine, Sumène, éd. Khyung-Lung, 2009.
—— La Base Primordiale de l’état naturel, Tibetica Hermetica II, Sumène, éd.
Khyung-Lung, 2012.
of the Fruit. However, as exemplified by the touching mistake of the young Milarepa when he received his first rDzogs chen teaching, the practice of the Path without alteration does not entail doing nothing at all. on ma bcos, see in particular Klong chen pa, gZhi ma bcos ji bzhin du ngo sprod pa’i rim pa, pp.253-2

74 On these seven statements, see Achard, La Base Primordiale de l’état naturel, pp.11-44. See also Natsok Rangdrol, the Circle of the sun, pp.3-5. Sources in tibetan owe much on this subject to Klong chen pa’s theg mchog mdzod on this subject, vol. I, chapter 8.
Dorje G. & Kaptsein, M.
the Nyingma school of tibetan Buddhism, wisdom Publications, Boston, 1991.
Germano, D.
 “The funerary Transformation of the Great Perfection”, Journal of the international association of tibetan studies, no. 1, October 2005, pp.1-54 (
Guenther, h.V.
—— Wholeness Lost and Wholeness Regained, Forgotten tales of individuation from ancient tibet, New York, 1994, State University of New York Press.
—— the teachings of Padmasambhava, Brill, Leiden, 1996. huntington JR, C.w.
 “The System of the Two Truths in the Prasannapada and the Madhyamakavatara: A Study in Madhyamika Soteriology”, in Journal of indian Philosophy, no. 11, Boston, 1983, pp.77-106.
Karmay, S.G.
the great Perfection, A Philosophical and Meditative teaching of tibetan Buddhism, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1988.
Kunkyen Tenpe Nyima & Sechen Gyaltsap iV
Vajra Wisdom, Deity Practice in tibetan Buddhism, Dharmachakra Translation Committee, Snow Lion, Boston, 2012.
Kvaerne, P.
Bonpo Studies i&ii: The A-khrid System of Meditation”, Kailsah i n°1 pp.1-50, iV n°4, 1973, pp.247-332.
Leduc, Claudine
“Mythologie, théologie et sémiologie en pays grec”, in M-M. Mactoux & e. Geny (éds.), Discours religieux dans l’antiquité, Actes du Colloque, Besançon 27-28 Janvier 1995, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1995, pp.131-150. Namkhai Norbu, the Crystal and the Way of Light, Arcana, Penguin Books, London, 1986. Natsok Rangdrol, Tsele the Circle of the sun, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, Kathamandu, 1990.
Norman, K.R.
“Mistaken Ideas about Nibbāna, the Buddhist Forum, vol. III, London, 1994, pp.211-225.
Rambelli, f.
Tantric Buddhism and Chinese Thought in east Asia”, in tantra in Practice, edited by David Gordon White, Princeton University Press, 2000, pp.361-380.
Tucci, G.
Minor Buddhist texts, Parts one and two, Motilal Barnarsidass, Delhi, 1986. Vallée-Poussin, L. de la

Nirvāṇa, éd. Dharma, 1997.
2. Tibetan sources
mNga’ bdag myang nyi ma ’od zer gyi rnam thar gsal ba’i me long, in mNga’ bdag bla ma brgyud pa’i rnam thart, the biography of the early masters in the transmission lineage of the Bka’ brgyud Bde gshegs ’dus pa teachings revealed by Mnga-bdag Myang-ral Nyi-ma-’od-zer, Indo-Tibetan Buddhist literature series, vol. 122, Rewalsar, 1985, pp.1-163.
Klong chen pa (1308-1364)
—— gZhi ma bcos ji bzhin du ngo sprod pa’i rim pa, in Zab mo yang tig, Delhi, 1976, vol. I, pp.253-259.
—— theg mchog mdzod : theg pa’i mchog rin po che’i mdzod vol. I & II, in Klong chen mdzod bdun, Gangtok, 1983, vol. I (Ga) & II (Nga).
mKhan po Karma Ratna (1823- ?)
sems sde’i nyams len a don rab gsal, mChog gyur gling pa’i gter gsar, Paro, Bhutan, vol. 23, p.391-393.
gTer slob Dharma rāja
Bla ma’i thugs grub bar chad kun sel las/ rang byung bklag pas grol ba padma’i snying po’i rgyud kyi tshig don gsal byed nor bu’i sgron gsal, in the Expanded Redaction of the Mchog gyur bde chen gling pa Revelations, vol. 4, p.369-396. Thub bstan chos dar rNying ma rgyud ’bum gyi dkar chag gsal ma’i me long, Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, Beijing, 2008.
rDo rje bde chen gling pa (ca. 1875-ca. 1928) rtsa gsum dgongs pa ’dus pa’i dbang gi sgo ’byed theg pa’i dbang rin chen phreng ba (=theg pa bcu gcig gi dbang yig), in rDo rje bde chen gling pa’i gter chos, Chengdu, 2000, vol. Ga, pp. 45-83.
sPa gro gter ston Tshe ring rdo rje (16th century)
(Untitled sPyi ti revelation), in Rin chen gter mdzod, Paro, 1976, volume 90, pp.373-434.
Sog bzlog pa Blo gros rgyal mtshan (1552-1624)
Collected writings of sog-bzlog-pa Blo-gros-rgyal-mtshan, New Delhi, 1975, 2 volumes.
Slob dpon bstan ’dzin rnam dag
—— gsang sngags bka’ ’grel : gsang sngags kyi rnam bshad bka’ ’grel gsal byed, in gangs ti se bon gzhung, Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, Beijing, 2010, vol. 17, pp.1-196.
—— Dogs sel ’ga’ zhig gleng ba’i le’u rin chen gtsag bu, in ib., vol. 19, pp.357-379. O rgyan gling pa (1323-1360?) bKa’ thang sde lnga, Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, Beijing, 1986.
3. original Tantras
3-1. yang ti and sPyi ti Tantras
—— Klong gsal ’bar ba’i rgyud: rgyud kyi rtse rgyal nyi zla ’od ’bar mkha’ klong rnam dag rgya mtsho klong gsal gyi rgyud, rNying ma’i rgyud ’bum, sDe dge ed., vol. Ka fol. 121a-135a.
—— sgron ma brtsegs pa’i rgyud: bDud rtsi bcud thigs sgron ma brtsegs pa’i rgyud, ib., vol. Kha, fol. 322b-335b.
—— sgron ma ’od ’bar ba’i rgyud: thig le ye shes bcud spungs sgron ma ’od ’bar ba’i rgyud, ib., vol. Kha, fol. 317b-322b.
—— Nyi zla snying po : rgyud thams cad kyi rgyal po nyi zla’i snying po ’od ’bar ba bdud rtsi rgya mtshokhyil ba’i rgyud, ib., vol. Ga, fol. 18b-46b.
—— Dri med ka dag gi rgyud: Dri med ka dag gi rgyud rin po che gsal ba chen po, ib., vol. Ga, fol. 12b-18b.
—— Nam mkha’ klong yangs: sNying po bcud spungs nam mkhaklong yangs, ib., fol. 335b-343a.
—— Nam mkha’ ’bar ba’i rgyud: rgyud thams cad kyi rtse rgyal nam mkha’ ’bar ba’i rgyud, ib., vol. Ka, fol. 89b-101a.
—— sNang srid kha sbyor: sNang srid kha sbyor bdud rtsi bcud thigs ’khor ba thog mtha’ gcod pa’i rgyud, ib., vol. Kha, fol. 204a-265b.
—— rDzogs pa chen po nges dondus pa, ib., vol. Ka, fol. 176b-222a.
—— rDzogs pa chen po lta ba ye shes gting nas rdzogs pa’i rgyud: rDzogs pa chen po ma rig mun pa rab tu sel bar byed pa lta ba ye shes gting nas rdzogs pa’i rgyud, ib., vol. Kha, fol. 147b-168a.
—— rDzogs pa chen po ye shes gsal bar ston pa’i rgyud, ib., vol. Kha, fol. 181b-187b.
—— Ri bo brtsegs pa’i rgyud, ib. vol. Ga, fol. 1b-12a.
—— Rin po che bdud rtsi bcud thigs : Rin po che bdud rtsi bcud thigs kyi rgyud, ib., vol. Kha, fol. 277a-287a.
3-2. Tantras from the Vimalamitra tradition
—— sKu gdung ’bar ba’i rgyud, Collected Nyingmapa tantras of the Man ngag sde class of the Ati yoga, New Delhi, 1989, vol. III, pp.115-151.
—— bKra shis mdzes ldan, in ib., vol. I, pp.207-232.
—— Ngo sprod spras pa’i rgyud, in ib., vol. II, pp.77-109.
—— Nyi zla kha sbyor, in ib., vol. III, pp.153-233.
—— Rig pa rang shar, in ib., vol. I, pp.389-855.
—— Rin chen spungs pa’i rgyud, in ib., vol. III, pp.73-114.
—— seng ge rtsal rdzogs, in ib., vol. II, pp.245-415.