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The Tibetan Buddhist Library

"The great perfection"
This teaching also known as ati-yoga.

The dzogshen teaching has its point of origin in Samantabhadra, the truth of dharmakaya beyond space and time. It was directly transmitted to Vajrasattva, an aspect of the sambhogakaya and through him came down to Garab Dorje (b. 55 C.E.), the nirmanakaya (trikaya). Garab Dorje wrote this teaching down for the first time in 6.4 million verses, which he left to his disciple Manjushrimitra.

Dzogchen was principally introduced to Tibet by Padmasambhava, a master capable of miraculous activities, who came from his native Oddiyana at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen (Khri srong lDe brtsan) (742-797 AD). With the aim of spreading this teaching in Tibet, Padmasambhava suggested to the King that he send a Tibetan named Vairocana to Oddiyana. This latter received all the Dzogchen teachings from the master Shri Singha, disciple of Manjushrimitra, who was in turn a disciple of Garab Dorje, and later introduced these teachings to Tibet, transmitting them only to a select few. The pandit Vimalamitra, also a disciple of Shri Singha, was subsequently invited to the king's court, where he transmitted further Dzogchen teachings. All the texts translated in this period, whether containing tantric or Dzogchen teachings, were later classified as belonging to the "Ancient" tradition or Nyingmapa, as distinct from the Tantras translated in the second spread of the teachings in the eleventh century.

In the 14th century, Dzogchen teaching was synthesized by Longchenpa into an unified system. The condensation of this system by Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798) remains an authoritative expression of the great perfection tradition up to the present day.

Dzogchen is the core teaching of the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism. In this tradition all the various systems of teaching are subdivided into Nine Graded Vehicles (yana). The various levels of yanas are not a system presents contradictor theories or leads to different goals; the yanas are all processes for growing in the same path of training toward the ultimate enlightenment. This system is designed to suit the practitioners with different intellectual sharpness and predisposition of trainees. These nine yanas are:

Three Sutric yanas:

These three vehicles are from the direction of the origin of suffering.

1. Hearers’ (Listeners) Vehicle (Hinayana): The main goal of attainment is the achievement of cessation, the peace and happiness of oneself. The practice is to observe any of the eight categories of precepts of individual liberation and to realize the insight of the Four Noble Truths. The result is the attainment of "the eight stage level", the eighth being the attainment of the state of the Arhat.

2. Solitary Realizers’ Vehicle (Hinayana): The main goal is the attainment of Pratyekabuddhas for oneself through one's own efforts. The practice focuses on "the twelve links in the chain of interdependent causation".

3. Bodhisattvas’ Vehicle (Mahayana): The main goal is to lead all living being to the fully enlightened state or Buddhahood. The main practice is training on the Six Perfections (generosity, ethical discipline, patience, diligence, contemplation, and wisdom) and 37 wings of enlightenment.

Three Outer (external) Tantric Yanas:

These three vehicles are called "external Tantras," because the practices involved in them are principally based on purification and on preparing oneself to receive the wisdom of realized beings. The activities includes rituals, cleansing, and so forth. They are also referred to as "tantras of austere awareness".

4. Action Tantra (Kriya Yoga): This yoga suggests that all the phenomena of aggregates, element, and sources, which appeared in the relative level, are subject to being purified. The basis of purification is pure Mind. One lives in pure livelihood and meditates, as the path, on the Suchness of the deities by means of seeing the deity as the lord and oneself as the servant, and one wishes for the attainments. The main goal is the attainment of the Vajradharahood of the three Buddha families (Tathagata, Vajra, Padma families) within 16 lives.

5. Performance Tantra (Upa Yoga): UpaYoga is also known as the "dual tantra" since its practice is similar to Action (Kriya) Tantra’s and its view is similar to Yogatantra's. It emphasizes equally outer (physical) cleaning such as bathing and inner (mental) contemplation. It relies on receiving attainments by seeing the deities as friends and siblings. The main goal is the attainment of the state of Vajradharahood of the four Buddha-families (Tathagata, Vaira, Ratna, and Padma families) with the endowment of three Buddha-bodies and five primordial wisdoms in seven lifetimes.

6. Yoga Tantra: It emphasizes mental contemplation and uses physical training such as pure and clean living only as a secondary support. As its strength of realization of equalness is superior to that of the two previous yanas, one gains certainty in the realization of equalness of oneself and the deities in their true nature. As the blessing of that (realization), in relative truth, by meditating oneself as inseparable from the deities, one accomplishes oneself as the deities. As all phenomena are mere perceptions of mind, if one uses the contemplative power, one will become the visualized deity oneself. The main goal is the attainment of the five Buddha-families and five primordial wisdoms within three lifetimes.

Three Inner Tantric Yanas:

These are all generally known as "internal Tantras" in Dzogchen, but in fact only the first two are tantric teachings, the principle of tantra being the transformation of the psychophysical constituents of the individual into the pure dimension of realization. Atiyoga, which is synonymous with Dzogchen, is based on the path of self-liberation, and on the direct experiential knowledge of the primordial state. This subdivision of the Tantras is particular to the Nyingmapa school.

Note: The other three main Tibetan Buddhist traditions, Kagyudpa, Sakyapa and Gelugpa classify the higher Tantras or Anuttara Tantra as follows:

1. Pitriyoga: Father Tantras.
2. Matriyoga: Mother Tantras.
3. Advityayoga: Non-dual Tantras.

All these three types of Anuttara-tantra are based on the system of gradual transformation, as is practiced in the Mahayoga of Nyingmapa. The Anuyoga is a system based on non-gradual transformation only found in Nyingmapa. The Atiyoga (extraordinary yoga) is considered as the most secret teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha.


7. Mahayoga: The appearances of phenomena, existence of relative truth, present primordially as the nature of the three cycles, vaira body, vaira speech and vajra mind of the Buddha, while they are emptiness, are the "superior relative truth". The indivisibility of emptiness, the non-existing nature, from the Buddha-bodies and primordial wisdoms is the "superior absolute truth". Mahayoga is based on the realization and progress of experience of the indivisibility of the "two superior truths," one attains liberation. In Mahayoga one meditates all the phenomenal existences as the mandalas of the deities. According to the scriptures of tantras and sadhanas, one trains on two yogas:

(a). The yoga with characteristics: one trains on two stages, the Development Stage and Perfection Stage

(b). The yoga without characteristics: one contemplates on suchness, the ultimate nature.

The main goal is the attainment of state of fourfold knowledge-holders and achieves the five Buddhabodies in this life or in the intermediate state.

8. Anuyoga: Anayoga ascertains that all the appearances of phenomenal existence are Samantabhadra (the father), the spontaneously accomplished man, data of the deities. The emptiness nature (of phenomenal existence), free from all the extremes, is Samantabhadn (the mother), the mandala of primordial suchness. The essence both of appearances and nature is indivisibly present as equalness nature, and that is the great blissful son, the mandala of enlightened mind.

One meditates that all the deities are completed within one's own vajra-body. Things appear in various forms of good and evil, acceptance and rejection, and one becomes attached to them. To dispel those obscurations one trains in the method of actualizing the great blissful wisdom by penetrating the channels, air and essence of the body, and one progresses through the five paths gradually. In Anayoga there are two major paths of training:

(a)The path of skillful means (Thabs-Lam): the training with the four cakras or six cakras of one's body, which brings innate wisdom gradually, or by means of the lower entrances (A'og-sGo), the union with consort, which brings innate wisdom instantly.

(b) The path of liberation (Grol-Lam): The meditation on the signs or characteristics is the elaborate contemplation on the deities. By mere utterance of the mantra one visualizes instantly the world and beings as the mandala of the deities clearly without confusion.

The main goal of this yoga is the attainment of the Great Blissful Body with the four Buddha-bodies and five Primordial Wisdoms.

9. Atiyoga: : Atiyoga is a means to liberate the meaning of primordial Buddhahood into its own state, and it is the nature of freedom from abandonments and acceptances and expectations and fears. The six million four hundred verses of Atiyoga scriptures are divided into three divisions by Jampal Shenyen. These divisions are:

    1. The Series of the Nature of the Mind (Semde): for people who are (include to) mind.
    2. The Series of Primordial Space (Longde): for those who are (include to) space.
    3. The Series of Oral Instructions (Mengagde): for those who are free from gradual efforts.

The first two of these were introduced into Tibet by Vairochana; the third by Vimalamitra. Those teachings that were originally transmitted by Padmasambhava and then hidden in various places in Tibet are also part of the Series of Secret Instructions. This kind of text, known as "terma" (gter ma) or "treasures," began to be rediscovered from the 13th century onwards. Those texts which, on the other hand, were transmitted orally from the time of Garab Dorje onwards, are known as the "oral tradition" (bka' ma).

There are two major categories of training in Mengagde:

(a). Thregchod (Cutting Through): there are four stages of realizations through meditation: dwelling, unmoving, equalness, and spontaneity.

(b). Thodgal (the Direct Approach): there six crucial means of training, the four visions arise gradually. The four visions are: the direct realization of Ultimate Nature, development of Experiences, perfection of Intrinsic Awareness, and Dissolution of phenomena into the Ultimate Nature.

Thodgal is for breaking out of the cycle of existences (samsara) by directly experience of "naked," or "ordinary," mind, which is the basis of all activities of consciousness. In addition to approaches of this kind that are oriented toward emptiness and intended to be applied without goal-oriented effort, Thregchod places the emphasis on the clear light aspect of primordial knowledge. Their goal is realization of the "rainbow body," i.e., the dissolution of the physical body that is, of the four elements that constitute the body into light.

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