The ’ug-Kyi Lab-Nga & The ’ug-Dong Khandro Nying Thig mDo

with commentaries by Ngak’chang Rinpoche & Khandro Déchen

According to the ’ug-Dong Khandro Nying Thig mDo[1], authentic tantrikas live within the dimension of the ’ug-Kyi Lab-Nga[2] – the Owl Precepts. The five Owl Precepts originate in the gTérmas of Khyungchen Aro Lingma. They contain the profound inner meaning of the five precepts commonly found within the Sutras, and as such provide an extraordinary base for approaching Dzogchen. They represent the Dzogchen view of the five precepts, expressed as irrepressible inaction[3]. Chatral dzi-mèd must be experienced naturally[4], through the self-abandonment[5] of the artificial constructs[6] of dualistic rationalisation[7].

Being natural, however, is not ‘natural’ to those committed to the illusion of duality, and therefore some encouragement is needed in terms of inspiring tantrikas to enter into the felt meaning of the view. The Owl Precepts exist therefore, as five aspects of essential life-advice[8] which are applied by the tantrika in terms of mere indication.[9] This method exists in terms of guidelines which undermine the complex contrivances of attempting to maintain dualism. They are invaluable teaching in terms of evolution on the spiritual path.

We have provided commentary on each precept according to the limits of our understanding and from the motivation of wishing to help our disciples relate with the context of their everyday lives. We are aware that the subject of the precepts is approached from many different perspectives and therefore feel it significant that a view is presented according to our tradition.

This presentation of the ’ug-Kyi Lab-nga can be understood in parallel with the Sutric presentation, and should be regarded as harmonious with other expressions of the precepts even when the contradictions are evident. As with all apparent contradictions between the vehicles, one should find no essential disharmony if one has developed a keen perception of the principle and function of practice. We have attempted to bring out this essential harmony in our commentaries, and if anyone is offended by what we have written then the fault lies with us rather than with Aro Lingma’s ’ug-Kyi Lab-nga.

the first precept – srog gÇod songwa.[10]

‘Tantrikas refrain from killing the efflorescence of rigpa as it sparkles through the fabric of duality.’

Commentary: Tantrikas realise that to refrain from killing the efflorescence of their enlightened nature is simultaneously possible and impossible. It is possible, because they are enlightened from beginninglessness; but it is impossible because they may lack confidence in the non-dual state. Because of this ambivalence, they develop confidence in the non-dual state through sustaining awareness of the pain caused by killing in all its manifestations. Their understanding of this is always present. Tantrikas understand that it is impossible to disconnect from killing. They understand that it is so, simply because they have human bodies. They recognise that to have a body, and to exist, is to cause death. From this knowledge they establish compassionate connections with everyone and everything everywhere. Tantrikas recognise that to walk across fields is to kill insects. They recognise that to light a fire to keep warm is to kill beings, and that eating bread makes them responsible, in part, for the death of field mice. They understand that to use medicines is to kill organisms and bacteria. They recognise that plant life has sentience, and that sentience may exist within phenomena in which sentience cannot be perceived. Through this knowledge they know that is impossible to be ‘pure’ or disconnected from killing. They realise that it is impossible to ‘transcend’ their situation as potential killers, merely by enacting purist physical regimes or purist dietary policies. They understand that to live is to cause death, and that this fact cannot be avoided. They recognise that there is no external method for disconnecting themselves from the causes of death; and that the only possibility of practice is to generate compassion when awareness arises of any cause of death. They know that because it is impossible to be pure, that it is also impossible to judge others from the standpoint of purity. They know that if they cannot judge others according to purity and impurity then all trace of religious bigotry is abandoned. They delight in the knowledge that the avoidance of bigotry restores the joy of practice. Knowing they cannot be ‘pure’ according to ‘relative purist rationale’ dissolves all boundaries with regard to compassion. The knowledge that one’s physical existence is in itself the act of killing imbues tantrikas with the pervasive motivation to avoid harming other beings wherever possible. This knowledge also encourages the dynamic of alleviating suffering wherever it is found according to capacity, circumstances, and appropriate juncture. Tantrikas extend themselves to others to the extent of their ability, and without abuse to the continuity of their own worthwhile existence. Tantrikas attempt to commit themselves to experiencing bodhicitta at every opportunity, in order to create connections with whatever they eat, drink, or wear. They commit themselves to a non-aggressive way of life. Whether their style of taking sustenance is carnivorous, vegetarian, vegan, or fruitarian; they commit themselves to refraining from aggression by way of act, word, or attitude to those who derive sustenance according to contrasting considerations. Each style of deriving nourishment is linked with a form of expressing chang-chub sem (byang chub sems – bodhicitta) active-compassion according to the different vehicles, and so they commit themselves to adopting whatever style accords with the integrity of their perception as tantrikas.

the second precept – ma chinpar pongwa.[11]

‘Tantrikas refrain from stealing opportunities for realisation and squandering the proceeds on the creation of less obvious dualities.’

Commentary: Tantrikas are aware that they cannot extricate themselves from involvement in exploitation, social injustice, oppression, and theft. They recognise the impossibility of disconnection from causes of loss, impoverishment, and deprivation for other beings. Through this knowledge they commit to depriving others as little as possible through their presence in the world. They recognise that simply to live is to have gained personal advantage from the disadvantage of countless others. Through this recognition they commit themselves to generating kindness and generosity; by sharing time, energy, and resources with those who experience need which resonates with their capacity to assuage need. They avoid taking anything that is not freely offered. They avoid freeloading as a way of life. They do not leave others to carry out work which they have been allotted. They do not avoid work and allow others to carry a greater share than would have been theirs if appropriate assistance had been forthcoming. They do not fail to volunteer when help is needed. They abstain from asking excessive favours of others, or expecting to be ‘carried’ in life. They avoid abusing hospitality or taking advantage of the time and generosity of others. They do not steal the time of other practitioners by the refusal to be real, or by engaging in the adoption of an ‘artificial buddhist personality’. They do not rob others of the enjoyment, appreciation, and spontaneity by adopting pious and sanctimonious pretences. They do not engage in the expression of the moral or spiritual superiority of their teacher’s view, in order not to rob personal association with other practitioners of meaning and value. They do not rob their Lamas through pusillanimous, parsimonious, or prurient behaviour of body, speech, or Mind.

the third precept – ’dod pé logpar gwempa pongwa.[12]

‘Tantrikas remain always in ecstatic embrace with the khandro or pawo.’

Commentary: Tantrikas refrain from subverting the sexual dimension of their being in the attempt to avoid authentic relationship with the khandro or pawo. They avoid obfuscating the inner pawo or inner khandro by objectifying women or men according to sexually distorted or degraded stereotypes. They commit to the awareness that as long as they live in the illusion of duality they cannot extricate themselves from involvement in sexual exploitation, in terms of insulting the pawo or khandro reflections which present themselves as opportunities to experience their non-dual natures. In actualisation of this commitment they refrain from engaging in sexual relations which are without love and the possibility of long-term commitment. They commit themselves to finding pleasure primarily in the pleasure and happiness of their sexual partners. They commit to gentleness, generosity, openness, and respect at all levels in relation to their partner, in order to maintain the view of spacious passion in passionate space.

the fourth precept – dzun du mra pongwa.[13]

‘Tantrikas avoid taking refuge in the lie of their dualistic rationale, and from expressing the lie of dualism.’

Commentary: Tantrikas refrain from deluding themselves by taking refuge in their dualistic rationale. They avoid lying to themselves about their relative condition. They commit themselves to the truth of their own beginningless realisation, to the extent of sacrificing relative securities in following the Lamas’ instruction. They refrain from manipulating, harming, or exploiting others through deliberate contrivance. They refrain from deliberate inaccuracy, indirectness, inauthentic speech, or posturing. They are aware that as long as they live in the illusion of duality they cannot extricate themselves from the manipulations of delusory rationalisations, and will therefore not presume to judge others. In recognition of this, they commit themselves to fierce integrity with regard to undermining self-protective initiatives, designed to maintain self-image and hide themselves from others. They commit themselves to kindness of speech and communication. They refrain from gratuitous feedback, advice, or criticism unless it serves to protect others from direct physical or emotional harm. They commit themselves to refrain from bigoted, sectarian, or judgmental speech with regard to the spiritual practices, lineage, or authenticity of other students or teachers. They refrain from condemning people, things, or alternative views on the basis of prejudice or meagre evidence. They refrain from unwillingness to listen with an open heart to the explanation of alternative views (especially amongst other Buddhist Sanghas). They refrain from the use of language which causes division and discord, or which causes vajra brothers and sister to sever friendship. They commit themselves to reconciling and resolving conflict wherever possible unless harm is caused by so doing. They avoid cultivating a stereotypical spiritual persona, or of maintaining a ‘party line’ as a means of disparaging others. They avoid self-righteous or pious stances which alienate new comers to the Vajrayana. They refrain from argument with reference to Buddhist psychology, philosophy, or religious forms. They refrain from obsessive intellectualisation and scholastic nit-picking especially with regard to disparaging divergent approaches to Buddhist practice. They avoid Buddhist jargon as a means of avoiding real communication, or as a means of feeling superior to others.

the fifth precept – yö-pé ’gyür wa’i tungwa.[14]

‘Tantrikas disengage from the intoxication of duality through inebriating the dualistic rationale and becoming drunken with primordial wisdom.’

Commentary: Tantrikas refrain from deliberate loss of awareness. They know that as long a they live in the illusion of duality, they intoxicate themselves with their own concepts and from this perspective they abstain from expecting others to take their befuddled ramblings as sober speech. Through this knowledge, they commit themselves to practice. Through this knowledge they live the view with impeccable verve. They commit themselves to maintaining an open appreciation of the sense fields and defy the deluded protocol which abstains from uninhibited play. They refrain from retracting into concept conscious at the expense of the other senses. They commit themselves to discovering uncontrived awareness, free from tight control or oblivious indulgence in soporific excess[15]. They commit themselves to inebriation from the hot blood of compassion, and to the experience of kindness merriment and freedom for all beings.

1. ’ug gDong sNying thig mKha’ ’gro mDo (Ulukha-mukha Dakini Upadesha Sutra) – Heart Essence Sutra of the Owl headed Dakini, belongs to the Aro gTér cycle. It presents the essential aspects of Sutra from the perspective of Dzogchen.
2. ’ug kyi bsLab lNga.
3. chatral dzi-mèd (bya bral brDzi med) ‘irrepressible inaction’.
4. khril gyis
5. rang dor
6. Kun tag (kun bTags)
7. Dualism – nyi nang (gNyis sNang). Dualistic rationalisation nyi nang gyu tsen nyid chos (gNyis sNang rGyu mTshan nyid chos).
8. Kun-jö (Kun brJod).
9. Man ngag.
10. srog gCod song ba – the avoidance of killing. Literally ‘srog gCod’ means ‘to cut the life force’. In terms of motivation, this relates with the desire to terminate a being’s existence through obliterating the being. ‘Causing death’ and ‘cutting the srog’ are therefore not identical. The meaning of this ‘difference’ is profound and easily misinterpreted. For example, the yogi who dispatched various other ‘loser yogis’ through ’phowa and who was on the verge on ‘killing’ Milarépa (before realising Milarépa was going to attain realisation) was not in breakage of this vow. To be in breakage of this vow one has to intend to ‘obliterate a being entirely’, or to ‘terminate sentience’. Many hunter-gatherer societies were keen to ensure the release of the ‘soul’ of the animals they hunted, and were therefore not motivated by the desire to commit srog gCod.
11. Ma byin par sPong ba – avoidance of theft
12. ’dod pas log par gwem pa sPong ba – avoidance of sexual exploitation.
13. brDzun du dMra sPong ba – avoidance of manipulative speech.
14. mYos pas ’gyur ba’i bTung ba – avoiding deliberate loss of awareness.
15. We would recommend that tantrikas commit themselves to the avoidance of mindless and unskilful consumption of anything – including food. We would advise that tantrikas commit themselves to drinking with awareness, and from refraining from a dependant, unhealthy of physically abusive relation with alcohol. It could also be added here (in a modern context) that tantrikas refrain from the use or any drug, other than those medically prescribed for specific illnesses or the control of pain. Although some hallucinogenics have been debated in relation to their quality as instigators of spiritual interest, and although some naturally occurring varieties can be deemed harmless to the rTsa rLung system, it remains doubtful whether there is sufficient value in them to warrant their use. If more is found within the use of psychedelics than meditative practice, it is there that one will establish one’s prior refuge.