Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wonders of the Natural Mind: The Essence of Dzogchen in the Native Bon Tradition of Tibet

Book Review: Wonders of the Natural Mind: The Essence of Dzogchen in the Native Bon Tradition of Tibet  by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche  (Snow Lion 2000)

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche’s books are always a joy to read as he seems to be able to convey subtle information in an elegant way. The Bon Dzogchen tradition is obviously a subject he knows well and engages in much. It is quite an interesting tradition with some unique special features.

In the first section of the book Rinpoche gives an account of his education, training, and experiences including his later experiences of teaching and of teaching in the West. This section is great – especially when he recounts his experience of dark retreat which consists of spending 49 days in complete darkness. He was in about a 6 ft by 8 ft room with poor air circulation. The purpose of dark retreat is to experience visions of the five subtle lights amidst certain dzogchen practices. He did it at a rather young age which is apparently unusual and he describes some of his experiences and strange dream-like visions which he says were quite vivid. He says that the dark retreat brought about a great change in his personality. He talks about the effects of this sensory deprivation where mind-created visions and experiences can seem quite real. He says that after a week his subjective experience of time changed so that seven days felt like two. He mentions various visions of points and rays of light and of symbols. He was guided in his practice by his main teacher Lopon Tenzin Namdak.

There are some comparisons made of teaching Bon Dharma in the East vs the West – pro and con to each. He makes note that there will eventually be dzogchen masters in the West and the usefulness of Tibetan cultural patterns would have to be considered as to whether they are essential or not.

Next he gives a short history of Bon and of Buddha Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche and of the Compassion Deity Shenlha Okar. According to Bon myth there were three cycles of teachings in three dimensions – one to devas, one to humans, and one to nagas. He mentions the mandala of the Pure Lotus Mother as given to the nagas and establishing there the Prajnaparamita teachings. Shenrab Miwoche is said to have taught at Olmo Lungring in the land of Tazig – possibly Tajikistan or Persia. Bon teachings were also spread in the area of Zhang Zhung, a separate kingdom of Western Tibet until the seventh century when King Trisung Deutsen subdued it and ruled a large Tibetan kingdom that included parts of China and Persia. As a further Bon history he notes the legend that the father of Padmasambhava of the land of Oddiyana was Dranpa Namkha, a Bon practitioner and that Vairochana, a student of Padmasambhava and a famous translator also translated Bon texts from the old Zhang Zhung language into Tibetan. After about 300-400 yrs of suppression and eclipse by Buddhism, Bon experienced a revival in the 11th century and soon the first Bon monasteries were built – the most famous being Menri monastery founded in 1405 by Nyamed Sherab Gyaltsen – a famed lineage master.

There are several ways of classifying the Bon teachings. The three cycles are as follows: The first cycle is the successive stages of the Nine Ways. There are Northern, Central, and Southern versions of this classification. These are terma teachings – said to be hidden and later rediscovered – a type of magically-derived teaching that Bon shares with Nyingma. The Nine Ways are divided into four causal ways – mainly magical and shamanistic, and the five ways of fruit – the goal of which is liberation from samsara. The second cycle is called: The Four Portals and the One Treasury. The first portal is esoteric tantric spells, the second is ritual divination and magic. The third is rules and philosophy for monastics and lay people. The fourth is psycho-spiritual exercises such as Dzogchen meditation. The fifth is a treasury of the essence of all four portals. The third and final cycle is called: Outer, Inner, and Secret Precepts. This is the Bon division into Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen. Outer/Sutra is the path of renunciation. Inner/Tantra is the path of transformation and utilizes mantra. Secret/Dzogchen is the path of self-liberation. This division is also used in Tibetan Buddhism. The analogy given is that of the five passions as poisons. In Sutra the passions are renounced. In Tantra the passions are mixed with an antidote and so the poison is transformed into medicine. In Dzogchen the passions/poison is imbibed and the energy of the poison is liberated into energy for growth and realization.

Most of the Dzogchen teachings come from the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud, a main text. Each chapter begins with a short quote and he also summarizes and comments on various parts of this most interesting text. For understanding, Dzogchen is divided into base, path, and fruit.

“According to the Dzogchen teaching, the essence of the base of everything is empty and primordially pure; the nature of the base is clarity that is spontaneously perfected; the inseparable union of the primordially pure essence and the spontaneously perfected nature is the unobstructed flow of energy or compassion. In the individual mind, this base is the natural state and is the source of samsara for the deluded mind and of nirvana for the mind in which knowledge is awakened.”

Another way of describing the base, or kunzhi – is that of Ma, Bu, and Tsal, or mother, son, and energy. The essence of the base is called mother (ma), the son (bu) refers to awakened awareness, and their inseparability is the flow of energy (tsal).

“The path consists of gaining insight into the view of Dzogchen, which is knowledge of the true condition of the individual, and making the flow of rigpa, cultivated through meditation, continuous in the post-meditation period so that it can be integrated into our behavior or attitude and activities in everyday life.”

The fruit refers to actualizing the three kayas or Buddha bodies and the manifesting of the rainbow body at the culmination of life whereby the body is said to dissolve into nature as light.

In some comparison of Tibetan schools he points out some similarities and differences of Bon to the various Buddhist schools. In both Bon and Nyingma Dzogchen it is the Adibuddha Kuntuzangpo that is most venerated as a source while in the later Tibetan schools of Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug it is the Buddha Vajradhara that is the lineage Primordial Buddha of the Tantras. Bon and Nyingma also share the terma tradition and he says also that they share Buddhist teachings determined to come from other areas than India such as China and Central Asia – as the early Buddhist codifiers sought to weed out teachings of non-Indian origin as diluted.

There are given three streams of Dzogchen in Bon: The Ati, the Dzogchen, and the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud. These are all still taught in modern Bon as I have received teachings from at least two of these streams. Ati means “guide of A” and begins with mediation practice using the Tibetan latter A (Ah) as a visual focus. This corresponds with the semde, or mind series of teachings according to the Nyingma Dzogchen model. The Dzogchen stream (the 2nd of the three) refers to a specific lineage corresponding with the longde, or space/clarity series according to Nyingma. The third stream refers to the “Oral Transmission of Zhang Zhung,” the oldest and most important Dzogchen system in Bon. These derive from the teachings of the 8th century enlightened master Tapihritsa. This series corresponds to the upadesha, or secret instruction series of Nyingma. All of these teachings have the same goal of introducing Dzogchen, or Great Perfection, as the natural state.

Next we have the awesome stories of Tapihritsa. He is the unornamented great white naked guru in iconic form as the dharmakaya. He is said to have practiced complete silence on a mountain for nine years. He attained rainbow body at death and attained the self-perfected state of bonku for himself, and that of tulku for others. He is said to have later reincarnated and taught Dzogchen as a child. Also given are Nagzher Lodpo’s - Invocation of Tapihritsa -  and the most meaningful – Tapihritsa’s Final Instructions. These are said to be among the first written teachings in the Bon tradition. Tapihritsa also said, “If you always remember me, you will meet me; if you forget me you will never meet me.” In Zhang Zhung oral tradition of Bon there is a tradition of Guru Yoga of Tapihritsa. His form as an aspect of Kuntuzangpo is utilized in other practices as well.

The author gives some sage practical advice for spiritual practice in general. Most of this is pretty logical. He does point out regarding Dzogchen that it is important to be able to distinguish between pure and impure states of presence. So this is sometimes called pure presence, or open presence. He stresses the importance of effort and commitment but also notes that effort in contemplative practice is needed in the beginning but gradually relaxed as one becomes more familiar and spontaneity can then arise. There is an interesting section about obstacles to meditation practice where he goes through outer obstacles: distraction from other humans, spirits, and objects, inner obstacles: illnesses and uncertainties about how to do it, and secret obstacles: those involving mental problems that do not allow the practice to develop. Another way to classify obstacles is in terms of view, meditation, and behavior. Too much conceptualization and not enough direct understanding through practice can hinder view. Meditation experiences of joy or bliss can become obstacles if we attach and identify with them too much. He does not give examples of behavioral obstacles. He does note that the ‘element type’ of a practitioner’s personality may influence how signs of progress manifest in one’s practice. Denser earth and water types may take longer for signs to appear but once they do they will be more solidly apparent. Air and fire types may have signs more quickly but not as well grounded. He goes through quite a bit of technique and advice in the chapters about zhine, or calm abiding meditation and nyamshag, contemplation. Concentration devlopment in Dzogchen proceeds from forced to natural to relaxed and stable. Contemplation has the more specific meaning in Dzogchen as “presence in the state of the inseparability of clarity and emptiness.” This inseparability of clarity and emptiness is to be conteplated in the natural state of mind. Concentration proceeds from development with an object to development without an object and when this is stabilized then contemplation can begin. Subject-object dualism is apparent in concentration practice as is the dualism of consciousness and phenomena. When this dualism dissolves – “like pouring water into water,” this is the natural state and when one can remain and be stable in that state then contemplation can begin. He goes through several methods of developing contemplation with much detailed terminology. Here is an interesting example:

“7. To train the energy of awareness by the three appearances: the appearance of the various actions of the body arising in the actionless state of the body; the appearance of the various arisings of speech in silence; the appearance of the various movements of the moving mind in the thoughtless state. With these three one sees all appearances as equal, because their source is the absence of the three actions.”

He also mention the three types of experience associated with contemplation: bliss, clarity, and emptiness (non-thought in other systems). These experiences, he sats, should not be confused with primordial state of self-awareness called rigpa. A chapter entitled – Integration – is about ways to integrate the authentic state of presence with actions, with circumstances, and with passions. He describes three levels of integration corresponding to the three levels of practitioners – and more or less to the three divisions of sutra, tantra, and dzogchen. This is tied in as well to three ways, or styles of liberation.

Kunzhi, or the base of everything is described in a chapter. He points out that this kunzhi is different than the kunzhi, or alayavijnana described in the Sutric Chittamatra system where it is a described as a kind of all-base consciousness. “In the Zhang Zhung Nyam Gyud the omnipervasiveness of the kunzhi is symbolized by space, limitless in extent and direction.” In the same text, rigpa is likened to a bird, the moving mind to wings, and the body to a net. “Like a bird caught in a net, mind and body are joined together by karmic causes...” Kunzhi is also Ma, the mother from whom all phenomena arise (are born). It is also called “bodhicitta,” and is said to have the nine qualities of space: boundlessness, omnipervasiveness, unlimited expansiveness, being without top or bottom, immeasurableness, uncontractedness, great vastness, everlastingness, immutability. Space is also described in terms of the three types of space, or emptiness: external, internal, and secret. External space refers to surrounding space. Internal space is the space between objects. Secret space is the space in the mind. In Dzogchen the mind may be integrated with space in the practice of sky gazing. The three types of space may be integrated through this practice and one may experience their inseparability. The sense of vision – or the eyes as “water light doors” is thought to be effective in this integration. The eyes and the heart – where inner luminosity is said to originate – are connected through channels and through the doors of the eyes the inner luminosity is connected to the external space element. The son, or Bu, refers to rigpa –“the unobscued self-awareness of the primordial state.” He lists three kinds of awareness (rigpa): pervading awareness = kunzhi base and is omnipresent in all matter; moving-mind awareness is the son rigpa that is found in the mind of sentient beings whose awareness is constantly interrupted by distraction; primordial awareness is the mother rigpa that is stable and cannot be interrupted. He gives some more interesting info on sky gazing such as utilizing the wrathful gaze of looking up when drowsy and the peaceful gaze of looking downward when agitated and looking to the left to develop method and to the right to develop wisdom. One may gaze directly into the blue sky , at the moon, at the sun, or at the point where mountain and sky meet. It is said that one may experience the Three Great Visions of sound, light, and rays – if properly directed by a master and practicing – particularly in dark retreat. In dark retreat the most subtle forms of light are thought to be more accessible to the mind of the properly prepared meditator. The three visions are said to be the light of rigpa projected externally. The mind of the practitioner is sufficientlt prepared to be able to reflect the rigpa into these external visions. The important part about the visions is to be able to accept and experience them without following after them. This attitude/practice is also recommended when experiencing the bardo visions where one is trained to recognize them as projections of the mind. Several analogies are given regarding relating with energy , or tsal. One is that of a well practiced yogin who makes his butterlamp like a big fire so that when the great wind of the mentally projected visions occurs – instead of blowing the little lamp out it feeds the fire of practice yet more. One is admonished to see the five poisons as energy rather than following after them or seeing them as negative. So one leaves passions to their own nature  and the snowflake dissolves into the ocean. Non-dual mind snug in the experience of ‘one taste may then exhibit ‘crazy wisdom,” the unconventional behavior attributed to awakened yogis of the Dzogchen and Mahamudra traditions.

The five pure lights represent the subtle and purified vision of the five elements that arise from them. The energy of the lights arises from the primordial base, or the presence and clarity of the primordial state. The five lights are related to the five pure visions, the five wisdoms, and the five deities (the Bon version of the five Buddha families), and other correspondences – a chart is given here. He touches on a teaching called – The Union of the Four Chakras – which refer to the wheel of the primordial base, the wheel of realization and illusion, the wheel of the yogic vajra body (channels, winds, and drops), and the wheel of the intermediate state (bardo).

Next there are some interesting teachings on the three kayas – relating them to emptiness, clarity, and energy (from subtle to gross) and to base, path, and result in the same manner. “When we practice, the emptiness we discover within the mind, within ourselves, is the Dharmakaya; the subtle existence of clarity, self-understanding, is the Sambhogakaya; and whatever concepts, memories, or passions manifest are the Nirmanakaya.”

Trekcho and Togel which are unique to Dzogchen are covered next. Trekcho is called “cutting loose” and refers to remaining in the natural state in stbilized one-pointed concentration. Togel means “working” and refers to exerting oneself while in the natural state. I have alss heard it called  “leaping over.” Contemplation is integrated with energy in the form of light and vision. Results of this work are said to be particularly helpful when experiencing the bardo visions. He gives more interesting info on gazes to enhance Togel practice and more info on the nature of visions, light, energy, and the mind. Much interesting practice info occurs here.

He next compares and points out some differences of Dzogchen and the Sutric Madhyamaka (Middle Way) philosophical system regarding absolute reality. In Sutra it is said to have only the quality of emptiness while in Dzogchen it has the quality of the inseparability of emptiness and clarity.

The last chapter is about the Bardo, death, and other intermediate states. Meditation practice is emphasized as a preparation for death as is the practice of non-attachment. He compares the death state to the sleep state and mentions dreaming practice where one should try to remain in a state of presence when becoming lucid in a dream. He also mentions the zhitro practices of the peaceful and wrathful deities as being a good preparation for death. The death process is described in terms of the five elements “rolling back” into one another – earth to water to fire to air to space. There are corresponding breakdowns on the physical level as well. He notes that death is not experienced in the same way by everyone and that it is best if we have the karma to be conscious of the death process so that we can remember the teachings and apply them. He lists the Six Clear Knowledges and the Six Recollections that practitioners should strive to recall during the death process. These involve things like knowing we are dead and knowing that the visions we are experiencing are projections of our own mind, that the essence of our mind is inherently pure, our yidam practice, etc. He also describes a Bonpo funerary rite that properly disposes of the la which he calls the soul or consciousness principle. This involves a special turquoise belonging to the deceased, an arrow, and white water (milk and water mixed). The idea is to recall the la and harmonize the energy of the deceased  – which may be especially difficult if there was an illness affecting the vital energy during life. There are more teachings and explanations given here concerning the bardos. One thing said is that the more one practices dark retreat the more likely one will be able to apply the practices in the bardo. Finally there is an appendix about classifications of the Bon teachings and lists of lineage masters, etc.

This was a great book with much more detailed information than I have conveyed here. It is practice-oriented so that one can probably derive benefit from this knowledge in the course of a well-established meditation practice augmented by instructions specific to the Bon Dzogchen lineages.

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