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BOOK REVIEWS - WONDERS OF THE NATURAL MIND: The Bon Dzogchen of Tibet In Wonder - A Look Into The Heart Of Bon Dzogchen by Adamas

I am the great self-arisen, naturally abiding one, known from the beginning as the origin of all things.
You, strenuously seeking me and yearning for me, fatigue yourselves;
Even over many eons you do not find me.

- On ‘Calm Abiding’

This was one of the first Dzogchen books I ever read and to this day it still occupies a special place in my heart and mind.  A similar but more obscure tradition of Dzogchen to that of the more widely known Nyingma or Karmakagyu  lineages, this is filtered through the slightly shamanic Bon mind of Tibet.  Bon Dzogchen is a separate lineage, complete with its own enlightened masters who initially transmitted the teachings outside that of Buddhism.  It is only in later years that the two became overlaid somewhat, although Bon Buddhism is still a distinct lineage with its own uniquely Tibetan flavour.  The preface from p13-15 is well worth it for a brief introduction to Bon Dzogchen.

Sucker for Syntax

Some of my favourite syntax describing the practices of One Taste and Crazy Wisdom comes from this book, the quotes below being a case in point.

The single nature of the mind renounces nothing”.
- On One Taste

Crazy Wisdom is activity in accordance with the final, absolute view, the ultimate way of perceiving and being, the snowflake dissolving.
We no longer compulsively repeat the same habitual actions but instead act with crazy abandon, renouncing nothing.
Nothing can disturb us any longer; everything arises in its own way and is liberated in its own way.
If we do something, it is fine. If we do not do it, it is fine. There are no longer any rules to follow.

- On Crazy Wisdom

Nailing it Down

Besides for the many useful teachings in this book, the highlight for me is undeniably - the section on Zerbu which translates as ‘nailing it down’ or ‘affixing a nail’I strongly recommend that you  familiarize yourself with this illuminating discussion on Dzogchen conduct on p141-144.  

Do anything without any indecision or hesitation.
Without expectations or doubts all actions are completely free.  
Behavior becomes like a peacock’s, taking all negative obstacles and appearances as blessings.
When unhappy, abide completely in unhappiness.
When ill, abide completely in illness
When you don’t like something, abide completely in the state of not liking
This is the big wind.  
When vision is an obstacle you need a friend.
When vision is a friend, liberate yourself.
Then everything becomes a benefit to your practice.”

- On Zerbu

A more concise exhortation to abide in whatever mood arises cannot be found anywhere else.  Pointing out the way in which one’s vision ‘becomes a friend’ by not fighting against it, we are quite simply shown the essence of nailing things down.  Once we can happily experience the things we like, the things we don’t like and things we are indifferent to, they are ticked off the Zerbu list and nothing can disturb us in any way.  Even more so, each unique experience BECOMES our practice so that we find ourselves in a continuous state of non-distraction, the Dzogchen ideal of Rigpa.

Cutting Through and Leaping Over

Just as when someone tells a lie, if another person says, “It’s a lie,” the lie vanishes; in the same way all concepts vanish through the wisdom that understands that they do not exist.
The final result, enlightenment or realization, is nothing other than this.”

- Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

Although in the book it says that thogal means “working” the true direct translation of it is ‘leaping over’.  The section on threkcho (cutting through) and thogal (leaping over) from p166-174 is very useful to see the uses of each stage of practice as well as giving you insight of some of the practices.  For example, the five gazes are simple but extremely effective. Information on the types of visions one can have is quite useful too.  It is important to remember that although there may be similarities in the essential nature of people’s visions, they may reveal characteristics unique to each person so do not try to necessarily emulate these descriptions precisely.

Inside the Mind of the Author

Another very interesting part of the book is the author’s brief biography It’s a pleasant surprise to read a story that is not simply a blow by blow re-hashing of events.  Instead he highlights key experiences in his life along with his personal insights which makes for a read that is very accessible to the western mind.  His visions during dark retreat is an unprecedented modern account and I recommend that you skip the first few pages of his biography and start reading from the bottom of page 24 to halfway through page 39.

The Colour Between

In general this book provides the practitioner with an intricate and colourful perspective on the teachings of Dzogchen view and practice.  It has a detailed progression through the different stages of development and certain unique concepts which are not represented in such details in the better known Buddhist schools.  For me it represents a lot of the colour between the broader concepts of say, Garab Dorje’s essential points.  This can be a bit confusing as a lot of new terminology is being thrown at the practitioner but the beauty of the detail it contains can sometimes actually make it easier to flesh out the basic concepts of Dzogchen.   It can aid one in assembling a structured context upon which to build concepts, making it easier to use.

I am the great self-arisen, naturally abiding one, known from the beginning as the origin of all things.
You, strenuously seeking me and yearning for me, fatigue yourselves;
Even over many eons you do not find me”.

- On ‘Calm Abiding’

The complex terminology such as ‘the mother light’ and ‘the  son light’ can be a bit dense at times but if you familiarize yourself with our reading tips and skip to the recommended reading first you will have more than enough to keep you stimulated without descending into a pit of Tibetan jargon and confusion.  For me a lot of the indented passages are the true gems to look out for anyway and even just by reading them ones understanding can deepen.

This is one of those books that can be read and reread at any stage of practice so there is no need to rush it.  Since the natural state is experiential and not conceptual, all of these descriptions are merely aids to the understanding of it.  Personally I would avoid bits that are too dense because one can always come back to it for clarification later.   The more books one reads on Dzogchen the more detailed ones knowledge of its architecture and techniques become.  

It is also important to allow oneself time to practice the view and apply the techniques instead of just trying to take it all in, in one go.  If one doesn’t it is all useless anyway as Dzogchen is first and last and always a hands-on view and methodology for understanding the nature of the mind and reality.  

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