In INSIGHTS by Erik Pema Kunsang23 Comments

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.

Sarasvati, the emanation of Samantabhadri.

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, but 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, and this 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.

About the Author
Erik Pema Kunsang

Erik Pema Kunsang

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Translator of ancient Buddhist scriptures, author, bridge-builder to modern life, Buddhist teacher & meditation instructor. Board of director at 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha. Founder of Rangjung Yeshe Publications and LEVEKUNST art of life. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author. Erik's website & retreats.

Painting of Samantabhadra by Paola Minelli. Sarashvati by unknown.

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    Properly, probably?

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    I have read the write which has unsurpassable depth thrice to absorb it and for me to be absorbed in it. I am ready and very keen to meditate on Brilliant Expanse by Samantabhadri. I shall be grateful to you if you could let me know as to how to access it.
    I have had one recent experience where unsmountable pain was being undergone, and I was neither in it nor out of it. At the level of intellect too, where thought is forever breathing down on one, one moves out, but there is an element of uncertainty. A guidance and access to the Brilliant Expanse is thus a need and not a desire. If there is any video on the subject, that will be useful.

    1. Erik Pema Kunsang Author

      Dear Ramesh,

      These teachings were brought to life by Padmasambhava in numerous terma treasures, most recently in Kunzang Tugtik, the Heart Essence of Samantabhadra, which were revealed by Chokgyur Lingpa. Please ask his sons for the transmission.

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    It’s an excellent description/translation Erik on Dzogchen and practices towards enlightenment.

    But a question is, who is there to practice any method whatsoever other than the so-called conceptual mind? Perhaps the more practice the more solidification of conceptual/dual mind and in turn the lesser is the chance of realization or better to say revelation of state of liberation called enlightenment which is always the case or revelation of true nature of everything in the nature.
    Secondly, how can the conceptual mind ever realize the non-dual nature, or how can it ever describe the non-dual nature which is devoid of quality known/knowable by the dualistic mind imagining that somehow it has known it because whatever can be known/understood/described by the dualistic/conceptual mind can never be other than in the realm of dual/conceptual?
    Perhaps all the practices are meant/conceived/conceptualized to “do with consciousness/awareness” as far as possible so that one gets established in the “state of mindfulness automatically” or in other words one’s (concepts) resistance to the natural flow of life comes to an end when the dualistic/conceptual mind’s activities comes to somehow abrupt end either due to feeling of hopelessness or helplessness from making efforts or any other feeling which leads to make one completely aligned with natural flow of life “as such” (not the social life).

    And perhaps this (enlightenment/liberation/freedom) is a revelation not an achievement.

    Anyway I am not a teacher/master/guru/etc…. the above is just concepts/ideas coming out of so called my dualistic/conceptual mind as there is perhaps no other way too for anyone if expressed through words. I write too much Erik 😀

    1. Erik Pema Kunsang Author

      The points you bring up, dear Raman, are very important, personal and practical. You are totally right: dualistic mind cannot grasp the nondual nature of reality. But it doesn’t have to. Dualistic mind just needs to be convinced about that, and then ease off into nonduality without grasping it, like a wave settling back into the ocean. That is both easy and very difficult.

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    This is the second article I have read from you that encourages us readers to dive into Ngondro practice. Thank you very much for that. It helps.

    1. Erik Pema Kunsang Author

      Yes, ngondro is often regarded as a beginner’s training, but honestly, it’s pretty advanced and needs a certain readiness. But it brings infinite benefit.

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    “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.” Yes. yes. yes.

    1. Erik Pema Kunsang Author

      Thank you very much, Jeff. We corrected the artist from unknown to known, with name and weblink. 🙂

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    Thank you, Erik.

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    Boy Noelene, they sure have you doing a bunch of mental constructing! Just relax in that which is present as your own rigpa deity. It’s the only real deity, the rest are imagination. It’s the ever present “empty knowing”, that exists exactly at the place from which you are looking!

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    Dear Erik, where is the term “dharmata swayambhu nada” used specifically? That is the meditation support I use.

    1. Erik Pema Kunsang Author

      It is mostly known from the Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo, especially in the chapter on the Bardo of Dharmata. Next, in the various guidance manuals that teach how to relate to unconditioned sound as a preparation for being liberated during that bardo. It also occurs when describing Vajra Speech, the ultimate source of all tantras. I mainly know it from oral teachings of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche.

  9. Frans Stiene

    Thank you Erik,
    Has Tantra of the Brilliant Expanse ever been translated in English?
    Thank you

    1. Erik Pema Kunsang Author

      Not as far as I know, Frans. But Padmasambhava condensed it in various ways as terma treasures. It is also the basis for the Heart Essence of the Dakini, Khandro Nyingtik.

      1. Frans Stiene

        Thanks Erik, will see what I can find. Just read your translated work Dakini Teachings. Wonderful.

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    How could there be anything “higher” or better than ngondro & Guru Yoga?! We use the conceptual mind, because thats where we are…to go from negative, to positive, to enlightenment. Thank you for this beautiful, and beautifully written article.

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    I didnt mention that I have a very good meditation mentor who has kindly and patiently helped me to this point. It never would have been possible without him, and Im very indebted to him .

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    I found your article very interesting, I have Yamantaka solitary hero tantric initiation from HH the Dalai Lama and very little else, at the moment Im intending to follow up with Gebchak Wangdrak Rinpoche in australia next year if accepted by him for Dzogchen instruction and more I hope. I do shamatha meditation 2 or 4 times daily, and have had some but not much indication yet that Im doing it right. Had one strong experience of being in the middle of what seemed like a lot of independently changing and manifesting multicoloured light like things which seemed to draw me into them. but that was 2 days ago, I dont know what it was, back to shamata anyway; I meditate on vajrasattva and consort deity practice, and of course Vajradhara. Im no spring chicken either so Im really trying to get it right. thanks for your article and your friend status Eric I have a web page under my name.

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