Chögyal Namkhai Norbu
An excerpt from Day 1, May 16th.
Good day to everybody everywhere. We are in Hong Kong and our retreat is starting. We have a program to mainly learn about the Song of the Vajra, which is the essence of the Dzogchen teaching. This is our topic for these days and what we will be learning so I want to explain a little about it.
There are three sources of the Dzogchen teaching: we have tantras, lung, and upadesha, or mennag. Just as in Vajrayana teaching there are different kinds of tantras, there are in Dzogchen teaching as well, and the original root texts are Dzogchen tantras. But even though there are many different kinds of tantras, the most important and original Dzogchen tantras are seventeen in number. These are considered the most ancient and the first Dzogchen teaching to have appeared in our human dimension. The root of these tantras is called the Dra Thagyur and it was taught by one of the most ancient teachers of Dzogchen.
The Dzogchen teaching explains that there were twelve particular teachers of Dzogchen in very ancient times. Among these twelve teachers the most important and most ancient one was called Nangwa Tampa, who taught and transmitted the Dra Thalgyur tantra. In addition, there were sixteen other tantras explaining in more detail all the different aspects and topics. In general we consider these to be the most important and original tantras of Dzogchen.
These tantras were transmitted in very ancient times, but with the passing of time many different circumstances arose and these teachings didn’t remain. There are periods of time that are considered illuminated but also periods that are dark. It was in these dark eras that all kinds of teachings disappeared and only a few remained called nyengyüd. These nyengyüd teachings were not written in books and only consisted of a few words. Even at the time of Tönpa Nangwa Tampa, in very ancient times, there still existed some of these kinds of nyengyüd. In the Dzogchen teaching, for example, when we are doing more elaborate transmissions of the rigpai tsal wang in formal transmissions, we use this kind of transmission of the oral teachings.
However, at the time of Guru Garab Dorje, who was the first and most important teacher in our era, no more Dzogchen tantras existed; they had all disappeared from this globe. But as Garab Dorje was an emanation of Buddha, a totally enlightened being, he was able to repeat all of the most important tantras. This ‘omniscience’ is the quality of an enlightened being as they are in a state beyond time and space. For instance, we are in time and space; if there is a wall in front of us, we cannot go beyond that wall, or see what is beyond it because we have that kind of condition. Enlightened beings do not have this problem. When we learn scientifically how much time it takes to receive light from the stars in our dimension, we understand how distant they are. This means that we are limited in space. But enlightened beings are beyond being in that state and do not have this problem. This is the reason that many enlightened beings have been able to introduce and transmit teachings from different dimensions into our dimension.
When we learn about Vajrayana teaching we find that there are different kinds of manifestations of deities, with different forms, different colors, and so on. They are called sambhogakaya manifestations, but what does sambhogakaya mean? It means manifestations from the potentiality of our real nature. For instance, we are all composed of five elements. However, these five elements are the material aspect; the real nature of these five elements is five colors. Sambhogakaya means the manifestation of the pure dimension, just like the five colors, not the material aspect. How is this possible? In the Dzogchen teaching there is a precise explanation.
Everybody has primordial potentiality. This primordial potentiality consists of sound and light and rays, which are called the three primordial potentialities. First of all sound manifests from emptiness. When we speak about dharmakaya, the dimension of the dharmakaya is emptiness. In Sutra teaching it is dharmadhatu in Sanskrit, dharma meaning all phenomenas, all existence, dhatu its real condition, that is, emptiness. Dharmadhatu or shunyata is the same principle. This is our real condition.
Our condition is the state of Dzogchen because Dzogchen means our real condition. Dzogchen is not a book or a tradition. Dzogchen books contain Dzogchen teaching; we read and study them to discover what Dzogchen is. Dzogchen is our real nature, our real condition, which is emptiness. But even though this condition is emptiness, it has infinite potentiality, otherwise only being emptiness, it has no value.
Intellectually when we talk about Dzogchen we say that it is the non-duality of kadag and lhundrub. Kadag means pure since the beginning, that is, emptiness. Lhundrub means infinite qualities, the self-perfected state. Our real condition is the non-duality of those two. To discover that we have Dzogchen teaching and many Dzogchen books. In this case the original teaching taught by important teachers is called Dzogchen tantras.
It is important to know what tantra really means. You may have studied and learned about the Hindu tradition which uses Hindu tantras. In the Buddhist Vajrayana tradition there are also tantras as well as in Dzogchen teaching. But in the Vajrayana tradition and particularly in Dzogchen teaching tantra also means our condition, our real nature. The real sense of the word, tantra, means continuation, without interruption. How can we discover this in our real nature?
We can understand it simply by observing our condition in an ordinary way: we try to observe our thoughts. Buddhist teaching tells us to observe and discover where thoughts come from, where they are and where they disappear to. This is called ‘byung gnas grol gsum. It means that we observe our thoughts one by one to discover their source. Thoughts continually arise and everybody can understand what thought is. But when thought arises and we observe this thought, it disappears. Observing thought we can discover this by ourselves. In the teaching, in order to learn something we should apply [a method] and have an experience so that we can understand it concretely.
When we observe a thought, it disappears, but immediately another thought arises. We think that we cannot find anything because that thought has disappeared, but this itself is also a thought. We observe this thought, but it, too, disappears and another thought immediately arises.
Between one thought and another there is also empty space. Sometimes we can discover this empty space, sometimes we cannot because thought arises very quickly. However, if we do a practice like shine, calm state with fixation, when we become a little familiar with this practice we can discover the calm state without thought a little more. Sometimes we can remain for a few seconds without having any thoughts and then we know that we are developing our practice of shine.
But what is this emptiness? Emptiness and thought are both part of our real nature. When we say that our real nature is kadag and lhundrub, kadag is emptiness in which there is no thought. We can discover this in a dualistic way through our experience of emptiness. We can have many different kinds of experience of emptiness. When we do shine and there is no thought, we can continue for a longer time in that condition. It means that we are experiencing and being in emptiness. But we should be careful and not consider that this is dharmakaya. There are some teachers who explain that this state is dharmakaya. Emptiness is a kind of experience, and the movement of thought is also a kind of experience. With experiences we can discover our real nature, and go beyond that. But if we consider that this is dharmakaya we will not have that realization. We must distinguish between our state of dharmakaya and experience.
When we learn Dzogchen teaching there are some important practices at the beginning called rushen. Rushen means first of all separating mind from the nature of mind. Most people live in their minds. We think about everything with our minds and even the nature of mind is a concept of the mind. After rushen there are practices called semdzin. Sem means mental concept, so going beyond that. Mental concepts are related to different kinds of experiences: the experience of sensation, experience of vision, experience of emptiness, and so on. They are not the condition of our real nature but they are indispensable for discovering our real nature. That is the value of mental concepts.
If we want to be in the state of Dzogchen we have to go beyond mind. If we remain in our mental concepts we can never be in the state of Dzogchen. Some people consider that all mental concepts are negative, but in Dzogchen teaching we make use of mental concepts. To give an example, when the teacher gives a direct introduction, there is no way to do it if we do not use experiences, and experiences are related to mental concepts.
When we learn Dzogchen teaching, it is essential to remember the example of the mirror. It doesn’t mean the melong that we wear around our neck or that we use in a ritual way. It means any kind of mirror. In modern houses there are a lot of different kinds of mirrors, even in the bathroom. We need to understand how a mirror works: it has infinite potentiality to manifest any kind of reflection. Whether it is a very big or small object, with different colors or shapes everything can manifest precisely. The mirror doesn’t need any program because it has this kind of potentiality. In the same way we all have this primordial potentiality, just like the potentiality of the mirror. How can we discover that the mirror has infinite potentiality? When we stand in front of it our figure immediately appears, without any type of program. We can see hundreds of things in a mirror and even if there is a giant mountain, we can still see it even in a small mirror because the mirror has that kind of potentiality. We can discover this potentiality through the reflections. If there are no reflections in the mirror, there is no way we can discover its potentiality.
In the same way we need the aspects of our mind. The mind thinks and judges, depending on the various kinds of contact taking place between our sense organs and objects of the senses. The functions of the mind, this thinking and judging, are mental concepts. When we know how to put them to use they become very important. Just as we would never be able to discover or see the potentiality of a mirror without the objects that manifest in it, without the functions of our mind [arising from sense objects] we would not be able to discover how our real potentiality is: sound and light and rays. When we know how to put them to use, they become perfect and very useful.
The teaching explains how we use our minds. In general we don’t know how our minds work and we give a lot of importance to what we are thinking in our minds. This means that mind dominates us. We are not using our minds at all; mind is dominating us and for that reason we have a lot of problems.
In the teaching we learn that we must not be a follower of the mind. Instead, we need to discover how the mind functions. Knowing how it functions is useful for having realization and also for discovering our real nature. When we know how to use the mind, then we become practitioners of Dzogchen. When we are dependent on mind, even though we are doing some kind of practice, we will not become realized. For that reason, in Dzogchen teaching, it is essential that we go beyond mind and also that we understand how the mind functions.
For instance, in the Dzogchen teaching there are teachings that are mainly tantras. This means tantras in which emptiness and movement alternate. In our existence as human beings, we have our physical body and we live in that condition. When we understand that these are different kinds of experience, then we are in our real nature. For that reason, in Dzogchen teaching tantra means something that is very close and connected to our real nature.
In addition to tantras we also have many important texts in Dzogchen teaching which are called lung. In Tibetan there are many meanings of the word lung. If, for example, I am explaining something and quote some words of Buddha from a Tantra or Sutra, this is called lung and means a quotation. Another meaning of lung is when we give a kind of permission, particularly regarding mantras. If we want to practice any kind of mantra we need to receive the lung. This means that whoever has received that lung, practiced it and produced the result can give the lung to others. Giving a lung means chanting or reading that text or mantra while others listen. They receive that sound in their ears. This is called receiving lung, and later, if one practices that mantra, he or she can produce that function. Otherwise even if a person knows the meaning of the mantra, the function of the mantra, the way to do practice, and even practices that mantra for a long time, if one hasn’t received the sound transmission, he or she can never produce its function because the function of mantras is in the sound.
Some important root mantras have manifested from the dharmakaya to the sambhogakaya through natural sound, just like this Song of the Vajra which we are learning. There are many of these root mantras in Vajrayana teaching that we can receive through initiations.. When we receive initiation the teacher empowers us with mantra, and when he pronounces that mantra, we receive the lung of the mantra, and we also know how to do the visualization. When we do this visualization and practice, and chant this mantra many times, we succeed in integrating our visualization in our real existence. At the end, in Vajrayana this is called the non-dual state of the development stage and accomplishment stage, and now we have the realization of the state of the famous Mahamudra, which means being totally beyond mental concepts and limitations.
There is no difference between the state of Mahamudra and the state of Dzogchen, but it doesn’t mean there are no different methods to get there. Dzogchen applies the method of self-liberation, while Mahamudra uses transformation. Mahamudra is really the final goal of the Vajrayana tradition in the Gelugpa, Sakyapa and other schools.
The way that Mahamudra is presented in the Kagyupa tradition and others is a little different. In the Kagyupa school, Mahamudra is mainly presented as the Four Yogas of Gampopa and is very similar to the Four Contemplations in Dzogchen. Even for following that kind of Mahamudra we need to receive the initiation of Chakrasambhava or similar because in Vajrayana that is always used in the development stage and accomplishment stage. Then a practitioner progresses from the development stage to the accomplishment stage just like in the Mahamudra system of Gampopa.
Many people believe that Gampopa’s Four Yogas, the method of Mahamudra in the Kagyupa tradition, came from an Indian tradition of Mahamudra. It is not the case. It is true, there is a Mahamudra that came from teachings of mahasiddhas like Saraha and many others, which is called chagchen gyagarma, the Mahamudra of India. But these are always related to the final goal of the Vajrayana in transformation.
The mahasiddha Virupa is very important in the Sakyapa tradition because instructions on the origins of the Hevajra tantra come from him. When we study his biography we learn that at the beginning Virupa was a very famous pandit of the Yogachara. Then he became a Vajrayana practitioner and practiced the development and accomplishment stages of the Hevajra Tantra for a long time. In the end he reached the final non-dual goal of the two stages, which means total integration, and manifested as a mahasiddha. What did he do when he manifested as a mahasiddha? Up to that moment he had been chanting this mantra of Hevajra for years and years. There are two versions of the Hevajra mantra, the longer one is called Ashtananaya, the other shorter mantra is called Deva Pitsug. He used these mantras for a long time and considered them important for integrating the development and accomplishment stages. When he realized the state of Mahamudra he threw his mala in the toilet and went away from his retreat place. He was the manifestation of a mahasiddha who is realized.
There is no history of how the Four Yogas developed, however, Gampopa’s method is very special and similar to the Dzogchen method. Gampopa’s accomplishment stage explains about the first yoga which is called tsechig, meaning one pointed. We do practice like shine, the calm state, in a one pointed way and realize the calm state.
After that there is the second level called trödral which means beyond concepts, a term that is also used in Sutra Madhyamika teaching. Nagarjuna always explained Madhyamika with the principle of trödral. This is considered going or being beyond any kind of limitations. Intellectually this is a very high level.
The third level is called rochig, which means the same flavor. Why is it called the same flavor? When we acquire knowledge it is always through methods of experiences, such as the experience of clarity, the experience of sensation, and also the experience of emptiness. These experiences are different: clarity is not emptiness, sensation is not emptiness. But when we discover being in the state of contemplation through these kinds of experiences, there do not exist different experiences. The state of contemplation is one, and even though we arrive through the experience of emptiness or sensation, it is always the same flavor. That means having real knowledge of the state of Mahamudra.
The fourth level that Gampopa presented is gomme, which means beyond meditation. Up to that point it has been necessary to use a position, work with mental concepts and meditation and so on until one is in that state of contemplation. Gomme means that life has now become meditation. One is forever in the state of Mahamudra, and realized.
The way that Gampopa presented Mahamudra is fantastic and diffused in all branches of the Kagyupa tradition. However, we should distinguish between how Gampopa presented it and how we ordinarily talk about Mahamudra. If you want to learn more concrete details about the state of Mahamudra in the Vajrayana tradition, there is a text written by Sakyapandita.
When Sakyapandita was in Beijing, in that period there was a yogi who asked him what and how the state of Mahamudra is. He explained that they follow the Vajrayana tradition, the path of transformation, and apply two stages: the development stage and then the accomplishment stage, integrating them with their existence to get to that final state which is called the state of Mahamudra. The word ‘Mahamudra’ is also used in the Gelugpa tradition, but is not as diffused as in the Sakyapa. They know about it but they do not use it very much.
In Sakyapa they use this expression, khorde yerme, which means the non-duality of samsara and nirvana. When one has this knowledge, this is the state of Mahamudra. This is how it is explained in the Lamdre teaching in the Sakyapa tradition.
In the Dzogchen teaching we also have the lung of original texts, not only the lung of the mantras. It means that when there is no possibility to explain or introduce a complete tantra, we take and introduce the most important point, which may be one or two chapters. In Dzogchen teaching this is called lung.
Then there is the third [source of the Dzogchen teachings] which is called men-ngag. What does this Tibetan word, men-ngag, mean? Men is a negation, ngag means voice, so the meaning is that we do not talk, it is secret. It is men-ngag in Tibetan, upadesha in Sankrit and it is the third group of the source of the Dzogchen teaching, tantra, lung and men-ngag. However, the most important point in the Dzogchen teaching is not books, but knowledge, understanding.
Editing by L. Granger
Final editing by S. Schwarz