Dzogchen (Wylie: rdzogs chen , "Great Perfection" or "Great Completion"), also known as atiyoga (utmost yoga), is a tradition of teachings in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism aimed at discovering and continuing in the ultimate ground of existence.[2] The primordial ground (ghzi, "basis") is said to have the qualities of purity (i.e. emptiness), spontaneity (lhun grub, associated with luminous clarity) and compassion (thugs rje). The goal of Dzogchen is knowledge of this basis, this knowledge is called rigpa (Skt. vidyā). There are numerous spiritual practices taught in the various Dzogchen systems for awakening rigpa.

A white Tibetan letter A inside a rainbow thigle is a common symbol of Dzogchen.[1]
Tibetan name
Tibetan རྫོགས་ཆེན་
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese大究竟、
Simplified Chinese大究竟、

Dzogchen developed in the Tibetan Empire period and the Era of Fragmentation (9th-11th centuries) and continues to be practiced today both in Tibet and around the world. It is a central teaching of the Yundrung Bon tradition as well as in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.[quote 1] In these traditions, Dzogchen is the highest and most definitive path of the nine vehicles to liberation.[3] Dzogchen is also practiced (to a lesser extent) in other Tibetan Buddhist schools, such as the Kagyu, Sakya and the Gelug schools.[4]


Dzogchen is composed of two terms:[5]

  • rdzogs – perfection, completion
  • chen – great

According to the 14th Dalai Lama, the term dzogchen may be a rendering of the Sanskrit term mahāsandhi.[6]

The term initially referred to the "highest perfection" of Vajrayana deity yoga. Specifically it refers to the stage after the deity visualisation has been dissolved and one rests in the natural state of the innately luminous and pure mind.[7] According to Sam van Schaik, in the 8th-century tantra Sarvabuddhasamāyoga, the term refers to "a realization of the nature of reality" which arises through the practice of tantric anuyoga practices which produce bliss.[5]

In the 10th and 11th century, when Dzogchen emerged as a separate vehicle to liberation in the Nyingma tradition,[5] the term was used synonymously with the Sanskrit term ati yoga (primordial yoga).[8]

Traditional exegesis

The Mirror of the Heart of Vajrasattva (Dorje Sempa Nyinggi Melong), a major Dzogchen tantra, explains the term Dzog (Perfection) as follows:

Because rigpa is perfect wisdom in the realm beyond effort, it is perfection. Because meditation is perfect stainless wisdom in the realm beyond concepts, it is perfection. Because behavior is perfect universal wisdom in the realm beyond correction, it is perfection. Because view is perfect non-conceptual wisdom in the realm beyond achievement, it is perfection. Because fruit is the perfect twenty-five wisdoms in the realm beyond frame of reference, it is perfection.[9]

The Mirror of the Heart of Vajrasattva explains that Dzogchen is "great" because:[10]

  • It is the pinnacle of all vehicles, views, meditations, behaviors, goals.
  • It is "never moving from the natural state."
  • It functions "without obstacles in the realm beyond change."
  • It manifests "beyond concepts in the realm beyond attachment."
  • It manifests "without attachment in the realm beyond desire"
  • It manifests "in great bliss in the realm beyond speech."
  • It is "the source that pervades pure enlightenment."
  • It is "non-substantial rigpa beyond action and effort."
  • It remains "in equality without moving from the realm of total bliss" and "without moving from the essential meaning."
  • It exists "everywhere without being a dimension of grasping."
  • It is "the essence of everything without being established with words and syllables."

Traditional histories

Nyingma tradition

Adi Buddha Samantabhadra.
Garab Dorje

According to the traditional Nyingma account of the origin of Dzogchen, Dzogchen ultimately originates with the awakened mind of the first Buddha Samantabhadra, the first Buddha to reach awakening and simultaneously a symbol for our own awakened nature, the Dharmakāya. This event happened countless eons ago, before our own universe formed. The millions of manifestations of Samantabhadra teach throughout trillions of world systems, including in ours.[11]

The Dzogchen teachings are often attributed to 12 primordial masters that were nirmāṇakāya buddhas that took forms in various realms. Each appeared to specific gatherings of beings and revealed certain teachings and doctrines.[note 1] The 12th primordial master is said to be Buddha Shakyamuni.[12][13][14]

Also according to the Nyingma tradition, the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra taught Dzogchen to the Buddha Vajrasattva, who transmitted it to the first human lineage holder, Garab Dorje (Skt. Prahevajra).[7][15] According to Dudjom Rinpoche, Garab Dorje was a great Buddhist adept from Oddiyana who taught the Dzogchen teaching to the dakinis.[16]

Garab Dorje also taught Dzogchen to the master Mañjuśrīmitra, who is said to have divided the Dzogchen doctrine into three series (Mind, Space and Esoteric Instruction; sem-de, long-de, and men-ngak-de). Mañjuśrīmitra's students were Buddhajñanapada and Śrī Siṃha (according to Dudjom, it is also possible that they were the same person).[17] Śrī Siṃha's students were Jñanasutra, Vimalamitra, Vairocana and Padmasambhava.[18]

The three series of Dzogchen teachings were brought to Tibet by the students of Śrī Siṃha in the late 8th and early 9th centuries.[19][15] According to the Nyingma tradition, these teachings were concealed shortly afterward, during the 9th century, when the Tibetan empire disintegrated.[19] From the 10th century forward, innovations in the Nyingma tradition were largely introduced historically as revelations of these concealed scriptures, known as terma.[19]

Bön tradition

According to the Bön Tradition, Dzogchen originated with the founder of Bön, the Buddha Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche, who lived 18,000 years ago, ruling the kingdom of Tazik, which supposedly lay west of Tibet.[15] Tonpa Shenrab transmitted these teachings to the region of Zhang-zhung, the far western part of the Tibetan cultural world.[15][19]

History in the Nyingma school

Origins (7th–10th century)

The terms "Atiyoga" (as a higher practice than Tantra) and "Dzogchen" do appear in 8th and 9th century Indian tantric texts (such as the Guhyagarbha Tantra), though they do not refer to a separate vehicle (yana) in these texts.[20][15][21]

According to David Germano, there is no independent attestation of the existence of any separate traditions or lineages under the name of "Dzogchen" or "Atiyoga" outside of Tibet. Dzogchen proper may therefore be a unique Tibetan Buddhist teaching,[15][7] drawing on multiple influences, including both native Tibetan non-Buddhist beliefs and Chinese and Indian Buddhist teachings.[7] However, Germano also notes that "there is no question" that the characteristic apophatic language found in Dzogchen can also be found in some Indian tantras.[20]

Part of the Dzogchen text The cuckoo of awareness, from Dunhuang.

Francis V. Tiso notes that in the 7th century there were "anthologies of sutra quotations in circulation suggestive of the dzogchen approach."[22] During the reign of the Tibetan King Trisong Detsen (742-797) various Indian teachers which are associated with Dzogchen according to traditional Tibetan accounts (such as Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra and Vairotsana). However, from a strictly historical perspective, little is known about Dzogchen in the time of the Tibetan Empire (7th-9th centuries).[23]

The earliest sources on Dzogchen are from the Dunhuang caves and include texts such as The Cuckoo of Awareness (Rig pa'i khu byug), The Small Hidden Grain (gSangs rgyas sbas pa) attributed to Buddhagupta, Questions and Answers of Vajrasattva and Gold Refined from Ore (rdo la gser zhun).[24]

There are two main interpretations of the relationship between Dzogchen and Tantric Practices among modern academics (and thus of how Dzogchen originated as an independent tradition):

  • that early Dzogchen represented a distinct tradition separate from tantric Mahāyoga (Germano)
  • that early Dzogchen was not a separate tradition and always developed within tantric Mahāyoga (van Schaik)

Distinct movement

The idea that Dzogchen was a distinct movement was proposed by Samten Karmay in his study The Great Perfection. Samten proposed that Dzogchen was a "new philosophy" based on the doctrines of "primal spontaneity" (ye nas lhun gyis grub pa) and "primeval purity" (kadag) that developed between the 9th and 10th centuries. He notes that Chan Buddhism played a part in the development of early Dzogchen literature. He also explains how early Dzogchen had a close connection to tantric Mahāyoga practices and doctrines, but saw itself as outside of it.[25]

American Tibetologist David Germano has also defended a similar view of the early development of Dzogchen which emphasizes the difference between early Dzogchen and tantric yoga practice. He argues that early Dzogchen:

defined itself by the rhetorical rejection of such normative categories constituting tantric as well as non-tantric Indian Buddhism. This pristine state of affairs known as the "Mind Series" (sems sde) movement stemmed above all from Buddhist tantra as represented by the Mahayoga tantras, but was also influenced by other sources such as Chinese Chan and unknown indigenous elements.[21]

Germano points out that the early Dzogchen literature "is characterized by constant rhetorical denials of the validity and critical relevance" of mainstream Tantric practice. He points to "the ninth chapter of the Kun byed rgyal po, where normative tantric principles are negated under the rubric of the "ten facets of the enlightening mind's own being" (rang bzhin bcu).[quote 2] Germano calls the early Dzogchen traditions "pristine Great Perfection" because it is marked "by the absence of presentations of detailed ritual and contemplative technique" as well as a lack of funerary, charnel ground and death imagery (which is a feature of later Dzogchen traditions that Germano terms 'Funerary Great Perfection'). Instead it "consists of aphoristic philosophical poetry with terse experiential descriptions lacking any detailed outline of practice."[26]

Germano further notes that the "early Great Perfection movements were rhetorically (at least) linked to rejection of more literal tantric interpretations (power sub-stances in general and body-fluids in particular, as well as graphic violence and sexuality), de-emphasis of the profusion of contemplative techniques, stress on direct experience rather than scholastically mediated knowledge, de-emphasis of ritual, mocking of syllogistic logic (despite its not infrequent use), and in general resistance to codifications of rules for any life-processes."[21]

Instead of the mainstream tantric techniques, Germano holds that in early Dzogchen practice:

the basis of contemplation appears to largely have been a type of extension of "calming" practices at times involving concentration exercises as preparatory techniques, but ultimately aiming at a technique free immer-sion in the bare immediacy of one's own deepest levels of awareness. Thus formless types of meditation were valorized over the complex fab-rication of visual images found in other tantric systems such as Mahayoga, though it may very well be that during these early phases it was largely practiced in conjunction with other types of more normative tantric practices of that type.[21]

In the following centuries, under the influence of the Sarma "New Translation" schools, the Dzogchen tradition continued to reinvent itself and give birth to new developments and Dzogchen systems.[21]

Form of mahayoga

According to Sam van Schaik, who studies early Dzogchen manuscripts from the Dunhuang caves, the Dzogchen texts are influenced by earlier Mahayana sources such as the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and Indian Buddhist Tantras with their teaching of emptiness and luminosity, which in Dzogchen texts are presented as 'ever-purity' (ka-dag) and 'spontaneous presence' (lhun-grub).[27] van Schaik also notes that there is a discrepancy between the histories as presented by the traditions, and the picture that emerges from those manuscripts.[28][5]

According to van Schaik, the term atiyoga (which refers to Dzgochen) first appeared in the 8th century, in an Indian tantra called Sarvabuddhasamāyoga.[note 2] In this text, Anuyoga is the stage of yogic bliss, while Atiyoga is the stage of the realization of the "nature of reality."[5] 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). Atiyoga here is not a vehicle, but a stage or aspect of yogic practice. 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.[5]

According to van Schaik, the concept of rdzogs chen, "great perfection," first appeared as the culmination of the meditative practice of deity yoga[note 3] around the 8th century.[5] 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.[7]

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. 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. Only in the 11th century came Atiyoga to be treated as a separate vehicle, at least in the newly emerging Nyingma tradition. Nevertheless, even in the 13th century (and later) the idea of Atiyoga as a vehicle was controversial in other Buddhist schools.[5] 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.[5]

Early Dzogchen (9th–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.[20] According to van Schaik, the earliest manuscripts available are from Dunhuang.[29] 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.[20] The most of important of these are the "Eighteen Great Scriptures" (Lung-chen bco-brgyad), which were referred to as "mind oriented" (sems phyogs), and later became known as "mind series" (sems de).[20] The colophons of these early Mind series texts principally attribute these texts to Śrī Siṅgha, Vairotsana and Vimalamitra.[30]

Another group of early Dzogchen texts are the "five early translations" (sNga-'gyur lnga). The focus of all these texts is the "mind of enlightenment" (byang-chub-kyi sems, Skt. bodhicitta). According to Sten Anspal, this "refers to the true nature of a person's consciousness, which is essentially identical to the state of Buddha. The texts explain how accessing and abiding in this pure and perfect state of consciousness fulfills and surpasses all the various practices and methods of other Buddhist approaches."[31]

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.[7][20] One has simply to recognize the nature of one's own mind, which is naturally empty (stong pa), luminous ('od gsal ba), and pure.[7] According to Germano, its characteristic language, which is marked by naturalism and negation, is already pronounced in some Indian tantras.[20]

Nevertheless, these texts are still influenced by tantric Mahayoga, with its visualisations of deities and mandalas, and complex initiations (if only because of their rejection of these elements).[20] Van Schaik notes that early Dzogchen texts are concerned with other key terms such as rigpa (gnosis, knowledge) which refers to non-dual and non-conceptual awareness, and spontaneous presence (lhun gyis grup pa).[32]

Christopher Hatchell explains that for early Dzogchen "all beings and all appearances are themselves the singular enlightened gnosis of the buddha All Good (Samantabhadra, Kuntu Zangpo)", and that it "also shows a disinterest in specifying any kind of structured practices or concepts via which one could connect with that gnosis. Rather, the tradition argues, there is nothing to do and nothing to strive for, so the reality of All Good will manifest in its immediacy just by relaxing and letting go."[33] This tendency can be seen in the short Semde text "The Cuckoo of Awareness" (rig pa'i khu byug):

In variety, there is no difference.
And in parts, a freedom from elaborations.
Things as things are, are not conceptual, but
The shining forth of appearances is All Good.
Since you are finished, cast off the sickness of effort!
Resting naturally, leave things [as they are].[33]

This method of pointing the meditator to the direct experience of the true nature of reality that is immediately present was seen as superior to all other Buddhist methods, which were seen as intellectual fabrications. However, according to van Schaik, this rhetoric does not necessarily mean that practitioners of Dzogchen did not engage in these lower practices.[34]

During the 9th and 10th centuries these texts, which represent the dominant form of the tradition in the 9th and 10th centuries,[20] were gradually transformed into full-fledged tantras, culminating in the Kulayarāja Tantra (kun byed rgyal po, "The All-Creating King"[20]), in the last half of the 10th or the first half of the 11th century.[20] According to Germano, this tantra was historically perhaps the most important and widely quoted of all Dzogchen scriptures.[20]

Nubchen Sanggye Yeshe (832-962)

The work of Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (9th century) is also an important source for the mind series traditions, particularly his Samten Migdrön.[21] By the 11th century these traditions developed in different systems such as the Kham, the Rong and the Nyang systems, which according to Ronald Davidson "are represented by texts surviving from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries").[21] The Kham yogi Aro Yeshe Jungne (a ro ye shes 'byun gnas, 10th century) is particularly interesting, as he was said to have united the teachings of Dzogchen and the Chan lineage of Heshang Moheyan in his own Kham system known as the Mental Position system (A-ro lugs).[35]

By the 13th century, these traditions began to be slowly displaced "by the over-whelming success of more vision oriented movements such as the Seminal Heart."[21]

Renaissance period (11th–14th century)

The Dzogchen tradition was completely transformed in the 11th century,[20] with the renaissance of Tibetan culture occurring from the late 10th century to the early 12th century, known as the later dissemination of Buddhism.[20] New techniques and doctrines were introduced from India, resulting in new schools of Tibetan Buddhism (the "New Translation" or "modernist" schools, i.e. Sarma).[7][20] These new Buddhist schools criticized many of the texts and practices of the "old ones" (Nyingmapas) as unauthentic, since many could not be traced to Indian sources.[36]

This challenge led to an explosion of new developments in Dzogchen doctrine and practice, with a growing emphasis on the new tantrism.[7] The older Bon and Nyingma traditions incorporated these new influences through the process of Treasure revelation (terma).[20] These new texts were considered to be hidden treasures buried by earlier figures such as Vairotsana, Songtsen Gampo, Vimalamitra and Padmasambhava that were then discovered by "treasure revealers" (tertons). These terma texts as well as the works of Nyingma Dzogchen commentators such as Rongzom were used to mount a scholarly defense of Dzogchen against the Sarma critiques.[36]

The Indian Buddhist Yogini Tantras and other Anuttarayoga Tantras influenced the development of new Dzogchen texts in this period, especially the Instruction series. These Buddhist tantras made use of taboo imagery which was violent, horrific and erotic.[20] These influences are reflected in the rise of subtle body practices, new pantheons of wrathful and erotic Buddhas, increasingly antinomian rhetorics, and a focus on death-motifs within the new Dzogchen literature of this period.[37]

Also during this period, new "visionary yogas" that lead to spontaneous visual experiences (and which do not require the use of the active visualization) were incorporated into the emerging Dzogchen systems. According to Hatchell, these visionary practices bear some similarity to those found in the Indian Kalacakra system. Both of these systems include the use of dark-retreat and sky-gazing, specialized "gazes" and postures, as well as "a sequence of visions that progresses from unstructured spots of light to encounters with fully formed deities, and a tendency to use these visions as the basis for philosophical discussion."[38]

These Tantric ideas were incorporated in several movements such as the "Secret Cycle" (gsang skor),[39] "Ultra Pith" (yang tig),[39] "Brahmin's tradition" (bram ze'i lugs),[39] the "Space Class Series,"[7] and especially the "Instruction Class series" (Menngagde),[7] which culminated in the "Seminal Heart" (snying thig), which emerged in the late 11th and early 12th century.

Even the Mind Series tradition adopted some elements from Buddhist tantra (though its focus remained on less complex images). According to Germano, Longchenpa's Trilogy of Natural Ease (ngal gso skor gsum) is "the classical example of these transformed Mind Series-based contemplative systems."[40]

Space series

'Dzeng Dharmabodhi, (b.1052 - d.1168), a master of the Vajra Bridge

The series of Space (Longde), reflects the developments of the 11th–14th centuries and emphasizes "space" or "expanse" (klong).[7] According to Sten Anspal this class of texts "is difficult to define or characterize uniformly" and "were not unified into a single system". Because of this, it has been seen either as nearly identical with the earlier Semde (Mind) Series, or as "occupying doctrinally a position between Mind and lnstruction Section."[31]

According to Anspal, "Space" in these texts "is used to describe aspects in which the individual's true nature of mind is analogous to space. For example, space is present everywhere and no effort is needed to reach it; it cannot be transcended: it is immense. encompassing everything: it is devoid of characteristics and cannot be apprehended; it is without center or periphery; it is eternal and uncaused; there is no support in space and nothing to focus on: and so forth."[31] One of the central themes of these texts is the doctrine of "the Nine Spaces" (The Spaces of View, Behavior, Mandala, Initiation, Commitment, Activity, Accomplishment, Levels - Paths, and Fruition). Each of these practices which refer to features of Buddhist tantra, is said to be spacious and complete within one's true nature and thus gradualist and tantric practices are seen as unnecessary for those who understand their mind's true nature. So, for example, there is no need to create a mandala in one's mind to practice, since when one realizes the true nature of mind, all perceptions are the mandala. Likewise, there is no need to go through ritual initiation, since realizing one's nature is already an initiation. In this sense, Dzogchen is seen as transcending tantra.[31]

As noted by Anspal, some Space Series tantras like Equal to the End of Sky (Nam-mkha'i mtha'-dang mnyam-pa) "do not prescribe any particular techniques for the practitioner, such as physical postures or movements, structured meditative exercises, etc." In this sense, they are similar to Mind Series Tantras.[31]

Another tradition which is often grouped as part of the Space Series is the Vajra Bridge (rdo rje zam pa) tradition. These texts include numerous tantric rites connected with Heruka and three Dakinis. However, the commentaries on Vajra Bridge texts indicate that these tantric rituals are auxiliary practices that "are secondary to the main practice that is Great Perfection contemplation of the nature of mind, and which is not here practiced in the formalized context of Tantric sadhana."[31] A key figure in this tradition is 'Dzeng Dharmabodhi (1052-1168). His student, Kun-bzang rdo-rje, wrote numerous commentaries on Vajra Bridge.[31] The key Tantra of this tradition was entitled Secret Wisdom (Ye-shes gsang-ba). The following verse "was interpreted as the essential summary of the way of contemplation in the rDo-rje zam-pa":

With one's body in a secluded place, cut the attachment to external [sense data] and internal [conceptuality], [assume the posture endowed with] seven characteristics, (chos bdun), and balance the physical elements ('byung-ba) [of the body]. Without blocking the six sense aggregates, settle in mere ordinary awareness. Externally, the elements of the body are balanced; internally, inhalation and exhalation are absent. One arrives at the meaning of uncontrived naturalness. That which is called "human being" is Buddha. There is no Vajrasattva apart from oneself.[31]

In the Vajra Bridge tradition, contemplation of the true nature of mind, which was also referred to as "non-meditation", was introduced through the use of "four signs", which "are the experiences of non-conceptuality (mi-rtog-pa), clarity (gsal-ba), bliss (bde-ba) and the inseparability (dbyer mi-phyed-pa) of the first three as the fourth."[31] Some of the Vajra Bridge texts also make use of subtle body yogas of winds (vayus), though they are relatively simple and "effortless" (rtsol-bral) in comparison to the wind yogas of the completion stage found in the Sarma tantras, which are seen as inferior and coarse by the Vajra Bridge authors such as Kun-bzang rdo-rje.[31]

Secret instruction series

Zhangton Tashi Dorje (1097-1127), the terton who revealed the Vima Nyingtik
Rigdzin Kumaradza, an important figure in the Seminal Heart tradition of the renaissance period.

The most influential texts of the instruction series are the so-called Seventeen Tantras (rgyud bcu bdun) and the two "seminal heart" collections, namely the Vima Nyingthig, (bi ma snying thig, "Seminal Heart of Vimalamitra") and the Khandro Nyingthig (mkha' 'gro snying thig, "Seminal Heart of the Dakini").[7][41]

The Seventeen Tantras are treasure texts (terma) which appear in around the 11th century, claiming to be translations of past masters like Vairocana and Vimalamitra. According to Germano, the first "historically attested" figure connected with these tantras is Chetsün Sengé Wangchuk (lce btsun seng ge dbang phyug, c. 11th century).[42] The Vima Nyingthig is attributed to Vimalamitra, but was likely composed by its discoverer, Zhangton Tashi Dorje (1097-1127).[43][44] Meanwhile, the Khandro Nyingthig was revealed by terton Pema Ledrel Tsal (padma las 'brel rtsal, 1291-1315).[45]

As noted by Hatchell, these texts present themselves as being taught by Buddhas like Samantabhadra and discuss numerous topics including: "cosmogony, the subtle body, speculation on the gnostic "ground" that underlies the world, buddha-nature, discussions of light-energy, practical techniques for calming the mind and producing visions, ritual empowerments, mandala construction, signs of meditative accomplishment, postdeath states, attaining liberation after dying, funerary rituals, relics, prognostications for the time of death, subjugation rituals, strange recipes, and advice for dealing with zombies."[44]

There is an emphasis on the importance of "funerary" topics such as death and the intermediate state (bardo) as well as visions of peaceful and fierce deities.[26] The Secret Instruction series texts saw themselves as the highest of all Dzogchen teachings, and they eventually overshadowed the other two classes.[7][21]

Hatchell explains the core worldview of the Seminal Heart texts as follows:

all of the world’s beings, objects, and appearances are said to rise up from the “ground” (gzhi) of reality, which in its primordial state is a field of pure possibility, beyond differentiation. Awareness serves as the dynamic, knowing dimension of this ground and acts as a kind of luminous vibrancy that “lights up” (snang) from the ground, creating appearances through its “dynamic energy” (rtsal). In this view, all appearances are simply the “play” (rol pa) or the “radiation” (gdangs) of awareness, with some appearances (such as visionary ones) being awareness appearing in its unclouded intensity, while others (like ordinary objects) are only its dimmed derivations.[46]

The main difference between enlightened and confused beings is whether or not they "recognize" (ngoshes pa) their nature as the primordial ground. Unenlightened beings are said to fail to recognize the non-dual nature of reality and thus mistakenly see the external world as separate from their themselves as subjects. This creates a false duality between self and other that leads to attachment.[46]

The Secret Instruction division focuses on two aspects of spiritual practice: kadag trekchö, "the cutting through of primordial purity", and lhündrub tögal, "the direct crossing of spontaneous presence".[47] According to Hatchell, trekchö is a class of meditations that cultivate "a stable, vivid awareness with the goal of becoming attuned to the mind’s emptiness and primordial purity." This is influenced by earlier teachings of the Mind series and on classic Buddhist calm-abiding (samatha, zhi gnas) and special-insight (vipasyana, lhag mthong).[48]

Tögal constitutes a unique feature of the Instruction tradition, which mainly deal with visionary meditations through practices such as dark retreat and sky gazing. The theory behind these practices is that, through yogic techniques, pure awareness can be induced to emerge through the eyes and appear as a series of visions. According to Hatchell, this is an opportunity "for the yogi to realize that the visionary appearances “out there” are none other than presencings of an internal awareness, and thus to undo the basic error of ignorance."[49]

According to Germano, the uniqueness of the Seminal Heart tradition lies in its "focus on the spontaneous dynamics (lhun grub) of the Ground, a spontaneity which one visually experiences in mandalic images in death and death-in-life, i. e. contemplation."[21] The Seminal Heart innovations can be seen as fourfold according to Germano:[21]

  1. It articulates a deeply phenomenological and partially mythic overarching narrative about the origination and telos of the human world that serves to structure the entire tradition. This can be summed up by a primordial ground, its unfolding in the ground-presencing, its split into samsara and nirvana and its culmination in enlightenment.
  2. It directly introduces visionary practices into the heart of Great Perfection contemplation in a way intertwined with this evolutionary or developmental ethos. This is the "Direct transcendence" discourse.
  3. It incorporates a wide range of tantric types of practices as auxiliary and supporting praxis, which on the whole involve relatively simple techniques of visualization in contrast to the intricate mandalas of modernist focus.
  4. It injects a far greater range of tantric doctrines into its discourse, ranging from subtle body theory to the set of one hundred peaceful and wrathful deities based on the five Buddha families.

The Vima Nyingthig categorized Dzogchen texts (and Atiyoga teaching in general) into three classes which later became the normative way of classifying Dzogchen literature:

  • The Mind Series (sems sde; the earliest teachings existing prior to the 11th century diffusion),[28]
  • The Space series (klong sde, 11th–14th centuries),
  • The Intimate Instruction Series (man ngag sde, 11th–14th centuries).

During the 13th to 14th centuries, the Seminal Heart teachings became widely circulated by figures such as Melong Dorje, Rigdzin Kumaradza and the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje.[21] Over time, the Seminal Heart tradition became the dominant Dzogchen tradition and its textual divisions became standard.[50]

Pith traditions

Nyangrel Nyima Ozer, 11th century terton of the Crown Pith cycle.[51]

There were also other Dzogchen traditions, such as the "pith" (ti) traditions (such as the Crown Pith, and Ultra Pith) which were contemporary with the development of the Seminal Heart canon. Some of these represented a re-assertion of earlier Dzogchen trends which were somewhat critical of the Seminal Heart systems.[26]

One of the most important of these conservative voices of the 12th century, Nyangrel Nyima Özer (Nyang ral nyi ma 'od zer, 1136–1204[note 4]), developed his "Crown Pith" (spyi ti) to reassert the older traditions in a new form.[50] According to Germano, this figure is also "one of the main architects of the Padmasambhava mythos". Another important figure of the Crown Pith tradition is Guru Chowang (1212-1270).[26]

Crown Pith tantras such as the Tantra of the Luminous Expanse, claim to be the "Peak of the Nine Vehicles".[1] As noted by Germano, a common motif of these works is that Crown Pith is superior to the Great Perfection or Transcendence Yoga, sometimes even stating that Crown Pith is a 10th Vehicle. This indicates that Nyima Özer was critical of other Dzogchen trends of his time.[26]

These writings, which were also presented as revelations from Padmasambhava, 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. Germano notes that "instead of the blood and violence of later Tantra, we find lyrical and elegant verses on light and darkness, purity and pollution, freedom and bondage, illusion and reality, plurality and unity, embodiment and mind."[26] According to Germano, in Crown Pith texts "the subordinated Transcendent Pith Great Perfection (ati dzokchen) is consistently associated more with the side of manifestation and vision and is described as retaining a degree of exertion, conceptuality, and focus on appearances, while the Crown Pith is presented as an uncompromising non-duality zeroed in on original purity (kadak).[26]

Systematization under Longchenpa (14th century)

A pivotal figure in the history of Dzogchen was Longchenpa Rabjampa (kLong chen rab 'byams pa, 1308–1364, possibly 1369). He revived the Seminal Heart teachings by bringing together the two main Seminal Heart cycles (the Vima and Khandro nyingthigs). To these he added two new collections authored by himself, the Lama Yangtig and the Khadro Yangtig, as well as a third collection, the Zabmo Yangtig. This compilation effort eventually led to all these cycles being passed down in one great combined cycle called the Nyingtig Yabshi.[55]

In his highly influential corpus of commentaries include the Seven Treasuries (mdzod bdun), the Trilogy of Natural Freedom (rang grol skor gsum), and the Trilogy of Natural Ease (ngal gso skor gsum).[7][50] Longchenpa's works systematized the numerous Dzogchen teachings in a coherent structured form. He refined the terminology and interpretations of Dzogchen, and integrated the Seminal Heart teachings with broader Mahayana and Vajrayana literature.[50][21] With Longchenpa's highly influential synthesis, the Seminal Heart teachings came to dominate the Dzgochen discourse in the Nyingma school while earlier traditions became marginalized. Later Dzogchen cycles were all influenced by Longchenpa's corpus.[21]

Malcolm Smith notes that Longchenpa's Tshig don mdzod (Treasury of Subjects)[56] was preceded by several other texts by other authors dealing with the same topics, such as The Eleven Subjects of The Great Perfection[note 5] by Nyi 'bum (12th century). This itself was derived from the eighth and final chapter of the commentary to The String of Pearls Tantra.[56] 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.[56]

Later developments

Peaceful and fierce deities of the post-mortem intermediate state (bardo).

In subsequent centuries more additions followed, including the Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones[57] (kar-gling zhi-khro)[note 6] by Karma Lingpa,[58] (1326–1386), popularly known as "Karma Lingpa's Peaceful and Wrathful Ones",[57] which includes the two texts of the bar-do thos-grol (sometimes titled The Tibetan Book of the Dead).[59][note 7]

Other important termas are The Penetrating Wisdom (dgongs pa zang thal), revealed by Rigdzin Gödem (rig 'dzin rgod ldem, 1337–1409);[50] 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).[50]

However, the most influential of the later revelations are the works of Jigme Lingpa (1730–1798).[50] His Longchen Nyingthig (klong chen snying thig), "The Heart-essence of the Vast Expanse"[61] or "The Seminal Heart of the Great Matrix",[50] is supposed to be a terma from Padmasambhava.[7][50] According to Germano, this cycle was based on the work of Longchenpa, but altered it and systematized it in new ways, mainly by "drawing upon normative (and transformed) deity visualization-oriented practices as found in Mahayoga cycles for its key structural framework."[21]

Germano also writes that this cycle is "much more ritualistic and conventionally tantric in nature" than the work of Longchenpa and also "also grants a far more prominent role to traditional sadhanas (i. e. meditative sessions relying on prescribed and detailed visualizations)."[62] The Longchen Nyingthig is said to be the essence of the Seminal Heart and has become known as the "later Nyingthig."[41] It is one of the most widely practiced teachings in the contemporary Nyingma school.[63]

19th and 20th centuries

Dudjom Lingpa

The next major development in the history of Dzogchen is the Rime movement (non-sectarian or non-partisan movement) of the 19th and 20th centuries.[21] A leading figure of this movement and an influential terton was Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–1892). According to Germano, this period saw the continuation of a move towards more normative tantric doctrine and contemplation in Dzogchen. There was a rise in the production of scholastic and philosophical literature on Mahayana topics from the Dzogchen perspective, culminating in the works of Ju Mipham (1846-1912), who wrote numerous commentaries and texts on Buddhist Mahayana philosophy. There was also an increased focus on monastic institutions in Nyingma.[64]

A major Dzogchen terma cycle which was revealed during this period was the Dudjom Tersar, which includes the revelations of Dudjom Lingpa (1835–1904) and his successor Dudjom Jigdral Yeshe Dorje or "Dudjom Rinpoche" (1904–1987).[65]

In the early 20th century the first publications on Tibetan Buddhism appeared in the western world. 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.[60]

Dzogchen has been popularized and spread outside of Tibet by the Tibetan diaspora, starting with the Tibetan exile of 1959. Well-known teachers which have taught Dzogchen in the western world include Dudjom Rinpoche, Nyoshul Khenpo, Tulku Urgyen, Dilgo Khyentse, Namkhai Norbu, Chögyam Trungpa, Dzogchen Ponlop, and Mingyur Rinpoche. A few of these figures were also tertons (treasure revealers). Some of these figures from the Tibetan diaspora also founded organizations for the preservation and practice of Dzogchen, such as Namkhai Norbu's International Dzogchen Community.

In the Bön and Sarma traditions

A thangka depicting the lineage lamas of the Aural Tradition of Zhangzhung.


The Bön Tradition has its own unique set of Dzogchen teachings and texts (including tantras and termas). The Bön tradition claims that these teachings were taught by a Buddha known as Tonpa Sherab. They are believed to have been brought to central Tibet from the north Tibetan kingdom of Zhang-zhung. The earliest Bön literature only exists in Tibetan manuscripts, the earliest of which can be dated to the 11th century.[20] There are three main Bon Dzogchen traditions:[15][66]

  • Dzogchen, this is based on a terma associated with the Buddhist monk Vairocana named Lho-brag-ma, discovered by the terton gZhod-ston dNgos-grub grags-pa in 1088. It is very similar to Nyingma Dzogchen.
  • A-khrid, "The System Leading to the Ultimate (=A)". This tradition was founded by rMe'u dgongs-mdzod ri-khrod chenpo, 'The Meditation-Treasury, the Great Hermit, of (the family of) rMe'u', who lived 1038-1096.
  • The Zhang-zhung Aural Lineage (zhang-zhung nyen-gyu). This tradition is based on the Zhang zhung snyan rgyud, which is supposed to have been taught by Tonpa Sherab and to have arrived to Tibetan from the kingdom of Zhang-zhung.


Dzogchen has also been taught and practiced in the Karma Kagyu lineage, beginning with the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339) who received Dzogchen teachings from Padma Ledre Tsal and Kumaraja, and founded a new Dzogchen lineage, the Karma Nyingtik.[67][68]

The first Karma Chagme (1613-1678), Rāga Asya also established a Dzogchen practice lineage based on his transmission of the Namchö ("Sky Dharma") terma. Several Kagyu figures of the Rime Movement such as Jamgön Kongtrul also wrote on and received Dzogchen teachings.[69]

The Drikung Kagyu also have a terma tradition of Dzogchen teachings, the Yangzab Dzogchen.[70]


Various Sakya lamas were also Dzogchen practitioners, including Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Khyentse Chokyi Wangchug.[4]


A thangka depicting the fifth Dalai Lama.

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. The fifth Dalai Lama had numerous Nyingma teachers and was also a terton who revealed a Dzogchen terma cycle through his pure visions known as the Sangwa Gyachen (Bearing the Seal of Secrecy). The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has given empowerments from this cycle.[71]

The 14 Dalai Lama has also affirmed that Dzogchen is valid:

That the very roots of Nyingma are valid and accord with reality was recognized even by Tsongkhapa, who received teachings on the Nyingma doctrine of the Great Completeness from the great adept from Hlodrak, Namkha Gyeltsen (lho brag grub chennam mkha’ rgyal mtshan, 1326-1401).[72]

The adoption of the practice of Dzogchen by the Dalai Lamas has been a source of controversy among more conservative members of the Gelug tradition and the 14th Dalai Lama also acknowledges that within Gelug tradition there have been many refutations and criticisms of Dzogchen (but he notes that these are not found in Tsongkhapa's works).[73]

Nevertheless, the 14th Dalai Lama affirms that the view of Dzogchen and the view of the Sarma schools "all come down to the same thought", and cites the First Panchen Lama in support of this view.[74]


The metaphors of sky and spaciousness are often used to describe the nature of mind in Dzogchen.

Nyingma Dzogchen texts use unique terminology to describe the Dzogchen view (Tib. tawa). Some of these terms deal with the different elements and features of the mind and are drawn from classic Buddhist thought. The generic term for consciousness is shes pa (Skt. vijñāna), and includes the six sense consciousnesses. Worldly, impure and dualistic forms of consciousness are generally referred to with terms such as sems (citta, mind), yid (mānas) and blo (buddhi). On the other hand, nirvanic or liberated forms of consciousness are described with terms such as ye shes (jñāna, 'pristine consciousness') and shes rab (prajñā, wisdom).[75] According to Sam van Schaik, two significant terms used in Dzogchen literature is the ground (gzhi) and gnosis (rig pa), which represent the "ontological and gnoseological aspects of the nirvanic state" respectively.[76]

Nyingma Dzogchen literature also describes nirvana as the "expanse" or "space" (klong or dbyings) or the "expanse of Dharma" (chos dbyings, Sanskrit: Dharmadhatu). The term Dharmakaya (Dharma body) is also often associated with these terms in Dzogchen,[21] as explained by Tulku Urgyen:

Dharmakaya is like space. You cannot say there is any limit to space in any direction. No matter how far you go, you never reach a point where space stops and that is the end of space. Space is infinite in all directions; so is dharmakaya. Dharmakaya is all-pervasive and totally infinite, beyond any confines or limitations. This is so for the dharmakaya of all buddhas. There is no individual dharmakaya for each buddha, as there is no individual space for each country.[77]

Eleven vajra topics

The Dzogchen view of the Secret Instruction Series (man ngag sde) is classically explained through the "eleven vajra topics". These can be found in the String of Pearls Tantra (Mu tig phreng ba), the Great Commentary by Vimalamitra as well as in Longchenpa's Treasury of Word and Meaning (Tsik Dön Dzö). The String of Pearls Tantra briefly lists them as follows:

Although reality is inconceivable, pristine consciousness has three aspects. Though there are many bases of delusion, it is natural perfection (lhun grub) and compassion (thugs rjes). Abiding within oneself are the kāyas, families, and pristine consciousnesses. The location of buddhamind is in the center of the heart. The path is the four nāḍīs; vāyu causes movement. There are four gates of arising: the eyes and so on. The field is the sky free of clouds. The practice is trekchö and thögal. The gauge is the yoga of four confidences. The bardo is the meeting of the mother and child. The stage of liberation comes first.[78]

The eleven topics are:[79]

  1. the ground or basis of reality (gzhi), and how it dynamically manifests itself (gzhi snang)
  2. how beings stray from the basis
  3. the essence of enlightenment present in all beings
  4. how primordial wisdom (ye shes) is in all beings
  5. the pathways of primordial wisdom in beings
  6. the gateways of primordial wisdom in beings
  7. the objective sphere for primordial wisdom shining forth
  8. how primordial wisdom is experientially accessed through contemplation
  9. signs of realization
  10. dying and post-death Opportunities in the intermediate states (bar do)
  11. ultimate fruition (Buddhahood)

Gzhi (basis)

An image of the Primordial Buddha Samantabhadra with his consort Samantabhadri. These images are said to symbolize the union of space (emptiness, the female aspect) and clarity - awareness (male).[80]

A key concept in Dzogchen is the 'basis', 'ground' or 'primordial state' (Tibetan: gzhi, Sanskrit: sthāna), also called the general ground (spyi gzhi) or the original ground (gdod ma'i gzhi).[76] The basis is the original state "before realization produced buddhas and nonrealization produced sentient beings". It is atemporal and unchanging and yet it is "noetically potent", giving rise to mind (sems, Skt. citta), consciousness (shes pa, Skt. vijñāna), delusion (marigpa, Skt. avidyā) and knowledge (rigpa, Skt. vidyā).[81]

The Tibetan master Longchenpa describes the basis as follows:

the self-emergent primordial gnosis of awareness, the original primordially empty Body of Reality, the ultimate truth of the expanse, and the abiding condition of luminously radiant reality, within which such oppositions as cyclic existence and transcendent reality, pleasure and suffering, existence and non-existence, being and non-being, freedom and straying, awareness and dimmed awareness, are not found anywhere at all.[49]

Namkhai Norbu writes that the term basis denotes "the fundamental ground of existence, both at the universal level and at the level of the individual, the two being essentially the same." This basis is "uncreated, ever pure and, self-perfected, it is not something that has to be constructed," however it "remains hidden to the experience of every being affected by the illusion of dualism."[82] Jean Luc-Achard defines the basis as "the actual, authentic abiding mode of the Mind."[1] According to Achard, Dzogchen tantras define the basis as "Great Primordial Purity" (ka dag chen po). The Tantra of the Beautiful Auspiciousness (bKra shis mdzes ldan gyi rgyud) defines this as "the state abiding before authentic Buddhas arose and before impure sentient beings appeared."[1]

In Vimalamitra's Great Commentary, the basis is defined as "one’s unfabricated mind" (rang sems ma bcos pa). As Smith notes, this indicates how the basis is not some transpersonal entity.[83] The basis is therefore not defined as being "one thing" (i.e. monism, Brahman etc.), since there exists the production of diversity. Regarding this, The Realms and Transformations of Sound Tantra states: "Other than compassion arising as diversity, it is not defined as one thing."[84] The Illuminating Lamp commentary explains the pristine consciousness of the basis thus:

In Ati, the pristine consciousness — subsumed by the consciousness that apprehends primordial liberation and the abiding basis as ultimate — is inseparable in all buddhas and sentient beings as a mere consciousness. Since the ultimate pervades them without any nature at all, it is contained within each individual consciousness.[81]

Furthermore, Hatchell notes that the Dzogchen tradition portrays ultimate reality as something which is "beyond the concepts of one and many."[85]

Thus in Dzogchen, the basis is a pure empty consciousness which is what needs to be recognized to achieve awakening. According to Smith, "The Illuminating Lamp declares that in Ati Yoga, pristine consciousness is a mere consciousness that apprehends primordial liberation and the generic basis as the ultimate."[81] In other words, spiritual knowledge in Dzogchen is recognizing one's basis.

Since the basis transcends time, any temporal language used to describe it (such as "primordial", "original" and so on) is purely conventional and does not refer to an actual point in time, but should be understood as indicating a state in which time is not a factor. According to Smith, "placing the original basis on a temporal spectrum is therefore a didactic myth."[86]

The basis also is not to be confused with the "all-basis" (Tib. kun gzhi, Skt. alaya) or with the fundamental store consciousness (Tib. kun gzhi rnam par shes pa, Skt. ālāyavijñāna), since these are both samsaric modes of consciousness.[87] Other terms used to describe the basis include unobstructed (ma 'gags pa), universal (kun khyab) and omnipresent.[88]

The basis is also associated with the term Dharmatā, defined as follows: "Dharmatā, original purity, is free from all proliferation. Since it is unaffected by ignorance, it is free from all obscurations."[89] According to Smith, describing the basis as “great original purity” (ka dag chen po) is the only description which is held to be flawless according to various Dzogchen Tantras.[89]

The basis is also associated with the primordial or original Buddhahood, also called Samantabhadra, which is said to be beyond time and space itself. Hence, Buddhahood is not something to be gained, but it is an act of recognizing what is already immanent in all sentient beings.[90] This view of the basis stems from the Indian Buddha-nature theory according to Pettit.[91] Tibetan authors like Longchenpa and Jigme Lingpa specifically linked the Dzogchen view of the basis with Buddha-nature or sugatagarbha (especially as it is found in the Ratnagotravibhāga).[92]

Three aspects of the basis

The gankyil symbolizes the inseparability of all of the groups of three in Dzogchen teaching, such as the Base, Path, and Fruit.[93]

In the Seminal Heart tradition, the basis has three qualities or aspects, also called the "three wisdoms". Each one is paired with one of the three bodies of the Buddha and with one of the three jewels (indicating that these are fully included in each sentient being). Norbu notes that "these three aspects are interdependent and cannot be separated from each other,"[94] just like the various qualities of a mirror are all essential to the existence of a mirror. The three aspects of the basis are:[95][96][97][98]

  • Essence (Tib. ངོ་བོ་, ngowo; Wyl. ngo bo, Skt. svabhāva). It is defined as original purity (Tib ka dag, "ever-pure"). Ka dag is a contraction of ka nas dag pa, "pure from ka" (ka is the first letter of the Tibetan alphabet) which is also glossed as pure from the beginning (thog nas dag pa).[76] In this context, purity (Skt. śuddha) refers to emptiness (śunyata, stong pa nyid), which in Dzogchen is explained in a similar way to how emptiness is explained in Madhyamaka (as being free from the extremes of nihilism and eternalism).[76] The "Essence" is also associated with the Dharmakaya and the Buddha. Namkhai Norbu explains this as the fact that all phenomena are "essentially void, impermanent, only temporarily existing, and all 'things' can be seen to be made up of other things."[99] He compares this aspect with the emptiness which allows a mirror to take on any image.
  • Nature (Tib. རང་བཞིན་, rangshyin; Wyl. rang bzhin, Skt. prakṛti) is defined as "Natural Perfection" (Tib. lhun grub, Skt. anābhoga), also translated "spontaneous presence" or "spontaneous accomplishment".[97] This is the noetic potentiality of the basis. According to Norbu, this aspect refers to the continuous manifestation or appearance of phenomena and can be illustrated by comparing it to a "mirror's capacity to reflect."[99] Sam van Schaik explains this as "a presence that is spontaneous in that it is not created or based on anything" as well as "the luminous aspect of the ground".[100] Natural Perfection is also used interchangeably with the aspect of "luminosity" ('od gsal, Skt. prabhāsvara).[101] The Nature of the basis is also associated with the Dharma and the Saṃbhogakāya. Longchenpa explains that there are "eight gateways of spontaneous presence". According to Hatchell the first six gateways are "the essential forms that awareness takes when it first manifests: lights, Buddha-bodies, gnosis, compassion, freedom, and nonduality," while the final two gateways "are viewpoints from which the first six are perceived" and are the gateways to purity (i.e. nirvana) and impurity (samsara) which are associated with self-recognition/integration and non-recognition/duality (also called "straying", 'khrul pa).[102]
  • Compassion (Tib. ཐུགས་རྗེ་, tukjé, Wyl. thugs rje, Skt. karuṇā), also sometimes translated as "Energy". It is also called the "manifest ground" (gzhi snang) or the "ground of arising" ('char gzhi).[100] Norbu compares this manifest aspect of the basis to the particular appearances that are reflected in a mirror. This aspect is also defined in the Illuminating Lamp as: "Thugs is the affection (brtse ba) in the heart for sentient beings. Rje is the arising of a special empathy (gdung sems) for them."[103] Smith explains this aspect as referring to the unity of clarity and emptiness.[95] Clarity (Tib. gsal ba, Skt. svara) is a term which is also found in Indian Mahayana and refers to the cognitive power of the mind that allows phenomena to appear.[100][104] According to Sam van Schaik this aspect "seems to signify the immanent presence of the ground in all appearance, in that it is defined as all-encompassing and unobstructed."[97] Compassion is associated with the Nirmanakaya and the Sangha. According to Norbu, this compassionate energy manifests in three ways:[105][106]
    • gDang (Skt. svaratā, radiance), this is an infinite and formless level of compassionate energy and reflective capacity, it is "an awareness free from any restrictions and as an energy free from any limits or form" (Norbu).[107]
    • rol pa (līlā, play), These are the manifestations which appear to be internal to the individual (such as when a crystal ball seems to reflect something inside itself).
    • rTsal (vikrama, potentiality, dynamism) is "the manifestation of the energy of the individual him or herself, as an apparently 'external' world," though this apparent externality is only just "a manifestation of our own energy, at the level of Tsal" (Norbu).[108] This is explained through the use of a crystal prism which reflects and refracts white light into various other forms of light.

Namkhai Norbu warns that "all examples used to explain the nature of reality can only ever be partially successful in describing it because it is, in itself, beyond words and concepts."[109] Furthermore, he writes that "the Base should not be objectified and considered as a self-existing entity; it is the insubstantial State or condition which serves as the basis of all entities and individuals, of which the ordinary individual is unaware but which is fully manifest in the realized individual."[110]

The text, "An Aspirational prayer for the Ground, Path and Result" defines the three aspects of the basis thus:

Because its essence is empty, it is free from the limit of eternalism.
Because its nature is luminous, it is free from the extreme of nihilism.
Because its compassion is unobstructed, it is the ground of the manifold manifestations.[21]

Rigpa (knowledge)

Rigpa is often explained through the metaphor of a crystal or a crystal ball
Melong Dorje, wearing a Melong (mirror), which is a symbol of ka dag.

Rigpa (Sanskrit: vidyā, "knowledge") is a central concept in Dzogchen. According to Ācārya Malcolm Smith:

A text from the Heart Essence of Vimalamitra called the Lamp Summarizing Vidyā (Rig pa bsdus pa’i sgronma) defines vidyā in the following way: “...vidyā is knowing, clear, and unchanging” In Sanskrit, the term vidyā and all its cognates imply consciousness, knowing, knowledge, science, intelligence, and so on. Simply put, vidyā means unconfused knowledge of the basis that is its own state.[83]

Closely related terms are ye shes (Skt. jñāna, pristine consciousness) which is "the original, unadulterated state of consciousness" and wisdom (shes rab, Skt. prajña).[81] Rigpa is also described as "reflexively self-aware primordial wisdom."[111][quote 3] Thus, wisdom is nothing other than rigpa.[112] 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)[113] is called rigpa.[114]

Sam van Schaik translates rigpa as "gnosis" which he glosses as "a form of awareness aligned to the nirvanic state, free from all delusion".[106] He notes that other definitions of rigpa include "free from elaborations" (srpos bral), "non conceptual" (rtog med) and "transcendent of the intellect" (blo 'das). It is also often paired with emptiness, as in the contraction rig stong (gnosis-emptiness).[106]

The unconditioned nature of rigpa is described in the Longchen Nyingthig as follows:

Not constructed by excellent buddhas, nor changed by lowly sentient beings, this unfabricated gnosis of the present moment, is the reflexive luminosity, naked and stainless, the Primordial Lord himself.[115]

John W. Pettit notes that rigpa is seen as beyond affirmation and negation, acceptance and rejection, and therefore it is known as "natural" (ma bcos pa) and "effortless" (rtsol med) once recognized.[91] Because of this, Dzogchen is also known as the pinnacle and final destination of all paths.

Ācārya Malcolm Smith also notes that the atemporal nature of the basis also applies to the presence of the basis in sentient beings as rigpa:

Since time is not a factor when it comes to the analysis of the basis, Great Perfection texts can define the liberation of sentient beings as timeless, meaning that the state of liberation is their unconditioned essential state. It is not something to gain; it is something to discover. More importantly, the basis is buddhahood and functions as buddhahood.[84]

As Alexander Berzin notes, all of the good qualities (yon-tan) of a Buddha are already "are innate (lhan-skyes) to rigpa, which means that they arise simultaneously with each moment of rigpa, and primordial (gnyugs-ma), in the sense of having no beginning."[87]

A depiction of the heart chakra from a Tibetan Medicine text

Dzogchen texts refer to the basis and its rigpa as it is present in sentient beings as the sugatagarbha.[83] Vimalamitra's Commentary states that "because the aim of buddhahood exists in the manner of a seed in the pristine consciousness of one’s vidyā, there is definitely success through practice."[116]

Dzogchen texts also describe how rigpa is connected to the energy body. Dzogchen tantras explain that rigpa can be located in the center of the human body, in the heart cakra. The Realms and Transformations of Sound Tantra states: "The jewel present within the heart in the center of one’s body is great pristine consciousness."[117]

Furthermore, the Self-Arisen Vidyā Tantra states:

The transcendent state of the perfect buddhas is supported. It is supported on the material aggregate, for example, like an eagle sleeping in its nest. It has a location. It is located in the heart, for example, like a figure in a vase.[118]

Dzogchen tantras also discuss the related topic of the energy body, mainly the nāḍīs, vāyus, and bindus (rtsa, rlung, and thig le; channels, winds and circles).[118]

Ma rigpa (delusion)

A widespread simile for ignorance is the obscuration of the sun by clouds

Ma rigpa (avidyā) is the opposite of rigpa or knowledge. Ma rigpa is ignorance, delusion or unawareness, the failure to recognize the nature of the basis. An important theme in Dzogchen texts is explaining how ignorance arises from the basis or Dharmata, which is associated with ye shes or pristine consciousness.[89] Automatically arising unawareness (lhan-skyes ma-rigpa) exists because the basis has a natural cognitive potentiality which gives rise to appearances. This is the ground for samsara and nirvana.[119]

When consciousness fails to recognize that all phenomena arise as the creativity (rtsal) of the nature of mind and misses its own luminescence or does not "recognize its own face", sentient beings arise instead of Buddhas. Marigpa is explained in Vimalamitra's Great Commentary as follows:

Delusion arises from the difference between the basis and the conscious aspect of the basis. Apart from generally pervading, the so-called “basis” is totally undifferentiated, without any consideration of delusion or nondelusion. That so-called “knower” (rig pa po) or “mind” (the special assertion of a consciousness demonstrated in our own texts) is deluded.[120]

According to Vimalamitra's Illuminating Lamp, delusion arises because sentient beings "lapse towards external mentally apprehended objects". This external grasping is then said to produce sentient beings out of dependent origination.[118] This dualistic conceptualizing process which leads to samsara is termed manas as well as "awareness moving away from the ground".[121] However, some beings do not lapse into dualism by externalizing their own display and instead immediately recognize all phenomena which arise from the basis as the insubstantial appearances of their own nature. These beings immediately become Buddhas.[122]

Thus, out of the basis, sentient beings arise due to ignorance/delusion, while Buddhas arise due to recognition and wisdom. As Tulku Urgyen notes, a sentient being is "empty cognizance suffused with ignorance" while the mind of a Buddha is "empty cognizance suffused with rigpa".[123]

Longchenpa explains the process of how rigpa (rendered here as "gnosis") lapses into ignorance in his Tsigdön Dzö as follows:

General delusion is caused by the stain of gnosis not recognizing the manifest ground, through which gnosis itself becomes polluted with delusion. Though gnosis itself is without the stains of cognition, it becomes endowed with stains, and through its becoming enveloped in the seal of mind, the gnosis of the ever-pure essence is polluted by conceptualization. Chained by the sixfold manas, it is covered with the net of the body of partless atoms, and the luminosity becomes latent.[124]

Three Kinds of Ignorance

The Seminal Heart texts posits "three kinds of ignorance" (ma rig pa gsum), which according to Higgins are "three progressive phases of error":[125]

  • Ignorance of single identity that is the cause (bdag nyid gcig pa'i ma rig pa), the most fundamental ignorance and the source of all error. It is the primordial failure to recognize the single source of rigpa and marigpa, i.e. the nondual empty Essence of the Basis.
  • Co-emergent ignorance (lhan cig skyes pa'i ma rig pa), which is related to not seeing arising appearances are they really are. It is the failure to recognize the Nature of the Basis (i.e. clarity) which arises simultaneously together with cognition.
  • Conceptually elaborated ignorance (kun tu brtags pa’i ma rig pa), also known as imputed ignorance and relates to the imputation of false and dualistic concepts onto appearances, particularly related to "self" and "other".

Longchenpa explains the three forms of ignorance as follows:

During the arising of the ground-manifestation, the clear and knowing cognition as the expressive energy of compassionate responsiveness (thugs rje) [i.e. the dynamic aspect of the ground] manifests in close affiliation with the three kinds of ignorance because it fails to directly recognize that it itself is what appears as able to discriminate amongst objects. These three aspects are as follows: [A] ignorance of single identity as the cause consists in not recognizing that all cognitions are of the same identical nature; [B] co-emergent ignorance consists in the fact that this non-self-recognition (rang ngo ma shes pa) and cognition (shes pa) arise together; and [C] conceptually elaborated ignorance consists in discriminating self-manifestation as something other [than oneself].[126]

Immanence of rigpa

The Garuda is used as a symbol of primordial nature, which is already completely perfect, since this mythological animal is said to be born fully grown.[127]

According to van Schaik, there is a certain tension in Dzogchen thought (as in other forms of Buddhism) between the idea that samsara and nirvana are immanent within each other and yet are still different. In texts such as the Longchen Nyingtig for example, the basis and rigpa are presented as being "intrinsically innate to the individual mind" and not "as states to be attained or developed."[106]

The Great Perfection Tantra of the Expanse of Samantabhadra’s Wisdom, using the Adi-Buddha Samantabhadra as a symbol for enlightenment, states:

If you think that he who is called “the heart essence of all buddhas, the Primordial Lord, the noble Victorious One, Samantabhadra” is contained in a mindstream separate from the ocean-like realm of sentient beings, then this is a nihilistic view in which samsara and nirvana remain unconnected.[115]

Likewise, Longchenpa (14th century), writes in his Illuminating Sunlight:

Every type of experiential content belonging to samsara and nirvana has, as its very basis, a natural state that is a spontaneously present buddha—a dimension of purity and perfection, that is perfect by nature. This natural state is not created by a profound buddha nor by a clever sentient being. Independent of causality, causes did not produce it and conditions can not make it perish. This state is one of self-existing wakefulness, defying all that words can describe, in a way that also transcends the reach of the intellect and thoughts. It is within the nonarising vastness of such a basic natural state that all phenomena belonging to samsara and nirvana are, essentially and without any exception, a state of buddha—purity and perfection.[128]

In the Longde texts (and in other works), a common term used to denote the immanent enlightened nature is bodhicitta (byang chub sems).[115]

This lack of difference between these two states, their non-dual (advaya) nature, corresponds with the idea that change from one to another doesn't happen due to an ordinary process of causation but is an instantaneous and perfect 'self-recognition' (rang ngo sprod) of what is already innately (lhan-skyes) there.[121] According to John W. Pettit, this idea has its roots in Indian texts such as Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika, which states that samsara and nirvana are not separate and that there is no difference between the "doer", the "going" and the "going to" (i.e. the ground, path and fruit).[91]

The samsaric and the nirvanic

As Sam van Schaik notes, for authors like Longchenpa and Jigme Lingpa, the basis has the potential to manifest in both a samsaric and a nirvanic modes. Therefore, even though rigpa is immanent, in sentient beings this rigpa is an unripened rigpa which often manifests as ordinary consciousness (shes pa) and which may become deluded if it does not recognize its own nature.[121] Buddhahood is attained through the recognition of rigpa (rig pa'i ngo sprod) or self-recognition (rang ngo sprod) of what is immanently present.[121]

Seminal Heart texts also indicate a subtle difference between terms associated with delusion (such as kun gzhi or alaya, and sems or mind) and terms associated with full enlightenment (Dharmakaya and rigpa).[129] These terms stem from Indian Yogacara texts.[130] In the Seminal Heart literature, the Ālaya and the Ālayavijñāna are associated with karmic imprints (vasana) of the mind and with mental afflictions (klesa). The "alaya for habits" is the basis (gzhi) together with ignorance (marigpa), which includes all sorts of obscuring habits and grasping tendencies.[87] Thus, the Longchen Nyingthig compares the Ālaya to muddy water (which hides the brightness of wisdom and rigpa) and defines it as non-recognition, while the Dharmakaya is compared to clear water and defined as "undeluded awareness".[131]

Regarding sems (mind) and rigpa (gnosis), the Longchen Nyingthig compares them to air and space respectively:

Mind and gnosis are like air and space. Mind is the aspect of deceptive objects of fixation, vividly filling up, swirling round, and pouring out again, or briefly becoming agitated like a hurricane. Its foundation is the condition for the various sensations. Gnosis is without supports and all-pervasive. In its emptiness it opens up as the space-like expanse; In its luminosity it is nonconceptual and radiant like a polished crystal. Thus the essential point of the Seminal Heart is to hold a secure place in the natural state, utterly liberated from mind in the expanse of gnosis.[132]

Longchenpa explains the difference thus:

In brief, ‘‘mind and mental factors’’ refer to the arising of conceptualization and analysis of objects that is ostensibly causally produced by the subject-object dichotomy. ‘‘Primordial knowing’’ [ye shes] refers to a simple object awareness in which the subject-object dichotomy has completely subsided. (Sems nyid ngal gso ’grel, 132.5.)[133]

Relationship with Indian Buddhist philosophies

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.[134][quote 4] Rongzom held that the views of sutra such as Madhyamaka were inferior to that of tantra.[135][quote 5] In contrast, the 14th Dalai Lama, in his book Dzogchen,[136] concludes that Madhyamaka and Dzogchen come down to the same point. The view of reality obtained through Madhyamaka philosophy and the Dzogchen view of Rigpa can be regarded as identical. With regard to the practice in these traditions, however, at the initial stages there do seem certain differences in practice and emphasis.

According to Malcolm Smith, the Dzogchen view is also based on the Indian Buddhist Buddha-nature doctrine of the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras.[137] According to the 14th Dalai Lama the Ground is the Buddha-nature, the nature of mind which is emptiness.[138] According to Thrangu Rinpoche, Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339), the third Karmapa Lama (head of the Karma Kagyu) and Nyingma lineage holder, also stated that the Ground is Buddha-nature.[note 8] According to Thrangu Rinpoche, "whether one does Mahamudra or Dzogchen practice, buddha nature is the foundation from which both of these meditations develop."[140]


Lukhang Temple mural depicting Dzogchen anuyoga practices such as tummo which work with the subtle body channels
Lukhang Temple mural depicting various Dzogchen practices
Lukhang mural

Dzogchen practice (gompa) relies on the view outlined above. However, according to Norbu, this is not an intellectual view, but a "direct, non-dual, non-conceptual knowledge" of fundamentally pure absolute nature which has become veiled by dualistic conditioning.[141] In Dzogchen, one achieves this view through one's relationship with a guru or lama who introduces one to our own primordial state and provides instruction on how to practice. This "direct introduction" and transmission from a Dzogchen master is considered absolutely essential.[142]

Dzogchen teachings emphasize naturalness, spontaneity and simplicity.[19] Although Dzogchen is often portrayed as being distinct from or beyond tantra, Dzogchen traditions have incorporated many tantric concepts and practices.[19] Dzogchen lineages embrace a varied array of traditions, that range from a systematic rejection of Buddhist tantra, to a full incorporation of tantric practices.[19] The "main practices" are often considered advanced and thus preliminary practices and ritual initiation are generally seen as requirements.[143]

The Dzogchen tradition contain vast anthologies and systems of practices, including Buddhist meditation, tantric yogas and unique Dzogchen methods.[144] The earliest form of Dzogchen practice (the Semde, "Mind" series) generally emphasized non-symbolic "formless" practices (as opposed to tantric deity yoga).[145] With the influence of Sarma tantra, the rise of the Seminal Heart tradition, and the systematisations of Longchenpa, the main Dzogchen practices came to be preceded by preliminary practices and infused with tantric practices.[21]

Namkhai Norbu makes a distinction between Dzogchen "contemplation" proper (trekchö) and "meditation". According to Norbu, contemplation is "abiding in the non-dual state [i.e. rigpa] which, of its own nature, uninterruptedly self-liberates" while meditation is any practice "working with the dualistic, relative mind, in order to enable one to enter the state of contemplation."[146] Norbu adds that all the various meditative practices found in Dzogchen teachings (such as the "six yogas") are simply means to help practitioners access rigpa and are thus "secondary."[147]

Similarly, Achard notes that the core Dzogchen practice is the state of contemplation (dgongs pa) that refers to abiding in one's primordially pure state. This "could actually be described as an actual absence of particular practice" which is "devoid of action, effort and exertion" (such as tantric generation or completion practice). Furthermore, Achard notes that "for strict rDzogs chen practitioners, Guru-Yoga and Sky Gazing are the main means enabling the access to the state of Contemplation in a totally unaltered mode."[1]

Garab Dorje's three statements

Garab Dorje (c. 665) epitomized the Dzogchen teaching in three principles, known as "Striking the Vital Point in Three Statements" (Tsik Sum Né Dek), said to be his last words. They give in short the development a student has to undergo:[148][149]

Garab Dorje's three statements were integrated into the Seminal Heart (Nyingthig) traditions, the most popular of which in the Longchen Nyingthig by Jigme Lingpa (1730–1798).[7] The statements are:

  1. Introducing directly the face of rigpa itself (ngo rang tok tu tré). Dudjom Rinpoche states this refers to: "Introducing directly the face of the naked mind as the rigpa itself, the innate primordial wisdom."
  2. Deciding upon one thing and one thing only (tak chik tok tu ché). Dujdom states: "Because all phenomena, whatever manifests, whether saṃsāra or nirvāṇa, are none other than the rigpa’s own play, there is complete and direct decision that there is nothing other than the abiding of the continual flow of rigpa."
  3. Confidence directly in the liberation of rising thoughts (deng drol tok tu cha). Dujdom comments: "In the recognition of namtok [arising thoughts], whatever arises, whether gross or subtle, there is direct confidence in the simultaneity of the arising and dissolution in the expanse of dharmakāya, which is the unity of rigpa and śūnyatā."

Simultaneous and gradual practice

As noted by van Schaik, there is a tension in the Seminal Heart tradition of Dzgochen between methods which emphasize gradual practice and attainments, and methods which emphasize primordial liberation, simultaneous enlightenment, and non-activity. This seeming contradiction is explained by authors of the Seminal Heart tradition as being related to the different levels of ability of different practitioners.[150]

For example, the works of Jigme Lingpa contain criticisms of methods which rely on cause and effect as well as methods that rely on intellectual analysis. Since Buddhahood is uncaused and transcendent of the intellect, these contrived and conceptual meditations are contrasted with "effortless" and "instantaneous" approaches in the works of Jigme Lingpa, who writes that as soon as a thought arises, it is to be seen nakedly, without analysis or examination.[151] Similarly, a common theme of Dzogchen literature is the elevation of Dzogchen above all other "lower" ('og ma) vehicles and a criticism of these lower vehicles which are seen as inferior (dman pa) approaches.[152]

In spite of these critiques, Dzogchen cycles like Jigme Lingpa's Longchen Nyingthig do contain numerous practices which are not instantaneous or effortless, such as tantric Mahayoga practice like deity yoga and preliminary methods such as ngondro (which are equated with the path of accumulation).[153] Furthermore, Jigme Lingpa and Longchenpa also criticize those who teach the simultaneous method to everyone and teach them to dispense with all other methods at once.[154]

In response to the idea that the gradualist teachings found in the Seminal Heart texts contradict the Dzogchen view of primordial liberation, Jigme Lingpa states:

This is not correct because Vajradhara using his skill in means, taught according to the categories of best, middling, and worst faculties, subdivided into the nine levels from sravaka to atiyoga. Although the Great Perfection is the path for those of the sharpest faculties, entrants are not composed exclusively of those types. With this in mind, having ascertained the features of the middling and inferior faculties of awareness holders, the tradition was established in this way.[155]

This division of practices according to level of ability is also found in Longchenpa's Tegchö Dzö.[156] However, as van Schaik notes, "the system should not be taken too literally. It is likely that all three types of instruction contained in the threefold structure of YL [Yeshe Lama] would be given to any one person."[156] Therefore, though the instructions would be given to all student types, the actual capacity of the practitioner would determine how they would attain awakening (through Dzogchen meditation, in the bardo of death, or through transference of consciousness). Jigme Lingpa also believed that students of the superior faculties were extremely rare.[156] He held that for most people, a gradual path of training is what is needed to reach realization.[157]

Longchenpa's Natural Ease system

Longchenpa's Trilogy of Natural Ease (ngal gso skor gsum), is mainly a Semde (Mind Series) focused system, though it includes numerous elements from later more tantric systems. In the first volume of this trilogy, Finding Ease in the Nature of Mind (sems nyid ngal gso), Longchenpa outlines 141 contemplative practices, split into three sections: exoteric Buddhism (92), tantra (22), and the Great Perfection (27). This system remained influential in Tibet and was the main system taught by Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887).[158]

This system includes numerous contemplative practices including analytical contemplations into emptiness, calming (zhi gnas) practices (such as visualizing the channels, a deity or the breath), insight (lhag mthong) practices as well the integration (zung 'jug) of calming and insight (such as the practice of sky gazing or contemplating the mind). It also includes numerous contemplations which are formless and "technique free" and thus do not make sure of an object of focus (such as a tantric deity etc) and instead focus on intangible themes such as emptiness, the spaciousness of the mind and the illusory quality of appearances.[159]

In the second book of the Trilogy of Natural Ease, Finding Ease in Meditation (bsam gtan ngal gso), Longchenpa uses the standard triad of meditative experiences (nyams) to present various practices: bliss (bde ba), radiance/clarity (gsal ba), and non-conceptuality (mi rtog pa), which is presented as corresponding to preliminaries, main practice, and concluding phase. The bliss practices are focused on tummo, "radiance" practices use the bodily winds/breath and visualization of light, and the practices dealing with non-conceptuality are based on contemplating the vastness of the sky.[160]

The more conceptual meditations are relegated to the preliminary phase, while the main practices are formless and "direct" approaches supplemented by perfection stage techniques (i.e. anuyoga).[161] Longchenpa includes the perfection phase techniques of channels, winds and nuclei into the main and concluding phases which also include new supporting contemplative techniques. However, unlike in other perfection stage practice systems, Longchenpa's perfection practices are extremely simple (spros med), and stress effortlessness and balance instead of complexity (spros bcas).[162]

Longchen Nyingthig system

Jigme Lingpa's systematization of the Seminal Heart tradition is one of the most influential systems of Dzogchen practice.

The teachings based on Jigme Lingpa's 18th century Longchen Nyingthig system are also divided into preliminary practices (ngondro, subdivided into various classes) and main practices (which are trekchö and tögal).[87][163] In The White Lotus (rGyab brten padma dkar po), Jigme Lingpa outlines the path of Nyingthig Dzogchen practice as follows:

Your mindstream is purified by the profound initiation, which is the cause of ripening, and then you begin with the outer, inner and secret preliminaries, which can be equated with the path of accumulation in the Paramitayana. For beginners, the way of practicing is explained by the practice instructions and the lama's instructions.[164]

According to Sam van Schaik, Jigme Lingpa's system of practice "represents both a graduated method and a gradual realization" which "stands in stark contrast to the discourse of the Great Perfection treasure texts," which defend a much more simultaneous form of practice.[165]

Preliminary and secondary practices

In Finding Ease in Meditation (bsam gtan ngal gso), Longchenpa outlines three main categories of preliminary practices. He stresses that these are necessary to the practice of Dzogchen and criticizes those who attempt to skip them. The preliminaries outlined by Longchenpa are often categorized into the following schema:[166]

  • the general preliminaries on impermanence and renunciation of samsara, which corresponds to the Sravakayana;
  • the special preliminaries on compassion and bodhicitta, which corresponds with the Mahayana;
  • the supreme preliminaries, consisting of the generation and perfection phases of tantric Deity Yoga as well as Guru yoga.

The Longchen Nyingthig system divides preliminaries into ordinary and extraordinary types. The ordinary preliminaries are a series of contemplations of which there are two main instructional texts. One is based on Atisha's Seven Point Mind Training (Lojong) and is called the Tarpai Temke. The second is the Laglenla Deblug, and contains the following contemplations:[164]

  • appreciating our precious human existence;
  • contemplating death and impermanence;
  • contemplating the faults of samsaric existence;
  • contemplating karmic cause and effect of one's actions;
  • contemplating the benefits of liberation;
  • contemplating the qualities of the lama (teacher);

The extraordinary preliminaries, which are discussed in the Drenpa Nyerzhag, are the following:[167][87]

  • taking refuge in the three jewels;
  • cultivating bodhichitta and the compassionate mind;
  • 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 chöd, 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;

According to Jigme Lingpa, the preliminary practices are the basis of the main practices, and thus, they are not to be abandoned at a later point.[168] Norbu writes that the preliminaries are not compulsory in Dzogchen practice (only direct introduction is essential), instead, the preliminaries are only relatively useful depending on the capacity of individuals and how many obstacles they have in their practice of contemplation.[169]

Lukhang Temple mural depicting physical yogas known as trulkhor

Another important requirement for practicing Dzogchen according to Jigme Lingpa is ritual initiation or empowerment (dbang) by an awakened lama.[21] According to Tsoknyi Rinpoche, empowerment is necessary, as it plants the "seeds of realization" within the present body, speech and mind.[170] Empowerment "invests us with the ability to be liberated into the already present ground."[171] The practices bring the seeds to maturation, resulting in the qualities of enlightened body, speech and mind.[172]

Following tantric initiation, one also engages in the tantric practices of the generation and completion stages of mahayoga and anuyoga. Jigme Lingpa sees all of these tantric practices as gradual steps to be cultivated which lead one to Great Perfection practice. Jigme Lingpa states:

What is the main point of the excellent path of greatness? It is no more than wiping clean intellectual limitations. Therefore the three vows, six paramitas, development and completion and so on are all steps on the ladder to the Great Perfection.[173]

Norbu notes that "Tantric practices may be used as secondary practices by the practitioner of Dzogchen, alongside the principal practice of contemplation." Similarly, physical yoga (Tib. trulkhor) may also be used as supporting practices.[174]

Main practices

The actual Dzogchen meditation methods, which are unique to the tradition, appear in Seminal Heart texts such as Jigme Lingpa's Yeshe Lama and Longchenpa's Tsigdön Dzö and Tegchö Dzö. The presentation of Dzogchen meditation methods in the Yeshe Lama is divided into three parts:[175]

  • Instructions for those of sharp faculties, which is where the actual Dzogchen meditation methods are found, such as trekchö and tögal.
  • Instructions for those of middling faculties, which discusses the bardo (intermediate state) of death and how to practice during this phase
  • Instructions for those of lesser faculties, which discusses the transference of consciousness (phowa) at death to a pure land.


A yogi depicted using a meditation belt (gomthag) in the Lukhang Temple mural

Jigme Lingpa mentions two kinds of Dzogchen meditations (which can be used as preliminaries to trekchö) korde rushen,[note 9] "making a gap between samsara and nirvana,"[176][177] and sbyong ba ("training").[176]

Rushen are a series of visualisation and recitation exercises.[176][178] The name reflects the dualism of the distinctions between mind and insight, ālaya and dharmakāya.[176] 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."[178][179][quote 6]

Sbyong ba are a variety of teachings for training 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.[175] According to Jigme Lingpa, these practices serve to purify the mind and pacify the hindrances.[175]

Yogis meditating on the letter A inside a thigle, Lukhang Temple

The Dzogchen meditation practices include a series of exercises known as semdzin (sems dzin),[181] which literally means "to hold the mind" or "to fix mind."[181] They include a whole range of methods, including fixation, breathing, and different body postures, all aiming to calm the mind and bring one into the state of contemplation.[182][note 10] There are also methods of vipasyana (lhagthong) which works with the arising of thoughts. These practices can be found in all three Dzogchen series (Semde, Longde and Mennagde). Norbu considers these methods of samatha (shine) and vipasyana (lhagthong) to be "principal practices", even though they work with the mind and are not non-dual contemplation itself.[182]

According to Namkhai Norbu, through these various methods one may arrive at "the state of non-dual contemplation" which is without doubts. At this stage, one must continue to remain in this state, which includes the practices of Tregchöd and Thödgal.[184]


Yogis practicing Dzogchen, Lukhang Temple mural

Trekchö (khregs chod) means "(spontaneous) cutting of tension" or "cutting through solidity".[185][186] According to Smith, the term can also be interpreted as meaning "an undone bundle", "like a hay bale with the twine removed." In Vimalamitra's Great Commentary, trekchö is defined as "the system of buddhahood through immediate liberation as a directly perceived realization that is not connected to appearances," and states that this is "the superior intimate instruction for the lazy who attain buddhahood instantly without meditation practice."[187]

The practice of trekchö reflects the earliest developments of Dzogchen, with its admonition against practice.[7][note 11] In this practice one first identifies, and then sustains recognition of, one's own innately pure, empty awareness.[189][41][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.[7] According to Tsoknyi Rinpoche, these instructions are received after the preliminary practices, though there's also a tradition to give them before the preliminary practices.[191][quote 8][quote 9]

Jigme Lingpa divides the trekchö practice into ordinary and extraordinary instructions.[194] The ordinary section comprises the rejection of the "all is mind – mind is empty" approach, which is a conceptual establishment of emptiness.[194] 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), which are "a set of brief instructions on the spheres of view (lta ba), meditation (sgom pa), activity (spyod pa), and result ('bras bu)" according to van Schaik."[195]

The Seminal Heart tradition in general considers that pointing out instructions should be kept secret until the moment the lama reveals it to the student. In the Yeshe Lama, Jigme Lingpa gives the following passage as an introduction to the nature of mind:

Kye! Do not contrive or elaborate the awareness of this very moment. Allow it to be just as it is. This is not established as existing, not existing, or having a direction. It does not discern between emptiness and appearances and does not have the characteristics of nihilism and eternalism. Within this state where nothing exists, it is unnecessary to exert effort through view or meditation. The great primordial liberation is not like being released from bondage. It is natural radiance uncontrived by the intellect, wisdom unsullied by concepts. The nature of phenomena, not tainted by the view and meditation, is evenness without placement and post-evenness without premeditation. It is clarity without characteristics and vastness not lost to uniformity. Although all sentient beings have never been separate from their own indwelling wisdom even for an instant, by failing to recognize this, it becomes like a natural flow of water solidifying into ice. With the inner grasping mind as the root cause and outer objective clinging as the contributing circumstance, beings wander in samsara indefinitely. Now, with the guru's oral instructions, at the moment of encountering awareness-without any mental constructions-rest in the way things truly are, without wavering from or meditating on anything. This fully reveals the core wisdom intent of the primordial Buddha Kuntuzangpo.[196]

Regarding the "four cog bzhags", in the Yeshe Lama, these four ways of "freely resting" or "easily letting be" are described by Jigme Lingpa as follows:

(a) Placement in the mountainlike view: After realizing the true nature-free of thoughts-as it is, remain in the naturally clear, great awareness that is not subject to mental efforts, grasping, or the usage of intentional meditation antidotes [against concepts].

(b) Oceanlike meditation: Sit in the lotus posture. Look at space in a state of openness. Avoid grasping at the perceptions of the six consciousnesses. Clear your cognition like the ocean free of waves.

(c) Skill in activities: Abruptly relax your three doors of body, speech, and mind. Break free of the cocoon of view and meditation. Just maintain your clear, naked wisdom naturally.

(d) Unconditional result: Let the five mental objects remain naturally as they are. Then natural clarity arises vividly within you.[197]

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).[195] Insight leads to nyamshag, "being present in the state of clarity and emptiness".[198] To practice trekchö meditation, Jigme Lingpa states one sits cross legged with eyes open.[195]

His instructions on trekchö begin by stating that one must "settle in the present moment of gnosis [rigpa], without spreading out or gathering in." Rigpa is defined as that knowledge where "the extremes of existence and nonexistence are unaccomplished."[195]


Lukhang Temple mural depicting sky gazing visionary practice

Tögal (thod rgal) literally means "crossing the peak."[187] It is sometimes translated as "leapover", "direct crossing", or "direct transcendence".[39][199][200] Vimalamitra's Great Commentary, defines tögal as "the practice of the direct perception of pristine consciousness" which is for "the diligent who gradually attain buddhahood through meditation."[187] Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche glosses the term as "to proceed directly to the goal without having to go through intermediate steps."[201] Jigme Lingpa follows Longchenpa in seeing the visionary practice of tögal as the highest level of meditation practice.[200]

Tögal is also called "the practice of vision",[202] or "the practice of the Clear Light (od-gsal)".[202] Tögal is practiced in a completely dark setting or through sky gazing.[203] The practices engage the subtle body of psychic channels, winds and drops (rtsa rlung thig le).[7] These practices aim at generating a spontaneous flow of luminous, rainbow-colored images (such as thigles or circles of rainbow light) that gradually expand in extent and complexity.[50] The meditator uses these to recognize his mind's nature. According to Hatchell, these visionary yogic techniques:

are based on the idea that pure awareness is locked away in the body’s core, localized at the heart. A set of luminous energy channels then run from the heart to the eyes, acting as pathways through which awareness can travel and exit the body. Based on special yogic techniques, awareness can be induced to emerge from the eyes and light up into visionary appearances. This provides an opportunity for recognition: for the yogi to realize that the visionary appearances “out there” are none other than presencings of an internal awareness, and thus to undo the basic error of ignorance.[49]

Tibetan depictions of Tögal visions

The practice of Tögal entails progressing through the "Four Visions" (snang ba bzhi), which are:[204][205][206]

  1. "The Absolute Nature Becoming Manifest" or "The Vision of Awareness' Immediacy" - This refers to initial visions of lights in the visual field, such as circles called thigle, and "linked chains of spots".
  2. "The Experience of Increasing Appearances" or "The Vision of the Intensification of Experience" - According to Hatchell, in this stage "visionary experience becomes more intense. The number, shape, and size of the appearances increase, and they begin to assemble together in simple configurations."[207]
  3. "Awareness Reaching its Greatest Magnitude" or "The Vision of Awareness' Optimization" - Hatchell writes that "at this stage, the abstract lights begin to organize themselves, ultimately taking shape as a mandala of 100 peaceful and wrathful deities."[207]
  4. "The Exhaustion of Phenomena in Dharmata" or "The Vision of Exhaustion within Reality" - In this final vision, appearances dissolve back into the expanse and fade away.

Bardo practice

For those of middle level capacities, Jigme Lingpa holds that they will attain awakening during the bardo or intermediate state during death, by following certain instructions on how to recognize the signs of death and how to practice during the death process. Jigme Lingpa describes the process as follows:

Thus, assuming [one of] the three postures or remaining in the sleeping-lion posture, focus awareness on the eyes. With eyes directed to the space of awareness, relinquish the present life and relax uncontrived within original purity. In an instant liberation will occur.[208]

Jigme Lingpa also states one should practice this meditation while one is alive, to prepare for the death process meditation: "even while one is alive, when the sky is pristine, direct awareness into space and think, 'The moment of death has arrived. Now I must pass into the peaceful unelaborate expanse.' Exhale the breath and follow that by allowing the mind to remain without focus."[208] Other meditations and techniques are taught as well, which should be practiced while one is alive.

Jigme Lingpa gives the following instructions, meant to be recited by a lama or fellow practitioner at the time of death.[209] Various practices are also taught for those who are present when someone else is dying, such as the "three precious upadeshas of the great, profound tantra Conjunction of the Sun and Moon". These practices are meant to help the dying through the process and lead them to awakening or a higher rebirth.[210]

Further practices related to the "bardo of the nature of phenomena" are also taught. At this point, one should practice trekchö and tögal. There are also specific instructions for this phase of death, which occurs when "the connection between body and mind has ended." According to Jigme Lingpa, at this stage, the consciousness of the basis of all dissolves into the basic space of phenomena and "in that instant, the natural clear light dawns like a cloudless autumn sky."[211]

If one does not attain awakening, there will be a series of appearances which will be "extremely bright and colorful, devoid of distinctions such as outer, inner, wide, or narrow."[212] There will also be appearances of the mandalas of peaceful and fierce deities. One is supposed to recognize all these appearances as being one's own mind and as lacking true existence.[213]

Jigme Lingpa outlines the key point in bardo practice as follows:

The key point for achieving liberation in this way is to abide in unimpeded empty awareness, as the nature of original purity, beyond thought and expression. Having actually realized the ultimate ground of liberation, it is then necessary to encounter that which already is, decide upon that alone, and have confidence within liberation. Appearances by nature, when observed objectively, seem to be limitless; but, when observed subjectively, nothing whatsoever exists. However, even fixation upon the thought of nonexistence is naturally liberated in the first instant that one's own nature is nakedly revealed without mental analysis. This is the key point clearly defining the original ground of liberation. In whatever way compassion engages with objects, do not try to stop this pursuit or hold this within. With awareness placed precisely upon its own source, unimpeded cognition is without the distinctions of outer, inner, and between. In this way, the bardo appearances will be naturally pure in the radiance of awareness. This is a key point of the quintessential heart essence for recognizing the state of liberation with precise awareness.[214]

Transference of consciousness

Buddha Amitayus in his Pure Land Sukhavati.

Those beings of lesser faculties and limited potential will not attain awakening during the bardo but may transfer their consciousness (a practice called phowa) to a pure land once they have arrived at the "bardo of existence". Once they reach this bardo, they will recognize they have died and then they will recall the guru with faith and remember the instructions.[215] Then they will think of the pure land and its qualities and they will be reborn there. In a pure land, beings can listen to the Dharma taught directly by Vajrasattva or some other Buddha. Jigme Lingpa recommends that one practice this in daily life as well. One way to do this is as follows:

when falling asleep at night, with intense concentration one must think: 'I am dying so I must recognize the stages of dissolution and go to the natural nirmanakaya pure realm!' Then, one will fall asleep envisioning the arrangement and qualities of the nirmanakaya realm. Between [practice] sessions, as mentioned earlier, it is essential to have developed the skill of training the consciousness that rides the winds.[216]



According to Namkhai Norbu, in Dzogchen, "to become realized simply means to discover and manifest that which from the very beginning has been our own true condition: the Zhi (gzhi) or Base."[217] Since the basis, the path of practice and the fruit or result of practice are non-dual from the ultimate perspective, in Dzogchen understands the path as not separate from the result or fruit of the path (i.e. Buddhahood). Once a Dzogchen practitioner has recognized their true nature (and "do not remain in doubt" regarding this), the path consists of the integration (sewa) of all experiences in their life with the state of rigpa. All these experiences are self-liberated through this integration or mixing.[218]

This process is often explained through three "liberations" or capacities of a Dzogchen practitioner:[219]

  • Cherdrol ("one observes and it liberates") - This is when an ordinary appearance occurs and one sees its true nature, which leads to its self-liberation. It is compared to how a drop of dew evaporates when the sunlight shines on it.
  • Shardrol ("as soon as it arises it liberates itself") - This occurs when any sense contact or passion arises self-liberates automatically and effortlessly. This is compared to how snow melts immediately on falling into the sea.
  • Rangdrol ("of itself it liberates itself"), according to Norbu, this is "completely non-dual and all-at-once, instantaneous self-liberation. Here the illusory separation of subject and object collapses of itself, and one's habitual vision, the limited cage, the trap of ego, opens out into the spacious vision of what is".[220] The simile used here is a snake effortlessly unwinding its own body.

Advanced Dzogchen practitioners are also said to sometimes manifest supranormal knowledge (Skt. abhijñā, Tib. mngon shes), such as clairvoyance and telepathy.[221]

Rainbow body

Thögal practice may lead to full Buddhahood and the self-liberation of the human body into a rainbow body[note 12] at the moment of death,[222] when all fixation and grasping has been exhausted.[223] Tibetan Buddhism holds that the rainbow body is a nonmaterial body of light with the ability to exist and abide wherever and whenever as pointed by one's compassion.[186][224] It is a manifestation of the sambhogakāya and its attainment is said to be accompanied by the appearance of lights and rainbows.[225][224]

Some exceptional practitioners are held to have realized a higher type of rainbow body without dying (these include the 24 Bön masters from the oral tradition of Zhang Zhung, Tapihritsa, Padmasambhava, and Vimalamitra). 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 with the ability to exist and abide wherever and whenever as pointed by one's compassion.[224]

See also


  1. (1) Acintyaprabhasa, (2) Akshobhyapraba, (3) Pel Jikpa Kyopei Yi, (4) Zhonu Rolpa Nampar Tsewa, (5) Vajradhara, (6) Kumaravirabalin, (7) Drangsong Trhopei Gyelpo, (8) Arhat Survarnaprabhasa, (9) Tsewe Rolpei Lodro, (10) Kashyapa, the elder, (11) Yab Ngondzok Gyelpo, (12) Shakyamuni
  2. Tibetan has a ninefold classification scheme for the 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.[5]
  3. The visualization of a deity and recitation of his or her mantra.[5]
  4. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries there were several competing terma traditions surrounding Vimalamitra, Songtsen Gampo, Vairotsana and Padmasambhava.[52] At the end of the 12th century, there was the "victory of the Padmasambhava cult." [53] Nyangrel Nyima Özer was the principal architect of the Padmasambhava mythos.[54] 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.
  5. rdzogs pa chen po tshig don bcu gcig pa bzhugs so
  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.[59][60]
  8. Rangjung Dorje also influenced Dolpopa. In 1321 the famous scholar Dolpopa (1292–1361) visited Tsurphu Monastery for the first time and had extensive discussions with Rangjung Dorje about doctrinal issues. It appears that Rangjung Dorje almost certainly influenced the development of some of Dolpopa's theories, possibly including his Zhentong (gzhan stong) method.[139]
  9. 'khor 'das ru shan dbye ba: Tibetan: འཁོར་འདས་རུ་ཤན, Wylie: 'khor 'das ru shan
  10. Longchenpa divides them into three categories of seven exercises.[181] 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).[181]
    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.[183]
  11. Compare Karma Chagme, who associates Trekchö with Semde.[188] He further equates Trekchö with Mahāmudrā,[188]
  12. 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.[2]
  2. "there is no meditative cultivation of a view; no preserving of commitments; no skill or exertion in enlightened activities; no obscuration of primordial gnosis; no cultivation or refinement of meditative stages; no path to traverse; no subtle phenomena; 9 no duality with relationships (between such discrete phenomena); no delineation of definitive scriptures aside from the mind; and no resolution in terms of esoteric precepts since it is beyond all reductionism, whether reifications or negations." - Germano (1994)
  3. "[...] 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."[111]
  4. Heidi Koppl: "Unlike Mipham, Rongzom did not attempt to harmonize the view of Mantra or Dzogchen with Madhyamaka."[134]
  5. 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."[134]
  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."[180]
  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."[190]
    • 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.[47]
    • 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 the sense 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."[185]
  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.[191]"
  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 state of emptiness, is in fact the very essence of the mind (sems kyi ngo-bo stong-pa nyid).[192]
    • 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."[193]


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  174. Norbu (2000), p. 118-119.
  175. van Schaik (2004b), p. 98-99.
  176. van Schaik (2004b), p. 98.
  177. Pettit (1999), p. 81.
  178. Germano (1994), p. 262.
  179. Germano (1997).
  180. Pettit (1997).
  181. Reynolds (1996), p. 81.
  182. Norbu (2000), p. 129-130.
  183. Reynolds (1996), p. 82.
  184. Norbu (2000), p. 129.
  185. Norbu (2000), p. 130.
  186. Dudjom Rinpoche (2005), p. 296.
  187. Smith (2016), p. 26.
  188. Karma Chagme & Gyatrul Rinpoche (1998), p. 180.
  189. Dahl (2009), p. 255.
  190. Schmidt (2001), p. 77.
  191. Tsoknyi Rinpoche (2004), p. 7.
  192. Reynolds (1996), p. 75.
  193. Sogyal Rinpoche (1994), p. 160.
  194. van Schaik (2004b), p. 99.
  195. van Schaik (2004b), p. 99-100.
  196. Lingpa (2008), p. 53.
  197. Lingpa (2008), p. 6.
  198. Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (2001), p. 87.
  199. Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche (1994), p. 44.
  200. van Schaik (2004b), p. 101.
  201. Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche (1994), p. 224.
  202. Reynolds (2005).
  203. Hatchell (2014), p. 61.
  204. Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche (1994), p. 38.
  205. Ricard (2001).
  206. Hatchell (2014), pp. 61-63.
  207. Hatchell (2014), p. 62.
  208. Lingpa (2008), p. 151.
  209. Lingpa (2008), p. 153.
  210. Lingpa (2008), pp. 157-159.
  211. Lingpa (2008), p. 163.
  212. Lingpa (2008), p. 165.
  213. Lingpa (2008), pp. 166-169.
  214. Lingpa (2008), p. 183.
  215. Lingpa (2008), p. 199.
  216. Lingpa (2008), p. 201.
  217. Norbu (2000), p. 149.
  218. Norbu (2000), p. 150.
  219. Norbu (2000), p. 150-152.
  220. Norbu (2000), p. 152.
  221. Norbu (2000), p. 153-154.
  222. Dalai Lama (2004), p. 204.
  223. Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche (1994), p. 233.
  224. Ricard (2001), p. 153.
  225. Ray (2001), p. 323.


Dzogchen texts

  • Anyen Rinpoche (2006), The Union of Dzogchen and Bodhichitta (First ed.), Snow Lion, ISBN 978-1559392488
  • Bru-sgom Rgyal-ba-gʼyung-drung (1996), The Stages of A-khrid Meditation: Dzogchen Practice of the Bon Tradition, translated by Per Kvaerne and Thupten K. Rikey, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives
  • Klein, Anne Carolyn; Wangyal, Geshe Tenzin Rinpoche (2006), Unbounded Wholeness, Oxford University Press
  • Klein, Anne Carolyn; Wangmo, Jetsun Kacho (2010), Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse: A Story of Transmission, Snow Lion Publications
  • Lingpa, Jigme (2008), Yeshe Lama, translated by Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro, Snow Lion Publications, ISBN 9781611807318
  • Lingpa, Dudjom (2016), Heart of the Great Perfection: Dudjom Lingpa's Visions of the Great Perfection (Volume I), translated by B. Alan Wallace, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 978-1614293484
  • Norbu, Namkhai (1999), The Supreme Source: The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde Kunjed Gyalpo, Snow Lion, ISBN 978-1559391207
  • Ricard, Matthieu (2001), The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin, Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications
  • Padmasambhava (1998), Natural Liberation: Padmasambhava's Teachings on the Six Bardos, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 978-0861711314
  • Patrul Rinpoche (1998), The Words of My Perfect Teacher, Altamira
  • Patrul Rinpoche (2011), The Words of My Perfect Teacher, First University Press Edition, ISBN 978-0-300-16532-6
  • Reynolds, John Myrdhin (1989), Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness, Station Hill Press, Inc., ISBN 9780882680583
  • Reynolds, John Myrdhin (1996), The Golden Letters: The Tibetan Teachings of Garab Dorje, First Dzogchen Master, Snow Lion Publications, ISBN 978-1-55939-050-7
  • Reynolds, John Myrdhin (2005), The Oral Tradition from Zhang-Zhung: An Introduction to the Bonpo Dzogchen Teachings of the Oral Tradition from Zhang-Zhung Known as the Zhang-zhung snyan-rgyud, Vajra Publications, ISBN 978-99946-644-4-3
  • Valby, Jim (2016), Ornament of the State of Samantabhadra - Commentary on the All-Creating King - Pure Perfect Presence - Great Perfection of All Phenomena. Volume One, 2nd Edition, Jim Valby Publications, ISBN 978-0-9822854-0-4

Contemporary Tibetan sources (including westerners)

  • Capriles, Elías (2007), Buddhism and Dzogchen. Part 1 – Buddhism: a Dzogchen Outlook. (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-17
  • Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche (1994), Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, Rangjung Yeshe Publications
  • Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche (2004), The Bardo Guidebook, Rangjung Yeshe Publications
  • Dahl, Cortland (2009), Entrance to the Great Perfection: A Guide to the Dzogchen Preliminary Practices, Snow Lion Publications
  • Dalai Lama (2004), Dzogchen | Heart Essence of the Great Perfection, Snow Lion Publications, ISBN 978-1-55939-219-8
  • Dalai Lama (2012), Kindness, Clarity, and Insight, Shambhala Publications.
  • Dudjom Rinpoche (1991), The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, Vol. 1, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 978-0-86171-087-4
  • Dudjom Rinpoche (2005), Wisdom Nectar: Dudjom Rinpoché's Heart Advice, Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications
  • Fremantle, Francesca (2001), Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, ISBN 978-1-57062-450-6
  • Karma Chagme; Gyatrul Rinpoche (1998), A Spacious Path to Freedom: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahāmudrā and Atiyoga, translated by B. Alan Wallace, United States: Snow Lion Publications, ISBN 978-1559390712
  • Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche (2008), Illuminating the Path, Padmasambhava Buddhist Center
  • Kongtrul, Jamgon (2008), "Translator's introduction", The Treasury of Knowledge: Book Eight, Part Three: The Elements of Tantric Practice, Shambhala Publications
  • Koppl, Heidi (2008), Introduction to "Establishing Appearances as Divine", Snow Lion Publications
  • Kunsang, Erik Pema (2012), Wellsprings of the Great Perfection: The Lives and Insights of the Early Masters, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, ISBN 978-9627341819
  • Namdak, Tenzin (2006), Bonpo Dzogchen Teachings, Vajra Publications
  • Norbu, Namkhai (1989), "Foreword", in Reynolds, John Myrdhin (ed.), Self-liberation through seeing with naked awareness, Station Hill Press, Inc.
  • Norbu, Namkhai (2000), The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen, Snow Lion Publications
  • Nyoshul Khenpo (2016), "Chapter 6", The Fearless Lion's Roar: Profound Instructions on Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, Shambhala Publications
  • Padmakara Translation Group (1994), "Translators' Introduction", The Words of My Perfect teacher, HarperCollins Publishers India
  • Ray, Reginald (2001), Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet, Shambhala Publications, ISBN 9781570627729
  • Ringu Tulku (2007), The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great: A Study of the Buddhist Lineages of Tibet, Shambhala Publications
  • Schmidt, Erik (2001), The Light of Wisdom Vol IV, Kathmandu: Rangjung Yeshe Publications
  • Sogyal Rinpoche (1994), The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: Revised and Updated Edition, HarperOne, ISBN 978-0-06-250834-8
  • Stewart MacKenzie, Jampa (2014), The Life of Longchenpa: The Omniscient Dharma King of the Vast Expanse, Shambhala
  • Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (2000), Wonders of the Natural Mind: The Essence of Dzogchen in the Native Bon Tradition of Tibet, Snow Lion Publications
  • Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (2001), Het wonder van onze oorspronkelijke geest. Dzokchen in de bontraditie van Tibet (Dutch translation of "Wonders of the Natural Mind"), Elmar BV
  • Third Dzogchen Rinpoche (2008), Great Perfection. Volume II, Snow Lion Publications
  • Thrangu, Khenchen (2006), On Buddha Essence: A Commentary on Rangjung Dorje's Treatise, Shambhala, ISBN 978-1590302767
  • Tsoknyi Rinpoche (2004), "Introduction", in Schmidt, Marcia Binder (ed.), Dzogchen Essentials: The Path That Clarifies Confusion, Rangjung Yeshe Publications
  • Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (2006), Repeating the Words of the Buddha, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, ISBN 978-9627341598

Scholarly and western sources

  • Achard, Jean-Luc (2015), "The View of spyi-ti yoga", Revue d'Études Tibétaines, CNRS: 1–20halshs-01244881
  • Anspal, Sten (2005), "Lost in Space: Tibetan formulations of the rDzogs-chen klong-sde", Acta Orientalia, I (17): 193
  • Buswell, Robert; Lopez, Donald S. Jr., eds. (2014), The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Princeton University Press
  • Davidson, Ronald M. (2005), Tibetan Renaissance, Columbia University Press
  • Gyatso, Janet (2006), "A Partial Genealogy of the Lifestory of Ye shes mtsho rgyal", The Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies (2)
  • Germano, David F. (Winter 1994), "Architecture and Absence in the Secret Tantric History of rDzogs Chen", The Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 17 (2): 203–335
  • Germano, David Francis (1994b), Poetic Thought, the Intelligent Universe, and the Mystery of Self: The Tantric Synthesis of Rdzogs Chen in Fourteenth Century Tibet, 1
  • Germano, David (1997), "The Elements, Insanity, and Lettered Subjectivity", in Lopez, Donald, Jr. (ed.), The Religions of Tibet in Practice, Princeton University Press
  • Germano, David; Gyatso, Janet (2001), "Longchenpa and the Possession of the Dakinis", in White, David Gordon (ed.), Tantra in Practice, Motilal Banarsidass Publ.
  • Germano, David (2005), "Dzogchen", in Jones, Lindsay (ed.), Macmillan Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol.4: Dacian Riders – Esther, MacMillan Reference USA
  • Germano, David (October 2005b), "The Funerary Transformation of the Great Perfection (Rdzogs chen)", Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies (1): 1–54CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  • Germano, David F.; Waldron, William S. (2006), "A Comparison of Alaya-vijñāna in Yogacara and Dzogchen" (PDF), in Nauriyal, D. K.; Drummond, Michael S.; Lal, Y. B. (eds.), Buddhist Thought and Applied Psychological Research: Transcending the boundaries, Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge, pp. 36–68, ISBN 978-0415374316
  • Hatchell, Christopher (2014), Naked Seeing The Great Perfection, the Wheel of Time, and Visionary Buddhism in Renaissance Tibet, Oxford University Press
  • Higgins, David (2013), The Philosophical Foundations of Classical RDzogs Chen in Tibet: Investigating the Distinction Between Dualistic Mind (sems) and Primordial Knowing (ye Shes), Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, Universität Wien
  • Higgins, David (October 2012), "An Introduction to the Tibetan Dzogchen (Great Perfection) Philosophy of Mind", Religion Compass, 6 (10): 441–450, doi:10.1111/rec3.12004
  • Hirschberg, Daniel (2013), "Nyangrel Nyima Ozer", The Treasury of Lives, retrieved 2017-07-18
  • Ingram, Catherine (1983), "The Secret Teachings of Tibet: An Interview with American Lama Sura Das", Yoga Journal (109): 61–65, 122–123
  • Irons, Edward A. (2008), "Dzogchen", in Irons, Edward A. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Facts On File, Inc. An imprint of Infobase Publishing
  • Karmay, Samten G. (1975), "A General Introduction to the History and Doctrines of Bon", Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, Tokyo (33): 171–218
  • Karmay, Samten Gyaltsen (1998), The Great Perfection (rdzogs chen). A Philosophical and Meditative Teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, Brill
  • Keown, Damien (2003), A Dictionary of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-860560-7
  • Krasser, Helmut (1997), Tibetan Studies, Austria: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften
  • Pettit, John (Winter 1997). "Review of The Religions of Tibet in Practice". Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.
  • Pettit, John Whitney (1999), Mipham's beacon of certainty: illuminating the view of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 978-0-86171-157-4
  • Schaeffer, Kurtis R.; Kapstein, Matthew; Tuttle, Gray, eds. (2013), Sources of Tibetan Tradition, Columbia University Press
  • Schmidt, Marcia Binder, ed. (2002), The Dzogchen Primer: Embracing The Spiritual Path According To The Great Perfection, London: Shambhala Publications, Inc., ISBN 1-57062-829-7
  • Smith, Malcolm (2016), Buddhahood in This Life: The Great Commentary by Vimalamitra, Simon and Schuster
  • Stearns, Cyrus (1999), The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, State University of New York Press ISBN 0-7914-4191-1 (hc); ISBN 0-7914-4192-X (pbk).
  • Tiso, Francis T. (2016), Rainbow Body and Resurrection: Spiritual Attainment, the Dissolution of the Material Body, and the Case of Khenpo a Chö, North Atlantic Books
  • van Schaik, Sam (2004a), "The early Days of the Great Perfection" (PDF), Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 27 (1): 165–206
  • van Schaik, Sam (2004b), Approaching the Great Perfection: Simultaneous and Gradual Methods of Dzogchen Practice in the Longchen Nyingtig, Wisdom Publications
  • van Schaik, Sam (2011a), Tibet A History, Yale University Press

Web sources

Further reading

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