Following the Dzogchen Path


Carmel Beach, Israel, 23rd July 2011

Following the Dzogchen Path

Carmel Beach, Israel, 23rd July 2011

Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche’s Trip to Israel, 19-25 July 2011

Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche has always been fascinated by history, especially the history of religion. So, from the moment he heard about Jerusalem and how sacred it is to three of the world’s most widespread religions, he wanted to go there. When he casually mentioned his longing to see the Holy City to some Israeli Rigpa students, they immediately organized a visit, and in July 2011 Rinpoche arrived in Jerusalem.

For three days Rinpoche stayed in a beautiful apartment overlooking the Wailing Wall, which marks the western boundary of the holiest of Jewish sites, Temple Mount. Comfortably settled in his armchair and silently absorbed in his practice, Rinpoche would gaze out at the unceasing flow of devotees making their way to the 4000 year-old wall and to the Dome of the Rock above it—the centre of the universe for Jews and Muslims alike.

Moshe, an ex-special forces soldier, accompanied Rinpoche and his monks through the narrow, winding streets, following the footsteps of Solomon and David, the Roman occupiers, and of course Jesus and Mahomet. And by his own admission, Rinpoche was the most unusual ‘tourist’ ever entrusted to Moshe’s care. In every corner of the holy city, rabbis and students in large fur hats and heavy black overcoat hurried through the ancient backstreets. Rinpoche said that many of them looked quite crazy. Then he added, “When Maudgalyayana and Shariputra came out of the forest they too looked virtually insane to the villagers they met—these days most Buddhist monks look much too much like ordinary people.”

On the fourth day Rinpoche and his party were driven through the desert for a ‘dip’ in Dead Sea, then north to Tel-Aviv, where Rinpoche was invited by the Rigpa sangha and Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s students to teach. With characteristic perspicacity and wit, Rinpoche described how the different elements of the path fit together and should be approached by modern Nyingma practitioners—especially Rigpa students. And on the evening before he left, Rinpoche patiently answered all the Rigpa students’ questions, as a way of thanking them for organizing his visit and caring for him so well.

This is the teaching Rinpoche gave on 23 July 2011. In it he shows how the different teachings—renunciation (the Fundamental Vehicle), bodhichitta (Mahayana) and deity practice (Vajrayana)—fit together on the Dzogchen path, what their role is and how to practise them. Always simple and practical, Rinpoche’s teaching goes directly to the heart of the matter. Once you’ve read it, there’s no way you could say that you don’t know how to reach enlightenment!

Rinpoche speaks eloquently about the spiritual master, how to relate to him, and the importance of devotion: “From the point of view of the Dzogchen path, to accumulate merit, devotion is crucial!” Rinpoche’s overall message is that to jump too quickly onto the Dzogchen path, and to practise Dzogchen meditation exclusively is simply not enough. He goes on to lay out for us, with crystal clarity, what it is we must do and why, then leaves it to the us to study the available explanations and commentaries—like The Words of My Perfect Teacher—to help each of us take responsibility for our own path. Rinpoche feels that his job is to provide us with the map of everything we need to understand in order to follow the path of Dzogpachenpo all the way to enlightenment.

Insightful. Uncomplicated. Definitive.


The Vinaya teachings report that the Bhagavan Buddha said, “Gather with friends to talk about the Dharma.” And friends should gather together to share the Dharma, because talking about the Dharma helps us understand the teachings, removes our doubts and hesitations, and brings stability to our practice.

Generally speaking, the Buddha’s teachings are contained in nine successive vehicles. To follow these vehicles you need to rely on a teacher. Those who follow the two paths of the lower vehicles rely on a 'spiritual friend'; when they take the vows of individual liberation and receive the associated teachings, they see their teacher as their ‘father’ and themselves as his ‘children’.

In the Mahayana—the vehicle of the bodhisattvas—students think of their teacher as a ‘doctor’ and his teachings as ‘medicine’, thinking, “If I apply these teachings, I will be cured; if I don’t I will die.”

To follow the Vajrayana vehicle, students must first receive an empowerment, because without it you’re not allowed to listen to the teachings. The lama from whom you receive the empowerment that matures you for the Vajrayana path must be seen as the ‘Lord of the Mandala’, which is also how you should see him when he gives you the Vajrayana ‘liberating instructions’—in other words, as you receive teachings.

When receiving teachings from the vehicle of Dzogpachenpo, we see the teacher as the Buddha himself, because the teacher shows us unequivocally that our own mind is the Buddha. This kind of transmission must be given by a teacher, but unless we see that teacher as the Buddha, we cannot truly receive the instruction.

Today’s talk has nothing to do with any of that because I am not a teacher and have none of the qualities of a teacher. I’m just here as a tourist. And you should know that I rarely teach. Very occasionally I say a few words to clarify points in the teachings, but only as a way of helping and supporting Sogyal Rinpoche.

I’ve travelled all over the world. In the early days as an attendant to Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and since then for my own pleasure. Even so, I had reached my sixtieth year without ever having visited the incredibly famous country of Israel, which I’d heard so much about as a child and always felt I wanted to visit. Now that I’m here, Philip said I might as well give a teaching, so I agreed. Actually I kind of gave my word, which is how I ended up sitting on this chair.

The Qualities of A Teacher

Knowledge, Realization, Positive Activity

Generally speaking, a lama who gives teaching should have three qualities: he must be knowledgeable, he must have experience and realization of practice, and he must have mastered positive activities.

The teachings also explain that knowledge alone is not useful, and that he must put the Dharma he has studied into practice. Through practice he develops qualities of meditative experience and realization, and once these experiences have permeated his mind, his teachings will be beneficial. If he doesn’t practise the teachings he studies, trying to teach others will prove fruitless.

Take the example of a man who spends his entire life talking about compassion and bodhichitta and how extraordinary it is. He talks about how to generate compassion, how complete awakening results from cultivating compassion, and so on, but however well he is able to explain it, as he never applies the compassion teachings to himself, what benefit is there in endlessly talking about it? None whatsoever! With no compassion in his own mind, there is no benefit at all! On the other hand, the teachings of someone who isn’t as good at talking about it, but who has meditated on the different stages and developed a natural sense of compassion in himself, will have an immediate impact on others. Teaching Dharma without having practised is like saying, “I give you all the wealth of America!” But, as you don’t own that wealth, how can you give it?

This is true for all nine vehicles. Whatever the Dharma teaching, a teacher must practice it and have matured at least some of the fruits of practice.

A teacher who has become ‘learned’ and has experience and realization of practice automatically masters the third aspect: positive activity. ‘Positive activities’ are those activities you undertake for others motivated by compassion and altruism. Anything you do that doesn’t benefit others won’t fall into this category.

In the same way the nature of the sun is such that it emits warmth and rays of light, a master who has the two qualities of being knowledgeable and the experience and realization that is the result of practice, will naturally act for the benefit of others. Of these two aspects, the second, practice, is the most crucial. As there is no end to what we can learn, it’s more important to practise whatever you study and that your practice bears fruit, than to spend all your time studying. Dharma qualities are inconceivable, and so a teacher who has developed these qualities will always manifest and act for the benefit of others.

Learned, Disciplined and Kind

It is also said that teachers must have another three qualities: he must be learned, disciplined and kind-hearted.

The first quality of being learned means that a teacher must be able to explain the teachings of each vehicle without bias, and he must have mastered not only the words but the meaning of each teaching. On top of that, merely to be able to explain the teachings is not enough. The teacher must know all the different aspects of the nine successive vehicles, and be able to explain clearly each vehicle’s View, Meditation, Conduct, Principles and Specific Features, without mixing them up. That’s how teachers must teach, otherwise the teachings will become a kind of soup. How do we make soup? By mixing different ingredients together, which cannot then be distinguished from one another once cooked. Similarly, a teacher might entertain you for an hour or two, and you may even leave his talk feeling amazed by what you have just heard, but the only benefit is that it relaxes your mind at bit, like watching a movie helps you unwind. And when you try to use what you've heard to practise the Dharma genuinely, the ‘understanding’ you've brought away from that 'teaching' won’t allow it.

When the Buddha taught, he never mixed up different teachings. Likewise, a good teacher is first able to determine the needs of those he is about to address, then teach them accordingly. And a each sentient being has a unique disposition and capacity, the Buddha taught 84,000 kinds of teaching.

In addition to being learned, the teacher must also have discipline, which is the second aspect. This is because every single pledge we make on the path—from the vows of refuge right up to the samaya commitments of Dzogchen—must be maintained. And if you keep the individual vows of each vehicle, you can then tell others to do the same—to be able to tell others to keep their vows, a teacher must observe them himself. That’s what being ‘disciplined’ means.

If you examine all the qualities necessary in a ‘teacher’, it’s easy to see that I, myself, am no ‘lama’. However, I have been following and practising the Dharma since childhood and have received teachings from 55 different teachers—that’s quite a lot of teaching. Throughout my life the Dharma has been very important to me, and I have always prayed that I would become a genuine Dharma practitioner.

1. What is Buddhism?

First, this term ‘Buddhism’. Actually, there is no such thing as ‘Buddh-ism’. A new religious tradition called ‘Buddhism’ has never been ‘created’.

'Samsara is suffering'

The approach of those who follow the Buddha’s teaching is that first you must identify what ‘samsara’, the cycle of existence, really is. The Buddha explained that ‘samsara is suffering’ and that in samsara what experiences suffering is the mind. So first we must ask ourselves: is samsara suffering, or not? Once you realize that samsara is suffering, you will have entered the Buddhist community. If you think samsara isn’t ‘suffering’, that it’s actually quite nice, you don’t need the Buddha’s teachings.

The Buddha told us that, ‘samsara is suffering’, but he didn’t leave it at that. He also showed us the path that liberates us from suffering.

Not Theory, Practice!

Although the Buddha eventually taught the methods that free us from suffering, initially, he himself followed the wrong path and spent three countless eons slaving away in samsara before liberating himself by realizing buddhahood. And when he taught, he only spoke about what he had actually experienced. He didn’t ever merely theorize or twist the facts in any way. For example, Buddha said that if you act negatively by taking a life, once that negative action has matured, it will determine how you experience samsara. Likewise if you 'free' or protect lives, you will experience the appropriate result. Basically, Buddha just told us how things really are.

Buddha Nature

Buddha said that the higher realms of samsara provide the basis for experiencing some degree of joy and happiness, whereas the lower realms don’t. In the lower realms beings only ever spiral deeper and deeper into suffering. Of the three higher realms, the best place to be reborn, according to the Buddha, is the human realm, in a human body.

All sentient beings in the six realms of existence have one quality in common: they all have the ‘ground’ of freedom from suffering. What is this ‘ground’? Buddha nature: mind free of delusion. We must have this ‘ground’ in order to follow the path to awakening, and it’s also the ‘ground’ that sends us tumbling deeper into samsara.

The mind—basically the buddha nature—of a person who wanders endlessly in samsara is no different to the mind of the Buddha; the ground is the same. The only difference between them is that one is deluded and the other is not. The Buddha explained this difference, and it’s very important that you get to grips with it right from the start. What you mustn’t do is pretend to believe something that doesn't seem to you to be true—“These are Holy Words!”, “This is what the Buddha taught!”, “This is the Law!”, or “This idea has been imposed on me by people with power...” Don't think like that, it’s not like that at all.

Past and Future Lives

Samsara is without beginning, but it has an end: buddhahood. We take rebirth within samsara, which is where we have already lived many lives, and will live many more in the future. These days science is unable to accept past and future lives, yet there are a few scientifically-minded people who think “There must be something”; I've discovered this during conversations I’ve had with many people. It’s actually quite easy to prove through honest, objective reflection, but we don’t have to do that today because everyone here is Buddhist!

So these are the first points that it’s really important for a practitioner to grasp. Plus, of course, that the reason we practise the Dharma is to free ourselves from samsara. This should also be clearly understood. Think about the shortcomings of samsara and the qualities of a buddha… but I don’t need to go into this. There are so many books that explain these reflections, so you should study them.

That’s my first point.

2. Respect for the Teachers

If you have arrived at the realization, “I must free myself from samsara”, how should you now proceed? Well, the path to liberation is what the Buddha taught, so you should study his teachings and put them into practice.

At present, people like us are unable to meet the Buddha, which means the only way to learn about the Buddha’s teachings is to follow a teacher. This is extremely important. The moment there are no teachers left in the world to show us what to adopt and what to reject, the teachings will be finished. But even if there’s only one person left who can explain the following stanza properly, the teachings will still be here.

Commit not a single unwholesome action,
Cultivate a wealth of virtue,
Tame completely this mind of ours—
This is the teaching of the buddhas. [1]Sutra of Individual Liberation.

If this teaching is repeatedly explained and transmitted to others—if there is a continuity of teaching—then the Dharma of transmission will continue to exist. And if students continue to develop a genuine understanding of the teachings and practice, and apply them as they were taught, then the Dharma of realization will remain. The presence in this world of the two aspects of the Dharma—the Dharma of transmission and the Dharma of realization—is a gift from our teachers. Why can we only get them from a teacher? Because our teachers hold the root, the Dharma of transmission, which is the basis from which the Dharma of realization develops. This is why the teacher is so important.

Teacher-student Relationship

Now I come to my main point.

In the past, genuine teachers were extremely rare. Only those who had received all the teachings, practised them, and as a result had a clear vision of the yidam deity, or their own teacher, would teach. This was still the case even fifty or sixty years ago. No one would teach the Dharma unless he had practised and achieved visible signs of accomplishment. Why were such teachers so rare? Because they thought, “Until I have myself benefited from the teachings, how can I benefit others?” Those willing to give empowerments were even more rare—for example, Dharma Lord Patrul Rinpoche himself said that he didn’t have the capacity to give empowerments. And only one or two lamas taught Dzogpachenpo.

Students who aspired to practise Dzogchen from these teachers would have made a huge effort to purify their minds by first training in all the stages of the Ngöndro (the preliminary practices) then the ‘Main Practice’ of the yidam. Throughout this process they would have constantly examined the teacher to make sure he really had all the qualities of an authentic Dzogchen master; and the teacher would also have been checking the students. Only once all that had been accomplished would Dzogchen finally have been taught.

By and large, those who received Dzogchen teachings in this way—Yeshe Lama for example—didn’t have to be reborn again in samsara. The accounts we read of their lives always describe ‘liberation’. And when such a person was dying, those at his bedside would often say, “Oh, he received Yeshe Lama”, meaning “Don’t worry about him, he’ll be fine.”

Nowadays it’s not like that. The biggest problem teachers’ have is how to find anyone to listen to their teachings. But you’ll never have trouble finding teachers who want to teach. Modern teachers advertise themselves crudely, with language like, “I give the most profound teachings. I grant the most profound empowerments”, and so on. Obviously, things have changed. I don’t know how it happened. But it was a change instigated by the most important of all the Tibetan Buddhist lamas—His Holiness Dalai Lama, His Holiness Sakya Trizin, His Holiness Karmapa and the highest lamas of the Nyingma tradition—all of whom are masters we look up to as ‘holders of the teachings'.

In any case, to come back to our subject. When you want to receive teachings, empowerments, or Dzogchen teachings, first you must check the person’s qualities and qualifications to make sure he is a genuine teacher. And of course the teacher must also examine the student. Even if teacher and student have the required qualities, once they have entered into a student-teacher relationship, they must continue to abide by the samayas. In fact, samaya is the most important element in their relationship—which is the crux of what I want to tell you today. Of course, before entering into a student-teacher relationship, you are quite free to do as you like, but not once it has been established.

These days too many students follow a teacher for a while, then turn against him, and even end up fighting him. But doing so will only land you in the worst possible hell where the suffering is the greatest. The karma of turning against your teacher is so strong that the moment you die, it will drive you straight into that hell. So the important thing here is that you don’t forge a samaya link with a teacher too quickly, then find out you can’t maintain your pure perception, or ‘sacred outlook’! Don't put yourself in the position of accumulating that terrible karma. There is no such thing in Buddhism as a ‘forced conversion’! No one can say to you, “You are not allowed not to come to the teaching. You cannot avoid taking this empowerment!” No one! This is my second important point, which, in the present context, is exceptionally important.

Personally I don’t have this problem. I am 100% confident that not one of my students will turn against me. How can I be so sure? Because I haven't got any! Not even one! There is no one of whom I'd say, “This is my student”. I just have a few good friends. That’s my second point.

3. To Follow the Dzogchen Path You Need Merit

Westerners don’t like the Hinayana teachings of Buddhism, they all go for the Mahayana teachings. They have an affinity for the Mahayana and are very keen on the Secret Mantra Vajrayana teachings, with a particular inclination for the pinnacle of all vehicles, the teachings of Dzogpachenpo. Westerners really like Dzogchen.

Dzogchen teachings certainly are extremely beneficial, yet extremely difficult to put into practice! Why isn’t Dzogchen easy? Because you need ‘merit’. ‘Merit’! In Dzogchen you are told, “Your mind is the Buddha”. On top of that, in this context ‘buddha’ refers to the greatest of the three manifestations of the Buddha, the dharmakaya. So, “Your mind is the dharmakaya!” How is this helpful? If you have merit, when you hear “Your mind is the Buddha”, it’s enough to liberate you—which is what happened when Shri Singha gave this instruction to Guru Rinpoche. He said, “Your mind is the Buddha!” And that was it! Guru Rinpoche was liberated.

If “Your mind is the Buddha” doesn’t work, the teacher will say a little more. He’ll explain that the nature of mind has three aspects: an empty essence, a cognizant nature and unimpeded compassion. The empty essence is the dharmakaya, the cognizant nature is the sambhogakaya and the unimpeded compassion—the dynamic energy of the dharmakaya and sambhogakaya manifesting as all that appears—is the nirmanakaya. So in this way, a teacher might develop the teaching just a little, as a way of helping those who have the merit to understand.

The teacher might say to you, “Mind is your thoughts: the thoughts you had in the past, the thoughts you are thinking right now and the thoughts you’ll think in the future. But if you really look at your mind, none of your past thoughts exist any more, they have no more existence than space; none of your future thoughts have yet arisen, so they don’t exist either; which means that all you have is your present thought. If you now look at that present thought and recognize its essence, you will realize the nature of mind. And to maintain that recognition is the essence of the dharmakaya, the Buddha.”

Sogyal Rinpoche teaches this every year, for example in the Tsik Sum Ne Dek, Hitting the Essence in Three Words teachings, and he uses different techniques for introducing the nature of mind, like uttering ‘phat’ and so on. Afterwards students always say, “That was extraordinary, I really experienced it!” They recognize the word ‘Hedewa’—‘wonderstruck’—and think, “This is exactly what I experienced.”

The Three Words are:

Introducing the face of rigpa in itself.
Decide upon one thing, and one thing only.
Confidence directly in the liberation of rising thoughts.

Whenever they are mentioned, everyone always says, “Oh yes, I know, I’ve heard this before!” I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t ever received these teachings! But, when it comes to really practising them, I don’t know anyone at all. I am sure there must be a few, but among the people I know and talk to, there is no one. And I’ve never heard of anyone in the Rigpa Sangha who has been introduced to the nature of mind and genuinely recognized it.

If you don’t have that recognition now, you won’t suddenly have it when you die. And there is even less chance of suddenly recognizing the nature of mind in the Bardo of Becoming. At the moment, while you are alive, your mind is in your body and your body provides a kind of support for your mind. But in the Bardo of Becoming there is no physical support for the mind. Added to which the karmic winds that play with mind, tossing it here and there, will be much fiercer than they are now and will have a far stronger effect.

Why is this the case? If you examine the situation and think about it a bit, this lack of realized practitioners amongst modern students isn’t likely to be the result of not having met the right teacher. For example, in the case of the Rigpa Sangha, Sogyal Rinpoche’s level of practice is extremely high, he is extremely realised—Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche told me this himself. And the Dharma teachings he gives are extraordinary and extremely powerful! But for the introduction of the nature of mind to happen successfully, the Three Authentics must come together: authentic devotion of the student, the authentic blessings of the master, authentic instructions of the lineage. Therefore, since in Rigpa you seem to have all three, the problem might be that students don’t have enough merit.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche used to say that if you feed a baby with an adult’s food, the baby won’t be able to digest it. Similarly, if you receive Dzogchen teachings but have no merit, you won’t be able to digest or retain them. So my point here is that everybody should focus on accumulating merit. There are the two types of accumulation: ‘accumulation with a reference or object’ involving subject, object and action; and ‘accumulation without reference or object’ which is meditation. In this case, when I say you need to accumulate merit, I mean the first kind of accumulation, with a reference. And there are so many skilful methods for doing this.

Of course, you’ll need to train in bodhichitta in order to accumulate merit. There are two aspects to training in compassion: the bodhichitta of aspiration and bodhichitta in action. When we practise bodhichitta we bring both together. Once a Lama in Kham, Trogmé Arig, taught Dzogchen over and over again. At the end of his teaching, he took his student’s hand, squeezed it tightly, and said, “Don’t forget the main point: bodhichitta of aspiration and bodhichitta in action!” I’ve heard that he repeated this single sentence many times, while continuing to squeeze his student’s hand. All of which tells me that it’s absolutely necessary to cultivate bodhichitta of aspiration and bodhichitta in action. But I don’t think I need to talk about how to do it here because the world is now full of people who explain how to generate bodhichitta.

There is also the approach of the Secret Mantra Vajrayana, the main practice of which is ‘kyérim’—the ‘generation phase’ or ‘creation meditation’. Kyérim involves three aspects: the clarity of your visualisation, remembering the purity and vajra pride. First, the practitioner 'sets the framework' of the three samadhis—the samadhi of suchness, the samadhi of universal manifestation and the causal samadhi—to bring about the ‘clear visualisation’ of the deities. Having established a clear visualisation, you ‘remember the purity’, which is even more important than visualizing clearly. And of course, you also need to develop a feeling of ‘vajra pride’. As you practise, if you imagine that you and the deity are different, you are not practising Mahayoga. You cannot think, “At the moment we are different, but as I continue to practise we will become the same.” This is not allowed!

In Rigpa’s Dharma tradition, students recite sadhanas a lot, which is very good. However, you must also meditate on the words you recite; just chanting the words isn’t useful. So first you visualize clearly, then bring in the aspects of ‘vajra pride’ and ‘remembering the purity’.

In addition to all that, the Nyingma tradition includes specific instructions. Generally speaking the Rigpa Sangha is said to propagate a Rimé or non-sectarian attitude to the Dharma, while practising the termas of the Nyingma tradition. One of the special Nyingma teachings about kyérim practise is the Four Nails that Bind the Life-force of the Practice: the nail of all appearances as the deity, the nail of all sounds as mantra, the nail of emanation and reabsorption of rays of light to accomplish activities, and the nail of the unchanging wisdom mind. These four nails should be brought to mind during each session of sadhana practice.

By practising Sutra (arousing bodhichitta of aspiration and bodhichitta in action) and Mantra (kyérim and dzogrim) and applying the experiential pith instructions, you will accumulate merit. And by perfecting the accumulation of merit you also purify obscurations.

How you purify obscurations can be explained through the following example. Imagine you have a precious object that has been so well wrapped up that you can’t see it. To be able to look at it you must first undo the wrapping. Seeing the precious object is like seeing the mind. When you see the mind, you see the Buddha. When you see the Buddha, you automatically have all the Buddha’s qualities. This is what we call 'seeing the nature of mind'. Once you’ve seen the nature of mind, there is nothing else to do. But until you've seen it, just talking about it won’t bring it out.

Recordings of many of the Dzogchen teachings the great masters have given to Rigpa students were put on my iPad and I spent about a month listening to them. I think I’ve heard just about all of them now. There are some absolutely incredible and amazing teachings! As the saying goes:

Meditate on it by day and you’ll become buddha that day.
Meditate on it by night and you’ll become buddha that night.
Those fortunate to have favourable karma don’t need to meditate:
This teaching grants them liberation from just hearing it.

It’s almost unbelievable that such teachings were given! And by the greatest masters! There are teachings by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Dudjom Rinpoche, Dodrupchen Rinpoche, Penor Rinpoche—who gave the Nyingtik Yabshyi—many teachings by Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche—whose voice is not so clear, but who was translated by Sogyal Rinpoche—and incredible teachings by Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok. And on top of all that, Sogyal Rinpoche has taught continuously for decades. The power of these teachings is such that the ground at Lerab Ling should constantly be shaking—even inanimate, solid objects like rocks must by now have been penetrated by all that great wisdom!

As the teachings given to Rigpa students have been of such exceptional quality and quantity, and by such unique teachers, it seems to me the only reason there are no realized Rigpa students is that they lack merit. Therefore, perfecting the accumulation of merit is crucial, and from the perspective of the Dzogchen path, to accumulate merit, devotion is crucial!

Having seen quite a number of Western Dharma students, it seems to me that the devotion of Rigpa students is quite good. Most have faith. But if they lose their devotion, they instantly turn against their teacher completely and start attacking him. However, while they are able to maintain their faith, they have good devotion. They also accomplish what their teacher tells them to. Therefore, I think that in terms of devotion, you should be OK.

To increase your devotion you must invoke and pray. The statues and images arranged around you have been put there as a support for such prayers. If you have a picture of your teacher in your room, whenever you see it you will remember him. And whenever you remember him, you should invoke and pray to him. Then do the practice of merging your mind indivisibly with his wisdom mind. This is a very powerful method for the Rigpa Sangha. You all have so many pictures, even on your phone or in your car, they are everywhere. And this is a sign that you all pray and invoke. Even if you don’t pray, just to remember the teacher is good. Indeed, it is said that compared to meditating on hundreds of thousands of buddhas for thousands of years, remembering your teacher for an instant is far more powerful—this is also said in the Dzogchen tradition. Of all Dharma traditions, Dzogchen is the tradition that most reveres the teacher. According to Dzogchen, the lama is the most important and sacred element of all.

That’s it for the teaching, if you want to call it a 'teaching'. Actually, it was more like a talk, so I won't describe it as a 'teaching'. And I was speaking specifically to Rigpa students.

I’ve been told there are a few students of Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche here. Chökyi Nyima and I follow the same tradition, the teachings of Chögyur Lingpa. Long ago I travelled with Erik Pema Kunzang and others to America and other places, and at that time I said all I have to say about the Chokling Tersar. So listen to those teachings carefully.

For a few years now I’ve said that I won’t be travelling to Dharma centres anymore—it doesn’t help anyone and I find it exhausting. Why do I say that it doesn’t help anyone? Because when I teach it doesn’t have any impact. And that’s because the teachings my lamas—these incredible teachers—gave me, have had no impact on me. My root teachers have been teaching me all my life, yet I have nothing to show for it. Therefore, what possible benefit could my words have? Having said that, I am here to help Sogyal Rinpoche because of his connection with Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö.

Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche is a very good lama. He is much more learned than I am. He is well-versed in all the 'sciences' and he is a much better person—I am a very selfish individual. Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche always tries to get along with everybody and is particularly good at teaching Western people and taking care of his students—‘taking care’ is an English expression, isn’t it? By contrast, the Westerners I know always complain that I don’t ‘take care’ of them at all. Instead, and I quote, I “Just use them and throw them away like a used tissue.” I’ve been told this many times. It’s the main criticism levelled at me.

Anyway, the main points I made today are:

  • First you must ask yourself, “Do I need the Buddha's teachings or not?” Meaning, if you think you need to be liberated from samsara, you should follow these teachings; if you don’t think you need liberation, you don’t need the teachings.
  • The nature of samsara is suffering—this is the first thing the Buddha taught. The Dharma, Buddha’s teachings, explains how to pacify the suffering of samsara. This is based on Buddha’s experience, it’s not a theory he invented.
  • If you feel the need to free yourself from samsara, you can achieve freedom by following a teacher.
  • The Buddha said students should check the teacher and teaching, so the teacher must first be examined carefully. Buddha never said you should indiscriminately and thoughtlessly go to every teaching available. You should check thoroughly the teachers from whom you receive empowerments and Dzogchen teachings, because once you have entered into a teacher-student relationship, you can never, ever turn against that teacher. This is the most important point.
  • The samayas of Dzogchen are extremely sacred. However, without merit they will not work, so you all need to accumulate more merit!
  • The main practice in the Sutrayana vehicle of characteristics for accumulating merit is bodhichitta: the bodhichitta of aspiration and bodhichitta in action. In the Secret Mantra Vajrayana, we accumulate merit by practising kyerim and dzogrim.

This is what I said during this talk. None of it was my own invention—I cannot be creative like that. These are the instructions I received from my teachers and what they taught me was based on the lineage of oral instructions. Today, I have just repeated what they told me. But I can’t talk too much, so that's it! As Trungpa Rinpoche once said: ‘Few words, vast meaning.' [2]When Rinpoche went to America to attend Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche at Chögyam Trungpa's invitation. As Khyentse Rinpoche taught, Trungpa Rinpoche scribbled a few words on a piece of paper that he handed to Khyentse Rinpoche. Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche wondered what the message could have been. When, after the teaching, he went to Khyentse Rinpoche's throne table to gather his teachers belongings, he saw the note, opened it and read Chögyam Trungpa’s words: ‘Few words, vast meaning’.

Translated by Gyurmé Avertin
Edited by Janine Schulz

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Following the Dzogchen Path

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