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Dzogchen and Meditation
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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.

In Tibetan, Dzogchen means “the Great Perfection”. It is so-called because it transcends the Tantric transformation practices of the Generation Process (Kyerim) and the Perfection Process (Dzogrim). In Dzogchen everything is perfect and complete just as it is; nothing has to be transformed into something else as is the case with Tantra. It is called the Great Perfection because there is nothing lacking (dzogpa, perfection) and it is total with nothing higher or beyond it (chenpo, great). Basically Dzogchen signifies the state of contemplation beyond the mind, that is to say, just being in and finding oneself in that state. Whereas with meditation, the mind is still operating and mental processes continue to function, including the ego, but with contemplation, we find ourselves in a state beyond the mind, where the mental processes are no longer functioning in terms of the conditioning of awareness. Nevertheless, this is not unconsciousness because it is a state where we are totally present and aware. This contemplation is like the condition of the mirror that has the capacity to reflect whatever is set before it, whether beautiful or ugly. But whatever is reflected in the mirror in no way changes or modifies the nature of the mirror. However, one must clearly distinguish the reflections from the mirror. In the same way, the Nature of Mind has the capacity to be aware of whatever may arise, yet these phenomena and thoughts whether good or bad, which arise to consciousness, in no way change or modify the Nature of Mind. So, in terms of Dzogchen, we must clearly distinguish between mind or the thought process and the Nature of Mind. Finding oneself in the Nature of Mind and its capacity for intrinsic awareness (Rigpa) is what is meant in the Dzogchen context by contemplation.

The practitioner can access the state of contemplation through the practices of Zen, Dzogchen, and Mahamudra. However, Zen exists in the context of the Sutra system in terms of its explanations and source texts, whereas Dzogchen and Mahamudra come out of the context of the Tantric system and its processes for transformation. Both Dzogchen, which has reference to the Old Tantra system of the Nyingmapas, and Mahamudra, which has reference to the New Tantra system, especially of the Kagyudpas, represent the culmination stage of the Tantric process of transformation. However, both of them may be practiced on their own without first undergoing a prior process of Tantric transformation.

Both Sutra, the philosophical system of Mahayana Buddhism, and Vinaya, the ordinations and monastic rules of the monks, were introduced into Central Tibet in the 8th cen. by the monk-scholar from India, Shantirakshita. His colleague, the famous Tantric master,Guru Padmasambhava, simultaneously introduced the Old Tantra system and Dzogchen into Tibet. The followers of Padmasambhava subsequently became known as the Nyingmapas or “the Ancient Ones” in contrast to the Sarmapa or Newer Schools of the Kadampa, the Sakyapa, the Kagyudpa, and the Gelugpa.

The Dzogchen teaching is also found in the other old school in Tibet known as Bon. A practitioner of Bon is called a Bonpo. Although we find here much of the pre-Buddhist magic and shamanism that survived in Tibet, Bon also has the higher spiritual teachings of Sutra, Tantra, and Upadesha or Dzogchen. However, the principal difference between Bon and the other Buddhist schools is one of lineage and not of teaching. Bon traces its lineages back, not to Shakyamuni Buddha in Northern India 2500 years ago, but to another prehistoric Buddha who lived even earlier in Central Asia. He was named Tonpa Shenrab. In the 8th century, the Bonpo Dzogchen teachings were introduced into Tibet from Zhang-zhung by the masters Tapihritsa and Gyerpungpa.