The Principles of Khordé Rushen

Dzogchen | Advice | Tibetan MastersNyoshul Khen Rinpoche

English | བོད་ཡིག

Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche

Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche

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Principles of the Dzogchen Practice of Khordé Rushen

by Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche

Generally speaking, within our minds there resides the buddha nature, the actual dharmatā, which is empty and cognizant self-arising rigpa, in which the three kāyas are all fully present. This has always been there, spontaneously perfect. Yet, like the sun obscured by clouds, the enlightened body is obscured by the ordinary body, enlightened speech is obscured by ordinary speech, enlightened mind is obscured by the ordinary mind, and subtle clear light is obscured by the aggregates, elements and sense-sources.

Here in saṃsāra, we remain within the confines of karma accumulated through our impure body, speech and mind, as well as mental afflictions and habitual tendencies, and as a result of our failure to recognize our own essential nature, we are deluded.

At the beginning, as a preliminary to the path, we must therefore make a clear distinction or separation between the ordinary mind (sems) and pure awareness (rig pa), separating out the phenomena of the mind as the domain or division of delusion and saṃsāra, from the domain or division of nirvāṇa, meaning pure awareness and the absence of delusion. In other words, we must separate the ordinary body, speech and mind, and their associated attachment, which comprise saṃsāra, from the body, speech and mind without attachment, or the naturally arising wisdom of awareness, which comprise nirvāṇa.

The principle here is like having water in your ear, and then pouring more water inside to remove it, or being burnt in a fire and then using the very heat of the fire to soothe the pain. In a similar way, by following this extraordinary path of secret mantra’s skilful means, and practising Khordé Rushen, we arrive at a feeling of physical, vocal and mental exhaustion. In the wake of this, by sustaining the essential nature of mind, those of the highest capacity can realize the nature of mind there and then. Even if we are of lesser or middling capacity, this will make it easier for us to recognize the three-kāya awareness that is pointed out in the main practice.

That is how the two kinds of Rushen—outer and inner—can put a stop to both the causes and effects of saṃsāra.

Therefore, this Rushen preliminary practice is good on the ordinary level for purifying obscurations of body, speech and mind, and pacifying obstacles, and ultimately leads us to gain the supreme accomplishment, and realize the enlightened body, speech and mind, or the three kāyas, which are the essence, nature and compassion.

That is why we do this as a preliminary, before being introduced to the immaculate wisdom of the main practice, just as travellers on a treacherous journey will entrust themselves to a guide. This point was made by the great masters of the past, especially Nyoshul Lungtok Rinpoche. Thereafter, we can gradually be introduced to the stages of the main practice.

Through working with the coarse body, speech and mind in this Rushen practice, we purify the subtle channels, wind-energy and essences. In fact, these are really just the same; the only difference between them is in terms of their subtlety.

The basic point is this: by acting with body, speech and mind in a powerful, spontaneous way, like removing water from the ear by pouring more water inside, we will purify our impure perception and activity and go beyond attachment. As a result, we will arrive at the three doors of the natural state, the enlightened body, speech and mind, or essence, nature and compassion of the naturally arising wisdom of awareness. Rather like having a guide on a treacherous journey, this is enormously beneficial, especially for the introduction to the nature of mind in the main practice, which is why it functions as a preliminary.

Here you might wonder, whether ordinary actions of running, jumping, walking, sitting and moving about can have a similar effect, since they are similar.

The answer is that they are actually very different.

  • The cause is different since here the actions are done with a special motivation: to employ the skilful means and wisdom of secret mantra as a way to discover the wisdom of our own awareness.

  • The path is also different, since this Rushen of body, speech and mind, with its practice of skilful means, cuts through attachment, aversion and ignorance, with the result that that they can only be reduced, never strengthened.

  • There is also a vast difference in the result of the practice, which is the great wisdom of awareness. Those of highest capacity will realize this directly, and those of middling and lesser capacity will find that their ordinary minds seem less solid, so that it is easier for the point of the introduction to hit home.

Ordinary activity, on the other hand, is a cause of saṃsāra; it only causes attachment, aversion and stupidity to increase. It serves to obscure the naturally arising wisdom that is the nature of mind. And through perpetuating the unending chain of dualistic perception, it plants within the all-ground consciousness further karma that will cause us to wander in saṃsāra without end. It only furthers delusion and can never be a cause of liberation.

Moreover, since the practice of Rushen integrates all our ordinary saṃsāric actions into the path, just as they are, without changing or adapting them in the slightest way, it is a unique feature of Dzogchen, which accords with the wondrous vision of the root tantra, Unimpeded Sound (Dra Thalgyur) and other texts. Elsewhere in the causal and resultant vehicles, you might find mind techniques that involve practising virtuous deeds, visualizing deities and reciting mantras, or the meditative absorptions of the generation and completion phases, but nothing quite like this. Search within the scriptural tradition, and you will come to know this for yourself. As the omniscient Longchenpa said:

Although it is not unreasonable to practise with effort based on cause and effect,
In the supreme vehicle it is more acceptable to remain evenly, unmoving.


Ati teaches the inseparability of cause and effect.
Unfeasible in lower approaches, here it is a crucial point.

This is extremely important for understanding all the crucial points of the Dzogchen path.

This practice of Rushen eliminates the present results that are the actual phenomena of saṃsāra, brought about by past actions. It also puts a stop to attachment, aversion and ignorance, which are the seeds or causes of future saṃsāric experience. By terminating both, it brings us directly to the great wisdom of awareness that is nirvāṇa.

Since this is a marvellous method for precisely identifying the nature of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa and liberating the ordinary body, speech and mind within the nature of the three vajras, or within the expanse of essence, nature and compassion, it is called Khordé Rushen—separating the domains of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa.

There are outer and inner Rushen practices. The former is based on the vision of the Unimpeded Sound, and the Dzogchen tantras in general, while the latter is based on the vision of the Longsal Barma Tantra. Although a method for purifying the six classes using the six syllables is taught in the Dzogpa Rangjung, it is mainly a practice for the dead. Still, I do not think there is any real contradiction in it being practised by the living.

| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2018.

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