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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.
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.
The Tibetan term dzogchen may be a rendering of the Sanskrit term mahāsandhi, and is also used to render the Sanskrit term ati yoga (primordial yoga). It has been translated variously as Great Perfection, Great Completeness, Total Completeness, and Supercompleteness. These terms convey the idea that our nature is complete and without taints.
The term dzogchen also designates a school of Tibetan buddhism, with a distinct practice and 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.[note 1]
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 below. 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 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.
The essence of the Dzogchen teaching is the direct transmission of knowledge from master to disciple.
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.
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."
Unlike Mipham, Rongzom did not attempt to harmonize the view of Mantra or Dzogchen with Madhyamaka.
Rongzom held that the views of sutra such as Madhyamaka were inferior to that of tantra, as Koppl notes:
By now we have seen that Rongzom regards the views of the Sutrayana as inferior to those of Mantra, and he underscores his commitment to the purity of all phenomena by criticizing the Madhyamaka objectification of the authentic relative truth. 
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."
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."
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.
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.
Jigme Lingpa states:
After a session of prana meditation, I began sleep yoga.
Dilgo Khyentse states:
You should sleep lying on your right side in the lion posture while visualizing a red four-petaled lotus in your heart center. In the center of this lotus, see your root guru in the form of Guru Rinpoche....Fall asleep while remaining in that state.
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.
'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.