I would like to give a brief overview of the teachings as they are understood from the perspective of Dzogchen (rDzogs chen). The non-dual primordial state is our intrinsic nature and the function of transmission is to communicate this from one who has realised it to one who has not. To enter the primordial state one does not need intellectual, historical, or cultural knowledge – but although the primordial state is beyond culture realised beings make use of culture in order to transmit it. Dzogchen—from its inception with Garab Dorje (dGa’ rab Rig’dzin Dorje rJe – Prahé Vajra)—has always been somewhat hidden as a teaching, because it goes beyond ‘the law of cause and effect’.
Garab Dorje manifested Nirmanakaya form (trülku – sPruls sKu) in about 55 AD. He was born after his mother—daughter of the King of Ögyen—began having visions. She hid the child in a cinder pit as she believed people would think badly of her for having a child for whom no father could be found – the princess was a virgin. Despite this unfortunate beginning Garab Dorje thrived. Even as a child, he defeated Jampal Shényèn (’Jam dPal bShes gNyen – Manjushrimitra) in debate and then spent the rest of his life teaching. Padmasambhava received visionary transmission of Dzogchen directly both from him and his lineal descendents. Prior to his death, Garab Dorje left the quintessence of his teachings—the Tsig Sum Nèdek (tshig gSum gNad brDeg)—to Jampal Shényèn. The Tsig Sum Nèdek means ‘striking the essence in three incisive indications’ and is as follows: Direct introduction. Remaining without doubt. Continuing in the non-dual state.
Direct introduction means direct introduction to the non-dual state (ngo-rang tog-tu trè – ngo rang thog tu sPrad.) This is transmitted to the disciple by the Lama. The Lama remains in the primordial state and the presence of the state communicates itself to the disciple in whatever situation or activity they may share.
Remaining without doubt (ta-gÇig tog-du gÇè – thag gCig thog dug Cad) means that having received direct introduction, the disciple enters into the non-dual state and therefore doubt no longer remains. If doubt remains it is not the non-dual state.
Continuing in the state (deng-dröl thog du ’cha’ – gDengs grol thog du ’cha’) means integrating the non-dual state into every action, until that which is—from beginninglessness—is made real, or manifest.
So we will return to the idea of transmission, as it is crucial to how we approach these teachings. There are three types of transmission: direct transmission, symbolic transmission, and oral transmission. Of the symbolic transmission there are two types – formal symbolic transmission and informal symbolic transmission. Direct transmission, symbolic transmission, and oral transmission are the fundamental characteristics of the three series of Dzogchen. Direct transmission relates with Dzogchen Men-ngag dé (rDzogs chen men ngag sDe – the Series of Implicit Instruction). Symbolic transmission relates with Dzogchen Long-dé (rDzogs chen kLong sDe – the Series of Space). Oral transmission relates with Dzogchen Sem-dé (rDzogs chen sems sDe – the Series of the Nature of Mind).
These three series are different modes of introduction to the primordial state and different methods of practice. Jampal Shényèn—Garab Dorje’s principal disciple—divided the Dzogchen teachings into the three series. Dzogchen Sem-dé came to be overshadowed by Men-ngag dé and has consequently died out in most teaching lineages, though it is actually the fundamental basis for the transmission of the Dzogchen teachings.
[Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s interjection: Dzogchen sem-dé deals with Mind in terms of mind and the nature of mind. Dzogchen Long dé deals with Speech in terms of sensation and energy. Dzogchen Me-ngag dé deals with Body in terms of non-method based on the physical indication with regard to posturelessness, visual presence, visual focuslessness, and conceptual / non-conceptual freedom.]
In Tantra the base is the realisation of the experience of emptiness. Here the neuroses, which were renounced in the previous vehicles, are employed as the means to transform dualism. With regard to the neuroses, there is a Tantric saying which runs: ‘The more the wood – the hotter the fire’. The outer Tantras focus on external behaviour in terms of the principle of purification with regard to preparing the practitioner to receive transmission. Methods of transformation begin with Yogatantra—the third of the outer tantras—and continue through Mahayoga and Anuyoga (the first two of the three inner tantras). These methods principally use inner yogas which operate on the rTsa rLung system—the subtle energy system of the body—to bring about a transformation of the practitioner’s dimension into the dimension of the yidam. An example of this would be the visualisation of the rTsa rLung system of the body of the yidam. These practices were taught by Shakyamuni Buddha in Sambhogakaya form, as well as by other Sambhogakaya manifestations such as Guyasamaja, Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, and Kalachakra.
Transmission of Tantra originally begins with a Sambhogakaya manifestation appearing to a Mahasiddha who then enters the dimension of that Sambhogakaya manifestation. To practice a yidam the practitioner must re-enter the dimension of the yidam’s kyil’khor (dKyil ’khor – mandala), having already entered it during the empowerment from the Lama. At death such a practitioner will enter the dimension of lights and rays that is the essence of the elements. In that state of being, though not active in the individual sense, one remains capable of continually benefitting other beings. This is the practice of rainbow body (ja’lü – ’ja’ lus). This is the basis for the analogy of the Garuda (khyung) – as soon as the Garuda’s egg hatches the Garuda can fly. As soon as realised practitioners die they can manifest as the yidam whose practice they have accomplished during their lifetime without entering into the Bardo visions.
The basis for communication of Dzogchen is introduction, rather than visionary manifestation. Dzogchen functions principally at the level of the nature of Mind through which the practices of mind, speech, and body are secondary to dwelling in the non-dual state. The path of self-liberation is one in which one uses whatever arises in karmic vision. One does not renounce, purify, or transform anything. Whatever arises—in the moment—if there is no grasping, rejection, or indifference – then thoughts or seemingly external events automatically liberate by themselves and of themselves. Such a practitioner needs no precepts or guidelines other than awareness, and remains always in the state of primordial purity.
The structure of Dzogchen teachings is always in groups of three – such as base, path and fruit – but although they are divided in this way their indivisibility is emphasised by symbols such as the mélong (me long) and of the ga’kyil (dGa’ dKyil).
The Base is the ground of existence of the individual. Its inherent nature is to manifest light as the five colours which are the essences of the elements. The essences of the elements give rise to the elements themselves, and these make up both the individual’s body and the entire physical dimension. The universe can be understood as the spontaneously arising play of the energy of the primordial state. This energy can be enjoyed whilst dwelling in the non-dual state but it is obscured by the process of referentiality.
The base manifests in the individual in terms of body, speech, and mind. The non-dual state of the mind, speech, and body are symbolised by the syllables Om, A’a and Hung. Body refers to the whole material dimension of the individual. Speech is the energy or rLung, the circulation of which is linked to the breath. Mind includes conceptual mind and the nature of the mind. One who has realised the base has the capacity for pure vision – which means the capacity to see beyond the obvious neurotic qualities of other individuals. This is because they have made real for themselves the mechanisms of Samsara in relation to the five elemental patterns.
The base has three aspects which are known as essence, nature, and energy – ngo-wo, rang-zhin, and thug-jé (ngo bo, rang bZhin, and thugs rJe). They are symbolised by the qualities of a mirror. Essence means fundamental emptiness, which is like the fundamental purity and clarity of a mirror. The mirror reflects everything impartially. It is not changed by what it reflects. The nature of Mind is like the nature of the mirror: pure, clear, and limpid – a quality which can never be lost. Nature means the capacity of the base to manifest continual arisings. The mirror symbolises this through its continuous reflections. The nature of the Mind is not conditioned or altered by what arises in it. Energy is the continually arising energy, like the reflections in a mirror. The reflections in the mirror are the energy of the mirror’s own inherent nature manifesting visibly. This energy is known as thug-jé – unimpededness. Essence, Nature and Energy are mutually interdependent, and are only separated for the purposes of explanation.
In terms of energy – there are three characteristic ways in which the energy manifests – Dang, Rolpa, and rTsal (gDang, rol pa, and rTsal). Dang is the energy in which ‘internal’ and ‘external’ are not divided from that which manifests. It is symbolised by the crystal sphere which becomes the colour of whatever it is placed upon. Rolpa is the energy which manifests internally as vision. It is symbolised by the mirror. The image of the reflection always appears as if it is inside the mirror. rTsal is externally manifested energy which radiates. It is symbolised by the refractive capacity of the faceted crystal. For a realised being, this energy is inseparable in its manifestation from the dimension of manifest reality. Dang, Rolpa, and rTsal are not divided.
Dang, Rolpa and rTsal are not divided and neither are the ku-sum (sKu gSum – the trikaya) the three spheres of being. Chö-ku (chos sKu – Dharmakaya), the sphere of unconditioned potentiality, is the creative space from which the essence of the elements arises as long-ku (longs sKu Sambhogakaya) the sphere of intangible appearances – light and rays, non material forms only perceivable by those with visionary clarity. Trülku (sPrul sKu – Nirmanakaya), the sphere of realised manifestation, is the level of matter in apparently solid material forms. The primordial base manifests these three distinct yet indivisible modes.
The path also has three aspects: view, meditation, and action. View (tawa –lTa ba) facilitates continuous non-referential observation. Through non-analytical observation or openness we uncover our dualistic patterning and can allow it to self-liberate. Meditation (gompa sGom pa) means to enter the non-dual state. Action (chodpa – sPyod pa) is what naturally springs from view and meditation in terms of our being in the world. This is the way that practice is brought into daily life so that there is no separation between practice and with whatever one is engaged in daily life. Until we are able to dwell in the non-dual state we govern our attitudes with awareness and train in non-distraction.
In terms of practice, Dzogchen can be divided into Sem-dé, Long-dé, and Men-ngag-dé – but it can also be divided more simply as Trèkchod (khregs chod) and Togal (thod rGal). The practitioner employs Trèkchod to arrive at, and to continue in the non-dual state in every aspect of their lives. Trèkchod literally means ‘loosening constriction’ or ‘releasing what is bound’ in the sense that one relaxes completely in the same way that a bundle of sticks that has been tightly bound falls loosely into a relaxed pattern once the binding has been loosed.
[Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s interjection: the word ‘khregs’ means ‘bundle’, ‘bundled’, or bound as in ‘shing khregs’ which means ‘bundle of wood’. So khregs in its usage within the term ‘khregs chod’ refers to our being bound by the tension of the elemental neuroses. The word ‘chod’ means ‘release’ rather than ‘cut’. The word ‘cut’ is gÇod (as in the gÇod teachings and practice originated by Ma-gÇig Labdrön – cutting attachment to the corporeal form) but the chod in khregs chod refers to ‘releasing the bounds of dualism’.]
Through the successful practice of Togal, which is never taught publicly, the body of light is attained. The physical body is dissolved into the essence of the elements which is light. Togal can only function if the fruit of the practice of Trèkchod is realised. The practitioner must be able to dwell in the non-dual state.
Dzogchen methods of practice work with the body, speech and mind, so for each practice there are instructions on the position of the body, breathing, concentration, gaze of the eyes, visualisation et cetera.
Transmission in each of the three series is direct which means that none of them are gradual paths – but the nature of the explanation becomes increasingly cryptic. Dzogchen long-dé is more cryptic than Dzogchen sem-dé, and Dzogchen men-ngag-dé is utterly cryptic. Dzogchen Men-ngag dé is therefore paradoxical in the nature of its explanations. The nature of reality is not confined by the limits of logic – so it can only be explained ‘illogically’ in terms of paradox. Men-ngag means ‘implicit introduction’ or literally ‘no word’ – and therefore Dzogchen men-ngag-dé is often referred to as Nying-thig—which means heart essence or essential point—because in the pointing out instructions (ngo-trö nam – ngo sProd rNams) the ‘instructions’ are utterly bereft of information.
[Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s interjection: sNying thig is often translated as ‘heart drop’ – but this is incorrect. The syllable ‘thigs’ does means ‘drop’ as in ‘drop of blood’, but the ‘thig’ in ‘sNying thig’ is spelled ‘thig’ as in ‘thig le’. sNying means ‘heart’ but it also means ‘the essence of something’ or ‘the very core of something’. sNying thig therefore means essential point or quintessential potentiality. In the Aro gTér the phrase ‘pointing out instruction’ is not used – but rather ‘implicit instruction’ or ‘mere indication’. Implicit instruction means that the knowledge indicated by the instruction is implicit within the instruction. Mere indication applies to the absence of intellectually accessible content within the explanation.]
Preparation for Dzogchen teachings proceeds according to the needs of the individual and it is determined by the Lama. This is one aspect which makes Dzogchen different from the other yanas. The fact that none of the three series is gradual accords with the three phrases of Garab Dorje. The first phrase – direct introduction: the disciple practises to enter into the non-dual state. The second phrase – remaining without doubt: the disciple discovers the non-dual state themselves so therefore they are not in any doubt about it. The third phrase – continuing in the non-dual state: the disciple continues in the state and, when obstacles arise, integrates them with the non-dual state. The principle of Dzogchen is that the practitioner relies on awareness in deciding what must be practised. In order to practise Dzogchen the practitioner must possess five capacities.
1. Participation – one actively gives full cooperation to the Lama.
2. Diligence – one is consistent in participation.
3. Presence of awareness – one remains present in every moment.
4. Actual practice – one is able to enter into the non-dual state.
5. Shérab and yeshé – one has sufficient intelligence to understand the teachings and sufficient openness to see what is beyond words.
The practitioner uses the texture of dualistic experience itself to return continually to the non-dual state. This process is directly linked to what Ngak’chang Rinpoche calls living the view. When the practitioner succeeds, the primary causes of karma are continually self-liberated, and the secondary causes no longer provoke primary causes. This of course requires non-referential attention in every moment – as we discussed in terms of the five capacities. When practitioners are successful in this way, they may display Wisdom-chaos (yeshé ’cholwa – ye shes ’ch ba). Wisdom-chaos only appears chaotic from the point of view of dualism, as non-dual wisdom takes no account of conventional rules of language or behaviour. It is impossible to ascribe rules to non-dual spontaneity. This does not mean that a practitioner shows no respect for the rules by which others live – because to act in such a way would cause obstacles to others in respect of accessing the teachings. Awareness means that one is aware of everything including the dualistic needs of others. Practitioners respect the conditions which exist around them – but without being bound by them. This is the principle of awareness in action, or chodpa (sPyod pa).
[Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s interjection: Yeshé ’cholwa has been maligned by certain tendencies within the Sarma (gSar ma – New Translation Schools) which give priority to Sutrayana over Vajrayana whenever there is discrepancy between the two vehicles. Thus the version of Vajrayana often encountered tends to be Sutrayana view coupled with Vajrayana methodology – and in this context yeshé ’cholwa is largely unwelcome. Yeshé ’cholwa literally means ‘primordial wisdom chaos’ and carries the sense in which yeshé (ye shes – primordial wisdom) throws the ‘orderliness’ of dualism into the ‘chaos’ of non-duality. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche describes Yeshé ’cholwa as ‘wisdom gone wild’ and describes an approach which refuses to cooperate with dualistic derangement – and is therefore compassionately unreasonable.]
Non-dual realisation depends upon discovering as real that which was beginninglessly there – the primordial base. The base, path, and fruit are all the same in the primordial base. This is why the ga’kyil—the symbol of primordial energy—has three sections which spiral in a way that displays non-separation. The ga’kyil symbolises all the groups of three within the Dzogchen teachings.
The path is not separate from the fruit, rather the self-existent (rang sang-gyé – rang sangs rGyas) act of self-liberation (rangdröl – rang grol) pervades until it is absorbed into the primordial base. Here we could mention the principle of integration.
[Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s interjection: Integration or ’sréwa (bSre ba) is a word which has become confused as a Dzogchen technical term. People tend to confuse the word ‘integrate’ with the words incorporate, assimilate, or include. These words are quite similar in English and we can certainly talk about ‘incorporating formal practice sessions into our daily lives’ – but that is not what is meant by integration in terms of Dzogchen. When we use the word ‘integrate’ as the translation of the term bSre ba – we mean that life circumstances and activities are integrated with non-dual realisation.]
So, one integrates non-dual awareness with one’s actions in daily life – and at this point there are three capacities which develop of themselves. These are gÇèrdröl, Shardröl, and Rangdröl (gCer grol, shar grol, and rang grol).
gÇèrdröl means ‘as one notices – it liberates’ – one’s awareness is always kept constantly present and whatever arises self liberates.
Shardröl means ‘as soon as it arises it liberates’ – as soon as there is any sense of contact, it liberates of itself, without any effort to maintain awareness. Here the dualistic derangements are to be seen as ornaments, because one can simply enjoy them as the play of one’s own energy – without being referentially conditioned by them. This is symbolised in Tantra by the wearing of the five skull crown.
Rangdröl means ‘of itself it liberates itself’. Here the non-dual state is continuous; liberation is instantaneous. Everything is of one taste – the taste of non-duality, and in that state one discovers trödral (sPro sBal) the capacity which is beyond effort in the way that the sky is beyond effort. Clouds arise and dissolve in the sky and the sky exerts no effort in the dissolution of divisions between subject and object.
At this point one is ripe for the practices of Togal. The fruit of the practice of Togal is that the body dissolves into light – which is the essence of the elements. The accomplishment of this realisation rests with chö-ku (chos sKu) which in this context is called the internal ying (dByings – dimension). The internal ying (chos sKu) is integrated with chö-nyid (chos nyid – the space of existence, the external ying). The existence of duality is an illusion and when the illusion is undone the primordial inseparability of one’s own nature and the nature of the universe is realised – without the extinction of individuality. The realisation of the body of light means that one has entered the condition of the mirror itself. One has moved experientially into the nature or energy of the mirror and at death chö-ying (chos dByings), the substantive space of being which is the essence of our materiality, becomes what it actually is – the play of the five coloured lights and their rays.