Distinguishing Levels of Meaning in the SMS Base Training


Embed or link this publication


Texto del profesor Elias Capriles

Popular Pages

p. 1

Elias Capriles Distinguishing Levels of Meaning in the Santi Maha Sangha Base Training Or Making One’s Own Treasure Chest of Drawers for Organizing the Teachings of SMS Base Level Source Text for the Santi Maha Sangha Base Level Retreats led at Tashigar North on March 14-17, 2008 and January 10-15, 2010 by SMS Instructor Elías Capriles IMPORTANT NOTICE: THE INITIAL PAGES CONTAINS ONLY INDICATIONS OF AND CUES ON WHAT TO TEACH, BUT LATER PAGES OFFER SIGNIFICANT EXPLANATIONS OF THE TRUE IMPORT OF THE PRECIOUS VASE 1


p. 2

Composition courtesy of: Center of Studies on Africa and Asia Faculty of Humanities and Education University of the Andes Mérida, Venezuela Composed in Times New Roman 11. with notes in Times New Roman 10. Title: Distinguishing Levels of Meaning in the Santi Maha Sangha Base Training or Making One’s Own Treasure Chest of Drawers for Organizing the Teachings of SMS Base Level Author: Elias-Manuel Capriles-Arias It is prohibited to reproduce any section of this work, by any means, without the expressed consent of the author, given in writing; it is permitted, on the other hand, to summarize and quote for the purpose of study, provided that the names of the author, the translators and the publisher are always mentioned. Excerpts from The Precious Vase © 1999 / 2001 / 2008 by Namkhai Norbu Comments by Elías Capriles © 2008 by Elías Capriles New comments and corrections of the text by Elías Capriles © 2010 by Elías Capriles 2


p. 3

PREFACE / IMPORTANT NOTICE The text presented herein was originally intended to be a program of the points to be discussed in the Retreats on the Base of SMS I was to lead in Tashigar North in March 2008. However, in spite of the clear way in which teachings pertaining to different levels of meaning, vehicles and so on, are distinguished in The Precious Vase and in the oral teachings on the Base of SMS by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, I am constantly hearing or reading comments and/or questions from students that show they have failed to grasp these key distinctions—and hence I decided that the text I was writing should serve as a primer making the most important distinctions between the different levels of meaning in the SMS Base teachings, that would allow the student to place each teaching in the category to which it corresponds. Furthermore, in spite of the outstanding simplicity and clarity of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s presentation of subtle, difficult points of the teachings in The Precious Vase and in his explanations of the Dzogchen teachings in general, I have realized that a number of people fail to grasp their meaning—and hence I decided the text should discuss them at length in order to make them as clear as possible. Thus what originally was intended as a program for a retreat, ended up being an informal commentary to The Precious Vase and introduction to Rinpoche’s characteristic presentation of the Dzogchen teachings. Since the basic distinctions between levels of meaning, vehicles and so on, are treated in far greater detail in my oral teachings than they are in the text, whereas some of the elucidations of difficult points are carried out in greater detail in the text than in my oral teachings, I believe it is best both to combine listening to the oral explanations with the study of the text and. However, even this would be totally useless should one subsequently fail to apply the practices, for the Santi Maha Sangha Training, rather than being a merely intellectual course of study, is a most effective means to achieve a realization that is utterly beyond the intellect and that can only be achieved through practices such as those included in the training. In order to distinguish my own introductory texts and comments, from the text of The Precious Vase by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and his notes to the text in question, the latter were transcribed in bold characters. Notes and comments by Adriano Clemente that appeared in the English version of The Precious Vase were not transcribed in bolds, yet are always preceded by a notice in bold characters making it clear that they are notes or comments by Clemente. It is also important to note that the original 2008 text was prepared in a hurry for the course and was not checked for repetitions, grammar, style and typing errors, and that although the present version comprises corrections to the original text done on the basis of the teachings Chögyal Namkhai Norbu gave in the SMS Base Retreat he led in Tashigar North in December 2009, as well as changes that resulted from detecting imprecisions in the original version while doing the corrections in question, since I am working on books having a deadline for publication I did not even have the time to read the whole text (which did not seem imperative as it is not meant to be published, at least in the near future). Furthermore, as I did the changes for this second edition, even though I only read a small number of paragraphs, I found countless repetitions, and quite a few typing errors, awkward constructions and so on. Thus it is clear to me that the preparation of a definitive edition would require a most detailed revision and rewriting of the text in full. 3


p. 4

It must also be noted that transliterations in the Norbu System are imperfect because of lack of the font with the required diacritic signs. As to the terminology used, where it differs from that of the official translation of the texts, my changes are responding to and trying to prevent the misinterpretations I have observed over the years in many students and should not be taken to imply a disagreement with Chögyal Namkhai Norbu concerning the essential meanings of Buddhism, Dzogchen and SMS. Finally, and most important, as to the authority of its conceptual contents, the reader must keep in mind that, although this provisional text was presented to Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and the Master authorized its diffusion among those who attend the author’s SMS Courses and its sale in Tashigar North, Rinpoche is very busy and has not offered me an evaluation of its contents—which at any rate would only be feasible after I duly revise the text. Therefore, so far it should not be regarded as being any more authoritative than the recording of the oral teachings given by any of the certified SMS Instructors in a SMS Course, for which as a rule the Master does not make himself responsible. Elias Capriles Tashigar North, January 2, 2010 4


p. 5

Preamble: What is Buddhism: The Basic Teaching of the Four Noble Truths The first teaching of the Buddha was that of the Four Noble Truths, which this SMS Instructor deems most important as an introduction to any exposition of Buddhist teachings insofar as it shows what is the problem to which Buddhism responds, what does Buddhism view as the source of the problem, what does Buddhism view as the solution to the problem, and what is the way to achieve that solution. To speak of a Path, or of different types of Paths, before having at least a basic understanding of the basic principles expressed as the Four Noble Truths, would simply make no sense to most people. The Precious Vase does not expound the teaching in question because it presupposes the student to already have a basic knowledge of the basic principles of Buddhism; however, insofar as this commentary is aimed at making the contents of The Precious Vase crystal clear, I have deemed it necessary for it to begin with a brief explanation of the basic principles of Buddhism in terms of the Four Noble Truths. The original form of the Four Noble Truths is reputed to have been the following (the words that are not placed between parentheses are in Sanskrit): (1) Human life is characterized by duhkha (Pali, duhkha; Tib., sdug bsngal): dissatisfaction and suffering. (2) The cause of dissatisfaction and suffering is trishna (Pali, tanha; Tib., sred pa): a basic craving, which is called kama-trishna in the case of craving for pleasure, bhava-trishna or thirst-for-existence in the case of the more basic compulsion to assert, confirm and maintain oneself as an inherently existent, important, separate individual, and to fill the concomitant sensation of lack, or vibhava-trishna when this thirst or craving turns toward self-annihilation in nirvana. (3) If the causes of dissatisfaction and suffering are uprooted, these come to an end in nirvana (Pali, nibbana; Tib., mya ngan las ’das pa): cessation of the essential craving that is trishna, and of the dissatisfaction and suffering that issue from that craving.1 (4) There is a way leading to this end, which is marga (Pali, magga; Tib., lam): the Path for putting an end to our basic craving, and therefore to dissatisfaction and suffering, in the attainment of cessation or nirvana. The teachings Shakyamuni gave during the period in which he transmitted the Four Noble Truths constitute the first dharmachakra or “Promulgation of a cycle of teachings,”2 which is the canonical source of all of the schools that the Mahayana refers to as Hinayana or “Narrow Vehicle,” including the Theravada3 (“which adheres to the ancient”), which is the only school of this vehicle still existing independently, and which prevails in wide regions of Southeast Asia (including most of Myanmar and Thailand, Laos and Kampuchea, and part of Vietnam) and in most of Sri Lanka. In Tibet and its ambit of cultural influence, the doctrines of two other Hinayana schools (the Vaibhashika and Sautrantika) have been taught until our days as part of the curricula of Buddhist philosophy in Tibetan Buddhist schools that do not adhere to the Hinayana, but these two schools no longer exist in an independent manner. (For a brief review of the latter, the reader is referred to my book The Four Philosophical Schools of the Sutrayana Traditionally Taught in Tibet: With Reference to the Dzogchen Teachings.a) The two following dharmachakras or Promulgations transmitted the teachings of the Mahayana: the second, those of the Prajñaparamita, source of the Madhyamaka philosophical school, which rather than being concerned with metaphysical questions such as whether or not there is a reality external to mind, is concerned with leading people beyond grasping at the contents of thought and taking them to be the sensa they interpret (in the case of subtle / intuitive thoughts) or to the absolutely true or false with regard to what they interpret (in the case of coarse / discursive thoughts); the third, those a This book, still in provisional form and requiring much work, is available in the Internet at the URL http://www.webdelprofesor.ula.ve/humanidades/elicap/. When completed it will be sent to publishers in the USA. 5


p. 6

dealing with the yoga of mind, which are the basis of the Yogachara school, which understands them as expressing a metaphysical position according to which there is nothing external to human experience, and in combination with those of the second dharmachakra or Promulgation, of the Madhyamaka-Swatantrika-Yogachara school, and of two sub-schools of the Inner, Subtle Madhyamaka, which are the Uma Zhentongpa (dbu ma gzhan stong pa) and the Mahamadhyamaka schools. As shown in The Precious Vase, the basic aim of the Hinayana is the attainment of individual liberation with respect to the duhkha (dissatisfaction and suffering) that is the First Noble Truth and to the existence marked by duhkha that is known as samsara (Tibetan: khorwa [khor ba])a or “cyclic existence” (a concept that will be explained later on), to be achieved by means of the cessation of the basic craving that is the Second Noble Truth and of the concomitant illusion of being a substantial, separate individual. The teachings of this period are discussed in the first three chapters of The Precious Vase, and again on chapters five through seven. In Mahayana terms, the Four Truths may be explained as follows: (1) The life of ordinary sentient beings is characterized by duhkha, which as we have seen is lack of plenitude, dissatisfaction, discomfort, frustration and recurrent pain and suffering. In the explanation of duhkha there is no significant difference between the Hinayana or “Narrow Vehicle” and the Mahayana or “Wider Vehicle.” However, in the Hinayana the principal motivation to practice is to free oneself from duhkha, whereas in the Mahayana we must aspire to an active wisdom allowing us to help all beings liberate themselves from duhkha. Here I will not substantiate the Buddhist claim that ordinary life is duhkha, for I have done so quite amply in Buddhism and Dzogchen, vol. Ib and other works.c Furthermore, in the discussion of the seven special mind trainings or seven lojongs (blo sbyong) some aspects of duhkha, and in particular the threefold classification of duhkha produced by Mahayana, Madhyamika Prasangika Master Shantideva, will be discussed (2) We have seen that, according to the original version of the Four Noble Truths, the cause of duhkha is trishna: a basic craving that recurrently manifests as a thirst for pleasure, which always involves both the impulse to confirm ourselves as substantial individuals and the longing to fill a basic existential lack, and which (as shown in the discussion of this Truth as understood in the Hinayana) in the case of some individuals on the Path may manifest as thirst for extinction. Upon considering the Four Noble Truths, some representatives of the Mahayana stressed the fact that the trishna or craving that, according to the Hinayana, was the Second Truth, in its turn had a cause, which was avidya (Tib., marigpa4): the basic delusion5 that consists in being unaware of the true, single nature of all subjects and objects, and taking each of them to be a self-existing, substantial entity, so that what is dependent is taken to be independent, what is void is taken to be self-existent, what is insubstantial is taken to be substantial, the relative is taken to be absolute, the unsatisfactory to have the potential of providing satisfaction, and so on. This view was in agreement with the order of the renowned “twelve links (nidana) of interdependent origination” that constitute the pratitya samutpada, for the first of the twelve links is avidya, trishna being the eighth and, as such, being a consequence of avidya.6 a The root of this term (khor) literally means “wheel.” Capriles, E. (2003). Buddhism and Dzogchen: Volume One: Buddhism: A Dzogchen Outlook. Mérida, Venezuela: Website for Professors, University of The Andes: Internet: http://www.webdelprofesor.ula.ve/humanidades/elicap/ c Capriles, E.: (1977) The Direct Path; (1986) Qué somos y adónde vamos; (2000) Budismo y Dzogchén; (2077) Beyond Being, Beyond Mind, Beyond History: A Dzogchen-Founded Metatranspersonal, Metapostmodern Philosophy and Psychology for Survival and an Age of Communion. Vol. I: Beyond Being: A Metaphenomenological Elucidation of the Phenomenon of Being, the Being of the Subject and the Being of Objects. b 6


p. 7

In order to get a better grasp of the reason why, for the above representatives of the Mahayana, the Second Truth was not trishna, but avidya, it must be noted that the single nature of all entities, including subjects and objects, is an undivided continuum that may be characterized in terms of completeness and plenitude (it does not matter whether we conceive this continuum as a physical universe and interpret it in terms of present day theories in physics,7 whether we imagine the whole of reality as a continuum of “mental stuff,” or whether we refuse to interpret it one way or the other). The very moment we feel that we are entities inherently separate from an “external dimension,” the absolute completeness and plenitude of the undivided continuum is disrupted in and by our experience,8 as a result of which our consciousness experiences a lack of completeness and plenitude: this sensation of lack is precisely the root of the basic craving or thirst that trishna is.9 (3) The nirvana that, according to the original teaching, is the Third Truth, can no longer be conceived as a mere cessation of suffering, for in the Mahayana one first seeks and then obtains the active wisdom called Skt. sarwakarajñata (Tib. nampa tamche khyenpanyi [rnam pa thams chad mkhyen pa nyid])10 that, besides putting an end to avidya (marigpa) and therefore to duhkha in the individual, allows him or her to help all beings achieve Awakening or freedom from suffering. In fact, though the term sarwakarajñata is very often rendered as “omniscience,” rather than a special type of ESP it designates a more complete form of realization, involving nondual panoramic awareness and special capabilities allowing the individual to most effectively help others to go beyond samsara. The Fruit or nirvana of the Mahayana is called anuttara samyak sambodhi or “Total Unsurpassable Awakening.” (4) There is a Path leading to the achievement of the Third Truth, and therefore to the surpassing of the first two Truths. Both the Buddhism of First Promulgation (the Hinayana) and the Mahayana explain this truth in terms of the “Noble Eightfold Path,” which consists of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. However, since there is a big difference between the different Buddhist vehicles in what regards the manner of treading the Path, in order to help the reader distinguish the principle of the various Paths and vehicles discussed in The Precious Vase (i.e., in order to help him or her make his or her own treasure chest of drawers for organizing the teachings of the SMS Base Level) in this book I will explain the Fourth Noble Truth in terms of the three Paths—(I) the Path of Spontaneous Liberation (i.e., of “self-liberation”) of Dzogchen Atiyoga, (II) the Tantric Path of Transformation, and (III) the Sutric Way of Renunciation—and the nine Vehicles—(1) Atiyogatantrayana, (2) Anuyogatantrayana, (3) Mahayogatantrayana, (4) Yogatantrayana, (5) Ubhayatantrayana, (6) Kriyatantrayana, (7) Bodhisattvayana, (8) and (9) Shravakayana—that were introduced and established in Tibet during the Ancient or Nyingma dissemination of Buddhism, as interpreted and expounded by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. It must be emphasized that, no matter to what extent the teaching on the Four Noble Truths may be successfully adapted to the views and realizations proper to so-called higher vehicles,11 it is a characteristically Hinayana teaching, designed to appeal to individuals who can understand suffering and all that pertains to the level of body, and who will naturally wish to rid themselves of suffering, but who might not understand or respond enthusiastically to “higher” forms of Buddhism: they may be afraid of voidness as taught in the Mahayana and be reluctant to face dangers and hardships to help others free themselves from suffering—and, even more so, they may be unable to understand the level of energy that is the essence of the Vajrayana and the level of mind that is the essence of the Atiyogatantrayana (these Buddhist Vehicles and levels of the human reality will be explained later on). 7


p. 8

To conclude, it is important to note that, though this book will follow The Precious Vase point by point, before so doing it will deal with some points that need to be clarified beforehand, and for reasons that will be discussed below, it main body will exclude some points of the first chapter of that book, which when I have the time I will discuss in an Appendix to be appended at the end of the book. Introduction: What is the SMS; How to Organize its Teachings; Dzogchen and the Three Paths and Nine Vehicles; Outer, Inner and Secret (and possibly Super-Secret) Senses of the Teachings 1. Commentary: What is SMS. Meaning of the term. Origin of the training: In the last centuries in Tibet the prevailing way of transmitting the dharma has been either the Lamrim (steps-path) or gradual approach, or at least the approach requiring students to complete the set of preliminary practices called ngöndro (sngon ’gro) before granting them higher teachings and allowing them to put them into practice. These two ways of transmitting the teachings contrast with the one favored by the Primordial Revealer or Tönpa (ston pa) who introduced Buddhist Dzogchen in our world, Garab Dorje, which may be said to be descending in that it consisted in introducing the View and Methods of the supreme Path / Vehicle first and then, in case the student failed to understand or to achieve practical results, introducing the immediately lower vehicle... and if the student still failed to understand or achieve results, introducing the immediately lower one, until, if necessary, arriving at the “lowest” vehicle, which is the Shravakayana. Initially and for years Chögyal Namkhai Norbu taught in the style of Garab Dorje’s; he began teaching the Upadeshavarga or Menngagde (man ngag sde or man ngag gyi sde) series of Dzogchen teachings, and after years he had not seen any significant effect in his students. Then he began teaching the Dzogchen Semde (sems sde) and after a while he began to see some effects in his students. At some point, with the aim of preparing the continuity of his teachings for the future, Rinpoche devised a ten-level course of study and practice comprehending some king of ngöndro. In fact, this was necessary because some of his students would have the mission of Transmitting the teachings for the Future—which required that all the Views and Methods were known both intellectually and experientially so that they could be transmitted (though this does not imply a lamrim approach, for the student is not supposed to practice the lower teachings first and only after completing a number of repetition of lower practices proceed to higher vehicles, it shares with the lamrim approach the obligation to do practices of all Paths and Vehicles). He called this training the Santi Maha Sangha: “Santi Maha” is the term in the language of Oddiyana that is translated by the Tibetan term Dzogchen, whereas “Sangha” has the same meaning as in Sanskrit and means “Community.” Therefore the term is simply the name of the spiritual group that Rinpoche founded and to which we belong: Dzogchen Community. The training Rinpoche devised was such that he deemed the Base level to be of utmost importance for all of his students to undertake at some point, as a way to gain a far more precise comprehension of the teachings and of a variety of methods that may be extremely helpful for furthering spiritual development among students of Dzogchen. Though Rinpoche does not ask his students to take any vows, the latter are free to receive them if they want to do so; however, he has noticed many times that if someone takes the vows of a monk or nun, he or she must behave like a monk or nun, for otherwise it would be much better for them not to take these vows. This does not breach the principle of basing oneself on the higher Path or Vehicle; if the individual truly has the capacity to apply the principle of the higher Path or Vehicle he or she must apply it, but if the person is a monk or nun he or she must outwardly keep the 8


p. 9

behavior of the monk or nun, rather than playing at being a mad monk or nun: since in the Dzogchen Community students are not asked to be monks or nuns it would be absurd for them to take the vows in question and not sticking outwardly to the behavior they freely chose to adopt. 2. Commentary: It is important to emphasize that the SMS is not a mere course of intellectual study like those taught at the universities and so on; that beside being a course of intellectual study it is, principally and first of all, a way of gaining Knowledge written with a capital “k”—that is, of gaining access to the state of rigpa that is utterly beyond the intellect, by contrast with the knowledge based on the co-emergence of subject and object, which are relative to each other, and on understanding in terms of concepts that are equally relative to each other, and that as such belong to the relative sphere. In fact, as Paul Claudel correctly noted in his Traité de la Conaissance au monde et de soi-même,a “la connaissance est la co-naissance du sujet et de l’objet:”12 knowledge is the co-emergence of the subject and the object. Moreover, concepts are always relative to other concepts, in terms of which they are defined. In fact, definition is carried out in terms of proximate gender and specific difference: proximate gender is the immediately wider class in which the concept is included and specific difference is the contrast with other members of the same class which it excludes (for example, in the Western definition of the human being as a rational animal, animal would be the proximate gender and rational would be the specific difference). Knowledge with a capital “K” is beyond the relativity inherent in concepts, for it consists in the realization of the true nature and condition of reality, which cannot enter in any concept, and which, insofar as this condition is undivided and absolute (by contrast with relative), cannot be apprehended in terms of the divisiveness and relativity of the subject-object duality. This is why the Lankavatara Sutra notes that all explanations are like fingers pointing to the moon: we must use the finger as a pointer to grasp the moon rather than looking at the finger and taking it to be the moon. Concepts and the words expressing them are fingers, and in this particular case, since concepts are part of the veil that hides the true condition of reality represented by the moon, seeing the moon implies seeing through the concepts in terms of which we understand it. This is the reason why the Buddhist sage Ashvagosha said, “we must use language in order to go beyond language.” In fact, language and the concepts it expresses are like a boat we use in order to cross the ocean of samsara and arrive at the “other shore” represented by nirvana; however, insofar as nirvana lies in Seeing through concepts into the nonconceptual true condition of ourselves and the whole of reality, the boat in which we travel cannot reach the other shore: we only reach it when we See through the boat into our true condition, thus realizing that the other shore is not separate from samsara, but the true condition of samsara that the concepts that keep un in samsara prevent us from Seeing. This is why the SMS is not only intellectual study—it would be like the university, which furthers the pride inherent in knowledge, and would not serve its aims, which are: allowing us to have an overall understanding of the principles of Buddhism in general and Dzogchen in particular so that we may know how to proceed on the Path; allowing us to realize the true condition of reality and become Dzogchen practitioners; and, in the case of those of us who are supposed to transmit the teachings for the future, preparing us to do so properly, with a full understanding of the principles of the different practices, Paths and Vehicles. 3. Commentary: The SMS training has the function of helping us integrate the above mentioned three a Claudel, Paul (1943). Art Poétique. Connaissance du temps. Traité de la co-naissance au monde et de soi-même. Développement de l'église. Paris: Mercure de France. (Original Ed. 1907 by the same publishers.) 9


p. 10

Paths—(1) the Path of Spontaneous Liberation (“self-liberation”) of Dzogchen Atiyoga, (2) the Tantric Path of Transformation, and (3) the Sutric Way of Renunciation—and nine vehicles. However, this is radically different from mixing them up, which would cause us to combine the different principles in an arbitrary way and thus not to be able to properly practice any of them. This is why the title of this course emphasizes the need for each of us to make our own “treasure chest of drawers” for organizing the teachings of different levels contained in the Base of SMS: so that we will not confuse the different teachings into an amorphous heap, for this would cause us to become like the old horse of the Dzogchen parable, which stops before a crossroads and is unable to proceed, as it cannot decide which road to take. 4. Commentary: Above I used the term “Path of Spontaneous Liberation” rather than “Path of Selfliberation:” Though the term “self-liberation” is a precise translation of the Tibetan term rangdröl (rang grol), many translations to Western languages evidence the fact that the translators misunderstood the English term “self-liberation.” For example, in the English translation of a text on the practice of the Upadeshavarga series of Dzogchen teachings (centered on the practice of Tekchö) as it must be carried out in Mountain Retreats, a Western translator mistranslated the text, explaining that spontaneous liberation meant that “one liberated oneself by oneself like a snake uncoiling:” the translator wrongly understood that, rather than achieving liberation from delusion and the ensuing suffering by the power of the Buddhas, of a God or of some external entity, one achieved this liberation through one’s own agency and power. However, the power of the illusion of a separate ego or self comes from the Buddha-nature rather than from a supposedly separate source, and to believe is comes from a separate source would confirm the delusion that makes us experience ourselves as inherently separate, autonomous, independent selves that are the source of their own decisions and actions, and hence would prevent application of the rangdröl principle: I am translating rangdröl as spontaneous liberation precisely in order to prevent the misunderstanding of believing one can cause liberation or be the agent of liberation. In fact, rangdröl / spontaneous liberation means that the thoughts that we confuse with the territory that is the Buddha-nature and that they interpret, and which conceal the nature in question to our consciousness, liberate themselves of their own accord rather than as a result of the agency of the illusory mental subject.13 Spontaneous liberation or rangdröl means that no one causes liberation of is the agent of liberation: the delusive appearances resulting from the confusion of the map of thought with the territory it interprets, or from taking the interpretations of thought as absolutely true or false with regard to that which they interpret, liberate themselves of their own accord by virtue of the liberating power of our true condition, which is the all-liberating single gnosis or chikshe kundröl (gcig shes kun grol). To recapitulate, the agency of the illusory mental subject affirms and sustains the subject in question, which is the core of the delusion called avidya, thus preventing the occurrence of spontaneous liberation. The same translator, many years after producing this misunderstanding, in a wellknown book rendered the term rangdröl as “self-realization,” which is a term used by Abraham Maslow to refer to what he viewed as the fruit of transpersonal psychology and which does not in any way involve rangdröl—that is, it does not involve in any way or measure what the Dzogchen teachings call spontaneous liberation. Finally, in a Spanish translation carried out in Argentina in the 1990s, in a footnote the translator asserted the correct translation of spontaneous liberation to be “liberation of the self”—when in fact both Buddhism and Dzogchen deny any truth to the individual self, viewing liberation as the dissolution of the deceiving appearance of there being an individual self. (In Dzogchen, and especially in the Semde [sems sde] series of teachings, the term 10


p. 11

“self,” especially when written as dagnyi chenpo [bdag nyid chen po], meaning “total selfhood,” is used to indicate the Base of Dzogchen, which is the true essence and nature of all entities; however, also if we understood the term “self” in the Argentinean translation in this way, the phrase would be absurd, since the Base is primordially pure or katak [ka dag] and spontaneously perfect or lhundrub [lhun grub], and hence it would be absurd to think that it should liberate itself). However, even those who know the term rangdröl to refer to the spontaneous liberation of delusive thoughts and of delusive appearances tinged by thought, often mistake samsaric experiences for the spontaneous liberation characteristic of Dzogchen that results in instances of nirvana—or, in more specific Dzogchen terms, of the state of rigpa. In particular, whoever has observed a bit his or her own mind will have realized that discursive thoughts arise, have their moment, and then disappear seemingly without leaving traces. Often people think that this spontaneous disappearance of discursive thoughts is what the Dzogchen teachings call rangdröl (rang grol), shardröl (shar grol) and cherdröl (gcer grol) and which I m rendering as spontaneous liberation. This is a grave error insofar as the succession of discursive thoughts, in which each though disappears in this way, then is succeeded by a brief space without thought, and then by the arising, presentation and disappearance of another discursive thought, is what the Dzogchen teachings call “the chain of samsara,” rather than being the repeated occurrence of spontaneous liberation that gives rise to nirvana. Others believe that the state of rigpa is the thoughtless state that briefly manifests between one thought and the next; however, ordinary people do not realize the true condition of reality in this brief state without thought, but are unaware of the condition in question in an instance of the state that the Dzogchen teachings call kunzhi (kun gzhi), which will be discussed below and in which neither samsara nor nirvana are manifest. Furthermore, some Dzogchen teachers write in their books and teach their students that this state between thoughts is rigpa and that the practice of Dzogchen consists in prolonging the state in question; however, the Dzogchen teachings warn against so doing, and compare it with “cutting one’s own head,” for lest we do so, we would remain in a state of ignorance that we mistake for realization and we may waste our precious human existence in it—like one who, on the way to Mount Kailash, believed a comfortable hotel on a hilltop on the way to be the King of mountains and spend the rest of his or her life there. What the Dzogchen teachings call rangdröl, shardröl and cherdröl, and that I am rendering as spontaneous liberation, has nothing to do with any of the above: it is something that only occurs in the practice of Dzogchen, as a result of the application of specific instructions, and may be compared to a Vajra instantly destroying thoughts and thereby breaking the chain of samsara: the Vajra is the primordial gnosis called yeshe (ye shes) in Tibetan and jñana in Sanskrit, which as the Dzogchen teachings make clear is all-liberating. In fact, this is why this gnosis is called chikshe kundröl (gcig shes kun grol) or “all-liberating single gnosis.” In the practice of Dzogchen, when thoughts occur we do not take the map they constitute to be the territory (as happens in samsaric experience when subtle, intuitive thoughts14 are confused with the sensory data they interpret), nor do we take them to be something absolutely true or false with regard to what they interpret (as happens in samsaric experience with discursive thoughts), and if we do, we just look at them right in the face so as to apprehend their true condition and constituent, which we initially apprehended in Direct Introduction, and they instantly liberate themselves as their true essence becomes patent in the manifestation of the dharmakaya that is the true condition of the dang energy that is the stuff of which thought is made.15 This could hardly be more different from the subsiding of each of the discursive thoughts that make up the “chain of samsara,” which does not result in the 11


p. 12

manifestation of the dharmakaya, not does it interrupt the chain in question, but is precisely the condition of possibility of the continuity of that chain (for if each and every though did not subside after having its moment, the next could not follow, and so there could be no such chain). In fact, in the Upadeshavarga or Menngagde (man ngag sde) and Longde (klong sde) series of Dzogchen teachings three types of capacities of spontaneous liberation are described, which manifest to a greater or lesser degree as one’s practice develops: (1) spontaneous liberation observing or cherdröl (gcer grol), which involves the action of looking the thought in the face once it has already become established as object, in order to apprehend the true condition of the dang energy that constitutes it—on the occasion of which the thought liberates itself spontaneously together with the subject-object duality that is the condition of possibility of delusive perception and dharmakaya manifests. (2) Spontaneous liberation upon arising or shardröl (shar grol), which involves an automatic movement of attention toward what seems to be the “source of thought” the very instant when thought begins to arise—on the occasion of which the thought liberates itself spontaneously together with the subject-object duality that is the condition of possibility of delusive perception, and the dharmakaya manifests. And (3) Spontaneous liberation properly speaking or rangdröl (rang grol), which does not involve any movement of attention but is totally spontaneous from the very beginning, and totally continuous insofar as each thought liberates itself as it arises, like a drawing made on water—and the content of thought does at no point come to conceal the true condition of the dang form of manifestation of energy, which is the dharmakaya. Since at this point there is no illusory mental subject that may be threatened by the arising of thought, the latter are said to be like thieves in an empty house. Thus spontaneous liberation is not the mere dissolution of discursive thoughts after these have arisen and had their moment, and rigpa or dharmakaya is not normally apprehended in the blank state between one discursive thought and the next. Spontaneous liberation consists in the instant disappearance of delusion (or, in rangdröl properly speaking, the absence of the manifestation of delusion) the very moment the true essence of thought—which is the dharmakaya (the “Mind” of Buddhas or the Awareness aspect of Awakening and the true condition of dang energy and of the essence or ngowo [ngo bo] aspect of the Base)—is directly, nondually, nonconceptually apprehended in a manner that does not involve what we usually call recognition. The very instant the true essence of thought, which as we have seen is the dharmakaya, is so apprehended, the subject-object duality dissolves like feathers entering fire. Well, at the very beginning of this retreat of the Base level of Santi Maha Sangha we have gone into one of the key points of the Dzogchen teachings, which is far beyond the contents of the level in question. However, it was indispensable to explain the reasons why I use “spontaneous liberation” instead of the standard translation of rangdröl as “self-liberation,” and by the same token dispel some of the most common and gross misconceptions of key concepts of Dzogchen such as rangdröl and rigpa. Now we will carry on with subjects that do not go far beyond the themes proper to the Base of SMS: we will begin by explaining the reasons why I will not deal with Chapter I of The Precious Vase; we will continue with the introduction of the subject of this retreat, which is distinguishing the Levels of Meaning in the Supramundane Teachings; then we will discuss the Paths and Vehicles; and after this we will closely following the text of The Precious Vase, beginning by its second chapter. 5. CHAPTER ONE of The Precious Vase: Commentary: Since this Retreat is centered on distinguishing levels of meaning, and there are no levels of meaning to be distinguished in the mundane views listed in this Chapter, so far (i.e., until I have the time to prepare a Commentary 12


p. 13

on the Mundane views) the discussion of the Chapter in question will be limited to distinguishing the Mundane from the Supramundane View and Path leading beyond samsara. Furthermore, at the time of writing the original version of this text I did not have access to a sufficient number of works on the Mundane systems discussed by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu; although now I have more than enough sources on the subject, and I intend to comment on them in future versions of this text, due to publishing deadlines so far I have not had the time to do so. Here “Mundane” refers to the worldly concerns of ordinary people who are not involved in spiritual practice, as well as to the spiritual concerns, views and practices of nonBuddhist teachers, systems and seekers that give rise to conditioned, produced states within samsara, and to these states themselves, rather than referring to whatever remains within the physical world: Buddhism does not view the “sacred” as lying in a “beyond” with regard to the physical world; the “sacred,” if we were to use that word, would consist in the apprehension of the true condition of our selves and the whole universe. By implication, “Supramundane” does not refer to something that lies beyond the physical world, as the etymology of the term could lead us to believe, but to the spiritual concerns, views and practices that lead beyond the Triple World of samsara—which consists of the psychological spheres of sensuality, form and formlessness that will be defined below—or to the states or conditions that lie beyond the triple world in question. Here The Precious Vase quotes from Jamgön Kongtrul’s Encyclopedia of Knowledge (Shes bya kun khyab) by reads (op. 32, vol. 2, p. 359, 13): A person who adheres to a philosophical system can be distinguished (by the following points): by whether or not they accept or not as their view the ‘four signs’ of the Buddha’s word; by whether or not (they practice) a meditation that should become an antidote to (the level of realization called) the ‘peak of existence’; by whether or not they relinquish the two extremes of self-mortification and insatiable craving, as regards behavior; by whether or not they recognize the truth of cessation as the special state in which there is no more negativity to overcome, as regards the fruit of liberation. Luminous Discipline (’dul ba ’od ldan) says: It perfectly teaches the three trainings, It perfectly possesses the four signs, It brings virtue at the beginning, the middle and the end: In this way the wise recognize the word of the Buddha. The ‘four signs’ are the four epitomes of dharmas, as one can read in Infinite Secrets (gsang ba bsam kyis mi khyab pa): The Tathagata has epitomized all Dharmas in four aphorisms: Everything compounded is impermanent; Everything contaminated by karmic vision is suffering; All phenomena are devoid of independent being; Nirvana (the condition beyond suffering) is peace. The fundamental difference between the path that transcends samsara and the mundane path thus lies in the fact that the former teaches the three trainings of morality, contemplation and discriminating wisdom, that are the ground of the teaching, and in the fact that its base is composed of the ‘four signs’ that delineate the Buddha’s view. Comment: All that was noted above applies to all Buddhist Paths and Vehicles; however, with regard to the assertion that, in order to be Buddhist, a teaching must involve a training in morality, it is clear that strictly speaking the training in question exists only in the Path of Renunciation: though all Paths and Vehicles comprehend a behavior or Chöpa (spyod pa), in the Inner Tantras that make up the Path of Transformation and in the Dzogchen Ati Path of Spontaneous Liberation this behavior 13


p. 14

is not focused on morality properly speaking—even though all Buddhist Paths and Vehicles are based on the principles of not harming sentient beings (strictly speaking proper to the Hinayana) and benefiting all sentient beings (proper to the Mahayana and higher Paths and Vehicles, this principle is not extraneous to the Hinayana either). Thus if we understand the behavior of the Paths of Transformation and Spontaneous Liberation to constitute their own respective versions of the training in morality, as will be shown when we deal with behavior in the various Paths and Vehicles, in these cases “morality” is not to be taken at face value. With regard to the assertion that one of the ways to determine if people follow the Buddha’s teachings is by checking whether or not they practice a meditation that should become an antidote to the level of realization called the ‘peak of existence’, and that one of the four signs of the Buddha’s teachings is the recognition that everything compounded is impermanent, it is necessary to make the sense of “peak of existence” and the sense of “compounded” clear. The Tibetan word that here is rendered as “compounded” is düje (’dus byas), which translates the Pali sankhata and the Sanskrit samskrita and which refers to all that is produced, born or conditioned, and not only to the result of assembling parts in the physical sense of this phrase; therefore, the assertion that everything compounded is impermanent means that whatever has been produced, conditioned, compounded or born, is transitory. And the “Peak of Experience” (Skt. bhavagra) is the highest of the four compartments of the formless sphere that is the highest region of samsara, in which the figure-ground division is effaced by a limited panoramification of consciousness yet the subjectobject duality remains and the mental subject identifies with its object, deriving pride from the latter’s qualities (in the lowest of the four regions, the limitless character of the continuum being perceived; in the highest one, which as just noted is the one called “Peak of Experience,” the idea that the object, which seems total and absolute, defies all definitions and cannot fit any concept, including those of “unthinkable” or “indefinable”). The above is the reason why the teachings note that in order to truly be a Buddhist, one must practice a meditation that should become an antidote to the level of attainment the Buddhist teachings call, ‘peak of existence’: because the attainment of the Peak of Experience is the highest of produced, conditioned states, which is very often mistaken for Awakening or nirvana, but which insofar as it is conditioned it is impermanent and cannot constitute a safe, enduring Refuge or solution to suffering. Thus what was stated in The Precious Vase means that in order to be Buddhists we must follow a Path that does not have as its aim the mere production of conditioned, constructed phenomena and states—i.e., we must not follow paths that serve only for climbing to higher realms within samsara and in the best of cases establishing oneself in the Peak of Existence. And this in its turn means that we must learn to distinguish between those Paths limited to producing conditioned, constructed phenomena and states and thus serves for climbing to higher realms within samsara, which are the ones Buddhism calls “Mundane,” and the Buddhist Paths, which are the ones Buddhism calls “Supramundane” and which always involve Seeing through all that is produced / conditioned into the unproduced / unconditioned—which in Dzogchen terms is the Base or zhi (gzhi), which here I am calling Dzogchen qua Base, and which is the Buddha Nature having the Three Kayas qua Base. In fact, the ascetic Gautama Siddhartha—the future Buddha Shakyamuni—left his two successive spiritual teachers because he realized that, though they entered lofty absorptions, these were produced and conditioned, and therefore after some time they would “fall” from their “highs” and be possessed by the afflictions. This is why Shakyamuni said in the Samadhirajasutra (cited in Fifth Dalai Lama, 1974): “Though they cultivate those concentrations (of the peak of existence [bhavagra] and so forth), they do not destroy the discrimination of self. Therefore, the afflictions return, and they are thoroughly 14


p. 15

disturbed—as in the case of the cultivation of the concentrations by Udraka Ramaputra.” Buddhism makes it clear that higher realms depend on good karmas and merits, and their attainment may result from the application of spiritual methods based on action (Skt. karma), often in combination with other activities or circumstances. Ch’an Master Yung-chia Hsüan-chüeh16 compared the ascent to higher realms to an arrow shot upwards, and noted that insofar as the arrow’s ascent depends on the limited impulse / energy of action, given the downward pull of gravity, sooner or later it will have to fall. Yung-chia writes:a Giving (dana) practiced with an aim may result in the grace of being reborn in heaven. This, however, is like shooting an arrow upwards: when the force that thrusts the arrow is exhausted it will return to the ground and its ascent will have created adverse karma for the times to come. In Tibet, those who, by means of spiritual techniques, ascended to the formless sphere, were compared to a bird taking flight that sooner or later would have to descend, and their becoming an entity appearing as object was compared to the bird’s shadow (a term that in this case, rather than having the sense Jung gave it, stands for the individual’s sense of self). In our time, some Tibetan teachers and Western authorsb have modified the traditional image, and compare such individuals unto an airplane that can fly so long as there is fuel in its tanks and the right contributory conditions are present. As I have noted elsewherec, the fuel stands for the primary cause (Skt. hetu; Tib. gyud) of the ascent to the formless sphere and the stay therein, which Buddhism compares to the seed from which a plant sprouts and grows, and which basically consists in the potentiality (Sanskrit: karma; Tib. lee) for the experiences of this sphere—which in this case is a result of the actions (Sanskrit: karma; Tib. lef) taken in the context of the spiritual practices whereby we establish healthy habits and attitudes, in combination with other meritorious actions. Contributory conditions (Skt. pratyaya; Tib. kyeng) are compared to light, humidity, earth, heat, etc., which in the case of individuals in the formless sphere might include a calm environment, admiration by disciples, fame, absence of confrontation with adverse opinions—and, in some cases, psychoactive substances. In this metaphor, as the airplane flies higher and higher its shadow progressively broadens and blurs; then at some height it becomes strikingly more blurred, and finally at a given altitude it seems to disappear.17 In fact, when the formless sphere is attained, the practitioner’s sense of self seemingly reaches Totality and includes everything, and finally, on the occasion of attaining the summit of the formless sphere—thus seeming to go beyond both conceptualization (Skt. samjña; Tib. dusheh) and non-conceptualization (Skt. asamjña; Tib. dushe mei), as the name of this realm suggests— they gain the illusion of “being one who transcended the notion of self.” Nevertheless, conceptualization has not really been surpassed, for there is still the subtle concept of being a Adapted from: Yoka Daishi / Taisen Deshimaru (1981); cited in Capriles (1999a, 2000a, 2000c). Capriles (1977, 1986, 1999a, 2000a, 2000c, 2003). c Capriles (1977, 1986, 1999a, 2000a, 2000c). d rgyu. e las. f las. g rkyen. h ’du shes. i ’du shes med. b 15



no comments yet