The second aspect of our discussion of ultimate reality is designated in Tibetan by the term, rang zhin (rang-bzhin). Perhaps more than any other technical term in the Dzogchen lexicon, rang zhin simply cannot be meaningfully translated into English as a term. After much consideration and discussion with masters who actually know the full depth of meaning of rang zhin through the clarity of their realization, there is a strong case to be made for simply adopting the Tibetan term as is. Otherwise, the current standard renders rang zhin as, Nature.
Objective reality is what is so — unperturbed and unalterable by any and all ideas concerning it or ignorance of it. As we will see, ideas and even ignorance are but among the equally legitimate, limitless modes of “appearances” that spontaneously arise from objective reality.
In Dzogchen, objective reality is called the basis (Tib=thog-ma’i gzhi). Although limitless appearances ceaselessly and spontaneously arise from the basis, they all originate as a primordial glow (Tib=gdangs). So, the nature of ultimate reality is its spontaneous and ceaseless arising/unfolding as always-perfect and always-original self-appearance. The primordial glow is esoterically characterized in Dzogchen as being the proto-radiance of five proto-lights of distinct wavelengths, being the origins of the five colors. The actual value of this perspective however only becomes available to those who discover, through direct introduction, that this basis is the basis of ourselves, as individuals. In the dimension of human existence, rang zhin is knowable as a function of our becoming less and less invested in egoic self-image. As our individual systems become more capable of tolerating the intense energy that is released through the loosening of compulsive identification, the self-luminous clarity of rang zhin begins to light up our consciousness as gnosis. Quite literally, everything starts clearing up. And before too long, everything becomes completely clear. What becomes clear is not only manifest energy but also the awareness that everything unfolds perfectly and that perfection itself is the basis of the unfoldment. In the state of true clarity, the nature and meaning of all that manifests becomes visible as knowledge. The functioning of rang zhin is the clarification. Participating in clarity means being present in, and cognizant of, the uniqueness of each and every moment as ultimate reality perpetually manifests a self-optimizing unfoldment.
Now, some may say that there is a big difference between what is seen by ordinary humans and what is seen by enlightened beings. In Vajrayana Buddhism there is the practice of differentiating pure vision and impure vision. In that practice one cultivates the certainty that everything is insubstantial yet luminous, and meditation consists of visualizing/imagining one’s world as a kind of Alex Grey universe. Habituating oneself in this way to the experience of pure vision is a very powerful practice and ultimately culminates in the realization of pure vision. But in Dzogchen, pure vision and impure vision are recognized as arising from the same source, namely, the basis. So, instead of imagining what the experience of pure vision is like, a Dzogchen practitioner relaxes into the basis, from which pure and impure vision both arise. Cognizant abiding in the non-conceptual state of our own basis (ngo-wo / rang-zhin / thug-je) reveals an all-encompassing vision in which a distinction between pure and impure is irrelevant.
Consider the story of Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing (The Importance of Being Ernest, by Oscar Wilde). Both Algernon and Jack had created fictitious identities, Bunbury and Ernest, as whom they would each cavort incognito away from their respective homes, Algernon escaping to the country as respite from the city life, and Jack running to the city to relieve his boredom of country life. Both gentlemen developed seemingly separate lives with different sets of friends and circumstances, one set in the country and another set in the city. Even though their fictitious identities were technically false and completely imaginary, nevertheless the relationships that developed around those false identities were themselves not false. Even more importantly, Bunbury always knew that he was really Algernon, and Ernest always knew that he was really Jack.
Even more importantly, suppose that Algernon were to be simultaneously confronted by two of his friends, one however being from his country life and the other from his city life. Suppose that one calls out to him from a slight distance to his left, “Hey Algernon!”. The other friend calls out to him at the same time but from directly in front, “Hey Bunbury!”. Disregarding the emotional response that would accompany being busted, the actual raw data of cognition that both friends were addressing him, despite their use of different names, illustrates the fundamental sameness of both identities. Even though one identity was conventionally considered true and the other false, both identity triggers (the two names) activate the same person. It is the same with pure vision and impure vision. The clarity that is the primordial context of both pure and impure vision is the rang zhin of the basis. What this clarity reveals is spontaneous, self-perfecting unfoldment in all directions.
“The self-perfected natural light of Dzogchen, infinitely surpassing the conceptual meditation of fools, radiates as primordially pure essential wisdom. May the teaching of the Lake-born Buddha flourish!
The weakness of holding the lopsided notion of either existence or non-existence as an objective view disintegrates in the non-duality of appearance/emptiness by means of Basis-Path-Fruit. May the teaching of the Lake-born Buddha flourish!”
Jamgon Mipham Gyatso (1846-1912)