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Dzogchen or Dzogpachenpo (Skt. Mahāsaṅdhi or Atiyoga; Tib. རྫོགས་པ་ཆེན་པོ་, Wyl. rdzogs pa chen po) is a practice lineage within Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan Bön tradition that emphasizes directly recognizing the true nature of the mind.

The term dzogchen is commonly translated as the ‘Great Perfection’ or ‘Great Completeness’. Within Tibetan Buddhism, Dzogchen is a central teaching of the Nyingma school, but it is also practiced within other schools of Tibetan Buddhism. According to Dzogchen literature, Dzogchen is the highest and most definitive path to enlightenment.[1]

From the perspective of Dzogchen, the ultimate nature of all sentient beings is said to be pure, all-encompassing, primordial clarity. This intrinsic clarity has no form of its own and yet is capable of perceiving, experiencing, reflecting, or expressing all form. It does so without being affected by those forms in any ultimate, permanent way. The analogy given by Dzogchen masters is that one's nature is like a mirror which reflects with complete openness but is not affected by the reflections, or like a crystal ball that takes on the colour of the material on which it is placed without itself being changed. The awareness that ensues from recognizing this mirror-like clarity is referred to as rigpa.[2]


The word Dzogchen has been translated variously as Great Perfection, Great Completeness, Total Completeness, and Super Completeness.

The Tibetan term dzogchen is sometimes said to be a rendering of the Sanskrit term mahāsandhi,[3] and is also used to render the Sanskrit term ati yoga (primordial yoga).[4]

A homonymous term dzogchen designates a practice and also a body of teachings aimed at helping an individual to recognize the Dzogchen state, to become sure about it, and to develop the capacity to maintain the state continually.

In his work on Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso's Beacon of Certainty: Illuminating the View of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, John Pettit clarifies the various usages and implications of the term Dzogchen that are often conflated:

"Great Perfection" variously indicates the texts (āgama, lung) and oral instructions (upadeśa, man ngag) that indicate the nature of enlightened wisdom (rdzogs chen gyi gzhung dang man ngag), the verbal conventions of those texts (rdzogs chen gyi chos skad), the yogis who meditate according to those texts and instructions (rdzogs chen gyi rnal 'byor pa), a famous monastery where the Great Perfection was practiced by monks and yogis (rdzogs chen dgon sde), and the philosophical system (siddhānta, grub mtha') or vision (darśana, lta ba) of the Great Perfection.[5]

Three categories of Dzogchen texts

The core texts of the Dzogchen tradition are a set of tantras that are traditionally divided into three categories:[6]

  1. Semdé (Wylie: sems sde; Skt: cittavarga), the "Mind series"; this category contains the earliest (proto) Dzogchen teachings.[7] Tradition attributes them to Padmasmabhava and his consorts, and dates them to the 8th century,[8] but they first appeared in the 9th century, written by Tibetans;[9]
  2. Longdé (Wylie: klong sde; Skt: abhyantaravarga), the series of Space; this series reflects the developments of the 11th-14th centuries, when new Buddhist techniques and doctrines were introduced into Tibet;[10]
  3. Mengakdé (Wylie: man ngag sde, Skt: upadeshavarga), the series of secret Oral Instructions, also known as Seminal Heart or Nyingthik (snying thig), also reflects the developments of the 11th-14th centuries. This division focuses on two aspects of practice: kadag trekchö, "the cutting through of primordial purity", and lhündrub tögal, "the direct crossing of spontaneous presence".[11]

Dzogchen in the Nyingma tradition

The Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism indentifies nine successive stages of the path known as the nine yanas or nine vehicles.[12][13]

Dzogchen, or Atiyoga, is identified as the ninth and highest yana in this system.

The 14th Dalai Lama states:

In the early translation school of the Nyingma, a system of nine yanas is taught. Three of these--the paths of the sravaka, pratyekabuddha and bodhisattva--constitute the sutra tradition, while the tantric tradition consists of six levels--the three outer tantras and the three inner tantras. The tradition of Dzogchen, or Atiyoga, is considered to be the pinnacle of these nine yanas.[14]

Patrul Rinpoche states:

Just as it is impossible for a king to travel without the aid of his courtiers, in the same way the key points of all the yanas serve as steps and supports for the Dzogchen path.[15]

Dzogchen and Mahamudra

Dzogchen is often compared with the Mahamudra practice of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. There is a general consensus among lamas of both the Nyingma and Sarma schools that the end state of Dzogchen and Mahamudra are the same.[16] Essence Mahamudra is viewed as being the same as Dzogchen, except the former doesn't include thödgal.[17]

Dzogchen and Madhyamaka

The Madhyamaka teachings on emptiness are fundamental to and thoroughly compatible with Dzogchen practices.[18]

View of Madhyamaka

The Dzogchen tradition of Tibet shares the view of Madhyamaka. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu explains:

...Madhyamaka explains with the four "beyond concepts," which are that something neither exists, nor does not exist, nor both exists and does not exist, nor is beyond both existing and not existing together. These are the four possibilities. What remains? Nothing. Although we are working only in an intellectual way, this can be considered the ultimate conclusion in Madhyamaka. As an analytical method, this is also correct for Dzogchen. Nagarjuna's reasoning is supreme.[19]

Indivisibility of appearance and emptiness

In Dzogchen tradition, the concept of dependent origination is considered to be complementary to the concept of emptiness. Specifically, this tradition emphasizes the indivisibility of appearance and emptiness—also known as the relative and absolute aspects of reality.[20] In this context:

  • Appearance (relative truth) refers to the concept that all appearances are dependently originated
  • Emptiness (absolute or ultimate truth) refers to the concept that the ‘’nature” of all phenomena is emptiness—lacking inherent existence.

In Mipham Rinpoche’s Beacon of Certainty, this relationship is explained using the metaphor of the reflection of the moon in water.[20] According to this metaphor:[20]

  • The nature of all phenomena is like the reflection of the moon in water—completely lacking inherent existence. However,
  • The appearance of the moon in the water is an expression of dependent origination—this appearance is completely dependent upon causes and conditions.

Anyen Rinpoche explains the significance of this understanding for a Dzogchen practitioner:[21]

We gain personal experience through meditation practice and becoming accustomed to naturally seeing appearance and emptiness in union. If we develop confidence in the nature of dependent arising, this will greatly support our personal experience of actual meditation. We could say that it is through our understanding of dependent arising that appearance and emptiness become equal.

Dzogchen teachers emphasize the dangers of misunderstanding the relationship between appearance (relative truth) and emptiness (absolute truth). Misunderstanding this relationship can lead one to disregard the importance of relative truth--thus disregarding the karmic consequences of our ordinary, relative actions and behavior.

The Dzogchen master Patrul Rinpoche writes:

Do not use the Dharma language of the highest views to scorn the principle of [karma]. The Great Master of Oddiyana said:

Great King, in this Secret Mantrayana of mine, the view is the most important thing. However, do not let your action slip in the direction of the view. This will cause you to fall into the evil views of demons, prattling on about how "goodness is empty" and "evil is empty". But also do not let your view slip in the direction of action, or you will be caught in materialism and ideology...
That is why my view is higher than the sky, but my attention to my actions and their results is finer than flour.[22]


  1. Keown, Damien. (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism, p. 82. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860560-9.
  2. Namdak, Tenzin. Bonpo Dzogchen Teachings. Vajra Publications 2006, page 97.
  3. Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection by the [14th] Dalai Lama, Snow Lion, 2004. ISBN 1-55939-219-3. pg 208
  4. Keown, Damien. (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism, p. 24. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860560-9.
  5. Pettit, John Whitney (1999). Mipham's beacon of certainty: illuminating the view of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection. Somerville, MA, USA: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-157-2 (alk. paper) p.4
  6. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Dzogchen
  7. Schaik 2004a.
  8. Germano 2005, p. 2545.
  9. Germano 2005, p. 2546.
  10. Buswell & Lopez 2014.
  11. Schmidt, Marcia Binder (Ed.) (2002). The Dzogchen Primer: Embracing The Spiritual Path According To The Great Perfection. London, Great Britain: Shambhala Publications, Inc. ISBN 1-57062-829-7 pg. 38)
  12. LotsawaHouse-tag.png A Brief Presentation of the Nine Yanas
  13. Tulku Thondop 1999, p. 16.
  14. Dalai Lama 2000, p. 47.
  15. Dalai Lama 2000, p. 87.
  16. Reginald Ray, Secret of the Vajra World. Shambhala 2001, page 304.
  17. Reginald Ray, Secret of the Vajra World. Shambhala 2001, page 303.
  18. B. Alan Wallace, Genuine Happiness. John Wiley and Sons, 2005, page 203.
  19. Namkhai Norbu, Chögyal (2006). Dzogchen Teachings. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion. ISBN 1-55939-243-6, p.55
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Anyen Rinpoche 2012, pp. 58-59.
  21. Anyen Rinpoche 2012, p. 133.
  22. Patrul Rinpoche 1998, p. 129.


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