Once upon a time, at the time of the Primordial Buddha, the first teachings in our present universe arose spontaneously out of the expanse of awakened mind, as the play of self-resounding innate nature also known as dharmata swayambhu nada. How long ago was this? It was longer ago than anyone can count and probably before the planet Earth was ever formed. Due to the particular location of our galaxy among the untold numbers of universes, 6.400.000 Dzogchen tantras appeared here. Some of these tantras were seen to appear from the female buddha Samantabhadri, the universal mother. Her words exist today in the Tantra of the Brilliant Expanse.
Her precious words have been echoing through millions of eons since that time thanks to the twelve Dzogchen buddhas of which the last four where human beings, and in our time thanks to the Indian master Padmasambhava. Samantabhadri had taught everything that a spirit would need, in whatever form that spirit is incarnated, including as a human being. Our travel through time and space, world after world, life after life. Especially, she taught how to be truly free and awaken from the grand illusion.
Over the millennia, people have followed her words and have used the very special techniques within the Brilliant Expanse to uncover the primordial enlightenment that is the nature of our mind. This tried and proven path of awakening within a single lifetime is to come face to face with our basic nature of mind and continue that until it is uninterrupted throughout day and night. Training in this path is praised by all buddhas as the most effective way of creating merit and clearing away the veils that cover this basic nature.
My teacher Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche often said that a piece of glass and a diamond can look alike for the untrained eye and must therefore be examined and verified before being sure. A billion times more important than shopping for gemstones is the process of gaining the right understanding of the nature of mind, with complete certainty free of doubt. This understanding is called the view. It is the training in this view, that is called meditation in the Dzogchen context. This training is not to keep an idea in mind or a special attitude, no matter how deep one may believe it is; it is a training in actual experience, totally free of preconceived ideas. That is why there is nothing more important than getting the view right.
Tulku Urgyen once said that meditating with a view that is an assumption, a hazy idea, mere guesswork, or with an unnatural emphasis, is like believing that the first day of the month is the second: every day one has the wrong date, no matter how convinced one may seem to be. Without the correct view, there is no authentic Dzogchen meditation. So, by all means, become clear about the true view in the presence of a competent, experienced Dzogchen master.
Well then, for someone who feels unsure, do I actually know the right view, is there no way to progress? Yes, there is. Absolutely. There are 84000 different ways thought by the Buddha, and all of them have one single purpose: to bring dualistic mind closer to knowing its own nature. All these teachings are given out of boundless kindness and wisdom to lead people and other beings in the right direction.
Among these 84000 wonderful entrance-doors to our true nature, there is one particular set of instructions, which the masters of India and Tibet have personally practiced, both before and after the preliminary enlightenment experience. I want to give it center stage here, because it is easy to practice and at the same time incredibly helpful. It directly removes not only the emotional veil, but especially the very subtle cognitive veil, the wrong dualistic attitude of samsaric mind. This set of instructions appears in the Dzogchen tantra Brilliant Expanse, taught by Samantabhadri.
Within its 129 chapters, the Brilliant Expanse teaches through the voice of the Samantabhadri a practice which is today known as ngondro. This practice is deep, directly connected to nondual awakened mind. It is practical, as it is understandable by dualistic mind. It is a perfect bridge between where we are at the present moment and what we really are and have always been. It is a vehicle that takes you there.
Each segment of the ngondro gives dualistic mind something to think of with sincerity, kindness and profound admiration followed by a process during which duality dissolves. The ngondro training is therefore an eminent way to ensure that in each meditation session dualistic mind is transformed, uncovering the awakening state realized by all buddhas. This is perfectly reasonable because ultimate refuge, ultimate bodhichitta, ultimate Vajrasattva, ultimate mandala and especially the ultimate guru yoga is no other than recognizing our basic nature, developing its strength through meditation training, and being stable in that throughout day and night. Even if the nondual experience may be for a short moment, a meditator can simply repeat it many times.
There are people these days who call themselves teachers of Dzogchen, who hold the unfounded belief that ngondro was invented in India or Tibet. I say, he or she is ignorant of the intent within the Dzogchen tantras on how to deal with dualistic mind. Moreover, anyone who believes that ngondro practice is an hindrance to enlightenment, is ignorant of the myriads skillful ways to influence and transform dualistic mind. To reject authentic teachings that makes use of dualistic mind and encouraging other do so, Tulku Urgyen said, creates worse karma than killing a thousand people because it interrupts the life-force of liberation.
Whenever we let be in the present moment the tendencies for the two veils will reactivate almost immediately. This is experienced as formless shamatha, at best, which is the absence of the emotional veil, but not the cognitive. For the most we become absentminded and distracted, followed by thoughts and emotions, which are the emotional veil. The odds are high that without using special methods, as the ngondro for instance, this type of meditation could go on for a hundred years without liberating or awakening from dualistic mind.
I personally found while taking the bodhisattva vow in the ngondro training, that to give room in the heart to boundless kindness and compassion, and then to suspend awareness without directing it in any way whatsoever, easily uncovers a gentle and open state of mind. This training cures and heals not only the selfish emotions that ruin peace of mind, but also totally melts away the very thin film of concepts.
Whether or not the meditator uses a conceptual framework as a starting point is in itself not enough to decide if a practice is sublime; it is the effect of the technique unfolding in the meditator’s mind that is the deciding factor. It is here the true value lies. As the eminent master Trulshik Rinpoche once told me, “It is not the teaching but the person who should be Dzogchen.” Therefore, the ngondro practice of transmuting dualistic mind into the awakened state is perfect alchemy, is to be treasured as a sublime gift from Samantabhadri who taught the Brilliant Expanse. May her methods be practiced and taught all over the world until the next buddha.Painting of Samantabhadra by Paola Minelli. Sarashvati by unknown.
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