Comments on “Why Dzogchen?”


Why Dzogchen? Emphasis of Aro on Dzogchen.

Ken Morgan's picture

I can't believe your statement: "I know of no other lineage or Lama in whose teaching Dzogchen is so pervasive". What about Namkha'i Norbu Rinpoche and his worldwide Dzogchen Community and Lama Tenzin Wangyal of Ligmincha Institute. Namkha'i Norbu has done more to make Dzogchen known than any other Lama? What about Lama Surya Das and his Dzogchen Foundation? What about Keith Dowman who is now teaching Dzogchen in seminars around the world?

Hmm . . . gosh

Hmm, gosh, this wasn't meant to be provocative or exclusionary. It just described my personal experience and knowledge, but it was sloppy. I have dropped it; thank you for the correction.

I have written about my enormous appreciation of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche here and elsewhere. Of non-Aro teachers whom I have direct experience of, he has the strongest Dzogchen orientation. And, I agree that he is more responsible than anyone else for making Dzogchen known and available. He is a colossal force. My experience is that he also teaches quite a bit of Mahayoga; Aro doesn't.

The others you mention also seem to be very fine teachers, based only on having read some of their books.


Sutra and non-duality

Alex Hubbard's picture

Dear David, it occured to me when reading this page that I have heard otherwise concerning your assertion that the fruit of sutra is emptiness, though I'm not sure from what yana that which I have heard comes from. I heard it told that in sutra one also discovers non-duality because when realising emptiness one concomitantly realises the compassion that arises out of emptiness, and their non-duality. If one can't realise non-duality through sutric practice then then one can't gain enlightenment so, it seems that sutric practice doesn't function as a buddhist yana because it doesn't have buddhahood as its result. Of course,as I said, maybe your statement is yana specific, and so nullifies my point with pragmatic clarity.

Sutra and rigpa

Hi, Alex,

Good to hear from you! Thanks for a difficult question . . .

Indeed, my statement was overly broad. I've changed "according to the other yanas" to "according to some other Buddhist views."

This question is tricky both conceptually, and in terms of sensitivity. I would strongly recommend each person discuss this directly with their teacher, because answers will be highly individual in terms of the teacher's viewpoint and the student's depth of understanding.

Within the scriptures of each Buddhist system, one finds polemical denigrations of the other systems. This is unhelpful, I think, when it leads to political conflicts (which it does). Reading the polemics can be helpful, however, in understanding how the systems differ. We can then honor (and practice) each system for what it does well, while also understanding its limitations.

Each Buddhist system has its own conception of what the ultimate goal is. Part of sorting out the different systems, and deciding how one is going to relate to them, is understanding their different theories of enlightenment—both what it is ("fruit"), and how you get there ("path").

Naturally, the view of Sutra is that Sutra leads to Buddhahood, which includes, inseparably, non-dual wisdom [i.e. perception of emptiness] and compassion. This is also the view of Tantra when it is taught as a means of realizing Sutra, i.e. as "esoteric Mahayana". Generally, that is the approach of the Geluk School. The corresponding philosophical system is Madhyamaka Prasangika. This is the Tibetan system best-known in the West.

Within other presentations of Tantra—especially Zhentong—and within Dzogchen, Prasangika is viewed as nihilistic. It fails to recognize the "form qualities of emptiness" or "the inherent luminosity of space." Its conception of Buddhahood is deficient in over-emphasizing wisdom (emptiness) and under-emphasizing blissful action (form). The non-duality realized in Sutra is not rigpa, according to Dzogchen; and so Sutra does not in fact lead all the way to Buddhahood. The path of Sutra, on this view, emphasizes methods of realizing emptiness over methods of realizing bliss-compassion. These are useful as preliminaries, but you have to go beyond Sutra to find realization.

Of course, Sutrayana would reply that it does have extensive methods for generating compassion, and that from its point of view, Tantra (if it has any validity at all) is exactly a set of Mahayana methods for that purpose. And, Zhentong and Dzogchen are eternalistic for wrongly going beyond the correct, strictly negative conception of emptiness. They make emptiness into a God, an ultimate truly-existing creator, which Buddhism must deny.

Trying to sort this out conceptually is extremely difficult (although fun for those with an academic bent).

Generally, one is particularly attracted to a particular style of Buddhist practice and teaching, based on personal taste. And then one practices and studies that system, whichever it is. For most of us, it is probably far more important to be enthusiastic about some brand of Buddhism than to spend a lot of time worrying about which is ultimately superior.

It may be that ultimately all the Buddhist systems lead to the same enlightenment, or maybe not—but this is only a meaningful question when one has nearly exhausted the system one was attracted to. There are accounts of great meditators who fully accomplished Buddhist system X and were dissatisfied with the results, and went on to practice system Y instead, and then became fully enlightened. So at a certain stage, "which really leads to Buddhahood" may become relevant.

I'm nowhere near that point. I work in a mainly-Dzogchen system (Aro) mostly because I like it; not because I'm sure Dzogchen's theory of the relationships between emptiness, form, and enlightenment are exactly correct.



g'ter ??

Wow, I have finally taken time out to hunt down what "g'ter" means in "Aro g'ter". It has always confused me. One minute, your group is "Aro" and then the next "Aro g'ter". But I looked ahead and found this page on your site which helped. Suggestion: link this word in earlier pages because it is very esoteric. (then delete this comment)

Do other Nyingma lineages tag on the "g'ter" suffix? Do other Nyingma lineages give themselves a name at all (like "Aro")?
Thank you

gTer ma lineage names

It's gTer (or gter or gTér or ter or Ter or Tér) but definitely not g'ter. In Tibetan transliteration, the apostrophe represents the Tibetan letter a chung, so it has a specific meaning, and you can't just put it anywhere it looks good (which some people do). Thanks for the link suggestion; I'll follow it where/when I think of it.

"Aro gTér" refers specifically to the terma, whereas "Aro" refers to the organization. But usage isn't consistent; the distinction was only drawn about five years ago. In older writing, and when people forget, "Aro gTér" may be used for the organization as well. (The idea is that "gTér" is offputtingly weird looking, and to be friendly to newbies it would be better avoided.)

The spelling "gTér" is slightly eccentric. The Tibetan spelling, in the standard Wylie transliteration, is gter. It's pronounced "ter" (rhymes with hair) because the g is silent.

Other terma systems are usually called "X ter" ("X gter" in Wylie). For example, the Dudjom Ter Sar ("New Treasures of Dudjom"), Chokling Ter Sar, or the Jang Ter "Northern Treasures".

Nyingma lineages do all have names, as far as I know.

gTer versus gter

Gangshar Nyamkha (Mimi Wilflinger)'s picture

Hi David, Im a Tibetan translator and Drikung Kagyud practicioner and have been reading and enjoying your meaningness and Vajrayana sites for many years. Thank you, it is really inspiring and helped me seeing many things from a new and refreshing angle.-
I'd just like to make a minor remark here regarding the Wylie transcription system, referring to the paragraph above where you wrote
"The spelling "gTér" is slightly eccentric. The Tibetan spelling, in the standard Wylie transliteration, is gter. It's pronounced "ter" (rhymes with hair) because the g is silent."
This is correct. Let me just add that the reason for the capital T in gTer which you find "eccentric" is simply that in the earlier version of the Wylie Tibetan transcription system (which was abandoned/upgraded somewhere in the 90ies I think), all Tibetan syllables had to start with a capital letter, with their silent prefixes written in small letters; whereas in the current Wylie system, that distinction has been given up (probably since it is superfluous for anybody who knows Tibetan, which I suppose all Wylie users are, anyway?! Just my guess, though.....), so nowadays it is spelled gter without capital T.


Hi and thank you for the clarifying comment! And I'm really glad you like the sites.

It's not so much capitalizing the root letter that is unusual, as combining the silent prefix g with the acute accent on é. That is, typically one would transliterate all the information from the Tibetan spelling (as in Wylie) for the benefit of those who know the language, or else one would provide a phonetic transcription, for the benefit of those who don't. "gTér" has features of both. Ngakpa Chögyam chose it at a time (the mid '80s) when renderings of Tibetan in the Roman alphabet were much less standardized than they are now. Books from that era have all sorts of eccentric systems—Chögyal Namkhai Norbu's was quite unlike anyone else's, for instance, using the Pinyin Q and X values.

(You know all this, I'm sure, but I'm explaining it for the benefit of other people who may read this!)

Best wishes,

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