golden dorje

Flight of the Garuda

- translations and commentary by Keith Dowman -

The Dzogchen Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism

golden dorje


Second edition, 256 pages, Jan 19. 1995
Wisdom Publications,
Boston, MA
ISBN-10 0861710851
ISBN-13 978-086171050

First edition, 240 pages, 1994
Wisdom Publications
Boston, MA
ISBN-10 0861713672
ISBN-13 978-0861713677

Cover Painting by Terris Temple

Translated into German, 1994
Der Flug des Garuda
Theseus, Zurich

translated into Dutch, 1994
De Vlucht van de Garoeda
Uitgevernu Karnak

Flight of the Garuda

The Dzogchen Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism

Compiled and Translated by Keith Dowman

Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, is the quintessence of the tantric paths to Buddhahood. This book contains the translation of four Dzokchen texts belonging to the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, together with an introduction and commentaries by Keith Dowman. These sacred revealed texts, never before freely available, provide inspiration and instruction for the Dzogchen aspirant.

The Flight of the Garuda, which gives the collection its title, written by Shabkar Lama in the nineteenth century, comprises a series of twenty-three songs designed to inspire and instruct the yogin practicing Dzogchen trekcho meditation.

Secret Instruction in a Garland of Vision is one of three texts said to have been written by Padma Sambhava, Tibet's great Guru, himself, who visited Tibet in the eighth century. It belongs to the lam rim genre, a stage--by--stage description of the path to Buddhahood.

An extract from Emptying the Depths of Hell, revealed by Guru Chowong in the thirteenth century, provides a Dzogchen confessional liturgy.

The Wish-Granting Prayer of Kuntu Zangpo, revealed by Rikdzin Godemchan in the fourteenth century as part of an extensive Dzogchen tantra, is a prayer for attainment of the Dzogchen goal.


Critical Reviews

This collection includes four shiningly clear and starkly beautiful Dzogchen texts. Their common denominator is the soaring freedom of the Dzogchen viewpoint as symbolised by the Garuda -- the divine eagle that is said to fly as soon as it breaks free of its egg.'

Robin Cooke in The Mirror.

"This soaring translation of Shabkar Rinpoche's venerated Dzogchen teachings is in good hands with Kieth Dowman. I heartily recommend it to students of this path and to anyone interested in Buddhist songs and spiritual enlightenment."

(Lama Surya Das, author of Awakening the Buddha Within)

"A wonderful and useful book, extremely helpful in my Dzogchen studies."

(Ram Dass, author of Still Here)


Contents of Flight of the Garuda

[Click on Highlighted Chapter Heading for Excerpt]

Book Excerpts

Flight of the Garuda

Songs Six to Nine

SONG SIX: Initiation into our true existential condition

EHMAHO! Again, beloved children of my heart, listen! "Mind", this universal concept, this most significant of words, being no single entity, manifests as the gamut of pleasure and pain in samsara and nirvana. There are as many beliefs about it as there are approaches to Buddhahood. It has innumerable synonyms.

In the vernacular it is "I"; some Hindus call it "the Self"; the Disciples say "self-less individual"; the followers of Mind-only call it simply "mind"; some call it "perfect insight"; some call it "Buddha-nature"; some call it "the Magnificent Stance" (Mahamudra); some call it "the Middle Way"; some call it "the cosmic seed"; some call it "the reality-continuum"; some call it "the universal ground"; some call it "ordinary consciousness". Since the synonyms of "mind", the labels we apply to it, are countless, know it for what it really is. Know it experientially as the here and now. Compose yourself in the natural state of your mind's nature.

When at rest the mind is ordinary perception, naked and unadorned; when you gaze directly at it there is nothing to see but light; as Awareness, it is brilliance and the relaxed vigilance of the awakened state; as nothing specific whatsoever, it is a secret fullness; it is the ultimacy of nondual radiance and emptiness.

It is not eternal, for nothing whatsoever about it has been proved to exist. It is not a void, for there is brilliance and wakefulness. It is not unity, for multiplicity is self-evident in perception. It is not multiplicity, for we know the one taste of unity. It is not an external function, for Awareness is intrinsic to immediate reality.

In the immediate here and now we see the face of the Original Lord abiding in the heart centre. Identify yourself with him, my spiritual sons. Whoever denies him, wanting more from somewhere else, is like the man who has found his elephant but continues to follow its tracks. He may comb the three dimensions of the microcosmic world systems for an eternity, but he will not find so much as the name of Buddha other than the one in his heart.

Such is my introduction initiating recognition of our true existential condition, which is the principal realization in Cutting Through to the Great Perfection.

SONG SEVEN: Assertion of our Intrinsic Buddhahood

EHMAHO! Once more listen attentively, my noble sons and daughters. The three modes of Buddha's being -- essence, nature and responsiveness -- and the five modes of being, as well as the five aspects of primal awareness, all are completed and perfected in the naturally luminous intrinsic awareness of the here and now.

The essence of Awareness, indefinable by any term such as colour, shape or other attribute, is the dharmakaya; the inherent radiance of emptiness is the light of the sambhogakaya; and the unimpeded medium in which all things manifest is the nirmanakaya.

The three modes are explained figuratively like this: the dharmakaya is a crystal mirror; the sambhogakaya is its nature -- brilliant clarity; and the nirmanakaya is the unobstructed medium in which the reflection appears.

From the first, people's minds have existed as these three modes of being. If they are able to recognize this spontaneously, it is unnecessary for them to practise even so much as a moment of formal meditation -- the awakening to Buddhahood is instantaneous.

In this introduction to the three modes they are defined separately. In truth, my heart-children, do not fall into the error of believing them to be separate, belonging to different continuums.

From the beginning, the three modes of being are empty and utterly pure. Understanding them as a single essence that is the union of radiance and emptiness, conduct yourself in a state of detachment.

The triad of essence, nature and responsiveness, again, corresponds to dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. Understanding these three as the mystic union of emptiness and radiance, conduct yourself in a state of detachment.

Further, since the primal awareness of self-existing Awareness manifests everything whatsoever, this awareness is the pure-being of the Creator, Vairocana; since it is unchanging and unchangeable, it is the pure-being of Immutable Diamond, Aksobhya-vajra; since it is without centre or circumference, it is the pure-being of Boundless Light-form, Amitabha; since it is also the gem that is the source of supreme realization and relative powers, it is the pure-being of the Fountain of Jewels, Ratnasambhava; since it accomplishes all aspiration, it is the pure-being of the Fulfiller of All Ambition, Amoghasiddhi. These deities are nothing but the creative power of Awareness.

The primal awareness of Awareness is mirror-like awareness because of the manifest clarity of its unobstructed essence. It is awareness of sameness because it is all-pervasive. It is discriminating awareness because the entire gamut of diverse appearances is manifest from its creativity. It is the awareness that accomplishes all actions because it fulfils all our ambition. It is awareness of the reality-continuum, the dharmadhatu, because the single essence of all these aspects of awareness is primal purity. Not so much as an atom exists apart from these which are the creativity of intrinsic Awareness.

When a pointed finger introduces you directly and immediately to the three modes -- essence, nature and responsiveness -- and the Five Buddhas and the five aspects of awareness, all together, then what is experienced is brilliant, awakened Awareness unaffected by circumstance and uninfluenced by clinging thought; it is cognition of the here and now, unstructured and unaffected.

All the Buddhas of the three aspects of time arise from this Awareness. Constantly identify yourselves with it, beloved sons and daughters, because this is the spirituality of all the Buddhas of the three aspects of time.

Awareness is unstructured, natural radiance your own mind, so how can you say that you cannot see the Buddha? There is nothing at all to meditate upon in it, so how can you complain that meditation does not arise? It is manifest Awareness, your own mind, so how can you say that you cannot find it? It is a stream of unceasing radiant wakefulness, the face of your mind, so how can you say that you cannot see it? There is not so much as a moment of work to be done to attain it, so how can you say that your effort is unavailing? Centred and dispersed states are two sides of the same coin, so how can you say that your mind is never centred? Intrinsic Awareness is the spontaneously originated three modes of being, which is achieved without striving, so how can you say that your practice fails to accomplish it? It is enough to leave the mind in a state of non-action, so how can you say that you are incapable of attaining it? Your thoughts are released at the moment of their inception, so how can you say that the antidotes were ineffective? It is cognition of the here and now, so how can you say you do not perceive it?

SONG EIGHT: The Method of Attaining Conviction

EHMAHO! Once again, beloved sons and daughters, listen with devotion! "Mind in its insubstantiality is like the sky." Is this true or false, my children? Confirm it by relaxing completely and looking directly at the mind, gazing with your entire mind, free of all tension.

"The emptiness of the mind is not just a blank nothingness, for without doubt it is the primal awareness of intrinsic Awareness, radiant from the first. Self-existent, natural radiance is like sunlight." Is this indeed true? To confirm it, relax completely, looking directly at the nature of your mind.

"There is no doubt that it is impossible to objectify or grasp thought or the movement of memory. This capricious, changeable movement is like the cosmic wind!" Is this indeed so? To confirm it, relax completely, looking directly at the nature of your mind.

"Without doubt all appearances whatsoever are our own manifestation. All phenomena, whatsoever manifests, is like reflection in a mirror." Is this indeed so? To confirm it, relax completely, looking directly at the nature of your mind.

No experience is possible anywhere but in the mind, so there is nothing to see other than that seen at the moment of vision. No experience is possible anywhere but in the mind, so there is nothing to meditate upon other than mind. No experience is possible anywhere but in the mind, so there is nothing to do other than what is done in the mind. No experience is possible anywhere but in the mind, so there is no samaya to be sustained outside the mind. No experience is possible anywhere but in the mind, so there is no goal to be reached that is not in the mind.

Look, look, and look again. Look at your own mind!

Project your attention into external fields of space, and, attentively watching the nature of your mind, see if it moves. When you are convinced by observation that the mind does not move, retract your attention and concentrate upon the mind within, and look carefully for the projector of diffused thought. When you have decided that there is no entity responsible for thought patterns, look carefully for the colour and shape of the mind. When you arrive at the emptiness that has no colour or shape, look for a centre or circumference. Certain that middle and margin are the same, search for an inside and an outside. Finding no distinction between inside and outside, you arrive at Awareness, which is as vast as the sky.

"By virtue of its all-penetrating freedom this Awareness that has no centre or circumference, no inside or outside, is innocent of all partiality and knows no blocks or barriers. This all-penetrating intrinsic Awareness is a vast expanse of space. All experience of samsara and nirvana arises in it like rainbows in the sky. In all its diverse manifestation it is but a play of mind."

You need only look out from the motionless space of intrinsic Awareness at all experience, illusory like the reflection of the moon in water, to know the impossibility of dividing appearances from emptiness.

"In a state of Awareness there is no separation of samsara and nirvana." Look out from the motionless space of intrinsic Awareness at all experience, illusory like the reflection in a mirror, and no matter what manifests it can never be tasted, its existence can never be proved. In this dimension samsara and nirvana do not exist and everything is the dharmakaya.

All beings wandering in the three realms of samsara remain trapped in dualism until they realize that within their own perception resides the primal awareness that is the ultimate identity of all experience of samsara and nirvana. Due to the power of the delusive subject/object dichotomy, they hold samsara and nirvana to be different states of mind. They remain bound because, where in truth there is nonduality, they see a duality.

In reality no distinction between samsara and nirvana can exist in anybody's mind. However, when the worldly fool rejects some things and indulges in others, avoiding the "bad" and cultivating the "good", despising one while loving another, then due to partiality, prejudice and bias, aimlessly he wanders through successive lives.

Rather than attain the spontaneously accomplished three modes of intrinsic Awareness without striving, thick-headed aspirants explore the techniques and stages of many time-consuming methods of "self-improvement", leaving them no time to reach the seat of the Buddha.

"Emphatically, all phenomenal appearances whatsoever are one's own vision." Look out from the state of motionless intrinsic Awareness and all light-form and animate existence is like reflection. Appearances are empty, sound is empty and indeed one's own nature is originally empty.

Similarly, turn your attention inwards to the mind that is the viewer, and your thought processes, naturally subsiding, are empty like the sky, unstructured, free of conceptual elaboration, utterly indeterminable, beyond description, concept and expression of any kind.

All events whatsoever are an illusory magical display of mind and all the magical display of mind is baseless and empty. When you have realized that all events are your own mind, all visual appearances become the empty dharmakaya.

Appearances are not binding. It is through attachment to them that beings are fettered. Sever all delusive attachments, children of my heart!

SONG NINE: Mist Dream and Optical Illusion

EHMAHO! Best beloved, fearless sons and daughters, without applying the spur, the horse will not gallop; without thorough churning, the butter will not separate; without detailed explanation you will not be convinced of my meaning. So while I sing my long but lyrical songs, listen in comfort, relaxed, without drooping ears!

Until you perceive all appearances as mind you will never realize the meaning of emptiness. To facilitate this understanding, you favoured children must apply yourselves fully to a diligent analysis and thorough search. Firstly, where do appearances come from? Secondly, where are they now? Lastly, where do they go?

During your examination you will see that just as mist arises out of the sky and dissolves back into the sky, appearances are the magical display of your mind, arising in the mind and vanishing back into it.

Take as an example the shimmering effect seen by a man with an impaired sense of vision when he gazes ahead. Although the shimmering appears to exist in front of his eyes, nothing is there -- it is an optical illusion.

In the same way, when mental functions are impaired by negative propensities that cause clinging to apparently external objects as discrete and substantial entities, then visual and auditory phenomena appear to exist where not so much as an atom can be proved to have ultimate reality. Everything is a figment of the mind.

All these figments of mind are baseless and empty. They are non-existent light-forms, apparition and magical illusion, like the reflection of the moon in water. Compose yourself in the reality of inseparable appearance and emptiness!

Now in our sleep we may dream of our native country, our parental home, and our relatives or friends, as if they were actually present, and an appropriate strong feeling may arise. Although our family and friends are not actually present and we have not stirred an inch from our beds, we may experience a face-to-face encounter with them of the same vivid intensity as in the waking state.

Each and every sensual experience of our lives is an experience similar to last night's dream. Just as we attach labels to dream entities, objectifying and clinging to them as substantial entities, so appearances are modified and apprehended by mind in the waking state. In the same way that dreams have no substance, so the figments of the mind, all appearances whatsoever, are also empty.

The Prayer of Kuntu Zangpo

Stanzas Four to Eleven

(4) My apparitional emanation an unceasing stream
I project incalculable myriads of forms
Displaying manifold illusion to convert all beings,
Whosoever and whatsoever they may be.
Through this, my compassionate wish-granting prayer,
May all creatures of samsara's three realms
Escape the destinies of the six types of being.

(5) In the first place, deluded sentient beings
Lacked attentiveness and were bewildered
Because Awareness did not arise in the ground:
This is the primary cause of ignorance and delusion.
There followed a sudden fainting away

Causing feelings of dread and neurotic vacillation;
"I" was alienated from a hostile "other", "the enemy",
And the mind progressively conditioned by this tendency
Samsara was established as a way of life.
The five poisons increasing, defilement resulted
And karma, five times poisoned, became an interminable stream.

Since the cause of sentient beings' delusion
Is unmindfulness and absence of Awareness,
Through this, my wish-granting prayer, the Buddha's aspiration,
May everyone recognize Awareness spontaneously.

(6) "Innate ignorance"
(Accompanying each moment of perception)
Implies unmindful, distracted cognition,
And "conceptual ignorance"
(Selecting, structuring and labelling)
Implies dualistic cognition.
This twofold ignorance, innate and conceptual,
Forms the basis of all beings' delusion.

Through this, the Buddha's wish-granting prayer,
In all of samsara's sentient beings --
The gloom of their fogged, distracted minds dissolving,
Dualistic perception unified in pellucid clarity --
Let there be spontaneous recognition of Awareness.

(7) The dualizing intellect is doubtful, fearful and insecure;
It breeds subtle cravings
That gradually crystallize into overt, compulsive desires:
Desire for food, wealth and clothing, home and friends,
For fivefold sensual pleasure and loving companions,
And the tormented yearning of sexual attraction.
All these, the obsessions of temporal, worldly delusion,
The karma of an ego craving objects, are never exhausted.
When the fruit of craving ripens,
Tormented by frustrated desire
There is rebirth as a hungry ghost.
Ah, the misery of hunger and thirst!

Through this, the Buddha's wish-granting prayer,
Neither repressing or rejecting the pangs of frustration
Nor accepting or indulging obsessive lusts,
May all beings possessed by compulsive desires
Be released from the stresses of dualistic perception.
May Awareness resume its natural primacy
And All-discriminating Awareness be attained.

(8) Confronted by appearances of external objects
There is tremulous vibration of fear in cognition.
When the tendency to aversion crystallizes as hatred,
Enmity breeds violent aggression leading to killing.
When the fruit of hatred ripens,
Ah, the agony of burning and boiling in hell!

Through this, the Buddha's wish-granting prayer,
When aggressive hatred erupts
Neither inhibiting nor indulging it
But relaxing and releasing the stress,
May Awareness resume its natural primacy.
May all the six types of beings
Attain the Awareness of Radiant Clarity.

(9) When the mind is inflated with confidence,
The intellect scornfully contending with others
Breeds a mind full of arrogant pride,
Creating violent confrontation or war
And all of its consequent suffering.
When the fruit of such karma ripens
A god is born, heir to decay and eventual downfall.

Through this, the Buddha's wish-granting prayer,
May all beings prone to inflated confidence,
At its onset, relax, releasing the stress in perception,
Allowing Awareness to resume its natural primacy
Attaining the Awareness of Sameness.

(10) The crystallized tendencies of an alienated mind,
Elevating self and diminishing others,
Breed the karma of contention and violent aggression.
This leads to rebirth as a murderous titan
In the anti-gods' realm of constant conflict,
Where downfall into hell is the final outcome.

Through this, the Buddha's wish-granting prayer,
When contention or violent confrontation arises,
May you break the habit of conceiving of others as enemies
And relax, releasing the stress in perception,
Allowing pure sensory consciousness its primacy,
Thus attaining the Awareness of Unhindered Action.

(11) Unmindfulness, apathy and a wandering mind,
Dullness, torpor and forgetfulness,
Languor, laziness and stupidity,
Result in rebirth as a wandering, homeless beast.

Through this, the Buddha's wish-granting prayer,
May the radiance of mindful clarity dawn
In the gloom of sloth and depression
To bring Awareness of a Silent Mind.

A Confession from Emptying the Depths of Hell

HUNG! How futile to project notions of being and nonbeing
Upon an unformed and inconceivable reality-continuum!
What misery to cling to delusions of a substantial reality!
Atone in the spaciousness of formless, concept-free pleasure.

How pointless to project notions of purity and impurity
Upon Kuntu Zangpo, who transcends all moral qualities!
How guilt-ridden are those who cling to moral dualities!
Atone in the spaciousness of Kunzang's pure pleasure.

How exhausting to cling to notions of self and others
In the sameness where superiority and inferiority cannot be!
What anxiety to cling to the duality of success and failure!
Atone in the spaciousness of the pure pleasure of sameness.

How futile to cling to concepts of this life and the next
When the Bodhisattva's mind is free of birth and dying!
What anxiety lies in obsession with birth and death!
Atone in the spaciousness of the deathless swastika.

How foolish to project concepts of concrete form and substance
Upon the cosmic seed that has no corners or edges!
What boredom lies in the limitations of squares and rectangles!
Atone in the spaciousness of the all-embracing spherical nucleus.

How stupid it is to project notions of beginning and end
In the timeless, unchangeable dimension of past, present and future!
What misery lies in the duality of transformation and gradual change!
Atone in the spaciousness of unchanging past, present and future.

How pointless to project causal relationships
Upon Awareness, naturally arising without strain or accomplishment!
What grief lies in distinguishing effort from attainment!
Atone in the spaciousness of effortless spontaneity.

How exhausting to cling to concepts of subject and object
In Knowledge-Awareness neither eternal nor temporal!
What misery to separate time from eternity!
Atone in the spaciousness of Knowledge-Awareness.

Sarva Mangalam!
May all beings be happy!