Dzogchen and the Nine Vehicles of Enlightenment
by David Paul Boaz Dechen Wangdu
In order to lead living beings to understanding I taught all the different yanas… —Shakyamuni, the Buddha (Lankavatara Sutra) Sakyamuni Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), the historical Buddha taught sutras (exoteric) and tantras (esoteric) for disciples of varying levels of understanding. Jesus and the great Chinese and Hindu mahasiddhas also taught in this manner. In the First Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma (at Sarnath) the Buddha elaborated The Four Great Truths and The Eightfold Path. It is generally agreed among Buddhist schools that the Buddha's teachings are properly classified into The Three Vehicles (yanas) of enlightenment: 1) the great foundational Shravakayana whose extant exemplars are the Theravada of Southeast Asia (the Pali Canon/Tripitaka), and Shojo zen; 2) the Mayayana (greater vehicle, that includes
Daijo and Saijojo zen); and 3) the Vajrayana (diamond vehicle). Of these three vehicles, the Nyingma ("Ancient Ones") of the Vajrayana or Tibetan tantric tradition classifies these three teaching vehicles into The Nine Vehicles. The key point of all nine vehicles is the tacit or express teaching of shunyata or luminous emptiness/boundlessness. Thus the essential nature of all of the arising phenomena of the spacetime dimension of Relative Truth (samvriti satya) is, broadly construed, Ultimate Truth (paramartha satya), shunyata, dharmakaya, kadag, the basal primordial reality ground of all appearance. "There is a refinement of understanding that becomes progressively more subtle through the
vehicles" (Tulku Urgyen). The Foundational Vehicle (Hinayana): The first three vehicles of the Nine Vehicles of the Nyingma School consist of (1) the Shravakayana, the Vehicle of the Listeners, or Disciples, (2) the Vehicle of the Solitary Buddhas, (Pratyekayana) the way of solitary meditation, and 3) the Bodhisattvayana. In the luminous firmament of Buddhist saints, the Pretyekabuddha abides somewhere between the Arhat and a fully awakened Buddha. The goal of the Shravakayana is to become an Arhat (saint), one who has
accomplished liberation for oneself from the passions and ignorance of samsara through practice of the “three baskets”, the Tripitaka (Pali Canon), namely the Vinaya (monastic life), Sutra study, and the metaphysics of the Abhidharma. It is through such practice, with its shamatha/mindfulness meditation and the introspective penetrating insight of vipashyana that the wild horse of the mind is gradually brought to rest. On the accord of Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche (1995), and many others, the Shravakayana, or so called Hinayana is not at all a “lesser vehicle” but is indeed the very foundation of all the later vehicles. The Mahayana: The Third Vehicle, the Great or Causal Vehicle, the Bodhisattvayana (Vehicle of Enlightened Beings) is the way of those who seek or attain enlightenment for
the sake or intention of liberating not just oneself, but all sentient beings from the suffering (dukkha) of samsara, the wheel/cycle of conditioned existence. Thus it is known as the Mahayana, or greater vehicle to enlightenment. The goal of the path here is not individual salvation or Arhathood, but the development of the bodhisattva attitude or intention, compassionate service in healing the suffering of all sentient beings, and thus the aspiration to save all beings from the ignorance (avidya) and suffering of
samsaric existence. The bodhisattva passes through nine stages or bumhis before accomplishing full Buddhahood. The ultimate "goal" of the Mahayana path is nothing less than Buddhahood. The Mahayana Sutras (Vulture Peak Transmission) represent the 2nd and 3rd turnings of the Buddha's Dharma Wheel (prajnaparamita/perfection of wisdom, and Buddha nature teachings). Herein arose the Madhyamaka (the Middle Way) that through the wisdom of Shantarakshita (his Madhyamakalamkara) unified the middle way Madhyamaka Prasangika
and Yogachara (mind-only) schools. Thus did the wisdom of emptiness of Madhyamaka and the Buddha nature of Yogachara became a unified Madhyamaka teaching. And this unified Madhyamaka is, according to H.H. the Dalai Lama, the very foundation of nondual Dzogchen, the pinnacle of all Nine Vehicles. Here the intrinsic nature of all reality is shunyata (luminous emptiness). And the inherent nature of all beings arising through this basal emptiness ground is Buddha nature (Tathagatagarbha, Jap. Bussho). "Through the primordial wisdom of emptiness we realize our inherent Buddha nature. Through our indwelling Buddha nature we realize the compassionate wisdom of emptiness" (H.H. the Dalai Lama). These two together—the wisdom of emptinesswith its spontaneous compassionate activity, and our inherent Buddha nature—are the causes of both relative, and in due course, ultimate human liberation/happiness. This great teaching of the Mahayana "Causal Vehicle" appears in slightly different forms as the nondual Madhyamaka of the Definitive Meaning, and in nondual Saijojo Zen (mujodo no taigen). In China the Mahayana flourished in the Ch’an (transported to Japan as Zen by Eisai and Dogen, circa 1200), and Pure Land (ching-t’u, Jap., jodo) schools. The Shravakayana/Hinayana and the Mahayana together comprise the Sutra System. The Vajrayana (Mantrayana), or acausal "Fruitional Vehicle", the collective (outer/lower and inner/higher tantras) teachings of the Indo-Tibetan tantras (tantra system or mantra system) are said to have been transmitted to us by Vajrasattva (Sambhogakaya Buddha through that very aspect of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha). The vajra (Sanskrit) or dorje (Tibetan) means diamond and symbolizes the adamantine, radiant, indestructible inherent nature of all beings. The realization of this primordial wisdom (gnosis, jnana, yeshe) presence (vidya/rigpa/shekina/epinoia/christos) is liberation from the ignorance and suffering that this mortal flesh is heir to. The Outer/Lower Tantras comprise the 4th 5th and 6th of the nine Nyingma Vehicles. The 4th Vehicle, Kriya Tantra is exoteric. Charya Tantra (Yogachara/Chittamatra Mind Only, the 5th Vehicle), is esoteric. The 6th Vehicle, the Yogatantra practice is esoteric but
still dualistic. It is said that the lower tantras were transmitted to those of lesser capacity, the higher tantras to those of greater capacity. The Inner/Higher Tantras of the old Nyingma tradition are the three highest vehicles (vehicles 7, 8 and 9): Mahayoga (development stage), Anuyoga (completion stage), and Atiyoga (Dzogchen, perfection stage). More recent Vajrayana traditions (9th and 10th centuries), namely Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug utilize the Anuttara Tantras: Father tantras (lunar, upaya, clarity), Mother tantras (solar, prajna, clear light, kundalini energy, emptiness) and the non-dual Advityayoga tantras. The highest or most subtle of the Anuttara tantras is nondual Essence Mahamudra of the Kagyu School. The highest and most direct nondual vehicle of the Nyingma tradition is Atiyoga, (Dzogchen or Dzogpa chenpo, [Skt. Mahasandi], the Great Perfection). The nondual view of Dzogchen is, we are told, nearly identical to nondual Essence Mahamudra teaching of the Kagyu school, and to the nondual Supreme Vehicle of Zen (Saijojo), and to the nondual teaching of the Great Madhyamaka of the Definitive Meaning. It is taught by Dzogchen master Tulku Urgyn Rinpoche (1995) and other non-
sectarian (rime) masters that this great Madhyamaka teaching is the ultimate nondual view of the Nirmanakaya; Essence Mahamudra is the ultimate nondual view of the Sambhogakaya; and Dzogchen (Ati yoga) is the ultimate nondual view of the Dharmakaya. Further, the Base (gzhi, source, ground) is the Mahamudra, the Path is the Great Madhyamaka of the Middle Way, and Dzogchen is the Fruit or result (liberation, enlightenment and Buddhahood). With the advent of this ecumenical non-sectarian rime movement of
the 19th century many Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug as well as Nyingma masters practice and teach Dzogchen, the Great Perfection. And many Dzogchen masters are lineage holders of the Mahamudra of the Kagyu school. In Dzogchen, shamatha (quiescence) and vipasyana (introspective penetrating insight) meditation are united. The mind awake is the unity of shamatha/mindfulness and vipasyana/penetrating insight. In the Mahayana, in the supreme vehicle of Saijojo Zen this same unity is practiced as shikan-taza, the zazen of the unity of stillness with insight (direct seeing/kensho/satori). Sectarian bias in the beginning or advanced practitioner of any of these great nondual paths may derail the
practice. Yet, one must commit to and practice a specific path, under the guidance of a master lineage holder. This non-sectarian rime intention that arose within Tibetan and Mahayana Buddhism is now occurring in all of the great wisdom traditions. The recent and living masters of this Great Tradition of humankind have agreed to transmit the secret nondual teaching of their various traditions to all of those willing to prepare, then receive. Without this, the great primordial teaching will be lost. Indeed, the transmission of this supreme teaching from the living lineage holders of our entire Great Wisdom Tradition is the fundamental process and result of what I have elsewhere termed the emerging global Noetic Revolution in religion, science and culture ("Being the Whole: Toward the Emerging Noetic Revolution", www.davidpaulboaz.org).
In Uddiyana (Orgyen) in the second century BCE, Garab Dorje, the human historical founder of Dzogchen, in his Sambhogakaya form, transmitted the great Dzogchen teaching to Manjusrimitra (The Three Essential Statements or Three Vajra Verses) who then classified the tantric texts (the Dzogchen Nyingthig, the five series) and transmitted them to Srisimha who transmitted them to Jnanasutra, Guru Padmasambhava, (the Khadro Nyingthig), Vimalamitra (the Vimala Nyingthig), and Vairochana The Six Vajra Verses) who then brought them from Uddiyana to Tibet in the 8th century CE. In the 14th century they were synthesized by the Tibetan second Buddha, Longchenpa (Longchen Rabjam 1308-1363) into a
unified system, the Seven Treasures (Dzodun). In the eighteenth century Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798) rediscovered the complete Dzogchen Nyingthig, including Longchenpa’s Seven Treasures, as a root mind terma (gong ter) and condensed its essence as the Yonten Dzod which is known as the Longchen Nyingthig and is generally considered the authoritative expression of the great Dzogchen tradition. Nyingthig means great heart-essence or unbounded vast heart-expanse. Esoterically, the Longchen Nyingthig contains the precious heart essence of Dzogchen. It contains the innermost secret pith instructions or upadesha and is transmitted directly from master to prepared individual student, without
dependence on scripture (lung). Garab Dorje initially received the Dzogchen teachings as a direct transmission from the dharmakaya, represented by Samantabhadra (Tib., Kuntuzangpo), the primordial dharmakaya Adi Buddhi, through the Sambhogakaya aspect of Buddha Vajrasattva, from whom emanates all historical (Nirmanakaya) Buddhas. Indeed, it is taught by some Nyingma masters (Tulku Urgyen, et.al.) that this ancient Dzogchen teaching was transmitted to Garab Dorje by Buddha Shakyamuni (b. 563 BCE), the twelfth of the twelve great Dzogchen masters, in his sambhogakaya form as Vajrasattva (Tulku Urgyen, 1995). From an exoteric historiographic view (relative truth), early Nyingma Dzogchen
was formatively influenced primarily by the Indian Buddhist tantras, but also by Taoist Ch’an, indigenous Tibetan Bon, Tibetan Nestorian Christianity and Kashmiri Shivaism (Namkhai Norbu 1984 and in Reynolds 1989; Dowman 1996). The preceding is approximate historic fact based upon extant texts from the eighth through tenth centuries CE, including recently discovered texts at Tun Huang, China (the Rig Pa'i khu byug and the Bas Pa'i rgum chung). However, according to certain Dzogchen tantras the Dzogchen lineage (ringyu) includes "the Twelve Teachers of Dzogchen" (Dodupchen Rinpoche, Tantric Doctrine According to the Nyingmapa School). Not all of these masters were of the spacetime human realm. These prehistoric teachers pre-date even the ancient Bon Dzogchen master Shenrab Miwoche (Tonpa Shenrab Miwo) who taught Dzogchen in Olmo Lung ring (Central Asia) circa 1600 BCE, long before the incar
nation of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha (Namkhai Norbu, in Reynolds 1989). From there the teaching spread to Zhang Zhung and Tibet. Indeed, the Grathal gyur tantra (upadesha), and other texts state that the great nondual Dzogchen teaching, by whatever name, has appeared in inhabited star systems throughout the kosmos for many kalpas, before the appearance of our solar system, and will continue after its death. Meanwhile, our purpose is to practice, realize then express it today, here, now.
The essence of all the Buddhas exists prior to samsara and nirvana, beyond transmigration and liberation. As it transcends the four conceptual limits and is intrinsically pure, this original condition is the uncreated nature of existence that always existed, the ultimate nature of all phenomena… It is utterly free of the defects of dualistic thought which is only capable of referring to an object other than itself. . . It is the base of primordial purity… Its essence is the purity of original emptiness… Its nature is selfperfection… Clarity of light is the pure nature of emptiness… which is the immutable state of dharmakaya… Similar to space it pervades all beings… The inseparability of the
two truths, absolute and relative, is called ‘the primordial Buddha’… In the condition of the base there is no duality… When its primordial energy manifests it becomes the common ground of liberation and delusion… If at the moment the energy of the base manifests, one does not consider it something other than oneself, and one recognizes one’s own state as the indivisibility of essence, nature and energy, the movement of energy self-liberates… Understanding the essence that is the very nature of primordial enlightenment, one finds oneself always in this state: this is called ‘Samantabhadra’ or ‘Immutable Light’… the ‘Primordial Lord’… dwelling in the fourth time, beyond past, present and
future… the infinite space of self-perfection… this is the pure dharmakaya dimension, the essence of the vajra of clear light, that also contains the dimensions of Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya. —Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, from The Supreme Source, 1999
Upon receiving the last testament transmission from Garab Dorje of The Three Essential Statements, Manjusrimitra classified them into the three continuous aspects of Dzogchen and the three corresponding teaching series: 1. The Base: Recognize your own true nature. Direct transmission or introduction of the state of presence of one's Original Buddha Nature by the master. This is the Dzogchen View upon which the semde mind series is based.
2. The Path: Choose the state of presence. Direct discovery of the state of presence (rig pa), beyond doubt. This is the Dzogchen Meditation upon which the longde space series is based. 3. The Fruit/Result: Continue in the state with confidence in liberation (total realized integration of the primordial base or ground in the everyday lifeworld). This is the Dzogchen Conduct upon which the mengagde secret upadesha series is based. These three statements distill all of the Dzogchen tantras and wisdom (compare these with the Four Statements of Zen).
These Three Essential Points (The Three Vajra Verses) of the essence, nature and energy of the Base, and of the Path and its Fruition is contained in Vairochana's very early Dzogchen tantra, the Six Vajra Verses, or "Cuckoo of the State of Presence" (Rig-pa’i khubyug) of the Buddha potential that each individual is, the luminous presence of intrinsic awareness (rigpa) itself. The cuckoo is the sacred bird of the Bonpo founder Shenrab Miwo and is considered in the aboriginal Tibetan Bon tradition as the king of birds, harbinger of spring and bearer of wisdom from the vast empty sky. The Six Vajra Verses of Vairochana and all of the hundreds of Dzogchen tantras are but commentaries on Garab Dorje's Three Varjra Verses, or The Three Essential Points.
Verse 1 & 2: The Base (View): The nature of phenomena is non-dual (gnyis med), but each one, its own state, is beyond the limits of the mind (semde mind meditation series). Verse 3 & 4: The Path, Way of Practice (The Meditation): There is no concept that can define the condition of "what is," but vision nevertheless manifests: all is good (longde, space meditation series). Verses 5 & 6: The Fruit, Result, Way of Being in Action (The Conduct): Everything has already been accomplished, and so, having overcome the sickness of effort (seeking), one finds oneself in the self-perfected state: This is contemplation. (mengagde/upadesha, secret essence meditation series).
The Base (gzhi) by direct transmission (semde): Introduce the state of rig pa directly (ngosprod), by transmission from the vajra master. The View: recognize and practice your own primordial nature which is Buddha nature, the source of all arising. This is the development or “understanding” (rtogs pa, avabodhi) phase of the Dzogchen teaching. The Path (longde): “Don't remain in doubt” (“choose the state of presence”). The Meditation (gompa): “Decide on one point.” Choose and use the realization of the nondual unity of emptiness and awareness that is the nature and essence of the three kayas. This
does not mean choose the Dzogchen Path. That is dogmatic dualistic view. Rather, choose the state of presence, moment to moment, here, now. Do not remain in dualistic, spacetime located meditation on emptiness. Choose to be the vast empty space of the nondual primordial state. Thus is the primordial state of presence of the base/ground stabilized through practice of the Path. This is the “stabilizing” (brtan pa) phase of the Dzogchen teaching. The Fruit/Result (integration, mengagde, or secret upadesha,
nyingthig): Continue in profound confidence (gdeng) of the certainty of the wisdom of the basal emptiness ground state that is self-liberation. The Conduct: Liberation (grol ba) is prior to meditation. The state of presence or contemplation is "already accomplished" (Garab Dorje) as thoughts arise and spontaneously self liberate (rang grol). No effort. No seeking strategies. All thought and emotion, all arising is already primordially or universally liberated (tadrol). Wise, compassionate conduct spontaneously, effortlessly arises and continues from stable confidence, certainty, in the luminous emptiness of the "supreme source" that is the unbounded whole (mahabindu) of nondual reality itself (dharmata). Thus is the prior unity of this state of presence with the arising energy of inner and outer phenomenal experience realized, then compassionately expressed. Again, this is the “integrating” or completion (bsre ba) phase of the Dzogchen path. The semde and longde teaching is derived from the kama or oral tradition, which became the tantras and agamas (lung), while the mengagde or nyingthig, the Innermost Secret Heart Essence teaching series is primarily terma, “rediscovered earth and mind treasures.” Each of the teaching series is complete in itself, has its own development and completion stage, and may lead to self-liberation, and integration into the lifeworld
of the nondual primordial state of absolute bodhicitta, the subtle seed (thigle, bindu) of Buddhahood that is the luminous empty source ground of all the manifestations of energy in the kosmos, "always already" awake at the human heart (hridyam). However, according to Longchenpa and Jigme Lingpa, mengagde is the superior teaching for it is the least conceptual and most direct. Indeed it is heartmind to heartmind transmission directly from master to prepared student, with no dependence on scripture. The secret mengagde upadesha then, is the supreme teaching of the Dzogchen teaching series.
Ati yoga is the supreme vehicle, the peak of all yogas and the mother of all Buddhas… because it discloses in detail the meaning of the spontaneous and natural perfection of all the infinite phenomena… recognized directly, without intervention by the conceptual mind… [all] within the dimension of the single sphere of self-arising wisdom. —Nubchen Sangye Yeshe, devotee of Padmasambhava (from the Sámten Migdrön, translated by Namkhai Norbu)
H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche’s Comments on Garab Dorje’s Three Vajra Verses, or The Three Statements (translated by John Reynolds): Verse I: Recognize your own true nature (The Base) “This fresh immediate awareness of the present moment, transcending all thoughts related to the three times (past, present, future), is itself that primordial awareness or knowledge (ye-shes) that is selforiginated intrinsic awareness (rig-pa).” Verse II: Choose the state of presence (The Path) “Whatever phenomena of Samsara or Nirvana may manifest, all of them represent the play of the creative energy or potentiality of one’s own immediate intrinsic awareness (rig pa’i rtsal). One must decide upon this unique state for oneself and know that there exists nothing other than this.” Verse III: Continue in the state with confidence in liberation (The Fruit) “Whatever gross or subtle thoughts may arise, by merely recognizing their nature, they arise and self-liberate simultaneously in the vast expanse of Dharmakaya, where emptiness and awareness are inseparable (gsal stong gnyis med).”
No Buddhas, no beings, beyond existence and non-existence Intrinsic Awareness Itself is absolute Guru, Ultimate Truth. By resting naturally, beyond fixation in that inherently free perfect innate Bodhi-mind, I take refuge and actualize Bodhicitta. —Jigme Lingpa, Longchen Nyingthig
All that arises is essentially no more real than a reflection, transparently pure and clear, beyond all definition or logical explanation. Yet the seeds of past action, karma, continue to cause further arising. Even so— know that all that exists is ultimately void of self-nature, utterly nondual.