Fifty years ago, even in Tibet whose own language donated the very word itself, dzogchen was basically unknown except to a small group of specialists who preserved it in secrecy. Ironically, the real dzogchen is still a secret and perhaps even more so now than before. This is so because of the perennial axiom that misunderstanding is a much greater deviation than not understanding. With misunderstanding there is an erroneous and deviant closure; whereas with simply not understanding, openness is preserved. That very openness itself, objectively speaking, is dzogchen, the essence of everything, including ourselves. But we are not aware of that fact. So, only this lack of awareness is the glitch. Actual awareness however is not an idea — it is a state of being. Since we are thoroughly intoxicated with ideas, it is very important to discover the timeless clarity of intrinsic awareness. This is where you step out onto the ontic tight-wire and confront the secret of yourself.
Present-day dzogchen teachings, preserved and cultivated for a thousand years in Tibet, contain fascinating lore about the universality of the teachings. There exists in our dzogchen teachings specific language even about how many other star-systems currently host dzogchen teachers and teachings. With insightful consideration of the real meaning of the dzogchen teachings it is easy to understand why Chogyal Namkhai Norbu openly states that dzogchen is the actual foundational essence of all genuine spiritual teachings. If we accept this then we must conclude that no genuine spiritual teaching conflicts with dzogchen. So it would seem then that not only all the various schools and traditions of Buddhism, but rather all genuine spiritual traditions are “various” only in regard to what “truths” they emphasize. This can be readily seen in the Tibetan vajrayana teachings regarding “relative truth” and “absolute truth”. In the dzogchen teachings these “two truths” are considered to be relative to each other. With genuinely extraordinary humility, the Dalai Lama once asked a dzogchen master to explain how there could be anything beyond the absolute truth. The master explained that absolute truth is only absolute in relation to the relative truth. Therefore, its absoluteness remains relative to relativity. He further explained that there is nevertheless an ultimate truth that can never bifurcate and is always the real immanence of the here and now, perpetually manifest in each and every moment, as each and every event. So, the significance of the dzogchen teachings is this emphasis on ultimate truth. But this emphasis does not mean that a dzogchen practitioner is limited in any way or should not work with other levels of truth. It means that when we work with other levels of truth we endeavor to not lose this ultimate perspective. As an analogy, when we want to read a book at night, we might make use of moonlight, firelight, or more often electrical light to illuminate the pages. But if we are insightful, in the very moment of enjoying that book, the readability of which being dependent upon a lesser light source, we can also be simultaneously cognizant of the truth of the sun’s unfathomable brightness, even as we abide temporarily in the shadow called night. In fact, if we cultivate such mindfulness, we can definitely know and even concretely feel that we ourselves are literally composed of the sun’s very substances, the warmth and luminance of which we are inseparable. In a somewhat similar way a dzogchen practitioner can remain mindful in the context of ultimate truth regardless of any involvement with the practicalities of lesser truths. It’s important to understand here that lesser does not mean less true but rather refers to a lesser degree of intensity and field of influence.
In many ancient wisdom traditions Truths are referred to as Laws. In some traditions of Buddhism this is also the case, as in the term Law of Karma. Although the terms Law and Truth can be used interchangeably in many cases, they are historically used selectively when emphasizing moral aspects of spiritual training. Hence, referring to the Law of Karma connotes a more obligatory tone than would the form, Truth of Karma. From the dzogchen perspective Law and Truth mean the same thing. However, when we speak in terms of Truth we are referring to the validity of something. When we speak of a Law we do so in order to establish a sense of the specific jurisdiction of that validity. Take for example the law of gravity. One can not violate the law (truth) of gravity but it is certainly possible to abide outside its jurisdiction. So, when still a child, Garab Dorje publicly declared that he possessed a knowledge that was completely outside the jurisdiction of cause and effect, this was heard by ordinary people as a literal violation of the law — the Law of Karma to which everyone subscribed. In the case of gravity there is more than one way to be outside its jurisdiction. Until recently however the only ones who could experience this were yogis who sufficiently organized their five pranas, saints whose energy systems spontaneously organized, or certain ordinary beings who were manipulated by very powerful spirits. At this point, however, literally anyone can do it, but you will need to book passage on a spaceship bound for ports beyond the gravitational field of the planets. Likewise karma is a law with a specific and limited jurisdiction, that is, field of influence. The jurisdiction of karma is the habitual, delusory, mental state of dualistic ignorance. Since this is exactly the state we are presently in, karma is therefore a law whose reckoning we must endure. However, inasmuch as the dualistic perspective is in fact a mistaken view, that is to say, not how it truly is, the “truth” of Karma is only true so long as we remain in the untruth of this dualistic state.
Although Karma is understood to be ultimately untrue, a dzogchen practitioner can still make good use of it. This is like taking a role in a stage play. Even though you know it’s not real, that is, you know it’s just a play, you can nevertheless affect a powerful and meaningful message by playing the role well. Nevertheless the greatest of actors neither lose sight of the symbolism nor do they lose themselves in the role. If this were not so, those actors playing Brutus would actually kill the actors who play Ceasar and there would be real blood on the stage. Likewise, when dzogchen practitioners enact the transformation process of Mahayoga or Anuyoga, they do not give themselves over to it completely — they do not forget themselves or abdicate the ultimate view of dzogchen. There is a widely diffused teaching given by Chogyam Trungpa (although usually attributed erroneously to Dilgo Khyentse) that references this interplay of symbolism, vis-a-vis ultimate truth:
“All phenomena appear in their own uniqueness as part of the continually shifting pattern like participants in a great dance. These patterns are vibrant with meaning and significance at every moment yet, there is no significance that can actually be attached to the meaning beyond the exact moment in which they present themselves. This is the dance of the five elements in which matter is a symbol of energy and energy is a symbol of spaciousness. So, we ourselves are a symbol of our own enlightenment. Everything is a symbol. Yet there is no real difference between the symbol and the truth that is symbolized.”
The hallmark of dzogchen practice is to abide in the knowledge of ultimate truth and to remain open, without limitations. There are innumerable spiritual and cosmic truths and laws which, depending on the particular venue of our manifestation, may be practical to know. We need not limit ourselves by being prejudicial regarding the various types and levels of knowledge. And this openness also need not bewilder us regarding what is concretely practical for our immediate individual situations.