People hold different viewpoints on the question of whether or not Sogyal was qualified to teach as he did, and since people don’t all accept the same ‘evidence’ as relevant, no agreement will ever come to pass. So we will have to agree to disagree or accept that we will likely never know for sure. But a question relevant for all those students who stuck with Sogyal and Rigpa for years is how his lack of qualifications affected our learning. Was it all just a waste of time?
Clearly we did learn Buddhism. Reading any book on Buddhism confirms that, and the Rigpa Shedra scholars would know if we weren’t getting the real ‘information’. To suggest that Rigpa students learned nothing of worth, is basically saying that Buddhism, vajrayana and dzogchen have no worth. It also does a huge disservice to thousands of students.
The big issue, however, is the dzogchen teachings because doesn’t a dzogchen teacher have to have some realisation before he can introduce a student to the nature of their mind?
Let’s, for the sake of this investigation, take the position that Sogyal didn’t actually have any realisation. If that’s true, where does that leave us? Deluded?
Erik Pema Kunsang seems to think so. In an article called CLUB NONDUALITÈ, he says:
‘Patrul Rinpoche wrote 150 years ago, that there are many Dharma teachers who point out the thoughtfree state of the all-ground as being the nondual nature of mind, and that is why people who believe it may train ten, twenty, thirty years without becoming stable in nonduality. Why? They have instead trained in the very basis for dualistic mind…. When someone is being told, without being checked, “you have now received the pointing-out introduction,” it’s at best wishful thinking and, at worst, a direct lie. … Often a meditator is told by the teacher that nonduality is a quiet thoughtfree state of mind that holds no focus. This may or may not be true, because there is another state of mind that looks like it, just like a rhinestone may look like a diamond’Erik Pema Kunsang
Or is it possible that he could still have given a genuine dzogchen transmission?
Was it really the nature of mind?
How do we check whether or not we got the ‘real thing’? Taking teachings and introductions from another teacher is a good way. Examination in light of the detailed instructions in books such as Clarifying the Natural State by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal is another, and then there is the certainty in oneself that can’t be denied – a knowledge beyond knowledge. If we don’t give a damn whether or not we’ve recognised the nature of our mind, then we’re less likely to fool ourselves. If the answer is important to us, especially if the answer reflects on how we feel about our self, then we are in danger of deluding our self. And if we’re not sure if we have or haven’t glimpsed the nature of our mind, then we probably haven’t.
So let’s assume that some of us did have a genuine glimpse of the nature of our mind under Sogyal’s tutelage. (And if you say that’s not possible because Sogyal doesn’t have any realisation, then out of respect for those who know beyond a shadow of doubt that it is possible, please suspend that idea just long enough to follow this examination.)
Would accepting that some of his students experienced a genuine introduction to the nature of their mind mean that Sogyal did, despite appearances, have some realisation? Or did Sogyal transmit dzogchen despite his lack of realisation?
Isn’t there some transformative power in the words of the teachings themselves?
Rely on the message rather than the messenger.
In the message, rely on the meaning rather than just the words.
In the meaning, rely on that which is really true rather than seemingly true.
Rely on the really true, not with dualistic mind, but realize within nondual wakefulness.
Every long-term Rigpa student knew this teaching, and given that a lot of us didn’t particularly ‘like’ our lama, a lot of us followed this. We looked to the words, to the meaning, to the truth we recognised in our bones.
Take any of the dzogchen teachings on mind. Is there not some degree of transmission in those very words? Not if you just read them in an ordinary mind, of course, no. But if you are in a meditative state, having done all the prerequisites and having truly worked with them, relying on the ‘really true’ meaning, surely, there is some power to transform in them alone. Or am I just the sole weirdo who senses the immense transformative power in such words?
Yes, the religion says we’re supposed to get a ‘lung’ or oral transmission in order to unlock the power of such texts, but is that really so important? Or is it just another way to keep the gurus employed? Isn’t reading it slowly aloud in your own language better than hearing it raced through at a frantic speed in a language you don’t understand?
The three authentics
According to The Words of Tenpai Nyima: Notes on the Ground of Trekchö: The Concentrated Essence Distilled from the River of the Whispered Transmission by Khenpo Ngakchung, in order for the introduction to the nature of mind to take place, the three authentics must come together. These three are: the authentic blessing of the master, the authentic devotion of the student, and the authentic instructions of the lineage.
Note, however, that this teaching doesn’t say ‘authentic realisation’ but rather ‘authentic blessing.’ The word ‘blessing’ means transformative power, not realisation as such. Could Sogyal, through his devotion for his masters, have had the blessing even without the realisation? Isn’t devotion a prime key to transmission in dzogchen?
Devotion and blessings
Before he gave dzogchen teachings, Sogyal stared at the images of his masters, his eyes moist with devotion, hands in prayer position. He aroused his devotion and taught from that state. Aren’t blessings passed through devotion? It’s said that it’s through the student’s devotion that they receive the blessing to enable them to recognise the nature of their mind, if that’s the case, then Sogyal received the blessing of his masters through his devotion to them, and we received the blessing of his masters through our devotion to him.
Wouldn’t this fulfil the requirement of the ‘authentic blessing of the master’? Sogyal may not have had any realisation, but he did have the blessing of his masters—many saw evidence of that—and he did have devotion to them, and according to this teaching on the three authentics, that is enough.
In the Tibetan story of the dog’s tooth, a woman is given what she thinks is a relic of the buddha, but it’s only a dog’s tooth; nevertheless due to her devotion to the dog’s tooth, she receives blessings from it in the form of ringsels (spontaneously produced pearl-like phenomena found in the ashes of great masters.) The teaching in this story is that if a student has true devotion, they will get blessings, even from a dog’s tooth!
Last year, I emailed Tenzin Palmo and asked the
‘Can one gain some measure of genuine realisation through relying on an unqualified teacher? This is referring to a situation where the student has given complete, unquestioning devotion and fulfilled their obligations as a student and then only later they discover that the lama was not worthy of that devotion.’
Her reply was:
‘Yes, it is possible to gain genuine realisation even when the teacher later proves to be unqualified. If the student has a direct realisation of the nature of the mind, then that is so, whatever the status of the lama who gave the pointing out instruction or facilitated this insight. Some teachers have the ability to open the minds of the students even when in other ways the conduct and wisdom of the teacher may be questionable. This is one reason for the confusion nowadays with lamas who have helped so many students yet have been shown to be unworthy of their role. Still these students were helped….’Jetsumna Tenzin Palmo
Empowerment and disempowerment
And let’s not forget that the teacher, no matter how realised, is not giving us something we don’t already have. He or she is merely a catalyst that helps us recognise the nature of our mind, something that is not owned, given or even truly shown by anyone—it can only be pointed towards. If we have studied and practiced the dharma, then once our mind and heart are truly open, anything can be a catalyst for recognition—even a barking dog.
And let’s not fall completely under the spell of a guru-centric religion. The key factor in recognising the nature of our mind is actually our awareness, our openness, our qualities as a student, not those of our teacher or the religion’s sanctioned method. To believe otherwise goes against the very foundations of Buddhism, the essential point that seeing through the veil of ignorance is entirely up to us. No one else can do it for us, a point made clear in the Buddha’s life story where he had to leave his teachers in order to discover the truth for himself.
So even if we believe the teacher a fake, let’s not presume that his or her students’ realisation is also fake. That idea diminishes the importance of the quality of the student, and further disempowers students of a cult that has already disempowered them enough by teaching them to mistrust their own instincts. Instead, let’s empower students to trust themselves to know their own mind.
The only true empowerment is self-empowerment.
‘If you discover what you thought was the state of nonduality is actually just a dualistic state of open, calm and clear panoramic awareness, there is no need to blame anyone, neither the teacher, the friends or yourself. Understand that the person who taught you that was not a primary master, but a meditation instructor, and you’re allowed to pursue authentic wisdom wherever you can find it. Within the Buddhist Vajrayana context, how can there be a samaya bond to a root guru, if you haven’t yet found the true nature of mind? To keep the dharma pure and make sure it will last for a long while, the most important is honesty. Be honest to yourself. Don’t believe in myths. Test everything.’Erik Pema Kunsang
So what do you think? If you think Sogyal couldn’t have transmitted dzogchen due to his lack of realisation, then are you saying that those who feel they received genuine dzogchen transmission are fooling themselves? Or is it possible that, as the teaching on the three authentics suggests, blessings are more important than realisation? Or, as I feel right now, is it all a load of hogwash, anyway, and it’s time to make a cocktail.