Atiyoga Teaching

An excerpt from the morning session of day 4, December 31, 2017, of the Atiyoga Teaching Retreat given by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu at Dzamling Gar, Tenerife.

Chang Chub Sem – Bodhichitta

The Tibetan word chang-chub sem (byang chub sems) in Sanskrit is bodhichitta. Ancient translators constructed the word chang-chub sem, which is made up of three words. What does chang mean? Chang means purified. If there are obstacles, impediments for realization, they are purified. After we have purified them we can obtain the essence of knowledge. For example, if we are cleaning a vase, it is not sufficient that we only clean it, but we should put something inside it. In the same way, all qualifications that we study, we can have that obtainment. Sem means mind. Not relative mind but it’s real nature; the nature of mind. You know that the nature of mind is the state of Dzogchen, the all perfected qualifications of lhundrub. So, these words are chang-chub sem in the Sutra teaching and are always considered bodhichitta.

We cultivate and develop bodhichitta. It is called chang-chub sem. If you are reading Dzogchen books sometimes, we say our real nature and sometimes we say the state of Dzogchen. Sometimes we say the state of Ati, primordial state. But most tantras refer to chang-chub sem.

So, when you are reading a book you must remember and be aware of the kind of book you are reading. If you are reading a Dzogchen book and thinking chang-chub sem is bodhichitta, it is wrong. It means “your real nature”. Why does it correspond in that sense? So, you see when you have translated these kinds of words from Sanskrit, ancient translators like Vairocana, Kawa Paltsek (ska ba dpal brtsegs), etc., they have a high level of knowledge of Dzogchen. They are then constructing words that correspond in the real sense. Bodhichitta is very relative, like compassion, related to our mind and we cultivate that. But when we say chang-chub sem, chang means purified. In Tibetan there are two words: chang means purified already. If you want to purify, you do not say chang. Chang means purified since the beginning so there is nothing to purify, we have the perfected state.

Chub means obtained, already there. Then sem means relative mind and its real nature is semnyid (sems nyid). You see, for that reason, it corresponds to our real nature. All titles, most of the important titles in Dzogchen Semde texts, say chang-chub sem, Dzogchen. Some people are only going after words; some important Dzogchen texts are saying, “This cannot be a Dzogchen text because there are no words of Dzogchen.” In this case, they use chang-chub sem, for example. This is very important because in Dzogchen we are going into the essence.

So, you can understand what capacity means. Participation is very important. Even if you don’t understand anything that a teacher is explaining, you have received Dzogchen teaching and maybe it is a little complicated. But you are on this path connected with the path of the Dzogchen. This is not so easy for all sentient beings. So, participation is very, very important.

How we start is something more related with our capacity. When we have participation, “I want to follow the essence of the Dzogchen Teaching now, I want to be a Dzogchen practitioner.” Ordinary people do not have that idea very precisely. Some people are curious, but they are not saying they are curious but they go to a teacher and listen and they want to discover what it is.

Curiosity is not bad, when you meet the Dzogchen Teaching, meet a Dzogchen teacher, life becomes very different. So, we know it is something very important. Then we decide and we follow that path and we can understand how Guru Garab Dorje explained, for example. Dzogchen Semde, Longde, Upadesha, we cannot study everything in an intellectual way. For example, when we go to the college to study Buddhist philosophy, there are kapod nga (bka’ pod lnga), five important texts; we are going deeper and deeper into that knowledge, studying for many years. All these texts have explanations and there are many different commentaries. In most schools, the traditions are the same.

Particularly the study that I followed and what they studied in the college in Derge, these texts had been prepared by Zhenga Rinpoche (gzhan dga’ rin po che), a very famous teacher. Zhenga Rinpoche prepared, which are thirteen important texts that we should study. Also when we were in college we couldn’t study anything else, we only concentrated on that. For example, sometimes a teacher was teaching Tibetan medicine, but in general, we couldn’t follow when we were in college. We couldn’t even read history books.

Basically, we needed to concentrate on these texts. When I was in college I was a very fortunate person because I had a very good teacher. My teacher always gave me permission to participate when there was some important teachings, saying, “Oh, it is necessary for you to receive that teaching.” It was important because I have the name of a reincarnation. All my friends in college did not have these names. When someone is a reincarnation, later they must become a teacher. They must understand everything, not only these five or thirteen books. So, even if I was in college, I did not know how many things were important.

For example, I received Dzogchen Semde, Longde, Upadesha that belongs to the Nyingmapa school. At that period I was in the Sakyapa college. Until I was nine years old, I grew up in Sakyapa monastery. I was very expert in all things Sakyapa. But I didn’t know anything else, any other schools. Once when I was in college, my younger brother died. In Tibet when someone dies, we need to do a puja or purification, etc., for 49 days. For that purpose, my teacher gives me permission to go to my home to do this puja. When I went home we invited many teachers, different teachers, and they gave some Teachings. I received these Teachings also.

Nyingma Kama (rnying ma bka’ ma)

Particularly, my second elder sister had a husband who was a very intellectual person and an expert of the knowledge of the Nyingmapa school. Once we invited a teacher for doing a puja for my brother’s death and that teacher was a very famous Nyingmapa called Negyab Rinpoche. During the time he was in our home he also gave an initiation of shitro. That was the first time I received a shitro initiation. Then the husband of my sister said, “Oh, when this teacher is finished here, he will return to his monastery, his place of retreat, and he will give a teaching called Nyingma Kama.” I had no idea what Nyingma Kama was. Of course, I knew Nyingma, the Nyingmapa school, was connected with that. Then he said, “It is very important that you receive that teaching.”

But I didn’t know what it was and I was not very interested. But I did not remain indifferent. I sent a person and wrote letters to my teacher of the college. I said, “There is a teacher called Negyab Rinpoche and he will give this Teaching called Nyingma Kama. I don’t know what this teaching is, but someone told me it is very important. What do you think, is it necessary for me to receive this teaching? If I try to get this teaching will you give me permission time to receive that?” My teacher replied very positively. He said, “This is very important. It is the root of the  Dzogchen Teaching and the Nyingmapa teaching. You should receive that, it is not so easy to receive from all teachers.”

He also said that Negyab Rinpoche (gnas rgyab rin po che) is a very good teacher, and he gave me sufficient time with permission. But always when he gave me permission, then he would say, for example, two or three months: “For three months I am giving these teachings in college to study. You should also guarantee that you have studied that. And when you come back, you should do an examination.” So, I always accepted that and I always succeeded to do that. So, my teacher was really very happy when I did these things, saying, “You are really very intelligent and you did well.”

So, my teacher gave me that permission. And he said, “You should learn what I am giving in that period, all five or six texts of the Madhyamika. You should learn that root text, study well, and when you come back, you should do an examination. There is one of these six texts called Rigpa Trugchupa (rigs pa drug cu pa, yuktiaṣṭīkā), you should learn that root text in memory.” I promised to do that.

Then later after we finished these pujas I returned to the monastery. I went to my teacher and he had already started this teaching and I missed three or four days, I don’t remember. And the teacher gave me these teachings also. Then I followed this teaching day after day. But there was one of his students, a khenpo, he was giving the transmission of the lung of all these texts.

Namchö Mingyur Dorje

The khenpo was a studied one. I went him and said, “Please, can you teach me Tsawa Sherab (rtsa ba shes rab), the root text of the Madhyamika?” He promised to teach. Then when we had a little free time I always went to this khenpo and he gave me lessons and I studied very well. When I finished the study I had a dream, in the dream I met a very important terton called Namchö Mingyur Dorje (gnam chos mi ‘gyur rdo rje). So, when I searched for Namchö Mingyur Dorje after he disappeared, I found an old person. I asked this old person, “Where is Namchö Mingyur Dorje?” He said, “I don’t know.” But I after a little while I said, “I saw Namchö Mingyur Dorje under this tree.” Then he said, “If there is Namchö Mingyur Dorje under that tree then he must be there.” He said that and then he is saying, “Ha ha ha!”, laughing, and when he was laughing he became that old teacher of these initiations. Then I felt very bad because I was not respectful. The next day I went to the teacher and told him I had this dream. He said that Namchö Mingyur Dorje’s original residence is his monastery. Also, the body of the Namchö Mingyur Dorje is in the stupa. That means if you had that dream that you have some connection of the transmissions of Namchö Mingyur Dorje. So, he gave me this advice. And later when I talked with the husband of my sister he said, “Oh, then it is very important you should ask to receive transmissions of all Namchö Mingyur Dorje’s terma Teachings.”

I said, “But how can we ask, it is not sufficient only to ask, we need to prepare everything, also spend time for preparing the mandala offering, etc.” He said, “You don’t worry, you remain here to receive the teaching and for a few days I am going around” and he prepared everything. Then I went to the teacher and said, “I had this dream that my friend said it’s very important to receive this teaching, can you give me this teaching?” Also, it takes longer, because there are 13 volumes for all the terma teaching. It is not necessary to receive all, for many of these only transmission of the lung. But then the teacher said, “Ok”, when we finish the Nyingma Kama he will give. Then we were very happy.

But I am not worried for my college because my college teacher gave a teaching of six texts, and it takes long time. When I returned to college he did only five texts and one was still not finished. Then we received all Namchö Mingyur Dorje’s teaching from the Negyab Rinpoche (gnas rgyab rin po che). Then I became relaxed and when it was finished there was one of my relations nearby a sacred place; a very nice place for doing personal retreat. First I went only to visit this place, to see what it was like. After I arrived there that day, I did not return.

Pema Karpo

I said I wanted to stay in the retreat place for one week. I did the practice of the Ngöndzog Gyalpo (mngon rdzogs rgyal po), the root practice of the Longde. Later I went back to college. Of course my teacher was very happy. He said, “Oh, you received Nyingma Kama, very very good.”  He was very happy. When he gave a teaching for all his students, he asked me three questions from this root text. I replied and he was very satisfied, “Oh, perfect. Now you learned this text Rigpa Trugchupa (rigs pa drug cu pa)” in memory. I said, “Not only Rigpa Trugchupa (rigs pa drug cu pa), I also learned in memory the root text of the main text of the Madhyamika Tsawa Sherab (rtsa ba shes rab) that has many pages. But before I went back I learned it in memory very quickly. So then he ask me Rigpa Trugchupa (rigs pa drug cu pa) some places, “From here you read”, then I read just a little from memory, and then again he asked Tsawa Sherab (rtsa ba shes rab) three or four times from different places. My teacher is very satisfied. He said, “Oh, you are really Pema Karpo.” By Pema Karpo he meant I was the reincarnation of Pema Karpo, who was the dharmaraja of Bhutan. The Karmapa recognized me as that reincarnation. So, in the Kagyupa Drugpa Kagyu, Pema Karpo is the most learned scholar and also realized being in that Drugpa Kagyu tradition. That was the period of the 5th Dalai Lama.

The Fifth Dalai Lama is negating also Pema Karpo’s philosophy, his commentaries, etc. But he said Drugpa Chanag Chugcigla Pema Karpo Purengtsam, those are the words of the 5th Dalai Lama. It means in all of Drugpa Kagyu there are no scholars, maybe there are many good practitioners, but no scholars. Drugpa Chanag Chugcig (‘brug pa bya nag khyug gcig) means [the Drukpas are] just like a group of black birds. Then Pema Karpo Purengtsam, Pema Karpo is a little white, but not complete. So Pema Karpo is unique. So, you see, the 5th Dalai Lama considered Pema Karpo to be high level. So my teacher, among all the students present, at that time he said,  “You are really Pema Karpo”, he said. I was very satisfied.

So, I did the examination, my teacher was satisfied, and I received all these teachings. Sometimes when I finished my college, after many months my teacher gave me permission to go to Ayu Khandro. I received a very important series of five Dzogchen Teachings. And later my teacher of college he was very very satisfied. That was my last examination of college. So, this is an example, even I was in college, my teacher gave me permission to study.


For example, one of the students who was the daughter of a very important teacher who was an expert of the Kalachakra. She came there to ask the teacher to give a commentary of the Kalachakra written by Mipham. She told me, “Oh, the teacher will give me this Kalachakra commentary sooner or later.” Then I said, “I can ask my teacher also because I received that teaching.” She said, “Oh, this will not be so easy for you. For following the teaching of the Kalachakra you should know the entire system of astrology.” This lady was very expert in astrology. I asked, “Can you teach what is necessary in astrology? And I will study this secretly in college.” I promised I would never study in the day time, only at night when all the other students were sleeping. In that moment I would close my window and in the nighttime I studied astrology. She gave me permission and then she started to teach me. And after few months I learned all the basic astrology I needed for the Kalachakra. Then in the summertime I went for almost three months with my uncle Khyentse Rinpoche and also my teacher, they needed a little more money for reconstructing temples, etc. So to make money I went to the North which is called Dzachukha (rdza chu kha). I went around and doing pujas with a group of monks.

In the end we received so many animals and objects and we put these offerings towards the college and monastery of my uncle, half and half. During the time I was traveling, I could choose to have six monks with me. There was one monk called Kalzang Tsering, who was an expert in astrology. Also traveling day after day with him, I studied astrology even though I already knew what was necessary for the Kalachakra, but there are also Yangchar (dbyangs ‘char) and Tujor (dus sbyor). So I studied all. Then later when we returned, one day my teacher said he was going to give this Kalachakra. I went to my teacher saying, “Oh, please, give me also, can I participate?” He said, “It is not so easy for you, because you should learn astrology. In astrology what is necessary is every day to understand the characteristic junctions and also constellations and their relationships. There is a text called Ngandu (lnga ‘dus) which means there are five arguments that if you know, you can do the calendar.” I said, “I learned already Ngandu (lnga ‘dus), but not only that, I know also Zana (gza’ lnga)  and Tujor (dus sbyor). The teacher was very surprised. He gave me permission and I received the Kalachakra. He gave four tantras of medicine also to a small group of the people who were studying medicine. I also received that, I asked and he told me, you can do if you promise that you don’t do practice or use what he was giving lessons on.

So, I also learned these four tantras from him. That is example of how my teacher in college was fantastic; he was very good. He gave me many particular possibilities. And he was always explaining when he gave a teaching at the beginning, he would say, “Oh, you should learn everything in a very precise way, you should be in the real knowledge. Otherwise everybody can say, “Oh, you have the name of a reincarnation, so you are considered special”, but you are not special if you are not a studied one.” He explained by using many examples of how a title is not important if you are not studied. This is how I learned in my college. For that reason I had a very good occasion to learn everything. I was also reading history etc., and my mind became more and more open.

Transcript Anna Rose

Editing Naomi Zeitz

Tibetan and final editing with the kind assistance of Fabian Sanders and Adriano Cleme

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