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Contents

Preface to the First Edition

During 1991, the Bonpo Dzogchen master, Lopon Tenzin Namdak, visited the West twice, coming first to Europe and later to America, where he taught a number of meditation retreats and gave a series of public talks on Bon and Dzogchen. In March and April, Lopon Rinpoche taught a meditation retreat focusing on the practice of Dzogchen at Bischofshofen, south of Salzburg in the Austrian Alps, and several weeks later he gave a series of talks on Dzogchen at the Drigung Kagyu Centre in Vienna. After that he went to Italy where he taught two retreats in Rome, and also briefly visited Merigar in Tuscany, the retreat center of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. Coming to England next, the Lopon taught a ten-day Dzogchen retreat in Devon in the west of England, at a locale near Totnes, and after that he gave several talks in London. Proceeding later to Amsterdam, he taught a five-day retreat on Dzogchen in the city at the beginning of June. With the exception of the Italian visit, I was present on all of these occasions and served as a facilitator and sometime translator for the teachings.

Then in October, Lopon Rinpoche visited New York city at the invitation of H.H. the Dalai Lama and Tibet House, to par­ticipate in the Kalachakra Initiation and in other activities con­nected with the Year of Tibet. In particular, the Lopon was the first speaker in the afternoon series called "Nature of the Mind Teachings." During the Devon retreat, the Lopon had prepared a brief paper on the Bonpo teachings for presentation in this series in New York. I translated this into English as "The Condensed Meaning of an Explanation of the Teachings of Yungdrung Bon" and this has been published elsewhere. [1] During his time in New York city, the Lopon gave three further talks, at which I was again the facilitator as I had been in Europe. Towards the end of the month, at the invitation of the Dzogchen Community of Conway, known as Tsegyalar, the Lopon gave a weekend seminar at Amherst College in western Massachusetts. In November, I met up with the Lopon in San Francisco where, again at the invitation of the Dzogchen Community, he gave a two-day seminar on Guru Yoga practice. After that he went to Coos Bay, Oregon, where for eight days he held a retreat on the Dzogchen teachings.

On these occasions also I served as facilitator and translator and made detailed notes on the teachings. These notes again served as the basis of the transcripts found herein of the Lopon's teachings in America. Although the Lopon spoke in English, on many occasions he asked me to translate technical terms and help clarify various other technical points. All of this I recorded in my notes. In order to further clarify matters, he requested that after each portion of the teaching I repeat from my notes what he had said. So the transcripts found here result from our collaboration together. Nevertheless, I alone must take responsibility for any errors that might be found. I have done some editing of the tran­scripts, adding any additional clarifications required as well as any sentences needed to link the various paragraphs or topics. But generally, I have left the language in the style of the Lopon's oral presentation and have not rendered the text into a literary presen­tation since the present collection of teachings is not envisioned as a commercial publication, but as an aid for practitioners of Dzogchen.

I have included only transcripts directly related to the Lo­pon's teachings on Dzogchen, and to where the views of Sutra and Tantra are contrasted with that of Dzogchen. The Lopon's teachings on Guru Yoga, the Rite of the Guardians, specific Tan­tric teachings such as the practice of Zhang-zhung Meri, and so on, as well as the Dzogchen teachings from specific texts of the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud, are found elsewhere in the publications of the Bonpo Translation Project. [2]

I began working on the translation of Bonpo Dzogchen texts first with Geshe Tenzin Wangyal in Italy some years ago, and continued doing this with Lopon Tenzin Namdak on his three visits to the West. As a consequence of this work, I organized the Bonpo Translation Project in order to make translations of Bonpo texts and prepare transcripts and monographs on the Bonpo tra­dition available for interested students and practitioners in the West.

Before the arrival of these two learned Bonpo Lamas in the West, my interest in the Bon tradition was stimulated by Nam­khai Norbu Rinpoche, head of the Dzogchen Community. Rin­poche, although not a Bonpo Lama himself, was for many years interested in the Bonpo tradition because he was researching the historical roots of the pre-Buddhist Tibetan culture known as Bon. [3] He was also very interested in discovering the historical sources of Dzogchen teachings, for which there exist two authen­tic lineages from at least the eighth century CE, one found among the Nyingmapas and the other found among the Bonpos. [4] More than any other Tibetan teacher, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche has played a key role in transmitting Dzogchen teachings to the West, and for this he has the profound gratitude of all of us.

For their help and assistance in various ways during the re-treats with Lopon Rinpoche and also later while compiling and editing these transcripts, I wish to thank Gerrit Huber, Waltraud Benzing, Dagmar Kratochwill, Dr. Andrea Loseries-Leick, Armin Akermann, Ken Rivad, Tim Walker, Lee Bray, Florens van Can-stein, Michael Katz, Des Berry, Dennis Waterman, Bob Kragen, Michael Taylor, Anthony Curtis, and last, but not least, Khenpo Nyima Wangyal and Geshe Tenzin Wangyal. It is also my hope here as translator and editor that this small collection of Lopon Tenzin Namdak's teachings on Dzogchen according to the Bonpo tradition, its view and its practice, will prove of use and benefit to Western students and practitioners of Dzogchen.

MU-TSUG SMAR-RO

Preface to the New Edition

John Myrdhin Reynolds (Vajranatha),
Amsterdam March 1992

Even though these teachings on Dzogchen were given by Lo­pon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche some years ago in 1991, and have circulated privately as transcripts, they remained in need of some further editing regarding repetitions and annotations. This has been provided here, as well as a new introduction to Bon in gen­eral, and some further material on the education given to young monks and nuns at Lopon Rinpoche's monastery in Kathmandu, Triten Norbutse (Khri-brten nor-bu'i rtse). This further material is found in the appendix. The monastery is primarily an educa­tional institution for monks and nuns, aimed at preserving and perpetuating the ancient culture of Bon, rather than a residential monastery. After finishing their education here, the former stu­dents will go elsewhere and serve as teachers or enter lay life. Students are drawn from the Bonpo areas of Nepal, such as Dolpo and Mustang, as well as from Tibet itself, where a tradi­tional Bonpo education is becoming progressively more difficult to obtain.

The educational program at Triten Norbutse includes the thirteen-year course in Geshe studies at the Dialectics School or Lama College (bshad-grwa), at present under the direction of the chief teacher of the Dialectics School (mtshan-nyid bshad-grwa dpon-slob), Lopon Tsangpa Tenzin. The focus is on the philoso­phical studies (mtshan-nyid) found in the Bonpo tradition, and on cultivating skills in correct thinking and the art of debate (rtsod­pa). In addition, a number of traditional secular sciences (rig­gnas) are studied and mastered. Upon completion of the course and passing several examinations, the student is awarded a Geshe degree (dge-bshes), the equivalent of a Western doctorate. Inde­pendent of this program in Geshe studies, there is also a Medita­tion School (sgrub-grwa) at the monastery which has a four-year program for the study and practice of the four major systems of Dzogchen found in the Bonpo tradition. Whereas in the Dialec­tics School, the emphasis is on academic study and learning the skills of debate, here the emphasis is on the actual meditation practices of Dzogchen in a semi-retreat situation. This school is at present under the direction of its Abbot (sgrub-grwa mkhan-po), Kenpo Tsultim Tenzin. During these courses of study and prac­tice, the students are housed and fully supported by the monas­tery. Frequently young monks and nuns come as refugees from Tibet seeking a Bonpo education and possess no funds of their own at all.

With Lopon Rinpoche now in retirement at the age of 80, the monastery is under the able direction of its present Abbot, Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung. However, Lopon Rinpoche continues to teach on occasion at the monastery, in sessions open to both monks and lay people, and also to Westerners at his new medita­tion center in France, Shenten Dargye Ling, near Saumur in the Loire region, south-west of Paris. Moreover, Lopon Rinpoche's collected works (gsung 'bum) in thirteen volumes were published last year by the monastery. A number of Geshes at the monastery, with the help of modern computer technology provided by Jap­anese friends, have been digitalizing the basic Bonpo texts which are studied at the monastery, including those of Dzogchen. The texts are then published in India and Nepal for the use of stu­dents.

Now that Bon is becoming increasingly recognized in the West as an important spiritual tradition in its own right, and as an original component of the Tibetan culture and civilization which continues and even thrives today both in Tibet and in exile, it was felt that these teachings of Lopon Rinpoche on Dzogchen should be republished for a wider reading audience. My thanks, as the editor of these teachings, go to Vajra Publishing of Kathmandu for undertaking this project, to Elisabeth Egonviebre for provid­ing the photographs included here, and to Dr. Christine Daniels for her editorial and other help while completing this project. I would especially like to thank Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung for sup-plying additional information on the expanded educational pro-gram at Triten Norbutse. It is my prayer that these rare explana­tions of Lopon Tenzin Namdak Yongdzin Rinpoche, being excep­tionally lucid and clear, will help to clarify the relationship be­tween Dzogchen and Madhyamaka, Chittamatra, Tantra and Mahamudra, for interested Western students.

MU-TSUG SMAR-RO!

John Myrdhin Reynolds (Vajranatha), Kathmandu, Nepal, Losar, February 2006

Introduction to Bon

Bon and Buddhism in Tibet

Bon is the name of the pre-Buddhist religious culture of Tibet and often in Western books in the past it has been equated with a kind of primitive North Asian shamanism. Indeed, shamanism as a traditional practice still exists among Tibetans, both in Tibet it-self and in adjacent regions such as Ladakh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Yunnan. Such practitioners were known as Pawo (dpa'-bo) or Lhapa (Iha-pa) in Tibetan. But this is not Bon. In terms of reli­gious affiliation, these shaman practitioners are usually Buddhist, belonging to the old tradition of the Nyingmapa.

Nowadays Tibetan Bonpo Lamas are not shamans but monks and scholars with a monastic system fully comparable to the four contemporary schools of Tibetan Buddhism, that is, the Nying­mapa, the Sakyapa, the Kagyudpa, and the Gelugpa. Bonpos have a learned literary and scholastic tradition extending back to the early period of the eighth century of our era, and even before.. Moreover, since 1988, when H.H. the Dalai Lama visited the Dialectics School at the Bonpo monastery in Dolanji, northern India, Bon has been officially recognized by His Holiness and by the Tibetan Government in Exile as the fifth Tibetan school. The Bonpos have now been given representation on the Council of Religious Affairs at Dharamsala.

If Bonpo practitioners possess institutions, practices, and teachings similar to the four Buddhist schools, what then is the difference between them? Tibetans themselves clearly distinguish Bon from Chos, which is their name for the Buddhism of Indian origin. Both sides agree that the difference is principally a matter of lineage. Whereas all the Buddhist schools of Tibet look back to the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, who flourished in southern Nepal and northern India about two thousand five hundred years ago, as the source of their tradition and teaching known as the Buddha Dharma, Bonpos look back to an earlier prehistoric Bud­dha in Central Asia, named Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche (sTon-pa gShen-rab mi-bo-che) as the ultimate source of their spiritual tra­dition known as Yungdrung Bon (g.yung-drung bon), the Eternal Dharma.

The Tibetan term "Yungdrung" means "eternal, everlasting, indestructible," and corresponds to the Buddhist term "vajra" or "dorje" (rdo-rje), meaning "diamond," and hence indestructible. The term "Bon" means "dharma," the teachings of the Buddhas about the nature of reality, the practice of which will bring re-lease from the cycle of rebirth and thus the ultimate enlighten­ment of a Buddha. It has usages similar to the Tibetan Buddhist term chos.

Like Buddhists, Bonpo practitioners take refuge in the Triratna, or the Three Jewels of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, that is to say, the teacher, his teachings, and the commu­nity of practitioners of the teachings, the Great Bodhisattvas. This Dharma is believed to have been taught by all the enlightened Buddhas who have appeared throughout history and before, not only on this planet earth, but in all world systems inhabited by in­telligent life forms. Therefore, this Dharma is said to be eternal and indestructible but, of course, the actual presentation of the Dharma depends on the capacities of disciples, and so there exists a plurality of ways or vehicles to enlightenment. All of these ways are complete and valid within their contexts and circumstances. Thereby all of the teachings and practices derived from Indian Buddhism, although imported from outside by non-Tibetans, are regarded by Bonpo Lamas as authentic Dharma, the teachings of the Buddhas. Since the Dharma is like the light of the sun, it is omnipresent; its revelation is not dependent upon a single histori­cal figure or restricted to a single period in history.

Nevertheless, the Dharma and the Sangha, the teachings and the community, do not represent the ultimate refuge. Both of them are dependent on the Buddha for their existence. Thus, the Buddha is the ultimate and supreme refuge. However, there have been many Buddhas in the past history of this planet, the histori­cal Buddha Shakyamuni merely being the last in their number. According to ancient Indian Buddhist belief, there have been six prehistoric Buddhas who preceded Shakyamuni, namely, Vi­pashyin, Shikhin, Vishvabhu, Krakucchanda, Kanakamuni and Kashyapa. It was said that even in his own day when Shakyamuni was still a young prince, a few followers of the earlier Buddha Ka­shyapa still existed. The great Stupa of Baudhnath in Nepal is said to contain the relics of this earlier Buddha. An inscription of the Buddhist emperor Ashoka, from pre-Christian times, records the repairing of a stupa in Nepal said to contain the relics of the Bud­dha Kanakamuni. Another list in early Buddhist scriptures records twenty-four Buddhas from Shakyamuni back to the Buddha Di pankara in the distant past.

These Nirmanakaya Buddhas, who manifested in time and history, appeared not only in India, but in Central Asia as well, for in ancient times India and Central Asia formed a single cul­tural region. Moreover, both Buddhists and Bonpos agree that Maitreya will be the next Buddha, whose advent will be some time in the indefinite future. [1]

Tonpa Shenrab and Olmo Lung-ring

Thus Bonpo Lamas look to a prehistoric Buddha from Tazik (stag-gzig), in Central Asia, as the source of their tradition. The ti­tle Tonpa (ston-pa) means "teacher" in the sense of the original founder of a spiritual tradition, who is the source of this revela­tion. According to Bonpo belief, Tonpa Shenrab was not merely a priest or a shaman, but a fully enlightened Buddha (sangs-rgyas). Shenrab was a Nirmanakaya manifestation of Buddhahood, ap­pearing in time and history, whereas his Sambhogakaya aspect known as Shenlha Odkar (gShen-lha 'od-dkar), corresponds to the Buddhist Vajrasattva (rDo-rje sems-dpa'). The Dharmakaya aspect is known as Kuntu Zangpo (Kun to bzang-po, Skt. Saman­tabhadra), as is also the case in the Nyingmapa system. [2] The ti­tle Shenrab Miwoche means "the great human being who is the supreme Shen practitioner." The ancient word gshen is untrans­latable and is sometimes used as a synonym for Bon and Bonpo. Shen was also the name of the clan to which Tonpa Shenrab be-longed, that is, dMu-gshen, the celestial Shen. The Shen clan (gshen gdung-rus) continues as one of the principal Bonpo line-ages even today. In the early days, transmission of the teachings was often through family lineages.

Tonpa Shenrab was said to have already been enlightened in his celestial pre-existence as Chimed Tsugphud ('Chi-med gtsug­phud). In this guise, on a higher plane of existence, he transmit­ted the teachings of Dzogchen and Tantra to a prince from Tazik named Sangwa Dupa (gSang-ba 'dus-pa, Skt. Guhyasamaja), who returned with them to earth. Thereafter he propagated the teach­ings and subdued many gods and demons for the benefit of hu­manity. It is said that in a future incarnation this prince became the Buddha Shakyamuni. According to Bonpo Lamas, this would account for the similarities in teaching and practice between In­dian Buddhism and Bon. They both have the same ultimate source. [3]

According to Bonpo accounts, namely the hagiographies of Tonpa Shenrab, the mDo- 'dus, the gZer-myig and the gZi-brjid [4], he is said to have manifested himself as a human being, as a royal prince, in the country of Olmo Lung-ring ('ol-mo lung-ring), located somewhere in the Iranian-speaking region of an­cient Central Asia known as Tazik. This would correspond to the present-day republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and parts of

northern Afghanistan. In this region, Iranian-speaking people are still known as Tajiks. However, Olmo Lung-ring is not considered by the Bonpos to be an ordinary geographical location that a tourist might visit. It is a hidden land, or Beyul (sbas-yul), the Bonpos nowadays identify with Shambhala which, in turn, is well known in the West as the mysterious land that is the source of the Kalachakra Tantra. As in the Buddhist understanding of Sham­bhala, Olmo Lung-ring exists in a higher spiritual dimension and only those who have evolved to a higher level spiritually are able to travel there and find entrance. For ordinary, deluded human beings, Olmo Lung-ring and Shambhala lie in concealment, al-though they remain a source of great spiritual inspiration for un­awakened humanity. Symbolically, Olmo Lung-ring represents the center of the world and in the middle of that sacred land is the cosmic mountain, the nine-tiered indestructible Swastika Mountain (g.yung-drung dgu brtseg). [S] .

It was in Olmo Lung-ring that Tonpa Shenrab demonstrated the process of becoming enlightened for the benefit of humanity in terms of twelve great deeds:

  1. Accomplishing the Deed of Rebirth in a human body (sku bltams-pa'i mdzad-pa). The Lord was born into the royal clan of dMu at the palace of Barpo Sogyed (bar-po so-brgyad) in the country of Olmo Lung-ring in Tazik. The Brahman who examined the child found that he possessed all the thirty-two marks and eighty characteristics of a great being. This is said to have occurred approximately 18,000 years ago.
  2. Accomplishing the Deed of Disseminating the Teachings (rnam-par spel-pa'i mdzad-pa). During the course of twelve years in his youth he taught the Four Causal Ways of Bon, as well as the remaining ways among the Nine Successive Ways of Bon, and in addition he taught the Four Portals of Bon and the Treasury to his followers.
  3. Accomplishing the Deed of Subduing Beings (rnam-par 'dul­ba'i mdzad-pa). He emanated aspects of himself as the Six Dulshen ('dul-gshen drug) into the six realms or destinies of rebirth.
  4. Accomplishing the Deed of Guiding Beings (rnam-par 'dren­pa'i mdzad-pa). He subdued, and led into virtue, great beings such as Trishi Wanggyal, Halaratsa, Guwer Gyalpo, and Gu­ling Mati who were dominated by aversion, jealousy, pride and lust respectively,
  5. Accomplishing the Deed of Definitive Marriage (rnal-par nges-pa'i mdzad-pa). Beseeched by the gods, he married the princess Horza Gyalmedma (Hor-za rgal-med-ma), the incar­nation of the great wisdom goddess Jyamma (Byams-ma).
  6. Accomplishing the Deed of Emanating his Progeny (rnam-par sprul-pa'i mdzad-pa). He fathered eight sons and two daugh­ters, and conferred the teachings of Bon upon them.
  7. Accomplishing the Deed of Conquering the Mara Demons (rnam-par 'joms-pa'i mdzad-pa). Fearing that the teachings of Bon would empty Samsara of sentient beings, the Mara de­mons attacked the Lord. Then the demon prince Khyabpa Lag-ring seduced Shenrab's youngest daughter and afterwards stole his horses, only to be subdued and converted in the end.
  8. Accomplishing the Deed of Vanquishing the Rakshasa De­mons (rnam-par rgyal-ba'i mdzad-pa). He came to the aid of the king Kongtse Trulgyi Gyalpo (Kong-tse 'phrug gyi rgyal­po) who, when he attempted to build a temple on an island in the sea, was attacked by the Rakshasa demons. He then im­parted the Four Portals and the Treasury to the king.
  9. Accomplishing the Deed of Knowledge (rnam-par rig-pa'i mdzad-pa). Then in order to teach beings the path of renun­ciation and defeat the afflictions caused by the Mara demons, he demonstrated the method of renouncing worldly life to become a monk and practice the ascetic path.
  10. Accomplishing the Deed of Retirement (rnam-par dben-pa'i mdzad-pa). He retired to the forest on the nine-tiered Swas­tika Mountain to practice meditation and he taught his fol­lowers according to their capacities as superior, intermediate, or inferior.
  11. Accomplishing the Deed of Liberation (rnam-par grol-ba'i mdzad-pa). He taught his disciples the progressive path to enlightenment in terms of compassion and the Ten Perfec­tions, and entrusted his teachings to his respective followers.
  12. Accomplishing the Deed of Final Realization (rnam-par grub­pa'i mdzad-pa). Finally, he demonstrated the impermanence of life and the inevitability of death by passing beyond this present life.

At the end of his earthly career, it is said that his various teachings were collected together and put into writing. These were translated into many different languages, including the lan­guage of Zhang-zhung from which, in turn, they were translated into Tibetan. Among his many disciples, it was Mucho Demdruk (Mu-cho ldem-drug) who was principally entrusted with organiz­ing the master's teachings in written form and he turned the wheel of Bon for three years. He was followed by the six great translators, namely,

  1. Mutsa Trahe (dMu-tsha tra-he) of Tazik
  2. Trithok Partsa (Khri-thog spar-tsa) of Zhang-zhung,
  3. Huli Parya (Hu-1i spar-ya) of Sum-pa,
  4. Lhadak Ngagdrol (Lha-bdag ngags-grol) of India,
  5. Legtang Mangpo (Legs-tang rmang-po) of China, and
  6. Serthok Chejyam (gSer-thog ice-byams) of Phrom (the West).

These were the six scholars known as ornaments of the world. Each of them was said to have translated the teachings of Tonpa Shenrab into their own languages. [6]

During his career in Olmo Lung-ring, Tonpa Shenrab is said to have visited Tibet only once and then briefly. He went there in pursuit of his seven horses that had been stolen by the magician and demon prince Dudje Khyabpa Lag-ring (bDud-rje khyab-pa lag-ring). The demon hid them in Kongpo in southeastern Tibet. Tonpa Shenrab came there and fought ferocious magical battles with the demon prince, whereby, it is said, they literally hurled mountains at each other. Shenrab set down a crystal mountain of light on the north bank of the Tsangpo river, which then settled matters. Since then this holy mountain of Kongpo Bonri has been a place of pilgrimage for Bonpos and remains so even today.

After further contests, Tonpa Shenrab utterly defeated the demon prince in magical combat and as a result he became the Buddha's disciple. At that time, human beings in Tibet were in an exceedingly primitive state, living in caves, and were greatly op-pressed and afflicted through the activities of evil spirits. Humans had no grasp of the higher spiritual teachings and so Tonpa Shen­rab only taught them the art of practicing shamanism, and this in order to free themselves from the baleful effects of these evil spir­its. He taught ritual magical actions including lha gsol-ba (invok­ing the positive energies of the gods), sel-ba (exorcising the nega­tive energies of demons and evil spirits), and g.yang 'gug (sum­moning prosperity). Such rituals are now found among the Causal Ways of Bon. However, before departing again for Olmo Lung-ring with his recovered horses, he prophesized that the higher spiritual teachings of Bon, in the form of Sutra, Tantra and Dzog­chen, would be brought to Tibet from Tazik and Zhang-zhung when the Tibetans were ready for them. This process began in the time of the second king of Tibet, Mutri Tsanpo (Mu-khri btsan­po).

The Causal Ways of Bon

It is true that the Bonpo tradition does preserve many texts of archaic rituals, totally un-Indian in character, which maintain tra­ditions and myths from the times before Indian Buddhism came to Tibet. These old rituals invoke and placate the gods of the mountains (yul-lha) and the spirits of wild nature (gzhi-bdag) in a manner that we might term shamanic.

In the older classification of Bonpo texts, such shamanic practices were known as Chab-nag, which in contemporary Ti­betan would mean "black waters." However, in ancient times, the word chab may have had a different meaning, perhaps that of "ritual practice." Nag or "black" refers not to an evil intent, as in the West, but to the exorcising, expelling, and dissolving of nega­tive energies, whereas dkar, "white" refers to the invoking of positive energies. Thus these shamanic practices of evoking and exorcising spirits comprise one of the four doorways or Portals of Bon (bon sgo bzhi) in the system of classification known as the Four Portals and the Treasury which is the Fifth (sgo bzhi mdzod inga).

Like the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Bonpo tradition also divides the teachings of the Buddha into nine suc­cessive vehicles to enlightenment (theg-pa rim dgu). According to the classification system of the Southern Treasures, the shamanic practices in question constitute the Causal Vehicles (rgyu'i theg­pa) or the Bon of Causes (rgyu'i bon). These represent the first four ways among the nine ways or vehicles of the teachings of Bon, namely,

  1. the way of the practice of prediction (phywa gshen theg-pa),
  2. the way of the practice of visible manifestations (snang gshen theg-pa),
  3. the way of the practice of magical power ('phrul gshen theg­pa), and
  4. the way of the practice of existence (srid gshen theg-pa).

Many of the practices found here have been adopted and as­similated into the various Buddhist schools for the purpose of harmonizing the relationship between our human world and the other world of the spirits. Indeed, one possible origin of the word "bon" is an ancient verb meaning "to invoke the spirits", and this certainly is one principal activity of the shaman, as well as the priest. [7] Again, in ancient times, there seems to have been a va­riety of religious practitioners designated by the term Bonpo. Nowadays, among Tibetans at least, Bonpo refers exclusively to a practitioner of Yungdrung Bon. Like their Buddhist colleagues, Bonpo Lamas are adamantly opposed to the practice of blood sacrifice (dmar mchod), which is still carried out by practitioners of shamanism in Nepal and some other regions. In both Bud­dhism and Yungdrung Bon, the use of torma (gtor-ma), or offer­ing cakes, often elaborately sculptured, has come to replace blood sacrifice as a suitable offering for the gods and spirits.

We find here not only archaic shamanic rituals and magical practices, the aim of which is to secure worldly benefits for the practitioner and his patrons in this present life, but also the higher spiritual teachings of Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen (mdo sngags sems gsum). The aim of these latter teachings is not just worldly benefits here and now, but the transcendent goal of lib­eration from the suffering of Samsara, the beginningless cycle of death and rebirth, and attainment of the enlightenment of a Bud­dha, the ultimate potential of human development and evolution. In contrast to the above Causal Bon (rgyu'i bon), these higher spiritual teachings are known as the Fruitional Bon ('bras-bu'i bon).

The Four Portals and the Treasury

The Four Portals of Bon and the Treasury, which is the Fifth (bon sgo bzhi mdzod inga), represent an ancient. system for the classification of the Bonpo teachings into four groups known as the Four Portals (sgo bzhi). This system appears to be independ­ent of the classification of the teachings into the Nine Ways and is probably earlier. These groups or classes of teachings are as fol­lows:

  1. The Bon of "the White Waters" containing the Fierce Man­tras (chab dkar drag-po sngags kyi bon): this collection con­sists of esoteric Tantric practices focusing on the recitation of wrathful or fierce mantras (drag sngags) associated with vari­ous meditation deities. Within this class are included the Chy­ipung cycle or "General Collection" (spyi-spungs skor), that is to say, the practices associated with the Father Tantras (pha rgyud). [8]
  2. The Bon of "the Black Waters" for the continuity of existence (chab nag srid-pa rgyud kyi bon): this collection consists of various magical rituals, funeral rites, ransom rites, divination practices, and so on, necessary for the process of purifying and counteracting negative energies. This collection would seem to correspond, by and large, to the Four Causal Ways described above. Here the term "black" refers not to the practitioner's intention, but to the expelling of negativities, which are symbolically black in color.
  3. The Bon of the Extensive Prajnaparamita from the country of Phanyul ('phan-yul rgyas-pa 'bum gyi bon): this collection consists of the moral precepts, vows, rules, and ethical teach­ings for monks and also for lay people who have taken one to five vows and remained householders. In particular, the focus is on the philosophical and ethical system of the Prajna­paramita Sutras, which are preserved in the Bonpo version in sixteen volumes known as the Khams-then. This collection basically represents the Sutra system, whereas the Chab dkar above represents the Tantra system. [9]
  4. The Bon of the Scriptures and the Secret Oral Instructions of the Masters (dpon-gsas man-ngag lung gi bon): this collection consists of the oral instructions (man-ngag) and written scrip tures (lung) of the various masters (dpon-gsas) belonging to the lineages of transmission for Dzogchen.
  5. The Bon of the Treasury, which is of the highest purity and is all-inclusive (gtsang mtho-thog spyi-rgyug mdzod kyi bon): this collection contains essential material from all Four Por tals of Bon. The Treasury, which is the fifth (mdzod inga), is described in the gZer-myig: "As for the highest purity (gtsang mtho-thog), it extends everywhere. As insight, it belongs to the Bon that is universal (spyi-gcod). It purifies the stream of consciousness in terms of all four Portals." [10]

Yungdrung Bon

Yungdrung Bon (g.yung-drung bon) as such consists of the teachings and the practices attributed to Shenrab Miwoche him-self in his role as the Teacher, or the source of revelation (ston­pa), and, in particular, this means the higher teachings of Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen. He is said to have revealed these teachings to his disciples in Olmo Lung-ring on earth, as well as elsewhere in a celestial realm in his previous incarnation as Chimed Tsug­phud ('Chi-med gtsug-phud). [11] These teachings of Tonpa Shenrab, already set down in writing in brought time or in the a later time subsequent period, are said have been

from Olmo Lung-ring in Tazik to the country of Zhang-zhung in western and northern Tibet where they were translated into the Zhang-zhung language. Zhang-zhung appears to have been an ac­tual language, distinct from Tibetan, and apparently related to the west Himalayan Tibeto-Burman dialect of Kinnauri. Thus, it was not some artificial creation fabricated by the Bonpos in order to have an ancient source language corresponding to the Indian San­skrit of the Buddhist scriptures. [12]

Beginning with the reign of the second king of Tibet, Mutri Tsanpo, it is said that certain Bonpo texts, in particular the Father Tantras (pha rgyud), were brought from Zhang-zhung to central Tibet and translated into the Tibetan language. [13] Thus the Bonpos assert that Tibetan acquired a system of writing at this time, based on the sMar-yig script used in Zhang-zhung which, therefore, would have been ancestral to the dbu-med script now often used for composing Tibetan manuscripts, especially among Bonpos. [14]

The Bonpos subsequently experienced two persecutions in central Tibet, the first under the eighth king of Tibet, Drigum Tsanpo (Dri-gum btsan-po), and the second under the great Bud­dhist king of Tibet, Trisong Detsan (Khri-srong lde'u-btsan) in the eighth century of our era. According to tradition, on both occa­sions the persecuted Bonpo sages concealed their books in various places in Tibet and adjacent regions such as Bhutan. These caches of texts were rediscovered from the tenth century onwards. Thus they are known as rediscovered texts or "hidden treasures" (gter­ma). [15]

Certain other texts were never concealed, but remained in circulation and were passed down from the eighth century on-wards in a continuous lineage. These are known as snyan-rgyud, literally "oral transmission," even though they are usually said to have existed as written texts even from the early period. One ex-ample of such an "oral tradition" is the Zhang-zhung snyan-rgyud which, in the eighth century, the master Tapihritsa allowed his disciple Gyerpungpa to write down in the form of his pithy secret oral instructions (man-ngag, Skt. upadesha). Alternatively, the texts were dictated during the course of ecstatic visions or altered states of consciousness by certain ancient sages or certain deities to Lamas who lived in later centuries. One such example of this was the famous lengthy hagiography of Tonpa Shenrab known as the gZi-brjid, dictated to Lodan Nyingpo (bLo-ldan snying-po, b.1360) by the ancient sage Tangchen Mutsa Gyermed (sTang­chen dMu-tsha gyer-med) of Zhang-zhung. [16] This classifica­tion is quite similar to the Nyingmapa classification of its canon of scriptures into bka'-ma and gter-ma. [17] This form of Old Bon has flourished in western and central Tibet down to our own day.

The teachings of Bon revealed by Tonpa Shenrab are classi­fied differently in the three traditional hagiographical accounts of his life. In general, Tonpa Shenrab was said to have expounded Bon in three cycles of teachings:

Hidden Treasure Texts

These Nine Ways or Nine Successive Vehicles to Enlightenment are delineated according to three different systems of hid-den treasure texts (gter-ma) that were said to have been concealed during the earlier persecutions of Bon and rediscovered in later centuries. These hidden treasure systems are designated according to the locations where the concealed texts were rediscovered:

1. The System of the Southern Treasures (lho gter lugs): these were the treasure texts rediscovered at Drigtsam Thakar ('brig-mtsham mtha' dkar) in southern Tibet and at Paro (spagro) in Bhutan. Here the Nine Ways are first divided into the Four Causal Ways which contain many myths and magical shamanic rituals, and which principally concern working with energies for worldly benefits. Then there are the five higher spiritual ways known as the Fruitional Ways. Here the purpose is not to gain power or to ensure health and prosperity in the present world, but realization of the ultimate spiritual goal of liberation from the suffering experienced in the cycles of rebirth within Samsara. The final and ultimate vehicle found here in this nine-fold classification is that of Dzogchen. The System of the Central Treasures (dbus gter lugs): these treasure texts were rediscovered at various sites in central Ti-bet, including the great Buddhist monastery of Samye (bsamyas). In general, this classification of the Bonpo teachings is quite similar to the system of the Nine Vehicles found in the traditions of the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism. Some of these Bonpo texts are said to have been introduced from India into Tibet by the great native-born Tibetan translator Vairochana of Pagor, who translated works from both the Buddhist and the Bonpo traditions. [19]

2. The System of the Northern Treasures (byang gter lugs): these treasure texts were rediscovered at various locations north of central Tibet. However, according to Lopon Tenzin

1.The Nine Successive Vehicles to Enlightenment (theg-pa rim dgu);
2. The Four Portals of Bon and the fifth which is the Treasury (sgo bzhi mdzod lnga);
3. The Three Cycles of Precepts that are Outer, Inner and Secret (bka' phyi nang gsang skor gsum). [18]

3. Namdak, not much is currently known regarding this system. [20]

The Nine Ways of Bon

The Nine Ways of Bon or, rather, the nine successive vehicles of Bon (bon theg-pa rim dgu) as classified in the System of the Southern Treasures (lho gter lugs), is expounded in as many chap­ters in the gZi-brjid, the most extensive hagiography of Tonpa Shenrab. Here the Nine Ways are listed as follows:

  1. The Way of the Practice of Prediction (phywa gshen theg-pa): literally theg-pa means a vehicle or conveyance, rather than a road or a way. gShen, a word of obscure origin and meaning, can here be translated as "practice" or "practitioner" accord­ing to the Lopon. And the term phywa means prediction or prognostication. This way or vehicle is principally concerned with divination (mo), astrological and geomantic calculations (rtsis), medical diagnosis (dpyad), and the performing of healing rituals (gto).
  2. The Way of the Practice of Visible Manifestations (snang gshen theg-pa): this way is principally concerned with visible manifestations (snang-ba), perceived as positive manifesta­tions of the activities of the gods (lha) who come to the aid of humanity. Therefore, the emphasis is placed on invoking the gods (lha gsol-ba) for their aid. This includes such classes of deities as the Thugs-dkar, the sGra-bla, the Wer-ma, and so on.
  3. The Way of the Practice of Magical Power ('phrul gshen theg-pa): this way is principally concerned with magical ritu­als to ensure prosperity and control over the spirits evoked, especially the rites of exorcism (sel-ba) to eliminate negative energy and the negative provocations of evil spirits (gdon) who come to disturb human existence. The practitioner works with these energies in terms of evocation, conjuration and application (bsnyen sgrub las gsum).
  4. The Way of the Practice of Existence (srid gshen theg-pa): here the term "existence" or "becoming" (srid-pa) properly refers to the processes of death and rebirth. This way is also known as 'Dur gshen, the practice of ceremonies for exorcis ing ('dur) the spirits of the dead who are disturbing the living. It is, therefore, principally concerned with the three hundred and sixty kinds of rites for accomplishing this, as well as methods for ensuring the good fortune and long life of the living. These four represent the Four Causal Ways of Bon (bon rgyu'i theg-pa bzhi). They are followed by the higher ways of a more spiritual nature, whose goal is liberation and enlightenment, collectively known as the Fruitional Ways ('bras-bu'i theg-pa).
  5. The Way of the Virtuous Lay Practitioners (dge-bsnyen theg­pa): this way is principally concerned with morality and eth­ics, such as the ten virtuous deeds (dge-ba bcu), the Ten Per­fections or Paramitas, and so on, as well as pious activities such as erecting stupas, especially on the part of lay practi­tioners (dge-bsnyen, Skt. upasika).
  6. The Way of the Ascetic Sages (drang-srong theg-pa): the term drang-srong (Skt. rishi), meaning a sage, has here the technical significance of a fully ordained monk who has taken the full complement of vows, corresponding to the Buddhist bhikshu (dge-slong). The principal concern is with the vows of the monk and the rules of monastic discipline ('dul-ba).
  7. The Way of the White A (A-dkar theg-pa): this way is mainly concerned with the Tantric practice of transformation by way of visualizing oneself as the meditation deity, and the prac­tices associated with the mandala. Here are included both the Lower Tantras and the Higher Tantras.
  8. The Way of the Primordial Shen (ye gshen theg-pa): this way is concerned with certain secret Tantric practices including the proper relationship with the Guru and with the Tantric consort, as well as with the methodologies of the Generation Process (bskyed-rim) and the Perfection Process (rdzogs-rim) and the conduct connected with them.
  9. The Ultimate Way (bla-med theg-pa): this ultimate and un­surpassed (bla na med-pa) way is comprised of the teachings and practices of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, which de-scribes the process of enlightenment in terms of the Base, the Path and the Fruit, as well as the practice of contemplation in terms of view, meditation and conduct.

The Nine Ways according to the System of the Central Treasures (dbus gter lugs) are also divided into the Causal Vehicles (rgyu'i theg-pa) and the Fruitional Vehicles ('bras-bu'i theg­pa). These are as follows:

  1. The Vehicle of Gods and Men where one relies upon another (lha mi gzhan rten gyi theg-pa), that is to say, this is the vehi­cle of those disciples who must first hear the teachings from another. This vehicle corresponds to the Shravakayana in the Buddhist system and the philosophical view is that of the Vaibhashikas.
  2. The Vehicle of the Shenrabpas who understand by themselves alone (rang-rtogs gshen-rab kyi theg-pa). These practitioners do not need to hear the teachings first from another, rather, they discover the meaning of the teachings for themselves in their meditation practice. This vehicle corresponds to the Pratyekabuddhayana of the Buddhists and the philosophical view is that of the Sautrantikas.
  3. The Vehicle of the Compassionate Bodhisattvas (thugs-rje sems-pa'i theg-pa). This vehicle corresponds to the Mahayana Sutra system or Bodhisattvayana vehicle in the Buddhist sys­tem. In particular, the reference is to the Bodhisattvas who practice the Ten Paramitas of generosity, morality, patience, vigor, meditation, strength, compassion, commitment, skillful means and wisdom. The philosophical view is that of the Yogacharins or Chittamatrins (sems-tsam-pa) who discern the absence of any inherent existence in terms of the internal self, as well as external phenomena.
  4. The Vehicle of the Bodhisattvas that are without conceptual elaborations (g.yung-drung sems-pa'i spros med-pa'i theg-pa). This vehicle also corresponds to the Bodhisattvayana in the Buddhist system. The Bonpo term g.yung-drung sems-dpa', literally Svastikasattva or "Swastika being," has the same sig­nificance as the Buddhist term Bodhisattva (byang-chub sems­dpa'). Here one finds the same practice of the Ten Paramitas. However, the philosophical view of emptiness and the absence of any inherent existence in the internal self and exter­nal phenomena is understood by way of Madhyamaka (dbu­ma-pa), rather than Chittamatra (sems-tsam-pa) These four lower ways represent the Causal Vehicles (rgyu'i theg-pa), while those which follow are known as the Fruitional Vehi­cles.
  5. The Vehicle of the Primordial Bon of pure conduct and ritual activity (bya-ba gtsang-spyod ye bon gyi theg-pa). Focusing on ritual activity (bya-ba, Skt. kriya) and purity of conduct, this vehicle corresponds to the Kriyatantrayana in the Nying­mapa system. In terms of method, the Wisdom Being (ye­shes-pa) is invoked into one's range of vision and treated as a great lord being petitioned by a humble servant. Thereby the practitioner receives the knowledge (ye-shes) and the bless­ings (byin-rlabs) of the deity.
  6. The Vehicle of the Clairvoyant Knowledge that possesses all of the aspects (rnam-par kun-ldan mngon-shes kyi theg-pa). The focus is equally on external ritual action and internal yoga practice. This vehicle corresponds to the Charyatantra­yana in the Nyingmapa system. Together with the practice of the Ten Paramitas and the Four Recollections, the presence of the Wisdom Being is invoked, but this time the deity is re­garded as an intimate friend rather than as a superior lord. These two vehicles represent the Outer or Lower Tantras (phyi rgyud), while the vehicles that follow represent the In­ner or Higher Tantras (nang rgyud).
  7. The Vehicle of Visibly Manifesting Compassion in terms of the Actual Generation Process (dngos bskyed thugs-rje rol­pa'i theg-pa). This vehicle corresponds to the Yoga Tantra and to a certain extent to the Mahayoga Tantra and the Anuttara Tantra in the Buddhist system of classification for both the Nyingmapas and the Newer Schools. Establishing oneself in the higher view of the Ultimate Truth and remain­ing in the original condition of the Natural State, one engages in the Generation Process (bskyed-rim) and transforms one-self into the meditation deity, thereby realizing the qualities attributed to that manifestation of enlightened awareness.
  8. The Vehicle wherein Everything is Completely Perfect and Exceedingly Meaningful (shin to don-Idan kun rdzogs kyi theg-pa). Becoming established in the Ultimate Truth and the original condition of the Natural State, as was the case above, here one places the emphasis on the Perfection Process (rdzogs-rim) rather than on the Generation Process (bskyed­rim), so that Space and Awareness are realized as inseparable (dbyings rig dbyer-med). And particularly in terms of the meditation deity, the practitioner comes to realize the gnosis or pristine awareness of the inseparability of bliss and empti­ness (bde stong ye-shes). This vehicle corresponds to the Ma­hayoga Tantra and especially the Anuyoga Tantra classifica­tions of the Nyingmapas.
  9. The Unsurpassed Vehicle of the highest peak of the primor­dial Great Perfection (ye nas rdzogs-chen yang-rtse bla-med kyi theg-pa). This vehicle comprises the Dzogchen teachings in terms of the Mind Series (sems-sde), which emphasize the awareness side of the Natural State and the Space Series (klong-sde), which emphasize the emptiness side, as well as the Secret Instruction Series (man-ngag sde), which empha­size their inseparability.

Shenchen Luga and the Revival of Bon

In the year 1017, Shenchen Luga (gShen-chen klu-dga') came from eastern Tibet and discovered two large wooden boxes con­taining many Bonpo texts in the Tibetan language, which had been buried at Drigtsam Thakar ('brig-mtsham mtha' dkar) in Tsang Province, near the ancestral seat of the Shen clan. [21] It was principally this discovery that led to the revival of Bon in central Tibet in the eleventh century, a revival similar in character to the revival of Buddhism among the Nyingmapas at the same time. In part, this renaissance was a reaction to the development of the Sarmapa of the New Tantra movement of that century, a movement inspired by the translations of Indian Buddhist texts, many of them previously unknown in Tibet.

Among his disciples, Shenchen Luga commissioned Druchen Namkha Yungdrung (Bru-chen nam-mkha' g.yung-drung), to­gether with his son, Khyunggi Gyaltsan (Khyung gi rgyal-mtshan), to copy and record the philosophical texts (mtshan-nyid) which he had recovered from this treasure hoard of the Shen clan. The cache was reportedly concealed during the persecution of Bon in the eighth century by Dranpa Namkha, Lishu Tagring and other Bonpo Lamas. This persecution occurred in central Tibet in the time of King Trisong Detsan. This large collection of Termas, or hidden treasure texts, became widely known as the Southern Treasures Oho gter), and they came to be classified into the Nine Successive Vehicles of Bon (bon theg-pa rim-dgu). As outlined above, also contained in this collection of rediscovered texts were the Gab-pa dgu skor and the Sems phran sde bdun, representing an important cycle of Dzogchen texts closely related to the Zhang-zhung snyan-rgyud.

According to the Bonpo histories, the Dru lineage became pre-eminent in the transmission of the Bonpo philosophical tradi­tion. Druchen Namkha Yungdrung himself wrote a commentary on the Srid-pa'i mdzod-phug, the main Bonpo cosmological text, and his son Khyunggi Gyaltsan wrote a commentary that estab­lished the philosophical and exegetical tradition of this lineage (mtshan-nyid kyi bshad srol). Both father and son had listened to the master Shenchen expound the philosophy and cosmology of this text. Then in 1072, Druje Yungdrung Lama (Bru-rje g.yung­drung bla-ma, b. 1040) established the Bonpo monastery of Yeru Wensakha (g.yas ru dben-sa-kha) in Tsang Province that became the fountainhead of this tradition and the foremost Bonpo mon­astery of its time. When it was destroyed in a disastrous flood, it was re-established on higher ground by Nyammed Sherab Gyal­tsan (mNyam-med shes-rab rgyal-mtshan) in 1405 as the monas­tery of Tashi Menri (bkra-shis sman-ri), where later Lopon Ten­zin Namdak served as principal teacher for a time.

The Traditions of Bonpo Dzogchen

In general, within the Bon tradition, a number of different lines of transmission for the Dzogchen teachings exist, three of which are collectively known as A rdzogs snyan gsum. The first two of them represent Terma traditions based on rediscovered treasure texts, whereas the third is an oral tradition (snyan brgyud) based on a continuous transmission through an uninter­rupted line of realized masters. These transmissions of Dzogchen are as follows:

1. A-khrid

The first cycle here of Dzogchen teachings is called A-khrid (pronounced A-tri), that is, the teachings that guide one (khrid) to the Primordial State (A). The white Tibetan letter A is the symbol of Shunyata and of primordial wisdom. The founder of this tradi­tion was Meuton Gongdzad Ritrod Chenpo, who was frequently known simply as Dampa, "the holy man." [22] He extracted these Dzogchen precepts from the Khro rgyud cycle of texts. Together with the Zhi-ba don gyi skor, these texts formed part of the sPyi­spungs yan-lag gi skor cycle of teachings that belong to the Father Tantras (pha rgyud), originally attributed to Tonpa Shenrab in his celestial pre-existence as Chimed Tsugphud ('Chi-med gtsug­phud). To this collected material, Meuton added his own mind treasure (dgongs gter) and organized the practice of the cycle into eighty meditation sessions extending over several weeks. This was known as the A-khrid thun mtsham brgyud-cu-pa. The instruc­tions were divided into three sections dealing with the view (lta­ba), the meditation (sgom-pa), and the conduct (spyod-pa). Upon a successful completion of the eighty-session course, one received the title of Togdan (rtogs-ldan), that is, "one who possesses un­derstanding." The A-khrid tradition, where the practice is very systematically laid out in a specific number of sessions, in many ways corresponds to the rDzogs-chen sems-sde of the Nyingmapa tradition. [23]

2. rDzogs-chen

Here the term rDzogs-chen does not indicate Dzogchen in general; the reference is to a specific transmission of Dzogchen whose root text is the rDzogs-chen yang-rtse'i klong-chen, "the Great Vast Expanse of the Highest Peak which is the Great Per­fection," rediscovered by the great Terton Zhodton Ngodrub Dragpa (bZhod-ston dngos-grub grags-pa) in the year A.D.1080. This discovery was part of a famous cycle of treasure texts hidden behind a statue of Vairochana at the Khumthing temple at Lho­drak. This root text is said to have been composed in the eighth century by the Bonpo master known as Lishu Tagring. [24]

3. sNyan-rgyud

The third cycle of transmission of the Dzogchen teachings within the Bon tradition is the uninterrupted lineage of the oral transmission from the country of Zhang-zhung (Zhang-zhung snyan-rgyud), which was revealed to Gyerpung Nangzher Lodpo (Gyer-spungs snang-bzher lod-po) at the Darok lake in northern Tibet in the eighth century. Gyerpungpa was thus a contemporary of the great Tibetan king Trisong Detsan who invited Padma­sambhava and Shantirakshita to Tibet, built the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet at Samye, and established Indian Buddhism as the official religion of his kingdom. Before that, in the seventh century, it is said that Tapihritsa, a native of the country of Zhang-zhung, had received the Dzogchen precepts from his own master Tsepung Dawa Gyaltsan (Tshe-spungs zla-ba rgyal-mtshan). After practicing Dzogchen in a cave for nine years, he attained realization and liberation as the Rainbow Body of the Great Transfer. [25] Later he reappeared to Gyerpungpa on sev­eral occasions and transmitted to him the precepts for Dzogchen (bka' brgyud). After that he allowed him to set down these pre­cepts in the Zhang-zhung language for the first time. They were translated into Tibetan in the next century. Because this tradition has a continuous lineage extending back to at least the eighth cen­tury of our era, and so does not represent Terma texts rediscov­ered at a later time, it is of particular importance for research into the question of the historical origins of Dzogchen. [26]

4. Ye-khri mtha'-sel

This fourth major cycle of Dzogchen, together with the above three, is included within the four-year training program of study and practice in the Meditation School (sgrub-grwa) at Triten Norbutse Monastery in Kathmandu. It is said that in the eleventh century, the Bonpo master Lungton Lhanyen (Lung-ston lha­gnyan) actually met Tsewang Rigdzin (Tse-dbang rig-'dzin) in person in the guise of an Indian sadhu. The latter revealed to him the Dzogchen teachings he had received from his father Dranpa Namkha (Dran-pa nam-mkha', eighth century). Having acquired the power of long life (tshe dbang) by virtue of his yoga practice, Tsewang Rigdzin is said to have lived for centuries. Some of these texts, such as the Nam-mkha"phrul-mdzod present Dzogchen in a much more systematic and intellectual manner comparable to the Dzogchen Semde (sems-sde) class of the Nyingmapas.

Having previously taught the A-khrid and Zhang-zhung snyan-rgyud extensively to Western students both in Nepal and in the West in recent years, Lopon Tenzin Namdak Yongdzin Rin­poche has been focusing on the teaching of the Ye-khri mtha'-sel, convinced that Western students are especially suited to the prac­tice of Dzogchen.

CHAPTER 1 : Introduction to the Practice of Dzogchen

Talk by Lopon Tenzin Namdak,
Vienna, Austria, April 1991.
Compiled and edited by John Myrdhin Reynolds.

It is necessary for us to know what Dzogchen is, how to practice it, and the result of this practice, Even in Tibet it was not easy to get these teachings. They have been kept very secret since the eighth century. Even before that there were twenty-four mas­ters of Dzogchen in the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud lineage, all of whom realized .Jalu ('ja'-lus), or the Rainbow Body. However, each of them only gave the transmission to a single disciple. [1] Furthermore, from the eighth century until today this Dzogchen lineage has remained unbroken. It was kept very secret, but now in the second half of the twentieth century because circumstances have changed, both the Dakinis and the Guardians have given permission to teach Dzogchen much more openly. [2]

These days, we Tibetans have lost our native country. My own master prayed to the Guardians and positive signs appeared, so now we can teach Dzogchen much more openly to those disciples who are ready. We give a two-year course in the Dzogchen teachings at Dolanji where we have our monastery. This course is part of the nine-year program for the Geshe degree (Ph.D.) and in it we give a very logical and systematic presentation of Dzogchen. This tradition has remained unbroken from earliest times until today.

The Dzogchen teachings are the same in both Bonpo and Nyingmapa, but the lineages are different. This is the principal difference. Historically speaking, the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud (Zhang-zhung snyan-brgyud) is the most important lineage for Dzogchen. It came not from Tibet, but from the ancient kingdom of Zhang-zhung to the west, centered in the Mt. Kailas region. Dzogchen was the highest teaching in the religious culture of Zhang-zhung and from there the Dzogchen tradition was transmitted to Tibet. [3]

Some years ago, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche came to our monastery at Dolanji with fourteen of his Italian students in order to receive the transmission for the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud and the empowerment for its patron deity, or Yidam, Zhang-zhung Meri. However, Namkhai Norbu is not a Bonpo Lama; he is a Drugpa Kagyudpa Tulku, who received a Sakyapa education at Derge Gomchen Monastery, and whose principal Dzogchen master was a famous Nyingmapa Lama in Derge named Chang-chub Dorje. Rinpoche was very interested in the Bonpo tradition because he was researching the historical roots of Tibetan culture and Dzogchen. These roots are Bonpo; in general, Bon was the name for the pre-Buddhist religious culture of Tibet. In Zhang­zhung it was called Gyer. [4] Both the Bonpos and the Nying­mapas have a system of Thegpa Rimgu (theg-pa rim dgu), or nine successive vehicles to enlightenment, and in both cases the ninth and highest vehicle is Dzogchen.

According to the Paramita system, or Sutra system, it takes three incalculable kalpas to attain the realization of Buddhahood. But according to the Tantra system, it only takes seven lifetimes. The goal is the same in both the Sutra system and the Tantra system, namely, Buddhahood, but the methods or paths are different. There are four classes of Tantra in the Bonpo system:

  1. Jyawe Gyud (bya-ba'i rgyud), or Kriya Tantra,
  2. Chyodpe Gyud (spyod-pa'i rgyud), or Charya Tantra,
  3. Yeshen Gyud (ye-gshen gyi rgyud), and
  4. Yeshen Chenpo Gyud (ye-gshen chen-po'i rgyud).

Each of these classifications of Tantra has its own views which are the foundations of practice. Therefore, we find that a difference necessarily exists in terms of the time it takes to realize the fruit or result of the practice. The methods are not all the same; some are far more potent and bring quicker results.

In Dzogchen there are three divisions in the teachings:

  1. Semde (sems-sde), or the Mind series,
  2. Longde (klong-sde), or the Space series, and
  3. Manngagide (man-ngag sde), or the Upadesha (secret instruc­tion) series.

Dzogchen as a teaching has three inherent qualities: awareness (rig-pa), emptiness (stong-pa nyid), and their unifica­tion or inseparability (dbyer-med). But in the Natural State (gnas­lugs), which is the Nature of Mind (sems-nyid), these distinctions are not found because therein everything is primordially unified and inseparable from the very beginning, and never otherwise. But in talking about and describing the teachings, we make these distinctions. Semde, the Mind series, emphasizes much more the Awareness side or aspect (rig-cha); Longde, the Space series, emphasizes much more the Emptiness side or space aspect (stong­cha). And Manngagide, the Upadesha series, emphasizes the inseparability of awareness and emptiness (rig stong dbyer-med). Each of the three series of Dzogchen teachings, however, recog­nizes Yermed (dbyer-med), or inseparability, as fundamental; the distinctions are only a matter of emphasis.[5] In terms of this classification into three series, the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud is Upadesha or Manngagide because it principally teaches the inseparability of awareness and emptiness.

The state of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection (rdzogs-pa chen­po), is described as being Kadak (ka-dag), that is, primordial purity or pure from the very beginning. It has never had any obscurations in it, as is the case with our ordinary functioning mind (yid) and consciousness (rnam-shes). This Natural State of Dzogchen is naturally and inherently pure, and never otherwise. Therefore, it represents primordial Buddhahood (ye sangs-rgyas). This is the Base (gzhi) for the Path (lam) and for the realization of the Fruit ('bras-bu), or result of the Path. Thus we speak of three Buddhas:

  1. Zhi Sangye (gzhi'i sangs-rgyas), Buddhahood of the Base,
  2. Lam Sangye (lam gyi sangs-rgyas), Buddhahood of the Path and
  3. Drebu Sangye ('bras-bu'i sangs-rgyas), Buddhahood of the Fruit.

The Buddhahood of the Base means this state of Kadak, or primordial purity, and the term is synonymous with Shunyata or emptiness (stong-pa nyid). It has no obscurations whatsoever, either emotional or intellectual. It is like the nature of a mirror which has the capacity to reflect whatever is set before it. But, although this inherent Buddha nature exists in all sentient beings, it is necessary to practice the Path in order to realize its nature which, at the moment, goes unrecognized by the individual. It is like the face of the sun obscured by clouds so it cannot be seen and goes unrecognized, even though it is present in the sky all the time. As the source, this inherent Buddha-nature is already pure and clean and unmixed with defilements, whether emotional or intellectual. The process of coming to realize this fact is called the Buddhahood of the Path. By way of practicing the Path, we come to attain realization and this realization is called the Buddhahood of the Fruit.

Now, both the Buddhahood of the Base and the Buddhahood of the Path are called "Buddha", but they are not the real Buddha because this Buddhahood is latent and potential at this time and not actually manifest. We must still purify ourselves of adventitious obscurations, accumulated in countless lifetimes from time without beginning, in order to attain the realization of manifest Buddhahood. If we say that all beings are already Buddhas, then why is there any necessity to do practice? It is because this Buddhahood is not yet manifest and visible, but it is present in potential at the core of every single sentient being.

In the practice of Dzogchen, we do not find it necessary to do visualizations of deities or to do recitations like the Refuge and Bodhichitta. Some would say that these are not necessary to do at all, but this is speaking from the side of the Natural State only. They say in the Natural State, everything is present there already in potential, and so there is nothing lacking and nothing more to do to add or acquire anything. This is fine. But on the side of the practitioner, there is much to do and practices such as Refuge and Bodhichitta are very necessary. [6]

In its own terms, Dzogchen has no rules; it is open to everything. But does this mean we can do just what we feel like at the moment? On the side of the Natural State, this is true and there are no restrictions or limitations. All appearances are manifestations of mind (sems kyi snang-ba), like reflections seen in a mirror, and there is no inherent negativity or impurity in them. Everything is perfectly all right just as it is, as the energy (rtsal) of the Nature of Mind in manifestation. It is like white and black clouds passing overhead in the sky; they equally obscure the face of the sun. When they depart, there are no traces left behind. However, that is speaking only on the side of the Natural State, which is like the clear, open sky, unaffected by the presence or absence of these clouds. For the sky, it is all the same. But on the side of the practitioner, it is quite different because we mistakenly believe these clouds are solid, opaque, and quite real and substantial. As practitioners we must first come to an under-standing of the insubstantiality and unreality of all these clouds which obscure the sky of our own Nature of Mind (sems-nyid). It is our Tawa (lta-ba), or view, our way of looking at things, which is basic and fundamental, and we must begin here. Then we must practice and attain realization. So on the side of the practitioner, practice and commitment are most certainly required. The Natural State in itself is totally open and clear and spacious like the sky but we, as individuals, are not totally open and unob­structed.

The principal point in Dzogchen is the view, that is, recognizing the Natural State and continuing in the Natural State. This is the highest of all ways or vehicles. But arrayed below it are eight other yanas (vehicles), where the practitioner, no matter how subtly or unconsciously, still clings to grasping at reality ('dzin-pa) and to activity (bya-ba), where we try to accomplish something. Dzogchen, on the contrary, is absolutely without any grasping or apprehending of anything ('dzin med) and without any deliberate activity (bya bral).

When we begin as practitioners on the path of Dzogchen, we first need a direct introduction to the Natural State from someone who has directly experienced the Natural State personally. [7] But just meeting it for one time, like meeting a new acquaintance, is not enough. We must discover the Natural State within ourselves over and over again, so that we have no doubt about it. For this reason we do practice and look back at our thoughts, observing them arise, stay and then pass away again. We look to find from where they arise, where they stay, and where they go. In this way we discover that thoughts are insubstantial; they just arise and disappear again, leaving no trace behind. If we do not interfere with them or try to modify them, they will liberate and dissolve in themselves. And so we must learn how to keep ourselves in this Nature and how to remain without modifications. There is nothing to change or modify or correct (ma bcos-pa). Thoughts just arise and then they liberate. [8]

At first it is sufficient to remain like that. When we truly experience the Natural State, we do not need to keep checking and waiting for thoughts to disappear. Thoughts arise and dissolve of their own accord. At the moment when a thought dissolves, just leave everything as it is until the next thought arises. We find ourselves in a condition which is very clear and alert. The Tibetan term Rang-rig means self-seeing, being self-aware. If we allow ourselves to follow after a thought, it will carry us away on a trip, and it will obscure and cover over our sense of presence, and we will forget to be self-aware. The Natural State is inexpressible in words. We may be all clarity, and yet, in our practice, if we think or say "I am clear!" we lose it. There should be no checking or evaluating at all by the mind or intellect when we are in the Natural State. Such mental activity is not the Natural State. When a thought dissolves, we leave it alone just as it is. But we remain alert and clear.

The Natural State possesses the qualities of being empty (stong-pa) and clear (gsal-ba). And so we can speak about these qualities, but in the Natural State itself, we find no separate or distinct qualities; everything is whole and unified (dbyer-med). The Natural State is just itself and nothing else, yet it encom­passes everything. If it did not encompass everything, then it would possess an unchanging individual inherent existence (rang­bzhin). And, therefore, there would be no possibility for any change to occur in ourselves or in the world. Change would be impossible because everything would be locked into .a rigid inherent nature or essence (rang-bzhin). But everywhere in our experience we see change, and so everything is insubstantial and lacking inherent existence (rang-bzhin med-pa). Whether there are many clouds seen in the sky or not, the nature of the sky in itself remains unchanged and undisturbed. It is the same with the Nature of Mind. It is only our vision that is disturbed and obscured.

So we should not allow ourselves to be distracted by the thoughts that arise in meditation; we should try to remain in the Natural State. Eventually our contemplation will become stable, but at first many distractions will arise. We may begin by focusing our attention on a single point so that we can come to recognize what disturbs our contemplation. We must recognize this right away, so that we do not fall into the wrong way of practicing contemplation.

There are various ways to be introduced to the Natural State. We can use Shamatha meditation (zhi-gnas) for this purpose, for example, by concentrating our attention one-pointedly on the white Tibetan letter A. Initially this fixation allows no space for thoughts to arise and distract us, but then when we relax our fixation a little, thoughts arise again. But the thoughts that arise are only like the clouds that appear in the sky, and when they dissolve, they leave no trace behind. So we do not need to examine them and think about them, asking ourselves: "Are they emptiness or are they clarity?" We eventually find ourselves in a calm state, where few or no thoughts arise.

This, however, is the result of fixation and it is not Rigpa, or the Natural State. It is only an experience (nyams). Rigpa, the Natural State, is neither the calm state nor the movement of thoughts, but a state of pure immediate awareness which tran­scends all thought and workings of the mind. It is like a mirror reflecting whatever is set before it, without judgment or thought. When we enter into the Natural State, we are not practicing the cultivation of positive thoughts nor are we trying to repress negative thoughts. That is the method of the Sutras, namely, the application of antidotes to negative thoughts and emotions. But that is not the method of Dzogchen. The practice of Dzogchen means just continuing in the Natural State of Rigpa and allowing whatever thoughts arise, whether positive or negative, to self-liberate.

Dzogchen has been kept very secret in India and Tibet because it can easily give rise to wrong views. Dzogchen speaks of a state beyond cause and effect, so its practice is not a matter of cultivating positive thoughts and repressing negative ones. Why has Dzogchen been kept so secret? Not because it is a heresy or because it has anything to hide. If some individual is not ready for this teaching and hears it and misunderstands it, then this can be of harm to himself and of harm to others when he speaks to them regarding his wrong understanding. Therefore it has been better to keep the teachings secret and private.

How do we practice Dzogzchen? First we must practice Guru Yoga. [9] But Guru Yoga visualization is something created by our minds. Mind creates this object. The same is the case with the white Tibetan letter A. So, although we begin with such practices, they do not represent the principal practice. That involves entering into a state beyond the mind and we call that state Rigpa. Fixating on some object like the white letter A is only an aid to discovering Rigpa.

After we have fixated the mind on the white A and find ourselves in a calm state, then we look back into our minds to see who has fixated on this object. We look for the source of mind.. We look for the source of thoughts. From where do they arise? Where do they stay? Where do they go? Do we find that they have any color or shape? When thoughts go, do we find any trace left behind? That is all on the object side. But now we look back to the subject side. Who is this watcher? Who is it that has created this visualization. Do we find two things here, the watcher and the watched? We search and search and we find nothing. We look for a subject and we find no trace of it. We look back and at that moment, the watcher and the watched dissolve.

Then we just remain in that presence without changing anything. We just leave everything as it is. When there is no interference, thoughts dissolve naturally. So we allow the thoughts to be just as they are without judging them. It does not matter at all what comes into the mind. The Dzogchen texts tell us that the emptiness side of the Natural State is primordial purity (ka-dag) and that the clarity or awareness side of the Natural State is spontaneous perfection (lhun-grub). But when we find ourselves in the Natural State, we are not thinking this, nor are we making any analyses or judgments. This Natural State is beyond conception by the intellect and inexpressible in words. Once we have been introduced to the Natural State, we will know what it is and not forget it. Then our task is to enter into it again and again and to continue in it. Contemplation or continuing in Rigpa, the Natural State, is the principal practice of Dzog­chen. [10]

Here there are three principal obstacles which can disturb contemplation: chyingwa ('bying-ba) or drowsiness, mugpa (rmug-pa) or dullness, and godpa (rgod-pa) or agitation. We may try to keep in the Natural State continuously but find that it has become mixed with drowsiness, and so a renewal of energy is necessary here. We need to observe our contemplation in order to discover if it has become mixed with any of these three faults. Dullness means our clarity thickens and loses its transparency; the object appears dull. We lack energy. The opposite of dullness is alertness and the clear appearance or visualization of the object. We must check and see what is needed as an antidote. If we add too much energy, we will find ourselves in a state of agitation. With not enough energy we can be dull and drowsy.

So here a relationship exists between contemplation and energy. We must discover this for ourselves because it varies with the capacity and constitution of each individual practitioner. Generally, agitation is easy to recognize. But there are two kinds of agitation: coarse and subtle, and subtle agitation is very difficult to recognize. Thoughts arise and if we allow ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, to identify ourselves with them, immediately they lead us away from the Natural State. Remaining in the Natural State is the great highway leading directly to our destination, but distraction by thoughts leads us into bye-ways where we become lost and only with difficulty do we find our way back.

So what can we do? With drowsiness there are two principal things to do. First, get some fresh air and, second, shake and move the body and do some deep breathing. If coarse agitation arises, then stop the meditation practice for a while. Take a rest and do something else. Subtle agitation is more difficult to handle because we do not even realize that we have it. But when we do, we also need to stop and take a break. Dullness is handled in much the same way as drowsiness. When practicing Dzogchen we should always remember never to force ourselves, and to give ourselves plenty of space. It is much better to practice in many short sessions with refreshing breaks in between, rather than trying to force ourselves prematurely into long sessions of practice. This will only give rise to obstacles. In any event, what is most important, both at the beginning and later on, is to relax. The Natural State is already fully present from the very begin­ning, and so there is no need to cajole or coerce it. Just relax and let it all be. It is all there. That is the way of Dzogchen.

CHAPTER 2 :The Attaining of Buddhahood according to Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen

Taught by Lopon Tenzin Namdak, Devon retreat, May 1991.
Edited by John Myrdhin Reynolds.

The Hinayana View

Mahayana recognizes the Trikaya, the Three Bodies of the Buddha, but Hinayana does not do so. The followers of Hinayana only recognize the existence of a historical Buddha who lived in the past. That Buddha, Shakyamuni, was like an Arhat, one who had purified all of his kleshas (passions or negative emotions) and vasanas (karmic traces). After his enlightenment, the residual karma that remained with him was represented by his physical body. This impure body persisted for a time, but his mind was entirely purified of obscurations. Then after passing into Pari­nirvana, absolutely nothing remained behind, neither body nor mind.

So when we pray to the Buddha, this action is no more than a commemoration because there is no one there to hear us. We receive no blessings and no wisdom from him because the Buddha is no more. There is only the memory of his teachings and example found recorded in the scriptures. Nonetheless, he showed the path to liberation from the sufferings experienced in Samsara and we can follow and practice that same path. The goal, according to Hinayana, is to liberate oneself alone from Samsara, that is, to become an Arhat. However, by practicing the path of Hinayana, we realize only the status of an Arhat, and not the full enlightenment of a Buddha.

The Mahayana View

According to the traditional cosmology found both in Bon and in Buddhism, there are three principal levels of existence in the universe:

  1. The Kamadhatu, or Desire World, where all sentient beings, including the gods or Devas, are dominated by their sense desires (kama),
  2. the Rupadhatu, or Form World, the abode of the gods who have exceedingly subtle bodies (rupa) and sense organs of light, and who are no longer dominated by gross sense desires (kama), and
  3. the Arupadhatu, or Formless World, where beings have no visible form (arupa) and exist in a dimension of cosmic consciousness.

The highest plane of existence found at the summit of the Rupadhatu is known as Akanistha, or Ogmin ('og-min) in Tibet-an, and at that level of existence, the Akanistha Devas ('og-min lha) reside. As we ascend upward through the celestial planes of the Rupadhatu, we find that the bodies of light of the Devas residing on each plane become progressively more subtle, clear and pure. When we are ready to attain Buddhahood, after an existence as a human being here below on earth, we find our-selves reborn in the Akanistha heaven. This is because there on that plane the manifest form, which embodies the enlightenment experience of a Buddha, is the most suitable. That is to say, we acquire a subtle and highly refined body of light by virtue of our rebirth in the Akanistha realm. Here in this Akanistha heaven we continue to practice in order to purify our stream of consciousness of all obscurations, even the most subtle and uncon­scious of obscurations. Once purified of all shadows, we attain Buddhahood in Akanistha as the Sambhogakaya. That is to say, we realize the Sambhogakaya form. This is how one attains Buddhahood according to the Sutra system of Mahayana.

According to Bon, one must first be reborn in Akanistha as an Akanistha Deva in order to possess a suitable body or form for enlightenment. Here the individual attains the Sambhogakaya, and then descends into the lower worlds in order to manifest as the Nirmankaya on the physical earth plane. The Mind of the Buddha is the Dharmakaya, which possesses the two-fold purity, that is, an intrinsic purity, as well as a freedom from all adven­titious impurities. This Dharmakaya is inconceivable and inex­pressible; it is without limits. But the manifestation of the Buddha's Energy (thugs-rje) is the Sambhogakaya, in a purified form of light and energy. It is something visible. This is the Speech aspect of the Buddha. The great Bodhisattvas, when they have attained the higher Bhumis or stages, can perceive this glori­fied Body.

But there are also the countless suffering beings of the Kamadhatu, who with their obscurations cannot perceive the Sambhogakaya. For their sakes the Buddha manifests innumerable projections or emanations (nirmitas) of his forms into all inhab­ited world systems, and these are known as Nirmanakayas, or Emanation Bodies (sprul-sku). These bodies can be perceived by beings whose minds are obscured by the kleshas (passions) and by sense desires. The Sambhogakaya is like the sun in the sky and its light shines everywhere. There is only a single sun in the sky, but there are many reflected images of this single sun in the many vessels of water set upon the ground. These reflected images are the Nirmanakayas. But only when the practitioner has attained the path of vision (the Darshana-marga, the third among the five paths), have we sufficiently purified our obscurations so that we can see the Sambhogakaya and hear its teachings directly.

Ignorant sentient beings are only capable of perceiving the then the fruit or result will be different. So these manifestations, Nirmanakaya that appears in time and history. the Illusion Body and the Rainbow Body, are not at all the same.

The Tantra View

In the Tantra system, we find a different method described where it is not necessary to be reborn first in the Akanistha heaven in order to obtain a subtle body of light. This method is known as Mayadeha, the Illusion Body or, in Tibetan, Gyulu (sgyu-lus). In this case, during our lifetime here on earth, we do the practice of Dzogrim (rdzogs-rim), which is the second phase of Tantric transformation, and we create in our heart center a very refined Illusion Body by way of a union of subtle prana and mind. This Gyulu, or Illusion Body, provides a suitable base for the manifestation of the Sambhogakaya, and so it is not necessary to seek this base in any other dimension of existence. We create this Gyulu during our lifetime on earth by way of our practice, and then, at the time of our death, we transfer our Namshe, or consciousness, into it and it then becomes the vehicle for our Sambhogakaya manifestation.

There are, however, two kinds of Gyulu, one pure and the other impure. If at the time of our death, we have not attained perfect realization and purified all our subtle obscurations, both emotional and intellectual, then this subtle body born of the unification of prana and mind is known as an impure Illusion Body. In that case, we must do further purification practice in that body in order to realize perfect enlightenment. Only when we attain that state can we speak of a pure Illusion Body. The manifesting of this Gyulu has wrongly been called a Rainbow Body (`ja'-lus) or a Body of Light ('od-lus). It is neither because the manifestation of this Sambhogakaya form depends on our prior practice and realization of both Kyerim (bskyed-rim), the process of generation, and Dzogrim (rdzogs-rim), the process of perfection. [1] Where the view and the practice are different,

The Dzogchen View

From the standpoint of Dzogchen, this creating of a Gyulu through the unification of subtle prana and mind (the Tantric method) and the attaining of rebirth as a Deva in the Akanistha heaven (the Sutra method) do not represent real Buddhahood. Nor does an Arhat, the state realized through the Hinayana method, represent a real Buddha. Once the Arhat has attained this state of having cut off all his kleshas, or defilements, at their roots, he need no longer be reborn as a human being. Neverthe­less, at a more exalted level of existence, he must continue the process of purifying his stream of consciousness because he is still afflicted with various intellectual obscurations. [2]

Finding himself now at a higher level existence after his last human rebirth, the Arhat must enter into the practice of the Ma­hayana path in order to realize Buddhahood. Similarly, the Tan­tric practitioner who has realized the Gyulu does not need to take another human rebirth. But since this Gyulu is something that arises from causes, and the same is true of rebirth in Akanistha, it is therefore not permanent. If knowledge of the Dharmakaya were brought about by such antecedent causes, it also would be something that is impermanent. We cannot proceed from our conditioned existence to an unconditioned state. There is no way for this to occur.

There are two aspects or perspectives with regard to the Dharmakaya, first when it is viewed from the standpoint of the Sutra system and the Lower Tantras, and second when viewed from the standpoint of Dzogchen and some of the Higher Tantras such as the Ma Gyud. According to the Mahayana Sutra system, the cause which brings about the realization of the Dharmakaya is the accumulation of wisdom, meaning the understanding of Shunyata or emptiness. The cause which brings about the realiza­tion of the Rupakaya, which includes both the Sambhogakaya and the Nirmanakaya, is the accumulation of merit accomplished by way of the practice of the Ten Perfections for three immeasurable kalpas of time. According to the Tantra system, the cause for the realization of the Dharmakaya is also the understanding of Shun­yata but, in addition to the practice of the Ten Perfections, the cause for the Rupakaya is the practice of Kyerim and Dzogrim (visualizing oneself as the Yidam, or meditation deity, during the course of sadhana practice), thereby producing the Gyulu, or Illu­sion Body.

However, Dzogchen asserts that if Buddhahood is brought about by antecedent causes, it is not an unconditioned state. It would not be permanent. It would come to an end eventually, just as any mystical experiences brought about by meditation practice come to an end and thereafter we resume an ordinary, deluded level of consciousness. The fundamental principle here is that all conditioned things are impermanent, and this truth has been taught by all the Buddhas. However, according to the Sutra sys­tem, the accumulation of wisdom is the cause of the Dharmakaya and the accumulation of merit is the cause of the Rupakaya. Therefore, in this perspective of Sutra and Tantra, the Dhar­makaya would be something impermanent and conditioned, whereas according to Dzogchen, the Dharmakaya is uncondi­tioned and non-temporal. So, there is a logical contradiction to be found here.

How then does the practitioner realize the Dharmakaya, if the Dharmakaya is present all of the time? Here there is an ex-ample. Just as there exists the boundless infinity of space that pervades everywhere and, at the same time, there is the space found inside an earthen jar, which takes thereby a specific and particular shape, so it is with the Dharmakaya and the individual sentient being. The one is permanent and the other is imperma­nent and conditioned, temporarily confined by the clay walls of the jar. When the jar is broken, they are only one space. How-ever, would this mean that, if there is only a single Dharmakaya, like the space that pervades everything, then all Buddhas are one and the same? No. [3]

Again, according to the interpretation of the Sutra system, af­ter attaining enlightenment, the Buddha reappears in the world to teach the Dharma to sentient beings as the Nirmanakaya because of his Bodhichitta and his individual Pranidhana vow made previ­ously. Therefore, that vow is the cause for his manifesting as the Rupakaya, as well as his individual accumulation of merit. But this Rupakaya appears to us because of our needs as individual sentient beings, and not because the Buddha has any desires or aspirations. He teaches sentient beings through the vehicle of Speech, that is to say, the Sambhogakaya, the manifestation of his energy, even though it is only the Great Bodhisattvas who per­ceive that manifestation visibly and directly.

Nevertheless, his Mind remains unmoved as the Dharmakaya. According to the theory, this Dharmakaya is unconditioned; it is in no way afflicted or limited by thoughts and desires which exist in time. It is like the clear, open, unobstructed sky, whereas the Sambhogakaya is like the sun in the sky. It sheds its light every-where, impartially and indiscriminately and these rays of the sun are like the individual Nirmanakayas perceived by sentient beings. But if we are sitting in a cave on the north side of a mountain, we must then come out of that cave in order to see the face of the sun, even though its light shines everywhere outside. It is the same with the Sambhogakaya. In its essence, the Dharmakaya is empty and formless like the sky; it is unconditioned and perma­nent. But from the perspective of the Sutra system, on the side of wisdom the Dharmakaya would be impermanent because this wisdom arises from causes, the meditations that bring about the accumulation of wisdom. So, how can the real Dharmakaya arise from an accumulation of wisdom as the cause? There is a contra-diction here.

However, matters stand quite differently according to Dzog­chen. In the Dzogchen Upadesha teachings, we have the practices of Thekchod and Thodgal. Thekchod means we enter into and continue in the state of contemplation (rig-pa), which is the Natu­ral State (gnas-lugs). Thodgal means that, while in the state of contemplation, the potentiality of the Natural State (rig-pa'i rtsal) has the occasion to manifest spontaneously as vision. The me­dium for the manifesting of this potentiality is either sunlight, to­tal darkness, or the open space of the sky. [4] The ultimate cul­minating result of this prolonged Thodgal practice is the attaining of the Rainbow Body, or Jalu (`ja'-lus).

According to Dzogchen, we have attained the Sambhogakaya already because it is contained in potential in the Natural State. It is not something that is brought about historically by antecedent causes. Rather, it has been primordially present because it repre­sents the inherent potentiality or energy of the Natural State (rig-pal rtsal) itself. This method of Thodgal is only found in Dzog­chen and not in the other vehicles. Here the Sambhogakaya is not caused by something else other than itself, such as a vow or even Dzogrim practice. It is a spontaneously self-perfected manifesta­tion (lhun-grub). But in terms of our experience, it is a visible thing and like all visible things it is changeable and impermanent. Therefore, a Rupakaya manifestation is always impermanent, as well as being individual. For us, it does not just sit on a throne in the sky throughout eternity, unchanging century after century.

Indeed, Thodgal does possess a method for dissolving the impure physical body, at the time of death or even before, and then this allows the Rainbow Body of Light to come into manifes­tation. But this is not a process of transforming an impure physi­cal body into a pure Sambhogakaya. The method proper to Dzog­chen is not the path of transformation, as is the case with the Tantras, but the path of self-liberation. Therefore, the procedure in Tantra and in Thodgal is quite different. To effect a transfor­mation in vision and in energy, Tantra employs visualization in terms of Kyerim and Dzogrim practice. [5] We visualize ourselves in a Sambhogakaya form, whether this Yidam be a peaceful or a wrathful manifestation.

But in Dzogchen there is nothing to be visualized and nothing to be transformed. The visions which arise during the course of Thodgal are not visualizations. Visualization represents the work of the mind; visualizations are created by the mind. But Dzogchen is a state beyond the mind. So these visions which arise in Thod­gal are not created by the mind or by unconscious karma. They are a manifestation of what is already primordially present in the Natural State. The vision is not something created by causes, but it is Lhundrub (lhun-grub), or spontaneously perfected. Since the Sambhogakaya is already fully inherent in the Natural State, it simply manifests. Dzogchen alone discloses our real nature; Dzogchen has already discovered this inherent Buddhahood, our real nature, and so it can manifest the Sambhogakaya effortlessly.

At the culmination of the Thodgal process, at the stage of vi­sion called the exhausting of everything into Reality (bon-nyid zad-pa), all of the visions that the practitioner experiences, whether pure or impure, come to dissolve into the Natural State. This includes our physical body, which itself is the result of past karmic causes and represents our impure karmic vision. For the practitioner, everything dissolves. This sets the stage for the spon­taneous manifestation of the Sambhogakaya which has been pre-sent in potential in the Natural State from the very beginning. Since it is already there, no primary cause for its manifestation is needed. The secondary causes for its manifestation, however, are the purifications of obscurations along the path. This is like wind removing clouds from the sky, so that the face of the sun becomes visible, or like opening the doors to the temple, so that the image of the Buddha can clearly be seen. [6]

If we examine the notion of Buddhahood from the logical standpoint, we find that the Nirmanakaya and the Sambhogakaya are impermanent, whereas the Dharmakaya alone is permanent.

But when we further examine the Dharmakaya, we discover that there are two sides to it. On the side of Shunyata or emptiness, it is permanent, but on the side of wisdom, it is impermanent. The Kunzhi, the basis of everything, is permanent because it is empti­ness itself, but Rigpa is impermanent because it is not always manifest. Nevertheless, these two, Kunzhi and Rigpa, are always inseparable (dbyer-med) in the Natural State. On the side of emp­tiness (stong-cha), there is permanence, but on the side of clarity (gsal-cha) or awareness (rig-cha), there is impermanence. So, the manifestation side is impermanent, even when it represents pure vision. It is changing all of the time, whereas the emptiness side is constant and permanent. We can logically distinguish these things when we speak about the Natural State, but the Natural State is a totality and a perfect unity. Within it, emptiness and clarity are inseparable and never otherwise. This inseparability, or Yermed (dbyer-med), is the essence of Dzogchen. To fall either on the side of emptiness or on the side of manifestation is to deviate from the Dzogchen view and to fall into partiality and extreme views.

To realize the Rainbow Body means that we have practiced Thodgal and not some other method. The visions that arise are not specifically created, but appear spontaneously (lhun-grub) in the presence of secondary causes such as sunlight, total darkness, and the clear, open sky. They arise spontaneously from the Natu­ral State; no Kyerim or Dzogrim practices must be accomplished first as preparation. All that is required is the capacity to remain with stability in the Natural State. This is called stable Thekchod. Then the Thodgal visions come automatically, whether in sun-light or total darkness or in the empty sky. Gradually all the pure visions of the deities arise, and these visions develop by way of four stages (snang-ba bzhi) until completion. Then they all dis­solve into the Natural State. Our personal reality of pure and im­pure vision (snang-ba) dissolves into Reality (bon-nyid) which is the Natural State.

At the same time that our visions dissolve, our physical body also dissolves because it is just one manifestation of our impure karmic vision, the product of our past karmic heritage. Our nor­mal everyday impure vision has the same source as the Thodgal pure vision, and now both equally dissolve into their source, the Natural State. There is a single primordial Base, the Natural State, but there are two Paths, impure karmic vision and pure vision, and two Fruits or results, Samsara and Nirvana. Having returned to the ultimate source, then the potentiality of the Natural State manifests as a Rainbow Body, the real Rupakaya.

Thereafter, this Jalu, or Rainbow Body, can appear in a mate­rial sense to sentient beings in order to teach them. The Rainbow Body is not something material as such, but appears to be so since it can act on all of the senses of a sentient being simultaneously. The Sambhogakaya can be perceived only by the Aryas, the Bo­dhisattvas who have ascended the third, fourth, or fifth paths. [7] They can hear the actual teachings of the Sambhogakaya, whereas ordinary beings cannot see or hear this manifestation. Thus, it is the Nirmanakaya that ordinary beings can hear and perceive. To human beings this Nirmanakaya appears as human. In' other worlds and with other species of beings, the situation will be dif­ferent. But the Rainbow Body, as the potentiality of the Natural State, is not limited to any particular form. It can appear in a myriad different forms. Since the Natural State has been with us from the very beginning, we have done nothing more than redis­cover it, continue in it, and allow its potentiality to manifest. That is Buddhahood.

CHAPTER 3: Four Essential Points for Understanding Dzogchen

Talk by Lopon Tenzin Namdak,
New York City, October 1991.
Transcribed and edited by John Myrdhin Reynolds.

The short text we have before us here is from the Nam-mkha' 'phrul mdzod collection. [1] Here there are four essential points for understanding the nature of Dzogchen. First, Dzogchen does not contradict the Two Truths. Second, in Dzogchen there is no grasping at the view that a self exists. Third, the Dzogchenpa's conduct is not just going around doing whatever one wants at the moment. And fourth, there is no special apprehension of any-thing. [2]

As for the first point, according to the Sutras, it is well known that the Buddha taught the Two Truths: the Relative Truth and the Absolute Truth. They are without question the Buddha's teachings, and so when we understand Dzogchen, it is important not to speak against these Two Truths. However, Dzogchen, which represents the highest teaching of the Buddha, teaches that causality, that is to say, karmic causes and their consequences, is not the highest truth. In the Bonpo tradition, we find two methods for proceeding along the path. First, according to the highest way (Dzogchen) among the Nine Ways, the Nature of Mind is empty. Therefore, its essence has nothing to do with causality; it is in no way changed or modified by karmic causes and their consequences. It totally transcends them; it is beyond cause and effect, and so we say that it is primordially pure (ka­dag). A practitioner who has actually attained Buddhahood, re­maining continuously in the Natural State, has nothing to realize as a cause for anything else. He does not expect any virtuous qualities to arise as the consequence of virtuous actions, nor does he fear any bad consequences of wrong actions. This is because the Natural State is beyond all karmic causality and its effects. That is why Dzogchen does not speak about karmic causes when referring to the Natural State. But otherwise, if the practitioner is not actually in the Natural State and this is one's usual ordinary Samsaric existence, then everything proceeds according to karmic causes. The actions we do will have their inevitable consequences, like the shadow following a body.

Second, there is the way of proceeding according to the eight other ways among the Nine Ways of Bon (theg-pa rim dgu) that are not Dzogchen in terms of their view and practice. Here matters are mostly understood in terms of Relative Truth and, therefore, we speak about karmic causes rather extensively. All results, whether good or bad, arise from causes. In the same way, the visions that arise in such practices as Thodgal and dark retreat belong to the sphere of Relative Truth (snang-lugs kun-rdzob bden-pa). But the contradiction is only apparent here. From the standpoint of the Natural State, we speak in terms of the Absolute Truth. Everything is empty and lacks any inherent existence. Dzogchen asserts that the Natural State is beyond causality, that it does not rely on any karmic causes. But it does assert that the system of appearances (snang-lugs) depends on causes. This is especially the case with our impure karmic vision, and one instance of such impure vision is our human karmic vision, our existence as a human being as we know it. Karmic vision is brought about by causes and all of us perceive this world as human karmic vision because we all possess the cause for that karmic vision. It is impure because it is caused by ignorance and the passions or emotional defilements.

Here we are speaking of two kinds of practitioner, ordinary persons and realized beings or adepts. We should remember that the content of the teachings, when expressed in words, depends on who is the audience listening to the teachings. The fun­damental Dzogchen precepts were mainly revealed directly by the Primordial Buddha, the Dharmakaya Kuntu Zangpo (bon-sku kun to bzang-po), and the Dharmakaya always spoke the Truth and never otherwise. [3] The Dharmakaya spoke from the standpoint of the Natural State. For this reason, Dzogchen does not accept as its ultimate view the Two Truths. It accepts only a single Truth or Source, called the Unique Essence (thig-le nyag-gcig). [4] This is the Natural State in which appearances and emptiness are inseparable. However, our ordinary vision or impure karmic vision arises from causes and Dzogchen agrees with that. None­theless, if we understand Dzogchen, then we do not find any inherent contradiction here. These Truths, the Two Truths and the Unique Essence, have different meanings. This is the first point.

As for the, second point, Dzogchen does not grasp at or apprehend a view that a permanent self exists (bdag gi lta-ba). [5] In normal life, we are always thinking of ourselves. All of our thinking is tied up with this notion of a self as something real and abiding, and all of our emotional reactions are predicated on this self. The name for this process of constantly creating a self, whereas in reality there is none there, is grasping at a self (bdag 'dzin), or self-centeredness. Up until now this unconscious process has led us to accumulate negative karmic causes through-out countless lifetimes. This Dagdzin, or grasping at a self, represents ignorance, here meaning a lack of real knowledge and awareness (ma rig-pa). This ignorance has no absolute beginning in time; it has always been with us in each lifetime as an integral part of the habit of our existence. When we see something, immediately we accept or reject it. We judge the perceived object to be good or had, and we have a corresponding emotional reaction of attachment or aversion. But if we do not have any grasping ('dzin-pa) at the object (that is, the mental process of apprehending and judging a perception), then we will not develop attachment to it.

For this reason, we must look back into ourselves and seek to find this so-called self (bdag). How do we think? We think that our perception exists externally to us and that it is objective and real. It is really there and so we grasp at it. But if we search into this, what is it that we grasp? Where is the grasper? It is like opening a series of Chinese boxes. Eventually we find that there is nothing there to grasp. Look at how we do this grasping or Dzinpa. For example, we have a headache, and so we think, "Oh, I have a headache!" Certainly there is the experience of a headache, yet this headache is not us. Nor is the head us. And yet we grasp and think, "I am sick!" But look more closely at this. There is no "I" existing here, only the experience of pain. It is the same with the other parts of the body. We can examine all of these parts, but where do we find any "I"? This identification process whereby we predicate an "I" to all of our experiences is what we meant by Dagdzin or grasping at a self. Yes, there are all of these parts belonging to our body, but when we pull them all apart, even down to the last cell, where do we find any "I"?

Then we conclude that, even though the self (bdag) is not the physical body, it must be our mind or consciousness. But we can proceed here with the mind in the same way as we did with the physical body, searching for a self or "I." We will not find any self. For example, there is eye consciousness. If that were not present, we would not see anything at all, even though the eye organ is present there and functional. A corpse may have its eye organs intact, but it does not see anything because there is no consciousness present. But is this eye consciousness the "I" or not? We can proceed to investigate in the same way all of the other sense consciousnesses in the current of our daily experience.

We have searched outside, through our perceptions and through the parts of our body and have found no "self" there. Now we search inside through our sense consciousnesses and find that there exists no "self" here either. But what of our mind? Is this the self or "I"? If we examine the mind, we discover that it is not a single unified entity or substance, rather, it is a process occurring in time, a succession of states of consciousness having varied mental contents. It is like a stream or a river that changes from moment to moment. It is never the same. Where in these states of consciousness and contents of consciousness do we find a self or "I"? We have searched outside and inside exhaustively and what do we find? Where is this "self" of which we speak so freely? All the things we see and experience are not this so-called "self." They are not us, and yet we grasp at them as if they were ourselves. [6]

Without there being any certain solid objective reality out there in space, still we grasp at perceptions of the world as if they are real. Perceived objects do not exist inherently, but we do perceive them as if they exist objectively. This is Relative Truth. External appearances do exist in terms of Relative Truth, but this is not the real truth. It is ignorance. This ignorance has existed from the very beginning until now and it is the source of our circulating in Samsara. We may think: "My conscious self grasps at an object, but there is no object there." But this is an illusion also. We habitually believe that external objects have an inherent existence, but this is not so. Nothing exists inherently. Otherwise, there would be no possibility of change in the world. Everything would be locked into its essence or inherent nature. But change is our experience all of the time.

Nevertheless, even though there is no inherent existence to phenomena our grasping at them persists. This consciousness which grasps is not reliable and leads us into error. There are perceptions; we see many beautiful and ugly things. We judge them as such and feel attachment or aversion towards them. But there is no real object out there that is beautiful or ugly because these judgments are created by our minds. And yet we grasp at these objects. In the dim light, we mistakenly perceive a pillar as our enemy and we hit it with our fist. This enemy did not exist independently; it was created by our minds. If we go into a totally dark room for a time, our imagination may create many strange effects which we see. They may look very real, but if we chase them, we hit our head against the wall because they are illusions. So there is no point in having desires for these phantoms and illusions which are as unreal as dreams. If we understand this point, our desires and our aversions will decrease.

Even though we cannot find anywhere an inherent existence to phenomena, still we cannot say that we do not exist because we are doing this grasping. We exist because we are engaged in this activity, the process of Dzinpa, or grasping at perceptions. But if we search on the inside for some inherent existence, we do not find anything either. However, this does not mean that we do not exist. For example, take the individual sitting here named "George." We can say that he is my son, or my friend, or my father, or my enemy, or whatever. Everyone in the room here has a different idea of who George really is, depending on our relationship to him. But who is the real George? If George is my son, he cannot be my father. Even if he is my son, "son" is not his real essence to the exclusion of anything else. To his own son, he is "my father." So George is created by our perception and our consciousness, and by our definition of him in relation to us. That determines what he is; it defines him. So on the object side, George has no inherent existence, but this does not mean that he is not sitting here right in front of us all. On the subject side, everything exists because we are conscious and are having perceptions. But on the object side, nothing exists as a solid, unchanging reality. Therefore, there is no point in feeling attach­ment or aversion towards these appearances. To understand this is the real Dharma.

It is not easy to stop the accumulating of negative actions without a strong antidote. But through practice, the antidote can become quite strong and in this way we can mitigate the influence of the passions. These negative emotions will become weaker and grow less because of our practice of meditation. Then we will do less harm to others and we will accumulate virtues. Just reciting mantras or circumambulating a stupa is not enough. It is bringing about a change in our consciousness that is most important.

The third point here means that we, as Dzogchen practitioners, do not go about acting on our momentary impulses, doing whatever we might feel like at that moment. At this present time, we have this human existence and this human body, and that is something not easy to get because it requires the accumu­lation of a great deal of meritorious karma over countless life-times. Even if we get a human existence, we may still encounter many difficult conditions, such as being born deaf and dumb, or being born in a country where there is no Dharma. So we need, not only a human rebirth, but the opportunity to come into contact with the teachings and the capacity to understand the teachings and practice them. We have to examine how we live our lives. Because life is impermanent, we should not postpone the Dharma until next month or next year, and we should not waste our capacities of body, speech and mind. We waste our opportunity in this life by not doing any virtuous actions. Thinking bad of others and speaking ill of them is wasting our minds and our speech. It is just stupid to waste our opportunities when we can use our body, speech and mind to practice, to grow and to develop. And so, in terms of Dzogchen, we must use every opportunity to do meditation practice in order to familiarize ourselves with the Natural State. No excuses! No saying that we have no time or that we are too busy. But what, and for how long, we practice depends on our capacity and our circumstances.

Very well and good. We are practicing Dzogchen. But the third point means that we cannot simply go about like a libertine, doing whatever we like and saying that there is no sin or consequence to our actions. Even though Dzogchen asserts that the Natural State is beyond cause and effect, and that karmic causality does not modify it in any way, this applies only to us, as practitioners of Dzogchen, when we are actually in the Natural State. Otherwise, our consciousness and our lives are totally under the rule of karma. Most of the time during the day we are not in the Natural State, and so karma applies very much to our normal daily thoughts and actions. We are living in the relative condition, save only when we actually find ourselves in the Natural State. So, to say we can do whatever we like is not the correct view of Dzogchen. These momentary desires and impulses we experience are conditioned things created by our unconscious karmic traces. To follow after them is not freedom, no matter how much we speak about Dzogchen. Only for the Natural State are there no rules or limitations, and only in the Natural State is there found total freedom.

As for the fourth point, in Dzogchen there is nothing special to be grasped or apprehended. In terms of our ordinary common vision and our daily life, we can say that everything is an illusion and created by our consciousness. If we really understand this, then there is no point in grasping strongly at anything, for example, as enemy or friend. We are not attached too much to anything; we do not grasp at wealth or possessions. Nothing is special. We come to understand that in terms of reality, every-thing is equal. All things are equally empty and all things are equally an illusion. If we understand that all things are in fact illusions, then there is no point in having negative emotions with regard to them. All of life is like a dream. We see it, yes, but in the end it dissolves and leaves no trace. But we, the Natural State, remain.

And so these are four essential points to remember according to the master Dranpa Namkha.

CHAPTER 4:The View of Shunyata found Madhyamaka, Chittamatra and Dzogchen

According to Lopon Tenzin Namdak,
Bischofshofen, Vienna, Devon, Amsterdam,
March, April, May, June 1991.
Compiled and edited by John Myrdhin Reynolds.

The View of the Sutra System

Nowadays many Lamas say that the views and the results of the practice of Madhyamaka, Mahamudra and Dzogchen are all the same. [1] But this is not true. Why is that? Whenever we have a spiritual path, we can speak about it in terms of the Base, the Path, and the Fruit. When comparing two systems of practice, if their views of the Base are different, then their practice of the Path will be different, and therefore the results or the Fruit will be different. And so we must begin by making an examination of the views of these different systems.

Both the Buddhist and the Bonpo teachings are divided into Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen. Each of these three systems has a different Base, a different Path, and thus they lead to a different Fruit or result. The method proper to the Sutra system is the path of renunciation (spong lam), the method proper to the Tantra system is the path of transformation (sgyur lam), and the method proper to Dzogchen is the path of self-liberation (grol lam). Madhyamaka belongs to the Sutra system, Mahamudra belongs to the Tantra system, and Dzogchen is just Dzogchen; it is neither Sutra nor Tantra. And so these systems are very different in their views of the Base. Since their views are not all the same, their practices do not all lead to the same result. That is only logical. [2]

Within the Sutra system, we have Hinayana and Mahayana. Hinayana has two subdivisions: the way of the Sravakas or Disciples (nyan-thos-pa) and the way of the Pratyekabuddhas (rang-rgyal-ba). These two types of practitioner think only of release for themselves from the suffering of Samsara. They are not concerned with the fate of others. They recognize the absence of any unchanging permanent self in individual persons (gang-zag gi bdag-med), but they think that dharmas or phenomena, the momentary physical and mental events . that comprise our experiences as a stream of consciousness, are real. This is their view. But for Mahayana, on the contrary, compassion is fun­damental. Here practitioners think not only of their own liberation from the suffering experienced in Samsara, but equally of the liberation of all sentient beings from Samsara. They recognize that there is no permanent and abiding self in individuals, just as Hinayana practitioners do but, equally, they recognize that these momentary events or dharmas are imper­manent, unreal and insubstantial (chos kyi bdag-med). This is the view of Mahayana, and it is what we call Shunyata or emptiness.

The View of Madhyamaka

Within Mahayana, both in Buddhism and in Bon, we find two different systems of philosophy. The first is Madhyamaka, called Umapa (dbu-ma-pa) in Tibetan, meaning "the middle way" school. The second is Yogachara or Chittamatra, Semtsampa (sems-tsam-pa) in Tibetan, meaning "the mind-only" school. Although not as well known, the Bonpo tradition also possesses its Prajnaparamita Sutras, and the philosophical view and method expounded in these Sutras is known as Madhyamaka.

According to Tibetans generally, Madhyamaka represents the highest philosophy and Shunyata is the highest view found in Madhyamaka. Coming to an understanding of Shunyata, of the emptiness of all phenomena, their lack of any inherent existence, is the final goal. This is where the Sutra system takes us. This is also true of the Bonpos. Although the Bonpo tradition does not possess any independent Yogachara texts, such as those translated from Sanskrit in the Buddhist tradition, the Yogachara view, called Chittamatra, is well known and also its refutation by the Madhyamaka view is equally well known.

However, the Bonpo tradition does not regard the Madhya­maka view as the highest of all views. According to the view of Madhyamaka, even in the state of enlightenment there is some-thing present there that is apprehended or grasped ('dzin-pa) by the intellect, and this situation, therefore, inherently involves duality. But there is a view which lies beyond the intellect and beyond all dualities. This is the view of Dzogchen, and so in the Bonpo system, it is Dzogchen and not Madhyamaka that is re­garded as the highest teaching.

This does not mean that both Madhyamaka and. Tantra were not taught by the Buddhas and are not perfect in themselves. They were taught by the Buddhas to certain students for specific reasons, to each according to his intellectual capacity and level of development. So within their specific context, each of these systems is complete and perfect in itself. It all depends upon the capacity of the student, and so we should not go around finding fault with other systems simply because we do not practice them. Moreover, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the fundamental views of each of these systems. If we do not have a clear understanding of the view right from the very beginning then, no matter how much meditation practice we may do, our practice will be wrong.

In the Mahayana system generally, in both the Madhyamika school and Yogachara school, we speak of the Two Truths: the Absolute Truth (dam-don bden-pa) and the Relative Truth (kun­rdzob bden-pa). Indeed, in the Sutra system and in the Tantra system also, we recognize these Two Truths as being the causes for realizing the Dharmakaya and Rupakaya respectively. The Dharmakaya, as the Ultimate Reality, has no form; it is empty. But in order to realize a fruit or result, we must first have a cause. And so, in order to realize the result which is the Dharmakaya, we must have the cause which is the understanding of the Absolute Truth, and the Absolute Truth means fully under-standing Shunyata or emptiness. The Relative Truth is the cause for realizing the Rupakaya. Linking these respective causes and effects are the two accumulations. The accumulation of wisdom means the understanding of the emptiness and insubstantiality of all phenomena, internal as well as external, and the accumulation of merit means the practice of the Ten Perfections.

Sometimes six perfections are listed, but the Bonpo Sutra system speaks of Ten Perfections, namely, generosity (sbyin-pa), morality (tshul-khrims), patience (bzod-pa), vigor (btson-'grus), meditation (bsam-gtan), strength (stobs), compassion (snying-rje), aspiration (smon-lam), dedication (bsngo-ba) and wisdom (shes­rab).

Thus, according to the Sutra system, we have two bases or causes, two paths or methods, and two results:

  1. the cause is the Absolute Truth, the method is the accumu­lation of wisdom, and the fruit or result is the Dharmakaya and
  2. the cause is the Relative Truth, the method is the accumu­lation of merit, and the fruit or result is the Rupakaya.

Therefore, these Two Truths are necessary, just as two wings are necessary for a bird to fly. Where we practice according to Absolute Truth, we find that all things are empty or lack any inherent existence, and where we practice according to Relative Truth we find that virtuous causes lead to good results. But we must practice them equally, for otherwise, we will not realize Buddhahood. This is because Buddhahood means both the Dharmakaya and the Rupakaya. The Rupakaya, or Form Body (gzugs sku), has two distinct manifestations: the Sambhogakaya and the Nirmanakaya. So we must complete and perfect the two accumulations in order to realize them.

The preparation for realizing the Dharmakaya is the practice of prajna, or discriminating wisdom (shes-rab). This discrimi­nating wisdom entails a kind of philosophical analysis of all of our experiences, where we discover that, at bottom, they are empty, that they lack any substance or inherent existence. The essence of the Dharmakaya is just this emptiness or Shunyata. We practice the other perfections in order to realize the Sambhoga­kaya and the Nirmanakaya. These three aspects of Buddhahood are known as the Trikaya or the Three Bodies of the Buddha (sku gsum). Hinayana practitioners do not recognize the existence of this Trikaya. They only recognize the visible historical Buddha Shakyamuni, who disappeared long ago and is no more. How-ever, they do recognize the existence of the Arhats or perfect saints who have eliminated all their kleshas (passions or negative emotions) and who, therefore, will be born no more in the lower realms of Samsara.

The principal view of Madhyamaka is Shunyavada, the view of emptiness. Madhyamaka asserts that all phenomena (all dharmas or momentary physical and mental events) lack any inherent existence. That is the meaning of Shunyata. If something existed independently, it would have its own inherent existence and nothing else could affect or change it. No karmic cause could give rise to it, because its inherent existence would be immutable and unchanging. If everything had an inherent existence, nothing could change into anything else, and all causality would be impossible. All change would be impossible because a thing would simply be its inherent nature, or essence, and not something else.

It would be locked into this nature and could not change into something else. But our experience tells us that things are changing all the time, and so everything must lack any inherent existence. All phenomena are empty. Thus we experience phe­nomena as impermanent and insubstantial. It is only our thinking that phenomena are somehow solid and permanent and real that is wrong-headed. We use the process of philosophical analysis or Prajna (shes-rab) as the method to correct this wrong way of looking at things.

For example, if we take a flower and pull off its petals, where do we find the flower? Wherein lies the essence or the inherent nature of this flower? Pulling off all of the petals, we find that there is nothing of the flower left behind. We search for the flower and we find nothing, only a pile of petals on the ground. But where is the flower? Each petal that we have pulled off is not the flower. All of the petals belong to the flower, but the "flower" in itself is nothing, only the sum of its parts. It has no inde­pendent existence, therefore, it is empty. So from the standpoint of the Absolute Truth, we say that it is empty. And "flower" is only a name and a concept imputed to a phenomenon, not something ultimately real. That which we name and concep­tualize is called Relative Truth. We exhaustively analyze the phenomenon and ultimately we discover that there is nothing real there. There is no essence or inherent existence as "flower." There is only a name and a concept in our mind. This is at the level of Absolute Truth. But, of course, in the relative terms of everyday life, the flower does exist because we buy it, we smell its scent, and so on. This is at the level of Relative Truth. So we see and deal with everything from these two different perspectives, the absolute and the relative.

Everything in our world is known by way of our thoughts and we come to this knowledge through the applying of names. It is this process that gives rise to karmic causes. According to Madhyamaka, Shunyata means "no inherent existence." The example is the flower and its petals given previously. The concept "flower" is created by our minds. In this concept, the three times are joined in our mind; we have memories of flowers in the past and we anticipate seeing flowers in the future. But these objects do not have any inherent existence. We only find a collection or aggregate of parts; a pile of petals, but no flower. It is the same when we examine our body or our mind. We find an aggregate of parts, the skandhas, but we do not find any owner. There is no self or substance. If there is a person and he is our enemy, his nature as "enemy" would be unchanging. We would see him as an enemy, we could not see him as a friend. But this is not the case. Everything is created by thought and nothing exists inherently. By our becoming aware of this, the power held over us by karmic traces becomes less. Only the names exist, but they do not exist as real independent objects. Yet we become more and more involved with these fictitious objects and attached to them, and so we continue to revolve in Samsara.

Madhyamaka teaches that there is no inherent existence (rang-bzhin med), that things only exist interdependently (rten 'brel) and that, in fact, is the meaning of Shunyata. But without the mind, without thoughts, we cannot understand this Shunyata, this insubstantiality and interdependence of all phenomena. In understanding our experience, it is always necessary to grasp ('dzin-pa) and examine and judge thoughts and things with the mind. It is through the operation of the mind, in particular through the operation of this higher intellectual function called Prajna (shes-rab), or discriminating wisdom, that we come to understand the emptiness of all phenomena, external and internal. All phenomena have these two aspects of Absolute Truth and Relative Truth. They always occur together. Visible things represent Relative Truth; they appear to be real and solid, they appear to be really out there, but when we examine and analyze them, pulling them apart to find their actual essence, we find that they have no inherent nature. On the one hand, everything is without any inherent existence but, on the other hand, everything has a cause. Without a cause, a phenomenon does not exist. This is because it is dependent on other antecedent events, although in itself it does not have any inherent existence or nature. The appearance of phenomena depends on names and causes; this is the meaning of Relative Truth.

According to Madhyamaka, and the Sutra system generally, the understanding of Shunyata is the highest understanding. But this Shunyata is not a matter of being empty like a vase with nothing inside it. Rather, it is the culmination of a process where-by we examine a phenomenon in order to see whether it exists inherently or not. If we find that this phenomenon is not empty, if we examine it and discover that it has a precise inherent nature, then that cannot change. That nature is just what it is and not something else. It remains just what it is and cannot change into something else. This inherent existence of the phenomenon is fixed and immutable. Therefore, that phenomenon cannot change into anything else. So the method in Madhyamaka is to make this rather exhaustive philosophical analysis of objects to discover whether or not they have an inherent existence. Only by doing this habitually and for sufficient time, do we become convinced that all phenomena lack inherent existence.

The inherent existence of a phenomenon, as its immutable essence, is something that does not exist in fact. It cannot be found in a phenomenon, even in a single case. Rather, in each case there are these Two Truths. In the example of the flower, the flower is the Relative Truth and its emptiness is the Absolute Truth. According to Madhyamaka, this lack of any inherent nature (rang-bzhin med-pa) signifies emptiness (stong-pa nyid). In this sense, all phenomena are empty. Shunyata does not mean that there is nothing at all, rather, it means that all phenomena are contingent and interdependent. That is what makes all change and evolution and transformation from one thing into another possible. Otherwise the world would be static and dead, devoid of all change and growth.

Take the example of a table. We see the table and we know what it is. We say that it is really out there. But if we analyze it into its parts, where is the table? Whatever we can point to with our finger, that is not the table itself. In the same way, my head is not me. "My" and "me" are different. If we subtract every "my" where is the "me"? We may say and think: "I am here and it is there!" We are always thinking that somewhere in the world there is something solid and real. Everyone has this thinker or thought process but, according to Madhyamaka, that thought process represents ignorance. It is thinking in a substantialist way. We are habituated to this practice and trust it implicitly. We depend on this way of thinking and we are actually unaware that we are doing it. But there is no reality at all behind this process. It is all a complete fabrication made by our mind. We just assume that everything out there is solid and real. We implicitly trust this way of thinking.

But why is it deluded? We may grasp at something out there. We may think it is real and solid, but when we examine it, what do we find? In the same way, when we examine ourselves, each, piece we find is "my," such as "my thought," "my idea," "my feeling," "my perception" and so on, but where do we find "me"? Our conventional way of thinking is lying to us; it falsifies reality. When we look into something, whether an external object or ourselves, we find that there is nothing solid and substantial left behind which we can grasp and hold on to. This is Shunyata and Shunyata is the Absolute Truth for us. We search for ourselves and we do not find anyone. But still we cannot say that I do not exist and this table does not exist. They both exist in a relative sense, but when we search for their essence, we do not find anything. All that is left behind is a name. For example, if we have a headache, the "head" is not us and the "ache" is not us, yet we say that we have a headache. The pain is there as experience, but where is the "I"?

Our thinking becomes the prisoner of our language. Relative Truth is this process of labeling or giving names to things as if they were concrete independent realities, separate things or entities independent of ourselves and our knowing them. When we utter the name "head", what exists here is only a name and a conception, and that is Relative Truth. All of this develops on the side of names, like karmic causes, but there is nothing real or substantial here. Karmic causality exists only on the relative side; it is not the Absolute Truth. According to the Madhyamaka view, nothing solid or substantial exists anywhere, and so everything is empty. Everything is Shunyata and that is the Absolute Truth.

Madhyamaka and Dzogchen on the Two Truths

Both Madhyamaka and Chittamatra recognize the Two Truths, although their understanding of the meaning of the Two Truths is different. Madhyamaka only recognizes the ultimate truth of Shunyata. Moreover, according to Madhyamaka, every-thing is related to the Two Truths because subject and object have no inherent existence, they are only "names" created by thoughts. Nothing exists here independently; everything in our experience is involved with the Two Truths and there is nothing beyond them.

Nowadays, in general, all the Tibetan schools, including the Gelugpas, assert that the Prasangika-Madhyamaka view of Shun­yata, as expounded by Chandrakirti in his Madhyamakavatara (dBu-ma la 'jug-pa), is the highest of all possible views, and that there can be no view beyond it. They say that this was asserted by Je Tsongkhapa himself. Therefore, Shunyata is the final and ultimate view. There is nothing beyond this. So how can Dzogchen do any better than this? Many followers of Madhyamaka criticize Dzogchen, asserting that it denies the Two Truths. Again, certain followers of Madhyamaka belonging to various Tibetan schools, who are scholars learned in the Sutras and the Shastras, have asserted that Dzogchen is not even real Buddhism, that it is some sort of Chinese Dharma like Ch'an, or that it comes from Advaita Vedanta or Kashmiri Shaivism in Hinduism. So how is it possible, they ask, to go beyond the view of Madhyamaka to something called Dzogchen? Why is Dzogchen then said to be the highest truth?

According to the two old schools of the Nyingmapas and the Bonpos, Dzogchen does indeed go beyond the view of Madhya­maka. "Highest" depends on our understanding. It is only the "highest truth" if we thoroughly understand the real meaning of the view. Otherwise, "highest" is just a word we say, but it has no meaning. A teaching becomes the highest because of our understanding of it. According to the Madhyamaka system, Shunyata means that all phenomena are empty (stong-pa) and that everything lacks an inherent existence (rang-bzhin med-pa), for otherwise no change would be possible. But this is not the final view of Dzogchen because the former is considered an incomplete view. It only gives half the picture. Madhyamaka speaks of the emptiness side of things (stong-cha), and does so correctly, but it does not speak of the clarity side (gsal-cha) or the awareness side (rig-cha).

According to Madhyamaka, there are two sources: the Absolute Truth and the Relative Truth. In terms of this first source, the Base is the Absolute Truth, the Path is the accumu­lation of wisdom through the understanding of the emptiness of all phenomena, and the Fruit is the realization of the Dharma­kaya. And in terms of this second source, the Base is the Relative Truth, the Path is the accumulation of merit through the practice of the Ten Perfections, and the Fruit is the realization of the Rupakaya. Thus we have two Bases, two Paths, and two Fruits. Both of these methods of practice are necessary, as we have said, for the attaining of enlightenment, just as a bird needs two wings in order to fly. This is how Madhyamaka explains matters.

But Dzogchen does not recognize these Two Truths as being two sources; it recognizes only one source and One Truth, namely, the Thigley Nyagchik (thig-le nyag-gcig), the Unique Essence. There is only one Base, and not two. In a higher sense, the Two Truths are not necessary because the Base is unitary. Yet some great masters in their commentaries to the Madhyama­kavatara of Chandrakirti criticize Dzogchen for not having these Two Truths. Dzogchen maintains that the final view is that there is only one nature. It does not claim that karmic causes and consequences are the ultimate reality. Dzogchen replies that if we recognize Two Truths, then we must have two minds in order to know them. Therefore, some scholars of the New Tantra tra­dition speak of an intelligence which knows Shunyata (stong-nyid rtogs-pa'i shes-rab) and a separate intelligence which imputes names (ming btags-pa'i shes-rab). Both of these are called intel­ligence (shes-rab), but they are two distinct types of intelligence and know different things. But in Dzogchen there is only this single Unique Essence (thig-le nyag-gcig), and not two minds. And according to Dzogchen, we only come to realize the Trikaya where we practice and realize inseparability (dbyer-med).

According to the Madhyamaka view, we can remain in total awareness of Shunyata by means of the state of contemplation or equipoise (mnyan-bzhag), but when we are in that state we cannot engage in any thoughts or actions of generosity and the other perfections and virtues. And so we must practice the two, the accumulation of wisdom and the accumulation of merit, alternately and separately. However, the Natural State in the view of Dzogchen is not only emptiness, it is equally spontaneous manifestation (lhun-grub). If we practice only on the side of emptiness (stong-cha), we will not realize the totality of Buddhahood.

Madhyamaka, Chittamatra and Tantra all recognize these Two Truths. Madhyamika asks how can we realize Buddhahood unless we have these Two Truths as the base, enabling us to practice the two accumulations? And we need these as the causes for realizing the Dharmakaya and the Rupakaya. Without such causes, we cannot realize Buddhahood. Dzogchen agrees that without causes as contributing factors we cannot attain Buddha-hood. But if we are given a large piece of gold, we do not need to search for its qualities; they already inhere in it. If we just practice the Natural State, we will spontaneously realize the Dharmakaya and the Rupakaya because all the virtues of the Buddha already exist in the Natural State and, when the secondary causes are present, these virtues will spontaneously manifest. So here is the real contradiction between Madhyamaka and Dzogchen. [3]

According to Madhyamaka, the Buddha-nature at the core of every sentient being, also known as the Tathagatagarbha, is the conventional meaning (drang-don). It is provisional, whereas Shunyata is the real and ultimate meaning (nges-don). But according to the Nyingmapa master Longchenpa in his Tshig-don mdzod, it is said that the Buddha Shakyamuni himself taught Dzogchen in the Prajnaparamita Sutras. [4] This inherent Buddha-nature or Tathagatagarbha, when it is properly understood, is actually the Natural State referred to by Dzogchen. So here Longchenpa interprets Dzogchen as Prajnaparamita. Once we have discovered the real nature, the Natural State, we do not need to search for anything else.

If it is said that Dzogchen does not recognize the Two Truths, can we also say that it does not recognize the Ten Paramitas? And if this is so, how can there be any practice in terms of Dzogchen? If we do not practice, how can there be any accumulations of wisdom and merit and how can we then attain Buddhahood? But in Dzogchen it is never said that we should not practice the Ten Paramitas. It is simply said that the Natural State spontaneously contains these Ten Paramitas, so we do not need to practice them individually or separately. All the virtues of the Buddha sponta­neously exist already within the Natural State. So, it is only necessary for Dzogchen to explain this single Natural State and that is enough.

The ordinary Sutra practitioner, on the other hand, when he no longer finds himself in the state of contemplation (mnyam­bzhag), thinks that his vision of the world is solid and real and substantial. Finding himself in that condition, he practices com­passion and cultivates that motivation as a discursive thought. According to the Sutra system, compassion is a thought that must be cultivated and developed by way of other thoughts. But that sort of practice of compassion as thought is only a preparation, as far as Dzogchen is concerned. It is merely the thought of compa­ssion, not the real compassion of a Buddha. Once we attain the Natural State and understand the view of Dzogchen, then we do not need to do any special compassion practice in which we try to generate and cultivate thoughts of compassion towards other living beings by means of the activities of the mind. Why is this? Because, when we enter into the Natural State, compassion for all sentient beings arises spontaneously and effortlessly; it does not need to be produced artificially by the discursive mind. It has been there from the very beginning, whole and complete, in the Natural State.

Sometimes it may say in a Dzogchen text that we do not even need to practice meditation. Why is that? There are Ten Perfec­tions, or Paramitas, and generosity (sbyin-pa, Skt. dana) is the first among them. Since all of them are already fully contained within the Natural State from the very beginning, and their perfection or completion is also found in the Natural State, it is not necessary to generate generosity, or the other perfections, artificially by cultivating thoughts. If we practice the Natural State, generosity is already found there and it arises sponta­neously. We then practice generosity naturally and spontaneously and we do not first have to meditate and to think that we should be generous to others. If we practice the Natural State, morality is already there and it arises spontaneously and effortlessly; it comes naturally and we do not need to think about it first. It is the same with all of the other perfections, including meditation. All of the virtues and powers attained through meditation are already fully contained in the Natural State. Therefore, it is not necessary to practice the perfections in any special way individually and separately from the Natural State since they are already fully present in the Natural State.

According to Madhyamaka, Shunyata can only be known by a thought. If something lacks inherent existence, that condition is Shunyata and this can only be known by a thought. If there is not a thought present, nothing at all can be known. All knowledge is by way of thoughts. So there is no other method for attaining the realization of Shunyata. This is a principal difference between Madhyamaka and Dzogchen. The former asserts that there must be a thought present which knows Shunyata. However, according to Dzogchen, from the very beginning, the Natural State has been beyond thought and cannot be grasped by the mind. In Dzog­chen, if we try to grasp or apprehend something ('dzin-pa), this is mental activity, and so we find ourselves in the mind, and not in the Natural State. By this means we will never attain the Natural State. Thoughts always cut up and split apart objects. Otherwise, we would not be able to grasp them. We can only assimilate reality in pieces. With the activities of the intellect, we can practice a reductive analysis of some external object, like a blue flower, for example, in order to realize its emptiness. But this "emptiness" is only understood intellectually, it has been reached only by thoughts. However, we cannot proceed in Dzogchen by way of thoughts. Thoughts are always partial and one-sided; they never encompass the whole.

The great scholar Sakya Pandita complained about Dzogchen in his famous book, the sDom gsum rab dbye. He called it a Chinese Dharma or teaching (rgya nag gi chos), claiming that Dzogchen simply teaches a state of "no thought" (mi rtog-pa), as does the Ch'an Buddhism of China. He also complained very much about the Kagyudpas, the followers of Lama Gampopa, claiming that all they do is practice rather than study and as a result they do not know anything. He claimed that if they just practice blindly like that, without thought and philosophical study, they will be reborn as animals. Sakya Pandita was espe­cially critical of Gampopa's exposition of Mahamudra, claiming that it was in part based on Dzogchen. But in the Dzogchen system, "no thought" (mi rtog-pa) is not the goal. The condition of no thought is merely an experience (nyams); it is not Rigpa, or the Natural State. Dzogchen speaks of a state beyond cause and effect. The Natural State is this state beyond the mind. It does not matter to the Natural State whether thoughts arise or not because its nature is unaffected by them. The Natural State is like a mirror and thoughts are like the reflections in the mirror. The nature of the mirror is in no way changed or modified by the reflections. For this reason we say that the Natural State is primordially pure (ka-dag), pure from the very beginning.

Madhyamaka and Dzogchen contradict each other here. In the Madhyamaka system, we are always searching for an antidote to the kleshas or the passions. Dzogchen asks, how can we be doing this? The Klesha, the passion or negative emotion, is just a thought and the antidote to it is just another thought. This is like trying to wash away the blood on our hands with more blood. Thoughts will not eradicate thoughts. There is no end to thoughts. Thoughts have no limits; we can follow thoughts and we will never find the end to them. When we search for reality with thoughts, we will never find a final or ultimate truth, because thoughts inevitably lead to more thoughts. That is their nature. Only if we look for the source of all thoughts will we find the final truth.

So we cannot purify thoughts and eliminate them by applying yet more thoughts as antidotes. The whole process is circular.

This is not the method of Dzogchen. Rather, the right method, according to Dzogchen, is to remain in the Natural State as long as possible. Thoughts cannot be eliminated by thoughts. They will not disappear; they will only proliferate. But if left alone, they will dissolve into the Natural State. Self-liberation is the ultimate purification because no traces are left behind and thoughts do not give birth to new thoughts. But if our remaining in the Natural State is not stable, then we can easily be distracted by the arising of new thoughts.

In contrast to Madhyamaka, Dzogchen does not recognize the subject-object dichotomy as ultimate, nor does it recognize these Two Truths as sources of knowledge. The real view of Dzogchen is inseparability without partiality on the one side or the other. Emptiness and awareness are inseparable (rig stong dbyer-med). Therefore, there is only One Truth. And so, its view is beyond the view of the Two Truths. Dzogchen may be beyond this view, but this does not mean that the Buddha did not teach the Two Truths. What is meant here is that Dzogchen is beyond the Sutra definition of the Two Truths. [5]

According to the Madhyamaka system, it is said that there must be these two Truths, and that without them, including an intellectual comprehension of Shunyata, we cannot realize Buddhahood. To this assertion Dzogchen replies: If we practice only this single and unique Natural State, the Thigley Nyagchik (thig-le nyag-gcig), everything else, all of the virtuous qualities and powers of Buddhahood, are contained within it from the very beginning. That is sufficient. Therefore, Dzogchen can maintain that its view is the highest one.

The View of Chittamatra

The basis of the Chittamatra system of the Yogachara school is compassion and Bodhichitta. Chittamatra also recognizes a basic Kunzhi (kun-gzhi) or Alaya, as well as a self-awareness, or Svasamvedana (rang-rig), that is inherent in each moment of consciousness. Chittamatra uses these concepts such as Rang-rig and Kunzhi but, according to Madhyamaka, Shunyata is the highest view. However, the Chittamatra position does not recognize the Shunyata known to and defined by the Madhya­maka school; the Chittamatra view of Shunyata is quite different from that of Madhyamaka. Madhyamaka asserts that if something had an inherent existence, then it could not change and dis­appear. Its essence would be immutable. But it is our experience that things change and disappear all of the time. So all of these consciousnesses (rnam-shes) are lacking in any inherent existence. In the Madhyamaka view, if we cannot find any inherent exist­ence in phenomena, this is Shunyata. But Chittamatra asks, if this is so, how can there be any karmic traces?

The view of Madhyamaka is that everything is insubstantial (bdag-med) and lacks any inherent existence (rang-bzhin med-pa). Any self or substance (bdag) lacks inherent existence and does not exist independently. Everything is conditioned by causes and is constantly changing. Therefore, everything is empty. If there did exist an inherent nature, then the cause could not become a result which is different from it. It can only remain what it was originally and there would be absolutely no change. But Chittamatra asserts that mind (sems), the subject side, has an inherent existence (rang-bzhin gyi yod-pa), however external appearances, phenomena, do not exist independently. Everything is the result of karmic causes. An independent self (bdag) does not exist, but a self does exist in relative terms in a condition of dependence. The Kunzhi Namshe (kun-gzhi rnam-shes) is this self. What exists inherently here is the Kunzhi Namshe, the base consciousness, and this is the real "I", the principle that trans-migrates from life to life. Each sentient being has this base consciousness. And this base consciousness is individual; we are not all "one mind." This is the Chittamatra view.

But Madhyamaka asserts that the self (bdag) is only a name. Absolutely nothing exists, whether dependent or independent; it is merely a name. Karmic causes and their consequences are only names. And the Madhyamaka system does not recognize a Kunzhi Namshe. There are only six consciousnesses and no storeroom for the karmic traces. There is no place to collect and store them. The Madhyamikas maintain that it is not necessary to store them anywhere. The owner just has them as baggage and does not need a particular place to put them. But in any event, this owner is only a name.

The Madhyamaka school teaches that everything is without an inherent existence but, according to Chittamatra, this view is insufficient. Chittamatra asserts that an inherent nature must exist (rang-bzhin gyi yod-pa) because, otherwise, there would be no basis for the existence of karmic causes. If we say that karmic causes are only names and concepts, they would produce no effects. We can say that we have a horn on our head, but this does not mean one exists there. We can say almost anything, but that does not mean that what we say exists. Therefore, there must exist something on its own as inherent nature. The Madhyamaka view is inadequate because it recognizes only the one side of Shunyata, the non-duality of subject and object.

Madhyamaka counters this argument. If we examine the eye, for example, we might say that it has an inherent existence. Its function is to see. Yet sometimes an eye may be defective or even blind and cannot see at all, even though we still give it the name "eye." Therefore, it lacks an inherent existence. All things lack an inherent existence because they are changing all the time. This represents their emptiness. For this reason, the Prajnaparamita Sutras say there is no eye, there is no ear, and so on. Their inherent nature (rang-bzhin) does not exist. So we must come to understand what Shunyata means in this context.

Chittamatra also recognizes Shunyata, but what is meant here by Shunyata is different from the Shunyata in Madhyamaka.

According to Chittamatra, it is a single karmic cause that gives rise to the two sides of subject and object. But these two sides are inseparable and this inseparability represents their emptiness. However, this is not the same as saying that there is nothing there at all. For example, when we see the blue color of the sky, we are aware of this blue color by means of our eye consciousness. So we have two things here: the blue color and our individual eye consciousness. But these two are inseparable because they arise from a single karmic cause. There is a single cause, but two effects, the object and the consciousness or subject. To try to separate them (subject and object) is like trying to cut an egg in half; we try to cut it in two, but there is only one egg. Subject and object are inseparable.

The Shunyata of the Chittamatra school means the non-duality of subject and object, that is, their interdependence. The blue color (the object) and the eye consciousness (the subject) are non-dual and interdependent because they arise from the same cause. They always occur together. If our consciousness is not present, there will be no blue color found out there. The blue color only exists in our act of perceiving it. It has no independent existence. Both arise from a single karmic cause. Consciousness and the object of perception are inseparable. The blue color does not exist until our consciousness is present to perceive it. For us, it exists only then. When we close our eyes, this blue color does not exist for us any more. This blue color and our consciousness are inseparable, and this is the meaning of Shunyata. They are empty or shunya (stong-pa) because they are not separate independent entities; they are interdependent and arise from a cause. This not existing independently is what Shunyata means. The blue color and our eye consciousness are merely two sides of the same coin.

So the meaning of Shunyata in the Yogachara system and the meaning in the Madhyamaka system are quite different. The Yogachara school is also called Chittamatra or Semtsampa (sems tsam-pa) because the Yogacharins assert that everything is con­nected with mind (sems). If there is no consciousness present, then the object does not exist. For it to exist, the object and the consciousness must come together, embrace each other, and depart together. Their interdependence and their inseparability represent their emptiness. But this is not the same meaning as the Madhyamaka meaning of Shunyata.

Furthermore, according to Madhyamaka, the six conscious­nesses lack any inherent nature. Chittamatra speaks of sixteen kinds of Shunyata, whereas Madhyamaka speaks of eighteen kinds of Shunyata. But whereas Chittamatra recognizes Shunyata, it is not the Shunyata of Madhyamaka which is the absence of any inherent existence. The cause is different in Madhyamaka and Chittamatra, that is to say, their understanding of Shunyata is different. Therefore, the path of practice is different and, there-fore, the fruit will be different. Chittamatra recognizes Shunyata to mean the non-duality of subject and object and the followers of the Chittamatra view practice that Shunyata and not the Shunyata of Madhyamaka, that is, of no inherent existence. The practice follows from that view, and so the Madhyamaka Buddha will not logically be the same as the Chittamatra Buddha.

The Tantras may be interpreted according to either the Madhyamaka view or the Chittamatra view and in fact the texts of the Tantras allow for either interpretation. Although nowadays all the Tibetan schools are officially Prasangika Madhyamaka, and the Tantras are explained from that standpoint, in early days both in India and Tibet, many commentaries explained the Tantras from the Chittamatra standpoint and practitioners obtained results from practicing in that way.

There are many doctrines held in common by Madhyamaka and Chittamatra, such as the Ten Paramitas, compassion, and so on. They also have the five paths and the ten stages. Among the five paths, the path of accumulation (tshogs lam) is so-called because the practitioner practices accumulating (tshogs) merit and wisdom. The next path, the path of unification (sbyor lam) is so-called because the subject is unified (sbyor) with the object. The next, the path of vision (mthong lam) is when one sees (mthong) the first glimpse of reality. Here is found the first stage or bhumi. The remaining nine stages are found in the next path, the path of meditation (sgom-lam). Finally, there is the fifth path, the path beyond all training (mi slob lam).

But in Madhyamaka and Chittamatra, the practice of the Praj­naparamita, or the Perfection of Wisdom, is different, although the practice of the other Paramitas is the same, since both schools belong to Mahayana. Chittamatra says that all the world is an illusion, but it does not say that nothing exists. Madhyamaka asserts that everything is created by our thoughts. Chittamatra replies that if this were so, why is there any suffering experienced in the world? Everyone wants to be happy and enjoy pleasurable sensations. Since we do experience suffering, there must be some real existence apart from our thoughts and desires. We cannot just create everything in our minds. We do not want to suffer, and yet suffering exists. So it is not created by our minds. Chittamatra says there must be something real because otherwise there would be no practice and no attaining of Buddhahood. If it were all a matter of just creating it with our thoughts, we would not need to practice, but could just think that we are the Buddha and it would be so.

But Madhyamaka never claims that whatever we think is true. We can say: "My finger is like a car", but this is not a suitable statement. There is no reason there. In order to be able to give a name, there must be sufficient reason. Yes, everything is created by thoughts, but statements should be suitable. Our saying: "This ball is my head" is not a valid statement because there is no connection between this ball and my head. So there must be a basis for valid imputation. But Madhyamaka says even valid statements have no inherent existence. They are not sufficient. Dzogchen also says that everything is an illusion, but we must understand what that means. It is not enough to say it. We must realize it concretely in our experience.

According to Chittamatra, subject and object are inseparable, yet they are distinct. And this is true of consciousness, for there exists a self-awareness or an awareness of being aware. In this case, consciousness (rnam-shes) is the object side and self-awareness (rang-rig) is the subject side. This self-awareness or Rang-rig is a self-knowing or a self-seeing. In this Tibetan word, rang means "self" or "itself," and rig means "to know" or "to be aware." So it is an awareness which is aware of itself. For example, the flame of a butter lamp illuminates a dark room, but it also illuminates itself, that is, it is clear and luminous. Thus the lamp has two functions: externally to remove the darkness in the room and internally to illuminate itself. These two functions are inseparable in every moment of consciousness. We are aware of the object (gzhan rig) and we are aware that we are aware (rang rig). We know that we know. This is self-awareness. So what we actually see and know is not an autonomous external world at all. What we see is only our own consciousness. What we see is only ourselves. Every occasion of sense consciousness and of mind consciousness is a moment of self-awareness (rang-rig). And just at that moment, the subject knows itself without any thought; this is Rang-rig. This doctrine of Svasamvedana, that consciousness illuminates itself as well as its objects, is characteristic of the Chittamatra view and is rejected by the Madhyamaka view.

The Madhyamaka system only recognizes six operations of consciousness (tshogs drug), namely, the five sense conscious­nesses and the mental consciousness, whereas the Yogachara system recognizes eight kinds of consciousness (tshogs brgyad). All of them are self-illuminated or Rang-rig. The previous example of the lamp light illuminating itself, as well as illuminating the objects in a dark room, illustrates this. Thus, consciousness and Rang-rig are always inseparable. Besides the five sense consciousnesses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, and the sixth, mind consciousness or Manovijnana (yid kyi rnam-shes), there are two further types of consciousness: the defiled mind consciousness or Klishta-manovijnana (nyon-shes), and the base consciousness known as Alayavijnana or Kunzhi Namshe (kun-gzhi rnam-shes). Defiled mind consciousness means the operation of the mind (Skt. manas) has become defiled (Skt. klishta) and distorted by the presence of the passions or negative emotions (Skt. klesha). Therefore, our mind does not work properly, but it sees everything in a distorted fashion, colored by the presence of passion.

In the Chittamatra system, this Kunzhi is the basis of everything, that is, it is the container of all karmic traces. The relationships among these eight operations of consciousness are explained by way of an example. The Kunzhi Namshe, or Alaya­vijnana, is like a treasure house and the Manovijnana, or mind consciousness, is like a husband. The five sense consciousnesses are like his servants. They constantly go about in the world, searching for wealth to bring back to their master. And the Klishtamanas is like his wife; it is she who keeps and enjoys all the wealth her husband and servants collect in the world. Moreover, she is very vain and has little sense of economy. This Kunzhi is the basis for collecting and preserving karmic traces, but when the individual attains Nirvana, this Kunzhi Namshe is dissolved because there are no more karmic traces remaining and no new ones are accumulated. Its operation ceases. Until then, each sentient being possesses an individual, own Kunzhi. It is the basis of our individuality. And each of these eight consciousnesses are Rang-rig, that is, self-knowing and self-clarity. Consciousness and the Rang-rig are always inseparable.

The Kunzhi Namshe serves as the medium for the trans-mission of karmic traces, or vasanas (bag-chags), from one lifetime to another. Every action of free will leaves behind a karmic trace in our stream of consciousness at its deepest level. These traces or residues are like seeds which are stored here and

when in the future the proper configuration of secondary causes exists, these seeds germinate and we experience the fruit of our past karma. Because these karmic traces are stored in the Kunzhi Namshe, it is also known as the storehouse consciousness. In Tibetan, it is called Kunzhi Namshe (kun-gzhi rnam-shes), where kun means all, that is, all karmic traces both good and bad, gzhi means base, the receptacle where the traces are kept, and rnam­shes means consciousness.

However, although Chittamatra does not say that the Kunzhi and the karmic traces are the same, it does say that both have an inherent existence. The example is that the Kunzhi is like a grain storehouse and the karmic traces are like the seed grains contained in it. On the other hand, Madhyamaka counters this argument and asserts that they must be the same. In that case, if we purify the Kunzhi, it will only be the same as before. If we merely wash our house on the outside, it will make no difference on the inside. But according to the Madhyamaka, if we dissolve our karmic traces, the Kunzhi will also dissolve. Through the practice of Shunyata and the practice of Bodhichitta, these karmic traces are purified.

Generally, there are two Tibetan words for karmic traces: sa­bon (Skt. bija, seed) and bag-chags (Skt. vasana, residue, trace). In the Chittamatra system, these two terms have the same meaning. But according to Madhyamaka, sa-bon is much coarser and easier to purify and remove, whereas the bag-chags are much more subtle and difficult to purify. The Tenth Bhumi, or stage of Bodhisattva practice, is the antidote for all of them.

In conclusion, we can say that there is a fundamental difference between the view of Madhyamaka and the view of Chittamatra. The Chittamatra system may use concepts like Rang-rig and Kunzhi, but in the Madhyamaka system, which rejects these characteristic ideas of Chittamatra, Shunyata is the highest view. Chittamatra also conceives of Shunyata but in a quite different way from Madhyamaka. We have seen that Madhyamaka denies the self-aware nature of consciousness (rang-rig). And it does not recognize the existence of the Kunzhi Nanshe, or base consciousness, as a storehouse for karmic traces.

These are some of the principal differences between the two philosophical systems, and it is important to understand them. Furthermore, Dzogchen also speaks of Kunzhi and Rang-rig but understands the meaning of these terms quite differently.

Chittamatra and Dzogchen

The followers of Chittamatra assert that everything depends on mind (sems) and that there is nothing beyond mind. According to the Chittamatra view, everything that exists is connected with mind. It is mind-created; that is their real view. According to them, if we see a blue color, the eye consciousness (the subject side) and the blue color (the object side) are inseparable, that is, they both arise from the same single karmic cause. Therefore, anything that is perceived is connected with mind, although it is not made out of a mind-stuff or substance. If consciousness were not there, the object would not be there. Nothing exists without this connection with consciousness; it cannot exist independently. Thus, the Chittamatrins ask, how can Dzogchen do better than this? How can Dzogchen have a higher view? That is to say, how can it go beyond thoughts and consciousness to a state that transcends mind? It is not possible that there is anything beyond mind.

There are some similarities in the languages of Dzogchen and Chittamatra, and so some people have confused the two views, whereas actually they are quite distinct. Dzogchen is always speaking about "mind" (sems) and, therefore, people commonly think that "mind" here has the same meaning as in Chittamatra (sems-tram, "mind only"). But in the context of Dzogchen, "mind" is not part of the system of the eight consciousnesses (rnam-shes brgyad); the word refers to the Nature of Mind (sems nyid), that is, what we usually call the Natural State. The essence of this Natural State is emptiness (stong-pa nyid) and immediate awareness (rig-pa), and they are always found together. They are inseparable (dbyer-med). So there does not have to be any separate thought or consciousness present to know emptiness because a pure immediate awareness (rig-pa) is equally present in this state of emptiness. But according to Chittamatra, whatever we see or experience is interdependent, and its "emptiness" lies in that fact. A perception depends on the presence of consciousness and this consciousness exists inherently, although the objects perceived do not. But Dzogchen does not say that the Natural State has an inherent existence; it lacks any inherent existence because it is emptiness itself, a pure potentiality.

What is the difference between Rigpa, or the Natural State, and consciousness? The Natural State is totally pure, pure from the very beginning (ka-dag), whereas the eight consciousnesses are not pure and represent the vehicle for the karmic traces. When we attain enlightenment, they are absorbed into the Natural State, and then they manifest as wisdom, or primal cognition (ye-shes), rather than as consciousness (rnam-shes). But although the Kunzhi Namshe, in particular, is the medium for the transmission of the karmic traces, they in no way disturb or defile the Natural State. A distinction is made between Kunzhi in the Dzogchen usage of the term and Kunzhi Namshe in the Chittamatra usage; they are quite different.

Like Chittamatra, Dzogchen also speaks of Rang-rig and Kunzhi, but it understands these terms in quite a different way. According to Chittamatra, consciousness (rnam-shes) and its self-illuminated quality (rang-rig) are always found together. Further-more, subject and object are inseparable, yet they are distinct. At the primary level, sense consciousness represents the subject side and the external object the object side. But at the secondary level, consciousness (rnam-shes) itself represents the object side and Rang-rig the subject side. In the Chittamatra view, this Rang-rig is a self-knowing of itself by consciousness, that is to say, conscious­ness is self-illuminated. Each of the eight consciousnesses (rnam­shes) has two functions: it illuminates an object (gzhan-rig) and it illuminates itself (rang-rig). An example of this, cited previously, is a lamp flame in a dark room; it illuminates the objects in the room and it illuminates itself. It is this second function that makes memory possible.

So, according to Chittamatra, Rang-rig is a secondary subtle consciousness which knows the primary sense consciousness it accompanies. Chittamatra asserts that if there was not this self-aware quality, this Rang-rig, we would not be able to remember anything. And since we do have memories, this Rang-rig must exist. Madhyamaka replies to this argument that we can remember without this hypothetical Rang-rig. When we see an object, it simply reminds us. We only remember it by name; it has no inherent existence. So, this is the meaning of Rang-rig here in the Chittamatra system, but in Dzogchen the term Rang-rig has a different meaning.

According to Dzogchen, Rang-rig is the awareness which knows the Natural State. It is not something separate from the Natural State. The Natural State is aware of itself; it is self-aware and self-illuminated. In the Chittamatra system, however, this term only applies to the eight relative consciousnesses. Chitta­matra has no knowledge of the Natural State; in its view, there is nothing beyond consciousness. So, here we find the same word, but a different meaning. Such a consciousness is always dualistic in its operation, there being a bifurcation into subject and object, and it is always something conditioned by antecedent causes. In contrast, the Natural State is non-dual, there is no duality of subject and object, and it is unconditioned and outside time. It is not something brought about by causes. It is totally beyond cause and effect. Although we may speak of Rang-rig as the subject side of the Natural State, it is not something which originates among the eight consciousnesses, as in the case of the Chittamatra view.

Chittamatra does not know of this primordially pure Natural State which transcends totally the Kunzhi Namshe. This Kunzhi Namshe of the Chittamatrins is still something which is defiled by the passions and conditioned by past karma.

In Dzogchen, the same word is used but it has a different meaning. What is seen on the object side is the empty nature, but the awareness (rig-pa) in Dzogchen is different from the con­sciousness (rnam-shes) in Chittamatra on the subject side. In analyzing the Tibetan term, rang normally means "self", but here, in the Dzogchen context, it refers to emptiness or Kunzhi, where-as rig refers to awareness or Rigpa. What we see is the empty nature, on the emptiness side (stong-cha), and rig is the seeing, on the clarity side (gsal-cha). The reference is to immediate awareness (rig-pa) and not to consciousness (rnam-shes). And according to Dzogchen, these two are inseparable (rig stong dbyer-med); the subject side and the object side are not distinct and separate. We can speak of Rang-rig representing the subject side of the Natural State and Kunzhi representing the object side. But this Rang-rig did not originate among the eight conscious­nesses, nor is it what originates from consciousness (sems byung). According to Dzogchen, Kunzhi and Rang-rig are inseparable. They always go together like fire and warmth, or like water and wetness. We can speak of these different qualities but, in actuality, they are always inseparable. Rigpa is a synonym for clarity (gsal-ba). What is clear is the Kunzhi. The way in which it is clear lies in their inseparability. They are inseparable in the same way as the sky (i.e. Kunzhi) and the sunlight (i.e. Rigpa) which illuminates the sky are inseparable.

The other key term is Kunzhi. But Kunzhi has a different meaning in Chittamatra from that in Dzogchen. In the Chitta­matra system, Kunzhi Namshe is one of the eight relative and conditioned consciousnesses (rnam-shes), and it functions as the container of the karmic traces (bag-chags). It is called Kunzhi because all (kun) karmic traces, both good and bad, are contained within this base (gzhi) as a receptacle. It is the base consciousness or Kunzhi Namshe and this consciousness knows these karmic traces.

According to the Chittamatra view, when Nirvana is attained, the Kunzhi Namshe dissolves. The Dzogchen view is different. All of existence is contained in the Kunzhi because it is the Base of both Samsara and Nirvana. Therefore, it does not dissolve. The Kunzhi is emptiness itself, it represents the matrix out of which can manifest all possible forms. Therefore, it is compared to the sky, or to infinite space. It is not just a container or storage place for the baggage of karmic traces. It does not serve as the basis for these karmic traces because it is primordially pure (ka-dag). But according to Chittamatra, the Kunzhi Namshe is impure because it is mixed up with karmic traces. When these karmic traces are finally purified, the Kunzhi disappears. The ordinary mind or consciousness (rnam-shes), which is soiled with karmic traces, is now transformed into Buddha-mind, or primordial awareness (ye­shes), which is clean in itself and without karmic traces. It is like washing the hands. When all the dirt has been washed off, the hands are still there. What remains is only this pristine awareness or knowledge (ye-shes). So we say that when the Kunzhi Namshe has been purified of all karmic traces, it becomes the knowledge of the Dharmadhatu (bon-dbyings ye-shes).

In Dzogchen, the Kunzhi is the basis (gzhi) of everything (kun) in both Samsara and Nirvana. In the Dzogchen context, Kunzhi means the empty, unchanging Natural State. In it all things exist spontaneously and potentially. But in terms of the Natural State, there is nothing to be purified or changed or transformed. Thus we speak of it as being primordially pure (ka­dag); it has never been sullied or adulterated by the karmic traces of Samsara. Nevertheless, it remains the basis of everything. Whatever arises, arises in the Natural State and whatever liberates, is liberated in the Natural State.

On the other hand, the Kunzhi Namshe of Chittamatra contains only the karmic traces of Samsara. It is only the base for these karmic traces and not the base for Nirvana. According to Dzogchen, there are no karmic traces to be found in the Natural State. It is like trying to write something in space, or like clouds passing across the sky; there are no traces left behind. No traces remain because the Natural State is primordially pure (ka-dag). The reflections in a mirror leave no trace behind. The Natural State is always pure, uncontaminated by the passions or their traces. It is the basis of everything; whatever arises, arises in the Natural State. They abide in the Natural State and they liberate into the Natural State. Thus, the Natural State is called the Dharmakaya.

In Dzogchen, we speak of the Kunzhi as being the Dharma­kaya of the Base (gzhi'i bon-sku), but this is not the real Dharmakaya, that is to say, the Dharmakaya in manifestation, for that is the Fruit. And here we are only speaking of the Base. The Trikaya are fully present in the Base as its Essence, Nature and Energy (ngo-bo rang-bzhin thugs-rje gsum), but for the Trikaya to become fully visible and manifest as the Fruit, certain secondary causes are required, namely, purification of the two-fold ob­scurations, which are emotional and intellectual. To behold the face of the sun, the clouds in the sky must first dissipate, even though the sun has been there in the sky all of the time.

CHAPTER 5: The Views of Tantra,Mahamudra and Dzogchen

Talk by Lopon Tenzin Namdak,
Bischofshofen, March 1991.
Compiled and edited by John Myrdhin Reynolds.

The View of Tantra

Nowadays there are two principal philosophical traditions in Tibet. The first is found among the Sarmapas or Newer Schools, which employ the Prasangika-Madhyamaka view not only in explaining the real meaning of the Sutras but also in their interpretations of the Tantras as well. The second is found among the two Old Schools, Nyingmapa and Bonpo, which emphasize the Dzogchen view in explaining the Higher Tantras. [1] How-ever, in both cases the fundamental principle upon which Tantra rests is Shunyata, or the state of emptiness. And here, especially in early times before the eleventh century, it did not matter whether we practiced Shunyata according to the Madhyamaka school or according to the Yogachara school.

Visualization practice according to the Tantras, unlike ordinary visualizations, always begins with the three contem­plations. The first of these, the contemplation of reality, repre­sents the state of Shunyata. This is followed by the second contemplation, compassion which is everywhere manifest. The third contemplation is of their unification, emptiness and com­passion, and represents the contemplation of the cause in the form of visualizing the seed syllable from which the visualization of the deity arises. So, in Tantric visualization practice, the deity and its mandala always arise out of the potentiality of the state of Shunyata. In the same way, at the conclusion of meditation practice, the visualization of the Yidam or deity is always dis­solved again into the state of even contemplation (mnyam-bzhag), which is Shunyata. So, Shunyata is basic here in the practice of Tantra.

In general, the Sutra system of the Gelugpa school, as well as the other Tibetan schools, is based on the Madhyamika tradition as expounded, for example, in the Bhavanakrama of Kamalashila and in the Bodhipathapradipa of Atisha. This Sutra system became fully elaborated in Je Tsongkhapa's great work, the Lam-rim chen-mo. After the eleventh century, all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism came to adhere to the Prasangika Madhyamaka system of Chandrakirti as their official philosophy, in the same way as the Gelugpas did later. Even the Nyingmapas and the Bonpos adopted Prasangika Madhyamaka for their understanding of Shunyata in relation to the Sutra system. However, their descriptions of the path according to the Sutra system may differ in some details. The great Tsongkhapa discussed his under-standing of Shunyata in his commentaries on the Sutra system as well as in his Legs-bshad snying-po, and elsewhere.

Although nowadays all the Tibetan schools use only the Prasangika Madhyamaka interpretation of Shunyata, in the early days it was quite a different situation for one could alternatively use the Chittamatra interpretation of Shunyata. Whichever view was adopted was up to the individual practitioner. Shantirakshita, the first abbot of Samye Monastery in the eighth century, accepted the doctrines of Kunzhi and Rang-rig from Chittamatra, although he rejected the Yogachara teachings in general. His sub-school of Madhyamaka was known as Svatantrika-Yogachara-Madhyamika (rang-rgyud rnal-'byor spyod-pa'i dbu-ma-pa) and this was the original Madhyamika tradition in Tibet. Only after the eleventh century were the writings of Chandrakirti translated into Tibetan by Patsab Lotsawa and then his interpretation, known as Prasangika-Madhyamaka (thal-'gyur dbu-ma-pa), grad­ually became the fashion among all the schools of Tibet, as far as explication of the Sutras is concerned. [2] As said, this was true even for the Nyingmapas and the Bonpos. However, the inter­pretation of the Tantras in the two Old Schools is a different matter.

In terms of the Tantra system, the Gelugpas follow the system of the Guhyasamaja Tantra, the chief of the Father Tan­tras and, in particular, the commentary of Je Tsongkhapa on that Tantra, as well as his famous sNgags-rim chen-mo which is a treatise on the New Tantra system generally. [3] However, in terms of the interpretation of the Tantra system, the Sakyapa school emphasizes the Hevajra Tantra and the Kagyudpa school emphasizes the Chakrashamvara Tantra. According to all these schools, both the Sutras and the Tantras are recognized as the authoritative word of the Buddha. However, the Gelugpas interpret the Tantras in terms of the Sutras and when these scholars explain the view of Tantra, the foundation for their interpretation is the Guhyasamaja Tantra. This is the principal Tantra practiced by the followers of that school and they rely upon the view of the great master Tsongkhapa. In his com­mentaries he makes much use of, and has many quotations from, Marpa the translator, especially from the latter's commentary on the Naro chos drug, or the Six Doctrines of Naropa. He did this because Marpa wrote from the Guhyasamaja Tantra point of view. But this view is not the same as that of Dzogchen.

Nowadays, there are some Lamas who assert that the Madhyamaka view, the Mahamudra view, and the Dzogchen view are all the same. But this is not true, because Madhyamaka belongs to the Sutra system and Mahamudra belongs to the Tantra system. Both Sutra and Tantra rely on the mind and its operations, such as the thought process. Hence, Sutra and Tantra apprehend and grasp at thoughts. But Dzogchen says that we must go beyond all grasping ('dzin-pa), which is the apprehending of an object by the subject, even when this is just a thought. This Dzinpa or grasping represents a working of the discursive mind, an agitation of thoughts, even though this movement of thoughts may be very subtle, perhaps only an unobserved undercurrent. Yet it is agitation nonetheless, and so it represents delusion ('khrul-pa). Therefore, according to Dzogchen, the practitioner must go beyond this Dzinpa, no matter how subtle it may be.

Moreover, if this Dzinpa, or grasping at an object by a subject, is present, then that practice is not Dzogchen. The capacity of the Natural State to be aware intrinsically is called Rigpa and that Rigpa is not thought (rnam-rtog). Some Lamas assert that there must always be some subtle Dzinpa, or thought process present, for otherwise there could be no knowing or apprehending of anything whatsoever. If there is no Dzinpa, they maintain, there is nothing because everything is known by thoughts. Therefore, the Dzogchenpas are "know-nothings"; they aim at a state of "no mind," like the followers of the Hwashang who attempted to teach Ch'an Buddhism in Tibet. [4]

Furthermore, when the Anuttara Tantras are explained in terms of Madhyamaka, some grasping is still found ('dzin-pa) to be present. According to some interpretations, there is a subtle mind present which needs the support of prana to exist. In Tantra, we speak of Detong Yeshe (bde stong ye-shes), where stong (stong-pa nyid) or emptiness has the same meaning as it does in Madhyamaka. But the Natural State in Dzogchen is inexpressible and inconceivable, so that we cannot get at it through mental constructions and doctrinal formulations. Never­theless, according to some Lamas, we can only understand some-thing by way of thoughts.

The great scholar Sakya Pandita also maintained that, even in the state of Mahamudra, there must be some Dzinpa or thought present, otherwise the state is devoid of all apprehending ('dzin­pa med-pa) and it knows nothing whatsoever. Gampopa in his writings did not directly state that Dzinpa must be present in the state of Mahamudra, but the philosophical background of his Mahamudra indicates this. Marpa followed the view of the Guhyasamaja Tantra, and the view of this Tantra is the same as that of Madhyamaka, so Dzinpa must be present there in the state of contemplation (mnyam-bzhag).

According to the Guhyasamaja Tantra as explained by Je Tsongkhapa in his commentary and elsewhere, there are two things that must be united in our meditation practice, namely, bliss and emptiness. This is called Detong Zungjug (bde stong zung-'jug), that is, the unification of bliss and emptiness. Here, emptiness (stong=stong-pa nyid) refers to the object side of our experience and bliss or pleasurable sensation (bde=bde-ba) refers to the subject side. When these two aspects or sides are united, this is known as the pristine knowledge of the unification of bliss and emptiness, or Detong Yeshe (bde stong ye-shes). This knowledge, or primal awareness (ye-shes), is the very foundation of the view of Tantra and Mahamudra. Here Tongpanyid (stong­pa nyid) or emptiness is the same as the Shunyata or emptiness referred to in the Madhyamaka philosophy. Therefore, in his explication of the Guhyasamaja Tantra, Tsongkhapa also gives many quotations from such authorities as Nagarjuna, Chandra­kirti, Aryadeva, and so on.

The notion that the subject, that is, bde-ba, knows the object, that is, stong-pa nyid, is taken mainly from Marpa's commentary on the Naro chos-drug, the six doctrines of Naropa. According to this commentarial tradition, Shunyata or emptiness is the same as the Shunyata in the view of Nagarjuna. Following this line of thought, some Lamas maintain that Detong Yeshe is the same as the Dzogchen view. However, according to Tsongkhapa, the Dewa (bde-ba) or subject very strongly grasps or apprehends ('dzin-pa) the object which is emptiness (stong-pa nyid). This occurs not only on the path of practice, but at the very moment of realization as well. In this context Dewa represents a kind of subtle consciousness. And so here in this experience of an immediate primal knowledge (ye-shes) we have the unification of subject and object. This is Detong Yeshe and it is the basis of Mahamudra in the Tantra system.

Now, there are many different methods, including physical procedures such as consort practice and methods of visualization, which aim to produce this experience of bliss or pleasurable sensation (bde-ba). But in every case, there is a subject that grasps or apprehends and an object that is grasped or apprehended (bzung-ba). And so this view found here cannot go beyond grasp­ing. But Dzogchen, on the contrary, goes beyond all grasping at anything whatsoever. The state of Dzogchen does not unite two different things, whether bliss and emptiness or subject and object but, rather, it transcends them from the very beginning. This state, known as Rigpa, or intrinsic awareness, is prior to any distinctions or unifications, both of which would be functions or operations of the mind. Dzogchen is beyond the mind. So, we must realize the distinctions being made here.

When we do Tantric practice, we visualize ourselves as the deity and find ourselves as that deity, in total identification with all of that deity's feelings, emotions and thoughts. We are that deity. In the Sutra system, there is the taking of Refuge by means of visualizing the Buddha in front of us. But we are separate from the Buddha and we are in our ordinary karmic body. So simply visualizing a deity is not the definitive characteristic here. Dewa is the feeling or sensation of being that deity. Here the object side, that is, emptiness, is the same as in Sutra, but the subject side, which is bliss, is different.

But according to Tantra, Dewa as our practice must not be mixed up with ordinary desire or attachment ('dod-chags). It must be without any discursive thoughts (mi rtog-pa). If Dewa were just an ordinary feeling, and that feeling was mixed with desire, then that would be a klesha or emotional defilement. But if the feeling is suffused with Shunyata, then we can make use of it in Tantra as a means. Our actual physical union with a consort can produce this Dewa, as can also visualization in meditation.

According to this interpretation, Shunyata here is the same as the Shunyata of the Madhyamaka view of Nagarjuna. Therefore, some Tibetan scholars say that Detong Yeshe is the same as the Dzogchen view. But this is not so. According to Marpa the translator and Je Tsongkhapa, Dewa, the subject, very strongly grasps Shunyata, the object. Dewa represents a kind of con­sciousness, so here in this Yeshe, or knowledge, we have subject and object united. They are now non-dual, although they were not so in the beginning. This unification is Detong Yeshe and its realization is the goal of Tantra and Mahamudra. In fact, its realization is what is meant by Mahamudra in the context of the Tantra system.

In Dzogchen, we may also speak of Detong (bde-stong), but the meaning here is not the same as in Tantra. In Dzogchen, it is not necessary to develop any Dewa or Tongpa as it is in Tantra. The Dewa is not something coerced or brought into existence by way of some special practice, sexual or otherwise. Rather it simply arises naturally and spontaneously. Here, the Dewa, or bliss, is Lhundrub (lhun-grub), spontaneously self-perfected, and the Tongpanyid, or emptiness, is Kadak (ka-dag), primordial purity. The experience arises spontaneously and without delib­erate effort as both Kadak and Lhundrub, because it is beyond the mind or thought process. Here also in Dzogchen, there is no unifying of Wisdom and Means (thabs-shes) as is done in the Sutra system. Everything is already contained and fully present within the Natural State. When the practitioner realizes the Natural State, then there is no longer any question of the ne­cessity to practice Kyerim (bskyed-rim), the generation process, and Dzogrim (rdzogs-rim), the perfection process. Although the practice of these two processes is necessary for the realization of Mahamudra according to the Tantra system, in Dzogchen there is no need to practice them as antidotes. Rather, the practitioner proceeds directly to the Natural State.

The proper method of Tantra is the Path of Transformation (sgyur lam). Thus, in the Tantra system, the energies of the emotional defilements or kleshas are used in our practice and they are transformed. Klesha, or passion, is transformed into Jnana, or wisdom (ye-shes). Transformation is the method belonging to the Higher Tantras. However, pleasurable sexual sensation (bde-ba), used as the object in our practice, must be unmixed with desire or attachment. It must exist in a state of non-discursiveness or no thought. Dewa in itself is just a feeling, a feeling of pleasurable sensation; but if that feeling becomes mixed with desire and attachment, it is a klesha, a defilement or passion. On the other hand, if this original feeling, this pure sensation, is mixed with Shunyata, then it can be used in Tantra as part of the meditation practice. The physical union with a consort produces this pleasurable sensation. Or the visualization of a consort may be used. Now, it is possible to attain the enlightenment of Buddhahood through either the methods of Sutra or of Tantra but, according to the Tantra system, the realization of a Buddha by way of the Sutra system is not complete, not fully realized, and so further steps must be taken.

Of course, when we are speaking about Dzogchen as a teaching, rather than as the primordial Natural State, then we do make distinctions. We speak of the side of emptiness (stong-cha), on the one hand, and of the side of clarity (gsal-cha) or awareness (rig-cha), on the other hand. But these distinctions are only linguistic and logical; they are not found in the Natural State itself. However, even when we speak of this distinction of clarity and emptiness in the context of Dzogchen, it is not the same as the unification of bliss and emptiness (bde stong zung-'jug) in the method of Tantra.

A thought or concept arising in the mind has a kind of picture accompanying it. For example, when we think of Frankfurt, a picture of that place comes into our mind. Thoughts are always grasping at something and are mixed up with such pictures. This is the way thoughts interact with the Manas, or the discursive mind (yid), the bio-computer in the human brain. The technical term "clear" (gsal-ba) means that these computer-generated pictures never cover over our consciousness; on the contrary, our awareness (rig-pa) remains in its own original condition, like a mirror reflecting an object set before it. The mirror is not changed or modified by whatever object, good or bad, beautiful or ugly, is set before it. It clearly reflects all of them, whatever their nature may he. Rigpa is this capacity of the Nature of Mind, that is to say, it clearly reflects everything. But the Nature of Mind (sems-nyid) is in no way changed or modified by whatever is reflected. This is clarity. So, in terms of Dzogchen, when we speak of the inseparability of clarity and emptiness (gsal stong dbyer-med), comparing the Nature of Mind to a clear empty mirror, we do not mean that some sort of mixture occurs, or that there is a uniting of subject and object. The word Yermed (dbyer-med), inseparable, means that they have never been separate, so there is nothing to unite.

Dzogchen is also different on the object side. Dzogchen recognizes Shunyata as being the same as in Madhyamaka, but this is not the Absolute Truth or the goal of Dzogchen. It is only a part of the view; it is not the complete view in itself. The Natural State is the inseparability of clarity and emptiness; they have always been together from the very beginning. There is only the Natural State as it is; there is nothing to add to it, nothing more to be unified with it. We just have to become familiar with it and continue in that state. So there are no paths or stages (sa lam) to be gone through here; there is only the single stage (sa gcig) of the Natural State.

In Dzogchen, we speak of the inseparability of clarity or awareness, on the one hand, and emptiness, on the other. But here we are not unifying or bringing anything together (zung-'jug). Clarity and emptiness have never been separated, so they do not need to be brought together. Therefore, their inseparability is not the same as the unification of bliss and emptiness spoken of in Tantra. The practice of Dzogrim requires that we apprehend or grasp something, namely, Detong Yeshe, the knowledge of bliss and emptiness united. Some people say that Dzogchen, Tantra and Mahamudra are the same, but this is not so, according to this understanding of Tantra, because Dzogchen has no grasping, no apprehending of anything, not even emptiness.

In Tantra, there is the practice of Dzogrim, and here the subtle mind (sems) and the prana, or vital energy (Hung), are united and this unification persists in the Bardo, after the death of the physical body, as a subtle body. And because he has practiced during his lifetime, when the Tantric practitioner dies, he finds that his consciousness now inhabits this subtle body or Gyulu (sgyu-lus), illusion body, produced from the unification of mind and prana. His mind has been transformed into his Yidam's mind. The mind which inhabits this subtle body is realized by way of Yidam practice according to Tantra, and this experience is known as Detong Yeshe. Until the Yogi leaves behind his physical body, there are actually two beings dwelling inside him like a mother and a child. Then at the time of death, the link between the physical body and the mind is severed, and the former dissolves into its constituent elements, whereas his consciousness (rnam­shes) enters the Bardo. Now he is only left with this Gyulu or Illusion Body, which is the product of the unification of mind and prana energy by way of Dzogrim practice. This Gyulu already possesses Detong Yeshe. Here there are two possibilities - pure Gyulu and impure Gyulu. But still this attainment is not Buddhahood. Moreover, this is still grasping or Dzinpa; it is not the Natural State or the realization of Buddhahood. In Dzogchen, however, there is no grasping and no transforming. When we practice Dzogchen, we do not have to check what is the emptiness side and what is the clarity side.

Now inhabiting this subtle body or Gyulu, which has the form of the Yidam, one must continue to practice, but in an exalted status ('phags-pa'i sa) and one need not return to human rebirth. One is no longer controlled by karmic causes and can project Trulpas (sprul-pa), or emanations of oneself in whatever form, when and where one chooses. One can choose where one will be reborn and under what circumstances. The procedure of how to produce a Gyulu is explained in the Dzogrim section of the Anuttara Tantras. And in the Bonpo tradition, in particular, this means the Ma rgyud or Mother Tantra. [5]

In the Bonpo Tantras, the subject side is more like that in Dzogchen, namely, an inherent unchanging nature just as it is (mi 'gyur rang lugs ji-lta-ba). This is the Bonpo interpretation of Tantra. In the Bonpo Tantra, the object (Shunyata), is taken from the downside, namely, Sutra, and the subject (self-awareness) is taken from the upside, namely, Dzogchen. Nevertheless, these two have been inseparable from the very beginning. They are the two sides of the Natural State. Only self-awareness, or Rang-rig can see it. This self-awareness illuminates itself like the flame of a lamp. The lamp flame not only illuminates the dark room; it illuminates itself. Each individual sentient being has this individual Natural State, so there is individual continuity from life to life. However, the Natural State in itself is unchanging, even though individual awareness (rang-rig) is changeable. Yet these two are always inseparable. So, the practice of Dzogchen and Tantra do not necessarily exclude each other. But if we are practitioners of Dzogchen, as well as of Tantra, we should be aware of the differences in the views of Dzogchen and Tantra.

Mahamudra and Dzogchen

Mahamudra and Dzogchen, in terms of their respective definitions of the Base, the Path and the Fruit, are not the same. Mahamudra belongs to the Tantra system; indeed, it represents the culmination of the Tantric process of transformation where the practitioner becomes totally identified with the meditation deity or Yidam. That is the meaning of Mahamudra in the Tantra system, total (maha, chen-po) identification (mudra, phyag-rgya). Moreover, Tantra speaks of Detong Yeshe, the unification of two things, bliss and emptiness, whereas Dzogchen has been non-dual from the very beginning. In Sutra we have the intelligence which understands emptiness (stong-nyid rtogs-pa'i shes-rab). In Tantra we have the knowledge of the unification of bliss and emptiness (bde stong ye-shes). And in Dzogchen we have the Unique Essence (thig-le nyag-gcig), which is non-dual from the very beginning. So the goal of each of these paths is defined differ­ently.

Nowadays, there are some Lamas who say: "Phyag-chen rdzog-chen dbu-ma chen-po gcig-pa red", that is, Mahamudra, Dzogchen and the Great Madhyamaka are all the same. [6] This statement may be useful to promote non-sectarianism, but it is not true philosophically. Mahamudra, although possessed by all Tantric schools, is especially associated with the Kagyudpas, whereas Dzogchen is especially associated with the Nyingmapas and the Bonpos. The great Madhyamaka is what the Gelugpas call their view. We have already pointed out how the view of Madhyamaka clearly differs from Dzogchen, and here we are considering how the view of Mahamudra differs from Dzogchen. [7] They differ in terms of their Base (view), their Path (meditation) and their Fruit (result). The results are not the same because the view and the meditation are different.

According to Madhyamaka, on the Path of Vision at the First Bhumi, [8] we come to realize the unification (zung-'jug) of emptiness and clarity. But according to Dzogchen, emptiness and clarity have been inseparable from the very beginning (ye nas dbyer-med). Attaining Buddhahood, therefore, depends on recognizing the Nature of Mind and not on uniting two different things. According to Madhyamaka, which belongs to the Sutra system, it takes three immeasurable kalpas to attain Buddhahood, whereas if we practice according to the Tantras, we will attain enlightenment in at least seven lifetimes. The difference is that Tantra and Mahamudra unite bliss with Shunyata or emptiness, while Madhyamaka knows only Shunyata. Tantra has access to the additional methods of Kyerim and Dzogrim which are unknown in the Sutra system. Dzogchen, however, does not need any sort of visualization process as preparation, but seeks immediately to discover the Natural State as it is in itself. We do not need to do anything special. So, with the practice of Dzog­chen, if we have the capacity, we can realize Buddhahood within a single lifetime. When there are different views and different paths, they lead to different results. This is only logical. If we plant a seed of barley in the earth, it will not produce wheat. So the Buddhahood, which is the Fruit according to Madhyamaka and also according to Mahamudra, will not be the same as the Fruit according to Dzogchen. [9]

So, if we recognize the Nature of Mind, there is no reason to make a postponement. In the Sutra system, we purify our mind through applying antidotes. In the Tantra system, we use visualization to transform our vision and make a unification of Shunyata and Bodhichitta. This is the method of transformation, not that of applying antidotes. But in Dzogchen we have the method of self-liberation. Because their methods are different, Sutra is known as the Path of Renunciation (spong lam), Tantra is known as the Path of Transformation (sgyur lam), and Dzogchen is known as the Path of Self-Liberation (grol lam). [10] If they are different paths, how can we get the same result? Thus each system here has its own distinct Base, Path and Fruit. [11]

In Mahamudra, which also represents the culmination of the Tantra system, there is the unification of bliss and emptiness (bde­stong zung-'jug) and this is the experience of Detong Yeshe, the knowledge of bliss and emptiness, as we have pointed out before. And here "emptiness" is conceived as being the same as that in Madhyamaka because it was explained in this way by Marpa the translator. There is the unification (zung-'jug) of feeling (bde-ba) and emptiness (stong-pa nyid) and these two become knowledge (ye-shes). This Detong Yeshe (bde-stong ye-shes) is what distinguishes Tantra from Sutra. Shunyata is always the object side, and so in this system, Dewa and Yeshe are on the subject side. Thus the Sutras speak of the intelligence which understands emptiness (stong-nyid rtogs-pa'i shes-rab) and the Tantras speak of the knowledge which is bliss and emptiness (bde-stong ye­shes). But in Dzogchen, when we refer to the Natural State, we do not speak of thoughts (rnam-rtog) or consciousness (rnam­shes), but of clarity (gsal-ba) and awareness (rig-pa). So, we do not find here in Dzogchen the same way of speaking that we find in Madhyamaka, for example. The Natural State has its emptiness side (stong-cha), but it equally has its clarity side (gsal-cha). These two are inseparable, like fire and heat, or water and wetness. However, in Madhyamaka and in Mahamudra, there is always some subtle grasping by a thought ('dzin-pa), that is, a catching or seizing or apprehending of something, even if this something is just emptiness. There must be a thought present there that knows the emptiness. But this is not true of the Natural State. There is no thought present that knows the Natural State, because the Natural State is self-aware and knows itself from the very beginning. Just as a lamp flame illuminates a dark room, so simultaneously it also illuminates itself. There is no need for a second thought or consciousness to know it. It simply knows itself. In Dzogchen everything is open and there is no grasping ('dzin-med).

The various Tibetan schools agree that we can attain Buddhahood either through the path of Sutra or the path of Tantra. But according to Tantra, the Buddhahood attained through the Sutra method is not complete and not fully realized. There are some further stages or bhumis that must be gone through and these are described in the Tantras.

In the Sutra system, the Paramitas are according to Relative Truth and Shunyata is according to Absolute Truth. Like Madhyamaka and the Sutra system, Thodgal practice in Dzogchen teaches us the illusory nature of all things. We come to realize that all appearances are illusions created by mind. But when we are in the Natural State, we do not make judgments, such as thinking: "It is only an illusion!." In Dzogchen, the Trikaya has to be attained simultaneously, not successively. But according to Madhyamaka, without the Two Truths, there can be no attaining of Buddhahood. In the Sutra system, we find these two ideas. First, that the knowledge which knows emptiness is the cause of the Dharmakaya and, second, the practice of the accumulation of the Paramitas is the cause of the Rupakaya. But this Sutra practice takes a very long time to realize the result. They practice Shunyata only, not the visualization of the visible forms of the deities. But in Tantra, we begin by assuming the state of emptiness, and then practice the visualization of the deities from the very beginning. Thus, this method is much quicker. Sutra possesses only the cause for the Dharmakaya, the practice of Shunyata. It knows only this; it does not know the real cause of the Rupakaya. So the Sutra system is like planting charcoal in the ground and watering it regularly; no tree will grow from this. Tantra practices Shunyata, but also the visualization of the deities, so this provides a cause for the manifestation of the Rupakaya and the method works much quicker. [12]

But when Sutra and Tantra look at Dzogchen, they see no causes for producing the Rupakaya. There is no visualization practice. There is nothing done that might be the cause of the Rupakaya. They ask: Dzogchen does not recognize the Two Truths, so how can Dzogchen lead to the attaining of Buddha-hood? In answer, Dzogchen has the Natural State which is not at all the same as the Shunyata of Madhyamaka. Emptiness means a lack of inherent existence. It is a condition which is merely empty, passive and negative. But according to Dzogchen, all visible things spontaneously exist (lhun-grub) as manifestations of the inherent energy (rang rtsal) of the Natural State. For example, when we look at a mustard seed, we see no oil. But when we press the seeds, oil comes out. So this oil spontaneously exists in the seed, but the secondary cause of pressing the seed is required for the oil to manifest. If Buddhahood did not already spon­taneously exist in the Natural State, no matter what practices we did, and no matter for how long, nothing would come out of it. The Natural State has the potentiality of the Ten Paramitas already fully present within it. Dzogchen possesses all the causes of Buddhahood because everything already spontaneously exists within the Natural State. Therefore, we need practice only this single truth, and not two.

According to Dzogchen, Tantra cannot attain complete Buddhahood because it turns to one road and then to another. We cannot go simultaneously on two roads. All of the forms of the Tantric deities, the Zhitro, or Peaceful and Wrathful Deities, are inherent in the Natural State. According to the Jonangpas, the Natural State has these forms of the deities in potential, so each sentient being is a potential Buddha, but as yet this Buddhahood is not visible. [13] So everything can come out of the Natural State. But for this potentiality to manifest, there must be secondary causes; it is not like a Buddha image enshrined in a temple with the door open. Thodgal practice links us with the secondary causes for the manifestation. But these are only secondary; the real cause and source of the visions is the Natural State.

In Dzogchen, we only practice the one path of remaining in the Natural State, and everything else manifests out of that spontaneously, which is Lhundrub, whereas in the Sutra system, we are expected to practice the two accumulations equally. But how can we take two roads at one time? We must neglect the one while we pursue the other. However, all the Buddhas, all their virtuous qualities and all their activities, already exist in the Natural State. This single Natural State is the basis of everything in Samsara and Nirvana. Therefore, we call it the Kunzhi, the basis of everything. At this present moment, our Natural State is only the basis of Samsara, and it is not now acting as the basis of Nirvana. At present for us it is only the basis of delusion ('khrul­gzhi) and not the basis of liberation (grol-gzhi). But the Natural State is also the basis of Nirvana, and when we find ourselves in the state of enlightenment then it is no longer the basis of the delusion of Samsara, but the basis of Liberation (grol-gzhi). This is the case for a particular individual; when speaking in general, it is the basis of both. This teaching is profound (zab) because it teaches in individual and particular terms, and it is also vast (rgyas) because it teaches in general and universal terms. All of the Ten Paramitas and all the other virtues of a Buddha already spontaneously exist in the Natural State. It is as if everything has already been placed there in the temple, but the doors are closed. We must open these doors by way of secondary causes and practice and then the contents will be visible. It has all been there right from the very beginning, but access to it depends on our knowing the qualities of the Natural State. But we do not make any examination or research into this while we are in the Natural State; we just let it be. This one truth is enough; we do not need the Two Truths.

The Rimed Movement of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgon Kongtrul in eastern Tibet, in the present and in the last century, was very much influenced by the Dzogchen view and, basically, it adopted the Dzogchen view. Thus, many Lamas who come from eastern Tibet, especially Kagyudpas, now explain Mahamudra as if it were Dzogchen. They say again and again: rDzogs-chen phyag-chen gcig-pa red! "Dzogchen and Mahamudra are the same." Generally they are speaking about the Mahamudra of Gampopa, which had been so severely criticized by Sakya 1'andita and other scholars.

However, the traditional explanation of Mahamudra is made according to the Tantra system and it is quite different from Dzogchen. For example, we can find this explanation of tradi­tional Indian Mahamudra in the Lamdre (lam 'bras) system of the Sakyapas and in the Dohas of Virupa. And there it is explained according to Dzinpa or the apprehending of something. Tsong­khapa asserts that without Dzinpa there is no recognition of what is subject and what is object. In the Natural State there is no knowing or recognizing of an object by a subject, but here in Mahamudra there is still this separation of subject and object. In Tantra also, there must still be something present on the subject side and on the object side. When some Lamas say that Dzogchen and Mahamudra are the same, this cannot be so, because in Dzogchen there is no Dzinpa, whereas in Dzogrim there is Dzinpa, that is to say, the knowing of Detong Yeshe. And if the view is different, then the path will be different, and correspond­ingly the fruit will be different.

According to some Lamas, in Sutra and in Tantra the object, namely, Shunyata is the same, while the subject is different. In Sutra the subject is the ordinary discursive mind, whereas in Tantra it is the purified mind in the thigleys or energy drops (bindus). [14] However, in both cases, whether a gross discursive mind or a purified subtle mind, there is Dzinpa, the apprehending of something, whereas in the Natural State of Dzogchen, there is no duality of subject and object and there is no Dzinpa present from the very beginning. So, here we find some fundamental differences in the views held by Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen. As practitioners, we should be aware of them.

CHAPTER 6: The View of Dzogchen

Taught by Lopon Tenzin Namdak,
Devon and Amsterdam, Spring 1991.
Compiled and edited by John Myrdhin Reynolds.

Dzogchen as the Highest Teaching

Within the Bonpo tradition, there are nine successive ways (theg-pa rim dgu) to enlightenment and Dzogchen is the highest of these. But it is not enough to say Dzogchen is the highest. We must know and understand the reasons why it is the highest. If we understand the reasons precisely, then no one will be able to destroy our devotion to the Dzogchen teachings. The source of the Dzogchen teachings is the Dharmakaya Samantabhadra, or Kuntu Zangpo (kun to bzang-po) as he is known in Tibetan, and Dzogchen has had an uninterrupted and continuous lineage from the Dharmakaya down until the present time. For example, we can find this lineage in the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud. [1]

When we come to Dzogchen, there are two methods of practicing the teachings: (1) We do the preliminary practices, and then go to a master who introduces us to the Natural State (rig-pa ngo-sprod), after which we go on to practice retreat in isolation in the wilderness for years until we attain some realization. (2) At Menri Monastery in Tibet, we had an educational system where-by students thoroughly studied Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen. However, this also meant that there was little time for practice. It was mostly a matter of intellectual study, and at the end of their course of studies, having passed the oral examinations, students received a Geshe degree. [2]

For what reasons is Dzogchen the highest view? In all of the nine successive ways or vehicles we search for the Natural State (gnas-lugs). But this depends on the capacity of the individual. Each of these nine successive ways has a different view. In gen­eral, the method of Sutra is the path of renunciation (spong lam), the method of Tantra is the path of transformation (sgyur lam), and the method of Dzogchen is the path of self-liberation (grol lam). So we say that Dzogchen is the final or ultimate way. Self-liberation (rang grol) is the definitive view and method of Thekchod (khregs-chod).

The text we have here is entitled the Theg-pa'i rim-pa mngon du bshad-pa'i mdo rgyud, "The Sutra and Tantra of the Clear Explanation of the Nine Successive Ways." This text is from the collection of Central Treasures, or U-Ter (dbu-gter), so-called because they were found at Samye Monastery and at other places in central Tibet. [3] It deals with the view of Dzogchen, contrasting it with the views found in Madhyamaka, Yogachara and Tantra.

If we depend on intellectual speculation alone, however, we shall be very far away from the Dzogchen view. It is not a matter of thinking "Maybe Dzogchen is like this or like that." That is something artificial; it is not direct experience. What is required at first is a direct introduction to the Natural State (rig-pa ngo­sprod). This Natural State is the view of Thekchod. The intro­duction is very simple: we just look inward, we look back at ourselves. It is like looking at our own face in a mirror, not looking out at the external world through eye-glasses. Every one of us has the possibility of realizing it for ourselves. It is not very far, but it must be pointed out to us. So it is not a matter of collecting different teachings. As such, it only becomes more remote. No, it is a matter of direct personal experience. The watcher and what is watched both dissolve at the same time and we just leave them as they are. We just continue in the Natural State; that is the view of Thekchod.

But a direct introduction is necessary because, even though it is near at hand, due to our obscurations, we do not recognize it. We get this direct introduction from a master who has had his own personal experience of the Natural State. He knows what it is and can point it out to us. This makes for clarity and understanding and dispels disturbances. The Dzogchen teachings were transmitted from the Dharmakaya Kuntu Zangpo down to the master Tapihritsa who, in the eighth century, transmitted them to his disciple Gyerpung Nangzher Lodpo (Gyer-spungs sNang-bzher lod-po) in the country of Zhang-zhung, and the latter wrote them down. These teachings have been transmitted from then until the present day in a continuous lineage. For this reason, in the tradition of the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud, "the oral transmission (snyan-rgyud) from the country of Zhang-zhung", Tapihritsa is the principal figure in the Guru Yoga practice. From him as the Nirmanakaya Guru, all blessings, all the powers of knowledge and inspiration (byin-rlabs), come to us. He attained the enlightenment of a Buddha through the practice of Dzogchen and realized the Rainbow Body of Light ('ja'-lus-pa). Then at a later time he appeared in the guise of a small child and bestowed the Dzogchen precepts upon the master Gyerpungpa. [4]

The Base

In the Dzogchen teachings, the Base (gzhi) is the state of total primordial purity (ka-dag chen-po). This state of primordial purity may, in some respects, resemble unconsciousness, but it is not at all unconsciousness as such because it is characterized by the presence of Awareness (rig-pa). It is often compared to the sky, but this is only an example, because the sky is not aware. But just as the sky is not changed by the presence of the clouds in it, so in the Base there is no change or addition in response to whatever we think or do. There is nothing new to be added to it, nor is it in need of any correction or modification (ma bcos-pa). It is naturally pure and never otherwise; that is its quality. The Natural State has never been defiled or modified by the events of Samsara. It is like a mirror which is in no way changed or modified by whatever it reflects.

Nonetheless, in this Base, which is the Natural State of the Nature of Mind (sems-nyid gnas-lugs), manifestations sponta­neously appear, just as clouds appear in the sky or reflections appear in a mirror. This is its quality of spontaneous manifes­tation (lhun-grub), and these manifestations represent the creative potentiality or energy (rtsal) of the Natural State. All things, all that we think and perceive as individual sentient beings, are manifestations of the inherent energy (rang rtsal) of the Natural State. In the end they return again to the Natural State. There is nothing in Samsara or Nirvana that goes beyond the Natural State. It is the primordial Base (ye gzhi) of both Samsara and Nirvana. Everything that appears, exists as spontaneous self-perfection (lhun-grub) and yet it is empty. The emptiness side (stong-cha) of everything is called primordial purity (ka-dag) and the clarity side (gsal-cha) is called spontaneous perfection (lhun­grub). And although we differentiate between these two aspects when speaking, in reality they are inseparable (dbyer-med). So there is nothing special here. Everything is present in the Base. The quality of the Natural State is the inseparability of clarity and emptiness (gsal stong dbyer-med). If this is not our view, than that view is not Dzogchen.

But when we are actually practicing the Natural State, we do not analyze and examine matters in this way intellectually. We leave everything in the state of being just as it is (ji-bzhin-pa). If we think or examine or judge, we disturb and lose our contem­plation; we fall out of the Natural State and enter into the workings of the mind. In the Natural State, everything is fine just as it is; we do not have to think about it or evaluate it.

In Dzogchen, we speak of three series of teachings: the Semde or Mind Series (sems-sde), the Longde or Space Series (klon-sde), and the Manngagide or Secret Instruction Series (man­ngag gi sde). [5] The Longde emphasizes the emptiness side, whereas the Semde emphasizes the clarity or awareness side. The Manngagide, or Dzogchen Upadesha, emphasizes the insep­arability (dbyer-med) of these two sides. If we go along only with Shunyata on the emptiness side, that is not Dzogchen. Semde and Longde are mainly just names referring to a matter of emphasis. The ultimate point in both is Yermed (dbyer-med), or insep­arability; otherwise they would not be Dzogchen. Their differ­ence is only a matter of how they bring the practitioner to the understanding of Yermed. The Dzogchen Upadesha begins immediately with Yermed. It assumes that we already understand Yermed, at least to some degree. It is Yermed that is most important, and without it there is no basis for Dzogchen.

Commitment to the Dzogchen View

If this is all clear to the practitioner, then there is a commit­ment (dam-tshig). Although there are no vows and rules to be found in Dzogchen, as there are in Sutra and Tantra, nevertheless, there is a commitment to the view of Dzogchen, if we would be practitioners of Dzogchen. This Damtsik or commitment is fourfold:

  1. singularity (gcig-po),
  2. spontaneous perfection (lhun-grub),
  3. negation (med-pa), and
  4. abiding naturally in purity (rang-bzhin gnas dag).

The Tibetan word gcig-po means "single, singular, unique, singularity, uniqueness." The Dzogchen view is singular and unique because we do not fall onto the one side or onto the

other, but remain always with Yermed. In the view of Dzogchen, all appearances are spontaneously perfected (lhun-grub). The word med-pa means negation: "it is not." But in the context here, we are not thinking that something does not exist. The Dzogchen Semde text entitled the Nam-mkha"phrul mdzod clearly explains this negative way of speaking: no refuge, no compassion, and so on. This negation has reference only to the Natural State. It means that in the Natural State, there is nothing but the Natural State. On the side of manifestation, however, everything exists, including all practices and virtues, but on the side of the Natural State, nothing exists independently because all things, including refuge, compassion, the Ten Paramitas, and so on, are already there, present in their full potentiality, and so there is nothing to realize. Everything is already there. If we grasp at anything, then that is not Dzogchen; we have gone beyond the Dzogchen view and fallen into a lesser view. And so we speak in a negative way (med-pa). Abiding naturally in purity means we continue in Yermed, we continue in the Natural State which is primordially pure.

The Dzogchen View

If we grasp at something or try to do something, we lose the Natural State and deviate from the view of Dzogchen. To leave everything just as it is without trying to correct or modify anything is the view of Dzogchen. The Natural State has no partiality or divisions. In it, there is nothing to affirm or negate. This is what it means to be without accepting or rejecting anything (spang blang med-pa). But if we think: "I must be in a state of Yermed", then this is grasping at a concept and it represents a wrong view. Thoughts and concepts are not the Natural State. This awareness (rig-pa) is self-aware (rang-rig); it is not divided into subject and object. So if we try to do anything in terms of thinking and judging, we bifurcate it into two parts and we are no longer in the Natural State.

The Lower Ways speak of the Two Truths, but in Dzogchen, we do not do that. We speak only of a single source or Base (gzhi). Thus Dzogchen is also known as Thigley Nyagchik (thig-le nyag-gcig), the Unique Essence. In the Tibetan language, the word dzogpa (rdzogs-pa) means two things: (1) something is com­pleted, finished, exhausted, and (2) everything is full, perfect and complete. The Sambhogakaya is called Dzogku (rdzogs-sku) in Tibetan because it is effulgent, complete, and perfect. It is the actual form or visible manifestation (sku) of perfection (rdzogs­pa). But this does not mean that it is finished or ended. In the Dzogchen view, everything is perfect because it is Lhundrub.

Everything exists in potential in the Natural State. But things manifest according to secondary causes. In the Dzogchen view, this also applies to the Ten Paramitas and other virtues. The entire accumulations of merit and wisdom are already present in the Natural State. There is nothing more to be added or devel­oped. So if we practice in just this single way by remaining in Rigpa, all virtues will manifest in their entirety because they are already fully contained in the Natural State. Everything is encompassed by the Natural State; there is no "external" or "internal" in relation to it. Yet the Natural State in each sentient being is individual, while it has the same quality and level. The Natural States in an enlightened Buddha and in an ignorant insect are the same. One is not bigger and the other smaller. The differences between an enlightened being and an ignorant being are in terms of the Path and the Fruit, but in both cases the Base is the same. And the Base is the Natural State. But the Natural State is individual with each sentient being. We are not all "One Mind." Otherwise, if there was only one single Natural State, or One Mind, then when the Buddha attained enlightenment, all sentient beings would have become enlightened. But that is not our experience.

However, the eight Lower Ways or vehicles (yanas) contra­dict this Dzogchen view. The text we have here, the Theg-rim, deals with four contradictions or objections brought against Dzogchen and refutes each of them in turn.

First Contradiction - Chittamatra

According to the Chittamatra (sems-tsam-pa) view, every-thing that exists is connected with mind. It is created by the mind. That is the real view of Chittamatra, the philosophy of the Yoga­chara school. When we see the blue color of the sky, this means that the eye consciousness, which is the subject doing the appre­hending, and the blue color, which is the object apprehended, are inseparable. This is because they arise from the same karmic cause. This is true of all perceptions of appearances, and so we can say that everything is connected with mind, even though they are not made out of some sort of mind-stuff. Nothing exists independently without this connection with consciousness.

The Chittamatra view of the Yogachara school asserts that everything depends on mind (sems) and that there is nothing beyond mind. Thus, the Chittamatrin asks: So how can you Dzogchenpas do any better than this? That is to say, how can you go beyond thoughts to a state beyond mind? It is not possible that there is anything beyond mind.

Dzogchen is always talking about "mind" (sems), so some people think that Dzogchen has the same view as Chittamatra. But "mind" (sems) has a different meaning in the context of Dzogchen where it means, not "mind"(sems) in the sense of the thought process or in the sense of consciousness (rnam-shes), but "mind" in the sense of the Nature of Mind (sems-nyid). In Dzogchen, Sem (sems) means Semnyid (sems-nyid), and it is not part of the system of eight consciousnesses (tshogs brgyad). This Nature of Mind is characterized by awareness (rig-pa); it is insep­arable from the Base. But this Base is unknown to Chittamatra, which knows nothing beyond the Kunzhi Namshe (kun-gzhi rnam-shes), the storehouse consciousness, that is, the receptacle for karmic traces (bag-chags). When Dzogchen speaks about the Kunzhi, the basis of everything in both Samsara and Nirvana, this has a very different meaning from the Kunzhi Namshe in Chittamatra where it is only the basis for karmic traces.

Dzogchen falls outside their view. To the objection raised by the Chittamatrin, the Dzogchenpa replies: You say that conscious­ness is real and exists independently. But we do not recognize this. We do not recognize all these phenomena as real or the thoughts that know them as real. According to Chittamatra, the consciousness of whatever we see or experience is inherently existing, but Dzogchen does not claim that the Natural State exists inherently. So our view goes beyond yours.

Second Contradiction - Madhyamaka

The second contradiction represents the Madhyamaka criticism of Dzogchen. Both Chittamatra and Madhyamaka recog­nize the Two Truths, the Relative Truth, which is appearances, and the Absolute Truth, which is Shunyata. Madhyamaka asserts that everything is related to these Two Truths and that there is nothing beyond them. Subject and object have no independent existence; they exist only as names created by thoughts. Nothing has any independent existence. Shunyata is the final or ultimate reality and there is nothing beyond this. So the followers of Madhyamaka ask: How can you Dzogchenpas do better than this? Your Dzogchen is not even Buddhism!

To this, the Dzogchenpa replies: We do not recognize the subject/object dichotomy and the Two Truths. Our view is inseparability (dbyer-med) without any partiality. There is only one Truth, which we call Thigley Nyagchik (thig-le nyag-gcig), the Unique Essence. So our view is beyond your view of the Two Truths. Dzogchen is beyond your Madhyamaka view, but this does not mean that Dzogchen is not the Buddha's teaching. It simply means that it is beyond your definition of the Two Truths. [6]

Some authors in their commentaries on the Madhya­makavatara of Chandrakirti criticize Dzogchen for not asserting the Two Truths. Dzogchen asserts that the final view pertains to only a single nature, a state beyond cause and effect. It does not say that karmic causes and consequences are ultimate. If there are two truths, then we must have two minds in order to know them. These critics speak of two kinds of cognition: (1) a discriminating intelligence (the subject side) that understands Shunyata (the object side) and (2) a discursive intellect that knows names and concepts, imputing them to phenomena. Both of these represent "wisdom" or "intelligence" (shes-rab), but here we have two minds, not one. According to Dzogchen there is only one cognition, the Thigley Nyagchik, and not two minds.

Again, the Madhyamaka practitioner objects: If Dzogchen does not have the Two Truths, then it does not recognize the Ten Paramitas. How then can you Dzogchenpas do any practice? And if you do not do any practice, how can you accumulate any virtues? And if you do not have the two accumulations of merit and wisdom, how can you attain Buddhahood? The sources of the two accumulations are the Two Truths and the result of the two accumulations is realization of the Two Bodies, the Dharma­kaya and the Rupakaya. So you cannot realize Buddhahood unless you have these Two Truths. They are required as causes for the Dharmakaya and the Rupakaya. Without such a cause, you can-not realize Buddhahood.

The Dzogchenpa replies: Dzogchen agrees that without a cause we cannot realize Buddhahood. But if we are given a piece of gold, we do not have to search for its qualities, they are inherent in it from the very beginning. Dzogchen never says that we should not practice the Ten Paramitas; it only asserts that the Natural State already contains the Ten Paramitas and, when we realize the Natural State, they will manifest spontaneously. So we do not need to practice them separately, one after the other. The Ten Paramitas are spontaneously present within the Natural State. Thus Dzogchen only explains the Thigley Nyagchik, or Natural State, and that is sufficient. If we practice the Natural State, we will realize the Dharmakaya and the Rupakaya because all things are present already in the Natural State, and when the secondary causes arise, they will manifest spontaneously. If we practice the one Natural State, everything is present there already, and so that is enough.

According to the Sutra system in general, if we do not recognize the Two Truths, then there is no cause for the realization of the Two Bodies. The Lamas, in this tradition in particular, rely upon the exposition of Chandrakirti in his Madhyamakavatara. They take his Prasangika view as being the highest view and assert that there can be nothing beyond that. They follow Chandrakirti in this. According to Madhyamaka, the Buddha-nature is the conventional meaning, whereas Shunyata is the ultimate meaning. However, according to Dzogchen, once we discover our real nature, the Natural State, we do not need to search for anything else. Everything is present there already, all of the Paramitas, and will manifest spontaneously. But in Dzogchen, we do need secondary causes for the manifestation of the Trikaya. So, Dzogchen can justly claim that its view is the higher.

Third Contradiction - the Lower Tantra

Along with Chittamatra and Madhyamaka, the Tantras recognize the Two Truths. But here the emphasis and the method are different. According to Kriya Tantra, the practice involves two kind of beings, the Wisdom Being (ye-shes sems-dpa') and the Symbolic Being (dam-tshig sems-dpa'). The Symbolic Being is the visualization of the deity in the sky in front of us; it is created by our mind, and then the Knowledge Being is the blessing and energy invoked into it from a higher source. Then the two of them are united into one and that unification is called the Action Being (las kyi sems-dpa'). In Kriya Tantra, this Knowledge Being is like a king and the Symbolic Being is like a servant. The king gives siddhis and blessings to the servant. Thereby the latter becomes much more powerful and wise, and then this power can overflow into the practitioner.

The Kriya Tantra practitioner asserts: We visualize that the entire universe has become a celestial palace and that all beings become the deities in this palace. How can you do better than this point of view? We invoke the wisdoms of the deity, and uniting the Symbolic Being and the Knowledge Being, we receive siddhis from this Action Being. How can you Dzogchenpas explain anything better than this? There is no better view or practice!

To this the Dzogchenpa replies: You do not actually understand the real nature of things. You are unable to go beyond visualization (dmigs-med). You create one being with your mind and invoke the wisdoms as another being, and then try to mix them together. But you cannot make them into one. You do not know Nyamnyid (mnyam-nyid), the state of sameness or self-identity, and so you make one the lord and the other the servant. You are like a child with its parent. You do not know real unification, and so our view is beyond yours. Our view is spacious and unlimited; our conduct has no negative rules, and so our view is the higher. The "highest" view means getting near to the real nature. And we do not use thoughts to do that. You cannot practice the Two Truths simultaneously, but only consecutively. You must alternate one with the other. But in Dzogchen, we have gone beyond that.

Fourth Contradiction - the Higher Tantra

In the Bonpo system, there are four kinds of Tantra. The two Lower Tantras are the Kriya Tantra (bya-ba'i rgyud) and Charya Tantra (spyod-pa'i rgyud). The two Higher Tantras are called Yeshen gyi Gyud (ye-gshen gyi rgyud) and Yeshen Chenpo Gyud (ye-gshen chen-po'i rgyud). The distinction here is somewhat similar to the distinction between Mahayoga Tantra and Anuyoga Tantra in the Nyingmapa system, and the distinction between Father Tantra and Mother Tantra in the Sarmapa system.

The practitioner of the Higher Tantras asserts that we know both awareness (rig-pa) and contemplation or equipoise (mnyam­bzhag, samadhi). All the deities spontaneously exist; this is the view of Yeshen gyi Gyud. Therefore, the Knowledge Being and the Symbolic Being are like brothers, and what we unify here is bliss (bde-ba) and emptiness (bde stong zung-'jug). All the deities and the universe itself are visualized as arising from the dimen­sion of space (dbyings), that is to say, Shunyata. Everything is connected with Shunyata and is a manifestation arising out of Shunyata. We meditate on these visualizations and discover that everything arises from this cycle of Dimension and Primordial Awareness (dbyings dang ye-shes). So there can be no better view than this!

To this the Dzogchenpa replies: You Tantrikas are still grasping ('dzin-pa) at knowing Shunyata as an object. But our Dzogchen view is beyond all grasping at anything. We do not create anything whatsoever with the mind, such as visualizations of deities and mandalas. We do not come to any conclusions or create anything, but we go directly to the Natural State. Therefore, our Dzogchen view is the higher. You Tantrikas are always playing happily like children, that is, playing with discursive thoughts. You are always trying to create or to dissolve something. And this mind-created cycle is never finished. But Dzogchen is not bounded by thoughts. All of the lower vehicles are bounded by this sickness or obsession with discursive thoughts, but the Natural State is primordially beyond all thoughts and actions. In the Higher Tantras, you assert that all the deities are reflections or manifestations (rtsal) of the state of emptiness and that they are not created by thoughts. You say that Dzogrim represents reality! They are not just mind-made visualizations, as is the case with Kyerim practice. Everything exists spontaneously. Yet you have to visualize deities and mandalas. You are perpetually creating things with the mind, and so you are always limited by thoughts. You are tied up with thoughts. This is not at all compatible with Dzogchen. Dzogchen is primordially liberated from all thoughts and deliberate actions. In it, there is nothing artificial or contrived. Therefore, it repre­sents the highest view.

These replies found in the text clearly indicate why Dzogchen is the deepest and highest view (lta-ba zab rgyas). We should know these reasons why Dzogchen represents the highest view, otherwise the assertion means nothing. For the practice of Dzogchen, it is necessary to understand the Natural State, but it is not necessary to create anything intellectually or experientially in order to find ourselves in the Natural State.

Inseparability

Inseparability (dbyer-med) is what is emphasized in Dzogchen. This term Yermed does not mean bringing two different things together and making them one. That is unifica­tion or coalescence (zung-'jug). Inseparability means that they have never been separate. We may speak about them being separate qualities or aspects, but in reality they have never been otherwise than perfectly unified, like water and wetness, or fire and heat. Dzogchen asserts that primordial purity (ka-dag), that is to say, Shunyata and spontaneous manifestation have been inseparable from the very beginning (ye-nas ka-dag lhun-grub dbyer-med), and never otherwise.

So as practitioners of the view of Dzogchen, we do not fall on the one side or on the other. The emphasis may be different in the three series of Dzogchen teachings. The Longde emphasizes the emptiness side (stong-cha) and the Semde emphasizes the clarity or awareness side (gsal-cha), but even here, what is basic and fundamental is to realize their unity or inseparability. Dzogchen Upadesha or Manngagide at the very outset stresses Yermed; it begins with inseparability and it does not first need to go through emptiness or clarity to get at it. The real nature of Dzogchen is beyond expression in words; we can only discover it within ourselves. For this, the experiences of the calm state (gnas­pa), the movement of thoughts ('gyu-ba), and immediate aware­ness (rig-pa) can be used as a direct introduction to the Natural State. However, if we just play around with discursive thoughts, like children playing with their toys, we will fall away from the Natural State. So, philosophies and intellectual speculations are not enough on their own to discover Reality.

CHAPTER 7: The Practice of Dzogchen

Teachings by Lopon Tenzin Namdak,
Amherst College, October 1991.
Transcribed and edited by John Myrdhin Reynolds.

View

Dzogchen is an especially valuable teaching for this time in the West. It goes directly to the essence of the matter. All of us as sentient beings (sems-can) possess mind (sems). So this teaching about mind and its nature is very useful to us in practical terms and not just theoretically. The benefit is that Dzogchen can bring us peace of mind and happiness in our lives. In the practice of Dzogchen, there are no complicated visualizations, no difficult yoga positions, no monotonous chanting of mantras; there is only an examination of our condition and a discovery of the Nature of Mind. We need to discover what really exists. Our mind is nearer to us than anything else, yet it is invisible and we do not see it. We do not immediately recognize its nature. For this reason, we need to hear the teachings and then put them into practice. This will not only bring us a calm and contented life in the present but, in the future, it will bring the circumstances of a better rebirth. However, in order to understand this, we first look at our own condition before we can discover and recognize this Nature of Mind.

The Dzogchen teachings look very simple, but in the Tibetan texts they are made much more complicated. Usually in a Dzogchen text, it will say that it is not necessary to practice Kyerim and Dzogrim as in Tantra, or to practice virtues like Bodhichitta, generosity and so on, as in Sutra. Dzogchen asserts that we do not need to do anything except enter into, and continue in, the Natural State (rig-pa). Other than this, we do not need to do anything in particular. There is no question of karmic traces or of practicing virtues. It will even say in a Dzogchen text that there is no need for view or meditation. What does this mean and why does it say this in some texts? Some explanations given in Dzogchen are direct, while others are indirect. Some critics in Tibet even asserted that Dzogchen is some sort of nihilism and not even Buddhism. But this is not so, and many wrong ideas have been given out over the centuries by the critics of Dzogchen. Traditionally, Dzogchen is taught within a specific cultural and intellectual context, and we need to know what this context is, otherwise we can develop many wrong ideas about Dzogchen.

This intellectual context is principally represented by the teachings of Sutra and Tantra in both Buddhism and Bon. The Bardo teachings of the famous Tibetan Book of the Dead are also included here. In both Tibetan Buddhism and Yungdrung Bon, Dzogchen is regarded as the highest and most esoteric teaching of the Buddhas. The Nyingmapa school of Tibet also asserts this. The Dzogchen teachings and terminology in the Nyingmapa texts and in the Bonpo texts are essentially the same; the principal difference between Nyingmapa Dzogchen and Bonpo Dzogchen is that of lineage. The Nyingmapas claim that their lineage of transmission comes from India and Uddiyana and the Bonpos claim that theirs comes from Zhang-zhung and Tazik. [1] Other-wise, the meaning of Dzogchen in both traditions is the same.

In presenting the view and practice of Dzogchen here, we are following a collection of Bonpo Dzogchen texts known as the Nam-mkha' 'phrul mdzod, "the magical treasury of the sky." They are connected with the master Lung-ton Lha-nyen (Lung­ston Lha-gnyan, b.1088) and the teachings of this cycle were transmitted to him orally by Tsewang Rigdzin (Tshe-dbang rig 'dzin), an ancient sage who was disguised as an Indian sadhu. [2] The texts are from the Dzogchen teachings of the latter's father, Dranpa Namkha (Dran-pa nam-mkha'), and they present a more philosophical view of Dzogchen.

Basically, in the Bonpo tradition of Tibet, we have two different approaches to the practice of Dzogchen. In the first, we find for ourselves a suitable Lama who is a master of Dzogchen, and we request teachings from him. Then, in a retreat, we carry out the preliminary practices according to his instructions. These are known as the Ngondro (sngon-'gro) and consist of nine practices which are done a hundred thousand times each. [3] Thus they are called the Bum-gu ('bum dgu) or nine Bum, "Bum" meaning a hundred thousand. When these preliminaries are completed, we then return to our Lama and request the Dzog­chen teachings. Thereupon he gives us a direct introduction to Rigpa or the Natural State (rig-pa ngo-sprod). There are many different ways of doing this. We then go into a long retreat in some isolated place and practice, continuing in the Natural State as much as possible. Since we have been introduced to it by the master, we now know what Rigpa is. But this knowledge is not enough. We must practice remaining in that state.' We must develop our capacity to do so. Otherwise, because of a lack of familiarity with it, we may begin to develop doubts. At this point, it is only necessary to go occasionally to our Lama to have him check our understanding of the Natural State. We continue in this way until we attain enlightenment. [4]

The second approach is much more intellectual. In Tibet, formal education was only to be had in monasteries. In the larger Bonpo monasteries there was a traditional curriculum of scholarly studies, beginning with Sutra, then proceeding on to Tantra, and finally culminating in Dzogchen. [5] The Bonpos cherished this tradition of profound scholarship and there was a dialectical system connected with the study of Dzogchen. Nowadays, at the Bonpo monastery at Dolanji in India, this involves a nine-year

program of studies for the Geshe degree. But when one is a student in the philosophy college at the monastery, one does not have much time for practice, or for making retreats. It is up to the individual student to practice after he has finished his course of studies and obtained his degree. Shardza Rinpoche instituted a reform at his monastery in eastern Tibet and inaugurated a three-year retreat system like the Nyingmapas. First one completed all the philosophical studies and then the student went into a three-year retreat to practice Tantra and Dzogchen. This Shardza tradition was much influenced by the Nyingmapas and the Kagyudpas of eastern Tibet or Kham, and so we find the same sort of preliminary practices here. Of course, we are talking about practicing until one attains realization or enlightenment, so practice is not just limited to a three-year retreat.

What is Dzogchen and what is the purpose of practicing Dzogchen? We must know this and have a clear understanding of what Dzogchen is all about, not only for our view and practice, but also because people will ask us about Dzogchen. We do not want to give them any mistaken ideas because this will be bad for them and bad for the reputation of the Dzogchen teachings. So we must understand what Dzogchen is, how one practices it, and what the results of this are. To understand what Dzogchen is, we need a direct introduction to it from someone who knows what it is, not only intellectually, but from his or her personal experience. It is like being introduced to an old friend from years ago. Although at the present time we do not recognize him, once introduced we then have this flash of recognition. What is introduced here is Rigpa or the Natural State. There are many ways to do this, to make a direct introduction to Rigpa; one method is fixation on the white Tibetan letter A.

Fixating the mind on an object of meditation involves concentration. It does not matter what object we use as long as we do not keep changing it because this leads to distraction. A stick or a small pebble in front of us can be used but, tradi

tionally, as an introduction to Dzogchen, the white Tibetan letter A is used. If one does not know what that looks like, the English letter A can be used, or even a small white dot. This white letter is drawn on black or dark blue paper and that piece of paper is affixed to a wall, or to a stick which is stuck into the earth so that it stands upright before us when we are sitting in meditation position. Located in front of us, the letter A is not too high or too low. Our eyes remain fixed on this letter A, and so our mind is also fixated on it. The eye is the servant of the mind, and the mind as the king depends on this servant to bring him provisions. So this is one method to control the mind which, otherwise, is very difficult to control.

When we fixate our gaze on the white letter A, the mind then concentrates on it. If the eyes do not move, the mind does not move. We meditate with our eyes open in Dzogchen (or half closed) but the gaze is unmoving and, if possible, there is no blinking. The principle involved here is one-pointed concentra­tion of mind, and when this is the case, there is no space for discursive thoughts to arise and distract us. We can do this by making our fixation of attention very acute and sharp, and then relaxing this fixation a little. But, on the other hand, maintaining acute fixation for too long can give rise to problems. So, in the beginning, it is best to meditate only for short periods of time. Then take a short break and begin again. We must use our judgment here. This process is not the same as repressing thoughts; there is just no space for them to manifest. This gives us control of the mind by a more indirect means. It is like aiming an arrow at the center of a target. The white A is this target for our full and total attention, and so this is a method for controlling the mind.

When the mind is agitated, thoughts are incessantly arising, and so we become easily distracted and our attention wanders. Then, suddenly, we recall that we have lost our focus. So again we fixate on the white A. If the mind is too agitated, it is best to take a break and try again later. Forcing ourselves can also cause problems. If the white A appears dull and not clear, then we must fixate our attention more sharply. In general, we can have problems with agitation (rgod-pa) or dullness (rmug-pa), but we can also have a problem with lack of energy or drowsiness (bying­ba). There are various methods we can employ as antidotes to these problems, and these we have discussed elsewhere when giving meditation instruction.

If we continue to practice in this way, we will come to experience a feeling of happiness in the mind and a pleasurable sensation in the body. This is known as dewa (bde-ba). And continuing to practice, we develop Shamatha or zhine (zhi-gnas), a calm state of mind. [6] Our mind is concentrated; it becomes calm like the surface of a lake when there is no wind, and we are no longer disturbed by negative thoughts. But do not think this is the Natural State; it is only an experience (nyams), that is, an experience of a calm state and an experience of a state without thoughts (mi rtog-pa). That is not yet Rigpa. This concentration is something created by the mind; it is not the Nature of Mind or the Natural State. But it is a useful method because it makes it easier to recognize the Natural State. Even an advanced practi­tioner may find that his practice has become stale, and so we can use these Semdzin practices (sems-'dzin), which means fixating the mind, such as fixating on the white Tibetan letter A, in order to freshen up our practice of continuing in the Natural State. [7]

Now, when we are fixating on the white A and find ourselves in this state of calm, undistracted by whatever thoughts arise, then at that time we look back into ourselves and observe what the mind is doing. This is how we begin researching our real nature. When a thought (rnam-rtog) arises, simply observe this thought, without judging it and without trying to change or modify it in any way. Does it have any color or shape? Does it have any location in space, either inside or outside the body? Does it come from anywhere? Does it stay anywhere? Does it go anywhere? What is the difference between the calm state and the movements of thought? Do this for a little while.

Observing the calm state created by fixation as well as the movements of thoughts, what can we say about the mind? Look again inward. Who is it who looks at this thought that arises? Where is the watcher and where is the watched? We must observe and examine our mind. We have spoken of the mind and the Nature of Mind. Who is this watcher of thoughts arising? Where is the watcher? Research this. What can we say? Look and see what it is like. We may say "look", but we do not really mean here that there is a subject and an object. We look and search and we cannot find anything. We cannot separate the watcher and the watched. They have the same nature. We look back and find nothing. We realize this and leave things just as they are.

It is at this moment that we begin to find out what is the Nature of Mind. We remain in that moment. This is the beginning of the recognition of the Natural State. If we cut down one bamboo stick and realize that it is hollow, we do not need to cut down the rest of the bamboo forest to see if they are all hollow. Whether there is a calm state or the movement of thoughts, there is a sense of presence or immediate awareness there and this is Rigpa. That is the quality of the Natural State Even if there are no thoughts arising, we are very present and aware; we are not unconscious. This presence is very bright and clear. It is just there; there is no duality of subject and object. If this intrinsic awareness were not present, we would be asleep. But we are not. We just leave it as it is; there is nothing to change, or correct or modify. It is just what it is and nothing else, but it is something inexpressible. We cannot explain it, even though we call it clarity (gsal-ba) and awareness (rig-pa). This clarity or awareness is the characteristic quality of the Nature of Mind, the Natural State, and yet, at the same time, it is empty because we have found nothing there. So this clarity and this emptiness are inseparable. But none of this was created by the activity of the mind. This state was not created by the mind, as calmness and concentration were created; it is not something created at all. Rather, it is unconditioned and primordial. It is the basis and context for mind and the activities of mind, but it is not mind (sems); it is the Nature of Mind (sems-nyid).

We have searched for the mind by way of fixating on the white A. But this white A is something created by the mind. So also are the calm state and the movement of thoughts. When we look and search for this mind that creates the white A, where is the watcher and the thing watched? They disappear when we look, but they do not go anywhere. They dissolve and liberate, leaving no trace behind. Where do these thoughts come from? Where do they stay? And where do they go? We search and find nothing and this "unfindability" (mi rnyed) is what is there; it is the final source. We call this Shunyata or emptiness. Modern science has always been searching for the ultimate particles, but has never found them. Why? Because there is no limit. When we follow after thoughts, they lead us on endlessly. We never come to an ultimate source, or ultimate particle, or absolute beginning. We are looking in the wrong place. This is just circulating in Samsara. All states of consciousness are conditioned; they are created by our thoughts. But these same thoughts liberate of themselves and leave no trace. What is their source? Where do they go? They arise in the Natural State and they dissolve again into the Natural State. This Natural State is empty but, on the other hand, it has the potentiality for all manifestations to arise. It is the Nature of Mind, and as such it is like a mirror which has the capacity to reflect whatever is set before it, but is itself in no way changed by what it reflects, whether beautiful or ugly. That is the state of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection.

There are many methods that can be used to bring us to recognition of the Natural State. It does not matter which one we use. The waters of all rivers flow into the great ocean. So we can use fixation, visualization, breathing, sound, whatever in order to bring about this recognition. Here we use concentration. At university, we must constantly create many thoughts and the mind never stays quiet. It is quite the opposite here. We just focus our attention one-pointedly and do not allow any space for extraneous thoughts. We do not go about in our usual manner because there is no limit to the creating of discursive thoughts. We fixate on the white A in order to stop this creating of thoughts. Sometimes we can sound "A" long and low, and fixate on that sound without distraction. We can also use the humming sound of "HUM" with an open mouth. There is the same point to all of these Semdzin methods.

Can children practice Dzogchen? Young children have fewer discursive thoughts; their habits are not so set. But when people grow up, they think about different things all of the time. Their thoughts are always circulating and there is no time to rest the mind. It does not matter whether these are good thoughts or bad