Three Streams of Dzochen

Three Streams of Dzogchen in Bön

In Bön, Dzogchen has traditionally been divided in three streams known collectively as A-rdzogs-snyan-rgyud, i.e. A-krid, Dzogchen and Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud. The first two are terma traditions based on rediscovered texts while the third is an oral tradition based on continuous transmission by an uninterrupted lineage of masters.

The A-krid system was founded in the 11th century by Dampa (Holy Man) Meu Gongjad Ritro Chenpo (1038-1096), who extracted the original teachings from the Khro rgyud cycle of teaching by Tonpa Shenrab.

Literally A-khrid means 'Guide of A'. A represents the unconditioned primordial state, the natural state of the mind; it is white to represent the innate purity of the mind. The practitioner engages in zhine practice, starting with fixation using the Tibetan letter A to focus concentration, in order to develop insight and experience the natural state of the mind. It corresponds to the semde series of Dzogchen teaching of the Nyingmapa Buddhist tradition, connected with the mind.

The name 'rDzogs chen' given to the second stream does not refer to Dzogchen in its general meaning but instead denotes a particular type of Dzogchen teaching with its own specific lineage. This system corresponds to the longde series in Nyingmapa Dzogchen, connected with clarity and space.

The third stream comprises the Dzogchen teachings of the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud, the Oral Transmission of Zhang Zhung, the oldest and most important Dzogchen tradition and meditation system in Bon. This series of teachings was systematized the Zhang Zhung master Gyerpung Nangzher Lodpo, who received them from his master Tapahritsa in the eighth century. However, as we shall see below, these teachings were not composed by their human founder; they are not fabricated by thought but are self-originated. They have enjoyed continuous transmission by a 'long lineage' through the centuries and never had to be concealed and rediscovered as terma which have 'short' or direct transmission from the time of their revelation. This stream of teachings corresponds to the Upadesha series in Nyingmapa Dzogchen, the series of 'secret instructions.'

Although all three streams of Dzogchen have their own preliminary practices and lineages of masters of the transmission, the essence and purpose of all three is the same: introduction to the natural state of Dzogchen. Some lineage masters hold all three transmissions. In Tibet this transmission from master to disciple, who in his turn becomes the master who transmits the teaching to his own disciple, is called 'hot' because the personal transmission of direct experience protects it, so that it remains alive without becoming something cold and merely intellectual, derived from books and conceptual thought.