In his new book, Entering the Mind, C von Hassett takes us luminously into the life-affirming, heart-awakening, consciousness-altering terrains of mind in its natural state, where he shows us how to recognize it within ourselves, then realize it through holistic, wholly committed practice. “EtM is a singular accomplishment, remarkable for its clarity as well as its richly poetic delivery. The text is all the more essential for its practitioner’s insight into what is considered to be the highest wisdom practice known to man – that of Dzogchen.”
Below is an excerpt from Entering the Mind.
The Great Perfection
Dzogchen is like the highest point of a monastery, the golden top-ornament: above it, there is nothing but sky.
–Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
Dzogchen, or atiyoga, is a profound body of teachings that point us directly toward the recognition of our own mind in its natural state. This state, what in the Tibetan tradition is known as rigpa, is naturally pure and nakedly aware. It is, in other words, awakened, and this already awakened state is present within each of us, is always accessible to us, and through clear instruction it is also easy to identify. In seeing it, we are literally in witness of our own luminous path to liberation, this with one subtle though skillful shift in perspective.
The teachings as a philosophy are radical, if not wholly revolutionary. As a practice, they are transformational, moving one from concept-based being to awareness being, from contrived, dualistic thinking to a mind unbound by mundane thought. This is the wisdom mind, enlightened mind, and our arrival here means there is no turning back. There simply cannot be, for conventional mind has been sliced clean through.
In their sum, the Dzogchen teachings are concise and sword-like, with their single-pointed aim being the direct cutting-through of ordinary conceptual thinking. The direct cut comes the moment we recognize mind’s empty essence, and in this recognition we are told to rest and develop realization. In recognizing mind in its natural state, the practitioner is inaugurated into a fundamental shift in perspective, wherein the world is no longer perceived as being out there, with an I perceiving an it. Rather, the new perspective observes all things, all appearances as being within the space of one’s own dynamic awareness, where it is clearly seen that no ‘I’ and no ‘other’ even exist. Emptiness, then, in this ego-collapsing shift of perspective, is not just an abstract concept to be cleverly considered; it is instead an experiential realization, a direct one-to-one knowing of the essential nature of all that arises within the empty, open space of our own boundless awareness.
In Dzogchen meditation we learn to observe the awareness that perceives. We also very loosely observe the myriad objects and appearances that arise in this same awareness, including, most critically, the appearance of ourself – the ‘I entity’ or ego. Observing our perceived self from the perspective of innate mind is like looking at a scraggly twig or a thin strand of hair held out against the shimmering nightscape of our endlessly expansive universe. It is seen as a mere thing, and a notably negligible one at that.
It is this perspective of self we aim to realize through Dzogchen practice, and it is one in which Entering the Mind speaks to through and through: as a philosophy, as a practice, as an awakened state of presence attainable in this one lifetime.
Sacred even today, the Dzogchen teachings until recently were highly secretive and selectively passed along. Rare was a practitioner deemed ready enough to receive such precious treasures from his master, and it was said that even the most advanced students of Dharma might faint upon hearing their whispered transfer. So sacred, in fact, and so secretive, that for centuries in Tibet the teachings were literally transmitted from mouth to ear, and the transmission could only be given once in any master’s lifetime. Jean-Luc Achard, in his book The Six Lamps, recounts the story of an eighth century Bön master, Gyerpung Nangzher Löpo, who
“handed over the transmission he had received from Tapihritsa to Gyelzik Sechung, when the latter was aged seventy-three. He had previously found out that the best vessel for his transmission was a three-year-old boy named Mu Tsoge. However, since the child was too young, Gyerpung gave the transmission to Gyelzik Sechung, who was relatively well educated in terms of knowledge and ritual practice. At the time of the transmission, Gyerpung did a retreat lasting five years during which he transmitted the teachings to Gyelzik in a very peculiar way. He had a hole pierced in the wall of his retreat cell and would insert a small straw stalk inside the hole so that the other extremity of the stalk could enter one of Gyelzik’s ears. In this way, nobody could hear any word of the transmission. It is reported by later tradition that Gyelzik reached complete realization when he received the transmission and that he attained full Buddhahood within a year.” [pp., 5-6]
Even today, elder masters recall a time not so long past when the Dzogchen teachings were imparted directly into the ear via a small, delicate animal horn or bone. This, to the great fortune of us all, is no longer the case. On the contrary, it can be said, in the relative sense, that the instructions are now rather accessible here in the West, and there are a number of truly extraordinary masters currently teaching who are part of a long, unbroken lineage dating back many centuries.
Pointing beyond time or place, beyond matter of any kind, the teachings aim the practitioner toward space itself and to an abiding awareness, our own, which is inseparable from it. It is within this space, that which is empty, where one recognizes mind, that which is aware. This, simply put, cannot be done without instruction, nor can one stabilize in recognition without the continual touchstone of the teachings themselves, coupled with ongoing training, otherwise known as ‘the practice.’ In recognizing your own mind, you essentially arrive at the starting point, and it is from here where things truly begin to change.
Virtually the entire body of Buddhist teachings, culminating in Dzogchen, are to prepare you for and eventually point you toward the recognition of your own mind. To that end, the several tiers, or vehicles, of Tibetan Buddhism covey the practitioner from a place of proper conduct to, at the highest level, recognizing the mind. The collective body of Buddhist teachings, then, are progressive, moving the practitioner experientially from ‘outward’ (behavior/action) to ‘inward’ (recognition of mind).
In recognizing one’s own mind there are really no other teachings, per se; there is only the ongoing practice of continuing to recognize again and again – short moments, repeated many times – until one stabilizes in the recognition of mind, then deepens in the knowing of it. This alone will set the practitioner on the assured path toward awakening.
C von Hassett is a writer, editor, and the publisher of Riot Material magazine. He is a onetime professor of literature and a decades-long practitioner of Dzogchen, a radical if not revolutionary wisdom practice which points the practitioner directly toward the recognition of their own mind in its natural state – there but to awaken. His new book, Entering the Mind, is a richly poetic and deeply insightful exploration of that transformative practice. His first book, The Boundary Stone, is a narrative poem set in the embering afters of an apocalypse. Hassett currently lives with his wife and two dogs in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree.