According to some schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon, Dzogchen is the natural, primordial state or natural condition of every sentient being, including every human being.
Our ultimate nature is said to be pure, self-existing, all-encompassing awareness. This 'intrinsic awareness' has no form of its own and yet is capable of perceiving, experiencing, reflecting, or expressing all form. It does so without being affected by those forms in any ultimate, permanent way. The analogy given by Dzogchen masters is that one's nature is like a mirror which reflects with complete openness but is not affected by the reflections, or a crystal ball which takes on the colour of the material on which it is placed without itself being changed. Other evocative phrases used by masters describe it as an 'effulgence', an 'all-pervading fullness' or as 'space that is aware'. When an individual is able to maintain the rdzogs chen state continually, he or she no longer experiences dukkha, i.e., feelings of discontent, tension and anxiety in everday life.
"Dzogchen" has been translated variously as Great Perfection, Great Completeness, Total Completeness, Supercompleteness. These terms also convey the idea that our nature as intrinsic awareness has many qualities that make it 'perfect'. These include indestructibility, incorruptible purity, non-discriminating openness, flawless clarity, profound simplicity, all-pervading presence and equality within all beings (i.e., the quality, quantity and functionality of this awareness is exactly the same in every being in the universe). It is said that the impressive personal qualities of the fully-enlightened Buddha derived from the fact that he was fully 'aligned' with this already-existing primordial nature. Descriptions of the Buddha as omniscient and omnipresent refer to his ultimate nature as this awareness. The term "Dzogchen" is a Tibetan rendering of the Sanskrit term maha sandhi and its variants, and is also used to render the Sanskrit term ati yoga.
The homonymous term "Dzogchen" designates a meditation practice and body of teachings aimed at helping an individual to recognize the Dzogchen state, to become sure about it, and to develop the capacity to maintain the state continually.
The instructions that point to the Dzogchen state are sometimes described as a set of "inner" or "heart" (Tib. snying thig) teachings. Practicing Tibetan Buddhists consider that the state pointed to by these teachings is very difficult to describe, and can only be discovered through its transmission by an authentic Vajra Master. Some teachers also regard Dzogchen as a teaching completely in its own right, independent of Buddhism or Bon. They say that, as our primordial nature, Dzogchen has existed since the beginning of time and is pointed to by various masters throughout the universe.
The essence of the Dzogchen teaching is the direct transmission of knowledge from master to disciple. Garab Dorje epitomized the Dzogchen teaching in three principles, known as the Three Statements of Garab Dorje:
- Direct introduction to one's own nature.
- Not remaining in doubt concerning this unique state.
- Continuing to remain in this state.
In accordance with these three statements, Garab Dorje's direct disciple Manjushrimitra classified all the Dzogchen teachings transmitted by his master into three series:
- Semde: the series of Mind, that focuses on the introduction to one's own primordial state.
- Longde: the series of Space, that focuses on developing the capacity to gain familiarity with the state and remove doubts.
- Men-ngak: the series of secret Oral Instructions, focusing on the practices in which one engages after gaining confidence in knowledge of the state.
The Dzogchen teachings focus on three terms: View, Meditation, and Action. To see directly the absolute state of our mind is the View; the way of stabilizing that View and making it an unbroken experience is Meditation; and integrating that View into our daily life is what is meant by Action.
Dzogchen is one of several recognized approaches to Nondualism.
Sentient beings have their energy manifested in 3 aspects:
- Energy of an individual on the dang level is essentially infinite and formless.
- In the form of rolpa energy forms appear as though seen with 'the eye of the mind'. Many practices of thödgal and yangthig work on the basis of functioning of the rolpa aspect of individual's energy. It is also the original source of the deities visualized in Buddhist tantric transformational practices and of manifestations of one hundred peaceful and wrathful deities in bardo.
- Tsal is the manifestation of the energy of the individual him or herself, as apparently 'external' world.
According to Dzogchen teachings, energy of an individual is essentially totally formless and free from any duality. However, karmic traces, contained in the individual's stream of consciousness give rise to two kinds of forms:
- forms that the individual experiences as his or her body, voice and mind and
- forms that the individual experiences as an external environment.
What appears as a world of apparently external phenomena, is the energy of the individual him or herself. There is nothing external or separate from the individual. Everything that manifests in the individual's field of experience is a continuum. This is the Great Perfection that is discovered in the Dzogchen practice.
In Dzogchen teachings the interdependent origination and any kind of causality is considered illusory: '(One says), "all these (configurations of events and meanings) come about and disappear according to dependent origination." But, like a burnt seed, since a nonexistent (result) does not come about from a nonexistent (cause), cause and effect do not exist.
Being obsessed with entities, one's experiencing itself, which discriminates each cause and effect, appears as if it were cause and condition.
In Dzogchen, self-liberation is achieved by discovering or recognizing one's own primordial mental state and remaining in that natural state of primordial awareness in which all phenomena are experienced without creating karma through reaction, attachment, or conceptual labelling.
Sogyal Rinpoche, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche and other teachers provide different practical sets of instructions for the practice of Dzogchen. The central practice of Dzogchen teaching is Dzogchen contemplation.
Silent and prolonged meditation is also used to allow the obscurations of the mind to dissipate like clouds dissolving to reveal the empty, luminous sky. Through meditation, it is possible to remove the conditioning of our minds and to glimpse our true nature.
According to some teachers (in particular, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu), Dzogchen is a practice rather than a doctrine or religion. It does not require the practitioner to be anywhere special; in fact, to be normally active while in a state of primordial or natural awareness is the ultimate practice of Dzogchen.
The goal of Dzogchen practice is to remain in the clear, undeluded state of the nature of the mind, unconditioned by thoughts — which is not the same thing as not having any thoughts, which is in any case impossible. At the beginning, a Dzogchen teacher introduces one directly (Tib. ngo sprod, introduce, point out) to the real nature of one's mind, even if only for a few seconds; being a Dzogchen practitioner thus implies that one must have a qualified Dzogchen teacher, one who has mastered the nature of the mind. Historically, Dzogchen teachers have been very selective in choosing initiates, but current lineage holders in the Nyingma and Bön traditions have made Dzogchen teachings available to a wider (Western) audience.
In the Bön dzogchen tradition, sky gazing is considered to be important practice. Detailed instructions on the practice are provided by the Nyingma teacher Tarthang Tulku.
Once the state of non-dual contemplation has been arrived at, one has to continue in it. This continuation has two levels of practice: tregchöd and thödgal. These are main practices presented in the Menngagde series (Oral Instruction Series) of the dzogchen teachings.
Anam Thubten Rinpoche of the Dharmata Foundation teaches that "being aware of one's awareness" is a simple method for people to follow in practicing Dzogchen moment to moment. Consistency is the key to this method.
According to contemporary teacher Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, in Dzogchen the perceived reality is considered to be unreal. All appearances perceived during the whole life of individual through all senses, including sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations in their totality are like a big dream. It is claimed that on careful examination the dream of life and regular nightly dreams are not very different, and that in their essential nature there is no difference between them.
The non-essential difference between our dreaming state and our ordinary waking experience is that the latter is more concrete and linked with our attachment; the dreaming is slightly detached.
Also according to this teaching, there is a correspondence between the states of sleep and dream and our experiences when we die. After experiences of intermediate state of bardo an individual comes out of it, a new karmic illusion is created and another existence begins. This is how transmigration happens.
One aim of dream practice is to realize during a dream that one is dreaming. One can then 'take control' of the dream and do all sorts of things, such as go to different places, talk to people, fly and so forth. It is also possible to do different yogic practices while dreaming (usually such yogic practices one does in waking state). In this way the yogi can have a very strong experience and with this comes understanding of the dream-like nature of daily life. This is very relevant to diminishing attachments, because they are based on strong beliefs that life's perceptions and objects are real and, as a consequence, important. If one really understands what Buddha Shakyamuni meant when he said that everything is unreal or of the nature of shunyata, then one can diminish attachments and tensions.
The teacher gives advice, that the realization that the life is only a big dream can help us finally liberate ourselves from the chains of emotions, attachments, and ego and then we have the possibility of ultimately becoming enlightened.