In the North-west of the land of Ögyen: On the pistil of the stem of a lotus: Endowed with the most marvellous attainments: Renowned as the Lotus Born: Surrounded by kyil’khors of many khandros: I am the one who follows your example: May I realise your knowledge and be irradiated by your presence – Guru Pema Siddhi Hung:
Om A’a: Hung: Bendzra Guru Pema Siddhi Hung:
Dorje Tsigdun is an immense subject. One could speak on the subject for months if one were a master – or weeks if one were a competent scholar – but alas, I am but a balding buffoon, and therefore a day shall quite suffice.
This talk will be a small taste only – but hopefully you will be able to hear this teaching in full one day from a Lama such as our own root Lamas Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Sam’phel. They embody the real meaning of Dorje Tsigdun – without need of talking.
It is an honour for me to be here – in a centre established by Rig’dzin Chenpo Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Because of this as I am conscious of wanting to impart something useful with regard to Dorje Tsigdun. I would like to present something that you can integrate into the practice which each of you lives.
One has to understand—with any Vajrayana teaching—that its felt meaning exists in as many ways as the atmospheres in which they are heard. As I said, we are here together in the Berkeley Shambhala Centre and therefore we have the great good fortune of being able to participate in the ambience created by the Mahasiddha Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. When these teachings were given in Tibet, they were given in a certain atmosphere – based on a thousand years and more of unbroken lineage. Tibetan practitioners had a certain anticipation about the teachings. They heard the teachings in a certain way. They had no doubt as to their value and as to their importance. In the West it can be strikingly different. Many people hear teachings in terms of there being something that I can use in my life to make things better for myself, or something to make life more exciting or rewarding. Dorje Tsigdun—or any other practice for that matter—cannot be approached in this way. If we approach Dorje Tsigdun in this way – we will limit ourselves and our appreciation. Dorje Tsigdun is not an adjunct. It is not part of a self-help programme – and even if there is benefit in simply hearing teachings of this type, one could only access such benefit from a Lama with realisation. From Ngakpa Chögyam all you would get would be information.
A teaching on Seven Line Song is only valuable if it is seen to be valuable. It cannot be seen as being valuable outside the context of Vajrayana practice. If one considers oneself to be a Vajrayana practitioner, then Dorje Tsigdun will have a depth of felt importance before a word of teaching has been uttered. This is important, because if one has the right attitude it is even possible to gain some further understanding of Dorje Tsigdun from a deranged dolt like Ngakpa Chögyam. There are some aspects of this teaching which may appear simple or quite meaningless, if they are not understood through the emotional charge of devotion. You could try to hear this teaching in the ambience of the devotion you feel for your own Lamas and the traditions they hold. Maybe I should say more about this?
Say for example, someone says:
I love you. It depends who that person is in terms of how you respond. If an unknown person of a lugubrious disposition approaches you in the street and proclaims his or her love – you might not feel overjoyed. On the other hand – if someone you admire, and for whom you have lusted for a long time says:
I love you, you would experience elation.
It depends who gives the message, in terms of how you respond to it. The words are the same, but how you experience them can be dramatically different. This is the case with Dorje Tsigdun as potential lover. This is the case with the Lama who introduces the Dorje Tsigdun. If you had a realised Lama here – the experience would be quite wonderful. As it is, you have Ngakpa Chögyam and you have to make the best of that. I also have to make the best of that. All I can really offer in terms of ambience is my own outlandish enthusiasm for my Lamas and lineage which have kindled for 30 years or so. If that has some worth, then you could find some use in my explanations.
Dorje Tsigdun – the ‘Seven Line Song’ or ‘Seven Thunderbolt Phrases’, is a practice which functions at different levels. There are visualisations. There is a wisdom-structure. There is also a practice of sound. There are many ways of singing Dorje Tsigdun. The words ‘Song’ and ‘Singing’ are particular here – because we can also chant Dorje Tsigdun. I would like to say something about the difference in terminology. Khandro Déchen and I use the word ‘Song’ with a capital ‘S’ because there is no other word in English which equates with the Tibetan word yang (dByangs) or Dzogchen gar-dang (rDzogs chen sGar gDangs). We have the words chanting and singing in English – but that is all we have. Chanting, or in Tibetan dön-pa (don pa / bTon pa / gDon pa), means that when I am reciting this, I am dwelling on the meaning. Gar-dang, or yogic song, does not mean that. Gar-dang means that one is finding presence of awareness in the dimension of sound.
Particularly in the West—with science—there is a sense in which we can understand anything and everything, with intellect. If we do not understand it now, then we will understand it later, because science will find an answer; and there will be more and more answers, and everything will be utterly comprehensible. I think that falling in love has never come into that category. Somehow, people do not need to understand what falling in love means or how it works. An interesting fact about science is that scientists have never been able to discover why a cat purrs. The reason for this is that whatever scientists set up to make their discovery upsets cats to the degree that they stop purring. I think that cats purr when they are happy and contented – but that is not based on scientific reasoning. Those Western Buddhist teachers who are currently so enamoured with science, would probably scoff at the naïveté of my feline conjecture – but I am afraid that although I respect science as far as it goes – I am not enamoured with materialist nihilism.
In terms of spiritual questions, people often feel that they have to understand through intellect. This kind of understanding is sometimes a big problem. If you actually understand then this is not a problem – but what is it called when we think we understand, but do not understand at all? It is called misunderstanding. The problem is that when we think we understand—but in reality do not understand—we come to the end of our questioning. We close down.
Q So if I think ‘What is that thing over there on the floor?’ and I don’t know, but I suddenly think: ‘Oh, it is one of those!’ But it’s not ‘one of those’, then my line of enquiry has stopped, and I’m actually lost. Whereas if I’d continued to not know, I could have still been open to discovering what it is. But if I decide what it is out of the need to know – and I get it wrong, then my train of inquiry stops.
R Yes. The intellect is tricky. We always try to understand through matching: ‘This is one of those, and that is one of these.’ ‘That idea is like this idea.’ That fits in with this. There is nothing so terrible about this in relative terms. If we did not have this facility, we would get into worse trouble than we do at the moment. We need to be able to think: ‘Last time someone rushed at me with a knife, it was not good news. I am going to assume the same thing applies here and run for cover.’ This capacity for ‘matching like with like’ is a mechanism which works well enough in terms of the practicalities of existence – but it does not cover every exigency – particularly in spiritual terms, and even more particularly with regard to Vajrayana.
Q Human beings have the quality of wanting to use whatever method they have to cover all bases: ‘If it works here, it will work there.’ People are inclined to say: ‘Even when it doesn’t work, I like this method so much, that I’ll keep using it all the same.’
R Yes. That is the normal human approach. Understanding through ‘matching like with like’, when applied to relative phenomena, is reasonably useful – but when one applies it to spiritual experience, it becomes an obstacle. What is useless about trying to understand through ‘matching like with like’ in the Dzogchen context of mere indication – is that the Lama is talking in sentences, and apparently making sense. There is an illusion of linearity within that – but one cannot nail it down. This is a problem in terms of intellectual comprehension. Intellectual comprehension and all its subtle solipsisms are utterly out of their depth. When one receives the mere indication of – finding presence of awareness in the dimension of sound – one hears that, and that is utterly sufficient. One does not have to do anything with it. Much of what we will discuss in terms of Dorje Tsigdun is like this.
Q I wonder how can I be sure about my understanding? How can I ferret out when I am really getting the whole picture, or when it is something I ought to be suspicious of?
R If it occurs to you that you could be suspicious, then be suspicious. Request clarification from your Lama. If you really know something, you do not need confirmation. Your Lama will know this. It is not a major concern. It is not a matter or pride. It is not something to celebrate in particular. It would be like celebrating the fact that you have armpits. There is a sense of intense ordinariness about this. It is an ordinariness without any need of confirmation. Let us begin now with our exploration of Dorje Tsigdun.
What I have to say depends on an understanding of mere indication – of Dzogchen men-ngag-dé. I have looked for Uddiyana. I have looked for the Land of Ögyen – that is to say, I have looked in atlases. What did I discover you may ask? What I have discovered is that it is not there. It is nowhere to be found. Ögyen is a mere indication.
It is strange. I have looked in British atlases. I have also consulted American, Austrian, and German atlases – and all to little avail. One can only find Ögyen in the bottom right hand corner or the top left hand corner of maps. I would actually have had to have cut these atlases apart and piece them together to have found the area where Ögyen might be – and it would still only have been partially there. You could try this. Ögyen is northern Pakistan, Far-western Tibet, Eastern Afghanistan, South-eastern Russia, South Western China. It appears to be the end of everywhere. It cannot be found. That—in itself—is interesting. It is interesting because the Land of Ögyen was not a particularly remote area in the ancient world. It was crisscrossed by the routes of caravan trains. It was a confluence of many different cultures – but if you look for it on the map, you cannot find it.
Hung: Ögyen yul-gi nub-chang tsam: Ögyen is a name of a land. It is also a term which is used to indicate the origin of Vajrayana. Ögyen yul is an epithet for sem-nyid (sems nyid) – the nature of Mind. The word ‘tsam’, the last word of the first line of the Dorje Tsigdun, means juncture – the point instant of discovery. In common terms—according to mundane understanding, and with reference to our previous discussion—Ögyen yul, this green and pleasant land, is the place where we find what we have lost – the non-dual state.
Hung: Ögyen yul-gi nub-chang tsam: In terms of Dzogchen – Ögyen yul is where we find presence of awareness. It is not on any map – which means, it is not on any map of concept. We cannot find it with concept. When we look for what we have lost, we tend to have ideas about where it might be – so we check in all the obvious places. It is not in any of them. We check them all out. If any of you have ever looked for a thing, you will notice that you will have always looked in the same places several times – in your coat pocket, over, and over, and over again.
I cannot actually believe I’ve checked that coat enough. Then I check somewhere else. Then I go back to the coat again – just in case it was there, and I still do not find it. Everyone will have had this experience. This is called looking for something according to the map. If we look for Ögyen on the map, we cannot find it. It is not there. It is just out of reach. It is always over the edge of the page. The nature of Mind does not conform to conceptual structures. Whatever atlas of conceptuality we use, we cannot use it as a reference work which will assist us in finding the Land of Ögyen.
Hung: Ögyen yul-gi nub-chang tsam: There are now those in the West and in America who would attempt to democratise Dzogchen so that the Land of Ögyen could be found though the collective wisdom of the sangha – but having voted on its whereabouts, they would merely find themselves exploring their collective Khyber Pass. We have no need to go that way.
Hung: Ögyen yul-gi nub-chang tsam: Let us now look at the syllable Hung. Refuge and bodhicitta are of primary importance in every school of Buddhism, within every Lineage, and within every Tradition. Dorje Tsigdun incorporates the practice of refuge and bodhicitta, in terms of containing them within itself.
There are many different practices in which we engage as Buddhist practitioners, and in terms of the Dzogchen view, it becomes important that we have some sense of what is essential. From the point of view of Dzogchen we have to know how to practise essentially. We have to have some sense of how to maintain a stream of practice through our lives, through illness, and through each different circumstance that may arise. Dorje Tsigdun is valuable in this respect, because it contains everything that is required. Dorje Tsigdun is one of a small number of practices which is an entire path unto itself. One could literally be a Dorje Tsigdunpa or Dorje Tsigdunma. Dorje Tsigdun is a complete path – if you understand it, and if you have devotion to your Lama. Tharchin Rinpoche said—when he visited us in Wales—that he knew of various yogis and yoginis in Tibet who achieved realisation purely through the practice of Dorje Tsigdun. This does not simply mean chanting it, but understanding its nature and being able to engage in its dimension of practise. If one has an understanding of Dorje Tsigdun, and one knows how to practise it according to all its levels of meaning, then nothing else is needed.
Hung: Ögyen yul-gi nub-chang tsam: For authentic tantrikas it will be a matter of joyful astonishment to realise that Hung contains the practices of kyab and changchub sem – refuge and Bodhicitta; and that simply by Singing Hung with this knowledge one can accomplish these. Hung is refuge and Bodhicitta. Hung—as a written form—comprises of various parts, and contains various meanings according to how it is visually portrayed. Hung is the heart syllable, the seed syllable of Padmasambhava. Hung is also the seed syllable of Yeshé Tsogyel. Hung is the primordial union of emptiness and form; the understanding of which, in itself, encompasses refuge and bodhicitta. There is no refuge and bodhicitta greater than the comprehension of the non-duality of emptiness and form. We see within this seed syllable, the union of Kuntuzangpo and Kuntuzangmo and the union of Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel. We also see the union of our Tsawa’i Lamas. Khandro Déchen and I experience the union of Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Sam’phel – because they are Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel – because they are Kuntuzangpo and Kuntuzangmo. It is a seamless interpenetrating interengulfing reality.
If we observe the form of this syllable commencing from the uppermost point, we notice a circle which terminates in an ascendant flourish. This is the symbol of space. When the Hung is portrayed in a coloured form then this circle or thig-lé is blue – the colour of the space element. Below this, we see a half-moon – this is green, the colour of the air element. Below the half moon is the letter Ha – the shape looks a little like the numeral 5 – this is red, the colour of the fire element. There are two shapes beneath the Ha – the first is the ’a – the ‘A-chung’, which means ‘little A’. This is white, the colour of the water element. At the nadir of the syllable there is a curl which resembles a question mark lying on its side; this is yellow, the colour of the earth element.
Thus Hung represents—in itself—the kyil’khor of the Buddha families; it represents the dance of the dakas and dakinis; it represents the kyil’khor of the five elements. It manifests the transformation of the skandhas; it manifests the transformation of the neuroses. In terms of the practice of bodhicitta, one recites Hung for the benefit of all beings, so their neuroses may be transformed into the five wisdoms. This is one way of understanding Hung according to bodhicitta and the principle of transformation.
If we look at the Hung with its appended gTérma mark (two little circles divided by a crescent moon), this form of Hung is portrayed as dividing the syllable into six areas. These six segments equate with the six realms and the liberation of all beings within the six realms. In this way, this group of six segments equates with the recitation of the mantra of Chenrézigs, the mantra of six syllables which is more universally known as the mantra which liberates beings in all the six realms. Thus we have the understanding of the Hung as being the catalyst for liberation of beings within the five neurotic patterns of duality and the six realms of dualistic fixation. Hung is the catalyst for liberation in terms of the five elements, which means the realisation of the path of tö-gal. We have the realisation of rTsa, rLung, and thig-lé in terms of its form, which relates to how all the elements are integrated into the space element.
Q What colour are the gTérma marks?
R They are black – which, in this context, represents the hell realms. The colours of the Hung according to the liberation of beings from the six realms is different from that of the five elements though. We are not just adding black gTérma marks – the entire sequence changes. From the top down: the thig-lé is off-white; the crescent moon is olive green; the Ha is dusky red; the ’a is pallid yellow; the gi-gu is brown; and the gTérma marks are black. When we Sing Hung in this manner we visualise each of the degraded colours of the six realms becoming the play of the three colours of the three vajras of Body, Speech and Mind: white, red and blue.
In terms of Kyab—refuge—when one comes to vocalise Hung – one is not necessarily engaging in a cognitive process. One is simply emotionally informed through the knowledge of Hung one has received through transmission.
Q Rinpoche—could you give some example of that?
R Well yes – when one says:
I love you to one’s partner, it is a different communication from making that same verbal statement to the carpet. One could gaze longingly at the carpet and say:
I love you but I imagine one would not find a great deal of emotional resonance in that. One is using the same words, but the meaning is either different – or there is no meaning at all. When one gives voice to the syllable Hung within the living meaning of being in love with all beings, then Hung is imbued with that meaning. Obviously if one has knowledge of every aspect of Hung, then that will exist as an experiential texture which radiates from the sound. To give a personal example, I have a picture of Khandro Déchen which accompanies me on my travels. Now it must be evident that a photograph of Khandro Déchen is not the whole person. It is a two-dimensional representation of the person – but because of my knowledge of Khandro Déchen, my picture of her acts as a key which opens up the field of my emotional knowledge of her. When I look at the picture I do not have to consciously run through database material concerning Khandro Déchen. I do not have to consider: her age, height, hair colour, waist measurement – or the fact that we went on holiday earlier this year with our son Robert. I do not have to enumerate these facts. I do not have to sequentially review my more attenuated impressions either. They are all there. They are all there as part of my knowledge of Khandro Déchen. When I look at the picture, everything is evoked and invoked.
Hung becomes evocative according to one’s depth of understanding. One does not have to sing the syllable Hung in terms of having each separate facet of Hung register consciously – but if one is devotionally familiar with the emotive power of Hung, then this is quite sufficient. If one regards Hung as a precious resource, then hearing it explained further will be personally extremely important. If it is simply another Tibetan syllable, and if one is hearing a rather effete English eccentric providing details about it in quaint vernacular … then it may not have a great deal of meaning. It depends on one’s own sense of relationship with Hung and what that could be.
We have two ways of relating with Hung. The entire Dorje Tsigdun is based on Hung as the seed syllable of Padmasambhava – and as the seed syllable of Yeshé Tsogyel. Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel are inseparable. [interrupted]
Q Does the actual way the syllable Hung appears arise from someone’s vision? Or was it derived from language, as language is written?
R Hung was developed as part of language; but the way in which it is visualised – and the colours in which Hung is depicted – those are of visionary origin.
Q Could you talk of the difference between pronouncing the syllable as h-u-n-g and pronouncing it as h-u-m? What is the significance of that. Does it not make any difference?
R ‘Ng’ is a common Tibetan sound. In English the typical sound is ‘er’. Every language has a few of these typical sounds. There will also be a tendency to mispronounce according to a certain style in each language. It is awkward in Tibetan to end a word with the sound ‘m’; ‘ng’ is the usual Tibetan way of mispronouncing the ‘m’ sound. Western people do not find it particularly difficult to say Hum.
Q Could I add something here Rinpoche? I studied Sanskrit and maybe this might be of interest?
R Thank you – I would be interested. Sanskrit is not my forté to say the least.
Q Well – I am not sure how interesting this will be, but ‘m’ as we say it in English is not the actual Sanskrit sound; it actually is a nasalisation of ‘m’. And I think that is why the Tibetans find it difficult to say that.
R Ah … That is interesting. I did not know that – but I presume Western people would experience equivalent difficulties. What is most central here—with regard to pronunciation of mantra—is transmission. Accuracy is important only in terms of commitment to reproducing the sound that one heard oneself from the Lama who gave transmission. I think the most distorted word is the Tibetan version of ‘vajra’, which is pronounced in various ways: ‘bendzra’, ‘bendza’, ‘badza’, ‘bendzara’ and so forth. There are a fair number of variants – yet every mantra of which I have received transmission, I attempt to pronounce it exactly as I first heard it pronounced. There are certain mantras in which it is even actually pronounced ‘vajra’. Accuracy is not important in terms of the Sanskrit original. It is the sound one hears from the Lama giving transmission. This sound is the vehicle of transmission.
I have an English accent – as I imagine you realised at this point. I have heard many Tibetan Lamas enunciate the syllable Hung – but if you hear it from me for the first time, and you attempt to replicate my intonation, then you will hear an English rendering of a Tibetan version of a Sanskrit original. If any of you here became Lamas, you would teach the practice of Hung to students, and no matter how hard you tried to reproduce my vocalisation of Hung – it would sound like a West coast American edition, of the English rendering, of the Tibetan version, of the Sanskrit original. But that would make no difference if the transmission was maintained. However much the sound of mantra alters is utterly irrelevant. I think sometimes in the West—because of our particular history of magic—there is an idea that simply pronouncing ‘spells’ is what ‘makes it happen’. If I intone the spell correctly, then something happens. I remember being told when I was a child, that if one recited the Lord’s Prayer backwards, that the devil would appear. It was a lie [laughs]. I was intrigued by the idea of a fellow with horns and a tail who brandished a pitchfork. It sounded quite exciting. But the devil did not appear. It was not through lack of effort. Evidently I did not receive the transmission.
Anyhow—be that as it may—this leads us to the next aspect of Hung – the vocalisation. The thig-lé and the crescent moon, are the sound ‘Ma’. Tibetan is written in syllables which are all coupled with the vowel sound ‘a’ – unless modified with diacritics which produce the other vowel sounds. Beneath the thig-lé and the crescent moon, is the ‘Ha’. Beneath the Ha is the ’a – the A-chung or ‘little A’. Underneath that is the ‘U’. So from the zenith to the nadir the syllables are: Ma, Ha, ’a, and U. These four areas of the syllable Hung relate with the four levels of refuge. We have discussed bodhicitta in relation to Hung – the generation of bodhicitta through relating with the five buddha families and through relating with the six realms. Here we are looking at the sound quality in terms of relating with the four levels of refuge.
Most people will only be familiar either with the three-fold or the four-fold refuge. The three-fold – Buddha, Dharma, Sangha – is the ‘outer refuge’. Sang-gyé, Chö, and Gendün are the Tibetan words for this outer refuge. Then Lama, Yidam, and Pawo/Khandro is the ‘inner refuge’. The common four-fold refuge of Lama, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, is a hybrid between inner refuge and outer refuge. I will now talk about how these four levels of refuge are represented by the Hung; and how they constitute the accomplishment of the entire path.
The outer refuge relates with Sutra – we are looking at Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and what those terms mean in terms of practice. When we consider the idea of refuge—in the ordinary sense of the word—there is an idea of withdrawing into a smaller place in order to escape the dangers which exist in some larger arena. When we take refuge from the rain in a hut or a shelter; we withdraw into a smaller place. Refuge—in the sense of going into a smaller place—is not refuge in the Buddhist sense.
In terms of practice, we are not looking at Sang-gyé or ‘Buddha’ as an historical personage. Buddha does not necessarily mean Shakyamuni Buddha. Buddha also means Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel. Buddha pertains to all enlightened beings. Buddha means one’s Tsawa’i Lama. Buddha in these respects however, is not precisely what we mean by Buddha in terms of practice – even though the meanings are intimately linked. In the same manner – we are not particularly discussing Dharma as the words employed by Shakyamuni Buddha, by Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel, by our Tsawa’i Lamas or by any Buddha and what they taught through transmission. In the same manner again – we are not particularly discussing Sangha as a monastic congregation, as the gö kar chang lo’i dé or even as lay adherents. We are exploring principles. We are exploring the nature of reality in respect of practitioners. We are exploring the meaning of refuge in terms of ‘the refuge of no-refuge’. ‘The refuge of no-refuge’ is the most secure refuge. Any other kind of refuge can change or be destroyed. So … what is meant by Buddha or by Sang-gyé in this sense? Sang-gyé means ‘complete open wakefulness’. ‘Complete open wakefulness’ constitutes the refuge of refusal to establishing refuge in any ‘thing’. We establish our refuge in emptiness. Complete open wakefulness is confidence in the self-existent nature of ones experience.
Dharma, or Chö means as-it-is, that is to say ‘actuality’. Chö is not ‘as I would like it to be’. Chö is not ‘as it ought to be’, ‘as it should be’, ‘as I wish it was’, or ‘as I could manipulate it into being’. It is simply as-it-is. If we take refuge in as-it-is, it offers no relative refuge – but what is does offer cannot be taken away. One cannot reduce as-it-is. One cannot increase as-it-is. One cannot adapt as-it-is. One cannot trade-up as-it-is – without it ceasing to be as-it-is. One can only manipulate as-it-is if one reduces it, makes it smaller – and then it is no longer as-it-is. Taking refuge in specific ideas about reality, is to retract from the larger space of awareness into a smaller space of relative comprehension. When one takes refuge in Chö one takes refuge in the larger space of awareness.
Sangha—or Gendün—are the people who practise. These are people who establish confidence in the actuality of Sang-gyé and Chö – this is where they have found their refuge. These are not people who support us in the usual sense of the word. In mundane terms, sangha should be unsupportive, unreliable, and untrustworthy. In terms of samsara, sangha should be our worst enemies. From the point of view of samsara – Gendün is the refuge of no refuge. In terms of being unsupportive, sangha only support us in our refuge. They do not support our neuroses. This is absolutely and definitely not to say that these are people who tell us how it is all the time. This is absolutely and definitely not to say that these are people who tell us how it is at all. They will not tell us how our practise of view is mistaken. They will not give gratuitous feedback – and this is not what is meant by unsupportive. Sangha are not dharma fascists. They are not dharma busybodies. They are not dharma relative status seekers. Sangha are simply true practitioners. They are unsupportive because they are unreliable in terms of samsara. This is not to say they have no neuroses – but that the neuroses they do have, they do not take seriously. They do not take their neuroses seriously as concrete aspects of themselves. They are people who are changing according to a greater alignment with Dharma – with as-it-is. So – whatever made a true sangha member angry at one point in their practice life, will no longer seem to make them angry at a later point in their practice life – if they practise. What this means in terms of everyday experience is that I can no longer get together with my sangha friend and spend an evening slandering another member of the sangha; because – they do not seem to be as enthusiastic about it as they used to be. We will be let down in our expectations of samsaric support.
This is not to say that they will tell me: ‘We shouldn’t be doing this’. or ‘This is not nice’. Sangha will offer no judgements – but they will not have as much energy to give to negativity as they used to have. When this happens, I might feel betrayed – but only according to samsara. According to Dharma I would feel supported. My Dharma friend may be sympathetic to my view—to a certain degree—but he or she is not going to help me fuel my neuroses as much as they were apt to support my neuroses in the past. When this happens with Dharma friends I am likely to feel disappointed in them. If what I want of my Dharma friends is that they will support me in my animosity toward others, then they will always disappoint me – even if the subjects of my antagonism are worthy of criticism. I cannot go to sangha and say: ‘Tell me I am right in reviling those who would appear to have offended me.’ Authentic sangha will never behave in that way.
This does not mean that sangha will not agree that certain actions are bad actions or misguided actions. This does not mean that sangha are nicey-nicey noncommittal nonentities. This does not mean that sangha are puritanical sanctimonious prudes. This does not mean that sangha are faceless cultically conditioned androids. These enumerations are reflective of what Khandro Déchen and I have encountered – which is why I make mention of these characteristics.
Sangha simply call a spade a spade and have done with it. They do not revel in negativity for its own sake – or attempt to achieve intimacy with other sangha members by so doing. In terms of unreliability, sangha are not fixed. As friends they are unpredictable – but they are only unpredictable because they are changing in terms of their increasing alignment to Dharma. Because of this, I cannot say that I really know my vajra brother Frank or my vajra sister Mary. I cannot really know my vajra brother Frank or my vajra sister Mary because I cannot rely on them always to be as they are now. I cannot ever say:
I know Frank and Mary. They always operate in this way. I can tell them this kind of joke and they will laugh. I can suggest this kind of activity, and they will go along with it. I cannot ever say that of a vajra brother or vajra sister. Frank and Mary are not always going to be as they were when we first met. The next time I see them – who knows how they may be. Maybe they have increased their practice. Maybe they have made an effort to take the teachings to heart. Maybe they have undertaken retreats. Maybe they will have become siddhas. If they are sangha – they will always be changing. They will always change because they will always be practising. They cannot constitute a fixed reference point for me. The only reference point they establish for me is one which is moving – and therefore is empty. Frank and Mary, as sangha, are empty reference points – the refuge of no refuge. I can relate with them only in the moment … which is—actually—the only way in which we can relate with anything. We can only relate with reality in the moment – as-it-is – in a state of complete, open wakefulness. This is what is meant by Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha – Sang-gyé, Chö and Gendün. This is what is meant by Ha. This is the first aspect. This is the outer refuge.
Q How do you work with friends who are not practitioners? Since they are not following a spiritual path, do you support their neuroses or not?
R Actually, there is no such creature as a person who is not following a spiritual path. Such a person simply does not know they are following a spiritual path. Even if such a person is directly in avoidance of a spiritual path, they will be in relationship with it because of the energy of their avoidance. Be that as it may – I feel that here—in terms of supporting someone’s neurosis or not—one has to have an awareness of the needs and predisposition of the person as an individual. A sangha friend would also take the individual into account. If someone is feeling hurt by somebody, it might be useful to listen for a while and say:
Yes, that does seem a pretty cheesy act on the part of Frank and Mary. However – one also has to have a sense of when to curtail such support, and say:
But—you know—maybe you could try to imagine what their point of view could be in terms of the situation in which they find themselves at the moment. This could be a compassionate activity – if it could be accepted. One has to have an awareness of what is going to be acceptable. One should not display pious disapproval of people’s negative behaviour. That is neither generous, kind, nor helpful. If someone is upset with someone else, they may well purvey a wealth of sarcasm on the subject – and often there is humour there. One can appreciate the amusing qualities of someone’s sarcasm, without overly indulging them. There would be little compassion in over indulging a person – and no compassion in merely stonewalling a person in terms of failing to participate with them in terms of what they are feeling.
In terms of practice, I am speaking here at the level of Vajrayana. In terms of Sutra, one would obviously abdicate from any kind of negative statement; but in terms of Vajrayana we look more at the situation of the person in respect of their energy – in respect of the fact that a person’s neuroses are linked with their beginningless enlightened energy. It is a delicate situation nonetheless; because if someone goes along with someone’s situation in terms of what they are expressing, one could get caught up in their antagonistic scenario. It is therefore considered safer—in terms of Sutrayana—to retract from that negativity. ‘Safer’ in this sense applies to it being safer for oneself. It is not necessarily safer for the other person – because the communication is aborted. What is important in terms of Vajrayana is communication. The person needs to feel that you have participated with them to some degree. You do not have to go the whole way with the person in terms of their searing display of sarcasm. You could respond at some point that
Yes – I am amused by your characterisation of Frank and Mary’s foibles – but I am not sure that it is helpful in the long term to pigeon hole them too vociferously. Without talking about a specific instance however, I cannot go much further with answering this question.
Q Thank you – that is plenty for me to be going on with.
R So the next syllable is the U, the vowel character at the bottom of the Hung. This is the inner refuge. Inner refuge is Lama, Yidam, and Khandro/Pawo. This is often expressed as Lama, Yidam, and Khandro. It is expressed in that way because of the male, monastic orientation; but it could equally be Lama, Yidam, Pawo, in terms of how it would be expressed by a female practitioner. Lama, Yidam, Khandro/Pawo is the summation of this inner refuge.
What is meant by Lama, Yidam, Khandro/Pawo is not particularly the person of the teacher, the yidam practice which we see in thangkas, and not particularly the pawos and khandros similarly depicted. Lama, Yidam and Khandro/Pawo are also principles of existence. Lama pertains to the beginningless enlightened nature. I take refuge in that beginningless enlightened nature. Now, the only way that we can actually actualise that is if I see some reflection of it. This word Lama is a ‘toggle’ term – it toggles between the Lama as teacher, and beginningless enlightened nature of the individual which is reflected by the Lama.
The enlightened nature of the individual is inextricable from the external manifestation of the Lama, and how one’s enlightenment is reflected by the Lama. Unless one can see one’s enlightened nature reflected, it is impossible to establish refuge in that enlightened nature. Someone has to perform that rôle for me – or I cannot access that refuge. I actually have to see that. I have to see that through the nature of my relationship with the Lama. This is why the Lama is ultimately important in Vajrayana. This is why the Lama is central to the path. In terms of Sutra, the Lama is not so crucial. In Sutrayana the Lama is a person who gives instruction, who gives teaching, who gives advice. In Vajrayana, the Lama is utterly central and pivotal with regard to the path. This is why in Tibetan Buddhism, the refuge we find most often is ‘Lama, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha’; because without the Lama, there is no Buddha. Without the Lama, there is no Dharma. Without the Lama, there is no Sangha. One has to see a reflection of beginningless enlightened states through the Lama in order for the inner refuge to be possible.
The Lama is crucial in terms of offering a reflection of the path. In Vajrayana, the Lama becomes the path. He or she becomes the path through manifesting the yidam. He or she becomes the path through manifesting the nature of the teachings in terms of the kyil’khor of interaction – the interaction between the students, the interaction between the person and their world, and how the Lama comments on that and interacts with the nature of what is taking place.
This is Lama: the inner Lama, our beginningless enlightened nature; and the external Lama, the human being who teaches – but not at the purely informational level. The external Lama teaches through his or her presence display, personality display, and life-circumstances display. These three displays are related with the three kayas: dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya. Relating with the Lama according to the three displays is known as ‘taking the three kayas of the Lama as the path’. This is central to the view of Dzogchen, and the most direct and intimate method of Lama’i Naljor.
Presence display is the bare apprehension of the other – the simple existence of the Lama in the world. Everyone will have a notion of what this means in terms of falling in love. If you have never fallen in love, then it is likely that you will have no notion of what this may mean. If you are in love – or have been in love, then all you have to do is think of the other person. You think of the person and an entire gestalt is there. It is immediate. It is wordless. It is simply there without any notion of correction or adaption.
Then there is personality display. Personality display is crucial in understanding the rôle of the Lama as Vajra Master. In terms of understanding that rôle, we have to look at what is possible in Vajrayana at the level of transforming emotions, transforming neuroses. There is a different view within Vajrayana of the neuroses. They are not considered as poisons or diseased samsaric cells which need to be avulsed. With regard to Vajrayana our neuroses are the fuel of our practice. If I am an angry person, then I do not necessarily have to get rid of my anger in order to practise. I do not have to look at my anger as a primary problem. Anger is certainly a problem – but it is also an opportunity. If I realise the non-dual nature of anger, then I realise clarity. This applies to the complete range of emotions. Whatever we feel can be transformed – because whatever we feel, partakes of the energy of our enlightened nature.
This is a central quality of the practice of Tantra: everything can be transformed. This is good news. This could also be bad news. There tends—among some people—to be the idea that:
When I am enlightened, I won’t be like me any more. I will be a saintly person. I will be different. I will be enlightened, which means that I will no longer be like me. This is an idea which is more prevalent as a misunderstanding of Sutrayana – that is to say, that the enlightened being is very different from the unenlightened being. The enlightened being no longer participates in anything that resembles any kind of human emotions. This is reflected in the quality of the Sutric teacher. If you want to know anything about the Sutric teacher, it is all in the Sutrayana texts. You can read about the teacher as a Spiritual Friend. He or she will be a perfect monk or a perfect nun; whose behaviour will be exemplary according to the rules of monastic discipline. The Sutrayana teacher will teach according to certain standards. There is a rule book which specifies how the Spiritual Friend appears. Spiritual Friends are highly similar to each other. If the Spiritual Friend has personality traits, they are considered completely irrelevant. Any attention paid to the personality of the Spiritual Friend is considered problematic.
In terms of the Vajra Master however, the personality becomes important. Each Vajra Master is different; they can be strikingly dissimilar. We cannot go to a series of vajra masters and take teachings from them as if they represented an homogenous access to Vajrayana. One could approach any Spiritual Friend in that way – but not vajra masters. Vajra masters do not provide homogenous access to Vajrayana. In terms of the Spiritual Friend, it does not matter which Spiritual Friend you have at any one time – or how many Spiritual Friends you approach for clarification of the teachings. We can relate with a whole range of Spiritual Friends in terms of teachers; and no obligation is due to any one of them over another. When one enters into the space of Tantra however, there has to be a specific relationship with a vajra master, and at that point, the personality of the Lama becomes crucial. The neuroses become important in this sense, because the Vajra Master displays reflections of all the neuroses – but in terms of their transparence. One will see anger manifested as display. One sees all the emotions manifested in a particular way which displays their non-dual qualities. When one finds a Lama—when one finds a vajra master—it occurs because one’s practice has developed sufficiently to allow a perception of the quality of that display. One glimpses the non-dual nature in terms of how the Lama manifests. Compassionate activity—in terms of the Lama’s manifestation—offers a picture of our realisation. Whatever I am like—as an empty series of sensorial events—whatever form my neuroses take, these are the field-source of my liberation.
The bad news about this—from the point of view of samsara—is that the enlightened me is not really so very much different from the me here, the kvetching little schlemiel who has problems getting up early enough to practice, or the vainglorious bombast who calls himself a Dzogchenpa, or the sleazy tricky customer who can always wriggle out of promises, or the regular Joe or Josephine who tries hard. This could be disappointing. This could be something of a let down if I want to be exceptionally superlatively different. In terms of Vajrayana, it is crucial to realise that the non-dual state is excruciatingly actually close to how we are. This does not mean that our neuroses will remain the same, but what they become will be connected energetically. We will still be recognisable. Gloriously recognisable. It is important that we appreciate the wealth of our neuroses, in terms of their being the base of practice. In terms of Vajrayana all neuroses can be transformed, and therefore their energy is vital. The broad range of our neuroses are simply the dualistic distortion of our enlightened state; and because of that, the energy with which they are suffused is a vehicle which introduces the individual to their enlightened state. This is why the rôle of the vajra master is so crucial and pivotal. We are playing on dangerous ground with the power of our passion. As we are not renouncing neuroses; we need precise guidance. This play is not a straightforward engagement. This is not a pious, holy path. It is a path of passion – but it is also a path of precision. Passion and precision must be united in our path. If we proceed without guidance and control, then we merely become victims of our dualistic derangement.
So, life-circumstances display. The nirmanakaya manifestation – how the Lama appears in the world, and the kyil’khor of phenomena which surround him or her. This has no particular connection with how he or she deals with life. That is not what is intended by life circumstances display. Taking the three kayas of the Lama as the path with respect to life circumstances display requires that we perceive the life-circumstances of the Lama as a magical performance. If the teacher breaks his or her leg, if they get ill, whatever happens there is a gestalt in which we can experience transmission. This is not obvious. There is no obvious teaching. It is not a question of: ‘The teacher has just broken his or her leg; that means I must be careful not to break my leg – or that if I break my leg I must get just the same cast on my leg.’ We are not viewing this at a simplistic eternalitistic level. We are discussing an openness to transmission – based on exactly what is taking place within the kyil’khor of the Lama. Likewise with personality display. This is not a prompt which cues a consideration such as: ‘Oh, I could act like that’. That is not the intention.
Q Ngakchang Rinpoche – you were talking about neuroses. Is neurosis always a dualistic thinking? If you are thinking clearly, with presence and in the moment, non-dualistic – then I guess theoretically you are sane, right?
R Thinking is one of the sense-fields.
Q I think we are so hung up on definitions of everything, that it causes our dualistic thinking.
R Dualism comes first. The definitions do not create the dualism – they merely maintain it – they are the petroleum, the gasoline. Dualism is the split between emptiness and form, existence and non-existence. Dualism is a term that is understood in many different ways. What is dual? What is non-dual? There is an idea which is fairly prevalent in terms of non-duality in which non-duality is degraded to a monistic ‘everything is one’ philosophy. This is not what is meant by non-duality in Buddhism. In Buddhism, non-duality means the absence of division in terms of emptiness and form. This is the root of everything else – of conceptual concretisation, of saying: ‘I am here, because that is there’.
Q That is dualistic, right? So non-dualistic would be …?
R Descartes stated: ‘I think therefore I am.’ – but according to Dharma, there is no therefore. We would say: ‘I think. I hear. I see. I taste. I touch, …’ And—actually—there is no ‘I’ either. There is simply: ‘Thinking. Seeing. Hearing. Tasting. Touching.’ There is no ‘therefore’ and there is no ‘I’ – other than in the moment.
Q That is what I thought.
R That’s touching (laughs) therefore nothing.
Q You mentioned Tantra being dangerous in terms of not rejecting our negativity. I just wanted to make sure I’m clear: The point of danger, then, is that you don’t grasp …?
R The danger is that I become a grandiose schmuck. If I merely indulge in everything, then I am no different from the unbridled hedonist who does not characterise his or her pursuits as religion. In fact, such a person would be more honest than I would be. A person who just acts in whatever they wish, and who does not pretend to be anything – is far superior to Ngakpa Chögyam thinking he is spiritual practitioner when all he does is to indulge himself at every opportunity. Tantra is dangerous to that extent. We could merely indulge everything. That is why one requires a Lama to monitor the process, and to give specific guidance on how to employ our passions as the path. Of course, the Lama might encourage one form of indulgence and curtail another. The teacher might demand we are more temperate – but that would not be to imply that the Lama is a mediator who keeps us within sensible bounds. The Lama might push us out of control in order to allow the transformation of our passions.
Q They have the sense that that will help you transform that particular aspect of yourself, to get to the positive or the non-dualistic aspect of that particular energy of that person?
R We are tricky people. Practitioners are fundamentally tricky. We all say that we want realisation – but actually we do not. But actually we do – we do, and we do not. And yet we do. And yet we do not. Yes and no are always playing off against each other. Unless I acknowledge that I don’t want realisation at least as much as I want it – I am fooling myself. I need to recognise the nature of this dilemma – this primary ambivalence. I need to become frustrated with being as I am and ‘how I want it and I don’t want it’. ‘I want to get thin; but I want to eat the whole pizza.’ That is interesting. That is the arena in which the Lama plays. That is the arena in which the vajra master plays. One cannot expect the play of the vajra master always to work in the same way. One needs guidance because Tantra is a dangerous area in respect of sinking into excess – but the Lama is not there to keep us safe from excess. The Lama is not there to make sure everything is mild and friendly. Or on the other hand, that might be exactly what he or she ensures. The Lama has no recognisable strategy apart from dismantling samsara and enabling us to transform our passions into the path. This will appear in a different guise for each person.
Q It is interesting what you have been saying about the different approach to neuroses with Sutra and Vajrayana. Would it mean that in Sutra the goal is to get rid of that thing? And in Tantra, what would the goal be? Would the goal be not in overcoming an addiction, but in embracing it rather than rejecting it?
R It depends on the addiction under discussion. If one is talking about addiction to something physically harmful, then one obviously needs to approach that in an appropriate manner. I do not think that one can talk about the Tantra of mainlining. One cannot work in that way unless one has a Mahasiddha as a Lama – and, that one is capable of being the ideal disciple. If one has a Mahasiddha as one’s Lama, then anything is possible.
I heard a wonderful story in relation to Tendzin Wang-gyal. He is a Bön Lama and a personal friend. Someone asked him what he thought of the Twelve-Step Programme. He answered:
In Tibet we had a one-step programme. You tell your Lama: “I have a drink problem.” Your Lama says: “Stop drinking.” That’s the one-step programme.
Of course, that is only possible if your devotion to your Lama is such that there is no choice. If you are not in that environment, and you do not have devotion, then the one-step programme is non-functional.
Q Could you say a few words about your own journey with devotion and your teacher … perhaps to give a practical example of that journey? Particularly in meeting the teacher – it is very direct, or overwhelming – and then there’s the passage of time: he may not be there as much; you are on your own, whatever …
R My experience of my closest teacher, Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche, is one in which I no longer receive didactic teachings. There was a period in which I received a great deal of teaching; and a period in which he was immensely wrathful, not just with me but with everybody – he was completely ferocious. I was a nervous schlemiel, and I used to feel terrified by him. Why it is that I went back there day after day? I am not exactly sure. I do not necessarily require reasons. I do not always calculate what I am going to do or say – as must be obvious from this talk. With regard to Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche, it is not that I thought: ‘I will gain from this being terrified every day’. It is that I had some perception of him as an extraordinary being; and that there was something I wanted. I did not even know what that was.
I would not usually say that this was a good basis for finding a Lama. I usually talk about examining the Lama; so I am not a good example in that sense. What I did, from one perspective, was completely crazy. I went straight into vajra commitment. I simply accepted everything – and persisted. I do not suggest that anyone emulates that in particular.
Q Why is that Rinpoche?
R Well … some people might like this crazy idea; but people can find themselves getting badly burned by their own fears. Then they demonise the Lama as if they had not made their own choices. I do not recommend it – but maybe that is not good advice either! Who knows. You asked the question. I am not responsible. (laughter).
Last time I saw Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche, it had been fourteen years since I’d seen him. He had told me we would meet again; but that I was not to write to him. He would not answer. I was not to mention him to anybody else, either. I believed him. I knew we would meet again – but it occurred to me that he did not actually specify in which life. I did not think to ask at the time. So … in some sense I had given up hope. I had been to India and Nepal several times in that period, and asked after him; but he was always somewhere else. India is not a place where you can get anywhere quickly. If you are told that someone is in this city, you cannot get there that night; because all the buses have gone, and you have to wait till the next day. It is at least a day’s journey to get anywhere. I would often have missed him by a day. Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche had gone somewhere else and I was left asking questions – but Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche’s style was never to leave any indication of where he was going next. This meant that I would have to wait for news of him being in another place and then set off to find him again. I mainly ran out of time.
Then Khandro Déchen and I took our students on pilgrimage in Nepal. We went to Yang-lé shöd, where the Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel meditation caves are located. We were sitting there with my friend Gyaltsen Rinpoche – having a pleasant meal together with our students. Gyaltsen Rinpoche suddenly said:
Would you like to go up and see Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche? On the way upstairs, Gyaltsen Rinpoche said:
You know, he is really different. He is really friendly now; not at all like he used to be. Sure enough, Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche had completely changed – older, but utterly friendly and non-threatening. That was shocking but I adjusted to the situation surprisingly quickly.
The students went up to the caves with Gyaltsen Rinpoche; but as I had quite a case of dysentery at the time, I decided not to go. I was feeling sick and weak; so I decided I would sit in the shrine room. I was sitting there practising; and one of the residents of the retreat place noticed me in there. They went up to tell Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche that I was in there. He came down immediately and burst through the door in an alarming manner. He was seventy at the time. He took three bounds, leapt over the table, bounded up onto the throne, where he performed a vajra dance. At the conclusion of the vajra dance he leapt down from his throne and sat next to me. Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche then proceeded to give me a long series of transmissions. It was extraordinary.
We have spoken on the ‘Ha’ in the syllable ‘Hung’ – so let us look at the ‘U’. The ‘U’ represents inner refuge: Lama, Yidam, Pawo/Khandro. The Lama is known as the root of wisdom; the yidam is known as the root of power; and khandro/pawo is known as the root of inspiration. The Lama equates with presence display, the yidam equates with personality display, and khandro/pawo equates with life-circumstances display.
We have already looked at Lama – the vajra master; so now we will look at Yidam. Yidam can be seen as personality display in the dimension of vision – the Lama introduces methods of practice through yidam; and the yidam is enlightened personality. We have many thousands of different yidams, or meditational deities. In terms of the Aro gTér, all the practices of yidam are ones that are self-arising; that is, one does not visualise the yidam outside oneself, but one self-arises in the form of the yidam. The yidam is the Lama manifesting in visionary form as a method of practice.
When we say ‘root of power’, what is meant by power? Power, here, is connected with the energy of one’s condition. The yidam liberates the energy of one’s condition in terms of the visionary method manifesting as the yidam – with respect to wearing the body of visions. The practice of yidam is empty power dressing. One arises as the yidam. This is the root of power because there is friction. In terms of how we relate to ourselves as enlightened beings—in terms of arising as the yidam; and then the everyday sense of myself—there is an ambivalence. There is an ambivalence between me as yidam and me as the everyday being – and as one moves between these, there is friction. When one attempts to enter into the vajra pride of the yidam – of manifesting the sense of being the yidam in everyday circumstances, one is faced with ambivalence: ‘Am I this, or am I that?’ Ambivalence in terms of yidam practice is important. Eventually, one becomes confused; and this confusion is known as vajra stupidity. One is confused as to what is me, and what is yidam. One realises at that point the enlightened quality of the yidam. This is why the word power is used; because the self-existent energy of one’s own state is there.
Khandro/Pawo is the root of inspiration: The teaching of khandro/pawo is massive. It has extraordinary applications in terms of relationship – but here it equates with life-circumstances display. This is the quality of taking one’s own life-circumstances as a teaching. In this sense, khandro/pawo is the Lama manifesting as the circumstances of the path. This method of practice is concerned with taking everything as practice. This means nothing interrupts practice – or whatever disturbs practice is also practice. One makes no division there between practice and non-practice – this becomes irrelevant. The circumstances of the path are the path. Whatever arises – is the path. The Lama manifesting as khandro/pawo, as the circumstances of the path, is the root of inspiration. That is central. If one’s inspiration is not arising from everyday circumstances, then one is somehow locked into exoticism.
Q How does one work with self-indulgence; or does one do that?
R Self-indulgence? I think we can take that for granted. We are all self-indulgent – it is merely a matter of degree. I am not saying there is an acceptable limit in respect of self-indulgence – but we need to abandon the idea that we can be pure. If we think that perfect motivation is possible, and that we both have it and slip from it – then we are likely to become paranoid. And then – if we think we have perfect motivation, and we observe someone who does not have perfect motivation, then we are likely to be critical. I could become holier than thou. I do not think one has to be too concerned about self-indulgence; apart from being aware of it. You cannot attempt to control yourself too severely – this always creates problems. In societies where people are too controlled, they behave aggressively toward those who are less controlled. If I discipline myself too severely, it is likely to make me angry with people who appear to be lax. I have to punish such people.
We continue now with ‘Ma’. ‘Ma’ relates to the secret refuge. Secret refuge is Thig-lé, rLung and rTsa; which in Sanskrit is bindu, prana, and nadi. This is designated the secret refuge not particularly because it’s secret, or more secret than the inner refuge – but because it is self-secret. One cannot relate with this refuge without experience of what Thig-lé, rLung and rTsa mean. When we talk about Lama, Yidam, and Khandro, there is a great deal to which we can relate. There is a pictorial basis. There is mantra. There is the vivid relationship with the Lama. There is the drupthab of the yidam – the descriptive-evocative text. There is the manner in which khandro and pawo manifest. Although Lama, Yidam and Khandro-pawo are the inner refuge – there is a great deal that can be explained that touches on our experience. There is an emotional portal – a poetic, artistic, sensational portal. In terms of secret refuge however, there is nothing that can be said, apart from the skeletal explanation or outline of the parameters of the practice. If thig-lé, rLung and rTsa are not within our realm of our experience, then there is nothing about which we could enquire. One requires experiential information to solicit further information.
Thig-lé, rLung and rTsa then. Thig-lé equates to Buddha; rLung equates to Dharma; rTsa equates with Sangha. Thig-lé equates with Lama, rLung equates Yidam, and rTsa equates Khandro/Pawo. Here we are exploring these threefold dynamics in terms of the vajra body. This is a method of practice which utilises our spatial energetic system, through visualisation, through physical postures, and through breath control. In Dorje Tsigdun there is reference to these practices which utilise the rTsa rLung system. They are spoken of in terms of the lotus, of the constituent parts of the lotus. The particular terms such as the stem, pistil and petals relate to the central channel, solar channel and lunar channel – these are made the method of practice but one requires explicit instruction as to how such indications are applied. In this sense ‘Khordu khandro mangpo khor’ – surrounded by many hosts of dakas and dakinis – relates to the ’khorlos—the chakras—rather than to men and women as they did according to the inner refuge. The methods of practice in terms of the rTsa rLung system relate to this syllable Ma, in terms of the seed syllable of Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel – Hung. This is called secret refuge.
It may be useful to clarify here that the word ‘khandro’ relates to both male and female. If you want to make ‘khandro’ female, you have to add the female suffix ‘ma’ – khandroma. The word khandro is commonly used to refer to women; but this is a contraction, and as such can be misleading. There is also ‘khandropa’, a term which is quite rare, but which can be found in the Tantric texts of all schools. The khandropa is the realised yogi who has united with his inner khandro and manifests secret activity. Just as there is the word ‘pawo’, there is also the word ‘pamo’ – the realised yogini who has united with her inner pawo and manifests overt method in the world.
The final part of the syllable is the A-chung (a – small A). This relates with ultimate refuge, or literally most secret – yang-sang. This relates with ngowo, rang-zhin, and thug-jé. Ngo-wo means essence, rang-zhin means nature, and thug-jé means energy. This is the aspect of the refuge which relates with Dzogchen.
These four levels of refuge relate with Sutrayana, Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga. Mahayoga concerns itself with the practices of Yidam. Anuyoga concerns itself with practices of rTsa rLung; and Atiyoga concerns itself with practices of direct recognition of the state of realisation.
Essence, nature and energy – what do these words mean? The essence is empty, the nature is clear, the energy is unbounded in its compassionate nature. This relates again with Buddha, Dharma and Sangha; Lama, Yidam and Khandro/Pawo and with thig-lé, rLung, and rTsa. When we look at ngo-wo or essence, we are looking at the basis of reality. Then we say the nature is clear. We also say the nature is unimpeded. Whatever manifests out of emptiness is unimpeded – there is no distraction. There are no reference points in terms of rang-zhin. Rang-zhin is pure initial arising. Then thug-jé. Thug-jé is energy which is compassionate of itself. In terms of Dzogchen thug-jé is understood as energy rather than compassion. The energy of thug-jé contains compassionate responsiveness, but is far broader than compassion. Compassion is a word that is often misunderstood as having kind and gentle thoughts about other people and wanting to help them. Not that this is not a good idea; but what is meant by thug-jé is vast. Thug-jé is the energy of the connection between everything. Thug-jé is appreciation – the transcendent lust which links everything. The unimpeded arising from emptiness has the natural quality of compassion in terms of the ecstatic relationship between everything. In terms of this level of understanding—in terms of thug-jé—everything is a perfect arrangement. There is nothing to be corrected. Everything energetically complements everything else – but far beyond coy ideas of harmony. Within the perception of thug-jé there is no good or bad. There is nothing to be approved. What is there, is appreciable just as it is – and appreciable in relationship with everything else. This is yang-sang, or most-secret refuge.
This concludes the teaching on Hung. Now we will explore the first line of the Dorje Tsigdun. (Rinpoche gives the rLung for the Dorje Tsigdun)
Ögyen yul-gi nub chang tsam: Ögyen is in the Northwest – the place we cannot locate on a map. This is an expression of creative space. This is a way of saying the nature of Mind. Ögyen is the origin of Tantra. Ögyen is the origin of Dzogchen. This is where Padmasambhava was born. In this sense it was also where Yeshé Tsogyel was born – even though her birth is not spoken of in this context.
Padmasambhava is Pema Jung-né in Tibetan. The name means ‘Lotus-born’ – but what is meant by lotus-born? There is a beautiful reversal here. The ordinary meaning of ‘lotus-born’ has become the extraordinary secret meaning – and the ‘extraordinary meaning’ is the meaning at face value. We shall begin with the extraordinary meaning of lotus-born as ‘born from a lotus flower’. There is a statement: Someone is born in a country that we cannot quite find. There is a lake in this country – a remarkable lake with many qualities. From out of this lake a lotus grows. An eight-year old child is born on this lotus. He spontaneously appears. This is extraordinary. It is like the virgin birth of Christ, but even more remarkable because the baby phase is deemed unnecessary. One does not read about this in the newspapers. It does not happen anywhere. Children are not born out of lotuses. In terms of ‘lotus-born’, we are first introduced to something remarkable – something to which we cannot relate at all in ordinary terms. This is the outer level of meaning: that an eight year old boy was born from a lotus flower. He simply appeared in that way. We could either have massive intellectual problems with that – or not. Tantric language has many levels of meaning, which is one of the reasons why reciting the Dorje Tsigdun in English is problematic. In English, one can deal with the outer level of meaning – and even that is not straightforward. When we discuss the lotus in Tantric language, we are not simply discussing an oriental flower. Lotus has other meanings. It has a meaning at the level of rTsa rLung and at the level of Dzogchen Togal – but in terms of the inner meaning of Dorje Tsigdun, we are all lotus-born. The sang-né – female genitalia – are Padma and the birth canal is the stamen. Everyone is thus ‘lotus-born’. This is the inner meaning.
This—as I said—is an interesting reversal. The ordinary meaning is the extraordinary meaning. The extraordinary inner meaning is the ordinary meaning. Why do you think that might be? It is connected with our lack of appreciation. We live in a world we often ignore – particularly if we are sufficiently depressed. Someone told me a story about her partner – a man who is often depressed. She told me of how they had a picnic on the beach with friends one evening. They lit a fire; and were standing by the seashore looking up at the stars, when she said to him:
Aren’t the stars wonderful! and he said:
Yes … It doesnt help though, does it.
We can create stultifying safety for ourselves by remaining untouched and unmoved by anything – through cutting ourselves off from our own experience. We try to make our experience safe by controlling it – by making it conform to the tight legislation of societal convention. We attempt not to react too much to anything. The British are famous for this. It is not the done thing for the English to get too excited about anything. They find too much enthusiasm embarrassing. If one shows excitement, elation, or exuberance, this will often be deemed childish – and the English are afraid of being seen as childish. Never showing excessive enthusiasm for anything is a major means of displaying adulthood in England.
It does not take great imagination to comprehend that birth is miraculous. Anyone parent will have some understanding of this. It is quite bizarre that people are removed from the sacred quality of birth. A living being emerges from the womb through the lotus gate – and we take that for granted. It is a miracle which occurs everyday and therefore many people become numb to it. The sun rises every day too and people become numb to that. The stars shine. Waves roll across the sea. Vultures hang on the wind.
In terms of Tantra, the word padma or lotus is connected with exactly what we are. Lotus relates with female genitalia. Vajra relates with male genitalia. They are Emptiness and Form. What is meant by lotus-born is how we are. We are all lotus-born. So Padmasambhava is a being who was lotus-born; a being who came into the world as we all come into the world, simply as we are. But he was an eight year old child. The idea of the eight-year old child here is quite particular. A significantly younger child lacks capacity; and is therefore inhibited in various ways. A significantly older child, knows enough about the world to be inhibited in various ways. The eighth year is an intriguing juncture. One can control one’s movements. One is relatively independent. One has a relatively open view of phenomena in which unexpected phenomena may occur. One is not yet restricted by nihilistic scientific, pragmatic, or philosophical materialism. This is the symbol of the eight-year old child. So – we are looking at a child-like state. We are looking at the state which is open to possibility – to untrammelled possibilities. A certain clarity and immediacy is there. I am not saying that it exists in every child; but a child of that age is a symbol. That is what we need to understand about this, and this is what we need to see applied to our own experience. I am looking forward to my son Robert reaching this age. I am somewhat delightedly curious to see how he will explore his world in this context.
We begin with Hung – we establish the base with the practice of refuge and bodhicitta. Then Ögyen yul-gi nub-chang tsam: This is how we arise. We arise out of emptiness. Thought arises out of emptiness. Everything arises out of emptiness – and this emptiness is Ögyen yul, which is inaccessible according to maps. It is inaccessible through the maps of intellect. It is inaccessible through the maps of religion. It is inaccessible through the maps of ritual. It is inaccessible through the maps of spirituality. It is inaccessible through the maps of mysticism or through the maps of anything. One cannot find Ögyen – apart from finding it. One cannot find Ögyen apart from being there – because … that … is where … one has always been. So … Ögyen yul-gi nub-chang tsam; tsam is the perfect juncture. This is where we find awareness.
Then Pema ké-sar dong-po la: Out of this emptiness we arise like a lotus. This is the other level of meaning in terms of the neuroses. The lotus grows out of a swamp; so there is this idea of foul, murky water. This lotus plant grows out of it; it opens and it is perfect. This equates with our neuroses – that every neurosis is a lotus about to open; because its intrinsic energy is unsullied by the apparent outer display of what it looks like as a neurosis. Our non-dual nature is there, within the swamp. This is an important meaning of lotus. Lotus-born also has this quality, that realisation when it manifests is not a gradual thing. Nothing has to be cleansed or sanitised. Somehow the swamp is also there. Without swamp there would be no lotus. It is not that suddenly the lotus arises and abolishes the swamp. This is an important symbol of the non-dual nature of samsara and nirvana. That samsara and nirvana are different is duality.
Then Pema jung-né shé su drag: which means, on the outer level, you are renowned as the lotus-born. Having appeared on this lotus, that is what you are renowned for; that is what you are known as. We are self-recognised in this way; and any other being who is self-recognised also participates in that self-recognition. Padmasambhava is elusive. If you try to find Padmasambhava academically, in terms of western academic research, there is little evidence of his existence. As I am not an academic, I find that utterly irrelevant; but it is interesting, nonetheless. Padmasambhava is always much more than a person; much more than the Tantric Buddha who came to Tibet. That happened, Padmasambhava existed; but his life is vast. Padmasambhava’s life is not contained by one person. It is not that there were many Padmasambhavas; but that the people’s experience of him was enormous – and keeps growing. His life simply continues to get larger; because gTérmas are continually revealed. Lamas continue to have visions of Padmasambhava today. Everything about Padmasambhava continues to grow. Also Yeshé Tsogyel. There is a visionary dimension here which goes beyond the tight linear constraints of academic archæology. When someone is as vast as Padmasambhava, their energy proliferates as a kyil’khor. The more people who become involved with Padmasambhava’s teachings and are inspired by him, the more powerful Padmasambhava becomes and the larger Padmasambhava’s image becomes. If you add up the details of Padmasambhava’s life, it becomes thousands of years in duration. It is not possible to fit everything into a linear temporal context. We read the history, and it is endless! There are the eight manifestations. There are many, many different forms of Padmasambhava and more may emerge as gTérma.
In terms of the inner meaning, the idea of eternity—of having lived forever—is very much there in the moment – in terms of appreciation. The quality of experience—when we appreciate the world—is actually vast. We cannot describe this vastness. We cannot even contain our own lives within our own lives. I could not describe my life. It would take thousands of years to describe your life. There is the quality of efflorescence, and it is continually expanding. This is brought out vividly in the life of Padmasambhava.
In terms of Vajrayana, nirmanakaya reality and sambhogakaya reality are not separate. In the West we have the idea that there is a reality which can be carbon-dated. Then there are ‘legends’. Somehow—to us—as materialist nihilists, things are more important if one can prove them: ‘Yes, we carbon-dated the Turin Shroud and it really did come from that time and that place.’ We concern ourselves less with meaningfulness than with some kind of dependant concrete facticity. Not that there is anything wrong with carbon-dating things; but it is not the only reality. What most people really care about in their lives is meaning. I could never understand why they agreed to have the Turin Shroud investigated. They cut a bit off it; and then they proved it was not real. What a miserable thing! Why do that? The Turin Shroud was curing people all over the place. Who gives a damn what science has to say about the matter? Whether it is real or not is irrelevant to those who were cured through going to see it. Or maybe I am just a simpleton.
Ögyen yulgi nub-chang tsam. Pema késar dong-po la. Yatsen Chö-gi ngödrüp nyé. Pema jungné shésu drag. Then Khordu khandro mangpö khor: Surrounded by many dakas and dakinis. That is all of us here. There are many dakas and dakinis here. This line has many levels of meaning in terms of the idea of kyil’khor – of ‘surrounded by’. The word ’khor means circle, and is connected with kyil’khor or mandala. Here we are looking at the inner meaning. We are surrounded by enlightened beings; all these beings are beginninglessly enlightened. It is inspiring when we become open to the enlightened quality of others; when we are able to see people’s utterly good qualities.
One of the aspects of Vajrayana that is extremely important is pure vision – that we do not look at each others faults; we do not emphasise each others faults. We look at each other as potentially enlightened beings. If we are open to that, we start seeing remarkable qualities in each other, rather than tawdry qualities. Who wants to be surrounded by tawdry people anyway? As soon as we begin to realise some sense of this sparkle which exists in other people: Khordu khandro mangpö khor! We are surrounded by many hosts of dakas and dakinis. The whole world is transformed into kyil’khor. This is the nature of Pure Vision, and that possibility is there all the time.
Khordu khandro mangpö khor. This is much more the case in terms of a Vajrayana sangha. In terms of a Vajrayana sangha people are opening out – especially in terms of their appreciation. People become more playful. People become more cheerful. People become more naturally expressive. They are free to become more expressive; and they are greeted with appreciation. One of the beauties of sangha is that we are growing and evolving as a group of people in terms of appreciation, in terms of openness, in terms of the ability to ride the energy of existence and non-existence, in terms of the ability to ride the energy of emptiness and form. This makes exciting people of us. It is exciting to be surrounded by exciting people.
I will say a little bit about khandro and pawo here, in terms of being surrounded by hosts of dakas and dakinis. When men and women let go of the need to concretise each other in respect of gender—when men and women respect each other and admire each other—it is exciting. In terms of the Tantric vows, men never deprecate women; and women never deprecate men. This does not mean that we cannot deprecate individual men or individual women in terms of their behaviour; but that we do not deprecate the gender. Now when we are self-deprecating, in contrast to the other gender, and when we are always full of admiration for the other gender – people blossom in such an environment. It is delightful. If we give men and women respect as men and women—if we do not constrict each other in stereotypical sexual rôle models—they enjoy that immensely. As soon as we stop concretising, then: Khordu khandro mangpö khor – we are automatically surrounded by many hosts of dakas and dakinis.
This relates in terms of the display of one’s sense-fields. Our sense-fields and the sense objects are also dakinis and dakas. This continues through the elements; through the Buddha Families; through the five elements, and finally to the thig-lés, in terms of the way that energy radiates – the luminous fringes of one’s perception which are spoken of in Dzogchen to-gal.
The teaching of the Dorje Tsigdun describes Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga. The teaching of the Dorje Tsigdun describes Dzogchen Trek-chod and Dzogchen tögal. The references in Khordu khandro mangpö khor to Dzogchen tögal are a subject to which I can only elude. These teachings are secret and can only be passed on one-to-one between Lama and disciple. But you can know at least, that these teachings are there; and at some point in the future—when it is appropriate with whoever your Lama happens to be—that you can request transmission of the aspects of this that are concerned with tögal.
The last two lines of the Dorje Tsigdun are the invocation. These two lines are a response, in terms of the information we have. The information is the inspiration of our enlightened nature – of the connection with Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel. We are saying:
I recognise something in this, and I want to emulate this. This is the outer meaning of ‘may I follow in your footsteps: May I recognise my enlightened nature. May I reciprocate this understanding in terms of my actions. May I facilitate this realisation. May there be a connection there between me and the lineage, between me and Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel.’
Here we deal with a level of understanding Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel which is an emotional one. We can look at Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel as being ways of talking about enlightened Mind. We can also look at Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel as beings. Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel are beings who existed and who continue to exist. There is a possibility of actual relationship here.
A sense of the emotional quality of Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel is important at this point. If we have no sense of Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel as enlightened personalities with whom some degree of contact is possible – in terms of an emotional texture our practice will be sterile. Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel as non-dual living personalities are easier to approach if one approaches them through a Tibetan Lama. If a Tibetan Lama is talking about his or her relationship with Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel; then we could relate vicariously to Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel through the fact that we are talking to someone who is other. But what it is like hearing a Western person discuss Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel? Maybe there is no connection.
When we look at Dorje Tsig-dun we can see a description of how energy and form come into being: We start with Hung: Ögyen yul-gi nub-chang tsam: Pe-ma késar dong-po la. From emptiness this lotus arises, this primal efflorescence. Then there is a being who manifests. Then the kyil’khor manifests. Then there is the quality of nirmanakaya in terms of interaction. This displays the quality of primal creativity – how energy arises from emptiness, manifests Vision, and how visionary reality coalesces as form and is immediately interactive. Ngo-wo, rang-zhin and thug-jé are thus depicted.
Naturally there has to be an invocation at the end. There has to be communication. We are dealing with nirmanakaya; with the nature of thug-jé as boundless compassion. So we have to ask something:
I would like to do this. Will you help me? This is the simple statement – but what it represents is the self-existent interactive nature of reality; and it is couched in the way of: ‘May I follow in your footsteps. Please come and grant me your support. Help me in this.’ This is one statement that is made in terms of an emotional relationship with Padmasambhava or Yeshé Tsogyel as having this realisation and therefore able to help. The inner meaning of this invocation is the self-existent nature of enlightened communication. These are the last two lines.
Q Is that in a sense a prayer?
R Yes. Prayer is concerned with the emotional texture of being – we relate to the enlightened state through the existence of the enlightened personality of Padmasambhava, and through the existence of the enlightened personality of Yeshé Tsogyel. That is why Padmasambhava appears in the way he appears – there is communication in how he appears. There is communication in how Yeshé Tsogyel appears – and that speaks of itself. This is true of all the visionary appearances of Padmasambhava – manifestations such as Seng-gé Dradog, Dorje Tröllö, Pema Jung-né, Loden Chog-sé, Nyima ’ö-Zér, Shakya Seng-gé, Pema Gyalpo, and Ögyen Tso-kyé Dorje Chang. All these manifestations are aspects of how realisation comes into being. And there are not only the eight manifestations; there are many others. The eight are the primary ones that are most commonly known; but there are many different manifestations of Padmasambhava just as there are many different manifestations of us.
The final line Guru Pe-ma Siddhi Hung: – is part of the mantra of Padmasambhava: Om A’a: Hung Bendzra Guru Pema Siddhi Hung: This mantra is important, and one we could talk about for an equal length of time in terms of levels of meaning: what it means recited forward; what it means in reverse order. The syllables have a variety of meanings according to styles of practice. Om A’a: Hung is dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya. Bendzra Guru, or Vajra Guru, means the indestructible Lama, which is one’s enlightened nature; also it is the epithet for Padmasambhava – The Vajra Guru. Then Pema – Pema is lotus; we have talked about this, so you will have some understanding. Siddhi means accomplishment; but not accomplishment in the sense of miraculous powers in particular; although it does have this meaning. Siddhi means one’s free capacity. One’s capacity is not inhibited. One does not inhibit oneself; this is the primary meaning of Siddhi. If one does not inhibit oneself with dualistic constriction, then one has marvellous attainments necessarily. These may not always be supernatural phenomena. Siddhi is this uninhibited state of self-accomplished activity. Then, Hung: the final syllable. This is the five-coloured Hung: This is the nature of the mantra: Om Aa: Hung Bendzra Guru Pema Siddhi Hung:
As you see, we have touched briefly on Dorje Tsigdun – on its outer and inner meanings. It also has its secret and ultimate levels of meaning that we could maybe look at some other time.