Bön Dzogchen

"Self-arising wisdom is the base.
The five negative emotions are manifested energy.
Seeing emotions as mistaken is an error.
Letting them be in their nature is the method.
To find the non-dual state of Liberation.
Overcoming hope and fear is the result."

From "Wonders of the Natural Mind" by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

Although there have been practitioners of Dzogchen in all the Tibetan religious traditions, such as the Fifth Dalai Lama of the Gelugpa school, the Third Karmapa Ranjung Dorje of the Kargyupa school and Graspa Gyaltsen of the Sakyapa school, the most important lineages of the Dzogchen teachings are found in Bon, the native religion of Tibet, and in the Nyingmapa (oldest) Tibetan Buddhist school. Both these traditions classify their teaching in 'nine Ways' or paths of practice leading to enlightenment or realization, and in both classifications, Dzogchen is the ninth and highest Way.

Nowadays, masters of all the Tibetan sects have started to teach Dzogchen, and Dzogchen seems almost to be becoming a kind of fashion in the West.


Dzogchen (rdzogs chen) literally means 'perfection,' accomplishment,' or fulfillment' (rdzogs) that is 'complete' or 'great' (chen). Although Dzogchen is the 'single great sphere,' for convenience it is described as having the three aspects of base, path, and fruit: 'base' because the ground of Dzogchen is the primordial state of the individual; 'path' because Dzogchen is the supreme direct and immediate path to realization; and 'fruit' because Dzogchen is the consummation of enlightenment, liberation from the cycle of illusory samsaric transmigration in one single lifetime.

In order to better understand Dzogchen, let us look further at the division into base, path, and fruit.

According to the Dzogchen teaching, the essence of the base of everything is empty and primordially pure; the nature of the base is clarity that is spontaneously perfected; the inseparable union of the primordially pure essence and the spontaneously perfected nature is the unobstructed flow of energy or compassion. In the individual mind, this base is the natural state and is the source of samsara for the deluded mind (ma rigpa) and of nirvana for the mind in which knowledge (rigpa) is awakened.

The essence of the kunzhi base is called the mother (ma), awakened awareness (rigpa) is called the son (bu), and the inseparability of mother and son is the flow of energy (rtsal).

The path consists in gaining insight into the view of Dzogchen, which is knowledge of the true condition of the base of the individual, and making the flow of rigpa, cultivated through meditation, continuous in the post-meditation period so that it can be integrated in our behavior or attitude and activities in everyday life. The fruit is the actualization of the inherent three kayas in this very lifetime and culminates in the attainment of the rainbow or light body at the end of life, whereby at death the material body leaves no mortal remains but dissolves into its nature, which is light.

Dzogchen in the Context of Bön Spiritual Practice

Dzogchen is the highest spiritual tradition in Bon. In the past, the practitioners who knew and practiced Dzogchen in Tibet were few, even within the Bon and Nyingma traditions. One reason for this was that it was not easy to receive these teachings: they were kept very secret, few masters gave them, and to few students. Even in current times, lay Bon adepts in Tibet habitually spend a lot of time performing the nine preliminary (ngondro) practices and the powa, while monks who stay in monasteries engage mainly in intellectual and philosophical study and debate, and recitation of ritual and liturgical texts.

Many masters insisted (and many masters now continue to insist) that practitioners complete the ngondro practices before being given Dzogchen teachings. These preliminary practices are described in the Nyams rgyud rgyal ba'i phyang krid. Each of these nine practices must be performed one hundred thousand times. The nine practices are:

  1. The generation of compassion for all sentient beings
  2. Taking refuge
  3. Offering the mandala
  4. Meditation on impermanence
  5. Confession of transgressions
  6. Making Prostrations
  7. Guru yoga, merging the mind with the enlightened mind of the guru visualized in front of oneself
  8. Offering prayers
  9. Receiving blessings

However, when I received the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud teaching, Lopon Sangye Tenzin maintained that although keeping the Dzogchen teaching secret may have been suitable in ancient times, in our own troubled times it is better to give them more openly and freely (but without lessening their value in this way) otherwise there is the danger that they will die out.