Direct Introduction in Dzogchen Teaching

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

An excerpt from the Song of Vajra Retreat Hong Kong May 17, 2012. Day 2.

Rinpoche teaching in Hong Kong in 2012. Courtesy of Jing from China.

When we follow any kind of teaching it has its principles. For instance, if we follow and apply Sutra practice we need to receive a vow because this is the Sutra system. When we follow Vajrayana teaching we need to receive initiation; there is a more elevated initiation and also a  simple one. Most lower Tantras have an initiation called jenang, which means a kind of initiation but also receiving permission to do this practice. Then in the Vajrayana higher Tantras there is full initiation. 

With Vajrayana teaching, most people think that the most important thing is to receive initiation; this is the attitude of the Vajrayana tradition. However, the principle of the Dzogchen teaching is self-liberation and the path is different. In Dzogchen teaching the main point is not initiation and it is not indispensable to receive one. In Dzogchen teaching what is most important is direct introduction which is not a particular initiation but a Dzogchen method. Dzogchen teaching can be transmitted in different ways. 

Some people may have good karma or a good connection with the transmission of the teaching, just like Manjushrimitra. When he went to Garab Dorje to discuss the teachings, Garab Dorje explained [the real sense] in just a few words and Manjushrimitra awakened. This means that he received direct transmission. However, it is not necessary to do this in a ritual or a particular way. Sometimes people who have these kinds of opportunities and good karma can receive transmission simply by hearing an explanation. But it is not easy for most people, only for those who have a good connection. This is also related more to the aspect of Sutra.

In the Vajrayana system when we receive initiation we can also receive direct introduction to Dzogchen. In Vajrayana there are four kinds of initiations. The first three are related to empowering our Body, Speech and Mind. When the teacher places the vase on our head, this is the initiation of the Body because the vase represents our dimension which contains our primordial potentiality and primordial state. When the teacher prepares for the initiation, he or she visualizes the mandala and empowers the vase with it so that when it is placed on our head it empowers us and we receive the potentiality of the mandala. When we receive that, we can work with the practice of transformation and also have that kind of realization. This is the initiation of the Body. 

Then when the teacher touches our neck with a kapala containing nectar and gives us this nectar to taste, this is the initiation of the Voice. When we visualize the three vajras, the white OM, the red A and the blue HUM in our three places, these three places represent our three vajra potentialities. This is the reason the kapala touches that place. When we receive the empowered nectar and we taste it, we are receiving the initiation of the Voice and in that moment the teacher empowers us with the most important mantra of that practice. 

Then there is the principal symbol of the manifestation. For instance, if we are receiving the initiation of Vajrapani, the symbol of Vajrapani is the vajra. When we do the visualization of the vajra at the center of our body, inside the vajra we visualize the seed syllable HUM. For that reason the teacher empowers the vajra with mantra and touches it to our heart. If we are receiving the initiation of Simhamukha or Vajrayogini, the trigug [ritual curved knife] that is held in the right hand of the visualization is the symbol of the state of the mind in the initiation. When we are empowered through the symbols this is the initiation of the Mind. 

Then there is what is called the fourth initiation. Sometimes in Vajrayana higher Tantras it is called tsigwang, which means initiation of the Word because the teacher reads some verses with a very deep meaning, but does not explain them, and we are empowered. This reading empowerment is more traditional. This is called the fourth initiation. If we combine it with Dzogchen, at this point we can receive direct introduction to Dzogchen and so in the Dzogchen teaching, this is the most important point of the initiation.

When we approach Dzogchen in a more formal way, we use initiations particularly in the Anuyoga style. Some of you may have received Nyingthig Yazhi teachings. The Nyingthig Yazhi are all Dzogchen teachings rather than Anuyoga but there are many kinds of initiations.

In Vajrayana teaching there are always four different kinds of initiations and since most people have a Vajrayana point of view in the Nyingthig Yazhi teaching we find four initiations. But even though they are called four initiations they are not the four Vajrayana initiations of Body, Speech, Mind and then the fourth initiation. In Dzogchen teaching there are four ways to give initiations: tröche, trömed, shintu trömed and rabtu trömed. Tröche means working more with the conceptual mind and preparing relative circumstances. If we are doing  tröche then there is also the symbol of the mandala. But we do not transform and do this kind of visualization of the mandala as it is done in Vajrayana style. It is only a symbol of the real condition of the vajra body of the individual, because everybody has a vajra body and three primordial wisdoms. These symbols are sometimes presented like a mandala. 

Then there are also other materials to prepare. For example, in order to introduce the state of knowledge of Kadag and Lhundrub, emptiness and its self-perfected qualification, there is a crystal rock and a peacock feather. The teacher shows us the crystal rock which is like our real nature of three primordial wisdoms. Our real nature is clear, pure and limpid and for that symbol essence, clarity and energy are presented using a crystal rock. Our primordial potentiality is explained as being without interruption. 

Our three different kinds of energy are represented by the peacock feather. We use a peacock feather because that primordial potentiality in our real nature that we have since the beginning is not created or developed through practices or methods. When we look closely at a peacock feather we can see that there is something just like the thigle that we use in the Guruyoga visualization. Nobody has painted the peacock feather, it is natural, and that is why we use it. When the teacher introduces these objects one at a time in a more ritual way this is called  tröche. Trömed means that we don’t need these elaborations. The teacher explains what transmission means. 

In Vajrayana and particularly in Dzogchen teaching transmission is indispensable. We cannot practice using methods of Dzogchen teaching or Vajrayana without receiving transmission. In Vajrayana transmission is connected with initiation while in Dzogchen teaching it is mainly through direct introduction. However, there is no possibility to receive direct transmission unless we work with all three kinds of transmission (oral, symbolic, direct). Some people think that direct transmission means something secret and that they should ask the teacher to give them this direct transmission. This idea is wrong. When a teacher gives Dzogchen teaching he or she is always transmitting [knowledge]. 

For instance, I told you that the most important practice in Dzogchen teaching is Guruyoga, the essence of the method that I explained yesterday, with the visualization of the white A representing our primordial state. After we have done that visualization we relax and then we are in the state of Guruyoga. I transmitted that teaching to you orally and so it is called oral transmission. Likewise if we do direct introduction, the teacher has to explain to the student how to receive the direct transmission. He or she explains that firstly we should do this, secondly we should do that, and so on in order to receive direct transmission. In that way you learn what you should do. This is oral transmission. It doesn’t mean we discover our real nature, but only that we discover what we should do. But it is indispensable. This is called oral transmission. 

Then we have many symbolic transmissions. I always give the important example of the mirror in order to understand the difference between the condition of mind and the nature of mind. We can discover the difference by comparing the mind and its nature to reflections in a mirror and the potentiality of the mirror because they are very similar. Also when we consider self-liberation, we don’t need an antidote to liberate us like in Sutra, we don’t need any kind of method of transformation. Self-liberation means that when thoughts arise we do not follow them. When thoughts arise in our mind we usually start to judge or to follow them and think how things will be. Those are mental concepts and even though we always go ahead in that way, it is dualistic vision. Self-liberation means that when thoughts arise or when we see, we hear, we have contact  with objects through our senses, this contact and the thoughts that arise from it are not a problem. The problem is that we become distracted by them, we do not have presence and due to this we cannot be in our real nature because we are immediately conditioned by mind, by thought.

We can also use the example of the mirror to understand self-liberation. For instance, whether good or bad reflections appear in the mirror, the nature of the mirror is not conditioned or influenced by the reflection. The reflections are only a manifestation of the potentiality of the mirror. It is the same with self-liberation. If we are in our real nature we are not conditioned. So you see the symbols that we use, such as the peacock feather and the crystal rock, are very important to help us understand and discover. At times we cannot explain in words but when we use symbols we can understand because a symbol has that kind of potentiality. In the relative condition, for example, we cannot put a big dimension in a small one, it is something of a contradiction, but if we use a mirror, even though the dimension of the mirror is very small we can see the reflection of an enormous mountain in it. This is an example of many kinds of functions for going beyond our limitations even though at times we don’t understand them. 

For instance, once when I was doing thögal practice a thigle appeared. Outside it was a single thigle just like a thigle of five colors, while inside it there were also five thigles, four of them were in the four corners just like a mandala. But between these thigles there was no empty space. When I have some visions, in order to remember them later on when I finish practice I try to draw them, however, when I tried to draw this thigle with five thigles inside, I discovered it was impossible because some empty space always remained. I thought that perhaps it was  my idea, that perhaps I was not seeing something concretely that way. The next time I did this practice I observed very well and it existed perfectly. I couldn’t draw it but I could see it. This is an example of something symbolic becoming important. 

The final goal of Vajrayana is Mahamudra, mudra meaning ‘symbol’, so mahamudra means “total” in the symbol. This means entering the non-duality of the development stage and accomplishment stage through that symbol. Why do we get in that state? Because by visualizing the pure dimension of the manifestation of deities and so on, we develop the pure dimension and as the final goal we enter this symbol.  The mandala is a symbol, the deities are symbols, all forms and colors are symbols, nothing exists concretely. The symbolic transmission is something connected with these things.

So in general there is oral transmission, symbolic transmission and direct transmission. In the Dzogchen teaching direct introduction is indispensable. Why is it called direct introduction? In Vajrayana teaching we work in a symbolic way, while in Anuyoga, which is non-gradual, when we do Guruyoga we use a visualization such as Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Garab Dorje or another form. When we visualize a figure in front of us, even though it is the pure dimension, it is always a dualistic concept because we are here and the manifestation is in front of us. In addition we are doing this visualization with our mind, judging and thinking. This is not direct. Direct introduction means directly from mind to nature of mind. When we do Guruyoga, what should we do with our mind? When we have already done the visualization of the white A in a thigle, now we are in that clarity and we are no longer thinking, this becomes the state of Guruyoga, directly from mind to nature of mind. This is the characteristic of how we should approach the Dzogchen teaching. 

Although direct introduction is indispensable, it doesn’t mean that we always need to receive it in a formal way. In the Nyingthig Yazhi it talks about tröche and trömed. Trömedmeans not using any kind of method, only making the student understand simply through oral transmission or symbolic transmission. The teacher explains and then the student can get in that state.

Shintu trömed means that it is not even necessary for the teacher to explain very much in an intellectual way what Dzogchen is. Dzogchen means our real nature and we should be in that state. The teacher gives advice about how we can get in that state in different ways. There are many different ways. For instance, shintu trömed is only a very symbolic way. For example, the teacher may ask the student: “Go over there and get that chair”. The student has the idea that now he is going to take this chair. The moment that he goes ahead the teacher may instantly stop him and he may have a little hedewa. If he has a good connection with the teaching, in that moment his instant presence may arise. This is already a kind of initiation or direct introduction called shintu trömed. Rabtu trömed means not even that is needed. But it is not easy for ordinary people to receive these kinds of introduction. 

Even though it is not tröche, which involves many preparations, we can still do the introduction using the trömed system, which is what I use when I give direct introduction. We don’t need any kind of preparation but I simply explain what you should do. When you receive this kind of direct introduction you may not be a hundred percent sure you have discovered your real nature, but it doesn’t matter because you have received that transmission. You will remember how you did that direct transmission with the teacher and when you have time, when you have the possibility, in a place where no people are disturbing you, you can repeat it many times until you discover. It becomes your practice because in Dzogchen teaching in order to do practice you should discover your real nature. If you don’t discover it, you have no base of Dzogchen, just like a field  in which there is no seed. Even though you water it and care for it every day nothing will grow. In the same way it is very important that we discover our real nature. 

Even if we do not discover it ourselves we should try to follow teachings when there is a teacher, when there is transmission, when there is a retreat. When a teacher gives Dzogchen teaching, he or she always gives an introduction. Particularly when we are with a teacher, the teacher always makes us understand how to discover our real nature. 

For example, when I met my teacher Changchub Dorje until the time that he gave me initiation and later direct introduction I thought that he was not giving any teachings. I spent more than one month with him, always thinking how strange he was to never give teaching. But later, after I received that direct transmission, even when I was talking to him, sometimes he would say something that would make me understand and discover my real nature. So many things can be teachings and transmissions and it is very important that we know the value of the teaching.

Edited by Liz Granger
Final editing by Susan Schwarz

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