Dzogchen: The Resting Meditation of a Kusulu
"The experience of true insight is the simultaneous awareness of both stillness and active thoughts. According to the Maha Ati teaching, meditation consists of seeing whatever arises in the mind and simply remaining in the state of nowness. Continuing in this state after meditation is known as "the post-meditation experience."
"Do not resolve the Dharma,
Resolve your mind.
To resolve your mind is to know the one which frees all.
Not to resolve your mind is to know all but lack the one"
The practice of Dzogchen Meditation is based on the recognition of natural awareness which is referred to as "ordinary mind". Natural awareness is the true nature of our mind when it is free from habituation. This is the quality of our present experience which is uncontrived and unfabricated cognizance. It has been described as naked and unborn in the sense that it is awareness which is stripped bare of any conditioning or habituation. Ordinarily in our day to day lives our minds are continually involved in habitual thought and projection. This habitual mode of being is generally how we sentient beings operate and what keeps us trapped in a cycle of ignorance, delusion and suffering. Habitual thought, projection and the compulsive fixation on what arises in our minds obscures our recognition of natural awareness. Therefore we can understand dzogchen meditation as a practice which purifies the mind of habituation allowing us to recognize natural awareness. In this sense, natural awareness is beyond the reference points of habitual mind. This is what Trungpa Rinpoche referred to as "crazy wisdom" in some of his early seminars in the west. Since habitual mind depends on constant movement, distraction and the manipulation of what arises in our experience, the fundamental form of practice in dzogchen is to sit still and be undistracted -- to leave whatever arises in our field of awareness as it is. That is, we endeavor to not manipulate or strategize our thoughts or the sights, sounds and sensations that we perceive based upon an habitual reaction of hope or fear. This is called the "resting meditation of a kusulu."
"Keep your body straight, refrain from talking, open your mouth slightly, and let the breath flow naturally. Don't pursue the past and don't invite the future. Simply rest naturally in the naked ordinary mind of the immediate present without trying to correct it or replace it. If you rest like that, your mind-essence will be clear and expansive, vivid and naked,without any concerns about thought or recollection, joy or pain. That is awareness (Rigpa)."
The basic instruction for kusulu meditation according to our lineage is first to sit in the posture of the Buddha-- in the beginning anyway. This is the seven-fold posture of vairocana. Essentially the legs are crossed and the spine is straight. Having taken that posture one then should "leave the body like a corpse in the charnal ground." This means to not have hope and fear about the body. In terms of the speech, one leaves the breath as though it were a broken instrument -- a lute whose strings have been cut. Again this is referring to not having hope and fear about the voice or breath. It is left as it is.
With the mind, the instruction is to leave the mind as it is -- without hope and fear. And whatever thoughts arise in the mind should also be left without engaging-- "without leading or following."
"Whatever arises as objects in awareness
--Regardless of what thoughts arise from the five emotional poisons ~
Do not allow your mind to anticipate, follow after, or indulge in them.
By allowing this movement to rest in its own ground, you are free in Dharmakaya."
Distinguishing between Sems and Rigpa
"Mind (sems) is like the clouds assembled in the sky. Therefore you must gain stability in awareness (rigpa) which is like a cloudless sky. You must be able to purify the aspect that is like the clouds in the sky. Through this you will be able to separate mind and awareness."
This particular method of practice depends on being able to separate or distinguish between confusion and realization. This means being able to tell the difference between being lost in a daydream --or just zoned out --and being present-- i.e. not following thoughts or repressing them. "Sems" in Tibetan refers to what in Buddhism has been translated into english as ego. It is not a good translation in my opinion because of all the baggage connected with the word in the english language. In this case, ego as 'sems' is just the tendency to habitually fixate on mental projections which arise in the mind. This creates a fictional dream world called samsara that sentient beings tend to think of as real and habitually attempt to solidify. It is a fundamental confusion. "Rigpa" is the Tibetan word that refers to awareness beyond habitual reference point-- beyond 'sems' or after sems has fallen apart -- which it does naturally moment to moment. Rigpa is what Trungpa Rinpoche refers to as "basic sanity."
"Place your body in the sevenfold posture of Vairochana. Let the nonarising nature of your mind-- this empty and luminous awareness, this primordially pure and spontaneously present essence- remain in the state of the fourfold resting of body, speech and mind.
Don't pursue what has passed before, Don't invite what hasn't occurred, and don't construct present cognizance.
The fourfold resting is:
Rest your body like a corpse in a charnel ground, without preference or fixed arrangement.
Rest your voice like a broken waterwheel, in a state of stillness.
Rest your eyes like a statue in a shrine room, without blinking, in a continuous, focused gaze.
Rest your mind like a sea free from waves, quietly in the unfabricated and spontaneously present state of the empty and luminous nature of awareness. Let your mind rest, totally free from thought.
The earth outside, the stones, mountains, rocks, plants, trees, and forests do not truly exist. The body inside does not truly exist. This empty and luminous mind-nature also does not truly exist. Although it does not truly exist, it cognizes everything. Thus to rest in the state of empty and luminous awareness is known as the ground of cutting through."
In order to distinguish between sems and rigpa the kusulu works with body, speech and mind in a particular way. "Leaving the body like a corpse in a charnal ground" means that we don't engage with the physical sensation of our body in a habitual way. When we relate to the body in this way we are simply present with those sensations and they root us in an experience beyond our habitual daydream or psychosomatic experience of the body. Its not that our experience of the body disappears in meditation, but we relate to it without manipulation based on habitual mind. This is the nirmanakaya.
This is the same with our breath, which in this context is regarded as "speech." The breath is left alone without manipulation but is still a baseline experience. We are breathing and that brings us back to a direct experience of being present without complication. Utilizing our direct experience of body and speech in this way is essentially the method of meditation for a kusulu practitioner. This is the sambhogakaya.
There are some techniques that Trungpa Rinpoche gave his students regarding the use of accentuating awareness of the outbreath which are very helpful for distinguishing between being caught in a habitual daydream and being present. Those techniques should not be regarded as some type of saving grace. In other words, with the technique Trungpa Rinpoche instructed his students to use we utilize the outbreath as the neutral reference point. Being aware of the outbreath is just momentarily realizing you are here. There may be some sense in that moment that you weren't "here" in the previous moment. That is the technique. There is no effort to push "thinking" away to dwell in stillness. None at all. You are "here" with the outbreath, then let it go. You are "here;" then, let it go. By sitting still and allowing the breath to be as it is , we wake up in the midst of our daydream-- moment to moment.
"Grant your blessings so that confusion may dawn as wisdom."
The Four Dharmas of Gampopa
Sems is recognized as engaging in any thought of the past; any ideas of what might happen in the future; and any conceptual reckoning in the present. Sems is engaging in any of these thoughts -- habitually or compulsively. In the abhidharma we study the five skandhas -- form, feeling, perception, formation and consciousness. This is all sems. But to understand how we experience sems is that a random thought bubbles up in our mind and we habitually react to it. Whether it is a memory, a future projection or reckoning in the present-- when we react habitually we think of that thought as happening outside of our minds. That is the definition of duality. That is the first skandha. Form. Once we do that -- and we do that based on coemergent ignorance-- then we are on a little trip in our minds. You can call this trip the nidana chain or just samsara. You can call it a daydream -- because that is what it is. It is also the basis of our habitual conditioning: i.e. of karma. For instance, we are sitting in our meditation room and a memory of our friend who we had a fight with comes up. When we react habitually we engage that memory as though our friend were standing right in front of us and we engage in our fight again-- as though it is happening now. But the truth is it is not and we are just confused-- thinking that we are having a fight with our friend. This is a samsaric daydream.
We are used to the idea that spirituality is going to give us some pleasurable answer-- some ice-cream. Lots of meditation traditions including yoga and qigong promise better health, longer life etc. Dzogchen doesn't promise any of these things. It is really more about showing you what is going on directly. That is where we discover ordinary magic. Dzogchen meditation, if we can even say such a thing, is really about getting bored with sems to the point where we wear out dualistic confusion. Trungpa calls it complete hopelessness in "Crazy Wisdom." When we present these teachings it is easy to stress all the good aspects to try to convince people that they should practice the dharma but this is so easy for people to misunderstand. We are not talking about being healthier, about eating right, having healthy relationships or even conventional notions of sanity. This path has nothing to do with the eight wordly dharmas. The practice of meditation itself in this tradition is boring. It is lonely. It is looking at your crazy mind as it is with no buffer. No entertainment. No promise of anything greater. And the motivation for this is understanding that we will certainly die!
"If you want to truly practice the Dharma you must quickly make preparations for death. Besides that, someone who entertains many temporary and utimate plans will not be able to be a Dharma practitioner." Tsele Natsok Rangdrol
The "reality" we are talking about here is not some imaginary mystical experience of "transcending duality" or "becoming one" with whatever. We are not talking about the meditation experiences of bliss, clarity and nonthought. We are just talking about the basic sanity of being able to tell when we are daydreaming and when we are not. On the basis of recognizing the difference between these two things in our experience , the whole path becomes possible. If we don't understand this at the beginning of our journey then we end up just chasing a fantasy of spiritual experience.
The much sought after "pointing out" that so many western students chase after is nothing other than this-- being shown a mind that is not lost in daydreams. It is supposed to be helpful for a student on their path as a practitioner to receive the "pointing out." Unfortunately, unless a student is able to utilize such a blessing in the way I have talked about here-- it can become an obstacle and hindrance to any genuine realization. In particular, having received the "pointing out" is not the end of the journey at all. It is only the hint of a beginning. One analogy the Tibetan teachers use is that it is like being shown the road to Lhasa. It is up to you to walk there.
Without intensive practice before, we will lack the psychological sophistication to understand what is being pointed out. Without practice after recieving the pointing out we never reach out "destination."
In general there seems to be many misconceptions about what a guru is for in the Buddhist tantric tradition. The tibetan word is Lama --"guru" is a term which carries quite a lot of baggage from the hindu tradition, therefore I prefer to use the term "Lama." "Lama" means someone who carries the burden. A lama knows the nature of mind as nonreference point experience. When you have a relationship with a person like this-- every engagement with them carries the possibility of meeting the mind of nonreference point experience. This transmission depends on the devotion of the student. The nature of mind is simply experience or awareness beyond habitual reference point. It is like an open secret. This transmission can occur in many ways-- very elaborate ways or very direct and simple ways depending on the prospective student's capacities and how the situation develops. The experience of mind beyond habitual reference point is the dharmakaya.
There is a story in "Blazing Splendor" where a naughty young tulku recieves the "pointing out" from an old monk who admonishes him to "not wander." Throughout his life he would remember this grouchy, old monk from his childhood as one of his root lamas --the one who first showed him the nature of mind. After his 12 trials with his root lama, Naropa recieved this transmission from Tilopa when Tilopa slapped him in the face with his sandle.
Throughout our lives we may have many lamas. Trungpa Rinpoche had 17. We usually have one who makes a very strong impression and this person we think of as our root lama. Trungpa Rinpoche's root lama was Jamgon Kongtrul of Shechen. He also had a very strong connection with Khenpo Gangshar Wangpo-- a close disciple of Jamgon Kongtrul.
Co-emergent Wisdom and Self-Liberation
"I would recommend that you don't worry about future security, but just do it, directly and simply." Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
"Second, for identifying vipashyana, no matter what thought or disturbing emotion arises, do not try to cast it away and do not be governed by it; instead, leave whatever is experienced without fabrication. When you recognize it the very moment it arises, it itself dawns as emptiness that is basic purity without abandonment."
The moment when we realize we have been following a thought is actually the moment of co-emergent wisdom.
"At the moment of seeing, the thought has dissolved, it has vanished, and you have arrived at the completion stage."
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
If we understand the projection and fixation on what arises in the mind as sems then we can understand that every time a habitual reference point falls apart, which it always does, there is the possibility of recognizing awareness beyond ,or as the backgroundu to, the habitual involvement with "thinking". From our samsaric perspective this experience is called "impermanence," and is considered the cause of our basic anxiety; but from the tantric point of view it allows the possibility of co-emergent wisdom. Trungpa Rinpoche called this "the great switcheroo."
Co-emergent wisdom or "the wisdom born within" is resolved through practicing in this way. This is why clinging to a fabricated meditation state which is peaceful and clear is missing the main point of practice entirely. It may make you feel calmer and help you fall asleep but it will not lead to enlightenment.
There is an instantaneous flip of perspective that happens the moment you recognize that you are "thinking" --i.e. habitually engaging in thoughts. That moment is awareness that is free from habitual reference point-- Rinpoche called it the "gap". That is the meaning of the saying "the more thoughts, the more Dharmakaya." This method of shamatha-vipashyana practice , which Trungpa once called "The Touch and Go," is said to be spelled out in Gampopa's commentary on the Samadhiraja Sutra. Trungpa Rinpoche explains that by disowning any attempt to maintain a concentration on the breath after the outbreath we allow a moment of weakness in the technique. This allows whatever thoughts are bubbling up in our subconscious to rise to the surface of our minds. The point of the practice is to see our minds clearly-- to see everything that is arising in our minds clearly without trying to suppress them. And because we are simply sitting in a room where nothing is happening doing nothing we don't act them out. This is how we "purify" sems-- by exposing it to our awareness.
Trungpa Rinpoche describes this moment as resolving natural awareness through what is percieved as the boundary. The "boundary" is the realization that we have been daydreaming. That perspective is outside of the daydream. That momentary realization is called co-emergent wisdom and "self-liberation."
"So we discover the Third Noble Truth, the truth of the goal: that is, nonstriving. We need only drop the effort to secure and solidify ourselves and the awakened state is present. But we soon realize that just "letting go" is only possible for short periods. We need some discipline to bring us to "letting be." We must walk a spiritual path. Ego must wear itself out like an old shoe, journeying from suffering to liberation."
There is a feeling that natural awareness comes at us spontaneously rather than that we have to work at it. It comes at us because daydreams are unsustainable. Reality always breaks through. This is a self-existing intelligence that doesn't need the confirmation of habitual mind. "Things as they are" is experienced by sems as suffering and insecurity because experience cannot be solidified by habitual mind. Sems is the operation of habitual mind which is continually attempting to solidify what arises through projection and fixation. This is why we refer to the awareness outside of sems as "ordinary" or "natural awareness." It is the activity of sems which is "extra ordinary. ". Natural awareness isn't dependant upon the activity of sems. In that way it is completely ordinary.
Trungpa Rinpoche's Meditation Instruction
"A common misunderstanding is that the meditative state of mind has to be captured and then nursed and cherished. That is definitely the wrong approach. If you try to domesticate your mind through meditation--try to possess it by holding on to the meditative state-- the clear result will be regression on the path, with a loss of freshness and spontaneity. If you try to hold on without lapse all the time, then maintaining your awareness will begin to become a domestic hassle It will become like painfully going through housework. There will be an underlying sense of resentment, and the practice of meditation will become confusing. You will begin to develop a love-hate relationship toward your practice, in which your concept of it seems good but, at the same time, the demand this rigid concept makes on you is too painful.
So the technique is based on touch and go You focus your attention on the object of awareness then, in the same moment, you disown that awareness and go on. What is needed here is some sense of confidence--confidence that you do not have to securely own your mind, but that you can tune into its process spontaneously."
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Formal meditation in our tradition is called "shamatha-vipashyana." This is the sanskrit term. In tibetan it is called "shine-lakthong." These two words correspond to the method and result of practice. Shamatha is the point of contact with "now" beyond habitual reference point. Vipashyana is then encountering whatever arises from the point of view of "nowness"--everything which arises has the texture or one taste of non reference point. That goes for what we think of as outer experience, inner thoughts and emotions and cognizing awareness itself.
Shamatha is a momentary experience which cannot be maintained or fabricated. It is like the moment of yelling "PHAT!" For just a moment awareness is sychonized with body through the method of speech or breath. Shamatha is the moment when mind, speech and body are sychronized in nowness. Vipashyana is the experience of the echo of that point of contact. In reality shamatha and vipashyana are the same thing-- but as practitioners we experience them as two elements of the experience of practice. Shamatha can be regarded as the "primordial dot." In practice that is the moment that we come back to the experience of the outbreath. Vipashyana is that "dot" spreading out to fill "the whole of experience." This is experienced as everything that arises -- thoughts, perceptions, etc.-- without any connection to habitual hope and fear. In the contemplative Japanese arts like Kyudo and Shado these two aspects are called "isshin" and "zanshin" which are translated as "the mind of oneness" and "left-over mind." So how do we do that in our formal practice? The answer is, "We follow Trungpa Rinpoche's instructions."
"For just a moment we meditate on unobstructed, pure dharmata. This experience is vividly real but truly nonexistent, like waking from a dream. To the guru of gurus, uninterrupted consciousness without a reference point, I prostrate." Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin
The problem for most practitioners of sitting meditation is that they try to maintain a state of mental clarity and nonthought by watching their minds like a cat watches a mouse. Their practice becomes a rigid concentration practice which only reinforces habitual mind by repressing thought and maintaining a watcher. Trungpa Rinpoche joked that this was like trying to be a guest at your own funeral. In order to counter this tendency and yet still maintain a formal practice with the necessary discipline Rinpoche gave his students a practice which he called "touch and go."
Again, we sit in the formal meditation posture. Our eyes are open but not focusing on any one thing in the room or environment. Then we use the "outbreath" as the point of contact with nowness. As you breath out you have an overall sense of being present with the breath. You are here with the "outbreath." In the next moment you let go of that awareness of the breath. So on the inbreath you let go of that as the focus of your awareness. Then with the next outbreath you "be aware" of breathing out again. While we are doing this practice we notice that we are carried away by "thinking"-- full blown fantasies or very subtle thoughts. We notice this because at some point we remember to go out with the "outbreath" and, at that moment, we realize that we have been daydreaming. The instruction is to mentally label the daydream "thinking" and return to the momentary awareness of the outbreath. The point is not to attempt to remain in a state of "not thinking." The watcher is abandoned after the outbreath. Whatever thoughts arise don't matter at all to this technique. The main point is that there is a complete shift of perspective in the moment where you shift from engaging the daydream to being present with the outbreath. This is characterized as a leap. It is decisive and momentary. There are no lifelines or safety nets attached-- that is why it is beyond hope and fear. It is better to think of this approach as "nonmeditation" rather than "meditation" because we are not trying to maintain a "meditation state."
The point is that for however long you are in a formal practice session you literally label thoughts "thinking" and return again and again to the awareness of the outbreath. Then disown any attempt to maintain some "meditation state."
"The pleasures and painful states you have in dreams are all of an equal nature the moment you wake up. Lkewise, the states of thought and nonthought are of equal nature in the moment of awareness." Tsele Natsok Rangdrol "The Heart of the Matter"
Through continuing to practice in this way natural awareness infiltrates or erodes that experience of boundary--much as the ocean erodes and undermines the mainland. There is no attempt to create or maintain a still, peaceful or clear meditation state at all. That approach is ego's mimicry of meditation --which is all habitual mind can come up with. Whether there are thoughts or stillness isn't the point-- the point is that we wear out the tendency to respond to what arises with habitual hope and fear-- we refer to this wearing out process as "shinjang." Shinjang is a tibetan word which Trungpa Rinpoche translated as "processed out." Delusion is processed out with awareness which is self-existing-- beyond hope and fear. "Vidyadhara's are worn out into realization," as the saying goes.
If there is a habitual reaction to what arises in the mind then that is daydreaming-- the five skandhas; the 12 nidanas; the five kleshas. If you simply recognize a thought as a thought while remaining in "nowness" rather than being carried away by it --that is co-emergent wisdom or self-liberation. The key point is not to try to repress "thinking." Be aware of every thought and sensation and then in the next moment label it "thinking" and come back to the awareness of the outbreath as a neutral reference point. That is the way we wear out or "purify" habitual reaction to what arises. In that way, the five skandhas become the five Buddha families and thoughts of the five kleshas are self-liberated.
"As we discussed in the chapters dealing with spiritual materialism, many people make the mistake of thinking that, since ego is the root of suffering, the goal of spirituality must be to conquer and destroy ego. They struggle to eliminate ego's heavy hand but as we discovered earlier, that struggle is merely another expression of ego. We go around and around trying to improve ourselves through struggle until we realize that the ambition to improve ourselves is itself the problem. Insights come only when there are gaps in our struggle, only when we stop trying to rid ourselves of thought, when we cease siding with pious, good thoughts against bad, impure thoughts, only when we allow ourselves simply to see the nature of thought." Trungpa Rinpoche
"The primordial dot spreads out to fill the whole of space." Trungpa Rinpoche
As a practitioner it is important to work within an authentic lineage. Until one truly resolves the nature of mind it is easy to go astray. The more one resolves the nature of mind through shamatha/vipashyana practice and the tantric path the more one comes to recognize it in one's authentic lama and lineage and their pith instructions. This realization dawns as an unmistakeable atmosphere or quality. This is what we generally refer to as adhistana or blessings. "Jinlap" is the Tibetan word for this. The experience of jinlap is the radiation of natural awareness. The center of this mandala is the lama -- they function as the pipeline for these blessings within the mandala set-up. That is why the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages rely on Devotion.
"For the realization of Dzogchen to occur in your mind you must receive the transmission of the blessings of the mind of a master who possesses the lineage. This transmission depends on the disciple's devotion, so it is of sole importance."
"Devotion to the master is the king of all enhancement practices, so give up regarding him as an ordinary being. It is essential never to separate yourself from the devotion of seeing him as a Buddha in person."
Yogi Yanpa Lodi, the carefree vagrant
Maintaining a daily practice of 2 to 4 hours per day is essential. Without this we never accomplish the level of psychological awareness or subtlety necessary to distinguish between sems and rigpa moment to moment. And that is key. Beyond this one should engage in periodic intensive retreats and the full path presented by your lineage while living an ordinary life in whatever culture you live in. This is the path of the "hidden yogi."
Joining a monastery or living in meditation centers for extended periods of time only results in jaded dharma and spiritual materialism as the habitual mind develops a cozy world in these seemingly spiritual settings. So don't try to advance your "spiritual career" with these types of credentials. Three to five years was the general rule for living at a Dharma Center under the direction of Trungpa Rinpoche. That seems like a good rule of thumb. The same is true for hanging out with the lama or the vajra sangha. The unique quality we are talking about in Dzogchen and Mahamudra is non reference point experience which is the radiation of natural awareness. If we try to make a cozy home in our spiritual career or relationship with the lama then our habitual mind simply co-opts the whole thing. This is the meaning behind the idea of not viewing the lama as an ordinary person. It has nothing to do with elevating some ordinary person within a superstitious patriarchal power structure so he can shower abuse on his students and take advantage of them. (This is how we generally view religious hierarchies in the West which obviously has a historical basis in Buddhist as well as so-called theistic traditions) It is very important to recognize the potential to misunderstand the purpose of this relationship and the mandala set-up. If we view it as an unequal power relationship, not only is that a mistaken view, but it will only ever lead to the abuse of that imaginary power. There is no way to utilize the skillful method of lama, mandala and devotion/mogu if we see the lama as someone who possesses primordial mind while we do not. Trungpa Rinpoche referred to this possibility as "idiot devotion."
The Guru Principle
"The next section , which is connected with that awakening begins:
When the wild and wrathful father approaches
The external world is seen to be transparent and unreal
The reasoning mind no longer clings and grasps.
You are arriving in new territory. In spite of the depressions of theistic overhang or hangover, in spite of the theistic diseases that even Buddhists or other traditions can catch, you finally begin to realize that you don't have to dwell constantly on your pain. You begin to realize that you can go beyond that level, Finally you can celebrate that you are an individual human being. You have your own intelligence, and you can pull the rug from under your own feet, You don't need to ask somebody else to do that. You don't need to ask someone to pull up your socks-- or your pants, for that matter."
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Buddhism is a nontheistic tradition which means that the profound feeling you have in a teaching situation or practice mandala is primordial. It doesn't depend on being a good boy or good girl or worshiping an external deity or the reincarnation of some great Tibetan master. It is based on a psychologically profound understanding of how we, as human beings, perceive jinlap or sacred world directly in our experience and work with that recognition as the basis of our nontheistic spiritual path. This is based upon something we call "devotion" in english. In Tibetan it is called "mogu." Mogu is a combination of feeling the wretchedness of samsara, of heartfelt longing and of sadness which is the essential aspect of the practice of guru yoga. "Devotion" is a very poor translation. The english language is not really suited to convey nontheistic spirituality. The history of english is rooted in theism. That is why it is so important to understand how Trungpa Rinpoche has translated these words -- what the real meaning is from the experiential path of practice. Therefore, generating mogu in one's practice is not the same as having a conceptual attitude or theistic belief system. It is not the same as being a loyal subject of the king of Shambhala. Having a belief that the guru is a superior being who you need to worship in order to receive their blessings is a fundamental misunderstanding of the view or spiritual purpose of a mandala set-up in the buddhist tantric tradition. Trungpa Rinpoche always cautioned against viewing the guru as a savior in this way.
"In guru-yoga, the practitioner begins to realize the nondual nature of devotion: there is no separation between the lineage and oneself and, in fact, the vajra being of the guru is a reflection of one's own innate nature. In this way, the practice of ngondro, culminating in guru-yoga, helps to overcome theistic notions about the teacher or about the vajrayana itself. One realizes that the lineage is not an entity outside of oneself: one is not worshipping the teacher or his ancestors as gods. Rather, one is connecting with vajra sanity, which is so powerful because of its nonexistence--its utter egolessness.
The tulku system as it exists today is based on the notion of the " blessed Tulku." It isn't based on nepotism or the metaphysical belief of a tulku as the literal reincarnation of a previous master. Although certainly there are instances of great masters who were reincarnated especially in Tibet and India in the old days, this type of tulku was rare then and is even more rare today. We don't think of Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa or Milarepa as this type of tulku, particularly. Today, if you are practicing within an authentic lineage and have received these blessings thoroughly-- you have become in a sense a blessed tulku as well. Therefore you can transmit this authentic dharma-- which is good news. That doesn't mean that we should dress in robes and give abhisekas. It is a lot simpler than that. Through our practice and genuine realization we can create an auspicious situation for others. It really is the only hope for this authentic dharma free from the inherent corruption of "organized religion" to continue.
The center of the mandala is always ordinary mind-- natural awareness. Because we have practiced according to our guru's instructions we recognize it and go towards it. What you recognize in a teacher is this same "ordinary mind." That is what we have faith in and what we long for and what the practice of devotion/mogu is based on. It's not based on a superficial hierarchy or some famous celebrity guru who has written lots of books who you have chosen from a mind of habitual reference point. You have to see it directly and that depends on your practice.
"You cannot have complete devotion without surrendering your heart. Otherwise the whole thing becomes a business deal. As long as you have any understanding of wakefulness, any understanding of the sitting practice of meditation, you always carry your vajra master with you all along. That is why we talk about the mahamudra level of all-pervasive awareness. With such awareness, everything that goes on is the vajra master. So if your vajra master is far away, there is really no reason for sadness-- although some sadness can be useful, because it brings you back from arrogance."
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Co-creating The Mandala
Every summer I help with the set-up and dissolution of a nine day retreat based on the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Usually there are around 100 people who attend. Some are new students of Trungpa Rinpoche's lineage and some are older. It is a practice/study retreat based on Rinpoche's seminary teachings. We use the outer forms that Trungpa Rinpoche developed for transmiting this lineage to the west. People are doing a lot of shamatha/vipashyana in group practice as the core practice. This creates a tremendously powerful experience of the sacred mandala and jinlap or blessings of Trungpa Rinpoche's practice lineage. It isn't slavishly adhereing to a proscribed form -- there is looseness and creativity and trust in the basic situation. Out of this we all manifest this sacred world and at the end of the retreat we dissolve it. Everything goes back to the storage unit and we all go back to our usual lives. But in those nine days we have invoked these blessings together -- lived there for a while,; celebrated and then we dissolve the outer forms and the retreat schedule and head back home. During retreats we co-create the mandala in this way to raise this energy and radiation of natural awareness. You can't possess this energy with the habitual mind but you can recognize it and train in it in this way. This is the Buddhist tantric method. Then we don't try to solidify it with habitual mind, which is impossible anyway. Instead we let go of the form and rest in that quality directly.
This same principle is beautifully illustrated during tantric feast practice in which the participants are all the vajra sangha of Trungpa Rinpoche. We all have our roles in the feast whether you are a chopon (shrine attendant) or dorje loppon (vajra master). When you have engaged properly in the practice of establishing a sacred mandala--i.e. have kept samaya and done your practice-- then one recognizes the nature of mind as the atmosphere of that situation. The dorje loppon is just a practitioner -- in this case, a member of the vajra sangha. He could have been your roommate when you lived in Boston. The role is on a rotating basis. You don't need to be the reincarnation of some great Tibetan Master to be the dorje loppon at a vajra feast-- but you certainly can manifest the primordial nature of mind within that mandala along with all the other participants in that sacred mandala. That is because the vajra sangha have all received authentic transmission from their lineage guru and they have the right kind of faith in nonreference point experience. In other words, they have learned how to pull the rug out from under their own feet. That blessing (jinlap) is manifest in the feast practice.
To be honest, it is manifest whenever we get a bunch of Trungpa Rinpoche's students together to engage his teachings. It doesn't matter if they are new or old students-- if they met him in person or not. We all meet the authentic transmission of the practice lineage in this way -- it is the same as meeting Padmasambhava face to face.
In terms of "having a personal guru," many people think that they need a personal guru much like they need a personal trainer, financial advisor or personal assistant. I never had such a thing as a "personal guru" and that doesn't seem to be the way we meet the mind of the lineage. In fact if we try to relate to the guru as our buddy or something we tend to habituate the relationship. The idea that one needs a"personal guru" seems to come from the usual activity of habitual mind. When you understand that the guru and your practice, and your wife and your job are nothing other than nonreference point experience, you realize there is no exotic father figure out there to save you. You can pull up your own pants.
The realization of nonreference point is a lot closer than we think. To begin to sit with our experience as it is will bring us face to face with this. We don't need to be so poverty stricken. Experiencing jinlap and recognizing nonreference point experience is meeting the mind of our guru and lineage. Any other expectations or projections on this relationship are founded in the usual confusion of habitual mind.
The stories of Padmasambhava, Tilopa, Naropa, Milarepa etc. are not cozy situations. The vajra sangha of the past were not hanging out with the cool people in Pullahari, Boulder, Halifax , Kathmandu or whereever. They were not hanging out with their "personal gurus." In fact, the great practitioners in our lineage practiced and lived in the charnal grounds. It is very difficult to make a charnal ground a cozy situation. That is why they lived there. Meeting your guru's mind should be like moving to the charnal ground. The difference between a charlatan and an authentic guru is that a charlatan will teach to the habitual mind. He will tell you meditation will improve your golf game or your health. If he is really slick he will tell that you that you will find inner peace. Authentic gurus will help you move to the charnal ground. They will give you the skillful methods which will help you pull the rug out from under your own feet!
The founder of our lineage, Tilopa, was a man from Bengal. He was homeless and lived on the banks of a river. He would eat the left-overs from the fisherman. He did not wear any clothes except for a loin cloth. During the day, Tilopa worked pounding sesame seeds to extract the sesame oil and in the evening he procured customers for a prostitute. This is the example of using our conventional livelihood to refine our recognition of natural awareness.
"Sesame oil is the essence.
Although the ignorant know it is in the sesame seed,
They do not understand the way of cause, effect and becoming.
And therefore are not able to extract the essence, the sesame oil.
Although innate coemergent wisdon
Abides in the heart of all beings,
if it is not shown by the guru, it cannot be realized.
Just like sesame oil that remains in the seed, it does not appear.
One removes the husk by beating the sesame.
And the sesame oil, the essence appears.
In the same way, the guru shows the truth of tathata,
And all phenomena become indivisible in one essence.
Kye ho! The far-reaching unfathomable meeting is apparent at this very moment.
O how wonderous!" Tilopa