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(The notes below are from A. H. Almaas’s overview of this lecture.)

This lecture is not me teaching Dzogchen. Even though I have studied it and practiced it some, and know experientially its realization, I am not a teacher of Dzogchen. 

I wanted to give some observations of how Dzogchen got to be practiced in the West, and how it is similar or different from how it was done in Tibet. My intention is to help those interested in it or practicing it in understanding how it can work effectively, as it had done for the great masters of Tibet.  

And I am going to use the source instructions for Dzogchen, what are called Garab Dorje three essential points or statements. They are actually a very clear instruction of how this path works, and the main stages of practice and realization.  

I remember going to a talk by Norbu Rinpoche when he first came to the US. It was in San Francisco, and he was basically indicating that Dzogchen in Tibet is taught as the last of nine vehicles of the Nymapa lineage, the most ancient in Tibet which was started by Padmasamphava. In that talk and later in his teachings, he was spearheading teaching Dzogchen in the West in a different way. He believed that since Dzogchen is about pure awareness not related to culture or ritual, it can be taught directly in the West without having to go through the lower yanas or having to do the preliminary practices, the Ngodro. And in his teaching, he kept talking about how there are three levels of students: those with lower intelligence those with average intelligence and those with great intelligence. And that Dzogchen is for those with great intelligence.  

This was emphasized not only by Norbu but also by the other lamas who were coming to the West and giving transmissions or weekends or longer retreats. This is actually part of the tradition of Dzogchen. So many of the intellectuals in the West who felt they were intelligent got interested and followed this teaching in the last quarter of the twentieth century. From what I have observed, since I knew many of the individuals who followed Dzogchen teachings, many got the transmission, called Direct Introduction in Dzogchen, and went to retreats. However, it is rare to find one who really learnt it to the point of realization.  

In other words, I see that the way Norbu introduced the teaching, which became the main way Dzogchen is taught in the West, did not work as well as he expected. He actually recognized that himself at some point, for many years later he decided that his students should do the Ngondro, the preliminary practices that included things like countless prostrations. That was standard in Tibet.  

I have some observations and comments about why this approach did not work as well, and how one can practice this teaching in a way that can work the way it did in Tibet. And to do this I will use Garab Dorje three essential points, which all practitioners of Dzogchen know.  


1. DIRECT INTRODUCTION to the primordial state is transmitted straight away by the master to the disciple. The master always remains in the primordial state, and the presence of the state communicates itself to the disciple in whatever situation or activity they may share. 
enters into non-dual contemplation and, experiencing the primordial state, NO LONGER REMAINS IN ANY DOUBT as to what it is. 
of non-dual contemplation, the primordial state, bringing contemplation into every action, until that which is every individual’s true condition from the beginning (the Dharmakaya), but which remains obscured by dualistic vision, is made real, or realized. One continues right up to Total Realization

17 thoughts on “DZOGCHEN IN THE WEST”

  1. How do I become in a personal and independent experience and now allow the ego to come in? I have a propensity to create meaning and unsure if this is a function of ego.

    1. Hi Sherry,
      It is not an easy thing to have a totally independent experience of yourself. Especially if it is an aloneness that is even independent from your own mind.

      It requires a great deal of practice, meditation and contemplation. And most likely, requires the guidance of a good teacher.

      the main thing is to be able to experience presence on your own, and recognize it that it is your own presence, that it is the presence of your own awareness.

      This is the meaning of the second essential point of Garab Dorje. And I discussed in the lecture that it is not easy to get to this 2nd point. First you need the first point, which is to experience presence by being in the presence of a teacher who can transmit it.

      I hope this is helpful feedback or you

  2. Hello and thank you for this valuable lecture.
    You wrote: “I have some observations and comments about why this approach did not work as well, and how one can practice this teaching in a way that can work the way it did in Tibet.”
    But what I understood from your lecture was that this simply does not seem possible given the Western way of life, the lack of support for the practice here, and perhaps the level of attainment of teachers in the West.

    Did I understand your view correctly?

    1. Hi Sue,
      Yes, you understood me correctly, but not completely. I did not mean that it is not possible to practice Dzogchen in the West. It is being practiced by many. And there are qualified teachers who teach it. They are not in the caliber of the great teachers like Dudjom Rinpoche. But some of them are able to give the transmission.

      My point is that you need to prepare yourself if you are following Dzogchen. Ask your teacher for supporting practices that develop your consciousness so that you will have the capacity to receive the transmission.. And then learn the meditations that Dzogchen gives and practice them assiduously to be able to get to the second essential point, of independent realization and certainty.

      I agree with you it is more difficult to do in the present situation, especially that we do not have the support to practice the way the Tibetan Lamas did in Tibet.

      But you don’t need to become like the great masters. You simply need to recognize the presence of awareness and stabilize in it. With a good Dzogchen teacher and dedicated practice, I think this is possible.

  3. Hi Hameed,

    I didn’t get the chance to ask this question during today’s talk but wanted to leave it here. I remember reading a book on Dzogchen a few years ago and being struck by many Dzogchen masters having their physical body shrink and disappear at death during the attainment of the “rainbow body.” Apparently, some exceptional practitioners can attain this state even prior to death.

    I’ve never heard of this state in any other tradition. Do you have any experience of this state in our school or any other traditions that you’ve studied?

    Much love,

    1. Hi Jared,
      Experiencing the body of light is known by other traditions. The body turning to light at death seems to be the specialty of Dzogchen. But it requires a great deal of practice of some of the very advanced meditation techniques, especially what is called Togal.

      So it is not simply depth or breadth of realization. It requires the practice of specific meditation techniques, that Dzogchen has as part of its methodology.

      There were reports of masters turning their body to light and hence not dying. These stories exist in both east and west.

  4. Thank you for the lecture Hameed. I was wondering if you would comment on any connection and similarity between the third point of Garab Dorje’s Dzogchen “The Disciple Continues in the State…” and the practice of Taoism,

    1. Hello Tracy,
      I don’t know Taoist teachings as well as Dzogchen. But I know that Taoism does teach nondual realization.

      I think you will find similarity in Taosm to all the three essential points of Garab Dorje, not only the third one. The direct introduction or transmission is not seen by Taoism to be as important as Dzogchen sees it . But they do have transmission, like many of the other traditions. .

      1. Thanks Hameed,
        I often wonder about the influence of Taoism on all the religious and spiritual thinking and practices that came during and after Taoist teachings. I am a bit of a student of “The Way of Life according to Lao Tzu” and find the thinking, experiencing and practice very helpful to my work as I journey along the Diamond Path.

  5. Hi, Hameed.

    In your lecture you sated that the level of realisation once attained by representatives of the Dzogchen tradition was greater or more advanced than it is in the present time. Could you specify what you mean by this? I wonder if you are aware of or have any comment on the work of Daniel. P. Brown? In recent years he has translated a body of traditional teachings (including Pith Instructions) from the Dzogchen and Bon traditions. Although his reason for translating these texts seems to be concern for them dying out, it does seem there is some life and attainment in his lineage.


    1. Hello Levi,
      Thank goodness there is some life left in this tradition. it is such a beautiful. and deep teaching.

      I have never thought there is no life in it at all. I am saying it seems it is in a process of decline. So there are teachers and students, but the situation and supports are not as good as they used to be. So there will be Dzogchen, but for the near future it does not seem it will produce great teachers like the ones I had known in the last century.

      There are many involved in translating and preserving the Dzogchen texts. And Vajrayana teachings in general. Dudjen Rimpoche dedicated his life in this function of preserving The Nyingma teachings, by finding the sources and writing many volumes of teachings.
      This is mostly because the Tibetans lost Tibet where they had their spiritual infra structure that they built for centuries.

  6. Hi Hameed, I have a question.
    After your talk I listened to Dudjom Rinpoche. There is something on youtube. It was like I could feel his Presence, I felt a strong transmission. Is this possible although he already died?
    Thank you for your answer, Rosalia, EU-4

    1. Hi Rosalia,
      It is great that there are some video recordings of some of the great masters. I know few for Dudjom Rinpoche, and some for the 16th Karmapa.

      They do contain their transmission, for ones who have the capacity to receive it.

      It is possible to receive a transmission from a video. Even from books written by realized masters.

  7. Hi Hameed,

    It strikes me as interesting that Dzogchen is referred to as “the heart essence”. I understand it can be simply read as a figure of speech of course: the pinnacle of the Vajrayāna tradition.

    Experiences of emptiness, the true nature of the mind, and the direct introduction of Rigpa, seem to be head centred.

    Yet I wonder about the importance of the student-teacher relationship in Dzogchen and how, if at all, the heart center is involved in the direct introduction.

    It appears to me that the meeting of fully open and empty hearts is an important part of the direct introduction too. And how this meeting of minds and hearts, also creates a particular relationship between the student and teacher, even if (in contrast with Tibetan tradition) they do not see each other ever again after that.

    I’m curious what your thoughts are on these various points..
    With gratitude and deep appreciation for this series,

    1. Good questions, Lysan,
      In some of the Tibetan teachings the expression “heart essence” is used. I don’t think the point is that it is the essence of the heart. It is more like the Sufi expression “Kernel of the kernel.” It is an attempt at referring to the depth or essence of the essence.

      The way Dzogchen is taught does sound to be head centered. And I think it is mostly head centered, the way we understand this term.

      But I know. that some students and Masters had. a deep heart connection. I think the heart is important in Vajrayana in general, but mostly seen as compassion. But I do know that there is frequently deep love between teacher and student. I am sure this makes the relationship much more fruitful.

      I think the Tibetan or Dzogchen teachers won’t disagree with you that both hearts and minds are important in the receptivity and expression of the teaching. The tradition does not conceptualize consciousness as heart mind and body, as some of the Western teachings do. But there is some of that in the literature. In Buddhism in general they use the word mind to mean the total consciousness. So there is not much emphasis on the distinction between mind and heart.

  8. Hi Hameed.
    Thank you very much for your series of talks.
    I’m curious if there are references to experiences of what the Buddha in the Pali canon called “cessation of perception and feeling” within the Dzogchen teachings…. In my limited exposure to Dzogchen there seems to be a lot of references to the luminosity and clarity aspects of experience but little mention of experiences of cessation… to the “darkness so far above light” in the words of Christian mystic Pseudo-Dionysius.
    Could this be a limitation of the teachings and what are the implications of such an limitation? Many thanks.

  9. Dear Hameed,

    thank you for the Dzogchen lecture.

    Being a close student of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche for 30 years (now, 3 years after the passing of Rinpoche, Rinpoches Dzogchen Community is quite alive and has around 10.000 members around the world. The Santi Maha Sangha study program is a core of Rinpoches teaching for engaged students and deepens mainly understanding and experience of Dzogchen Semde, Longde and Upadesha practises since 30 years).

    I´m studying Longchenpas writings and the Kunyed Gyalpo. As a psychotherapist, I became also interested in your rich books and teaching. There is a deep knowledge of Dzogchen scriptures shining through (f.e. same symbols like in Dzogchen, the Vajra, the crystal, the diamond and a similar language for the description of the non-dual states and true nature).

    Often I´m reflecting about the personal essence of true nature. Superficially it seems that in Dzogchen the personal does not appear at all, and the non-dual view is the only important. But – isn´t the total integration of the human body into the essence of the elements and the realization of the rainbowbody, one main realization in Dzogchen, something absolutely personal?

    In the ancient texts a personal quality of true nature appears rarely, but it does. It seems like an hidden aspect. Or a manifestation which opens up just naturally more and more, depending the depth of practise. In ancient times Dzogchen practitioners were people who lived far from the world, in a cave or as hermits, unkown – so, probably, in these conditions personal essence opens up spontanously.

    Hameed, here is one essential question. Amongst others you developed deep knowledge and integration of the personal essence in the inner realization process – something mankind need (specially in the Western world).

    Dzogchen realization is complete. Like the Vajra. Nothing is missing. Realization is an ongoing process, self-arising wisdom in Dzogchen is endless as the appearences are, states of realization countless until total self-liberation and freedom.

    If I understood right, you said, in your teaching there are „other“ realizations possible … which are not „included“ in Dzogchen…. ? Which are these and – why is it necessary to make this difference/separation?

    Following the great Master Longchenpa the Dzogchen view encloses all realizations, whatever arises…

    If all is perfect as it is, as the Dzogchen view asserts, then every manifestation of teaching is exactly right in the period of its appearance on earth. Every teaching works as it is needed. All is fine. Somehow we could say every teaching elaborates exactly the aspects of true nature which are necessary for that time and place. And may be in 300 years another new teaching-facet of true nature deepens our human spiritual knowledge and realization further and further in a still inconceivable way. Isn´t it marvellous?

    Some notes to points of the lecture:

    Hameed: And in his teaching (Rinpoche), he kept talking about how there are three levels of students: those with lower intelligence those with average intelligence and those with great intelligence. And that Dzogchen is for those with great intelligence.

    Ai: In the ancient Dzogchen texts we often find the differentiation between low, middle and high capacity (In the last 30 years Rinpoche used this alternative word in comparison to „intelligence“) for special kinds of practises and there effects and signs. By that is meant not to make a comparison of „who is more or less intelligent“ but it is a kind of scale for a honest self-recognition, how well this special practise is integrated within the practitioner. Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche often explained this.

    Hameed: In other words, I see that the way Norbu introduced the teaching, which became the main way Dzogchen is taught in the West, did not work as well as he expected.

    Ai: I´m not agree that how Namhkai Norbu Rinpoche teached Dzogchen became the main way in the West. Every Dzogchen teacher cames from his own point of socialization and the ways of teachings are difficult to compare. Until today I do not know another Dzogchen Master who teached so precise and clear Semde, Longde and Mennagde series as Rinpoche did.

    There are authentic Dzogchen Masters, focusing on Dzogchen and integrate very well with there education of Tibetan Buddhism. There are teachers of Tibetan Buddhism, who pretend also to be Dzogchen Masters, but in fact teach only superficially Dzogchen, to attract students. And there are teachers of Tibetan Buddhism who are teaching Vajrajana but not Dzogchen. Dzogchen is not a religion, Vajrayana teaching belongs to Tibetan Buddhism.

    So in fact there are not so many serious Dzogchen Masters transmitting Dzogchen teachings in depth. A real Dzogchen Master is to be find by the student examining the Master as the Master examines the student.

    Hameed: He (Rinpoche) actually recognized that himself at some point, for many years later he decided that his students should do the Ngondro, the preliminary practices that included things like countless prostrations. That was standard in Tibet.

    Ai: As I´m a close student of Rinpoche since 30 years I can tell you that I never did a single prostration or traditional Ngondro in my life. This is not the way in the International Dzogchen Community of Rinpoche. Also in the Santi Maha Sangha study program He did not decide to do so.

    And honestly spoken: I would have prefered that you won´t have used Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche as this kind of example in your lecture because it does not fit. Moreover it creates a misimpression. And if I would have a wish – than this: I hope that this lecture will not go openly on the Youtube channel.

    I´m sorry for these long remarks in my poor English. Please: you decide if you want to publish my words or not. Warmhearted greetings, Heike Ai

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