The Crystal and the Way of Light

The following article is from the Winter, 2000 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu compiled and ed. by John Shane
176 pp., 23 line drawings, 30 b&w photos #CRWALI, $16.95

In The Crystal and the Way of Light, Chogyal Namkhai Norbu examines the spiritual path from the viewpoint of Dzogchen. He discusses the base, path and fruit of Dzogchen practice, and describes his education and how he met his principal master, who showed him the real meaning of direct introduction to Dzogchen. By interweaving his life story with the teachings, he both sets Dzogchen in its traditional context and reveals its powerful contemporary relevance. The book is richly illustrated with line drawings and photos of Buddhist masters, meditational deities, and Dzogchen symbols.

One of the most significant contributions to the understanding of Tibetan Buddhism to have appeared in recent years.The Middle Way, Journal of the Buddhist Society, London.

Namkhai Norbu was born in eastem Tibet in 1938, and at the age of three was recognized as the incarnation of a great Dzogchen master. He received the full traditional education of a trulku or reincarnate lama, and went on to study and practice with several great masters in Tibet, before political events forced him to leave for India. He subsequently took up a post as Professor of Tibetan and Mongolian Language and Literature at the Oriental Institute, University of Naples. He continues to travel and teach extensively and has major centers in the USA and Italy.

This new edition has been extensively revised by John Shane and includes easily recognizable phonetic renderings of Tibetan names and terms.

Here is an exceipt from Chapter Seven of The Crystal and the Way of Light:

The great Dzogchen master Yungton Dorje Pal was asked: What meditation do you do? And he replied: What would I meditate on?

So his questioner concluded: In Dzogchen you don't meditate, then?

But Yunton Dorje Pal replied: When am I ever distracted [from contemplation]?

The distinction between what is meant by the terms meditation and contemplation is an essential one in Dzogchen. The practice of Dzogchen is, properly speaking, the practice of contemplation, which consists in abiding in the non-dual state which, of its own nature, uninterruptedly self-liberates. This state, which is not conditioned by the conceptual level of mental activity, also encompasses thought and the functioning of what we generally consider to be our ordinary minds. Thought can, and indeed does, arise in contemplation - but, in contemplation, one is not conditioned by it; since the primordial state is inherently self-liberating, by simply leaving thought alone, it liberates of itself.

In contemplation, therefore, as the term is used in Dzogchen, the mind makes no effort whatsoever: there is nothing to do, or to abstain from doing. Since what is' is self-perfect just as it is, it is left in its own condition.

What is meant by meditation' in the Dzogchen teachings, on the other hand, is one or other of the very many practices that involve working with the dualistic, relative mind, in order to enable one to enter the state of contemplation. These practices can include the various kinds of fixation of the gaze that are done to bring one to a state of calm, as well as the various kinds of visualization practices, and so on. So, in what is called meditation, there is something to be done with the mind, but in contemplation there is not.

In Dzogchen contemplation, free from the defects of sleepiness, agitation and distraction, both the moments of calm that occur between one thought and another, and the movements of thoughts themselves are integrated in the non-dual presence of Enlightened awareness. The term rigpa (the opposite of marigpathe fundamental delusion of dualistic mind) indicates the pure presence of this inherently self-liberating awareness, in which thought is neither rejected nor followed.

If one cannot find this pure presence, or rigpa, one will never find Dzogchen: to find Dzogchen, one must bring forth the naked state of rigpa. The state of rigpa is the pillar of the Dzogchen teachings, and it is this state that the master seeks to transmit in the Direct Introduction, the transmission of which, as my master Changchub Dorje showed me, is not dependent on either formal ritual initiations or intellectual explanations.

But if one does not find oneself dwelling in the state of rigpa, it is only by observing one's condition at all times that one can know just which practices to work with at any given moment in order to get out of one's cage, and to stay out of it. A bird that has lived in a cage all its life may not even know of the possibility of flight; and it will have to learn how to fly in a protected situation before it can definitively leave its cage, because otherwise, without the ability to fly wellonce the bars of the cage are no longer there to protect itit will be vulnerable to every kind of predator.

So, in the same way, a practitioner must develop mastery of his or her energies, and in the Dzogchen teachings there are practices to make this mastery possible, practices to suit all kinds of birds and all kinds of cages. But one must know for oneself what kind of bird one is, and what kind of cage one is in. And then, one must really want to come out of all cages, because it's no good just making one's cage a little bigger or more beautiful by, for example, adding some fascinating new bars made from some exotic Tibetan teaching. It's no good building anew crystal cage out of the Dzogchen teachings. However beautiful it might be, it's still a cage, and the whole purpose of the Dzogchen teachings is to take one out of all cages into the expanse of the clear sky, into the space of the primordial state. ä_æ

Related Topics
Back to all Snow Lion Articles