Dzogchen (Great Perfection) is one of the Mahayana Buddhist traditions practiced today in Tibet, coming from the line of the Nyingma School and Bon traditions. Starting around the 8th century with Emperor Trisong Detsen, Shantarakshita, Kamalashila, and Padmasambhava (as Guru Rinpoche), the lineage progresses all the way to today’s Fourteenth Dalai Lama, His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso.
The Madhyamaka teachings on emptiness are fundamental to Dzogchen practices. Core is the belief that phenomena and anything of substance (relative world time/space/causation) have no independent reality apart from the causes and conditions from which they arose.
Dzogchen is the natural condition of the mind; timeless intrinsic awareness. Rigpa is the term used for pure awareness.
Master Longchen Rabjam is commonly regarded as the most important Dzogchen practitioner in the history of Tibet. He lived from 1308-1363, and is considered one of the supreme scholars in the Nyingma tradition. It is claimed that Rabjam was an incarnation of Princess Pema Sal, the daughter of King Trisong Detsen, to whom Guru Rinpoche had entrusted his own lineage of Dzogchen – known as Khandro Nyingthig.
Chogyal Namkhai Norbu is a Dzogchen teacher who was born in Derge, Tibet, on December 8, 1938. When he was two years old he was recognized as the re-embodiment of the great Dzogchen teacher, Adzom Drugpa (1842-1924)
In 1976 Chogyal Namkhai Norbu began to give Dzogchen instruction in the West. He taught first in Italy, and then in other countries. He provided different practical sets of instructions for the practice of Dzogchen. Chogyal quickly became a respected spiritual authority and established centers of learning for the study of Dzogchen around the world.
The Dzogchen practitioner does not search for enlightenment elsewhere, but looks for Buddhahood within them self. According to their belief, the difference between samsara and nirvana is not really that big. It is only a matter between confusion and non-confusion, recognizing the true nature of the mind, or not.
The mind does not have an evil nature, it is positive. The three basic qualities of the mind are emptiness, clarity, and compassion.
An important aspect of Dzogchen teaching is (The Three Statements):
1. Direct introduction to one’s own nature.
2. Not remaining in doubt concerning this unique state.
3. Continuing to remain in this state.
Our happiness does not depend on external factors. We can tap into the source of internal happiness to experience the unconditional inner peace and happiness enjoyed by sublime beings like Buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Dzogchen philosophy categorizes world experience in terms of 6 senses (not five).
The six sensory objects as:
1) Form (sight)
5) Texture (touch)
6) Mental phenomena through our senses. Mental phenomena are due to the ego’s encounter, and produces cravings and aversions (via samsara and delusion).
A strong sense of ego makes it more difficult to cultivate loving kindness and compassion.
Ordinarily sentient beings perceive the apparent reality, but do not realize the actual reality.
Lacking a human body, we will not be able to attain Buddhahood.
The Dzogchen practitioner is urged to start with preliminary meditation practices before progressing to the main disciplines.
The Three Preliminary Practices
1) Meditation on Impermanence
Purpose: It is essential to understand that the relative reality is impermanent.
Meditation on gross impermanence:
We come to realize that all impermanent phenomena eventually succumb to these four endings:
1) The end of birth is death
2) The end of meeting is separation
3) The end of rising is falling
4) The end of gathering is dispersion
The Law of Impermanence – current status will not last forever.
Meditation on subtle impermanence:
These are mental phenomena, based on the fixation of “I” and “Mine”.
2) Cultivation of loving kindness and compassion
This practice develops mental equanimity, balance, peacefulness, calmness, and serenity. All sentient and insentient beings are cherished.
3) Vajrasattva and guru yoga practice
Buddha Vajrasattva meditation – practice on the Buddha of purification
“We visualize that our spiritual master takes on the appearance of Padmasambhava. We assume our ordinary form sitting on the floor in meditation posture. On the crown of our head, we visualize a white, fully blossomed lotus with one thousand petals. On top of the lotus, we visualize a full moon lying flat. On the top of the moon stands the seed syllable ‘HUNG’, white in colour, clean and clear, brightly illuminating and transparent, shining like the sun. We imagine that the syllable ‘HUNG’ contains all the blessings and compassion from all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. We then offer a supplication prayer to this syllable by uttering, “Since time without beginning I have been wandering from realm to realm, experiencing all kinds of suffering and limitations. My mind has been dark with discursive thoughts, emotions and defilements, but throughout this time you have not been there for me to take refuge.”
If we happen to be tormented by specific suffering or illness, we can bring these to mind as we focus on the seed syllable. This supplication reaches the Buddha Vajrasattva.
We now visualize moon discs in the heart region of Vajrasattva and his consort, lying flat with a white seed syllable ‘HUNG’ on top….
… As we start to recite OM BENZA SATTVA HUNG, clear light radiates from the seed syllable and the surrounding mantra in all directions as an offering to all Buddhas and bodhisattvas residing in the ten directions throughout the universe. Having made this offering, the light returns to our hearts with blessings from the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Another light now radiates out in all directions towards all sentient being, etc.
While practicing guru yoga, all ephemeral experience (objective and subjective) is viewed as the liveliness of the teacher (lama). The practitioner visualizes their spiritual master in the form of Padmasambhava.
The Primary Practices
Whatever we encounter in terms of appearance will give us a sense of bliss.
We will not be separated from this bliss, day or night.
Our mind will not be disturbed by manifestations of discursive thoughts and emotions.
Our intelligence will become deeper and sharper.
Meditation on the immaterial energy channels (Sanskrit: nadi) – to develop purification and the experience of non-conceptuality.
Chandrakirti, Buddhist master:
If you become well accustomed to meditation on emptiness, this very experience will enable you to abandon your fixation on the true existence of phenomena. Having negated the fixation on the true existence of phenomena, there is a risk of fixating upon non-existence. In order to relieve this fixation as well, you should do non-conceptual meditation.
Energy currents (Sanskrit: prana) – to develop greater clarity of mind and luminosity.
Energy concentrations (Sanskrit: bindu) – to develop wisdom and the experience of bliss.
All these meditation techniques should be sealed with the practice of loving kindness and compassion.
I have purposely left out detailed descriptions of the primary practices out of respect for this wonderful and great tradition, and also to encourage you to learn and investigate more on your own. I have always said that meditation should be learned and practiced under the guidance of a qualified personal instructor (i.e., not through books/audio tapes/videos, but in real time, spent one-on-one, with a meditation master). There are now many Dzogchen Temples and Centers for learning where you can pursuit that desire.
The ultimate truth is beyond the field of concept, and tangible perception. Yet we often say that “I have seen the truth.”
Transcend the field of ephemeral life to know that truth. It is beyond the senses, and found to be the very core of our Being.