Essence of Mind: An Approach to Dzogchen

Essence of Mind: An Approach to Dzogchen

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by Jes Bertelsen, Marianne Bentzen, Martijn van Beek, Jens-Erik Risom

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This handbook to spirituality gathers together Danish meditation teacher Jes Bertelsen's advice on training the mind through wordless prayer and meditation to realize the essence of consciousness. Bertelsen has been teaching philosophy and meditation since the early 1970s; in 1989, he met the Tibetan lama Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, who authorized Jes Bertelsen to teach…  See more details below


This handbook to spirituality gathers together Danish meditation teacher Jes Bertelsen's advice on training the mind through wordless prayer and meditation to realize the essence of consciousness. Bertelsen has been teaching philosophy and meditation since the early 1970s; in 1989, he met the Tibetan lama Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, who authorized Jes Bertelsen to teach Dzogchen, and to do so using his own judgment as to the most appropriate way to assimilate these teachings into Western culture. Bertelsen's teachings are based on an experiential investigation of the nature of consciousness, using comparative analysis of Eastern and Western spiritual teachings and consciousness practices on a foundation of modern psychological, philosophical, and scientific approaches.

Essence of Mind outlines the author's experience and approach to Dzogchen, the natural primordial state of human consciousness that is timeless, pure, and untouched by suffering. The book is divided into three parts. The first part describes different methods for pointing out the essence of consciousness and the techniques related to them. The second part seeks to outline the key principles of a training system suited to Western students that can lead to realization. The final section outlines the significance of continuous exercises, and describes the way spiritual practice slowly permeates daily life, dreams, sleep, and eventually death. Through the mind-training process, the practitioner approaches an almost ecstatic state of completion, a luminous, blissful wakefulness in which the consciousness is also fully relaxed, not clinging to bliss or desiring ecstasy, but transparent and open.

Bertelsen emphasizes that while more advanced forms of spiritual training can only take place in a face-to-face, deeply engaged mutual process between teacher and student, books are useful as sources of inspiration, in particular to help review one's insights and refresh one's practice. Essence of Mind systematizes the experiences that occur along the spiritual path and helps students to refine, correct, and clarify their efforts; it is the author's hope that many students in the West will be able to benefit from his comparative approach to Dzogchen.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Jes Bertelsen belongs to the very, very small group of people who are true lineage-holders of Dzogchen, held by many to be the pinnacle of the Tibetan tradition of meditation. He was authorized to teach in his own way by his teacher, Tulku Urgyen, one of the most revered spiritual masters of the twentieth century. This way, as it is brilliantly presented in this book, is clear, warm, and completely modern. Bertelsen unites a breathtaking command of Western psychology and philosophy with deep meditative realization. Here is, at long last, a lineage-holder of Dzogchen, a certified great teacher and scholar, who in a down-to-earth fashion can explain, step by step, what it means to transcend the mind—and how it is done.”
—Peter Hoeg, author of The Elephant Keeper's Children and Smilla's Sense of Snow

"Jes Bertelsen guides us to a fresh perspective on perspective itself, with this engaging exploration of a perennial truth: that our ordinary consciousness gives us a limited view of reality. He points out the possibility of an unconfined capacity in awareness, and how we might take this step beyond into a fully open, naked awareness.  Essence of Mind offers a practical map for those drawn to explore  the far reaches of our human potential."
—Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

“Jes Bertelsen’s words set the reader’s mind streaming in the direction of transdual completeness. Simple and spellbinding, this is that rarest of books—a genuinely profound page-turner you don’t want to put down. Its simple brilliance draws attention, not to itself, but to the reader’s own essential mind.”
—Anne C. Klein (Rigzin Drolma), professor of religious studies at Rice University and founding director of Dawn Mountain

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Essence of Mind: An Approach to Dzogchen 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This review gives the book under review, “Essence of Mind: An Approach to Dzogchen” by Danish author Jesus Bertelsen, 2 ½ stars, so as not to bias the reader either favorably or unfavorably toward the author’s material. Word Cloud (the number by each word denotes the number of times the word appears in the text of “Essence of Mind: An Approach to Dzogchen”): Consciousness 100+; Awareness 79; Divine 62; Unity 43; Bertelsen 40; Enlightened 37; Dzogchen 36; Compassion 35; God 34; Love 30; Unity Consciousness 26; Christ 20; Tulku Urgyen 14; Kierkegaard 14; Jung 13; Christian 11; Stillness 11; Karma 11; Longchenpa 6; Buddha 5; Emptiness 5; Buddhist 2; Guru 1; Dharma 1; Mahayana 1; Vajrayana 0; Refuge 0; Bodhicitta 0; Empty 0 The following are excerpts from “Essence of Mind: An Approach to Dzogchen”. The quotations are not in the order they appear in the book, but are sequenced as they are here for thematic purposes: “In many places in the West there are attempts to reformulate or reactivate Dzogchen in ways that are better suited to a Western cultural context. Because if you transfer many of the ngöndro forms, the preliminary exercises, they will clash with many notions in the West; where this is contrary to reality in the West; where people might think: “Why should I do that and what does it mean?” To present this in a major language …might be important, as it could inspire others working with other teachers but with fundamentally the same project: How might one, in an authentic way, transfer and reformulate Dzogchen for the West, and how might one develop a preliminary training, a ngöndro, maintaining some of the [original] elements and at the same time tentatively making use of some Western techniques— e.g. depth psychology, philosophy, and such. That is our cultural background; and for a Westerner Dzogchen must be placed within that context … It seems odd that one would have to pretend that all this doesn’t exist, that one should relate solely to yidam visualizations. This is a question that has to be asked of classical Buddhism. Today there exists a very detailed understanding of the Western, typically insecure, psyche, which is very different from a Tibetan psyche. The latter is embedded in a clan society, which fosters a different sense of self. His Holiness the Dalai Lama did not understand why Westerners who functioned splendidly in their environment— Westerners placed at the top in hierarchies, such as professors, practitioners, and so forth— how these could be so fundamentally insecure about themselves. And a ngöndro that was developed for a clan person in the middle ages, a person having a security and identity that builds on a hierarchical clan context— how can a ngöndro like this be transferred to very insecure, materialistic super-egos such as we are? You cannot just uncritically adopt such things. And this is why I believe that some of our experiences may be helpful for people in a similar context— perhaps they might adapt some of our ideas: “Those people have done it this way, and this authentic Lama [Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche] has confirmed that this can be used; so maybe we can try and see if it works.” It might serve as an example of how to do it. It might help others with inspiration and give them ideas of how to develop their own approach. We have tried all this out— ngöndro, preliminary exercises, and whatnot— on the basis of fundamental contemporary Western notions: a commitment to democracy, to gender equality, to scientific rigor— you have to relate to the scientific dimension of this matter. And being a Westerner, you must relate to our Christian cultural background— and this is said frequently by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as well as by many others. We cannot act as if we had grown up in a Buddhist society. If we do that we cut off our Christian roots— the entire archetypal level. Jung put it this way, “anima naturaliter christiana”, which means: the Western atheistic soul is at the deeper, archetypal level Christian. This also is an insight that we cannot just throw overboard. We must relate to it. And this project is a way of showing how we got it to work in a certain way. Use it and do it your own way, and see if you can use some of these elements.” (Kindle Locations 1664-1698; p.131-134) “His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that it is the continuity, for instance in Dzogchen, in the lineage, that is the stream of gold. Every teacher and each period produces tangible forms that are shaped by the particular time and its forms of expression; but all of these derive from the gold that flows through them. That is a very beautiful image. Its meaning is easily understood when we look at how Longchenpa had to shape it, or Jigme Lingpa; those are the great masters— but equally all the minor ones, among whom I count myself, had to do this in their own less elegant and less profound ways. Still, the same general law applies to the great ones, in whose works this can be seen clearly, as well as to the minor ones.” (Kindle Locations 1599-1603; p.125-126) “Ordinary consciousness lives and unfolds in the first four levels of consciousness: the physical-corporal, the life energy of the body, the astral-emotional, and the mental levels. These four levels and strategies of perception conceal and veil the three inner levels: the spiritual, joint, and unity consciousness (fifth, sixth, and seventh levels or spheres).” (Kindle Locations 1284-1286; p. 99) “If a person is awake at the level of joint consciousness, the sixth level, the continuity of consciousness will extend through life, the death process, the bardo state, and up to conception and incarnation into life in the womb. Life and death surge within an unbroken continuum of consciousness. At the seventh level there is neither life nor death. Jesus said, “It is I who am the light which is above them all. It is I who am the all. From me did the all come forth, and unto me did the all extend. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there” (Thomas, 77).” (Kindle Locations 1309-1314; p.101) “At the level of joint consciousness, the subject pole becomes actively engaged. It is one thing to see the beloved, and another to be unified with the beloved in a total merging of love. Figuratively, this is exactly the difference between the spiritual level and the level of joint consciousness. This union with the divine (the theosis of Hesychasm) is consistently described by the great mystics of the world religions. “I and my father are one.” Not “I live,” but “Christ lives in me.” “I am Brahman” (Aham Brahmasmi). “I am Allah” (Mansoor: al haqq). “This consciousness is Buddha.” At this point, the practice consists of identification, of surrender in love. The ultimate level— naked enlightened consciousness— lies beyond these final veils and polarities. Unity consciousness is a transcendence of the very dialectic between the human and the divine, a ceasing of the difference between subject and object. God has many masks to protect our eyes, so that we dare to look. For as long as our consciousness and our eyes are veiled, we will see veils. The naked awareness is veiled and hidden behind six veils: the level of joint consciousness, the spiritual, the mental, the emotional, basic life energy, and finally physical matter. The unveiled naked awareness is beyond all dualities, including birth and death. It is like the moon: it is born all shiny and new, grows and expands and becomes whole and round and full. Then it grows old, shrinks, and dies. That is how it looks. But the moon is there all the time, full and round and unchanging. Veils and polarities make it appear to go through the phases in its cycle. Human consciousness, too, is always complete in its unveiled essence, unborn, undying. Together, these six veils and the unveiled unity consciousness form a description of seven levels or dimensions of existence. Everyone can immediately recognize the four outer dimensions: the physical level and the feeling of vitality or life energy, the emotional level and the experience of thinking. On the journey through the inner dimensions, transitions between the levels denote the different events that are designated as initiations. These are beginnings or introductions to a level that until that moment was only dimly perceived, an event where the full form of the new dimension opens to the individual for the first time. In principle these events are quite clear and conclusive; but in actual practice they can occur gradually as well as partially. Consequently these transitions exist in an amazing variety, and there are also many diverse descriptions of them. In principle, the first initiation is the first conclusive and total opening from the mental fourth level to the spiritual fifth level. This is the archetypal meeting with the teacher. This might be an authentic devotional contact with a true, living teacher. Or it might be some form of vision of a known or unknown master aura. Or it might be a vision of Christ or the Buddha. The second initiation is the transition from the spiritual fifth level to the sixth, the first clear and complete opening to the level of joint consciousness. This is the substantial experience of merging or union with the divine, or with the enlightened aspect of the teacher, or a less specific union with cosmic consciousness. Because the joint consciousness of the sixth and the unity of the seventh level— despite their qualitative differences— are so closely connected, there are two types of second initiation. One is a pure opening only to the sixth level. In the other, the core opens all the way to unity consciousness. This last occurs— when and if it occurs— in an ultra-short glimpse. The final initiation is the opening to unity consciousness. With this opening, the individual becomes able to control the access to the transdual consciousness, rigpa (the technical word for nondual consciousness in the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition).” (Kindle Locations 695-724; p.52-54) “But as far as I can see, there is something like a universal core in mysticism. And it was this core that I was interested in from the very beginning. In my view, this core is practically always based on experience. It is always grounded in a way distinct from historical and cultural conditions— and completely different from ecclesiastical spirituality. The frame of reference behind Højere Bevidsthed, unitary consciousness, is, therefore, a combination of what I had read of Eastern mysticism— e.g. Longchenpa— and Western mysticism, as well as what I had cursorily read of Rumi and Hindu-mysticism. Here, it seemed to me purely intellectually that the frame of reference was the highest, that is to say, a nondual unitary consciousness.” (Kindle Locations 1546-1552; p.122) “At the deepest level we find the sphere of unity consciousness, the transdual level or naked awareness. This is the enlightened dimension, the sphere of divine love. It is even more dramatic, and at the same time more ordinary and anonymous, than the other states, and it results in compassion. An individual experiencing glimpses of contact with the third level is in a process of enlightenment. The main characteristic of this process is that the individual can maneuver reliably in the higher states, but that the ego is ascendant when these states are not active.” (Kindle Locations 669-673; p.50) “Finally, there is the open now of transdual consciousness. This state of presence is qualitatively different, since it is based on the entirely different perspective of unity consciousness. This is an almost ecstatic state of completion, a luminous, blissful wakefulness in which consciousness is also fully relaxed, not holding on to the bliss, not desiring the ecstasy, just an open transparency. It is a wondrous and heavenly state. The transdual presence is like the open sky, and this open sky is present here on earth at this moment. Meister Eckhart describes this heavenly state in this way: The now in which God created the first human, and the now in which the last human perishes, and this now in which I speak: they are equal in God and they are nothing other than one single now. And Master Tilopa: Do not pursue the past do not invite the future Do not think about the present And do not meditate with the intellect. Avoid all logical thought and completely relax the mind.” (Kindle Locations 99-110; preface) “If the consciousness of the peaceful sunbather with nothing on her mind becomes bidirectional, the golden moment will turn into a sacred one, and for a split second consciousness will be nondual. God is. In a glimpse of enlightenment, the open sky is present.” (Kindle Locations 493-494; p.32) “The enlightenment process is not the same for any two people on earth. Every human being is an irreplaceable and original expression of unity consciousness. And at the same time, all the realized, enlightened ones are one and the same consciousness. The enlightened consciousness as such, the divine, seems to be all-encompassing and all-pervasive. Every human being seems to be permeated and carried by the unity consciousness. From the inner consciousness levels it undeniably looks as if even the tiniest living creature has this seed of consciousness. This view is mirrored in all the spiritual world traditions. For instance, in Psalm 96: 12, “… all the trees of the forest will sing for joy.…” Perhaps the meaning of life is to discover that everything has emerged from unity consciousness? Perhaps the physical universe is a windfall event, a celebration sprung from divine cosmic creativity? Perhaps from a certain perspective in consciousness everything is continuously, in every moment, being created anew? Perhaps every tree and every leaf really is a song of praise?” (Kindle Locations 895-903; p.68) “There are many types of continuous exercises. They could be divided into two large main categories. One type is a kind of preparation for meditation: channeling exercises, circulation exercises, and the use of symbolic images (channeling and circulation exercises such as the pineal-hara or yin-yang-breathing described in Presence Meditation, symbols such as a flower or a candle or a yantra in a chakra). The second type is the quintessence of prayer, centered in the heart in the form of a mantra (such as Jesus Christ; Kyrie eleison, Kriste eleison; La illah il allah; Namo amida butsu) (Kindle location 1122; p. 87) “The other main reason that these continuous exercises are necessary is our dim Precambrian lethargy, with regard to achieving greater wakefulness. In the West, this feature has been accurately described as original sin. In the East it is called negative karma. These terms indicate that the sluggishness reaches beyond the personal and deeply into our collective hereditary backgrounds. It is a feature that is embedded in evolution itself, in our genes, in the collective unconscious.” (Kindle Location 1026-130; p.80). “It is self-evidently true that the great enlightened ones on this earth eliminate original sin and negative karma. But it is just as self-evident— and we all see this, every day in the media— that this does not help in the least unless each of us as individuals help the process along, with psychotherapy, ethics, prayer, meditation, and continuous exercises. Even though this earth has seen a long line of radiant, enlightened teachers (Rumi, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Francis, Rabia, Meera, Yeshe Tsogyel, Teresa, etc.), and even though each of them, according to their individual capacity and caliber, takes on original sin and purifies it for all the rest of us, this does not help one bit unless each individual lends a hand, too. Frankly, the world has not become a better place, and people have not improved, since the Buddha and the Christ. Rather the opposite— when seen from the ordinary levels of consciousness. Even though there are one billion Christians on the planet, and Christ has accepted the total load of original sin for all these one billion Christians, it doesn’t work. It is only when the individual does his share of the work (psychotherapy, prayer, ethical behavior, meditation, and continuous exercises) that it turns out, again and again, that at the right moment, when the mystery opens, the enlightened consciousness has already purified the negative karma and has taken and forgiven the original sin. But this divine function can only unfold when the individual human being has prepared himself or herself through existential transformation. The old teachers bear witness to the divine power of enlightened consciousness to eliminate original sin and negative karma for oneself and others. Master Eckhart speaks in the West: “Indeed, you might well turn away quickly and in a short time from all sins, so strongly and with such true revulsion, and turn so strongly to God that, though you had committed all the sins that ever were or shall be since Adam’s time, they would all be forgiven you, together with the punishment for them.…” Master Tulku Urgyen speaks in the East: “One moment in the purest rigpa can eliminate the accumulation of negative karma from a whole lifetime, or even from several lifetimes.”” (Kindle Locations 1046-1064; p.81-82) “Up to this point in the book, the description of the spiritual developmental process all the way to the process of enlightenment has been kept within the context of one lifetime, namely the present one. And— as it is emphasized for instance in both Christian and Tibetan mysticism— experience does show that it is possible for a person to realize the enlightenment process in one lifetime. However, Indian spiritual traditions (such as Vedanta, Jainism, Mahayana), among others, maintain that the process of spiritual enlightenment usually extends over several lifetimes, and that it is embedded in a more impersonal overarching developmental continuum. This development includes the process of the self through the progressive karma, as well as the collective karmic process at the level of joint consciousness.” (Kindle Location 1368-1374; p.106) On his informative Wikipedia page, on this Amazon page, and in this book, Bertelsen is presented as a lineage holder and master of the Dzogchen teachings.