Some Terms from the Great Perfection
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Commentary on Some Terms from the Great Perfection
by Dongak Chökyi Gyatso
If we speak of understanding and realization in relation to the Great Perfection, I may lack realization, but, as the guru’s compassionate light-rays have penetrated my heart ever so slightly, some understanding has arisen.
Primordial purity (ka dag) is of two kinds. Firstly, it refers to the purity that is the absence of any true stains within the extremely subtle energy-mind that is present as the ground. Secondly, it refers to the fact that the thought-processes that develop out of the delusion of non-realization are not an integral part of our basic character, in the way that heat is a property of fire, but are by nature utterly pure. Settling with this as the ground and applying the key points of the profound secret path of Thorough Cut, which is a direct cause that resembles the fruition, the wisdom of clear light in the enlightened mind of buddhahood, cuts any adventitious thought processes forcefully and directly, and brings us to the level of Unexcelled Wisdom (ye shes bla ma).
Spontaneous presence (lhun grub) refers to the fact that when we apply the path to aspects of our energy-mind, the kāyas and wisdoms arise merely through applying the key points, as these qualities, which have the character of fruitional enlightenment, have always been present intrinsically. Settling with this as the ground, and understanding the gateways for applying the key points of the profound secret path of the Crossover of spontaneous presence, which is a cause resembling all the features of the buddhas’ rūpakāya, and actually applying those key points to energy and mind, without making any separation, causes the coarse physical body to be liberated into subtle space, and brings us to the citadel of great transference.
The rigpa of the Great Perfection, as my all-knowing guru asserted, is the ‘path-rigpa’. Although in the sayings of the vidyādharas of old it might appear that it is the ‘ground-rigpa’, when we examine carefully we find that in this Dharma tradition, the rigpa of the Great Perfection is a recognition in which one experiences the ground exactly as it is, and there is therefore no path-rigpa that is distinct from the ground-rigpa. Then again, nobody would claim that the mere indeterminate ground-rigpa, which is present once we have strayed from the actual condition of the ground, is the rigpa of the Great Perfection. Thus, either assertion is feasible, depending upon the subtlety with which the terms are employed.
“Great Perfection” actually refers to the great perfection stage (rdzogs rim), but that is not how it is explained within the tradition. Instead, it is said that “Great Perfection” refers to the fact all the phenomena included within appearance and existence, or saṃsāra and nirvāṇa, are perfect within the absolute space of mind-as-such (sems nyid). From an absolute perspective, this means that everything is merely the expression of mental imputation. While from a relative perspective, it means that all the appearances of the outer universe and its inhabitants, which are fabricated by the mind, are expressions of delusion and non-realization, as we have strayed from the ground. This means that these appearances manifest according to the fabrications of mind, while in reality mind itself is beyond arising and ceasing, and without basis or origin (gzhi med rtsa bral).
“Rigpa” is really the wisdom of clear light that is present latently in ordinary thought processes. Here it is not called “great bliss” (mahāsukha) or anything similar, as it is in the general language of Highest Yoga Tantra. This is because there is no need to rely on an approach in which taking bliss as the path is emphasised as the means for making wisdom manifest. On the contrary, it is through the method of settling naturally and effortlessly in the nature of the ground, just as it abides, that the wisdom of awareness is made to manifest directly, and that is why it is called “awareness”, or rigpa. It would appear, therefore, that it is on account of differences in method, as employed in the various paths associated with the perfection stage, that different names are used.
Focusing on rigpa and rigpa alone (rig pa rkyang 'ded) means that once we have recognized the rigpa of the Great Perfection, in which the actual character of the ground is experienced just as it is, there is no need to train in many different elements of the path. Simply sustaining that very face of awareness brings about all the functions associated with means and wisdom right away, which means that practising the yoga of this and this alone is similar to cultivating great bliss in the general mantra approach.
This is difficult to understand and can be a source of great confusion, so I shall explain it a little further. When a mind that has been matured through common bodhicitta and made flexible by uncommon deity yoga employs the method of the ‘four ways of leaving things as they are’ (cog bzhag bzhi) this brings about a clear separation between mind and rigpa. Then, when that face of awareness, which has been nakedly revealed, is sustained, any traces of method are further empowered. And when sustaining that face of awareness, without rejecting or cultivating whatever thoughts arise, these thoughts are liberated upon arising, leaving rigpa’s expressive power to unfold as a treasury of insight (prajñā). Therefore, as this single essence of rigpa contains within itself all the inconceivable power of means and wisdom, it is sufficient simply to focus on rigpa and rigpa alone. Without knowing this, however, simply to utter glib phrases, such as, “This is emptiness of which compassion is the very essence, so there is no need for anything else!” or, “This is the power of awareness!” or, “Not clinging at all is generosity,” is nothing more than delusion.
The most important method of the sūtra path is none other than the attitude of striving for enlightenment for others’ sake; while in the mantra approach, it is the yoga of arising as the deity in whom the profound and the manifest are united beyond duality. In Highest Yoga Tantra, in particular, when arising directly in rūpakāya form, the stains of adventitious thought-processes must be cleared away, as in the yoga of the rūpakāya, which is the “mind isolation” among the so-called “three empties” of the glorious Guhyasamāja, the direct cause of the illusory body. Here, however, if you understand how all the uncommon key points of deity yoga are included within the rigpa of Thorough Cut practice, wherein thought processes are forcefully cut through, you will come to understand how any traces of method are further empowered. This is a difficult point.
Thorough Cut (khregs chod) has the sense of forcefully cutting, and therefore refers to the means of settling whereby all thought processes and aspects of the ordinary mind are exhausted within the nature of rigpa, which is mind-as-such, as well as to the resolution of liberation upon arising.
Crossover (thod rgal) has the sense of passing over stages and reaching a summit directly. It therefore refers to the practice of the four visions, in which, unlike in the general deity yoga of the higher and lower tantras, the crucial points are applied to the gateways of spontaneous presence, which are rigpa’s radiance, and the ‘glow’ (mdangs) of mind-as-such dawns as the rūpakāya. This is like the basis or pillar for determining the equivalents to the stages and paths of the uncommon approach of the Great Perfection.
In the context of settling in meditation, bright (sa le) means clear; penetrating (hrig ge) means a refreshed or revitalized ‘standpoint’ of rigpa; open (sang nge) means without obstruction; and naked (rjen ne) means rigpa that has been laid bare following the clearing away of any obstructing factors. Vivid (wal le) means that naturally arising rigpa, which is mind-as-such, and in which there is an awareness of how all the phenomena of saṃsāra, nirvāṇa and the path are without basis or origin, is intensified both objectively and subjectively, so that the practitioner is led directly into its very essence, and does not succumb to factors such as delusion or dull indifference.
In the context of resolution, self-liberation (rang grol) means finding freedom in rigpa’s own domain, without seeking any separate antidote; liberation upon arising (shar grol) means that all that arises is freed merely by virtue of its own arising; primordial liberation (ye grol) means that there is freedom within the primordial nature of each and every thought; naked liberation (cer grol) means that thoughts do not simply subside into themselves, but dissolve into the nature of dharmakāya, which is mind-as-such, so that repeatedly recognising them from the essence of awareness enhances rigpa-emptiness by stripping it or laying it bare.
Generally speaking, the term “resolution” (la bzla) includes the syllable “la” (‘mountain pass’), which is known universally as something difficult to traverse. Similarly, here, the ‘pass’ of thoughts is difficult to cut through. And just as you might reach your chosen destination by crossing many passes, here in each session, you train repeatedly—the meaning of “bzla”— with thoughts themselves by liberating them into their nature, which is dharmakāya. In this way, thoughts themselves can enhance realization of the aware-emptiness that is the dharmakāya. This point is exceedingly important, as it concerns the uncommon means of taking clear light as the path within this tradition, and it is far more secret than what is often labelled ‘secret’. Without an understanding of this, there cannot be even the slightest hint of genuine Great Perfection practice. And in order to understand this and sustain it in practice you must have the ultimate view, according to which all the phenomena of saṃsāra, nirvāṇa and the path are without basis or origin in the unborn nature of your own mind. As there can be no means of practising at all without this, everything comes down to the realization of this point.
Here are a few further ideas in this context. Through arriving at a definitive understanding of how all phenomena are unborn, and then becoming familiar with that realization of the unborn, you cut the chain of rebirth, thereby gaining liberation which is ‘without birth’. Similarly, as the natural state is utterly pure by its very nature, the darkness of delusion has always been ‘cleared away’ (sangs). Moreover, as all the qualities within the pure nature are just ready to arise based on the right conditions, they have always been developed (rgyas). By recognizing this, since all phenomena are and always have been utterly pure in their enlightened (or ‘clear and developed’, sangs rgyas) nature, when we practise the path we can take the result, in which the features of buddhahood arise, as the path, according to its conditions, which are knowledge and love. In a similar way, by arriving at a definitive understanding of how all phenomena are perfect within the kāya of the single, all-encompassing sphere, which is the dharmadhātu, any deluded perceptions and thoughts directed towards conditioned phenomena in all their variety are brought within the nature itself—and this constitutes an extremely unelaborate form of perfection stage practice.
| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2016
mdo sngags chos kyi rgya mtsho. "rdzogs pa chen po'i tha snyad 'ga'i 'grel ba" in snyan dgon sprul sku’i gsung rab pa’i gsung ’bum. 3 vols. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2006. Vol. 2, pp. 227–233