The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen

The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen

By Chogyal Namkhai Norbu. Ed. John Shane
Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2000. Paperback, 215 pages.

The author, born in Tibet in 1938, was recognized at the age of two as the reincarnation of a spiritual leader of the Nyingmapa school. Forced to leave Tibet because of the Chinese invasion, he became a professor at the Oriental Institute in Naples, Italy.

The Crystal and the Way of Light contains autobiography, theory, and practice- -all centered on Dzogchen, which can be translated as "Great Perfection," which is our natural state prior to all conditioning. The author writes: "To enter this state is to experience oneself as one is, as the center of the universe though not in the ordinary ego sense. The ordinary ego-centered consciousness is precisely the limited cage of dualistic vision that closes off the experience of one's own true nature."

Requiring commitment, discipline, understanding, and practice, Dzogchen is said to lead to enlightenment in a single lifetime. The author notes that "nothing need be renounced, purified, or transformed" and quotes a Tibetan master, "It's not the circumstances which arise as one's karmic vision that conditions a person into the dualistic state; it's a person's own attachment that enables what arises to condition him." Whatever arises in a practitioner's experience is simply allowed to arise just as it is, without any judgment concerning good or bad, beautiful or ugly, desirable or undesirable. The aim is to be comfortably harmonious with whatever is, as it is. This practice is based on the realization that our ordinary and deeply conditioned likes and dislikes are precisely what keep us imprisoned within the boundaries of our egos.

Dzogchen is a structured program of personal transformation. Practice centers on working with three categories: Base, Path, and Fruit. "Base" is the fundamental ground of existence at both the cosmic and individual levels, the nondual primordial nature. "Path" consists of views and practices designed to lead out of dualistic entrapment and suffering. And "Fruit" is the fully realized state as it is in itself (Dharmakaya), as it operates energetically (Sambhogakaya), and as it manifests in form (Nirmanakaya).

The author distinguishes between Dzogchen exposition and instruction; the former is what books do; the latter requires the direct teaching of a master. Instruction entails actual transmission of the primordial state from the master to the student. The student's task is then to engage in practices that enable direct access to that state---and eventually to abide uninterruptedly in the primordial state, even while living an ordinary life.


March/April 2002