Ultimate Dzogchen – An interview with Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche


Ultimate Dzogchen – An interview with Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

  • What does Dzogchen mean?
  • 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.

  • What is the basic outline of practice according to the Dzogchen path?
  • 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: "Primor dial 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.

  • 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?
  • 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 =0 D 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 =0 Adualistic 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.

  • Finally but not least, does Rinpoche have any special advice for the readers of Vajradhatu Sun who are primarily householders?
  • They should first of all receive the pointing-out instruction and recognize their 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 recognize d 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.

Q: What are the preliminaries to the full realization of Dzogchen

R:The point of the Ngondro, the preliminary practices, is to remove obscurations and become pure. Therefore, the basic guideline for how to practice and how long to practice, is the extent to which we have purified our obscurations. There is no real guideline other than total purification!

A famous quote sums up the whole reason for these practices:

'When obscurations are removed, realization occurs spontaneously'.

The only thing that prevents realization is our obscurations and negative karma, and the preliminary practices remove them. When the =0 Amind is totally stripped of obscurations, realization is like a wide-open, clear sky with nothing to obscure it in any way whatsoever.

It is impossible to train in and grow accustomed to the original wakefulness as long as we are unaware of it and fail to recognize it, or as long as we are caught up in doubt even if we have recognized it.

The dualistic frame of mind is what we need to be free from, and nondual awareness is the outcome of this freedom. Realization in this sense means that the stream of conceptual thinking becomes self-arising self-liberation, until finally your mind is like a cloudless, clear sky.

By recognizing the empty nature of the mind we are disengaging from its expression, the stream of deluded thinking. Each time the expression dissolves back into the state of awareness, progress is made, and realization finally occurs.

Rigpa is like sunlit space. I use the metaphor of sunlit space to illustrate that space and awareness are indivisible. You do not accomplish or create the sunlit sky.

We cannot push the clouds away, but we can allow the clouds of thought to gradually dissolve until finally all the clouds have vanished. When it becomes easier to recognize, and when recognition is self-sustained, that can be called 'realization'.

It is not as if we need to decide, 'I hate these thoughts! I only want the awakened state! I have to be enlightened!' This kind20of grasping and pushing will never give way to enlightenment. By simply allowing the expression of thought activity to naturally subside, again and again, the moments of genuine rigpa automatically and naturally begin to last longer.

We need to become used to this natural dissolving of thought through training… Realization is the total and permanent collapse of confusion.

If we have correct understanding, the moment we apply what our master teaches, we recognize our nature. That there is no

entity whatsoever to be seen is called 'emptiness'. The ability to know that mind essence is empty is called 'cognizance'. These two aspects, empty and cognizant, are indivisible. This becomes obvious to us the very moment that we look; it is no longer hidden. Then it is not just an intellectual idea of how emptiness is; it becomes a part of our experience. At that moment, meditation training can truly begin.

We call this training 'meditation', but it is not an act of meditating in the common sense of the word. There is no emptying the mind essence by trying to maintain an artificially imposed vacant state. Why?

Because mind essence is already empty. Similarly, we do not need to make this empty essence cognizant; it is already cognizant.

All you have to do is leave it as it is. In fact, there is nothing whatsoever to do, so we cannot even call this an act of meditating.

There is an initial recognition, and from then on we do not have to be clever about it or try to improve it in any way whatsoever. Just let it be as it naturally is- that is what is called meditation, or even more accurately 'nonmeditation'.

What is crucial is not to be distracted for even a single instant. Once recognition has taken place, undistracted nonmeditation is the key point of practice.

Distraction is the return of all kinds of thoughts, in which the continuity of nondual awareness is lost. The training is simply to recognize again. Once recognition takes place, there is nothing more to do; simply allow mind essence to be. That is how the cloud-covers gradually dissolve.

Realization is achieved through repeating the short moment of recognition many times. The sense of being awake and empty- that is experience. At the moment of experience, what is recognized is not something new. Empty cognizance has always been present. It is often called 'self-existing wakefulness', rangjung yeshe. It is not created by the mere recognition of it, or through the pointing-out instruction. It is your nature itself, your natural face.

Please understand that there are three steps: recognizing, training and attaining stability. The first of these steps, recognizing, is like acquiring the seed of a flower. Once it is in your hands and you acknowledge it to be a flower, it can be planted and cultivated. When fully grown, flowers will bloom, but the seeds need the right conditions.


In the same way, the naked awareness that has been pointed out by your master should be recognized as your nature. This recognition must be nurtured by the right conditions.

To cultivate a seed, it must have warmth and moisture and so on; then it will certainly grow. In the same way, after recognizing we must train in the natural state: the short moment of recognition needs to be repeated many times.

As the support for this training, have devotion to enlightened beings and compassion for unenlightened beings. Devotion and compassion are a universal panacea, the single sufficient technique. A famous quote says, 'In the moment of love, the nature of emptiness dawns nakedly'. In addition, there are practices called the development and completion stages. All these practices facilitate nondistraction.

When you give water, warmth and protection to a sprouted seed, it will continue to grow. Repeatedly training in nondistraction is how to progress in the practice of mind nature. Right now, our nature is the buddha nature. When fully enlightened, it will also be the buddha nature. Our nature is unfabricated naturalness. It is this way by itself, it does not need to be manufactured. But we do need to allow the experience of buddha nature to continue through unfabricated naturalness.

Beings are carried away by their thoughts. If we simply let it be as it n aturally is, without trying to modify, there is no way to err, no way to stray from the view. It's when we try to manufacture or do something that it becomes artificial.

If during your practice you start to think, 'Well this state is not exactly right, it needs to be a little different', or 'I guess this is it' or 'maybe this is not it', or 'Now I've got it! I just had it! … Now it slipped away' this is not what I mean by unfabricated naturalness. One sign of having trained in rigpa, the awakened state, is simply that conceptual thinking grows less and less. The state of unfabricated awareness, what the tantras call the 'continuous instant of nonfabrication' becomes more and more prolonged.

This continuity of rigpa is not something we have to deliberately maintain. It should occur spontaneously through having grown more familiar with it. Once we become accustomed to the genuine state of unfabricated rigpa, it will automatically start to last longer. Through training, we should have gained some degree of stability in this so that we are no longer carried away by circumstances. less and less and the genuine awakened state lasts for increasingly longer periods.

All doubts or uncertainties concerning the view of rigpa should be cleared up. When we are free of doubts, there is nothing to clear up.

Doubt is the obstacle that obstructs the view. If there is no obstacle, there is also nothing to clear away.

We need to gradually dispense with conceptual thinking. In the moment of unfabricated awareness, thoughts do not have the power to remain, because that instant is totally free from the duality of perceiver and perceived. In the flame of nondual awareness, the hair of conceptual thinking cannot remain. Just as a single hair cannot remain in a flame, a hought cannot possibly remain in the recognition of the awakened state.

What we call sem, dualistic mind, is always involved in upholding the concepts of perceiver and perceived. Rigpa, however, is by nature devoid of duality. The whole basis for the continuation of conceptual thinking is duality. If the concepts of perceiver and perceived are not kept up, duality crumbles, and there is no way conceptual thinking can continue.

Our conceptual thinking is like a sneak-thief who can only rob by stealth. Try this: in broad daylight in a gathering of many people invite the thief in to steal whatever he wants. The thief will be unable to pilfer anything.

The bottom line is to try, as much as possible, to retain the innate stability of nondual awareness, of that continuous instant of nonfabrication. Do not create or construct anything whatsoever; simply allow the moment of rigpa to reoccur repeatedly.

We can deliver words from our mouths, but this is not enough to destroy the state of confusion, to make delusion fall apart. To do this, we need the genuine experience.

Once again, there are the three stages of recognizing, training, and attaining stability. Of these, 'recognizing' is like identifying the authentic seed of a beautiful flower. 'Training' is like planting the seed in fertile soil, applying water and so on- not leaving the seed lying on bare stone. The seed needs the right circumstances to grow in.

By applying these skillful means, nothing whatsoever can prevent the plant from growing.

Likewise, we need to train in, to develop the strength of the recognition of mind nature. After applying water and creating positive nurturing conditions, the plant will certainly grow taller and taller.

Eventually it will fully blossom with beautiful brightly colored flowers, because this potential was inherent in the seed. But this does not happen all at once.

In the same way, we hear about the amazingly great qualities of buddhahood. We then wonder, 'Where are those qualities? How come they are not apparent in a moment's experience of the awakened state? What is wrong?' It can be understood in the following way: within a few seconds' glimpse of the state of rigpa, these qualities are not experienced the same as when recognition has been stabilized. Although inherently present in our nature, t hese qualities do not have time to be fully manifest.

Just as the seed is the unmistaken element for the fully blossomed flower, so the moment of recognizing the awakened state is definitely the basis for buddhahood itself. If the flower-seed is planted and nurtured, it will without question grow. But do not expect the moment of rigpa to be an amazing or spectacular experience.

Actually, there is one aspect of the awakened state that is truly amazing‑

the fact that conceptual thinking and the three poisons are totally absent. If we look around, apart from rigpa, what can really bring an end to thought, the very creator of samsara? Sentient beings are never apart from this unchanging, innate nature of mind for even an instant, yet they do not see it. Just as the nature of fire is heat and the nature of water is moisture, the nature of our mind is rigpa, nondual awareness.

If we did not have the buddha nature, who could be blamed for not noticing it? But, just as water is always wet and fire is always hot, the nature of our mind is always awareness wisdom. We cannot be separated from our intrinsic nature.

All sentient beings want only happiness. No one wants to suffer. But through attachment, anger, and delusion, beings only create negative karma for themselves. Contemplating this, how can we help but feel compassion? The emotion this evokes is what is meant by compassion.

The genuinely compassionate person is naturally honest and decent, and will shy away from hurting others through evil deeds. Therefore he or she will automatically progress and will engender many qualities. If we have compassion, we will naturally heed the cause and effect of our actions. We will be careful.

If you practice the way I have described here, then each month and year will yield progress. And in the end, no one will be able to pull you back from attaining enlightenment.

There are two types of mindfulness, deliberate, and effortless. By starting out with deliberate attention, the practitioner can make a clear distinction between being distracted or not.


For most people, especially in the Mahamudra system, the mindfulness of deliberate attention is essential in the beginning. Otherwise, by relying on only effortless mindfulness, you may not even notice whether you are distracted or not. Instead, it is much better to practice deliberate mindfulness even though it is subtly conceptual, and gradually progress to effortless mindfulness.

In the Mahamudra teachings, you often find the phrase 'original innate nature'. This is nothing other than buddha nature. The training is simply to become used to that. To train, you must first of all be introduced to and have recognized the view. In Mahamudra, once the practitioner has recognized the view, he or she takes mindfulness as the path; it is a way of training20in that view.

If mindfulness is lost, then we are led completely astray into the 'black dissipation' of ordinary habitual patterns. So either we remember the view and sustain it, or the practice is destroyed. We need to know when we are distracted. Discursive thought is distraction, but once we recognize the essence of thought, we have arrived at non-thought. A quote from The Rain of Wisdom by Jamgon Lodro Thaye says, 'Within complexity I discovered dharmakaya; within thought I discovered nonthought'. For most of us there is no way around having to remind ourselves of the view by being mindful.

That which goes astray is simply our attention. Our mind becomes distracted, and that which brings us back to the view is called 'deliberate mindfulness'. In the same way, if you want the light to come on in a room, a conscious act is necessary. You must put your finger on the light-switch and press it; the light doesn't turn itself on.

In the same way, the moment we are carried away, we think, 'I have wandered off'. By recognizing the identity of who has been distracted, you have automatically arrived back in the view. The reminder is nothing more than that. This moment is like pressing the light-switch.

Once the light is on, you do not have to keep pressing it. After a while, we forget again and are carried away. At that point we must reapply deliberate mindfulness.

This is a good example for the famous phrase, 'The artificial leads to the natural'. First apply the method; then, once you are in the natural state, simply allow its continuity. After a while our attention begins to wander. Having noticed the distraction, apply mindfulness and remain naturally. The natural state is effortless mindfulness.

What is important is a sense of natural ongoingness or continuity.

Strike a bell and the sound will continue for some time. In the same way, by deliberate mindfulness you recognize the essence, and that recognition lasts for some time.

As it is unnecessary to continually press the light switch in a lit room, likewise, you do not have to keep striking the bell to make the sound last. When recognizing mind essence, you simply let it be. Simply leave it as it is and it will last for a short time. This is called 'sustaining the continuity'. Nonfabrication means not to stray from this continuity.

When recognizing, simply leave it, without tampering with or modifying it in any way; this is called nonfabrication.

Losing the continuity is the same as being distracted, which actually means forgetting.

A trained practitioner will notice that the view has been lost. The very moment of perceiving 'I lost the view; I was carried away', recognize again, and you will immediately see emptiness. At that point leave it as it is.

Awareness is emptiness; its expression is thought. In the recognition =0 D of mind nature, thought has no power to stand on its own. It simply vanishes. Just as our nature is emptiness, so is the nature of thought.

The moment of recognizing the thinking as empty cognizance is like a snowflake meeting water. This is certainly different from the thought process of an ordinary person. Thought activity in a yogi's mind is like writing on the surface of water. The thought arises, the essence is recognized, the thought dissolves.

Do not focus you attention on the expression. Rather, recognize the essence, then the expression has no power to remain anywhere. At this point the expression simply collapses or folds back into the essence.

As we become more stable in recognizing the essence free from conceptual thinking, its expression as conceptual thinking becomes increasingly baseless or unfounded.

In the face of directly seeing emptiness, the thought cannot remain, just as no object can remain in mid-air. When we do not recognize emptiness, we are continually carried away by thoughts. This is how the mind of sentient beings works, day and night.

Repeatedly you hear, 'Recognize mind essence, attain stability in that'. What this means is that we should repeatedly look into what thinks. We should recognize the absence or emptiness of this thinker over and over again, until finally the power of deluded thinking weakens, until it is totally gone without a trace.

The very moment you look, it is immediately seen that there is no 'thing' to see. It is seen in the moment of looking. In the moment of seeing, it is free from thought. This is also called prajnaparamita, transcendent knowledge, because it is beyond or on the 'other side' of a conceptual frame of mind.

The first point is deliberate mindfulness. The next moment is seeing your nature. At that time you should allow for an ongoing state of naturalness. All the different speculations should be dropped completely. In the moment of seeing, allow for a continuity free from thought. Simply rest freely in that.

Because we have been carried away from this state by conceptual thinking since beginningless lifetimes, we will again be swept away by the strength of habit. When this happens, you must notice, 'I am distracted'. Then look into 'Who is being carried away'. That immediately brings about the meeting with buddha nature. At that moment, leave it as it is. Here is how the nature of mind is introduced in the Mahamudra system: First the practitioner is told, 'Look into your mind'. The big question at this point is, 'What is mind?'

The teacher will say, 'Do you sometimes feel happy or sad? Do you want things? Do you like and dislike this and that? Okay, look into that which feels those emotions.'

After doing that, the practitioner then reports, 'Well, that which thinks and feels does not seem to be a real thing. But, at the same time, there are thoughts and emotions'. The teacher will say, 'All right. Keep a close eye on that thinker.'

Afterwards, the student will return and tell the teacher, 'Well, I've been looking into the thinker and sometimes it makes many thoughts about this and that and sometimes it just rests without thinking anything.'

For a diligent person to reach this point in the process takes about two or three months. The disciple becomes very clear about the fact that, mind, the thinker, is not a real thing. Even though this is true, it gets involved in thinking up all possible things and sometimes remains without thinking anything.

These two states, thought-occurrence and stillness, refer to thinking and the cessation of thinking. These aspects can also be called 'arising' and 'ceasing'.

The teacher will then say, 'Let's give these two states names. When there is thinking taking place, call it 'occurrence'. When there are no thoughts, call it 'stillness'. After this the disciple will feel, 'Now I understand these two states. Thinking of this and that is called occurrence. Not thinking of anything is called stillness'.

The teacher will say, 'Your mind is like a person who doesn't work all the time. At times he takes a rest. Sometimes he moves around and other times he sits still and doesn't do anything. Although the mind is empty, it neither works nor remains quiet all the time.'

Being able to notice thought-occurrence and stillness doesn't mean one knows the real nature of this mind. It is simply the ability to detect when there are thoughts and when there

is the absence of thought. This is called 'knowing the character of the mind'. It is not knowing buddha nature. As long as you do not go beyond this exercise, you will not reach enlightenment.

The teacher will then give the next instruction, saying, 'Now, don't just notice whether there is stillness or thought occurrence. When there is thinking, look into the thinker. When there is stillness, look into what feels the stillness.'

The disciple will then return entirely bewildered and say, 'When I look into what feels the stillness, I don't find anything whatsoever. When the thinking occurs and I look into what thinks, I don't find any 'thing' either. Not only that, but both the thinking and the feeling of stillness disappear. Now what am I supposed to do? 'Before I could take charge of so