The View of Dzogchen

1. 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 call Dzogchen 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 tu bzang-po), 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.

When we come to Dzogchen, there are two methods of practicing the teachings: (1) We do the preliminary practices, and then going to a master, we are introduced to the Natural State (rig-pa ngo-sprod) by him, and then we go on to practice in isolation in the wilderness for years until we attain some realization. (2) But at Menri monastery in Tibet we had an educational system where 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, they received a Geshe degree.

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 the Sutra is the path of renunciation (spong lam), the method of the 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 of Thegchod (khregs-chod).

The text we have here is entitled the Theg-pa'i rim-pa mngon du bshad-pa'i mdo rgyud, "The clear explanation of the Sutra and the Tantra in the Nine Ways" (p. 393). 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. 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 ngo-sprod). This Natural State is the view of Thegchod. The introduction is very simple: we just look back at ourselves. Everyone 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. If so, 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 Thegchod.

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 Samantabhadra 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.

2. 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 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 nor modified by the events of Samsara. It is like the mirror which is in no way changed or modified by whatever it reflects.

Nonetheless, in this Base, which is the Natural State, manifestations spontaneously appear, just as clouds appear in the sky or reflections appear in the mirror. This is its quality of spontaneous manifestation (lhun-grub), and these manifestations represent the creative potentiality (rtsal) of the Natural State. All things, all that we think and perceive as individual sentient beings, are manifestations of the energy (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 (lhun-grub). 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 loose 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, the Longde or the Space Series, and the Mangagde or Secret Instruction Series. The Longde emphasizes the emptiness side (stong-cha), whereas the Semde emphasizes the clarity or awareness side (gsal-cha, rig-cha). The Mangagde or 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.

3. Commitment

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 found 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 four fold:

1. singularity (gcig-po),
2. spontaneous perfection (lhun-grub),
3. via negativa (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 on to the one side or on to 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 via negativa 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, 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.

4. The Dzogchen View

If we grasp at something or try to do something, we loose 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 bifabricate 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, but speak of a single source or Base (gzhi). Thus Dzogchen is also known as Thiglay 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 (rdzogs-pa). But this does not mean that it is finished or ended. In the Dzogchen view, everything is perfect because it is Lhundrub (lhun-grub).

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 one 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 relationship to it. Yet each Natural State (in each sentient being) is individual, and 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 is 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 the 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 deals with four contradictions or objections brought against Dzogchen and refutes them in turn.

5. First Contradiction - Chittamatra

According to the Chittamatra (sems-tsam-pa) view, everything 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 which does not have this connection with consciousness. It cannot exist independently. 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 with the Base. But this Base is unknown to Chittamatra, which knows nothing beyond the Kunzhi Namshe (kun-gzhi rnam-shes) 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 than the Kunzhi Namshe in Chittamatra where it is only the basis for the karmic traces.

Dzogchen falls outside of their view. To the objection raised by the Chittamatrin, the Dzogchenpa replies: You say that everything is solid and exists independently. But we do not recognize this. We do not recognize all these phenomena as real nor the thoughts that know them as real. According to Chittamatra, whatever we see or experience is inherently existing (rang-bzhin), but Dzogchen does not claim that the Natural State exists inherently. So our view goes beyond yours.

6. Second Contradiction - Madhyamaka

The second contradiction represents the Madhyamaka criticism of Dzogchen. Both Chittamatra and Madhyamaka recognize the Two Truths, the Relative Truth which are 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 Thiglay 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.

Je Tsongkhapa, in his commentary to the Madhyamakavatara of Chandrakirti and in his Lam-rim chen-mo, criticizes Dzogchen for not asserting the Two Truths. Dzogchen claims 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. Tsongkhapa does speak of two kinds of cognition: (1) a discriminating intelligence (the subject side) that understands Shunyata (the object side) (stong-nyid rtogs-pa'i shes-rab) and (2) and a discursive intellect that knows names and concepts. 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 Thiglay 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. Then how 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 are the realizing 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 cannot 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 Thiglay Nyagchik (thig-le nyag-gcig) 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 exists no cause for the realization of the Two Bodies. The Gelugpas, in particular, rely upon the exposition of Chandrakirti in his Madhyamakavatara (dbu-ma la 'jug-pa). They take his Prasangika view as being the highest view and assert that there can be nothing beyond that. They follow Tsongkhapa in this. According to Madhyamaka, the Buddha-nature is the conventional meaning, whereas Shunyata is the ultimate meaning. In his Tshig don mdzod, the great Dzogchen master Longchenpa maintains that the Buddha actually taught Dzogchen in the Prajnaparamita texts. There he interpreted Prajnaparamita as Dzogchen, in contrast to the interpretation of Chandrakirti. Once we discover our real nature [=the Natural State], we do not need to search for anything else. Everything is present there already and will manifest spontaneously. But in Dzogchen, we do need secondary causes for the manifestation of the Trikaya. [Contrast this with the view of the Jonangpas.] So Dzogchen can justly claim that its view is the higher.

7. Third Contradiction - The Lower Tantra

Along with Chittamatra and Madhyamaka, the Tantras recognize the Two Truths. But here the emphasis and the method is different. According to the Kriya Tantra, the practice involves two kind of beings, the Knowledge 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 it becomes much more powerful and wise, so that this power can overflow into 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 something 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 identity), and so you make one the lord and the other the servant. You are like a child. 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.

8. 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 (mnyam-bzhag, 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 =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 nor create anything, but we go directly to the Natural State. Therefore, our Dzogchen view is the higher. You Tantrikas are always playing 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 clearly indicate why Dzogchen is the deepest and highest (zab rgyas) view. 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.

9. 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 (=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 unify or inseparability (dbyer-med).

Dzogchen Upadesha or Mangagde 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 (gnas-pa), 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 toys, we will fall away from the Natural State. So philosophies and intellectual speculations are no enough on their own to discover Reality.

Taught by Lopon Tenzin Namdak,
Devon and Amsterdam, Spring 1991,
Compiled and edited by Vajranatha.

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