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BOOK REVIEWS - THE GOLDEN LETTERS of Garab Dorje Dzogchen Nutshell: The 3 Basics of Self-Liberation by Anreal

Because of discovering for oneself the real meaning of one’s own state of existence, which is intrinsic awareness, discursive thoughts are spontaneously liberated by themselves …
- Garab Dorje (The Golden Letters, p135)

1. Discover you own natural state
2. Remain free from doubt
3. Achieve confidence in liberation

This is what the Dzogchen teachings would look like if you could summarize it and put it in a nutshell, or a tiny golden casket about the size of the joint of a grown man’s thumb …

As it turns out this is exactly what happened.  Garab Dorje, one of the greatest early teachers of Dzogchen attained his Body of Light and left behind this golden casket containing within it what is known as "The Three Statements that Strike the Essential Points".  It is said that upon receiving these instructions Manjushrimitra, himself a legend in Dzogchen history, attained instant and full realization.  

Why it’s a Must-Have

THE GOLDEN LETTERS is at first glance a dense and imposing document but don’t let that stop you.  This book remains, since its publication fourteen years ago, one of the most useful and necessary manuals for any one interested in practicing Dzogchen.  I would put it right up there in second place after THE SUPREME SOURCE on the list of must haves.  In fact I would recommend that one reads it before attempting THE SUPREME SOURCE because it provides a simple yet succinct base upon which to build your understanding of Dzogchen.

These three points are the unerring essentials that alone are sufficient to carry the individual into the state of directly penetrating Awareness …”
- Patrul Rinpoche (The Golden Letters, p60)

Skip to the Essentials

As juicy as the story sounds, what is of far greater importance is that you directly comprehend the ‘Three Statements’ as clearly as possible in it’s most undiluted form.  It isn’t often that one comes across direct translations ‘from the horse’s mouth’ as it were so when it happens to be the case it is often best to just bypass everything else and go straight to the centre of the storm.   I blatantly suggest that you ignore everything else and skip right to p131 to start reading ‘The First Statement’ until the end of ‘The Third Statement’ p136.  It may not sound like much but take it from me, more clearly described and to the point Dzogchen teachings are hard to find.  If you can come to an understanding of these three concepts you will have understood the very heart essence of Dzogchen.  In fact, these three statements provide the base for all Dzogchen teachings that came before it and since, so it is of fundamental importance to your Dzogchen education.  

The rest of the 300 page book is full of in-depth explanations, a brief story of Garab Dorje’s life, some great extras like a foreword by my hero Namkhai Norbu as well as some western perspectives on the nature of story telling in Tibetan Buddhism.  By no means would I call the extra information in the book superfluous but I would recommend that you just remain focused on the statements to start with.  You can always go back to the more meaty bits once you’re comfortable with it.  

Snakes Uncoiling

Because of discovering for oneself the real meaning of one’s own state of existence, which is intrinsic awareness, discursive thoughts are spontaneously liberated by themselves … And because of continuing in the state of contemplation everywhere (in all of one’s daily activities), this situation is like the coils of a snake being effortlessly liberated by the snake itself.”
- Garab Dorje (The Golden Letters, p135)

Like a snake effortlessly uncoiling itself, thoughts and emotions simply unbind by themselves without our neurotic egos scrambling to change it.   The moment we become aware of this is said to be like cutting through a knot of ropes with a single stroke, thereby releasing the very foundation of those concepts that bind us into suffering.  

Besides for its obvious importance as a timeless treatise on Dzogchen Awareness, this book is one of my all-time favourites because the Three Statements are peppered with symbolic language making them richly textured with artistic flavour.  These symbolic descriptions continue throughout Garab Dorje’s statements which make for a document that reads like edible silk.  It simply confirms once again that you CAN have your Buddhism honeyed on both sides – what is not to love.  

On reading the commentaries

To supplement your understanding of the three statements you can refer to no less than three separate sections of he book.  In most cases I recommend that you read the conclusions first.

1. Short Commentary & Wise and Glorious King

- The first that I would recommend is entitled ‘Short Commentary’ by Patrul Rinpoche on p41 (the page number is not visible on this particular page so you’ll have to use your common sense).  The three tiny paragraphs themselves provide some thematic perspective.  
- Following that is ‘The Special Teaching of the Wise and Glorious King’ also by Patrul Rinpoche.  Be sure to start by reading the conclusion on p60 first for an introductory idea on the importance of the text.
- Then go back to continue with a slightly longer but still brief description of each statement from p43-46.  

2. Translator’s Commentary

- From the translator’s commentary I would recommend again that you start a bit back to front with ‘Samsara and Nirvana’ (p116) and ‘The Special Teaching of Dzogchen’ (p117) instead.  That way you can familiarize yourself first with what the aim actually is and then hold it in your mind while exploring the rest.
- The section entitled 'Intellectualism and Mental Analysis' (p 101) makes for an interesting extra too.

For some elucidation on specific practices:
- Beginning the Practice: Fixation and Learning to Relax’ (p76) and specifically the Mind and the Nature of Mind section from Shattering Thoughts and Experiences: Startled Awareness’ (p79).   
- Discovering a Single State of Awareness’ (p89) as well as the State of Meditation Like the Continuous Flow of a River section (p93)  from ‘Remaining in Contemplation or Falling into Distraction’.  
- ‘Recognizing the Nature of Thoughts and Experiences’ (p110), ‘Meditation and Self-Liberation’ (p112) and ‘The Arising of Thoughts becomes the Mediation’ (p113).  

3. Interlinear Commentary

Finally, the ‘Interlinear Commentary to “The Last Testament of Garab Dorje” by the Translator’ starts on p139.  This final commentary contains the actual statements themselves along with the translator’s comments, verse by verse.  Although I would not recommend this as your first point of contact this commentary contains some delightful tidbits of cultural information.

Get the Book

Enjoy, and don’t forget to check out our Reading Tips to make the most of your Dzogchen reading experience.

From the Universe, with Love

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