What would you ask a dzogchen master?

I have the rare opportunity of having a Tibetan dzogchen master visit, teach, and meditate with Westerners here in my city. He has studied and practiced in Tibetan Buddhist universities for years, and is teaching on Buddhist history and meditation.

Visiting a Tibetan temple is interesting, it’s very colorful, and there are many many paintings and statues. I had to ask where Śākyamuni was; his statue was one of the smaller ones and kind of off to the side. :confused: Also, there have been a few references made to the “hīnayāna” (“garbage vehicle”) which made me kind of cringe. At the same time it is clear that the core of the theory and practice is firmly based in the early suttas, and some of the “additional” theory and practice is actually quite beautiful and practical/effective, to me at least.

So, what would you ask a dzogchen master?

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Oh? I’d like to see why you think so.

Dzogchen is Tantra, and thus - it seems to me - utterly non-Buddhist (nevermind the use of the word as a blanket term covering Mahayana et al; I’m talking about historical Dhamma). Its texts aren’t related to the early Suttas in any substantive way, and Dzogchen texts do in fact consider the historical Dhamma to be weak, partial, and incomplete – a skillful means for those who don’t know the Truly True Truth.

How their day was going.

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I would ask him: “What is the question worth being asked?”


Hi SCMatt,

Have you read Ajahn Amaro’s book, Small Boat, Great Mountain?

Ajahn Amaro reflects on the teachings of The Natural Great Perfection from the Dzogchen teachings and compares it with those familiar in the Pāli Canon and in the Thai Forest Tradition.

Perhaps you’ve read it already (I’m afraid I haven’t), but it seems like the obvious thing to read to figure out what questions are worth asking.


:slight_smile: Just click on the three dots next to Reply at the bottom of your post. Some more options than appear and one of them is a bin.

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Thanks @mikenz66 for pointing out this little gem of a book containing refreshing lectures against an all too narrow sectarian perspective on the Dhamma. It is worthwile to consider reading it.:relieved:


thank you so much!


Yes, obviously the Tibetan traditions include the tantras influenced by Tantric Śaivism. However, they consider themselves Buddhists, albeit Tantric Buddhists, where they use the tantras as a lens. I see this as not unlike the majority of Buddhism practiced in Theravāda countries, there the lens is the Pāḷi abhidhamma and commentaries (with some local folklore sprinkled on, not unlike the various demons/deities taking up the Tibetan pantheon).

I asked this Rinpoche about the view of the 4NT’s in “tantrayana”, and he said all Buddhists hold that as the core, it’s just that in dzogchen there is a more subtle view (this is different than saying a superior view). I’m not sure if I agree with that, but at least it’s no denial of the 4NT’s.

As an example for consideration that I’ve been reflecting on; I asked the Rinpoche what we can do outside of formal sitting meditation to improve our meditation and he replied “to perceive the world as a dream, and to develop compassion”. Now, perceiving the world as a dream is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the EBT’s as far as I know, but is this a useful practice? Could it even be aligned with dhamma? I’m still experimenting with this, but I would like to relate it to the dhammas of sense restraint, renunciation/letting-go (nekkhamma), and non-grasping. I can see how this one perception could lead to those more specific dhammas. Of course, this must be balanced with compassion. Why compassion, why not mettā? Well, I’m not really sure to be honest, but I can speculate that perhaps karuṇā is more central to the dhamma overall. One of my favorite quotes synoptical of the BuddhaDhamma is “Formerly…and also now, I make known just suffering and the cessation of suffering” SN22.86. The wish for freedom from suffering, for self and others, is compassion.

Not exactly, but see SN 22.95, for example.

“Suppose, bhikkhus, that a magician or a magician’s apprentice would display a magical illusion at a crossroads. A man with good sight would inspect it, ponder it, and carefully investigate it, and it would appear to him to be void, hollow, insubstantial. For what substance could there be in a magical illusion? So too, bhikkhus, whatever kind of consciousness there is, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near: a bhikkhu inspects it, ponders it, and carefully investigates it, and it would appear to him to be void, hollow, insubstantial. For what substance could there be in consciousness?

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I remember seeing some lines in the Chinese Dhammapada that reminded me of that famous stanza from the Diamond Sūtra:

All conditioned phenomena
Are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow,
Like dew or a flash of lightning;
Thus we shall perceive them.
-Diamond Sūtra Section 26


He who knows worldly phenomena as earthenware,
Illusory, and coming abruptly into existence;
Will break the blooming of Māra’s flowers,
And see no more the lord of death.

He who sees the body to be like foam,
And all phenomena to be illusory in nature
Will break the blooming of Māra’s flowers,
And see no more the lord of death.
-Chinese Dhammapada (section 12, stanzas 3 and 4)

I have been inspired too much by non-ebt to look down on them. I prefer the purity of core-ebt, but there is no doubt in my mind that people of high development can be found in many traditions and that they can inspire us to look at our sometimes-too-familiar-formulas with fresh eyes.

We sometimes find images of bubbles, e.g. in SN 22.95 where the khandhas are describes as ‘void, hollow, insubstantial’. So why are we so offended when some teachers speak about the world as a dream? we don’t have that issue with sunnata or anicca for example. I’d like to see the teacher who is in favour of killing etc. because it wouldn’t matter, because life was a dream. Usually teachers stress a high standard of ethics at the same time, e.g. here, compassion.

What would I ask him?

  1. Anything to get him talk and get inspired by a perspective I don’t know
  2. The eternal questions of the meditator: how to develop samadhi? and - how to realize the wisdom that we intellectually know but somehow can’t live as a reality?


Somehow the answer/quote function went awry​:upside_down_face:. Your answer is meant for @daverupa but the quotation from his post is attributed to me.:thinking: