Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche: Confusion Dawns as Wisdom, Quintessential Dzogchen
“Our basic nature is essentially identical with the ground, has two basic aspects: primordial purity (kadag) and spontaneous presence (lhundrub). Our mind’s empty essence is related to primordial purity, while it’s cognizant nature is linked to spontaneous presence.
Spontaneous presence literally means “that which appears and is present by itself” and—besides our cognizant nature—includes the deities that are experienced in the bardo, as well as all the Tögal displays. In the same way, the pure wisdom realms that unfold out of the expanse of the three kayas, which is the state of rigpa devoid of clinging, are also experienced as a natural presence. To rephrase this, all the self-appearing and naturally present Tögal displays, the kayas and wisdoms, that unfold out of the state of dharmakaya, free of grasping, manifest from the primordially pure essence and spontaneously present nature, kadag and lhundrub.
This lhundrub quality also pertains to samsaric experience. Spontaneous presence includes everything that “appears automatically”due to ignorance of our true nature: the worlds, beings, the three realms,the six classes, and all the rest of samsara. These all appear automatically; we don’t need to imagine any of them. In other words, the samsaric states that unfold out of the ignorant dualistic mind are all experienced vividly and clearly. Mind and its objects—the perceived objects in the three realms of samsara and the perceiving dualistic mind with its three poisons—all unfold within the arena of dualistic mind, sem. We don’t need to visualize our world. The sem experiences include the different experiences of the six classes of beings, which are visible yet intangible. Currently our “impure” samsaric experience is clearly present and quite tangible. We can touch the things around us, right? In “pure” awareness, known as the kayas and wisdoms, experience takes place in a way that is visible yet insubstantial. This immaterial or nonphysical quality means that the experience is something that you can see but not grasp—like a rainbow.
The sambhogakaya buddhas and realms unfold, visible yet intangible; they are insubstantial like a rainbow in the unconfined sky of dharmakaya. After you first recognize your basic state of primordial purity, then perfect its strength and attain stability, your body returns to rainbow light. In other words, within this very body, your realization is equal to that of sambhogakaya. All the inconceivable adornments and sceneries belonging to sambhogakaya are then as visible as rainbows in the sky. Unlike sentient beings in samsara’s three realms, who experience things in a material way, the kayas and wisdom displays are immaterial and unconditioned. Have you ever heard of a sambhogakaya buddha needing to visit the toilet? That’s because they are insubstantial, not material. The six types of beings, on the other hand, must defecate and urinate after they eat. That’s direct proof of their corporeality. Deities are in an incorporeal state, celestial and rainbow-like. You can’t eat rainbows and then shit them out! With a rainbow body there is no thought of food, but ordinary sentient beings, who have material bodies, can’t go without food; if they do, they die of starvation.
The materiality I am speaking of here has three aspects: the material body of flesh and blood, the material disposition that needs food as fuel, and the material mind that is born and dies, arises and ceases. The deities’ immaterial purity lies beyond those three, beyond every kind of materiality, and this is why we say their bodies are made of rainbowlight. In short, samsara is material substance and nirvana is insubstantial.
We hear the deities described as having bodies of light and living in an insubstantial mansion in an immaculate realm—but that is only how it appears from our point of view. The notion of being beyond corporeality is an adaptation to the habitual tendencies of samsaric beings, because we live in material places, in material houses, and have material bodies. From the deities’ point of view, there is no such concept whatsoever.
The complete aspects of the Dzogchen empowerments authorize the yogi to embark on Tögal practice. But without cutting through with Trekchö, one doesn’t directly cross with Tögal. Trekchö means that you have the basic state of primordial purity pointed out to you, at which point you must recognize it and then train in stabilizing that recognition.
The way to approach Dzogchen practice is this: Begin with the ngöndro, the preliminaries; follow that with yidam practice, for instance, the recitation of the peaceful and wrathful deities; then continue with the actual training in Trekchö. Later, as an enhancement of Trekchö, there is Tögal practice. All these Dharma practices should be applied. When training in Trekchö, leave your mind free of clinging. When practicing Tögal, though there is no clinging, one still applies four key points.
For all Dharma practice, you need preliminary steps, just like laying the foundation when you construct a house. We begin the Dzogchen path with the ngöndro and the reason is this: Throughout innumerable past lives we have created immeasurable negative karma and obscurations. The ngöndro purifies every misdeed and obscuration created through our physical, verbal, and mental actions.
Having gone through a complete ngöndro, next comes the main part, which is like building a palace upon the solid foundation. It may have many stories, but no matter how many there are, they will now all remain stable. The main part is composed of two stages: development and completion. Development stage, in this case, is the visualization of and recitation for one’s personal yidam deity. Yidam practice is then followed by the completion stage, which is Trekchö.
Trekchö means recognizing that our essence is primordially pure. The basis for Tögal is recognizing, at the same time, that our natural display is spontaneously present. Then, recognizing that the natural display, the spontaneous presence, is insubstantial and devoid of any self-nature is the ultimate path the unity of primordial purity and spontaneous presence, which we call the unity of Trekchö and Tögal.
There is a correspondence between Trekchö and Tögal and the two aspects known as the path of liberation and the path of means. By combining Trekchö and Tögal in the Dzogchen system, you experience the natural displays of the peaceful and wrathful deities within this lifetime, without having to wait for the bardo. Since the entire path has been traversed during your life, there is nothing more to train in or to purify during the bardo state.
To reiterate, having thoroughly done the ngöndro, you then proceed with the development stage of the yidam deity. The tantras mention that you have to quadruple all practices during our age. Whereas in the past it was sufficient to chant 100,000 mantras for each syllable, these days one must chant 400,000 per syllable. Spend however many months it takes to do the recitation in retreat. There are set numbers for the ngöndro practices and recitations, but there is no set number for Trekchö, not even a time limit. One doesn’t “finish” Trekchö after a couple of months or years—as long as there is life, there is Trekchö training. You never hear anybody say, “Now I’ve finished Trekchö!”
Throughout one’s entire life, the nature of mind must be recognized. On the other hand, you can master or accomplish Trekchö. This is when there is absolutely no delusion anymore, neither day or night; at that point you can truly say you have gone beyond Trekchö. However, I do believe that for the rest of this life there will be sufficient reason to practice. Read the guidance manuals thoroughly, many times. When you really understand them, you will understand the meaning of Dzogchen.
Neither Trekchö nor Tögal is a formal meditation practice. Trekchö means simply acknowledging that your basic essence is empty, and Tögal is the natural displays that are spontaneously present. The essence and its displays are not our creation; we do not create them by practicing. In both Trekchö and Tögal you do not create anything with your imagination but merely rest in the natural state.
To express it slightly differently, Trekchö is recognizing that our natural state or basic essence is primordially pure. Tögal is recognizing that the natural displays of this primordial purity are spontaneously present. And recognizing that this natural display is insubstantial—that the natural manifestations of the five wisdoms as five-colored light are not something you can take hold of—is the unity of primordial purity and spontaneous presence. These two aspects, primordial purity and spontaneous presence, are not separate and distinct like your two arms. They are an indivisible unity because the empty quality of mind-essence is primordial purity, while the cognizant quality is spontaneous presence. Hence, they are totally indivisible, and therefore Trekchö and Tögal are fundamentally indivisible.
You wouldn’t describe Tögal as a meditation practice, but you could say that it is a training, because there are key points to apply. I would like to stress again that Tögal is not a matter of imagining or meditating upon anything; the displays that appear are the expressions of natural purity. If you train properly and apply the key points, all the Tögal displays evolve naturally.
The reason many Dzogchen teachings are connected to a sadhana involving the peaceful and wrathful deities is that the displays include these deities. The practice lets whatever is already present within you become visible; nothing else manifests. Since the peaceful and wrathful deities are already present within your body, they become visible during Tögal practice. The deities in Tögal are the same ones that will appear in the bardo. So, if the complete mandala has manifested during your life, no second mandala needs to appear in the bardo state—it doesn’t manifest twice. This is why many Dzogchen teachings emphasize the mandala of the peaceful and wrathful deities.
There are many levels of practice for the peaceful and wrathful deities, such as in Mahayoga, Anu Yoga, and Ati Yoga. Chokgyur Lingpa, for instance, revealed sadhanas for all three vehicles. For Ati Yoga he revealed the Kunzang Tuktig, as well as one belonging to the Dzogchen Desum. You can also base your Dzogchen practice on the guru principle, since the enlightened master embodies everything. For example, the mind treasure of Jigmey Lingpa called Tigle Gyachen is based on the single figure of Longchenpa. In this way there are various approaches, and it is really good to do such practices.
Whether you are sitting down or moving about, whatever situation you are in, always remember Trekchö—recognizing the nature of mind. It is the very core, the very heart of Dzogchen practice.
The first experiences we will have at the moment of death are the sounds, colors, and lights, but these will not be vague, feeble, or limited, as they are now, but intense and overwhelming. The colors then are iridescent hues, while the lights are sharp like needle points, similar to looking directly into the sun. The colors are indications of enlightened body, the sounds indications of enlightened speech, and the lights indications of enlightened mind. That is why The Tibetan Book of the Dead reminds the dying person, “Do not be afraid of these lights. Do not fear the sounds. Do not be terrified by the colors.”
In the bardo, yogis who grew somewhat familiar with Tögal practice during their lives can remain unafraid, free of terror or dread, because they know that the colors, sounds, and lights are their own manifestations—the natural displays of their buddha nature’s body, speech, and mind. These initial manifestations are a prelude for the rest of the bardo. Ordinary people, however, become totally overwhelmed by the immensity of the displays. The sounds in the bardo are not small noises—they roar like 100,000 simultaneous thunder claps—and the lights and colors shine with the brilliance of 100,000 suns. Later, when the deities begin to appear, the largest are the size of Mount Sumeru, while the smallest are no bigger than a mustard seed. The deities are vibrantly alive and dance about. Faced with this spectacle, you have two options: either you panic with fright or you recognize them as your natural displays. This is why it is of incredible benefit to practice in this life so that you grow familiar with your natural displays. Otherwise, facing them in the bardo will result in deep confusion and bewilderment.
Even if you are an accomplished Buddhist scholar who knows a lot of Dharma, can debate, and all the rest, without this familiarity you will still become terrified and panic at the awesome display in the bardo. You can’t debate with these deities; you can’t explain them away. But if you follow the Vajrayana path and grow familiar with the unified path of development and completion, you can ensure that you will recognize all this to be your own manifestation—which will be of real benefit.
That is why The Tibetan Book of the Dead emphasizes, “Do not be afraid of your own displays.” There is no reason to be afraid of yourself, no need to be overwhelmed by your own sounds, colors, and lights. You can also cross the bardo successfully if you have become fully trained in Mahamudra and the Six Doctrines, but success is guaranteed if you have attained stability in Trekchö and Tögal. Trekchö is recognizing that the dharmata of mind and the colors and lights are all dharmata’s natural displays and that the sounds are the self-resounding of dharmata. We must recognize that these manifestations, visible yet insubstantial, come from nowhere else. Understand this, truly, and the Lord of Death will have no hold upon you.
It is incredibly important to grow familiar with these displays during this lifetime by practicing the unity of Trekchö and Tögal, because sooner or later everybody ends up in the bardo and these manifestations definitely will appear. These intense bardo experiences are not exclusive to just a few people or to Buddhists, nor does it help to say, “I don’t have to worry about those bardo experiences because I don’t believe in anything after death.” The bardo experiences don’t care what you think. They appear to everyone.
Avoid the sorry fate of most people, who get completely overwhelmed believing the displays of their own buddha nature to be devils coming to torture them and carry them off to hell. What a pity that would be!”