We can understand and get in the state [of Dzogchen] only with experience. The experience we need to have is an experience related to the teaching. In an ordinary way, we can learn Ati Guruyoga and then more or less we can understand something about what it means to go beyond time and space. You remember that when I explained Ati Guruyoga, I told you that when we think, “I want to do Ati Guruyoga”, that is our mind. We are still in time and space. We apply Ati Guruyoga that we learned from the teacher, then we do visualizations, etc. – this activity is also the mind. At this point, we study everything in an intellectual way and we can get in that knowledge. Doing the visualization is a secondary cause. When we say, “now we relax”, what does it mean to relax? To relax doesn’t mean you don’t think. We are not asking you to change your idea and do something; you don’t do anything. You relax into just how it is; the real nature, even if you have no knowledge of concretely being in the state of contemplation, but you have received a good example of the being in the state of contemplation. Then the teacher says, “This is the state of Ati Guruyoga, and you try to be in that state as much as possible.”
This is the main point of the practice. For that reason I say not to forget Ati Guruyoga; try to do Ati Guruyoga as much as possible. You are in the state of the Ati Guruyoga for only a few seconds, and then thoughts arise because that is our nature. Our nature is not only emptiness, there is also movement. When movement arises what should we do? If you have a little more knowledge, you just relax your thoughts, emotions, let everything arise, and then relax just like you did when you relaxed with the white A and thigle. In that way you are relaxed in the state and then you continue.
But you cannot continue for hours and hours in that way, it is not so easy for everybody. For example, you are doing this practice and you need to go to the toilet. You think, “I should do something like this or that.” This is called jethob in Tibetan. When you are in the state of Ati Guruyoga it is called nyamzhag. Nyam means everything is in that state, relaxed. Zhag means we are remaining in that state. So, it is just like the Ati Guruyoga state and when we introduce it, it is very simple for people. When we are not in that state there is jethob; jethob means how our condition is after that experience. Immediately after we are already in time and space; then we are judging, thinking, accepting and rejecting.
In the famous relative condition we are accumulating good and bad karmas. So, in this case in the Dzogchen Teaching it is most important that you are present. When I give Ati Guruyoga instructions, I explain how we should be present. I am explaining that now, so you listen well. What does distraction mean? Our consideration of distraction and the consideration of distraction in the Dzogchen Teaching are a little different. For example, if I am writing a letter to convey some concepts, I concentrate. I concentrate on the letter and I am writing things down. In this case, in the relative condition you say this is presence. When you are distracted and you are thinking of something else, then you make a mistake. You recognize that you are distracted and you made a mistake. In the Dzogchen Teaching distraction doesn’t mean the same thing. I am explaining that very often, and I have repeated that many times.
When you are learning to be present, what does presence mean in the Dzogchen Teaching? Driving a car is a very good example. When you are driving a car you are not thinking, “I am driving car and I must not be distracted.” When you are becoming a little familiar with driving, you can talk with people. When you are driving and there are some people in the car, and people are asking, “What did you do today?” and you need to reply. To reply you need to think and your mind is occupied with thinking for that moment. But your presence is not distracted.
If you are not present you can have an accident. So, you see, you can talk, you can think, you can do everything. A Dzogchen practitioner who has that continuous presence, even if they are speaking of very complicated things for one hour, they are not distracted, they are present. This is just like driving car.
So, this is what you should learn, and it does not come automatically because we do not have that attitude. After being in the state of contemplation, it is most important that we learn to be present. In other teachings and traditions, no one is explaining the importance of that kind of presence. Instead they consider that thinking of visions is more important; if you are a practitioner of tantra, visions are the visualizations of deities. All the sounds you are hearing, good, bad, everything, are just like the sounds of the mantra. They use this kind of method in dealing with your nature of the three existences. This is the mind level. The mind is judging; the mind is thinking that. You are not relaxed in that state. So, being present is another thing you should slowly learn. People ask what kind of practice they can do if they only have one hour or two hours free, I always say the best way is that you start with Ati Guruyoga and you learn how to be in present.
You can do that for one hour, for example, then for two hours, and then the next time it is already much easier than before. To realize presence continuously for a good practitioner does not take many years. For example, if you want to do that kind of practice when you have one hour of free time, you look at your watch and start for one hour from that time. You decide the time and then this time is arriving. What should you do? There is not a particular technique; most practitioners are asking, “What is the technique?” The technique is that you relax, that is all. When you are relaxing then thoughts arise. That is normal, you have not changed or modified anything, you are not dealing with the mind in a particular way. You can also pay respect to your mind and judge and think. You think, ”I want to go in toilet, it is necessary.” So you get up and you go to the toilet, but you know, “I am getting up to go to the toilet, now I am walking to get to the toilet, now I am doing what is necessary to do in the toilet, and I am returning in my place.” So, you are present just like driving the car. We learned only by driving a car. Most people who do not drive a car, they don’t know. For example, I remember when I was trying to drive car at the beginning, I even did an examination and everything, but when I had a new car and in the beginning when I was driving, the car was always jumping.
After a few weeks the car is not jumping anymore. I already learned and it became easier. In the same way we can learn to be present but it is not sufficient that we only know how to drive a car; that is only an example. You see in our time and space how many infinite different moments and different things there are. Presence must govern all. For that reason, it is necessary to learn. Then when you returned from the toilet you are sitting and you remember you are sitting. That’s a way of thinking, but you are not saying that otherwise people think you are not normal.
So you do everything in that way for one hour. You pay respect and do everything, but not in a distracted way. Tomorrow when you are repeat this kind of practice, it is much easier. After some weeks it becomes even easier. Some people say, “Oh, you told me to be present is very important, so I tried to do that but it is not so easy, it is very difficult.” But it is not difficult compared to how you do the practice of the Vajrayana development and accomplishing stage. You remember how many years Milarepa sacrificed on the mountain. These are difficult things. So, we are not asking that you need to go to a mountain or somewhere to be present. You don’t need any particular moment in time in different periods. You can deal with your time and space in an ordinary way with dualistic vision. So, you see then, it is not difficult.
For having realization like in the development and accomplishing stages, you need many years. In Tibet, we have a college of the practices – most colleges are seven years, not three years. People who completed seven years of college practice like tummo, when they do the examination, more than half the people cannot succeed to pass the examination, for example. They have spent seven years. I am not saying you need to be present for seven years, I couldn’t even say you need one year. It depends on your practice, your way of doing, your understanding, etc. If you understand and you do in a perfect way, it takes a short time. So, if you have presence, this is the key to everything.
For example, in the relative condition you think, “Oh, I have an illness, the doctor said I have a cancer, what I should do?” Of course you should cure that illness with medicine but only curing with medicine is not so easy. You should cure also with practice. All these kinds of illnesses like cancer, tumors, paralysis, all are related to negative provocations. You need to have potentiality and then control that negativity. For that reason, you need to do certain kinds of practice. When you are doing practice and then you use any kind of medicine, the medicine becomes very active. Some people say, “Oh, which kind of medicine is better, Tibetan medicine or Western or Chinese medicine?”
Of course if you have some experience, you can go with that. But a person who has an illness, together with the function of the medicine and therapy, can have the capacity to cure that illness. It doesn’t matter if the doctor is a Tibetan doctor, Chinese doctor or Western doctor. It does not matter which tradition it is. Maybe not curing with that, but it’s important the medicine can have its effect and if you do practice then the practice also creates some effect. If you are present, these things you can understand.
In general, every day we are very much charged. We go after mind too much. We create so many fantasies and believe them. So, all these things, if you are present, you can understand, “Oh, I am charged, I need to relax.” Even if you have some problems with someone for example, “I don’t want these problems with that person.” But when you have this presence then you can understand that. How do you understand that? In general everybody has a very strong ego. We are always thinking, “Oh, I am innocent. I have a problem with him, for example, but he created the problem, and then I have a problem with him.” In this case if you are present, you remember what Buddha explained. Buddha said everything is interdependent. We have dualistic vision; with dualistic vision everything is not interdependent. If I am totally innocent then why do I have problems with someone?
Interdependent means there is something we have done related to that person; we did something. In this case if you are present you know how to liberate that. You cannot do a revolution. You cannot change that person, because that person also has the same ego. Even if you are trying to convince that person, “I am innocent”, but that person never accepts that. More importantly, you observe the interdependence in you and you can free your tensions, but not that person’s. It is interdependent when you have freed your tensions, those tensions diminish and then slowly this problem disappears. That is example of how presence is the key to everything.
All the problems we have, we can understand which is the better way. For example, in the teaching for example, in the practice, etc., we know very well in the Vajrayana system, the Sutra system, there are infinite methods. Some people say, “Oh, which method is necessary for me to apply?” You don’t go to ask the teacher, but you ask yourself. You observe yourself and you can understand which kind of problem you have if you are present. So then everything is much easier. So, it is very very important you learn well to be present. Some people say, “Oh, I want to follow the dharma, I want to know which is my yidam.”
You know what yidam means, in Tibetan yi it means mind. Dam means sacred mind. That is something related with the different kinds of manifestations of the five dhyana buddhas. When we receive initiations, we try to understand that. So, you see, for example, if you have received an initiation, a formal initiation, when you are receiving it you receive a kind of flower. Then you keep this flower in your fingers. Also there is a piece of red cotton and in general people put that on the head. This is not for putting on the head, but it is called mig re, (mig ras), [mig mean eyes, re means cotton ed.] if the eyes are covered by cotton then you cannot see. That is a symbol of ignoring our real nature, we are in the dark.
When they construct the mandala, that is also a symbol, but then with the rite, the practice empowers the mandala and the teacher asks, “Now you look on the top of the mandala and you try to see the direction of the mandala.” But of course you cannot see the mandala because there is cotton. Then after the teacher immediately asks you one by one, when the initiation is done in a very precise way, the teacher comes to you and asks, “When you look above the mandala, which kind of color did you see?” There are basically five colors. The five colors are related with the five families. If you saw white, then you should reply, “I saw white” or you say whatever color you saw.
Formally nowadays the teacher is rarely going one by one and asking. Nowadays the teacher says, “Look above the mandala, what do you see above this mandala?” Then you reply and the teacher informs you of what you should say. So, these are formal initiations, not serious initiations. Then there is also another initiation with the flower. This is used in lower tantric initiations. Again the teacher is coming and bringing a mandala, a small mandala and you you repeat a mantra and throw the flower on the mandala. Then you see in which direction of the mandala the flower falls. And later the teacher gives you a name of the family belonging to that place on the mandala. In the center it is something like Buddha, and then to the east Vajra, etc. This is another way of discovering which family you are connected to.
In the very high level initiations like the Kalachakra, Chakrasambhava, etc., there is also tsulshing. Tsulshing is a small piece of wood. Originally tsulshing is in the Sutra teaching in Vinaya. It is a specific length. Also it is not any kind of wood, it is a specific kind of wood. In the monasteries they give this wood to all the monks, and the monks must bite the wood and to clean the mouth.
Sometimes when you go to visit monasteries, at the entrance to the temple, the tsulshing is tied together and put there. This is how they store the wood. This is the origin of the tsulshing; in Vajrayana it has been transformed a little. On the top of the tsulshing there are flowers of the five different colors of the cottons. Then in the initiation the teacher tells people a mantra one by one. Then when you have received the mantra, the teacher is coming again with mandala. In this moment you throw the wood, you chant the mantra and you throw the wood on the mandala. On the top there is a small kind of flower. Where the wood is directed, in which direction of the mandala – east, west, etc., based on this they inform you which family you belong to. Why are they considering this? They consider this because if you know that you belong to the Vajra family, then when you do the practice of Vajrasattva and you can have more of a relationship with that practice. It means you did something in your past life and now you can develop that more.
So, in our life how we manifest is also related with that. For example, one day there is some important teacher giving an initiation. We don’t know what kind of the initiation is being given. But the day arrives and you participate to receive that initiation. The teacher gives an initiation of Vajrasattva. That already is an indication that you have such kind of relationship with Vajrasattva or Amitabha, in the West. Practitioners think, “Oh, it is very important; I can have easier realization, etc.” For having realization in the Vajrayana style of the practices it is very important to have this kind of relationship.
I give you a very easy example. One day, for example, when Manjushri or Green Tara or someone like that was on the path just like we are now, still they did not manifest realization in the Sutra style. So then, for example, they are walking in a garden, and in the road there are small ants, they do not see the ants and they put their feet on them and kill them. They had no intention to kill the ants. Even they didn’t know the ants were there. So for that reason this does not become really an impediment for realization, which is called gribpa. But it becomes an obstacle.
When you accumulate many obstacles, like gribpa, they become heavier, and can produce something negative. You are a practitioner of Manjushri or Green Tara, so one day you can realize. When you are realized it depends on which kind of relationship those sentient beings have had with you as to who can receive benefit. Manjushri, for example, when he was on path he had many things to do with intelligence for people. For that reason when he manifested they could receive his wisdom. So, we are also receiving initiations in that way; it’s related to this kind of relationship.
If we have very small relationship then it does not manifest very much, but at least we received an initiation, for example. Even if you received an initiation and you are not interested in the practice or following that teaching, but slowly some secondary causes are maturing more and more and then you start to be a little more interested. And in this case you are creating more secondary cause. This is not only Buddhists, but all kinds of religions believe in that way. Many Christians say say, “Oh, that person is going where the Madonna is”, and then that person also receives some benefits”, etc. So, for example, someone is walking for hours and hours on their knees to see the Madonna. This is sacrifice and sacrifice is producing more possibility to receive.
Transcribed by Anna Rose
Edited by Naomi Zeitz with the kind assistance of Elio Guarisco