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.

I asked Rinpoche whether life or existence had any meaning or significance and even why there was anything at all. He quoted from a text by a Kadampa master (a master of one of the oldest schools of Tibetan Buddhism), which stated that “there is no purpose.” He said that to look for a purpose is always to look elsewhere, away from what he called the immediacy of Being. To him, Being was something primordial, timeless, and yet immediately present. Being was not to be found in anything other than the immediacy of experience, yet it had a dimension of vast vision not present in the momentary, passing aspect of experience.

He said that all true creativity and significance came from this immediacy and from nowhere else. There was a natural process of movement within Being, a central expression of fresh creativity that somehow presented the truth and value of Being to itself through the medium of the person. As to the question why there was anything at all, he said that if you were to try to describe the nature of reality, you could speak of it in terms of an ever-yielding space, movement within that space, and a quality of aliveness permeating both. These three qualities were really not independent of each other, only described separately for convenience. The ever-yielding space suggests an intrinsic quality of movement and a certain sensitivity to it; movement implies space in which movement takes place and an aliveness giving
rise to it. To be alive always implies a sense of movement and unfoldment.

Rinpoche said that my very questions arose from the play of these three qualities, and that the three qualities were basic to the whole process of questioning itself. He said that within beings there was a great sadness and that the cause of the great sadness was the loss of awareness of our true home, going astray, losing our way in a jungle of confused emotions, projections and misunderstandings. The going astray occurs at some deep level where we have mistaken Being for our ordinary sense of self. It is as though the snare of our self-delusion has trapped us so completely that escape seems virtually impossible. Yet in another sense nothing has really happened at all; for we remain ineluctably embraced within the sphere of Being and can never be apart from the naturalness of its movement.

The essence of the problem could be summed up in the phrase “I can be liberated from the snare of delusion.” This implies an actual state of delusion to which the self is subject, and a process by which the delusion can be removed. Feeling ourselves to be imprisoned in some way, whether by external or internal conditions, a primary question that needs to be answered is whether the self as we commonly think of it really exists or not. This is what we might describe as the first challenge to a developing sense of vision, the true vision of Being.

Rinpoche said: “Fundamentally there is no snare of delusion; never was, never will be. It is the desperate struggle of ego to free itself from a sense of imprisonment that creates all the confusion. There has to be surrender, but you can’t surrender to yourself and you can’t surrender to an external projection of goodness, like God. It has to be to another person.

Rinpoche said that one could meet in this world members of a lineage of wise and loving beings to whom this surrender could be made, a surrender which eventually would involve giving up ego. Rinpoche said that it was not necessarily an easy matter to find such a person and to make the right connection, and even if this were to occur, undertaking the necessary training was not itself without pitfalls and dangers. Nevertheless the student would have to follow the path to the end for the truth of Being to be realized.

This person of the lineage would be a teacher of meditation, but they would also have to be much more. They would have to be able to inspire in the student a way of living that penetrated all the activities of the individual so that the whole life, whether mental, physical, emotional, sexual, social, cultural, or even financial, had to be given over to the Way of Being and to appreciating its movement. Finally, the lineage person would have to appear as an embodiment of Being itself and all their actions taken to exemplify the natural, ungraspable movement of Being.

The sense of a developing vision of Being creates great sadness, and an intense distress comes from a sense of oppression by external and internal conditions, by delusion and by ego itself. This is felt not only personally but in relation to the fate of others. Maha ati was described by Rinpoche as having the power to cut through this oppression, showing the distress to be in fact a self-inflicted wound. However, the great sadness within beings can never be removed, even at the highest level of maha ati, since whenever there is a conditioned sense of time and space there is loss of awareness. It is like an irritant that acts on the natural responsiveness of sensitivity, giving rise to the pearl of great price, unending love and compassion.

To truly realize this in its full immediacy requires a complete openness toward the inspiration of the lineage teacher at the highest level. If you do not have this then there is the sense of a path to be followed rather than instantaneous accomplishment as is sometimes mentioned in maha ati texts. The touchstone is a complete faith or trust in the immediacy of the truth of the words of the lineage teacher. If you have this in full measure then truly the fruit is instantaneous. It is part of the tradition of great compassion of maha ati not to stop or not to remain at the Olympian summit of the ultimate view, but to show students how to enter and proceed along the path that leads to its realization.

It seems a good idea at this point to outline some of Rinpoche’s teachings on this aspect of maha ati. In the beginning of this introduction I described how Rinpoche took my basic questions and used them as a basis for maha ati. In the next section I describe this same process in more detail and try to show how it concerns the relationship between views about reality and proceeding along the path. I then describe how Rinpoche developed the upaya tantra out of the basic realities of natural human existence and the meditative simplicity of formless meditation. This is astonishing, since the upaya tantra is the union of the higher tantras, and formless meditation is the most basic of all meditations. By doing this, Rinpoche shows the great profundity of formless meditation.


The Initial Appreciation of the Great Perfection

Trungpa Rinpoche said that the highest teaching of the Buddha was the great perfection, maha ati. He said that this was a teaching of great simplicity and accessible in some degree to everyone. It is from this great simplicity that all the basic questions concerning meaning and our own sense of wonder about existence arise. We feel that these questions must have answers and that somehow these answers are within our grasp.

In the first flush of enthusiasm we feel certain that answers are forthcoming, but then there is a sense of disappointment. It seems that the answers we were looking for never quite arrive. However, the reason for this seems to be that we are looking in the wrong place. The answers take the form of direct, life-changing experiences; so while there are answers to our questions, they are not at all what we had in mind. They are not some new theory about life or the universe.

From the point of view of the great perfection, which is the most basic form of simplicity, the answer to these questions is to be found in the same place from which the questions themselves arose, so we do not need to seek anywhere else than in the simplicity and directness of our own Being. However, due to the basic split in our own natures, the split between the ego as subject looking at the rest of the universe as object, or between the mind that seems to be internal and the physical universe that seems to be external, we become lost in a maze of conceptional complexity. This leads us astray into areas where the simple directness of the original home, where all questions are brought to rest and all answers are to be found, is lost.

Searching for the solution in experience itself is gradually seen as passing beyond looking for a solution in the internal or the external. No internalized process of self-annihilation or self-abnegation will help, nor will devotion to or reliance upon an external god or divine being.

It is gradually understood that a path evolves from the core of simplicity moving from a sense of not having understood the genuine significance of experience and what its fundamental nature is, to an evolution in the general direction of an understanding of both, until this evolvement is complete and full understanding has reached fruition. Thus the initial state of great simplicity from which the basic questions arise is the ground, the evolution toward the goal of compete understanding is the path, and the final state of complete evolvement of understanding is the fruit.


Initially the person who is trying to reach this simplicity of understanding has to move away from the confused projections that act both outwardly and inwardly. There has first of all to be a focus on and an acknowledgement of the pure simplicity of awareness itself. To accomplish this, it is best to allow the mind to flow freely and to acknowledge the simplicity of awareness when the mind plays in its field of many projections. This process is what is called meditation. Although the person walking along this path is still at this stage considerably fixated on internal and external projections, some understanding of the nature and omnipresence of awareness begins to dawn. The tight grip of ego begins to loosen its hold, and a certain appreciation of the irony of existence begins to arise.

Nevertheless, the student of awareness may feel that traversing the path is like a kind of super-psychotherapy, particularly in the Western milieu. This may take the form of considering the path to be merely the promoting of emotional and mental health and gaining and increasing the stability of the personality.


Eventually awareness and understanding increase until there is some sense that both what seems internal and what seems external are really based on awareness itself. This represents a complete change in worldview. Up to this point the tendency was to think of awareness as simply of the mind or as the stream of thoughts. Now there is a recognition that awareness is vaster in scope than the thinking process, but this is at the level of an intuitive conviction rather than actual knowledge. The actual acknowledge is confined to experience of the mind and the world about us. However, there is recognition that there is much to do as regards traversing the path; fruition still seems far off.

We still feel that our love and hate are directed to external independently existing realities in the world, although at some level a conviction begins to grow that it is love and hate that create the apparently loved and hated objects as emotionally graspable entities. We then develop an attitude of attraction or repulsion to these objects. This is opposite to how we normally think, in which external objects are just given as externally and independently existing, to be grasped at or rejected according to how we feel about them. The idea that the objects arise as they do because of the grasping or rejecting mind is a drastic shift in the way we view the universe.


As the student proceeds along the path, the central importance of awareness begins to grow and become more and more significant. It may seem paradoxical, but as this centrality is perceived more and more clearly, awareness and the multitude of projections naturally associated with it become increasingly transparent and less real in the way normally considered. In fact, up to that point, there had been unthinking reliance on the totality of projections as the real and true universe, both at an internal and at an external level. It is a shocking revelation for the student of awareness to realize the complete falseness of this unthinking, but strongly held, emotional assumption. The universe is now experienced as ungraspable and the apparent reality of projections begins to collapse.

We begin to realize that this is not just a particular view that the mind has of the universe, but is a true seeing of the nature of the universe itself. The universe will then seem to the student of awareness to be like a great void and a source of terror, but persistence in the path of truth eventually leads to the ability to rest in the primordial simplicity that does not need the security of reference points. However, it is only when the student begins to focus on experience that this truth of ungraspability is seen. When this focus is not present, projections may appear as they normally do. So, once again, there is still the sense of traversing a path; although understanding is present, it is by no means complete and fruition is some way off.


Proceeding even further the sense of emptiness grows within the student and appears as extremely real, indeed, realer than any other experience the student has had up to this point. It appears as it does because of the tremendous contrast between the falseness of the projected universe and the universe in its true nature. The falseness of the projected universe appears so complete as normally not to leave room for any doubt about its being the truth, whereas the universe in its true nature has never before been experienced.

However, the true nature of the universe is the unrecognized backdrop against which all the projections took place, which in some sense gave them their appearance of life. As time goes by and the student becomes more used to this true state of affairs, the sense of emptiness begins to fade, for after all it was simply the absence of falsity which hitherto had been taken to be real. As the real becomes more and more vividly present, the sense that there ever was a delusion at the heart of experience begins to disappear. The original craziness of the delusive appearances was remedied by the medicine of emptiness, but this emptiness was not anything as such and must itself be abandoned when its work is done. Thus when reality is truly seen, the experience of emptiness vanishes.

On beginning to mature into this last stage, the student begins to see that all views about reality are false, no matter whether simple or complex, superficial or profound, narrow or vast, it makes no difference. Actions do not need to be linked to a particular view of reality. Actions that arise now begin to arise free of egocentric involvement, so naturally love, compassion and wisdom become spontaneous.

The student could be thought of as like a child seeing reality free from views; thus the student’s vision has a supernal freshness about it, like the vision of a landscape just refreshed and cleansed by rain. Still, there is the sense of needing to be free of views concerning reality; there is a sense of suspicion that the grasping mind may be active, so some part of the path needs to be traveled.


The student has now reached the point of the utmost simplicity and directness, except that there is some sense that this position has to be maintained against possible invasion by views. It is only finally that there is the recognition that when abiding truly in this state of utmost simplicity and clarity, the arising of views is not itself the problem; it is the attachment to those views, the believing them to be real, that would cause the re-arising of delusion. It might appear that this is the end of the process of traversing the path. It is certainly true that the student may give rise to tremendous confidence in this way of considering reality, but it still seems that there is the possibility of views being taken as real and that delusion may re-arise.


The traversing of the path has always required some kind of effort. Although this process develops understanding and gradual relaxing of the tight grip of ego, the very effort to practice the path still involves the student with some kind of ego-centered reference point.

The closed system of ego-centered activity can only be broken from outside; in other words, some quality of otherness has to enter into it. Obviously this cannot be just any kind of otherness for something inanimate will not be able to make sufficient communication to the student for ego to be surrendered or transcended.

The otherness has to take the form of a living presence, and the most obvious source of this living presence of otherness will be some being in the external world. Again, because of the necessity of clear communication this will be another human being, but again, not any human being will do; this human being must be someone who has themselves traversed the path and so is able to genuinely inspire others to do the same.

Naturally the student will generally have had a teacher right from the outset, because there are various techniques of meditation and practice that are beneficial and need to be learned from someone who has already practiced them. However, for a student who has reached the stage mentioned above, the function of the teacher is rather different. The teacher becomes the living embodiment of the path and the fruition. The teacher as living inspiration is more important than the teacher as instructor of practical techniques.


The student must have the confidence that ordinary views about the universe will not rise up again. The universe itself needs to be transformed in such a way that it appears only in an unconfused form. This is a process by which the confused universe is transformed into the universe of awareness. By basing oneself on the inspiration of the guru in this last sense, one practices by special methods, and the universe becomes transmuted into the completely awakened state. Sometimes this process is described not as one of transmutation, in other words not as if the lead or iron were transformed into gold, but rather that the removal of leadness or ironness would allow the true underlying golden quality to shine forth by itself.

Generally speaking, the effect of the guru’s inspiration may not work all at once, so there is still some sense of traversing a path to the point where the transmutation or removal of the superficial dross is complete.


The whole of our world is based on passionate involvement: passionate involvement with ideas, emotions, particular ways of treating experience, particular ways of seeing the world, with parents, with children, with friends, relations, with politics, religion, ideas of race, cultural values, with emotionally held views of all kinds, because in fact all views are emotionally held.

But the subtlest forms of passionate involvement are those that involve convictions about the nature of reality, held so strongly that they are not so much viewed as passionate convictions but as the nature of reality itself. Examples of these are the belief in the self in the ordinary sense, the belief in the concreteness of the external world, notions of the three times, notions of far and near, and so on. All these are viewed as simple statements about the nature of reality, they are not really considered beliefs. However they are beliefs, albeit held with the uttermost form of passionate conviction.

It is this passionate aspect of reality, associated at its most fundamental level with creation and destruction, life and death, the one and the many, existence and nonexistence that is at the root of all our notions of causality. In other words, our ordinary notions of cause and effect are inseparable from our passionate involvement with the world. It is from this basic space of passion that our volition arises and then returns, dissolving back into that same space of passion. At this most subtle level of experience, there remains only the reference point of causality itself. From this basic passion all worlds, pure and impure, arise.

At this point the guru enables the naturally existing power of the student to focus so as to benefit others, to withdraw when such a presence is not necessary, and to appear when it is. This most subtle level of causality associated with the appearance or absence of what is of benefit to others in the world is the most profound reference point of all. Nevertheless, even this reference point could be thought of as an unnecessary complication of existence.


At this level there is the final abandoning of attachment to any reference point, however profound or vast. This should not be taken to imply that internal and external objects, the senses and mind itself, views, convictions, and reference points, including even the most profound reference point of passion, do not appear in some sense. However, when they do so there is no grasping present; to the Western mind this is usually taken to mean that there is a repulsion or revulsion from such things, that they are to be negated, their existence denied somehow. This is not implied by nongrasping here. There may indeed be exhibited a passionate involvement in a particular way of viewing the world but within this passionate involvement there is a cool center of dispassion, of indestructible Being. This means that although the passionate involvement is real, and indeed realer than any passionate involvement that the ordinary person may have, there is what we might term an inspiration or intuition of the intrinsic ungraspability of all apparent phenomena.

Without the guru to finally introduce the student to the nature of this indestructible Being, no realization of the great perfection, the maha ati which is no different from enlightenment itself, would be possible.

This is the final stage of the path when the path has come to an end: the ground of the most basic and simple inspiration, the path which is a movement that never moves apart from the sphere of Being and the fruit as the sense of finality itself are all realized as one.

This is why we can speak of everything being naturally perfect, everything remaining in its natural state just as it is. This is the state of complete openness to all apparent phenomena, a naturalness beyond grasping or attachment.

In this state of absolute spontaneity every volition that arises is part of the mandala of the great dance of all apparent phenomena. There is now no need to think of insufficiency or incompleteness; notions or thoughts such as “it is still necessary to progress further along the path” are totally beside the point and finally brought to rest. All activities which might formerly have been seen as contributing to progress along a path are seen now as simple, naturally arising volitions having no force of attainmentness behind them.

This is the guru’s final gift to the student, the natural confidence that all actions, thoughts, concepts, and convictions, are part of the Tree of Life; everything that arises and all acts that are performed have the natural and profound significance of awakening itself.


Upaya Tantra:

The Union of Natural Human Experience and Formless Meditation


The ground of the upaya tantra is the ordinary reality of natural human existence: birth, growing up, sexual maturity, conceiving of children, birth of children, sickness, old age, and death. This is the round of life, the round of birth and death, the round of ordinary human existence.

Human beings are naturally passionate about many things: the personal relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, pupils and teachers, the different levels of society and their members, and so forth. There is the life of the intellect and of learning, the life of physical activity, the world of art and science, and the process of discovery and exploration in all its senses. There is passion concerning mental, emotional, and physical health, the growth and nurturing of crops, the management of natural resources, financial, commercial, and related activities; all that is summed up in the phrase “making a living.” Politics, religion, philanthropic activities, laws that govern human relationships such as marriage, property, and so on, the role of a police force and an army; it would seem that the channels for our passion are endless. Important, too, are the areas of play, entertainment, and enjoyment. It should not be forgotten that passion also has a negative aspect that seeks to destroy or disrupt these activities.

Last but not least, dignity in the expression of these activities is a central theme of human society, as of course is any loss of dignity that might occur. All are natural to what it is to be human, and it is this maelstrom of passion that is the ground from which the true path emerges.

This round of birth and death is found at all levels of existence and even buddhas expose the cycle of existence to us. This is the natural expression of the whole of existence; supersamsara, as Rinpoche called it. This basis of the upaya tantra manifests primordially in all sentient beings and, as the potential for the path, exists in all beings equally.

In actually practicing the upaya tantra, the profound meaning of the formless meditation is the view, and merging this view of the meditation itself with everyday life is the activity.

Thus it is formless meditation that is the primary practice in the upaya tantra, and its profound meaning is the truth of the three spheres. At this profound level, the formless meditation is thought of as an expression of the natural path of spontaneity, rather than a practice as such. The fruit is simply the recognition that nothing further is to be added and nothing needs to be taken away from the spontaneously existent state of Being, the movement within which produces all the apparent manifestations of supersamsara.

At the level of the fruit, rest in the sphere of Being beyond notions such as practice or any need of self-perfection. This is the ultimate level of formless meditation.


Being can be said to have an inner sphere, an outer sphere, and a sphere that mediates between them. The inner sphere is the source of both the creativity of the person and all their qualities, radiating to the outer sphere as a wave of action. Most importantly, it is also the source of the indestructible sense of truth, called rigpa or vidya. The out-breath creates a connection going from the internal aspect of the individual to the outer world, from Self to Other. This inner sphere should not be confused with mind in the ordinary sense, although perhaps this is a necessary starting point.

The outer sphere is the source of Other, the external world, mysterious in the sense that it is beyond our personal control and can always surprise us. The freshness of new experience flows from this outer sphere to the internal aspect of ourselves, just as the inbreath flows to us without any sense of ambition on our part. This is the external World connecting to the internal aspect of the individual, from Other to Self. In the ordinary conditioned world of experience, we tend to take the outer sphere to be the external universe as we know it. Although tempting, and perhaps again a necessary starting point, this misidentification may lead us to think that the outer sphere is merely external space.

The sphere that mediates between the inner and outer spheres is the person. The person is the dynamic play of awareness, the wisdom of Self and the wisdom of Other, playing between the two spheres. It is both center and periphery of the mandala of formless meditation and in some sense could be described as nothing whatever and yet in another sense the hub of the universe of experience.

In Buddhism we say that within ourselves we have three innate tendencies: to create an internal aspect called mind, an external aspect called the environment, and a mediator between the two, which we call the body. These three aspects, created by the appropriate tendencies, exist for all beings, and the three spheres are their profound meaning. This indestructible quality of the three spheres links directly to the upaya tantra; the outer sphere corresponding to mahayoga, the inner sphere to atiyoga, and the sphere that mediates to anuyoga. Actually these three yogas are a unity, and it is wrong to assign maha, anu, and ati to particular spheres; it is simply used as a device to promote understanding.

We might say that the upaya tantra is the union of mahayoga, anuyoga, atiyoga, and that maha ati is the essence of that union, in which all are able to express their appropriate functions harmoniously.


The innermost essence corresponds to the principle, the touchstone of truth that exists within every person. This is misperceived because of our confusion but is always there and can never in the very nature of things be completely overlooked or hidden. This is what corresponds to the self-arisen wisdom as referred to by the great fourteenth-century Nyingma master Longchenpa; it is also referred to as the buddha nature, not fundamentally different from the awakened heart of Being in its absolute sense.

In the ordinary person this wisdom manifests as the search for what is real, the search for truth. Everybody has that, even if they are not looking for truth in some deep or profound way. A connection to this touchstone of truth is needed by everyone simply to know the difference between truth and lies and the difference between what is true and what is false with regard to appearances, and even at the grossest level it is still the touchstone of reality for the individual. We could say that in some fundamental sense it arises directly from what we are, from the deepest level of our Being, for without it, it would be impossible to survive in the world.

We may try to find truth in places of learning, meeting religious teachers, ordinary secular teachers, in the teaching we receive from mother and father. They may teach us many different things, but nevertheless it is the same process for determining truth that is going on continuously, and our sense of what is true and what is false in their teaching comes from the same profound level. This is all very fundamental to us. In some sense it is not really different from the deepest part of ourselves, not different from the real essence of our own Being. Yet, in spite of this, the nature of truth is not seen clearly because of our confusion.

The outer sphere corresponds to the environment around us, and that environment takes the form of the way we work with the world. We wish to control the world or at least bring it into harmony with ourselves; we wish to enhance our relationship with it, bringing added richness to our environment. We want to charm and attract things in the world to us, want to repel certain others, want to use our bodies to do this, along with our minds and the strength and power of our emotions. In these ways we want to influence the outside world, to gain knowledge from it, and to impose our will upon it, even if some kind of destruction is necessary. Concurrently we also have the desire to nurture and foster what we believe is congenial. Thus the power to influence the external world or the environment is important for the wave of action that goes from the inner to the outer sphere.

Beyond this wish to manipulate the external world there is truth at a profound level that wells upward from the inner sphere as a search for truth in a more external sense, such as looking for a teacher or guru who will lead us to discover truth ever more deeply. There is a sense in which to reveal more of that profound internal truth connects us to truth in the outer sphere. It is perhaps not out of place here to recall Polonius’s advice to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.


So it is as though a wave of truth proceeds from the internal aspect through the body and out into the world, returning like a reflected wave on a lake, passing back through the body into the internal aspect, where the discrimination of truth concerning the outer world is made. This to and fro action of the wave of truth is the profound activity of the three spheres of existence, the profound meaning of the rhythm of the in-breath and out-breath.

Buddhism is based on this natural force of truth, which is both communication and action, for it is just the natural aspect of What Is, what corresponds naturally to mind, body, and environment at some deep level. Whether enlightened or unenlightened, pure or impure, there is always some kind of mind or internal aspect, some kind of environment or external aspect, and some kind of body that plays between them. This seems inescapable at all levels.

There is no doubt that we have our needs and our desires and that we wish to express them and that we do this through our sense of truth, and do it in a passionate way, and this passionate way involves us in life and death. The appearance of the world, the appearance of manifestation, involves us in life and death; we cannot avoid that. So once again all this is just given, we don’t have to create it through meditation or practice.

Thus sexuality, birth, life, death, are all part of the inescapable play of reality which unfolds constantly from within ourselves, whether we like it or not. The painful quality of experience, the joyful quality, love and compassion, sadness and poignancy; all are also inescapably part of the nature of things, and nothing to do with subscribing or signing up to a system of beliefs. Passion flows between the three spheres, and the flow between the three spheres is passion itself. However, in the upaya tantra, passion has at its heart a cool, unbiased quality of awareness not to be found in the ordinary nature of passionate emotion.

We wish to try to control the environment by various means. This is perfectly natural to beings, and Buddhism can be seen in many ways as a natural and ultimate expression of this tendency. What could be more wonderful than controlling the environment by creating a world suitable for the benefit of others?

There is a cycle of inspiration and volition that goes from the inner sphere to the outer and creates, and comes from the outer sphere to the inner and informs and communicates; it is this that continually makes the new worlds of supersamsara. When the basic inspiration is that of benefiting others, then it truly creates the New World, the true Utopia.


There are two natural, self-existent wisdoms: the natural wisdom of Self and the natural wisdom of Other. The natural wisdom of Self has already been discussed; it is nothing other than the touchstone of truth, the indestructible internal source of reality. The natural wisdom of Other is a wisdom that presents the indestructible reality of Other to the wisdom of Self; it is this wisdom of Self that knows the truth of Other, knows the external world as Other.

Rinpoche told me that Longchenpa had his own special logic, different from that of other Buddhist teachers, and that part of this logic was founded on the truth of the reality of Other. We cannot find an external world in any other place than in the natural wisdom of Other. Thus it is the touchstone of truth that enables us to know there are beings other than ourselves, that there is an external world, and that through this natural wisdom of Other we have access to it. These wisdoms emerge spontaneously from formless meditation and must never be rejected by yogin or yogini. To cling to the ordinary vajrayana view might lead to the Buddhist equivalent of a heart attack.

Naturally we all have our own experiences related to external objects, but those of sense perceptions are not the same as those apprehended through the natural wisdom of Other. We have direct experience of the truth of the existence of Other quite apart from the experience of sense perceptions. In the basic inescapable ground of non-ego and emptiness there is no place left for the reference points of an ego-centered universe. This spaciousness allows the two wisdoms, the wisdom of Self and the wisdom of Other, to emerge naturally and self-existently. This is why there is no solipsism in Buddhism.


There is a natural flow of communication from the inner to the outer sphere and vice versa. Both the flow and the space are completely neutral since they are not biased toward enlightenment or unenlightenment, or toward Self or Other. There is a natural play between the two wisdoms, the wisdom of Self and the wisdom of Other, and formless meditation enables us to participate in this play.

There is also a confused view of the process, a process based on the three kleshas (emotional poisons) of aggression, grasping, and confusion. When the outer sphere is internalized it becomes aggression, when the inner sphere is externalized it becomes grasping, and confusion arises from uncertainty about the boundary.

Buddhism may be said to consist solely in making the distinction between truth and reality on the one hand and the projections of materialism and solipsism on the other. Solipsism is the projection of the outer sphere into the inner sphere, creating a sense of an egocentered universe where my perceptions are all that exist; the wisdom of Other is denied and the wisdom of Self transformed into ego. Usually the projection of the external sphere into the internal is incomplete, some genuine connections remaining. It is important to realize that it is our solipsistic projections of the outer into the inner sphere that produce the sense that the realities of love, wisdom, and compassion are simply private, personal, internal affairs, rather than powerful, living qualities from their own side.

There is also the projection of the inner sphere into the outer sphere to be considered. This creates the belief in externally existing egos and a graspable external world. If we were able to rely completely on the wisdom of Self, the indestructible sense of truth within the inner sphere, there would be no problem. However, the sense of truth is not apprehended clearly enough and projections occur.

The seeming irreversibility of apparent confusion is inevitable, due to the natural power of conviction, coupled with one’s own egocentricity. By means of this same power of conviction, liberation from projections also occurs. However, the conviction must be transmitted from the wisdom of Other in the form of an external wise and loving person, the guru. Enlightenment is simply allowing the projections to return to their own spheres, when of course they cease to be projections.

It is a sad thing to think that in some quarters the tantras, and in particular mahamudra and even maha ati are treated as merely one’s own mind, and that the external world is viewed as an irrelevance. This one-sided approach bodes ill for the future of Buddhism, particularly in the West.


Thus the nature of truth, called rigpa or vidya, does need to be pointed out. We have some ability to do this ourselves otherwise we would not be able to function at all, but we also need another person to point out the nature of that truth within ourselves. Sometimes we can be helped by something apparently external, even inanimate, perhaps by reading a book or seeing an image. There might in fact be many possibilities for inspiration, depending on the person and how much confusion is present.

But as human beings we need another person to help us; for example, we need mother, we need father, we need teachers. We need them to help us understand language, we need them to help us work with the outside world in a way which seems to be inspiring and links in a positive way to experience. All this comes from the necessity of working with others.

If the guru is a preceptor, as in hinayana, then we are practicing according to his instruction and have some degree of connection to truth. However, the guru does not relate to us intimately; there is a sense that the guru is still an external figure and apart.

The idea of the guru being internalized, affecting us in a very profound way, has not yet really occurred. So there is a sense of path and a sense of distance and a sense that enlightenment may be some way off, but that eventually it will be realized. In hinayana the confusion seems so strong that the only way to become enlightened is by oneself, and it seems that others cannot be helped except in a minimal way.

In mahayana there is the realization that enlightenment is intrinsically involved with others. There is the view that we can help others in a very vast way because of the intense communication that exists between what is Self and what is Other, and because there is a play between the external universe and the internal aspect. This play is recognized and expressed by qualities of Being that everyone shares through the universal space of clarity, awareness, and emptiness. However, it is still true that there is a sense that this takes time to accomplish. In hinayana the guru is like a friend, but in mahayana the situation is more like that of a family, the guru being like a mother or a father.

If we now turn to the upaya tantra proper, then the way we relate to the environmental aspect is in terms of what might be called the Way of Power. The passionate body aspect, which plays between the inner and outer spheres, the passionate aspect of sexuality and death, birth and death, life and death; all of these powerful energies we carry around with us continually within our own bodies. We have the power to link mind and passion to the external world in an almost magical fashion. Practicing this, based on the formless meditation, is the union of the upaya tantra.


The essence of this union is maha ati, which is the nature of Being itself, not a practice.

How then, can we talk of realizing it? The question here is one of the removal of confusion, rather than attaining some kind of realization. However, this confusion does not really exist in a substantial way, but is simply a distortion of view that needs to be corrected. It seems to be almost nothing at all, but this infinitesimal difference is sufficient to create a distinction between enlightenment and a turmoil of confusion, a maze from which there seems to be virtually no chance of escape. The struggle to escape seems to draw us deeper into the quicksand of ego-centered ignorance.

There is only one means of recognition, and that is through the meeting of two minds: the mind of the student with complete faith and devotion and the mind of the guru with realization and a deep connection to the student. In terms of the three spheres, from the inner sphere arises the complete openness of unshakable faith, and devotion and from the outer sphere comes the presence of the guru with whom the student has a very special affinity. This affinity arises from past connections, devotion to the practice, and from the living quality of awakenedness between student and guru.

Meeting such a guru cannot be contrived by our own efforts, but comes as the gift of our past living connections with Dharma. The most that the student can do is to prepare the ground for such a meeting, but there are no means of predicting when this meeting will occur, and part of the training of the student is to rest in the spacious quality of what is, without hope or fear.

When such a guru appears, the flow between the inner and outer spheres is naturally without confusion and we can say that at this point recognition of the truth is instantaneous. It can also be said that at that time there arises from the inner sphere the ultimate wisdom of Self, which dissolves the facade of flickering thoughts and grasping at notions of prophecy concerning our future enlightenment. This ultimate wisdom of Self flows together with the ultimate wisdom of Other, which is the absolute guru principle, founded upon the true encounter with the personal root guru as Other.

This is the end of the path, fruition itself, the removal of all apparent confusion.



According to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the only purpose of the path of the Buddha is the search for truth; the truth about the nature of reality which is immediately accessible to us if we care to look for it in the right way. However, there is something special about this truth that is not immediately obvious; for it is a truth that not only leads to wisdom, but also to love and compassion for all our fellow beings. Since in their deepest nature all beings are alike, love enters them all equally and compassion arises naturally for those who have not realized the truth of what is. Thus wisdom, love, and compassion are not fundamentally distinct.

Buddhism is completely based upon direct awareness, which transcends the ordinary selfcentered experience emanating from ego or from grasping mind. One would have hoped that philosophy still meant the love of such wisdom, but this seems to have long ceased to be the case. Since in the practice of modern philosophy there is no way of reappraising or deepening one’s personal experience by techniques that open oneself to the immediacy of experience, the philosopher has no means of acquiring new experiential data, no advanced technology of perception one might say. Most modern philosophers are therefore not competent to understand Buddhism; their ideas about it are based purely on prejudice, just as someone in the past without microscope or telescope could not take the first step in making new discoveries about the physical world, relying instead on fanciful conjectures about nature, uninformed by real knowledge.

Rinpoche’s great hope for the West was that the obvious wisdom inherent in the direct immediacy of experience would eventually prove so overwhelmingly clear that it would just be seen as a truism rather than some form of esotericism. As he said the first time we met: “The simplicity of experience is all that you have; everything else comes from this.”

Copyright © 2005 by Rigdzin Shikpo