Basics of Natural Awareness
Part 1 (Dzogchen)
Part 1 (Dzogchen)
Here, I'd like to present some information of the basics of great perfection (tib. dzogchen) as passed to yours truly by the great mahasiddha Vimalamitra. I've mentioned these two aspects of natural awareness or knowing awareness (tib. rigpa) briefly here. Later I will add another text on this topic covering two more aspects of rigpa.
The reader may keep in mind, that the author's knowledge of dzogchen has not been derived from the exponents of the traditional orthodox Tibetan dzogchen but directly from the mentioned master or masters. In this text, I compare the teachings received by yours truly with a traditional presentation of dzogchen by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama.
Rigpa which could be translated as "knowing awareness" is a term often heard in Tibetan buddhism and dzogchen. This term, rigpa, points out to a distinct state of our awareness which is natural, unobstructed and always present. Rigpa is described as the "ground" of our being. For a meditator, these description give clear hints of what this rigpa actually is. When elements of thought and emotion subside, the ground of awareness becomes revealed. This is the primary purpose of meditation and spiritual practices, to know ourselves as open spaciousness, as awareness, devoid of any entity.
Dalai Lama* on rigpa: "Generally speaking, when we use the word sem, we are referring to mind when it is temporarily obscured and distorted by thoughts based upon dualistic perceptions of subject and object. When we are discussing pure awareness, genuine consciousness or awareness free of such distorting thought patterns, then the term rigpa is employed".
Aspects of rigpa
In traditional Tibetan dzogchen, rigpa is presented in four different ways. Pure awareness is said to have four aspects to it. Terms of the first two aspects used in traditional Tibetan dzogchen are:
1. Gzhi rigpa - Basis of knowing (gzhi - basis, rigpa - knowing)
2. Ngobo rigpa - Essence of knowing (ngobo/ngowoi - essence, rigpa - knowing)
From Dalai Lama's book* we can find the next translations of these terms:
Rigpa - awareness, pure awareness
Gzhi rigpa - ground awareness/rigpa
Ngobo rigpa - essential awareness/rigpa
As the meanings of these terms are difficult to grasp, I'd like to translate them in the light of my own experience, as transmitted and received from my master.
The two aspects of rigpa can be described as:
1. Thoughtless awareness (gzhi rigpa) and
2. Thoughtless awareness imbued with life and love (ngobo rigpa)
As an experience
First, we have a state of awareness which is devoid of any sort of thought or emotion (gzhi rigpa). Here, thoughtlessness should be taken literally as "no mental content" at all. This thoughtless awareness is the ground or basis of our being, again devoid of entity. Getting to know awareness without any mental stuff is sort of the first "relief" that a beginner of meditation meets with. But again, for it to qualify as gzhi rigpa, according to Vimalamitra, it has to be entirely without thought. This can be accessed briefly, for a second or two, by most beginners and the longer one continues to practice, the more sustained it becomes. The key is to return to it again and again.
The second aspect of ngobo or ngowoi rigpa, is based on the first one, throughtlessness, but has an additional flavour to it, that of extremely sweet lovingness. When speaking of lovingness or lifeness of rigpa, it should be remembered that the love which is referred to here is not gross emotion common to biased mind but rather very subtle one combined with extreme clarity of awareness. Thoughtlessness, emotionlessness, sweetness and clarity are simultaneous. So, the first rigpa is thoughtless and the second is both thoughtless as well as imbued with pure aliveness, pure sweetness.
It's pretty simple and anyone can glimpse it briefly for their benefit. However, despite of the simplicity of it, it should be said that when speaking of a really comprehensive recognition of rigpa, one has completely and permanently extinguished the confused mind (purity of mind). This is the minimum requirement for it. In the Open Heart Bhumi Model, this would refer to the 6th bhumi or higher.
From this explanation we can come to understand that these aspects of rigpa are not something lofty or distant. Rather, these aspects of pure awareness are the ground of each of us. When in one way or the other the obscured dualistic mind (tib. sem) is momentarily bypassed, the knowing awareness reveals itself and recognises itself. With further practice, this natural recognition becomes extended while the obscured mind gradually looses it's grip. For a fully blown master (mahasiddha/buddha) this state is uninterrupted.
I hope this explanation sheds some light on these commonly used terms.
Thank you for reading.
- Baba Kim Katami
*Dalai Lama's book: Dzogchen, Heart Essence of the Great Perfection, Snow Lion.