11 Shared by Kyle Dixon
Jean-Luc Achard on the Role and Importance of Study and Conceptual Understanding in one’s Relationship with the Dzogchen Teachings
There is never enough reading. All the main masters of the past and recent times that one venerates from Longchenpa to Jigme Lingpa, from Dru Gyelwa to Kundrol Rinpoche, from Khyentse Wangpo to Shardza, from Khenpo Gangshar to Sakya Tridzin, from HH the Dalai Lama to Yongdzin Rinpoche (too many names to list), all of them have spent a gazillion sessions of their practice in formal study. I don't think this has caused them any obscurations. I don't buy a single minute the legends of brainless yogis reaching Rainbow Body as a paradigm to follow for westerners without a proper buddhist/bon complete education. The Dharma is one of the three Jewels, it does not cause obscurations. I would add to this that ignorance comes from not recognizing one's state but it is maintained, developed and intensified by the absence of study. It is only among lay people in the West that there is this fancy that one will reach anywhere on the path of Dharma while despising texts and teachings.
There are other forums where people are proud of their ignorance. I am not. I am ashamed of it when I compare it to the knowledge of my masters. I try every single day to spend my time 50/50 in between practice and study. Study never let me down. I can tell you, for having met people who reject study in the past 35 years, that not a single of them has a clue about what Rigpa is. You can spend a gazillion years on your cushion, if the correct understanding is not there, you simply waste your time. You never waste your time reading the teachings the masters so kindly composed for the past 2,000 years. So reading texts after texts is a correct way to chase ignorance away. I don't think anybody here claims to be a great vidyadhara. However, I have met countless people with a dramatically superficial "knowledge" of the teachings who claim to be advanced on the path and who actually ignore the stages of that path. Lopon [Tenzin Namdak] said this once:
"I prefer someone who has clearly understood the state of Dzogchen, even intellectually, as opposed to a brainless yogi able to stand upside-down on the tip of a grass with one single finger. I know which of the two can have a chance at recognizing the state in the Bardo."
Throwing the books [marginalizing study] is throwing one of the 3 Jewels in the river. This is a totally nihilistic approach which has nothing whatsoever to do with Dzogchen. When Shakyamuni was there, we were in a period associated with his Body (i.e. the Buddha was there physically), then he passed away and we were still more or less in a period associated with his Body through those who had met him personally and received his teachings. Then when these died, we entered a period associated with his Speech only, because that was all was left of him: his teachings transmitted as best as masters could do at the time. Then when things started to be written down, we entered a period associated with his Mind, i.e. a period where all that was left of him was what he had taught according to his realization and this was now in written form for us. We should consider ourselves as lucky to even have access to that because these are teachings of an enlightened being, not an ordinary one, not nihilism. And Shakyamuni’s basic message beside the 4 Noble Truths is: stay away from the two extremes, nihilism and eternalism. Enter the middle Path. Dzogchen is in perfect accord with this view.
Again, nobody said that what we read IS rigpa. This is stupid to even think of it. However, words are pointers, they are indicators of a deeper meaning and they have symbolic semantic fields which help understand a key-idea of Dzogchen in the proper terms of Dzogchen. And again, we were not, at least I was not, discussing how to enter Rigpa but what Rigpa is. Contrary to what you think, Rigpa can be enunciated in words. This is what all the Tantras of Dzogchen do. It is not because the state is beyond words and speech that speech and words cannot convey a deeper meaning at a subtler level than they are outwardly. Denying this is denying the function of the Sambhogakaya in us.
To make things clear for the forum — this may be my mistake because I haven't been very active on it in the past months: we believe in study and practice. We don't welcome opinions negating the value of study to promote a so-called practice which may be flawed because of a lack of understanding (resulting from an absence of study). This is in particular true with the dramatic proliferations that are affecting so many Nyingma students in the West about Rigpa. Understanding Rigpa is simpler than they think but these people are fantasizing about a magical state, etc. Rigpa is knowledge. It is not difficult to experience it.
This is important because, when one says Rigpa is beyond consciousness and thoughts, some people identify it with non-discursiveness. This is wrong: Rigpa can be with or without thoughts. But when it is with thoughts, these are only altruistic ones that one uses for the "activities of the wise" (mkhas pa'i bya ba), namely explanations, debates and compositions. Now, to enter these activities and take part in the Dharma, one needs the selfless knoweldge of the Buddha which is acquired through studies, otherwise one risks to spread one's own deluded "dharma" which will certainly be a cause to lower rebirths. This is where canonicity enters the game: it is very important if one intends to teach that the teachings are within the confines of canonicity. There have for instance been heterodox Dzogchen systems in the past in Tibet, propounded by unrealized masters such as the Dzogchen De'uma system. I think this is one of the main reasons so few westerners are actually authorized to teach from texts, but are rather authorized to discourse a little on Dzogchen, as introductory lectures.
Traditionally, Lamas would train you in both study and practice because they both enrich each other. Studies help you understand the subtleties of your mind, and practice helps you understand what’s written in texts by enlightened masters, an understanding which in turn helps you realizing what “occurs” or not in your contemplation, and so on endlessly.
If i have something personal to say here it would be to repeat (it has become my personal opinion since years, so i share this one as a treasure for me) what Lopon [Tenzin Namdak] Rinpoche told me:
"Study and practice. Practice and Study. You studies will clear out what you experience in practice. Your experience in practice will make you understand the teachings of the Buddhas that you read. Then what you read will totally clarify what you meditate on." It's the Wheel of Wisdom. All is there.