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Buddha, Meditation and Mind

Meditation is at the core of all Buddhist practice. But what is meditation? It is not just thinking about something. Rather, it is something we do, not only with our minds, but also done with our body position and our breathing. In general, our normal condition in every day life is that of being distracted. The practice of meditation, by removing these distractions, enables us to focus on our immediate experience here and now.
What is the purpose of meditation? To put it simply, it is to discover who we really are. We do not know this at the moment because we are distracted and our minds are obscured like the sky filled with clouds. When this is the case, we do not see the face of the sun. This knowledge of who we really are is called gnosis. It is the knowledge that liberates us. It is the knowledge of who we really are, where we have come from and where we are going. Realizing this knowledge is the whole purpose of Buddhist practice. It is this self-knowledge that will set us free.
But to obtain this knowledge, we must discover it within ourselves. We will not find it written in books. Therefore, we begin with discovering our real situation and condition in our life here and now. We do not begin with some old story about the creation of the world long ago or with some notion of a transcendent God outside of ourselves. Such notions are only ideas in our minds, not experience. Rather, we begin with our immediate experience in this present life, where we find ourselves here and now at this very moment.
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The Mahasiddha Tradition in Tibet
Most people in the West assume that all Lamas are necessarily monks. This is not actually the case since the Tibetan word Lama (bla-ma), used to translate the Sanskrit term "guru", means a spiritual teacher, and that may be either a monk or a layman. Nevertheless, monasticism and the life-style of the monk has always been the principal form of Buddhism institution and social organization wherever Buddhism has spread in Asia.
This Buddhist monastic culture was introduced into Tibet from India in the seventh and eighth centuries of our era, and revived again in the eleventh century after a temporary eclipse. The Indian Buddhist scholars brought with them to Tibet and exceptionally rich and profound thousand year old spiritual culture, and whereas this culture largely disappeared from India itself in the thirteenth century due to the total destruction of the great Buddhist monastic universities of Northern India by rampaging invading hordes from Afghanistan and Central Asia bent on pillage, loot, rape, and the forcible conversion of conquered native populations to the ascendant religion of Islam, much of the intellectual heritage of these universities, lost in India, was preserved in Tibet.
During these early centuries the Tibetan government sponsored one of the greatest translations projects ever undertaken in history-- translating the bulk of texts of Mahayana Buddhism from the Sanskrit language into Tibetan. But although this monastic culture of monks and monasteries has been throughout the past 2500 years the principal social institution for the preservation and the transmission of the Buddhist heritage, that there have existed other forms of Buddhist teaching and practice.
Read more: The Mahasiddha Tradition in Tibet
The Fountainhead of the Ngakpa Tradition
Fountainhead of the Ngagkpa Tradition
The text of the bSam-gtan mig-sgron, attributed to Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (gNubs-chen Sangs-rgyas ye-shes, 9th cen. CE), contains an exposition of the four kinds of Buddhist teaching prevalent in Tibet in the eighth and ninth centuries.
Even in these early times, Lama scholars clearly distinguished the view of Ch'an or Zen Buddhism from that of Dzogchen. These four types of Buddhist teaching were the gradualist path of the Mahayana Sutras, otherwise known as Madhyamaka, the non-gradualist path of the Sutras, that is to say, Ch'an or Zen, the gradualist path of the Mahayoga Tantras, and the non-gradualist path of Dzogchen Upadesha. In chapter seven, Nubchen provides a detailed exposition of Dzogchen and clearly indicates the close connections between Dzogchen with the Mahayoga Tantras.
The emphasis in this presentation of Dzogchen here is placed on the viewpoint of the Primordial Base (ye gzhi) which is characterized as being primordially pure (ka-dag). By way of exposition, Nubchen cites nine different views (lta-ba dgu) regarding Dzogchen held by leading masters of Dzogchen from Uddiyana, India, and Tibet. Nubchen associates his own view of the Natural Base of all phenomena which exists just as it is (chos thams-cad gzhi ji-bzhin-pa'i lta-ba) with that held by Garab Dorje and king Dahenatalo of Uddiyana.
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Bonpo and Nyingmapa Traditions of Dzogchen
In general, the Dzogchen teachings are found only in the old unreformed Tibetan schools of the Buddhist Nyingmapas and the non-Buddhist Bonpos. In both cases, these teachings are substantially the same in meaning and terminology, and both traditions claim to have an unbroken lineage coming down to the present time from the eighth century and even before. Both of these schools assert that Dzo gchen did not originate in Tibet itself, but had a Central Asian origin and was subsequently brought to Central Tibet by certain masters known as Mahasiddhas or great adepts.
There thus would appear to exist two ancient and authentic lineages for the Dzogchen teachings, the Buddhist and the Bonpo. As I have previously discussed the Nyingmapa Buddhist tradition of the origin of Dzogchen in my book The Golden Letters, here I shall present a preliminary survey of the Bonpo tradition of Dzogchen known as the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud. This Bonpo tradition is especially important for research into the historical origins of Dzogchen because it claims to represent a continuous oral tradition (snyan-rgyud) from the earliest times coming from Zhang-zhung in Western Tibet. [1]
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Ancient Tibetan Bonpo Shamanism
Bonpo The roots of Tibetan culture lie deep in the archaic soil of Northern and Central Asian shamanism. This is also true today when most Tibetans are practicing Buddhists-- their Buddhism being a religious culture deriving from ancient and medieval India.
Buddhism has been amalgamated with the ancient indigenous shamanism and pagan animism of that country, thus giving Tibetan Buddhism its unique and especially colorful character. The principal function of the shaman is the healing of the illnesses that afflict the members of his or her tribe, and so one can rightly say that ancient Tibetan religious culture centered around the practices of healing.
The therapeutic expert or professional in this regard was the Bonpo shaman-healer who treated and cured not only the diseases of the physical body, but more especially the illnesses of the soul, in order to bring the psyche of the afflicted individual back from fragmentation and alienation into wholeness and well-being. Furthermore, the shaman served the clan or tribe not only as a healer, but equally as a guide for the human soul on its journey beyond the present life through the perilous Bardo into its next rebirth.
The shaman was able to function as a healer and a guide of souls pre-eminently because of his or her mastery of alternate states of consciousness, "the archaic states of ecstasy", so that one could voluntarily enter the Otherworld of the spirits, a non-ordinary reality parallel to our familiar world of the senses and its conventional reality. The shaman could thus enter into and explore the landscapes of the mind, the collective unconscious psyche, and return thence with treasures of knowledge and power in order to benefit humanity.
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Dzogchen for Dying, After Death and Rebirth
Dzogchen Meditation
The Inevitability of Death
Death is an inevitable part of life. We begin to die as soon as we are born. We can choose to ignore this unpleasant fact, busying ourselves with the tasks of present day life—focusing on making money, succeeding in our career or profession, distracting ourselves with entertainments like films, video games, pop music, and TV—until death inevitably come to us. Or we can face our our inevitable fate and prepare ourselves for it now in our present life.
With the decline of conventional religion and of religious values during the last three hundred years in the West and with the triumph of materialistic science and its marvelous technology, people have tended to push the existential fact of death out of their daily consciousness, as if they would live forever. Increasingly, old people and the dying are hidden from view—ware-housing them in old people’s retirement homes or in sanitized hospital wards.
Yes, violence and death are relentless depicted in films, on TV, and in video games, but these events no longer feel real and we have become desensitized to them. They are more like events depicted in cartoons. They do not touch us at the existential level. We repress the thought of our own mortality, that death will come to us personally, until it is too late, whether death from accident or from a terminal illness. Yet, the inevitability of our own death is real and actual and ever-present. No amount of wishful thinking or distraction with entertainments will make it go away. In denying to ourselves that we will eventually die, we deny part of ourselves, our shadow side. Death’s inevitability is ever a part of our life here and now and it will follow us as relentlessly as the shadow follows the body. Our modern secular society and scientific rationalistic culture does not prepare us for death. We have lost touch with the ars moriendi, the art of dying.
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Dzogchen and Meditation
Dzogchen and Meditation
The Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha regarding the nature of reality and one’s own true nature, were written down after his own time and now are found in three types of scripture:
(1) The Sutras represent the public discourses of the Buddha on the topics of ethics, psychology, and philosophy. In terms of actual practice, this is embodied in the three-fold training in ethics, in psychology and meditation, and in philosophy.

(2) The Tantras are more restricted and represent private teachings given to advanced practitioners, in particular referring to the methods of energy transformation and how energy manifests to consciousness. Here the emphasis is on Tantric sadhana or the process of transformation.

(3) The Upadeshas are private advice on meditation practice given by a master to a disciple. Their principal concern is Mind, that is to say, the Nature of Mind. In Tibet, the Upadeshas are largely represented by Dzogchen and Mahamudra, and in China and Japan by Zen. All three systems of meditation represent non-gradual methods for the realization of sudden enlightenment.
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Dzogchen, Chinese Buddhism and the Universal Mind

Dzogchen and Chinese Buddhism

The historical origin of the Dzogchen teachings and the relationship of Dzogchen to certain other Buddhist teachings and traditions, such as Yogachara and Ch'an or Zen, has puzzled scholars not only in the West, but in Tibet itself.
Some leading Tibetan Lama scholars have accused Dzogchen of being a Chinese Dharma (rgya-nag gi chos), or assert that it is connected with Bon or Advaita Vedanta. Regarding this question in the West for example, W.Y. Evans-Wentz in his pioneering book on Dzogchen, The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation (1954), writes, "Our present treatise, attributed to Padmasambhava, which expounds the method of realizing the Great Liberation of Nirvana by yogic understanding of the One Mind, appertains to the Doctrine of the Great Perfection of the Dhyana School.
Between it and the Treatise on Achieving Pure Consciousness (Ch'eng Wei Shih Lun) upon which the Pure Consciousness Sect of China is based, there is a very close doctrinal relationship. Both treatises alike set forth the doctrine that the only reality is mind or consciousness, and that no living thing has individualized existence, but is fundamentally in eternal and inseparable at-one-ment with the universal All-consciousness."

Read more: Dzogchen, Chinese Buddhism and the Universal Mind