Buddhism A–Z
What is Dzogchen in Buddhism?

Dzogchen, “Great Perfection” or “Great Completion,” is a spiritual tradition and meditative practice that is at the pinnacle of the teachings of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. It is also found, to a lesser degree, in the other Tibetan Buddhist schools and in the indigenous Bon religion.

Dzogchen teaches that our essential nature is always pure and free from limitations. It is sometimes described as our “buddhanature” or “primordial state.” Unlike other forms of Vajrayana Buddhism that rely on complex rituals and methods, Dzogchen emphasizes a simple, direct approach to achieving spiritual awakening. Practitioners are introduced to their true nature, beyond ordinary thoughts and beliefs, by a qualified teacher, or guru. The guru offers a “direct introduction” to this state. 

Dzogchen’s core practice is the direct recognition of the mind’s primordially perfect nature, emphasizing the immediate availability of enlightenment here and now. Since this practice is extremely profound and subtle, however, the guidance of a realized master is crucial for genuine understanding and realization to occur.

Dzogchen practice involves two main approaches: trekcho (cutting through tension) and togal (crossing over), which help individuals identify and sustain their innate awareness. Through specific meditation techniques, practitioners may have visionary experiences, such as seeing light or symbols, which can deepen their understanding of their true nature. A unique aspect of Dzogchen is sky-gazing meditation, which involves gazing at the sky or specific images to enhance spiritual insight. 

Dzogchen encourages integrating the insights gained through practice into daily life, fostering a natural and continuous connection with one’s true nature. The tradition offers a direct and uncluttered path to realizing one’s inherent wisdom and achieving spiritual liberation, focusing on the simplicity of being and direct experience of the ultimate truth.

Dzogchen requires extensive study and practice, including preliminary and tantric methods, and the guidance of a qualified master. Proficiency in the tradition hinges on building merit and awareness through various practices and maintaining strong connections with a spiritual teacher.

Principal Dzogchen Teachers and Texts

The foundational texts of this tradition are known as the Seventeen Tantras, along with “heart essence” (Tib. nyingthig) collections composed by the great masters Vimalamitra and Padmasambhava, which were concealed as “treasures” (Tib. terma) to be discovered in later times. In the fourteenth century, the great Longchen Rabjam (Longchenpa) systematized the Dzogchen teachings in the Seven Treasuries and other texts.

In the nineteenth century, the leaders of the non-sectarian Ri-me movement, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul, and the treasure-revealer Chokgyur Lingpa, were Dzogchen masters.
Prominent modern-day teachers within this lineage include Dilgo Khyentze Rinpoche (1910-1991), author of Primordial Purity et al; Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (1920-1996), author of Rainbow Painting, et al; Thinley Norbu (1931-2011), author of White Sail, et al; and Rabjam Rinpoche (1966-present), author of The Great Medicine That Conquers Clinging to the Notion of Reality, among dozens of other teachers.

Related Reading

Recognizing Clarity: A Dzogchen Meditation

Dzogchen master Tsoknyi Rinpoche shares a meditation to encourage clarity of mind.

Comparing Mahamudra and Dzogchen

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (1920–1996) on the differences between Mahamudra and Dzogchen—and the relationship between them.

Dzogchen Explained

Roger Jackson reviews "Heart of the Great Perfection: Dudjom Lingpa’s Visions of the Great Perfection," Vol. 1 by B. Alan Wallace.

Dzogchen and Mahamudra, Two Great Paths

Dzogchen and Mahamudra, the Great Perfection and the Great Seal, are powerful meditative systems for revealing the nature of mind.

Holistic or Radical Dzogchen?

Three books on Dzogchen reviewed by Sam van Schaik from Summer 2010.

Buddhism A–Z

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