Also see: The Disease of Non-Conceptuality
Nicely explained 👍
Khenpo: This debate is very old. A few centuries ago, some writers said that but now it’s over. Those who did not understand the exact view of Dzogchen used to say that. But according to Ha Shang, their view is that if you want to meditate, don’t think anything. Just keep your mind free from all thoughts, just keep it quiet. That is the perfect meditation. Then we can understand the perfect nature. But Dzogchen is not like that. It is the same as Madhyamika. (NB: And it has many skillful means ).
Ratnashree: So Dzogchen is not just being aware without thoughts or remaining in thoughtless non conceptual pure awareness but you have to know the nature?
Khenpo: Yes. Yes! It is not just that.
Ratnashre: Even in India, today we have many schools who say just remaining without thoughts, choice-less awareness, just awareness ( chidghana), pure awareness by itself ( chinmatra) etc. as the correct view. Many Western people think this is the same as
Dzogchen. Do you agree?
Khenpo: Unless you have understood the nature of mind, just remaining thoughtless or choice less awareness is not Dzogchen. Remaining in the nature of mind is Dzogchen, not just remaining in thoughtless non conceptual awareness.
(NB: The Hindu Vedantic practice as advocated by perhaps the most respected and accepted Sri Sankaracharya (788 CE - 820 CE) instructs that the only way to enlightenment is to remain in the non dual, non conceptual awareness that is the watcher/witness/ knower ( advaita nirvikalpa drasta) which is one’s true identity ( Atman) and the only reality while everything else is an illusion. ‘ Brahman satyam jagan mithya’, i.e., Brahman the non dual and non conceptual awareness is the real truth while the Samsara is an illusion. This view was not created by Sri Sankaracharya around the 8 th century but already existed clearly in the Brihadaranyak Upanishad which is dated to be anytime from 800BC to 1200BC. In the Brihadaranyak Upanishad it says very clearly ‘Eko drastadvaito bhavati’ meaning ‘it is the one non dual awareness’ (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV, 3. 32). Dolpopa’s( 1292 - 1361) Shentongview appears to be ditto with slight modifications of this Vedantic view as his main thesis is that thoughts are not Mahamudra, that Samsara is not Nirvana and that Samsara is an illusion which does not exist and is therefore empty. But the ultimate non dual awareness exists and is therefore not empty and can never be one with Samsara and by implication thoughts can never be Mahamudra as the Karma Kagyupa teaching says.
This view makes the whole of Buddhist Tantra which is the way of transformation impossible since Samsara, and by implication thoughts, the five aggregates, the 12 faculty gates and the sixteen constituents ( skandhadhatvayatanani) can never be transformed into the primordial wisdom or the five Buddhas. This view makes all of Buddhist Tantra irrelevant as Samsara which can never be indivisible with Nirvana because one is empty of real existence ( nisvabhava) and the other is not empty and really exists ( sat); can never be transformed into primordial wisdom and thoughts can never become Mahamudra.
This Hindu Vedantic type of thesis of Dolpopa contradicts the root Tantras like the Hevajra Root Tantra which says, ‘precisely this is known as Samsara, and precisely this is Nirvana itself. After rejecting Samsara, Nirvana will not be realized elsewhere.’ The two part Hevajra Tantra 2.4.38 states ‘ami Dharmas tu nirvanammohat samsararupina,’ meaning all these Dharmas ( Samsara) are Nirvana but because of delusion they appear as Samsara. Dolpopa’s view also contradicts the teachings of the Aryas (enlightened ones) of Jambudvipa like Arya Nagarjuna who says in his Magnum Opus the Mulamadhyamaka Karika, chapter 25, Nirvana Parikshya (examination of nirvana verses 19-20) ‘there is no special distinction of Samsara from Nirvana and there is no special distinction of Nirvana from Samsara. There is not the slightest difference between Nirvana and Samsara.’ Also, ‘you do not accept a Nirvana where Samsara has been rejected.’ In the Dharmadhatu Stava, it is said that ‘total transformation is explained as dharmakaya,’ therefore the question arises, what is totally transformed in the Shentong thesis of Dolpopa. If Samsara which is unreal cannot be transformed into Nirvana that is “really existing”, there is nothing to transform but only to realize the ever separate ultimate wisdom like the Hindu Brahman.
This is exactly the view of Sri Sankaracharya. It must also be clarified that these concepts were not taken by Sri Sankaracharya from the Mahasiddhas as some misinformed Buddhists would like to believe, but already existed in the Chandogya Upanishad and Brihadaryanaka Upanishad, dated from 800BC to 1200 BC by Ranade based on linguistic and ideological development and even earlier by some. These texts mention very clearly that Dwitiyam Nasti meaning there is no second but only this Brahman/Atman. And this is the Non dual Awareness/‘Eko drastadvaito bhavati’. All else is an illusion. Sankaracharya based himself on these Upanishads most of which were older than the Buddha himself and definitely did not learn these view from Buddhist Mahasiddhas, as some Western Shentongpas try to push forth.}
Ratnashree: So remaining only in the awareness, thoughtless, choiceless without knowing the nature of mind is the Ha Shangview?
Khenpo: Yes! That is what Kamalashila refuted about the Ha Shang. Kamalshila said that remaining in such a blank, thoughtless awareness is ignorance ( moha). You have to discriminate or distinguish the nature of mind, nature of phenomena.
(NB: This is exactly what Sakya Pandita meant when he refuted what he called hinese Dzogchen and said that due to cultivating this Moha/Ignorance predominated awareness state , it can become a means to be born either as a Naga or in the Formless Realm/Arupa Dhatu, which is something that every bodhisattva tries to avoid.This is avoided in modern Zen through Koans/Kung ans/ Kong answhich is a unique form of Vipashyana/Lhag thong within the Zen school. Even the Soto school which seems to lean towards remaining quietly in a thoughtless non conceptual mind does have what the founder of Japanese Soto School, Dogen Zenji (1200 - 1253), calls Genjo Koans or everyday Koans)
Ratnashree: So it is not enough to be just thoughtless, non conceptual?
Khenpo: No, being non conceptual, thoughtless is not enough. Even a small child is also concept free; Samadhi (one pointed absorption related to samatha) is also concept less, the unconscious state is also thoughtless, non conceptual, a piece of stone is also concept-less/thoughtless. That’s not the correct Dzogchen view. In Dzogchen teaching, the teacher asks the student where is the mind etc, and you should search, the same as in Madhyamika. There is no difference.
(NB: In Zen too the Master asks “show me your mind “and one has to “show” one’s mind to the Master after intensive searching and one is corrected if one is wrong in a typical Zen style)
Ratnashree: The main difference here is there must be Vipashayana. Without Lhagtong ( Vipashayana) togme (concept-less/non conceptual) is not enough?
Khenpo: Yes, that is not enough.
(NB: according to the Abhidharmic classification there are two types of avikalpa/tog me (non conceptual state), they are the anashrava avikalpa that is the non conceptual state free from the outflows or defilements and sashrava avikalpa, that is the non conceptual state withflows or defilements . Many people are hopelessly confused by the word “non conceptual” assuming that just being “non-conceptual” is enough. The Abhidharmika teachings make it clear that one cannot jump from defiled conceptual knowledge directly to undefiled non conceptual knowledge but rather one has to move from defiled conceptual knowledge to undefiled conceptual knowledge and from there to undefiled non-conceptual knowledge. The metaphor used is that a larva cannot fly directly but must first transform itself into a butterfly before it can fly into the sky of undefiled non conceptual knowledge. Vajragarbha the lord of the tenth bhumi in his commentery on the Hevajra Tantra called the Satasahasrika Hevajratika 1.51 says very clearly that in the beginning we go by using concepts to conceptual emptiness and finally to the non conceptual emptiness of all the Buddhist ‘adau vikalpadheto savikalpam sunyata phalam bhavet.ante cha sarva Bauddhanam akalpata sunyata phalam. ’There are many kinds of non conceptual states and experiences and they are not the same simply because they are non conceptual experiences. We can have a non conceptual experience of a sour lemon’s taste and also of a sugar candy. Simply because they are both direct non conceptual experiences they do not become the same. In the same way the non conceptual experience of the Brahman is definitely not the same as the non conceptual experience of Emptiness nor do they produce the same results.)