Dzogchen is the merciful, inexpressible truth of infallible, universal perfection. It is inescapable and inevitable. So, any attempt to be knowledgeable about it would be like an Irukandji jellyfish trying to understand the ocean. It is said that there are 22,000 Dzogchen tantras, corresponding to the number of subtle channels in the human body. But the ultimate practical synthesis of all those tantras is distilled into the two supreme practices known as Trekcho (khregs chod) and Togal (thod rgal).
Serious practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism are all familiar with what is called Ngondro (sngon ’dro). In traditional practice of Vajrayana the ngondro are preliminary practices that prepare the novitiate for the very subtle essential practices. With only minor variation among the various schools, the ngondro typically consists of five sections: 100,000 prostrations, 100,000 repetitions of the refuge and Bodhicitta prayer, 100,000 repetitions of Vajrasattva mantra, 100,000 mandala offerings, and 100,000 Guru-yoga mantra. This can easily take a number of years to complete. If one is intent on completing the ngondro properly, that is to say, with attention to detail and manifest signs of accomplishment, it may require more than one go-round. Indeed, some strict Vajrayana masters may require their disciples to repeat the ngondro numerous times before granting the more advanced teachings. Dzogchen however has no such tradition or requirement of ngondro. But this is like saying that it is not required for someone to learn how to swim in a swimming pool before they are permitted to swim in the deep ocean. The main difference here is in the character of the different approaches. Dzogchen teachings are ideally suited to individuals who are capable of taking responsibility for themselves. If Dzogchen practitioners feel the need to develop the skills that are the goal of Vajrayana ngondro practices, they are certainly free and perhaps wise to do them. However, there is no doctrinal requirement. In Dzogchen practice there is always a direct introduction to rigpa, that is, a realized master transmits this knowledge directly and deliberately. Beyond that, everything hinges on the aptitude and capacity of the practitioner.
In Dzogchen practice, the ideal thing is to incorporate literally everything into one’s practice. This is easy to say but not so easy to actually do. So Dzogchen teachings include methods for learning how to incorporate and integrate everyday events and circumstances with one’s intrinsic, undistracted contemplative state. This is called Trekcho and Togal. Typically, Trekcho is practiced first and after becoming adept, then Togal is practiced. Togal practice involves working directly with the atomic and subatomic energies of our own bodies. For more than a thousand years, Dzogchen masters have warned against premature introduction or even discussion of Togal. It is said that if someone tries to learn Togal prematurely, not only will it certainly fail, but such an error will also permanently block all possibility of properly learning it in the future. To really learn and practice Togal one must work very closely with a realized Dzogchen master. The practice of Trekcho also requires transmission from a realized master. The principle of Trekcho however deals with the psyche and our deeply entrenched tendency to react. The automatic reflex of reactive impulses is the root of our fundamental ego-tension. Hence we are never really relaxed due to this positive feedback loop of reactivity. Trekcho can be understood therefore as the special Dzogchen method for completely relaxing. Of course, we are using the idea of relaxing in a very special way. But although the discussion of being relaxed in the context of the Dzogchen teachings regards a state that is profoundly subtle (and perhaps beyond our present capacity) we can nevertheless gain important understanding about this state by simply considering the common state of relaxation, which is none other than an attenuated form of the supreme relaxation of total realization.
Trekcho also needs to be understood in terms of our being in the state of presence. In the tradition of the Dzogchen teachings, this presence is often referred to in Tibetan as drenshe (dran shes) which is a contraction of the two terms, drenpa (dran pa) and shezhin (shes bzhin) [see previous posts: Shrink Rap and The Secret Life of Thoughts]. Quite simply, being in presence means not being distracted by anything. Regardless of anything that might be going on, internally or externally, it is possible for us to remain undistracted. Furthermore, not being distracted doesn’t mean that we are oblivious or apathetic. It means that we do not lose awareness and cognizance of the real context of ourselves and our experience. The real context is the essence (emptiness), nature (clarity) and radiance (agape) of ultimate reality. With this special kind of presence we can discover a kind of relaxation that is ultimate. If we take hints from our ordinary experiences of relaxation, we can understand that when we are relaxed we have a tendency to just let things be. Maybe we do that because we are just too comfortable at that time to find the motivation to tend to anything. Maybe we truly don’t believe that anything needs tending at that moment — so we just relax. So, in the practice of trekcho there is also a kind of training in just letting everything be, but at a very deep level. This practice is called, chogshag (cog bzhag). In linear translation chogshag is most commonly rendered as “resting freely”. So this should give a good sense of the basic meaning.
The profundity of tregcho is also its practicality because this is the way in which we can really integrate our diverse everyday life circumstances as genuine Dzogchen practice. If we understand how to practice the four aspects of chogshag, then there will literally never be a moment of our life that is not conducive to instant liberation. This is the real point of the Dzogchen teachings. Every moment, without exception, is the perfect opportunity for realization because the situation at every moment is always a perfect manifestation of enlightenment. And nothing whatsoever can even happen outside this context of enlightenment. If we relax our minds completely then even the natural arising of thoughts will not distract us from the true nature of our existence. In practicing trekcho we relax into a profound state of recognizing natural enlightened perfection in everything, and then just allow everything to simply be as it is. There is a moment of releasement, whether incremental or total, and it is a magical moment of unutterable significance. If releasement itself is also simply left “as it is”, without reification, then even incremental release can arise as total release. This is like a bale of phragmites that, having been tightly bound for some time by a strand of frayed twine, suddenly bursts out into a natural splay upon the spontaneous breaking of the twine.