Dzogchen Talk in Venezia, Italy in 1989

The following article is from the Autumn, 1991 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

by Geshe Tenzin Wangyal (of the Bonpo Lineage)

When one gets interested in a teaching, it is important to discover why one is doing something, what is the purpose in following a teaching, and what one's motivation is. When we practice, it is not because we have nothing else to do, or to keep us busy, but because we want to do something different from our everyday life. We have spent all our life in a cycle of the same activities, of problems, and since now we have this precious human birth, we can have a contact with the teachings which can help us to overcome these problems. This gives meaning to our life. We can discover that there is suffering, and a cause of suffering, and discover its origin. Without checking what its origin is, there can never be an end to suffering. However if there is a way to overcome suffering, this means there is a way to realize oneself.

Our problems arise from our five passions: attachment, anger ignorance, pride and jealousyalso called the five poisons. These are what we must overcome. We have to understand that our problemseverything that has brought us to our current situationare a creation of the mind. They are not the true condition of the mind. In the condition of the mind there are no problems. So we have to return to the original condition.

There are different ways to overcome the five poisons which are the cause of our present and future problems. All the different religions and teachings have sought methods to overcome problems and to achieve realization; there are the methods of renunciation, transformation, and self-liberation, which are the paths of the Sutra, the Tantra and the Dzogchen. The example used is of a poisonous plant: one way is to throw it away; this is the path of renunciation, renouncing the passions. Another way is to combine the poison with another plant to transform it, so the passions are transformed into wisdom. But the way of the peacock is to eat the poisonous plant because it makes him more beautiful; that is, he frees the properties of the plant into energy which makes him grow. This is the way of Dzogchen, the way of self-liberation.

When we see our problems we see their causethe five poisons. When we see the five poisons we do not try to renounce them, nor do we think there is something to transform into wisdom. We try to understand the condition, to get to where the problem arises. We look at the problem and where it arises, and we find there is no source; the problem vanishes; the passion vanishes; it is freed into the state in which there is no passion. Thus in Dzogchen we try to find the way to free the passions into the state from which they arise.

The origin and the nature of problems is our condition. Just as a cloud originates from emptiness in outer reality, which is outer space, emptiness is its reality, and it frees itself into empty space. So all concepts and thoughts arise from inner vision in the inner reality, empty inner space, and vanish back into emptiness. We have to try to understand ourselves, our true conditionthat all our concepts and problems arise there, live there and disappear there. Discovering this condition is finding the primordial state. This is what we have to realize.

But in order to understand our condition we have to go beyond concepts and thoughts; our condition is thoughtless, and thought cannot understand what is without thought, beyond thought. There can be explanation in words to introduce the state, but the explanation is not understanding of the condition. One can form a concept, then abandon the concept, and enter into the state. In Dzogchen there is direct understanding, without thought, not distracted by thought, and the experience without thought can be obtained through the practice of zhi.gnas concentration.

But before looking at the practice of concentration, let us look for a moment at where the Dzogchen teachings come from. In Tibet the Dzogchen teachings were kept secret. The reason for this was so that people would realize their value and importance. I always try to get people to understand the great importance of the teachings when I give them directly.

The Dzogchen teachings are found mainly in the Nyingmapa Buddhist tradition and in the pre-Buddhist Bon tradition of Tibet. Even within these two traditions, there were not many practitioners of Dzogchen. It was not easy to receive this teaching which was kept very secret. In the Bon tradition, the founder, Shenrab Miwo, introduced this teaching to the succeeding lineage master by mental transmission. Many of the nine masters of this lineage were from Zhang Zhung, a country west of Tibet, around Mt Kailash. The next lineage, of 24 masters, is that of the oral transmission of Zhang Zhung, the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud. this is also the name of large collection of texts of the Bonpo Dzogchen teachings. The oral transmission from Tapihritsa to Nanzer Lodpo in the eighth century has reached to the present. I myself have received this transmission from my own master, Lopon Sangye Tenzin. I will be using the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud, as well as the A-khrid, which is another system of Dzogchen teaching and practice in Bon, as sources of the teachings.

Dzogchen is the path of self-liberation. When we see the five passions we do not renounce them nor transform them into wisdom, but try to understand their condition, where they arise from, and discover that they arise from, remain in, and dissolve back into the primordial state. So, recognizing this, ve can liberate, self-liberate, the passions into their own true condition, which is the primordial state.

Problems are like the clouds in the empty sky (the empty state) which obscure the sun (the clarity of the primordial state). They are of the same nature as the sky, they arise from the sky, remain there, and then dissolve into the sky. If we understand that the clouds are the same nature as the sky, that problems arise from the state and only temporarily obscure our understanding of reality, or our own natural condition, then there is self-liberation of the passions, that is, our self-liberation, that is, Dzogchen, the great perfection.

Finding this condition means finding the primordial state. It is the meaning of realization. It is beyond thoughts. It is a state without thoughts, and it cannot be understood by thought. We have to have direct understanding of our primordial state.

In the A-khrid system, after the biographies of the lineage masters, there are the basic teachings to bring one to knowledge of the state. These teachings are divided into two parts, concentration practice with an attribute or support, and practice without an attribute.

In the practice with an attribute we use the letter AH, which is the principal sound and the base of all the Tibetan alphabet, and also the symbol of the state of pure mind. Through this practice the mind is brought under control. That is, we do not follow thoughts of the past, present, or future, so that we remain in the condition of the mind without the limit of time, concentrating the mind on the AH as strongly as possible. Then we try to discover where thoughts come from. This is the way to have introduction to the state, the condition of the individual.

Thus this is one of the main Dzogchen practices for beginners, because through it one is introduced to the state. Each individual must look within to discover where thoughts arise. It is important here to distinguish between secondary causes which create or give rise to thought, and where thoughts originate. It is the place thoughts arise that we are trying to find, not the secondary causes of thought. Thought is a kind of experience; it is a thought which recognizes thoughts. What we are trying to do is go beyond the mind and find the nature of the mind which is without thoughts, and this can only be done without thoughts, without concepts.

As I said, each individual must look within to discover the origin of thoughts. Then when one has had the experience of this discovery, the master can introduce the state, because the student has already had the experience. That is, it is not that the master introduces his own concept to the student, but that he confirms and explains to the student that what he has discovered is that thoughts arise from emptiness, which is the true condition of the individual. Each individual has this basic condition, which is Buddhahood. It is not something one receives or gets from outside. It is the true condition of the individual.

Through concentration one can control thoughts, and once one has understood what is the state, then thoughts are no longer able to distract us or disturb our practice; they are no longer an obstacle or a problem. There is the self-liberation of thoughts. In fact thoughts are not an obstacle or a problem; they are a manifestation of the natural state. Thoughts arise from the natural state, they remain in the natural state, and they return to the natural state. If we do not follow thoughts, we do not create attachment. Then there is the self-liberation of thoughts into their natural state; then thoughts are-seen as an ornament of the state.

Thoughts cannot be liberated by other thoughts. Bad thoughts cannot be liberated by good thoughts, just as one cannot use blood to wash blood from a hand. Both good and bad thoughts are obstacles to direct understanding of the state. The natural state is without thought, beyond thought, and thought cannot understand what is without thought, what is beyond thought. There are two types of understandingwith thought and without thought. But direct understanding is without thought. It is undistracted by thought. There is a presence, clarity, which understands emptiness.

In contemplation practice, it is important to overcome the subtle dualism of practice and not practiceof formal practice sessionsand to integrate presence, contemplation, with all of one's activities of body, voice and mind. This is done gradually, first by integrating presence with what are considered virtuous activitiesthat is, activities which do not cause distractions such as prostrations (body), recitation of mantras (voice), feeling thirsty (mind); then activities which are considered non-virtuous such as fighting (body), arguing (voice), and the passions (mind). In this way presence, contemplation, is integrated with all our activities. All of life becomes practice, becomes presence.

But first it is important to understand what is meant by presence in Dzogchen. It means presence of the awareness of the inseparability of clarity and emptiness in the primordial state. Madhyamika, the Middle Way of Mahayana Sutra Buddhism, speaks of emptiness as the absolute, and in the ordinary path of the Sutra systems one attempts to understand emptiness through the concept of emptiness. But in Dzogchen we speak of the inseparability of emptiness and claritythat through clarity there is direct understanding, without concept, of emptiness; and that presence is not presence of clarity in emptiness, but these threeemptiness, clarity, and their inseparability, in the primordial state.

Emptiness is the base, kun.gzhi, the sky or space, the mother; clarity is knowledge, recognition, rig.pa, the sun shining, the son. In Tantrism one talks of the unification of these two, but in Dzogchen we talk about them as inseparable. There is nothing to unify. One has merely to recognize that clarity and emptiness are inseparable in the primordial state. This recognition is presence of awareness in Dzogchen, and it is this presence which must be integrated with all activities, virtuous, neutral and non-virtuous, of body, voice and mind, so that all of life is integrated with practice, and one can achieve realization through Dzogchen in this very life by continuing in contemplationthis is the practice of trek.chod, the practice of contemplation which one develops before the practice of thod. rgal, which is the integration of contemplation with vision.

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