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Ground of Being (Dzogchen)

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Ground of Being) (IAST: āśraya; Tibetan: གཞི, Wylie: gzhi; Chinese: (Pinyin: Ji); Korean 의지 (ŭiji); Japanese:エジ (eji)) is an essential component of the Dzogchen tradition for both the Bonpo and the Nyingmapa. It is a seminal conceptual point and focus of praxis foregrounded in the Dzogchen literature and practice lineages and may be apprised as a memetic conduit for the mindstream to enter into the concept-less Dzogchen nondual 'awareness', 'rigpa' (Wylie: rig pa; IAST: vidyā), Dzogchen-as-process where the praxis albeit 'natural' (Wylie: lhan skyes; IAST: sahaja) and 'effortless' (Wylie: lhun grub; IAST: anābhoga) has the sense of 'spontaneity'.

Ground as triune

The Gankyil is the polysemic teaching tool employed in the Dzogchen tradition to iconographically signify the triune of the Ground, a symbol of primordial nonduality. Throughout the Seventeen Tantras, the principal tantras of the Nyingma Dzogchen doctrinal view on the Sugatagarbha qua 'Ground' (Wylie: gzhi), the triune of 'essence' (Wylie: ngo bo), 'nature' (Wylie: rang bzhin) and 'power' (Wylie: thugs rje) is foregrounded. Where essence is openness or emptiness (Wylie: ngo bo stong pa), nature is luminosity, lucidity or clarity (as in the luminous mind of the Five Pure Lights) (Wylie: rang bzhin gsal ba) and power is universal compassionate energy (Wylie: thugs rje kun khyab), unobstructed (Wylie: ma 'gags pa).

Goodman & Davidson (1992: p. 14) render the triune of the Ground as 'facticity' (Wylie: ngo bo), 'actuality' (Wylie: rang bzhin) and 'resonance' (Wylie: thugs rje) and in so doing place this esoteric cultural token of Dzogchen-as-praxis within the wider technical language of contemporary philosophical discourse in the English:

"Process-oriented rdzogs-chen has as its pivot the notion of gzhi which means both ground (the static, sort of steady-state) and reason (the dynamic, the intensity with which the unfolding of the initial pure potential occurs). As such pure potential (gzhi ka-dag chen-po) it is discussed in terms of a triune dynamics, referred to as facticity (ngo-bo), actuality (rang-bzhin), and resonance (thugs-rje). This English rendering of highly technical terms constantly employed in the original Tibetan sources has been chosen in order to avoid any essentialist associations, so much more so as the texts themselves repeatedly state that ngo-bo (facticity) has nothing to do with nor can even be reduced to the (essentialist) categories of substance and quality; that rang-bzhin (actuality) remains open-dimensional, rather than being or turning into a rigid essence despite its being what it is; and that thugs-rje (resonance) is an atemporal sensitivity and response, rather than a distinct and narrowly circumscribed operation."

In their annotations to this paragraph, Goodman & Davidson (1992: p. 147) identify that they draw the sense of 'resonance' from the work of Jantsch (1975) and further define thus:

" is resonance (thugs-rje) with its fluctuations as high-level excitation (rig-pa) and low-level excitation (ma-rig-pa)--in cognitive terms: understanding (rtogs) and lack of understanding (ma-rtogs)--that stochastically determines the final outcome of the process."

Günther (1984) provides a definition and discussion of facticity in relation to the Dzogchen Ground.

Sam Taeguk.jpg

Nomenclature of article: meta-annotation

Caveat lector: The nomenclature for the title of this Wikipedia article "Ground of Being" was informed by the theological discourse of 'Ground of Being' of both theistic and nontheistic systems of which this Dzogchen cultural token partakes. Saliently, "Ground of Being" is how the Tibetan term gzhi (Wylie) has been given an English gloss by Lipman (c. 1984) and Barron (1998) in his rendering of the Nelug Dzö of Longchenpa (1308–1364 or possibly 1369) follows Lipman's lead. That said, it is important that Ground of Being does not become naturalized for gzhi (Wylie) and instituted as the ascendant rendering in English, this choice was chosen to honor the article title naming conventions policy of Wikipedia which prefers English where possible.

Nomenclature, orthography and etymology

The Tibetan: གཞི, Wylie: gzhi has been rendered as 'Base', 'Basis', 'Ground' and 'Ground of Being' amongst other English glosses. Base is a contraction of 'Basis of All' (Tibetan: ཀུན གཞི, Wylie: kun gzhi).


Importantly, the authoritative source for the Nyingma Dzogchen school in English, Dudjom et. al. (1991: p. 535 Index of Technical Terms) gives the Sanskrit for the 'Ground' as 'āśraya' (IAST; Sanskrit Devanagari: आश्रय; "ashraya") and this is identified as a direct analogue of the Wylie, attested and not a conjectural attribution.

Semantic field

The semantic field of "ashraya" (आश्रय; Etymology: आ- √श्रि. ) like most terms in the ancient language of Sanskrit has a considerable play in denotation, as charted in the following list:

  • that to which anything is annexed or with which anything is closely connected or on which anything depends or rests
  • a recipient, the person or thing in which any quality or article is inherent or retained or received
  • seat, resting-place
  • dwelling, asylum, place of refuge, shelter, depending on, having recourse to
  • help, assistance, protection
  • authority, sanction, warrant
  • a plea, excuse (Legal)
  • the being inclined or addicted to, following, practising
  • attaching to, choosing, taking
  • joining, union, attachment
  • dependence, contiguity, vicinity
  • relation
  • connection
  • appropriate act or one consistent with the character of the agent
  • (in Gr.) the subject, that to which the predicate is annexed
  • (with Buddhists) the five organs of sense with मनस् or mind (the six together being the recipients of the आश्रित or objects ::which enter them by way of their आलम्बन or qualities)
  • source, origin
  • आ-श्रय depending on, resting on, endowed or furnished with (e.g. अष्ट-गुणा*श्रय » under अष्ट).


Yogacara, Chan and Nyingma Dzogchen

Vasubandhu (fl. 4th century) and his half-brother Asanga (c. 300 – 370 CE) are important foundations for Nyingma Dzogchen terminology, especially the Ground. The doctrine of the 'Ground' (Wylie: gzhi; IAST: ) and its essence of 'primordial purity' (Wylie: ka dag) of Dzogchen draws upon and redefines technical terminology of the Yogācāra, particularly Yogacharins who held to the doctrine of the 'originally pure mind' (IAST: viśuddhi cittaprakṛiti) and the literature and important commentaries of the Mahāyāna-śraddhotpādaśāstra (IAST unattested and reconstructed; 'The Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith'). The view of the mind in the 'Awakening of Mahayana Faith' (Chinese: Ta-ch'eng ch'i-hsin lun) had a significant import on the doctrinal development of the East Mountain Teaching (also known as the Northern School of Chan). According to A. W. Barber of the University of Calgary, Chan Buddhism was introduced to the Nyingmapa in three principal streams: the teachings of Master Kim, Kim Ho-shang, (Chin ho shang) 金和尚 transmitted by Sang Shi in c. 750 CE; the lineage of Master Wu Chu (無住禪師) of the Pao T'ang School was transmitted within Tibet by Ye-shes Wangpo; and the teaching from Mo Ho Yen, 和尚摩訶衍 (Tibetan: Hwa shang Mahayana) that were a synthesis of the Northern School of Chan and the Pao T'ang School.

Aśvaghoṣa (c. 80 - c. 150 CE) is attributed with writing the no longer extant or never existent Sanskrit of the Mahāyāna-śraddhotpādaśāstra:

Asvaghosa explained the two aspects of One Mind in terms of the Three Greatnesses: t'i(體), hsiang(相) and yung(用), or the essence, attributes and functions of One Mind.
The Absolute aspect of One Mind is referred to as t'i(), "essence", while the phenomenal aspect is called hsiang(), "attributes", and yung(), "function ". To substantialize One Mind, or to think that something is supposed to come from it, is to be ignorant of the Greatness of Mahayana. The Greatness of Mahayana is talked about in terms of the philosophy of emptiness. If we cling to self-identity, we will be forced to confront no-self. But if we throw away the erroneous belief in self-identity, everything in this world becomes One and we cannot help but believe in the Greatness of Mahayana. It is quite paradoxical.

Wonhyo's (617 - 686 CE) commentary on the Awakening of Mahayana Faith identifies 'Three Greatness' (三大) which are 'Essence' (), 'Function' () and 'Attributes' () and these are triune of the Ground of the 'One Mind' (Sanskrit: Ekacitta; Chinese: yi hsin; i-hsin; Japanese: isshin) in the Chinese tradition. Some Western scholars have asserted some Bonpo and Nyingma terma and tantric literature to be unattributed Tibetan translations of Korean masters such as Wonhyo. The timeline and congruence of the terminology and that many works of Wonhyo are no longer extant, requires further scholarship and investigation. The work of Wonch'uk (613–696), a contemporary of Wŏnhyo was translated into Tibetan and greatly respected in the Himalaya, especially by Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), which demonstrates that the transmission channels were open but is most possibly after the arising of the Seventeen Tantras which codify the triune of the Ground extensively. Unfortunately, the thesis of Alson was tendered in Korean. Vasubandhu (fl. 4th century) was the Abhidharma lens through which key exegetes of the Dzogchen tradition and the greater Himalayan Buddhadharma tradition built aspects of their lexicon. As an aside, It is yet to be definitively determined whether there was a parallel developed tradition invested in the historical evocation of the Bonpo Dzogchenpa. The Dzogchen lineages of the Bonpo, Nyingmapa and Kagyupa currently and historically, entwined in 'practice' (Sanskrit: sadhana). Moreover, Śāntarakṣita (fl. 8th century) the first 'abbot' (Tibetan: khenpo) of Samye, was classified by Tibetan scholars as Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Mādhyamika and it is this fare of Yogācāra, Svātantrika and Mādhyamika and the liturgy and esoteric rites and 'twilight language' (Sanskrit: sandha-bhasa) of the Ganachakra and the charnel ground which for the most part seasoned with indigenous flourish and innovation by the poetry and 'poetic mead' (IAST: amṛta) of the Mahasiddha 'songs of realization' (Sanskrit: dohā), yields Nyingma Dzogchen terminology.


Namkha'i & Shane (1999: p. 195) clarify the relationship of the '(mind)stream' (Wylie: [[thugs] rgyud]]) with the 'Base' (gzhi) and 'Nature' (Wylie: rang bzhin; IAST: ([[[svabhāva]])]) thus:

"The Tibetan term 'gyü' (rgyud) means 'woolen thread', and the image of the thread is intended to represent 'continuity' --the continual alternation of voidness and manifestation that is the Nature (rang bzhin) of our Base (gzhi).... The Sanskrit term of which the Tibetan word 'gyü' is a translation is, and literally means 'the intricate pattern of a woven fabric'. But the way the term is understood has become intimately connected with that of another Sanskrit term, prabandha, whose literal meaning is 'continuity'."

Svabhava (Sanskrit; Wylie: rang bzhin) is very important in the nontheistic theology of the Bonpo Dzogchen 'Great Perfection' tradition where it is part of a technical language to render macrocosm and microcosm into nonduality, as Rossi (1999: p. 58) states:

"The View of the Great Perfection further acknowledges the ontological identity of the macrocosmic and microcosmic realities through the threefold axiom of Condition (ngang), Ultimate Nature (rang bzhin) and Identity (bdag nyid). The Condition (ngang) is the Basis of all (kun gzhi)--primordially pure (ka dag) and not generated by primary and instrumental causes. It is the origin of all phenomena. The Ultimate Nature (rang bzhin) is said to be unaltered (ma bcos pa), because the Basis is spontaneously accomplished (lhun grub) in terms of its innate potential (rtsal) for manifestation (rol pa). The non-duality between the Ultimate Nature (i.e., the unaltered appearance of all phenomena) and the Condition (i.e., the Basis of all) is called the Identity (bdag nyid). This unicum of primordial purity (ka dag) and spontaneous accomplishment (lhun grub) is the Way of Being (gnas lugs) of the Pure-and-Perfect-Mind (byang chub (kyi) sems)."

Mala analogy of Ground of Being

Japa mala (prayer beads) of Tulasi wood with 108 beads - 20040101-02.jpg

Namkha'i & Shane (1999: p. 195) employ the traditional analogy and teaching tool of the 'rosary' (Sanskrit: mala) to describe the relationship of the aspects of the Base:

"The image of a woolen thread, as in the term 'gyü', is used in relation to the Base to point out the way in which our experiences are strung in the continuity of the Base like beads strung along the thread of a rosary or mala. Just as between the beads of a rosary there are empty spaces in which there is only thread, so too, between each of our thoughts and our experiences, there are spaces; but, even though there is an empty space between them, and even though they are void--or empty-- in themselves, thoughts and experiences nevertheless continue to manifest.

If we were to explain this example in terms of the three aspects of the Base (Essence, Nature, and Energy) as they are understood in the Dzogchen teachings we would say that the thread represents the Nature (rang bzhin)--which is the unbroken continuity of manifestation of the Essence (ngo bo) (or voidness), while the beads represent the Energy (thugs rje). Inside every bead (every thought or experience) in the example there is only thread (the continuity of emptiness' potentiality to manifest); and in our lives, even though each and every thought or experience is essentially empty, thoughts and experiences never stop arising."


Wikipedia:Ground of Being (Dzogchen)