From the uninterrupted stream of inconceivable truth, the unique humanity of self-knowledge is epitomized by the glorious Pema Gyalpo, whose actual voice literally speaks through the breath and larynx of the supreme master of synthetic wisdom, Chogyal Namkhai Norbu. I bow down to all the masters of the four times.
Dzogchen is a word-symbol, imported from the Tibetan language. The orthodox use of the word is intimately connected to the conscious and deliberate communication of the supreme knowledge of ultimate reality. The purpose of the Dzogchen teachings is to elucidate the immanentist way of total self-realization that can be discovered effortlessly by recognizing one’s own primordially enlightened essence. Here, the immanentist way is used in contra-distinction to the term transcendental. In the Dzogchen teachings there is a categorization of important ideas that are conducive to total realization. But it is crucial to understand that these important ideas are intended to function as analogs of knowledge that may awaken our primordial wisdom. The ideas themselves are not real knowledge — unless — they are fully recognized as analogs and the recognizer has real knowledge of their source.
In order to get one’s bearing in preparation for the practice of complete relaxation, it can be very helpful to think about reality in a somewhat organized fashion. In the Dzogchen way, we consider the idea that all we have, really, is our experience. Even our knowledge, whether it be a feeling of knowing or actual knowing, is known to us experientially. Fully realized masters have explained that the theoretical difference between subjective experience and objective reality is sustained only by a slight misunderstanding that arises in our subjectivity. The very moment this misunderstanding is clarified, subjective experience and objective reality will be identical. Therefore, it is considered very useful to have a good analogy for objective reality, so long as we don’t confound the analogy of reality for reality itself. In the Dzogchen teachings of Guru Padmasambhava, objective reality is described as having three principal characteristics. Although there are actually infinite characteristics to objective reality, three principal ones are considered the most useful for the purpose of working toward total self-realization. These three characteristics are often translated from Tibetan as: Essence, Nature and Energy (ngo-bo, rang-bzhin and thugs-rje). What follows is the first part of a three-part discussion of these three aspects of objective reality, and how our individual experience (subjectivity) can be realized as an eternally pure attenuation of ultimate reality. By extension then, we can begin to understand how objective reality is reflected and experienced in a human being, and also how objective reality functions in a human being. In the same way that we can speak of three cardinal aspects of objective reality, we can also speak of three cardinal ways in which objective reality is reflected in human beings, and also three cardinal ways in which it functions in humans. Each of the three aspects of both reflection and function correspond to a specific aspect of objective reality.
This refers to the Fact of reality. The fact of reality has always been true and continues to be true, independent of any ideas that anyone may have about it. Whether we resonate more with the idea of Fact or Truth, it’s the same thing. In conventional Buddhism this Fact/Truth is bifurcated as relative truth and absolute truth. This can sometimes cause an erroneous conclusion that absolute truth is somehow more true than relative truth. In Dzogchen teaching however, the facticity of objective reality subsumes all levels of truth. So, even though the conclusive idea of Essence in Dzogchen is “emptiness” (similar to the absolute truth of Buddhism), it is not considered useful to hold it as the Absolute Truth. The emptiness quality of Essence is a spaciousness that can never be reduced and is always the real context of everything. Furthermore, this essential truth is really the presence of this essence. So, it is when we ourselves become fully present in (and as) this Essence that we instantly realize non-duality. The total, all-inclusiveness and irreducible-ness of Essence is the true essence of everything, including ourselves. Essence is the context of everything so, everything is a sub-set of Essence (including the concept of Essence). The notion of emptiness or spaciousness is simply a concept that tries to explain how non-duality is possible. In Dzogchen, Essence is the objective fact of the non-duality of all-and-everything.
Now, it’s also a fact that we habitually live in a state of compulsive dualism. This dualistic state is primarily a dualistic mental state that is sustained by mental and psychic structures. This dualistic mental state (ego) conditions our experiences so that our own physical body seems to reinforce the illusion of dualism. If we introspect deeply we can notice that there is a profound sense of loss associated with all dualistic experience — even those that are pleasurable. Sometimes, the pleasurable experiences evoke the most profound sense of loss. This is because dualism is not our real nature, not really true for us. So the tension that arises from all this falseness prevents us from ever being truly content. All compulsive behavior represents our futile attempt to achieve real releasement from an imaginary bind. But only the realization of Essence can truly release us. In general, the nagging sense of loss associated with all dualistic experience is the source material for the common human glitch of self-loathing.
One of the principal practices in Dzogchen therefore is to work with the actual experience of Essence, which is emptiness. This experience can be induced in many ways. In the ideal situation, a master will deliberately induce this experience in the student and then teach the student how to subsequently self-induce the experience. Working with the experience of emptiness means learning how to remain in a state of unaltered presence, in the face of emptiness. It is extremely important however to understand that the experience of emptiness is not synonymous with the realization of Essence. Confounding these can result in a very significant spiritual obstacle and so, working at this level with a Dzogchen master is strongly advised. Ultimately, we can have real knowledge of the objective reality of Essence that includes the knowledge that what we take to be ourselves, as individuals, is fundamentally none other than Essence.
The realization of Essence automatically includes the realization of Nature and Energy because these aspects are not really discrete things. It is like water having aspects of fluidity, wetness and solvency. These aspects of water are altogether the water, and when water is experienced, all of its aspects are present in unison. How we actually find ourselves in the state of knowledge is, of course, the great unutterable magic. And we certainly would not be the first to marvel at this divine paradox. Plato conceptualized the theory of anamnesis in response to this mystery.
Meno: “And how will you search for the nature of virtue (the mind), Socrates, without knowing what it is? Given all the things that you don’t know, at which (unknown thing) will you aim your search? And even should you actually encounter it, how would you know that such unknown thing was what you don’t know?”
Just as Plato suspected, or perhaps knew, the Dzogchen view of knowledge is that it is intrinsic to Being. To be in the actual state of knowledge however, we must be present as Essence — the facticity of unfragmented, irreducible totality.