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Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection: Dzogchen Teachings Given in the West by Dalai Lama, translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa and Richard Barron, edited by Patrick D. Gaffney (Snow Lion Press) Recently His Holiness the Dalai Lama published highly edited transcripts of four empowerments he gave into the traditional Nyingma teaching of Dzogchen or Great Perfection. Both Dzogchen and Mahamudra represent important indigenous developments of Tantric teachings in Tibet. Like all wisdom traditions, Buddhism rests upon the transmission of heart-essence realization and dharma from one generation to the next. Dzogchen, literally "great perfection," is the primary teaching of the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism, having been carried to Tibet in the eighth century by Padmasambhava, who is recognized as a "second Buddha." This actualization of what Dzogchen is is sent out through this collection of empowerments given from 1982-1989 by the 14th Dalai Lama. Sogyal Rinpoche (The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying) requested these teachings, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama obliged with emphasis on the 5th Dalai Lama’s visionary receipt of Dzogchen teaching, which is summarized simply by the verse:
"Ema! Phenomena are, without exception,
Perfect within the continuum of self-arising rigpa."
Ema is an expression of wonder and astonishment. Whereas rigpa is a technical term for root single awareness that illuminates all; whereas ordinary awareness is that but as refracted into various experiences of subject and object, so that the unity becomes a secret, except for those who are aware of the nature of the root awareness then everything is the root awareness. To attempt to understand enough so that one can cut through the veils of separations that is usually the habit mind. Of course the development of habitual indwelling in non-divisive bliss might be more fun than reading hundreds of books. But as the verse say there is no difference at the root or in the stem and branch or such preferences seeming important.

Empowerments are a principle way the Tibetans are bringing Buddha dharma to the west. An empowerment is the oral recitation of the teaching with impromptu commentary for the audience. It is done with a ritual format so that there can be prayers, chants and other meditation aids going on but the most important aspect of the empowerment is that the teacher and his assistants as well as the whole audience is speaking at the time from within the nondual realization of what is being taught. In other words the Dalai Lama and his retinue are all within a state of actualization of the reality to which the teaching refer. As the audience is also so attuned the psychic contagion can be intense and experiences can quickly and deeply cut through the fog of our surface consciousness.

Now this volume is likely to be popular among student of Buddhism but, except for the Appendix: Compassion, the Heart of Enlightenment; the texts would confuse the novice. Because of this I recommend several other texts that provide more systematic accounts of the Dzogchen traditions and how it fits in with the wider traditions of Buddhist practice. The Golden Letters: The Three Statements of Garab Dorje, the First Teacher of Dzogchen, Together With a Commentary by Garab Dorje, edited and translated with a commentary by John Myrdhin Reynolds (Snow Lion Press) In many ways the best guide to Dzogchen teachings. Includes explanations that were previously thought too secret to publish. Mipham's Beacon of Certainty: Illuminating the View of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection by Mi-Pham-Rgya-Mtsho Nes Ses Rin Po Chei Sgron Me edited and translated with commentary by John W. Pettit (Wisdom Publications) offers the necessary links between Madhyamika and Dzogchen. And as a relatively easy introduction the The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, edited by John Shane (Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy: Snow Lion Press) provides a useful introduction.

Foreword by Sogyal Rinpoche; Preface
Part One: Ground Path and Fruition Paris, 1982; The Background; The Pure Visions; The Ground, Path and Fruition of Dzogchen
Part Two: Hitting the Essence in Three Words London, 1984: The Background; Liberation Upon Contact; The Special Teaching of the Wise and Glorious King
Part Three: Dzogchen and the Buddhadharma Helsinki, 1988: The Background; Four Truths, Four Seals and Dzogchen
Part Four: The Pinnacle of All Yanas San Jose, 1989: The Background; The Primacy of Mind; Mind is Devoid of Mind; Questions and Answers; The Nature of Mind is Clear Light
Afterword: A Gift to the World; Appendix: Compassion, the Heart of Enlightenment; Notes; Glossary; Bibliography; Acknowledgements; Index


The empowerment I am going to give today is in response to a request I received some time ago from Sogyal Rinpoche. He asked that when I came to Europe I might consider visiting some of his centers to give empowerments, particularly from the cycle known as Sangwa Gyachen—`Bearing the Seal of Secrecy'—and I agreed that I would, as long as time permitted. Now, since my travels have brought me to Europe and to France, I have been invited once again by Sogyal Rinpoche to teach in Paris. From all the possible empowerments within the Sangwa Gyachen cycle, I have decided to bestow the empowerment for the "mind sadhana" known in Tibetan as Tukdrup Yang Nying Kundü—`The Union of All the Innermost Essences', as I think this will be the most appropriate of them all.

    As many of you know, this Sangwa Gyachen cycle forms part of a larger tradition, the Secret Mantra teachings of the Nyingma or Ancient school of Tibetan Buddhism. The rituals and practices of this school are transmitted in three ways—the extensive lineage of kama, the shorter lineage of terma, and the profound transmission through pure visions—dak nang. The Sangwa Gyachen cycle consists of transmissions which have their origin in these pure visions.

    Now pure visions can be considered from two points of view. First, there are meditative experiences of a more ephemeral kind, known in Tibetan as nyam. Then there are the pure visions in which a master actually experiences receiving the transmission from a deity in a pure realm, and this is considered to be quite different from a meditative experience. This cycle of pure visions of Sangwa Gyachen comes down to us from the fifth Dalai Lama. What is remarkable about these visions is that, far from being simply meditative experiences that arose during practice, they were received on occasions when the fifth Dalai Lama actually went to pure wisdom realms, and was given the transmissions encoded in these empowerments. To a yogin of his stature, who is able to perceive directly enlightened forms or kayas, and realms of wisdom, the pure visions that occur will naturally belong to this category.

    In the case of the `Great Fifth' Dalai Lama, the predispositions from his previous lifetimes awakened in him at a very early age, and this allowed him to experience any number of such pure visions throughout his life. The most extraordinary of these are contained in the Sangwa Gyachen cycle, which is composed of twenty-five sections dealing with distinct visions. The accounts of the pure visions experienced by the fifth Dalai Lama can be found in his secret autobiography.

    Among these twenty-five sections, the principal one focuses on the Kagyé, or `Eight Commands', where all the deities appear in a single mandala. Individual practices also exist for each of these deities. The whole cycle of Sangwa Gyachen contains a number of empowerments, blessings, and permission ceremonies for different deities, both peaceful and wrathful, out of which I have chosen today to perform the empowerment of `The Union of All the Innermost Essences'. This empowerment is based on the mandala of the guru as the vidyadhara. It is an empowerment which is easy to perform, and yet which at the same time transmits enormous blessing and the potential for great spiritual attainment. Generally speaking, very profound teachings can often take a considerable amount of time for a teacher to confer and for students to assimilate. The advantage here is that this empowerment is quite short and easy to transmit, and yet it does possess that profound depth. But even in saying that, I am aware of the fact that normally it would take some three or four hours to perform, if we had the time. This afternoon we only have an hour or so available, so we will be going even faster than would normally be the case.

    The master from whom I received the transmission for this extraordinary Sangwa Gyachen cycle was Taktra Rinpoche. The main sadhana from this cycle that I have practised myself is the one associated with the mandala which unifies the eight deities of the Kagyé. I have also focused on several of the other practices to a certain extent, such as Vajrakilaya, Hayagriva, and Avalokitesvara. Generally speaking, if you are going to transmit empowerments for a given cycle of teachings in the Nyingma tradition, you should ideally have completed retreats on all the deities of the three roots for that cycle. However when I received these empowerments from my teacher, I also received permission from him to give them to others if there was benefit for them in my doing so. In addition, it was explained to me that the Kagyé practice is the principal focus of all the twenty-five sections of the Sangwa Gyachen cycle, and so to complete a full retreat on this particular practice constitutes the minimum requirement for a vajra master to confer the empowerments on others. So, while I have not had the opportunity to accomplish a more thorough practice of the other sections of this cycle, I have completed the Kagyé section and am therefore in a position to offer the empowerments of Sangwa Gyachen.



As for empowerment in general, what does the term wang, or empowerment, signify? To begin with, our fundamental nature—what we term `the buddha nature', or tathagatagarbha, the very nature of our mind, is inherently present within us as a natural attribute. This mind of ours, the subject at hand, has been going on throughout beginningless time, and so has the more subtle nature of that mind. On the basis of the continuity of that subtle nature of our mind rests the capacity we have to attain enlightenment. This potential is what we call `the seed of buddhahood', `buddha nature', `the fundamental nature', or `tathagatagarbha'. We all have this buddha nature, each and every one of us. For example, this beautiful statue of Lord Buddha here, in the presence of which we are now sitting, is a representation that honours someone who attained buddhahood. He awakened into that state of enlightenment because his nature was the buddha nature. Ours is as well, and just as the Buddha attained enlightenment in the past, so in the future we can become buddhas too.

    When, at some future point, we do attain buddhahood, that subtle continuum of our awareness will awaken to a state of omniscience called dharmakaya. The nature of mind at that point is what we term svabhavikakaya. The fact that it is totally pure by its very nature is one aspect of the svabhavikakaya—that of total and natural purity. The fact that adventitious obscurations have been removed and no longer obscure that true nature of mind is another aspect of the svabhavikakaya—that of being purified of adventitious obscurations.

    In any case, there dwells within us all this potential which allows us to awaken into buddhahood and attain omniscience. The empowerment process draws that potential out, and allows it to express itself more fully. When an empowerment is conferred on you, it is the nature of your mind—the buddha nature—that provides a basis upon which the empowerment can ripen you. Through the empowerment, you are empowered into the essence of the buddhas of the five families. In particular, you are `ripened' within that particular family through which it is your personal predisposition to attain buddhahood.

    So, with these auspicious circumstances established in your mindstream, and when you reflect on what is taking place and maintain the various visualizations, the conditions are right for the essence of the empowerment to awaken within you, as a state of wisdom which is blissful yet empty—a very special state that is the inseparability of basic space and awareness. As you focus your devotion in this way, it allows this special quality of mind, this new capability, as it were, to awaken. There are three circumstantial factors that support this—the ritual objects that are employed on the outer level, the mantras that are repeated by the vajra master, and the vajra master's own samadhi, or meditative absorption. When these three factors come together, they form a basis on which the mind can focus, and so become ripened.

    As these three factors are so important, we should examine them a little more closely. The outer ritual objects, such as the vase and so forth, have already been arranged on the shrine, and are all in place. As for the mantras, while I cannot claim to have read them all in pure Sanskrit, I have done my best while reading and reciting them. So what is most important during the remainder of the empowerment is meditative absorption. For my part, I will be doing what I can to maintain a state of samadhi, and so at the same time each of you should focus your minds, step by step, on the explanations I will give, and rest, as much as possible, in a similar state of samadhi meditation.



Let us now consider the teachings particular to the Secret Mantra Vehicle of the early transmission school of the Nyingma tradition, and what these teachings say about the three phases of ground, path, and fruition. The way in which the ground of being abides, as this is definitively understood and described in the Nyingma teachings, entails its essence, its nature, and its energy, or responsivenessn In particular, the first two aspects define the ground for the Nyingma school, its essence being primordial purity or kadak, and its nature being spontaneous presence or lhundrup.

    Nagarjuna, in his Fundamental Treatise on the Middle Way, called `Wisdom,' states:


The dharma that is taught by the buddhas,
Relies completely upon two levels of truth:
The worldly conventional level of truth,
And the ultimate level of truth.


All that is knowable—all phenomena and all that is comprised within an individual's mind and body—is contained within these two levels of truth, conventional and ultimate. In the Dzogchen context, the explanation given would be in terms of primordial purity and spontaneous presence, and this is analogous to a passage in the scriptures:


It is mind itself that sets in place the myriad array
Of beings in the world, and the world that contains them.


That is to say, if we consider the agent responsible for creating samsara and nirvana, it comes down to mind. The Sutra on the Ten Grounds states, "These three realms are mind only". In his commentary to his own work, Entering the Middle Way Candrakirti elaborates on this quotation, stating that there is no other creative agent apart from mind.

    When mind is explained from the point of view of the Highest Yoga Tantra teachings and the path of mantra, we find that many different levels or aspects of mind are discussed, some coarser and some more subtle. But at the very root, the most fundamental level embraced by these teachings is mind as the fundamental, innate nature of mind. This is where we come to the distinction between the word sem in Tibetan, meaning `ordinary mind' and the word rigpa signifying `pure awareness'. Generally speaking, when we use the word sem, we are referring to mind when it is temporarily obscured and distorted by thoughts based upon the dualistic perceptions of subject and object. When we are discussing pure awareness, genuine consciousness or awareness free of such distorting thought patterns, then the term rigpa is employed. The teaching known as the `Four Reliances' states: "Do not rely upon ordinary consciousness, but rely upon wisdom"? Here the term namshé, or ordinary consciousness, refers to mind involved with dualistic perceptions. Yeshé, or wisdom, refers`to mind free from dualistic perceptions. It is on this basis that the distinction can be made between ordinary mind and pure awareness.

    When we say that `mind' is the agent responsible for bringing the universe into being, we are talking about mind in the sense of rigpa, and specifically its quality of spontaneous presence. At the same time, the very essence of that spontaneously present rigpa is timelessly empty, and primordially pure—totally pure by its very nature—so there is a unity of primordial purity and spontaneous presence. The Nyingma school distinguishes between the ground itself, and the ground manifesting as appearances through the `eight doorways of spontaneous presence', and this is how this school accounts for all of the perceptions, whether pure or impure, that arise within the mind. Without ever deviating from basic space, these manifestations and the perceptions of them, pure or impure, arise in all their variety. That is the situation concerning the ground, from the point of view of the Nyingma school.

    On the basis of that key point, when we talk about the path, and if we use the special vocabulary of the Dzogchen tradition and refer to its own extraordinary practices, the path is twofold, that of trekchö and tögal. The trekchö approach is based upon the primordial purity of mind, kadak, while the tögal approach is based upon its spontaneous presence, lhundrup. This is the equivalent in the Dzogchen tradition of what is more commonly referred to as the path that is the union of skilful means and wisdom.

    When the fruition is attained through relying on this twofold path of trekchö and tögal, the `inner lucidity' of primordial purity leads to dharmakaya, while the `outer lucidity' of spontaneous presence leads to the rupakaya. This is the equivalent of the usual description of dharmakaya as the benefit that accrues to oneself and the rupakaya as the benefit that comes to others. The terminology is different, but the understanding of what the terms signify is parallel. When the latent, inner state of buddhahood becomes fully evident for the practitioner him or herself, this is referred to as `inner lucidity' and is the state of primordial purity, which is dharmakaya. When the natural radiance of mind`becomes manifest for the benefit of others, its responsiveness accounts for the entire array of form manifestations, whether pure or impure, and this is referred to as `outer lucidity', the state of spontaneous presence which comprises the rupakaya.

    In the context of the path, then, this explanation of primordial purity and spontaneous presence, and what is discussed in the newer schools of Highest Yoga Tantra both come down to the same ultimate point: the fundamental innate mind of clear light.

    What, then, is the profound and special feature of the Dzogchen teachings? According to the more recent traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, collectively known as the Sarma schools of the Secret Mantra Vehicle, in order for this fundamental innate mind of clear light to become fully evident, it is necessary first of all for the coarser levels of ordinary mind, caught up with thoughts and concepts, to be harnessed by yogas, such as the yoga of vital energies, pranayoga, or the yoga of inner heat, tummo. On the basis of these yogic practices, and in the wake of those adventitious thought patterns of ordinary mind being harnessed and purified, the fundamental innate mind of clear light—`mind' in that sense—becomes fully evident.

    From the point of view of Dzogchen, the understanding is that the adventitious level of mind, which is caught up with concepts and thoughts, is by its very nature permeated by pure awareness. In an experiential manner, the student can be directly introduced by an authentic master to the very nature of his or her mind as pure awareness. If the master is able to effect this direct introduction, the student then experiences all of these adventitious layers of conceptual thought as permeated by the pure awareness which is their nature, so that these layers of ordinary thoughts and concepts need not continue. Rather, the student experiences the nature that permeates them as the fundamental innate mind of clear light, expressing itself in all its nakedness. That is the principle by which practice proceeds on the path of Dzogchen.

The Golden Letters: The Three Statements of Garab Dorje, the First Teacher of Dzogchen, Together With a Commentary by Garab Dorje, edited and translated with a commentary by John Myrdhin Reynolds (Snow Lion Press) In many ways the best guide to Dzogchen teachings. Includes explanations that were previously thought too secret to publish. The Golden Letters is a fine translation of one of the most succinct and profound Dzogchen texts, by the early Tibetan master Garab Dorje, with commentary by the great 19th century master Patrul Rinpoche. Reynolds has produced a scholarly yet highly readable translation of this important text and commentary, and has added a very helpful and insightful introduction and commentary of his own. For anyone seriously interested in practicing Dzogchen, one of the most profound Tibetan Buddhist methods for realizing the nature of the mind, this book will be a great treasure.
Mipham's Beacon of Certainty: Illuminating the View of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection by Mi-Pham-Rgya-Mtsho Nes Ses Rin Po Chei Sgron Me edited and translated with commentary by John W. Pettit (Wisdom Publications) This study and translation of one of the more advanced texts on Madhyamika in the Nyingma school is a welcome relief amid the overabundance of geluk-oriented material on the subject. Written by arguably the most influential philosopher and master practitioner of the last 200 years of Nyingma history, the translated text alone makes this a valuable book. Add to that the highly readable analysis and background information, as well as the translation of another, shorter text by Mipham Rinpoche written from a contrasting point of view and you have a very well-rounded read certain to leave you with some enlightening and decidedly Nyingma perspectives.  Lama Mipham was one of the most extraordinary thinkers and meditators of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. In his Beacon of Certainty he illuminates some essential points of Madhyamika philosophy according to the view of the Great Perfection (Dzogchen). In the grand spirit of Buddhist debate, 19th century Buddhist philosopher Mipham wrote Beacon of Certainty, a compelling systematic defense of Dzogchen that employs the very logic it was criticized as lacking.  Dzogchen--the oft-misunderstood Tibetan meditation practice--is dissected in great detail here, revealing the buried rational origins and interpretation of this spiritual practice.
 John Pettit's translation and in-depth presentation is a major contribution to the field of combining Madhyamika and Dzogchen studies, which that remains largely unexplored.

AUTHORS WORDS: Large, comprehensive, and all-too-human". I am very grateful to the many reviewers who have had kind things to say about my book, Mipham's Beacon of Certainty. But I would like to put a human, and hopefully honest, spin on this material.
First of all, the book evolved -- and only a little bit -- from a doctoral dissertation. I spent about five years of intermittent, and often emotionally difficult, periods of research and writing under the guidance of Robert A. F. Thurman, my dissertation advisor at Columbia University. I worked mostly in upstate New York in various idyllic places -- Annandale-on-Hudson, Germantown, Tivoli, Pine Plains -- before moving to Rye, and then to a small room in Manhattan, where most of the final editing and translating was completed. I mostly worked alone, and was not able (or maybe just not willing) to consult very much with Tibetan scholars. While many of my friends did meditation retreats, or found good jobs, or made babies, I stayed home, behind a computer screen. It was lonely and sometimes deeply depressing -- a "dark night of the soul".
I mention all of this because I find it somewhat amusing how different my own writing process has been compared to that of my subject, Mipham Rinpoche. Most of what Mipham wrote was done with minimal editing. He quoted scriptures extensively from memory. He wrote because he saw it would be of benefit to others, or because tutelary deities appeared to him in visions, or because his own teacher told him to do so. He wrote because it came naturally to him, and because he had the confidence of being free of any ulterior motives for his personal benefit.
I wrote this book because I had to. I had to write it because without finishing it, I would never have finished my graduate degree, and I would have fulfilled my own advisor's prophecy (delivered to a few of our mutual acquaintances) that I would probably not finish. I had to write it the way I did because my advisor, Professor Thurman, saw I was capable of more than I was willing to give, so he pushed me and pushed me, and I though I resented it deeply at the time, now I am grateful because he never let me get away with anything shoddy. I wrote it in a piecemeal fashion, sometimes with no idea where I was going.
In fact, I never thought I knew where the book was heading until it was almost done; and even now, I don't really think it has arrived. It is still a work in progress, but rather than let it hang over my head for the rest of my life, I thought it might be better just to publish and be done with it. The result -- if it has any value -- will help other scholars and meditators find a sense of direction. Like Wittgenstein's ladder, they should leave it behind once they get to the next stage of their learning. This is no gospel or authority. In a very roundabout way, it is a call for seekers to find their own authoritative voice within.
I also wrote about Mipham because I thought what he has to say -- about the nature of valid knowledge, the role of intellect in the spiritual path, and about the point where all Buddhist teachings converge in the Great Perfection -- were important. Important, not just for scholars who like the sound of their own voices, but for true seekers on the spiritual path. I think Mipham's message is important especially for those of us whose faltering efforts at Buddhist spirituality resemble nothing so much as shots in the dark, whose religious-minded gestures often become a mere display, or a self-deception, because we have such shaky confidence in our true nature. Making this book has been a humbling yet inspiring process, because Mipham's writings, like those of all great spiritual geniuses, are a mirror which simultaneously shows who we are, and who we are capable of being.

The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, edited by John Shane (Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy: Snow Lion Press) Chogyal Namkhai Norbu examines the spiritual path from the viewpoint of Dzogchen. Within Tibetan Buddhism, there is a little-known understanding of Buddha dharma known as Dzogchen, the turbo path to liberation. Usually the path to liberation is conceived to extend over lifetimes of diligent practice, but Dzogchen represents an accelerated way to achieve perfect enlightenment. After many years of formal study, Chogyal Namkhai Norbu was initiated into this less-formal practice, which is one of the highest yet most accessible of Tibetan Buddhist teachings. Namkhai Norbu eventually made his way to Italy to teach, where John Shane transcribed and translated Namkhai Norbu's lectures, putting together what is now one of the most popular books on Dzogchen. Namkhai Norbu makes it clear that these teachings are not a handbook for practice but rather an overview of Dzogchen, notably its three divisions: the base, the path, and the fruit. The ultimate and immediate goal is to achieve the primordial state of non-dual awareness, the one taste, and to maintain it. With colorful anecdotes from his own experience (finding an ancient text manifested in a dream, for example, and visiting eccentric cave yogis), Namkhai Norbu's teachings illustrate that Dzogchen is not just theory but the way to a new, and  incomparable  way of being aware here and now.

The Cycle of Day and Night: Where One Proceeds Along the Path of the Primordial Yoga: An Essential Tibetan Text on the Practice of Dzogchen by Namkhai Norbu, translated by John Myrdhin Reynolds (Talman) is a practical guide to a fundamental practice of the Dzogchen system of Tibetan Buddhism, presented in a clear and direct manner. An acknowledged contemporary master of that ancient tradition writes it. Central to Dzogchen, the "Great Perfection", is contemplation -- the immediate experience of the primordial state of the individual, the unconditioned nature of the mind. This nature of the mind transcends the specific contents of mind, the incessant flow of thoughts reflecting our social, cultural, and psychological conditioning. Based on the teaching by Garab Dorje, the first human master of the Dzogchen lineage, The Cycle of Day and Night gives a translation of the author's Tibetan Text, together with a commentary drawn from the author's extensive oral explanations. Actual methods are given for entering into contemplation and integrating it with our activities during the twenty-four hour cycle of day and night.

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