golden dorje

The Great Secret of Mind

- Special Instructions on the Nonduality of Dzogchen -

by Tulku Pema Rigdzin

golden dorje


First edition, 304 pages, April 2013
Snow Lion
ISBN-10 1559394013
ISBN-13 978-8129112934

The Great Secret of Mind

Special Instructions on the Nonduality of Dzogchen

By Tulku Pema Rigdzin
Translation and Introduction by Keith Dowman.

Dzogchen (Great Perfection) goes to the heart of our experience by investigating the relationship between mind and world and uncovering the great secret of mind's luminous nature. Weaving in personal stories and everyday examples, Pema Rigtsal leads the reader to see that all phenomena are the spontaneous display of mind, a magical illusion, and yet there is something shining in the midst of experience that is naturally pure and spacious. Not recognizing this natural great perfection is the root cause of suffering and self-centered clinging.

After introducing us to this liberating view, Pema Rigtsal explains how it is stabilized and sustained in effortless meditation: without modifying anything, whatever thoughts of happiness or sorrow arise simply dissolve by themselves into the spaciousness of pure presence. The book is divided into chapters on the view, meditation as the path, conduct, the attainment, and the four bardos. Each chapter consists of mini-sections that can be read as stand-alone Dharma talks. Pema Rigtsal has studied and lived with several authentic Dzogchen masters and has surprising stories to tell about their unconventional methods to introduce students to the subtle view of Dzogchen.


Critical Reviews

“I pray with whatever prayers I know that the great waves of benefit that [Tulku Pema Rigtsal] generates for Buddha’s teaching in general, and particularly the study and practice of the Kama and Terma teachings of the Nyingma and Tersar traditions, from his ancestors up to his holy father, increase like rivers in summertime, and that he has a long life.”

—Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

“I strongly recommend this work to all those who meditate. I believe this work will bring benefit to people of both the West and the East who have an interest in Dzogchen, and I urge everyone who wants to practice buddha-dharma to take time to read this book.”

—Domang Yangtang Tulku

“The fundamental teachings of Mahayana Buddhism in general and of Dzogchen in particular are elucidated in this book in the clearest possible way. For anyone who is open to learning the sacred secret of the mind that we all treasure, this is an eye-opening book to read.”

—Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, author of Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth

“The Great Secret of Mind is the condensed meaning of buddha-dharma and particularly the Nyingma teachings. . . . I am pleased by his work and pray to the Triple Gem and bodhisattvas that it may benefit all students of Buddhism.”

—His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

Contents of The Great Secret of Mind

[Click on Highlighted Chapter Heading for Excerpt]

  • Excerpts
  • Works Cited
  • 1. The View
    • 1.1 The nature of the physical world
    • 1.2 The difference between “insider” and “outsider” meditation
    • 1.3 The fallacy of materialism: how the actuality contradicts our assumption that our happiness and sadness depend upon material things
    • 1.4 The unreality of material things
    • 1.5 All things are figments of the mind
    • 1.6 How this body emerges from the karmically conditioned mind, and how we may anticipate the next life
    • 1.7 Distinguishing between impure outer appearances and the pure nature of reality
    • 1.8 All phenomena are unreal: all is just a delusive display of mind
    • 1.9 The method of eliminating belief in concrete reality, the cause of suffering
    • 1.10 The ways of establishing the unreal world as magical illusion in the different levels of approach
    • 1.11 People ignorant of the illusory nature of their own unreal mind spin around in confusion
    • 1.12 Pure presence itself is buddha
    • 1.13 Illustrating the similarity of the world and magical illusion
    • 1.14 The conviction that all is unreal accords with the sutras
    • 1.15 An introduction to the secret of mind
    • 1.16 The dualistic nature of the intellect illustrated in the question-answer method of the sutras
    • 1.17 Reasonable proof that buddha-nature exists in our mindstream
    • 1.18 When the natural perfection of mind is realized, there is no need to apply an appropriate antidote to each karmic impulse
    • 1.19 Reconciliation of the view that the world is an empty, unreal, subjective delusion with the scientific view that it is composed of atoms
    • 1.20 Sickness and physical pain are relieved by making a habit of recognizing pure empty presence
    • 1.21 Mind is the root of all experience
    • 1.22 Knowing the whole world as figments of mind, undisturbed at the time of death, we are released in the bardo
    • 1.23 The creative and fulfillment phases are complete and perfect in the space of basic empty presence
    • 1.24 Why all beings are continuously bound in samsara
    • 1.25 Delusion dissolves when we look at the essence of mind
    • 1.26 The advantage of perceiving all things as mere conceptual labels
    • 1.27 When pure presence is spontaneously recognized, its veils naturally dissolve
    • 1.28 Creativity is necessarily released in pure presence
    • 1.29 Samsara never existed except as mere creative visions
    • 1.30 In unconditioned pure presence, all buddha-potential is spontaneously manifest
    • 1.31 When we abide in unchangeable mind, there is enormous instant advantage
    • 1.32 Uncontrolled emotion effects severe ecological damage
    • 1.33 The Dzogchen process necessarily and naturally preserves the environment
    • 1.34 Illustrating that all things arise out of the basis of mind
    • 1.35 With a full understanding of the inseparability of appearances and emptiness, vision is naturally suffused by infinite purity
    • 1.36 A finger pointing directly at pure presence
    • 1.37 Reasons for the necessity to seek a rigzin-lama to introduce pure presence
    • 1.38 The potential of pure being and primal awareness is already manifest in basic pure presence
    • 1.39 Dispelling doubt about the unconditioned potentiality of pure presence
    • 1.40 How to make the five poisons into the path itself
    • 1.41 Until discursive thought dissolves in spaciousness, karmic repercussions must be considered
    • 1.42 The benefits of hearing Dzogchen precepts
  • 2. Meditation as the Path
    • 2.1 First, conviction in the view is essential
    • 2.2 The reason for meditation
    • 2.3 Disposition of meditation
    • 2.4 Without meditation, even trivial events create severe suffering
    • 2.5 Meditation removes the attachment that is the root of suffering
    • 2.6 The cause of manifest suffering is hope and fear
    • 2.7 A short explanation of how to sustain the primal awareness of intrinsic presence
    • 2.8 The place of meditation
    • 2.9 The disposition of the body
    • 2.10 How to sustain pure presence in brief
    • 2.11 How to sustain pure presence in general
    • 2.12 The five faults that hinder concentration
    • 2.13 The eight volitional antidotes to the five faults
    • 2.14 In unitary shamata and vipasyana, the nine mental states and the five mystical experiences are correlated
    • 2.15 The simple, quintessential disposition
    • 2.16 The method of practicing the essential pure presence in sessions<
    • 2.17 The place of deviation into mystical experience
    • 2.18 The distinction between mind and pure presence
    • 2.19 The rigzin-lama’s personal instruction inspires meditation
  • 3. Conduct
    • 3.1 An explanation of conduct
    • 3.2 The sin of ignorance of the continuity of reflexively liberating thought
    • 3.3 The preeminence of the mode of simultaneous arising and releasing of thought
    • 3.4 Meditation experience arises naturally in the mindstream
    • 3.5 When conduct consists of simultaneous arising and releasing, it is free of karma and its effects
    • 3.6 A categorical assertion that Dzogchen transcends cause and effect
    • 3.7 So long as dualistic perception obtains, heed karma and its effects
    • 3.8 The evidence of the accomplishment of unchangeable self-beneficial pure presence is equanimity in the face of the eight worldly obsessions
    • 3.9 The evidence of the accomplishment of unchangeable altruistic pure presence is spontaneous compassion and reliance on the laws of karma and its results
    • 3.10 Practitioners of the lower approaches are bound by strenuous effort
    • 3.11 Conduct is characterized by the three modes of release
    • 3.12 The perspectives of both sutra and tantra agree in rejecting gross emotivity
    • 3.13 Infusing conduct with the six perfections
    • 3.14 Obsessive desire leads to suffering addiction
    • 3.15 Everyone, high and low, has been a slave to attachment
    • 3.16 The stupidity of suicide
    • 3.17 With detachment, the mere possession of wealth and fame does no harm
    • 3.18 Others are served best by an unselfish mind
    • 3.19 When we know objects of attachment as delusion, the five sensory pleasures do us no harm
    • 3.20 Those with pure presence are labeled “buddha,” while the ignorant are “sentient beings”
    • 3.21 Three special features of intrinsic awareness
    • 3.22 Discursive thought necessarily dissolves into basic pure presence
    • 3.23 Detachment from samsara, nirvana, and the path between them is the crux
    • 3.24 “Hand-holding” instruction, in short
  • 4. The Attainment
    • 4.1 The spontaneous manifestation of buddha-potential in basic pure presence
    • 4.2 Knowing the great perfection: buddha in one lifetime!
    • 4.3 Contemporary stories of physical dissolution and liberation in a rainbow body
  • 5. The Four Bardos
    • 5.1 For those of middling acumen: instruction about liberation in the bardo
    • 5.2 The bardo of life
    • 5.3 The bardo of the process of dying
    • 5.4 The actual practice in the bardo of the death process
    • 5.5 Consciousness sublimation is among the five nonmeditation methods of attaining buddha
    • 5.6 The bardo of reality
    • 5.7 The bardo of becoming
  • Author’s Colophon
  • Glossary
  • Works Cited

Book Excerpts

Firebrand: An Introduction to the Nature of Mind

The mind has two aspects: the relative mind and the mind in itself—what we call ‘the nature of mind’. This distinction is between mind and bodhi-mind. 'Mind', the relative mind, is the intellect, characterized as fictive and notional-conceptual; it is that mind which makes the division between subject and object. Bodhi-mind, on the other hand, is nondual primal awareness, primordial spontaneity, the real mind. To answer the question whether the intellect and bodhi-mind are one or two, take the example of a firebrand and its circle of fire. When at night the firebrand is held in the hand and whirled around, a wheel of fire appears. This wheel of fire seems to be independent of the firebrand itself because nothing can be observed in the dark other than the wheel of fire. The wheel of fire, totally dependant upon the firebrand, actually has no independent existence at all. The subjective intellect is like the wheel of fire; we can say upon reflection that it would appear to have no substantive existence. And if we do not think about it, we would tend to take the basis of designation of the intellectual labelling mind as nothing other than bodhi-mind or the nature of mind itself.

When bodhi-mind is in a state of dualistic perception, it is called ‘fictive mind’ and it pertains to samsara and is just like the wheel of fire. The primal awareness that is free of dualistic perception is called bodhi-mind, which is just like the light of the firebrand itself. The basis of the illusion of the wheel of fire is nothing other than the firebrand, but the firebrand itself does not partake of the illusion of the wheel of fire. Thus, the intellectual mind’s delusions are no other than the nature of mind and the creativity of pure presence; but bodhi-mind is not the intellect, because bodhi-mind is free of adulterating dualistic perception.

The mind has no substantive existence—the nature of mind is clear light.
[Mind 1:15]

Riktsel: All Concept and Thought is the Creativity of Pure Presence

In the pellucid mirror-like pure presence free of all conceptual intrusion, when all of a sudden a vivid thought arises we call it ‘creativity’. This creativity arises out of basic pure presence. It is the constantly shifting nature of pure presence. Abiding naturally in that supreme cognition, all creativity and all display are rootless and baseless. When we awaken from dreamlike delusion, both objective field and subjective knower vanish into their own space. So too from our own bed of unchangeable intrinsically-aware dharmakaya, from where they cannot move even a hair’s breadth, the concepts of materiality and specific characteristics dissolve in release.

If we fail to realize that the vivid thoughts that arise in mirror-like basic pure presence are the natural creativity of pure presence itself, from that point onwards delusive samsara appears as an apparently true objective stream.
[Mind 1:28]

Meditation Arises Naturally in the Mindstream

The crucial manner of release, like a snake uncoiling its knots, is not something to be achieved in a handful of energetic meditation sessions. It must be a constant and to make it such we need to relax into it. In that way it becomes familiar and there is no need for any purposeful or fruitful application of antidotes, because the counteraction is applied automatically, just as a potter applying a strong push to his wheel does not need to apply force again before the pot is complete. Once we are accustomed to such an automatic process of release, whatever thoughts of happiness or sorrow arise simply dissolve by themselves and, unaffected by them, we experience automatically-arising confidence. When strong hatred or pain arises adventitiously and we recognize the immediate release of the thought, a laugh may suddenly escape us or some other extraordinary expression of joy.
[Mind 1:34]

Works Cited


The Amitabha Sutra
’Od mdo Amitabha-sutra Ananda’s Sutra Kun dga’ bo’i mdo

Avatamsaka Sutra
Mdo sde phal po che
Awareness of the Moment of Death ’Phags pa ’da’ ga ye she kyi mdo

The Explanatory Sutra of Interdependent Origination
Rten cing ’brel bar byung ’ba’i don bshad pa’i mdo
Pratityasamutpada-sutra Gandavyuha Sutra Sdong po bskod pa'i mdo

The Great Matrix Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in One Hundred Thousand Verses
Yum chen mo stong phrag brgya pa

The Heart Sutra
Shes rab snying po’i mdo Prajnaparamita-hrdaya-sutra
The Inexhaustible Mind
Blo gros mi zad pa’i mdo

The King of Samadhi Sutra
Ting nge ’dzin gyi rgyal po’i mdo Samadhiraja-sutra
Lankavatara Sutra Lang kar gshegs pa’i mdo
The Medium Matrix Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in Eight Thousand Verses
Yum bar ma brgyad stong pa

The Pile of Jewels Dkon mchog brtsegs pa’i mdo

The Sutra of Individual Liberation
So sor thar pa’i mdo Pratimoksa-sutra The Teaching of the Noble Youth “Incredible Light” Phags pa Khye’u snang ba bsam gyi mi khyab pa bstan pa’i mdo Sanskrit title unlocated Vinaya ’Dul ba lung


Tantras in the Kangyur
Hevajra Tantra
Rgyud rtags gnyis Recitation of the Names of Manjushri Manjusrinamasangiti ’Jam dpal mtshan brjod

Nyingma Gyubum Tantras
Beyond the Sound
Sgra thal gyur rgyud

The Blazing Relics
Sku gdung ’bar ba’i rgyud

The Compendium of Pure Presence
Kun ’dus rig pa’i rgyud

The Discourse of the General Assembly
Mdo dgongs pa ’dus pa, ’Dus pa’i mdo

The Essential Heruka Tantra
Heruka gal po’i rgyud

The Lamp of Immaculate View
Lta ba yang dag sgron me’i rgyud

The Lamp of the Three Modes
Tshul gsum sgron me’i rgyud

Magnificent Unelaborated Clear Meaning
Spros bral don gsal chen mo’i rgyud

Meditation upon the Luminous Mind
Byang chub sems kyi sgom pa

The Mirror of the Heart of Vajrasattva
Rdo rje sems dpa’ snying gi me long gi rgyud

The Rampant Lion
Sen ge rtsal rdzogs kyi chen po’i rgyud

The Secret Core Rgyud gsang ba snying po’i rgyud

The Secret Core: Illusory Display
Sgyu ’phrul gsang snying

The Source of Sacred Samadhi
Ting ’dzin dam pa’i le'u

The Supreme Source
Kun byed rgyal po’i rgyud

The Tantra of Perfect Creativity
Rtsal rdzogs pa’i rgyud

The Union of Sun and Moon
Nyi zla kha sbyor rgyud

Sanskrit Treatises and Commentaries
The Thirty Stanzas Sum cu pa

The Lamp of the Path
Lam gyi sgron ma

Entry into the Middle Way
Dbu ma la ’jug pa

The Supreme Tantra
Rgyud bla ma bstan bcos

In Praise of the Dharmadhatu
Chos dbying bstod pa

The Root Stanzas of the Middle Way
Dbu ma rtsa ba'i shes rab

In Union with Buddha
Sangs rgyas mnyam byor


Ornament of the Middle Way
Dbu ma rgyan

Entering the Way of the Bodhisattva
Spyod ’jug

Tibetan Treatises

Sba gsal snang
The Samye Chronicles
Sba bshed

Botrul Dongak Tenpai Nyima
(Bod sprul mdo sngag bstan pa’i nyi ma)
Analysis of View and Doctrine Lta grub shan ’byed

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (Dil go mkhyen brtse)
Oral commentary on Garab Dorje’s
The Three Incisive Precepts

Drubchen Pema Dewai Gyelpo
(Grub chen pad ma bde ba’i gyal po)
The Rampant Lion Sen ge rtsal rdzogs

Dudjom Lingpa (Bdud ’joms gling pa)
Cutting Instruction
Gcod pa’i khrid

 Dudjom Rinpoche
(Bdud ’joms ’jig bral ye she rdo rje)
Aspiration on the Gradual Path of the Wrathful Dakini Khro ma’i lam rim smon lam

Calling the Lama from Afar: Spontaneously Calling to the Lama from Afar in Song
Bla ma rgyang ’bod gnyug ma’i thol glu

The Dakini’s Heart-Essence: A Manual
Mkha’ gro thugs thig khrid yig

Heart-Essence of the Dakini
Mkha’ gro thug thig

History of the Nyingma School
Chos byung lha dbang gyul rgyal

The Intrinsic Nature of Being
Gnas lugs rang byung

Lifeblood of the Mountain Retreat
Ri chos dmar khrid

Vajrakilaya: The Razor Slash
Phur ba spu gri reg phung

Gendun Chophel (Dge ’dun chos ’phel)
A Collection of Elegant Verses
Snyan rtsom ’thor bu

An Ornament of Nagarjuna’s Mind
Klu sgrub dgongs rgyan

Guru Tashi (Gu ru bkra shis)
History of the Nyingma School
Chos byung ngo mtshar gtam gyi rol mtsho

Jigme Lingpa (’Jigs med gling pa)
Legs byas yongs ’du’i snye ma

The Chariot of Omniscience
Rnam mkhyen shing rta

Ju Mipham (’Ju Mi pham)
The Aspiration of Ground, Path, and Fruit
Gzhi lam ’bras bu smon lam

Beacon of Certainty
Nges shes gron me
Ketaka Commentary (upon the ninth chapter of the Bodhicaryavatara)
Sher grel ke ta ka

Reply to Refutation
Brgal len nyid byed snang ba

Traditional Shastra
Lugs kyi bstan bcos
Voice of Vajra Awareness
’Jam dpal rdzogs pa chen po’i smon lam

Karma Lingpa (Karma gling pa)
Liberation by Hearing in the Bardo (The Tibetan Book of the Dead)
Bar do thos grol

Lakla Chodrup (Glag bla chos grub)
Doorway of Threefold Faith
Rnam thar dad pa gsum kyi ’jug ngogs

Longchen Rabjampa (Klong chen rab ’byams pa)
Collected Fragments Gsung thor bu

The Dakini’s Heart-Essence
Mkha’ ’gro snying thig

Finding Comfort and Ease in Meditation
Bsam gtan ngal so

The Golden Letters
 Gser yig can The Heart-Essence of Vimalamitra
Bi ma snying thig

The Most Secret Essence of the Dakini
Mkha’ ’gro yang thig

The Most Secret Essence of the Lama
Bla ma yang thig

The Treasury of Natural Perfection
Gnas lugs mdzod

The Treasury of the Dharmadhatu
Chos dbyings mdzod

The Treasury of the Supreme Approach
Theg mchog mdzod

The Wish-Fulfilling Treasury
Yid bzhin mdzod

Milarepa (Jetsun Mi la ras pa)
Songbook Mgur ’bum

Ngari Panchen
(Nga ri Pandita Pema dbyang kyi rgyal po)
Ascertaining the Three Vows
Sdom sgum rnam nges

Ngulchu Tokme (Dngul chu thog med)
The Thirty-Seven Practices of the Bodhisattva
Rgyal sras lag len so bdun ma

Orgyen Lingpa (’O rgyan gling pa)
The Chronicles of Padmasambhava
Pad ma bka’ thang

Patrul Rinpoche (Dpal sprul rin po che)
Collected Fragments

Gsung thor bu
Exhortation to Read the Seven Treasuries
Mdzod bdun blta bar bskul ba

The Three Incisive Precepts
Tshig gsum gnad brdegs
The Words of My Perfect Teacher
Kun bzang bla ma’i shal lung

Pema Lhungtok Gyatso (Padma lung rtogs rgya mtsho)
Commentary on “The Cutting Instruction”
Gcod khrid grel ba

Pema Lingpa (Padma gling pa)
The Superrefined Oral Instruction
Gdam ngag mar gyi yang shun

Rongzompa Mahapandita
(Je Rong zom chos kyi bzang po)
Applying the Mahayana Method
Theg chen tshul ’jug pa

Great Memorandum of View
Lta ba’i brjed byang chen mo

Sakya Pandita
Elegant Sayings of Sakya Pandita

Sa skya legs bshad Sakya Zangpo (Sa skya bzang po) The Legend of the Great Stupa of Boudhanath
Bya rung kha shor lo rgyus

Shabkhar Lama
(Shabs dkar bla ma tshogs drug rang grol)
Flight of the Garuda Mkha’ lding shogs bslabs

Totshun Drubje
(Mtho tshun grub rje)
Extraordinary Exalted Praise
Khyad par ’phags bstod

Sarva Mangalam!
May all beings be happy!