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According to Tibetan Buddhism and Bön, Dzogchen (Rdzogs chen or Atiyoga) is the natural, primordial state or natural condition, and a body of teachings and meditation practices aimed at realizing that condition. Dzogchen, or "Great Perfection", is a central teaching of the Nyingma school also practiced by adherents of other Tibetan Buddhist sects. According to Dzogchen literature, Dzogchen is the highest and most definitive path to enlightenment.
From the perspective of Dzogchen, the ultimate nature of all sentient beings is said to be pure, all-encompassing, primordial clarity or naturally occurring timeless clarity. This intrinsic clarity has no form of its own and yet is capable of perceiving, experiencing, reflecting, or expressing all form. It does so without being affected by those forms in any ultimate, permanent way. The analogy given by Dzogchen masters is that one's nature is like a mirror which reflects with complete openness but is not affected by the reflections, or like a crystal ball that takes on the colour of the material on which it is placed without itself being changed. The knowledge that ensues from recognizing this mirror-like clarity (which cannot be found by searching nor identified) is what Dzogchenpas refer to as rigpa.
There is a fairly wide consensus among lamas of both the Nyingma and Sarma schools that the end state of dzogchen and mahamudra are the same. The Madhyamaka teachings on emptiness are fundamental to and thoroughly compatible with Dzogchen practices. Essence Mahamudra is viewed as being the same as Dzogchen, except the former doesn't include thödgal.
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The word Dzogchen has been translated variously as Great Perfection, Great Completeness, Total Completeness, and Supercompleteness. These terms also convey the idea that our nature has many qualities that make it perfect. These include indestructibility, incorruptible purity, non-discriminating openness, flawless clarity, profound simplicity, all-pervading presence and equality within all beings (i.e., the quality, quantity and functionality of this awareness is exactly the same in every being in the universe). It is said that the impressive personal qualities of the fully enlightened Buddha are derived from the fact that he was fully aligned with this already-existing primordial nature. Descriptions of a buddha as omniscient and omnipresent refer to their ultimate nature. The Tibetan term dzogchen is sometimes said to be a rendering of the Sanskrit term mahāsandhi, and is also used to render the Sanskrit term ati yoga (primordial yoga).
A homonymous term dzogchen designates a practice and also a body of teachings aimed at helping an individual to recognize the Dzogchen state, to become sure about it, and to develop the capacity to maintain the state continually.
In his work on Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso's Beacon of Certainty: Illuminating the View of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, John Pettit clarifies the various usages and implications of the term Dzogchen that are often conflated:
"Great Perfection" variously indicates the texts (āgama, lung) and oral instructions (upadeśa, man ngag) that indicate the nature of enlightened wisdom (rdzogs chen gyi gzhung dang man ngag), the verbal conventions of those texts (rdzogs chen gyi chos skad), the yogis who meditate according to those texts and instructions (rdzogs chen gyi rnal 'byor pa), a famous monastery where the Great Perfection was practiced by monks and yogis (rdzogs chen dgon sde), and the philosophical system (siddhānta, grub mtha') or vision (darśana, lta ba) of the Great Perfection.—
Maha Ati is a term coined by Chögyam Trungpa, a master of the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. He generally preferred to introduce Sanskrit rather than Tibetan terms to his students, and felt "Maha Ati" was the closest equivalent for "Dzogpa Chenpo," although he acknowledged it was an unorthodox choice. The coinage does not follow the sandhi rules which would be rendered as mahāti. This serves as an indication of its pedigree as a calque.
The Dzogchen teachings are the highest of the nine yana, (Tibetan theg pa, vehicle) of the Nyingma (Wylie: rnying ma) school of Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan Bön (Wylie: bon) tradition. Many lamas, particularly of the Nyingma and Kagyu schools, regard them as the most profound teachings altogether.
The instructions that point to the Dzogchen state are sometimes described as a set of "inner" or "heart" (Wylie: snying thig) teachings. Tibetan Buddhist ascetics consider that the state pointed to by these teachings is very difficult to describe, and can only be discovered through the esoteric transmission and pointing-out instruction by an authentic Vajra Master.
Although Dzogchen cannot be separated from the Buddhist or Bön tradition, very often teachers emphasize the non religious character of Dzogchen. However, the Buddhist or Bön traditional framework is never negated. Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche says that, as our primordial nature, Dzogchen has existed since the beginning of time and is pointed to by various masters throughout the Universe.
According to one Nyingma tradition, the first master of the Buddhist Dzogchen lineage in our world was Garab Dorje (Wylie: dga' rab rdo rje, Sanskrit *prahevajra) from Uddiyana (Wylie:. o rgyan).
According to Garab Dorje, Dzogchen is said to have been passed down as listed following. Often, practitioners are said to have lived for hundreds of years, and there are inconsistencies in the lifespan dates given, making it impossible to construct a sensible timeline.
Padmasambhava (Tib. Pema Jugne or Guru Rinpoche, Wylie: padma 'byung gnas, gu ru rin po che) is considered the source of the Buddhist Dzogchen teachings in Tibet (Tib. bod), which are the heart of the Nyingma (Wylie: rnying ma) tradition, with which they are primarily associated. Dzogchen has also been practiced in the Kagyu (Wylie: bka' brgyud) lineage, beginning with Milarepa (Wylie: mi la ras pa) and most notably by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (Wylie:. rang byung rdo rje). The Fifth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth (present) Dalai Lamas (Wylie: ta la'i bla ma) are also noted Dzogchen masters, although their adoption of the practice of Dzogchen has been a source of controversy among more conservative members of the Gelug (Wylie: dge lugs) tradition.
In the Bön religion, three separate Dzogchen traditions are attested and continue to be practiced: A-tri (Wylie: a khrid), Dzogchen (Wylie: rdzogs chen, here referring narrowly to the specific lineage within the Bön tradition), and Shang Shung Nyen Gyu (Wylie: zhang zhung snyan rgyud). All are traced back to the founder of Bön, Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche (Wylie: ston pa gshen rab mi bo che).
The essence of the Dzogchen teaching is the direct transmission of knowledge from master to disciple. Garab Dorje epitomized the Dzogchen teaching in three principles, known as the Three Statements of Garab Dorje (Tsik Sum Né Dek):
In accordance with these three statements, Garab Dorje's direct disciple Manjushrimitra (Tib. 'jam dpal bshes gnyen) classified all the Dzogchen teachings transmitted by his master into three series:
Tulku Urgyen explains what is meant by "gaining confidence in liberation": "The third analogy of the liberation of thoughts is described as being like a thief entering an empty house. This is called stability or perfection in training. A thief entering an empty house does not gain anything, and the house does not lose anything. All thought activity is naturally liberated without any harm or benefit whatsoever. This is the meaning of gaining confidence in liberation."
The Dzogchen teachings focus on three terms: View, Meditation, and Action. To see directly the absolute state of our mind is the View; the way of stabilizing that View and making it an unbroken experience is Meditation; and integrating that View into our daily life is what is meant by Action.
This open awareness of Dzogchen, or rigpa (also comparable to the Buddha nature), is said to lie at the heart of all things and indeed of all Dzogchen practice and is nothing less than "... primordial wisdom's recognition of itself as unbounded wholeness... the incorruptible mindnature." This reflexive awareness of Enlightenment is said to be inherent within all beings, but not to be attainable by thought. Chogyal Namkhai Norbu points out that Dzogchen "refers to the true primordial state of every individual and not to any transcendent reality." In discussing the Nyingma text, the Kunjed Gyalpo Tantra (kunjed gyalpo = 'the all-creating king', synoymous with Samantabhadra Buddha), Namkhai Norbu explains that Kunjed Gyalpo is in fact "beyond" the dualism inherent in the notion of an 'individual'. He writes:
The transmission of knowledge comes from the state of rigpa that has never been stained and has never been hindered. This is Adibuddha, or "primordial Buddha", Kunjed Gyalpo... The state of Kunjed Gyalpo is knowledge, and in knowledge there is not even the concept of "one and two", otherwise we have already entered into dualism. Also, the concept of "individual" presupposes dualistic vision. But Samantabhadra is beyond all this...—
Klein and Wangyal comment on the ultimate "one taste" and dynamic stillness of the Dzogchen state:
... cause and effect, sentient beings and Buddhas, subjects and objects, path and goal are ultimately revealed to be of one taste: movement from one to the other is no movement at all, really, but a dynamic stillness.—
There can be found within Dzogchen a sense of Reality as limitless wholeness, a multiplicity which is yet all of one "taste", which is a borderless wholeness. According to Lopon Tenzin Namdak, it is unconditioned and permanent, changeless, not originated from causes and conditions, blissful, and the base or support of numerous exalted qualities. "It is at once base, path, and fruit". "That reality, unbounded wholeness, is naturally complete." Also: "...the essence and base of self-arisen wisdom is the allbase, that primordial open awareness is the base, and that recognition of this base is not separate from the primordial wisdom itself. ...that open awareness is itself authentic and its authenticity is a function of it being aware of, or recognizing itself as, the base. ...The reflexively self-aware primordial wisdom is itself open awareness (rigpa), inalienably one with unbounded wholeness."
The views of the Dzogchen school are not endorsed by all Tibetan Buddhists. In fact, Bonpo Lopon Tenzin Namdak contrasts his own view that primordial wisdom does not arise from causes with that of Tsongkhapa, who states that without consciousness, there is no understanding. Some critics claim that the views of the Dzogchen school of philosophy conflict with those of Madhyamaka and to the views of other prominent Buddhist thinkers such as the logician Dharmakirti. However, Longchenpa and Mipham argue that the views of the Dzogchen school are in fact in accord with the view of Madhyamaka.[clarification needed] Dzogchen meditative techniques are, however, consistent with Madhyamaka.
Germano (1992: p. 4) conveys how Longchenpa codified the now normalized, institutionalized and orthodox view of the Nyingma Dzochenpa from its foundations of Madhyamaka, Cittamatra (Yogachara), Buddha nature, Tathagatagarbha, Tantra (specifically Mantrayana) traditions, holds that:
one can profitably interpret the overall system of [Nyingma Dzogchen] thought [as formulated by Longchenpa] as a very innovative reinterpretation of the mainstream exoteric Indian Buddhist schools of "the Middle Way" (Madhyamika) and "Mind Only" (Cittamatra) that not only revives the themes of the so-called "Buddha-nature" or "enlightened nucleus of realized-energy" (Tathaga[ta]garbha) literature in a much more sophisticated form, but also takes the tantric discourse and transforms it into a model for a new understanding of philosophical thought and literary expression totally eliminating the boundaries between exoteric philosophy (emphasizing analytical logic) and esoteric tantras (emphasizing contemplation and "aesthetic" issues).—
Germano (1992: p. 4) in his doctoral thesis supervised by the Geshe and Professor Emeritus, Lhundub Sopa (b. 1923) discusses the typical view of the Dzogchen tradition towards the "syllogism" and by implication Buddhist Logic:
The tradition is especially striking in its implicit development of a model of rigorous philosophical thought that refuses to be reduced to syllogistic reasoning (though utilizing it as a secondary hermeneutical tool) or dismissed as mere "aesthetics" as it treats Buddhist Tantra as a serious philosophical innovation that must be utilized to reinterpret previous traditional scholasticism, in stark contrast to extend traditional scholastic methodologies into Tantra, and deny the revolution of "poetic thought" they may embody.—
Sentient beings have their energy manifested in three aspects:
Energy of an individual on the dang level is essentially infinite and formless.
Many practices of thödgal and yangthig work on the basis of functioning of the rolpa aspect of individual's energy. It is also the original source of the sambhogakaya deities visualized in Buddhist tantric transformational practices and of manifestations of 100 peaceful and wrathful deities in bardo and Zhitro practices.
Tsal is the manifestation of the energy of the individual him or herself, as apparently an "external" world. The mind of a sentient being is also tsal energy when it is "contaminated" by the karmic "winds" (Tibetan: rlung).
According to Dzogchen teachings, energy of an individual is essentially totally formless and free from any duality. However, karmic traces, contained in the storehouse consciousness of the individual's mindstream (Sanskrit: citta santana; Tibetan: sems rgyud) give rise to two kinds of forms:
It is maintained that there is nothing external or separate from the individual. What appears as a world of apparently external phenomena, is the energy of the individual him/her self. Everything that manifests in the individual's field of experience is a continuum (Sanskrit: santana; Tibetan: rgyud). This is the Great Perfection that is discovered in the Dzogchen practice.
In Dzogchen tradition, the concept of dependent origination is considered to be complementary to the concept of emptiness. Specifically, this tradition emphasizes the indivisibility of appearance and emptiness—also known as the relative and absolute aspects of reality. In this context:
Anyen Rinpoche explains the significance of this understanding for a Dzogchen practitioner:
Sogyal Rinpoche explains the dangers for a Dzogchen practitioner of misunderstanding this relationship:
All teachings have energies that have special relationships with them. These energies are guardians of the teachings. The energies are iconographically depicted as they were perceived by yogis who had contact with them. The dharmapalas most associated with Dzogchen are Ekajati (Wylie: e ka dza ti), Dorje Legpa (Wylie: rdo rje legs pa) and Za Rahula (Wylie: gza' ra hu la) in the Nyingma and Sidpa Gyalmo in the Bön tradition. The iconographic forms were shaped by perceptions and also by the culture of those who saw the original manifestation and by the development of the tradition. However the guardians are not merely symbols as the pictures show actual beings.
Dzogchen teachings maintain that the quality of people's lives is best when the internal classical elements are balanced. The body is healthy when the elements are balanced. They see the best way to balance the elements as abiding in the natural state.
Although many lamas require their students to complete the conventional tantric ngondro before starting Dzogchen practice, there is also a series of preliminary practices unique to Dzogchen. These include the Korday Rushan exercises (Tibetan: འཁོར་འདས་རུ་ཤན, Wylie: 'khor 'das ru shan) "differentiating saṃsāra and nirvāṇa," which are described in such texts as the Yeshe Lama (Tib. ཡེ་ཤེས་བླ་མ་, Wyl. ye shes bla ma). Rushan involves "going to a solitary spot and acting out whatever comes to your mind." The Dzogchen preliminaries also include a series of exercises known as Semdzin (sems dzin). Semdzin literally means "to hold the mind" or "to fix mind." Semdzins are found in all three series of Dzogchen (Semde, Longde and Mennagde), but the twenty-one semdzins found in the latter are common; Longchenpa divides them into three series of seven. According to Longchenpa as reported by Reynolds, "the first group enables the practitioner to find him- or herself in a calm state, and thus the exercises are similar to the practice of Shamatha . . the exercises in the second group enable the practitioner to discover the relationship between body and mind. And those in the third group enable one to discover the nature of one's own condition." Exercises in the first category include "fixating on a white Tibetan letter A on the tip of one's nose. Linking the letter with one's breathing, it goes out into space with each exhalation and returns to the tip of the nose with each inhalation. This fixation inhibits the arising of extraneous thoughts . . . however, the second exercise in the same category involves the sounding of the syllable PHAT! which instantly shatters one's thoughts and attachments. Symbolically, the two parts of the syllable indicate the two aspects of enlightenment, that is, PHA signifies Means (thabs) and TA signifies Wisdom (shes rab)."
After the indispensable preliminary of rushan, one remains in the knowledge of tregchöd and practices thödgal (also sometimes spelled thogal). These are the main instructions presented in the Menngagde series (Oral Instruction Series) of the Dzogchen teachings.
Thödgal represents more a fruition than a practice itself. There are methods prepared in the event of a psychotic break to bring the practitioner back to sanity.
In contrast to other kinds of tantric practices, there is no intentional visualization; rather, imagery appears spontaneously using secondary conditions such as darkness or light. Eventually a practitioner has experiences which are viewed as knowing the subtle energies of one's being. These have the qualities of earth, water, fire, air and space (see Classical element). Throughout the retreat, a practitioner is believed to be approaching an experience which is entirely unconditioned.
Thödgal relies on esoteric anatomy including the avadhuti (also known as the center channel or sushumna in Hindu parlance) and heart chakra. Along with the fact that Dzogchen is based on a class of literature called the tantras, this indicates why Dzogchen is considered a tantric system as opposed to sutra systems such as Zen. This is not to say that Dzogchen is a part of general Vajrayana. Vajrayana is a path of transformation. Dzogchen, an independent vehicle in its own right, is a path of self-liberation.
Rigpa has three wisdoms, which are kadag, lhun grub and thugs rje. Kadag deals with tregchöd. The lhun grub aspect has to do with esoteric practices, such as (but not limited to) Thödgal, that self-liberate the human body into a Sambhogakāya (rainbow body phenomenon). The symbol of Dzogchen is a Tibetan A wrapped in a thigle. The A represents kadag while the thigle represents lhun grub. The third wisdom, thugs rje (compassion), is the inseparability of the previous two wisdoms.
In Dzogchen, a fundamental point of practice is to distinguish rigpa from sems (mind).
The ultimate fruition of the thodgal practices is a body of pure light, called a rainbow body (Wylie 'ja' lus, pronounced Jalü.) If the four visions of thogal are not completed before death, then at death, from the point of view of an external observer, the following happens: the corpse does not start to decompose, but starts to shrink until it disappears. Usually fingernails, toenails and hair are left behind (see e.g. Togden Urgyen Tendzin, Ayu Khandro, Changchub Dorje.) The attainment of the rainbow body is typically accompanied by the appearance of lights and rainbows.
Some exceptional practitioners such as Padmasambhava and Vimalamitra are held to have realized a higher type of rainbow body without dying. Having completed the four visions before death, the individual focuses on the lights that surround the fingers. His or her physical body self-liberates into a nonmaterial body of light (a Sambhogakāya) with the ability to exist and abide wherever and whenever as pointed by one's compassion.
Capriles (2003: p. 180) openly quotes Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in the subtle but very important distinction of the activity of meditation from the effortless abiding of Dzogchen contemplation:
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu relates that once someone asked the famous Dzogchen Master, Yungtön Dorje Pel, what his practice consisted of, and he replied with the negative “mepa” or “there isn’t.” Then his startled questioner asked again, “Then you don’t meditate?,” to which the Master replied, “And when am I ever distracted?” This is the essence of samaya in Dzogchen teaching: not to meditate or to practice something with the mind and yet never to be distracted, for one remains uninterruptedly in the self-perfection of the single state of rigpa or Truth.—
In this denotation, dzogchen is a verb, and denotes the perfect process in the grammatical sense or alternately an infinitive verb, wherein the great continuum of 'one taste' (Wylie: ro gcig) or as Capriles renders it "single state" is the effortless 'contemplating' or abiding in the view of non-distraction from rigpa.
'Apperception' (Sanskrit: svasaṃvedana/svasaṃvitti; Wylie: rang rig) is understood variously in different yana, buddhist schools, and practice lineages. These cosmetic differences are resolved in the practice of 'meditative trance' (Wylie: 'jog pa). For it is in the direct experience and associated literatures of the deep contemplative traditions of Himalayan Buddhism (Tibetan Buddhism, Nepalese Buddhism, Bhutanese Buddhism, etc.) and Bon, particularly Dzogchen and Mahamudra, that apperception is key, e.g. dark retreat (Tibetan: mun mtshams).
In the language of Zhangzhung, 'rang rig' (Wylie) is 'nges de shin' where 'shin' equates to 'shes pa'. The Zhangzhung lexical item 'shin' is found in many compounds (Martin, 2004: p. 158) where it means: 'to know' and 'knowledge' to both nominal and verbal/process oriented lexical items.
Pettit (1999: p. 129) holds that 'apperception' (Wylie: rang rig) is key to Mipham's (1846–1912) system of epistemology and hermeneutics discussed in the DRG and in Mipham's Commentary to the Ninth Chapter of the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra.
According to Indian Buddhist epistemology, and particularly in the writings of the great logicians Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, the term svasaṃvedana refers to the apperceptive or reflexive faculty of consciousness, for which reason it is sometimes rendered as 'reflexive awareness' or 'apperceptive awareness'. However, in the view of the Great Perfection (rdzog-pa chen-po) and in the context of the present work [The Tibetan Book of the Dead], the same term refers to the fundamental innate mind in its natural state of spontaneity and purity, beyond the alternating states of motion and rest and the subject-object dichotomy. It is therefore rendered here as 'intrinsic awareness'. As such, intrinsic awareness gives the meditator access to pristine cognition or the buddha-mind itself, and it stands in direct contrast to fundamental ignorance (avidyā), which is the primary cause of rebirth in cyclic existence (saṃsāra). The direct introduction to intrinsic awareness is a distinctive teaching within the Nyingma school.... This practice is a central component of the Esoteric Instruction Class (upadeśa) of Atiyoga, where it is known as Cutting through Resistance (khregs-chod).—
Dzogchen instructions are found in some Mahayoga texts, as it may simply have been the associated completion stage practice. However, the majority of the Dzogchen corpus comprises the "18" Semde tantra texts, the Longde tantras, and the Menngagde termas.
Samten Migdrön (Tib. bsam gtan mig sgron) is a Tibetan text of historical importance for the historical relationship of Dzogchen and Zen as well identifying the view of its author, Nubchen Sangye Yeshe.
Mipham Rinpoche has said:
The real sky is (knowing) that samsara and nirvana are merely an illusory display.—
According to contemporary teacher Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, in Dzogchen the perceived reality is considered to be unreal. All appearances perceived during the whole life of an individual through all senses, including sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations in their totality are like a big dream. It is claimed that on careful examination the dream of life and regular nightly dreams are not very different, and that in their essential nature there is no difference between them.
The non-essential difference between our dreaming state and our ordinary waking experience is that the latter is more concrete and linked with our attachment; the dreaming is slightly detached.
Also according to this teaching, there is a correspondence between the states of sleep and dream and our experiences when we die. After experiences in an intermediate state (bardo) an individual comes out of it, a new karmic illusion is created and another existence begins. This is how transmigration happens.
One aim of dream practice is to realize during a dream that one is dreaming. One can then dream with lucidity and do all sorts of things, such as go to different places, talk to people, fly and so forth. It is also possible to do different yogic practices while dreaming (usually such yogic practices one does in waking state). In this way the yogi can have a very strong experience and with this comes understanding of the dream-like nature of daily life. This is very relevant to diminishing attachments, because they are based on strong beliefs that life's perceptions and objects are real and, as a consequence, important. If one really understands what Buddha Shakyamuni meant when he said that everything is unreal or of the nature of shunyata, then one can diminish attachments and tensions.
The teacher gives advice, that the realization that the life is only a big dream can help us finally liberate ourselves from the chains of emotions, attachments, and ego and then we have the possibility of ultimately becoming enlightened.