Dzogchen (Wylie: rdzogs chen, "Great Perfection" or "Great Completion"), also known as atiyoga, is a tradition of teachings in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism aimed at discovering and continuing in the natural primordial state of sentient beings. One's primordial ground (ghzi, "basis") is said to have the qualities of purity (i.e. emptiness), spontaneity (lhun grub, associated with luminous clarity) and compassion (thugs rje). The goal of Dzogchen is knowledge of this basis, this knowledge is called rigpa. There are numerous spiritual practices taught in the various Dzogchen systems for awakening rigpa. Dzogchen developed in the Tibetan Empire period and the Era of Fragmentation (9-11th centuries) and continues to be practiced today both in Tibet and around the world. It is a central teaching of the Yundrung Bon tradition as well as in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.[quote 1] In these traditions, Dzogchen is the highest and most definitive path of the nine vehicles to liberation. Dzogchen is also practiced (to a lesser extent) in other Tibetan Buddhist schools, such as the Kagyu and the Gelug school.
The term initially referred to the "highest perfection" of deity visualisation, after the visualisation has been dissolved and one rests in the natural state of the innately luminous and pure mind. In the 10th and 11th century, Dzogchen emerged as a separate tantric vehicle in the Nyingma tradition,[web 1] used synonymously with the Sanskrit term ati yoga (primordial yoga).
According to van Schaik, in the 8th-century tantra Sarvabuddhasamāyoga
... there seems to be an association of Anuyoga with yogic bliss, and Atiyoga with a realization of the nature of reality via that bliss. This ties in with the three stages of deity yoga described in a work attributed to Padmasambhava: development (kye), perfection (dzog) and great perfection (dzogchen).[web 1]
According to Anyen Rinpoche, the true meaning is that the student must take the entire path as an interconnected entity of equal importance. Dzogchen is perfect because it is an all-inclusive totality that leads to middle way realization, in avoiding the two extremes of nihilism and eternalism. It classifies outer, inner and secret teachings, which are only separated by the cognitive construct of words and completely encompasses Tibetan Buddhist wisdom. It can be as easy as taking Bodhicitta as the method, and failing this is missing an essential element to accomplishment.
The Nyingma school's ancient origins of the Dzogchen teaching is attributed to 12 primordial masters that were nirmanakaya buddhas that took forms in various realms. Each appeared to specific gatherings of beings and revealed certain teachings and doctrines. The 12th primordial master is said to be Buddha Shakyamuni.
Also according to the Nyingma tradition, the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra taught Dzogchen to the Buddha Vajrasattva, who transmitted it to the first human lineage holder, the Indian Prahevajra or Garab Dorje (fl. 55 CE). According to tradition, the Dzogchen teachings were brought to Tibet by Padmasambhava in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. He was aided by two Indian masters, Vimalamitra and Vairocana. According to the Nyingma tradition, they transmitted the Dzogchen teachings in three distinct series, namely the Mind Series (sem-de), Space series (long-de), and Secret Instruction Series (men-ngak-de). According to tradition, these teachings were concealed shortly afterward, during the 9th century, when the Tibetan empire disintegrated. From the 10th century forward, innovations in the Nyingma tradition were largely introduced historically as revelations of these concealed scriptures, known as terma.
In the fourteenth century, Loden Nyingpo revealed a terma containing the story of Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche. According to this terma, Dzogchen originated with the founder of the Bon tradition, Tonpa Shenrab, who lived 18,000 years ago, ruling the kingdom of Tazik, which supposedly lay west of Tibet. He transmitted these teachings to the region of Zhang-zhung, the far western part of the Tibetan cultural world. The earliest Bon literature only exists in Tibetan manuscripts, the earliest of which can be dated to the 11th century. The Bon tradition also has a threefold classification, namely Dzogchen, A-tri, and the "Zhang-zhung Aural Lineage (zhang-zhung nyen-gyu).
The written history of Tibet begins in the early 7th century, when the Tibetan kingdoms were united, and Tibet expanded throughout large parts of Central Asia. Songtsen Gampo (reign ca.617-649/50) conquered the kingdom of Zhangzhung in western Tibet, dominated Nepal, and threatened the Chinese dominance in strategically important areas of the Silk Road. He is also credited with the adoption of a writing system, the establishment of a legal code, and the introduction of Buddhism, though it probably only played a minor role. King Trisong Detsen, or Tri Songdetsen, (742-ca.797) embraced Buddhism as a national spiritual practice, relocated Indian masters to Tibet, and developed the Tibetan alphabet for translation of Sanskrit texts. Certain numbers of military forces were commanded to become monks, but some sources maintain the martial traditions of the Tibetan empire continued. The Tibetans controlled Dunhuang, a major Buddhist center, from the 780s until the mid-ninth century. Halfway through the 9th century the Tibetan empire collapsed. Royal patronage of Buddhism was lost, leading to a decline of Buddhism in Tibet, only to recover with the renaissance of Tibetan culture occurring from the late 10th century to the early 12th century, known as the later dissemination of Buddhism.
The terms atiyoga (as a higher practice than Tantra) and dzogchen do appear in 8th and 9th century Indian tantric texts, though they do not refer to a separate vehicle (yana) in these texts. There is no independent attestation of the existence of any separate traditions or lineages under the name of Dzogchen outside of Tibet, and it may be a unique Tibetan teaching, drawing on multiple influences, including both native Tibetan non-Buddhist beliefs and Chinese and Indian Buddhist teachings. There are two main interpretations of the relationship between Dzogchen and Tantric Practices among modern academics:
The idea that Dzogchen was a distinct movement was proposed by Samten Karmay in his study The Great Perfection. Samten proposed that Dzogchen was a "new philosophy" based on the doctrines of “Primal Spontaneity” (ye nas lhun gyis grub pa) and “Primeval Purity” (kadag) that developed between the 9th and 10th centuries. He notes that Chan Buddhism played a part in the development of early Dzogchen literature. He also explains how early Dzogchen had a close connection to tantric Mahāyoga practices and doctrines, but saw itself as outside of it.
American Tibetologist David Germano has also defended a similar view of the early development of Dzogchen which emphasizes the difference between early Dzogchen and tantric yoga practice. He argues that early Dzogchen:
defined itself by the rhetorical rejection of such normative categories constituting tantric as well as non-tantric Indian Buddhism. This pristine state of affairs known as the "Mind Series" (sems sde) movement stemmed above all from Buddhist tantra as represented by the Mahayoga tantras, but was also influenced by other sources such as Chinese Chan and unknown indigenous elements.
Germano points out that the early Dzogchen literature "is characterized by constant rhetorical denials of the validity and critical relevance" of mainstream Tantric practice. He points to "the ninth chapter of the Kun byed rgyal po, where normative tantric principles are negated under the rubric of the "ten facets of the enlightening mind's own being" (rang bzhin bcu). Germano calls the early Dzogchen traditions "pristine Great Perfection" because it is marked "by the absence of presentations of detailed ritual and contemplative technique" as well as a lack of funerary, charnel ground and death imagery (which is a feature of later Dzogchen traditions that Germano terms 'Funerary Great Perfection'). Instead it "consists of aphoristic philosophical poetry with terse experiential descriptions lacking any detailed outline of practice."
Germano further notes that the "early Great Perfection movements were rhetorically (at least) linked to rejection of more literal tantric interpretations (power sub-stances in general and body-fluids in particular, as well as graphic violence and sexuality), de-emphasis of the profusion of contemplative techniques, stress on direct experience rather than scholastically mediated knowledge, de-emphasis of ritual, mocking of syllogistic logic (despite its not infrequent use), and in general resistance to codifications of rules for any life-processes."
Instead of the mainstream tantric techniques, Germano holds that in early Dzogchen practice:
the basis of contemplation appears to largely have been a type of extension of "calming" practices at times involving concentration exercises as preparatory techniques, but ultimately aiming at a technique free immer-sion in the bare immediacy of one's own deepest levels of awareness. Thus formless types of meditation were valorized over the complex fab-rication of visual images found in other tantric systems such as Mahayoga, though it may very well be that during these early phases it was largely practiced in conjunction with other types of more normative tantric practices of that type.
In the following centuries, under the influence of the Sarma "New Translation" schools, the Dzogchen tradition continued to reinvent itself and give birth to new developments and Dzogchen systems.
According to Sam van Schaik, who studies early Dzogchen manuscripts from the Dunhuang caves, the Dzogchen texts are influenced by earlier Mahayana sources such as the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and Indian Buddhist Tantras with their teaching of emptiness and luminosity, which in Dzogchen texts are presented as 'ever-purity' (ka-dag) and 'spontaneous presence' (lhun-grub). Sam van Schaik also notes that there is a discrepancy between the histories as presented by the traditions, and the picture that emerges from those manuscripts.[web 2]
According to van Schaik, the term atiyoga (which refers to Dzgochen) first appeared in the 8th century, in an Indian tantra called Sarvabuddhasamāyoga.[note 1] In this text, Anuyoga is the stage of yogic bliss, while Atiyoga is the stage of the realization of the "nature of reality."[web 2] According to van Schaik, this fits with the three stages of deity yoga as described in a work attributed to Padmasambhava: development (kye), perfection (dzog) and great perfection (dzogchen).[web 2] Atiyoga here is not a vehicle, but a stage or aspect of yogic practice.[web 2] In Tibetan sources, until the 10th century Atiyoga is characterized as a "mode" (tshul) or a "view" (lta ba), which is to be applied within deity yoga.[web 2]
According to van Schaik, the concept of rdzogs chen, "great perfection," first appeared as the culmination of the meditative practice of deity yoga[note 2] around the 8th century.[web 2] The term dzogchen was likely taken from the Guhyagarbhatantra. This tantra describes, as other tantras, how in the creation stage one generates a visualisation of a deity and its mandala. This is followed by the completion stage, in which one dissolves the deity and the mandala into oneself, merging oneself with the deity. In the Guhyagarbhatantra and some other tantras, there follows a stage called rdzogs chen, in which one rests in the natural state of the innately luminous and pure mind.
In the 9th and 10th centuries deity yoga was contextualized in Dzogchen in terms of nonconceptuality, nonduality and the spontaneous presence of the enlightened state.[web 2] Some Dunhuang texts dated at the 10th century show the first signs of a developing nine vehicles system. Nevertheless, Anuyoga and Atiyoga are still regarded then as modes of Mahāyoga practice.[web 2] Only in the 11th century came Atiyoga to be treated as a separate vehicle, at least in the newly emerging Nyingma tradition.[web 2] Nevertheless, even in the 13th century (and later) the idea of Atiyoga as a vehicle was controversial in other Buddhist schools.[web 2] Van Schaik quotes Sakya Pandita as writing, in his Distinguishing the Three Vows:
If one understands this tradition properly,
Then the view of Atiyoga too
Is wisdom and not a vehicle.[web 1]
Most of the early Dzogchen literature, which are claimed to be "translations", are original compositions from a much later date than the 8th century. According to Germano, the Dzogchen tradition first appeared in the first half of the 9th century, with a series of short texts attributed to Indian saints. According to van Schaik, the earliest manuscripts available are from Dunhuang.
The most of important of these are the "Eighteen Great Scriptures" (Lung-chen bco-brgyad), which were referred to as "mind oriented" (sems phyogs), and later became known as "mind series" (sems de). Another group of early texts are the "five early translations" (sNga-'gyur lnga). The focus of all these texts is the "mind of enlightenment" (byang-chub-kyi sems, Skt. bodhicitta). According to Sten Anspal, this "refers to the true nature of a person's consciousness, which is essentially identical to the state of Buddha. The texts explain how accessing and abiding in this pure and perfect state of consciousness fulfills and surpasses all the various practices and methods of other Buddhist approaches."
The mind series reflect the teachings of early Dzogchen, which rejected all forms of practice, and asserted that striving for liberation would simply create more delusion. One has simply to recognize the nature of one's own mind, which is naturally empty (stong pa), luminous ('od gsal ba), and pure. According to Germano, its characteristic language, which is marked by naturalism and negation, is already pronounced in some Indian tantras. Nevertheless, these texts are still inextricably bound up with tantric Mahayoga, with its visualisations of deities and mandalas, and complex initiations. Sam van Schaik notes that early Dzogchen texts are concerned with other key terms such as rigpa (gnosis, knowledge) which refers to non-dual and non-conceptual awareness, and spontaneous presence (lhun gyis grup pa).
Christopher Hatchell explains that for early Dzogchen "all beings and all appearances are themselves the singular enlightened gnosis of the buddha All Good (Samantabhadra, Kuntu Zangpo)", and that it "also shows a disinterest in specifying any kind of structured practices or concepts via which one could connect with that gnosis. Rather, the tradition argues, there is nothing to do and nothing to strive for, so the reality of All Good will manifest in its immediacy just by relaxing and letting go." This tendency can be seen in the short Dzogchen text "Cuckoo of Awareness":
This method of pointing the meditator to the direct experience of the true nature of reality that is immediately present was seen as superior to all other Buddhist methods, which were seen as intellectual frabrications. However, according to van Schaik, this rhetoric does not necessarily mean that practicioners of Dzogchen did not engage in these "lower" practices.
During the 9th and 10th centuries these texts, which represent the dominant form of the tradition in the 9th and 10th centuries, were gradually transformed into full-fledged tantras, culminating in the Kulayarāja Tantra (kun byed rgyal po, "The All-Creating King"), in the last half of the 10th or the first half of the 11th century. According to Germano, this tantra was historically perhaps the most important and widely quoted of all Dzogchen scriptures.
The work of Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (9th century) is also an important source for the mind series traditions, particularly his Samten Migdrön. By the 11th century these traditions developed in different systems such as the Kham, the Rong and the Nyang systems, which according to Ronald Davidson "are represented by texts surviving from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries"). The Kham yogi Aro Yeshe Jungne (a ro ye shes 'byun gnas, 10th century) is particularly interesting, as he was said to have united the teachings of Dzogchen and the Chan lineage of Heshang Moheyan in his own Kham system known as the Mental Position system (A-ro lugs).
By the 13th century, these traditions began to be slowly displaced "by the over-whelming success of more vision oriented movements such as the Seminal Heart." However, elements of early Dzogchen continued to appear in later works, such as in Longchenpa's Trilogy of Natural Ease.
The Dzogchen tradition was completely transformed in the 11th century, with the renaissance of Tibetan culture occurring from the late 10th century to the early 12th century, known as the later dissemination of Buddhism. New techniques and doctrines were introduced from India, resulting in new schools of Tibetan Buddhism (the "New Translation" or "modernist" schools, i.e. Sarma). These new Buddhist schools criticized many of the texts and practices of the "old ones" (Nyingmapas) as unauthentic, since many could not be traced to Indian sources.
This challenge led to an explosion of new developments in Dzogchen doctrine and practice, with a growing emphasis on the new tantrism. The older Bon and Nyingma traditions incorporated these new influences through the process of Treasure revelation (terma). These new texts were considered to be hidden treasures buried by earlier figures such as Bairotsana, Songtsen Gampo, Vimalamitra and Padmasambhava that were then discovered by "treasure revealers" (tertons). These terma texts as well as the works of Nyingma Dzogchen commentators such as Rongzom were used to mount a scholarly defense of Dzogchen against the Sarma critiques.
The Indian Budhist Yogini Tantras and other Anuttarayoga Tantras influenced the development of new Dzogchen texts in this period, especially the Instruction series. These Buddhist tantras made use of taboo imagery which was violent, horrific and erotic. These influences are reflected in the rise of subtle body practices, new pantheons of wrathful and erotic Buddhas, increasingly antinomian rhetorics, and a focus on death-motifs within the new Dzogchen literature of this period. These influences were incorporated in several movements such as the "Secret Cycle" (gsang skor), "Ultra Pith" (yang tig), "Brahmin's tradition" (bram ze'i lugs), the "Space Class Series," and especially the "Instruction Class series" (Menngagde), which culminated in the "Seminal Heart" (snying thig), which emerged in the late 11th and early 12th century.
The series of Space (Longde), reflects the developments of the 11th–14th centuries and emphasizes "space" or "expanse" (klong). According to Sten Anspal this class of texts "is difficult to define or characterize uniformly" and "were not unified into a single system". Because of this, it has been seen either as nearly identical with the earlier Semde (Mind) Series, or as "occupying doctrinally a position between Mind and lnstruction Section."
According to Anspal, "Space" in these texts "is used to describe aspects in which the individual's true nature of mind is analogous to space. For example, space is present everywhere and no effort is needed to reach it; it cannot be transcended: it is immense. encompassing everything: it is devoid of characteristics and cannot be apprehended; it is without center or periphery; it is eternal and uncaused; there is no support in space and nothing to focus on: and so forth." One of the central themes of these texts is the doctrine of "the Nine Spaces" (The Spaces of View, Behavior, Mandala, Initiation, Commitment, Activity, Accomplishment, Levels - Paths, and Fruition). Each of these practices which refer to features of Buddhist tantra, is said to be spacious and complete within one's true nature and thus gradualist and tantric practices are seen as unnecessary for those who understand their mind's true nature. So, for example, there is no need to create a mandala in one's mind to practice, since when one realizes the true nature of mind, all perceptions are the mandala. Likewise, there is no need to go through ritual initiation, since realizing one's nature is already an initiation. In this sense, Dzogchen is seen as transcending tantra.
As noted by Anspal, some Space Series tantras like Equal to the End of Sky (Nam-mkha'i mtha'-dang mnyam-pa) "do not prescribe any particular techniques for the practitioner, such as physical postures or movements, structured meditative exercises, etc." In this sense, they are similar to Mind Series Tantras.
Another tradition which is often grouped as part of the Space Series is the Vajra Bridge (rdo rje zam pa) tradition. These texts include numerous tantric rites connected with Heruka and three Dakinis. However, the commentaries on Vajra Bridge texts indicate that these tantric rituals are auxiliary practices that "are secondary to the main practice that is Great Perfection contemplation of the nature of mind, and which is not here practiced in the formalized context of Tantric sadhana." A key figure in this tradition is 'Dzeng Dharmabodhi (1052-1168). His student, Kun-bzang rdo-rje, wrote numerous commentaries on Vajra Bridge. The key Tantra of this tradition was entitled Secret Wisdom (Ye-shes gsang-ba). The following verse "was interpreted as the essential summary of the way of contemplation in the rDo-rje zam-pa":
With one's body in a secluded place, cut the attachment to external [sense data] and internal [conceptuality], [assume the posture endowed with] seven characteristics, (chos bdun), and balance the physical elements ('byung-ba) [of the body]. Without blocking the six sense aggregates, settle in mere ordinary awareness. Externally, the elements of the body are balanced; internally, inhalation and exhalation are absent. One arrives at the meaning of uncontrived naturalness. That which is called "human being" is Buddha. There is no Vajrasattva apart from oneself.
In the Vajra Bridge tradition, contemplation of the true nature of mind, which was also referred to as "non-meditation", was introduced through the use of "four signs", which "are the experiences of non-conceptuality (mi-rtog-pa), clarity (gsal-ba), bliss (bde-ba) and the inseparability (dbyer mi-phyed-pa) of the first three as the fourth." Some of the Vajra Bridge texts also make use of subtle body yogas of winds (vayus), though they are relatively simple and "effortless" (rtsol-bral) in comparison to the wind yogas of the completion stage found in the Sarma tantras, which are seen as inferior and coarse by the Vajra Bridge authors such as Kun-bzang rdo-rje.
The most influential texts of the instruction series are the so-called Seventeen Tantras (rgyud bcu bdun) and the two "seminal heart" collections, namely the Vima Nyingthig, (bi ma snying thig, "Seminal Heart of Vimalamitra") and the Khandro nyingthig (mkha' 'gro snying thig, "Seminal Heart of the Dakini"). The "Seminal Heart of Vimalamitra" is attributed to Vimalamitra, but was largely composed by their discoverers, in the 11th and 12th century, such as Zhangton Tashi Dorje (1097-1127). The "Seminal Heart of the Dakini" was produced by Tsultrim Dorje (Tshul khrims rdo rje; 1291-1315/17).
As noted by Hatchell, these texts present themselves as being taught by Buddhas like Samantabhadra and discuss numerous topics including: "cosmogony, the subtle body, speculation on the gnostic "ground" that underlies the world, buddha-nature, discussions of light-energy, practical techniques for calming the mind and producing visions, ritual empowerments, mandala construction, signs of meditative accomplishment, postdeath states, attaining liberation after dying, funerary rituals, relics, prognostications for the time of death, subjugation rituals, strange recipes, and advice for dealing with zombies." There is an emphasis on the importance of "funerary" topics such as death and the intermediate state (bardo) as well as visions of peaceful and fierce deities. The Secret Instruction series texts saw themselves as the highest of all Dzogchen teachings, and they eventually overshadowed the other two classes.
Hatchell explains the core worldview of the Seminal Heart texts as follows:
"all of the world’s beings, objects, and appearances are said to rise up from the “ground” (gzhi) of reality, which in its primordial state is a field of pure possibility, beyond differentiation. Awareness serves as the dynamic, knowing dimension of this ground and acts as a kind of luminous vibrancy that “lights up” (snang) from the ground, creating appearances through its “dynamic energy” (rtsal). In this view, all appearances are simply the “play” (rol pa) or the “radiation” (gdangs) of awareness, with some appearances (such as visionary ones) being awareness appearing in its unclouded intensity, while others (like ordinary objects) are only its dimmed derivations.
In the Great Perfection, awareness plays a primary role in beings’ enlightenment, as well as their wandering in samsara, the crucial issue separating these two being whether or not awareness is “recognized” (ngoshes pa) for what it is. That is, if beings and their environments are in fact constituted of the same awareness, beings can either recognize that, or they can mistakenly view the world as containing external objects, absolutely separate from themselves as perceiving subjects. “Recognition,” then, is the simple act that leads to enlightenment. “Nonrecognition,” on the other hand, is the Seminal Heart’s version of the basic ignorance that Buddhists say afflicts all beings, causing them to divide up the world into factions, split between a “self’ that needs to be protected and “others” who become objects of attachment or hatred."
The Secret Instruction division focuses on two aspects of spiritual practice: kadag trekchö, "the cutting through of primordial purity", and lhündrub tögal, "the direct crossing of spontaneous presence". According to Hatchell, trekchö is a class of meditations that cultivate "a stable, vivid awareness with the goal of becoming attuned to the mind’s emptiness and primordial purity." This is influenced by earlier teachings of the Mind series and on classic Buddhist calm-abiding (samatha, zhi gnas) and special-insight (vipasyana, lhag mthong).
Tögal constitutes a unique feature of the Instruction tradition, which mainly deal with visionary meditations through practices such as dark-retreat and sky-gazing. The theory behind these practices is that, through yogic techniques, pure awareness can be induced to emerge through the eyes and appear as a series of visions. According to Hatchell, this is an opportunity "for the yogi to realize that the visionary appearances “out there” are none other than presencings of an internal awareness, and thus to undo the basic error of ignorance."
The Vima Nyingthig categorized Dzogchen texts (and Atiyoga teaching in general) into three classes which later became the normative way of classifying Dzogchen literature:
During the 13th to 14th centuries, the Seminal Heart teachings became widely circulated by figures such as Melong Dorje, Rigdzin Kumaradza and the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje. Over time, the Seminal Heart tradition became the dominant Dzogchen tradition and its textual divisions became standard. According to Germano, "The core of the Seminal Heart's difference from earlier Great Perfection traditions can be summed up as a focus on the spontaneous dynamics (lhun grnb) of the Ground, a spontaneity which one visually experiences in mandalic images in death and death-in-life, i. e. contemplation." The Seminal Heart innovations can be seen as fourfold according to Germano:
There were also other Dzogchen traditions, such as the "pith" (ti) traditions (such as the Crown Pith, and Ultra Pith) which were contemporary with the development of the Seminal Heart canon. Some of these represented a re-assertion of earlier Dzogchen trends which were somewhat critical of the Seminal Heart systems.
One of the most important of these conservative voices of the 12th century, Nyangrel Nyima Özer (Nyang ral nyi ma 'od zer, 1136–1204[note 3]), developed his "Crown Pith" (spyi ti) to reassert the older traditions in a new form. According to Germano, this figure is "one of the main architects of the Padmasambhava mythos". Another important figure of the Crown Pith tradition is Guru Chowang (1212-1270). Crown Pith tantras such as the Tantra of the Luminous Expanse, claim to be the "Peak of the Nine Vehicles". As noted by Germano, a common motif of these works is that Crown Pith is superior to the Great Perfection or Transcendence Yoga, sometimes even stating that Crown Pith is a 10th Vehicle. This indicates that Nyima Özer was critical of other Dzogchen trends of his time.
These writings, which were also presented as revelations from Padmasambhava, are marked by a relative absence of Yogini Tantra influence, and transcend the prescriptions of specific practices, as well as the rhetoric of violence, sexuality and transgression. Germano notes that "instead of the blood and violence of later Tantra, we find lyrical and elegant verses on light and darkness, purity and pollution, freedom and bondage, illusion and reality, plurality and unity, embodiment and mind." According to Germano, in Crown Pith texts "the subordinated Transcendent Pith Great Perfection (ati dzokchen) is consistently associated more with the side of manifestation and vision and is described as retaining a degree of exertion, conceptuality, and focus on appearances, while the Crown Pith is presented as an uncompromising non-duality zeroed in on original purity (kadak).
A pivotal figure in the history of Dzogchen was Longchenpa Rabjampa (kLong chen rab 'byams pa, 1308–1364, possibly 1369). He revived the Seminal Heart teachings by bringing together the two main Seminal Heart cycles (the Vima and Khandro nyingthigs). To these he added two new collections authored by himself, the Lama Yangtig and the Khadro Yangtig, as well as a third collection, the Zabmo Yangtig. This compilation effort eventually led to all these cycles being passed down in one great combined cycle called the Nyingtig Yabzhi.
In his highly influential corpus of commentaries include the Seven Treasuries (mdzod bdun), the "Trilogy of Natural Freedom" (rang grol skor gsum), and the Trilogy of Natural Ease (ngal gso skor gsum). Longchenpa's works systematized the numerous Dzogchen teachings in a coherent sctructured form. He refined the terminology and interpretations of Dzogchen, and integrated the Seminal Heart teachings with broader Mahayana and Vajrayana literature. With Longchenpa's highly influential synthesis, the Seminal Heart teachings came to dominate the Dzgochen discourse in the Nyingma school while earlier traditions became marginalized. Later Dzogchen cycles were all influenced by Longchenpa's corpus.
Malcolm Smith notes that Longchenpa's Tshig don mdzod, the "Treasury of Subjects,"[web 3] was preceded by several other texts by other authors dealing with the same topics, such as "The Eleven Subjects of The Great Perfection"[note 4] by Nyi 'bum (12th century). This itself was derived from the eighth and final chapter of the commentary to The String of Pearls Tantra.[web 3] According to Smith, Nyi 'bum's "Eleven Subjects" provided the outline upon which Longchenpa's "Treasury of Subjects" was based, using the general sequence of citations, and even copying or reworking entire passages.[web 4]
In subsequent centuries more additions followed, including the "Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones" (kar-gling zhi-khro)[note 5] by Karma Lingpa, (1326–1386), popularly known as "Karma Lingpa's Peaceful and Wrathful Ones", which includes the two texts of the bar-do thos-grol, the "Tibetan Book of the Dead".[note 6]
Other important termas are "The Penetrating Wisdom" (dgongs pa zang thal), revealed by Rinzin Gödem (rig 'dzin rgod ldem, 1337–1409); and "The Nucleus of Ati's Profound Meaning" (rDzogs pa chen po a ti zab don snying po) by Terdak Lingpa (gter bdag gling pa, 1646–1714).
However, the most influential of these later revelations are the works of Jigme Lingpa (1730–1798). His Longchen Nyingthig (klong chen snying thig), "The Heart-essence of the Vast Expanse" or "The Seminal Heart of the Great Matrix", is supposed to be a terma from Padmasambhava. According to Germano, this cycle "functioned to simplify much of kLong chen rab 'byams pa' s Seminal Heart systematization but also altered the fundamental structure of its literature and praxis 'by drawing upon normative (and transformed) deity visualization-oriented practices as found in Mahayoga cycles for its key structural framework."
The Longchen Nyingthig is said to be the essence of the Vima Nyingthig and Khandro Nyingthig, the "Early Nyingthig,", and has become known as the "later Nyingthig". It is one of the most widely practiced teachings in the Nyingmapa school. Patrul Rinpoche (1808–1887) wrote down Jigme Lingpa's pre-liminary practices into a book called The Words of My Perfect Teacher.
The next major development in the history of Dzogchen is the Rime movement (non-sectarian or non-partisan movement) of the 19th century. According to Germano, this period saw the continuation of a move towards more normative tantric doctrine and contemplation in Dzogchen. There was a rise in the production of scholastic and philosophical literature on Mahayana topics from the Dzogchen perspective, culminating in the works of Ju Mipham (1846-1912), who wrote numerous commentaries and texts on Buddhist Mahayana philosophy. There was also an increased focus on monastic institutions in Nyingma.
In the early 20th century the first publications on Tibetan Buddhism appeared in the western world. An early publication on Dzogchen was the so-called "Tibetan Book of the Dead," edited by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, which became highly popular, but contains many mistakes in translation and interpretation.
Dzogchen has been popularized and spread outside of Tibet by the Tibetan diaspora, starting with the Tibetan exile of 1959. Well-known teachers which have taught Dzogchen in the western world include 2nd Dudjom Rinpoche, Nyoshul Khenpo, Tulku Urgyen, Dilgo Khyentse, Namkhai Norbu, Chögyam Trungpa, Dzogchen Ponlop, and Mingyur Rinpoche. A few of these figures were also tertons (treasure revealers), such as Dudjom Rinpoche and Namkhai Norbu and thus revealed new termas. Some of these figures from the Tibetan diaspora also founded organizations for the preservation and practice of Dzogchen, such as Namkhai Norbu's International Dzogchen Community.
Lozang Gyatso, 5th Dalai Lama (1617–1682), Thubten Gyatso, 13th Dalai Lama ( 1876–1933), and Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama (present), all Gelugpas, are also noted Dzogchen masters, although their adoption of the practice of Dzogchen has been a source of controversy among more conservative members of the Gelug tradition.[web 5]
Tibetan Buddhism developed five main schools. The Madhyamika philosophy obtained a central position in the Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelugpa schools. The Jonang school, which until recently was thought to be extinct, developed a different interpretation of ultimate truth. Dzogchen texts use unique terminology to describe the Dzogchen view. Some of these terms deal with the different elements and features of the mind. The generic term for consciousness is shes pa, and includes the six sense consciousnesses. Different forms of shes pa include ye shes (Jñāna, 'pristine consciousness') and shes rab (prajñā, wisdom). According to Sam van Schaik, two significant terms used in Dzogchen literature is the Ground (gzhi) and Gnosis (rig pa), which represent the "ontological and gnoseological aspects of the nirvanic state" respectively. Dzogchen literature also describes nirvana as the "expanse" (klong or dbyings) or the "true expanse" (chos dbyings, Sanskrit: Dharmadhatu). The term Dharmakaya is also often associated with these terms in Dzogchen, as explained by Tulku Urgyen:
Dharmakaya is like space. You cannot say there is any limit to space in any direction. No matter how far you go, you never reach a point where space stops and that is the end of space. Space is infinite in all directions; so is dharmakaya. Dharmakaya is all-pervasive and totally infinite, beyond any confines or limitations. This is so for the dharmakaya of all buddhas. There is no individual dharmakaya for each buddha, as there is no individual space for each country.
According to Malcolm Smith, the Dzogchen view is also based on the Indian Buddhist Buddha-nature doctrine of the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras. According to the 14th Dalai Lama the Ground is the Buddha-nature, the nature of mind which is emptiness. According to Rinpoche Thrangu, Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339), the third Karmapa Lama (head of the Karma Kagyu) and Nyingma lineage holder, also stated that the Ground is Buddha-nature.[note 9] According to Rinpoche Thrangu, "whether one does Mahamudra or Dzogchen practice, buddha nature is the foundation from which both of these meditations develop."
A key concept in Dzogchen is the 'basis', 'ground' or 'primordial state' (Tibetan: gzhi, Sanskrit: sthana), also called the general ground (spyi gzhi) or the original ground (gdod ma'i gzhi). The basis is the original state "before realization produced buddhas and nonrealization produced sentient beings". It is atemporal and unchanging and yet it is "noetically potent", giving rise to mind, delusion and wisdom. The basis is also associated with the term Dharmata.
The text, "An Aspirational prayer for the Ground, Path and Result" defines the three aspects of the basis thus:Because its nature is luminous, it is free from the extreme of nihilismBecause its compassion is unobstructed, it is the ground of the manifold manifestations
Moreover, the basis is associated with the primordial or original Buddhahood, also called Samantabhadra, which is said to be beyond time and space itself and hence Buddhahood is not something to be gained, but an act of recognizing what is already immanent in all sentient beings. Likewise, this view of the basis stems from the Indian Buddha-nature theory. Other terms used to describe the basis include unobstructed (ma 'gags pa), universal (kun khyab) and omnipresent.
Rigpa (Sk: Vidya, "knowledge") is a central concept in Dzogchen which means "unconfused knowledge of the basis that is its own state". It is "reflexively self-aware primordial wisdom," which is self-reflexively aware of itself as unbounded wholeness.[quote 2] The analogy given by Dzogchen masters is that one's true nature is like a mirror which reflects with complete openness, but is not affected by the reflections; or like a crystal ball that takes on the colour of the material on which it is placed without itself being changed. The knowledge that ensues from recognizing this mirror-like clarity (which cannot be found by searching nor identified) is called rigpa.
As Berzin notes, all of the good qualities (yon-tan) of a Buddha are already "are innate (lhan-skyes) to rigpa, which means that they arise simultaneously with each moment of rigpa, and primordial (gnyugs-ma), in the sense of having no beginning.[web 6]
Sam van Schaik translates rigpa as "gnosis" which he glosses as "a form of awareness aligned to the nirvanic state". He notes that other definitions of rigpa include "free from elaborations" (srpos bral), "non conceptual" (rtog med) and "transcendent of the intellect" (blo 'das). It is also often paired with emptiness, as in the contraction rig stong (gnosis-emptiness).
John W. Pettit notes that rigpa is seen as beyond affirmation and negation, acceptance and rejection, and therefore it is known as "natural" (ma bcos pa) and "effortless" (rtsol med) once recognized. Because of this, Dzogchen is also known as the pinnacle and final destination of all paths.
Ma Rigpa (avidyā) is the opposite of rigpa or knowledge. Ma rigpa is ignorance or unawareness, the failure to recognize the nature of the basis. An important theme in Dzogchen texts is explaining how ignorance arises from the basis or Dharmata, which is associated with ye shes or 'pristine consciousness'. Automatically arising unawareness (lhan-skyes ma-rigpa) exists because the basis is seen having a natural cognitive potentiality and luminosity (gdangs), which is the ground for samsara and nirvana. When consciousness fails to recognize that all phenomena arise as the creativity (rtsal) of the nature of mind and misses its own luminescence or does not "recognize its own face", sentient beings arise instead of Buddhas. As explained by Tulku Urgyen:
In the case of an ignorant sentient being the mind is called empty cognizance suffused with ignorance (marigpa). The mind of all the Buddhas is called empty cognizance suffused with awareness (rigpa).
According to Vimalamitra's Illuminating Lamp, delusion arises because sentient beings "lapse towards external mentally apprehended objects". This external grasping is then said to produce sentient beings out of dependent origination. This dualistic conceptualizing process which leads to samsara is termed manas as well as "awareness moving away from the ground".
According to Sam van Schaik, there is a certain tension in Dzogchen thought (as in other forms of Buddhism) between the idea that samsara and nirvana are immanent within each other and yet are still different. In texts such as the Longchen Nyingtig for example, the basis and rigpa are presented as being "intrinsically innate to the individual mind". The Great Perfection Tantra of the Expanse of Samantabhadra’s Wisdom states:
If you think that he who is called “the heart essence of all buddhas, the Primordial Lord, the noble Victorious One, Samantabhadra” is contained in a mindstream separate from the ocean-like realm of sentient beings, then this is a nihilistic view in which samsara and nirvana remain unconnected.
Likewise, Longchenpa (14th century), writes in his Illuminating Sunlight:
Every type of experiential content belonging to samsara and nirvana has, as its very basis, a natural state that is a spontaneously present buddha—a dimension of purity and perfection, that is perfect by nature. This natural state is not created by a profound buddha nor by a clever sentient being. Independent of causality, causes did not produce it and conditions can not make it perish. This state is one of self-existing wakefulness, defying all that words can describe, in a way that also transcends the reach of the intellect and thoughts. It is within the nonarising vastness of such a basic natural state that all phenomena belonging to samsara and nirvana are, essentially and without any exception, a state of buddha—purity and perfection.
This lack of difference between these two states, their non-dual (advaya) nature, corresponds with the idea that change from one to another doesn't happen due to an ordinary process of causation but is an instantaneous and perfect 'self-recognition' (rang ngo sprod) of what is already innately (lhan-skyes) there. According to John W. Pettit, this idea has its roots in Indian texts such as Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika, which states that samsara and nirvana are not separate and that there is no difference between the "doer", the "going" and the "going to" (i.e. the ground, path and fruit).
In spite of this emphasis on immanence, Dzogchen texts do indicate a subtle difference between terms associated with delusion (kun gzhi or alaya, sems or mind) and terms associated with full enlightenment (dharmakaya and rigpa). The Alaya and Ālayavijñāna are associated with karmic imprints (vasana) of the mind and with mental afflictions (klesa). The "alaya for habits" is the basis (gzhi) along with ignorance (marigpa) which includes all sorts of obscuring habits and grasping tendencies.[web 6]
Koppl notes that although later Nyingma authors such as Mipham attempted to harmonize the view of Dzogchen with Madhyamaka, the earlier Nyingma author Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo did not.[quote 3] Rongzom held that the views of sutra such as Madhyamaka were inferior to that of tantra.[quote 4] In contrast, the 14th Dalai Lama, in his book Dzogchen, concludes that Madhyamaka and Dzogchen come down to the same point. The view of reality obtained through Madhyamaka philosophy and the Dzogchen view of Rigpa can be regarded as identical. With regard to the practice in these traditions, however, at the initial stages there do seem certain differences in practice and emphasis.
Dzogchen practice relies on the view outlined above as well as on a relationship with a guru or lama who imparts specific practice instructions. The "main practices" are considered advanced and thus preliminary practices and ritual initiation are generally seen as requirements.
Dzogchen teachings emphasize naturalness, spontaneity and simplicity. Although Dzogchen is portrayed as being distinct from or beyond tantra, it has incorporated many tantric concepts and practices. Dzogchen embraces a widely varied array of traditions and practice systems, that range from a systematic rejection of Buddhist tantra, to a full incorporation of tantric practices.
The most widespread and influential tradition of Dzogchen is that of the Seminal Heart (Nyingtig) traditions, the most popular of which in the Longchen Nyingthig by Jigme Lingpa (1730–1798). The explanation on Dzogchen practice which follows mostly applies to the Seminal Heart systems of Dzogchen.
The Seminal Heart tradition epitomized the Dzogchen teaching in three principles, known as the Three Statements of Garab Dorje (Tsik Sum Né Dek). They give in short the development a student has to undergo:
The Dzogchen tradition contain vast anthologies of practices, including standard Buddhist meditation techniques and tantra practices. With the influence of tantra, and the systematisations of Longchenpa, the main Dzogchen practices came to be preceded by preliminary practices.
Longchenpa, in "Finding Comfort and Ease in Meditation" (bsam gtan ngal gso), uses the standard triad of meditative experiences (nyams) to structure the text and the practices: bliss (bde ba), radiance/clarity (gsal ba), and non-conceptuality (mi rtog pa). This triad is also presented as preliminaries, main practice, and concluding phase. This systematization contextualized the system in terms of Tibetan Buddhism. It simultaneously relegated these preliminaries to a lower status, while also emphasizing their necessity.
In "Finding Comfort and Ease in the Nature of Mind", Longchenpa outlines 141 contemplative practices, split into three sections: exoteric Buddhism (92), tantra (92), and the Great Perfection (27). Most of these practices are "technique-free." The typical Buddhist meditations are relegated to the preliminary phase, while the main meditative practices are typical "direct" approaches. Longchenpa includes the perfection phase techniques of channels, winds and nuclei into the main and concluding phases. The "concluding phase" includes discussions of new contemplative techniques, which aid the practice of the main phase.
The teachings based on the Longchen Nyingthig are also divided into preliminary practices (ngondro, subdivided into various classes) and main practices (which are trekchö and tögal).[web 6] In The White Lotus (rGyab brten padma dkar po), Jigme Lingpa outlines the path of Nyingthig Dzogchen practice as follows:
Your mindstream is purified by the profound initiation, which is the cause of ripening, and then you begin with the outer, inner and secret preliminaries, which can be equated with the path of accumulation in the Paramitayana. For beginners, the way of practicing is explained by the practice instructions and the lama's instructions.
As noted by van Schaik, there is a tension in Dzgochen between methods which emphasize gradual practice and attainments, and methods which emphasize primordial liberation, simultaneous enlightenment, and non-activity. This seeming contradiction is explained by authors of the Seminal Heart tradition as being related to the different levels of ability of different practitioners. In response to the idea that the gradualist teachings found in the Seminal Heart texts contradict the Dzogchen view of primordial liberation, Jigme Lingpa states:
This is not correct because Vajradhara using his skill in means, taught according to the categories of best, middling, and worst faculties, subdivided into the nine levels from sravaka to atiyoga. Although the Great Perfection is the path for those of the sharpest faculties, entrants are not composed exclusively of those types. With this in mind, having ascertained the features of the middling and inferior faculties of awareness holders, the tradition was established in this way.
This division of practices according to level of ability is also found in Longchenpa's Tegcho Dzo. However, as van Schaik notes, "the system should not be taken too literally. It is likely that all three types of instruction contained in the threefold structure of YL [Yeshe Lama] would be given to any one person." Therefore, though the instructions would be given to all student types, the actual capacity of the practitioner would determine how they would attain awakening (through Dzogchen meditation, in the bardo of death, or through transference of consciousness). Jigme Lingpa also believed that students of the superior faculties were extremely rare. He held that for most people, a gradual path of training is what is needed to reach realization.
Jigme Lingpa's 18th century Longchen Nyingthig system divides preliminaries into ordinary and extraordinary types. The ordinary preliminaries are a series of contemplations of which there are two main instructional texts. One is based on Atisha's Seven Point Mind Training (Lojong) and is called the Tarpai Temke. The second is the Laglenla Deblug, and contains the following contemplations:
According to Jigme Lingpa, the preliminary practices are the basis of the main practices, and thus, they are not to be abandoned at a later point.
Another important requirement for practicing Dzogchen according to Jigme Lingpa is ritual initiation or empowerment (dbang) by an awakened lama. According to Tsoknyi Rinpoche, empowerment is necessary, as it plants the "seeds of realization" within the present body, speech and mind. Empowerment "invests us with the ability to be liberated into the already present ground." The practices bring the seeds to maturation, resulting in the qualities of enlightened body, speech and mind.
Following tantric initiation, one also engages in the tantric practices of the generation and completion stages of mahayoga and anuyoga. Jigme Lingpa sees all of these tantric practices as gradual steps to be cultivated which lead one to Great Perfection practice. Jigme Lingpa states:
What is the main point of the excellent path of greatness? It is no more than wiping clean intellectual limitations. Therefore the three vows, six paramitas, development and completion and so on are all steps on the ladder to the Great Perfection.
The actual Dzogchen meditation methods, which are unique to the tradition, appear in Seminal Heart tradition texts such as Jigme Lingpa's Yeshe Lama and Longchenpa's Tsigdon Dzo and Tegcho Dzo. The presentation of Dzogchen meditation methods in the Yeshe Lama is divided into three parts:
Ru shan is a series of visualisation and recitation exercises. The name reflects the dualism of the distinctions between mind and insight, ālaya and dharmakāya. Longchenpa places this practice in the "enhancement" (bogs dbyung) section of his concluding phase. It describes a practice "involving going to a solitary spot and acting out whatever comes to your mind."[note 11][quote 5]
Sbyong ba is a variety of teachings for training (sbyong ba) the body, speech and mind. The training of the body entails instructions for physical posture. The training of speech mainly entails recitation, especially of the syllable hūm. The training of the mind is a Madhyamaka-like analysis of the concept of the mind, to make clear that mind cannot arise from anywhere, reside anywhere,or go anywhere. They are in effect an establishment of emptiness by means of the intellect.
According to Jigme Lingpa, these practices serve to purify the mind and pacify the hindrances.
The Dzogchen meditation practices also include a series of exercises known as Semdzin (sems dzin), which literally means "to hold the mind" or "to fix mind." They include a whole range of methods, including fixation, breathing, and different body postures, all aiming to bring one into the state of contemplation.[note 12]
The practice of Trekchö (khregs chod), "cutting through solidity", reflects the earliest developments of Dzogchen, with its admonition against practice.[note 13] In this practice one first identifies, and then sustains recognition of, one's own innately pure, empty awareness.[quote 6] Students receive pointing-out instruction (sems khrid, ngos sprod) in which a teacher introduces the student to the nature of his or her mind. According to Tsoknyi Rinpoche, these instructions are received after the preliminary practices, though there's also a tradition to give them before the preliminary practices.[quote 7][quote 8]
Jigme Lingpa divides the trekchö practice into ordinary and extraordinary instructions. The ordinary section comprises the rejection of the "all is mind – mind is empty" approach, which is a conceptual establishment of emptiness. Jigme Lingpa's extraordinary instructions give the instructions on the breakthrough proper, which consist of the setting out of the view (lta ba), the doubts and errors that may occur in practice, and some general instructions thematized as "the four ways of being at leisure" (cog bzhag), which are "a set of brief instructions on the spheres of view (lta ba), meditation (sgom pa), activity (spyod pa), and result ('bras bu)" according to van Schaik."
The Seminal Heart tradition in general considers that pointing out instructions should be kept secret until the moment the lama reveals it to the student. In the Yeshe Lama, Jigme Lingpa gives the following passage as an introduction to the nature of mind:
Kye! Do not contrive or elaborate the awareness of this very moment. Allow it to be just as it is. This is not established as existing, not existing, or having a direction. It does not discern between emptiness and appearances and does not have the characteristics of nihilism and eternalism. Within this state where nothing exists, it is unnecessary to exert effort through view or meditation. The great primordial liberation is not like being released from bondage. It is natural radiance uncontrived by the intellect, wisdom unsullied by concepts. The nature of phenomena, not tainted by the view and meditation, is evenness without placement and post-evenness without premeditation. It is clarity without characteristics and vastness not lost to uniformity. Although all sentient beings have never been separate from their own indwelling wisdom even for an instant, by failing to recognize this, it becomes like a natural flow of water solidifying into ice. With the inner grasping mind as the root cause and outer objective clinging as the contributing circumstance, beings wander in samsara indefinitely. Now, with the guru's oral instructions, at the moment of encountering awareness-without any mental constructions-rest in the way things truly are, without wavering from or meditating on anything. This fully reveals the core wisdom intent of the primordial Buddha Kuntuzangpo.
Regarding the "four cog bzhags", in the Yeshe Lama, these four ways of "freely resting" or "easily letting be" are described by Jigme Lingpa as follows:
(a) Placement in the mountainlike view: After realizing the true nature-free of thoughts-as it is, remain in the naturally clear, great awareness that is not subject to mental efforts, grasping, or the usage of intentional meditation antidotes [against concepts].
(b) Oceanlike meditation: Sit in the lotus posture. Look at space in a state of openness. Avoid grasping at the perceptions of the six consciousnesses. Clear your cognition like the ocean free of waves.
(c) Skill in activities: Abruptly relax your three doors of body, speech, and mind. Break free of the cocoon of view and meditation. Just maintain your clear, naked wisdom naturally.
(d) Unconditional result: Let the five mental objects remain naturally as they are. Then natural clarity arises vividly within you.
The "setting out of the view" tries to point the reader toward a direct recognition of rigpa, insisting upon the immanence of rigpa, and dismissive of meditation and effort). Insight leads to nyamshag, "being present in the state of clarity and emptiness". To practice trekchö meditation, Jigme Lingpa states one sits cross legged with eyes open. His instructions on trekchö begin by stating that one must "settle in the present moment of gnosis [rigpa], without spreading out or gathering in." Rigpa is defined as that knowledge where "the extremes of existence and nonexistence are unaccomplished."
Tögal (thod rgal) means "leapover", "direct crossing", or "direct transcendence". The literal meaning is "to proceed directly to the goal without having to go through intermediate steps." Jigme Lingpa follows Longchenpa in seeing the visionary practice of tögal as the highest level of meditation practice.
The practices engage the subtle body of psychic channels, winds and drops (rtsa rlung thig le). The practices aim at generating a spontaneous flow of luminous, rainbow-colored images (such as thigles or circles of rainbow light) that gradually expand in extent and complexity. The meditator uses these to recognize his mind's nature.
Tögal may lead to full enlightenment and the self-liberation of the human body into a rainbow body[note 14] at the moment of death, when all the fixation and grasping has been exhausted. It is a nonmaterial body of light with the ability to exist and abide wherever and whenever as pointed by one's compassion. It is a manifestation of the Sambhogakāya.
Some exceptional practitioners such as the 24 Bön masters from the oral tradition of Zhang Zhung, Tapihritsa, Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra are held to have realized a higher type of rainbow body without dying. Having completed the four visions before death, the individual focuses on the lights that surround the fingers. His or her physical body self-liberates into a nonmaterial body of light (a Sambhogakāya) with the ability to exist and abide wherever and whenever as pointed by one's compassion.
For those of middle level capacities, Jigme Lingpa holds that they will attain awakening during the bardo or intermediate state during death, by following certain instructions on how to recognize the signs of death and how to practice during the death process. Jigme Lingpa describes the process as follows:
Thus, assuming [one of] the three postures or remaining in the sleeping-lion posture, focus awareness on the eyes. With eyes directed to the space of awareness, relinquish the present life and relax uncontrived within original purity. In an instant liberation will occur.
Jigme Lingpa also states one should practice this meditation while one is alive, to prepare for the death process meditation: "even while one is alive, when the sky is pristine, direct awareness into space and think, 'The moment of death has arrived. Now I must pass into the peaceful unelaborate expanse.' Exhale the breath and follow that by allowing the mind to remain without focus." Other meditations and techniques are taught as well, which should be practiced while one is alive.
Jigme Lingpa gives the following instructions, meant to be recited by a lama or fellow practitioner at the time of death. Various practices are also taught for those who are present when someone else is dying, such as the "three precious upadeshas of the great, profound tantra Conjunction of the Sun and Moon". These practices are meant to help the dying through the process and lead them to awakening or a higher rebirth.
Further practices related to the "bardo of the nature of phenomena" are also taught. At this point, one should practice trekchö and tögal. There are also specific instructions for this phase of death, which occurs when "the connection between body and mind has ended." According to Jigme Lingpa, at this stage, the consciousness of the basis of all dissolves into the basic space of phenomena and "in that instant, the natural clear light dawns like a cloudless autumn sky."
If one does not attain awakening, there will be a series of appearances which will be "extremely bright and colorful, devoid of distinctions such as outer, inner, wide, or narrow." There will also be appearances of the mandalas of peaceful and fierce deities. One is supposed to recognize all these appearances as being one's own mind and as lacking true existence.
The key point for achieving liberation in this way is to abide in unimpeded empty awareness, as the nature of original purity, beyond thought and expression. Having actually realized the ultimate ground of liberation, it is then necessary to encounter that which already is, decide upon that alone, and have confidence within liberation. Appearances by nature, when observed objectively, seem to be limitless; but, when observed subjectively, nothing whatsoever exists. However, even fixation upon the thought of nonexistence is naturally liberated in the first instant that one's own nature is nakedly revealed without mental analysis. This is the key point clearly defining the original ground of liberation. In whatever way compassion engages with objects, do not try to stop this pursuit or hold this within. With awareness placed precisely upon its own source, unimpeded cognition is without the distinctions of outer, inner, and between. In this way, the bardo appearances will be naturally pure in the radiance of awareness. This is a key point of the quintessential heart essence for recognizing the state of liberation with precise awareness.
Those beings of lesser faculties and limited potential will not attain awakening during the bardo but may transfer their consciousness (a practice called phowa) to a pure land once they have arrived at the "bardo of existence". Once they reach this bardo, they will recognize they have died and then they will recall the guru with faith and remember the instructions. Then they will think of the pure land and its qualities and they will be reborn there. In a pure land, beings can listen to the Dharma taught directly by Vajrasattva or some other Buddha. Jigme Lingpa recommends that one practice this in daily life as well. One way to do this is as follows:
"when falling asleep at night, with intense concentration one must think: 'I am dying so I must recognize the stages of dissolution and go to the natural nirmanakaya pure realm!' Then, one will fall asleep envisioning the arrangement and qualities of the nirmanakaya realm. Between [practice] sessions, as mentioned earlier, it is essential to have developed the skill of training the consciousness that rides the winds."