The Supreme Source: The Fundamental Tantra Of Dzogchen Semde Kunjed Gyalpo

The Supreme Source: The Fundamental Tantra Of Dzogchen Semde Kunjed Gyalpo

by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, Namkhai, Adriano Clemente

The aim of Dzogchen is the reawakening of the individual to the primordial state of enlightenment, which is naturally found in all beings. The master introduces the student to his or her real nature already perfected and enlightened, but it is only by recognizing this nature and remaining in this state of recognition in all daily activities that the student becomes

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The aim of Dzogchen is the reawakening of the individual to the primordial state of enlightenment, which is naturally found in all beings. The master introduces the student to his or her real nature already perfected and enlightened, but it is only by recognizing this nature and remaining in this state of recognition in all daily activities that the student becomes a real Dzogchen practitioner of the direct path of self-liberation. In this book the Dzogchen teaching is presented through the tantra Kunjed Gyalpo, or "The King Who Creates Everything"—a personification of the primordial state of enlightenment. This tantra is the fundamental scripture of the Semde, or "Nature of Mind," tradition of Dzogchen and is the most authoritative source for understanding the Dzogchen view. The commentary by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu gives easier insight into the depths of these teachings. Adriano Clemente translated the main selections of the original tantra.

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From the Publisher
"An exceptionally well-written text, which could become the 'bible' of the Dzogchen teachings."—Explorations

"This material is profound, powerful, and far reaching, a direct teaching on 'that which transcends words and thought.'"—Religious Studies Review

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Chapter One



Dzogchen, an abbreviation of Dzogpa Chenpo, is a Tibetan term that means total completion, or perfection: the original state, or condition, of every living being whether or not they are aware of it. Dzogchen is one of the various names, and currently the best known together with atiyoga, or "yoga of primordial knowledge" (gdod ma'i rnal 'byor), of a very ancient teaching that clearly and directly communicates the nature of this original state. Examination of the literature in Tibetan currently available reveals that the Dzogchen teaching existed in Tibet at least as early as the eighth century in both its great religious traditions: Buddhism and Bön. The Dzogchen of the Buddhist tradition derives from the teacher Garab Dorje of Oddiyana, a region that many scholars have identified as the Swat valley in Pakistan, once a flourishing center of Buddhism. The Dzogchen tantras and teachings he transmitted were subsequently introduced into Tibet during the first spread of Buddhism in the eighth century, and they still form part of the canon of the Nyingma or "ancient" tradition, the Nyingma Gyüd Bum. Bön on the other hand had already existed for several centuries prior to the introduction of Buddhism. Although this tradition asserts that its founder, Shenrab Miwoche, who probably lived far earlier than Garab Dorje, transmitted the first Dzogchen teachings, as no written documents of sufficient antiquity are extant, it is difficult toestablish the chronological precedence of the Dzogchen scriptures of Bön or of Buddhism. In any case, study of the scriptures, transmission of the teachings, and realization of the practice have continued to our own day in both traditions. Following this brief mention, let us put aside Bön Dzogchen in order to focus our attention on the origin of Dzogchen as handed down within the Buddhist tradition.

    The Tibetan texts that recount the history of the Dzogchen teaching describe a threefold division in its mode of transmission: direct transmission (dgongs brgyud), symbolic transmission (brda brgyud), and oral transmission (snyan brgyud), respectively tied to the three kayas, or fundamental dimensions of existence. These are the dharmakaya, or dimension of the essence; the sambhogakaya, or dimension of the richness of qualities; and the nirmanakaya, or dimension of the manifestation. Underlying these modes, and in particular the direct transmission, is the notion of an absolute reality present in every being whence the whole manifestation of samsara and nirvana issues forth. Concerning this, in a work on the history of Dzogchen, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu has written:

Self-arising wisdom, the essence of all the Buddhas, exists prior to the division of samsara and nirvana and is beyond the limits of transmigration and liberation. As it transcends the four conceptual limits and is intrinsically pure, this original condition is the uncreated nature of existence that has always existed, the ultimate nature of all phenomena. It cannot be identified with a stable and eternal substance allowing the assertion "It is thus!" and is utterly free of all the defects of dualistic thought, which is only capable of referring to an object other than itself. It is given the name ineffable and inconceivable "base of primordial purity" (ye thog ka dag gi gzhi), beyond the conceptual limits of being and non-being. As its essence is the purity of original emptiness, it transcends the limits of being an eternal substance: it has nothing concrete and no specific characteristics to display. As its nature is self-perfection, it transcends the limit of nothingness and nonbeing: the clarity of light is the pure nature of emptiness. Thus, this natural condition of primordial enlightenment, which is the immutable state of dharmakaya, does not entail subdivision into samsara and nirvana. Self-arising wisdom, primordially empty, is in a condition similar to space, and it pervades all beings without distinction, from glorious Samantabhadra down to the tiniest insect on a blade of grass. For this reason the total state of dharmakaya, the inseparability of the two truths, absolute and relative, is called "the primordial Buddha"....

Even though in the condition of the base there is no separation or duality between samsara and nirvana, when its primordial energy manifests, it becomes the common ground of liberation and of delusion. Consequently, according to the guise it assumes, it is designated as nirvana or samsara, just like a vase that, even though it has no name, can be referred to in various ways according to the language one speaks.

    But then, one might ask, how does samsara arise? How does one enter the dualistic vision that is the cause of transmigration? The text continues by explaining that:

If, at the moment the energy of the base manifests, one does not consider it something other than oneself and one recognizes one's own state as the indivisibility of essence, nature, and potentiality of energy, the movement of energy self-liberates.... Understanding the essence that is the very nature of primordial enlightenment, one finds oneself always in this state: this is called "Samantabhadra," or "Immutable Light" ('od mi 'gyur), this itself is the "Primordial Lord" (gdod ma'i mgon po) perfect in his original condition.... Without color or form, beyond the limit of size, and transcending the duality of abode and of someone dwelling therein, it is the immutable nature of the fourth time, beyond past, present, and future, the infinite space of self-perfection endowed with the five perfect conditions for the transmission of knowledge until the end of time. This is the pure dharmakaya dimension, the essence of the vajra of clear light, that also contains the dimensions of sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya.

    As mentioned, the principle of the three transmissions is closely connected to the three dimensions, or kayas, of the state of enlightenment. In fact, as often explained in the Kunjed Gyalpo, it is from these three dimensions that the various types of teachings arise in congruity with the diverse capacities of beings. In particular, there is the explanation that the three series of inner tantras derive from the dharmakaya, the three series of outer tantras from the sambhogakaya, and the Mahayana and Hinayana sutra teachings from the nirmanakaya.

    For example, a History of the Dharma ascribed to Longchenpa states:

How does the fundamental nature manifest as pure dimension and as teacher in order to help beings? Because they do not understand the fundamental nature due to ignorance and erroneous conceptions, the beings of the three worlds accumulate actions and passions that produce various kinds of suffering. The Buddhas, who with the eye of omniscience perceive the suffering undergone by beings in the same way as a mother who loves her own son, help them with great compassion by manifesting the dimension of the body, the wisdom that abides therein, and beneficial activities ... [The tantra] The Unified State of Knowledge says:

The wisdom of the Tathagatas tames beings through compassion: From the altruistic aspiration of the three kayas Are created the three pure dimensions of the enlightened ones. The dimension of the dharmakaya is like space, Its name is "total all-pervasiveness," The teacher is Samantabhadra, Who transmits the teaching through the non-conceptual dimension and through the three inner tantras.


In the Akanistha palace of [Buddha] Vairocana, Like a king, the sambhogakaya teaches the Bodhisattvas The three series of outer tantras: kriya, ubhaya, and yoga, By means of the symbols of the manifestation it has taken on...

And further:

South of Jambudvipa [our world], nirmanakaya Sakyamuni Took on the form of a sravaka and taught various disciples The three sections of Sutra, Vinaya, and Abhidharma, Transmitting the teaching through the three analytical vehicles.

    The Vairo Drabag, which is believed to relate an ancient tradition, speaks of the transmission of the teaching through four kayas or dimensions: svabhavikakaya, or dimension of the fundamental nature, dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and the secret kaya, or dimension (gsang ba'i sku). However, this subdivision takes into consideration only the transmission of the Tantra and Dzogchen teachings.


The traditional texts assert that the promulgation of the Dzogchen teaching is not limited to the human world. For example, the tantra The All-surpassing Sound (sGra thal 'gyur) explains that it is found in no less than thirteen solar systems (thal ba) as well as our own, and describes minutely, albeit cryptically, the location of these worlds and the characteristics of the beings that inhabit them. Much better known, on the other hand, is the tradition that states that Garab Dorje was preceded by twelve teachers (ston pa bcu gnyis), described in the texts as nirmanakaya manifestations of the primordial Buddha Vajradhara. They lived in different times and places, from the remote epoch when the average life span was incalculable (a kind of mythical golden age) until the appearance of Sakyamuni Buddha in our Kali Yuga. Although they probably derive from a single ancient tradition, at times the lists of teachings transmitted by the twelve teachers do not concur. Moreover, some sources contain interesting details not found in others. For this reason, rather than quoting directly from one text, there follows a summary drawn from various sources which discuss this subject.

    1. At the time when the life span was incalculable, in the divine dimension called Gaden Tsegpa (Joyous Pagoda), all beings had bodies of light composed of the substance of the elements. They were born miraculously, did not wear clothes, and shone by their own light. To transmit the teaching to them, Buddha Vajradhara manifested as a white, eight-year-old child in the center of a golden, thousand-petalled lotus: his name was Khyeu Nangwa Samgyi Mikhyappa (Supreme Child Inconceivable Vision). On each petal of the lotus there appeared an emanation identical to the central one, and thus there formed one thousand emanations heralding the appearance of one thousand Buddhas in that fortunate kalpa. In the sky there appeared six million four hundred thousand stars heralding the appearance of an equal number of Dzogchen tantras. The seventeen stars that shone brighter than the others heralded the seventeen principal tantras. To the thousand Buddhas present as disciples, he taught the tantra The All-surpassing Sound (sGra thal 'gyur) with the voice of the bird of the deities, and the two divine Bodhisattvas Nyima Rabtu Nangwa and Gajed Wangchuk gathered the teachings.

    2. Gradually the life span started to diminish and the first tenuous passions arose, causing the decline of merit, and the light of beings abated day after day. Thus came the epoch when the life span was ten million years. In the dimension called Saha the beings were now born from five-colored eggs composed of the substance of the elements. They were perfectly endowed with the senses and all the limbs, and were as vigorous as sixteen-year-old youths. Tall as arrows, they were dressed in leaves and surrounded by a luminous aura. They all had miraculous powers and few passions, did not encounter material obstacles, and their food was of the substance of the four elements. Buddha Khyeu Wöd Mitruppa (Child Imperturbable Light) manifested as one of them. With the voice of Visnu "with five tufts," to two hundred thousand dakinis, as a sign that in future an equal number of female beings would be liberated thanks to his teachings, he taught the five tantras of the Body, of the Voice, of the Mind, of the Qualities, and of the Activities.

    3. Due to the passions, the light continued to abate, and the life span shortened further to one hundred thousand years. At that time, beings born from heat and humidity fell victim to the first illnesses, caused by the imbalance of the elements, and started to eat plants. In a place called Trödsher Düpa Wödkyil Pungpa (Mass of Light that Gathers Humidity) there was born among them Buddha Jigpa Kyoppai Yid (Mind that Protects from Fear). To six hundred thousand Bodhisattvas, as a sign that in future an equal number of male beings would be liberated thanks to his teachings, he taught The Emptying of Samsara ('Khor ba dong sprugs), The Peacock's Entwined Neck (rMa bya mjing snol), The Exhaustion of the Four Elements ('Byung bzhi zad pa) and other tantras, barely whispering them, like the buzzing of bees conveyed on the wind.

    4. The life span became even shorter, and the passions were becoming ever stronger. Beings' bodies lost their light and thus the sun and the moon appeared. When the average life span had become eighty thousand years, because of desire and attachment the sexual organs sprouted forth: at first, looking at each other was enough to satisfy desire, then it became necessary to hold each other's hands, and finally beings coupled and procreated. Hence beings started to dress in cotton or in tree-bark and to eat the fat of the earth; however, their avarice was such that after a while it was all consumed. So they started to eat rice, but since the feeling of I and mine became ever stronger, hatred and pride caused even this food to disappear. In that epoch, in the place called Chagjung Ngaldu Nangwa (Apparition in the Womb of Conception) Buddha Zhönnu Rolpa Nampar Tsewa (Young Manifestation of Compassion) was born from the uterus, like everybody else, in the form of a ten-year-old child. To one thousand yaksas he taught eleven tantras: the five root tantras and six secondary tantras of Semde.

    5. When the average life span became sixty thousand years, in the dimension of the Thirty-three Gods, the Buddha Sixth Vajradhara was born as a divine Bodhisattva. In the enchanting garden of the Young Doctor ('Tsho byed gzhon nu) he transmitted to the seven heroic Buddhas of our epoch teachings on the six, three, and eighteen paramitas that embraced methods both with and without effort, including the tantras of Dzogpa Chenpo. After having remained among the devas for seventy-five years he left his testament to his disciple Norzang and entered parinirvana where he was absorbed in samadhi for seven thousand years.

    6. After seven thousand years he reawakened, and moved by compassion towards beings, he was reborn as the son of a yaksa and a fierce dakini in the dimension of the Cemetery of the Secret Manifestation in the terrifying place of the yaksas northeast of Mount Meru. It was the epoch when the average life span was sixty thousand years. He had the appearance of a frightful dwarf with three faces and six hands that held the worlds of the six classes of beings, and his name was Zhönnu Pawo Tobden (Young Powerful Hero). He taught to the seven Bodhisattvas "having the force of clouds" (so called because they listened immersed to the navel in clouds) and to countless dakinis, devas, and nagas the Tantra of the Spontaneous State of Pure Presence (Rig pa rang shar) and other tantras. He remained among them for a thousand years, and after having left his testament to the yaksa Legchöd, he entered parinirvana. He remained in samadhi for one hundred thousand years.

    7. When the average life span had become ten thousand years, he reawakened from his samadhi and was reborn in the dimension of the raksasas on earth in a place to the west where there were many Bodhisattvas. He was called Trangsong Tröpai Gyalpo (Wise Wrathful King) and in the cave that spontaneously radiated the sound "rulu" he transmitted to ten million raksasas the "ten tantras to subjugate gross negativities" and other teachings. He left no testament, and at the end of his life he became reabsorbed in samadhi. He remained so for fifty thousand years.

    8. Then the average life span became five thousand years, and in the place on this earth called Vulture Peak he was reborn in a royal family and was named Ser Wöd Tampa (Supreme Golden Light). At the age of twenty-five, before a stupa he cut his own hair, taking the vows by himself. Then he transmitted the Vinaya and Prajñaparamita teachings to countless sravakas.

    9. When the average life span became one thousand years, in the land called Yui Minmachen (With Turquoise Eyebrows) in northern Mongolia, near a bodhi tree that had grown next to a self-arisen stupa, Tsewe Rolpai Lodrö (Intelligence Manifestation of Compassion) was born. To his disciples—countless Bodhisattvas that had achieved the eighth bhumi,—he transmitted the 'seven special tantras," including The All-creating King (Kun byed rgyal po) and Total Space (Nam mkha' che). He remained there one hundred and twenty years.

    10. When the average life span became five hundred years, from the world of the Thirty-three Gods, Buddha Kasyapa the Elder chose to take birth in the human world to alleviate the suffering of old age. So in the place called Vulture Peak, he gave many teachings, including the anuyoga scriptures, to seven disciples who had taken on the form of arhats. He remained there seventy-five years and then went to practice asceticism, remaining in the lotus posture for seven years. At the end of his life he left no mortal remains, dissolving into a body of light. He left his testament to the brahmin Gön Sem.

    11. When the average life span became three hundred years Buddha Ngöndzog Gyalpo (Perfected King), the son of a brahmin expert in the Vedas, was born at Vajrasana (Bodhgaya). To the Bodhisattvas Mañjusri, Avalokitesvara, and Vajrapani and to other disciples he transmitted all the teachings regarding the real condition and other tantras. After having taught for twenty-five years, he entered parinirvana manifesting the ordinary signs of death in order to display to his disciples of lower capacity the truth of the suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death.


Excerpted from THE SUPREME SOURCE by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Adriano Clemente. Copyright © 1999 by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and Adriano Clemente. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"An exceptionally well-written text, which could become the 'bible' of the Dzogchen teachings."—Explorations

"This material is profound, powerful, and far reaching, a direct teaching on 'that which transcends words and thought.'"—Religious Studies Review

Meet the Author

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu is a Tibetan master of the Dzogchen tradition. He has been a professor at the Oriental Institute of the University of Naples, Italy, and is the author of many books, including The Crystal and the Way of Light, The Supreme Source, and Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State.

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