Dzogchen, The Missing Section

February 28th – March 3rd

After three days off for Losar, the Tibetan New Year, the Rinchen Terdzo resumed for the last of the three major sections of empowerments, the empowerments of dzogchen. Dzogchen or atiyoga, as the ultimate, final stage of empowerments and practice instructions in the Nyingma tradition is already quite famous in the west. There already many books about it, far more books than have been published about mahayoga and anuyoga. Besides being more simple and direct, the dzogchen instructions are popular in the west because the practices are not elaborate, there are not a lot of complex visualizations or yogic practices to do. They are said to be difficult practices to accomplish because the instructions are so subtle and direct, and the fruition, what we practice to achieve, cannot be put into words.

 The atiyoga section of the Rinchen Terdzo has eighty or ninety empowerments. Although there are a lot of general categories, three important subdivisions are the empowerments and special instructions coming from Vimalamitra, Padmasambhava and Vairocana. All three of these great masters hid termas to be discovered in later times, and there are still oral lineages of the transmissions from some of them coming from the time of Padmasambhava too The empowerments of these sections were given in groups according to the individual teachers, and after these came some empowerments combining the three masters’ traditions into one.

 Some of these empowerments happened during the time Patricia and I spent at the clinic, so I can’t say so much about them. It was sad for us to miss a few of the ultimate empowerments of the Rinchen Terdzo. Although not so much the case in modern times, dzogchen was originally taught in strict secrecy, so perhaps it’s all well and good that there’s not so much for me to say about dzogchen in this blog. Of the empowerments we did attend, there seemed to be a lot more descriptions of mind and meditation as opposed to the elaborate ritual displays that were more common in the earlier sections of the Rinchen Terdzo.

The Tibetan tradition puts importance on doing things in an astrologically auspicious way, so it was decided to end the Rinchen Terdzo on the 8th day of the New Year, the 4th of March. However, the dzogchen sections empowerments were not fully completed at that point, so some of the empowerments were held back to be given on the 5th and 6th. These empowerments were from the less commonly known dzogchen practices that people are less likely to do. They included such things as empowerments for retreats done in total darkness, and a cycle of empowerments from termas discovered by Ratna Lingpa.

 When we returned from the clinic on the third I had the chance to visit with the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo. They were in very good spirits, and both were very concerned about how Patricia had been doing. Patricia and I received so many good wishes, prayers and gifts from friends and teachers, that Patricia later joked it was worth getting sick for. On the night of the third, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche gave us the protection cords he’d received during the days of dzogchen empowerments when we had been gone.

 A couple of points came up in conversation with Their Majesties that night which caught my attention. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche said that people in the Tibetan community had been coming to thank him for requesting His Eminence to give the Rinchen Terdzo. People said they had no idea of the breadth of teachings and empowerments His Eminence carried. In many ways I am not surprised by this because I have found Namkha Drimed Rinpoche to be incredibly humble and quiet about his activities. I’d thought this was the case only with the western students, but learned otherwise.

 The second interesting point in the evening’s conversation came when Khandro Tseyang explained that it had never before happened that people who had not finished ngondro were asked to leave the shrine room during empowerments from His Eminence. Up until the Rinchen Terdzo, the empowerments His Eminence has given to the general community have tended to be short and he’s made no distinctions about who could stay. During the Rinchen Terdzo, many of the empowerments for the protectors were to be given only to people who’d completed ngondro.

 Khandro Tseyang said that a number of lay people in the community had received ngondro but never completed it. Aside from members of the Ripa family and tantric practitioners wearing robes, there were less lay Tibetans than westerners at the closed empowerments. Khandro Tseyang said that the situation had inspired people to get back to finishing their ngondro. I think this must have been in part inspired by the number of westerners remaining in the room. This situation reminded me of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s remarks that eventually people from the west would be returning to Asia to teach the dharma. 

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