Dzogchen or Mahâsandhi
"A direct introduction into the nature of
mind is the first imperative.
Absolute conviction in the practice is the second imperative.
Gain confidence in release is the third imperative."
Garab Dorje :
The Three Incisive Precepts.
"The mind is not engaged in seeking nor is it directed toward
anything. One is free from knowing and not knowing. There is neither
picking out nor attending to (aids to meditation). Delight in acceptance
and rejection are alike in not existing. Not objectifying (anything) and
remaining with the (understanding of) this alikeness, there is no creation
of duality ; one is beyond the realm of speech ; there is neither activity
nor inactivity ; there is no accumulation (of merit) or diminution (of
Gold Refined from Ore, verses 117-119.
Dzogchen (Tib. "rdzogs-chen"), Mahâsandhi or "Great Perfection", preserved in Tibet in
the "Old Translation School" (Nyingma) and Bön, has a historical lineage
beginning with Prahevajra (Tib. "Garab Dorje") in the first century CE. He summarized the 6.4
million verses of "Dzogpa Chenpo" in "The Three Incisive Precepts"
(Tsiksum Nedek). His master was Vajrasattva.
According to tradition, these teachings began
thousands of years earlier, if not in another world-system or were taught
by the Buddha to the deities only ... The
tradition was brought to Tibet by Padmasambhava & Vimilamitra in the 8th
century, unified into a "system" by Longchenpa in the 14th century and
condensed by Jigme Lingpa (1730 - 1798).
1. History :
These extraordinary teachings have their
point of origin in Samantabhadra, the Buddha of the Essence of the Wisdom
of the Dharmakâya. Transmitted to Vajrasattva, the Buddha of the Purity of
all the Buddhas, an aspect of the "Sambhogakâya", it came down to Garab
Dorje, the "Nirmânakâya", who wrote this teaching down for the first time
in 6.4 million verses, left these to his disciple Mañjuśrîmîtra, who classified
them in "semde" (mind class - introduction), "longde" (space class
- convinction) and "mengagde" (oral
instruction class - confidence). Śrîsimha, Mañjuśrîmîtra's disciple, reedited the
"mengagde" and in this form it was passed down to Jñânasûtra &
Vimilamitra. Via the latter it reached Tibet. Another lineage began with
Padmasambhava, who received Dzogchen directly from the "dâkinîs" or "sky
travellers" (the Tibetan angels). This lineage was initiated during the
first dissemination of the Buddhadharma in Tibet.
In Nyingma, Dzogchen is called "Ati-yoga" ("supreme, extraordinary yoga"),
and considered the definitive and most secret teaching of the Buddha. It
is "Great" (Tib. "chen") because there is nothing higher or more sublime,
and "Perfection" (Tib. "rdzogs") because no further methods or means
to attain awakening are
necessary. It is the view on top of the mountain. This view is however contested by those, like Sakya Pandita,
considered Dzogchen to be not Buddhist at all ! This opinion reemerged
in Gelug circles, even today. The main reason for this is the suddenist
approach, its mode of transmission (master introducing the Clear Light
directly), as well as the focus on the
clarity-aspect of the mind (its natural state of "rigpa"). According to
the XIVth Dalai Lama, Dzogchen became controversial because some Dzogchen
masters of the past willingly broke with conventional morality, even
relinquishing their vows (cf. the story of the VIth Dalai Lama). By
exhibiting "crazy wisdom", denying meditation-practices to be of any
importance, these exceptions cast a shadow on the special view of
Dzogchen, reserved to superior practitioners only.
Some Dzogchen masters say Dzogchen is not a tradition, lineage or teaching
at all, but simply refers to the state of consciousness defined as "Great
Perfection". Insofar as this state of Clear Light or direct awareness
of presence can be attained by all sentient beings, Dzogchen is not bound
to nationality, social class, race, culture or any other mode of
differentiation between sentient beings. To consider it a teaching is
reducing it to a mental category or designation, while Dzogchen is the
ever-present, enduring and inseparable union between the primordial base
(which is self-empty) and the nature of mind (which is luminous) as
directly observed by a mind aware of the now.
In Tibetan, "dzogpa" means (a) something completed, finished, exhausted,
and (b) everything is full, perfect & complete. Dzogchen or "mahâsandhi"
in Sanskrit, considers itself the "highest truth", a view superior to
Mâdhyamaka. For many Mâdhyamikas, Dzogchen is not even part of the
Buddhadharma, but a sort of Chinese Dharma like Ch'an or coming from
Advaita Vedânta, Kaśmiri Śaivism, or even Persian religion. This
discussion is ongoing. Although Dzogchenpas claim to agree with Mâdhyamaka
regarding emptiness, identifying the primordial base of all phenomena with
the self-empty "Dharmakâya", the teachings do affirm the natural state of the mind
to be of
the nature of clarity, to be "from the very beginning" inseparable from
this base. In doing so, one may ask whether the conditions for substantial
instantiation have not been fulfilled, entailing a transcendent metaphysics of
unbounded wholeness ? Does this take reason beyond itself ? The Dzogchenpas
agree it does. For them, conceptual elaboration cannot end conceptual
2. Basic Axiom :
Common to all Dzogchen teachings is the axiom stating the mind, with
consciousness at the forefront, is by nature pure & undefiled. As
self-existing, it is self-liberated, meaning all manifestations of mind
(thoughts, feelings, volitions and states of consciousness) arise, abide
and cease by themselves. Nothing needs to be done to change these
displays or "sport", no purification (Lesser Vehicle), no renunciation (Great
Perfection Vehicle) & no transformation (Diamond Vehicle). Because this
nature of mind ("rigpa") was, is and always will be inseparable from the
primordial base ("gzhi"), the only thing necessary is to
recognize this clear & luminous nature of mind. Once constantly recognized
in every moment of consciousness,
enlightenment is a fact. It is that simple ! Dzogchen does not busy itself
with morality (as in the Lesser Vehicle, the Great Perfection Vehicle or
nor does it preach any transformation of impure into pure, for the
distinction is never made. As
unbounded wholeness is always given, the mind only needs to turn to
this, recognize it and (re)establish itself in this recognition. This is
done by constantly returning to the awareness of what is at hand, what is
present here and now.
Like water and wetness or fire and heat, the primordial base ("gzhi"), the
state of total primordial purity ("ka-dag chen-po") identified with
self-emptiness ("śûnyatâ") is characterized by and inseparable from the natural state of mind
("rigpa") or awareness of what is presenting itself, maintaining
presence in the moving state, looking into the mirror of the mind. While Mâdhyamaka speaks of the objective side of
things (emptiness), and does so correctly, Dzogchen speaks of the subjective
side of things, the clarity side, the awareness side, the experience of being
present in actuality. It does so in a way
different than Shentong, other-emptiness, for it concedes the
primordial base is indeed absolutely self-empty. The only addition made is
the affirmation of the clarity-aspect of the mind, its natural, primordial
clarity, born out of direct, non-conceptual, nondual, ongoing absolute
experience of unsaying and therefore enlightened and fully endowed with
Buddha qualities from beginningless time.
As long as sentient beings do not recognize the clarity of their
own mind (the surface of the mirror), but continue to identify with contents of mind
(the reflections on the surface of the mirror), in particular
those produced by conceptual activity, duality abides and beings wander in
the cycle of suffering existence ("samsâra").
Instead of focusing on the
unobstructed space between things and in which things appear, they concentrate on the objects
themselves. Instead of space, they go for horizon, inviting limitation &
measurement. Doing so, they are dissatisfied. To get out of this, one needs
to directly experience the "naked" mind, the basis of all conscious
activity. This recognition is not approached in a gradual, goal-oriented
way, for such graduated efforts do nothing more than strengthen the duality
of consciousness. One needs to move beyond conceptual activity.
3. Similitudes :
Three states of matter accommodate the metaphors used to clarify this
complex yet simple state of unbounded wholeness, completion & ultimate,
self-liberating perfection : (1) the mirror, (2) the
crystal ball and (3) the crystal prism.
A Buddha and a deluded pig take place before a mirror. The mirror reflects
the Buddha as well as the deluded pig. The mirror does not "judge" the
Buddha to be enlightened and the pig to be deluded. It does not
accept the Buddha and reject the pig. Irrespective of
their status in the order of things, it reflects the image. Likewise, the natural clarity of the
mind reflects whatever is presented to it. The instruction is not to focus
on the objects before the mirror, nor on the appearances in
the mirror, but on the mirror surface itself and the space between the
appearances. An analogous instruction is
given in the Great Seal ("mahâmudrâ") where it is said to focus
on the way
the mind is perceiving and not on its objects, nor on the mind itself.
A crystal ball is placed on a red carpet and turns red. The red carpet is
replaced by a blue carpet and the ball turns blue. Likewise, just like
water takes the color of the glass, the mind identifies with its
environment. This makes it reflect and conform to the features with which it has
identified. The instruction is not to focus on the carpet or the color of
the glass, but on the crystal ball or the glass. They are the natural
state of the mind, not the identified appearances,
whatever these are. Likewise, the clouds obscuring the Sun do not remove
the Sun. It is always there. By attending to the clouds they do not move
away. By leaving them be, they float away spontaneously & naturally.
This is self-liberation, moving beyond renunciation, great perfection &
A crystal prism is white, but when turned in the proper way to a source of
light, reflects a display having all the colors of the rainbow. Likewise,
identified with its contents is but one of the colors of the rainbow.
Recognizing all the colors makes the mind return to the primodial
whiteness in which its nature is rooted. The deluded mind is a single
frequency, the enlightened
mind all possible colors, reflecting all possible lights. The
instruction is not to identify with one color, but with a neutrality
encompassing (harboring) all colors.
4. Methods :
Dzogchen has a particular way to initiate and two adjacent techniques to
realize the dissolution of all possible displays (colors) into the natural
luminosity, or "space" of the mind (whiteness). Doing so, at death the "rainbow
body" is generated !
After long & hard preparations or "ngöndro" (establishing the necessary secondary causes), the
disciple (one in a
million) is suddenly directly introduced to his or her "rigpa" by the Dzogchen
master (cf. the "koan" technique in Zen). Without this introduction,
initiation is impossible. The master merely points out this natural state
to the disciple, who recognizes this. Then, he or she is given
two ways to maintain this "coming home" of the "son" ("rigpa"),
the natural state of mind, to his "mother" ("gzhi"), the primordial &
ultimate base of all phenomena. Primordially united, emptiness ("mother")
and clarity ("son") are not realized, but discovered, recognized,
identified, ascertained as that what is, as the suchness of all things.
The "coming home" is like the son recognizing his mother. Like a young
child leaping up & embracing her.
The first technique is "cutting-through" (Tib.
"trekchö"). It is like constantly returning to the
recognition of the natural state, cutting
through whatever obscures it and this beyond conceptual elaboration. When this
re-initiation or rebooting has been mastered, "leaping-over"
(Tib. "thögal") is practiced. Every possible event of which one is
conscious is treated as a display from the base, as an expression of
energy, irrespective whether is it "samsaric" or "nirvanic", impure or
pure, good or bad. Everything which happens is but one of the "colors" emanated by the
white prism of "rigpa". To directly experience unbounded
wholeness, all judgments are postponed. This is "lhundrup" or "spontaneous
3. The series :
Let us summarize Dzogchen by succinctly commenting on the Three Precepts
of Garab Dorje, superbly condensing the crucial points :
• A direct introduction into the nature of mind is the first imperative.
"semde" (mind class - introduction)
Without a Dzogchen master introducing the natural state (like making one
aware of a small voice singing in a crowded market), nothing can be realized. In
the samsaric state, consciousness is flooded with objects with which one
identifies. This cannot be ended without someone pointing out the natural
state without identifications & measurements. Until the mind
spontaneously establishes itself in its own natural clarity, this introduction must
be repeated. Before such
introduction is possible, the mind must be made supple & pliant enough (cf. the
necessity of secundary causes created by the preliminaries : refuge,
prosternations, offerings, mantra-recitations, mandala offerings, etc.).
• Absolute conviction in the practice is the second imperative.
"longde" (space class - convinction)
Not to fear is the attitude of allowing the possibility of the natural
state to dawn in consciousness. Judgments and other conceptualizations may
reject its presence. Free from thought "silence" speaks. But every
concept-based attempt to hear it is fundamentally flawed. Conviction can be
established by focusing on the gaps between thoughts, or by asking oneself
: Where do thoughts begin ? How do they abide ? And where do they go when
they cease ? The answer is always the same : "rigpa", the
natural state of the mind.
• Gain confidence in release is the third imperative.
"mengagde" (oral instruction class - confidence)
After having been introduced to the natural state, one
practices self-liberation. Every content of consciousness will naturally
end, nothing has to be done. But if one identifies with the objects of
if one tries to
eliminate (renounce) or change (transform) them, one has added
confusion upon confusion and nothing can be achieved. By practicing
cutting-through as often as possible, one gains confidence all can be
released. This leads to a profound experience of the natural
luminosity & clarity of the mind, to the spontaneous presence of the
display from the base, and eventually to Buddhahood.