2016-06-30

Excerpted with permission from "Natural Radiance: Awakening to Your Great Perfection" by Lama Surya Das. © 2005 Lama Surya Das. By arrangement with Sounds True.

A Morning Wake-Up Practice to Greet the Day

Dzogchen pointing-out instructions and pith instructions are oral instructions given as direct introductions to our true nature and the nature of our heart-mind. They are traditionally received through an interaction with a lama or teacher who has been given a direct introduction through his or her own teacher or teachers.

These oral teachings have come down to us from the Buddha and from even before the Buddha--from primordial truth, imaged as the primordial Buddha from time immemorial, through an unbroken oral transmission lineage of yogic teachings and pith instructions passed from master to disciple. I have received these teachings from my own enlightened lineage masters. Most of these masters are gone now, reborn in the Himalayas they tell me. But they are always with me, and we are never apart. I feel one with them always.

These teachings are sometimes called "whispered oral transmissions" or secret teachings, although they are always evident to those who are ready to appreciate them, because our true nature is not a thing outside of ourselves that we need to acquire or obtain from a shopping channel or a Tibetan boutique. Go on pilgrimage if you like; a pilgrimage certainly broadens the heart and the soul. But the true inner Himalaya, the secret Tibet, is to awaken to the high ground within--the luminous clarity, the joyous awareness, the total and pure presence known as rigpa (nondual total awareness). Innate freedom and perfection are always within our own hearts and minds, available to those of us who can awaken to them.

I am now passing these teachings on to the next generation with the hope and aspiration that you too may benefit. May you awaken from the dream and illusion of helplessness, confusion, delusion, misery, suffering, victimhood, self-centered striving, and the dreams of limited egoic separate selfhood to realize the great oneness that is beyond notions of one or many. This is true presence-the interconnectedness and emptiness inseparable, the luminous web of inter-being.

Pith Instructions

When I first received the pith instructions,
I had the urge to gulp it all at once,
like a starving man face-to-face with food.

-Patrul Rinpoche

The Dzogchen view is often taught via pith instructions, or the quintessential elixir of mind-meditation teachings boiled down from the essence of empty awareness practice. The essence of these pith instructions on the view is to help us to see things as they are while seeing through them at the same time and to avoid being deceived by the mere appearances of phenomena and noumena (mind-stuff). In this practice, the essence of emptiness and awareness is inseparable-we see things as they arise and dissolve, but we also at the same time see through them into their insubstantial, empty, open, radiant, and marvelous nature. These pith instructions are not only helpful in meditation practice but are also applicable and integrable into daily life. Some of the most important of these pith instructions are:

 

Just as it is.
Let go and let be.
Seeing through, being through.
What we seek, we are.
Not too tight or too loose.
Take the Vajra shortcut.
Direct access.
Nowness/immediacy.
Leave it as it is, and rest your weary mind.
Naturalness is the way.
Natural mind is Buddha mind,
We are all Buddhas; we only have to recognize that fact.
Everything is pure and spontaneously accomplished from the outset.
Nothing to do and nowhere to go.
Seeing; recognizing; penetrating; releasing.
See through the seer and be free.
Nothing to do but remain in the View.
Pure vision: see the Buddha in everyone and everything.

"Pith instructions are like a flame of truth being passed from one candle to another..."
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  • These pith instructions are known in Tibet as men-ngak and in Sanskrit as upadesha. These essence words are the highest direct words, the pithy pointers, what we call in Tibetan mar-tri, or red guidance, naked words. Or, let us say, naked truth. These pith instructions are not just the information that we have read in books or the Buddhist scriptures, but are the essence of lessons actually learned from life, the most naked instructions boiled down to their essence or pith. They are, in a sense, concentrated wisdom--the way a vitamin C pill contains 1000 milligrams of ascorbic acid so that we do not have to eat dozens of oranges to get enough of the active ingredient.

    In this way, pith instructions are the boiled-down elixir of all of the wisdom teachings of enlightenment that have been passed down and preserved orally until modern times. Their essence is not something written down but lived as the oral living flame of enlightenment. Pith instructions are like a flame of truth being passed from one candle to another, from my teacher to me to you--the same flame but different wax and bodies. This is how we pay back our spiritual benefactors and masters--those to whom we are so grateful--by realizing this innate wisdom and cherishing it, and then practicing it and passing it on intact to those who are capable of upholding it.

    One of my favorite pith instructions comes from the gentle and wise Lama Jamgon Kongtrol Lodro Thaye, the "infinite brilliant intellect." He said there were four deviations from the view: "It is too close so that we overlook it; it seems too good to be true so we cannot believe it; it is too profound, so we cannot fathom it; it is not outside ourselves, so we cannot attain it anew." Whatever you want to call "it," whatever we seek-God, our true nature, buddha nature-it is not outside ourselves, so we overlook it.

    These pith instructions often address fundamental human questions about the true nature of our heart-mind, who we are, and what is real. They also attempt to answer other questions about the nature of God, the soul, the afterlife, birth and death, and the purpose and meaning of life. They also speak of our true relation with the ultimate, the relationship between the impermanent and the eternal, the relationship between God and humanity, and what we are all doing here.

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