Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
Q: What does Dzogchen mean?
R: Dzog, "perfection" or "completion," means as in this quote from a tantra, "Complete in one - everything is complete within mind. Complete in two - everything of samsara and nirvana is complete within this." "Dzog" means that all the teachings, all phenomena, is completely contained in the vehicle of Dzogchen; all the lower vehicles are included within Dzogchen. "Chen," "great," means that there is no method or means higher than this vehicle.
Q: What is the basic outline of practice according to the Dzogchen path?
R: All the Buddha's teachings are contained within nine gradual vehicle of which Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, is like the highest golden ornament on a rooftop spire, or the victory banner on the summit of a great building. All the eight lower vehicles are contained within the ninth which is called Dzogchen in Tibetan, Mahasandhi in Sanskrit [and the Great Perfection in English]. But Dzogchen is not contained in the lowest one, the shravaka vehicle. So when we say "perfect" or "complete" it means that all the lower yanas are perfected or completely contained within the Great Perfection, within Dzogchen.
Usually we say that Dzogchen, sometimes called Ati Yoga, is a Dharma tradition but actually it is just the state of one's mind, basically. This unity of being empty and cognizant is the state of mind of all sentient beings. There is nothing special about that. A practitioner should encompass that with "a core of awareness." That is the path of practice. Again, "the unity of being empty and cognizant with a core of awareness."
The special feature of Dzogchen is as follows: "Primordial pure essence is Trekchö, Cutting Through." This view is actually present in all the nine vehicles, but the special quality of Dzogchen is what is called "The spontaneously present nature is Tögal, Direct Crossing." The unity of these two, Cutting Through and Direct Crossing, Trekchö and Tögal, is the special or unique teaching of Dzogchen. That is how Dzogchen basically is. That's it.
Q: That is a very wonderful teaching. It seems like Dzogchen is very direct and doesn't seem to have a linear quality in terms of the way one would approach it. In the other yanas sometimes one would first do the set of preliminaries, then a yidam practice. tsa-lung practice etc., this and that. It seems like Dzogchen is very immediate, like the essence is already present, available. Is there any kind of linear path in the way one would approach these teachings or is it always direct, like this?
R: We do in the Dzogchen tradition have the gradual system of preliminaries, main part and so forth. But the special characteristic of Dzogchen is to introduce or point out directly the naked awareness, the self-existing wakefulness. This is for students who are suitable, meaning those who have sharp mental faculties. Instead of going through a lot of beating around the bush, one would introduce them directly to their mind essence, to their self-existing awareness.
Dzogchen is said to have great advantage but also great danger. Why is this? Because all the teachings are ultimately and finally resolved within the system of Dzogchen. This can be divided into two parts, resolving all the teaching through intellectual understanding and through experience. To resolve through experience is what is the great advantage or benefit in the sense that having pointed out and recognizing directly naked awareness and simply makes that the main part of practice. That is the point when there is an incredible great benefit because that itself is the very direct and swift path to enlightenment.
On the other hand, the great danger is when one just leaves it as intellectual understanding, that "In Dzogchen there is nothing to meditate upon. There is nothing to view. There is nothing to carry out as an action." That becomes just a concept of nihilism and is completely detrimental to progress. This is because the final point of the teaching is conceptlessness, being beyond intellectual thinking. Yet, what has happened is that one has created an intellectual idea of what Dzogchen is and holds on to that idea very tightly. This is a major mistake that can happen. So, it is very important to take the teachings into one's personal experience through the oral instructions of one's teacher. Otherwise, simply to have the idea "I am meditating on Dzogchen" is to completely miss the point.
Self-existing wakefulness is present within the mind-stream of all sentient beings since primordial time. This presence is something which should not be left as theory, but should be acknowledged though one's experience. One first recognizes it, then trains and attain stability in it. That is when it is said that Dzogchen has great benefit. There is actually no greater benefit than this.
Great danger means that when this is left as words of mere intellectual understanding then one doesn't gain any experience but merely holds some concept about it and lack the nonconceptual quality. Conceptual mind is merely intellect whereas experience to remain in the continuity of naked awareness; growing used to it what is called "experiencing."
It is the same principle whether one talks of Madhyamika, Mahamudra or Dzogchen. As is said in the Bodhicharya Avatara, "When one's intellect holds neither the concept of concreteness nor of inconcreteness, that is the state of not conceptualizing." As long as one is not free from concepts, one's view remains as mere intellectual understanding and the Dzogchen view is then left as mere theory. One might then think "Dzogchen is primordially empty, it is free from a basis. There is nothing to meditate upon, no need to do anything If I meditate in the morning, I am a buddha in the morning. When I recognize at night, I am a buddha at night. The destined one does not even have to meditate."
Actually, Dzogchen is the way to purify the most subtle obscuration of dualistic knowledge - it is something quite in credible. But if one only imagines it, if it is a mere theory, thinking "I don't need to do anything, neither meditate nor practice," [one's has completely missed the point]. There has been many people thinking like this in the past.
Compared to straying into an intellectualized version of Dzogchen, it is much more beneficial to practice according to Madhyamika or Mahamudra where one goes along step by step, alternating theory and experience within the structure of theory, experience and realization. Proceeding gradually in this way one becomes more and more clear about what is to be resolved and then finally captures the "dharmakaya throne of nonmeditation." In this graduated system there are some reference points along the various paths and levels. But in Dzogchen the master will from the very beginning point out the nonconceptual state, instructing the student to remain free from concepts. It then happens that some student will think, "I am free from concepts, I am never distracted!" while walking around with vacantly gazing eyes. That is called straying into intellectual understanding.
Later on, when we have to die, mere theory will not help us whatsoever. Tilopa told Naropa, "Theory is like a patch. It will wear and fall off." After dying, we will undergo various pleasant and unpleasant experiences, intense panic, fear and terror. Intellectual understanding will not be able to destroy those fears; it cannot make confusion subside. So, merely to generalize that one's essence is devoid of confusion is useless. It's only a thought, another concept, which is ineffective at the moment of death when it comes to deal with one's confusion.
Q: Finally but not least, does Rinpoche have any special advice for the readers who are primarily householders?
R: They should first of all receive the pointing-out instruction and recognize their essence. Having recognized, they should refrain from losing its continuity and then mingle that with their daily activities. There are basically four kinds of daily actions traditionally called moving, sitting, eating and lying down. We don't always only sit or only move about; we alternate between the two. In addition we eat, shit and sleep. So there actually seem to be five kinds [laughs]. But at all times, in all situations, one should try not to lose the continuity of the practice. One should try to be able to mingle the practice with daily life. As one gets more accustomed, any amount of daily life activities will only cause nondualistic awareness to develop and become the adornment of this undistracted awareness, free from being obscured or cleared.
When one is able to mingle practice with the activities of daily life, these activities will then be beneficial and devoid of any harm whatsoever. That is if one has already recognized one's essence correctly. Without the correct recognition one will get carried away by the daily activities - one will have no stability. Lacking stability is like a strand of hair in the wind bending according to how the wind blows whereas a needle will be stable no matter how small it is. Even a very thin needle cannot be bent by the wind. Once one has truly recognized one's essence one cannot be carried away by the activities of daily life, just as a needle that is stable. Dualistic mind is completely unstable, like a hair that is just ready to move by the tiniest breeze; it falls prey to the five external sense objects. Awareness, on the other hand, when properly recognized, does never fall subject to sense objects. It is like a needle that is unmoved by the wind.