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Primordial State

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Chogyal Namkhai Norbu

In the Dzogchen teachings the primordial state of the base
is not defined only as being void, but is explained as having
three aspects or characteristics, called the "three primordial
wisdoms": essence, nature, and energy.

The essence is the void, the real condition of the individual
and of all phenomena. This base is the condition of all individuals,
whether they are aware of it or not, whether they
are enlightened or in transmigration. It is said to be "pure
from the beginning" (ka dag), because, like space, it is free of
all impediments, and is the basis of all the manifestations in

The manifestation of the primordial state in all its aspects,
its "clarity," on the other hand, is called the nature. It is said
to be "self-perfected" (lhun grub), because it exists spontaneously
from the beginning, like the sun which shines in
space. Clarity is the pure quality of all thought and of all
perceived phenomena, uncontaminated by mental judgment.
For example, when we see a flower, we first perceive
its image without the mind entering into judgment, even if
this phase of perception only lasts for a fraction of a second.
Then, in a second phase, mental judgment enters into the
situation and one categorizes the perception, thinking,
"That's a flower, it's red, it has a specific scent, and so on."
Developing from this, attachment and aversion, acceptance
and rejection all arise, with the consequent creation of karma and transmigration. Clarity is the phase in which perception
is vivid and present, but the mind has not yet entered
into action. It is the spontaneous manifestation of the
individual's state. The same is true for thoughts: if we don't
follow them, and don't become caught up in mental judgment,
they too are part of our natural clarity.

The third of the three primordial wisdoms is energy. Its
characteristic is that it manifests without interruption.4 The
explanation of energy in Dzogchen is fundamental to understanding
the base. All dimensions, whether pure or impure,
material or subtle, are manifestations of one aspect or
another of energy. To explain how both transmigration and
enlightenment originate, three ways in which energy manifests
are described. These three modes of energy are called
"tsel" (rtsal), "rolba" (rol ba) , and "dang" (gdangs), names
that cannot be translated into Western languages.

To understand the manifestation of energy as tsel, we can
take the example of what happens when a crystal ball is
placed near a window. The crystal is pure and transparent,
but when rays of light strike it, they refract into coloured
lights all around the room. These lights are not inherent to
the crystal itself, but manifest when the appropriate secondary
cause is present, in this case the sun's rays. The crystal
ball symbolizes the primordial state of the individual, which
consists of essence, nature, and energy. The coloured rays
which spread in the room are an example of the natural
manifestation of energy, appearing in relation to the individual
as an object. In the moment of the manifestation of
the energy of the primordial state, if one recognizes it as a
projection of one's own original qualities, one realizes oneself
in the dimension of pure vision. If the opposite happens
and one perceives the rays and colours as being external
to oneself, one manifests impure vision. Thus the cause
of both visions, samsara and nirvana, is the same: the manifestation
of the light of the primordial state.

As an example of rolba, we should imagine that instead
of the colours reflecting externally to the crystal, this time
they reflect inside it, not appearing outside the crystal but
within its own surfaces. In the same way, the energy of the
primordial state can manifest within its own dimension
"subjectively" in relation to the individual. This happens,
for example, in the bardo, the intermediate state between
death and rebirth, when the hundred peaceful and wrathful
divinities appear. They are not external to the individual,
but are the manifestations of his or her natural, self-perfected
qualities. The appearance of these divinities, however, only
arises for those who have, in their lifetime, received transmission
from a master, and applied the method of transformation
specific to the peaceful and wrathful divinities. For
an ordinary being there arises only the manifestation of
"sounds, rays, and lights," which may last only for an instant,
and most often are a cause of alarm.5 For this reason,
great importance is given in tantrism to knowledge of the
mode of energy of rolba, which is the basis of all the various
methods of transformation.
To understand dang we should think of the crystal itself,
and of its pure and transparent form. If we put a crystal ball
at the centre of a coloured mandala and walk around it, the
crystal will by turns appear to assume the colours of the
cardinal points of the mandala at which we successively
arrive, while at the same time remaining, in itself, pure and
transparent. This is an example of the inherent condition of
energy itself as it really is, in any kind of manifestation whatsoever.
Sometimes instead of dang the term "gyen" (rgyan)
is used, meaning "ornament," because in the state of contemplation
all manifestations of energy are "perceived" as
ornaments of the primordial state.

When the introduction has been given by the master, the
essence, nature, and energy are called the "three bodies of
the base." They correspond, in the path, to three aspects or characteristic conditions of the nature of the mind: the calm
state (gnas pa), movement ('gyu ba) and presence (rig pa) .
The calm state i s the condition o f the mind i n which no
thoughts arise. An example of this is the space that exists
between the disappearing of one thought and the arising of
another, a space that is usually imperceptible. The movement
is the manifestation of thoughts, without interruption.
An example is given in which the state without thoughts is
said to be like a calm lake, and the arising of thoughts to be
like the movement of fish in the lake. These two factors are
common to all beings. Presence,6 on the other hand, is as if
asleep in us, and it takes a master to awaken it through transmission.
Presence is the pure recognition without judgment,
of either the calm state or the movement. These three are
called the "three bodies of the path."

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