You Are the Great Perfection

Rest in your true nature without effort or distraction — Mingyur Rinpoche teaches the renowned practice of Dzogchen.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
3 February 2020
Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann.

You are already perfect. You are already a buddha. In fact, there’s no difference between your true nature, right now as you sit reading this, and the true nature of the buddha, or any enlightened being for that matter.

That’s the view of Dzogchen, a Tibetan word that means “Great Perfection.” Dzogchen is treasured above all other practices in the Nyingma school of Vajrayana Buddhism because it helps us connect directly with our own enlightened nature.

This Great Perfection is you right now, right here in this moment, not some fully developed you after you do a lot more meditation.

Your essence, and the essence of every living creature, is pure, whole, and complete. There’s nothing missing, and that’s why we call it the Great Perfection. YOU are the Great Perfection. Don’t forget that. Dzogchen is talking about you. This Great Perfection is you right now, right here in this moment, not some fully developed you after you do a lot more meditation.

In Dzogchen, we call this enlightened nature rigpa, or pure awareness. Unlike some approaches in which buddhanature is taught in a more theoretical way, and you need to study and meditate for a long time to figure out what it is, Dzogchen is experiential. You get introduced to pure awareness directly, right on the spot.

A traditional way to describe Dzogchen is in terms of the ground, the path, and the fruition.

The Great Perfection is our true nature, whether we realize it or not. That’s the ground of Dzogchen. It’s the reality of our experience and who we are.

But that doesn’t help if we don’t experience it for ourselves. The way to do that is by having this pure awareness introduced to us, and then getting familiar with it until it becomes stable and enduring. That process is the path.

Then, once we’re familiar with our own true nature, once we’ve realized it fully and integrated it into every aspect of our lives, we will fully manifest the enlightened qualities that were there all along. That’s the fruition.

The Ground of Dzogchen

It might be a little unclear what this “true nature” really is, so let me explain a bit more about the ground.

When we use all these fancy terms like “buddhanature” and “pure awareness,” what are we actually talking about? Well, there are three main qualities to look for here. We refer to these as the “empty essence,” “luminous nature,” and “all-pervasive compassion.” That’s the ground, your true nature.

“Empty essence” means that the true nature of mind, the essence of pure awareness, transcends all our ideas, concepts, and beliefs. It is utterly beyond all our suffering and problems. It is completely free. The term for this is “innate purity”—the essence of who we are was, is, and always will be perfect. It’s completely pure, and nothing can change that.

This empty essence is ungraspable, beyond our ordinary way of seeing things, but it’s not nothing. There is also a luminous, knowing presence. This is what we call the “luminous nature.” Sometimes it’s called “self-clarity,” because this clarity is spontaneous and natural. It’s just there, all the time. Even when we’re asleep, distracted, or completely neurotic. It’s there.

The empty essence and clear nature are one and the same. They’re inseparable. This inseparability is the third quality of the ground, which we call “all-pervasive compassion.” This open, spacious clarity manifests as all our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, just like the sun radiates light. These experiences, in fact all of our experiences, are none other than the manifestations or play of pure awareness.

The Path of Dzogchen

But what good does just knowing this do us? Not much. That’s why we need a path. We need to translate this from nice words and ideas to an actual experience.

The Dzogchen path is really quite simple. That’s not to say it’s easy, but it is simple.

The only thing we need to do is to recognize this pure inner nature. We need to experience it for ourselves. That’s it. If we want to make it a little more complicated, we could say that first we need to have pure awareness introduced to us, and then we become familiar with it.

So, how does that happen?

This is where a teacher becomes important. There’s a lot going on in our minds. We have all sorts of memories and reactions, emotions and expectations. In short, we have monkey mind.

Seeing the subtle quality of empty clarity in the midst of all this mental activity isn’t easy. If it were, we would have recognized rigpa a long time ago! But a skilled teacher who has recognized pure awareness in him or herself, and who holds an authentic lineage, can point it out to us. They can help us find our way through all the complexities of the mind to see this simple, ever present reality.

You might think that because you are already perfect, because this awakened nature is fully present as the very nature of your mind, then you don’t need to meditate or practice. Nothing could be further from the truth. The trick is how you practice. You still need to meditate, but meditate effortlessly. You still need to practice, but practice naturalness.

Rather than practicing with the notion that there’s some level to achieve beyond where you are right now, the main practice is learning to trust that this original purity is always present, especially when it feels like it isn’t. Every step you take on the path should reinforce your trust that pure awareness is right here, right now. Until your recognition is unshakeable, you still need to do formal practice.

The Fruition of Dzogchen

As I said, the core of the path is simply recognizing the nature of mind and coming back to that recognition again and again, until it’s as familiar as an old friend. If you do that, there will come a time when you’ve experienced this pure awareness so thoroughly and completely that you never lose touch with it. When you’re meditating, you’re meditating in pure awareness. When you’re eating, you’re eating in pure awareness. Even when you’re sleeping, you’re still resting in the recognition of pure awareness.

That’s what we call “full realization,” the fruition of the path. At this point, all the qualities of the ground, your true enlightened nature, become manifest. These were there all along, but because you didn’t know they were, it was almost as though they didn’t exist. But now you know them. You know them thoroughly and completely. Perfect wisdom, boundless compassion, the spontaneous capacity to benefit others—all of these manifest.

This fruition is simply the full expression of your true nature. It’s as though you go out and travel the whole world, looking and searching high and low for some peace of mind. But in the end, you come home and realize that everything you were looking for was right where you started. That’s the Great Perfection.

Practice: Dzogchen

The trickiest part of Dzogchen practice is that it is not something we can do. The whole point is that we are learning to recognize what is already there, while our “doing” impulse is based on the assumption that who and what we are in the present moment needs improvement. So how do we put this into practice?

Dzogchen meditation involves three important qualities: effortlessness, presence, and naturalness. In traditional terms, these three are called non-meditation, non-distraction, and non-fabrication.

To connect with effortlessness, we shift from a mode of “doing” to one of “being.” We let go of the impulse to fiddle with the knobs of experience and give ourselves permission to simply be. We rest in effortless awareness.

But while we rest in effortless awareness, we are not lost or distracted. We are fully present, alert and aware. This presence is the second quality. It’s not something we need to make happen. It’s already here, with us all the time. When we drop the effort and simply rest, we’re giving ourselves the opportunity to recognize the open clarity of awareness, to be this open clarity.

Nothing can diminish this effortless awareness. All our thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and impulses arise from this knowing presence, and dissolve back into it. For this reason, we do not need to create any special state of mind to experience the mind’s innate purity. We don’t need to block our thoughts and emotions or control the movements of our attention. Just be as you are.

This is the third quality—naturalness. We let everything unfold without trying to correct, alter, or improve anything.

As we grow more comfortable with resting in awareness, these qualities of effortlessness, presence, and naturalness will emerge, and we will slowly come to see that this spacious awareness is who we truly are.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is a meditation master in the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the guiding teacher of the Tergar Meditation Community, a global network of meditation groups and centers. His books include Turning Confusion into Clarity and In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying .