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Buddhadharma : Spring 2017
76 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2017 and direct crossing over. “Accomplish- ing these four practices alone,” he notes, “is in principle sufficient to achieve any one of the three levels of rainbow body that signify the culmination of the path of the Great Perfection.” And because the teachings “transcend all limitations of specific historical eras and cultures,” it may well be, Wallace writes, that prophecies Dudjom Lingpa received in China to the effect that his teaching would flourish among “westerners” referred not just to Tibetans but also to “those of us living today in the cities of the West.” These comments prompt some reflections on the increasing popular- ity of Dzogchen in the Euro-American world. Despite my own early exposure to Nyingma teachings in Berkeley, I have studied mainly with Gelukpa mas- ters and typically frequented Gelukpa centers. It has been intriguing over the years to see many of my Gelukpa friends drawn to Nyingma, in some cases defect- ing completely, in other cases combining the two traditions. Alan Wallace himself is an example of this: he began serious Buddhist practice as a Geluk monk in India and Switzerland, but in time he began to study with Nyingma masters such as Gyatrul Rinpoche, and for at least two decades he has focused much of his writing and teaching on the Great Perfection. What is the appeal of Dzogchen, whether for an experienced practitioner like Wallace or a newcomer to Tibetan Buddhism? Of many possible explanations, three stand out. It is optimistic. Dzogchen asserts, with other Mahayana traditions, not only that we all have within us the capacity to become fully enlightened buddhas but also that in some sense we already are buddhas, in that pristine awareness is the fundamental nature of ourselves and the world simply waiting to be rediscovered. This sort of “gospel of buddhanature,” running counter to the “tragic sense of life” influential in traditional European culture, is more appealing to many Western seekers, accustomed as they are to the psycho- logical lingo of self-improvement, than are accounts of Buddhism that dwell on our delusion and the sufferings they incite and emphasize that attain- ing enlightenment is a process requiring years, and perhaps lifetimes, of effort. It is experiential. From the start, Bud- dhists have debated the relative impor- tance of scholarship and meditation on the path to awakening. Dzogchen teach- ers and texts clearly place a premium on meditative experience, exploring it with great sensitivity and sophistication while tending to downplay the philosophical gymnastics emphasized by other schools, especially the Geluk. The Dzogchen approach is appealing because most Westerners are drawn to Buddhism by its contemplative traditions, with their revieWs simplysitting.com f ind true center breaks down and reassembles in one swift, snappy magnetic motion for ultimate portability patented pedestal design promotes perfect posture, balance, and breathing the evolution of the meditation bench handcrafted and curved for comfort