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To understand Dzogchen, it’s necessary to get the whole teaching in a single instruction. Only then does it all make sense.
Mandatory Study Text for my Dzogchen groups:
This text below is the best single detailed explanation of Dzogchen practice and theory that I have ever read. It covers the theory of both trekchod and thogal. I would read this through several times and post questions regarding aspects that are not clear. I am considering this "mandatory reading" for our Dzogchen groups. I have received these teaching directly from Norbu several times but haven't found them put together in such a concise manner before... Thanks to Chris Kroger for unearthing this gem! (I added pronunciation guides in parenthesis after certain key Tibetan terms.)
From Namkhai Norbu:
"When you discover and you have that experience then what do you do? It means that it is not sufficient only to have experience but you integrate, you are in that, in ordinary language it means that you are applying contemplation, or you are in contemplation, but how are you in contemplation?
In general, when we do meditation or practice, then we explain how to sit for doing practice, or we ask. "How is the position of practice?" That means that since one of our ways of existence is our physical body, for that reason then we must coordinate our body, and therefore we have an explanation of the position. After that, we consider the existence of our voice and for that reason we ask, "What is the method of breathing when we do practice?" Or, if there is no particular explanation related to breathing then, "How do we look with our eyes and how are the functions of the senses?" Finally we have an explanation on how we must do visualization, thinking, meditating, because we have mind, the existence of mind.
So it means that we control our body, speech and mind, and all three are coordinated in the practice. So how do you integrate all these aspects in contemplation? This is explained in the Dzogchen Upadesha teaching with the Four cog.bzhag; (pronounced "chozhag") cog means "how it is", bzhag means "remain, being as it is." This means you don't change, you don't modify, you should be as it is in your real nature. So then you can go through them one by one: how should your body be when you do practice? You remain just as it is. Then you continue with your voice and mind; so the cog.bzhag are for giving you the knowledge of that principle. The first one is ri.bo(riwo) cog.bzhag, like a mountain; this does not mean that you remain in a gigantic manner without moving. Sometimes you can find in the sutra teachings some explanations referring to being like a mountain. For instance it is said that many demons tried to distract Buddha, but he remained on contemplation like a mountain. There the idea is of something that cannot be disturbed, some idea of stability. But here, in this context, it does not have the same meaning. Also Dzogchen teachings explain that the cog.bzhag of the mountain gives the idea that you are on a mountain. If you are on the top of a mountain you can see everything, you do not feel limited as one in a tomb or a cage; yet this explanation is relative, in that it is not the main meaning. The main meaning of ri.bo cog.bzhag is that you remain as you are, just at that moment.
You see, there are millions and millions of different kinds of mountains in the world -- some are very sharp and high, some are very large, some are very low, some are very extended, some are small. Why? because it depends on circumstances, on their condition. For example, some mountains are formed with very strong rock and are covered by snow all year like Kailash and Everest, so then of course they become very sharp and high. But mountains formed by sand are never very sharp and high. In the same way we human beings are living in different situations, and different circumstances. We live in time and with different circumstances and they change every day. Sometimes we are standing, sometimes lying down, sometimes doing something, so we then are being present at every moment, whatever the condition of our body, just being in that position. Sometimes you are lying down on a bed, so if you are present it doesn't mean that immediately you should get up and sit in a meditation position. If, while you are walking, you have presence, or you are in a state of contemplation, it doesn't mean that you immediately sit in a position for meditating. If you are, for example, on a toilet, it could also be that you are in contemplation, it doesn't mean you have to immediately go in the temple….in contemplation there are no problems; you can contemplate and integrate everything, so that is the real meaning of the cog.bzhag of the mountain.
The second cog.bzhag is called rgya.mtsho cog.bzhag; rgya.mtsho(gyatso) means "ocean". There are explanations for this name: "ocean" refers to being in a state of contemplation, and that state is like the ocean that reflects all the universe. That is an example of developing clarity. But this explanation is relative, because it is more intellectual. In practice that is not the meaning of ocean. Ocean is the secret name for the eyes. The eyes are the first of the five sense organs, and by knowing the function of the eyes, you then know the function of our other organs. So, it means to remain as it is, in that condition without changing or modifying your vision. It does not mean, for example, that you should concentrate in a one-pointed inner state, or do fixation on an object, or gaze at something in a particular way.
In general, we have two eyes for looking and their nature is to be open and have contact with objects, but sometimes we are lying down on a bed with closed eyes. In this case it does not mean that when you are in contemplation, you immediately open your eyes, or as in the sutra system, when you do meditation you immediately close your eyes. It just means to be in the normal way with organs having normal contact with sense objects. The same applies to breathing, because breath and the function of the senses are all related. So this is the real meaning of the second cog.bzhag.
Then we have the third cog.bzhag; we call it rig.pa'i cog.bzhag, cog.bzhag of the state of rigpa. Generally we ask, "How should our mind be, how do we concentrate or do visualization?" The answer is the state of instant presence, and that is the state of rigpa, without changing, modifying or creating anything. This means we are in the nature of the mirror instead of being like reflections. We may have infinite reflections and have no problems with them, since they are something like qualifications of our state. That is the third cog.bzhag.
Then the last cog.bzhag is called snag.ba cog.bzhag, the cog.bzhag of vision, meaning mainly the sense objects. Firstly there is the object of our eyes, that is the forms and colors and all things; then through the ears we hear different kinds of sound, and so on with all our senses, while for our mind we have all dharmas, all phenomena. So there is nothing wrong or considered to be without value. It does not matter if it is pure or impure vision, we say Kuntuzangpo, meaning everything is fine. If you are in the state of rigpa you don't have any problem with vision, that is why in the Dzogchen teachings we say, "Visions are ornaments of the primordial state." Ornaments create beauty for you, they don't create problems. In the same way, even though it is a samsaric vision, if you are not conditioned, if you are not distracted and you are in the state of rigpa, there is nothing wrong. You can be in that and everything is your mandala of energy. That is the last cog.bzhag.
When we explain the four we do it one by one, but when they are applied in the state of contemplation it does not mean there is a progressive order such as first you do this, then second you do that. Your entire existence, how it must be in that moment, is called cog.bzhag. The practice method for being in that state is called khregs.chod (pronounced "trekcho") in Dzogchen Upadesha. Many translators today translate khregs.chod as "breakthrough." I do not think that really does correspond to the meaning of khregs.chod because "break" is done with effort. If you have effort it is not contemplation. One of the most important points is "beyond effort," so how can you be beyond effort if you break through something? However, you can learn the real meaning of it. It does't matter if you don't get a precise word, as you cannot realize with words anyway, while you do realize with meaning. So in the real sense khregs.chod in the Tibetan language has this meaning: khregs means something bound together, a bundle, such as wood bound up with a rope for fire. In Tibetan we say shing.khregs, shing is "wood", khregs is "bound." If we bind cut grass together , then we say rtsa.khregs, if many clothes are bound together, then we say gos.khregs. Any kind of thing that you bind together is called khregs. In general, we are bound with our tension, emotions, and so on, all our existence, and that is the real meaning of khregs.
So khregs (trek) means that we cut that tension by doing something and being liberated. We are liberated from that binding, so that its called khregs.chod, chod meaning "liberated." The root of the syllable chod comes from gcod, which means actively cutting with a knife or something. But if there is someone who is not cutting, but is self-liberated then that is called chod. Maybe you hear these two as the same word, but they are not the same -- one is chod, the other is gcod. The word gcod means something like cutting, the same word as that of the practice of the gcod; while the word chod means something which is self-liberated. So khregs.chod means "totally self-relaxed" and this name refers to these Four cog.bzhag. When you learn the Four cog.bzhag then you apply and integrate in your daily life -- this is our practice, what we do.
Within the series of Upadesha we also have the most important secret teachings such as thod.rgal (thogal) and Dzogchen yang.tig. Both methods are for developing contemplation. This means that you already have such knowledge of contemplation but in order to realize it, so that that knowledge becomes something concrete, you have particular methods. That is why, for example, for doing practices like thod.rgal and yang.tig , the first thing that you must try to have is a base. To have a precise base means that you have experience of contemplation. When you start with the Four cog.bzhag, it means that you already have something to develop and, in particular, the use of methods such as thod.rgal and yang.tig implies that you are in a precise experience of contemplation, and you are using these methods to develop rapidly. Why are there these important and special methods? That principle is explained with the Four Visions, which are the principle of both Dzogchen yang.tig and thod.rgal. It does not mean that we are only speaking of some kind of visions, but how we can apply this method and have that experience. Remember, we learned previously the Four Cog.bzhag in order to have knowledge of contemplation and continuation, and how we integrate them in our existence.
The first vision is called cos.nyid mngon.sum. (cho nyi gon sum) You know chos is the Tibetan translation of the sanskrit word dharma and it means all phenomena. In Sanskrit we have two words: dharmadhatu and dharmata. Many people understand them as having the same meaning. Dharmadhatu means the universal condition of all phenomena, including sentient beings and their nature. It is somewhat related to dharmakaya, the dimension of all phenomena. But dharmata means the nature or real condition, particularly of an individual. Dharmadhatu means nature, the real condition of subject and object, the whole, the complete; while dharmata, chos.nyid in Tibetan, means our individual nature, our potentiality.
You see, each individual has infinite potentiality, in that the state of the individual is also the center of the universe. For example, I have in my state infinite potentiality, and that potentiality is the center of the universe, but it means that for me, not for you. You are another individual, you have infinite potentiality and yours for you is the also the center of the universe. Yet being the center of the universe is not for egotistic or selfish feelings, or a feeling of being more important than others. Rather it refers to what is the real potentiality of each individual, that is the real meaning of dharmata.
We can discover our potentiality, dharmata, with the method of the Four Visions. The First Vision is chos.nyid mngon,sum. Chos.nyid means "dharmata", mngon.sum means "real", meaning something we have contact with or we discover through our senses, not merely imagination. For example we say, "Emptiness is our real nature," although that is a kind of experience, yet it is not something we really see or experience concretely. By contrast chos.nyid mngon.sum means something concrete. How can we have that concreteness? We acquire that through visions. The First Vision we can have is the thigle. For example, you are looking in empty space, then the thigle appears, particularly if there are secondary causes like sun-rays, or other kinds of light. In that case you look into the rays of that light with your eyes half closed and in a dimension of rays you can discover the apparition of the thigle. It looks somehow like a peacock feather, and it is shining and sometimes when you see it and look at it then it goes away and disappears. So even though we did not do much practice we can have that experience, we can have that experience because everybody has that potentiality in their nature. Our potentiality can manifest and we can easily discover it.
So what really is the manifestation of the thigle? A thigle is the form of our potentiality manifesting in front of our eyes as something like a vision because there is a secondary cause for its manifesting. For example the sun's rays are only a secondary cause. For example, if you sit with your hand, or any part of the body near your eyes, you notice that you have many hairs on your hand and if you look through this hair near the sun's ray it is shining and many kinds of thigle manifest. Or if you lay down on the ground and you put a piece of woolen or silken cloth on your face, looking at the sun-rays through this cloth you can see many thigle. You might think that they are coming from the woolen cloth or from the rays, but those are only the secondary causes; the thigle do not originate from them.
Let us take the example of a crystal rock. If you put it in the light when secondary causes, such as sun rays, are present, then from this crystal rock infinite lights having rainbow colors come out. They are not really manifesting from sun rays, which is only a secondary cause. In reality that manifestation comes from the potentiality of the crystal rock, and in the same way, the manifestation of thigle comes through our potentiality. You can discover that when you are doing the dark retreat: in the dark you are only doing some specific positions and gazing with the eyes and you can have infinite visions of thigle. How can you have these visions when there are no sun rays? Even if you live in the dark you still have your potentiality, only the secondary causes for manifesting it are not the sun rays; it could be the position and the manner of gazing. There are many ways in which you can develop that possibility , and that is called "the real vision of dharmata." You have that vision of thigle; it means something like having the vision of your potentiality, because through that you discover your potentiality. So this is the first stage of the vision; through this very important method you can have possibility of that vision and discovering your potentiality. So your vision of dharmata is very important for realizing and integrating your potentiality.
All the practices like thod.rgal and yang.tig start and develop from that point of thigle. You always have the production of a karmic body -- your material body is the resultant product of the potentiality of karma that you produce. You see, your real nature is pure from the beginning, and has infinite potentiality which manifests through sound, light and rays. But when we do not have that knowledge and we are distracted and enter into a dualistic vision, that is the starting point of samsara. Someone may ask, "Who made, and who created this samsara and when was it created?" Although you cannot trace a cosmological map of its origin, yet whenever you enter in a dualistic vision, you are already in samsara and that is the starting point.
For example, you have the five elements and in your potentiality they are like the five colors if you manifest some pure manifestation or pure dimension. But when you produce negative karma that characteristic of negative karma is associated with all your elements, with all your potentiality, so your elements slowly, slowly become somewhat material, more on a material level due to the production of karma, and the result of it is what we call karmic vision.
The vision of the thigle and that of our physical existence are very distinct: the physical body and all our human dimension is the production of karma, while what appears in the thigle is our real potentiality.
When you have this knowledge then you have the possibility that your existence, this karmic production is integrated in that thigle. If you totally succeed in integrating your existence in that thigle, that is called "Great Transference" -- there is no death and even the elements, all existence, is realized in its natural manifestation of the rainbow body. Even if you do not have the capacity for that total integration in the thigle, but are on that path, and you have the capacity of integrating, even if your material karmic body remains, depending on the level of your capacity of contemplation when you die, still you can totally integrate -- maybe it will take seven days, but then your physical body dissolves in its real nature. Even if you have death, your realization manifests as the rainbow body. So the first stage is seeing or having real experience of dharmata.
The second stage is called nyams.snang gong.'phel. Nyams means experience, snag means "vision"; through experience you can have different kinds of visions. Visions do not only refer to visions related to our eyes, but also mean the functions of all the senses. Gong.'phel means "developing," "increasing," and it refers to the fact that you are using specific positions. In general we have three main positions: Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya. By using a particular position and by controlling your energy the result is that specific aspect of manifestation. for example, you are gazing into space, or you are looking in the sun rays and you have visions of thigle, one or many thigle. And when you have that thigle you can also see a kind of light net; sometimes you can see silver strings, and we call that vajrasattva chain. That too is a manifestation of the continuation of our potentiality. When you observe the thigle all these chains move; then when you observe this net of light, do not go after the thigle and these things, but remain in a state of contemplation. In this way you can find these thigle and all other visions stop moving. And slowly, slowly, day after day, you develop and you can find some stable thigle; then you fix on that thigle and integrate your existence in that thigle. It does not mean very much if you have many visions of thigle, that is only the manifestation of your potentiality, also you must not only have curiosity and kind of play about with the visions, you should only integrate, and be in that thigle.
Integrating means that whatever you see, you are just that, and that is in your existence. If you do not remain in a dualistic vision you can develop your manifestations more and more. When you develop visions you must not immediately create an attachment to them. Some people, when they have some kinds of visions, such as nice things, feel very happy and say, "I always want to have this vision." With this kind of attachment you block your possibility of development. On the contrary, you have to relax in that state, in any kind of vision, and integrate in that state in this way so that the vision of the thigle increases. You can also experience the development of visions in a thigle, such as full or partial manifestations of the Dhyani Buddhas or a half form, a partial form of it. So this is called increasing your vision.
The Third Vision is called rig.pa tshad.phebs and means "maturing your knowledge," being in a state of rigpa. When you are in that contemplation, you do not need any effort for being or integrating; you easily, automatically get in that state of integration and remain that way in this vision. Through applying integration in that way you have the vision of how all that has matured and totally developed. Particularly in the dimension of the thigle there are many different kinds of visions, some are pure and some are impure. So this is the third stage.
Then you have the last stage which is called the stage of chos zad, chos means "dharma", or phenomena, zad means "consuming"; thus consuming phenomena, principally in your vision, in your consideration of subject and object. You see, you have a physical body, which is the product of karma, and through this practice of integration with that capacity you slowly, slowly consume your existence -- it means dissolving your physical body into its real nature. So when you are entering in this stage, applying this practice and you die on that path, your death and your realization is the rainbow body. If you succeed at that stage then there is the great transference.
This is a vey important, essential method, so you must be very serious about this method and its teaching.
It is important to realize how energy manifests. The characteristics of our energy are called gdangs,(dang) rol.pa and rtsal (tsal). The energy of the state of rigpa is immutable, and being in that energy itself, that is the state of contemplation of gdangs.(dang) How is the gdangs energy itself? In general we learn about it with an example: gdangs energy is like a crystal ball: it has no color, and its real nature is pure, limpid and clear, but if you put it on a piece of collared cloth, for example, then it will appear to be the same color as the cloth.
In Dzogchen, when we give teachings with the symbolic transmission, we sometimes place symbolic objects on a table, not merely speaking about them, so that the practitioners can observe them and then discover what they mean by going into the experience concretely. For example, you take a table and cover it with a piece of cloth which has four different colors, one on each side of the four directions like a mandala: the mandala in the east is white, the vajra family; in the south is yellow, the ratna family; the one in the west is red, the padma family; while in the north it is green, the karma family; and the center is blue, the position of vairocana, the buddha family. Then at the center of this mandala you place a crystal ball; if you look at the ball from above it appears completely blue because in the center the base is blue.
Then you go to the east side and you look in the crystal ball, and it appears white, then you go and turn around a little and its aspect changes again and it becomes yellow, if you keep on walking it will keep on changing into red and then green, because all directions have their color, and so on according to the direction you are walking around. So what does this mean? It means that whatever the situation and the circumstances are, the state of contemplation manifests that, because in the real Dharmakaya state there are no colors, or forms, or positions. All circumstances and positions are relative, so when you are in your real nature nothing ever changes, even if you are seeing different colors. The nature of the crystal is always clear, pure and limpid. So you are like that; this is your state, and in any circumstances in which you integrate, and you find yourself in that integration -- that condition of energy is called gdangs.
The energy of rol.pa is infinite manifestation beyond limitation. When you are in this, beyond limitation, that is the state of rol.pa. For introducing that we use the example of the mirror. In general, our ideas are very limited. For example, good is not bad, big is not small, and so on; all are in conflict and different. So if someone says "big," you understand "big," you never understand "small" -- that is our limitation of dualistic vision. If a dimension is small , you cannot conceive of how to put something big inside it, that is impossible. For that reason also the story of Milarepa in a yak horn seems strange. In the biography of Milarepa, it is explained that one day Milarepa and his disciple Rechungpa were walking when suddenly it started to rain. When they arrived at the place to which they were going, Rechungpa noticed that his Master was not with him. Then he started to look but could not find him, so he just waited for him. Later when the rain stopped he heard Milarepa singing but he could not see him, though he continued to look for Milarepa everywhere. Finally he noticed that the sound of Milarepa's voice was coming from a yak horn, and he thought, "Oh, it is impossible!" But it seemed that sound was really coming from there, so slowly, slowly he went towards the yak horn. A yak horn is not very big -- it is like a big cow horn -- so then he looked inside and saw Milarepa sitting in his usual position and singing. Rechungpa really saw him, it was not an illusion, so he was very surprised. He said, "The yak horn did not become big because it is its normal size," while he also saw that Milarepa was his normal size and had not become smaller. That is why he was very surprised and thought it impossible. Yet he really saw that. Then Milarepa sang, "You feel that is strange, but that is the real condition. That is what we mean by being beyond limitation." That was the teaching he received from Milarepa. Although it seems impossible, sometimes we have this kind of possibility. I also once had a personal experience similar to that one when I was doing the practice of thod.rgal. I had a manifestation of a thigle and it seemed like a mandala: in the center there was a thigle of five colors, and in the four directions there were four thigle, all five thigle being within a big thigle. So this was my experience. If during my practice I have some interesting experiences, I usually try and draw them afterwards so that i remember them. So when I finished my practiceI tried to draw it, but it never looked like what I saw. I really saw these five thigle in one thigle, with no empty spaces in between them, but while I was drawing I discovered that it was impossible. I tried to draw them again and again, but after three or four pages of drawing I understood logically that it is impossible. Then I thought that it might look like that , but in reality it couldn't be so. After two or three days, while I was doing my practice, it appeared again and at that moment I knew it was impossible to draw them. Even though I already knew it was impossible to do this, at that time I really saw why. So I was a little surprised but that is real -- in nature there are things like that.
So when we take the example of the mirror, we can illustrate there the conflict of big and small: the big cannot be put into the small; nevertheless, if you have a small sized mirror you can see the whole countryside in it. You can see the whole countryside without its changing size and becoming smaller -- you just see it in the normal way. That is a good example for breaking the conflict of big and small. So rol.pa energy, in relation to our dimension, means something like a mirror, then we have infinite potentiality of manifestation. You can manifest the whole universe in your dimension. Also, when you are doing a transformation method in tantric teaching, you are manifesting the whole universe in a mandala like that of the Kalachakra, or you are transforming your existence into that of a deity and your whole, total existence into that mandala. In the real sense it does not mean that you are building a mandala outside somewhere, but you are just manifesting in your dimension the characteristic of rol.pa energy, as we do in our practice of zhi.khro -- peaceful and wrathful manifestations which are related to our energy, movement and the calm state. All these are manifesting in our dimension, just as in the example of the mirror. The characteristic of this kind of energy is called rol.pa. It is very important that you know that principle and how the energy manifests, especially if you do transformation and realize the whole manifestation in your dimension.
Then we have the non-dual rtsal energy in the state of rigpa. What is rtsal energy?The rtsal energy has the characteristic of manifesting in a different way from the gdangs and rol.pa energies I explained before. You can learn about the rtsal energy with the example of a crystal rock. The crystal rock is the symbol of your real nature, which is clear, pure and limpid. It does not differ much from the crystal ball, but the crystal rock has many corners and many shapes. In the same way rtsal energy is more related with our different conditions, our characteristic functions of energy; also different kinds of elements are all related with our physical body and energy. So that is the root of our pure and impure vision.
To have an example of this we put the crystal rock in the sunshine, then, when the sun rays strike the crystal rock, rainbow colors manifest everywhere. But in the absence of sunshine, all these lights and their potentiality remain inside the crystal rock, because it is the source of the manifestations of these colors. Of course, if there is no secondary cause -- sun rays -- there is no manifestation.
With the mirror, for example, the secondary cause is the presence of an object or some people in front of it, if that cause is not present, then here is no reflection. It is similar with the crystal rock -- its potentiality manifests only when there are secondary causes. Let us take the manifestation of deities or mandalas. Their cause for manifesting is sound, light and rays -- first sound, then light becomes rays of different colors, and from the five colors different shapes form which are the manifestations. We call that a pure dimension, which is part of our real energy.
When we are distracted, conditioned by subject and object, we produce a lot of karma and the potentiality of karma. All potentiality of karma is associated with our energy, and then instead of light, we have impure vision -- karmic vision -- and that becomes an obstacle for having knowledge or being in real potentiality. So in that way we have samsara, and we say then that we have the different visions of lokas, mainly the six lokas. What are the six lokas in a practical sense? They are part of our rtsal energy. What does an enlightened being like Kalachakra or some other Sambhogakaya manifestation display? That is rtsal energy. We can speak of rtsal energy in a more detailed way, as it pervades our whole existence. Our prana energy, for example, which is more related to our physical body, the kundalini energy, or even ordinary physical energy force -- everything is related to tsal energy.
So rtsal energy is like the root of all, that is why we say our primordial state is the center of the universe; the whole universe is our rtsal manifestation. Everybody has the same condition. When you are in the state of rigpa, what is rtsal energy? It is your experience and through experience you are in the rtsal energy, and this is called rig.rtsal. No longer do you have a dualistic consideration such as, this is energy, this is my condition and so on, because in that instant presence you are not in dualistic vision. that is the most important point in contemplation. In this way we integrate all our existence -- body, voice, and mind -- the whole universe and all circumstances, in a state of contemplation.
So, these three main manifestations of our energy are related with the three states of the kayas: the gdangs energy never changes its real nature, which is primarily in the state of the Dharmakaya. For demonstrating the rol.pa energy, we took the example of the mirror and being integrated in that is the Sambhogakaya. And rtsal energy is more related with our condition, both pure and impure dimensions, so it is linked with the Nirmanakaya state. You can understand that it is not sufficient just to have knowledge of your nature and energy, but there is something to do in your practice."
-from transcript of commentary on song of the vajra