You may already have encountered the terms Lam Rim, Lam Dre, Dzogchen, Mahamudra and Maha Ati. These are the designations of systems or methods, views or attitudes that are characteristic of various schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The first, the Lam Rim teachings, comprise a graduated path to wisdom that is usually associated with the Gelugpas, but is used by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism and, since it refers to a gradual and ordered system, is the method used in almost all the world's Buddhist traditions in one form or another. The sect to which HH Dalai Lama belongs calls Tsong Khapa's great text, known as the Great Lam Rim (Lam Rim Chenmo) "the definitive teachings on the Path to Enlightenment."
The Sakyapa path is called Lam Dre, The Path and Its Fruit.
The other three terms Maha-ati, Dzogchen and Mahamudra, are really only two. They refer to practices that teach the way of directly experiencing the true nature of consciousness -- what is usually called "Mind." Maha-ati is Sanskrit for the Tibetan expression, Dzogchen, a a term generally associated with Nyingmapas.
Mahamudra is Sanskrit for the Tibetan Chagchen (spelled phyag-rgya-chen -po, or -mo) associated with the Kagyu. In the prayers that accompany the ngondro or "extraordinary preliminary practices," we pray to achieve the fruition of our practices, Mahamudra.
Mahamudra is like being immersed in the ocean, while Maha Ati is like looking over the expanse of that ocean.
(< From www.baynet)
The two approaches may have first been taught as a combination by the First Chagme Rinpoche (17th-century.) However, their connection was fully understood at least by the time of the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339) for, in the Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra, he says,
The "it" which Karmapa Rangjung Dorje refers to is the ultimate nature of the mind. Note that Karmapa considers the philosophical realization of Emptiness known as Madhyamika, as also leading to realization of that nature.
His Eminence Jamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche reiterates that in his commentary on
Karmapa Rangjung Dorje's The Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra, the Definitive Meaning
mentioned above. (Shenpen Osel:
That on-line journal has a number of teachings on Mahamudra. See vol. 3,
Dzogchen and Mahamudra can both be taught as a progression of Ground, Path, and Fruition. Ground establishes the view and includes information including principles which we can use for orientation; Path involves the implementation of Ground and may refer to specific meditation techniques, and Fruition is the result of the Path -- in the case of Mahamudra and Maha-Ati, it is Enlightenment.
Mahamudra is taught in all the Kagyu lineages, and in the Gelug lineage as well. Dzogchen is primarily a Nyingma practice but many teachers, eg. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, are fully qualified to teach either. And On the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen is a popular topic of public discourse.
Both practices have relatively easy to understand instructions but books are not much help. The genuine application of these practices require a qualified guide, and there really is the necessity for the special transmission and "pointing out instructions" to be given by a qualified person. (Look at the above oval image again, please.)
". . . like a lance brandished in space." ~ Kh. Karthar
<sky over western Scotland, July 2005 (c H. Holt)
The Guhyagarbha tantric tradition holds that the Dzogchen (or Dzokchen) teachings were introduced by fully awakened beings to the sage Vimalakirti, and then codified by King Dza of Uddiyana, the region where Padmasambhava appeared. In the form of that tantra, the method was passed by the yogi Kukkuraja to Sri Pramodavajra (Tib. Garab Dorje,) who at that time (ca. 775 CE) was a Buddhist monk.
Accomplishing full realization, Garab Dorje as a wandering yogi then taught mahapandita (great expert) Manjushrimitra, of Nalanda University in central India. Later, both yogis taught at the great stupa of Shankarakuta.
The essence of this non-dual (Skt. advaita) approach is, that through the pointing out instructions of an empowered, experienced Dzogchen teacher, one can be
1. directly introduced to one's own nature which is not different from the
Nyoshul Khenpo in Natural Great Perfection: Teachings on Dzogchen holds that experience is a function of the "creative energy of the ground state of being" or the dharmakaya. Traleg Rinpoche who is a Kagyupa said, in a teaching about Dzogchen, that Mahamudra and Dzogchen are the same since both say that the dharmakaya, sambogakaya and nirmanakaya are present in everyone, and not only in buddhas.
This is so when we see that: dharmakaya - is the nature of the original state of being (Emptiness) sambogakaya- is the essence of the original state (luminosity) and nirmanakaya- the unceasing activity of mind, its experiences and responsiveness.
These three concepts are fundamentally the same thing and that fact can be recognized by everyone under the guidance of a teacher who has seen and understood that. That attitude or view really cannot be described or conceptualized, for there is no object or subject to talk about.
Honey & Maple Syrup
Alex Wilding, in response to a question, to the Kagyu email list, Sept. 3, 2007:
Clarifying the Terminology
Rigpa in Dzogchen and Mahamudra are not the same thing. The former refers to a wisdom; the latter refers to the reflexive clarity of the mind, which discovering its own Emptiness, rests in it. This latter meaning is similar to gsal rig, "clear awareness" at term from the Sakyapa Lam 'bras [pron. lam dre] system.
To understand these distinctions, we need to look at their Sanskrit origins:
Svasamvedana is a term from Buddhist logic that refers to reflexive (or, self-) cognition. In Tibetan it is rang rig. In Buddhism, this term refers to a tenet of the Sautrantika school, following Dharmakirti. In that context, because this rang rig is held to be ultimate, it is rejected by some Madhyamakas like Shantideva. Others, such as Shantarakshita, accept it as a convention, and as such it is a term that plays an important role. However, rangrig in this context must not be confused with rig pa as used by the Dzogchen system.
Prati-atmya-vedanaj~naana is a term from Sutra meaning, "wisdom of independent self-awareness." It is used in Tantra and Dzogchen, and the Tibetan term is sor rang.gyis rig.pa'i ye.shes.
The equivalent term in Mahamudra teachings for Dzogchen's rigpa is sahajaj~naana, meaning "innate wisdom." In Tibetan, this is called lhan cig skye ye.she .
Rigpa in Mahamudra
How is this so? The late Bokar Rinpoche, in the insight section of his short Mahamudra text, outlines three stages of Mahamudra as "seeing reality as the nature of the mind, severing the basis and the root, the introduction having determined awareness to be empty."
This last phase consists of two steps: First one determines that awareness is empty, then introductions are made through movement, and so forth [ie. examination / analysis]. He says, "First, let the mind relax in its own state. Look nakedly at the relaxed mind. Maintain the stream of recollection without distraction. Make no effort to accept or reject any concepts which may arise; rest alert and present in the clarity and emptiness in the moment of ordinary mind, free from grasping."
So there we understand that rigpa is just this clarity. According to Yangonpa's Ri chos, this ordinary mind -- tha mal gyis she pa -- is a yogi's name for non-conceptual wisdom -- rnam.par mi.rtog.pa ye.shes.
Further proof that in Mahamudra rigpa is a synonym for mind rather than wisdom is given a little later, when Bokar Rinpoche goes on to say, "In the same way, the trio of appearances, awareness and emptiness are the self-perfected unification of clarity and emptiness from the beginning . . . ." So rigpa here refers to the second stage.
By contrast, rigpa in Dzogchen is short for rang.'byung rig.pa'i ye.shes, ie. the wisdom of self-originated awareness. What does self-originated awareness mean? It means that it is discovered for oneself through one's own experience. Since it is discovered without reference to any outer object, it is called the "wisdom of independent self-awareness."
Finally, the translation of rang.gyis rig.pa (shortened to rang rig) as "intrinsic awareness" is not a good one. The expression, "intrinsic," usually refers to an essential property of something, eg. "water is intrinsically wet." However, in Tibetan "gyis" is an instrumental term, so rang.gyis means "by itself" (and not "of itself.") For example, rang.gyis stong is "empty by itself." Therefore, rang.gyis rig.pa means "self-aware" or "reflexively aware."
Two things that can cause confusion:
1. not distinguishing between mind & wisdom: Wisdom is self-originated in the sense that it cannot be produced from outside oneself; it arises from one's realization of reality, ie. Emptiness. Mind is ever dependent on causes and conditions.
2. the way rigpa is used differently in Dzogchen and Mahamudra: In Dzogchen it refers to wisdom but in Mahamudra it refers to mind. However, there are many Kagyu Dzogchen masters, and sometimes the term rigpa can be used for both -- for the ordinary mind of Mahamudra (which is a wisdom,) and in the Dzogchen sense.
~ Edited from comments by Malcolm S. (virupa.org,) to the Kagyu Mailing List, Dec. 2005.
Reading is not Doing
Many books are available on these topics, and many more have those enticing words in their titles, but describe or explain as they might, they will not, by themselves, take you where you want to go. The analogy has been made to a travel guidebook that can never serve as a substitute for the actual journey. In fact, such books may actually serve to discourage or confuse the reader, or worse -- may set you off on misleading tangents. They are usually intended to provide added support for the actual teaching by the lama who has written it, eg. Pointing Out the Dharmakaya by Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche.
Anyone interested in Dzogchen and Mahamudra should find an accomplished teacher of a genuine Buddhist lineage with the qualifications and experience to provide "pointing-out instructions" and personal guidance.
K. suggests HH Dalai Lama's Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection or Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche's Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State or his (with John Reynolds) Self-Liberation.
Relating Mahamudra and Dzogchen (MahaAti)
Traleg Rinpoche said: "There is no real difference. The difference is how you understand the two traditions. In dzogchen they say you become realized by seeing the nature of the mind and by seeing mind as delusion. But in mahamudra we do not make that distinction between mind and the nature of mind."
BB wrote to the Kagyu Email List:
"In Natural Liberation (Boston: Wisdom, 1998) Dhomang Gyatrul Rinpoche, one of the most amazing masters I have ever met, said
"Earlier in the book, [Dhomang Gyatrul] talked about an excellent refuge formula written by Guru Padmasambhava himself and then discovered by the Terton Karma Lingpa, that covers the successive levels of taking refuge, from outer to the innermost:
Rinpoche elucidates the above verses:
"I usually try not to just dump a bunch of quotes onto the others, but since Rinpoche made it so crystal clear, this is the only way to do it without distorting and polluting his teachings. I beg your (and
the publisher of the book's) forbearance!
Dzogchen tradition - Guru Padma Sambhava
~ Min Bahadur Shakya
Meditation is Essential
"Mahamudra . . . is the union of the calm and mindful nature of our minds developed by shamatha meditation with the perception of the nature of reality developed in vipashyana meditation." ~ D. at the Kagyu Mailing List
As Sukkhasiddhi, the female lineage master, sang: