I have noticed something curious when reading the 2009 translation of the Surangama Sutra (Buddhist Text Society). I am referring to the Chinese text of this name that is of central importance to Chinese Buddhism, but is not typically canonical elsewhere because, as scholars have consistently demonstrated, it is a late composition of Chinese origin. I would like to suggest that it may be, at least in part, a rebuttal to Dzogchen practice.
For example, in the discussion of the Aggregate of Form early in the sutra, Buddha Shakyamuni gives the following example to Ananda:
Here, it appears that an unsympathetic description of Namkha Arted, a well-known Dzogchen practice, is given as an example to demonstrate the emptiness of the form aggregate. The ignorance of the person who sees these "flowers in the sky" becomes a leitmotif throughout the text after this. Whomever is gazing at the sky in this way is consistently wrong from the perspective of this sutra.Surangama Sutra, p 90 wrote:a clear-sighted person looks up at a clear sky, where nothing but empty space is to be seen. Suppose that, for no particular reason, this person happens to stare, without moving his eyes, until they are stressed to the point that he sees in the empty air a disordered display of flowers, along with various other images...
It may be that the authors or compilers of the Surangama Sutra picked the "flowers in the sky" example at random, or chose it because they felt it was effective. I find this plausible instead: the authors of this text intended to Dzogchen practice as a cause for error rather than enlightenment, and to advance a different practice (the mandala and dharani in this text) as a far superior one. Put differently, there is reason to suspect that the Surangama Sutra is an anti-Dzogchen intervention--that a dismissal of Dzogchen is the rationale for the practice it advocates.
Scholars and practitioners with superior knowledge of the source texts and classical languages, and the textual history at hand, are positioned to substantiate this idea, or to disprove it. I would be interested in finding out whether this interpretation holds up to critical scrutiny by those who know better than me.
But if I am right, then this insight is consequential for some practitioners. Specifically:
There are some Dzogchen practitioners who are interested in boxing Dzogchen into the protocols and categories of normative Chinese Buddhism. What if one of the central texts of Chinese Buddhism is explicitly anti-Dzogchen? (it would be worth considering the question of whether Dzogchen can be delimited by any set of traditional norms and practices, Chinese or Tibetan or otherwise...)
It points out a potential obstacle to dialogue between Chinese Buddhists and Tibetan Buddhist practitioners generally, and Dzogchen practitioners specifically.
For historians: it suggests that Dzogchen may have been more highly diffused and significant in the period of the Surangama Sutra's composition in China than one might assume. I think this is an interesting possibility.