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Dzogchen, Chinese Buddhism and the Universal Mind
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Dzogchen, Chinese Buddhism and the Universal Mind
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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."

There are two points regarding the origin and connections of Dzogchen to be considered here with respect to this quotation. First, when Evans-Wentz refers to "the Great Perfection of the Dhyana School," presumably he is linking Dzogchen with the Ch'an school of China, which is much better known in the West in its Japanese version of Zen. Second, this suggests that there exists a close doctrinal relationship and probably a direct historical connection between Dzogchen and the Pure Consciousness School (Wei-shih Tsung) of China. He asserts that both of the texts cited above set forth the doctrine that the only reality is mind or consciousness. Let us consider the second of these two speculations first.

The Yogachara School and the Doctrine of "Mind-Only" As for the assertion that mind alone is real, this is the view that was traditionally associated with the Yogacharin or Vijnanavadin school of Mahayana philosophy in China. This school was principally characterized by its view of Chittamatra or "mind-only" (sems-tsam). The adherents of this school asserted that, even though the objects of perception, the world which is external to us, are empty and devoid of any intrinsic reality, the states of consciousness that cognize them, which perceive them as objects, are indeed real. The doctrines of the Yogachara system were first outlined in the extensive writings of the two brothers, Asanga and Vasubandhu, in the third century of our era. The views presented by the Yogacharins were in turn refuted by the masters of the Madhyamika school, especially by Chandrakirti. In the form of Prasangika Madhyamaka, which employs the critical dialectical methods perfected by Chandrakirti, this became the official philosophical position among all five Tibetan schools including the Nyingmapa and the Bonpo. Basing themselves on the brilliant commentaries by the great master Nagarjuna to the Prajnaparamita Sutras, the Prasangika Madhyamikas point out that we cannot properly make the assertion that "Mind alone is real!" because this view, if examined critically and carried to its logical conclusion, will only lead to absurdity or self-contradiction. In fact, according to the Prasangikas, this will be the case with any metaphysical statement regarding the ultimate nature of reality because the nature of reality (Dharmata) exceeds and goes beyond the conceptual limitations imposed by the categories and rational processes of the finite human intellect. The human intellect is just too small and provincial to encompass the vast variety of the universe. It is modern arrogance to think otherwise. Reality transcends all logical and ontological categories we may construct with the rational intellect.

However, even though we cannot make such definitive statements, whether affirmative or negative, regarding the ultimate nature of things, this in no way negates the path to liberation or the goal of Nirvana. Academic philosophers in their class rooms may expound very profound theories and many abstruse metaphysical systems, but beyond the classroom there is still everyday life and ordinary language and these must be dealt with in concrete terms. Thus, for a school which asserts that we cannot say anything affirmative or negative definitively, the Madhyamikas actually have a great deal to say about the spiritual path. This is because Madhyamaka is not really a philosophical school that asserts certain well-defined positions, but a kind of philosophical analysis of the meaning of language and a kind of intellectual therapy that purges the human mind of its unwarranted assumptions about the nature of reality, which create for the individual a false and limited image of reality and block or impede progress on the spiritual path. Madhyamaka is a method of philosophical analysis, but it is not nihilism, the asserting that nothing exists and it does not deny nor negate the path indicated by the Buddhas.