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Buddhadharma : Fall 2006
fall 2006| 48 |buddhadharma Ron GaRRy has a Ph.D. in inDo-TibeTan buDDhism anD has comPleTeD The TRaDiTional ThRee-yeaR ReTReaT. he TRanslaTeD Wisdom Nectar: dudjom riNpoche’s heart advice. maRcia binDeR schmiDT is an eDiToR anD cofounDeR of RanGjunG yeshe PublicaTions, which has PublisheD many books on The TeachinGs of DzoGchen masTeRs, incluDinG heR TeacheR, The laTe Tulku uRGyen RinPoche. minGyuR RinPoche is a masTeR of The kaRma kaGyu anD nyinGma lineaGes of TibeTan buDDhism. he is The son of The laTe Tulku uRGyen RinPoche. Sometimes the Buddhadharma forum asks people from different traditions to discuss a common Buddhist principle, like karma or the kleshas, or to explore issues that challenge the Buddhist community as a whole, such as how we can extend a helping hand to the world. At other times, we take a fly-on-the-wall approach, and lis- ten in as members of one particular tradition dis- cuss the nature of their path and practice. In this forum, we’ve brought together several noted prac- titioners of the Vajrayana tradition of Dzogchen to discuss this profound path of simplicity, which seems both utterly accessible and inaccessible all at once. Dzogchen is called the Great Perfection (Skt., Mahasandhi) and is regarded as the highest tantric yogic discipline (Skt., atiyoga). It is the principal teaching of the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingma, but it is also taught, studied, and practiced by students and teachers from the other schools. Dzogchen’s adherents claim there is no higher teaching or attainment in the Buddhist fir- mament. In fact, Dzogchen is supposed to tran- scend teaching and attainment. Its poetry and realization songs repeatedly stress the folly of try- ing to learn something, to gain anything, or to get anywhere at all − and yet the great Dzogchen master acts with fearsome or gentle power, as the situation demands. This paragon of engaged no-big-deal can remind one of the last of the Zen oxherding pictures, where the notion of destination is extinguished yet one continues onward nonetheless. When one looks at the lovely and arresting lohan (arhat) sculptures, they also convey an intensely focused couldn’t-care-less quality. The descriptions of the ultimate from the major Buddhist traditions have different flavors but they sound awfully similar. The seventeenth-century metaphysical poet George Herbert had it right, though, when he said that all comparisons are odious. True, by having a name that implies superiority, Dzogchen begs for comparisons. But as our panelists suggest, that’s Forum: Practicing the Great Perfection not a worthwhile tack to take in trying to under- stand Dzogchen and appreciate it for what it is: who can really say how Dzogchen compares to the paths and practices of other systems? Spiritual claims are not empirically testable. The proof of their pudding is in the tasting. Once we have made some judgments about whether a path and its teacher make sense for us, there is still an element of faith. Those who say that Buddhism doesn’t involve faith should take a glance at Dzogchen, because as our panelists passionately emphasize, this path does not work unless one puts all one’s faith in a teacher and a lineage of teachers. There is no Dzogchen in the abstract. There is only Dzogchen as embodied in people. Why is the teacher so important? It seems that what Dzogchen calls the “natural state” strains utterly the ability of language, which by its very nature is bounded by subject and object. Poetry, metaphor, symbol, ritual, and gesture approach but never fulfill the expression of “the natural state,” which is vast like the sky and minute as an atom, simultaneously. The teacher reveals this to the student in the intimate way that can only happen person to person. Dzogchen sounds highfalutin, but because it is so human and ordinary and intimate, its practi- tioners end up at some point behaving in a very ordinary way, and they end up emphasizing the basic teachings common to all practitioners. The need to get honestly in touch with our human- ity, how we are actually behaving − not the fancy things we are striving for − is the beginning and the end of the path. Dzogchen, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche once said, is the place where we finally, thankfully, get off the high horse of our spirituality and just plain be. At that point, he said, the value of all the paths, and all the different types of beings who tread them, are appreciated equally. One finds no need for comparisons of any kind at all. — Barry Boyce The view, teachings, and challenges of Dzogchen (itemno.963)ColleCtionofShelley&DonalDRubin,www.himalayanaRt.oRg