Dzogchen Meditation: Knowing the One Which Liberates All



"The experience of true insight is the simultaneous awareness of both stillness and active thoughts.  According to the Maha Ati teaching, meditation consists of seeing whatever arises in the mind and simply remaining in the state of nowness,.  Continuing in this state after meditation is known as "the post-meditation experience."

 Jigme Lingpa  


 Recognizing  Natural Awareness

"Do not resolve the Dharma,

Resolve your mind.

To resolve your mind is to know the one which frees all.   

Not to resolve your mind is to know all but lack the one"

                                                                                    Guru Rinpoche

The  practice of Dzogchen Meditation is based on the recognition of Natural Awareness which is referred to as Ordinary Mind or Thamal Gyi Shepa in Tibetan.   Natural Awareness is the true nature of our mind when it is free from habituation.  This is the quality of our present experience which is uncontrived and unfabricated cognizance.  It has been described as naked and unborn in the sense that it is awareness which is stripped bare of any conditioning or habituation.  Ordinarily in our day to day lives our minds are continually involved in habitual thought and projection. This habitual mode of being is generally how we operate and what keeps us trapped in a cycle of ignorance, delusion and suffering.  Habitual thought,projection and the compulsive fixation on what arises in our minds obscures our recognition of Natural Awareness.  Therefore we can understand Dzogchen Meditation as a practice which purifies the mind of habituation allowing us to recognize Natural Awareness. In this sense, Natural Awareness is beyond the reference points of habitual mind.  This is what Trungpa Rinpoche referred to as Crazy Wisdom in some of his early seminars in the west. Since habitual mind  depends on constant movement, distraction and the manipulation of what arises in our experience, the fundamental form of practice in Dzogchen is to sit still and be undistracted --  to leave whatever arises in our field of awareness as it is --  that is, not to manipulate or strategize our thoughts or the sights, sounds and sensations that we perceive.  This is called the "resting meditation of a kusulu."

 "Keep your body straight, refrain from talking, open your mouth slightly, and let the breath flow naturally.  Don't pursue the past and don't invite the future.  Simply rest naturally in the naked ordinary mind of the immediate present without trying to correct it or replace it.  If you rest like that, your mind-essence will be clear and expansive, vivid and naked,without any concerns about thought or recollection, joy or pain.  That is awareness (Rigpa)."                                                                

Khenpo Gangshar

 To practice Dzogchen meditation we sit on a cushion or chair in the meditation posture.  The spine is straight, not leaning to the right or left, front or back--  comfortable and relaxed but upright, alert and awake.  The eyes are open either looking straight ahead or slightly downward about six feet in front.  We aren't looking around with our eyes or staring intently at anything.  We aren't engaging the sense perception of sight particularly.  The mouth is open slightly and the breath naturally goes in and out.  The basic idea here is that what we do with our body affects our mind.   This posture helps our mind to recognize and 'let be' in the present moment which is essentially the complete practice.  There is nothing else that we are doing.  From the practical point of view it is helpful to set aside a practice space which is tidy and quiet.  It is also helpful to have a meditation timer with a bell rather than using a clock or other device that one checks constantly.  Set the timer and do the practice until  the bell rings and  the time is up.  A beginner should start with 20 minute periods of practice and work up from there.  It would be good to visit a practice center like Dzogchen Meditation Center to develop your practice.  At DMC we offer group meditation, weekend retreats and in-house retreats to help support your indivitual practice.  One-on-one meditation instruction is always available.

Precious Human Birth, Impermanence and the Motivation for Spiritual Practice

 How much time should we practice?  If we think about how much time we spend reinforcing our habitual mind on a moment-to-moment basis then it becomes obvious that we need to spend  a lot of time undoing that habit through meditation practice.   In the 1960's and 70's many westerners were able to meet Tibetan teachers who had been trained in the Tibetan system as it existed before it was destroyed by the Chinese communists -- Kalu Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and many others.  Those men and women who made it out of Tibet --many died in Chinese prison camps--  had spent 12 to 20 years in solitary retreat during their lives with meditation as their only activity.   This generation is now passing away and it is increasingly rare to find people who have done this amount of practice.  Yet, for those of us who met these people their realization was unmistakeable.  As the Vidyadhara would say "The proof is in the pudding."  Their example is what we really need to take to heart now.  If we want to help the world, it is quite clear that we need to practice meditation and attain realization!   Most of us are unused to the idea of spending a lot of time meditating.  Instead we spend most of our time obsessing about making money, finding a mate, or engaging in other "worldly activities" like binge watching netflix.   If we have not committed to at least 2 hours of formal meditation practice a day -- then we haven't made meditation practice a priority in our lives.  We need to make spiritual training, meditation practice, our main priority if we want to progress on the path.  In order to engender the correct motivation for our spiritual practice it is important to contemplate our situation. We possess a certain amount of leisure time and we have the freedom to pursue whatever interests we want. If we wanted to we could devote much of our time to spiritual activities.  This is a unique situation called a "precious human birth."  It is unique and precious because most sentient beings are not able to actually contemplate the ultimate meaning of their lives or practice the Dharma.   We have a precious human birth.  But it will not last long -- time passes "like an arrow shot from a bow."  So this time when we have the leisure to contemplate the spiritual nature of our lives is rare and fleeting. "Death comes without warning, this body will be a corpse."

"Sincerely take to heart the fact that the time of death lies uncertain.  Then, knowing that there is no time to waste, diligently apply yourself to spiritual practice!"

 Tsele Natsok Rangdrol

 When we contemplate the fleeting quality of our precious human birth it becomes easier to focus our lives on our spiritual practice-- we recognize the urgency and don't become complacent.   This type of motivation is important because we need to do a lot of practice and in the beginning it isn't easy! 

We need to sit and look at our minds directly and when we first sit down without any entertainment  and become aware of our mind's activity  it is shocking to see how crazy our discursive mind actually is.  Our first notion of meditation is that this crazy mind is the problem and that we need to stop its activity in some way -- that the purpose of meditation is to  repress thinking and dwell in a thought-free state.   In fact most people believe meditation is about stopping or repressing discursive thought.   Actually discursive thinking itself isn't our main problem.  The problem is that because of unawareness or distraction  (marigpa in Tibetan) we habitually react to thoughts as they arise in our minds. In this way  every thought that arises in our mind habitually conditions and obscures our true nature -- Natural Awareness.  In the Dzogchen view, thoughts are simply the dynamic action of Natural Awareness -- like waves are the movement of the ocean.  In our confused and distracted state we mistake the thought for something existing on its own apart from the mind or awareness in which it has arisen.  In this way we get caught by the thought when we react to it as though it were separate from mind/ awareness.  This obscuration quickly subsumes our awareness and  we become enveloped in a dreamstate or realm of habituation -- this is called samsara.  It is the function of dualistic projection and habitual fixation.  It is like not seeing the forest for the trees.

Perceptions also arise in mind/ awareness and are also subject to the same habitual fixation.  What we take to be the "outer world"( i.e sight, sound. touch, taste, smell) also does not exist apart from the awareness in which it has arisen.  When seen with awareness which is stripped bare of habitual reaction this outer world is recognized as the expression of Natural Awareness.  To put it very simply and directly, everything which arises in our experience when seen free from habitual distraction manifests as rigpa (Natural Awareness).

"In brief, the basic cause of everything is nothing but your present natural awareness.  Therefore the sublime key point is to continuously maintain your natural awareness throughout both day and night without any separation."

Tsele Natsok Rangdrol

Any form of authentic Buddhist Meditation is designed to break the habit of this dualistic fixation, not simply smooth it over by making our samsaric experience more comfortable and less stressful.  When we practice Dzogchen we begin to  see how our habitual mind operates and to differentiate between the simple, undistracted awareness of the natural state (rigpa) and the distracted state of habitual reaction (sems).  Eventually, through  meditation training the habitual conditioning (which can be described as habitually accepting and rejecting) is seen through completely. At that point, whether there is thought activity or not the true nature of our mind, Natural Awareness, is no longer obscured.

      In one sense we wear out or 'cut through' the confusion of habitual reaction to thought and projection.  We cut through with our awareness or nondistraction.  At that point discursive, habitual thinking becomes like a thief in an empty house -- though thoughts may arise they are not fixated upon by the grasping, habitual mind.  The habitual mechanism is broken or disabled through Dzogchen training.

                                                     "Whatever arises as objects in awareness 

 --Regardless of what thoughts arise from the five emotional poisons ~

Do not allow your mind to anticipate, follow after, or indulge in them. 

                        By allowing this movement to rest in its own ground, you are free in Dharmakaya."

                                                                                                          Guru Rinpoche

Getting Started

When we first sit on the meditation cushion there may be a  moment of openness, but after several minutes we notice an on rush of "discursive thinking".  Meditation practice is  like turning up the lights in a dark room.  In this case we are turning the light of awareness to shine on our minds and we quickly realize how much discusive thinking we have and we become frustrated by our inability to stay present and undistracted.  We seem carried away by every thought that we have.   Trungpa Rinpoche refers to this period of training as "hot boredom."  We are agitated and bored for entertainment  and our mind seems to be wild and untamed.

"When resting in this way, your mind will not remain in the state of empty and cognizant awareness for long but will become restless, disturbed, or unsettled and will move about like a monkey.  This is not the mind-essence.  It is called 'thinking'.  If you indulge in it, this thinking will recall, make thoughts about, or plan to carry out anything!  In the past, this is exactly what has thrown you into the ocean of samsara.  For sure, it will throw you there again.  Now, wouldn't it be better to stop this insidious, deluded thinking?"

Dudjom Rinpoche

In order to tame our habitual mind it is necessary to engage in a progessive approach to meditation training.  In general this training entails first developing nonwandering awareness through one-pointed shamatha training.   Once this has been developed sufficiently we move into practice which is more open and not as dependent on the support of a technique to maintain our undistracted awareness .  This stage in our training is referred to as resting in  "simplicity" or "nonelaboration" in the Dzogchen system of the four yogas.   

"First let the mind follow the in and out rhythm of the breath until it becomes calm and tranquil; then rest the mind more and more on the breath until one's whole being seems to be identified with it.  Finally, become aware of the breath leaving the body and going out into space, and gradually transfer the attention away from the breath and towards the sensation of spaciousness and expansion.   By letting this final sensation merge into complete openness, one moves into the sphere of formless meditation proper."

Trungpa Rinpoche

  Without a community of like-minded practitioners or Sangha it is almost impossible to get to the meditation cushion and stay on it for any length of time.  Time on the cushion makes all the difference.  We also need the auspicious connection with an authentic guru who holds the lineage so that we are less likely to lose our way and miss the main point of practice or get caught up in our conceptual ideas of meditation.

Within our formal practice of meditation -- wherever we may think of our practice on a scale of "beginner" to "advanced" meditator-- there are always moments of complete openness and unhabitual awareness.   This is called "knowing the key point of natural awareness" or "knowing the one which liberates all".  Identifying these moments within our personal experience is the crucial point of our training and realization.   Actually, it is realization itself.  Every moment we recognize and let be in unhabitual awareness -- on the cushion or in daily life -- is a moment of genuine realization.  This experience is what is pointed out by the Guru to the disciple not through words but by a direct manifestation of unhabituated, naked reality. 

Minding the Gap  ~ Knowing the Crucial Point of Recognizing Natural Awareness

"When your past thought has ceased and your future thought has not yet arisen and you are free from conceptual reckoning in the present moment, then your genuine and natural awareness, the union of being empty and cognizant, dawns as the state of mind, which is like space -- that itself is dzogchen transcending concepts, the cutting through of primordial purity, the open and naked exhaustion of phenomena.     This is exactly what you should recognize.  To sustain the practice means simply to rest in naturalness after recognizing."

                                                                                                                                                              Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche


“There is a slight tinge of Vajrayana in our particular approach to shamatha practice.  The gap is just a gap: you do nothing.  You should not be afraid of that.  In fact, according to traditional historical accounts, when the Buddha first announced the notion of shunatha and began to talk about emptiness, several of the arhats had heart attacks.  And a lot of them died.  So that sense of gap is precisely where their heart attacks began.  If there is a gap, “Uhhhh [gasps]—what am I going to do if I don’t have any—.”

Precisely.  That is a very beautiful illustration of that.  “

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

The crucial point here is that Natural Awareness or "Recognizing the gap" is not something that we can be aware of with our habitual minds. To a mind that fixates and grasps on to projections this moment feels like an ignorant state of not knowing what to do or where we are. Essentially, we are in the habit of projecting thoughts of the past in order to manufacture an idea of where we came from. We are in the habit of projecting thoughts of the future to have some idea of where we are going and we preoccupy ourselves with reckoning in the present moment in order that we don't feel this groundless quality. This projected reality is the construct of habitual ego mind and we are very attached to this way of being. When this falls apart on us we scramble to fill in the gaps. The "gap" certainly doesn't feel like some remarkable spiritual experience. If we are aware of it at all it sometimes feels like a big let-down. Prajna, discriminating awareness wisdom is the intelligence which sees through our grasping and fixatiion in order to penetrate into this moment or gap. The practice of shamatha vipashyana sharpens this ability. By constantly coming back or tuning in to what is actually happening we cut through our deluded habit of projection and fixation.

Knowing the crucial point of practice we need to train diligently and stablize our recognition.



For practitioners the importance of developing "one-pointed awareness" cannot be overstated. It is absolutely necessary for us to work very literally and precisely with the techniques of shamatha/vipashyana -- or stillness and insight meditation. One of the most important elements in the beginning of practice is the development of one-pointed, nonwandering awareness.  This is the ability to place our awareness one-pointedly on something without wandering for as long as we want it there.  We need to think in terms of accomplishing the discipline and refinement of one-pointed awareness in our sitting practice of meditation. Without developing the ability to cut through our distracted habitual train of thought we can spend years practicing and never accomplish any genuine realization.  Often practitioners sit in a subtly distracted state and are unaware of the undercurrent of discursive thought that is running through our minds.  This type of "meditation" is really just hanging out in a stupor and is of no benefit whatsoever.   Working very closely with our technique refines our discipline and our awareness and cuts through the tendency to be habitually caught by both subtle and coarse thought patterns.  As our practice of one-pointedness develops our awareness becomes more and more refined and settled.  We can be completely present with our breath and our awareness becomes settled in a nonwandering and undistracted state.  

As part of this practice of one-pointedness it is also taught that we should place the awareness in the lower abdomen approximately four finger widths below the belly button.  This place is considered the center of our awareness and when we place our attention there we develop a very steady sense of being that is not startled or distracted easily.  It isn't necessary to overdue this.  Keep a lighthanded touch but just repeatedly come back to this technique very literally and very precisely.  We begin to realize when we are present and when we are not.   We develop that sense of presence by diligently coming back and  working with our awareness of the breath as it goes out into space and dissolves.

 "You haven't arrived at the state of liberation simply by recognizing awareness.  For beginningless lifetimes, we have been enveloped within the cocoon of deluded tendencies.  Up until now, we have been spending our lives deep under the shit of this conceptual thinking...Therefore, you should now practice sustaining the continuity of the awareness that you have recognized, and nothing other than that.  The great omniscient master Longchenpa said:  'You may have recognized your nature, but unless you become familiar with it, the enemy, thinking, will carry you off like an infant on a battlefield.'"

Shamatha practice is often described as dwelling in peace -- or tranquility practice-- but this can be somewhat of a misleading term.  The point of shamatha meditation is to cut through our attachment to habitual, discursive thought -- namtok in Tibetan--and we do this by working precisely with the breath as a focal point for our awareness.  Placing our awareness on the breath works as a feedback mechanism.  When we lose our awareness of the breath we know that we are engaging in habitual discursive thought.  By dealing very closely with our degrees of attention we refine our awareness.  We don't become absorbed in a kind of trance state -- but by refining our attention we can tell when we are aware without any distraction. There is a definite sense of "knowing" that Trungpa Rinpoche describes as a "sense of being."  

Shamatha ,when done with the correct view, allows us to develop our recognition of this 'sense of being.' This moment is the same as the unfabricated, undistracted state.  By letting be completely with the breath and giving up any thoughts concerning a goal for our practice quite by accident we find ourselves unconditionally aware in the present moment.

"When the primordially free rigpa is nurtured by innate mindfulness, the rigpa is nuturing or sustaining, watching itself.  Mahamudra uses the word watchfulness or keeping guard, indicating a sense of watching.  For some people, without some watchfulness or keeping guard, without some mindfulness, there is no abiding and the meditation is lost.  Without this support they have no meditation.  So it is said "by fabricating mind, one is led to the natural state.'"

                                                                               Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

 Once we have developed the precision of shamatha with the support of our awareness of breath as our technique then we can loosen our focus on the support and allow our awareness to rest without such a tight focus on technique.  At this point in a students development we can begin working with the meditation techniques that  Trungpa Rinpoche taught his western students  which combine shamatha precision with vipashyana awareness.

"Without bringing forth the natural strength of awareness, a numb and inert state of stillness will never yield any progress whatsoever.  So it is crucial to bring forth the steady clarity of awareness.  There are many meditators, but few who know how to meditate.  It is truly important to utilize the vital points."

       Guru Rinpoche

The Importance of Shamatha/Vipashyana Meditation

"In truth if you cannot tame your own mind, what else is there to tame?  What is the use of doing many other practices?  The aim of the whole Buddhist path, both Basic and the Great Vehicles, is to tame and understand your mind."

 Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Trungpa Rinpoche is unique among Tibetan teachers in his adoption of intensive group sitting practice for his students.  He emphasized the importance of ongoing training in sitting meditation and faulted the contemporary Tibetan approach for a lack of emphasis on group sitting practice.  "Tibetan's don't sit" (1975 Vajradhatu Seminary).  He clearly felt that the lack of sitting meditation practice resulted in what he called the "corruption" of Buddhism.  Tibetan teachers will be quick to point out that just sitting still on a cushion does not mean you are actually "meditating."  One needs to really understand the key points of mind in order to develop a proper understanding of practice.  But as students of Trungpa Rinpoche we think it is nearly impossible to do this without intensive shamatha/vipashyana training -- and this does seem to have been the precedent with many important Tibetan teachers in the past.  Often students would prepare for pointing out instruction for five years or more by engaging in intensive shamatha/vipashyana practice.  Only when the student was prepared properly could they actually receive mind to mind transmission from a lineage Guru.

                    "So if we are going to actually make a journey of some kind, if we are actually going to be able to work with ourselves properly, thoroughly, and fully-- then we have to sit.  That is the only way.  We begin to realize all sorts of problems, of course.  It is not going to be very smooth and pleasant and comfy and nicey.  And at the same time, it is also going to be very painful to realize that sense of irregularity-- that brings a sense of pain and confusion as well.  Well, that is our problem.  We have to do something about that.  The sitting practice of meditation has to be considered the most important, the best, the highlight of all our activities."

                                                                                                           Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Mixing Mind with Space

After an initial period of settling the mind through one-pointed mindfulness, practitioners can loosen the tight grip on their technique and emphasize the feeling of being present.   The way that we do this is by placing our awareness on the breath as we exhale.   The inbreath is not emphasized or focused on.  It simply happens but we do not place our awareness one-pointedly on it.  This instruction comes from Gampopa's meditation instructions and is called "mixing awareness with space" and it helps the practitioner loosen their habitual grip on "this" i.e. habitual thought and release one's awareness into "that."  "That" in this case refers to the space-like awareness of mind when there is an absence of fixation on  an habitual storyline -- the absence of habitual reference point.  The 'gap' built in to this form of meditation trains the practitioner in the recognizing Natural Awareness .  The focused attention is let go of and awareness rests momentarily on its own. This is training for vipashyana -- which in Dzogchen refers to Natural Awareness.  We can think of this practice as a way of counteracting a particular problem which develops with some approaches to "mindfulness."  The problem is that a practitioner associates thoughts and thinking as bad or painful and attempts to squash them with their "technique."  In this case techniques like counting the inbreath and outbreath are almost too effective in shutting down our thinking.  As mentioned before, the "thinking" is not the problem.  It is the habitual reaction to what arises in the mind -- so what we are trying to do with our shamatha/vipashyana practice is simply disrupt our habitual reaction.  Placing our attention on the outbreath and then letting go of that focused attention on the inbreath is referred to as "touch and go."  We place our awareness very precisely and simply on the outbreath and then "let go" of that focus while the inbreath occurs.  This is just one way to keep us from turning our meditation technique into a way to repress what spontaneously arises in the mind.  Meditation should not turn us into zombies! 

A good way to understand this approach to practice is through an art form like Japanese brush calligraphy which was another form of practice that Trungpa introduced to his students.  When we do a calligraphy we focus intensively on the execution of the kanji-- the Japanese ideogram.  This is one-pointed awareness just like going out with the outbreath.  It is Shamatha.  Then when the calligraphy has been completed there is a moment where awareness simply hangs there with no technique or object to focus on.  Of course, we can fill this space in many ways with habitual thought but the point of this practice is to recognize and let be in the space of awareness without layers of conceptualization.   This is the vipashyana aspect of this practice.  The shamatha and vipashyana aspects of our training closely resemble the concept of Isshin and Zanshin  from the contemplative and martial arts disciplines in Zen.  Isshin is "one-pointedness" and zanshin means "leftover mind/heart."  Again, one-pointedness cuts through the habituation -- zanshin is looking with a mind which isn't clouded by habitual reaction.  It is the awareness in the gap.

Generally this period of time where we "let be in awareness" lasts for a very short time.  As soon as we begin to contrive or manipulate the experience we lose that recognition. It is important not to try to hold on to that moment of recognition.   But we can do the practice over and over-- "train in short moments, many times"-- whether in sitting meditation or calligraphy practice or any other form of practice -- and in that way develop our stability in letting be in the space of awareness  Trungpa Rinpoche would refer to this as "flashing" on recognition and then "disowning" or letting be in that moment.  Certain skillful means have been developed within the Buddhist tradition to train us in recognition and in the stabilization of rigpa or Natural Awareness.

"Letting the mind become peaceful and staying in a meditation state of stillness free from many thoughts is called shamatha or sustained calm.  Recognizing the empty nature of the mind within that state of calm is called vipashyana or profound insight.  Uniting shamatha and vipashyana is the essence of meditation practice.  It is said:  'Look at the mind, there is nothing to see.  Seeing nothing, we see the Dharma, the source of all the Buddhas.'"

 Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

 When -- through intensive shamatha training --we have settled in an unmoving awareness we can let go of our hold on technique as a reference point.  But as the pith instructions often tell us -- "keep mindfulness on guard."    The more tightly we try to control our mind the more restless it becomes -- just like trying to ride a spirited horse.  As soon as we let go of that control the mind has nothing to fight against and settles in it's present awareness.  If you let your horse go it will stay on the path.  However, mindfulness or "watchfulness" is still the key to seeing this process in your practice.

As intelligent college educated westerners we often search for the "best" or highest form of meditation practice because we want "the best."  Meditation doesn't really work that way.  Practicing shamatha is sometimes considered to be merely a beginner's practice by many.  However, it is necessary to come back to this practice again and again in order to tame our habitual speed and aggression.  If our minds are tame then we can do any form of meditation practice completely because the definition of a tame mind, in this case, is one which is able to let be in the present moment.  If we haven't developed this fully present awareness then even if we do the highest practice available in the Vajrayana tradition it will be of little benefit.  It is so important to realize that this simple practice is the most profound skillful means for realizing the key point of Natural Awareness.  Nothing else is needed and even if we do want to explore the full range of tantric skillful means shamatha-vipashyana practice is always an essential part of our tantric training.  We never 'graduate' from the practice of sitting meditation -- there is always further to go and more refinement possible in our practice.

The process of training in shamatha-vipashyana meditation has been described as sharpening our prajna or "discriminating awareness wisdom."  Every time we notice that we have strayed into distraction and come back to the technique we sharpen the sword of prajna.  The sword of prajna in this case is the intelligent awareness which is able to tell the difference between being present and being distracted.  We are distracted either by spacing out or engaging a discursive storyline of habitual mind.  This prajna is the insight of vipashyana.  It is the awareness which sees "shunyata"-- emptiness.  In the language of Dzogchen it is that which "recognizes Natural Awareness" and  it is fundamentally Natural Awareness itself.  When we talk about the unity of shamatha and vipashyana we mean the mind that is aware and present and not conditioned by any habitual "thinking".  

The practice of shamatha/ vipashyana as described by lineage masters is a progressive path of practice that leads us to the direct experience of  Natural Awareness.  The stillness aspect of shamatha allows the insight of Natural Awareness to manifest.  We develop a stability and familiarity with Natural Awareness through our shamatha and vipashyana training.  Shamatha should be understood as cutting through our habitual daydream and vipashyana is the recognition of the ensuing awareness which is unconditioned by habitual fixation on what arises in awareness.  We can understand every practice in the Buddhist tradition in terms of this definition of shamatha and vipashyana from development and completion stage of yidam meditation practice up to the highest description of Dzogchen Meditation -- trekcho and togal.

Once we have developed our ability to cut through discursive habitual thought with our awareness we can let go of the technique we have been using in the beginning of our practice.  We look directly at what arises without attempting to engage it or repress it and in that way whatever arises is the manifestation of Natural Awareness. At this point  in our practice there is no idealized meditation state that we are attempting to acheive by rejecting what we are experiencing right now.  Our experience is always perfect and complete as it is when we look directly at it with no attempt to strategize or manipulate it.  When we understand how the practice of shamatha works in cutting through our habitual fixation -- the daydream of compulsive reaction to objects arising in our awareness-- then we can understand the way that vipashyana is Natural Awareness beyond accepting and rejecting.

 “Second for identifying vipashyana, no matter what thought or disturbing emotion arises, do not try to cast it away and do not be governed by it; instead, leave whatever is experienced without fabrication.  When you recognize it the very moment it arises, it itself dawns as emptiness that is basic purity without abandonment.  In this way you are able to utilize all adversity as the path, and this is therefore called “taking adversity as the path.” Your realization that objects to be abandoned and their remedies are indivisible, since thoughts are liberated by simply recognizing them, is the heart of Vajrayana practice and is called “training in exorcism.”   At this point you should feel even greater compassion for all those sentient beings who do not realize the nature of their own minds.  While you spend your life practicing the methods (upaya) such as the development stage with your body, speech, and mind for the sake of all sentient beings, it is through this type of discriminating knowledge (prajna) that, having utterly purified any clinging to the reality of negative emotions, you will avoid falling prey to them.  It is just like remaining unharmed when eating a poison that has been blessed by mantra. It is with this type of practice in mind that the following words were spoken: ‘Neither accept nor reject whatever arises on the path!"

Padma Karpo

Mistaken Views of Shamatha Practice

Both foundational Schools of  Buddhism like the Shravakas and Pratyekabuddhas and non-Buddhist schools of meditation use concentration techniques in an effort to calm the mind.  If the view of  shamatha is limited to the idea that the practice is only meant to calm the mind or stop thought  then we always end up creating more obstacles to realization through our practice.  On the one hand, the practice of one-pointed shamatha allows us to slow down the speed of discursive thought and by accomplishing this the practitioner can  experience uncontrived Natural  Awareness if they have had the "pointing out instructions" from a qualified master  and know what to look for.  But on the negative side shamatha practitioners can become attached to the 'stillness' of nonthought and mistake that for realization.  They may also cling to the temporary "meditation  experiences" of bliss, clarity and nonthought  found in the cessation of discursive mind brought about by stopping  thought through the application of concentration techniques.  

By using one-pointed concentration to repress the arising of discursive thought many kinds of peaceful and blissful states can be experienced.  Because they are pleasureable on a very refined level shamatha practitioners may cling to these temporary experiences.  The habitual attachment and clinging to these temporary meditation experiences keeps shamatha practitioners trapped in samsara.

"The meditation of stillness alone doesn't qualify as the authentic meditation practice of Mahamudra.  In particular, all the authoritative guidance tests of the Old and New Schools unanimously agree that people who fixate with attachment on the experience of stillness will go astray in their meditation practice."

Tsele Natsok Rangdrol

Similarly shamatha meditation can temporarily stop disturbing emotions and thoughts and we can experience a blissful peace based on an absorption in a type of concentrated trance .However, the habitual patterns have not been undone, they have simply been interrupted by the mind's preoccupation with something else -- in this case the concentration technique itself.  As soon as we stop concentrating on the object of meditation we immediately resume our habitual patterns of thought and our disturbing emotions engage us in another samsaric daydream.  

The temporary relief from samsaric suffering is a profound experience and is available through this limited view of the practice of shamatha meditation but this can be compared to the effects of a drug or the blissful experience one has after an excercise work out.  This form of practice does not lead to realization but only to further suffering.  

The real key to meditation practice is the rcognition of the true nature of one's awareness.  This is the realization of awareness as "unborn".  It is "unborn" in the sense that our awareness is not dependent upon causes and conditions.  It doesn't come from somewhere else nor does it go anywhere.  It is neither harmed nor improved by the arising of experience and it cannot be called a "thing" in the way that we consider a rock or a physical object a thing.  Neither can it be considered to be "no thing" because it is a living cognizance.  It is present in every moment of our experience.  It is our awareness.  It sounds silly to say it but we have never known a moment when we did not have this awareness.  We have never had an experience which was apart from this Natural Awareness.  What we are doing in meditation is looking directly at awareness with awareness.  We are allowing awareness to rest in itself.

 In  Dzogchen and Mahamudra meditation technique is used to establish an unbiased reference point for awareness.  The use of a technique as a reference point in meditation should not be confused with the habitual mind's projection and fixation on habitual reference points.  In meditation practice the technique is to be aware of our breath and because of our awareness of the breath we can notice when we have been daydreaming, acknowlege it as distraction and come back to this simple uncontrived" sense of being."  This sense of being and our awareness of the breath are the same at this point.  At the moment that we notice that we have been 'daydreaming' or when we notice that we have lost our awareness of the breath we have already  come back to this unfabricated, undistracted awareness.  

What we are training in is the recognition of that moment --the moment when our past thought has run down and the future thought has not gripped us yet.   There really is nothing more to do when we come back to this simple awareness -- in fact, if we attempt to force ourselves to stay present we taint that uncontrived awareness.  The most difficult aspect of our practice is learning to "let be" once the daydream falls apart because there is a tremendous habitual urge to jump on to the next thought. Trungpa Rinpoche's practice instruction is to "touch and go." Through engaging in meditation practice we repeatedly   "touch" this moment of uncontrived awareness as a 'sense of 'being.'  This is simply the moment that we are fully present with our breath.  Then rather than holding it or trying to keep it we let it go -- we 'disown' it.  Because this sense of being is really the basis of our awareness we cannot actually grasp it or solidify it in any way.  We can't hold on to it -- we can only be it by letting our awareness be without distraction.

Our uncontrived Natural Awareness is only discovered by letting be -- by touching it, recognizing and then letting it be that way. The Formal practice of 'sitting meditation' as it is called is really just creating the conditions which are more conducive for this recognition and letting be.  It is only through doing this type of practice repeatedly that we wear out our tendency to jump to our next habitual distraction.  This is called attaining 'stability' in the natural state.  Many teachers recommend "short moments many times". but this type of instruction only works when you are in a longterm retreat.  If we just practice for short periods between checking our Iphone or facebook page we never wear out our habitual patterns.  So we recommend "short moments many times for a long time".  Just sit there and wear out the boredom and frustration, the fascination and exhilaration.  We only gain confidence in our Natural Awareness through watching every reaction arise, dwell and dissipate over and over again.  Eventually we become quite 'shinjanged" -- which is a tibetan meditation term for completely processed out.  Our shocking thoughts no longer shock us.  We see them just as thoughts.  We can see everything that arises in our mind and we no longer react habitually as though the thoughts were real or solid.  There is no substitute for intensive sitting practice within a group retreat.  That is why we offer our Winter Dathun or one month retreat every winter and numerous, shorter 10 day retreats throughout the year.     

Gradually through doing this practice we begin to recognize a quality to  awareness that permeates all of our experience.  What begins to bleed through is what is called "'vipashyana"-- or "clear seeing."  We begin to perceive thoughts, feelings, emotions and objects beyond the obscuration of our habitual fixation. What begins as a gap between discursive, habitual daydreams expands and undermines all of our delusive habitual conditioning.  What we first notice only by experiencing the boundary between periods of daydreaming and Awareness begins to expand.  Trungpa Rinpoche used the analogy of the vast ocean of Natural Awareness undermining the mainland of habitual mind until it collapses into the ocean.  In other words -- the boundaries are undermined by Awareness until there are no boundaries -- just Natural Awareness.

"There is a children's story about the sky falling, but we do not actually believe that such a thing could happen.  The sky turns into a blue pancake and drops on our head -- nobody believes that.  But in maha ati experience, it actually does happen.  There is a new dimension of shock, and new dimension of logic ... Our perspective becomes completely different."

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Awakening from the Daydream

 "When you rest nakedly and naturally in the great openness of this awareness, do not be concerned with your old archenemy, the thinking that reflects, has myriad attribrutes, and has never given you a moment's rest in the past.  Instead, in the space of awareness, which is like a cloudless sky, the movement of thoughts has vanished, disappeared collapsed.  All the power of [habitual] thinking is lost to awareness.  This awareness is your intrinsic dharmakaya wisdom, naked and fresh!"

Dudjom Rinpoche

 Even though the basis of our experience has always been the primordial perfection of Natural Awareness, up until we engage in this type of  meditation training we have been trapped in an habitual daydream.  Everything that arises in our field of awareness is conditioned by an habitual discursive dream state that we believe is reality.  We take our projected habitual thoughts to be our reference points -- the story we tell ourselves of what happened yesterday and the story we tell ourselves of what we will do tomorrow, of who we love and who we hate -- all sorts of scenarios and schemes that are just habitual discursive thoughts.  In our confused state we take these habitual reference points as solid and real-- as truly existing outside of our present experience --but of course they don't actually exist apart from the mind which is projecting them.  They are just thoughts.  The memory we have about our friend is not actually true. Our friend is not actually there.  But we react to the thought of our friend as though it were real -- as though he was standing right in front of us.  These thoughts have no solidity and no reality outside our discursive, habitual mind.  

What happens when we begin to dissolve this fiction through meditation practice?  First of all, the world comes alive through direct perception.  Every moment of experience is fresh, completely open and we are fully present in that moment.  All experience, while unique in itself, has the same taste of wild vividness, presence and boundless space. When the solidity of our habitual reference points dissolves the entire samsaric structure  is shaken to its foundation and we experience "Sacred World."  One analogy for this realization is the image of the moon reflected in water.  Just as the reflection of the moon is not separate from the water in the same way all arising phenomena in our experience are not and have never been separate in any way from Natural Awareness itself.  This is experienced as "wakefulness."

  "There is no separate emptiness apart from apparent phenomena.

 It is like fire and heat, the qualities of fire.

The notion of their distinctness is a division made by mind.

Water and the moon's reflection in water are indivisibly one in the pool.

Likewase, appearance and emptiness are one in the great Dharmata."


 At the same time the experience of  boundless openness and clarity that we have when the cocoon of habitual reference point has fallen away initially can be a frightening experience.  For countless lifetimes we have obscured this fresh present wakefulness with our habitual discursive thought and projection.  When we cut through and actually experience this fresh vividness it can be a freaky experience.  Part of us is frightened and wants to run back to our familiar habitual world.  We become very aware of impermanence and of loneliness.  Fear begins to arise along with a feeling of immense space.   The habitual reference points have begun to fall apart and awareness has expanded. 

As Trungpa Rinpoche points out, the barrier that comes up at this point is a reaction to that larger awareness of space -- the habitual reaction to this feeling of groundlessness, of no habitual reference point -- is generally fear.  The way we work with this fear and groundlessness is to let be and open out into it without attempting to change it or manipulate it.   We lean into the direct experience and continue to open and cut through any habituation or defense mechanisms with greater openness and awareness:

"Clarity of awareness may in its initial stages be unpleasant or fear-inspiring; if so, then one should open oneself completely to the pain or the fear and welcome it. In this way the barriers created by one's own habitual emotional reactions and prejudices are broken down.  When performing the meditation practice one should develop the feeling of opening oneself out completely to the whole universe with absolute simplicity and nakedness of mind, ridding oneself of all protecting barriers."

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Beyond Meeting and Parting: Meeting the Guru's Mind

The crucial point here is that Natural Awareness or "Recognizing the gap" is not something that we can be aware of with our habitual minds. To a mind that fixates and grasps on to projections this moment feels like an ignorant state of not knowing what to do or where we are. Essentially, we are in the habit of projecting thoughts of the past in order to manufacture an idea of where we came from. We are in the habit of projecting thoughts of the future to have some idea of where we are going and we preoccupy ourselves with reckoning in the present moment in order that we don't feel this groundless quality. This projected reality is the construct of habitual ego mind and we are very attached to this way of being. When this falls apart on us we scramble to fill in the gaps. The "gap" certainly doesn't feel like some remarkable spiritual experience. If we are aware of it at all it sometimes feels like a big let-down. Prajna, discriminating awareness wisdom is the intelligence which sees through our grasping and fixatiion in order to penetrate into this moment or gap. The practice of shamatha vipashyana sharpens this ability. By constantly coming back or tuning in to what is actually happening we cut through our deluded habit of projection and fixation.

Knowing the crucial point of practice we need to train diligently and stablize our recognition.

“There are a lot of blessings here, but I do not think these blessings are regarded as a kind of zap.  Rather, when students develop these qualities, the teachers can tune in to them more.  And in that way, in fact, students can short-circuit their past, present, and future, and begin to see the fourth moment on the spot.  That seems to be the idea of blessings here.  The guru is able to control the environment, because you and the guru share a world together.  Because you share the same world, you both click at the same time, which is known as the meeting of minds.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

(pp.204 “The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness”

 There are many ways to receive the 'pointing out instruction' of Natural Awareness in the Tantric tradition.  But it is very important that we rely on an authentic lineage and the blessings of a realized Master.  "Receiving the Blessings" means that when we are in the presence of someone who has completely removed the obscuration of habitual reference point we can recognize a particular quality to our experience.  

What we experience in their presence may not coincide with our conceptual idea of what "Awakened Mind" should feel like.   In fact, quite often our neurosis can be heightened or we may feel completely freaked out for no apparent reason.  Many times we feel very exposed and naked.   We feel it and we come to recognize the feeling through repeated encounters with the guru's mind.  Later on in our own practice or just walking down the street we can recognize that again and again.  Our heightened neurotic response generally is our habitual mind attempting to cover over the gap or the naked awareness of the unhabituated mind of the guru.  At the point of encountering this naked mind we might be tempted to run for cover -- and quite often we do -- but some part of us recognizes the Awakened Mind or Natural Awareness in that experience.

In the Tantric Tradition we bind ourselves to that naked mind through yidam practice and guru yoga.  The meaning of the samaya vow is that having recognized the nature of the Guru's mind as our Awakened Nature we commit ourselves to never turning away.  We bind ourselves completely to the Awakened Nature of the Guru and the Lineage he represents.   This is what it means to depend on and have devotion for a realized master.  

There are ,of course, many people who are buried under layers of habituation who will not experience the Guru's mind or not recognize it when it is right in front of them.  In the beginning of practice it is necessary to have faith -- just do your practice and clear away these habitual obscurations.  Its very helpful even in our cynical age to trust the words of our lineage Gurus!  Some people in this life will never realize the nature of the Guru's mind but will mistake it for something else.  This boils down to 'precious human birth."  Believe it or not, the crazy people who recognize this mind are the lucky ones!  Working on faith and devotion and pure perception is of the utmost importance on the path of Dzogchen and Mahamudra.

"In order to truly recognize your nature, you must receive the blessings of a guru who has the lineage.  This transmission depends upon the disciple's devotion.  It is not given just because you have a close relationship.  It is therefore vital never to separate yourself from the devotion of seeing your guru as the dharmakaya buddha."  

Shechen Gyaltsab, Pema Namgyal

 Depending upon the openness and receptivity of the student, the genuine "pointing out instruction"  can be through words, through the symbolic transmission of Tantric initiation, or through direct mind-to-mind transmission.  Actually, we say that transmission can occur through these three means but really all genuine transmission is "mind to mind."  The skillful means may be getting slapped by a sandal in the face or the sound of a bell ringing or the taste of good gin.  It doesn't matter.  The Guru's mind is the mind of the Buddha and of the lineage of genuine masters who have thoroughly realized unhabituated mind -- enlightenment. In this way he or she is a living manifestation of the Buddha.   At the same time having experienced this directly, a disciple is bound to maintain this realization.  This is called maintaining one's samaya vow.  

“The principle of samaya, or sacred bondage, becomes extremely important once we have taken abhisheka. The definition of yidam as the ‘sacred bondage of one’s mind’ was discussed earlier. When we receive empowerment to practice the sadhana of Vajrayogini, we take on that samaya, or bondage. We bind ourselves to indestructible wakefulness, committing ourselves fully to maintaining sacred outlook throughout our lives. This is done by identifying oneself completely with the vajra sanity of the teacher and of Vajrayogini. One is inseparably bound together with the teacher and the yidam; and, at this point, one’s very being and one’s sanity depend on keeping up this commitment.”

 Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

The Guru's mind is completely unhabituated Natural Awareness and that is what we recognize in the Guru. Thereafter,  we meet this mind every time we recognize and 'let be' in Natural Awareness in our practice or in our daily life.   When there is a genuine meeting between an authentic teacher -- one who has realized Natural Awareness and completely stabilized that realization -- and a worthy student -- someone who has ripened themselves through faith, practice and  devotion -- this authentic transmission can take place.  

We are so lucky to live in a time and place where this genuine meeting is still possible.  It is a very rare situation.  As practitioners we must continue to practice the main point.  When we do this the Guru's mind is always 'beyond meeting and parting.'

"My own guru said to me:
I have no thought besides the guru.
I have nothing to chant besides supplication to him.
I have nothing to practice besides nonaction.
I simply rest in that way.
Now I am in a happy state -- open, spacious, and free from reference point.                                   
For accomplishing the permanent goal of one's wishes,
The profound instruction of Dzogchen is enough in itself.

Dudjom Rinpoche "A Dear Treasure for Destined Disciples"