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Buddha – Translated as “awake” or “awakened one”.  

Traditionally it is used to refer to Siddhārtha Gautama (or Sakyamuni) as the founder of Buddhism - a system to free people from suffering and ignorance.  

According to Dzogchen all beings have always had ‘Buddha nature’ and that this truth has never changed and never will.  It proposes that suffering is caused by the wrong perception that Buddhahood is something outside or separate from ourselves that needs to be attained.  According to Dzogchen all that is necessary is to be shown this inherent Buddha in oneself directly, at which point one recognises it to be ones Natural State.  What is left then is to remain constantly aware of this state during all activities both day and night whilst removing all mental constructs that obstruct this ultimate truth.

Compare with Natural State, Wheel of Conditioned Existence, Ego and Mara.  Also see Padmasambhava.

A Deeper Perspective

To understand the Dzogchen perspective better it is necessary to familiarize yourself with some of the aspects that set Dzogchen lineages apart from other Buddhist lineages. The key aspect in all of this is the meaning of the word Buddha.

Can the Real Buddha Please Stand Up?

Although all of the different schools that has preserved Dzogchen as a teaching acknowledges the historical Sakyamuni as a human Buddha, some of these do not view him as the only Buddha but rather as an incarnate emanation of the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra, which resides within all beings as the potential for Buddha-hood. By viewing it in this way each successive Buddha can all be seen as different versions of this same Primordial Buddha, each arriving at unique places and times in order to expound further on the same body of Teachings.

In fact, it is believed that each incarnate Buddha appears at specific times and places to teach methods appropriate to the capacities of the people at that time. According to the Nyingma classification of the nine paths Buddha Sakyamuni taught what is known predominantly as Hinnaya (the lesser vechicle) and Mahayana (the greater vehicle) according to the capacities of the people at that time. It is called "lesser" and "greater" because of the different aspirations of the pracitioner. In Hinnayana the aspiration is purely for the liberation of the individual, to the exclusion of others. In Mahayana the aspiration is for the pracitioner to become a bodhisattva, someone who vows to work for the enlightenement of all sentient beings. These teachings are collectively known as the Sutra system, or Teaching Lineage and comprises the path of renunciation and the path of purification respectively.

The Tantras of the Vajrayana (diamond vehicle) also known as the Practice Lineage, comprises of the paths of transformation and are said to have been revealed by Vajrasattva, a trans-historical visionary aspect of Buddhahood. This means, not a human Buddha but an aspect of primordial Samanthabdra perceived by certain enlightened beings in mind space. That is how it was possible for the great Mahasiddhas to receive transmission of these teachings directly from various emanations and visions by their own pure perception.

It is said that many tantras that were not commonly known at that time were brought forth by the miraculous powers of these great masters, and they were translated and established in Tibet.
- p74, The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great

Furthermore, in the main temple of Nalanda University, the translator Su Ga-We Dorje saw the paintings of the tantra texts raining down from the sky, which is the way some of the Nyingma tantras appeared.
- Orgyenpa (The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, p250)

The Dzogchen tantras or path of self-liberation on the other hand are said to have been revealed directly by the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra. With each of these paths one can glimpse the successive stages of revelation of related teachings over time. It is therefore believed that later incarnate Buddhas like Garab Dorje (who taught Dzogchen as an independent system) and Padmasambhava (who taught Dzogchen in the context of Anuyoga Tantra) manifested because the time was ripe for people to receive, quite literally, ‘the next installment’.

Buddha - The Awakened One 

In truth, all of these incarnate Buddhas are seen (or should be seen) as the multifarious display of the primordial Buddha Samanthabdra and in this way really part of a singular but limitless being of pure and total consciousness. This ‘being’ is not an entity although he can be depicted as a blue buddha without ornaments but this is merely a symbolic way to represent consciousness itself. The word Buddha literally means “awake” and rather than denoting any specific person it rather points to the quality of ‘awakeness’ itself which is why Sakhamuni pronounced himself to be "Buddha" when someone asked his name. He was saying that he was indeed, Awake.

From the highest mandalas of Buddhas down to the ground, including all the external and internally existent things, nothing is beyond the Great Bliss. Therefore everything is not far from Buddhahood.
- p68, Heart Drops of the Dharmakaya (Dzogchen Practice of the Bon Tradition)

Naturally, incarnate beings who display this aspect of 'awakeness' to a particular degree has been historically referred to as Buddha. This ultimately means that anyone, past, present and future, buddhist or not may be called a Buddha if he or she has brought this aspect of his/her inherent awakeness to fruition.

Most importantly, and this is a key precept of Dzogchen, it is understood that each and every person is in fact already Buddha, even more so, that every speck of dust in the universe is Buddha - Awake. We simply need to recognise it by discarding the conditioned patterning of our ignorance, allowing what is already there to naturally shine through.

The Nature of the mind has been the Buddha from the very beginning. This mind has neither birth nor cessation, for it is like the sky. If the real meaning of the ultimate identity of all phenomena is realised, and if that understanding is maintained without any seeking elsewhere, that is true meditation.
- Garab Dorje to Manjushrimitra, (Cycles of Day and Night by Namkhai Norbu, p29)

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