Despite the beauty of its exotic imagery and the detail of the concepts, Buddhism can be a mouthful at the best of times. Many westerners who encounter Buddhism decide to forego its benefits because they just can’t seem to get through the mires of lofty concepts or unfamiliar terminology. Sadly, even many western Buddhists who actively practice are lead astray because they get so caught up in foreign traditions that they completely miss the point. This is unfortunate and we aim to change that. By using our tried and tested insider tips on approaching Dzogchen texts, you can reap maximum benefit with minimum effort.
Once a teaching is stripped of its religious hysteria so that it fits into a modern context, it becomes usable to the common man. A lot of the teachings are immersed in dogma but the core technique is what one should really be after.”
What you really want from each book that we recommend are the core techniques to add to your arsenal of mind-management tools. This is why we recommend these books in the first place, because we have found very particular snippets of teachings that embody what would otherwise take whole volumes of intricate explanations to understand. These fundamental teachings are what we will highlight in each book review.
The mood in which to read the core techniques that we point out is that of a relaxed and open mind. Simply attempt to understand it in its most basic and literal sense, just as it is. Take for example the following statement from THE SUPREME SOURCE.
On realizing the nature of one’s consciousness, the qualities manifest spontaneously and already perfected without needing to seek them.”
Do not immediately attempt to argue with yourself about the validity of this statement. When we watch a movie with Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie we allow ourselves to believe that they are the characters that they play and not themselves. This is called Suspension of Disbelief. It is essential to approach the teachings in just the same way to allow yourself to journey into new understanding. Put the noisy mind to rest and ‘play along’ as it were, tasting the particular flavour of the Teachings.
You will encounter sentences that are quite dense and if you find yourself not understanding it instantly - don’t worry. Most complex concepts are often followed by representations or images that symbolically point out the meaning. Dzogchen texts are full of gorgeous descriptions which increase understanding as well as provide you with glimpses into the artistry of the teachings. An example from THE GOLDEN LETTERS demonstrates it perfectly.
Like butter, melting into butter”
This image is used to describe the way an emotion such as anger dissolves into itself if one allows it to just be, without attempts to alter it in any way.
You will be confronted by foreign concepts or names such as Chakravatin, Samsara or ‘the three times’ for example. One of the benefits of being a westerner with little to no understanding of Buddhist terminology is that the unfamiliar word itself remains undefined. This very state of ‘non-definition’ happens to be an excellent sample experience in tasting the non-duality of the mind. It gives one a direct experience of what the mind is truly like when it is not running around elaborating on concepts, supporting or negating the meaning. So just go with the flow and experience for yourself how meaning effortlessly unfolds in your mind without even trying.
If however it bothers you so much that you are distracted from reading the text, simply refer to the Buddha Brats Glossary for an easy to understand reference. When we review books with great glossaries we will be sure to let you know.
Naturally one has to go through the grinding mill of experience,
otherwise it just remains theoretical rubbish.”
Western Buddhists are often plagued by the unnecessary and unfortunate fact that they get really hung up on the details. As you will soon discover with Buddhism, there is an extensive body of incredibly detailed teachings in existence. Even though this is a wonderful characteristic that warms our hearts and for which we are eternally grateful, be warned not to get all strung out by the finer points.
Dzogchen texts warn time and time again that intellectual understanding is not the goal. Instead personal experience of the teachings at work is the most, if not the only valid method of understanding. Of course if you’re hungry for intel and you like devouring details, be our guest. If not, it is perfectly ok not to gripe about where and how ‘the base, the path and the fruit’ or the ‘mind, space and secret series’ fit into the whole picture. Concern yourself rather with the simple yet profound fact that according to Dzogchen “the path IS the goal” and rest in the knowledge that the journey is literally in this case the destination.
Tibetan Buddhism has certain peculiar literary and historic eccentricities and you will often encounter lengthy discussions by the translators or commentators in the books. For the most part these are interesting but certainly not essential to read, so you can happily save it for a rainy day.
The problem with an overly academic approach to Buddhism is that one can get so caught up in ephemeral details that one completely misses the point, which eventually amounts to a whole lot of wasted time. To try and understand it in purely intellectual terms would not only be wrong, but utterly pointless. Don’t be a dry academic.
They all come for blessings, if only they came for teachings instead!”
- Namkhai Norbu
Demons in Dzogchen are nothing other than our own conditioned minds grasping at identity.
In many of the books you will read chapters that recount the lives of famous historical teachers such as Garab Dorje, Padmasambhava, Milarepa and so forth. You will read about various initiations with names such as the ‘Hevajra Tantra or Black Mahakala Tantra’ etc. You may encounter Buddhists in real life or online communities who have very fixed ideas about which initiations or blessings qualify you to join their groups. Many westerners in the Buddhist communities consider these as notches to be collected and worn on the belt, without realizing that it is all meaningless without practical application anyway. Don’t let it get to you, continue practicing your 24/7 Dzogchen contemplation by remaining undisturbed.
It is for this reason that in most of the books we don’t really recommend that you read the personal histories as anything other than interesting background information. The fact that Machig Labdron displayed 'x-amount' of Dakini symbols on 'y-parts' of her body at such and such an age, is of no life-changing importance to you at this stage, if ever. Which son Yeshe Tsogyal chose to confer which lineage of teachings on makes no difference in the bigger scheme of things. In terms of Dzogchen – it is all Illusion anyway.
Treat the information with joyful respect by appreciating the colorful history gracefully, but don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the initiation/blessing race. It will only distract you from what really matters - your own liberation.
One of our most well-kept secrets is to glance at the notes that usually accompany many of the Dzogchen texts. It’s typically pretty extensive which is why we don’t recommend you do it while reading the main document lest it distract you. However if you simply skim through it from time to time as if reading a menu, you will find bits of information not available in the actual text just jumping out at you. Believe us, some very juicy morsels have been discovered this way.
Remember, the essence of Dzogchen is effortless relaxation so do not strain yourself to understand everything in one go. Reality is an ongoing dance and so is your process. You will find that the mysteries of your mind reveal themselves to you in unexpected and inconceivable ways, enjoy it.
Every time you revisit a Dzogchen text you will get something different from it, purely because you yourself have also changed. This is the nature of reality so do not fight it. Take from it what you can and apply it in your life. Everything will happen exactly as it should.
I sincerely hope that these tricks of the trade will help you to get the most bang for your buck as far as Buddhist books go. Also remember that your understanding of the type of Buddhism discussed on this site, entirely depends on whether you have read BUDDHA BRATS – A Modern Tale of Enlightenment as introduction.
If you struggle or you simply want to know more just send us a question in the Q & A section of this site. We will be happy to hammer out finer details with you.
When the teacher’s words enter your heart, it is like
finding a treasure in the palm of your hand.”
- Quoted by Judith Simmer-Brown (Dakini’s Warm Breath)
May you have the good fortune of experiencing the indescribable beauty of Dzogchen understanding in this very life time.
From the Universe, with Love