Tibetan Buddhism: What is the nature of DzogChen?
DzogChen is a mess. At least that is my impression of it after spending a few years reading all the texts I could find that have been translated now about it. Thus the actual nature of DzogChen is obscure. Too obscure for my liking. I really could only find two texts that I am certain are in the mainstream of it which are Gold refined from ore by Manjushrimitra and Beacon of Certainty by Mipham. Fortunately the text of Manjushimitra is at the fountainhead of the tradition as he is the first main student of Garab Dorje. As an outsider I can make these assessments as I have nothing invested in that tradition. All I want is a clear explanation that makes sense in relation to Taoism and Buddhism. And because it spans to Bon it seems to fill the role of a bridge between Buddhism and Taoism within the context of Tibet. It is their equivalent to the Zen tradition in China which they rejected in a famous debate in which the foreigner lost.
So my opinion is that that meant they had to reinvent the equivalent of Hua Yen Buddhism and Zen Buddhism within their own tradition and in a Tantric context. Of course there was tantric Buddhism in China as well but it was not as pervasive as in Tibet. The sad thing is that we cannot really count on the practitioners of DzogChen to give us a good rendition of it, at least judging from available works. It is too mixed up in Shamanistic and Tantric practices. So we are left with a close reading of Manjushrimitra based on suggestions from Mipham. And there is one contemporary book from the Bon tradition that seems to fit into the same picture which is Unbounded Wholeness: Dzogchen, Bon, and the Logic of the Nonconceptual: Anne Carolyn Klein, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche: 9780195178500: Amazon.com: Books.
Ok, now that we have the accepted sources out of the way, lets try to understand the nature of DzogChen. DzogChen is a Heresy of Buddhism that denies the two truths. Because it goes beyond Buddhism it can encompass both Buddhism and Bon. Unfortunately this is not saying much in Tibetan Buddhism because Bon and Buddhism look like twins. But originally Bon was like Taoism and Shinto, it was an indigenous wisdom tradition that was colonized by Buddhism. Isn't it interesting that Buddhism is a kind of colonialist religion, taking after its Indo-european roots in this regard.
If we look at Taoism instead of Bon then what we see there is that the emphasis is on the nondual Void, which is physical empty space as being the face of the nondual within nature. Buddhism on the other hand focuses on emptiness which is the nondual within consciousness, and the Buddhists deny the reality of physical nature. Buddhism is very phenomenological in this way. Ultimately there are two strands of nonduality which are interpretations of existence, one taking its departure from a denial of Being, and the other being naturally without Being in the first place since the Chinese have no Being in their languages since they are not Indo-europeans.
Buddhism distinguishes between mundane existence and nondual existence in terms of the two truths. DzogChen denies the two truths at the end of the whole tradition of the evolution of these truths within Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism. DzogChen tries to point at a deeper nonduality which is completely nondual and not dually nondual as the difference between emptiness and void suggest. This difference between emptiness and void was alluded to in very sophisticated ways in later day Chinese Buddhism in Hua Yen Buddhism for instance.
Tien Tai Buddhism is another example of a later Chinese sect that attempted to point toward a middle way beyond the two truths based on a possible misreading of a translated line in Nagarjuna. We can see that in the poetry of Stonehouse for example. The nature of DzogChen is to point toward the deeper nonduality before the arising of the difference between emptiness and void as two possible nonduals. In a sense it more or less loops the loop in the unfolding of Buddhism, more or less like Hegel attempts to finess the transformation of Kant into time while still ultimately gaining the atemporal as well.
Manjushrimitra uses the logical ploy's of Nagarjuna against the two truths saying that they are extremes. It is ultimate because in it Buddhism comes full circle and becomes no different from Bon/Taoism. But going through that circle allows it to point to a deeper nonduality beyond emptiness and void, which I call manifestation. In Hua Yen that is called interpenetration and inter-inclusion of things in the jeweled net of Indra. In Sufism it is called Tajalliat of the Sifat. In Plato it is called the difference between Ratio and Doxa. The same thing was discovered in different traditions. But of course it is not exactly the same thing, as the fragrance of the tradition clings to what ever this deeper nonduality is called.