Great Perfection (Dzogchen)
by Mingyur Rinpoche
with Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and
Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche
See also these texts in this blog:
“What does this word mean,” I asked, pointing to the tibetan word kadak.
“Oh, that’s a very important term,” he replied, pleased to see my interest. “Do you remember what I told the students last night about the mind’s true nature?” the truth was that I didn’t understand much of what he said when he taught, so I looked down and shook my head in embarrassment. Seeing my reaction, he patted me gently on the shoulder and said, “there’s no need to feel embarrassed. When I was young i had to learn the meaning of all these words just like you.” he then paused for a moment and looked at me with such affection that all my fear and embarrassment dissolved. “What i taught the students last night is that our true nature is completely pure and good. the word you asked about, kadak, means ‘pure from the very beginning.’ it might not always seem like this is the case, but there isn’t the slightest bit of difference between your true nature and the Buddha’s. In fact, even an old dog has this original purity.”
“What does purity mean?” I asked. “Purity means that our true nature is already perfect and complete,” he continued. “None of our confusion and fear can change this inner purity. It doesn’t get worse when we suffer or improve when we become enlightened like the Buddha. We don’t need to add anything to it or take anything away, nor do we have to do something to get it. it’s here with us each and every moment, like a diamond in the palm of one’s hand.” “If our true nature is so wonderful,” I asked, “Then why do we suffer?” “That’s a good question,” he answered. “The problem isn’t that we need to get something that we don’t already have, or that we have to get rid of all the things we don’t like. The Buddha can’t magically appear and take away all our suffering and confusion. The problem is that we don’t recognize what we’ve had all along. We get so caught up in the drama of our lives that we don’t see the radiant purity of our own minds. This nature is with us even when we feel scared, lonely, and angry.”
I looked up at my father’s kind face as he spoke these words and a feeling of tremendous love and respect welled up from deep within me. I still didn’t fully grasp what he was trying to teach, but i started to open to the possibility that there was more to life than all the thoughts and feelings that crowded my young mind. What he had just introduced me to was the ground of the Great Perfection, the inner reality that we discover on the spiritual path.
With this newfound confidence, I continued to meditate on my own. Though I still didn’t have a direct experience of what my father was trying to teach me, I soon found that by focusing my mind on something, I could experience a glimpse of tranquility. Despite this development, I still thought of meditation as something that would help me get rid of the parts of myself that I didn’t like. I sincerely hoped that meditation would lead me to
happy, peaceful states of mind where panic and fear could not touch me. As I would soon find out, however, what my father was leading me to was much more radical than that.
For the next few months I continued to visit my father every day, and he taught me more about the Great Perfection. Oftentimes we wouldn’t talk at all as we sat together. My father would simply sit in front of the large window and gaze off into the sky as I sat quietly by his side and tried to meditate. I desperately wanted his approval, so I always did my best imitation of what i thought a good meditator should do. I sat bolt upright and tried to make it look like I was absorbed in some deep experience, while in actuality I was just repeating a mantra in my mind and trying not to get lost in thought. Occasionally, I would open my eyes and peek up at my father, hoping that he had noticed my good meditation posture and ability to sit still for so long.
One day, as we sat together in silence, I glanced up at him in the middle of my meditation and was surprised to find him gazing down at me. “Are you meditating, son?” he asked. “Yes, sir,” I said proudly, filled with joy that he had finally noticed. My answer seemed to amuse him greatly. he paused for a few moments and then said gently, “Don’t meditate.”
My pride vanished. For months, I’d been doing my best to copy all the other meditators who came to be with my father. I learned some short prayers, sat in the right posture, and tried hard to still my turbulent mind. “I thought I was supposed to meditate,” I said with a shaky voice.
“Meditation is a lie,” he said. “When we try to control the mind or hold on to an experience, we don’t see the innate perfection of the present moment.” Pointing out through the window, he continued, “Look out into the blue sky. Pure awareness is like space,
boundless and open. It’s always here. You don’t have to make it up. All you have to do is rest in that.”
For a moment, all of my hopes and expectations about meditation dropped away and I experienced a glimpse of timeless awareness. A few minutes later he continued, “Once you’ve recognized awareness, there’s nothing to do. You don’t have to meditate or
try to change your mind in any way.”
“If there’s nothing to do,” I asked, “Does that mean that we don’t have to practice?”
“Although there’s nothing to do, you do need to familiarize yourself with this recognition.
you also need to cultivate bodhichitta and devotion, and always seal your practice by dedicating the merit so that all beings may recognize their own true nature too.
The reason we still need to practice is that at first we only have an understanding of the mind’s true nature. By familiarizing ourselves with this understanding again and again, however, it eventually transforms into direct experience. Yet even then we still need to practice. Experience is unstable, so if we don’t continue to familiarize ourselves with pure awareness we can lose sight of it and get caught up in our thoughts and emotions again.
On the other hand, if we are diligent in practice, this experience will transform into a realization that can never be lost. This is the path of the Great Perfection (dzogchen).”
With these words, he stopped talking and we both continued to rest in pure awareness, gazing off into the deep blue sky above the Kathmandu Valley.
One of the main questions I had at the time concerned the results of the Great Perfection, so one day I approached Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche to ask for clarification. “To attain buddhahood,” I began, “the sutras say that we have to purify obscurations, perfect the ac-
cumulations of merit and wisdom, and slowly refine our practice of generosity, discipline, and the rest of the six perfections for an incredibly long period of time, but my father and
Saljey Rinpoche taught me that buddhahood is actually right here in the present
moment. They said that if we strain and strive for some enlightenment in the future, we actually move farther away from this pure awareness. Don’t these two presentations contradict each other?”
“Not at all,” rinpoche replied. “ In fact, all those things that we uncover slowly on the sutra path are actually inherent qualities of pure awareness. The Great Perfection is an effortless path in which you accomplish everything without doing anything. Recognizing the empty essence of awareness perfects the accumulation of wisdom, while recognizing its spontaneously present clarity perfects the accumulation of merit. The union of this emptiness and clarity is the union of the two accumulations. Moreover, this approach is
also the union of the development and completion stages that we practice in deity yoga, and of skillful means and knowledge. Once you realize the nature of mind, compassion spontaneously manifests. Seeing the potential that all beings possess, you will naturally
feel respect for them and want to help them to realize this true nature for themselves.
You will also experience genuine devotion for the teachers who introduced you to pure awareness and fully appreciate their accomplishment. So you see, all the qualities of
enlightenment are right here with us. We don’t need to look anywhere outside of the present moment.
“Actualizing these innate qualities,” he continued, “Is the best result we could hope for. Flying in the sky, reading minds, and other magical powers are no big deal. These days, we can do most of these things anyway through modern technology. I’ve flown all around the world with hundreds of people in a giant metal tube, so what’s the big deal if you can levitate a few feet? The precious fruition of the Great Perfection manifests when we’ve familiarized ourselves with pure awareness to such a degree that we never waver from that state. There’s nothing more to hope for than that.”
Khen Rinpoche’s words trailed off as he finished his explanation, and he stopped talking.
together, we sat in silence, resting effortlessly in the beauty and simplicity of the present moment. The words of these great masters stay with me to this day. When people ask me about the Great Perfection, I have nothing more to say than to repeat these simple teachings, which were entrusted to me like a great treasure by my kind teachers.