Kushinagar, India, 4 January 2020
The teaching that follows took place during a pilgrimage of the sacred Buddhist sites in India, at the point when the group had just reached Kushinagar, the place of Buddha’s parinirvana. Inspired by the immense significance of this place, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche abandoned his usual reserve and spoke openly about the Dzogchen teachings, in particular the state of final fruition that is possible through this very special path.
Today on this pilgrimage I’d like to talk about something especially profound. We Nyingmapas, who follow the Vajrayana which takes the fruition as the path (which includes the three inner tantras—Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga), consider Atiyoga to be the summit of all views, the pinnacle of all nine yanas, the essence of all sutras and tantras.
According to Atiyoga, ‘buddha’ is nothing other than basic space free from conceptual elaboration, the empty essence of primordial purity. This is the buddha dharmakaya. Of the three kayas—dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya—the dharmakaya is the most sacred, and the basis for the other two. What we call ‘buddha dharmakaya’ is permanent, all-pervasive and spontaneously present in the mind stream of all sentient beings; the concepts of birth and death do not apply to it.
In the pure realm of Akanishtha, the buddha dharmakaya emanates the great displays of the sambhogakaya who are the embodiments of the body, speech, mind, qualities and activities of the sugatas of the ten directions and four times. They manifest during the fourth time of great equality by means of the five perfections; in essence, they are beyond emanation and dissolution, since they are the eternal and spontaneously present profound nature.
The dharmakaya emanates the sambhogakaya which in turn manifests the nirmanakaya, for the sake of beings who live in the six realms of existence. These nirmanakayas appear in different ways so that beings of the six classes can relate to them, depending on their particular mindset and disposition. Nirmanakayas are nothing more than this—an appearance in the minds of sentient beings. In reality, sambhogakaya manifestations are never but the dharmakaya, and likewise nirmanakayas are solely sambhogakayas and never waver from the dharmakaya. The three kayas are in nature the three wisdoms—empty essence, cognizant nature and unimpeded compassion. Even though these three wisdoms are inseparable from one another, in the perception of beings on the path, the six nirmanakaya buddhas appear to the six classes of beings.
The sacred place that we are visiting today is where the nirmanakaya who appeared in this world of ours, the one known as Shakyamuni, dissolved back into basic space. He first took birth as the son of King Shuddhodana and Queen Mayadevi in Lumbini, then, to put it briefly, reached complete awakening at the Vajra Seat in Bodhgaya, turned the wheel of the dharma in Varanasi (he didn’t only teach in Varanasi, and we must understand that he turned an infinite number of dharma wheels in an unspecified number of places), and finally, at the age of eighty, dissolved back into basic space. He was the display of the dharmakaya’s radiance and when he dissolved back into the dharmakaya, it happened here, at Kushinagar, known to Buddhists as ‘the place where the Buddha displayed the teaching of passing into parinirvana’.
For those with higher insight, he only appeared to pass into nirvana, he didn’t actually pass into nirvana. As it is said,
The buddha never passes beyond sorrow into nirvana,
And even the dharma never wanes.Sublime Golden Light Sutra.
However, in the perception of ordinary beings, after the completely and perfectly enlightened buddha decided that it was time for him to pass into paranirvana, he made his way slowly to this sacred place called Kushinagar. He told his disciples, “This is where the Buddha is going to pass into parinirvana”, and further added, “This is the very place where all the other thousand and one buddhas of this fortunate kalpa have passed or will pass into parinirvana.”
He settled in a grove of mighty sala trees, which are quite common in India. The Buddha’s disciples placed a long bed between two of the trees so that he could lie down there. The Buddha then lay on his right side and passed into parinirvana. At that moment, the earth shook violently displaying the ‘six types of movement that appear when a buddha passes into parinirvana’.
The body was kept for twenty-one days and numerous great shravakas, arhats, kings and so on came to pay their respects. The great shravaka Kashyapa then lit the funeral pyre. After the cremation, they found a vast quantity of blessed bones and ringsels that Kashyapa showed to the assembly. Then, as the Buddha instructed, stupas were built in which his disciples placed his holy remains.
So, a nirmanakaya is merely an appearance that is never in fact separate from the ‘basis of emanation’, the dharmadhatu. Therefore nirmanakaya buddhas don’t really pass into parinirvana. When something is reflected in a mirror, if the reflection vanishes, it is not because the reflection expired but because the object that is reflected is not in front of the mirror anymore. Likewise, when the time of beings to be trained is exhausted, the reflection does not appear in the mirror and sentient beings do not see the nirmanakaya anymore. The blessed place where this happened is where we are now, Kushinagar, ‘the town of the great kusha grass’.
All of you who practice the dharma need to know this, especially those of you who practice the Vajrayana that takes the fruition as the path, and its Dzogchen teachings. The nature of your mind, which is rigpa, pristine and untouched by ordinary thoughts, is the Buddha. No buddha, whether a victorious one of the past, of the present or of the future, ever mentioned a buddha or enlightened state beyond this. Even if you were to meditate for aeons, you would not find a greater object of meditation than this. To maintain the naked experience of your own mind, uncorrupted by any past, present or future thought, is the Buddha.
Firstly, this is introduced to you through the lama’s pith instructions, then you practice it. If, after having been introduced, you train in maintaining that recognition and practice knowing that the empty essence, cognizant nature and unimpeded compassion are the three kayas, then in one body and one lifetime, you will perfect the practice of Clear Light Great Perfection and be liberated in the primordial ground of liberation, just as the Dzogchen teachings say.
Numerous practitioners have been liberated by practicing in this way. What gave them that ability to gain liberation? The teachings of the Clear Light Great Perfection which have spread in this world and are still present today just as they were in the past. The continuous transmission of the pith instructions remains uninterrupted. The value of these teachings cannot be overstated.
Therefore, if you want to practice Clear Light Dzogpachenpo, “You don’t need to search for the buddha elsewhere—buddha is in you”, as these teachings explain. How can we see that the buddha is in us? The primordial purity aspect of the buddha is introduced to you—if you then meditate on it, the aspect of spontaneous presence, which are the visions of tögal (direct perception of dharmata, increase of experience, full maturity of rigpa, and exhaustion of phenomena beyond ordinary mind) are experienced one after the other. When the visions of the six lamps appear, we actually see the dharmakaya and sambhogakaya with our own eyes. When that happens, we develop the certainty that the buddha is truly within us and nowhere else.
We see it directly at the stage of direct perception of dharmata. During the next stage, increase of experience, this perception grows, and when we reach the full maturity of rigpa we see everything that there is to see, our rigpa has reached its full expression and we gain complete stability. Then we experience the exhaustion of phenomena in dharmata at which time we have complete certainty that the buddha is nowhere but in ourselves—we see the clear light face of the dharmakaya lama. All the levels of the paths and bhumis have been accomplished.
Finally, we see the seven stacked narosThe naro is one of the accents used in Tibetan language to indicate vowels, and is roughly equivalent to the English ‘o’. What is relevant here is the shape of the accent, ◌ོ which is analogous to the vision that is seen.. When that happens, all the appearances and thoughts of this life are exhausted and discarded like a corpse. After seven days, the citadel of the dharmakaya manifests and we are certain to reach buddhahood. Concentrating on the fingernails, we swiftly attain a body of light that is still visible to sentient beings, and we will remain in this body for as long as space or samsara endures, constantly and spontaneously benefitting sentient beings. At this point there is no question of our passing into parinirvana; we go beyond all concepts of birth, death and so on. We become indivisible from the great pandita Vimalamitra who lives at the summit of the Five Peak Mountain in China, and from Guru Rinpoche, Padma Tötreng Tsal, who resides on the Copper-coloured Mountain of Chamara.
This is all true. These are not just some fanciful legends that somebody thought up, they are what really happens when we fully develop the power of our practice. At such time, there are inconceivable signs of realization. This kind of realization happens for those who practice and follow the instructions of the Dzogchen teachings free of any doubt whatsoever.
I felt like talking about this today. In my entire life, I’ve never spoken about this profound topic before, but today I did.
Translated by Gyurme Avertin
Edited by Philip Philippou