Atiyoga Teaching Retreat, Day 3 Third Part

Dzamling Gar, Tenerife, December 30, 2017 

When we start any kind of practice in the Buddhist tradition at the beginning there is the Refuge and Bodhichitta. In Mahayana there are three sacred things that must not be missing. At the beginning we need to have knowledge of Refuge and Bodhichitta when we do any kind of practice, or chant mantras, or do visualization.

We know that everything is unreal, as Buddha said, and while we may not have the capacity to empower everything with the state of contemplation at least we can consider everything to be unreal and govern them with the potentiality of shunyata. Even if we have done something important we should not consider it to be concrete; it is just like a dream. Relatively it is present, but in the real sense everything is unreal. This is the second important thing.

Lastly we need to dedicate [our practice] to all sentient beings. If we do not do this dedication even if we have accumulated merits we can destroy them and they will have no benefit. In the Bodhisattvacharyavatara it says:

Whatever good deeds
Such as venerating the Buddhas, and generosity
That have been accumulated over a thousand aeons
Will be destroyed in a moment of anger.

We may have accumulated a great many good actions to offer to enlightened beings and so on, but if we do not dedicate all our good actions to sentient beings, when we feel very strong anger we can destroy it all. For that reason dedicating and empowering with mantra is very important. It is not only a good action because we are still accumulating merits, but it becomes something real, concrete, and in particular we ourselves and those sentient beings who have a strong relationship [with us] can receive those benefits. So these are the three main things that any kind of practice should not be lacking.

Taking Refuge
However, Refuge and Bodhichitta does not only mean receiving a vow or learning how to chant some words. Many people concentrate on these things. For instance in different schools of the Tibetan tradition they consider their Refuge to be more elegant, nicer than others.

There is a very short form of the Refuge practice with very few words:

Lama la kyabsu chio [I take refuge in the Lama] Sangye la kyabsu chio [I take refuge in the Buddha] Chö la kyabsu chio [I take refuge in the Dharma] Gendun la kyabsu chio [I take refuge in the Sangha]

This is the Vajrayana principle with the Three Jewels and the Guru and most people chant it that way. However in Thangtong Gyalpo’s Refuge one first takes refuge in the Guru:


I and all sentient beings infinite as the sky take refuge in the Lama who is Buddha.

Then one takerefuge in the Three Jewels:


I take refuge in the Buddha, in the Dharma and in the Sangha. 


 In Vajrayana style one takes refuge in the Guru, Deva, Dakini, the three principles of the roots. At the end it says:


 I take refuge in the Dharmakaya, the emptiness and clarity of one’s mind.

This is a more elevated way of doing the Refuge.

Some traditions use these kinds of Refuges and consider the form they use to be more elegant. But the principle of Refuge is not singing or chanting words. Singing and chanting words is to help us remember and make us understand the real sense of the Refuge.

Some people like to follow Buddhist teaching but they don’t want to be Buddhists.To them being a Buddhist means that they have to take a vow such as the Refuge. Other people take Refuge in order to feel that now they are Buddhist. Traditionally the Refuge is like a kind of passport and having taken Refuge people feel that they have become Buddhists. But this is not really Refuge, it is just like a reflection of it. Refuge means that we know that samsara is suffering, firstly for ourselves, then for our parents and all sentient beings. We need to be free from the suffering of samsara and in order to do this our final goal is to be in our real nature. This is more the Dzogchen way.

In the Vajrayana tradition there is the development stage and accomplishment stage to arrive at the non-dual state of Mahamudra that is our real nature. For that purpose we follow teaching and a teacher because we do not have this knowledge. We follow a teacher who gives us this teaching and tells us which kind of practice to do. This is really Refuge and it means we are following a path. If we are following Dzogchen Teaching this is Refuge. Why are we following Dzogchen Teaching? Not for making money, or for becoming famous but for having realization.

How can we have that realisation? Only by getting in our real nature can we discover it. We apply and follow what our teacher teaches, and if we have that intention this is Refuge, real Refuge. When we do any kind of practice we need to have present the intention that we are following a path. Recalling that [intention] is called real Refuge. Even if we don’t use any kind of words, when we have this presence we have perfect Refuge. We may have received vows, we may know how to chant the Refuge but it is 1000 times better if we have this presence that we are really following a path. This is why yesterday I gave you the example of my students who didn’t receive initiation because they said they hadn’t received a Refuge vow. I hadn’t explained it to them because I thought that they had understood a little the real sense.  

Cultivating Bodhichitta
Secondly there is cultivating Bodhichitta, which means we change a little the way our mind thinks. When we do practice such as Ati Guruyoga, we consider it to be the Dzogchen path and we take Refuge [in it]. How does Bodhichitta correspond to that? When we explain in a more intellectual way we talk about cultivating the Bodhichitta of intention and the Bodhichitta of application. Intention means that we do not remain egoistical because everybody has a very strong ego.If we want to attain realization only for our own benefit that is not cultivating Bodhichitta.

We know how important it is that we understand that our real nature is the state of Dzogchen, but how many sentient beings are ignorant of that and suffer day and night, life after life. Wanting to understand this ourselves and helping others to understand it, this is a good intention. Of course we should not be egoistic but first of all we need to realize ourselves because, if we do not, we cannot create benefits for others. For instance, if a person falls down in the street and cannot get up, we have some compassion and go there to help a little. That is a good action and relatively we should always do our best to be present in circumstances. However it will not help if person has an illness and in this case, instead of only helping if we call a doctor or bring that person to the hospital there may be a possibility to cure that person’s illness. This is applying good intention.

Starting with ourselves we do benefits for others. But it is not sufficient only to have a good idea. Intention means our ideas and we can have different kinds of ideas, both good and bad, but in a practical way applying them is important.In this moment we cannot apply total realization but we can do something related to circumstances. For that purpose in this moment we are doing Ati Guruyoga. This is application. We do the visualization and we get in that state. So, we can understand and also remember that any kind of practice we do is related to our good intention and also its application. For that reason in any kind of practice in Vajrayana, even in the lower tantras, Refuge and Bodhichitta are not lacking.

In Dzogchen teaching too, in general cultivating Bodhichitta is essential. For instance there are the words of the Anuyoga tantra that say that even though we know the nature of all sentient beings is just like Buddha, the perfected state, sentient beings do not have this knowledge, they are ignorant of it, and are always transmigrating in samsara. Now we are cultivating Bodhichitta in order to benefit others, to make them understand, and to wake them up. This is cultivating Bodhichitta in Dzogchen.

While we are learning about thun-mong in a more general way, learning about Ati Guruyoga we can have an idea about what the nature of mind or our real nature means. Although we may not discover it, we know in which direction we should go. What should we do to apply it? We cultivate Bodhichitta and develop it more and more, day after day, and since we are Dzogchen practitioners, compassion develops automatically.

Once I went to England and did a retreat for many days explaining about Dzogchen. One day one of the students asked me, “Many lamas, many teachers always explain how important bodhichitta is, how we need to develop compassion, but you never talk about this, so how do you consider this in the Dzogchen Teaching?”. I replied saying that even when I am talking what people understand and what they cultivate is artificial bodhichitta. I don’t want people to create this artificial bodhichitta but instead to discover what bodhichitta really means, that we know and understand our real nature. Then we can understand the sufferings of all sentient beings and why they are suffering in samsara. The most important thing is to cultivate bodhichitta that way so that, when you have knowledge of Dzogchen, even though I do not talk about bodhichitta even once, your bodhichitta manifests and develops, not this artificial bodhichitta. That is how I explained it to that person.

In the same way it is also indispensable that we know what bodhichitta means relatively. In Mahayana they say,

If the intention is good
also the levels and paths will be good.
If the intention is bad
also the levels and stages will be bad.

If we cultivate and apply good thoughts then everything will manifest positively, while if our intentions are negative then the results will be negative. Thus in Mahayana it is essential to cultivate bodhichitta or good intention, which means we try to benefit others, not only ourselves. This method is also important in the relative condition. Some people such as Christian practitioners are really dedicated to benefitting others, which is very good. Relatively we have many possibilities to do this in a positive way, however that is also related to our knowledge, understanding, so it is very important that we apply it that way.  

In a concrete way thun-mong signifies what we can do to have more understanding and get into the sense of the teaching directly. We should really develop this. It is the reason why many good practitioners of Dzogchen, teachers and students, develop more and more day after day, and integrate their existence in the path. Those who are ignorant of that only follow rules and do not understand the importance of being present.  

We can also learn to be present with movement.For example, if we go deeper into the Vajra Dance, we integrate with movements. When we are learning the Vajra Dance we are not in the state of contemplation because we are working with our minds thinking about where we should put our feet and which kind of gesture we should do. This is the relative condition. But when we become more familiar with the Dance, by simply being present all our movements are integrated in the state of contemplation in that moment.  

When we go to the inner essence of Dzogchen practice it means that we succeed in integrating the relative condition in contemplation. This is not at all easy when we are living in our dualistic vision in which good is good and bad is bad. In the same way we cannothave bothcontemplation and dualistic vision. We cannotjust bein the state of contemplation. Integration doesnot happen in an intellectual way, byjudging, thinking and doing analysis. So, you see it is very difficult at the relativelevel.But if we learn the method of the teaching then it is always possible, particularly when we are learning Dzogchen Teaching. So, doing Dzogchen practice means we are integrating totally.

It is not easy to integrate with our material level and visible things connected with it. It is much easier to integrate thoughts and concepts related with mind in the state of contemplation.On the material level we see an object in front of us as something concrete. We consider that although it appears to be concrete, its real nature is emptiness. But it never becomes empty. It remains something concrete because we are looking with our eyes on the material level. On the material level we can only see the material level and for that reason it is not easy to integrate. However when we are practitioners we know that there is an easier way in which we can integrate, so we learn and develop this. We become more present and this presence is with our mind. It is not something related with our senses and their contact with objects. When we apply that presence then there is a possibility to integrate.

To put it simply we can say that being present in the Dzogchen way is learning how to be in the state of integration. Even though we may not be completely in the state of contemplation, [being present] is very close and a very easy introduction to the state of contemplation. This is one of the reasons that being present is such an essential practice. After being in the state of contemplation most important is being present, so we should concentrate more on this. I am not saying you shouldn’t do other practices such as visualization of deities, chanting mantras and so on.Relatively there are also many problems for which we need to do these kinds of practices, but all these practices are after being present, so try to remember that.

Now we are doing a retreat: I am explaining, you are learning, and we are also doing some practice like Ati Guruyoga. In that moment you are trying to be present. This is all very nice, but when we finish the retreat we leave and it all becomes only the history of retreat. “A few days ago I went to Dzamling Gar and we did a nice retreat. When I was doing practice at Dzamling Gar during the retreat I found that I felt much better. Now I’ve returned home, I can’t do practice.” Many people say, “What should I do, I can’t practice!”. If you know how to integrate a little there is not much difference in being at Dzamling Gar and being in your home. That is why before you leave you should try to check whether you have learned, or not, how to do Ati Guruyoga. Whether you have learned, or not, how to relax with Ati Guruyoga. Some people say that they cannot relax because they have a lot of problems and thoughts that do not let them relax. Of course if you go after thoughts they never agree with you. But when you can relax with thoughts, then it is self-liberation. So try to do your best to learn these things that we have been doing.

Transcription by Anna Rose
Editing by Liz Granger with assistance from Elio Guarisco
Photo courtesy of Kunsangar South


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