Memorandum on Mahāmudrā and Dzogchen

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Dongak Chökyi Gyatso

Dongak Chökyi Gyatso

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Memorandum on the Subject of Mahāmudrā and Dzogchen Instructions

by Dongak Chökyi Gyatso

The following is a reminder to myself.

The Mahāmudrā and Dzogchen instructions are not invalid. In fact, the ways in which they are valid become clear when we make a distinction between 1) teachings that apply more generally,[1] and 2) teachings that are intended for particular individuals.[2]

Regarding the latter, for those of exceptionally high capacity, the ways in which emptiness is introduced, as well as all the various modes of meditation, do not employ the general terminology of the great scriptural traditions of the two pioneering systems of the Mahāyāna. Instead, the teacher points out the way things are in connection with the mantra vehicle, in a state of ‘ordinary awareness’ which does not need to be modified or transformed. Moreover, this inexpressible natural state, free from evaluation, which is the meaning of what is pointed out, is sustained in a natural way. This approach thus unites the entry points to both the common practice of insight and the uncommon practice of taking clear light as the path. Therefore, even though these instructions are extremely powerful, this potency is dependent on the level of a student’s faculties, and it is crucial that they are not misapplied, as in the example of Devadatta eating medicinal butter.[3]

According to the approach that covers the teachings in general, it is of fundamental importance to teach from the beginners’ perspective so that there is no possibility of hindrance or going astray. This would include explanations of how the object of negation is to be identified in the beginning, how it is to be refuted through reasoning, and how insight is to be sustained through the alternation of analytical and settling meditation on the two types of selflessness, as discovered through the power of reasoning. In this approach, there are separate ways of practising meditation upon emptiness according to sūtra and mantra, each making use of particular methods related to their own level, and they are not brought together as one.

These days, however, if you consult followers of Mahāmudrā, Dzogchen and the like, they will not make even the slightest acknowledgement of instructions that suit people's actual capacity, such as the way to progress in tranquillity and insight taught in the scriptural approach of the great pioneers. Instead, they will suggest that everyone should follow the path of Mahāmudrā or Dzogchen right from the beginning, and declare that anything else is not even Dharma. This only goes to show that the general approach to the teachings has become as inaccessible and remote as flesh-eating spirits!

Furthermore, among the learned followers of the great scriptural approach, those with the greatest knowledge of the Dharma deny any possibility of a distinction between general and particular approaches, and refute it, whereas those of lesser learning simply believe that Mahāmudrā and Dzogchen and the like are unacceptable, and regard schools such as the Kagyü and Nyingma as evil. Thus, with the existence of an approach tailored to particular individuals as unapparent as invisible flesh-eating spirits, serious dissensions have emerged.

So it is that as a result of degenerate views, attitudes are extremely immature and people lack the intellectual strength required to bear the weight of the Mahāyāna.

The teachings tailored to particular individuals are not only extremely effective, they can also be the basis for great confusion, and there are many who have been led astray, mistaking trinkets for jewels, while thinking they have chanced upon some treasure bequeathed by the great masters of the past.

There are no obstacles at all to the approach of investigating and coming to a conclusion with immaculate reasoning in the scriptural tradition of the scholars of India. Tracing back the lineage of this approach, you will find Maitreya and Mañjuśrī, and ultimately the perfect Buddha himself. Whatever you might think of this teaching, which we refer to as the Dharma, it is a gradual path to enlightenment combining all that is to be trained in by the three types of individual in a form that can be practised in a single session (or “on a single seat.”) I can not bear the thought that I might die without first planting the habitual seeds for such teaching. Yet, as the saying goes, “The Lord of Death does not wait to learn that all our tasks are complete.” So I must establish such habitual tendencies today, and, from now on, by reaffirming this each day, I shall strengthen the imprint on my mind.

From the very depths of my heart, I take refuge in the Kagyü, Nyingma and other schools. Yet I shall not practise, even in my dreams, any form of Sakya, Kagyü or Nyingma in which the scriptural tradition of the great pioneers is disregarded or abandoned.

Not only in this life, but in all my lives to come, I aspire especially to serve the teachings of the second Buddha, Tsongkhapa. Yet, even at the cost of my life, I shall never practise that form of Gelugpa which regards its own view as supreme and treats all types of individual as if they were the same, blanketing them all under a single approach to the Dharma or means of training.

In short, I shall always follow my supreme guide, the Lord of Dharma, who gained full realisation and mastery of all the teachings, and in the account of his liberation offered the following advice as his final testament: “Keep the eyes of your intellect directed upwards, and pay no heed to hollow proclamations of what is Sarma and what is Nyingma.”

| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2014.


Tibetan source

"Phyag rdzogs gdams pa'i skor gyi brjed tho" 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. 268–271

Secondary sources

Pearcey, Adam. "Dongak Chokyi Gyatso," The Treasury of Lives


  1. bstan pa spyi btsan  ↩

  2. gang zag sgos btsan  ↩

  3. On one occasion, when the Buddha and his monks fell sick in Śrāvasti, he was advised by the doctor, Kumārā Jīvaka, to take twelve measures of powerful medicinal butter, while all the other monks were instructed to take no more than a single measure. Devadatta, claiming that he was of the same family as the Buddha, insisted on taking two measures, but nearly died as a result, and was only saved through the Buddha’s miraculous intervention.  ↩

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