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Tibetan name
Tibetan རྫོགས་ཆེན་
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 大究竟、
Simplified Chinese 大究竟、

Dzogchen (Wylie: dzogs chen) or "Great Perfection", also called Atiyoga, is a tradition of teachings in Tibetan Buddhism aimed at attaining and maintaining the natural primordial state or natural condition.[1] It is a central teaching of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism and of Bon.[quote 1] In these traditions, Dzogchen is the highest and most definitive path of the nine vehicles to liberation.[2]


Padmasambhava in yab-yum, which represents the primordial union of wisdom and compassion. The male figure is usually linked to compassion and skillful means, while the female partner relates to insight.

Dzogchen is composed of two terms:

The term initially referred to the "highest perfection" of deity visualisation, after the visualisation has been dissolved and one rests in the natural state of the innately luminous and pure mind.[3][web 1] In the 10th and 11th century, Dzogchen emerged as a separate tantric vehicle in the Nyingma tradition, [web 1] used synonymously with the Sanskrit term ati yoga (primordial yoga).[4]

According to van Schaik, in the 8th century tantra Sarvabuddhasamāyoga

... there seems to be an association of Anuyoga with yogic bliss, and Atiyoga with a realization of the nature of reality via that bliss. This ties in with the three stages of deity yoga described in a work attributed to Padmasambhava: development (kye), perfection (dzog) and great perfection (dzogchen).[web 1]

According to the 14th Dalai Lama, the term dzogchen may be a rendering of the Sanskrit term mahāsandhi.[5]

According to Anyen Rinpoche, the true meaning is the student must take the entire path as an interconnected entity of equal importance. Dzogchen is perfect because it is an all inclusive totality that leads to middle way realization, in avoiding the two extremes of nihilism and eternalism. It classifies outer, inner and secret teachings, which are only separated by the cognitive construct of words and completely encompasses Tibetan Buddhist wisdom. [6] It can be as easy as taking Bodhicitta as the method, and failing this is missing an essential element to accomplishment. [7]

Origins and history

Traditional accounts

Nyingma tradition

According to the Nyingma tradition,[8] the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra taught Dzogchen to the Buddha Vajrasattva, who transmitted it to the first human lineage holder, the Indian Garab Dorje (fl. 55 CE).[3][8] According to tradition, the Dzogchen teachings were brought to Tibet by Padmasambhava in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. He was aided by two Indian masters, Vimalamitra and Vairocana.[9] According to the Nyingma tradition, they transmitted the Dzogchen teachings in three distinct series, namely the Mind Series (sem-de), Space series (long-de), and Secret Instruction Series (men-ngak-de).[8] According to tradition, these teachings were concealed shortly afterward, during the 9th century, when the Tibetan empire disintegrated.[9] From the 10th century forward, innovations in the Nyingma tradition were largely introduced historically as revelations of these concealed scriptures, known as terma.[9]

Bon tradition

In the fourteenth century, Loden Nyingpo revealed a terma containing the story of Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche.[10] According to this terma, Dzogchen originated with the founder of the Bon tradition, Tonpa Shenrab, who lived 18,000 years ago, ruling the kingdom of Tazik, which supposedly lay west of Tibet.[8] He transmitted these teachings to the region of Zhang-zhung, the far western part of the Tibetan cultural world.[8][9] The earliest Bon literature only exists in Tibetan manuscripts, the earliest of which can be dated to the 11th century.[11] The Bon tradition also has a threefold classification, namely Dzogchen, A-tri, and the "Zhang-zhung Aural Lineage (zhang-zhung nyen-gyu).[8]

Historical origins and development

Tibetan Empire (7th-9th century)

The written history of Tibet begins in the early 7th century, when the Tibetan kingdoms were united, and Tibet expanded throughout large parts of Central Asia.[12] Songtsen Gampo (reign ca.617-649/50) conquered the kingdom of Zhangzhung in western Tibet, dominated Nepal, and threatened the Chinese dominance in strategically important areas of the Silk Road.[13] He is also credited with the adoption of a writing system, the establishment of a legal code, and the introduction of Buddhism, though it probably only played a minor role.[13] Tri Songdetsen (742-ca.797) adopted Buddhism, but also maintained the martial traditions of the Tibetan empire.[13] The Tibetans controlled Dunhuang, a major Buddhist center, from the 780s until the mid-ninth century.[14] Halfway through the 9th century the Tibetan empire collapsed.[15] Royal patronage of Buddhism was lost, leading to a decline of Buddhism in Tibet,[15] only to recover with the renaissance of Tibetan culture occurring from the late 10th century to the early 12th century,[11] known as the later dissemination of Buddhism.[11]

Traditional classification of Dzogchen texts (9th-14th century)

Traditionally, the early Dzogchen literature is categorized into three categories,[3] which more or less reflect the historical development of Dzogchen:

  1. Semde (Wylie: sems sde; Skt: cittavarga), the "Mind series"; this category contains the earliest (proto) Dzogchen teachings.[16] Tradition attributes them to Padmasmabhava and his consorts, and dates them to the 8th century,[9] but they first appeared in the 9th century, written by Tibetans;[11]
  2. Longde (Wylie: klong sde; Skt: abhyantaravarga), the series of Space; this series reflects the developments of the 11th-14th centuries, when new Buddhist techniques and doctrines were introduced into Tibet;[3]
  3. Menngagde (Wylie: man ngag sde, Skt: upadeshavarga), the series of secret Oral Instructions, which also reflects the developments of the 11th-14th centuries; this series has overshadowed the other two, and is in effect the only one practiced nowadays.

Origins and Dunhuan texts (8th-10th century)

Dzogchen text from Dunhuang 9th century

According to Sam van Schaik, who studies early Dzogchen manuscripts from the Dunhuang caves, there is a discrepancy between the histories as presented by the traditions, and the picture that emerges from those manuscripts.[16][web 1]

There is no record of Dzogchen as a separate tradition or vehicle prior to the 10th century,[8] although the terms atiyoga and dzogchen do appear in 8th and 9th century Indian tantric texts.[11] There is also no independent attestation of the existence of any separate traditions or lineages under the name of Dzogchen outside of Tibet,[11] and it may be a unique Tibetan teaching,[8][3] drawing on multiple influences, including both native Tibetan non-Buddhist beliefs and Chinese and Indian Buddhist teachings.[3]

According to van Schaik, the term atiyoga first appeared in the 8th century, in an Indian tantra called Sarvabuddhasamāyoga.[note 1] In this text, Anuyoga is the stage of yogic bliss, while Atiyoga is the stage of the realization of the "nature of reality."[web 1] According to van Schaik, this fits with the three stages of deity yoga as described in a work attributed to Padmasambhava: development (kye), perfection (dzog) and great perfection (dzogchen).[web 1] Atiyoga here is not a vehicle, but a stage or aspect of yogic practice.[web 1] In Tibetan sources, until the 10th century Atiyoga is characterized as a "mode" (tshul) or a "view" (lta ba), which is to be applied within deity yoga.[web 1]

According to van Schaik, the concept of dzogchen, "great perfection," first appeared as the culmination of the meditative practice of deity yoga[note 2] around the 8th century.[web 1] The term dzogchen was likely taken from the Guhyagarbhatantra. This tantra describes, as other tantras, how in the creation stage one generates a visualisation of a deity and its mandala. This is followed by the completion stage, in which one dissolves the deity and the mandala into oneself, merging oneself with the deity. In the Guhyagarbhatantra and some other tantras, there follows a stage called rdzogs chen, in which one rests in the natural state of the innately luminous and pure mind.[3]

In the 9th and 10th centuries deity yoga was contextualized in Dzogchen in terms of nonconceptuality, nonduality and the spontaneous presence of the enlightened state.[web 1] Some Dunhuang texts dated at the 10th century show the first signs of a developing nine vehicles system. Nevertheless, Anuyoga and Atiyoga are still regarded then as modes of Mahāyoga practice.[web 1] Only in the 11th century came Atiyoga to be threatened as a separate vehicle, at least in the newly emerging Nyingma tradition.[web 1] Nevertheless, even in the 13th century (and later) the idea of Atiyoga as a vehicle was controversial in other Buddhist schools.[web 1] Van Schaik quotes Sakya Pandita as writing, in his Distinguishing the Three Vows:

If one understands this tradition properly,
Then the view of Atiyoga too
Is wisdom and not a vehicle.[web 1]

Early Dzogchen - the Mind series (9-10th century)

Most of the early Dzogchen literature, which are claimed to be "translations", are original compositions from a much later date than the 8th century.[11] According to Germano, the Dzogchen-tradition first appeared in the first half of the 9th century, with a series of short texts attributed to Indian saints.[11] They were codified into a canon of eighteen texts which were referred to as "mind oriented" (sems phyogs), and later became known as "mind series" (sems de). [11]

The mind series reflect the teachings of early Dzogchen, which rejected all forms of practice, and asserted that striving for liberation would simply create more delusion.[3][11] One has simply to recognize the nature of one's own mind, which is naturally empty (stong pa), luminous ('od gsal ba), and pure.[3] According to Germano, its characteristic language, which is marked by naturalism and negation, is already pronounced in some Indian tantras.[11] Nevertheless, these texts are still inextricably bound up with tantric Mahayoga, with its visualisations of deities and mandals, and complex initiations.[11]

During the 9th and 10th centuries these texts, which represent the dominant form of the tradition in the 9th and 10th centuries,[11] were gradually transformed into full-fledged tantras, culminating in the Kulayarāja Tantra (kun byed rgyal po, "The All-Creating King"[11]), in the last half of the 10th or the first half of the 11th century.[11] According to Germano, this tantra was historically perhaps the most important and widely quoted of all Dzogchen scriptures.[11]

Transformation - the Space and Instruction series (11th-14th century)

Early Dzogchen was completely transformed in the 11th century,[11] with the renaissance of Tibetan culture occurring from the late 10th century to the early 12th century,[11]known as the later dissemination of Buddhism.[11] New techniques and doctrines were introduced from India, resulting in new schools of Tibetan Buddhism,[3][11] and radical new developments in Dzogchen doctrine and practice, with a growing emphasis on meditative practice.[3] The older Bon and Nyingma traditions incorporated these new influences through the process of Treasure revelation.[11] Especially the yogini tantras were influential, involving horrific imagery and violent rituals, erotic imagery, and sexual and somatic practices.[11] These influences are reflected in the rise of subtle body representations and practices, new pantheons of wrathfull and erotic Buddhas, increasingly antinomium rhetorics, and a focus on death-motifs.[17]

These influences were incorporated in several movements such as the "Secret Cycle" (gsang skor),[18] "Ultra Pith" (yang tig),[18] "Brahmin's tradition" (bram ze'i lugs),[18][18] the "Space Class Series,"[3] and especially the "Instruction Class series",[3] which culminated in the "Seminal Heart" (snying thig), which emerged in the late 11th and early 12th century.[18]

The "Seminal Heart" belongs to the "Instruction series."[18] The main texts of the instruction series are the so-called seventeen tantras and the two "seminal heart" collections, namely the bi ma snying thig (Vima Nyingthig,[19] "Seminal Heart of Vimalamitra") and the mkha' 'gro snying thig (Khandro nyingthig,[19] "Seminal Heart of the Dakini").[3] The "Seminal Heart of Vimalamitra" is attributed to Vimalamitra, but was largely composed by their discoverers, in the 11th and 12th century.[20] The "Seminal Heart of the Dakini" was produced by Tsultrim Dorje (Tshul khrims rdo rje)(1291-1315/17).[20]

The Seminal Heart teachings became the dominant Dzogchen-teachings,[21] but was also criticized by conservative strands within the Nyingma-school.[21] The most important Nyingma of the 12th century, Nyangrel Nyingma Özer (Nyang ral nyi ma 'od zer, 1136-1204[note 3] ) developed his "Crown Pith" (spyi ti) to reassert the older traditions in a new form.[21] His writings, which were also presented as revelations, are marked by a relative absence of yogini tantra influence, and transcend the prescriptions of specific practices, as well as the rhetoric of violence, sexuality and transgression.[21]

Longchenpa's Seven Treasuries (14th century)

A pivotal figure in the history of Dzogchen was Longchenpa Rabjampa (1308-1364, possibly 1369). He systematized the Seminal Heart teachings[21] and other collections of texts that were circulating at the time in Tibet,[25] in the Seven Treasuries (mdzod bdun), the "Trilogy of Natural Freedom" (rang grol skor gsum), and the Trilogy of Natural Ease (ngal gso skor gsum).[3][21] Longchenpa refined the terminology and interpretations, and integrated the Seminal Heart teachings with broader Mahayana literature.[21]

Malcolm Smith notes that Longchenpa's Tshig don mdzod, the "Treasury of Subjects,"[web 2] was preceded by several other texts by other authors dealing with the same topics.[web 2] Smith mentions the 12th century text "The Eleven Subjects of The Great Perfection"[note 4] by Nyi 'bum. This itself was derived from the eighth and final chapter of the commentary to The String of Pearls Tantra.[web 2]

Nyi 'bum's "Eleven Subjects" is the basis for Longchenpa's "Treasury of Subjects" as well as Rigzin Godem's "The Aural Lineage of Vimalamitra"[note 5][web 2] from the Gongpa Zangthal.[web 2]

According to Smith, Nyi 'bum's "Eleven Subjects" provided the outline upon which Longchenpa's "Treasury of Subjects" was based, using the general sequence of citations, and even copying or reworking entire passages.[web 2] According to Smith, Nyi 'bum's "Eleven Subjects" was transmitted in a close circle of disciples, with very little ouside contact, whereas Longchenpa's "Treasury of Subjects" contains responses to 14th century scholastic objections to Dzogchen.[web 2]

Later termas

In subsequent centuries more additions followed, including the "Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones"[26] (kar-gling zhi-khro)[note 6] by Karma Lingpa,[27] (1326–1386), popularly known as "Karma Lingpa's Peaceful and Wrathful Ones",[26] which includes the two texts of the bar-do thos-grol, the "Tibetan Book of the Dead".[28][note 7]

Other important termas are "The Penetrating Wisdom" (dgongs pa zang thal), revealed by Rinzin Gödem (rig 'dzin rgod ldem, 1337-1409);[21] and "The Nucleus of Ati's Profound Meaning" (rDzogs pa chen po a ti zab don snying po) by Terdak Lingpa (gter bdag gling pa, 1646-1714).[21]

Particular influential of these later revelations are the works of Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798).[21] His Longchen Nyingthig (klong chen snying thig), "The Heart-essence of the Vast Expanse"[30] or "The Seminal Heart of the Great Matrix",[21] is a hidden teaching from Padmasambhava which was revealed by Jigme Lingpa.[3][21] The Longchen Nyingthig is said to be the essence of the Vima Nyingthig and Khandro Nyingthig, the "Early Nyingthig,",[19] and has become known as the "later Nyingthig".[19] It is one of the most widely practiced teachings in the Nyingmapa school.[31] Patrul Rinpoche (1808–1887) wrote down Jigme Lingpa's pre-liminary practices into a book called The Words of My Perfect Teacher.[32]

Modern times

In the early 20th century the first publications on Tibetan Buddhism appeared in the west. An early publication on Dzogchen was the so-called "Tibetan Book of the Dead," edited by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, which became highly popular, but contains many mistakes in translation and interpretation.[29] Dzogchen has been popularized in the western world by the Tibetan diaspora, starting with the exile of 1959. Well-known teachers include Sogyal Rinpoche and Namkhai Norbu. The 14th Dalai Lama is also a qualified Dzogchen teacher.[web 3]

Kagyu and Gelugpa

Dzogchen has also taught and practiced in the Kagyu[note 8] lineage,[25] beginning with Milarepa (c.1052–c.1135) and most notably by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339).[note 9] Lozang Gyatso, 5th Dalai Lama (1617-1682), Thubten Gyatso, 13th Dalai Lama ( 1876-1933), and Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama (present), all Gelugpas, are also noted Dzogchen masters, although their adoption of the practice of Dzogchen has been a source of controversy among more conservative members of the Gelug tradition.[web 3]

Conceptual background


Rigpa is a central concept in Dzogchen.[33] It is "reflexively self-aware primordial wisdom,"[33] which is self-reflexively aware of itself as unbounded wholeness.[34][quote 2] The analogy given by Dzogchen masters is that one's true nature is like a mirror which reflects with complete openness, but is not affected by the reflections; or like a crystal ball that takes on the colour of the material on which it is placed without itself being changed. The knowledge that ensues from recognizing this mirror-like clarity (which cannot be found by searching nor identified)[35] is called rigpa.[36]

According to Berzin, there are three aspects of rigpa:[web 4]

  1. The essential nature of rigpa: primal purity (ka-dag). Rigpa is primordially without stains, both being self-void (rang-stong) and other-void (gzhan-stong);
  2. The influencing nature of rigpa: the manner in which rigpa influences others. Rigpa is responsiveness (thugs-rje, compassion). It responds effortlessly and spontaneously to others with compassion;
  3. The functional nature of rigpa: rigpa effortlessly and spontaneously establishes "appearances" (lhun-grub).

Harmonisation with Madhyamaka

Koppl notes that although later Nyingma authors such as Mipham attempted to harmonize the view of Dzogchen with Madhyamaka, the earlier Nyingma author Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo did not.[37][quote 3] Rongzom held that the views of sutra such as Madhyamaka were inferior to that of tantra.[38][quote 4]

Teachings and practice

Dzogchen is a secret teaching emphasizing the rigpa view. It is a secret from those who are incapable of receiving it. The student can properly receive it with direct in person realization under a guru's instruction. It is accessible to all; however, it's generally considered an advanced practice because safety from generating an incorrect view necessitates preliminary practices with a teacher's empowerment. [39]

Dzogchen teachings emphasize naturalness, spontaneity and simplicity.[9] Although Dzogchen is portrayed as being distinct from tantra, it has incorporated many concepts and practices from tantric Buddhism.[9] It embraces a widely varied array of traditions, that range from a systematic rejection of all tantric practices, to a full incorporation of tantric practices.[9]

Three principles

The "Seminal Heart of Vimalamitra" epitomized the Dzogchen teaching in three principles, known as the Three Statements of Garab Dorje (Tsik Sum Né Dek). They give in short the development a student has to undergo:

  1. Direct introduction to one's own nature (Tib. ngo rang thog tu sprod pa), namely rigpa;
  2. Not remaining in doubt concerning this unique state (Tib. thag gcig thog tu bcad pa);
  3. Continuing to remain in this state (Tib. gdeng grol thog tu bca' pa).

In subsequent centuries these teachings were expanded, most notably in the Longchen Nyingthig by Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798).[3] His systematisation is the most widely used Dzogchen-teaching nowadays.[3]

Structure of practice


Anthology of practices

The dzogchen teachings consist of vast anthologies of practices presented as preliminary and auxiliary contemplative techniques, including standard Buddhist meditation techniques and tantra practices which have been integrated into Dzogchen.[40]

Longchenpa, in "Finding Comfort and Ease in Meditation" (bsam gtan ngal gso), the second text of the Trilogy of Natural Ease (ngal gso skor gsum),[41] and its auto-commentary the Shing rta rnam dag,[42] uses the standard triad of meditative experiences (nyams) to structure the text and the practices: bliss (bde ba), radiance/clarity (gsal ba), and non-conceptuality (mi rtog pa).[41] This triad is also presented as preliminaries, main practice, and concluding phase.[42] The preliminaries are further divided into:

  • the general preliminaries on impermanence and renunciation of cyclic existence, which corresponds to the Hinayana;
  • the special preliminaries on compassion and the engendering of compassionate motivation, which corresponds with the Mahayana;
  • the supreme preliminaries, consisting of the generation phase, perfection phase and Guru yoga.[42]

This systematisation contextualized the system in terms of Tibetan Buddhism, while simultaneously relegating these preliminaries to a lower status, while emphasizing their necessity.[42] Longchenpa couples meditation with Guru yoga in these preliminaries.[42]

The teachings based on the Longchen Nyingthig are divided into preliminary practices and main practices.[43] Alexander Berzin explicitly mentions meditative practices as a preliminary of the main practice.[web 4][44][45][32]

General overview

A general overview gives the following:

  • Preliminary practices:
    • Initial empowerment: according to Tsoknyi Rinpoche,Dzogchen practice starts with receiving empowerment;[46]
    • Ngondro, general or outer, and special or inner pre-liminary practices, which prepare one for the main practice;
  • Great Perfection practice:
    • Further empowerment: receiving an empowerment (dbang, initiation) and keeping the vows conferred at that time. This activates our Buddha-mind, by consciously generating a state of mind that is accompanied by understanding;
    • Supreme preliminary practices: Jigme Lingpa's ru shan and sbyong ba; practice of the three samadhis;[note 10]
    • Main practice, which consists of:[web 4][quote 5]
      • Trekchö, "break through",[web 4] recognising rigpa;
      • Tögal (thod rgal), "leap ahead",[web 4] spontaneous presence"[48][49] which is the stabilisation of rigpa and compassionate action.
    • Concluding phase

Preliminary practices

The Ngondro, pre-liminary practices, consist of outer pre-liminaries and inner pre-liminaries.[web 4]

Initial empowerment

According to Tsoknyi Rinpoche, before one starts with the Dzogchen-practices empowerment is necessary. This plants the "seeds of realization" within the present body, speech and mind.[46] Empowerment "invests us with the ability to be liberated into the already present ground."[50] The practices bring the seeds to maturation, resulting in the qualities of enlightened body,speech and mind.[51]

General or outer preliminaries

The outer preliminaries are as follows:[web 4]

  • appreciating our precious human rebirths;
  • contemplating death and impermanence;
  • contemplating the faults of samsara;
  • contemplating karmic cause and effect and the possibility of gaining liberation from it;
  • contemplating the benefits of liberation;
  • building and maintaining a good relation with a spiritual teacher;

Special or inner preliminaries

The inner preliminaries are as follows:[web 4]

  • taking refuge;
  • cultivating bodhichitta and the "far-reaching attitudes" (Tib. phar-byin, Skt. paramita);
  • practicing Vajrasattva recitation, for purification of the gross obstacles;
  • practicing mandala offerings, in which we develop generosity and strengthen our enlightenment-building network of positive force;
  • making kusali offerings of chod, in which we imagine cutting up and giving away our ordinary bodies;
  • practicing Guru Yoga, in which we recognize and focus on Buddha-nature in our spiritual mentors and in ourselves;

Great perfection practices


According to Berzin, receiving empowerment (dbang, initiation) and keeping the vows conferred at that time is a necessary step to move on to the main practice. This activates our Buddha-mind, by consciously generating a state of mind that is accompanied by understanding. Alexander Berzin further notes:[web 4]

  • "In Gelug, the conscious experience is some level of blissful awareness of voidness."
  • "In the non-Gelug systems, it is focus on Buddha-nature in our tantric masters and in us, with some level of understanding of Buddha-nature."
  • "In dzogchen, it is focus specifically on the basis three aspects of rigpa as Buddha-nature factors in our tantric masters and in us."

Supreme preliminary practices

With the influence of tantra, and the systematisations of Longchenpa, the main Dzogchen practices came to be preceded by preliminary (meditative) practices.[52]

In the text "Finding Comfort and Ease in the Nature of Mind" (sems nyid ngal gso), which is part of the Trilogy of Natural Ease (ngal gso skor gsum), Longchenpa arranges 141 contemplative practices, split into three sections: exoteric Buddhism (92), tantra (92), and the Great Perfection (27).[53] Most of these practices are "technique-free."[41] The typical Buddhist meditations are relegated to the preliminary phase, while the main meditative practices are typical "direct" approaches.[54]

Longchenpa includes the perfection phase techniques of channels, winds and nuclei into the main and concluding phases.[55] The "concluding phase" includes discussions of new contemplative techniques, which aid the practice of the main phase.[56]

The Great Perfection practices as described by Jigme Lingpa consist of preliminary practices, specific for the Great Perfection practice, and the main practice.[57]

Jigme Lingpa - ru shan and sbyong ba

Jigme Lingpa mentions two kinds of preliminary practices, 'khor 'das ru shan dbye ba,[note 11] "making a gap between samsara and nirvana,"[58][45] and sbyong ba.[58]

Ru shan is a series of visualisation and recitation exercises,[58] derived from the Seminal Heart tradition.[54] The name reflects the dualism of the distinctions between mind and insight, ālaya and dharmakāya.[58] Longchenpa places this practice in the "enhancement" (bogs dbyung) section of his concluding phase. It describes a practice "involving going to a solitary spot and acting out whatever comes to your mind."[54][note 12][quote 6]

Sbyong ba is a variety of teachings for training (sbyong ba) the body, speech and mind. The training of the body entails instructions for physical posture. The training of speech mainly entails recitation, especially of the syllable hūm. The training of the mind is a Madhyamaka-like analysis of the concept of the mind, to make clear that mind cannot arise from anywhere, reside anywhere,or go anywhere. They are in effect an establishment of emptiness by means of the intellect.[59]

Meditative practices

According to Alexander Berzin, after the preliminary practices follow meditative practices, in which the practitioners works with the three aspects of rigpa.[web 4][note 13]

The three samadhis (ting-nge-’dzin gsum) are practiced, in which the practitioners works, in the imagination, with the three aspects of rigpa:

  1. "Basis samadhi" on the authentic nature (gzhi de-bzhin-nyid-kyi ting-nge-’dzin, de-ting): the meditator is absorbed in an approximation of rigpa’s primal purity. It is a state of open receptiveness (klong), which is the basis for being able to help others as a Buddha;
  2. "Path samadhi illuminating everywhere" (lam kun-snang-ba’i ting-nge-’dzin, snang-ting): being moved by compassion, the meditator is absorbed in an approximation of rigpa’s responsiveness;
  3. "Resultant samadhi on the cause" (‘bras-bu-rgyu’i-ting-nge-’dzin, rgyu-ting): the meditator is absorbed in the visualization of a seed-syllable, which brings the result of actually helping limited beings.
White Tibetan letter Ah

The Dzogchen meditation practices also include a series of exercises known as Semdzin (sems dzin),[60] which literally means "to hold the mind" or "to fix mind."[60] They include a whole range of methods, including fixation, breathing, and different body postures, all aiming to bring one into the state of contemplation.[61][note 14]

Main practice


The practice of Trekchö (khregs chod), "cutting through solidity",[47] reflects the earliest developments of Dzogchen, with its admonition against practice.[3][note 15] In this practice one first identifies, and then sustains recognition of, one's own innately pure, empty awareness.[64][65][quote 7] Students receive pointing-out instruction (sems khrid, ngos sprod) in which a teacher introduces the student to the nature of his or her mind.[3] According to Tsoknyi Rinpoche, these instructions are received after the preliminary practices, though there's also a tradition to give then before the preliminary practices.[68][quote 8][quote 9][note 16]

Jigme Lingpa divides the trekchö practice into ordinary and extraordinary instructions.[71] The ordinary section comprises the rejection of the all is mind - mind is empty approach, which is a conceptual establishment of emptiness.[71] Jigme Lingpa's extraordinary instructions give the instructions on the breakthrough proper, which consist of the setting out of the view (lta ba), the doubts and errors that may occur in practice, and some general instructions thematized as "the four ways of being at leisure" (cog bzhag).[71] The "setting out of the view" tries to point the reader toward a direct recognition of rigpa, insisting upon the immanence of rigpa, and dismissive of meditation and effort.).[72] Insight leads to nyamshag, "being present in the state of clarity and emptiness".[73]


Tögal (thod rgal) means "spontaneous presence",[48][49] "direct crossing",[74] "direct crossing of spontaneous presence",[75] or "direct transcendence.[18] The literal meaning is "to proceed directly to the goal without having to go through intermediate steps."[76]

Tögal is also called "the practice of vision",[web 6] or "the practice of the Clear Light (od-gsal)".[web 6] It entails progressing through the four visions.[77] The practices engage the subtle body of psychic channels, winds and drops (rtsa rlung thig le).[3] The practices aim at generating a spontaneous flow of luminous, rainbow-colored images that gradually expand in extent and complexity.[21]

Tögal is an innovative practice,[21] and reflects the innovations of the Manngede cycles in Dzogchen, and the incorporation of complex tantric techniques and doctrines.[3] They are an adaptation of Tantric "perfection phase" techniques (rdzogs rim),[21] as outlined in the early-eleventh-century Indian Tantric Kalachakra cycle, "The Wheel of Time",[21] which was probably a direct inspiration for the Seminal Heart.[21]

Rainbow body

Lhun grub practice may lead to full enlightenment and the self-liberation of the human body into a rainbow body[note 17] at the moment of death,[78] when all the fixation and grasping has been exhausted.[79] It is a nonmaterial body of light with the ability to exist and abide wherever and whenever as pointed by one's compassion.[47][80][81] It is a manifestation of the Sambhogakāya.[80]

Some exceptional practitioners such as Padmasambhava and Vimalamitra are held to have realized a higher type of rainbow body without dying. Having completed the four visions before death, the individual focuses on the lights that surround the fingers. His or her physical body self-liberates into a nonmaterial body of light (a Sambhogakāya) with the ability to exist and abide wherever and whenever as pointed by one's compassion.[80]

See also


  1. Tibetan has a ninefold classification scheme fort he Buddhist teachings. First come the vehicles of the śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas and bodhisattvas. Then come the three vehicles of "outer" yoga, and then the three vehicles of "inner" yoga. The "inner yoga" vehicles are Mahāyoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga. The Dzogchen teachings are part of Atiyoga.[web 1]
  2. The visualization of a deity and recitation of his or her mantra.[web 1]
  3. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries there were several competing terma traditions surrounding Vimalamitra, Songtsen Gampo, Vairotsana and Padmasambhava.[22] At the end of the 12th century, there was the "victory of the Padmasambhava cult." [23] Nyangrel Nyima Özer was the principal architect of the Padmasambhava mythos.[24] The Maratika Cave is referred to in Tibetan literature from the 12th century. Kathang Zanglingma, a terma with the biography of Padmasambhava, revealed and transmitted by Nyangrel Nyima Ozer, narrates the "events: which made the Maratika caves a sacred place for Vajrayana practitioners.
  4. rdzogs pa chen po tshig don bcu gcig pa bzhugs so
  5. rgod kyi ldem 'phru can. dgongs pa zang thal
  6. zab-chos zhi-khro dgongs-pa rang-grol
  7. The bar-do thos-grol was translated by Kazi Dawa Samdup (1868-1922), and edited and published by W.Y. Evans-Wenz. This translation was popularized as "the Tibetan Book of the Dead", but contains many mistakes in translation and interpretation.[28][29] See also Reynolds, John Myrdin (1989), Self-Liberation through seeing with naked awareness, Station Hill Press, Inc.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Wylie: bka' brgyud
  9. Wylie: rang byung rdo rje
  10. According to Berzin, this is the equivalent of the generation stage, as emphasized in Mahayoga.[web 4]
  11. Korday Rushen; Tibetan: འཁོར་འདས་རུ་ཤནWylie: 'khor 'das ru shan
  12. See Germano, David (1997), "The Elements, Insanity, and Lettered Subjectivity", in Lopez, Jr., Donald (ed.), The Religions of Tibet in Practice, Princeton University Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  13. Berzin also uses the term "Mahayoga Stage" for this stage.[web 4]
  14. Longchenpa divides them into three categories of seven exercises.[60] Exercises in the first category include

    "[F]ixating on a white Tibetan letter A on the tip of one's nose. Linking the letter with one's breathing, it goes out into space with each exhalation and returns to the tip of the nose with each inhalation. This fixation inhibits the arising of extraneous thoughts [...] however, the second exercise in the same category involves the sounding of the syllable PHAT! which instantly shatters one's thoughts and attachments. Symbolically, the two parts of the syllable indicate the two aspects of enlightenment, that is, PHA signifies Means (thabs) and TA signifies Wisdom (shes rab)."[60]

    According to Reynolds, it is this specific Semdzin practice which was used by Patrul Rinpoche to provide a direct introduction to the knowledge of rigpa. It temporarily blocks the flow of thought, and brings us temporarily in a state of emptiness and clarity.[62]

  15. Compare Karma Chagme, who associates Trekchö with Semde.[63] He further equates Trekchö with Mahāmudrā,[63]
  16. See also Ramana Maharshi's awakening, spontaneous kenshō, and sudden insight
  17. Wylie: 'ja' lus, pronounced Jalü


  1. John Pettit: "Great Perfection" variously indicates the texts (āgama, lung) and oral instructions (upadeśa, man ngag) that indicate the nature of enlightened wisdom (rdzogs chen gyi gzhung dang man ngag), the verbal conventions of those texts (rdzogs chen gyi chos skad), the yogis who meditate according to those texts and instructions (rdzogs chen gyi rnal 'byor pa), a famous monastery where the Great Perfection was practiced by monks and yogis (rdzogs chen dgon sde), and the philosophical system (siddhānta, grub mtha') or vision (darśana, lta ba) of the Great Perfection.[1]
  2. Descriptions of rigpa:
    • Klein and Wangyal: "[...] the essence and base of self-arisen wisdom is the allbase, that primordial open awareness is the base, and that recognition of this base is not separate from the primordial wisdom itself [...] that open awareness is itself authentic and its authenticity is a function of it being aware of, or recognizing itself as, the base [...] The reflexively self-aware primordial wisdom is itself open awareness (rigpa), inalienably one with unbounded wholeness."Template:Klein
    • Reginald Rey: "...primordial wisdom's recognition of itself as unbounded wholeness [...] the incorruptible mindnature.[34]
  3. Heidi Koppl: "Unlike Mipham, Rongzom did not attempt to harmonize the view of Mantra or Dzogchen with Madhyamaka."[37]
  4. Heidi Koppl: "By now we have seen that Rongzom regards the views of the Sutrayana as inferior to those of Mantra, and he underscores his commitment to the purity of all phenomena by criticizing the Madhyamaka objectification of the authentic relative truth."[37]
  5. Ron Garry: "The practice is that of Cutting through Solidity (khregs chod), which is related to primordial purity (ka dag); and Direct Vision of Reality (thod rgal), which is related to spontaneous presence (Ihun grub)."[47]
  6. John Pettit , in Tricycle Magazine, winter 1997: "David Germano [...] describes unusual practices of the Great Perfection [...] Germano introduces the "differentiation of Samsara and Nirvana," a form of meditative warm-up exercise that has not, to my knowledge, ever been discussed so explicitly. This practice is unusual by any standard, Tibetan or Western, except perhaps for those who have experimented with Stanislav Grof's Holotropic Breathwork or Primal Scream Therapy. (See also Ego death). In the exercise, a practitioner jumps, prowls, and howls like a wolf and imitates its thought patterns, or pretends to be a mass murderer and then suddenly switches to the outlook of a self-sacrificing saint. "In short," Germano writes, "one lets oneself go crazy physically, verbally and mentally in a flood of diverse activity, so that by this total surrender to the play of images and desire across the mirroring surface of one's being, one gradually comes to understand the very nature of the mirror itself."[web 5]
  7. See also:
    • The main trekchö instructions in the Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo: "This instant freshness, unspoiled by the thoughts of the three times; You directly see in actuality by letting be in naturalness."[66]
    • Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche: "Trekchö is the thorough cut of cutting through, cutting the obscurations completely to pieces, like slashing through them with a knife. So the past thought has ceased, the future thought hasn't yet arisen, and the knife is cutting through this stream of present thought. But one doesn't keep hold of this knife either; one lets the knife go, so there is a gap. When you cut through again and again in this way, the string of thought falls to pieces. If you cut a rosary in a few places, at some point it doesn't work any longer.[67]
    • Namkhai Norbu: "Once one has arrived at contemplation through any method, one has to continue in it, and working to bring this continuation into every action and situation is called Tregchöd, which literally means "(spontaneous cutting of tension," in thes ense that as soon as the primordial state manifests and dualism is thus overcome, on einstantly falls into a state of total relaxation, like a bundle of sticks, that, having been bound together, falls loosely into a total relaxed pattern as soon as the string binding it has been cut."[61]
  8. Tsoknyi Rinpoche: "As for my own personal experience, when I underwent the ngondro training, I had already received some Dzogchen instructions. The awakened state of rigpa had been pointed out, and I had a lukewarm certainty about what it was. But the ngondro helped me progress.[68]"
  9. Some examples of Trekchö:
    • John Myrdhin Reynolds: "[T]he proper procedure is to introduce the practitioner directly to the state of contemplation by way of first dissolving one's mental activities (sems kyi yal-ba ngo-sprod-pa). If one observes the mind and searches for where a thought (rnam-rtog) arises, where it remains, and where it goes, no matter how much one researches and investigates this, one will find nothing. It is this very "unfindability" (mi rnyed) of the arising, the abiding, and the passing away of thoughts which is the greatest of all finds. Thoughts do not arise from anywhere (byung sa med), they do not remain anywhere (gnas sa med), and they do not go anywhere ('gro sa med). They do not arise from within the body, nor do they arise from outside the body. They are truly without any root or source (ghzi med rsta bral). Like the clouds in the sky, they arise only to dissolve again. Thoughts arise out of the state of emptiness and return again into this state of emptiness, which represents pure potentiality. We only have to observe our mind to discover this for ourselves. And this shunyata, this stae of emptiness, is in fact the very essence of the mind (sems kyi ngo-bo stong-pa nyid).[69]
    • Sogyal Rinpoche: "Nyoshul Lungtok, who later became one of the greatest Dzogchen masters of recent times, followed his teacher Patrul Rinpoche for about eighteen years. During all that time, they were almost inseparable. Nyoshul Lungtok studied and practiced extremely diligently, and accumulated a wealth of purification, merit, and practice; he was ready to recognize the Rigpa, but had not yet had the final introduction. Then, one famous evening, Patrul Rinpoche gave him the introduction. It happened when they were staying together in one of the hermitages high up in the mountains above Dzogchen Monastery. It was a very beautiful night. The dark blue sky was clear and the stars shone brilliantly. The sound of their solitude was heightened by the distant barking of a dog from the monastery below. Patrul Rinpoche was lying stretched out on the ground, doing a special Dzogchen practice. He called Nyoshul Lungtok over to him, saying: "Did you say you do not know the essence of Mind?" Nyoshul Lungtok guessed from his tone that this was a special moment and nodded expectantly.
      "There's nothing to it really," Patrul Rinpoche said casually, and added, "My son, come and lie down over here: be like your old father." Nyoshul Lungtok stretched out by his side. Then Patrul Rinpoche asked him, "Do you see the stars up there in the sky?"
      "Do you hear the dogs barking in Dzogchen Monastery?"
      "Do you hear what I'm saying to you?"
      "Well, the nature of Dzogchen is this: simply this."
      Nyoshul Lungtok tells us what happened then: "At that instant, I arrived at a certainty of realization from within. I had been liberated from the fetters of 'it is' and 'it is not.' I had realized the primordial wisdom, the naked union of emptiness and intrinsic awareness. I was introduced to this realization by his blessing, as the great Indian master Saraha said: He in whose heart the words of the master have entered, Sees the truth like a treasure in his own palm."[70]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Pettit 1999, p. 4.
  2. Keown 2003, p. 82.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 Buswell & Lopez 2014.
  4. Keown 2003, p. 24.
  5. Dalai Lama 2004, p. 208.
  6. Anyen Rinpoche 2006, p. 12-13.
  7. Anyen Rinpoche 2006, p. 57.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Irons 2008, p. 168.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 Germano 2005, p. 2545.
  10. Schaik 2011, p. 99.
  11. 11.00 11.01 11.02 11.03 11.04 11.05 11.06 11.07 11.08 11.09 11.10 11.11 11.12 11.13 11.14 11.15 11.16 11.17 11.18 11.19 11.20 11.21 Germano 2005, p. 2546.
  12. Schaeffer, Kapstein & Tuttle 2013, p. 3.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Schaeffer, Kapstein & Tuttle 2013, p. 4.
  14. Schaeffer, Kapstein & Tuttle 2013, p. 4-5.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Schaeffer, Kapstein & Tuttle 2013, p. 5.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Schaik 2004a.
  17. Germano 2005, p. 2546-2547.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 18.6 Germano 2005, p. 2547.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Stewart MacKenzie 2014.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Germano & Gyatso 2001, p. 244.
  21. 21.00 21.01 21.02 21.03 21.04 21.05 21.06 21.07 21.08 21.09 21.10 21.11 21.12 21.13 21.14 21.15 21.16 Germano 2005, p. 2548.
  22. Davidson 2005, p. 229.
  23. Davidson 2005, p. 278.
  24. Gyatso 2006.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Irons 2008, p. 169.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Fremantle 2001, p. 20.
  27. Norbu 1989, p. ix.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Norbu 1989, p. xii.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Reynolds 1989, p. 71-115.
  30. Klein & Wangmo 2010.
  31. Padmakara Translation Group 1994, p. xxxv.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Patrul Rinpoche 2011.
  33. 33.0 33.1 Klein & Wangyal 2006, p. 109.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Ray 2001, p. v.
  35. Third Dzogchen Rinpoche 2008, p. 152.
  36. Namdak 2006, p. 97.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Koppl 2008.
  38. Koppl 2008, p. ch4.
  39. Ingram 1993.
  40. Germano 2005, p. 2547, 2548.
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 Germano 1994, p. 254.
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 42.3 42.4 Germano 1994, p. 255.
  43. Padmakara Translation group 1994.
  44. Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche 2001.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Pettit 1999, p. 81.
  46. 46.0 46.1 Tsoknyi Rinpoche 2004, p. 4.
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 Dudjom Rinpoche 2005, p. 296.
  48. 48.0 48.1 Rinpoche Dzogchen Ponlop 2003.
  49. 49.0 49.1 Dalai Lama 2004.
  50. Tsoknyi Rinpoche 2004, p. 5.
  51. Tsoknyi Rinpoche 2004, p. 6.
  52. Germano 1994.
  53. Germano 1994, p. 251.
  54. 54.0 54.1 54.2 Germano 1994, p. 262.
  55. Germano 1994, p. 256.
  56. Germano 1994, p. 257.
  57. Schaik 2004b, p. 98.
  58. 58.0 58.1 58.2 58.3 Schaik 2004B, p. 98.
  59. Schaik 2004B, p. 98-99.
  60. 60.0 60.1 60.2 60.3 Reynolds 1996, p. 81.
  61. 61.0 61.1 Norbu 2000, p. 130.
  62. Reynolds 1996, p. 82.
  63. 63.0 63.1 Karma Chagme, Gyatrul Rinpoche & Wallace 1998, p. 180.
  64. Dahl 2009, p. 255.
  65. Mackenzie Stewart 2014.
  66. Schmidt 2001, p. 77.
  67. Schmidt 2002, p. 38.
  68. 68.0 68.1 Tsoknyi Rinpoche 2004, p. 7.
  69. Reynolds 1996, p. 75.
  70. Sogyal Rinpoche 1994, p. 160.
  71. 71.0 71.1 71.2 Schaik 2004b, p. 99.
  72. Schaik 2004b, p. 99-100.
  73. Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche 2001, p. 87.
  74. Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche 1994, p. 44.
  75. Schmidt 2002.
  76. Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche 1994, p. 224.
  77. Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche 1994, p. 38.
  78. Dalai Lama 2004, p. 204.
  79. Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche 1994, p. 233.
  80. 80.0 80.1 80.2 Matthieu 2001, p. 153.
  81. Ray 2001, p. 323.


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  • Schaik, Sam van (2004a), "The early Days of the Great Perfection" (PDF), Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 27/1 (2004): 165–206<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Schaik, Sam van (2004b), Approaching the Great Perfection: Simultaneous and Gradual Methods of Dzogchen Practice in the Longchen Nyingtig, Wisdom Publications<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Schaik, Sam van (2011), Tibet A History, Yale University Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Schaeffer, Kurtis R.; Kapstein, Matthew; Tuttle, Gray, eds. (2013), Sources of Tibetan Tradition, Columbia University Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


Further reading

  • Reynolds, John Myrdin (1989), Self-liberation through seeing with naked awareness, Station Hill Press, Inc.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Reynolds, John Myrdhin (1996), The Golden Letters: The Tibetan Teachings of Garab Dorje, First Dzogchen Master, Snow Lion Publications, ISBN 1-55939-050-6<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Germano, David (2004), "Dzogchen", in Jones, Lindsay (ed.), Macmillan Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol.4: Dacian Riders - Esther, MacMillan Reference USA<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Schaik, Sam van (2004), "The early Days of the Great Perfection" (PDF), Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 27/1 (2004): 165–206<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Karmay, Samten Gyaltsen (2007), The Great Perfection (rdzogs chen). A Philosophical and Meditative Teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, BRILL<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Structure of practice

External links

Tibetan websites
Tibetan wikis
Tibetan articles
Scholarly articles
Dzogchen centers