Dzogchen Buddhism


Dzogchen (Wylie: rdzogs chen, "Great perfection" or "Great completion"; also known as Atiyoga), is a tradition of teachings in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. It is based on discovering the primordial state and natural condition of beings, also called "the nature of mind".

This primordial basis (gzhi) is said to have the qualities of purity (i.e., emptiness or shunyata), spontaneity (lhun grub, associated with luminous clarity) and compassion (thugs rje). The goal of Dzogchen is knowledge of this basis; this knowledge is called rigpa in Tibetan and vidyā in Sanskrit.

The most important Dzogchen scriptures are the seventeen tantras and the Vima Nyingthig. There are different Dzogchen traditions within the Nyingma school (and also outside it) with their own textual collections, such as those of the Longchen Nyingtig, Dudjom Tersar and Nyingtig Yabzhi.

There are numerous spiritual practices taught in the various Dzogchen systems to awaken rigpa knowledge. Dzogchen developed in the period of the Tibetan Empire and the Age of Fragmentation (9th-11th centuries) and continues to be practiced today both in Tibet and around the world.

Both the Nyingma school of Buddhism and the Bon tradition regard this teaching and method as their central and most important teaching, and as the supreme and ultimate vehicle or path to attain Nirvana.

In these traditions, Dzogchen is the highest and ultimate of the "nine vehicles" to liberation. Dzogchen is also practiced (to a lesser extent) in other Tibetan Buddhist schools, such as the Kagyu school and the Gelug school.



The ancient origins of the teaching of Dzogchen in the Nyingma school are attributed to 12 Buddhas who took form in various worlds in times past. The twelfth primordial teacher is said to be Buddha Shakyamuni Buddha.

Also according to the Nyingma tradition, the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra taught Dzogchen to Buddha Vajrasattva, who transmitted it to the first human lineage holder, the Indian Garab Dorje (fl. 55 CE). According to tradition, the Dzogchen teachings were brought to Tibet by Padmasambhava in the late eighth and early ninth centuries.

He was assisted by two Indian masters, Vimalamitra and Vairocana. According to tradition, these teachings were hidden soon after, during the 9th century, when the Tibetan empire disintegrated. From the 10th century onwards, they were introduced as revelations of occult scriptures, known as terma.

In Bon, Dzogchen is said to have originated with the founder of the Bon tradition, Tönpa Shenrab Miwoche, who lived 18,000 years ago, ruling the kingdom of Tazik, which was supposedly located in western Tibet.

Origins and development

The terms atiyoga and dzogchen appear in Indian tantric texts of the eighth and ninth centuries, although they do not refer to a separate vehicle (yana) in these texts.

There is no independent testimony to the existence of separate traditions under the name Dzogchen outside of Tibet, and it may be a uniquely Tibetan teaching based on multiple influences, including native Tibetan beliefs and Chinese and Indian teachings.

There are two main interpretations of the relationship between Dzogchen and tantric practices among modern scholars:

that early Dzogchen represented a distinct tradition separate from tantric Mahāyoga (Germano)

that early Dzogchen was not a separate tradition and always developed within Mahāyoga (van Schaik)

Distinct movement

The idea that Dzogchen was a distinct movement was proposed by Samten Karmay. Samten proposed that Dzogchen was a "new philosophy" based on the doctrines of "primal spontaneity" (ye nas lhun gyis grub pa) and "primordial purity" (kadag) that developed between the 9th and 10th centuries. He also explains how early Dzogchen had a close connection with tantric Mahāyoga.

American Tibetologist David Germano has also advocated a similar view of the early development of Dzogchen that emphasizes the difference between early Dzogchen and tantric yoga practice. He argues that early Dzogchen:

Was defined by the rhetorical rejection of the normative categories that constitute Indian tantric and non-tantric Buddhism. This pristine state of affairs known as the "Mind Series" (sems sde) movement emerged from Buddhist tantra, but was also influenced by other sources such as Chinese Chan and unknown indigenous elements.

Germano points out that early Dzogchen texts are characterized by constant rhetorical denials of the validity and relevance of tantric practice. An example of this rhetoric is seen in the ninth chapter of the Kun byed rgyal po, where normative tantric principles are denied under the rubric of the "ten facets of the enlightening mind's own being" (rang bzhin bcu).

Germano calls early Dzogchen traditions "Great Pristine Perfection" because it is marked "by the absence of detailed ritual presentations and contemplative techniques," as well as by the lack of funerary imagery, cemeteries, and death. These are characteristics of the later Dzogchen traditions that Germano calls "Great Funerary Perfection."

In contrast, early Dzogchen "consists of aphoristic philosophical poetry with concise descriptions of experience that lack a detailed outline of practice. "In place of conventional tantric techniques, Germano argues that early Dzogchen,

The basis of contemplation seems to have been largely a form of "calming" practice sometimes involving concentration exercises as preparatory techniques. It aims at a technique of free immersion in the sheer immediacy of the deepest levels of consciousness.

Thus, formless types of meditation were valorized over the complex fabrication of visual imagery found in other tantric systems such as Mahayoga, although it is quite possible that during these early phases it was largely practiced alongside other more normative types of tantric practices.

A form of Mahāyoga

According to Sam van Schaik, who studies the early Dzogchen manuscripts from the Dunhuang caves, the Dzogchen texts are influenced by earlier Mahayana sources such as the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and the Indian Buddhist Tantras with their teaching of emptiness and luminosity.

In the Dzogchen texts these doctrines are presented as 'eternal purity' (ka-dag) and 'spontaneous presence' (lhun-grub).

According to van Schaik, in 8th century tantric texts, the term "atiyoga" is the stage in tantric practice of the realization of the "nature of reality". Atiyoga here is not an independent vehicle (yana), but a stage or aspect of yoga practice. Similarly, the concept of "Dzogchen" first appeared as the culmination of the meditative practice of deity yoga (the visualization of the deity and recitation of his mantra) around the eighth century.

The term Dzogchen was probably taken from the Guhyagarbha tantra. This tantra describes how in the creation stage a visualization of a deity and its mandala is generated.

This is followed by the completion stage, in which one dissolves the deity and mandala into oneself, merging with the deity. In Guhyagarbha tantra and some other tantras, a stage called Dzogchen follows, in which one rests in the natural innate state of pure and luminous mind.

Sam van Schaik points out that it was only in the eleventh century that Atiyoga came to be treated as a separate spiritual vehicle or path in the Nyingma tradition. However, even in the thirteenth century (and later) the idea of Atiyoga as a separate vehicle was controversial in other Buddhist schools. Early Dzogchen (9th-10th centuries)

Most of the early Dzogchen literature are ninth-century compositions, being a series of short texts attributed to Indian saints. According to van Schaik, the earliest Dzogchen manuscripts were found in Dunhuang.

The most important of these Dzogchen texts are the "Eighteen Great Scriptures" (Lung-chen bco-brgyad), which later became known as the "mind series" (sems de). Another group of ancient texts are the "five early translations" (sNga-'gyur lnga). The focus of all these texts is the "mind of awakening" (byang-chub-kyi sems, Skt. bodhicitta).

According to Sten Anspal, "it refers to the true nature of a person's consciousness, which is essentially identical to the Buddha state. The texts explain how accessing and abiding in this pure and perfect state of consciousness surpasses all the various Buddhist practices and methods. "

The early Dzogchen texts contain antinomian rhetoric that rejects all forms of practice and assert that striving for liberation creates more delusions. One simply has to recognize the nature of one's mind, which is naturally empty (stong pa), luminous ('od gsal ba), and pure.

However, these texts are still inextricably linked to tantric Mahāyoga with its visualizations of deities and mandalas.

Christopher Hatchell explains that for early Dzogchen "all beings and all appearances are themselves the singular enlightened gnosis of the All Good Buddha (Samantabhadra, Kuntu Zangpo)." Early Dzogchen "also shows a disinterest in specifying any kind of structured practices or concepts through which one can connect with that gnosis.

Rather, the tradition argues, there is nothing to do and nothing to strive for. The reality of the Buddha All Good will manifest in its immediacy if one simply relaxes and lets go. " This tendency can be seen in Dzogchen's short text "Cuckoo of Consciousness":

"In variety, there is no difference.

And in parts there is freedom from elaborations.

Things as they are, are not conceptual,

The radiance of appearances is All Good.

Now that you have finished, cast off the disease of striving!

Resting naturally, leave things as they are. "

This method of pointing the meditator to the direct experience of the true nature of reality that is immediately present was seen as superior to all other Buddhist methods, which were seen as intellectual fabrications. However, according to van Schaik, this rhetoric does not necessarily mean that early Dzogchen practitioners did not engage in these "inferior" practices.

During the ninth and tenth centuries, these texts were gradually transformed into complete tantras, culminating in the Kulayarāja Tantra (kun byed rgyal po, "The All-Creator King," the title referring to the creative power of consciousness), in the latter half of the tenth century or the first half of the eleventh century.

According to Germano, this tantra was historically the most important and widely quoted of all the Dzogchen scriptures.

The works of Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (9th century), such as his Samten Migdrön, are an important source of early Dzochen traditions. By the 11th century, Dzogchen developed into different systems such as the Kham, the Rong and the Nyang.

According to Ronald Davidson "they are represented by surviving texts from the 13th to 16th centuries. " The Kham yogi, Aro Yeshe Jungne (a ro ye shes 'byun gnas, 10th century) is particularly interesting, as he is said to have united the teachings of Dzogchen and the Chan lineage of Heshang Moheyan into his own Kham system called A-ro lugs).

By the 13th century, these traditions slowly began to be displaced "by the overwhelming success of more vision-oriented movements, such as the Seminal Heart. " However, elements of early Dzogchen continued to appear in later works, such as Longchenpa's Trilogy of Natural Ease.

The Tibetan Renaissance (11th-14th centuries)

With the revival of Tibetan culture from the late tenth to early twelfth centuries (known as the later spread of Buddhism), the Dzogchen tradition was completely transformed.

New techniques and doctrines from India were introduced, resulting in new schools of Tibetan Buddhism (the Sarma, "New Translation" schools). These new schools criticized the texts and practices of the "ancients" (Nyingmapas) as not being authentic, as many could not be traced to Indian sources.

This challenge led to an explosion of new developments in Dzogchen doctrine and practice, with an emphasis on the new tantrism. The Bon and Nyingma traditions incorporated these new influences through the process of revealing treasure texts (ter ma).

These new texts were considered hidden treasures, buried by earlier figures such as Bairotsana, Songtsen Gampo, Vimalamitra, and Padmasambhava that were later discovered by "treasure revealers" (ter tons).

These "terma" texts, as well as the works of commentators such as Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo (11th century), were used to mount a scholarly defense of Dzogchen against Sarma criticism.

The Yogini Tantras and other Anuttarayoga Tantras influenced the development of new Dzogchen texts in this period, especially the texts of the Instruction series. These Buddhist tantras made use of taboo images that were violent, horrific, and erotic.

These influences are reflected in the emergence of subtle body practices, new pantheons of fierce Buddhas, antinomian rhetoric, and a focus on death motifs within the new Dzogchen literature.

The Space Series (klong sde)

The Space Series (Long de), reflects the developments of the eleventh-fourteenth centuries and emphasizes "space" or "extent" (long). According to Sten Anspal, this class of texts "is difficult to define or characterize uniformly" and "did not unify into a single system."

Because of this, it has been seen as almost identical to the earlier Semde Series, or as "occupying a doctrinal position between the Mind Series and the Instruction Series. "

According to Anspal, "Space" in these texts "is used to describe aspects in which the true nature of the individual's mind is analogous to space.

For example, space is everywhere present and no effort is needed to reach it; it cannot be transcended: it is immense, all-encompassing; it is featureless and cannot be apprehended; it has no center or periphery; it is eternal and causeless; there is no support in space and nothing to focus on... "

One of the central themes of these texts is the doctrine of "the Nine Spaces" (Vision, Behavior, Mandala, Initiation, Commitment, Activity, Realization, Levels-Pathways, and Fruit). Each of these terms refers to the characteristics of Buddhist tantra, which are said to be spacious and complete within one's true nature.

Therefore, gradualist and tantric practices are considered unnecessary for those who understand the true nature of their mind. For example, it is not necessary to create a mandala in the mind in order to practice, for when one realizes the true nature of the mind, all perceptions are the mandala.

Similarly, it is not necessary to go through ritual initiation, since realizing one's own nature is already an initiation. In this sense, Dzogchen is considered to transcend tantra.

As noted by Anspal, some tantras in the space series such as Equal to the End of Heaven (Nam-mkha'i mtha'-dang mnyam-pa) "do not prescribe any particular techniques for the practitioner, such as physical postures or movements, structured meditation or exercises, etc. " In this sense, they are similar to the Mental Series Tantras.

Another tradition that is often grouped as part of the Space Series is the Vajra Bridge tradition (rdo rje zam pa). Its texts include numerous tantric rites related to Heruka and three Dakinis.

However, commentaries on the Vajra Bridge texts indicate that these tantric rituals are auxiliary practices that "are secondary to the main practice which is the contemplation of the Great Perfection of the nature of mind, and which is not practiced here in the formalized context of tantric sadhana. "

A key figure in this tradition is 'Dzeng Dharmabodhi (1052-1168). His pupil, Kun-bzang rdo-rje, wrote numerous commentaries on Vajra Bridge. The key Tantra of this tradition was entitled Secret Wisdom (Ye-shes gsang-ba).

The following verse was interpreted as the essential summary of the path of contemplation on Vajra Bridge:

With the body in a secluded place, cut off attachment to the external and the internal. Assume the seven-featured posture and balance the physical elements. Without blocking the six sense aggregates, place yourself in mere ordinary awareness.

Externally, the elements of the body are balanced; internally, inhalation and exhalation are absent. One arrives at the meaning of uncontrolled naturalness. That which is called "human being" is Buddha. There is no Vajrasattva apart from oneself.

In the Vajra Bridge tradition, contemplation of the true nature of mind (also known as "non-meditation"), was introduced using "four signs." These "are the experiences of non-conceptuality (mi-rtog-pa), clarity (gsal-ba), bliss (bde-ba) and the inseparability (dbyer mi-phyed-pa) of these three experiences. "

Some of the Vajra Bridge texts also use yogas of the energies or winds (vayus), although they are relatively simple and "effortless" (rtsol-bral) in comparison to the wind yogas of the consummation stage found in the Sarma tantras, which are seen as inferior and coarse by Vajra Bridge authors such as Kun-bzang rdo-rje.

The instructional series (man ngag sde).

The most influential texts of The Instruction Series are the "Seventeen Tantras" (rgyud bcu bdun), the Vima Nyingthig, (bi ma snying thig, "Essence of the Heart of Vimalamitra") and the Khandro Nyingthig (mkha '' gro snying thig, "Essence of the Heart of Dakini").

The Essence of the Heart of Vimalamitra is attributed to Vimalamitra, but was largely composed by his discoverers, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, such as Zhangton Tashi Dorje (1097-1127). The Essence of the Heart of Dakini was produced by Tsultrim Dorje (1291-1315 / 17).

As noted by Hatchell, these texts are presented as teachings of Buddhas such as Samantabhadra and cover numerous topics including: "cosmogony, the subtle body, speculation on the gnostic terrain underlying the world, Buddha nature, discussions of light energy , practical techniques for calming the mind and producing visions, ritual empowerments, mandala building, signs of meditative attainment, post-death states, achieving liberation after death, funeral rituals, relics, prognostications for the time of death, subjugation rituals, strange recipes, and advice on dealing with zombies." 

Emphasis is placed on the importance of "funerary" themes such as death and the intermediate state (bar do), as well as visions of peaceful and fierce deities. The texts of The Instruction Series saw themselves as the highest of all Dzogchen teachings, and eventually eclipsed the other two classes.

Hatchell explains the central worldview of the Essence of the Heart texts as follows:

"All beings, objects, and appearances in the world are said to arise from the "ground" (gzhi) of reality, which in its primordial state is a field of pure possibility, beyond differentiation. Consciousness serves as the dynamic, conscious dimension of this foundation.

It acts as a kind of luminous vibration that "lights up" (snang) from the foundation, creating appearances through its "dynamic energy" (rtsal). In this view, all appearances are simply the "play" (rol pa) or "radiation" (gdangs) of consciousness.

Some appearances (such as visionary ones) are consciousness appearing in its unclouded intensity, while others (such as ordinary objects) are only its attenuated derivations.

In the Great Perfection, consciousness plays a major role in the enlightenment of beings as well as in their wanderings through samsara. The crucial question that separates these two is whether consciousness is "recognized" (ngoshes pa) for what it is or not.

Since beings and their environments are in fact constituted by consciousness itself, beings may recognize that or they may mistakenly see the world as containing external objects, absolutely separate from themselves as perceiving subjects.

"Recognition," then, is the simple act that leads to enlightenment. "Non-recognition," on the other hand, is the Seminal Heart's version of the basic ignorance that, according to Buddhists, afflicts all beings. It is what causes them to divide the world into factions, leading to a division between a "self" that needs to be protected and "others" who become objects of attachment or hatred. "

The Instruction division focuses on two aspects of spiritual practice: kadag trekchö, "the cutting of primordial purity," and lhündrub tögal, "the direct crossing of spontaneous presence. " According to Hatchell, trekchö is a class of meditations that cultivate "a living, stable awareness with the goal of attuning to the primordial emptiness and purity of mind."

This is influenced by the earlier teachings of the Mind series and also by the classical meditations of calming the mind (samatha, Tib. zhi gnas) and special perception (vipasyana, Tib. lhag mthong).

Tögal constitutes a unique feature of the tradition of Instruction. It refers primarily to visionary meditations through practices such as "retreat into darkness" and "contemplation of the sky." The theory behind these practices is that, through yogic techniques, pure consciousness can be induced to emerge through the eyes and appear as a series of visions.

According to Hatchell, this is an opportunity "for the yogi to realize that the visionary appearances appearing 'outside' are nothing more than presences of an inner consciousness, and thus undo the basic error of ignorance. "

The Vima Nyingthig categorized Dzogchen texts (and Atiyoga teaching in general) into three classes that later became the normative way of classifying Dzogchen literature:

The mind series (sems sde; the earliest teachings existing before the spread of the eleventh century),

The space series (klong sde, 11th-14th centuries),

The instruction series (man ngag sde, 11th-14th centuries).During the thirteenth through fourteenth centuries, the Essence of the Heart teachings were widely disseminated by figures such as Melong Dorje, Rigdzin Kumaradza, and the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje. Over time, the Essence of the Heart tradition became the dominant Dzogchen tradition and its textual divisions became standard.

The Pith Traditions

There were also other Dzogchen traditions, such as the "marrow" (ti) traditions (like the Corona Médula and the Ultra Marrow) that were contemporary with the development of the Nyingthig texts. Some of these represented a restatement of earlier Dzogchen trends that were somewhat critical of the Nyingthig systems.

One of the most important conservative voices of the twelfth century, Nyangrel Nyima Özer (Nyang ral nyi ma 'od zer, 1136-1204), developed his "Corona Médula" (spyi ti) system to reaffirm older traditions in a new form.

As Germano noted, a common motif of these texts is that Corona Médula is superior to the Yoga of the Great Perfection, sometimes even claiming that Corona Médula is a tenth vehicle. This indicates that Nyima Özer was a critic of the other Dzogchen tendencies of his time.

Germano notes that in Corona Médula texts "instead of the blood and violence of later Tantra, we find lyrical and elegant verses about light and darkness, purity and pollution, freedom and bondage, illusion and reality, plurality and unity, embodiment and mind. "

According to Germano, in Corona Médula texts, the other Dzogchen traditions are considered "retaining a degree of effort, conceptuality, and focus on appearances. "

Longchen Rabjam (fourteenth century).

A pivotal figure in the history of Dzogchen was Longchen Rabjam (kLong chen rab 'byams pa, 1308-1364, possibly 1369). He revived the teachings of The Essence of the Heart by uniting the two main cycles (Vima and Khandro).

To these, he added two new collections of his authorship, the Lama Yangtig and the Khadro Yangtig, as well as a third collection, the Zabmo Yangtig. This compilation effort eventually led to all of these cycles being transmitted in one large combined cycle called the Nyingtig Yabzhi.

Included in his influential corpus of commentaries are the Seven Treasures (mdzod bdun), the "Trilogy of Natural Freedom" (rang grol skor gsum), and the Trilogy of Natural Ease (ngal gso skor gsum). Longchenpa's works systematized the numerous Dzogchen teachings into a coherent structured form.

He refined the terminology and interpretations of Dzogchen and integrated the Essence of the Heart teachings with the broader Mahayana and Vajrayana literature.

" With Longchenpa's highly influential synthesis, the Essence of the Heart teachings came to dominate Dzgochen discourse in the Nyingma school, while earlier traditions were marginalized. All subsequent cycles of Dzogchen were influenced by the Longchenpa corpus.

Later developments

In the following centuries, other termas were revealed, including the "Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation by the Peaceful and Fierce Gods" (kar-gling zhi-khro) by Karma Lingpa, (1326-1386), which includes the two texts of the Bar-do thos-grol, the "Tibetan Book of the Dead. "

Other important termas are "The Pervasive Wisdom" (dgongs pa zang thal), revealed by Rinzin Gödem (rig 'dzin rgod ldem, 1337-1409); and "The Core of Ati's Profound Meaning" (rDzogs pa chen po a ti zab don snying po) by Terdak Lingpa (gter bdag gling pa, 1646-1714).

However, the most influential of these later revelations are the works of Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798). His Longchen Nyingthig (klong chen snying thig), "The essence of the heart of the vast expanse," is supposed to be a terma of Padmasambhava.

According to Germano, this cycle "functioned to simplify much of Longchen Rabjam's systematization of the essence of the heart, but it also altered the fundamental structure of his literature and praxis by relying on normative (and transformed) practices aimed at deity visualization. " It is one of the most widely practiced teachings in the Nyingmapa school.

The next major development in the history of Dzogchen is the Ri-me movement (nonsectarian or nonpartisan movement) of the nineteenth century. According to Germano, this period saw the continuation of a movement toward a more normative tantric doctrine.

There was an increase in the production of scholastic and philosophical literature on Mahayana subjects from the Dzogchen perspective, culminating in the works of Ju Mipham (1846-1912), who wrote numerous commentaries and texts on Mahayana Buddhist philosophy. There was also a greater focus on monastic institutions in Nyingma.

Dzogchen has been popularized and spread outside Tibet by the Tibetan diaspora, beginning with the Tibetan exile of 1959. Well-known masters who have taught dzogchen in the Western world include The Second Dudjom Rinpoche, Nyoshul Khenpo, Tulku Urgyen, Dilgo Khyentse, Namkhai Norbu, Dzogchen Ponlop, and Mingyur Rinpoche.

Some of these figures were also tertons (treasure revealers), such as Dudjom Rinpoche and Namkhai Norbu, and thus revealed new termas. Some of these Tibetan diaspora figures also founded organizations for the preservation and practice of Dzogchen, such as the Namkhai Norbu Dzogchen Community.


The dzogchen nyingma texts use unique terminology to describe the dzogchen view (tib. tawa). Some of these terms refer to different elements and characteristics of the mind and are taken from classical Buddhist thought. The generic term for consciousness is shes pa (Skt. vijñāna), and includes the six sense consciousnesses.

The mundane, impure, and dualistic forms of consciousness are generally referred to by terms such as sems (citta, mind), yid (mānas, mind), and blo (buddhi). On the other hand, nirvanic or liberated forms of consciousness are described by terms such as ye shes (jñāna, 'pristine consciousness') and shes rab (prajñā, wisdom).

According to Sam van Schaik, two important terms used in Dzogchen literature are the Foundation (gzhi) and Gnosis (rig pa), which represent the 'ontological and gnoseological aspects of the nirvanic state' respectively.

The Dzogchen nyingma literature also describes nirvana as the 'extension' or 'space' (klong or dbyings) or the 'extension of Dharma' (chos dbyings, Sanskrit: Dharmadhatu). The term Dharmakaya (Dharma body) is also often associated with these terms in the Dzogchen.

The eleven themes

The Dzogchen philosophy of the texts of the Instruction Series (man ngag sde) is classically explained through the "eleven Vajra themes". These can be found in the Pearl String Tantra (Mu tig phreng ba), Vimalamitra's Great Commentary, as well as in Longchenpa's Treasury of Words and Meaning (Tsik Dön Dzö). The Pearl String Tantra briefly lists them as follows:

Although reality is inconceivable, pristine awareness has three aspects. Although there are many bases of delusion, it is natural perfection (lhun grub) and compassion (thugs rjes). Abundant in oneself are the kāyas, families and pristine awarenesses.

The location of the buddha mind is in the heart center. The path is the four nāḍīs; vāyu causes the movement. There are four gates of arising: the eyes, etc. The field is the cloud-free sky. The practice is trekchö and thögal. The gauge is the yoga of the four confidences. The bardo is the meeting of mother and child. The stage of liberation is the first.

The eleven themes are:

The foundation or basis of reality (gzhi), and how it manifests dynamically (gzhi snang);

How beings deviate from the base
The essence of enlightenment present in all beings;
How primordial wisdom (ye shes) exists in all beings.
The paths of primordial wisdom in beings; The gateways of primordial wisdom in beings

The gateways of the primordial wisdom in beings
The objective sphere for primordial wisdom shining forth
How primordial wisdom is accessed through contemplation;
Signs of realization,

Opportunities for dying and after death in the intermediate states (bar do).
The final fruit (Buddhahood)

Gzhi (The Base)

A key concept in dzogchen is the "base," the "ground" or "primordial state" (Tibetan: gzhi, Sanskrit: sthāna), also called the general base (spyi gzhi) or original base (gdod ma'i gzhi). 

It is timeless and immutable and yet is "noetically potent," giving rise to mind (sems, Skt. citta), consciousness (shes pa, Skt. vijñāna), illusion (marigpa, Skt. avidyā), and knowledge (rigpa, Skt. vidyā).

The Tibetan master Longchenpa describes the basis as follows:

the self-emerging primordial gnosis of consciousness, the primordially empty original body of reality, the ultimate truth of expansion, and the permanent condition of luminously radiant reality, within which such oppositions as cyclic existence and transcendent reality, pleasure and suffering, existence and nonexistence, being and non-being, freedom and straying, consciousness and attenuated consciousness, are nowhere to be found. 

Namkhai Norbu writes that the term base denotes "the fundamental ground of existence, both at the universal level and at the level of the individual, both being essentially the same."

This ground is "uncreated, always pure and, self-perfected, not something that has to be constructed," yet it "remains hidden from the experience of every being affected by the illusion of dualism. "

Jean Luc-Achard defines the ground as "the real and authentic mode of permanence of the Mind. "According to Achard, the Dzogchen tantras define the ground as "Great Primordial Purity" (ka dag chen po). The Tantra of Beautiful Auspiciousness (bKra shis mdzes ldan gyi rgyud) defines it as "the state of abiding before the true Buddhas arose and before the appearance of impure sentient beings. "

In the Great Vimalamitra Commentary, the base is defined as "one's own unmanufactured mind" (rang sems ma bcos pa). As Smith points out, this indicates how the base is not a transpersonal entity. The base, therefore, is not defined as "one thing" (i.e., monism), since there is the production of diversity.

In this regard, The Tantra of the Realms and Transformations of Sound (sgra thal 'gyur) states: "Apart from compassion arising as diversity, it is not defined as a thing. " However, as Hatchell points out, the Dzogchen tradition also understands ultimate reality as something that is "beyond the concepts of unity and multiplicity. "

The base, a pure and empty consciousness, is what must be recognized or understood in order to achieve awakening in Dzogchen. Thus, according to Smith, "The Illuminating Lamp states that in Ati Yoga, pristine consciousness is a mere awareness that apprehends primordial liberation and the generic base as the ultimate. " In other words, spiritual knowledge in Dzogchen is to recognize the base itself.

Furthermore, since the base transcends time, any temporal language used to describe it (such as "primordial," "original," etc.) is purely conventional and does not refer to an actual point in time, but must be understood to indicate a state in which time is not a factor. According to Smith, "placing the original base on a temporal spectrum is therefore a didactic myth. "

The base is also not to be confused with the "base of everything" (kun gzhi, Skt. alaya) or fundamental storehouse consciousness (ālāyavijñāna), as both are considered to have ignorance. " Other terms used to describe the base are unhindered (ma 'gags pa), universal (kun khyab), and omnipresent.

Basis is also associated with the term Dharmatā, defined as follows: "Dharmatā, original purity, is free from all proliferation. Since it is unaffected by ignorance, it is free from all obscurations. " According to Smith, describing the base as "great original purity" (ka dag chen po) is the only description that is considered impeccable according to several Dzogchen Tantras.

The base is also associated with primordial or original Buddhahood, also called Samantabhadra, which is said to be beyond time and space. Therefore, Buddhahood is not something to be earned, but an act of recognizing what is already immanent in all sentient beings.

This view of groundedness comes from the Indian theory of Buddha nature, according to Pettit. Tibetan authors such as Longchenpa and Jigme Lingpa specifically linked the Dzogchen view of groundedness with the doctrine of Buddha nature (especially as found in the Ratnagotravibhāga).

Three aspects of the base

In the Seminal Heart tradition, the base has three qualities or aspects, also called the "three wisdoms". Each of these is paired with one of the three Buddha bodies and one of the three jewels (indicating that these are fully included in every sentient being).

Norbu points out that "these three aspects are interdependent and cannot be separated from each other," just as the various qualities of a mirror are all essential to the mirror's existence.

The three aspects of the base are:

Essence (Tib. ངོ་བོ་, ngowo; Wyl. ngo bo, Skt. svabhāva).

It is defined as original purity (Tib ka dag, "always pure"). Ka dag is a contraction of ka nas dag pa, "pure from ka" (ka is the first letter of the Tibetan alphabet) which is also glossed as pure from the beginning (thog nas dag pa).

(van Schaik, 2004b, p. 52) In this context, purity (Skt. śuddha) refers to emptiness (śunyata, stong pa nyid), which in the Dzogchen is explained similarly to how emptiness is explained in the Madhyamaka (as free from the extremes of nihilism and eternalism).

(van Schaik, 2004b, p. 52) This aspect is associated with the Dharmakaya and the Buddha. Namkhai Norbu explains it as the fact that all phenomena are "essentially empty, impermanent, existing only temporarily, and that all 'things' can be seen as composed of other things" (Norbu, 2000, p. 97) He compares this aspect to the emptiness that allows a mirror to take on any image.

Nature (Tib. རང་བཞིན་, rangshyin; Wyl. rang bzhin, Skt. prakṛti).

Nature defines as "Natural Perfection" (Tib. lhun grub, Skt. anābhoga), also translated as "spontaneous presence" or "spontaneous realization".

(van Schaik, 2004b, p. 52-53) According to Norbu, this aspect refers to the continuous manifestation or appearance of phenomena and can be illustrated by comparing it to the "reflective capacity of a mirror" (Norbu, 2000, p. 97) Sam van Schaik explains it as "a spontaneous presence in the sense that it is neither created nor based on anything," as well as "the luminous aspect of the earth" (van Schaik, 2004b, p. 53).

As such, this term is used interchangeably with luminosity or clarity (Tib. 'od gsal or gsal ba,Skt. prabhāsvaratā), a term also found in Indian Mahayana.(van Schaik, 2004b, p. 53) The Grounding Nature is also associated with the Dharma and the Saṃbhogakāya.

Longchenpa explains that there are "eight gates of spontaneous presence." According to Hatchell, the first six gates are "the essential forms that consciousness takes when it first manifests: lights, Buddha bodies, gnosis, compassion, freedom, and nonduality," while the last two gates "are viewpoints from which the first six are perceived" and are the gates of purity (i.e., nirvana).

i.e., nirvana) and impurity (samsara), which are associated with self-recognition/integration and non-recognition/duality (also called "going astray," 'khrul pa).(Hatchell, 2014, p. 58)

Compassion (Tib. ཐུགས་རྗེ་, tukjé, Wyl. thugs rje, Skt. karuṇā), also sometimes translated as "Energy".

It is also called "manifest ground" (gzhi snang) or "ground of arising" ('char gzhi).(van Schaik, 2004b, p. 53) Norbu compares this manifest aspect of the base to particular appearances reflected in a mirror.

This aspect is also defined in the Illuminating Lamp as "Thugs is the affection (brtse ba) in the heart for sentient beings. Rje is the arising of a special empathy (gdung sems) for them."(Smith, 2016, p. 13) Smith explains this aspect as a reference to the unity of clarity and emptiness.(Smith, 2016, pp. 13, 30)

According to Sam van Schaik, this aspect "seems to signify the immanent presence of the earth in every appearance, in the sense that it is defined as omnipresent and unobstructed" (van Schaik, 2004b, pp. 52-53) Compassion is associated with the Nirmanakaya and Sangha.

According to Norbu, this compassionate energy manifests itself in three ways:(Norbu, 2000, p. 99-101)(van Schaik, 2004b, p. 54)gDang (Skt. svaratā, radiance), is an infinite and formless level of compassionate energy and reflective capacity, is "a consciousness free of any restraint and as an energy free of any limit or form" (Norbu).(Norbu, 2000, p. 100).

role pa (līlā, play), These are the manifestations that appear to be internal to the individual (as when a crystal ball appears to reflect something within).
rTsal (vikrama, potentiality, dynamism) is "the manifestation of the individual's own energy, as an apparently 'external' world," although this apparent externality is nothing more than "a manifestation of our own energy, at the level of Tsal" (Norbu, 2000, p. 101).

This is explained by the use of a crystal prism that reflects and refracts white light into other forms of light.
Namkhai Norbu warns that "all examples used to explain the nature of reality can only be partially successful in describing it because, in itself, it is beyond words and concepts" (Norbu, 2000, p. 94).

He further writes that "the Ground should not be objectified and regarded as a self-existent entity; it is the insubstantial state or condition that serves as the basis for all entities and individuals, of which the ordinary individual is unaware but which is fully manifested in the realized individual" (Norbu, 2000, p. 90).

The text "A Prayer of Aspiration for the Base, the Path, and the Result" defines the three aspects of the base thus:

Because its essence is empty, it is free from the limit of eternalism.
Because its nature is luminous, it is free from the extreme of nihilism.
Because its compassion is unhindered, it is the basis of manifold manifestations.


Rigpa (Sanskrit: vidyā, "knowledge," "gnosis") is a central concept in Dzogchen. According to Ācārya Malcolm Smith:

A Vimalamitra Heart Essence text called Lamp Summarizing Vidyā (Rig pa bsdus pa'i sgronma) defines vidyā as follows: "... vidyā is wisdom, clear and unchanging." In Sanskrit, the term vidyā and all its cognates imply consciousness, knowing, knowledge, science, intelligence, etc. In short, vidyā means unmistakable knowledge of the basis which is its own condition.

Terms related to rigpa are ye shes (Skt. jñāna, pristine awareness) which is "the original, unadulterated state of consciousness" and wisdom (shes rab, Skt. prajña). Rigpa is also described as "reflexively self-conscious primordial wisdom," or "the recognition of primordial wisdom as limitless totality. " Thus, wisdom (shes rab, prajña) is none other than rigpa.

The analogy given by the Dzogchen masters is that one's true nature is like a mirror that reflects with complete openness, but is unaffected by the reflections. It is also like a crystal ball that takes on the color of the material on which it is placed without being changed. The knowledge gained by recognizing this mirrored clarity is called rigpa.

Sam van Schaik translates rigpa as "gnosis," and defines this as "a form of consciousness aligned with the nirvanic state. " He notes that other definitions of rigpa include "free of elaboration" (srpos bral), "nonconceptual" (rtog med), and "transcendent of the intellect" (blo 'das). It is also often combined with emptiness, as in the term rig-stong (gnosis-vacuity).

The unconditioned nature of rigpa is described in the Longchen Nyingthig as follows:

Not constructed by the excellent buddhas, nor changed by lower sentient beings, this unmanufactured gnosis of the present moment, is the reflective luminosity, naked and stainless, the Primordial Lord himself.

John W. Pettit points out that rigpa is considered beyond affirmation and negation, acceptance and rejection, and is therefore known as a "natural" (ma bcos pa) and "effortless" (rtsol med) state.

Because of this, Dzogchen is also known as the pinnacle and final destination of all paths. Ācārya Malcolm Smith also points out that the timeless nature of the base also applies to the presence of the base in sentient beings as rigpa:

Since time is not a factor when it comes to the analysis of the base, the Great Perfection texts can define the liberation of sentient beings as timeless. This means that the state of liberation is their unconditioned essential state.

It is not something to be gained; it is something to be discovered. More importantly, the basis is buddhahood and it functions as buddhahood.

The Dzogchen texts refer to the base and its rigpa present in sentient beings as sugatagarbha. The Vimalamitra Commentary states that "Because the goal of buddhahood exists in the manner of a seed in the pristine consciousness of one's vidyā, there is definitely success through practice. "

The Dzogchen texts also describe how rigpa is connected to the energy body. The Dzogchen tantras explain that rigpa can be located in the center of the human body, in the heart chakra. The Tantra of the Realms and Transformations of Sound says, "The jewel present within the heart at the center of the body is a great pristine consciousness. "

Furthermore, the Vidyā Self-arisen Tantra states:

The transcendent state of the perfect buddhas is supported. It is supported by the material aggregate, for example, like an eagle sleeping in its nest. It has a location. It is located in the heart, for example, like a figure in a vase.

The Dzogchen tantras also discuss the related topic of the energy body, mainly the nāḍīs, vāyus, and bindus (rtsa, rlung, and thig le; channels, winds, and circles).

Ma Rigpa (ignorance)

Ma Rigpa (avidyā) is the opposite of rigpa or knowledge. Ma rigpa is ignorance, delusion or unawareness, the failure to recognize the nature of the base. An important theme in Dzogchen's texts is to explain how ignorance arises from the base, as it is associated with "pristine awareness. "

Unconsciousness (lhan-skyes ma-rigpa) exists because the base has a natural cognitive potentiality, a conscious "luminosity" that gives rise to appearances.

This is the basis of samsara and nirvana. Ignorance arises when consciousness fails to recognize that all phenomena arise as the creativity (rtsal) of the nature of mind and fails to understand its own luminescence or fails to "recognize its own face." That is why sentient beings arise instead of Buddhas. Marigpa explains himself in Vimalamitra's commentary as follows:

The delusion arises from the difference between the base and the conscious aspect of the base. Apart from general penetration, the so-called "base" is totally undifferentiated, without any consideration of delusion or non-delusion. That so-called "knower" (rig pa po) or "mind" (the special affirmation of a consciousness demonstrated in our own texts) is deluded.

According to Vimalamitra's Illuminating Lamp, delusion arises because sentient beings "fall toward mentally apprehended external objects." This external grasping is then said to produce sentient beings from dependent arising (pratītyasamutpāda).

This process of dualistic conceptualization leading to samsara is called manas, as well as "consciousness moving away from the ground. " However, some beings do not fall into dualism by externalizing their own manifestation and, instead, immediately recognize all phenomena arising from the ground as the insubstantial appearances of their own nature.

These beings immediately become Buddhas. Thus sentient beings arise due to ignorance/delusion, while Buddhas arise due to recognition and wisdom. Master Longchenpa explains the process of how rigpa ("gnosis") becomes ignorance in his 'Tsigdön Dzö' as follows:

'The general delusion is caused by the taint of gnosis that does not recognize the manifest ground, through which gnosis itself becomes contaminated with delusion. Although gnosis itself does not have the stains of cognition, it is filled with stains.

Through its wrapping in the seal of mind, the gnosis of ever-pure essence becomes contaminated with conceptualization. Chained by the sixfold mind, it is covered with the body's web of partless atoms, and luminosity becomes latent.

The immanence of rigpa

According to Sam van Schaik, there is a certain tension in Dzogchen thought (as in other forms of Buddhism) between the idea that samsara and nirvana are immanent to each other and yet remain distinct.

In texts such as the Longchen Nyingtig, for example, base and rigpa are presented as "intrinsically innate to the individual mind. " The Great Perfection Tantra of the Expansion of Samantabhadra Wisdom states:

If you think that "the essence of the heart of all buddhas, the Primordial Lord, the noble Victorious One, Samantabhadra," is contained in a mental stream separate from the oceanic realm of sentient beings, then this is a nihilistic view in which samsara and nirvana remain disconnected.

Likewise, Longchenpa (14th century), writes in his Illuminating the Light of the Sun:

Every kind of experiential content that pertains to samsara and nirvana has, as its very basis, a natural state that is a spontaneously present buddha, a dimension of purity and perfection, which is perfect by nature. This natural state is not created by a profound buddha nor by an intelligent sentient being. It is independent of causality.

Causes did not produce it and conditions cannot make it perish. This state is a self-existent wakefulness, defying all that words can describe, in a way that also transcends the reach of intellect and thoughts.

All the phenomena of samsara and nirvana exist within the non-emergent vastness of a basic natural state. They are, essentially and without exception, a state of Buddhahood: purity and perfection.

In Longde's texts (and in other works), a common term used to denote the immanent enlightened nature is bodhicitta (byang chub sems).

This lack of difference between these two states, their nondual nature (advaya), corresponds to the idea that the change from one to the other does not occur due to an ordinary process of causation, but is an instantaneous and perfect "self-recognition" (rang ngo sprod) of what is already innately (lhan-skyes). 

According to John W. Pettit, this idea has its roots in Indian texts such as Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika, which states that samsara and nirvana are not separate and that there is no difference between the ground, the path and the fruit.

Samsara and Nirvana

As Sam van Schaik points out, for authors such as Longchenpa and Jigme Lingpa, the ground has the potential to manifest in both samsaric and nirvanic modes.

Thus, although rigpa is immanent, in sentient beings this rigpa is an unripened rigpa that often manifests as ordinary consciousness (shes pa) and can be deluded if it does not recognize its own nature. Buddhahood is achieved through the recognition of rigpa (rig pa'i ngo sprod) or the self-recognition (rang ngo sprod) of what is immanently present.

The Seminal Heart texts also indicate a subtle difference between terms associated with delusion (such as kun gzhi or Ālaya, and sems or mind) and terms associated with full enlightenment (Dharmakaya and rigpa). These terms come from Indian Yogacara texts.

In the Seminal Heart literature, the Ālaya and Ālayavijñāna (storehouse consciousness) are associated with the karmic imprints (vasana) of the mind and with mental afflictions (klesa). The "alaya of habits" is the basis (gzhi) along with ignorance (marigpa), which includes all kinds of obscuring habits and clinging tendencies.

The Longchen Nyingthig compares the Ālaya to muddy water (which hides the brightness of wisdom and rigpa) and defines it as non-recognition, while the Dharmakaya is compared to clear water and defined as "awareness without delusion. "

As for sems (mind) and rigpa (gnosis), the Longchen Nyingthig compares them to air and space respectively:

Mind and gnosis are like air and space. Mind is the aspect of deluded objects of fixation, which fill vividly, swirl up and out again, or stir briefly like a hurricane. Its foundation is the condition of the various sensations. Gnosis is unsupported and omnipresent.

In its emptiness it opens like spatial extension; in its luminosity it is inconceptual and radiant like a polished crystal. Thus, the essential point of the Seminal Heart is to maintain a safe place in the natural state, totally liberated from the mind in the extension of gnosis.


The spiritual practice of Dzogchen is based on the worldview described above, as well as a relationship with a guru or lama who gives specific instructions. The "main practices" are often considered advanced, and therefore preliminary practices and ritual initiation are considered requisite.

Dzogchen teachings emphasize naturalness, spontaneity and simplicity. Although Dzogchen presents itself as distinct from or beyond tantra, it has incorporated many tantric concepts and practices as well. Dzogchen encompasses a wide variety of traditions and systems of practice, incorporating different aspects of Buddhist tantra.

The most influential Dzogchen tradition is that of the "Heart Essence" or "Essential Source" (Nyingthig), the most popular of which is found in the Longchen Nyingthig of Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798). The explanation of Dzogchen practice that follows applies primarily to Heart Essence systems such as the Longchen Nyingthig, but also to the Dudjom Tersar, etc.

The Nyingthig tradition embodied the Dzogchen teaching in three principles, known as: "Reaching the vital point in three statements" (Tsik Sum Né Dek). In summary, they give the development that a student should undergo:

Directly introducing the face of rigpa (ong song tok tu tré). Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche states that this refers to, "Directly introducing the face of the bare mind as the same rigpa, the innate primordial wisdom."

Decide on one thing and one thing only (tak chik tok tu ché). Dujdom Rinpoche comments, "Because all manifesting phenomena, whether saṃsāra or nirvāṇa, are none other than the play of rigpa itself, there is a complete and direct decision that there is nothing but the permanence of the continuous flow of rigpa."

Direct reliance on the release of arising thoughts (deng drol tok tu cha). Dujdom Rinpoche comments, "In the recognition of arising thoughts (whatever arises, gross or subtle), there is direct reliance on the simultaneity of arising and dissolving in the expansion of dharmakāya, which is the unity of rigpa and śūnyatā."

Structure of practice in the "Heart Essence" tradition.

The Dzogchen tradition contains vast anthologies of practices, including standard Buddhist meditation techniques and tantra practices. With the influence of tantra and Longchenpa's systematizations, the main Dzogchen practices were preceded by preliminary practices.

In "Finding Relief and Tranquility in the Nature of Mind," Longchenpa describes 141 contemplative practices, divided into three sections: exoteric Buddhism or sutra (92), tantra (92), and Great Perfection (27). Typical Buddhist meditations are relegated to the preliminary phase, while the main meditative practices are "direct" methods.

Longchenpa includes the techniques of the "perfection phase" (dealing with the channels, winds and circles of the energy body) in the main and final phases. The "final phase" includes discussions of new contemplative techniques, which assist in the practice of the main phase.

The Longchen Nyingthig-based teachings are also divided into preliminary practices (ngondro, subdivided into various classes) and main practices (which are trekchö and tögal). In The White Lotus (rGyab brten padma dkar po), Jigme Lingpa describes the path of Nyingthig Dzogchen practice as follows:

Your mindstream is purified by deep initiation, which is the cause of maturation, Then you begin with the external, internal and secret preliminaries, which can be equated with the path of accumulation in Paramitayana. For beginners, the way to practice is explained by the practice instructions and the instructions of the lama.

Simultaneous and gradual practice

As noted by van Schaik, there is a tension in Dzgochen between methods that emphasize gradual practice and attainment, and methods that emphasize primordial liberation, simultaneous enlightenment, and non-activity. This apparent contradiction is explained by the authors of the Nyingthig tradition as a result of the different levels of skill among practitioners.

In response to the idea that the gradualist teachings found in the Nyingthig texts contradict the Dzogchen view of primordial liberation, Jigme Lingpa states:

This is not correct, because Vajradhara, using his skill in the means, taught according to the categories of best, middle and worst faculties (subdivided into nine levels from sravaka to atiyoga).

Although the Great Perfection is the path for those with the sharpest faculties, the participants are not composed exclusively of those types. With this in mind, having ascertained the characteristics of the intermediate and lower faculties of the vidya holders, the tradition was established in this way.

This division of practices according to level of ability is also found in Longchenpa's Tegcho Dzo. However, as van Schaik points out, "the system should not be taken too literally. "

Thus, although the instructions would be given to all types of students, the actual ability of the practitioner would determine how they would attain awakening (whether through Dzogchen meditation, in the bardo of death, or through the transference of consciousness).

Jigme Lingpa also believed that students of the higher faculties were extremely rare. He argued that for most people, what is needed to reach realization is a gradual path of training.

Preliminary practices

Longchenpa divides the preliminary practices into:

general preliminaries on impermanence and renunciation of samsara, which corresponds to Sravakayana;
special preliminaries on compassion and bodhicitta, which corresponds to Mahayana;
the supreme preliminaries, which consist of deity yoga and guru yoga.
Jigme Lingpa's eighteenth-century Longchen Nyingthig system divides the preliminaries into ordinary and extraordinary types.

Ordinary preliminaries are a series of contemplations of which there are two main instructional texts. One is based on the seven-point mental training of Atisha (Lojong) and is called Tarpai Temke. The second is the Laglenla Deblug, and contains the following contemplations:

appreciating our precious human existence;
contemplating death and impermanence;
contemplating the faults of samsaric existence;
contemplating karmic cause and effect;
contemplating the benefits of liberation;
contemplating the qualities of the lama (master);
The extraordinary preliminaries, which are discussed in the Drenpa Nyerzhag, are as follows:

taking refuge in the three jewels;
cultivating bodhicitta and the compassionate mind;
practicing the recitation of Vajrasattva, for the purification of great obstacles;
practicing mandala offerings, in which we develop generosity and strengthen our network of positive force;

making chöd kusali offerings, in which we imagine cutting and giving away our ordinary bodies;

Guru Yoga, in which we recognize and focus on the Buddha nature in our spiritual mentors and ourselves;

According to Jigme Lingpa, the preliminary practices are the basis for the main practices and, therefore, should not be abandoned at a later time.

Another important requirement for practicing Dzogchen according to Jigme Lingpa is ritual initiation or empowerment (dbang) by a lama. According to Tsoknyi Rinpoche, initiation is necessary, as it plants the "seeds of realization" within one.

After tantric initiation, one also engages in the tantric practices of the generation and completion stages of mahayoga and anuyoga. Jigme Lingpa sees all these tantric practices as gradual steps to be cultivated that lead to the practice of the Great Perfection. Jigme Lingpa states:

What is the main point of the excellent path to greatness? It is nothing but to clear the intellectual limitations. Therefore, the three vows, the six paramitas, the stages of generation and completion, etc., are all steps on the ladder to Great Perfection.

Proper Dzogchen practice

Dzogchen's own meditation methods, which are unique to the tradition, appear in texts such as Jigme Lingpa's Yeshe Lama and Longchenpa's Tsigdon Dzo and Tegcho Dzo. The presentation of Dzogchen meditation methods in the Yeshe Lama is divided into three parts:

Instructions for those with acute faculties, which is where the Dzogchen meditation methods are found.
Instructions for those of middle faculties, which focus on the bardo (intermediate state) of death.
Instructions for those of lesser faculties, which focus on the transfer of consciousness (phowa) to a pure land after death.

Specific Dzogchen preliminaries

Jigme Lingpa mentions two types of Dzogchen preliminaries, korday rushen and sbyong ba.

Ru shan ("making a gap between samsara and nirvana") is a series of visualization and recitation exercises. The name reflects the dualism of the distinctions between mind and wisdom, ālaya and dharmakāya.

Sbyong ba is a variety of teachings for training (sbyong ba) the body, speech, and mind. Training of the body entails instructions for physical posture. Speech training primarily involves recitation, especially of the syllable hūm. Training of the mind is a Madhyamaka-style analysis of the mind. They are, in effect, an establishment of the shunyata by means of the intellect.

According to Jigme Lingpa, these practices serve to purify the mind and pacify obstacles.


Dzogchen meditation practices also include a series of exercises known as Semdzin, which literally means "to hold the mind" or "to fix the mind. " They include a wide range of methods aimed at bringing one to the state of contemplation.

Longchenpa divides them into three categories of seven exercises. An example of an exercise in the first category is the following:

"Notice a white Tibetan letter A on the tip of the nose. Link the letter with the breath. 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 the second exercise in the same category involves the sounding of the syllable PHAT! which instantly breaks up thoughts and attachments. Symbolically, the two parts of the syllable indicate the two aspects of enlightenment, i.e., PHA means Means (thabs) and TA means Wisdom (shes rab). "

According to Reynolds, it is this specific Semdzin practice that Patrul Rinpoche used to provide a direct introduction to rigpa knowledge. It temporarily blocks the flow of thought and brings us temporarily into a state of emptiness and clarity.


The practice of Trekchö (khregs chod, "breaking through solidity," "breaking through"), reflects the early developments of Dzogchen, with its focus on direct access to fundamental nature.

In this practice, one first recognizes one's own empty, innately pure consciousness, and then practices repeatedly to maintain that recognition. To practice Trekchö, students must first receive the "pointing out" (sems khrid, ngos sprod) of the nature of mind by a Dzogchen teacher.

The Heart Essence tradition generally considers that the pointing instructions should be kept secret until such time as the lama reveals them to the student. In the Yeshe Lama, Jigme Lingpa gives the following passage as an introduction to the nature of mind:

Kye! Do not invent or elaborate the consciousness of this very moment. Let it be as it is. It does not establish itself as existent, non-existent or with direction. It does not distinguish between emptiness and appearances and does not have the characteristics of nihilism and eternalism.

Within this state in which nothing exists, it is unnecessary to strive through vision or meditation. The great primordial liberation is not like liberation from bondage. It is a natural radiance that is not grasped by the intellect, a wisdom that is untainted by concepts.

The nature of phenomena, unsullied by vision and meditation. It is equality without location and post-equality without premeditation. It is clarity without characteristics and vastness that is not lost to uniformity.

Although all sentient beings have never separated from their own inner wisdom even for an instant, by not recognizing this, it becomes like a natural flow of water solidifying into ice.

With the inner greedy mind as the root cause and the outer objective attachment as the circumstance, beings wander indefinitely in samsara. Now, with the guru's oral instructions, at the moment of finding awareness, without any mental construction, rest in the way things really are, without wavering or meditating on anything. This fully reveals the intention of the wisdom of the primordial Buddha Kuntuzangpo.

Jigme Lingpa divides the trekchö practice into ordinary and extraordinary instructions. The ordinary section comprises an analytical and conceptual establishment of emptiness. 

Jigme Lingpa's extraordinary instructions give the instructions on advancement itself, consisting of the establishment of sight (lta ba), the doubts and mistakes that can occur in practice, and some general instructions called "the four ways of relief" (cog bzhag). Jigme Lingpa describes the "four chozags" (ways of "resting freely" or "letting oneself be easily") in his Yeshe Lama as follows:

(a) Mountain view: After realizing what the true nature is like, free from thoughts, abide in the great naturally clear awareness that is not subject to mental effort, clinging, or the use of meditation antidotes.

(b) Ocean meditation: sit in the lotus posture. Look at space in an open state. Avoid clinging to the perceptions of the six consciousnesses. Clear your cognition like an ocean without waves.

(c) Ability in activities: abruptly relax the three gates of body, speech and mind. Free yourself from the cocoon of sight and meditation. Simply keep your wisdom clear and naked naturally.

(d) Unconditional result: Let the five mental objects remain naturally as they are. Then natural clarity arises vividly within you.

To practice trekchö meditation, Jigme Lingpa states that one sits cross-legged with open eyes. His instructions on trekchö begin by stating that one should "settle into the present moment of gnosis [rigpa], without spreading out or gathering." Rigpa is defined as that knowledge in which "the extremes of existence and non-existence are not fulfilled. "


Tögal (thod rgal) means "leap," "direct crossing," or "transcendence. " The literal meaning is "proceeding directly to the goal without having to go through intermediate steps." Jigme Lingpa follows Longchenpa in seeing the visionary practice of tögal as the highest level of meditation practice.

Tögal practice involves advancing through the "Four Visions" which are:

the manifestation of the absolute nature
the experience of increasing appearances
consciousness reaching its highest heights
the exhaustion of phenomena in the Dharmata

Tögal practices use the subtle body of psychic channels, winds and spheres (rtsa rlung thig le). The practices aim to generate a spontaneous flow of rainbow-colored luminous images (thigles) that gradually expand in extent and complexity. The meditator uses them to recognize the nature of his or her mind.

Tögal can lead to complete enlightenment and self-liberation of the human body into a "rainbow body" at the moment of death, when all fixation and clinging have been exhausted.

This rainbow body is a body of immaterial light with the capacity to exist and dwell wherever and whenever, as compassion may signal. It is a manifestation of the Sambhogakāya.

Meditation on the bardo

For those with mid-level abilities, Jigme Lingpa maintains that they will attain awakening during bardo (intermediate state during death) by following certain instructions on how to recognize the signs of death and how to practice during this process. Jigme Lingpa describes the process as follows:

Thus, assuming one of the three postures or remaining in the sleeping lion posture, concentrate attention on the eyes. With the eyes directed into the space of consciousness, abandon the present life and relax without artifice into the original purity. In an instant liberation will come.

Jigme Lingpa also states that one should practice this meditation while alive, to prepare for meditation on the process of death: "even while one is alive, when the sky is pristine, direct the consciousness into space and think: 'The time for death has come.

Now I must move into the expanse of peace without elaboration. ' Exhale the breath and follow it, allowing the mind to remain unfocused. " Other meditations and techniques, to be practiced while one is alive, are also taught.

Various practices are also taught for those who are present when someone else is dying. These practices are intended to help the dying through the process and bring them to awakening or a higher rebirth.

Other practices related to the "bardo of the nature of phenomena" are also taught. At this point, trekchö and tögal should be practiced. There are also specific instructions for this phase of death, which occurs when "the connection between body and mind has ended."

According to Jigme Lingpa, at this stage, the awareness of the basis of everything dissolves into the basic space of phenomena and "at that instant, clear natural light dawns like a cloudless autumn sky. "

If one does not attain awakening or does not recognize this true nature, there will be a series of appearances that will be "extremely bright and colorful, devoid of distinctions such as external, internal, wide or narrow. " There will also be appearances of the mandalas of peaceful and fierce deities. One is supposed to recognize that all these appearances are one's own mind and lack true existence.

Jigme Lingpa describes the key point in bardo practice as follows:

The key point to achieving liberation in this way is to remain in unobstructed empty consciousness. It is the nature of original purity, beyond thought and expression. Having truly understood the ultimate foundation of liberation, it is necessary to find what already is, decide only on that and have confidence in this liberation.

Appearances by nature, when observed objectively, seem to have no limits; but, when observed subjectively, there is nothing at all. Even the fixation on the thought of non-existence is naturally released without mental analysis at the first instant when nature itself is nakedly revealed.

This is the key point that clearly defines the original ground of liberation. However compassion relates to objects, do not try to stop or maintain this search.

With consciousness placed precisely upon its own source, unobstructed cognition does not have the distinctions of external, internal, and in-between. In this way, the appearances of the bard will naturally be pure in the radiance of consciousness.

Transfer of consciousness

Those beings of lesser faculties and limited potential will not attain awakening during the bardo but can transfer their consciousness (a practice called powa) to a pure land once they have reached the "bardo of existence."

Once they reach this bardo, they will recognize that they have died and then remember the guru with faith and recall the powa instructions. They will then think of the pure land and its qualities and be reborn there. In a pure land, beings can hear the Dharma taught directly by Vajrasattva or some other Buddha.

Jigme Lingpa recommends that one practices this also in daily life. One way to do this is as follows:

"l falling asleep at night, with intense concentration one should think: 'I am dying, so I must recognize the stages of dissolution and go to the natural pure realm of nirmanakaya!' Then, one will fall asleep imagining the disposition and qualities of the nirmanakaya realm. Between practice sessions, as mentioned above, it is essential to have developed the ability to train the consciousness that rides the winds [of the subtle body]. "

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