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Dzogchen Primer: An Anthology of Writings by Masters of the Great Perfection

Dzogchen Primer: An Anthology of Writings by Masters of the Great Perfection

by Marcia Binder Schmidt (Compiler)

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The Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice known as Dzogchen (pronounced ZOG-chen) is a practical method for accessing the pristine, clear awareness that lies beneath the chatter and confusion of our daily thoughts. The Dzogchen Primer provides the keys for understanding Dzogchen and putting it into practice.

Marcia Schmidt, a long-time Buddhist


The Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice known as Dzogchen (pronounced ZOG-chen) is a practical method for accessing the pristine, clear awareness that lies beneath the chatter and confusion of our daily thoughts. The Dzogchen Primer provides the keys for understanding Dzogchen and putting it into practice.

Marcia Schmidt, a long-time Buddhist practitioner, has gathered here the most accessible, down-to-earth writings published on this subject and has organized them into a study guide for the serious beginner on the Buddhist path. The collection includes writings from such well-known and venerable masters as Milarepa, Padmasambhava, Shantideva, Chögyam Trungpa, and Tulku Urgyen.

The concept of Dzogchen is said to lie beyond the confines of our beliefs, our intellectual constructs, our ordinary understanding. A Dzogchen master writes, "We need to dismantle our fixation on the permanence of what we experience. A normal person clings to his experiences as being 'real,' concrete, and permanent. But if we look closely at what happens, experience is simply experience, and it is not made out of anything. It has no form, no sound, no color, no taste, no texture; it is simply empty cognizance."

The Dzogchen Primer includes an informative editor's preface as well as two forewords by prominent Tibetan masters that provide fundamental background information that will be helpful to readers new to this subject. The book also includes short, descriptive guiding notes intended to assist both independent students and teachers leading workshops.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this impressive collection Schmidt pulls together writings from historic and contemporary masters to facilitate study for serious, committed beginners and long time practitioners."— Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly
(Tibetan Buddhism/Meditation) Dzogchen (pronounced Zog-chen), also known as The Great Perfection, is arguably the heart of Tibetan Buddhist meditation, and in this impressive collection Schmidt pulls together writings from historic and contemporary masters to facilitate study for serious, committed beginners and longtime practitioners. In 35 generally short essays, students can delve into topics such as Re-enlightenment and The True Foundation by recently deceased (1996) Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, who transmitted the complete teachings of the last century's three great masters and who has 10 passages here. They can also find more ancient voices such as the seventh century's Shantideva on the The Excellence of Bodhichitta, or Milarepa, one of Tibet's most famous yogis and poets, who lived 1,000 years ago, on The Song of Realization. This sequential manual is designed to aid individuals as well as Sangha or workshop leaders, and offers facilitator guidelines, a glossary, author profiles and a bibliography. This primer can help students without a teacher or meditation center, but the volume quickly points out that time in the presence of living masters is essential. Not a collection of academic ruminations, this important work also stresses application. As Ch^kyi Nyima Rinpoche says in the introduction, We do not need to let the teachings remain as mere words or ideas; we can put them to use in our own experience. This is how the buddha nature can be revealed, since it is already present in every one of us. (July) Forecast: Although it's not unique in the marketplace, this substantive primer should be of real value to Tibetan practitioners in the West, who are gaining numbers as the interest in Tibetan Buddhism increases. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Gathers accessible writings published on the subject of Dzogchen, organized into a study and practice guide for the serious beginner on the Dzogchen path. Includes writings from such well-known masters as Padmasambhava, Milarepa, Shantideva, Ch<:o>gyam Trungpa, and Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, among others. Includes notes for each subtopic. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Read an Excerpt

The Dzogchen Primer
Embracing the Spiritual Path According to the Great Perfection

Edited by Marcia Binder Schmidt


Copyright © 2002 Marcia Binder Schmidt.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 1570628297

Chapter One


Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

In general, a person is considered sensible and even honorable when he strives to benefit himself, but sometimes people intend to harm others in order to gain happiness for themselves. In the context of Dharma, this is called a "wrong intention." A "good intention" is simply the wish to benefit others. Nevertheless, if we interpret the word others to indicate only a select few, like our friends, relatives, and countrymen, then our intention is biased. We should never be partial to some beings while harming others; instead, we should try to cultivate an attitude that embraces all sentient beings with good wishes, including animals. In this way, our good intentions will develop into all-encompassing bodhichitta.

    Some say that the Buddhists are not really serving society. For example, Christian organizations build schools and hospitals. From this point of view, it may indeed appear as though the Buddhists are not working in a concrete way to benefit the community. Yet, the main objective of Buddhism is to accomplish the welfare of others through practices engaged in mentally. The Buddhist practitioner serves others through his good intentions. Perpetuating wholesome motives, he or she can truly benefit beings. Therefore, whether we are listening to Dharma teachings, reading about them, or putting them into practice, it is extremely important to develop the attitude of bodhichitta.

    Although we plan to search out and follow the true and perfect path, without a qualified guide we will never discover this path. If we try to find the path by ourselves or follow an imperfect teacher, we are in danger of making a grave mistake. Therefore, we must first carefully seek out a genuine spiritual master and then adhere to his advice.

    Each of us possesses buddha nature. We each have the seed of enlightenment within ourselves, and because this potential can be actualized, we possess an enlightened essence. At the time of the ground, we possess buddha nature. At the time of the path, the enlightened essence continues. At the time of fruition—complete buddhahood—the sugata-essence continues. The enlightened essence is a continuity that extends throughout our journey along the stages of ground, path, and fruition.

    The Buddha gave graduated teachings to help sentient beings recognize the real condition—the nature of things. To understand this basic state of affairs, the Buddha first taught that samsara, conditioned existence, is replete with various kinds of suffering. Suffering originates with mistakenness, delusion. His initial teachings, which characterized this world as having the nature of impermanence and suffering, are called the First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.

    After his students had familiarized themselves with these fundamental teachings, the Buddha taught that although the truth of impermanence is undeniable, it also has no concrete existence. Thus, he explained the Second Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, which emphasizes emptiness—that all things lack both concrete substance and self-nature.

    Later, the Buddha taught that emptiness does not signify a mere state of blankness. If that were the case, how could any phenomena appear at all? How could an entire universe arise? At that point, he taught the last set of teachings—the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, which accentuates the luminous aspect of mind, the ability to know all manifested things. This profound, ultimate teaching emphasizes wisdom, innate wakefulness.

    The Buddha started by giving advice that emphasized the benefits for oneself. These are the focal point of Hinayana, the lesser vehicle. Later, the Buddha presented teachings that stress the attempt to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings equal in number to the vastness of the sky. These are featured in the Mahayana vehicle. Finally, he taught the Vajrayana. In order to practice Vajrayana teachings, one must first establish the basis for practice, which is twofold: arousing bodhichitta and resolving the correct view. Without a firm foundation in these two aspects, one cannot truly practice the path of Vajrayana.

Chapter Two


Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

We need to clearly understand what is meant by the terms samsara and nirvana. Nirvana means the fully realized buddha nature that consists of Body, Speech, and Mind aspects. The Body is the essence that simply is. Speech is its nature, the cognizant quality that is vividly present, and Mind is the capacity, which is radiant. These three aspects comprise the basic presence of all buddhas. They are none other than their essence, nature, and capacity. All sugatas are of this same identity. In the same way, samsara is the body, speech, and mind of all sentient beings, which are the deluded expressions of their essence, nature, and capacity.

    Buddha nature is all-encompassing: this means it is present or basic to all states, regardless of whether they belong to samsara or nirvana. Remember, "nirvana" refers to the Body, Speech, and Mind of all the awakened ones. Body is the abiding essence, Speech is the vividly present nature, and Mind is the radiant capacity. These three, the Body, Speech, and Mind of all buddhas, are also known as the three vajras.

    This buddha nature is present just as the shining sun is present in the sky. It is indivisible from the three vajras of the awakened state, which do not perish or change. Vajra Body is the unchanging quality, vajra Speech is the unceasing quality, and vajra Mind is the undeluded, unmistaken quality. So, the buddha nature or dharmadhatu is the three vajras; at the same time, its expression manifests as the deluded body, speech, and mind of all beings.

    In the normal sense of the word, "body" refers to something perishable composed of flesh and blood. "Speech" refers to intermittent utterances that come and go and eventually perish. And "mind" refers to thought states and emotions that come and go, come and go, under the power of dualistic attitude, like beads on a rosary. These mental states are also transient. Everyone agrees that the body, speech, and mind of living beings are constantly changing, continually coming and going. Still, the basis of our ordinary body, speech, and mind is the buddha nature, the dharmadhatu that encompasses all of samsara and nirvana. There isn't a single being for whom this isn't so.

    Looking from the pure angle, then, this buddha nature is present in every being, the expression of the victorious ones, just like the rays of light are present from the sun. The light is emanated by the sun, isn't it? If it weren't for the sun, there wouldn't be any light. Similarly, the origin of the body, speech, and mind of beings is the expression of the buddha nature that pervades both samsara and nirvana.

    It is said that all sentient beings are buddhas, but they are covered by their temporary obscurations. These temporary obscurations are our own thinking. Buddha nature, rigpa, encompasses all of samsara and nirvana—not just the awakened state of nirvana, but everything, every single thing. The ordinary body, speech, and mind of sentient beings temporarily arose from the expression of the qualities of enlightened body, speech, and mind. As space pervades, so awareness pervades. If this were not so, then space would pervade but rigpa wouldn't. Just like space, rigpa is all-encompassing: nothing is outside it. Just as the contents and beings are all pervaded by space, rigpa pervades the minds of beings.

    It is essential to start out with a basic understanding of the profundity of what is meant here in order to be able to authentically practice the teaching of the Great Perfection. Unless we know what is what, at least intellectually, it might seem to us as if sentient beings are disconnected, alien entities, and we have no idea of where they come from, where they belong, or what they actually are. They are not disconnected at all. The difference between buddhas and sentient beings lies in the latter's narrowness of scope and attitude. Sentient beings confine themselves to their own limited little area of samsara through their own attitude and thinking.

    It is said that the difference between buddhas and sentient beings is like the difference between the narrowness and the openness of space. Sentient beings are like the space held within a tightly closed fist, while buddhas are fully open, all-encompassing. Basic space and awareness are innately all-encompassing. Basic space is the absence of mental constructs, while awareness is the knowing of this absence of constructs, recognizing the complete emptiness of mind essence. Space and awareness are inherently indivisible. It is said, "When the mother, the basic space, does not stray from her awareness child, have no doubt that they are forever indivisible."

    The ultimate Dharma is the realization of the indivisibility of basic space and awareness. That is the starting point, and that is what is pointed out to begin with. It is essential to understand this; otherwise, we might have the feeling that the primordial buddha Samantabhadra and his consort are an old blue man and woman who lived aeons ago. It's not like that at all! Samantabhadra and his consort are the indivisible unity of space and awareness.

    As you know, the nine gradual vehicles and the four schools of philosophy—Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Mind Only, and Middle Way—are designed to suit the various mental capacities of different people. The term Great Perfection, on the other hand, implies that everything is included in Dzogchen, that everything is complete. Dzogchen is said to be unexcelled, meaning that there is nothing higher than it. Why is this? It is because of knowing what truly is to be as it is—the ultimate naked state of dharmakaya. Isn't that truly the ultimate? Please carefully understand this.

    The Great Perfection is totally beyond any kind of pigeonholing anything in any way whatsoever. It is to be utterly open, beyond categories, limitations, and the confines of assumptions and beliefs. All other ways of describing things are confined by categories and limitations. The ultimate destination to arrive at in Dzogchen is the view of the kayas and wisdoms. Listen to this quote: "Although everything is empty, the special quality of the Buddha Dharma is to not be empty of the kayas and wisdom." All other systems expound that all things are empty, but truly, the intention of the Buddha is to use the word emptiness rather than empty. This is a very important point.


Excerpted from The Dzogchen Primer by Marcia Binder Schmidt. Copyright © 2002 by Marcia Binder Schmidt. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Marcia Binder Schmidt has been an editor and publisher of books on Vajrayana Buddhism for over fifteen years. With her husband, author and translator Erik Pema Kungsang, she founded and currently runs Rangjung Yeshe Publications, an independent publisher of Buddhist texts in English.

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