Dzogchen is both the final and ultimate teaching, and the heart of the teachings of all the Buddhas. Though generally associated with the Nyingma or Ancient School of Tibetan Buddhism founded by Padmasambhava, Dzogchen has been practised throughout the centuries by masters of all the different schools as their innermost practice. Its origins reach back to before human history, and neither is it limited to Buddhism, nor to Tibet, nor indeed even to this world of ours, as it is recorded that it has existed in thirteen different world systems.
Dzogchen is an abbreviation of the Tibetan word Dzogpachenpo. ‘Dzogpa’ means ‘complete’, or ‘the end’; ‘chenpo’ means ‘great’. It is widely translated as “Great Perfection”, but this may imply a perfection that we strive to attain, a journey towards a goal of Great Perfection, and this is not the meaning of Dzogchen. Dzogchen is explained as Ground, Path and Fruition, and from the point of view of the Ground of Dzogpachenpo, it is the already self-perfected state of our primordial nature, which needs no ‘perfecting’, for it has always been perfect from the very beginning, just like the sky. It is uncreated, yet spontaneously accomplished.
Traditionally ‘Dzogchen’ can be traced to two original Sanskrit terms. The first is Mahasandhi, which means the gathering of all or the quintessence, signifying that Dzogchen is the very essence, the cream and the heart juice of all teachings. Hence many of the teachings are known as ‘Nyingtik’ or ‘Heart Essence’, for example the Longchen Nyingtik.
The second term is Atiyoga, which means ‘primordial yoga’; Ati indicates the topmost, summit or zenith. It has the sense of scaling a mountain, reaching the peak and having a view over everything. For Atiyoga or Dzogchen stands at the apex of the characteristic Nyingmapa presentation of the Buddhist path as Nine Yanas or vehicles, with the three Inner Tantras special to the Nyingma tradition: Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga.
The zenith of all yanas, Atiyoga represents the culmination of an individual’s spiritual evolution, the point where all spiritual disciplines and paths have been traversed. The term ‘Maha Ati’ has also been used for Dzogchen in recent times.
The Yuthok Nyingthig, the ‘Heart Essence of Yuthok’ is a unique and comprehensive set of Tibetan Buddhist practices
YUTHOK YÖNTEN GÖNPO THE YOUNGER (12th Century) is considered to be an emanation of Medicine Buddha.
The ultimate source of the teachings of Atiyoga or Dzogchen is the Primordial Buddha Samantabhadra. Whilst the root of Dzogchen is the 6,400,000 verses or shlokas, the actual tantras are said to number 22,000. Dzogchen can be categorized into gyü, lung and mengak.
Gyü is the tantras,
lung (Skt. agama) the clarification of the tantras, and
mengak (Skt. upadesha) the experiential instruction given by the master.
The Three Categories
The 6,400,000 verses of the Dzogchen tantras were divided by Mañjushrimitra into three categories or series:
the category of mind (Semdé),
the category of space (Longdé), and
the category of Secret or Pith Instruction (Mengakdé). In Mengakdé, there are two paths of training: Trekchö and Tögal.
The practice of Dzogchen or Atiyoga is to realize the tathagatagarbha, or "buddha nature," which has been present as our true nature since the very beginning. Here it is not sufficient to focus on contrived practices that involve intellectual effort and concepts. To recognize our true nature, the practice should be utterly beyond fabrication.
The practice is simply to realize the emptiness and the radiance, or natural expression, of wisdom, which is beyond all intellectual concepts. It is the true realization of the absolute nature just as it is-the ultimate fruition.
At the moment, our awareness - rigpa - is entangled within our mind, completely enveloped and obscured by mental activity. Through the practice of Trekcho, or "cutting through all attachment," and the "direct realization" of Togal, we can unmask this awareness and let its radiance arise.
To accomplish this, we need to practice "the four ways of leaving things in their natural simplicity" (chokshyak) and by means of them, to acquire perfect stability in the Trekcho practice.
Then will come the "four visions of Togal," which are the natural arising of visions of discs and rays of light, deities, and buddhafields. These visions are naturally ready to arise from within the central channel that joins the heart to the eyes. This arising from the central channel will appear in a gradual process: in the same way that the waxing moon increases from the first to the fifteenth of the month, these visions will gradually increase - from the simple perception of dots of light to the full array of the vast expanse of the sambhogakaya buddhafields. The manifestation of space and awareness will thus reach its culminating point.
These experiences are not linked with consciousness or intellect as former experiences were; they are a true manifestation, or radiance of awareness. After this, in the same way that the moon decreases and disappears from the fifteenth to the thirtieth of the month, all of these experiences and visions - all phenomena - will gradually come to exhaustion and reabsorb themselves in the absolute. At this point the deluded mind which conceives subject and object will disappear, and the primal wisdom, which is beyond intellect, will gradually expand. Eventually you will attain the perfect enlightenment of the Primordial Buddha Samantabhadra, endowed with the six extraordinary features.
This is the path intended for people of superior faculties who can achieve enlightenment in this very lifetime.
- Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche - Guru Yoga - Shambhala Publications