The Six Liberations – trolwa trugden

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

Hong Kong, 2012, May 16th. An excerpt from Rinpoche’s teachings during the Song of the Vajra Retreat, continued from The Mirror, issue 161, September 2023.

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

We need to have a teacher, but not one who has only studied in college or just knows how to explain from a book. A teacher should have perfect knowledge of Dzogchen and that knowledge should be alive. A teacher has no need for books and is able to introduce [the student] to knowledge of Dzogchen in a perfect way. This is the kind of teacher we need for teaching Dzogchen. 

But we should not think that Dzogchen books are not necessary or important. They are very important because teachers, too, are always learning, reading and measuring their knowledge against what they read. Students should also learn in that way. When you receive direct introduction from the teacher, you may think that you have received some knowledge and that this knowledge is perfect. However, you cannot be a hundred percent sure, so it is essential that later on you study, learn and read some original texts in order to make comparisons and develop. So all these tantras and lung and men-ngag texts are indispensable in Dzogchen teaching. 

Why is this men-ngag series secret? There are two reasons: one is because of the experiences of teachers. In general teachers give teachings according to the way they are explained in tantras, lungs and Dzogchen books because they are official teachings and should continue in that way. However, when we apply practices, since the teacher has already had many experiences of applying and realizing these methods for years and years, he or she knows many ways to proceed a little more quickly and easily. This may not be directly explained in the tantras and lungs, so teachers secretly give these kinds of teachings to their precious students. Students learn and keep them secretly in their hearts. They do not impart them or talk to anybody about them because the teacher has given them secretly to these students.

Another reason that the men-ngag series remains secret is that there are many kinds of methods. When we use these methods we can have different kinds of experiences and visions. However, if we have no precise base, when we use these methods we can fall into dualistic vision and block all our possibilities in this life. For that reason, many Upadesha teachings are kept secret. In Dzogchen teaching we have the Dzogchen series including teachings such as yangthig and thögal that we should keep secret. When a person has a very precise base and the teacher knows how the condition of this person is, then the teacher can give this kind of teaching. 

Six Liberations – trolwa trugden 

These are called the Upadesha series and are the origin of the Dzogchen teaching. For example, the seventeen tantras I mentioned previously, related to the Dra Thalgyur, are all Upadesha tantras. In this case it doesn’t mean that they are secret but that they are condensed and essential, something like the root of all teachings. For instance, the Song of the Vajra comes from one of these tantras, which is the root from which many secondary tantras developed. Among them we have the trolwa trugden, or Six Liberations. Six Liberations refers to the contact our senses have with objects: we see, we hear and so on. We have five senses plus our mind. Mind is thinking and judging and the object of the mind is all phenomena. We include mind with our five senses so that they become six. In the Dzogchen teaching they are called the six aggregates. How can we be liberated from them? With the Song of the Vajra, for example, we sing, we hear, we see, and all of this creates a cause for liberation. 

In particular, there are many teachings on Shitro, a practice that has become well known in the Western world through what is known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. What does Shitro mean? Shi means peaceful, tro means wrathful, so when we do visualization in our inner mandala, we visualize the peaceful mandala at the center of our body and all the wrathful manifestations in our head. These are the two aspects of the manifestations – peaceful and wrathful. How are these aspects of peaceful and wrathful represented? Peaceful is something like emptiness: when we observe our thoughts, they disappear and what remains is emptiness, which is peaceful. Wrathful is when another thought immediately arises, which represents movement. Movement is related to everything connected to our energy aspect, so Shitro means peaceful and wrathful, the calm state and movement. 

Why are these two aspects present in two different places? The center of our body is like the seat of our primordial state, and its function is related to mind. We distinguish between mind and nature of mind. When our mind is in a calm state, that is similar to emptiness. When there is movement how does it arise? When we see, we hear, and so on, our senses have contact with objects and we think and judge and our thoughts arise. How do we see, how do we hear? We see when we open our eyes. Where are our eyes? In our head. Where are our ears? On our head. Where is our nose? On our head. All the organs of the senses are on the head and for that reason all contact [with objects] that we have and receive is in our head. It is as if the office of the mind is in the head.

The Sutra teaching talks about the eye consciousness, the ear consciousness and the consciousnesses of the other senses. But this doesn’t refer to the consciousness that is judging and thinking, like the mind. Eyes and ears cannot judge and think but they have their functions. What they see or receive is immediately communicated to the mind. The mind receives this and then thinks and judges. But what is thinking and judging is mind, not the consciousness of the eyes, the ears or the other organs of the senses. For that reason we say that mind is in the center of our body, not in the head. 

Since we receive information from the “office of the mind,” we believe mind to be in the head. But mind cannot be in the head because mind is connected with our consciousness, and that is connected with our primordial state, which is connected with our primordial potentiality. Any kind of potentiality that exists has its dimension and we have our dimension of the physical body. 

The head is not the center; the center is here [in the area of the heart]. When we talk about doing visualization at our heart, it means the center of our body, not the organ of the heart, which is not really at the center. We call it “heart” for doing visualization. Why is this the seat of the mind and primordial state? We have these two kinds or aspects of manifestations, but although they are two different aspects, they are not two different conditions. Their condition is always the same, only here [at the heart] their way of manifesting and working is peaceful, while here [in the head] it is wrathful, but the essence is connected with our three primordial potentialities. This is our practice of Shitro. 

The Song of the Vajra is closely related. In Shitro, all tantras on liberation, or thardrol, include trolwa trugden, the Six Liberations. Some traditions negate Dzogchen teaching, saying that it claims we can have liberation through the functions of our six senses. They say this implies that liberation from samsara is possible without any need to do practice or follow teaching. 

When we say Six Liberations, it means liberation from samsara. Many sentient beings that are in samsara have no guarantee of being liberated from it. The Song of the Vajra and the Six Syllables and so on can create a cause of liberation for these kinds of sentient beings. When they receive that cause of liberation then at some point they can join the path and sooner or later have realization. This is called liberation. 

For liberation through seeing, which we call thongdrol, we prepare mantras of the Song of the Vajra, then there is a mandala chakra with many mantras and with this potentiality when we see them, they create a good cause for liberation. Then we have the famous thödrol, or liberation through hearing. People talk about the Bardo Thödrol [Tibetan Book of the Dead], which is read or chanted to people who are dying. The principle of the Bardo Thödrol is the same as that of the Song of the Vajra. If we sing the Song of the Vajra and other sentient beings hear it, it can create a cause of liberation for these sentient beings because it has that potentiality. 

For instance, one the seventeen tantras of the Upadesha explains the quality and value of the Song of the Vajra, saying that when we sing the Song of the Vajra, even if we believe we are singing on our own, we are never alone. With the potentiality of the sound of the Song of the Vajra, millions of Dakas and Dakinis assemble and sing together with us. The tantra goes on to explain that anywhere the Song of the Vajra is sung becomes a sacred place forever, meaning that when people go there, they can receive that kind of benefit. There are many of these kinds of explanations. 

In a Sutra teaching it says that even the potentiality of the name of a buddha can cause beings to be reborn in the realm of the Devas. There is a sutra about a pond with many fish in it where the water was drying up since the weather had been very hot and the fish were starting to die. A prince saw this situation and with his friends tried to add water to the pond to help these fish, but it was already too late. The prince, who followed the teachings of Ratnasikhin, a buddha of that aeon, prayed, reciting the name of this buddha to create some benefit for the fish. After their death, the fish were all reborn in the dimension of the Devas because they had heard the name of that buddha. That was the potentiality of the name of that buddha. Buddha Shakyamuni explained this in a sutra saying that in very ancient times this prince was one of the incarnations of Buddha Shakyamuni and in a dream these Devas paid homage to him and thanked him. This is not the Six Liberations, but it is a good example, and there are many other similar examples in the Sutra teachings. 

Just like the thödrol mantras that create a cause for liberation through hearing, there is also tridrol, meaning that the potentiality of a scent can create a cause of liberation, such as incense empowered with mantras. Then we have nyongdrol, which means tasting can create a cause of liberation. Nyongdrol originally came from the Dzogchen teaching and became very diffused in the Nyingmapa tradition and later in all traditions. There are one hundred and eight ingredients in nyongdrol, some of which are very rare and not easy to find. In addition to preparing that medicine, we do practice for one or two weeks until some signs of practice manifest and the nyongdrol becomes powerful. Tasting this kind of nyongdrol can make a good cause. 

Then we have tagdrol, which are mantras prepared in a way that they have contact with our physical body. Touch is also one of our six senses. For instance, we try to place tagdrol in contact with the physical body of those who are dying, especially those who are not practitioners. In order to give some benefit to all sentient beings in general, if we have a little nyongdrol, we can dissolve it and put it in a river or stream so that it can create a good cause. This is an example of some of the many ways we can create benefit for others. 

How can we practitioners use the Six Liberations? Although practitioners don’t need to create a cause of liberation, because we already have a cause since we are already following teaching and doing practice, if we use any kind of these Six Liberations, it greatly helps to increase our clarity. For that reason practitioners also make use of them. 

The Song of the Vajra is really very famous in this field. When we do it in a short way we concentrate on six syllables. For instance, when we are doing practice at the end we dedicate with six syllables, HA A HA SHA SA MA, which we call the six syllables of Samantabhadra, representing the state of the Dharmakaya.

In transmigration, we have six lokas, or dimensions. Why are there six? Because we have five emotions. Day after day we accumulate a great deal of attachment which eventually produces our rebirth or transmigration in samsara into the dimension of the Devas, for example, or if it is something very heavy, into the dimension of the Pretas. We have three higher states and three lower states. All three are basically related with three emotions but their way of manifesting is sometimes a little different. For example, jealousy is related to attachment as well as to pride and anger. The characteristics of these emotions is to manifest jealousy, but the root is always connected with three emotions. In that way then we can have transmigration in the six lokas. Once we have purified the six lokas, what remains? We return to our real nature. In general we are going in the direction of infinite samsara, dualistic vision, but when we become aware of this, we stop, we don’t go that way, but instead we go in the reverse direction, rulog, and concentrate on our origin, Dharmakaya. In that way we can have realization. When we are in state of rulog we are in the state of HA A HA SHA SA MA. When we are going in the direction of infinite samsara, we are in the state of the sounds that are the cause of the six lokas: A SU NRI TRI PRE DU. While it is not transformation practice, when we are in our real nature we can reverse samsara and be in our real nature, which is the state of the Dharmakaya, the essence of the Song of the Vajra.   

For instance, when we want to benefit different kinds of sentient beings we can pronounce HA A HA SHA SA MA, for example. When they hear this, it can make a good cause. If we have the possibility, it is fantastic if we can pronounce the complete Song of the Vajra, but these six syllables are also good. These six syllables are not found in the Vajrayana teaching, not even in important Tantras such as the Kalachakra. They exist only in Dzogchen teaching and in Anuyoga. 

Edited by Liz Granger
Final editing by Susan Schwarz

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