The Garland of Views

Adriano Clemente

A talk from the first day of The Garland of Views and Guruyoga of Padmasambhava SMS Explanation and Practice Retreat given at Dzamling Gar, Tenerife, 9-13 December 2023.

garland of viewsGood day to everybody. I’m very happy to be here in Dzamling Gar and I want to thank the Gakyil for inviting me. When I come here, I always feel at home and I feel that this is a very special place for the continuation of the Dzogchen teaching. There are many Gars in the world, but this is, I think, a really special Gar because here there is the possibility for practitioners to stay for a longer time and do practice together so there is a great possibility for developing one’s knowledge. This really should be a place where all practitioners should meet and exchange their knowledge and experiences in a very active way. Then really we have great hope for the future. 

In general, in the Buddhist teachings we have Sutrayana and Vajrayana. Sutra is more related to the original teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni and is divided into Hinayana and Mahayana. Hinayana is teaching more related to those who have less capacity to integrate with the real sense of the practice and who need to follow precise rules. That is historically similar to Buddha Shakyamuni when he taught his students and they were like monks, controlling their body, voice and mind through following rules and taking vows. In the Sutrayana, there is also the Mahayana tradition. Also here, if we go historically they say that in the beginning Mahayana didn’t exist. There was only the Buddha and what he taught, Hinayana. So this also we cannot know, it is difficult to say.

Mahayana tradition

In any case, the principle of Mahayana is not just controlling one’s body, voice, mind through taking a vow or following rules, but more trying to cultivate a special kind of intention. If we are dealing more with our mind, with our intention, then the most important thing is not just following rules or taking vows but trying continuously to check our mind.  Because if we are following a teaching, it means we are aware of our condition, of what we call samsara. Samsara basically is at the root of the condition of suffering. 

There can be many types of suffering: physical suffering, mental suffering, dissatisfaction, and so on. It means having awareness that there is no ultimate happiness. We are all human beings and we all have the same kind of mind tendencies and way of thinking. We are on the same level and we don’t like to suffer. We like to be happy. But when we try to do something to be happy, what we do in order to attain happiness doesn’t bring the result that we want. That is why the Buddha, when he gave his first teaching, the Four Noble Truths, explained about the cause of suffering. 

What we consider to be happiness is just something we are trying to attain, to achieve, something that we like and that we feel attachment for. We want to have that object that we think will give us happiness. But even though we are happy or we have pleasure in that moment, it depends on this object. However, there is no single thing in all the universe that is lasting and permanent so if we base our search for happiness on something which is not stable or permanent, then how can it guarantee any happiness for us? 

For that reason, the Buddha taught that the cause of this dissatisfaction or suffering is our desire or our attachment for something outside and the way to attain real, ultimate happiness is to go to the root. For infinite lifetimes – if we believe there were lifetimes in the past – our minds have always been acting in the same way, chasing after objects in search of this happiness, but never succeeding in attaining it. So now we start to turn our mind back and instead of always pointing outside, we start to turn our mind inside. 

But what is this mind? What is this source of our mind? If we want peace or happiness, we should try to watch our minds and see all the confusion that we have. Then, just like the teacher when he’s giving the introduction, telling us that our own mind is always the cause of problems, the cause of dualism, the cause of all suffering, if we stop chasing after objects, stop searching for happiness outside, then there is a way to discover the real natural qualities of our mind. These natural qualities of the mind are what in the Dzogchen teaching are called self-perfected qualities. It means that the real nature of our mind is just that same source of ultimate happiness or ultimate freedom that we are chasing in objects outside. So if we stop thinking and judging with our mind, stop trying to achieve something that creates actions and karma, and we do the reverse, then there is a possibility to stop this cause of samsara. This is the third Noble Truth. 

Of course, in order to do that, we need somebody who guides us, who shows us what we should do to move in reverse from the object, to turn inside and discover these natural qualities. This is what we call the “path”. If we are following a path, it means we are taking a commitment and that we want to do this kind of work for ourselves. 

Vajrayana teachings

Then we have another series of teachings called Vajrayana. Guru Padmasambhava was an important master of the Vajrayana tradition. From the beginning Vajrayana introduces this real nature of our mind as the root of all phenomena. But while in the Sutra tradition we have this idea that samsara is the result of our actions and our karma, hence it is something negative which we should overcome because that is more going with our general capacity as human beings, Vajrayana introduces this principle called “Vajra” from the beginning. Vajra means all manifestations, what we consider to be impure vision, dualistic vision, everything from the beginning is already itself the manifestation of this primordial potentiality. It’s just that we don’t have the right vision and we perceive it in a distorted way. So, for instance, even if we are in this hall, in the real sense, it is a mandala of Buddhas and bodhisattvas and dakinis, and so on. But we do not see that. We see as human beings see, male and female, all our thoughts, our conceptions, our names, our stories; that is impure vision. But the Vajrayana teaching is not introduced in that way. It says that from the beginning we are this Mandala, we are already this deity, and all phenomena are already these manifestations of deities. 

How do we transfer into this vision that the Vajrayana introduces? We have what is called the path of transformation. Transformation means we use a symbol of the real condition, such as mandalas, deities and so on. Then the teacher introduces us in that way to show us our real condition and we try to apply it and transform our impure situation into this symbol. This is, in general, the Vajrayana teaching.

Dzogchen teaching

Then we have the Dzogchen teaching or Atiyoga, which also presents a way of introduction, the only difference being that it doesn’t need symbols or mandalas or deities because it goes directly to what we call the root or the supreme source, the primordial state and primordial potentiality. How is Dzogchen related to the other yanas?

In the Nyingmapa tradition, the first Buddhist tradition that was introduced into Tibet, there are nine vehicles or paths, starting from Sutra, Hinayana, Mahayana, then Vajrayana with the outer and inner tantras. However, these nine vehicles do not contradict each other because each one is like a base for the next one. This means that while a practitioner of Hinayana teaching follows that teaching, if you are a Mahayana practitioner you should, first of all, know well the meaning of Hinayana teaching and practice and integrate it with Mahayana. It is the same with the tantras. If you are a practitioner of the outer tantras you should already have a base of Hinayana and Mahayana and in addition you also have knowledge of the outer tantras. This principle especially applies for practitioners of the inner tantras of Vajrayana, Mahayoga, Anuyoga, which are the path of transformation.     

When we reach Dzogchen it means that everything is included, from Hinayana up to the last vehicle. It’s all included in Atiyoga because –  sometimes they give this example – the view of Dzogchen Atiyoga is like a being on the top of a mountain from where you can see all the lower hills and villages very clearly. But if you are at the base of the mountain, in a small village or half way up, you cannot see the top of the mountain. It is important to understand that this is not to show that the Dzogchen teaching is superior to others and we have a sectarian view. If we are a Dzogchen master, or Dzogchen practitioner, then we know that Dzogchen is everything – all of the Buddhadharma is Dzogchen teaching in its ultimate meaning. All teachings like Hinayana, Mayayana, the outer and inner tantras, are just like steps leading to knowledge of Dzogchen. So we must understand well how we should be as Dzogchen practitioners. 

Some people have a lot of fantasy and think that in Dzogchen teaching, everything is very free, that we are already enlightened from the beginning and we don’t need to do anything. Or if we need to do something, we should not follow any rules because that is a contradiction to the Dzogchen teaching. This is a completely wrong attitude. When we say Dzogchen, we use the word, “self-liberation”. The real meaning of this term is that once we discover the nature of our mind, its real condition is something that we cannot interfere with, modify or change. And by itself there is this natural quality. Natural quality means that in our dualistic condition, mostly everything is a result of our thoughts, of our mind, our thinking, so everything that we have now is like frozen ice. But the real nature of this ice is water. The nature of water is flowing so the nature of our mind is flowing, our thoughts are flowing and that is a manifestation of wisdom; it is not wrong, it is not negative. When we are at that level of practice, all our thoughts, all movements of our mind are called self-originated wisdom. This is the real meaning of self-liberation. 

But then it happens that sometimes we understand this self-liberation in a wrong way and we think it means that we must liberate ourselves, our emotions, our thoughts, so we can do whatever we want without restraining ourselves. That is the cause of many problems. 

Santi Maha Sangha

This retreat is also related to Santi Maha Sangha because this text that Padmasambhava wrote [The Garland of Views] is like the inner structure or inner basis for the Santi Maha Sangha base book. So, just to give a short introduction for new people who don’t know what Santi Maha Sangha is: “Santi Maha” means Dzogchen in the language of Oddiyana; “Sangha” is community. So the meaning of Santi Maha Sangha just means the Dzogchen Community. 

How did this Santi Maha Sangha training start? First of all, there was a root text of Santi Maha Sangha, which was like a poem with many verses. As far as I remember, I think that Rinpoche wrote this text spontaneously, without thinking. 

For those who do not know, Rinpoche was also what is called a tertön, a discoverer of terma or textual treasures. A terma is a teaching, given in ancient times by teachers such as Padmasambhava, that was not appropriate for that time. The teacher who gave the teaching thought that it would be useful for future generations and would hide it somewhere, such as in rocks, in the river, in the sea [ed.to be discovered in the future]. This is a material kind of terma. 

Otherwise a teacher such as Padmasambhava, who had many students who were good practitioners, would hide this kind of teaching in the consciousness of a practitioner. Then after some lives this practitioner would be born as Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, for example. Then, sometimes, they may have a sign, like a dream from dakinis, to say that on a particular day, they should go to a particular place to receive that teaching. Other times, there is no such kind of indication, just without any intention something would appear in Rinpoche’s mind and he would write it down. This happened a few times, not just once. 

Somebody may ask how we can know that this is really something original, authentic; perhaps he invented it. One proof is that sometimes we have the same terma, or a very similar terma, discovered by different tertöns, even centuries apart. 

For instance, if we look at the Mandarava terma, Rinpoche wrote the whole text of the Mandarava practice for the first time and gave this copy to Fabio or Iacobella and said, “Just keep it, don’t give it back until I ask for it.” Then the next day he wrote it again and it was completely the same, except perhaps one sentence. The same things happened in the Longsal teachings, if you read the stories many times. Rinpoche said, “It is as if I had memorized this text that appeared in my mind”. He had not memorized it, it just appeared. 

Once I asked him personally how he experienced a gongter [ed. Mind treasure]. Then he said, “It is like you have something in your mind. When you want, you can access it, but it only lasts for a short time and after two or three days, disappears completely”. 

I think that Santi Maha Sanga may have been something similar when Rinpoche wrote down this text in 1984.  I remember that Giacomella translated it and they published a booklet that presented nine levels, each level related to some teaching, but it was not very clear and the text was quite difficult. In any case, it remained like that for several years. 

Then in ’88, Rinpoche made this famous trip to Mount Kailash. I was not there, but during the trip a lot of things happened and the conditions were very hard for the people travelling with Rinpoche because the road was blocked and they had to make a very long detour with many difficult situations for food, for sleep, for traveling. In general, when we have even small difficulties traveling, we become stressed and start to react in a different way than normal. On that trip there were maybe 60 or 70 people fighting for everything, as the situation was really hard. At one point, somebody actually fought physically for a place to sit on the bus with one vajra brother giving a strong punch to another practitioner. But this was not the only thing as people’s emotions were manifesting freely and nakedly. 

Rinpoche was quite disappointed with the whole situation. You can read all his feelings and impressions in his poem called The Voice of the Bee. The “voice” because the bee is always buzzing and complaining and Rinpoche was complaining so he used this title. In any case, I think that he also might have felt responsible for the situation because how could these students he had been giving Dzogchen teaching to for more than ten years behave in this way among themselves? And also with respect to the teacher. 

Another story that Rinpoche told is that a lot of people were insisting that he should give thögal teaching. He told them that he could not give this teaching just because the road was blocked and they were stuck in some place. Some people were not satisfied and didn’t pay respect to what Rinpoche said. They used a recording or someone was reading a book of thögal instructions with a loudspeaker on the bus. So of course, when Rinpoche heard all this, he wrote The Voice of the Bee. 

After that, he was in China for a year, then he came back to America. One day I was speaking with him and he told me that he thought that there was something missing, like a base, in our community. Then I think he made a connection to the Santi Maha Sanga that he had received some years earlier and he prepared and wrote this Santi Maha Sangha base book called The Precious Vase, a kind of basis of all Buddha’s teachings. It starts from basic sutra teachings and then refuge and bodhicitta, and how to work with all these steps on the path. 

Some people may ask how this can be Dzogchen teaching when they have been studying beyond good and bad for many years, and now they are studying the ten virtuous actions, the ten negative actions, what we should and shouldn’t do. This really shows how a Dzogchen teacher should work with his students because, as we said, the Dzogchen teachings include everything, starting from these basic teachings. So Rinpoche started this base level of Santi Maha Sangha with a quotation from the great Dzogchen teacher, Longchenpa, showing how the attitude of a practitioner should be. All the first parts of the text are based on these teachings. Rinpoche was trying to help students become more aware of their condition because sometimes we like to jump on something that is easier for our mind to accept.                                   

Three Trainings

In general, we don’t like to observe our condition, our flaws, our limitations. We are always judging other people, seeing how limited they are, what they did wrong. Very rarely do we think about what we have done wrong, how we should overcome our limitations. We don’t usually have that attitude which is why, basically, we need sutra teachings. For example, in these verses of Longchenpa, he says that there are three trainings as a basis for the path. First of all, there is moral discipline which means we are aware of a situation in samsara and we also understand how other beings are feeling and try to act in a way that we do not harm or create problems for others. Working on that level is basic Hinayana. 

In Mahayana, there is the same moral discipline but on top of that, we try to benefit or help others. We know this from the beginning because we follow the Buddha’s teaching, even if we are Dzogchen practitioners. But if we behave in the opposite way it means there is something wrong, that we did not understand, because if we are fighting with a vajra brother in a bus or in a temple, wherever it is, it means that we are not controlling our emotions. This shows that we have not done this second training, meditation. If our practice or our spiritual path just remains at the level of intellectual knowledge, it cannot help so we need to apply this second training, dhyana, or meditation. 

How do we do this training of the mind? First of all, we discover the ordinary condition of our mind by observing ourselves, and we discover that we have many thoughts. We are all the same at this level. What are these thoughts? They are nothing because we cannot define or locate or identify the thoughts as something like substance. But there is some identity, what we call our basic consciousness, which is always dealing with our thoughts. These thoughts should be flowing naturally, however, we are always interfering, becoming attached to a thought, which gives rise to a second, third thought and so on, and then these thoughts freeze and become something concrete for us. Our thoughts are also connected to our inner emotions, so usually we like, we don’t like or we are just indifferent to something. We are continuously alternating between these three states and acting on our thoughts, trying to achieve something or reject something. That is the ordinary condition of our mind. 

The training of the mind thus means that we discover that condition and, first of all, we try to calm the confusion of our thoughts through shine or shamatha practice. Shine practice means working with fixation or through observation of breathing in order to calm our mind. The first result is that we identify less with our thoughts. When we live an ordinary life, we are our thoughts; thoughts arise and we follow them. Of course, if we are practitioners, it is different because we try to observe thought when it is arising. When we do this Mahayana mind training such as shine, first of all, it calms the mind and then gives us awareness of thoughts arising and disappearing, like a continuous chain arising and disappearing. Once we succeed in calming our thoughts, we can also calm our emotions because emotions come from our thoughts. 

This is what we do in sitting meditation practice and is a very important point. If we don’t apply that mind training, then it is very difficult to succeed in higher levels of practice. For that reason, it can easily happen that even if we have some knowledge of the state of Dzogchen, in ordinary life, our emotions are still controlling and dominating us. Then things become difficult to deal with because we have not developed that basic capacity. If we don’t have that capacity and we are aware of it, then we can apply it once again from the beginning: doing fixation with breathing, calming our mind, observing our thoughts, until the last breath of our life. Everything that we learn must be for our benefit.

The teaching of the Buddha is in order for us to become like Buddha and the base is, first of all, observing our mind and gradually working with it. When we train a little, then in daily life we can have the possibility to have more capacity. It is similar to learning to swim; we learn in a very calm sea, or in a swimming pool. Nobody is going to teach a baby to swim when the sea is very rough with big waves. In the same way, all our emotions and problems are similar to strong waves so it is very difficult to integrate directly with that kind of situation if we haven’t learned the basic principles of practice. This is an important point for all practitioners and also the second training of the Mahayana teachings. 

The third point of Mahayana training is called prajna, which can have different meanings according to the context. But in general, in Mahayana prajna means a real knowledge of phenomena mostly related to an understanding of the condition of emptiness. When we go more deeply into Vajrayana teaching that emptiness is just one aspect, like a base. It already has the potentiality of what is called luminous mind and is related to discovery of that condition. In the same way in Atiyoga Dzogchen teachings, training in prajna means recognition of the real primordial state. Also, when we say shine and lhagtong meditation, prajna is related to lhagtong, and lhagtong means real knowledge or real discovery of our nature. So you see, these are important points for our practice and in general for our Dzogchen community. 

Continuation of the teaching

From the beginning, we have been following the teaching of Garab Dorje, the Buddhist lineage of Dzogchen. Garab Dorje said, “I give you direct introduction, and when you apply it, you can have a result”. Even if it is not the supreme result, at least we can have some basic knowledge and realization which we can transmit and also help others. Otherwise we should not worry too much because the teaching has its own protectors and continuation. There are those who care for the transmission of the teaching, even if we don’t see them. 

So, each one of us has a great responsibility to apply and to put into practice what we have received from the teacher. This is our main duty. If we succeed in doing this, then there is a guarantee for the teaching to continue. But this does not mean thinking that only the Santi Maha Sangha instructors are the continuation. It is not like that and we should not be limited. We are all the same. It is just that we are different in the way that we have the capacity to apply something. All people, no matter whether they are young people or new people, if they have received teaching from Rinpoche, they are all equally important. Everybody in the Dzogchen Community is extremely important and precious. 

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