Question: What is the relationship between Dzogchen and bodhichitta?
Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches: The Dzogchen teachings are the highest teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni. From the Dzogchen point of view, everything is totally equal in one profound state, without duality and distinctions. Dzogchen is the ultimate view of the true nature of mind, which includes love and compassion. When we practice Dzogchen we develop compassion and loving-kindness; Dzogchen practice cannot be separated from bodhichitta practice. We cannot ignore relative bodhichitta and accept absolute bodhichitta; both are part of our true nature and both are part of Dzogchen.
For this reason, before we meditate, we take refuge and develop the thought of bodhichitta. After we meditate we dedicate the merit to all sentient beings. Whenever we practice or do any kind of beneficial activity, we should not cling to it. At the absolute level, everything is totally pure and perfect in great emptiness. From that point of view, we are completely free from all dualistic concepts and clinging.
Until we come to realize the emptiness nature, we continue to follow our thoughts, judging things to be good or bad, better or worse, dirty or clean. Even while we are following our thoughts, the ultimate reality does not change. It is similar to the weather. When you see a cloudy, gray sky, you cannot see the sun, but that does not mean that the sun and the blue sky are not there. They are still there; the moving clouds do not affect them.
Your thoughts are like the clouds that hide the sun of wisdom. When you reveal your inner wisdom and understand your primordial nature, all of your relative experiences become dreamlike. The objects you experience do not actually exist as the solid entities they seem to be. These dreamlike illusions are obscurations that come from your mind, and you must work with your mind in order to remove them. The obscurations cannot be burned away with fire or washed away with water, but they can be cleared away by bodhichitta and meditation. Bodhichitta and medit tion are the best cleansers. When you practice with bodhichitta you will be able to reveal profound treasures never previously available to you.
Every person has the enlightened nature, but to actualize that nature it is necessary to practice bodhichitta, the love and compassion for all beings. Bodhichitta is universally precious; everybody appreciates it and everybody has the potential to develop it. Enlightenment is completely dependent upon developing compassion for all beings. The wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of others is the essence of both the Mahayana and Vajrayana paths. When we develop inner wisdom, we can take care of all sentient beings, and radiate compassion and kindness throughout the universe. We can discover the true nature of the mind and of the entire world. In order to be able to do this, meditation practice is very important.
Bodhichitta is the root or the seed from which enlightenment develops. Bodhichitta is not found externally, but it is within your own mind. Although all of us have experienced love and compassion, these qualities need to be developed further. One way to increase them is to do the Dzogchen meditation of resting the mind in its own nature. This is because bodhichitta and emptiness have the same nature, the true nature of the mind. Practicing bodhichitta openly and freely will increase your understanding of emptiness because compassion and emptiness are inseparable aspects of the primordial state of being.”
Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches
The Buddhist Path
Photo of Ven. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche at PBC Yeshe Tsogyal House in Nashville, Tennessee in 2009, by Libba Gillum Miller.
The Purpose of Madhyamaka
Svatantrika and Prasangika Madhyamaka both use similar reasonings to bring about the realization of emptiness. In particular, the five great reasonings of Madhyamaka usher forth the realization of the true nature. Emptiness is our meditation. But it is not as if we are trying to make something up or cover up reality with something extra. The true nature of reality is emptiness, and it is this natural state we are connecting with through our meditation. Actually, reconnecting with the true nature is known as “meditation.” Meditation is nothing more than simply relaxing and abiding in the nature as it is, without swinging between extreme views.
The roots of this extremism are grasping and clinging, the true hindrances to our realization of emptiness. So the great Madhyamaka masters used the five great reasonings to break down our grasping tendencies and usher us into the absolute nature of emptiness. Grasping and clinging are obstacles to our realization of the true nature because they do not accord with the way things are, with the natural state. They are hindrances because they take us away from the nature. The five Madhyamaka reasonings will smash down and remove our grasping and conceptual fabrications, illuminating the true nature of both subject and object. In his famous “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life,” Shantideva said, “I do not refute what you see, hear, or think. I refute grasping, which is the cause of suffering.”
Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches
Opening the Wisdom Door of the Madhyamaka School (pgs 119-120)
Photo of Ven. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche at Padma Samye Ling in 2008.
Complete Instructions for Dzogchen Meditation
Complete Instructions for Dzogchen Meditation
by Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche
Dorje Drolo Dzogchen Retreat
Padma Samye Ling
July 22, 2017
A Dzogchen Overview
“Sentient beings have diverse capacities for understanding the true nature. This is why the Buddha gave so many different teachings. These teachings are like a vast banquet with all kinds of delicious dishes suitable to every taste.
The Buddha’s teachings can be grouped into three levels. The foundation level is the Hinayana, the second level is the Mahayana, and the third and highest level is the Vajrayana. All of the Hinayana teachings are contained in the Mahayana, and all of the Hinayana and Mahayana teachings are contained in the Vajrayana. This means the Vajrayana is the complete teaching of the Buddha.
The masters of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism divided the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana into nine levels or yanas. Yana can be translated into English as “vehicle” or “carrier.” In the same way we just discussed, the first yana is contained in the second, the first and second yanas are contained in the third, and so on, until we reach the ninth and ultimate yana: Dzogchen. Dzogchen means “Great Completion” or “Great Perfection,” because it alone contains all the previous eight yanas, as well as itself. This means that Dzogchen is the all-encompassing, whole, complete teaching of the Buddha.
Over the centuries many people who practiced Dzogchen reached the highest levels of realization. While many people have attained the highest realization by practicing the teachings of other Buddhist schools, even more have done so within the Nyingma lineage through the practice of Dzogchen. Why is this? It is because Dzogchen is so clear, direct, and powerful. It is well known that many Dzogchen practitioners achieved the transcendental wisdom rainbow body. Other Dzogchen practitioners who did not achieve the rainbow body, and who are not known to future generations by titles like “great lama,” or “mahasiddha,” still achieved complete realization of the true nature. In humble, simple, quiet ways, these practitioners reached the ultimate goal of life.
In general, when we practice Dzogchen we accumulate and accomplish the two merits of skillful means and wisdom in union. If we separate skillful means and wisdom, and choose one and reject the other, our practice is not all-encompassing and complete, and is therefore no longer Dzogchen. In particular, this Aro teaching is based more on wisdom. In other words, it focuses on view and meditation. It is grounded more on the absolute level since it is a direct teaching on the true nature. Even so, if we want to actualize this teaching we still must practice it through the union of skillful means and wisdom.
Dzogchen is the highest teaching, and Dzogchen practitioners are of the highest capacity. The first of the Aro teachings, which we have already touched upon, are for high capability practitioners of the highest caliber. For these people the universe and their own minds are inseparable in the enlightened state. They experience all phenomena as pure, and do not create divisions such as “subject” and “object.” They abide in nonduality. With regard to their understanding, there is nothing to add and nothing to subtract, nothing to gain and nothing to lose—everything is in the Great Completion, Great Perfection state. Whether their minds are abiding or moving—nothing changes. Quiet and peaceful mind, active mind—it is all the same. Nor do they distinguish between meditation and post-meditation. Whatever comes, moves, changes, and goes is the manifestation of the natural state, spacious and free. These practitioners are beyond hope and fear of both samsara and nirvana. The teaching here says, “Originally enlightened—both appearance and mind itself.” Truly, for these practitioners everything is fulfilled. For the rest of us, this level of fulfillment is close at hand, even imminent, as long as we keep practicing.”
Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches
The Nature of Mind
Aeon [Tib. bskal pa; Skt. kalpa]. The Sanskrit word kalpa refers to a world-age, period, or cosmic cycle during which the universe (1) arises, (2) abides, (3) gradually declines, and is subsequently consumed by the different elements until it (4) dissolves into space or voidness. (A kalpa is not to be confused with the four temporal ages: “golden age,” “age of threes,” “age of twos,” and “degenerate age.”)
According to the teachings, the one thousand buddhas of this Fortunate Aeon will all achieve enlightenment in the Vajra Seat [rdo rje gdan] under the Bodhi Tree, which is said to remain intact even after the universe is consumed by fire, wind, and water.
While the length of a kalpa cannot be grasped by ordinary beings, the Buddha once described it in the following way: the duration of a kalpa is such that were a man to gently brush a piece of silk against Mount Sumeru—the enormous mountain in the center of the universe—once a day, sooner would the mountain be reduced to dust by the silk, yet still the kalpa would not have ended.
Ronald Epstein explains that Buddhism refers to four kinds of kalpas: “A regular kalpa is approximately 16 million years long, and a small kalpa is 1000 regular kalpas, or 16 billion years. Further, a medium kalpa is 320 billion years, the equivalent of 20 small kalpas. A great kalpa is 4 medium kalpas, or 1.28 trillion years.” The Buddhist cosmological ages are described in detail particularly in the Vimalaprabhā, a commentary on the Kalachakra Tantra.
Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches
Ceaseless Echoes of the Great Silence: A Commentary on the Heart Sutra Prajnaparamita (pg 128)
Painting of the Buddhist cosmological representation of the universe, with Mt. Sumeru at its center, from the Padma Samye Ling gonpa murals.
The Courage of Bodhisattvas
“The great masters taught that bodhisattvas are great practitioners who extend help to all sentient beings. Their help continues without stopping for aeons and aeons; they are never tired, bored or discouraged. That is why this path calls for courage.
The path of the bodhisattvas is often difficult, because we deal with the needs of every sentient being. To help others can be tricky, even when we have the purest hearts. It’s not always easy for others to accept our assistance. Therefore, as bodhisattvas, we should not push others, or forcefully oppose them. We are to be skillful and help according to each individual’s readiness and capacity. Our compassion should be organic, and naturally advancing, and we should never lose our commitment and confidence. A bodhisattva never pulls back, but stays as solid as a mountain, and accepts every turbulence of samsara, every challenge that comes, every up and down. This compassion is not just for a few people, but for all beings, who are countless. The bodhisattva’s love is not restricted by groups, by regions, by borders, or by any categories whatsoever.
This bodhisattva path is a joyful path that brings us happiness, and is always uplifting and reassuring. Being able to work for and help beings is not only rewarding, it also removes our obscurations. It makes us strong and assured in the midst of all this samsaric trouble. Therefore the sutras and tantras all say it is a joyful ride.
The bodhisattva’s mind is a “mind of enlightenment,” which is the literal translation of the Sanskrit term bodhichitta. What, then, is bodhichitta? A simple way to explain bodhichitta is that it is the union of true love, true compassion and true wisdom. This is what we work to develop on this path.”
Venerable Khenpo Tsewang Rinpoche
Vows and Conduct in the Nyingma Tradition (pg 14)
“Listening, contemplating, and meditating are known as the “three wisdoms.” Each of these practices is vital to actualizing our buddha-nature and our abilities to benefit others. First, listen carefully and closely to the teachings you receive. This should encourage and inspire you to make a joyful effort. Do not simply collect teachings—look into the implications and contemplate their meaning. Then, apply them to yourself so that what you’ve received does not merely penetrate your ear and brain. Really connect with the meaning behind the instruction, take it into your heart, and reaffirm the truth of each word with your own understanding. That is known as contemplation. By deeply contemplating the teaching, you will naturally actualize the result known as meditation. Meditation will help mature what you’ve learned so that your knowledge is not simply intellectual or conceptual. Results will ripen as you grow. Although all three are indispensable, meditation is the most important.
To apply these three practices, we must learn to recognize and release the tendency to indulge in distractions. This is especially true when we are first beginning, but distractions can be a serious hindrance at every stage of practice, especially during meditation. The Dzogchen teachings say, “There is no meditation. Non-distraction is the meditation.” In the Prajnaparamita teachings, Buddha Shakyamuni listed ten types of distractions that can occur during practice and prevent our progress, including conceptions of: (1) nonexistent nature, (2) existent nature, (3) exaggeration, (4) deprecation, (5) the conception of one, (6) the conception of many, (7) identity, (8) discrimination, (9) holding titles and names, and (10) conceptions of meaning.
Distractions come uninvited, so we need a clear, vivid mindfulness to undermine their influence and to practice effectively. This doesn’t always come easily, even if we have the right motivation and can sustain a joyful effort. Learn to listen undistractedly. Do not let attention wander during contemplation practice. Avoid clinging to ideas and images while in meditation. To avoid following thoughts, be mindful and observe with relaxed alertness.”
Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches
The Essential Journey of Life and Death, Vol. 1
Photo of Ven. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche studying and contemplating in the 1990s.
“The Buddha said that before and after practice, you should do a lot of intellectual analysis and investigation.
But during practice, meditate with confidence, joy, and appreciation. Don’t spoil your meditation with lingering thoughts of, “This might be, that might be.” That is duality. If we look at this in a little more detail, it is doubt and hesitation. It is timidity. We are afraid. This is another ego trick, delaying and spoiling the time we have set aside for our meditation.
Instead, stay strong, calm, peaceful, and relaxed, and embrace the true nature without any intellectual thoughts.”
Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche
Dorje Drolo Dzogchen Summer Retreat
July 19, 2017