What is it that motivates us to pursue inner work? Our real motivation to seek self-liberation is a non-conceptual, self-radiant lucency that predates time and is a quality of our real nature. This secret light, called dang in Tibetan Dzogchen terminology, is always radiating out from our true core and pressing, as it were, against the opaque mental structures we normally hold to be real. Why we can refer to this as a motivation is because that pressure, figuratively speaking, provides an on-going conundrum to the psyche which, at a certain point of maturity, can no longer be ignored. Of course, there are also manufactured motivations – some manufactured by the Ego’s “eight worldly concerns”, and some manufactured by religion. The earliest schools of Vajrayana Buddhism established a four-fold meditation that was intended to orient the practitioner’s mind toward the ideal motivation. In Tibetan this four-fold meditation is known as the lodro nam zhi, The Four Considerations that Direct the Mind (toward Dharma). In the classical Nyingma training manual, Kunzang Lamay Zhelung, the first four of its thirteen chapters are devoted to a detailed commentary on each of these individual considerations. The first consideration is the unique significance of our human existence. The second is the transient, impermanent nature of everything, ourselves in particular. The third consideration is the pervasiveness of suffering and the inherently problematic nature of ordinary life, and the fourth is the consideration of karma (from the specifically Buddhist perspective). By diligently attending to these meditations one’s mind is matured in the sense that one’s immature ambitions of worldly success are gradually deconstructed. When one has truly arrived at the more realistic view that this world basically operates on the principle of “smoke and mirrors”, the process of spiritual maturity has thereby set in, and it is at this stage in a person’s spiritual career that Vajrayana practice becomes viable.
In the Dzogchen tradition the issue of spiritual maturity is also very important. However, the process of maturation is presented and applied in a non-gradual fashion. Rather than relying on the patently negative concepts of suffering, dissatisfaction and futility as one’s spiritual base-camp, the radix of motivation for the practice of Dzogchen is intrinsic curiosity. To remain current in the practice of Dzogchen contemplation one’s basic curiosity serves as the life-line between Essence and Ego. Being passionately curious about what is really real is the spiritual base-camp of Dzogchen practice. In the cognitive aftermath of Direct Introduction to Rigpa, the supreme wonderment that is reality’s purely positive unfoldment illuminates everything that is opaque about ourselves. Inasmuch as Dzogchen denotes our real condition, and since our conventional reality of apparitions is, in fact, a shadow-box theater made visible to ourselves solely by the light of ultimate reality, the entire reality issue presents itself as the consummate curiosity. The more we relax and permit our own purely positive unfoldment to manifest in its own essential context, the more interesting everything becomes. This self-evidencing spiritual evolution is the natural flow of our Essential Being. In contrast to this frictionless, effortless approach that allows Being to be itself, a motivation arising out of the despair of seeing everything as meaningless, futile and frightening actually prevents the flash and zing that are the true characteristics of the flow of Essential Life. As there is no beginning to Being because time itself is among the myriad opacities of one’s mind, there is also no on-switch for illuminating awareness. In conventional reality, light is perceived only as it bounces off things of varying degrees of opacity and absorption. But we are also a living light source ourselves, inter-radiant and inter-being with everything. So, going deeper, what becomes critically curious is the fact that conventional reality and ultimate reality constitute an indivisible, holistic truth. Recognizing this and, moreover, feeling a compelling, natural interest in this, is the true ground-zero of spiritual evolution.
The most fundamental significance (to oneself) of one’s own real nature, is the fact of its boundless ontological presence. This is what is meant by the Tibetan term, ngo-wo, in Dzogchen teachings. This boundless presence presents, in a knowable way, as a vibrant radiance, rang-zhin, and resonates with everything as “the heart of the matter”, thug-je. Although these three aspects can be differentiated here for the purpose of discussion, they are really the same reality, like water having purity, taste and wetness. This fundamental reality, although being the true essence, nature and energetic vibrancy of everything, is commonly misunderstood due to a kind of amnesia. It is like someone who calls out his own name in a canyon and then, upon hearing the echo but having forgotten that it was he who originally called out, thinks that there is someone “out there” calling his name. If we investigate deeply and seriously, there is always some degree of dissatisfaction, incompleteness and uneasiness about these echoes, so long as we are not being in our real nature. Once our systems have been uniquely initialized by Direct Introduction, remembering ourselves as Essential beings and being present as such becomes the main point of all experiences. The unfiltered realization that presents itself as the Teacher’s body, speech and mind is the indispensable nexus of our own realization, and the ultimate refuge. If someone wants to “take refuge” in the style of traditional Buddhism, Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa (1729—1798) gave the following:
In the essence of the Three Jewels, The Bliss-Liberated Guru-Deva-Dakini,
In the Channels, Winds and Nuclei that manifest Pure and Total Presence,
In the mandala of ngo-wo, rang-zhen, thug-je,
I take refuge until Pure and Total Presence emerges as all there is.
Taking refuge is like boarding a ship that you trust will transport you safely to your desired destination. The actual taking of refuge is the actual boarding. If someone has not yet really boarded, it might be useful to repeat, again and again, one’s intention to do so, until you actually board. However, if you really are on-board, then it doesn’t change anything to keep going on and on about how much you like and appreciate the ship. Once boarded upon the Jewel-Ship of Knowledge, you are completely in the condition of refuge and there is no real need to make a declaration of it. And then the arousal of Bodhicitta (sem-kye) is the wondrous fact of simply being.