The Highest Maha Ati Teachings

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in Great Britain



In the early 1960s the young abbot of the Surmang group of monasteries in Tibet came to Oxford to study fine art. He was part of the diaspora of Tibetan teachers forced to flee their homeland by the invading Chinese. This young abbot’s name was Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and he was the first genuine teacher of Tibetan Buddhism to come to the West.

He taught Buddhism at the highest level and was able to make the most profound teachings accessible to many people. I was fortunate enough to meet him in 1965, and when visiting him in Oxford with a friend, asked him some questions concerning a particular Tibetan text. He exclaimed: “You have brought me my own text!” and apparently as a result of this he decided to introduce us to dzogchen, the great perfection, or maha ati as he termed it. He began by addressing some very simple questions, and used his answers as a basis for developing the theme of the maha ati teachings in an extremely inspiring way.

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History of Dzogchen

Dzogchen, or The Great Perfection, is associated with the Tibetan Buddhist school of Nyingma (the oldest one of four main schools) and the Tibetan Bon religious tradition. We know very little about the actual and precise history of this tradition before perhaps the 8th century C.E.(as it has developed in both the Buddhist and native Bon lineages).  In the early 20th century a treasure trove of religious and secular documents were discovered in caves at Dunhuang, China (near the eastern Tibetan border) and from TIbetan documents, perhaps spanning the 5th Century C.E. to the early 11th Century C.E. when this cave was sealed, scholars are unraveling many clues trying to trace the actual origins of Dzogchen teachings and practices. It is mostly all a mystery though there are offered traditional histories with a lineage of teachers going back, in the case of the TIbetan Buddhist line, to Garab Dorje around 200 BCE and, in the case of the Bon traditional story, to Shenrab Miwok around 18000 BCE (not a typo!) in Central Asia lands perhaps to the west of current TIbetan boundaries.


Most Buddhist histories of Dzogchen start, though, with Padmasabhava and his work in TIbet during the latter half of the 8th Century.  And, this is when Buddhism was actually first introduced to Tibetans after King Tri Songdetsen invited an Indian Buddhist abbot named Santaraksita.  This reportedly agitated the “local spirits” so a Tantric Buddhist Master, the now iconic Padmasambhava, was invited to subdue or pacify them. When that was reportedly done, it became possible to establish the first Buddhist monastery at Samye in the year 779 C.E.


Historian Donald S. Lopez (from the University of Michigan, specializing in Tibetan and Buddhist studies) notes in the introduction to a collection of papers in a Princeton Readings in Religion book called “Religions of Tibet in Practice” (which Lopez was the editor for), page 4:

The history of Tibet prior to the seventh century c.e. is difficult to determine.  According to a number of chronicles discovered at Dunhuang dating from the seventh through tenth centuries, Tibet was ruled by a lineage of kings, the first seven of whom descended from the heavens by means of a cord or ladder.  Each king ruled until his first son was old enough to ride a horse, at which point the king returned to heaven via the rope……These kings founded a system of law that reflected the cosmic order of heaven.  As a literal descendent of heaven, the king was the embodiment and protector of the cosmic order and the welfare of the state.  The king’s stable presence on the throne thus ensured harmony in the realm.


Now, insofar as the origins of Dzogchen itself, that really seems to be a mystery, as a Religious Studies teacher from the University of Virginia noted in one of the papers in the above mentioned “Princeton Readings” related to Tibetan practices.  David Germano, page 293:

Its inception was in the eighth century under largely unknown circumstances, though its subsequent development was clearly a Tibetan phenomenon drawing on diverse strands from such sources as Chinese Chan, Indian Buddhism, Taoism, tantric Saivism, and indigenous religions.

And, going back to the introductory background history that the editor of this volume, Donald Lopez, wrote (page 25 of  the Princeton Readings volume on Religions of TIbet in Practice):

The Great Perfection doctrine does not seem to be directly derived from any of the Indian philosophical schools; its precise connections to the  Indian Buddhist tradition have yet to be established.  Some scholars have claimed a historical link and doctrinal affinity between the Great Perfection and the Chan tradition of Chinese Buddhism, but the precise relationship between the two remains to be fully investigated.  It is noteworthy that certain of the earliest extant Great Perfection texts specifically contrast their own tradition with that of Chan.


The above assessments were from 1997, when the book was published, and work is still ongoing in trying to resolve the many open questions related to Dzogchen origin and history.  Some examinations come from a scholar at the British Library where the focus is on studying Tibetan texts found in the Dunhuang caves.  And, in a bit, we will look at what he has found out, or perhaps best to say, figured out.


Buddhism came to Tibet when the Tantric movements in Hinduism and Buddhism were becoming widespread, adopted in all settings and with the added energy of often iconoclastic and unconventional “Mahasiddhas” wandering in particular the northern region of India.  Many of these figures would generate future teaching lineages, that survive to this day.  Tantritism represented a growing adoption of heavy ritualistic practices and a further taking up of various meditation tools, like mantras, mudras, mandalas for visualization and devotional identification with deified Enlgihtened Buddhas.   In line with growing popular or grassroots influence, deity worship was on the rise and that affected the practices and related imagery in what was a developing new major vehicle of Buddhism called “Vajrayana”.  Vajrayana Buddhism also dramatically elevated the role of a teacher to that of a vitally necessary Guru (“Lama” in the Tibetan context) The Guru was needed, due to the physics of things, for the initiation of disciples into the practices being shared with those wanting what was being represented as a very quick route to enlightenment.


 The body of literature associated with Vajrayana Buddhism is called “tantras” and with Buddhism being adopted by TIbet at a time when tantras were being added to the existing body of Buddhist literature, sutras (based on Buddha’s original teachings) and shastras (commentaries), Tibetan Buddhism would therefore become in the keeper of the Vajrayana flame after Islamic conquest chilled the Tantra movements in India after the 11th Century.


The kingdom of Oddiyana, the present-day Swat Valley in Pakistan, is thought to have been a major breeding grounds for tantric teachings (perhaps going back to the 3rd Century C.E.). Oddiyana was also reportedly the home of a Dzogchen Master named Sri Singha who (in the 8th Century) was a disciple of Manjushrimitra who in turn received the teachings from Garab Dorje, a figure whose historical existence is an open, even doubted, question. The traditional story describing the history of Dzogchen places Garab Dorje (in the Buddhist line of transmission, the first human teacher of Dzogchen) perhaps a couple of centuries before the beginning of the Common Era. So, historians have doubts about the accuracy of the early part of the traditional story.


Things are more clear, though, with events in the second half of the 8th Century, both in Tibet and in Oddiyana. And, this is when it was reported that Padmasambhava informed the King, who had formally invited Buddhism’s presence into Tibet, of the special Dzogchen teachings which could be had in Oddiyana. The king sent the translator Vairocana with a companion to secure these teachings from Sri Singha. Later another key figure in the Dzogchen lineage, a disciple of Sri Singha named Vimalamitra, was invited by the king to pass on further Dzogchen teachings in Tibet.


Sri Singha reportedly passed on many teachings (found in specific texts) to Vairocana, including (as noted by Namkhai Norbu and Adriano Clemente in the 1999 book The Supreme Source) the famous and very, very short “The Cuckoo of Awareness”. In the 1980s two Dzogchen texts were noticed among the many texts found decades before in the Dunhuang cave (where they were sealed up in the early 11th Century). One of the finds consists of the six lines of “The Cuckoo of Awareness” and a more extensive commentary on those lines.


Sam van Schaik, a scholar currently working at the British library on the International Dunhuang Project, describes the contents of The Cuckoo of Awareness (from his site,

The root text here is a mere six lines (indeed an alternative title is “The Six Vajra Lines”). Again, the emphasis is on non-conceptualization and the uselessness of any practice based on striving toward a goal. The commentary expands on the basic lines without departing from these themes. In addition the commentary is concerned to reinterpret certain tantric concepts, like ‘great bliss’, and the samaya vows, in terms of nonconceptuality and spontaneous presence. The six lines of the root text appear in other Dzogchen texts, including the Kunjed Gyalpo.

Many, if not most, of the identified “primary” tantras (or texts) remain untranslated into English but some like major excerpts of the above mentioned Kunjed Gyalpo have been published. In 1999, Namkhai Norbu (with co author Adriano Clemente) published those excerpts (with much background history) through Snow Lion Publications. Here is how the six lines of The Cuckoo of Awareness (or Presence, as titled by Namkhai Norbu) are translated in that book, from Chapter 31 of The Kunjed Gyalpo (which Norbu/Clemente translate as The Supreme Source, title of above book):

The nature of the variety of phenomena is non-dual
Yet each phenomenon is beyond the limits of the mind.
The authentic condition ‘as it is’ does not become a concepts
Yet it manifests totally in form, always good.
All being already perfect, overcome the sickness of effort.
And remain naturally in self-perfection: this is contemplation.


In the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism, Nyingma, there are 6 progressive paths, or “vehicles”, with teachings and practices in the first five of these focused on the purification and transformation of the practitioner’s condition. The three vehicles at the end of this list (Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga), the so called “internal” or higher Tantras, are described generally by Namkhai Norbu here in this 1989 Snow Lion Publication book, “Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State (p16):

are all generally know as ‘internal Tantras’, but in fact only the first two are tantric teachings, the principle of tantra being the transformation of the psycho-physical constituents of the individual into the pure dimension of realization. Atiyoga, which is synonymous with Dzogchen, is based on the path of self-liberation, and on the direct experiential knowledge of the primordial state. This subdivision of the Tantras is peculiar to the Nyingma school.


The three outer tantras (or vehicles: Kriya, Ubhava, and Yoga) entail practices of behavioral disciplines, yoga (including prostrations repeated to a high number) and visualization of enlightened deities in practices that include using mantras, breathing exercises, and mudras (hand positions). All of this is to ready the “body, speech (or energy), and mind” for what Namkhai Norbu (in Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State, p15) as “preparing oneself to receive the wisdom of realized beings”.


In “The Supreme Source” (Snow Lion Publications, 1999) Namkhai Norbu (the senior Dzogchen Master now alive on this planet) explains the focus and practices of the “inner, or higher, tantras” (p. 81-82):

Unlike the preceding tantras, those tantras denominated ‘inner’ by the ancient tradition and “higher” by the modern tradition have no concept of an ‘outer’ deity: the deity is only the symbol of the primordial state transmitted by the teacher during the initiation. This series of tantras is mainly known by the general name of anuttarayoga-tantra or ‘higher yoga tantras’ and its literature if far greater thant that of the outer tantras……And it is precisely the prevalence of the practice of one tantra or the other that characterizes the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, which are mainly subsumed in four traditions: Nyingma, Kagyud, Sakya, and Gelug. In fact, the differences between the various schools rarely lie in issues related to the sutric scriptures, which form the common philosophical framework with few theoretical divergences. Within the modern tantric tradition, the general division among the higher tantras is that of father, mother, and non-dual tantras. Underpinning this classification is the typically tantric view of the entire structure of phenomenal existence, of macrocosm and microcosm, as being in a constant state of equilibrium between two complementary forces. There are the ‘solar-feminine’ force (corresponding to the aspect of prajna, or energy) and the ‘lunar-masculine’ force (corresponding to the aspect of upaya, or method). The solar side pertains more to emptiness and the energy that represents the potentiality of manifestation of existence, while the lunar side symbolizes the aspect of clarity and, consequently, that of the more material level of manifestation. Whether a tantra is predominately tied to the former or the latter aspect determines its denomination respectfully as a ‘father’ or ‘mother’ tantra, while in the non-dual tantras, the two aspects are more balanced. This also refers to the greater or lesser importance attributed to the creation and completion phases, the stages that subsume all practice in tantra.

In the father tantras, for example, the principle means comprises the creation phase, or kyerim, that consists in the gradual visualization of the pure mandala dimension. The outer tantras too have the mandala, but with a different meaning and function…..[For example, the outer vehicle of] kriya tantra mandala is a representation of the ‘pure abode’ of Avalokitesvara as an outer dimension to be visualized, [while] the annuttaratantra mandala is a symbol of the inner dimension of the primordial state of the individual…..

Just now we mentioned the ‘pure abode’; what does this actually mean? It is a realized being’s pure vision. In fact, one should not thing that on the accomplishment of realization, nothing any longer exists. A realized being’s vision continues to exist, and this vision represents that being’s wisdom and is called that being’s ‘pure abode’ However, the higher tantras deem the pure dimension to be already present in potentiality in the intrinsic structure of the individual in the three vajras or ‘indestructible states” of body, voice (or energy), and mind. Everything existing inside and outside is only a symbol of the nature of these three states. Closing the eyes and other senses to external stimuli, in place of his or her ordinary body, the practitioner visualizes the mandala in the form of a celestial palace: at the center resides the deity, the practitioner’s primordial state of consciousness. Just as in a palace there can be several people engaged in various activities, the diverse energies and functions within the body are visualized in the form of sundry divine figures: the energy of the human body is recognized as being the same as the wisdom energy of realized beings. Thus all the deities are visualized within one’s own dimension in order to attain a pure or ‘divine’ vision of the aggregates, of the elements, of the sense bases, and of everything that constitutes the individual according to the Buddhist notion. This is the fundamental principle of the ‘transformation’ of impure vision into pure vision that is characteristic of the tantric teachings in general and is the crucial point of the practice of the father tantras.

As well as utilizing these practice methods as the base, the mother tantras are mainly concerned with the completion phase, or dzogrim, that consists in re-absorbing or integrating the pure mandala dimension with one’s ‘subtle’ body comprised of channels, prana, and vital essence. For this reason, the breathing methods and those of concentration on the chakras and channels are indispensable, together with perfect mastery of kundalini energy. In fact, the famous teachings known in the modern tradition as the ‘Six Yogas of Naropa’, especially widespread in the Kagyud school [of Tibetan Buddhism, one of four main ones], belong to dzogrim. These are: Tummo or ‘inner heat yoga’; Gyulu, or ‘illusory body yoga’; Wodsal, or ‘clear light yoga’; Milam, or ‘dream yoga’; Bardo, or ‘intermediate state yoga’ [the afterlife state before rebirth here or in some other dimension]; and Phowa, or ‘transference of consciousness yoga’…..

In all the higher tantras, the final point of realization is called Mahamudra, the ‘great symbol’ that transcends the separation between samasara and nirvana: everything is integrated in the knowledge of the ultimate nature of reality, a knowledge that comes about through the ‘symbol’ of the deity. Often there is talk of ‘union’…[where] the starting point is the concept of two discrete things to be united or brought together,…..[But] in the higher and more direct teachings such as Dzogchen, however, instead of union, one talks of the condition that is ‘beyond’ and ‘non-dual’: knowledge of the primordial state that from the very beginning constitutes the transcendence of dualism.

The ancient tradition [i.e. Nyingma school] has a particular subdivision of the inner tantras in three series: mahayoga, anuyoga, and atiyoga. The mahayoga series corresponds by and large to the higher tantras of the Modern tradition in their entirety. The anuyoga series still forms part of the path of transformation, but in a less gradual and more essential way that recognizes the basic principle of the self-perfection of the state of the individual. Atiyoga, finally, does not use the method of transformation and instead directly introduces the practitioner to knowledge of the nature of mind…

The scholar mentioned earlier (working at the British Library currently on a long term study of the Dunhuang texts) has appeared in his ongoing examination (including a long paper in 2004) has found that the “vehicles” or “tantras” described above developed thus (from

So when did Atiyoga become a vehicle? Moving on to the 10th century, there are a couple of texts from Dunhuang which do set out early versions of the nine vehicle system. Yet even here, though we see the beginnings of the standard distinctions between Mahāyoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga, these three are not yet called ‘vehicles’. The texts carry on presenting Anuyoga and Atiyoga as modes of Mahāyoga practice, without any specific content of their own.

As far as I know, the first sign of Atiyoga becoming a vehicle is in the work of the great scholar of Tibet’s “dark age”, Nub Sangyé Yeshé. But even in his work, this seems to be a tentative first step. In Nub’s Armour Against Darkness (written in the late 9th century) he treats the yogas of Mahā, Anu and Ati as systems (lugs) representing modes (tshul) of practice, and not as vehicles. In fact they are specifically characterized as the lower, middle and higher divisions of a single vehicle.

It is in the Lamp for the Eyes of Contemplation, which Nub wrote at the beginning of the 10th century, that he sometimes refers to Atiyoga as a vehicle. But he does so rather haphazardly. In his final summary of the differences between Mahāyoga and Atiyoga, he doesn’t call them vehicles (though he doesn’t call them modes either). In general the Lamp for the Eyes of Contemplation stands midway between the understanding of Mahāyoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga as modes of esoteric yoga, and the understanding of them as independent vehicles.

* * *

So far as I have been able to tell, there is no reliable source before the 11th century for the classic presentation of the nine vehicles as vehicles. Though such a source may yet come to light, I suspect that Atiyoga was not widely and consistently treated as a vehicle with its own specific practices before that time. By then a context existed in which some people (in the newly emerging Nyingma tradition at least) accepted this definition of Atiyoga. And this same context allowed Dzogchen to be understood as more than a way of doing deity yoga practice. It’s interesting to note, though, that even in the 13th century (and later) the idea of Atiyoga as a vehicle was controversial in other Buddhist schools. Sakya Pandita wrote in his Distinguishing the Three Vows that:

If one understands this tradition properly,
Then the view of Atiyoga too
Is wisdom and not a vehicle.

The above quote is from this article by the aforementioned scholar, Sam van Schaik:

Also, see his 2004 paper (42 pages) here:

One of the two Dzogchen texts noted so far in the extensive find of texts from the Dunhuang cave is called The Small Hidden Grain, by Buddhagupta and the translation of this short text, along with a link also to a translation of The Cuckoo of Awareness by Vairocana (who received it orally from Sri Singha), can be found here:

Decades of scholarship and translations and authorship by Keith Dowman, also a practitioner who first traveled to India from his home then in England in 1966, has provided an extraordinary and vivid picture of what was happening between the 8th and 12th Century in India. This was a period of immense creativity, as Dowman describes in his 1984 (SUNY published) book, “Masters of Mahamudra: The Eighty Four Mahasiddhas and the Path of Tantra”. The introduction to that book, providing the background, is online at and this excerpt outlines what was going on:

The evolution of Tantra into the dominant spiritual power in Indian life coincided with the growth of a terrible, destructive menace on India’s north-west frontier. At the beginning of the eighth century, when Arab power was supreme from Morocco to Sindh, in India the numerous inheritors of imperial Gupta glory were engaged in internecine conflicts, and Indian culture was in a state of decay. The old dispensation was vitiated, society taking refuge in inflexible caste rules and regulations; and as form and procedure governed social life, so ritual dominated religion and scholasticism the academics. There was no vital, united society to meet the threat of the fanatical Islamic armies who wreaked burning, pillage and massacre, and who were a new kind of enemy, compelling Islam or the sword. As a stream of Buddhist refugees brought tales of the destruction of Buddhist Central Asia to India, Tantra was increasing its influence, particularly in Oddiyana, the front-line state, and also in eastern India, where a new power, the Buddhist Pala Dynasty, was emerging. Was it coincidence that India took refuge in Tantra with its uncompromising non-dualist metaphysics, its school of spontaneous liberation, and its fierce flesh-eating, blood-drinking deities, during a period of incipient doom? Is it a further coincidence that, after rejecting Tantra for centuries, the West finds it increasingly acceptable as the notion of mankind’s extinction become credible?

Nearly four centuries passed between AD 711, when Sindh (S. Pakistan) was conquered, and the end of the twelfth century when the Buddha’s Tree of Enlightenment was finally desecrated by Turkish soldiers. Some critics maintain that the final blossoming of pure Hindu civilization between the eighth and twelfth century was the most magnificent achievement of India’s cultural history. During that period Tibet embraced Buddhist Tantra and the main part of the Buddhist tantric canon was translated into the Tibetan language, thus saving it from incineration in the great Indian libraries. Java was colonized and the great stupa at Borobodur was built. Although most of the artistic achievement at home was destroyed by the Muslims, the scripture of the Pala Empire (Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Assam), the ruins of the great academics built by the Pala Emperors, and the temples of Khajuraho, bear witness to the genius of tantric art. “Tantra” describes the ethos of Indian culture of this time; the men who embodied that ethos and the aims and ideals of the culture, the generators and directors of the creative energy that converted the people and transformed society, the guides and exemplars on the path of Tantra, these men were called siddhas. The eighty-four siddhas, whose lives and practices are described in these legends, were the siddhas who practiced the Buddhist Tantra, as opposed to the Tantra of devotees of Siva (saivas) or the Tantra of the worshippers of the Great Mother (saktas).

One of the four primary schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Kagyu, is based on a lineage of Mahasiddhas that begin when the famous 11th century figure Marpa the Translator had gone to India and studied with tantric masters like the equally famous Naropa. The “Mahamudra” referred to in the title of Dowman’s book refers to teachings and practices that are essentially on the same page as “Dzogchen” (which has its teaching and practice lineages manifesting in the oldest Tibetan school of Tibetan Buddhism, Nyingma).

Now, insofar as the development of Dzogchen, the story is somewhat fleshed out in the dividing of the literature and teachings of this tradition into three categories. The earliest texts are called the “mind series” (or “Semde). (There are about 20 texts listed in this category. Two, the Kunjed Gyalpo and The Cuckoo of Awareness–or Presence–have already been noted in this article, part one.) These texts confront directly, and stand apart from, the widespread Tantra practices involving efforts to purify and transform. Sam Van Schaik in his 2004 paper (introduced in part one of this article), The Early Days of the Great Perfection (published in the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies), reports that the “pristine and ritual free discourses…of the earliest mind series texts” were authored by “siddha-style yoga practitioners”.


Instead these, and later writings and teachings, emphasize beginning practice at the very start (at least for those with medium and high capacity) with a “direct introduction” (via an immediate experiential recognition) to the enlightened condition (of non dual Awareness). Then the practice entails stabilizing the recognition of, and abiding as, non-dual Awareness while both meditating and not meditating. And, finally, practice matures with a deepening integration of that Awareness with all circumstances and in the face of all possible experiences, “good” or “bad”. At this point, being present and undistracted is basically an effortless practice, spontaneously arising in each fresh “moment.” Thoughts, sensations, emotions, perceptions, and all experiences “self-liberate” naturally, allowed to pass away without forming the basis for fixated states.


The key three “vital points” that traditional stories recount Garab Dorje imparting to Manjusrimitra (not long after Garab Dorje died, so this is visionary based) are a simple statement describing the above. From “The Supreme Source” (1999; Namkhai Norbu and Adriano Clemente), p57:

According to the traditional texts, at the moment of his passing away Garab Dorje manifested as a body of light and entrusted to his disciple Manjusrimitra a small casket containing his testament in three aphorisms, subsequently known as “the three statements that strike the essence”:

Directly discover your own state.
Remain without any doubt.
Achieve confidence in self-liberation.

Each category of tantras is said to emphasize one of the these three phases in a maturing practice. At the same time, each nevertheless are also said to be inclusive in addressing all the phases with appropriate instructions. After the “mind series” (or Semde) tantras (of around 20, lists slightly vary), there is the “space series” (or Longde) tantras and finally the “secret oral instruction” series (or Menngagde).


While mind series tantras or texts seem to be products of the 8th through 10th centuries, the later space and secret oral instructions series are yet another example of the great creativity in the fashioning of helpful teachings and practices that are adaptations, expansions, and improvements on what came before. From the 11th century up to the very recent times, many texts were said to be discovered in places like caves after reportedly having been hidden back in the 8th century by figures like Padmasambhava after they became concerned over dark and suppressive times coming. They were intended to be rediscovered in more promising times, so it is said, where the teachings could flourish in a more positive setting. The simplicity of the mind series texts were thus expanded upon in the “space series”, where the practices were focused on the second phase (stabilizing the non-dual view) of the three phases of practice (as described in Garab Dorje’s three vital points). With the early mind series texts represented generally as addressing the first phase (direct introduction of the non-dual view), the last phase of the practice coming to fruition is fleshed out through the “secret oral instructions” tantras which provide even more teachings and practices. Also, the mind series tantras place an emphasis on the clarity and lucidity of intrinsic non dual awareness while the space series emphasizes the spacious and “empty” features of our primordial Nature. The secret oral instructions series includes a very closely held emphasis, due to its potential for disorientation without proper maturation in practice, and that is the togel practice focusing on, and undermining, the illusory sense of solidity to the objects of perception.


(It should be noted that many of the later tantras were written from visionary experiences said to be revelations from departed masters like Sri Shringa who lived in the 8th Century. The discoverers of hidden texts — which are called “terma” or treasure — are called tertons. Those writing teachings supposedly revealed by past Masters via vision are also called tertons.)


Many different Dzogchen teaching lineages have developed over the last 1000 years with the most relevant (for our purpose of reporting on meditation practices), and also most historically noteworthy, movement is described in one of David Germano’s articles in the 1997 Princeton Readings anthology of papers on Tibetan practices, page 293:

While historically there have been many variants of the Great Perfection in the Nyingma tradition, the most interesting is arguably the Seminal Heart (nyingthig) movement, which began in the eleventh century and was systemized in the fourteenth century by Longchenpa (or Lonchen Rabjam, 1308-1363). The tradition holds itself to be a revelation of hidden lineages brought to Tibet in the eighth century by the great Indian saints Vimalamitra [already noted as being sent by Sri Singha of Oddiyana to Tibet in the 8th Century] and Padmasambhava, but most evidence points to it instead being a Tibetan reformulation of The Great Perfection from the eleventh century onward. Nyingmas began to incorporate a wide variety of meditative systems (often transforming them in the process) within the Great Perfection under the influence of new Tibetan Buddhist tantric traditions, even while preserving its rehtoric emphasizing the non necessity of formal meditation practice in light of all beings’ primordial buddha nature.


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Definition of mind


Mind, in Buddhism, refers to mental activity, not to a “thing” that is the agent of that activity or to a “tool” that a “me” uses to engage in that activity. The definition of mind describes the activity from two points of view. Thus, the two aspects of the description are simultaneous functions, not sequential: the mental activity of producing or giving rise (‘ char-ba) to cognitive appearances (snang-ba), the mental activity of cognitively engaging (‘ jug-pa) with cognitive appearances. The former is usually translated as clarity (gsal) and the latter as awareness (rig).


Cognitive appearances do not refer to appearances of things “out there,” which we may or may not notice and cognize. They refer to how things appear “to the mind” when we cognize them. In a sense, they are like mental holograms. For example, in nonconceptual sensory cognition such as seeing, colored shapes appear, which are merely mental representations (snang-ba, mental semblances) or mental derivatives (gzugs-brnyan, mental reflections) of one moment of colored shapes. In conceptual cognition, a mental representation appears of the conventional object, such as a hand, that the colored shapes in that moment are the visual sensibilia of. A sequence of mental representations of a hand each second one inch further to the right appears as motion. In other words, cognitive appearances exist only within the context of mental activity. They do not need to be clear or in focus.


Moreover, cognitive appearances do not refer merely to the images that appear “in the mind” when cognizing visible objects with our eyes. They also refer to the cognitive appearances or arisings (shar-ba) of sounds, smells, tastes, physical sensations, thoughts, emotions, and so on. After all, it is mental activity that makes a sequence of consonant and vowel sounds arise as words and sentences.


Note that the expressions “things appear to the mind” or “in the mind” are merely manners of speaking particular to the English idiom and reflect a dualistic concept of mind totally different from the Buddhist model.


Cognitively engaging with cognitive appearances may be in any manner, such as seeing, hearing, thinking, or feeling them, and does not need to be conscious or with understanding. It may include ignoring something and being confused about it.


The definition also adds the word mere (tsam), which implies that mental activity occurs without a concrete agent “me” making it happen. It also implies that fleeting stains are not the defining characteristic of this activity. The superficial (kun-rdzob, conventional) nature of mental activity is merely producing and engaging with cognitive appearances; its deepest (don-dam, ultimate) nature is its voidness.


Further, mental activity is individual and subjective. My seeing of a picture and my feeling of happiness are not yours. Moreover, Buddhism does not assert a universal mind that we all are part of, that we all can access, or that our mental continuums (mind-streams) merge with when we achieve liberation or enlightenment. Even when enlightened, each Buddha’s mental continuum retains its individuality.


(Alexander Berzin).