Thank you very much, Sonam and Malcolm. You raise important questions and offer helpful clarifications.
In Dzogchen, one is to train in the recognition of the "natural state" while having experiences. Bliss, clarity and non-conceptuality are distinct experiences used for this purpose.
Malcolm’s brief comments seem to allude to an important distinction. To my very limited range of knowledge, I've heard that bliss clarity and non-conceptuality are training methods in Dzogchen Longde as well as in Anuyoga and in Anuttaratantra. I’ve never heard of bliss, clarity, and non-thought as training methods for the main practices Dzogchen Upadesha/Men ngak de main practice, of which Jes Bertelsen says he is a master. The trainings of bliss, clarity, and non-thought are certainly found as part of many ngondro/preliminaries for many Dzogchen Upadesha cycles, where they are intermixed with the five foundation practices. But, in my admittedly second-hand knowledge, I have never heard of them as part of the training for the main practices of Trekchod and Thogal in the Dzogchen Upadesha cycles.
Malcolm wrote, quoting Barney Fife’s post:
In Dzogchen, meditation experiences are not the natural state, if I have understood correctly; you are either having meditation experiences, or you are in the natural state.
In Dzogchen, one is to train in the recognition of the "natural state" while having experiences. Bliss, clarity and non-conceptuality are distinct experiences used for this purpose.
If I understand correctly (and I may not), it seems like in the Dzogchen Upadesha one is taught that initially, one must divest oneself of the “coverings” or “confines” of grasping on to, and being attached to, the meditation experiences of bliss, clarity, and non-thought. In other words, if one has any attachment to or fixation upon these kinds of experiences, then they become like shells that confine awareness within the bonds of conceptual thinking. In this case, these three types of meditation experiences become deviations or side-tracks that prevent actually recognizing the natural face of awareness wisdom, the natural state of Trekchod, which is divested of the fluctuations of dualistic consciousness and is unchanging like space.
One could assume that it is for this reason that there are instructions in the Dzogchen Upadesha for forcefully interrupting and cutting through these experiences in order to establish the natural face of awareness, as for instance in the Three Words Striking the Vital Point of Garab Dorje and its commentaries by Paltrul Rinpoche and others.
It is well known that Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and also his sons such as Tsoknyi Rinpoche hold special traditions for “breaking the shamatha meditation states” of students who come to them with habitualized meditation experiences based on former trainings. I remember reading a traditional instruction quoted by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche in one of Rinpoche’s books: “There are many traditions who are able to teach meditation; but there are very few that know how to correctly destroy meditation.” It does seem from the written teachings that a central key point of the first of the Three Words Striking the Vital Point is exactly to cut through these experiences, as the very foundation of Cutting Through to Primordial Purity (kadag trekchod).
Guided Malcolm’s stimulating remarks, a more accurate way of expressing the teaching would be: “In Dzogchen, attachment to meditation experiences obscure the natural state. If there is attachment to meditation experiences, you are not in the recognition of the natural state of primordial purity. In Dzogchen, becoming attached to meditation experiences is not the same as resting in the natural state of primordial purity. If one is attaching to meditation experiences and having a lot of thoughts about them, one is not in the natural state but has instead experienced a side-track or deviation in the practice. One is confined within the coverings of the conceptual mind/sem, and has entered a path of confusion.”
In other words (again, if I’m understanding correctly), if there is any grasping at all onto a meditation experience, one would be in sem, dualistic mind, rather than in rigpa, awareness. In this case, the meditation experience would be the energy of sem/citta (sem tsal) rather than the energy of rigpa/vidya (rig tsal).
Then to refer back to Malcolm’s second comment, once one has cut through to awareness wisdom and begun to establish the natural state, then meditation experiences could potentially arise without any attachment. One would remain free from conceptual thinking; and having released attachment to experiences, the energy of meditation experiences, should they arise, would instead become an enhancement for and an expression of naked awareness.
The question remains, did Jes Bertelsen cut through? Did he understand what Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche was teaching him? Did he realize anything at all of the Dzogchen teachings? Or did he simply have exciting experiences and claim realization and authority? Sonam’s comments in his last post in this thread seem right on. Given the widespread information available on Dzogchen, it is pretty easy to present oneself as a teacher; and the question of motivation would open a whole other discussion. Sonam also very rightly says people like ourselves cannot know with any certainty about another person’s level of practice, and that only a genuine master can authenticate a practitioner’s experience.
But, subtle points of the Dzogchen teachings aside, and being duly respectful, then whether we are fresh beginners or experienced practitioners, what does basic common sense tell us in the case of Jes Bertelsen? If we may, let’s compare one of Bertelsen’s beatification accounts, from his vast body of auto-hagiographical literature, to the teachings of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and Rinpoche’s sons. By this, we can see from our own limited perspective whether Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s lineage teachings in any way appear to validate Jes Bertelsen’s claims of Dzogchen realization and attempts at "cultus confirmation".
Bertelsen has written about his first meeting with Tulku Urgyen (when Andreas Kretschmar translated) in a few places, most extensively in Bevidsthedens flydende lys (The Flowing Light of Consciousness). Here's what it says there in my own quick translation from the Danish:
“And then the actual pointing out came.
And the gates of consciousness opened.
The thousands of situations where practice had met the boundary, the veil or doubt, all arose at once, and like a domino effect the barriers collapsed and released the congealed energy as flowing light. Light and energy and bliss and love flowed freely through mind and body. And the distinction between mind and body and consciousness and Tulku’s consciousness melted away. A profound sense of ancient recognition. Streams of grateful tears; cascades of the laughter of realization. And simultaneously with all these waves and streams of insights and realizations, consciousness somewhere remained unaffected and allowed that whatever manifested dissolved of its own accord back into the source; a natural state of apperceptive openness and unlimited freedom. This unbroken apperceptive unity with Tulku Urgyen’s enlightened consciousness lasted between 20 minutes and half an hour. Nuclear fusion.
This meeting set in motion a process that lasted for more than two years: every morning when I sat and practiced alone for a few hours, consciousness and the heart would open to the same streaming state of love and flowing light that was liberated from all form and all distinction in the open limitless unity of apperception.”
From Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s book Vajra Speech, p. 9-10:
Another true accomplishment is to be unharmed by the experiences of bliss, clarity and non-thought, while being free from the two hindrances to meditation: drowsiness and agitation.
Do not attach any importance to temporary experiences, none whatsoever. There is only one thing to be confident in, the true state of realization that is unchanging like space. Understanding this is of utmost importance. What really matters is to increase your devotion to and confidence in the Buddhadharma, so that from within you feel that only the Dharma matters, that only practice is important. That is a sure sign of accomplishment.
From Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, As It Is Vol. 2, p. 237:
To be discouraged because nothing extraordinary has happened
since you began practicing is missing the point. Renunciation is the true
sign of accomplishment, blessing and realization. In other words, there
is a natural disenchantment with samsaric attainments, with any samsaric
state. Unfortunately, people sometimes yearn for the extraordinary.
Some expect the divine to come down from above and endow them
with special powers. Others think that by forcing a certain experience
forth in their minds to intoxicate themselves with, they can be high all
the time, drugged on Dharma practice. Such types run around with
their eyes turned heavenwards, not looking at the same level as normal
people anymore, thinking they are tremendously special.
Some people, when they get into an altered state of meditation, think that the very
subtle forms of the three poisons which are known as the experiences of bliss,
clarity and nonthought, are actually realization. Many people get stuck in their
beliefs. When you start having clear dreams, the demons will take advantage
of you. They will come and act as if they are messengers of
buddhas, bodhisattvas and deities. They can lead you astray in all sorts
of different ways.
Do not attach any importance to these temporay experiences, not at
all. There is only one thing to be confident in: the true state of realization
that is unchanging like space. Understanding this is of utmost importance.
From Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s book, “Rainbow Paintings” p.120-121:
Some people believe that they should just keep on meditating, and
someday their egg will hatch and they will fly out of the shell and ascend
to a completely different level. Actually, it’s not like that at all. We should
not think, “The awakened state must be something really special. If I
practice this long enough, one day a door will open and I will see it and all
the qualities will pour into me.” It’s pointless to have this kind of attitude.
If we really want something spectacular, we will indeed have opportunities
for that, in what is called the ‘temporary meditation moods’ of
bliss, clarity and nonthought. These can occur, but such sensational
experiences do not help to cut through thoughts. On the contrary, they
generate even more fixation because we start to think, “Wow! What is
that? This must be it!”. Many subsequent thoughts arise in response to the
fascination with these experiences.
As I mentioned before, realization involves a process called recognizing,
training and attaining stability. It’s similar to planting the seed of a
flower. You plant it, water it and finally it grows up and blossoms. We are
not like Garab Dorje, who, at the very instant of having mind nature
pointed out, became a fully enlightened buddha without having undergone
any training whatsoever. The moment of recognizing mind essence free
from thought is like holding an authentic flower-seed in your hand and
being certain of what it is. That itself is the self-existing wakefulness, the
source of buddhahood. Enlightenment does not come from some other
And from the same book by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, p. 126:
In my tradition, true Samadhi is not an outcome of concentration,
settling or focusing the mind. True samadhi is the original, empty and
ungrounded state that is the nature of our awareness. This is not a product,
not a thing that is kept or sustained through the act of meditating; not at
all. It is a recognition of basic awareness that is allowed to continue.
We can have three kinds of thought activity. The first is called ‘surface
thoughts’. It is the normal coarse thinking whereby we label different
objects in our field of experience and become involved in an emotional
response towards them. The second type of thinking is an ‘undercurrent of
thought’. It is an ongoing mental commentary that we do not really notice.
There is a third type of thought activity, a thought movement that we
become involved in when we ‘meditate’. We sit and keep subject and
object: there is ‘me,’ or that which notices, and the state of ‘samadhi,’ this
sense of clarity and awareness. This creates the feeling, “Now, this is the
state and it is ongoing!” It is not fully formulated or obvious. Very often,
meditation practice is an exercise in keeping up that conceptual state.
Afterwards, we think that the meditation state lasted for quite a while.
What really lasted was the subtle notion of subject and object, appearing
as clarity, as a brightness, or as maintained mindfulness. This is not the
state of true samadhi that is totally free of home-made constructs or
fabrications. The key phrase here is ‘originally empty and ungrounded,’ a
state that does not require our making at all.
And from the same book by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, p. 204-5:
Training assiduously with devotion, compassion and loving kindness
while repeatedly letting be in unconstructed equanimity, you will surely
discover the true signs of spiritual practice. These signs are the acute feeling
that life is impermanent and that there is no time to waste; that the
Dharma is unfailing; that there is genuine benefit from training in
samadhi; and that it is truly possible to overcome conceptual thinking.
While these are taught to be the most wonderful signs of progress, a
materialistic type of person will not see them as being so wonderful. He
wants a flabbergasting meditation experience. If something astounding
happens that he can see or hear or maybe even touch, he thinks, “Wow! I
am really getting somewhere now! This is completely different from what
I am used to — such a beautiful experience! Such bliss! Such clarity! Such
emptiness! I feel totally transformed! This must really be it!” [Rinpoche
On the other hand, when you reach the ‘even plains’ of nonthought, the
simple quiet after conceptual thinking dissolves, there is nothing very
exceptional to see or hear or grasp. You may feel, “Does this really lead
anywhere? There is nothing special in this!” Honestly, the view is not
something spectacular; on the contrary, it is free from pinpointing
anything particular at all….
Everyone is overcome by disturbing emotions unless they are stable
in nondual awareness. Only the moment of the awakened state does not
become caught up in deluded emotion. Nondual awareness is the most
effective way, but the materialistic practitioner does not appreciate this. He
wants an altered state, a special experience, an extraordinary dream. When
it happens he congratulates himself, “Excellent! This is the real thing!”
Such is the weakness of human nature.
My root guru Samten Gyatso once said, “I have not had a single special
experience. As the years pass by, my trust in the authenticity of the
Dharma grows. I am confident in the truth of the three kayas. From the age
of eight I looked into the essence of mind, and since then I have never
forsaken it. My diligence varied and of course I became distracted at
times, but mostly I have kept to the practice of mind essence.” I only heard
him say this once; otherwise he would never discuss such personal
Again from the same book by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, p. 153-156:
Here is another story about going astray in shamatha. A lama from the
Eastern Tibetan province of Golok came to see the great Jamgön Kongtrül
Lodrö Thaye. The lama told Jamgön Rinpoche that he had stayed in a
retreat hut meditating for nine or ten years, “My practice is quite good
now. At times I have some degree of clairvoyance. Whenever I place my
attention on something, it remains unshakable; I feel so quiet and serene! I
experience a state totally without thoughts and concepts. During long
stretches of time I experience nothing but bliss, clarity and nonthought. I
would say that my meditation has been rather successful!”
“Oh what a pity!” was Jamgön Kongtrül’s response.
The meditator left slightly downcast, only to return the next morning.
“Honestly, Rinpoche, my practice of samadhi is good. I have managed to
equalize all mental states of pleasure and pain. The three poisons of anger,
desire and dullness have no real hold over me anymore. After meditating
for nine years, I would think that this level is quite good.”
“Oh what a pity!” retorted Jamgön Kongtrül.
The meditator thought, “He is reputed to be an eminent master beyond
jealousy, but it sounds to me as if he is slightly jealous of me. I wonder!”
He then said, “I came here to ask you about the nature of mind because
of your great reputation. My meditation during day time is fine; I’m not
asking about that at all. I’m quite satisfied! What I want to ask about is
how to practice during the night; that is when I experience some
Jamgön Kongtrül’s reply was again just “Oh what a pity!”
The lama thought, “He really is envious of me! He probably doesn’t
have a fraction of the clairvoyant powers I do!”
When the meditator explained his clairvoyance, “For me it is no
problem at all to see three to four days into the future,” Jamgön Kongtrül
again said, “Oh what a pity!”
The meditator left for his quarters. He must have begun to doubt
himself, because after some days he returned and said, “I’m going back to
my retreat. What should I do now?”
Jamgön Rinpoche told him, “Don’t meditate any more! From today on,
give up meditating! If you want to follow my advice, then go home and
stay in retreat for three years, but without meditating even the slightest!
Do not cultivate the state of stillness even in the slightest!”
The meditator thought to himself, “What is he saying! I wonder why;
what does it mean? On the other hand, he is supposedly a great master. I
will try it out and see what happens.” So he said, “All right, Rinpoche,”
When back in retreat, he had quite a hard time trying not to meditate.
Every time he simply let be, without the attempt to meditate, he always
found himself meditating again. Later he said, “That first year was so
difficult! The second year was somewhat better.” At this point, he found
that in the ‘act of meditating’ he had simply been keeping his mind busy.
Now he understood what Jamgön Kongtrül meant by saying “Do not
The third year he reached true nonmeditation, leaving deliberate cultivation
totally behind. He discovered a state utterly free from doing and
meditating; by simply leaving awareness exactly as it naturally is. At that
point nothing spectacular took place in his practice, no special clairvoyance
either. Moreover, his meditation experiences of bliss, clarity and
nonthought had vanished, after which he thought, “Now my meditation
practice is totally lost! I better go back and get more advice!”
Returning before Jamgön Kongtrül and relating his experience, Rinpoche
replied, “Right on! Right on! Those three years made your meditation
successful! Right on!” Jamgön Kongtrül continued, “You don’t need
to meditate by deliberately keeping something in mind, but also don’t be
The meditator said, “It may be due to my former training in stillness,
but, actually, the stretches of distraction are quite short. There isn’t much
distraction anymore. I feel I have discovered what you meant. I experience
a state which is not created through meditation yet which lasts for a while,
“Right on!” Jamgön Kongtrül said, “Now spend the rest of your life
training in that!”
From Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s book “Present Fresh Wakefulness”, quoted in Shambhala Sun Nov. 2002:
The meditative experiences of a yogi are good and they become evident because of letting mind settle in equanimity. The most famous of these meditative moods are called bliss, clarity and nonthought. They occur during vipashyana meditation, but they can also arise even during shamatha practice. Through meditation training, the mind becomes more clarified, more lucid. But if we are not connected with a qualified master or if we do not know the right methods of dealing with these meditative states, we may believe that we are somehow incredibly realized beings. That becomes a hindrance; it can even turn into a severe obstacle.
From Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s book “Fearless Simplicity” p. 192:
We have the preconceived idea or expectation that rigpa should be powerful,
something much more extravagant, incredibly blissful, with clarity in all
directions, totally free of thought, some sort of fantastic experience.
While the awakened state of rigpa is plain and simple, lucid, present,
and undisturbed, we refuse to acknowledge that it is actually rigpa, because
it is not fascinating enough.
And also from Fearless Simplicity by Tsoknyi Rinpoche, p. 194-5:
At the beginning of our training in being undistracted while not meditating,
certain experiences can take place, called bliss, clarity, and nonthought. The
Tibetan word for these is nyam, which is usually mentioned as the second
of three aspects. First is theory or technical understanding, next is
nyam, or the meditative experience, and the third is realization. We
should take extra care not to mistake these three. In a country where the
Dharma is new, there is always a mixing-up of what is seeming and what
is real, the superficial and the ultimately true. There is always a tendency
to confuse temporary meditation experiences, nyam, for realization.
There is a famous statement: "Theory is like patchwork; it wears out
and falls off. Meditation experience is like mist; it fades and vanishes.
But realization is unchanging like space." Theory is just getting the idea
of something: "Ah-ha! This is how it is." But it's never guaranteed how
long we can maintain such an insight. It's like a patch. In Tibet when
you got a tear in your clothes you'd put on a patch. It might not be
stitched on with much skill, just stuck on haphazardly, so that after a
while it would fall off. That is the metaphor for intellectual insight.
A meditative experience may at times arrive most compellingly, but
like mist, it eventually vanishes and then the sun shines again. Then
another cloud comes and the thunder cracks. The weather changes all
the time. Are these nyam experiences good or not? They are good, not
bad. They happen because of meditation practice. What is the problem
then? The problem comes when one believes they are the state of realization.
A disciple of the sixteenth Karmapa came for an interview after a
spectacular nyam and said, "My body feels like it's made out of rainbows.
I don't feel obstructed in any direction. I am almost sure I am
enlightened. I can't find any flaw anywhere." The Karmapa replied, "It is
very easy to settle whether you are enlightened or not. Go up to the top
of that building over there and jump. If you are not dead after you hit
the ground, you must be a buddha. If you die, of course, it is a shame,
but we will do some meritorious rituals for your benefit." That test is a
bit tough, isn't it? Please don't try it!
I'll give you a less drastic test to check whether a particular state is
nyam or realization. Sometimes a nyam can be "I am totally enlightened.
My entire body is bliss, clarity, transparent. Wow! This is enlightenment.
Nothing can harm me. I am also full of compassion. I am nothing.
I am so blissful, so full of care! I am going to save the entire world! Oh,
come to me, everyone! Come here, I will teach you! Bewildered masses, I
will help you." You can certainly have this type of nyam. In one way it is
good because it shows that you are just beginning to approach the true state of practice.
Meditation can produce this sort of temporary experience. To test it,
light a big candle and put your finger into the flame. If you can still say,
"I am enlightened. I love everyone. I am so full of goodness" without
getting burned, then, wow, I bow to you! But if it is terribly painful,
then keep practicing, taking refuge, accumulating merit, and developing
compassion. You still need to progress in rigpa.
From Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully p. 18-19:
Buddhism holds that the true nature of mind is as vast as the sky and that thoughts and emotions are like clouds that, from our vantage point, obscure it. We’re taught that if we want to experience the boundlessness of the sky, we’ll need to get curious about those clouds. When we look deeply into the clouds, they fall apart, and there’s the expanse of the sky. It never went anywhere. It has always been here, momentarily hidden from us by the fleeting, shifting clouds….Chogyam Trungpa has an image for our tendency to obscure the openness of our being; he called it “putting makeup on space.”
Thank you for your patience with this overly long post. Any insights and comments are most welcome and are always very helpful and interesting additions to a great discussion.