In relation to the comment in this answer '... regular Buddhism is college - Dzogchen is like a PhD.' Also, Sam Harris seems to endorse Dzogchen.

I am reading online like the wiki page etc. Does not seem to be any massive difference or something out of ordinary.

Can somebody please explain.


Dzogchen is taking mind and mind only as the path. From mind, both Bodhicitta and realisation of Emptiness have to rise naturally. In standard Mahayana you are asked to develop relative Bodhicitta in tandem with developing realisation of Emptiness and then it gives Buddha nature; ultimate Bodhicitta, which is non conceptual realisation of Emptiness. You might achieve one of the other sooner but completion is when you realise both, that is how ultimate Bodhicitta (Rigpa, in Dzogchen terms) arises. In Dzogchen - it is backwards, one is asked to delve deep past conceptual realisation of Emptiness and Bodhicitta in order to get in touch with ground of all consciousness. From Rigpa, both realisation of Emptiness and relative Bodhicitta will arise without any effort and that supposed to be a lot faster.

Moreover, it might be, a non-gradual approach. For example, all Sutric and Tantric practises can be done in tandem with Dzogchen without a very strict order or progression (but not without any progression). Approach takes every possible technique from Sūtra or Tantra that might help one in a given moment.

Techniques in Dzogchen are different and many, even Shamatha is done differently than the standard way; in Dzogchen, Shamatha is focusing on space around you non conceptually with eyes wide open rather than going for breathing. It is said that from such Shamatha technique, practitioners of greater capacity might develop realisation of Rigpa alone, and they don’t need further techniques, for they went far beyond simply realising three vajras to be of one taste which is the regular goal of Shamatha.

If I were to draw out a simile between another Buddhist tradition in Mahayana, I would choose Soto Zen. Zazen in this tradition is gazing at the space in front without focusing on breath while having eyes wide open. Technique is simply "thinking non-thinking" as what Dogen Zenji said, and so the result is pretty much the same to Dzogchen's gazing - only that Dzogchen has many more techniques coming under Atiyoga. Similarily, in Soto Zen, experience and minimalism is stressed before knowledge or conceptually intellectual approach. Major difference is in Dzogchen's utilising Tantric techniques freely - whenever necessary.

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  • Thank you for your answer. The first part is hard to grasp but I got the overall direction. What is this 'ground of all consciousness'. Also can you recommend a book or a site to just have a look. – user13135 Aug 28 '18 at 6:07
  • Ground of all consciousness is Rigpa, which is also called primordial consciousness or ultimate bodhicitta or suchness. Shortly it’s nonconceptual experience of Emptiness. Dzogchen uses three tiered model of mind; ordinary mind, substrate/storehouse consciousness and ground (Rigpa). Each deeper level is the ground for the level above. – user13383 Aug 28 '18 at 7:09
  • As for the book or explanations, I recommend Alan Wallace's book on Shamatha or Namkhai Norbu's introductory books on Dzogchen. Alan Wallace also has introduction to Dzogchen on wisdom pubs site which is a learning course. – user13383 Aug 28 '18 at 8:39
  • Thank you very much for the recommendations. That helps a lot to give me a head start. – user13135 Aug 28 '18 at 8:42
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    Actually, I have a lot of doubts about your comment on Rigpa but I think that will make for another question. I did better read those books first. – user13135 Aug 28 '18 at 8:49

Dzogchen teaches a non-dualistic state of one's own primordial nature, with nothing to reject or accept, that is pure from the beginning in the nature of a light body. -- Khenpo Palden

In simple words:

Original Buddhism introduced many new concepts to describe 1) the unenlightened state of mind, and 2) practice leading to Liberation. Theravada's approach is to preserve these teachings as closely as possible without alterations. From Theravada's perspective it is the student that must adapt to the Teaching - not the other way around. So the student is expected to learn the exact original definitions, ideally in the Pali language. However, for many students this approach makes it difficult to see the forest behind the trees.

Mahayana Buddhism prefers to stay away from repeating the rigid concepts from Pali suttas and instead tries to re-tell the same meaning in its own words. This is why Mahayana often prefered writing new texts instead of quoting original suttas. So Mahayana's approach is more focused on conveying the "point" of the Teaching, rather then the "letter". In Mahayana, the teaching adapts to the spirit of times and places, to explain Dharma in the way the students can relate to. Still, just like Theravada, Mahayana Buddhism is mostly about 1) the unenlightened state of mind, and 2) practice leading to Liberation. But this is not all there is to Dharma, it also has the third part: Result!

In Dzogchen speak, the three parts are called Ground, Path, and Fruition - and Dzogchen focuses 100% on the third. Truth be told, some parts of Mahayana like Madhyamaka do approach Fruition in their teaching about Emptiness - but they mostly try to explain it conceptually, in terms understandable to the unenlightened mind. In contrast to that, Dzogchen directly teaches how the Enlightened mind sees and acts. Dzogchen focuses directly on what it feels like to be Enlightened or to be in Nirvana. After all the teachings of Theravada and Mahayana are learned, and all the practices fulfilled - after the Raft has been used to cross over to the other side and left behind - what remains at that point? That's what Dzogchen is about.

So Dzogchen is even more "to the point" than Mahayana - in its purest form it throws away all those teachings and explanations, and goes: "here is what Enlightened mind is like, now you do it". This is what makes it so radically different from everything else.

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  • Do you think it possible to grok Dzogchen while seemingly being averse to, "how much Buddhist religiosity one will be asked to imbibe along the way" as Sam Harris apparently is? – Yeshe Tenley Aug 27 '18 at 16:01
  • IMO that depends both on the student's capacity for intuitive understanding and on the teacher ability to establish a rapport with student. The stronger the student's intuition, the better the rapport -- the fewer religious elements are required on the teacher's part to deliver the student across. – Andrei Volkov Aug 27 '18 at 16:08
  • I guess what I'm getting at is that this aversion to Buddhist religiosity is predicated on a belief that there is a concrete and real ontological reality that scientific practice illuminates and Buddhist religiosity is contradictory to this objective world that science illuminates. I am pretty sure that this is what Sam Harris thinks. What I'm asking is do you think one can have fully grokked Dzogchen while still holding to the belief in this ontological realism of the default scientific worldview? – Yeshe Tenley Aug 27 '18 at 16:10
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    Not in its naive (Newtonian) form, no. But perhaps in the true open-minded scientific spirit of inquiry - yes, I think that is possible. – Andrei Volkov Aug 27 '18 at 16:13
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    "Dzogchen focuses directly on what it feels like to be Enlightened or to be in Nirvana" - I don't mean this in a derogatory sense, but this sentence sounds to me very much like the English aphorism "fake it till you make it" – ruben2020 Aug 27 '18 at 16:43

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