Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

Original Perfection - Introduction

Vairotsana’s Five Early Transmissions

The nature of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, is perhaps best understood as the essence of all nondual mystical aspiration. Within the Tibetan context, it lies at the heart of shamanism, Bon, and Buddhism. Taking its cultural and linguistic references from Bon and Buddhism, it may appear to be limited to those traditions, but to see its existential reality restricted to that cultural frame would contradict the Tibetan precepts that define it as utterly nonspecific and unconfined. Historically Buddhism provided the ground in which the precepts of the Great Perfection appeared, and certainly it still provides a rich and wonderful metaphysical field of reference. But the principles of radical Dzogchen are appropriate to every religious and cultural context. All religion and culture is transcended by its formless essence. It subsumes science and humanism today as it once incorporated shamanism and theism. It supersedes religion by shunning dogma and doctrine. It surpasses yoga and meditation by disavowing technique. It transcends the creativity of the human mind—whether as science or art—through identity with our intrinsic nature. Inclusivity defines the Great Perfection.

As mystical endeavor the quest for natural perfection may have continued for as long as human history. Surely it is hidden in the mysteries of Babylon and Egypt, Greece and Rome, in Indian tantra, the Chinese Tao, Muslim Sufism, and in the Jewish Torah and the Christian heresies of the Albigensians, the Knights Templar, and the Alchemists, if only because natural perfection is inherent in human being and cannot be suppressed. Deprived of a lineal tradition, guides, and precepts, it may burst out spontaneously as an imperative of the human spirit, as it did in Europe and America in the 1960s. Regardless of the cultural and religious context, the time and the place, the “pathless path” of nondual illumination is always the same because the nature of the mind, being the origin of time and space, is one. It has happened, however, that in the twenty-first century the exemplars and custodians of this living tradition are the Vajrayana Buddhists of the Tibetan plateau. Nondual mysticism finds its own ground everywhere in the scope of Tibetan Buddhism, particularly in the Kagyu Mahamudra tradition, but it is in its earliest transmission into Tibet, when the tradition of the Ancients (Nyingmapa) was still in its incipient phase, that we find the most pure and unequivocal statement of the principles and poetic effusion of the heart meaning of the Great Perfection. That is what is termed “radical Dzogchen.”

Given that the oldest and earliest is not necessarily the best, nevertheless, the quality of pristine freshness reverberates down the centuries from a culture on the verge of breakthrough. This quality may be discerned in eighth-century Tibet and particularly in the work of the mystic and poet Vairotsana of Pagor, who at that time wrote down the five poems presented in this book. In his work there is a sense of the light of dawn spreading over the landscape to illuminate the darkness. The word of Dzogchen had arrived to illuminate the murk of spiritualistic shamanism, to clarify the Buddhist options presented by India, China, Khotan, Brusha, and Oddiyana, and to exalt the lifestyles of the people of the Tibetan plateau. The freshness and vitality of Vairotsana’s vision, written down when the Tibetan language was as young as English when Shakespeare wrote, still has the power to illuminate, although the shadows that are dispersed today are cast by apocalyptic materialism and consumerism.

The power of Vairotsana’s five original works may lie in the magic of “transmission”—for that is how these poems are designated. Vairotsana did not attribute them to himself as the poet but cast them in the mold of revelations of Garab Dorje, the human source of the Dzogchen tradition, because all tantras, transmissions, and precepts of Dzogchen are said to have the same timeless origin. The verses of each of the five transmissions— consisting generally of a quatrain of two slokas, or couplets—can stand apart as didactic gems of Dzogchen expression, sometimes with only tangential connection between them, but they are better viewed as the facets of a crystal globe, each reflecting an aspect of the whole. The content of the transmissions is always the same—a unitary vision of the nature of mind. The nature of mind (where “nature” can only mean “essence”) is luminous mind, the one indivisible nondual mind of natural perfection. The holistic product may be personified as the all-good buddha Samantabhadra, who at the same time is the supreme source of the transmission and the transmission itself. The reader, the recipient of the transmision, is identified, thereby, with the all-good Dzogchen vision of the transmission.

The purpose of these five poems, then, is to induce a vision of natural perfection in the mind of the reader. This is not done by logic or causal connection but through the magic, the ambiguity, of poetry. As Patrul Rimpoche writes, “We do not agree with the common dogma of traditionalists, that the only valid knowledge is mental knowledge tested by reason against textual and logical proof. Experiential understanding of the naked direct perception in primal awareness itself is the Dzogchen vision.” In this sense, each of the five poems constitutes a direct introduction—if not initiation— into the nature of mind and the great perfection. The experience of the transmissions themselves is self-validating, and any rational evaluation of their logic or terms of reference diminishes or blights them. The sole requisite for attaining the vision set down by the poet is a wide-open mind, and since all human beings are endowed with this mind, the great perfection is available to everyone.

The vision that these transmissions induce is not like a tantric mandala of buddhas or buddha-deities or patterned light-forms. There is not the slightest hint of symbolism, abstract or anthropomorphic. There is nothing to be seen that has any cultural specificity. There is no articulated abstruse metaphysical infrastructure to the vision. There is nothing that is not intrinsic to the nature of ordinary consciousness and the common light of day. In fact there is no trace of anything there at all. There is no structure to the vision whatsoever—the nature of the transmission is ultimately deconstructive. “Simplicity” is the one single word that may describe it. It is a holistic vision in the sense that it is all-inclusive and nondual. It consists of direct, naked perception of the nature of mind in every instant of experience.

The essence of the transmission is simple, direct perception. In the timeless moment of the here and now, there is no space for projection and filtration and no time for evaluation, reflection, and judgment. In this lies natural perfection. Herein lies the secret of nondual reality. When we speak of nondual mysticism, what is indicated is nothing but the clear light intrinsic to everyday perception; yet this perception and this function of awareness bring ultimate resolution to the human condition. All its dichotomies and contradictions are resolved in the unitary light of awareness in itself. If it can be said that conception and action exist, surely there is no gap between the initiation of the act and its actualization. The unitary moment is its own reward. Time and space are resolved in the all-inclusive wholeness of the moment. The quandaries of embodiment are resolved in each moment. The paradox and antinomies of gender are resolved in the unity of the moment. This is transmission of the Great Perfection that does not impose a new, conditional structure upon the mind but reveals what is already, primordially present. It comes by way of confirmation, then, of what has always been known: that the nature of being, the nature of reality, and the nature of mind are immanent as consummate perfection.

There is nothing in this transmission that can be grasped or conceptualized or cultivated or practiced. To assimilate it into the logical intellect and spin it out as a philosophy or doctrine is to nullify its purpose, just as the magic of poetry is lost in analysis. The transmission itself is a timeless event, like every moment of experience, arising as spontaneity, without cause or condition, so it cannot be developed into a yoga or a meditation practice. It cannot be turned into religion: there are no tenets of belief; neither devotion nor faith is a condition of its revelation; and no ritual interprets and structures it. It is simply an existential understanding of the here and now.

Vairotsana’s five transmissions are compositions of deconstructive precept, expressing the Dzogchen vision of the nature of mind. Their primal impact upon a receptive reader may open a door into the vision of the great perfection. The rational mind, however, may concoct objections to such an unreferenced state and its attendant sense of identity loss. It is here that the commentary engages, providing elaboration through causal connection, lulling the intellect with its bromide, while undermining— deconstructing—the structure of the intellect by indicating the natural state of being, the suprarational reality of the great perfection that always lies immanent in the timeless moment. Here, the self-referential language of the tradition points at the unstructured ground of all language, and since this reality lies in an absence of any characteristic, attribute, or function, the Upanishadic method of “not this!” “not that!” is employed. The mystery of the Great Perfection resides in its ineffable nondual reality that is a unity but at the same time a multiplicity. It is at once the source and the creation. It is inconceivable and inexpressible. It is enlightened mind or luminous mind. To reveal all experience as this reality is the purpose of Dzogchen, and the self-evident principles of the Dzogchen Mind Series (see appendix 2) are the transmission.

There is nothing to do! “Nonaction”—or “undirected action” or “non-deliberate action”—defines the nature, ethos, and dynamic of the Great Perfection. The here and now is a field of immanent sameness, and any attempt to affect it or change it by any technique is counterproductive. Any engagement of effort diminishes it. Seeking it inhibits its discovery. Nonaction is the precept that defines the natural inclination, or lack of any inclination, of the nature of mind in order that the manifest dynamic of the field of reality is uncrystallized in pure presence.

No meditation! No discipline! The luminous mind that is the nature of all experience never comes into being or ceases to be; it cannot be created or destroyed: it has no structure. It cannot, therefore, be accessed through the structured activity of calculated discipline, and all goal-oriented meditation is such structured activity. Letting go of all practice whatsoever, including all the meditation techniques that condition the mind by focusing on an object of sight, sound, or thought, there is no meditation and only an endless continuum of luminous mind. The modality of nonmeditation and no-structure is illustrated particularly in the fourth transmission, Pure Golden Ore.

No progress! No development in a graduated process! The moment is perfect and complete in itself, and nothing superior can be effectuated. There is no possibility of attaining anything more desirable than the present moment. No personal growth is possible. Evolution toward a higher goal is precluded. There is no maturity to anticipate. The notion of process itself is redundant because it functions through time in a delusive linear pattern constructed by the intellect.

No place to go! The here and now is always complete in the present moment, so there is no path to follow, no quest, no journey to pursue, and no destination. It is impossible to move toward or away from luminousmind reality, since it is always here and now. The inescapable, universal, and all-pervasive reality-modality is ever immanent. There is no destination other than the naturally liberating dynamic of the moment. This is taught particularly in the second transmission, Radical Creativity.

No discrimination! No prejudice or bias! The pristine awareness that is the mind’s cognitive nature is utterly free of any judgmental inclination. It does not discriminate between what is good or bad, right or wrong. “Good” and “bad” are fictive labels projected upon a neutral screen that in itself is incapable of bias. Whatsoever occurs in everyday experience, excluding nothing, is suffused by this primal awareness and, moment by moment, dissolves into it. All is perfect as it stands, so nothing is rejected or avoided and nothing is accepted or favored above anything else. Nothing is embraced or appropriated and nothing spurned or suppressed. All things are always all good, and activity is always undiscriminating. This is taught in the first transmission, The Cuckoo’s Song.

No one and no thing to change! The elements of experience, inner and outer, are part of a reality field (basic spaciousness) in which no indivisible particle can be isolated either in the laboratories of science or those of the mind. The natural unified field is a nondual reality. Every moment of experience is an ineffable expression of that field, and insofar as it is recognized as a field of cognitive being, it is known as utterly perfect and complete in itself. It cannot be improved one iota. It cannot be changed or transformed into something other than pure awareness. Because our identity— nonidentity—lies in luminous mind, whatever illusion of personality arises is utterly pristine.

No controller! No control! The control functions of the ego self-articulated in the rational mind are involuntarily superseded by the pristine awareness of the natural state of being. What appears to rise and fall as sequential instants of experience is insubstantial gossamer illusion, and the dynamic of each perfect moment is spontaneity. Any belief in a substantial, material reality, or in a “self,” a “soul,” an “ens,” or an “atman,” is delusory. There is no controller on any level and so no control. The putative controlling intellect is superseded by the intrinsic dynamic of nonaction. The here and now is free-form display, perfect in its every permutation.

The consummation of these precepts and the transmissions themselves are predicated upon an intuitive realization of the nature of mind as intrinsically pure, an assumption that is authenticated, yet neither attested nor proven, in initiatory experience. “Luminous mind” is a rendering of the Buddhist word bodhichitta. In Mahayana Buddhism the discursive meaning of this word is suffused by the selfless compassionate ethic of the bodhisattva intent upon giving whatsoever is required to whomsoever is in need. More technically, it is translated as “the thought of enlightenment.” In Vajrayana Buddhism, where buddha-imminence is assumed, it is translated as “enlightened mind” or “awakened mind.” In the Dzogchen Mind Series, this enlightened mind is the ground of all, all and everything, and the starting point, the process, and the product in one. It subsumes the field of reality, the process of release, the nature of mind, and primal awareness. Luminous mind is the nondual natural state, and so it cannot possess any definable quality, but in its vastness and depth, in its ineffable greatness, it exalts our natural state. Its primary endowment lies in direct and immediate enlightenment.

Luminous mind is personified as Samantabhadra, all-good primordial buddha—not a buddha to worship but the actuality of every moment. Those he “teaches,” or manifests, are buddha and every sentient beings upon the wheel of life is free of transmigration and rebirth. His “teaching,” or manifestation, is the expression of our every moment of experience in a vision of reality as the matrix of all things and all things in themselves as one. The time of his teaching is the one clear timeless moment of past, present, and future rolled into one. And the place of his teaching is zerodimensional basic spaciousness.

In our state of natural perfection, the seemingly material world is consumed in its intrinsic nature as light by the pristine awareness inherent in every sensory perception. The four great elements—earth, water, fire, and air—that are a condensation of their spatial essence constitute basic spaciousness itself, and the luminous mind, wherein the delusive subjective and objective aspects of experience are unified, endows basic spaciousness with its own luminous display that never crystallizes as this or that. The subjective aspect of the unitary field, the sense of personal identity, is defined as the space where nothing can be found by seeking, nothing can be accomplished by endeavor, nothing whatsoever can be improved upon, and where there can be no progress or maturation. This is the natural state of primordial, preexistent enlightenment. But because that state cannot become an object of focus, since it is in no way conceivable or imaginable, determinable or demonstrable, it is better termed “nonenlightenment.” Only in that sense is there universal enlightenment.

The expression of luminous mind is the compassion that suffuses our experience like water in milk. Such compassion is the potential of every possible convention and variation of human character and personality, every quality and attribute, every affectation and every foible, every vice and virtue, and every weirdness and extreme manifestation of being on the wheel of life. The psychological diversity of experience therein is expressed in the equivocal terms of men, gods, titans, hungry ghosts, animals, and hell beings. Yet the wheel of life is the expression of the compassion of luminous mind, and compassion is the wheel of life. The primordial buddha Samantabhadra embraces the totality of luminous mind as its essential emptiness, its radiant luminosity, and its compassionate expression.

The vast spaciousness of luminous mind is personified as Vajrasattva, and primal awareness is his exaltation. The spaciousness of reality is spontaneously cognitive in a nondual modality, and Vajrasattva represents the individuation of that event. That moment is inherently liberating, so there can never be any experience whatsoever that is not spontaneously and momentarily released. Vajrasattva’s ineluctable presence provides that assurance. Primal awareness of the field of reality is a constant, and therefore Vajrasattva receives his name Immutable Being. The vajra is a symbol of his immovable and imperturbable nature of constant luminous awareness. His immutable dynamic is the freedom of the Great Perfection.

Insofar as there is only luminous mind in our experience, insofar as the vajra is inherent in every moment, there can never be either separation or nonseparation from Vajrasattva, which is a manner of stating the ineffable immanence of the natural state of being in the Great Perfection. So there can never be any obstacle to that natural state. What appears to obstruct the recognition of intrinsic cognitive spaciousness is attachment to the mere shimmering of gossamer phantasm, which is like a film of tarnish on pure gold. If this attachment appears to veil the nature of mind, then what is required is a fortuitous lurch into an intuition of the attachment itself as pristine awareness—a flash of realization or a recollection of initiatory experience. If the problems that arise from the exigencies of personal karma extrude into the forefront of our minds and a sense of constant interruption of the natural flow obsesses us, then what fortuitously arises is intuition of the intrinsic clarity of the glitch itself. Thus the apparent obstacles that arise in the mind provide the key to their own resolution.

Some people are convinced that their desire, anger, and emotional confusion are a thick veil over their enlightened mind, but the recognition of the light and pure pleasure in the marvelous display of energetic expression dissipates such delusive beliefs. Some are convinced that the implacable logic of the intellect and attachment to its pleasures create the trap that locks in the spaciousness, but each intellectual construct and each train of thought constitutes a door into Vajrasattva’s vast space. To overcome what appear to be emotional and intellectual obstacles, people commit themselves to disciplines of lifestyle and morality, yoga and meditation, setting themselves the goal of freedom from attachment and rebirth, but the anxiety entailed by prostituting the moment for some future benefit and striving for a conceptual goal is resolved naturally in the relaxation of nonaction. The disease of calculated endeavor and goal orientation that is spiritual materialism is healed by the spontaneous and ineluctable intuition of the pure nature of mind.

The futility of trying to catch what is already in the cage or to grope all around for spectacles that are already sitting upon the end of one’s nose inevitably dawns upon the goal-obsessed yogi or yogini, and it is well that we are prepared for that disillusionment by recollection of the spaciousness and radiance that we know from fortuitous initiation into the nature of mind. Decisively, we arrive at the place where the moral imperatives instilled by the plain logic and symmetry of belief in karmic concatenation are seen to provide still more of the same anxious transmigration from one neurotic trap to another and where relaxation into the timeless moment of the here and now—doing nothing—allows the clarity and emptiness of the natural state of being to shine through. When the compulsions of karmic causality and belief in moral imperatives fall away and dissolve and we surrender to the buddha dynamic of spontaneous contemplation, pristine awareness naturally prevails, superseding any residual trust in the world of karma.

With recognition of the reality thus defined, there is simultaneous recognition of the samaya commitments of Dzogchen—absence, openness, spontaneity, and unity. By their very nature, these samayas cannot be guarded or sustained. On the contrary, awareness of their actuality is a constant and natural presence that can never be vouchsafed or gainsaid. These samayas are not provisional commitments to be renounced upon reaching any goal. They are the reality of buddha here and now that can be expressed as one single commitment—commitment to pristine awareness itself. This awareness always has primacy. It is coextensive and coterminus with the space of sameness that exalts all cognition as pure presence. Pure presence is the direct experience of the moment in which there is no subjective or objective component, although in it the delusive and the nondelusive are inextricably mixed. It is intrinsic awareness of being effervescent in the timeless wholeness of purity and impurity. It is the common light of day.

What constitutes the display of Samantabhadra may not differ in kind from the forms of the neurotic universes that are being neutralized. The retinue of Samantabhadra is composed of buddha as sentient beings, and the diaphanous radiance of rainbow light suffuses the very illusions that once seemed so concrete and cloying. The projections of the psychological environments of hungry ghosts, for example, may still be in place, but now the hair-raising figments of imagination that populate those environments are like the ferocious yet empty masks of lama dance. Further, in the human realm, many people, particularly Buddhists, have entered the various graduated paths to enlightenment. Each rests on his own level, which is complete and perfect in itself. All the activities of gods and men are complete and perfect in themselves, and although they may pursue goal-oriented activity and constantly create or encounter seeming glitches in the universal process of awakened reality, the liberating capacity of Vajrasattva, who suffuses the five elements that constitute embodiment in an apparent concrete environment, is always immanent.

The different lifestyles and the associated visions, therapies, and meditation techniques employed by monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen, yogis and yoginis, and tulkus and dakinis, may be conceived of hierarchically in a pyramid of increasingly destructured mind. This ninefold hierarchy is employed by the commentary on the root verses of the texts as an index of different mind states and allows a focus upon the varying progressive approaches that, although delusive as paths to nondual reality, are perfect in themselves. Nine is a perfect or infinite number in shamanic numerology, so that the nine conventional approaches or levels that provide the mainstay subsume all others. By the same token, the nine levels of discursive meaning in the transmission, each directed toward and heard by those for whom it is relevant, subsume all other levels in the quest for the nature of mind. Further, as the traditional metaphor has it, just as a king never leaves his palace without his entourage in appropriate association, so Dzogchen Ati is always accompanied by a retinue composed of the innumerable disciplines that seek to modify or improve the human condition—for a mark of human birth is the impulsion to attain happiness. The teacher of the Great Perfection, Samantabhadra, incorporates a vast, all-inclusive retinue of beings, each preoccupied by his personal path on which appropriate transmission may be fortuitously received.

The nine approaches or levels from the apex are atiyoga, anuyoga, mahayoga, tantraor sattvayoga, ubhayayoga, kriyayoga, and the varying praxis of bodhisattvas, hermits (pratyekabuddhas), and disciples (shravakas). On the level of atiyoga, the hyperyogin is adept in the recognition of all experience as transmission of the great perfection. On the level of anuyoga, identity of reality and pure presence, space, and awareness is shown, so that every mind-created phenomenon becomes primal awareness. On the mahayoga level, the elements of the psycho-organism and the elements of perception and the sense fields are revealed as our timeless enlightened identity; mahayoga is taught so that the structure of the conditioned mind is recognized as fivefold buddha. In the mind-created vision of tantrayoga, although the passions are not abandoned, attachment to them is utterly forsaken, and sacred substances are literally enjoyed; thereby, in signless, open vulnerability, primal awareness is facilitated and the four consorts are recognized. In ubhayayoga the identity of clear light with its colored diffusion, between self-sprung awareness and the sensory phantasmagoria, is taught. In the praxis of disciples engaged in listening and learning, hermits in ascetic retreat, and bodhisattvas in pursuit of loving-kindness, the nature of mind involuntarily shines through.

Finally, to distinguish between the recipients of these transmissions, there are those who are ready vessels with an innate affinity for the natural great perfection. This type attains the vision merely by reading the transmission or by hearing the precepts—thus “liberation by hearing.” Through recognition of the natural state of mind, whatever arises is released and dissolves immediately, leaving no trace. The Dzogchen yogin or yogini’s existential modality is then commensurate with the imprint of a bird in the sky. All experience is like a dance and like the free play of sensual pleasure. There is no meditation and no meditator. If glitches arise they are immediately turned into a timeless moment of mental effort and become a door back into the space of the great perfection that actually can never be relinquished. He or she assimilates the affirmation and confirmation of initiatory experience that atiyoga provides in the transmission and is absorbed without reflection in the nondiscriminatory totality of an anonymous body of light.

Then there are those who see the vision of Samantabhadra clearly through this transmission but lose it thereafter. Through a verbal introduction, or some initiatory experience, they accept the vision as the apotheosis of human nature, and with subsequent intimation of the nature of mind they enjoy nonmeditation. But then immersed in the mundane concerns of life—profit and loss, love and hate, success and failure, fame and disgrace—they see the figments of their minds as personality isolates interacting in a concrete environment, and becoming attached to seemingly external phenomena the vision of Samantabhadra is lost. Fortuitously and inevitably, however, the vision and nonmeditation does return to mind, like the rising sun, and with increased familiarity and intimacy allows fearless, wholehearted surrender to the nature of mind. Pristine awareness then resumes its natural primacy. Confidence in nonaction is reaffirmed. Belief in mental constructs slackens. Fictive projections fade away. Through the temerity of recognition of the supreme source in whatever arises, in the bardo, natural perfection is recognized in a body of light.

Then there are those who perceive the vision as through a glass darkly and, overruled by judgmental thought while reading or hearing the transmission, conceptualize it and analyze it and become susceptible to doubt. In a rationalistic process the vision is externalized and distanced and becomes a subtle and substantial goal to be achieved with a coincident sense of separation and inadequacy in the face of it. Samsara is divorced from nirvana in this process of linear thought through time, and caught on the horns of conflicting emotion we are susceptible to expectation and apprehension. “Our actions are determined by karma,” we say. “We are subject to karmic retribution. We are bound to the inevitable cycle of transmigration on the wheel of time.” “We have received Samantabhadra’s transmission and it has given us a glimpse of perfection for a moment. But we are left with only an intellectual understanding, and it has not affected our way of being.” “We live in a world of preferences and partiality, attachments and aversions, discrimination and judgment, hopes and fears.” “We are not ready,” we demur with a sense of our own inadequacy. “We are just beginners. We need to improve ourselves, to be good and virtuous, to control our energy patterns, to set goals and attain them, to climb the ladder of spiritual purity.” Riddled by such intellectual and emotional conflict, infected by hopes and fears, we conclude that something must be done, that remedial action is prescribed in order to attain the nondual state of the vision. Such readers may go on to devote their lives to a graduated path of endeavor, practicing some meditation technique or yoga, failing to adopt recognition of the perfection of their natural state.

On the other hand, many hear the transmission and think about it, and lacking any initiatory experience they reject it and turn away. For them there never can be anything but the natural state of perfection, yet they live as beggars on the wheel of transmigration, believing that the material world is concrete and the states of mind in which they find themselves are real. Attached to the pleasant and averse to the painful, unknowingly they await the revelation of the nature of mind. So it is said.

Pagor Vairotsana: The Great Translator

In the vision of the Great Perfection, the five transmissions are Dharmakaya Samantabhadra himself. Through the medium of Vajrasattva, and the uniting of vowels and consonants, the transmission arises as a timeless display of compassionate emanation in the nature of mind. This revelation is known as Vajra Delight, or Garab Dorje, who is also the adiguru, the first nirmanakaya teacher, of the Dzogchen lineage. Pagor Vairotsana was his Tibetan translator.

In the eighth century, the locus of political and cultural vigor in Central Asia still lay in Tibet. The nomads of a united Central Tibet had created a military empire that stretched from Persia to China, from Nepal to Mongolia. Their shamanic heritage, under the influence of the sophisticated cultures that were now part of their domain, was in the process of transformation. Those cultures in the main were Buddhist, although of various hues, and along with the cavalry and diplomats, the traders and artisans, traveling the Himalayan trade routes and all bound for Lhasa, were Chan monks from China, Vajrayana panditas from Bengal, Mahayana scholars from Bihar and Khotan, tantric yogis from Kashmir and the Kathmandu Valley, Hindu sadhus from South India, and Bon shamans from the old kingdom of Zhangzhung that had dominated the Tibetan plateau before the rise of the Yarlung Valley dynasty. Buddhist temples of stone had been built in this land of yak-hair tents, and although the majority of the conservative tribal nobility opposed it, the king sponsored a monastic academy directed by a Bengali abbot who ordained a small band of Tibetan monks.

Less than a day’s walk up the Yarlung Tsangpo River from the site of the new monastery, in one of the fertile side valleys to the north called Nyemo, was the village of Jekhar. It was from here that the young Vairotsana was called to Buddhist ordination by the Bengali abbot Shantarakshita. Being one of the brightest and most strongly motivated of the young monks, he was chosen to focus on the study of language. Existential concerns were a constant preoccupation among a significant element of the royal court, some of whom had also received Buddhist ordination along with Vairotsana, and discussion with visiting monks from abroad was fervent and often heated. A yogi-exorcist called Padma Sambhava, who had been invited to Samye from Kathmandu, had been successful in confronting the Bon shamans, and the Buddhists were in the ascendant. This itinerant exorcist, a Buddhist tantric sadhu wandering the Himalayan valleys for years, leaving a trail of disconsolate dakini-consorts behind him, had already gained notoriety in Tibet by seducing a local princess. He was originally from a kingdom in the far west of the Himalayas called Oddiyana, the land of the dakinis. Oddiyana had become associated with an extraordinary discipline called Dzogchen, known to the Yarlung Tibetans through their Bon confreres from Zhangzhung who had trans-Himalayan connections in Brusha and other kingdoms in the valleys of the upper Indus tributaries. Perhaps as a reaction to an overload of doctrinal dispute, perhaps based upon a natural inclination toward an effortless discipline promising immediate fulfillment, perhaps due to a secret word passed on by Padma Sambhava himself or by another itinerant yogi, a nexus of opinion formed at Samye that Dzogchen was the answer to the existential problems of the Tibetan people. Subsequently, under the auspices of King Trisong Detsen, Vairotsana and a friend were chosen to travel to Oddiyana to bring back to Tibet the Dzogchen transmission.

The direct route to Oddiyana lay up the Yarlung Tsangpo Valley, passing Mount Kailash to the south, and then continuing through the ancient Zhangzhung heartland and down the Indus Valley through Ladakh to Kashmir and Brusha and thence south to what is now Swat and eastern Afghanistan. Vairotsana’s journey to Oddiyana and his meeting with the master Shri Singha is the stuff of legend. Near the Dhanakosha Lake, in a sandalwood forest, he found the old master Shri Singha, originally from the Chinese side of the Taklamakan desert, living in a nine-story pagoda. He needed first to circumvent a protective yogini-crone, a doorkeeper who barred his way, but with a totally ingenuous mind and a stash of gold coins, he passed her by and gained audience with the master. Shri Singha heard his plea for the extraordinary Dzogchen teaching and knew it was destined for the transmission to pass to Tibet. Yet he kept Vairotsana waiting until the following morning. Then he promised the young Tibetan that he would grant him the transmission on the condition that he joined the panditas studying the gradual, causal approaches during the day and only at night time receive the atiyoga teaching. Due to the Oddiyana king’s jealousy of Dzogchen Ati, its propagation had been proscribed, so during the nights of transmission the master wrote down the Mind Series transmissions on white silk with goat-milk ink that would become visible only when exposed to heat. Then at Vairotsana’s further urging, Shri Singha granted him the Matrix Series precepts in the black, white, and variegated modes. Still Vairotsana was not satisfied, but Shri Singha would give him no more.

After this long and intense exposure to Shri Singha, Vairotsana was finally prepared to meet the adiguru of the Dzogchen tradition, the nirmanakaya emanation of Vajrasattva, Garab Dorje himself. This apocryphal encounter occurred in a cremation ground called Dumasthira, the place of fire and smoke, and Vairotsana emerged from the meeting with the transmission of the entire 6,400,000 Dzogchen verses and a body of light.

He returned to Central Tibet by means of his newly acquired speedwalking capacity. Welcomed with all due honor, residing in the royal palace, he began a period of intense translation firstly of the five transmissions, which became known as the Five Early Translations. During this period he taught King Trisong Detsen the precepts that he was translating in the same way that Shri Singha had taught him—the progressive approach during the day and Dzogchen Ati at night. Proximity to the court, however, was to bring his honeymoon in radical Dzogchen to an end and at the same time contrive to preserve his Dzogchen lineage in Tibet during its period of greatest vulnerability. One of the king’s consorts had been influenced by the long and jealous arm of the king of Oddiyana, and in order to curtail Vairotsana’s teaching activity, she accused him of raping her and sought to have him banished. The king was reluctant to believe his queen, but eventually succumbing to her repeated denunciation, he exiled Vairotsana to Tsawa Rong in the country of Gyelmo Rong in Kham, in eastern Tibet. There Vairotsana taught Dzogchen to three yogins, among whom Yudra Nyingpo was the principal, establishing a separate and enduring Dzogchen tradition in the east of the country.

When the climate at court finally turned clement, Vairotsana was recalled from exile and continued to teach and translate in Central Tibet. The principal recipients of his transmission were Nyak Jnana Kumara and the Khotanese queen Liza Sherab Dronma. Later he was invited to Khotan and taught there and passed away in that foreign land. Vairotsana is part of the root of most of the Tibetan Dzogchen lineages.

Notes on the Text

The Five Early Translations are found in the Collected Tantras of Vairotsana (Bairo rgyud ’bum), a compendium that was compiled probably in the twelfth century. During the same period they were assimilated to the Supreme Source (Kun byed rgyal po), the encyclopedic Dzogchen Mind Series tantra that took pride of place as the first text in the atiyoga section of the Collected Tantras of the Ancients (Rnying ma rgyud ’bum). This last collection went through various mutations and is our primary source of Dzogchen texts today (see appendix 1). The second text in the atiyoga section of the Collected Tantras of the Ancients is called the Ten Sutras (Mdo bcu), a commentary on Vairotsana’s five transmissions and a rich source of Dzogchen precepts in itself. It is this text that is the source of my commentary. It was written by an unknown author, again probably in the twelfth century.

In the text herein the lines that introduce each of the transmissions are my synthesis of material taken from the Supreme Source and the Ten Sutras. The root verses are translations of the best readings I could elicit from the various sources. The commentary on the verses is my paraphrastic translation of the Ten Sutras’ commentary with explanatory notes interpolated. The Eternal Victory Banner: The Vast Space of Vajrasattva, by far the longest of the transmissions, is divided into twenty-seven parts, or “timeless moments,” headings found in the Collected Tantras of Vairotsana edition. The headings to the commentaries to the Eternal Victory Banner verses are taken from the Ten Sutras. The final line of the commentaries in this section is a summation of the discursive meaning of the entire verse. The annotation to the text indicates only a few of the discrepancies between the various sources.



With deep gratitude and deference I thank all the masters of the Tibetan tradition who have given me transmission, in particular Dudjom Rimpoche and Kanjur Rimpoche, who were both heart sons of the great treasurefinder Trinle Jampa Jungne; also to my friend and mentor Bhakha Tulku Pema Rigdzin, a Dzogchen yogi, for all his kindness; to Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, the terton-king of our age, for his spacious understanding; to Adriano Clemente for his spadework on the texts; and to Terese Coe and Sondra Hausner for their immaculate editing.


How to cite this document:
© Keith Dowman, Original Perfection (Wisdom Publications, 2013)

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