The Highest Teaching: Self or Emptiness? By Pham D. Luan (KKT)

Whether ultimate reality is fullness of the Self or Emptiness has always been a fascinating problem. It had been for long a debate between Buddhists and Advaitins, and among Buddhists themselves (Yogacara with the Mind-Only theory and Madhyamika with the Shunyata or Emptiness theory).

Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an (Chinese Zen) but sometimes is regarded as the real father of this tradition, in his famous Platform Sutra said that “seeing one’s own original nature is enlightenment.” His view was condemned by other Buddhists as heretic because orthodox Buddhism believed in (absolute) No-Self. His Platform Sutra was burned after his death.

I like to present another interesting view of Dzogchen which arrives to conciliate the two apparently opposite conceptions: Self and Emptiness.

As Harsha has stated in an e-mail message:

“My experience is that the Self as Sat-Chit-Ananda is Both the Fullness of Consciousness and the Total Emptiness from which all things originate. The two notions appear different only from the perspective of the mind which by nature is caught up in diversity. In the Knowledge of the Self, You are the Self. You are the Perceiver and the Perception and yet there is Absolutely Nothing to Perceive. You are the Emptiness from which you are born. If we go behind the feeling/awareness of the I AM, we can intuitively sense this. Holding on to this intuitive sense of Emptiness which can be seen/felt in the Present Beingness/Nowness and merging with it is a natural path for some.”

I would say that in the following explanation, I use much information from the book “The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen” by Namkhai Norbu.

The main objective of Dzogchen (The Great Perfection) is to point out for us to recognize our PRIMORDIAL STATE or NATURAL STATE. This Primordial State is complete and perfected by itself from the very beginning. Therefore, there is nothing to achieve, to arrive, to become, to “do” or even to transform (as in the Tantric Path) or to renounce (as in the Sutric Path, i.e. Hinayana and Mahayana).

This Primordial State has 3 aspects:

(1) Essence, (2) Nature, (3) Energy

For a better understanding of those 3 aspects, Dzogchen uses the example of a mirror as a comparison to this Primordial State.

The mirror is always pure, clear, limpid. This voidness or emptiness of the mirror is also the voidness or emptiness of the mind. One could recognize this voidness easily, for example, if one looks into one’s own mind, any thought that arises can be seen to be void in the three times, past, present, and future. That is to say, if one looks for a place from which the thought came, one finds nothing; if one looks for a place where the thought stays, one find nothing; and if one looks for a place where the thought goes, one finds nothing: voidness. This voidness or emptiness is the ESSENCE of the Primordial State. This voidness is not some sort of ‘thing’, or ‘place’, but rather that all phenomena, whether mental events, or apparently ‘external’ actual objects, no matter how solid they may seem, are in fact essentially void, impermanent, only temporarily existing, and all ‘things’ can be seen to be made up of other things, in turn made up of other things, and so on.

Yet, even the mirror is void, reflections continue to arise in it, just as all phenomena – whether as mental events or as actual experienced objects – continue to manifest in the mind. Things continue to exist, thoughts continue to arise, just as reflections continue to arise in a mirror, even though they are void. This capacity to reflect is the NATURE of the Primordial State. And the mind does not enter into judgment, it simply reflects in the same way the mirror does.

How phenomena manifest is as ENERGY. This Energy is compared to the reflections that arise in a mirror.

So we have the 3 aspects: Emptiness (ESSENCE), Awareness (NATURE), and Fullness (ENERGY) all together.

Don’t forget that Dzogchen which exists only in the Bon tradition (ancient Tibetan religion prior to the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet) and in the “old” Nyingma school, was often comdemned by the 3 “new” schools as heretic :-).

Note: Tibetan Buddhism has 4 main schools: Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelugpa (HH Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelugpa). In the Nyingma tradition, Dzogchen is considered as the highest teaching of Tibetan Buddhism (and of all other religious traditions because Dzogchen as a universal truth is not confined only to Buddhism). Please don’t feel offence, just an opinion 🙂

Following is a very beautiful song:

The Song of the Vajra

Unborn, yet continuing without interruption, neither coming nor going, omnipresent,

Supreme Dharma, unchangeable space, without definition, spontaneously self-liberating

– perfectly unobstructed state – existing from the very beginning, self-created, without location, with nothing negative to reject, and nothing positive to accept, infinite expansion, penetrating everywhere, immense, and without limits, without ties, with nothing even to dissolve, or to be liberated from

present beyond space and time, existing from the beginning, immense ‘yin’ (*), inner space, radiant through clarity like the sun and the moon, self-perfected,

indestructible like a Vajra, stable as a mountain, pure as a lotus, strong as a lion, incomparable pleasure beyond all limits, illumination, equanimity, peak of the Dharma, light of the universe, perfect from the beginning.

(*) Tibetan Yin, Sanskrit Dhatu dimension.

May all sentient beings recognize their Primordial State

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