Thinking and dhyāna / jhāna in Dzogchen tradition of Tantra

Continuing the discussion from Intellectual dishonesty:

That is interesting, could you cite a source and provide a quote? I don’t know why you consider that an eccentric belief. It’s perfectly in line with an ockhams razor straightforward reading of EBT first jhana passages. It’s incongruent with VRJ and Ajahn Brahm’s redefinition of jhana practice, but why should that be your reference point of comparison when B. Thanissaro, B. Gunaratana, Ajahn Lee, are arguably as popular and influential and they follow a simple EBT reading of first jhana?

In the sarvastivada Agama parallel to SN 36.11, I don’t know if you recall but you may have even participated in that thread where I worked with a translation of it,

(while in jhāna, thinking, then emerging)

爾時,尊者阿難獨一靜處 At that time, Venerable Ānanda was alone in a solitary place,
禪(jhāna) 思(contemplation),念言: contemplating in dhyāna, and thinking,

I won’t be able to give you much about their beliefs, aside from that up there. They think the mind is usually abiding in first jhāna. Just being “calm” is shamatha, in such a setting, generally speaking.

It isn’t the same as the Gelugpa position on a subtle V&V up to the fourth dhyāna, but is similar.

You’re better to ask at DharmaWheel.

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I’ll find the quote in a second. It’s one of the various things Loppon Malcolm has said of Dzogchen (his tantric tradition) on DW.

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So, it turns out, I can’t. Malcolm seems to be saying the opposite as of late, that first dhyāna is almost impossible to attain in this day or age. I could have sworn I read something (it really stuck out, that’s why I remembered it, or so I thought) to the effect of “most people are in first dhyāna most of the time” (hence me calling the view eccentric). But I can’t find it anymore. It should be noted that in the thread “ChNN on presence” he argues the opposite, that primary dhyānic attainment is common. This is likely all contextual.

You can find some links to Dzogchen discourse surrounding the dhyānāni here:āna

I’m doing to put up more links in a second.

EDIT: here is the one I talked about but didn’t link to: ChNN on presence - Dharma Wheel


Here is the problem with comparing Tantric dhyānabhāvanā with Bodhisattva or Śrāvaka dhyānabhāvanā.śamatha#p325182

Tantrikāḥ distinguish between a sūtrayāna catvari dhyānāni & and mantrayāna catvari dhyānāni, which have different rules, different uses of terminology, and different interpretations, depending on the person and the Tantra they practice. Dzogchen first dhyāna isn’t necessarily Mahāmudra first dhyāna, and neither of those necessarily correspond to how the Buddha taught the dhyānāni in either śrāvaka or bodhisattvayāna.

The Dzogchen view clearly uses terminology from sūtrāṇi, but the way they interpret that terminology IMO is unacceptable to a sūtrayānika (non-Tantrist) such as myself.


I’m not sure about Loppon Malcom, but I know that Alan Wallace (he is Gelug trained and Nyingma-Dzogchen trained) has a similar view that “achieving samatha” (read: first jhana) takes a long time to reach (months in retreat) and is very difficult to get to (which basically is approximate to the Buddhaghosa view on Jhana, in fact he has read Vism and references Buddhaghosa in his talks). I’ pretty sure he’s of the opinion that vitakka is not thinking.

In fact this is the common view of the dhyanas in the Tibetan tradition, which all base themselves ultimately on the views of Asanga and Vasubandhu and the Sarvastivada texts like the Sravakabhumi, which teach the nine stages of samatha.

So basically the Tibetan tradition is mostly in agreement with Theravada Abhidharma on the difficulty and “depth” of jhana (ie, no thinking, no sound, no movement of the mind at all).


This appears to be Loppon Malcolm’s view as well. It was I who had a (false?) memory of reading something from him. I could have read it somewhere else.

The problem is the fusion of the path and its completion, if we want to identify a greater area of disparity.

I thought becoming a bhodhisattva and attaining nibbana in this life required practices that are different from each other

One of the problems with Vajrayana is there doesn’t seem to key texts that are definitive, authoritative that all the different sects agree on. Mahamudra and Dzoghen are different sects, but famous practitioners have said they’re supposed to be roughly equivalent practices that are explained differently. And you have gurus within the same sect teaching the same things differently, different words.

You could point to Allan Wallace or some number of famous people that say some particular vajrayana dhyana is equiavlent to Vism. first jhana, but I’ve seen others that describe something much like EBT jhana.

That’s why I’d like to see some definite quotes and sources.

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I do not understand how to reconcile the idea that " the mind at rest generally already abides in the first dhyāna naturally" with the Pali vinaya, which makes it an offense entailing expulsion to claim falsely that one had reached this state.

If it’s everyone’s default state, then it’s never a lie to say that one has attained it. On this view, all you’d need to do is close your eyes and relax… and everyone’s done that.

I don’t mean to accuse anyone of interpreting wrongly. I just don’t understand how this can be so. I can’t escape the implication that two different things are being referenced under the same name.

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Dzogchen doesn’t actually teach that. Or at least, if I read it, I can’t figure out where it would have been. Best to treat it as a misremembrance of mine.

Abhisamayalamkara, or a similar classification of tenet-systems text would likely be where to go. That is were, for instance, one gets things worked out, such as correspondences between the 10 bodhisattva stages and the four people of the path, and other correspondences, etc. Of course this is all Medieval literature.

Vajvayāna/Tantra is full of tenet classification literature, likely because of the above, namely, a need for it.

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I don’t know Sanskrit, but I looked into the translation of the Abhidharmasamuccaya that’s available and vitarka is translated as “reasoning” and sometimes “distraction”. The Boin Webb says:

« [51] What is reasoning (vitarkd)? It is mental debating
(manojalpa) which seeks, deriving from volition (cetana) or intellect
(prajiia), and it is mental coarseness (cittasyaiidarikata).
« [52] What is deliberation (vicara)? It is mental debating
which reflects (pratyaveksaka), deriving from volition (cetana)
and intellect (prajna), and it is mental subtlety (cittasya
suksmata). The function of both consists of supplying a basis to
states of ease or uneasiness (sparsasparsavihara).

It’s weird because this view is more in line with the “soft jhana” view of some folks, yet the Tibetan tradition seems to have moved into a more “deep jhana” view ala Vism. Perhaps it is the influence of other texts such as the Sravakabhumi or Mahavibhasa?

AFAIK Sautrantika texts like Tattvasiddhi (成實論, Chengshilun) also have a similar view that vitarka is more of a coarse thinking as well.

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Not really unless one is doing tantra (or pure land practices).

The difference is in the motivation, bodhicitta.

Well, this is kind of true with most religions, not everyone agrees on everything no? Anyways, the main issue is really that the four dhyanas are just not very important in Tibetan Buddhism, and are not often talked about much.

In Theravāda there’s this concept that there’s only one Sammasambuddha at a given time. Is it possible to have many, under Tantric teaching?

Arahants aren’t reborn so ‘bodhisatva arahanths’ don’t go all the way to become a Buddha if they pass away?

From my time at Dharma Wheel, I’ve learned that some if not most Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions conceive arahants as “waking up” after they attain parinibbana to continue the bodhisattva path.

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This narrative is from the Lotus Sūtra.

Inquiry: in the Arhat’s past lives the causes and conditions for being subject to embodiment necessarily ought to have been eradicated, in light of this they dwell where to perfect buddhahood?

Response: when attaining arhatship, the three realms’ myriad outflows’ causes and conditions are exhausted, there is no more birth again in the three realms. There is a pure buddha land, beyond the three realms, where not even the word affliction has a name, in this kingdom of the Buddha, they hear the Dharma Flower Sūtra [i.e. the Lotus Sūtra], with this they perfect Buddhahood. As in the Dharma Flower Sūtra’s words: “There are arhantaḥ, for example, who’ve not heard the Dharma Flower Sūtra,themselves they call ‘ones who have attained cessation’; I in another realm for them speak this matter, that you all shall become samyaksaṁbuddhāḥ.”

(Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa T1509.714a9)


Yes, even in non-tantric Mahayana sutras, like Avatamsaka, there a countless Buddhas in countless universes all interpenetrating each other and they are seen as accessible through meditation or dreams etc.

Arahants aren’t reborn so ‘bodhisatva arahanths’ don’t go all the way to become a Buddha if they pass away?

A bodhisattva in Mahayana rejects the path of the arahant, which is seen as a dead end. They seek a different kind of nirvana than the arahant, unlike in early Buddhism and in Theravada, there are two types of nibbana: a “dead end” type which is considered inferior and selfish, and “apratistha” (unestablished, non-static) nibbana. It is a kind of nibbana that supposedly allows a Buddha to remain teaching in samsara (as well as other superpowers). It is quite a novel development which was invented in Yogacara, but already has roots in the lokuttara views of some Mahasamghika schools and later Mahayana (who believed the Buddha did not really die and continued to exist somehow).

Basically nibbana is Mahayana is a totally different beast than nibbana in EBT and Classical Theravada. It’s basically like becoming a god.


Parinirvāṇa, let alone nirvāṇa, in Mahāyāna IMHO is the most confusing thing I’ve ever heard tried to be explained.

IMO there is no consensus in the Mahāyāna as to if such a thing as “parinirvāṇa” even exists.

I can quote plenty of contradicting scripture on this.

But, to be fair, they get to start at level 8. That’s pretty OP.
Levity aside, this can be a very patronizing attitude. Don’t worry, though, if it’s any consolation, Mahāyānikāḥ get shade just as hard from Mantrayānikāḥ as they give said shade to Śrāvakāḥ in their scriptures. It’s a terrible game of mutual shade.

The Mantrayānika critique is somewhat along the lines of a critique that perhaps a follower of the EBTs might lodge as a note of complaint: “your path takes ‘three innumerable kalpāni’ to complete”.

First of all, you gotta love the phrasing of “three innumerable X”. It finds its roots in texts like the Daśabhūmikasūtra (itself contained in the massive Buddhāvataṃsaka vaipulya), which lay out the Mahāyāna path as a great precipice of mostly post-mortem development in increasingly refined dhyānic bodies.

It reminds me of Egyptian religion, a little bit. All of this preparation for things to do after death, essentially. The Egyptians used to invest a lot of energy into amulets and spellbooks that would aid in their ability to embark on their post-mortem quests, not to mention the spiritual beliefs surrounding mummification itself.

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