Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

DesertDweller
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Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by DesertDweller » Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:07 am

(Prefatory note: I have posted this question in the Ch'an/Zen (we'll just call it "Zen") forums because I specifically and sincerely want to hear what Zen practitioners think about this, from their own (i.e. non-Vajrayana) perspective, and based on their own experience, comparisons, readings, etc.--I already know exactly how such a question would be received in the Vajrayana forums, and while I completely respect their point of view, I want to hear from people who aren't bound by that tradition. Vajrayana practitioners are of course emphatically welcome to contribute as much as they want to this discussion, but please keep in mind that I posted here for a reason.)

I have listened to a few Dzogchen pointing-out-instructions online. Specifically,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHKI3nJZ1BU

and

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i34IuGJUj30.

I know the traditionalist Dzogchen practitioners will say, "These aren't authentic, or effective" etc. However, putting aside for now the question of "the validity of recorded empowerments," if indeed such instructions do not differ substantially from those given by a master "live," then would you say there is the substantial difference between these and what we learn in Zen about the nature of the Mind, for instance in the Platform Sutra or Bodhidharma's sermons? :namaste:

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by amanitamusc » Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:47 am

It seems you are looking for the answer that you want to hear and don't care where
that verification comes from.No?

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by DesertDweller » Wed Jun 13, 2018 9:00 am

Actually, no. I'm not looking for verification, proofs, permission or arguments about anything. I'm more interested in a casual intellectual discussion with other Zen practioners who make use of Dzogchen stuff. Obviously, any such thing will be without "validation" from the Vajrayana or traditional Dzogchen tradition (which again is why I posted here, not there). But I should have clarified that I personally already believe that, at least in terms of the Mind that is "pointed out," Zen and Dzogchen are identical. I know others will disagree and that's fine. But even the pointing-out instructions--if the clips I posted are true--seem the same as things commonly encountered in Zen discourse; however I am more cautious on this point since I have no way of verifying that the contents of the clips are in fact "all there is" to the pointing out in Dzogchen. But it was the clips which prompted my post: I had some familiarity with Dzogchen, but before I happened to see these I had somehow expected that pointing-out instructions would be something else--I don't know what exactly. So maybe it's more of an academic discussion?

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by Astus » Wed Jun 13, 2018 9:34 am

DesertDweller wrote:
Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:07 am
would you say there is the substantial difference between these and what we learn in Zen about the nature of the Mind, for instance in the Platform Sutra or Bodhidharma's sermons?
All Buddhist schools agree that the nature of the mind is insubstantial.

"Those who wish to become the Sugata’s Disciples,
Or Pratyekabuddhas, or likewise, Kings of the Dharma –
Without resort to this Patience they cannot reach their respective goals.
They move across, but their eyes are not on the other shore."

(Ratnagunasamcayagatha 2.38)

"The Buddha’s offspring, the Disciples and Pratyekabuddhas,
The gods, and the dharmas which lead to the ease and happiness of all the world, -as many as there are,
They all have issued from wisdom, the foremost perfection,
And yet wisdom does not ever get exhausted, nor does it increase."

(28.466)

"Whether one wants to train on the level of Disciple, or Pratyekabuddha, or Bodhisattva, - one should listen to this perfection of wisdom, take it up, bear it in mind, recite it, study it, spread it among others, and in this very perfection of wisdom should one be trained and exert oneself."
(PP8K 1.2)

"Since thus, in ultimate truth and as things stand, such a dharma which could constitute a being whose heart is set on enlightenment cannot be apprehended, where do you get the idea that “this one belongs to the vehicle of the Disciples, that one to the vehicle of the Pratyekabuddhas, that one to the great vehicle”?"
(16.4)

"There is really no establishment of various vehicles, and so I speak of the one vehicle; but in order to carry the ignorant I talk of a variety of vehicles."
(Lankavatara Sutra, 2.56)
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by Aryjna » Wed Jun 13, 2018 6:35 pm

DesertDweller wrote:
Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:07 am
I know the traditionalist Dzogchen practitioners will say, "These aren't authentic, or effective" etc.
It is not a matter of tradition, if it doesn't work it doesn't work. Also, I think this is not supposed to be watched by people who have not received the transmission, maybe even specifically the transmission from these specific teachers. Then again it is on youtube.

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed Jun 13, 2018 8:07 pm

Such comparisons are usually a waste of time, but if you wanted to make them, the closest comparison is gradual shamatha/vipaysana with the goal of recognizing the nature of mind via pointing out instructions.

Again, I don't think it's quite the same thing, but this is the best comparison to Zen, in my experience. I did also practice Zen for some time, though I was not as heavily involved in it as I have been in Tibetan tradiitons.

Also in Zen, I think there are probably many teachers that would tell you to connect with a teacher through more than Youtube videos, if you wanted transmission, regardless of where they came out officially. Despite modernity and it's "DIY" attitude about things, plenty of Zen teachers recommend a relationship with a teacher, not just watching a video.
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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by SunWuKong » Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:37 am

I'm always confused as to why Dzogchen is likened to Zen. Zen, it's mean all I have to do is Google it, and its simple and clear. Dzogcen, I have no idea what that is. There's no reference points to it for me. In general i never listen to contemporary teachers for very long. They start droning on after the first few words and i lose track of the point. Give me the Dzogchen old text and i could respond. I can't bear to hear another opinion on Youtube
"We are magical animals that roam" ~ Roam

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by DesertDweller » Thu Jun 14, 2018 7:50 am

@Astus:
These are great quotes: thanks!
Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Wed Jun 13, 2018 8:07 pm
Also in Zen, I think there are probably many teachers that would tell you to connect with a teacher through more than Youtube videos, if you wanted transmission, regardless of where they came out officially. Despite modernity and it's "DIY" attitude about things, plenty of Zen teachers recommend a relationship with a teacher, not just watching a video.
You are assuming a lot here about my background and motivations for watching the clips, I think. Anyway, these sermons on modernity and its evil ways, however well-intentioned, are beside the point: I had always assumed that the pointing-out instructions would be something fundamentally different in form from what we commonly find in Zen discourse. Since this doesn't seem to be the case, then it would seem that, in Dzogchen, such instructions are simply ritualized in a way different from Zen, where they tend to be continuously repeated in different ways until the student "gets it."
It is not a matter of tradition, if it doesn't work it doesn't work. Also, I think this is not supposed to be watched by people who have not received the transmission, maybe even specifically the transmission from these specific teachers. Then again it is on youtube.
Even if you are correct in your idea that such clips require permission to view (and I have no reason to believe that they do), the question of permission is really not relevant to this discussion since we are not situating ourselves here from within the tradition in which such permission has meaning. But the question of whether or not such instructions, on YouTube as they are, "work", does in fact come close heart of the matter. To be clear--I'm not a Dzogchen practitioner, and nor do I plan to become one. I'm not seeking any Dzogchen transmission or initiation. Rather, I'm interested in the essential difference, if any, between the Dzogchen pointing-out and Zen's.

To phrase it slightly differently: what is it about these Dzogchen instructions that makes them "work"? And do they "work" differently than they do in Zen? The best I can come up with is to suggest that in the Dzogchen tradition there is a critical element involving a master's initiatory "blessing" that is especially emphasized, as a central ritual. I guess we could just leave it at that and move on. But then again, do the pointing-out instructions in Dzogchen actually "work" as an "initiation" (empowerment), or merely as an effective means, accompanied by a certain grace, of directing the student to his/her Mind? If it is the former, then this would indeed be a significant difference between the two traditions' "pointing out." But if the latter, perhaps not so much.

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by Astus » Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:45 am

DesertDweller wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 7:50 am
I'm interested in the essential difference, if any, between the Dzogchen pointing-out and Zen's.
Pointing out instruction can have different meanings in Vajrayana. First of all, it is useful to differentiate between the instruction given and the instruction received. The instruction given can have various forms, including the common threefold set of mental, symbolic, and verbal transmission. The instruction received can have three main forms, as something learnt, as something understood, and as something recognised. Ideally a pointing out happens when the listener gets a taste of the so called natural state. Practically I'd say it's more often the case that one receives the instructions as a teaching, then goes to comprehend and realise it on one's own.

Zen does not have any formal set of pointing out instructions, because on the one hand it is always up to the situation, and on the other the student has to make the journey on his own (i.e. the teacher's job is not to feed people with more ideas, but to assist in overcoming pre-existing concepts).
what is it about these Dzogchen instructions that makes them "work"? And do they "work" differently than they do in Zen?
Both Zen and Vajrayana have prajnaparamita as their essence. What distinguishes them are the assisting methods applied. Vajrayana focuses on devotion, hence guruyoga is the core practice. Zen is somewhat more diverse and flexible, but taking the most common method of Kanna Zen (看話禪), there are three essentials (三要): great faith, great determination, and great doubt (大信根, 大憤志, 大疑情), from which the feeling of doubt is emphasised the most, thus the saying: Great doubt, great awakening. Small doubt, small awakening. No doubt, no awakening. (大疑大悟。小疑小悟。不疑不悟。) The feelings of devotion and doubt are somewhat on the opposite sides, however, they are equally understood to be important emotional supports for gaining insight, even if they don't function the same way (that is, in Zen doubt is eventually broken through, while in Vajrayana devotion is perfected to the highest level where the guru is the nature of mind).
do the pointing-out instructions in Dzogchen actually "work" as an "initiation" (empowerment), or merely as an effective means, accompanied by a certain grace, of directing the student to his/her Mind?
Empowerment is itself an effective means of directing the student to the nature of mind. A pointing out instruction is not exactly an empowerment in the sense that it focuses only on showing the student the nature of mind, but does not provide a whole set of creation and completion practice of a deity. That's why a pointing out instruction is equated to the fourth empowerment, but not the first three.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by Aryjna » Thu Jun 14, 2018 1:07 pm

DesertDweller wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 7:50 am
To phrase it slightly differently: what is it about these Dzogchen instructions that makes them "work"? And do they "work" differently than they do in Zen? The best I can come up with is to suggest that in the Dzogchen tradition there is a critical element involving a master's initiatory "blessing" that is especially emphasized, as a central ritual. I guess we could just leave it at that and move on. But then again, do the pointing-out instructions in Dzogchen actually "work" as an "initiation" (empowerment), or merely as an effective means, accompanied by a certain grace, of directing the student to his/her Mind? If it is the former, then this would indeed be a significant difference between the two traditions' "pointing out." But if the latter, perhaps not so much.
That is easy to find out even in books. But what does it matter if you are not interested in practicing it.

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by DesertDweller » Fri Jun 15, 2018 1:28 pm

Thanks for your detailed post, Astus. That clarifies a LOT for me. As I mentioned above this was more of an academic question. I've never felt particularly inclined to pursue Dzogchen formally, but I find the similarities interesting all the same, and examining these helps me to understand my own preferred East Asian Mahayana current more deeply.

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by JMGinPDX » Mon Jun 25, 2018 6:04 pm

DesertDweller wrote:
Fri Jun 15, 2018 1:28 pm
Thanks for your detailed post, Astus. That clarifies a LOT for me. As I mentioned above this was more of an academic question. I've never felt particularly inclined to pursue Dzogchen formally, but I find the similarities interesting all the same, and examining these helps me to understand my own preferred East Asian Mahayana current more deeply.
This is a bit off-topic to the Dzogchen/Zen discussion, but my first exposure to anything Dzogchen related - being outside any Tibetan tradition myself - was through Ajahn Amaro's book "Small Boat, Great Mountain" where he conflates Theravada Thai Forest teachings with Dzogchen. Pretty excellent, and may supply some ancillary information for your original question.

https://www.forestsangha.org/teachings/ ... ge=English

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by DesertDweller » Tue Jun 26, 2018 10:23 am

Hey JMGinPDX--
That's really great!
I had no idea the Theravadins were even really aware of Dzogchen, much less wrote about it and "reflected" on it! I'm definitely interested in reading this book (especially since it's free in PDF). I hope to share thoughts when I do (and anyone else is welcome as well--my knowledge of Theravada is very basic so the thoughts of better scholars than me will probably be more valuable).
:thanks:

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by Matylda » Wed Jun 27, 2018 6:12 pm

DesertDweller wrote:
Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:07 am
(Prefatory note: I have posted this question in the Ch'an/Zen (we'll just call it "Zen") forums because I specifically and sincerely want to hear what Zen practitioners think about this, from their own (i.e. non-Vajrayana) perspective, and based on their own experience, comparisons, readings, etc.--I already know exactly how such a question would be received in the Vajrayana forums, and while I completely respect their point of view, I want to hear from people who aren't bound by that tradition. Vajrayana practitioners are of course emphatically welcome to contribute as much as they want to this discussion, but please keep in mind that I posted here for a reason.)

I have listened to a few Dzogchen pointing-out-instructions online. Specifically,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHKI3nJZ1BU

and

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i34IuGJUj30.

I know the traditionalist Dzogchen practitioners will say, "These aren't authentic, or effective" etc. However, putting aside for now the question of "the validity of recorded empowerments," if indeed such instructions do not differ substantially from those given by a master "live," then would you say there is the substantial difference between these and what we learn in Zen about the nature of the Mind, for instance in the Platform Sutra or Bodhidharma's sermons? :namaste:

what is the point in similarities or differences between dzogchen and zen? pointing out is unique for dzogchen and one cannot find it in zen... in zen is dokusan or sanzen with a master who is supposed to give direct instruction which leads to satori, kensho, daigo etc.
another form is teisho.. traditional teisho is very different from what is practiced in the West.. is rather short, cut to the core and is along sanzen/dokusan pointing to the core. is anything like this in dzogchen? no.. comparing traditions is simply useless...

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by Aryjna » Wed Jun 27, 2018 7:05 pm

Aryjna wrote:
Wed Jun 13, 2018 6:35 pm
DesertDweller wrote:
Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:07 am
I know the traditionalist Dzogchen practitioners will say, "These aren't authentic, or effective" etc.
It is not a matter of tradition, if it doesn't work it doesn't work. Also, I think this is not supposed to be watched by people who have not received the transmission, maybe even specifically the transmission from these specific teachers. Then again it is on youtube.
I just watched the second video, had not watched them when I first read the thread. After all I don't think it is meant to be restricted, or not to be watched by anyone.

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by kausalya » Wed Jun 27, 2018 8:38 pm

I don't specifically practice Zen, and I have no formal knowledge of Dzogchen whatsoever, but my sense is that watching this helped me (I'm 1 video in).

What does it mean for a transmission to work? When you're watching it, do you feel your mind let go? What capabilities do you believe your mind has?

I understand why it's vital for certain teachings to be protected, but that's not to say that coming across them by chance without meeting the teacher can never be a cause for liberation.

To my mind, it would seem to depend on what thoughts you build up after having such an experience. If you allow it to influence your self-concept, that is an error. If you recognize it as empty and sincerely wish for the seeds of knowledge-wisdom to ripen in your mindstream, for others and not yourself, then my current understanding would indicate that the danger is removed, because grasping is removed.

It's akin to saying, "If this will help me reach the highest state of Buddhahood, may I understand it correctly. If not, may I let it pass to others without an atom of attachment."

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by DesertDweller » Thu Jun 28, 2018 5:46 am

Matylda wrote:
Wed Jun 27, 2018 6:12 pm
what is the point in similarities or differences between dzogchen and zen?
Because they're interesting, at least to me.
pointing out is unique for dzogchen and one cannot find it in zen... in zen is dokusan or sanzen with a master who is supposed to give direct instruction which leads to satori, kensho, daigo etc.
another form is teisho.. traditional teisho is very different from what is practiced in the West.. is rather short, cut to the core and is along sanzen/dokusan pointing to the core.
What's the difference, really? (This is not a rhetorical question.)
comparing traditions is simply useless...
In your opinion, of course. But then again I didn't ask if there was any "use" in comparing traditions.

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by DesertDweller » Thu Jun 28, 2018 5:50 am

kausalya wrote:
Wed Jun 27, 2018 8:38 pm
I don't specifically practice Zen, and I have no formal knowledge of Dzogchen whatsoever, but my sense is that watching this helped me (I'm 1 video in).

What does it mean for a transmission to work? When you're watching it, do you feel your mind let go? What capabilities do you believe your mind has?

I understand why it's vital for certain teachings to be protected, but that's not to say that coming across them by chance without meeting the teacher can never be a cause for liberation.

To my mind, it would seem to depend on what thoughts you build up after having such an experience. If you allow it to influence your self-concept, that is an error. If you recognize it as empty and sincerely wish for the seeds of knowledge-wisdom to ripen in your mindstream, for others and not yourself, then my current understanding would indicate that the danger is removed, because grasping is removed.

It's akin to saying, "If this will help me reach the highest state of Buddhahood, may I understand it correctly. If not, may I let it pass to others without an atom of attachment."
I agree. I thought Lama Allione's video was especially well-done and helpful. I'll probably watch it again, actually, now you mention it. . . .

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by steve_bakr » Tue Aug 14, 2018 5:11 pm

Interesting. My first pointing out instruction came from a book called, "Self-Liberation Through Seeing With Naked Awareness." But I was heavily criticized for this, so I got it done by a teacher. Dzogchen students are very sensitive about the idea that the teacher empowers the pointing out instructions so it is the only valid way. That is, even if you have the right instructions, the effectiveness is compromised without empowerment from the teacher.

There might be a similarity between intrinsic awareness and Huang Po's universal mind, but there are also differences. Each tradition has a different vocabulary, different definitions, and different emphases.

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Re: Pointing-Out-Instructions and Zen

Post by Norwegian » Tue Aug 14, 2018 5:34 pm

steve_bakr wrote:
Tue Aug 14, 2018 5:11 pm
Interesting. My first pointing out instruction came from a book called, "Self-Liberation Through Seeing With Naked Awareness." But I was heavily criticized for this, so I got it done by a teacher. Dzogchen students are very sensitive about the idea that the teacher empowers the pointing out instructions so it is the only valid way. That is, even if you have the right instructions, the effectiveness is compromised without empowerment from the teacher.
You were rightly criticized, because a book cannot introduce anything. A book is merely a book. And, it's not "Dzogchen students" who are "very sensitive", it is the entire Vajrayana and Dzogchen that says this, it's stated very clearly in the tantras and their commentaries that one needs a qualified teacher if one is to practice either Vajrayana or Dzogchen, and to practice Vajrayana begins with empowerment, and to practice Dzogchen begins with direct introduction - in both cases, as said, by a qualified teacher, and not by a book, etc.

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