Week 14

Tibetan Renaissance Course > Weekly Calendar Of Activities > Week 14

Week 14: The Great Perfection (Dzokchen, rdzogs chen)


The Great Perfection (Dzokchen, rdzogs chen) was, along with the Great Seal (Mahāmudrā, phyag rgya chen po, chakgya chenpo), one of the two great movements in Tibet to fully develop the esoteric naturalism movement that was only embryonic within Indian itself. Playfully called post-tantra by David Germano, the movement was deeply indebted to Indian and Tibetan forms of Buddhist tantra, but also in many ways represented a radical rethinking of its fundamental premises. Deeply philosophical, it was a major contributor to the philosophical Vajrayāna orientation that characterized so much of Tibetan Buddhism. Its central commitments were to gnosticism, naturalism, spontaneity, and anti-institutionalism. In addition, it was a highly creative movement that integrated Tibetan symbols and language with esoteric forms, and was thoroughly poetic in commitments, though it also had a highly scholastic element. The tradition was also very diverse, with many different forms and a historical development that culminated in the fourteenth century's establishment of the Seminal Heart (snying thig) as its preeminent form. The tradition claims to be Indian, but clearly the vast majority of its literature is Tibetan in composition, beginning sometime in the ninth century most likely, and explosively growing in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in both the Nyingma and Bonpo schools.

Required Readings

REVIEW: Blue Annals chapter 3 on the Nyingma school (pp. 102-204), including detailed account of Great Perfection lineages.

Germano, David F. (1994). "Architecture and Absence in the Secret Tantric History of rDzogs Chen". In The Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 17.2, pp. 203-335. external link: Download here.

Germano, David F. “The Funerary Transformation of the Great Perfection (rDzogs chen)”. In Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 8th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies. external link: Download here.

Germano, David F. "Chapter 7: Creative Buddhas and Pure Lands in Renaissance Tibet". Unpublished and not to be cited, distributed, or shared under any circumstances. external link: Download here.

Additional Bibliographical Resources

Weekly Student Generated Content

Discussion Questions