Explained in Tibetan by Khamtul Rinpoche Presented in English and briefly annotated by Garesh Sparham
An explanation of the complete rdzogs chen meditation practice: being Lo chen Dharma-sri’s guide through a Gter bdag gling pa treasure text, a text first taught by the second Buddha Padma-sambhava to his inner circle of thirty extraordinary women with wisdom, then hidden away to be rediscovered by those prophesided to do so.
According to the encyclopaedic Tibetan dictionary Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen trio, rdzogs chen is a religious term of the Rnyingma school, i.e., of the old, or authentic Buddhism of Tibet. A leading Western writer on the subject, Herbert Guenther says rdzogs then “is the name given to that spiritual tradition in Buddhism that emphasizes a holistic approach and rejects all partial perspectives as but local and temporal fluctuations within the atemporally abiding, non-localizable mystery that is Being as such.”
The present book is an English translation of rdor sems thugs kyi sgrub pa ‘i khrid yig rabgsal snangba . This is an explanation of the complete rdzogs chen meditation practice: being Lo chen Dharma - sri’s guide through a Gter bdag gling pa treasure text, a text first taught by the second Buddha Padma-sambhava to his inner circle of thirty extraordinary women with wisdom. The text is explained in Tibetan by Khamtul Rinpoche and presented in English by Gareth Sparham.
The text is an integrated presentation of the entire Buddhist religious practice. It is complete in encompassing the vast diversity of preliminary and fundamental Buddhist practice and complete, as well in including in its presentation of Buddhism the esoteric practices that convey one to the inexpressible transcendental profoundity, the clear and blissful sphere of the ultimate the practices taught come together in the person’s mind, as it were, to lead to breakthrough or a jump into transcendental experience. That is to say, to transcend its own activity and reach into its own primordial nature.
In the winter of 1991 Doboom Tulku, the Director of Tibet House in New Delhi asked Khamtul Rinpoche to give an explanation of the text translated here as part of an ongoing series designed to promote Tibetan culture and learning in the capital city of India. I was the translator. After the oral presentation Tibet House said it would like to publish the text. They originally hoped to bring out a larger work that included the entire oral presentation of Khamtul Rinpoche, saved on tape, but it has not been possible to do so at this present time. It is hoped that at some time in the future Khamtul Rinpoche’s oral presentation will appear in English.
Soon after Khamtul Rinpoche lectures I translated the text into English. I would like to thank the Indo-Canadian Shastri Institute whose support for my main area of research on the Indian writer Haribhadra during this period at the University of Madras with their post-doctoral fellowship facilitated the early work on this book.
I revised the translation during the summer of 1992 in McLeod Ganj, north India where Khamtul Rinpoche lives. I was able to meet with Rinpoche quite often. His comments are identified in the notes by the abbreviation (KS).
For an understanding of the structure of the translated text the reader is directed to the introduction. The folio numbers of the Tibetan text (found in the Gter mdzod vol. Ga folios 427-491) are given in square parenthesis. The numbering follows the Gter mdzod where the front and back of each folio are each given a separate page number.
The Tibetan word rdzogs chen (the initial rand the final s of the first syllable are silent) is a contraction of two common Tibetan words, an intransitive verbal root rdzogs pa (‘to be full,’ ‘to be complete,’ ‘to be exhausted in,’ ‘to finish in’)1 and an adjective or noun chenpo (‘big,’ ‘great’). It seems to be a word that, for all practical purposes, originated in and is unique to the Buddhism of Tibet, through as will become clear, what it means is by no means entirely Tibetan in origin. According to the encyclopaedic Tibetan dictionary Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo, rdzogs chen is a religious term of the Rnying ma schoo1, i.e., of the old, or authentic Buddhism of Tibet. The ‘completion’ part of the word refers to an effortless ‘coming’ or ‘being together’ of innate emptiness, innate luminosity and pervasive compassion (equated with three bodies of an enlightened being: the bodies of truth, enjoyment and emanation, respectively). It is ‘big’ or ‘great’ because it is the way all things are. Self-evidently, if a word connotes a natural and effortless unity underlying and pervading all things, one is using a weighty word, a word to step back from. So a sentence such as ‘lam doing rdzogs chen practice now, I prefer it to simple breathing meditation,’ which would not he uncommon in some circles, is at the very least odd and perhaps even vaguely insulting.
A leading Western writer on the subject, Herbert Guenther says rdzogs chen “is the name given to that spiritual tradition in Buddhism that emphasizes a holistic approach and rejects all partial perspectives as but local and temporal fluctuations within the atemporally abiding, non-localizable mystery that is Being as such.” Gene Smith describes rdzogs chen as “a short-cut technique simultaneously the approach, the process, the sum of the stages and the realization itself.”
As for the origins of the rdzogs chen doctrine, they are to be found in the older or authentic Buddhism of yogic practitioners (Sanskrit yogacara). One of the earliest rdzogs chen texts included in the Bstan ‘gyur has as an alternative name “Treatise on the method of meditation according to the yogic practitioners’ system.”3 Though extant for a time in India, this Buddhism of yogic practitioners took root and developed into a distinct school in China where it was called Ch’an, the name coming from a pronunciation of the Sanskrit word for yogic contemplation or trance (dhyana). The Buddhism of yogic practitioners has been distinguished in particular for a superficially anti-intellectual, even anti-thinking bent. In its stress on religious praxis, as distinct from mere theory, it carries on at least some of the essential characteristic of very early Buddhism. In China, in combination with the non-action ideal (Chinese wu-wei) of Taoism it led to a stress on the development of stable, transcendental planes of mental awareness while sitting immobile with one’s legs crossed in meditation. According to this stream of Buddhism any action whatsoever beyond sitting in meditation (and within meditation any thought at all) was at best meaningless and more likely than not a hindrance. It spread into Tibet during the eighth and ninth centuries particularly from regions bordering4 on south-eastern Tibet, in what is now Sichuan province.
Though this early Buddhism of yogic practitioners that developed into Ch’an in China appears to be the root source of rdzogs chen it is not its only source. Mention should also be made, at the outset, of the syncretistic Yogacara-madhyamaka 5 religious philosophy of eighth century Buddhist scholastics Santa-raksita and Kamala-sila (fl. 75O8OO).6 it was the dominant Buddhist ideology in Tibet from the end of the eighth century and for more than a hundred of rdzogs chen‘s formative years proponents of Yogacara-madhyamaka were supported by the powerful Yar klung kings. It would be surprising were rdzogs chen to have been completely uninfluenced by, Yogacara-madhyamaka particularly since it presented an ideology tailor-made for the distinctive praxis of rdzogs chen, namely, thought seeking within itself for its own transcendental nature. Though later rdzogs chen writers may have merely expropriated developing Tibetan Buddhist theories after the fact to justify their presentation of the essential practice as they saw it, it is certain that rdzogs chen as a distinct doctrine was strongly influenced in its early formative stages by the Yogacara madhyamaka in Tibet at the time it originated.
Besides Indian Yogacara-madhyamaka, another source of rdzogs chen seems to be an authentically central Asian religious tradition, the influence of which is most apparent in Bon. Not only does Bon, now a heterodox school of Tibetan Buddhism, claim rdzogs chen for itself, but the name of one of the earliest rdzogs chen texts Rig byed khu byung7 (“The cuckoo awakening pure awareness”) is strikingly reminiscent of names found in other early Bon texts.
A final important source of rdzogs chen is Indian tantricism. In rdzogs chen in even its very earliest presentation mention is made of bodhicitta personified as Kun tu bzang po (Sanskrit samanta-bhadra). This notion of bod hicitta (the term has a long history predating its use in tantric texts) comes from Indian tantricism. In the Introduction to his Anthology of Buddhist Tantric Songs Per Kvaerne says, “the fundamental concept of tantric Buddhism, as of Mahayana in general, is bodhicitta ...[and] it is in its treatment of this concept that the uniqueness of tantricism may best be grasped Having identified a relative and absolute bodhicitta Kvaeme says of the former “it is a much wider term” than mere aukra or semen, “. . . it is also the vital breath; indeed, the two concepts can hardly be distinguished.” As to the absolute bodhicitta, he says it is “. Essentially blissful . . . it is the bliss that proceeds from the control of the relative bodhicitta and which culminates in complete mystic rapture.” In rdzogs chen, the bodhicitta terminology, the characterization of the primordially pure awareness as blissful, and the presence of esoteric techniques for controlling the energy-winds originate in Indian tantricism.
Besides bequeathing the terminology and concept of bodhicitta to rdzogs chen, Indian tantric texts such as the Guhya-garbha-tantra may very well be the origin of the actual term rdzogs chen itself. In some very early usages rdzogs c/en appears to have been an alternative translation for (at least originated in some soil of connection with) the Indian term utpanna sathpanna-krama (‘completing process,’ ‘completion stage’). It is very similar in form and meaning to the Tibetan word rdzogs rim, the well-known and now standard translation of utpanna sampanna-krama.
Now, the sathpanna-krama is linked in Indian tantra to a preceding group of meditational practices subsumed under the heading utpatti-krama (‘generating process’). At the risk of gross oversimplification one may say that the sampanna-krama deals with a direct non-conceptual apprehension of the goal (the ultimate), particularly through the utilization of esoteric yogic techniques, while the utpatti-krama deals with the conceptual relative (the means to the goal), particularly in the use of symbols such as deities and mai4alas. Rdzogs chen seems to have slowly emerged as a term to describe something even greater than these two stages or processes— greater in the sense that it unified, or is the unification (yuga-naddha) of the two-stages—the inseparability of the ultimate and relative, the inseparability of the dharma-kaya and rupa-kaya.
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