‘Form is emptiness and emptiness is form’. Our previous discussion explored this fundamental principle – but how can we begin to approach an existential understanding of this? Openness is essential. Openness enables us to awaken opportunities to enter the experience in which form and emptiness are undivided. Openness allows us to let go of referentiality. As Ngak’chang Rinpoche says,
We release the tendency of referring everything we experience back to ourselves as the central headquarters of individuated omnipresence.
Dharma provides a limitless array of methods and opportunities to open our view. The Lama unlocks the door to these methods and opportunities and represents an unbiased mirror to our experience. We cannot manipulate, distort, or control the Lama. The mirror of the Lama’s view reflects as it is. We can see these reflections if we decide to look with open-hearted simplicity.
Ngak’chang Rinpoche says on this point,
The Lama is reflective because the Lama knows the non-dual state. If the Lama knows the non-dual state then he or she knows the student. The Lama does not have to be acquainted with the history of students to know exactly who they are, because who they are, is evident – both as non-dual display and the display of their dualistic distortions. The vital factor is that the Lama sees the non-dual nature of the student sparkling through their neuroses and this makes their neuroses wonderfully workable.
The Sutrayana practitioner cultivates the view that everything is inherently empty as a preliminary approach to the principle of form and emptiness being undivided. Vajrayana practitioners base their practice in the experience of emptiness, and discover that form and emptiness are undivided through engagement with the energy of empty-form. The Dzogchen view is that each moment is primordially as it is, in its non-dual display of emptiness and form.
Nyingma practitioners who prioritise Dzogchen refer to Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen rather than Sutrayana and Vajrayana, because from the Dzogchen perspective there are the three yanas which accord with the three kayas. Sutra originates with Nirmanakaya1 – the sphere of realised manifestation; Tantra originates with Sambhogakaya2 – the sphere of realised appearances; and Dzogchen originates with Dharmakaya3 – the sphere of unconditioned potentiality.
Those who prioritise Dzogchen, practise Sutric and Tantric methods as a means to return to the base of Dzogchen, and invite the possibility of Dzogchen view. From the perspective of Dzogchen, all methods are available as constituents of the toolbox of practice. Dzogchen practitioners understand that all teaching can be understood from Dzogchen view.
The aim of this book is to present ‘The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to Practice’ from the perspective of Vajrayana with reference to Dzogchen view, so it is important to say something in more detail about Dzogchen view.
As the path of spontaneity, the methods of Dzogchen are fantastically subtle. The opportunity to embrace experience from the Dzogchen perspective is ever-present. However those who have received Dzogchen teaching recognise that they are not always at the base of Dzogchen view. The base of this view is non-duality – the experience of the non-duality of emptiness and form in the moment. To be ever-present at this base, would mean that we are also both fully engaged with the path, and realising the fruit of the practice in the moment. This is realisation and we must acknowledge that we are not always present in the base, path, and fruit of Dzogchen. Hence practitioners of lineages based in Dzogchen also practice Tantra and Sutra. From the perspective of Dzogchen, Tantra and Sutra are not seen as lesser vehicles – it is a question of pragmatics and being genuine about the view one is able to live at any moment in time. The most efficacious practice is always that which enables one to return to openness, and to the possibility of the direct experience of the non-duality of emptiness and form.
One method we can employ is an examination of the three spheres of being. It is useful to look at the three spheres, as an expression of the way in which we exist. We can tease apart recognisable aspects of ourselves in order to understand how we can engage with these aspects in practice.
The three spheres of being are chö-ku, long-ku and trül-ku, which can also be referred to as emptiness, energy and form, or mind, speech and body.
The vast empty potential of mind—Sky Mind—is not conditioned by any limitation of form. Form can arise in any manner, but it does not colour Sky Mind in any permanent or definitive way. This is chö-ku.
Energetic form manifests intangibly. In Sky Mind there is movement of thought, emotion, sensation, ideation; and this movement has the nature of energy. This sphere is communicative and encompasses speech and visualisation, sound and light. This is long-ku.
We can become aware of the sphere of tangible form through contact with the sense fields. In this sphere of being we touch, hear, taste, see, and smell. This is the sphere which communicates at the level of body. This is trül-ku4.
Realisation and transformation can be actively cultivated in all three spheres. The spheres of being are in fact all spontaneously present and inseparable, as aspects of what we are, but we talk about them individually to facilitate understanding. When we talk of the three spheres as a unified experience they are called ngo-wo-nyid ku or dorje ku5. View and practice encompass engagement in all three spheres of being so that we can discover the experience of ngo-wo ku. View is the core of practice.
1. Nirmanakaya (Sanskrit): trül-ku (sPrul sKu) (Tibetan)
2. Sambhogakaya (Sanskrit): long-ku (longs sKu) (Tibetan)
3. Dharmakaya (Sanskrit): chö-ku (chos sKu) (Tibetan)
4. Trül-ku is a word which may be familiar as applied to particular individuals. In this sense it refers to an individual recognised as having demonstrated the ability to guide the movement of their disembodied consciousness during the process of death towards a particular new incarnation, and to retain awareness of their previous incarnation.
5. ngo-wo-nyid ku (ngo bo nyid sKu) (Tibetan): svabhavikakaya (Sanskrit); rDorje ku (rDo rJe sKu) (Tibetan), vajrakaya (Sanskrit). Ngo-wo-nyid ku or dorje ku are referred to using the contracted form ‘ngo-wo ku’ in this text.