Astus wrote:"you can practice Dzogchen with very little if any theory at all"
That is quite a theory in itself, even a controversial one. Just consider the very basic requirements of practising Dzogchen. First of all, one has to acquire an interest toward it. There can be several things that entice total newcomers, from the film Seven Years in Tibet to the idea of perfect enlightenment. There are some concepts one has to accept - even if temporarily - in order to partake in a live instruction. These concepts include that I don't know already everything, that I need this teaching, the teacher is an authentic source, I submit myself to the teachings received, etc. Next one has to comprehend and accept the instructions. And this takes quite a lot of dedication, faith and understanding. Just think about the hypothetical event that one of Namkhai Norbu's annual guru yoga webcasts were broadcast on national television. How many could immediately realise the nature of mind without any prior knowledge? I assume it's about zero. And one moment of insight is a very weak basis of continued practice. That is why there are different practices and even more speeches and books.
No, really. You can practice Dzogchen with nearly zero theory. From scratch. Another point is if you need theory to convince you to take such step. But that's another thing. Some people may decide to give it a good try just because they like the lama and feel inspired by him. Then the fruit will convince them, not theory, that they ignored from the start.
"The cosmogonies Buddhist or otherwise are pretty much useless to Dzogchen practice."
I'm not talking about such grand vistas as infinite buddha-lands in the ten directions. What I mean is the idea of the lineage of transmission that comes from Samantabhadra, Vajrasattva, Prahevajra, etc., what ultimately makes someone a recipient of such a transmission. Dzogchen does not exist on its own as a path, it is not Namkhai Norbu's idea, but exactly because he is part of that lineage, he can be regarded as authentic. Otherwise his teachings would be labelled heretic, just like those who lack such background.
You can skip all that. Of course at one's own risk. You may find out the lama is a fraud if you don't discover the primordial state, or anyone else. If you do discover it, all that lineage talk becomes meaningless for you.
"I'm not sure if I understand what you are asking. To be a DC member all you need to do is pay your membership."
I see. I meant a Dzogchen practitioner within the community, not just a donor.
These come in very different shapes and colors. There's not the typical DC member, at least to my knowledge. We share a teacher, some ideas and those fortunate the realization of the true nature. The last is what really matters.
"People who uphold theories based on faith alone. People who consider, based on faith alone, a certain set of beliefs to be superior, a certain organization to be superior. That's more or less what I mean, I guess."
Then I think the Pope is not a religious person, while a large number of science fans are.
I don't know about the Pope, but there are a lot of religious people who just adhere to a different set of beliefs, i.e. materialism.
My experience with actual practitioners of different faiths (i.e. not those who are only nominally members of a church, or use the name of a religion as an excuse for their own ideas) is that they have their own experiences that in their view validates their faith. Following anything based strictly on faith alone is itself a very difficult thing for any sane human being. We need reasons, which doesn't mean that our reasons are acceptable for others. As for belief in superiority, just consider all the football fans.
There are many reasons for one to be religious, but I'm missing the point. The difference I make is between religion and Dzogchen, not religion vs spirituality. A Dzogchen simile may be a religion. Dzogchen can't. Not matter how much one tries, one can't transform the natural state.
"Dzogchen starts with direct experience. Buddhism starts with a conscious choice. ... In the case of Dzogchen, your beliefs matter little or nothing. Until you experience the primordial state, there's no Dzogchen beyond fantasy. When you taste sweet, you don't decide to believe you know what sweet is. It's an experience. You either have it, or haven't. It's not a rational position."
Here what you mean by Dzogchen is its personal and practical aspect. You could also say the same about the Dharma, Prajnaparamita, Cittamatra or Zen. Also, all these words have a double meaning: the teaching to attain the realisation, and the realisation itself. Or it can be a triple meaning: ground, path, fruition. Dzogchen is no exception, although you may restrict your interpretation to one meaning, it doesn't negate the complete system of teachings, methods, lineage and teachers that come with it.
Dzogchen and Dzogchen teachings are two different things. A lot that is written about Dzogchen is superfluous for most practitioners. If you have all the teachings but miss the teacher, they won't do an iota of good. Dzogchen is eminently practical and needs direct introduction. Many forms of Buddhadharma can be practiced without the need of a teacher. You know this.
Before you taste sweet you need to find honey, you have to trust the person who gives you the honey that it is not poison, you have to be able to feel tastes, you have to be told that it is the taste called sweet, and in order not to leave the single experience of sweet behind you also need someone to convince you that this taste is the true, ultimate, complete taste, the very meaning of life. And this is what people has to buy. This is religion that maintains and propagates the true taste of sweet, the original home made honey.
The thing is that this sweet honey doesn't need a whole complex institution to be freely given to anyone who wants it. That's what makes Dzogchen unpopular among those who believe the institution is tantamount. It isn't. All you need is a good teacher and courage.