Click here to go to the next issue
Highlights Home Page | Receive the Nondual Highlights each day
Issue #1474 - Thursday, June 26, 2003 - Guest Editor: Earl McHugh
This special edition of the Highlights is written and edited
by Earl McHugh, a long time subscriber to the Highlights. This
issue is on Dzogchen, which Earl has been studying and
practicing since 1992, the same year Dzogchen shifted from a
secret teaching for the few, to an open teaching which quickly
spread through and altered the terrain of American
Buddhism. The editors are deeply grateful for Earl's
contribution. Hopefully it won't be his last! --Jerry
Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche (1932-1999)
Tsoknyi Rinpoche (1966 - )
from " Self-Liberated Mind" published in "
The Flight of the
Garuda" (Rangjung Yeshe Publications) pp. 147-48:
"All you practitioners, male and female, who wish to
the faultless and correct point of view, should let your mind
rest fully awake in a state of unfabricated emptiness. When
your mind is quite, then rest in that quietness without trying
to fabricate anything. When it doesn't think, then rest in
that non-thinking. In short, no matter what takes place, let
your mind rest without fabricating anything.
Don't try to correct, suppress or cultivate anything.
Don't try to place your mind inwardly. Don't search for an
object to meditate upon outwardly. Rest in the meditator, mind
itself, without fabricating anything.
One doesn't find one's mind by searching for it. The mind
itself is empty from the beginning. You don't need to search
for it. It is the searcher himself. Rest undistractedly in the
'Have I now grasped that which should be observed? ' ' is
this the right way or not? Is this it or not?' No matter what
takes place rest in the thinker himself without fabricating
No matter what kind of thoughts occur, excellent or
terrible, good or bad, joyful or sorrowful, don't accept or
reject, but rest in the thinker himself without fabricating
ISSUES ON THE SPIRITUAL PATH
Why Do We Search?
Most readers of this site are engaged in what is generally
labeled as the "spiritual search." When we embark upon such a
search, how many of us ask why we are doing it or what we are
looking for? Probably most, like me, are seeking something
vaguely like "peace of mind" or "enlightenment" or something
similar. Perhaps the goal is so distant or so uncertain that
we don't even try to define it.
Most seekers, however, clearly feel that something is lacking
in their lives or in them. I recently attended a teaching by a
modern guru of sorts. Near the outset he asked the
participants to look into themselves and see what they found
there. Later, in a discussion period, the students were given
a chance to report on their visions or findings. Almost
without exception they reported internal turmoil, fears,
doubts, anxieties, deep-seated personal problems,
self-loathing and a variety of symptoms sufficient to gratify
a whole convention of psychiatrists.
In one sense I was appalled at the seeming depths of their
neurotic symptoms. In any event, I was confirmed in my
pre-existing notion that healthy, happy and satisfied people
do not, by and large, wander down this path. This is not
intended to slight or sneer at those seekers. Some are truly
in need of psychiatric help. However, it seems logical that
people who are not contented with their past conditioning or
their present way of dealing with life's problems may be
motivated to find alternative routes to happiness.
What is the Cost of the Path?
This unusual, question was originated in a recent book by
Peter Fenner, "The Edge of Certainty". He is a writer I
happen to admire and the ideas he raises are the main sources
of this essay. Fenner points out that there is a substantial
amount of time, effort and, often, money expended in the
pursuit of enlightenment. Of course the anticipated rewards
are so great that most seekers might think it crass even to
suggest such an issue. Nevertheless, it might be worthwhile to
consider the fact that most seekers spend rather substantial
amounts of time on their search. They usually must read,
attend teachings, engage in daily or frequent meditation and
rituals and travel to various places to meet or hear teachers
and, quite often, attend retreats. Clearly there are travel
expenses, the cost of attending teachings and retreats and the
donations usually expected to be made.
This is not to suggest that, if the goal is worthwhile, one
should be deterred from pursuing a worthwhile endeavor. We all
know that there is a price to be paid for everything, whether
it is getting an education, learning a new sport or searching
for a spouse. The basic question, suggested by Fenner, is
whether what we are doing is of any spiritual value. Will the
practice we are following enrich us or bring us to our elusive
goal, or are we really fooling ourselves or wasting our effort
- or is any practice needed at all?
The Relaxed Path to Enlightenment
In 1992, I was fortunate to discover the teachings and path of
dzogchen at a 2-month retreat taught by the late Nyoshul Khen
Rinpoche and Tsoknyi Rinpoche with Surya Das, who arranged the
retreat, acting as interpreter. I had what some call an
"enlightenment" experience (which I never repeated) and what
some call - an experience. I was thoroughly intrigued by this
new (to me) approach and the ease that it promised.
Prior to that time, dzogchen was generally regarded as a
"secret teaching" reserved for the few students who were ready
to reach this pinnacle of the Vajrayana teaching. Without
exploring the technical niceties of this, this teaching is
generally regarded as the high point, together with the
similar teaching of Mahamudra, of Tibetan Buddhism. I learned
later, however that dzogchen is not necessarily a Buddhist
teaching and has been, and still is, taught by practitioners
of Bon, the religion indigenous to Tibet.
Since that time, in only 11 years Dzogchen teachings have been
spreading like a plague in the world of American Buddhism. You
can look at any issue of Snow Lion, the quarterly magazine of
the leading Tibetan publishing house in the U.S. and see ads
for retreats and teachings offered by 20 or more different
Tibetan lamas. Even Surya Das has his own center and website
Why is this teaching spreading so fast in America? Several
good reasons, I suggest:
1. It is a relatively easy path to pursue;
2. It offers the promise of at least the possibility of
"enlightenment in only one lifetime";
3. It is now widely available, because of the wave of teachers
who have come to our country offering this method;
4. Literally dozens of books are out now exploring the
dzogchen method, including one by the Dalai Lama ( who now has
books on everything except Tibetan dumplings).
The Ease of the Path
In the good old days in Tibet, before the Chinese came, one
had to spend many years working his (I do not employ the
his/her locution) way through the various introductory steps
on the path. Then, if he wished to go for the peak in
dzogchen, he had to pursue the laborious practices of ngondro.
That meant doing 100,000 prostrations, 100,000 recitations of
the mantra and running 100,000 laps around a large stupa (I
added the last).
Following those labors, when his master deemed him to be
ready, the student would be introduced to the View of
Dzogchen. Basically, this meant introducing the student to the
perspective of naked awareness, devoid of concepts and
when you look into yourself in this way nakedly
discursive thoughts),since there is only this pure observing,
there will be found a lucid clarity without anyone being there
who is the observer; only a naked manifest awareness is
present." "Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked
Awareness" by Padmasambhava (trans. By John Myrdhin Reynolds)
In our lucky time, seekers can discover the Dzogchen view, or
perspective, by diligently pursuing a combination of shamatha
(calming) meditation combined with vipassana (insight) in a
method called "cutting through" (I am not attempting to use
the Tibetan terminology or explore the finer points, which can
best be done by a qualified teacher).
"The method practiced in the path of Dzogchen is
'self-liberation' because it is based on knowledge and
understanding. But it is not that there is some object that
has to be known; rather it is a matter of entering into the
experience of a state beyond the reasoning mind, the state of
contemplation." "Dzogchen, The Self-Perfected State" by
Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, p. 51.
If you can get to that point and truly know what you are
doing, and not doing then you are fortunate indeed. You are
prepared and enabled to live a live of greater freedom and
less mental conflict and anguish than you might ever have
expected to attain. Doing all of this is naturally facilitated
by having access to a teacher with considerable clarity and
understanding of westerners.
Not all of these masters are so accessible. After I had been
following the Dzogchen approach for a time I happened to
attend a teaching by a master I had never met before. He is
young, intelligent and clear in his talks. Regrettably, when I
asked him if I might study further with him, since he lives in
my part of the world, he refused unless I was willing to go
through the entire ngondro practice. Aside from the
seeming-insulting nature of the suggestion, I was not quite
willing to spend a few years doing all those prostrations,
etc. etc. Of course, he couldn't explain the point of it - it
was just his Tibetan tradition speaking.
If you do get into the application of Dzogchen in your life,
you may, as Fenner suggests, "allow your experiences to take
their own course.Philosophical argument and technical
meditation have no place here, since they only serve to
consolidate the belief that we should be where other people
are, or others should be where we are ourselves .The exercise
then, is to leave things as they are - neither accepting nor
rejecting whatever we experience. In this way, we are
completely fulfilled." Fenner, " The Edge pf Certainty "p.90.
May you find a teacher, the teaching and peace and happiness.
The following is taken from a letter in praise of emptiness
written by my original teacher, Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche from a
retreat site in France and published in a book of his
teachings "Natural Great Perfection" edited by Surya Das and
published by Snow Lion Press (p. 95), illustrating his view
of the mind: --Earl
"The effortless and sky-like nature of the mind,
The vast expanse of insight,
Is the natural state of things.
In it, whatever you do is all right,
However you rest, you are at ease.
This was said by Jetsun Padmasambhava
and the great siddha Saraha.
All the conceptual designs,
Such as " it's two " or " it's not two"
Leave them like the waves on a river,
To be spontaneously freed in themselves.
The great demon of ignorant and discursive thought
Causes one to sink in the ocean of samsara.
But when freed from this discursive thought,
There is the indescribable state, beyond conceptual mind.
Besides mere discursive thoughts,
There is not even the words samsara and nirvana
The total calming down of discursive thought
Is the suchness of dharmadhatu.
Not made by complex statements,
This unfabricated single bindu
Is emptiness, the natural state of mind.
So it was said by Sugata, Buddha himself.
The essence of whatever may appear,
When simply left to itself,
Is the unfabricated and uncorrupted view,
The dharmakaya, emptiness mother.
All discursive thought is emptiness,
And the seer of the emptiness is discursive thought,
And discursive thought does not block emptiness."
All titles mentioned should be available at Snow Lion Publications: http://www.snowlionpub.com/
Peter Fenner: http://www.wisdom.org/ctw.html
Lama Surya Das: http://www.dzogchen.org/index.htm
The Dzogchen Lineage of Nyoshul Khenpo: http://www.dzogchen.org/library/bios/dzogchen-lineage.htm
top of page