Who's Who & What's What
in the Great Perfection
- a handbook compiled by
Line drawings available
Forty-eight deities, lineage masters and guardian deities.
Three hundred and sixty entries - all the principle ideas within Dzogchen and associated teachings.
Indian and Tibetan Buddhism - names and events.
Books and Websites
Wylie / English / Sanskrit
From the introduction
This is a handbook. It alphabetically lists the deities, teachers and the principle ideas that we first meet when we receive Dzogchen teachings. More than a simple glossary, it is for those of us who have entered the teaching and would like to go deeper in our understanding. What I hope you will do with this is look things up that you would like to know more about after receiving a spoken or audio teaching or when reading a book. If you have a paper copy I imagine it will become rather beaten up with curled pages, something you dig up from the bottom of a bag. It’s become useful. Dipping in you may sometimes become interested to go further and follow the the links that are found at the end of most entries. Doing this you will be taken on a journey. The whole book is a huge interconnected net. The more you read the more things fall into place and a bigger picture emerges.
In compiling this I have been guided by the presentation of Dzogchen found in the teachings and books of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, Tsoknyi Rinpoche and many other wonderful teachers that like them are instantly accessible to us their students and those interested in the Dharma. As well as including nearly everything that these teachers present I’ve tried to keep the same ‘note’ - making sure what is written is accurate and easily understood. However what you will find here is not quite a straight replication or reinstatement of the teachings. Drawing on the scholarly material available I have in some entries added a little history to give a broader context and included the very, very occasional ‘compilers note’ for additional clarification. Nor does the book assume that the reader is a fully ‘paid up’ student of Dzogchen. Many of us may be engaged with the teaching while retaining doubts or hesitations about some elements of it. Acknowledging the legitimacy of this I have in some instances sympathetically described the tradition from slightly outside - not assuming agreement but inviting thought. I do this from within my dual perspective of one who is an aspiring Dzogchen student but also someone who values knowing the history of the Dharma as a whole and how it has unfolded over time. In taking this position I am aware that something of myself has crept into the text, I can only hope that it is obvious to you the reader, (who may then discount it), and that it does more good than harm.
Finally it needs to be said that Dzogchen is simultaneously the simplest and most complex of subjects. While compiling the entries, particularly those that concerned the key Dzogchen teachings - ground, path and fruition, the nature of mind, mind and mind essence, rigpa and self-liberation - I was repeatedly struck by how very simple it all really is. There is a special type of all pervasive spacious awareness and the teaching is about how we recognise and then uninterruptedly rest within it. On the other hand I was also struck by its complexity. This is particularly found in the entries that concern the post mortem guidance for passage through the bardo, the inner mandala of the subtle body and the esoteric teachings of Dzogchen, particularly its tögal practices. Those of us who have seen the murals recorded in the Dalai Lama’s Secret Temple will remember the many fierce looking yogi’s portrayed there engaged in these practices, their strange postures and the psychedelic visions these produce. Add to this the wider context of the whole array of the Vajrayana teachings, particularly those found in the Mahayoga and Anuyoga Tantras, and I was left feeling I had peeked through a crack into medieval India and the dark tantric strangeness that can still be felt in some of the ancient temples of Nepal today. Touched by this I realised the depth and enormity of the teachings and how I had only scratched the surface. However, that said, we must begin somewhere - as Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche says, with intellectual understanding, then experience and realisation - and so I offer this handbook as a source of information and knowledge that may support our journey on the Dzogchen path.
The Origins of the Book
I have long known that for me that the best way to really learn something is to write it down. To that end I take full notes during teaching retreats and write them up immediately and this usually reveals whether I have understood them or not. When I don’t I look things up and this can take a very long time and from this came the idea how useful it would be to have a book that held all the information in one place. However here I hit a stumbling block. Books on Tibetan Buddhism are almost always written under the name of a Tibetan Rinpoche or are scholarly books that provide long introductions to the text being translated. Being neither a teacher nor a professional scholar I wondered did I have a legitimate voice? I also had at the back of my mind another train of thought. Books on the Dharma are invariably written by teachers for students or by scholars for - I imagine - other scholars. What is missing is a middle ground where books for students include some scholarly material. Here again I was thinking of my own learning process. There are many things in the teachings that I don’t understand or find hard to accept. What has helped me here is to understand how a teaching has come into being, when it was first taught, by whom and what the intention behind the teaching was. This type of information is usually only held by scholars and is often written in a dense and obtuse manner. Would it not be of benefit if this material was also available to those of us who needed it in a more user friendly format? Here I did feel I had a legitimate voice - as an author I admire writing in a way that makes difficult subjects easily accessible and being a student I know what it feels like to struggle to understand something and the joy when understanding dawns. Putting all this together I came up with the idea of a handbook. I did not need to ‘write’ it, it only needed compiling. In the Who’s Who section, that contains the lives of the lineage masters, I could include the literary sources these lives are derived from. And in the tricky entries within the What’s What section I could provide a wider context. I thought, perhaps, in the way having a bigger picture has helped me it would also help others? All this I finally took to Tsoknyi Rinpoche and tried to explain. Did he think it would help? And he replied, “Yes. That could be useful”. With this I went ahead.