An Essay on Tawa – Gompa – Chöpa

Up Close and Personal

by Jacqueline Gens

Some years ago, I dreamt of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu nudging me to teach the Tawa-Gompa-Chöpa (view, meditation, conduct) triad in Merigar. The dream suggested a seat not on any throne or elegant place but a comfortable winged chair from my home in public housing for seniors.  Naturally, this seemed strange, even amusing as I am not a teacher in our community but a somewhat Bohemian poet, politically progressive and an ardent feminist.  Fortunately, Dzogchen can sustain anyone despite their personal identities. Thus, I sincerely hope that Santi Maha Sangha teachers and all practitioners of Dzogchen spend some time contemplating this three-fold process – a cornerstone of his teaching as it is beyond any belief system, doctrine, or nationality! 

In an early booklet (187E) about SMS Teachers’ Trainings created from transcripts of oral teachings given at Tashigar Norte from 2002-2005, Rinpoche spoke the following: “Remember that we have tawa, gompa, and chöpa. Tawa, the view is related more to intellectual studies, what we learn. Gompa means being in the knowledge and dealing with it in one’s existence. Chöpa means attitude; if one is too limited, doing something wrong and creating problems between students, then your chöpa is not good.”

tawa gompa chöpa

Rinpoche giving a SMS 2nd level retreat at Lower Khandroling, Tsegyalgar East, USA. Jacqueline is standing last on the right

When I began to go more deeply into the topic examining how the view introduces our presence and awareness. supports our practice and integration in everyday life through conduct, much to my delight, a greater understanding of the view arose. Many of us dream of our Master, so I did not think it any special sign other than honoring with gratitude his living presence among us beyond time and space where he is still teaching us. This inquiry also brought me closer to the essence of his great compassion and patience with us. While I am not a scholar nor the best of practitioners, I have spent most of my adult life dedicated to the Teachings from various Teachers and lineages, as well as practicing SMS since 1994. 

Over the years, I have often heard from other practitioners that SMS is only intellectual. This is entirely untrue as each level presents hundreds and hundreds of hours of practices coordinated with the view to experience a taste of the result to enhance our knowledge. For long time students, we all know that this SMS training was very important to Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. Why is this so? Many times, he spoke of the base for continuing Dzogchen in the future, uncorrupted and pure. An easy way to manage the vast subject matter is through this integrative process of Dawa, Gompa, and Chöpa.

Although Dzogchen is not a linear path, it does have aspects of structure to assist one’s development.  For me, Tawa, Gompa, and Chöpa became the rough hewn signposts far and few between that slowly furthered my evolution as an individual committed to staying the course during easy and difficult times.  While there are many different translations of this phrase, Rinpoche has taught it over and over beginning with his earliest retreats.

I first became aware of this phrase often translated as View, Meditation and Conduct in SMS and later during SMS teacher exams where the emphasis in many of the examinations seemed to be within the framework of this approach.  While practitioners of Dzogchen can follow their own path based on interest and capacity as there are many choices, for me, the choice was always SMS. 

That prompted me to further investigate this explanation over the years from sutra, thru tantra and even the limited knowledge I have of Yantra and other movement practices. For me, it resonated as a resourceful method for retaining knowledge which often fades in old age, whereas concrete experiences tend to be recollected with greater ease even when words leave us. It also assisted me in navigating the ineffable and ungraspable tenants of Dzogchen. The triad of Tawa, Gonpa, and Chöpa presented by Rinpoche was my simple road map into the vast wilderness of the unknown rather than mere intellectual inquiry while living an active worldly life. And for this, I maintain infinite gratitude to him and my Vajra community. 

At some point, I was amazed how this process synchronized to the three statements of Garab Dorje and Dzogchen Upadeshas introduced to us by our Master over many years, as well as the classic Trikaya of Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanikaya. I found this interdependence very useful in understanding how a precise view thru concrete introduction leads to experiences of various practices to stabilize the view, especially guru yoga, and finally in continuity of our primordial state whether in stillness or movement. A marvelous skillful means for someone limited like me. And this is not false modesty but based on observing my many limitations. For we all know very well those special words “observe yourself” and “integrate with circumstances.”

These are not my assumptions. Those who have read Rinpoche’s book, Teaching in a Perfect Way, can relate how important this process was to him.  Later, I began to see that all SMS levels followed this tripartite process. The above quote is repeated again almost exactly (Shang Shung Publications, 2021, pp 98-99) in Teaching in a Perfect Way. There are many such similar quotes throughout this amazing text.

We are living in an era of dark times. “Civilizations Come and Go” the Greek philosopher Herodotus wrote. We are no exceptions given that all phenomena are impermanent.  We can easily observe this personally and historically. 

At the conclusion of one SMS level, Rinpoche asked participants to plant the seeds of Dzogchen. We are his seedlings, so let us sprout to tend our garden for the benefit of all to enjoy in the future.  I appeal to old and young practitioners in age and experience. Death is inevitable – it’s never too late to dive in deep. The rewards are immeasurable even in the present! 

Any mistakes here derive from my ignorance and the lack of clarity of an old lady. Nonetheless, I’ve tried to fulfill the Master’s directive within my  capacity from the personal twilight of dreamtime. Best Wishes to all—

Jacqueline Gens, in old age devotes her time to practice, studying and composing poems increasingly in solitude following the instruction –

“I always advise people to study the Dzogchen tantras and lungs, and compare them with what I teach. This is the real way to learn.”  Quote by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu from An Oral Explanation on the Vision of Clear Light by Patrul Rinpoche,  (pp. 54-55, 2007 Shang Shung Edizioni)

Tsegyalgar East
June 4, 2023 Saga Dawa
In the year of the Water Rabbit

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