Chögyal Namkhai Norbu at the opening session of the Teacher Authorisations at Dzamling Gar, Tenerife, January 30, 2015
We are starting [this session] with Ati Guruyoga because we are Dzogchen practitioners. Everybody in the Dzogchen Community starts with and follows [this]. That means that there is Dzogchen teaching and people who are interested participate. This is not only for this moment but must be forever, for all sentient beings, particularly human beings.
I have explained many times that Dzogchen teaching is the final essence of all existing teachings. It is not that I said this or invented it. This is stated in the first most important most ancient Dzogchen root tantra – the Dra Thalgyur. I have explained many times about the Dra Thalgyur. In the Nyingmapa tradition, in general, they explain nine vehicles but it always becomes a kind of analysis of the Buddhist tradition. In the Dra Thalgyur tantra there is not only the Buddhist tradition because in the nine vehicles the first is jigten lhamii thegpa, which is explained very clearly. Jigten means in our ordinary dimension or the world in which we are human. In our human dimension, there are many kinds of religions, non-religions, and philosophies that people think are real. When they believe they are real, that means that they must be the final goal. However, when we follow a teaching we can understand that this is not the final goal.
In our dimension, for example, there are many people who believe that there is nothing after death. People who know and believe that there is something that continues after death do not follow that idea. For that reason it is not the final goal. Even if someone believes that there is some continuation after death, how does it continue, how does it finish, what is the end?
Everything is always the knowledge of the related spiritual path because ordinary people have no capacity to go beyond that. We know that spiritual paths are taught by enlightened beings that know how the real condition is and communicated that. This is called a spiritual path. But there are many different levels. When we are learning, we divide it into nine vehicles, of which the final is Atiyoga. Atiyoga goes totally beyond our relative condition and its limitation. It is the final goal for even something that is considered to be a high level. For that reason Dzogchen teaching is very important and we follow it.
But it is not sufficient that only we follow it, but also future generations. In a few years we will disappear from this earth, not one of us will remain, but future generations will continue. For that reason, it is very important that we keep and develop and continue this precious teaching and that is why we have the Dzogchen Community.
In English we say the ‘Dzogchen Community’ but in the language of Oddiyana we say ‘Santi Maha Sangha’. What is Santi Maha Sangha? It means the Dzogchen Community, but it doesn’t mean only a kind of organization of the Community. You know very well what Dzogchen is – Dzogchen means our real nature. What does it mean to do Dzogchen practice? We try to be in that state somehow. We apply it. People who are interested in that and follow can collaborate together. This is called sangha. Sangha means collaboration together on a spiritual path or it can also be in a relative condition. But in the relative condition, in our language, nobody uses [the word] sangha. Sangha really means that we are collaborating and putting together our effort.
When they learn Santi Maha Sangha, many people think that ‘maha’ means ‘total’ or ‘great’ in Sanskrit, like Mahayana or Mahayoga, and that ‘Maha Sangha’ means ‘great community’, but it doesn’t mean that. It is not in Sanskrit but in the original language of Oddiyana. In this language they used adjectives after the noun, like in Tibetan. In Sanskrit, in Western languages and in countries around Tibet they put the adjective before the noun. For example, when we say ‘Mahayana’ in Sanskrit, ‘yana’ means vehicle and is the noun. ‘Maha’ is the adjective, so ‘Mahayana’ means ‘total’, or ‘big’, or ‘large vehicle’. In Tibetan when we translate this we say ‘thegpa chenpo’: ‘thegpa’ means ‘vehicle’, ‘chenpo’ means ‘great’ or ‘total’. In the same way we say ‘Dzogpa Chenpo’.
So we can understand the different way of using adjectives. It doesn’t mean ‘great’ or ‘total’ Community. It means that the real nature of our state is ‘total’ or ‘great’. This is Dzogchen. In Dzogchen we say everything is the self-perfected state from the beginning.
We need to keep, to develop, and to continue Dzogchen teaching. It doesn’t mean that we keep and develop only Buddhist teaching. We should distinguish that. There are different aspects of the Buddhist teachings – Sutra, Hinayana, Mahayana – and of course we do not refuse any of this. Everything is integrated. We have knowledge of Dzogchen and we integrate everything in the state of Dzogchen. We are not integrating knowledge of Dzogchen in Hinayana. That is impossible because when there is a lower state or level, they remain in that limitation and do not want to know other things so there is no way to integrate. But if someone is on a higher path and understands the essence, if it is necessary, they can apply [it]. For that reason, in the Dzogchen teachings, there are no limitations. When we have knowledge of Dzogchen we can use any kind of method and then we can integrate everything.
When we are in the Dzogchen Community, it is very important that we have that knowledge. When we talk about the Dzogchen Community many people think that it is only a type of organization. But we don’t need just an organization because there are already enough on this globe. When we have knowledge of Dzogchen and there are people who are interested in being that way then there is possibility to collaborate and this is how we make a sangha.
When we learn Dzogchen we should remember that the most important thing is being in the state of Dzogchen. After that, the next most important thing is being present. When we are present we know how to work with circumstances: circumstances mean where we are, in this circumstance, in this condition, and then we work with that. The Dzogchen Community should go ahead like this, not just like an organization. If we think that the Dzogchen Community is only an organization then it is better that we throw it away because then it only creates problems. We must understand what our direction is and try to go in that direction in a different way.
If we belong to the Dzogchen Community, we should understand what the Dzogchen Community means and we should be perfect members. When we consider ourselves members, it is very relative to only be a member of the organization. But the Dzogchen Community doesn’t mean that. It means that people try to have knowledge of Dzogchen and to be in that state. For that purpose we are studying, learning and developing everything.
For example, in the Dzogchen Community, studying Vajra Dance, Yantra Yoga, Santi Maha Sangha, doing different kinds of retreats, everything is concentrated on one point – being in the knowledge of Dzogchen. So it is very important to know what our direction is. If we go to a big city to find someone, we need a precise address or we won’t find that person. When we are in infinite samsara and choose the path of Dzogchen, we should know what our direction is, our final goal, where we need to arrive. When we become Dzogchen practitioners, we have that responsibility.
There are so many sentient beings in our samsara. If we only consider humans beings, how many of them are interested in the Buddha’s teaching? Very few. That means they don’t have the knowledge that the Buddha taught. They only believe what they see and hear and what they think relatively. What kind of direction do they have? We can understand that clearly. But when we follow the Buddha’s teaching, for example, there are many different kinds of methods, knowledge, and teachings. However, that doesn’t mean that Buddha invented many different types of teachings. Teaching is for students, for people who are interested, and among people there are many different kinds of conditions or capacities. Each of us belongs to one of these groups and for this reason sometimes we are interested in this teaching or that teaching. But gradually we follow and learn and discover more and more.
I’ll give you a simple example. Some people like the Green Tara practice and ask me to teach the puja of the mandala offering because it seems like a nice practice. When I was in college, we did this puja every morning even though we had a lot to study. But in the real sense, this practice is in the yoga tantra system. When you know the difference between the Yoga tantra system, higher tantra, Anuyoga and Atiyoga, you should think about not remaining or limiting [yourself] in Yoga tantra. You should go to the higher tantra, or Anuyoga or Atiyoga because the final goal of following teaching is having realization. In Yoga tantra, if you work well with these methods throughout your life, you can have total realization in 16 lifetimes. That is a long time, and we are not talking about infinite kalpas but birth and life 16 times. When you go to a higher tantra such as Anuyoga, they say that if you practice well that you can have realization in a lifetime. So there is a big difference.
Our aim is to have realization. Since there are some methods for having realization in this lifetime I chose this teaching rather than one for having it in 16 lifetimes. That is very easy to understand. It is just like saying that we want to visit Mt. Kailash – this year, the year of the Horse, unifies all sacred places and their potentiality is at Kailash. How we go there depends on our condition. If we have enough money we can get a plane ticket to India and reach there more quickly. If we don’t have that possibility we won’t be able to travel by plane. We should work concretely with circumstances and perhaps we can go by car, or by bicycle, or walking. If we walk, we won’t get to Kailash this year but it is better to walk than not doing anything.
These examples are very similar to the way we follow different kinds of teachings. This is the reason we know that Dzogchen teaching is the most supreme for having realization more quickly. And not only that. If we are going to learn deeply knowledge of Dzogchen, not only for quicker realization, but also before we are realized, we have to live in this human condition in these circumstances. If you have knowledge of Dzogchen, it helps very much for living in a relaxed way in this lifetime.
In the Dzogchen teaching it is explained from the beginning what the root of problems is. The root of problems is our limitations. When we discover how to work with that and how we can overcome these problems, this is very important in our relative condition, for living in our society. So you see having total realization is very important to but also living in dualistic vision.
In the Dzogchen teaching there are many methods and the essence of the teaching is good for us to apply and understand. For example, someone may say that there is a teaching that has benefit for you but you should become monks and nuns and renounce your ordinary life – some people like this. But teaching is for all sentient beings, especially human beings. How can all the citizens of a country become monks and nuns? If we all become monks and nuns, what will we eat if nobody is producing any food? That is an example. We should think about things in a more normal way.
Also, just like in Vajrayana style, we could say that there are very important methods that should be applied for seven years in retreat, or that you need to live in the mountains and make sacrifices just like Milarepa. Somebody may like this type of thing but how can everybody do this? They don’t have the possibility.
Dzogchen teaching doesn’t teach that way. It teaches us to try to be in the state of contemplation, starting by being in the state of Guruyoga – not only Guruyoga but also different kinds of methods – but always directing us towards being in the state of contemplation. When we are not [in the state of contemplation], we should know that we are in time and space and should be present. We work with circumstances, which means that we have many different relative conditions. Dzogchen teaching doesn’t ask us to change or abandon anything. If you have heard from some Dzogchen teachers that you should change your condition, that you cannot live this way, instead of changing your life you should change your teacher. It is much better because you cannot have any benefit.
In the teaching it is very important that we should work with circumstances and be aware of them. When we develop this way, being present, working with circumstances, our life becomes practice. The Dzogchen teaching introduces us to that, directly or indirectly, and our life becomes practice. When we have that condition, sooner or later we will have realization, there is no doubt about that. Otherwise if we are always distracted, always accumulating negativities, how can we have total realization? Sometimes a person may say that they are practicing, doing a personal retreat, trying to do meditation, visualization, purification for several hours in a tun [of practice]. But even if we do five hours a day, there are 24 hours in a day so how many of them are we distracted? How can we have realization?
For that reason it is very important that we should understand the value and the knowledge of the Dzogchen teachings – they are something very particular. If we only learn something in a traditional way – how to do the practice etc. – even though it has the title ‘Dzogchen’ we cannot learn or discover what Dzogchen really is. I have that knowledge, I am transmitting it to my students and we are working together. This is something very important that we continue on this globe. Even when we disappear, our teaching, knowledge, what we did will continue for centuries and centuries. For this reason I prepared the Santi Maha Sangha. I also teach Vajra Dance and Yantra Yoga – you know how important they are – whose final goal is also being in the state of contemplation. This is the principle of the Santi Maha Sangha. So it is very important that you know this and take care of the Santi Maha Sangha.
When I started Santi Maha Sangha many people didn’t know what it meant. But now we are no longer children, we have grown up, and we already have many SMS Base teachers who have not only done the exam but have some experience, giving lessons and communicating with people. So people who are interested in this experience may want to become Santi Maha Sangha teachers.
Some people have the idea to teach, but if you only like to teach, teach something else, not Santi Maha Sangha in the Dzogchen Community. It isn’t necessary. If you want to become a Santi Maha Sangha teacher, it means that you want to integrate your body speech and mind into Santi Maha Sangha. If you know that and then you try to do it, then there will not be problems. It is very important to know this, not only to become a kind of teacher.
Some people say that they are teachers and have a great deal of communication with many people. It is good if you have a lot of communication, but the aim of a Santi Maha Sangha teacher in the Dzogchen Community is not that. It is sufficient if you communicate with only five people. If you communicate with hundreds of people that is also fine, however, the important thing is that you are integrated into the Santi Maha Sangha and you communicate that to other students and they learn.
Becoming a Santi Maha Sangha teacher doesn’t mean that you are only doing an examination. When we do an exam many people consider that it is like doing a university exam. But knowing the principle, learning Dzogchen teaching is not intellectual. Intellectual knowledge for explaining, for speaking, etc., is relative. We should remember what our existence is – first we have our physical body, then our energy level and then mind. Also when we explain the principles of the real nature of the state of Dzogchen, we say essence, nature and energy, which are relatively connected with body, speech and mind. When we become Santi Maha Sangha teachers, we have our three existences. Our energy level or speech level alone is not sufficient, so we only know how to talk. First of all we have our physical body. If you are a Santi Maha Sangha teacher, you must become an example for your students and they learn from you. What do they learn? Your knowledge of body, speech and mind. But you don’t only explain what people should or should not do with the body. In Dzogchen, we don’t have this kind of teaching. When you are with your students, how do you appear? How do you work with people? People learn that. In this case you need to be careful.
I’m not saying that we can’t make mistakes. We can make many mistakes. When I explain samaya, commitment, we cannot say that we don’t do wrong things that don’t correspond with our commitments. We can make many mistakes, but this is not a problem because even if we make many mistakes, the second most important thing in the Dzogchen teaching is being present. If we are present, then if we have made some mistakes we can understand after a few minutes or half an hour. It is impossible we don’t know if we have done something wrong. So we correct them and try to do our best. If we have done something wrong with our physical body, we try to correct it. If, for example, we have done something wrong to a person, we apologize because we are practitioners and it was not correct. Then tensions never develop. We can make many different kinds of mistakes but we should always be present.
It is the same thing with our voice. When we talk, sometimes we are distracted and say thing that are not nice. Then later we feel sorry that we said something bad. That means we are present and noticed. When we notice this we can apologize to the person for making a mistake. If we don’t communicate with this person, they remember that and maintain a kind of tension. When we communicate and explain there is no root of tensions that can develop.
It is more difficult [working with] our mind which is always judging and thinking. In this case we must be like a mirror. If there is a mirror in front of us we can see what we are doing. We can also notice what we are thinking. So it is very important that we observe our body, speech, and mind so that they become more normal in a perfect way. Sometimes we ask ourselves which way is perfect. We are not following a kind of rule that says that something is a perfect way. It depends on circumstances. We should work with what people believe, the way they see things. Remember that after being present the most important thing is working with circumstances.
So we try to become perfect in Santi Maha Sangha with our body, speech and mind. It is not enough just doing an examination. The exam is [based on] the book that I prepared because I know very well that to learn Dzogchen teaching, to have some background and to go ahead, it is important that we know all the principles of all the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.
We are not studying like in college. For example, at my college, there were thirteen different important texts belonging to different aspects. At the end of our studies we had an exam on the essence of all these texts. Some of the texts we studied repeatedly over five or six years. This is an example of the system of study at college. But I know very well that we can’t do that in the Dzogchen Community.
Particularly in order to study all the important background of the Buddhist tradition, the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and Vajrayana etc., we don’t even have any books in Western languages, so it is impossible for us to do something like that. For that reason I studied and saw the most indispensible topics, taking quotations from many books, and put together the essence in one book so that people can understand. This is the base of the Santi Maha Sangha and is called “The Precious Vase”. It took me two years to prepare this book working very hard. It was not so easy even for me. Then at the end when we had done everything in a very precise way, we tried to translate it in a perfect way. Then we started studying the Santi Maha Sangha base and doing the exam.
I’m not asking you to read this book or that book because it’s impossible. But after you have studied this book “Rinchen Bumzang”, I want to know if you have really learned everything or not. If you find some difficulty with the names in Tibetan or Sanskrit – because Westerners sometimes find this difficult – it is not a problem. For example, not only Westerners but also me – even though I have lived for many years in the Western world, when I need to remember the names of some Western scholars, it is still very difficult for me to remember them, while if the name is Tibetan, I just read it once or twice and remember it. That is an example because Westerners have this type of problem. But even if you don’t remember the names, you should remember what that person said, what the topic is. It is more important that we know the topic very precisely and what the person said.
When we do the exam, I ask you a question. In this question, you need to reply very precisely from this book, “The Precious Vase”. If you reply differently, only using a little of your knowledge of Buddhist philosophy, it has no value because I ask very precise questions and you should give very precise replies. This is what we need because we are not examining your body, speech and mind. We cannot do that. We believe that you have that kind of perfection because you have come here [for the exam], you have already made sacrifices, firstly by studying Santi Maha Sangha, secondly by travelling here. These things show that you are interested. Of course for that reason we think that there is connection with your body, speech and mind that is manifesting.
But then you become a teacher. What do you teach? You do not teach what you followed at Namkhai Norbu’s retreats. Some people say that at Namkhai Norbu’s retreats on, for example, Atiyoga, Namkhai Norbu taught this and explained that. I am not asking you to teach those things to your students. You are becoming a teacher of the Base of Santi Maha Sangha.
If you want to teach something else, something related with my teaching, and you have received it, if you seriously want to teach that, first you should examine yourself to see if you have integrated that knowledge in yourself or not. If you are certain that you have integrated it, then you ask me if you can teach this or not. When you ask me if you can teach this or not, this means I understand that you are certain that you are integrated in this knowledge, otherwise you wouldn’t ask me. I am saying this very clearly.
So in this case who are these people? What have they done? Are they already Santi Maha Sangha teachers? How long have they been teaching? Do they have many students etc.? In general I am in contact with these people. When people say that a teacher gave this teaching and it was very good and beneficial then I know that this person has integrated their body speech and mind in a correct way and manifested it. If I receive some information that something does not correspond in their aspects of body speech and mind, even though that person may ask me if they can teach something, then I have to think a little because Dzogchen teaching is very important. For the future we should continue that way so people who are teaching really have that responsibility.
For example, when I started to teach, I didn’t have that idea very much. But then after years and years it became very clear and I felt more and more responsible for the teaching. After teaching I had to continue being present, and protect the transmission and teaching. This is my responsibility. For that reason we are going to do Santi Maha Sangha in a very precise way and it is important that everyone knows this.
Transcribed and edited by L. Granger