Skip to content

The Great Perfection

Today I would like to comment on a text written by the omniscient Jigme Lingpa, called “Perceiving the Naked State of the Genuine Reality of the Great Perfection.” This text is about revealing the genuine reality, or nature, of the mind, and is found in the Nyingmapa School of Tibetan Buddhism and is a well known but advanced teaching known as the Great Perfection (Dzogchen in Tibetan).

If one asks whether the view of the Great Perfection lies within nirvanic peace or within samsara, the answer is that it does not lie within either of these extremes. If one wants to search for the view of the Great Perfection, one must search within one’s own mind. The view of the Great Perfection is found within the mental continuum of each and every sentient being. It is endowed with the qualities of emptiness and luminosity. Yet the Great Perfection is not something that can be analyzed in terms of how it is constructed; it is, by its nature, non-constructed. If we were to ask whether we could discover the Great Perfection by transforming our present state of mind into another state of mind, the answer is no. Apart from our present mind, there is nowhere else we can look to find the resultant enlightened qualities of the Great Perfection.

Our mind, which is endowed with awareness and intelligence, is always occupied with all kinds of actions, daily activities such as working, standing, sleeping and sitting. The term meditation does not mean to be distracted from the nature of the mind, but to recognize this nature and try to retain this recognition. By doing this, one meditating may experience the blissful mind, the clear mind, and the non-conceptual mind. One must be very skilful to retain the continuity of the recognition of the nature of the mind, and one should not exert excessive effort or forcefully try to settle one’s mind into such a state. Rather, in order to sustain the view of the Great Perfection, one should cultivate relaxation. If one does not apply a skilful method, one will lose the meditation.

Let an example illustrate: Somebody who is imprisoned experiences discomfort, unease and inconvenience due to being confined to a small cell. Similarly, if we try to seize the true nature of the mind and forcibly sustain it, tension will arise in the mind of the one meditating.

When we try to meditate on the view of the Great Perfection we come across many emotional and conceptual thoughts. For instance, when we come across a positive impression, we should try not to cultivate attachment to this thought. Instead of being overwhelmed by the presence of a positive feeling, which we do easily by only observing the perimeter of the thought, we should instead look directly at the thought’s very core or essence. This applies in the same way to negative emotional complications such as anger and so on. By focusing on the nature of thoughts, the one meditating will understand that the essence of thoughts is fundamental awareness and intelligence.

The tradition of the Great Perfection maintains that by looking at the emotional thoughts in this manner, one will achieve a vision of the genuine reality (in Sanskrit: dharmadhatu). This suggests that the individual should look at the true essence of the emotional complication, whatever it is, to perceive true reality.

But when it comes to actual practice, we often experience certain difficulties. It is not as easy as it has been explained. When one looks at the very essence of emotional or disturbing thoughts, one should not evaluate them. One should look at the face of emotional thoughts in the same way that elderly men look at children playing. Elderly men will not try to evaluate the children’s play by saying that it is good or bad; they will be indifferent to what occupies the children. One should look at one’s emotional thoughts in the same way.

This manner of meditation gives one a very intimate familiarity with the nature of mind. The individual’s mind becomes liberated both from the concept of duality, which tends to grasp onto the superficial reality of the perceived objective phenomenon, and the perceiving phenomenon i.e. the mind. So one is liberated from both graspings at the reality of the perceived world and the perceiving mind. In turn, the emotions are set free. The individual becomes capable of reversing all kinds of grasping onto different forms of wholesome and unwholesome thought, and not to regard wholesome thoughts as something to be seized or unwholesome thoughts as something to be abandoned. At this point, the individual who is meditating experiences liberation into genuine reality. Emotional or conceptual ideas will cause no difficulty at all, whether they are positive or negative.

The meditating individual who manages to acquire such a meditative experience has traversed the seven impure bodhisattva levels. They are called impure because the individual is still contaminated with a subtle grasping at duality in these spiritual levels.

When it comes to realizing the view of the Great Perfection there are many pitfalls, errors, and mistakes into which we can fall. We said in the beginning that the nature of the view of the Great Perfection is emptiness. Because of this, some individuals grasp at the very concept of emptiness. They release the grasping onto the apparent reality, but instead grasp at the very concept that was meant to release the grasping. This is a tremendous mistake. It is termed affirmative negative: one refutes the grasping of the existence of the reality, but then affirms (grasps onto) this negation or emptiness.

The Buddha taught the teaching of emptiness to shatter grasping onto the reality of existence. But if an individual falls into the view of affirming negative, the Buddha specifically said that there is no new antidote to cure this spiritual disease for such a person. If the medicine itself has turned into poison there is no other antidote that can be applied. The Buddha said that “unintelligent people who are not skillful enough to perceive emptiness will suffer a tremendous loss.”

One should recognize emptiness as something that is free from extremes. We can apply this to the true nature of mind in which awareness and intelligence fundamentally inhere. The exact nature of mind is free from the four extremes; it is not existent, it is not non-existent, it is not both existent and non-existent at the same time, and neither is it something apart from being existent or non-existent (in our previous discussion we only covered to first two extremes). Therefore, there is no origination and no cessation. There is not something that comes or something that goes.

The true nature of the mind is not masculine, feminine or neutral. The nature of mind is empty of characteristics such as shapes, colors, and so on. Further, the nature of mind belongs neither to the category of nihilism nor to the category of eternalism. It is inexpressible and inconceivable.

As an example, we can not say that we have seen empty space. But we can still talk about space as an idea. In the same way, someone who has realized the view of the Great Perfection, as many individuals have done in the past, will try their best to find the most appropriate examples to express their spiritual experiences for their disciples. But despite all their efforts in trying to find suitable examples, they fail to give an exact expression which communicates the true nature of mind. Therefore, one should be careful not to err when it comes to the view of the Great Perfection. One should take care to sustain recognition of the Great Perfection in all forms of activities.

To implement the view of the Great Perfection, there are two forms of meditations: shamatha (in Tibetan: shine) and vipashyana. But these should not be understood as the common shamatha and vipashyana that we talk about in the context of the sutra level. Shine, calm abiding meditation, means a pacified mind. The true nature of our mind is, from the very beginning, completely undisturbed by the presence of gross and subtle forms of conceptual complications.

If you have a glass of muddy water and you let the water come to a rest, the water will resume its original transparency. But if the water is disturbed, the clarity will again be lost. Similarly, our primordial state of mind retains inner transparency, termed luminosity. If we learn to leave the mind undisturbed, the mind will assume this original transparency. Again, if we let the mind be disturbed by the presence of disturbed thoughts, the mind will lose its original transparency.

The shamatha meditation of the tantric teachings of Buddhism is different from the shamatha meditation found in the sutra approach. In sutra shamatha meditation, the individual meditating pacifies emotional complications by applying certain antidotes, but in the shamatha meditation of tantric Buddhism the mind is perceived as being free from the gross and subtle complications from the very beginning, and therefore there is nothing to pacify.

Vipashyana meditation in the context of tantric Buddhism is described as looking at the non-dual state of mind, to experience that the mind is empty of the quality of the perceived and the perceiving mind. Gaining this experience is termed gaining insight into to non-duality of the mind.

Again, vipashyana meditation according to tantric Buddhism is not the same as vipashyana meditation according to the sutra level, where the one meditating first performs an analytical meditation and then tries to rest in the discovery that he or she has made. But according to the vipashyana meditation of tantric Buddhism, one gains insight into the non-duality of the mind which is free from both the perceived phenomena and the perceiving mind.

Within the Great Perfection meditation, there is what is called formal meditation and informal meditation, or post-meditation. In formal meditation, the individual tries to sustain recognition of the view by practicing mindfulness. In post-meditation, the individual brings with his or her meditative experiences gained in the formal mediation into his or hers actions of body, speech, and mind.

During formal sitting mediation practice, we apply the mental faculty of mindfulness. But the mental faculty of mindfulness should not be understood as the common mindfulness of which we are well aware. It is a unique kind of mindfulness. In Buddhism, the common interpretation of the term mindfulness is to keep in mind what shall be cultivated and what shall be abandoned. In the context of the Great Perfection the term mindfulness should be understood as there being nothing to cultivate and nothing to abandon.

When one tries to sustain the view of the Great Perfection one should not worry about being distracted. If one discovers that one is distracted, one might develop frustration or sadness, but this is not appropriate. Neither should one apply excessive effort, as this will only disturb one’s mind. In brief, while one is trying to sustain the very recognition of the formal meditation, one should release one’s body, speech, and mind from any fabricated effort. If the individual meditating can meditate in this manner, then the technical term non-meditation is applicable.

In meditation one can therefore reach the state of non-meditation. But the terms meditation and non-meditation is a dualism, and the actual state of the mediation of the Great Perfection is free from both meditation and non-meditation. In the view of the Great Perfection the individual will neither grasp onto meditation nor non-meditation.

By meditating in this manner, the individual meditating might experience three kinds of meditative experiences: ecstasy, clarity, and non-conceptuality. The experience of ecstasy occurs when the mind becomes completely free from the three levels of suffering and simply mingles with the fundamental state of the mind, experiencing tremendous bliss. The experience of clarity occurs when the mind becomes tremendously clear, without any contamination of dullness, agitation or undercurrent thoughts. (The term clarity should not be understood as a visual clarity with regard to visual sensory experiences. The clarity that is generated during meditative absorption and the clarity we might experience when we are not meditating do not correspond at all.) The third meditative quality that might be experienced is termed non-conceptuality. When we are beginners in meditation, many conceptual thoughts will occupy our minds. But as we progress in the meditation, the meditation will culminate in the experience of non-conceptuality. Then, one’s mind is no longer beleaguered by conceptual complications.

If one has beautiful experiences, there is always the danger of developing attachment or grasping, but one should not create a sense of attachment to the three meditative experiences above. If an individual develops attachment to the first meditative experience of ecstasy, it is said that he or she will take rebirth in the desirous god realm. If an individual attaches himself to clarity, he or she might end up in the form god realm. If he or she clings to non-conceptuality, then he or she will end up being born in the formless god realm. Clinging is therefore not regarded as being beneficial. One should therefore not try to meditate with the goal of achieving these three beautiful experiences, because the goal-oriented mind will spoil the mediation.

If one’s meditation on the generating phase is not embraced by mediation on the completion or dissolving phase, the mere generating phase of the practice of tantric Buddhism will not cause attainment of Buddha-nature. To the contrary, it is said that such meditation causes the individual to be reborn as a very evil-minded being.

Since the genuine view of the Great Perfection is simplicity free from mental constructs, it is always possible to confuse this form of meditation with other similar experiences.

Present mind, or present awareness, is primordial awareness in its ultimate mode of existence. A view of non-reference should embrace this primordial awareness. If one meditates correctly as outlined, one will eventually reach a culmination where there remains no agent, no action and no object to meditate on. The duality of the subject and object simply disappears and becomes a non-dual experience.

Generally, individuals feel that they know what existence is and what non-existence is, but nothing beyond this. They claim that, if it exists, it cannot be non-existent. Similarly, if it is non-existent, it cannot exist. Our perception is based on the perception of existence and non-existence: nihilism and eternalism; if it is nihilism it cannot be eternalism, if it is eternalism it can’t be nihilism. An analogy might involve one individual who knows two other individuals, who comes to the house of those two, and who states that he or she meets either this person or that person. The scope of our present mind is very narrow; therefore we are not able to embrace a state of mind that is free from all extreme complications. Our present deluded state of mind is therefore transient, and true nature of our mind is primordially liberated.

When it comes to the primordial awareness, we cannot talk about union and non-union. The view of the Great Perfection is free from all kinds of sectarianism, bias, and partial attitudes. The view of the Great Perfection is also free from denigration and exaggeration. So the view of the Great Perfection is free from mental activity. It is inaction. It is the pinnacle of all views, meditations, and conducts. So, therefore, the individual meditating is capable of realizing the genuine view of the Great Perfection while sleeping comfortably on the bed (Rinpoche jokes and the audience laughs). The view of the Great Perfection is free from expression; nevertheless I am expressing something. There is nothing to understand, but at least you understand at some level.

This form of meditation can sometimes create difficulty if it renders ones mind into total confusion. It is therefore important to sustain the continuity of awareness. Awareness is not something one needs to cultivate. The quality of awareness inheres in the very nature of one’s mind, as stated before. It is simple to recognize it and then sustain this recognition.

In the past, many individuals evolved into very spiritual beings by being spiritually crazy. They were called the holders of crazy wisdom, or the holders of the lineage of crazy wisdom. If you like, you can also participate in this spiritual community of mad people (all are laughing), but you must be genuinely spiritually mad, not just pretending, or be psychologically mad. I myself would like to enter into this mandala of mad enlightened people, but to do so is quite difficult.

When you meditate on the Great Perfection, you should not worry if emotional or conceptual complications pop up. It is good when many emotions and thoughts arise. If you let these thoughts arise without trying to abandon or suppress them, they will exhaust themselves.

Hope and fear should not interrupt one's meditation on the view of the Great Perfection. If they do, they bind and interrupt the meditation. One should not fear the presence of emotional complications and conceptual thoughts. Just let them vanish on their own.

I am not somebody who has genuinely realized the view of the Great Perfection, but I have tried my best to explain this view to you. Do you have any questions?

Q: You said in the beginning that the shine (shamatha) meditation of the Great Perfection is different from that of the sutra texts. Should one work on shine in terms of sutra first, and then go on to vajrayana?

Rinpoche: Yes, one should proceed in a gradual manner through the yanas. As you say, one should practice shamatha as it is presented on the sutric level and then proceed to practice on the shamatha and vipashyana that is presented one the tantric level. Sutra teachings act like a stepping stone toward tantric practice.

Q: Can you give me a definition of emotion and thought? I see emotion as something I feel, and thought as something that is in my mind.

Rinpoche: Actually, in Tibetan, it is the same word for both thought and emotion. It is namtok. Nam refers to the object that induces the emotion or thought in the individual, tok refers to the emotional state of mind. Can you give me some examples of emotions?

Person: Anger.

Rinpoche: And thought?

Person: Fantasizing about the future and thinking about the past.

Rinpoche: This is also the answer to your question.

Q: Aren’t these emotional thoughts connected with desire? As long as you have a desire you produce thoughts?

Rinpoche: Yes, the presence of desire gives rise to further thought patterns and emotional complications, which again give rise to further karmic implications. Namtok means that you cannot have a thought without having a stimulant nam. Without the stimulant, emotional complications will not arise. This is due to the law of interdependency– cause and effect.

Q: There will be no anger either?

Rinpoche: Right, because everything arises due to the coming together of causes and conditions. Before being enlightened, you can say conventionally that the emotional state of mind exists. When the individual enters the meditation of the Great Perfection and experiences a genuine meditative experience, then his or her mind is completely absent of emotional complications and conceptual thoughts. But when the individual leaves the meditation and enters into post meditation, then these emotions begin to come back.

Q: Can you say a little bit more about how to look into the essence of thoughts?

Rinpoche: One should not try to prevent oneself from giving rise to emotional and conceptual thoughts. If they pop up, let them pop up, but then try to look directly at the essence of the thoughts without evaluating or judging them; just simply look at them. Encounters with thoughts should be embraced with a profound sense of confidence and certainty. This is important.

The look and content of emotional thoughts can differ, but when the one meditating penetrates into the core of any thought or emotion, there is no difference between good and bad thoughts. On the inner level, both good and bad thoughts share the same essence of clarity and intelligence. Therefore, one should not try to cultivate good emotions and abandon bad emotions. This principle applies to the formal sitting meditation.

Q: What is the purpose of these observations? What is the ultimate goal?

Rinpoche: The ultimate goal is to be emotional liberated, to observe the essence of the thought, so that one will not become a victim of either positive or negative emotion. If we experience emotional thoughts such as attachment, aggression or aversion, we will end up creating certain karmas. Creating these karmas creates certain misery and pain within us. To prevent this, we must prevent the karmic complications, and to prevent these we must prevent emotional difficulties. In order to prevent emotional complications, we must look at the nature of the emotion. The emotion will then simply liberate in its own place.

Nor is the individual able to experience serenity if the mind is constantly affected by the presence of conceptual thoughts and emotions. I know a woman in Taiwan who told me that she loves her husband and wants him to look nice. But when he does look nice, she becomes afraid of losing him to some other woman. Therefore, she sometimes chooses not to iron his clothes, so that he will not look gentlemanly. But when she sees that he is in a bad shape, she experiences a dilemma. Like the dilemma of Shakespeare “to be or not to be”: to iron or not to iron. (Laughter.) It is not good to entertain so many contradictory thoughts. It is best to come to a decisive conclusion either by ironing or not ironing. (Laughter.)

Q: You said that when the mind experiences ecstasy it becomes free of the three levels of suffering. Were you referring to the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and the all-pervasive suffering?

Rinpoche: Yes, that is what I meant. The suffering of suffering is what we experience when we become injured or ill. The suffering of change is the fact that even pleasant experiences will end as suffering, and the all-pervasive suffering is caused from the fact that on a subtle level all phenomena are subjected to subtle change and degeneration.

Q: Is being born in the desire god realm or the formless god realm to be regarded as a spiritual progression?

Rinpoche: It is not necessarily good to be born in the god realms. In order to have the best prospects for spiritual development, it is best to be born a human being. The reason there are many levels in the god realms is that the mind of the individual develops further and further. When the individual has reached the fourth level of the formless god realm, the individual has reached the peak of the samsaric mind. In total, the god realms consist of 17 levels. But the god realm has certain disadvantages in terms of being a foundation of spiritual practice.

Q: If you were brought to the peak of the samsaric mind, what can you do with it? Can you make other people happy?

Rinpoche: Someone who reaches this level of mind is free from the first to levels of suffering, but the mind of such an evolved being still experiences the all-pervasive suffering. But if that mind becomes altruistic, generating bodhicitta, then that highly evolved mind can be utilized to benefit oneself as well as others. The goal of the meditating Buddhist is not to reach the top of the samsaric mind, but rather to transcend it, to experience total liberation from the vicious circle of samsara.

Q: When you take the bodhisattva vow, you say that you will not attain enlightenment before other beings have attained enlightenment. That will never happen. (Laughter.)

Rinpoche: The reason for taking the bodhisattva vow is that when one becomes enlightened, and you will be, one remains neither in the extreme of nirvana nor the extreme of samsara. If you can genuinely and honestly do this, then the tremendous scope of this mind will hasten your enlightenment. So you don’t need to worry.

If an individual claims that he or she will create well-being one the whole face of the earth, then his or her mind is genuinely embraced by an altruistic attitude. This individual will experience a tremendous ease and comfort within himself or herself. The inner serenity of such an individual will benefit everybody he or she comes in contact with. Not only that, the scope of this mind has become so big that there remain no exclusions; it becomes an all-inclusive mind.

Translated by Lama Changchub at Karma Tashi Ling Buddhist Centre, Norway