To learn Dzogchen means to discover our Dzogchen
A practitioner interested in realization must not become passive but be aware and active. Buddha Sakyamuni had infinite wisdom and omniscience or total realization and he said, “I give you the way, but realization depends on you.” Practitioners who are interested must follow the path. In this world, there has been no Master better than Buddha Sakyamuni, and he could not make other individuals realized. This means that we have to be active and firstly understand what the teaching is and know how to follow it. In the Dzogchen teaching knowledge is more important than meditation. Meditation is only a means to reach realization. It can have different meanings but it is always only a means. We have to understand well what meditation really is and how it functions otherwise we become passive. There are many ways, just as there are many different individuals and conditions. We have our condition and our capacity, and we are all different.
Once we understand what the Master is, we understand what the teaching is. The teaching is knowledge beyond color and form, knowledge that people who are interested must discover. The principle is not that we go to a Master, and he tells us what to do. We are human beings and humans can reason and speak. When we receive a teaching, it is not necessarily something that we must follow blindly.
What is Dzogchen teaching?
First of all it says, “Open your eyes and look at what is around you, what the concrete conditions are”. In this way, we can understand the teaching, the teacher and everything. We must see if the sense of the teaching corresponds to our condition or not, whether it is useful for our existence or not. If someone does not examine it clearly and says, “Ah, this is the fantastic teaching of such and such a Master with this title and name”, it means he is passive. We must not be passive because if we are passive we cannot become realized. If we do not become realized we lose a lot of time and we do not have a lot of that. It is not necessary to be old to die. Every day there are accidents in airplanes, cars, ships and trains and people die. Even if there is not a precise cause, nobody knows what will happen. We live in these circumstances so we do not have any guarantee that we will live another week or a month or a year. We only believe it, saying, “Next year we’ll do this and that”, and sometimes we go further and say, “We’ll do this and that in two or three years”. This is also useful because if I do not live other people will live and things must progress. But deep down we do not have any guarantee. Therefore time is precious and we cannot waste it.
Preparing for life
In the Tibetan temples, there are silken flags called “victorious flags” and colorful ornaments all along the columns. All these ornaments move a little continually and eventually one day they tear away, and then no longer have a purpose. In the same way we pass our lives speaking and then our lives are spent. This is a real pity because we have indeed many possibilities. Maybe we have met real teachings and masters. We have all these possibilities, but we only collect them, put them in a sack and fill it up. Then, while we are preparing, the end of life comes.
There is a saying of a precious Sakyapa master that life is consumed only in preparing. This is true also for spiritual things. If someone is minimally interested in the teaching, it seems he must write a thesis on the teaching. At the most he thinks, “One day I want to do this practice”. Tomorrow he repeats this, and the day after tomorrow he continues making a collection believing that he is preparing. In this way his whole life is spent preparing. In the end the next future life begins before the end of the preparations. And then when he dies, he still has not finished preparing.
We must understand this very well, especially in the teaching we do not only have to prepare, but also to apply our own knowledge. The Dzogchen teaching asks us to observe ourselves, our existence, our limitations, and conditions. This is in our interest. If someone discovers his own existence, his own condition and limits, it is better for him. We live in a lot of confusion and we have many problems. Finally, this way, we can discover where these problems come from. This is why we have to work on ourselves, not only looking at others, and reasoning or believing in someone. Therefore during our retreat, first of all we must understand very well what the teaching is.
I have spoken of this many, many times, and probably many people who follow me think, “I always hear this”, but even if they have heard it, if it does not work it means that they have to listen some more. Even if we do not like to listen, this is exactly what we need to do. Everyone needs to work a little on him or herself, otherwise even if we talk about many teachings, it does not mean anything. Many people get interested when they read a mysterious and very elegant title [of a teaching] and they say, “We have a fantastic teaching!” But where is its substance? The substance is that it changes. If someone is so interested in titles, why doesn’t he buy catalogues? Teaching does not work that way; it must be integrated in the individual him or herself, and be alive. When the teaching is alive in this way a title is not necessary any more.
What is integration
The master gives a direct introduction to the state. What does ‘ direct introduction’ mean? It does not mean reading a book or making a commentary on a book by Garab Dorje or a text like a Tantra. It means touching something as if you were being burnt. This must be understood. Especially people who already know and have followed the teaching may feel, “I am an old practitioner”. You really must observe a little what ‘old’ means in this case. Each of you should observe your own practice. How do you feel when you meet someone who may be unpleasant or disturbing? Do you really have the capacity to integrate this feeling? Do you feel the same when you meet a person you love very much, such as friends, and when you meet someone unpleasant? If, through distraction, you hate or get angry, but with presence are immediately able to liberate this feeling, it means that you are practitioners and that practice is something living in yourselves. It is not so difficult to understand that the function of the teaching is something concrete.
Many people have frequently asked me, “How can I discover if I am realized?” I have replied, “You must not worry. If you become realized, you will understand it very well.” Before obtaining realization you must develop clarity and you will understand very well that you are getting there even before you become realized. For example, if we have the capacity to integrate a little or to find ourselves in the state of presence, then it also becomes manifest in our daily life, as an aspect of our body, voice and mind. First of all, all our tensions and attachments diminish. There are many practitioners, who instead of reducing or integrating their tensions do not even discover them. Day after day they accumulate tension and in the end they are ready to explode. It is true that many practitioners do practices and then they end up with a psychoanalyst, because they cannot explode. It means they do not understand the manifestation of tension, and if they do not discover this in the practice, it means they have to work hard, and understand the teaching well.
Many “old” practitioners say, “It is so difficult, I cannot integrate”. Of course it is difficult to integrate if we never do it. Integration is not only an idea, or the creation of an idea. First of all we must find ourselves in a very precise state of awareness.
Many people may lack a basis from the beginning and, believing they can jump very high, think, “I have understood everything. This is contemplation”. And then they jump and arrive at thögal (thod rgal) and practices like Yangthig(yang thig) and other elevated methods without substance. What is there to develop? To grow some flowers in a field we need seeds. First we must sow the field and then water it so that something will grow. If we only believe that we have sown seeds even if we pour water on the field every day, nothing grows.
Nowadays there are many fertilizers that make plants become enormous in two days. Some people get these kinds of fertilizers and use so much of them that nothing grows. A method like the thögalpractice is like a fertilizer to develop contemplation, to obtain realization But if there is no knowledge of contemplation, what can we develop?
So, first of all, we need to understand the basis and work with it very well. We must not be confused between an idea and real knowledge. I have explained many times and also given examples, but it seems many people are not able to understand very well. I do not mean everybody, because there are also many people who certainly understand. If everyone could understand, what a marvelous thing it would be. Also you must not always think that everything is so easy.
Milarepa, after having killed many people, felt very guilty and thought, “Oh, now I must go, and do purification to obtain realization, it is impossible to live like this. I have to find a way to become realized”. Then it is said that he went to a Master, and the first Master he met taught Dzogchen. This Master told him, “If you meditate in the morning, you will become realized in the morning; if you meditate in the afternoon, you will become realized in the afternoon.” Milarepa thought, “Ah, even if I did so many evil actions, the path is that simple, so there is nothing to worry about”. So he stayed for two days with this Master but concluded nothing. Finally this Master also understood and told him, “You had better go to another Master who will give you something harder.” And finally Milarepa met Marpa who always tortured him. Then he felt better and finally managed to purify himself. But you see how many sacrifices he did for so many years. It may be that Milarepa did many evil actions, but I do not think that Milarepa was stupid, and we too must not think that it is so easy. Especially when we speak of a teaching like Dzogchen, with which there is a possibility to reach certain knowledge and to develop it. However this does not mean that we reach this knowledge without doing anything. We must firstly understand what the Master is communicating to the student, listen to it and understand it well, and then bring it into our existence. That way it becomes real.
Methods and Dzogchen
Knowledge of the Dzogchen teaching must become a part of our daily life. What do we do in our daily life? We breathe, we move and we think. These are three actions in our three existences and these three actions must become integrated into the practice. The practice is not only to sit down and say two or three prayers.
So what do we need to learn when we use a method? For instance if we are going to learn a method of practice and according to this method we must sit in this way and think about this, it means we are working with an experience, trying to have an experience. What is the purpose of this experience? First of all it is to discover knowledge, and secondly when a certain knowledge is obtained, to realize this knowledge. Methods are for nothing else. Thus methods are not the fundamental thing, they are relative.
Many people follow the teaching and think it is like a method. That is why people become slaves of method. “A Master gave this method, I follow it, I am a slave of it”. It becomes ridiculous because a method exists to help one develop or to give a certain benefit. A method is like a fork to eat, if you have one it is much easier to eat. If we have a steak to eat, we need a fork and a knife, when we have these two it is much easier to eat. But this does not mean it is a principle, this is only to make it easier. Therefore all methods are like forks and knives, or like clothes. When it is hot we wear light clothes, when it is cold we wear something warmer, when it is raining we put on a raincoat.
All things are secondary and can change according to the circumstances, and the same is true of the methods. There are many, many methods, but the most important thing is that a practitioner understands what a method is used for and in which way it must be used. A method always has its own principle, like a way of working with an experience. Many methods do not make it clear. But in the Dzogchen Teaching we can understand the principle, because knowledge is the principle. Therefore in this way a practitioner does not become a slave to the method, he can use the method. We have learned many, many methods and we have also learnt how to apply them. We must understand their value.
Many people come to me to follow the Dzogchen Teaching. First of all they ask me, “I have followed other Teachings and I have learned other techniques, methods and ways of doing things, but when I follow the Dzogchen Teaching can I use them or not?” This kind of person has the idea, “Now that I follow this Master, I must follow only the Dzogchen methods.” There really does not exist a label such as the ‘Dzogchen method’. Everything can be a Dzogchen method. We must understand what Dzogchen is: we are Dzogchen. We are not methods, we are beings. We have our state and infinite potentiality and we are trying to discover this potentiality. What do we need to discover this? We have many means, and these are methods. There is no problem about which method we use, however we must not forget the principle. If we do, we only follow this method and that, jumping here and there and nothing is concluded.
In the Dzogchen Teaching, first of all we must understand that we have to open our eyes and discover our state. Everything else is relative to discovering and realizing this. It is not necessary to limit anyone. This is one of the biggest problems of all beings. Most people, especially intellectuals, usually think, “This is so and that is so, it must be that way.” In this way they limit everything. It means they never go beyond these limits and always look outside themselves, never at themselves. Thus limited visions develop and we never discover our real identity, our potentiality. To learn Dzogchen means to discover our Dzogchen, that of each individual. Dzogchen is really this. It is very simple, but also very difficult.
If someone knows how to follow a Master, understanding what he is communicating, maybe it is not so difficult to find this state, this knowledge. But it is very difficult if someone believes that he has got the knowledge or feels that he knows a lot about this or that, blocking himself and getting further and further away, instead of discovering it. This means one has to follow the Dzogchen Teaching very well, very carefully, understanding what we are speaking about and where we want to arrive.
An extremely important thing I want to say to all the people who have come to this retreat, new ones, old ones, half-old ones, everybody: collaborate! You shouldn’t always think, “I only want to listen to the Master”. Usually people do not often want to ask other people about the Teaching. Why? Because they think, “He is not the Master. I only listen to the Master.” Do you know where this attitude comes from? From that famous Ego. We think, “I am clever, I am the one who possesses the knowledge”. It’s very rare to find someone saying, “I am stupid, I am so limited”. This we do not discover. In the Dzogchen Teaching we have to understand how to observe ourselves. Therefore even if someone does not understand something like a method, he can still speak to the people who understand it. Also the “old” people should not think, “Ah, this is a new person. I cannot talk about this, because it is a secret”. It is a secret when it is not the moment to speak. But if a person has come here to do a retreat, we should reason a little. What did he come here to do? He did not come here on holiday, but to follow the Teaching, to understand and apply it. Then it is clear he is interested and wants to participate. If he is interested and participating, why must things be secret?
In the Teaching there are some kinds of methods like the Dzogchen thögal or practices of Yantra Yoga, which must be communicated only to the people who have a very precise and deep base in the Teaching, because if a person does not have a concrete base and only reads and does things from a book instead of receiving benefit from these methods, that person only plays around and blocks his or her possibilities to realize and develop. Therefore sometimes for these reasons there are some methods that are kept secret until it is the right moment.
But to communicate knowledge is not secret. Communicating knowledge is the principle of the Teaching. If it cannot be communicated, why should it be taught? Something needs to be communicated by the Master and also by the students to the students, and so collaboration is very, very important. There are, for instance, many methods like the practice of Yantra Yoga or the semdzin (sems‘dzin), which are specific methods to work with experience, that do not necessarily need to be given by the Master. If someone possesses knowledge of these methods, that person can always collaborate with others.
Master and student
We need to have a precise idea about our consideration of the relationship between the Master and the student. We must not think that a Master is always someone very exalted, like a commander, or think that whatever the Master says, must be so, closing our eyes and remaining passive. The Master is a person who collaborates.
Remember when we take Refuge in Sutra Buddhism, we say “Namo Buddha Bhya, Namo Dharma Bhya, Namo Sangha Bhya”. We take refuge in the Buddha, who is the one who gave this path, and refuge in the Dharma because it is the path and through the Dharma we can obtain realization. Then there is the third refuge, the Sangha. What is the Sangha in reality? Generally Sangha means those who are practicing the path, those who are in the same boat to arrive beyond the ocean of Samsara. Then if we are all travelling in the same boat, we must collaborate well. If people create problems because of their egoism and spoil the boat, making a hole in it, we will never arrive. This is the principle of Sangha. It means everyone, and the Sangha also includes the Master. It does not mean that the Master is left outside.
So what is a Master? He is someone who collaborates and helps people and his followers should understand this. Deep down we all have infinite potentialities that we may not understand but perhaps one day we will understand them and obtain realization. In both Tantrism and Dzogchen Teaching if we really understand well, we can see all beings as realized beings. This is the real condition. We find ourselves in the relative condition, because we do not understand, because we are always distracted. For example, when we open our eyes and see an object, we immediately think, “Ah, what a beautiful thing” or “I like this, I do not like that”. We do this because we are distracted and this is always a manifestation of distraction. When our senses are in contact with objects and we are distracted, we accumulate infinite negative karma. So even if we have infinite potential, we remain ignorant of the real condition. If all of us really understand what our real condition is, it is not necessary to classify things saying, “This is more important than that.” Everything is important.
An excerpt from an oral teaching given on September 21st, 1990, at Merigar West, Italy
Edited by Tuula Saarikoski
Reprinted from The Mirror issue 9, June 1991
Final editing by Liz Granger
Photo by Hans Vogel, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu at Merigar April 1992.