Is it just me or is the world kind of crazy these days? Maybe the human world has always been a bit out of sorts, but I have to hand it to reality, I feel like it’s been working overtime, creating ever peculiar expressions of itself for our collective enjoyment and perhaps gradual descent into madness. Truly, what is with these relentless struggles? On one hand, shouldn’t it be obvious that we at least try take care of each other and all the other beings on this beautiful planet in all our glorious diversity? Still, we have ridiculous forces of delusion that stoke the fires of animosity, greed, and self-congratulatory ignorant bias. Doesn’t it seem like modern human reality is unfolding like an odd TV show, a little Twin Peaks here, a little House of Cards there, a dash of Battlestar Galactica, slathered in Game of Thrones sauce?
I almost feel a little guilty out here in the Arizona mountains, missing out on some of the human drama, as I’ve been gaining progressively deeper access to a somewhat rare cinematic experience of reality. I’ve been following the footsteps of this mysterious guy for a bit. He’s not active on twitter, facebook, or instagram. He doesn’t have a blog. Apparently, he’s got some great music, but it’s not on youtube, spotify, or even soundcloud. He’s what some might call dead, but at the same time keeps showing up in people’s minds like a mythical ghost. So on one hand, he’s just like the illusory character of an old nursery rhyme, and on the other hand he can’t and he won’t stop showing up in mysterious places. I’m talking about the legendary enlightened Padmasambhava, who, according to tradition, came to Tibet from the land of Oddiyana in the 8th century, tamed spirits and demons, guided countless beings, buried hidden treasures all throughout Tibet, and then took off on a magical horse galloping upon the rays of the setting sun in a whirlwind of rainbows.
One could mention a lack of historical evidence for everything ascribed to Padmasambhava in later accounts. However, there can be no mistake that Padmasambhava has continued to live as a blazing embodiment of passionate inspiration in the minds, visions, and revelations of countless meditators throughout Tibet through this present day. So if Indiana Jones’s greatest obsession was the holy grail, my own obsession is the chalice of Padmasambhava’s mind. The process of tuning into Padmasambhava’s mind for me has been a bit of a journey. In some ways, it’s a little like slowly watching the plot of a TV show unfold throughout episodes. In other ways, it’s more like the Never Ending Story, where it’s impossible not to get entirely swept up into the story you’re reading. These days, I’ve found a series of Padmasambhava’s hidden treasure revelations that I can’t stop tuning into.
For me, this irresistible treasure is the cycle of teachings called the Khandro Nyingthig, along with its visionary sources and later inspirations. The Khandro Nyingthig can be translated as the Heart Essence of the Dakinis, or space travelers. It represents the innermost realizations of enlightened beings who have mastered an understanding of the universe. It was revealed by Pema Ledrel Tsal around the turn of the fourteenth century as he drank from the chalice of Padmasambhava’s mind. His next incarnation and main spiritual successor, Longchenpa Drime Özer (1308-1363), also drank deeply from this same grail, and composed the Khandro Yangthig, a series of instructions on how to practice and understand the Khandro Nyingthig.
The main emphasis of these cycles of instruction are the teachings of dzogchen, the great perfection. According to the doctrine of the great perfection, our minds and the universe are primordially pure and spontaneously complete. Due to temporary mental issues and confusion, we experience what might seem like an endless cycle of suffering, bad dramas, poor politics, annoying commercials, overly sappy romances, dissatisfying sitcoms, and occasional horror stories. However, when we finally begin to understand the true nature of reality as it is, we slowly gain access to the pure glorious worlds of selfless reality that have always been hidden within us, never actually corrupted by our temporary delusions.
There are two main practices in the Nyingthig or Heart Essence dzogchen traditions. First, there is tregchö, or cutting through. This refers to the practice of cutting through the our dualistic conceptual thoughts into the raw uncontrived primordially pure nature of reality. Through training in this way, we gradually learn to let go of all the conceptual patterns of mind that have us mistakenly grasp to an ego, leading to infinite varieties of afflictive emotions and resultant sufferings. The Vast Limitless Expanse: An Introduction to Cutting Through is a example of these instructions from the Khandro Nyingthig treasure cycle. Here is a link to a translation of it:
The next practice is called thögal, or direct crossing. This refers to the practice of directly crossing from our experience of deluded appearances into the innate pure visions of reality that are hidden within us. If all reality is a deluded dream, we might wonder why can’t we just wave the magic wands of our minds and clear away all the terrible experiences of suffering throughout the world. According to the Nyingthig teachings, we are generally bound by the strength of our habitual patterns that continuously grasp to appearances based on our dualistic vision of reality. After the time of death, between this life and the next life, there is an experience called the between state, or bardo, of reality. In this, as we are temporarily free from the strength of our habitual grasping, the pure visions of reality unfold. However, as we are generally unaccustomed to these, we do not recognize these as the non-dual expressions of our own minds, and we miss our opportunity to hop off the boat of dualistic delusions in the bardo. Thögal practice enables us to see these pure visions of reality even while we are still alive in this very lifetime. Through a series of techniques and with proper preparation and motivation, we can unweave the knots of the fabric of deluded perception and completely release our body, speech, and mind into the pure dimensions of reality. For a brief introduction to these practices, here is a link to some of Garchen Rinpoche’s instructions on dzogchen:
As a translator’s note: I think these practices and the accompanying explanations of reality are real. Based on my own experience, I truly believe that science (maybe in our lifetime?), when it looks deeply into the nature of our experiences of life and death, will find that reality is a complex dream of sorts. I also feel that the insights of these practices of tregchö, thögal, and those like them, are some of the most valuable insights humanity has ever had access to. Forget spaceships, pocket-sized cold-fusion reactors, holodecks, light sabers, and warp drives (actually if you really do have any of these things please email me right away…….). In all seriousness, to keep these practices alive, we need to respect that it is absolutely invaluable if not critically necessary to study and train in these practices with people that have gained true experiential understanding of them. On the other hand we shouldn’t just give up because such instruction is too difficult to obtain, easily understand, or gain quick results in practice.
Along these lines, I’ve decided to make the following translations from the Khandro Nyingthig available. In the future, I hope to publish more extensive complete anthologies of these translations from the Khandro Nyingthig, along with those of the Khandro Yangthig. However, in the meantime impermanence in our world is real. You also never know when you might accidently arouse the wrath of a demogorgon or balrog. As these fresh translations might be immediately useful for some of you, I invite you to tune into the Khandro Nyingthig hidden treasure channel with me and take a sip from the chalice of Padmasambhava’s mind.
First, the Khandro Nyingthig Dzogchen Tantras and Commentaries is a collection of sixteen different texts. Of these, first there are the six root Liberation by Wearing tantras of the Khandro Nyingthig: the Liberation by Wearing Essence Tantra, Knowing One Thing All is Liberated Tantra, Single Golden Syllable of the Quintessence Tantra, Seed of the Single Child Tantra, Self-Arisen Awareness Tantra, and Complete Great Perfection of the Fruition Tantra. Next, there is a series of six commentaries on each of the root tantras. The tantras are expressions of dzogchen instruction concerning the nature of reality that come from the primordial father and mother Buddhas, Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri. The commentaries go into detail about the subtle meanings contained and hidden in the pithy poetry of the root tantras. Next, there are the Three Last Testaments of the Buddhas, revealed directly to the first human dzogchen master, Garab Dorje. Last, there is the most lengthy text in this collection entitled the Essential Instructions on the Liberation by Wearing Tantras by Garab Dorje. In this he presents practical instructions on the entire dzogchen path from the preliminaries of khorde rushen, through tregchö and thögal. He weaves his instructions through quotes from the Liberation by Wearing Tantras, Three Last Testaments of the Buddhas, and other dzogchen tantras.
Here is a link to a translation of the Liberation by Wearing Essence Tantra and its commentary:
Second, the Luminous Mirror of Thögal Instructions is a collection of five of the main texts on dzogchen from the Khandro Nyingthig. First is the Heart Jewel of Essential Thögal Instructions. This is an outline of the entire path including the preliminaries, main practices, stages of fruition, and supporting instructions. Next, there are the Instructions of the Mirror that Illuminates the Essence. This is the longest text of the present collection and goes into further details about ground, path, and fruition. The theoretical background for the nature of the reality, how we become confused, how we become liberated, and so forth is emphasized in detail here. Third is the Garland of Supporting Instructive Quotes. This includes a choice collection of quotes from the eighteen upadesha dzogchen tantras that emphasize the most important key points and perspectives on dzogchen practice. Fourth is the Signs and Measures of the Khandro Nyingthig. This text helpfully explains what you are really looking to accomplish when you perform the preliminary practices including Khorde Rushen of body, speech, and mind, along with the signs and measures of accomplishing the main dzogchen practices. Fifth are the Pith Instructions Indicating the Key Points. This outlines a prescribed timetable to successfully master all the practices from the preliminaries through thögal, given in days, months, and years.
Third, the Heart Essence of the Great Mother is the single longest and complete treatise on dzogchen in the entire Khandro Nyingthig. The technical title of this text is the Root Supporting Instructions of the Great Heart Essence. Unlike many of the other texts in the Khandro Nyingthig, this particular set of instructions fully embraces the view of Samantabhadri’s Luminous Expanse Mother Tantra. From the opening “I prostrate to the self-luminous Samantabhadri,” to the final lines, which explain that those who practice as such will “become inseparable from the mother Samantabhadri and dakinis will accompany you like shadows,” this work clearly leads to the domains of the dakinis and the great primordial mother of the universe. These instructions have ten main topics:
- Nature of Reality Before either Samsara or Nirvana
- How that Becomes Confused
- How Buddhahood is Attained from that
- What Abides Where
- What Travels on the Path
- From What Gates and in What Fields Do Appearances Arise
- How to Practice
- How Practice Grows
- How the Fruition is Attained
- How it is Even Acceptable to Meet with Obstacles After Seeing This
Essentially, these are Padmasambhava’s deepest guidance on the nature of the universe woven through an understanding of the eighteen tantras, with a special emphasis on Samantabhadri’s Luminous Expanse Tantra. This is an opportunity to drink deeply from the chalice of the mind of the legendary master of the rainbow body of the great transfer himself.