Roaring Silence
by Ngak'chang Rinpoche and Khandro Dchen

To be published in 2000


 Clarity spontaneously arises from the discovery of openness within the practice of shi-n. Loosening one’s white-knuckled grasp of ‘the thought process’ enables thought itself to be more intimately experienced. We experience the colour, tone, and texture of thought.

Dzogchen is the vastness of each moment. It is the natural simplicity of being; which , in itself, is the only teaching or practice. Dzogchen, the pinnacle of all Nyingma teachings, makes this declaration of natural simplicity as ‘the lion’s roar of reality’. The lion’s roar leaves no doubt. Such a roar is not a threat, although, it is a roar which could intimidate. The lion, however, does not give voice to reality in order to intimidate. It’s roar is a roaring silence - the self-existent proclamation of confidence. This confidence which is naturally ours, is the empty confidence which has no need of reference points. It is the confidence which makes itself known within the sub-atomic structure of our experience.

Dzogchen proclaims the self-existent confidence of all beings – as they essentially are. The enlightened state is simply there as the basis of what we are. The roaring silence of this utter totality is the empty thread upon which the glittering beads of each moment of our being string themselves. ‘Utter totality’ is a term which applies to both teaching, practice, and to the intrinsic condition of the individual. The teaching of Dzogchen declares that meditation is ‘the state of relaxation’ – a means by which we can be what we are, without tension, tyranny, or anxiety.

According to this view, there is nothing to change - nothing to give up or alter in any way. We simply need to be what we are. Simply being what we are, without manipulation or struggle, is all that is necessary. These are simple statements in some respects – but if we are not particularly simple people what will we make of them? Maybe further investigation may be required?

We do not intend to purvey a continuing series of rapturous statements which merely intoxicate or weary the reader. It is not our aim to confuse – but maybe, we need to explore ‘confusion’ in order to get some glimpse of the vast sky of awareness in which confusion hides.

Dzogchen means utter totality. Dzogchen also describes a body of explanation. It is a system of catalysts. It describes the fundamental nature of what we are through simply opening the roof of our perception. Dzogchen encourages us to approach our essential nature directly – because that ‘essential nature’ is so close, so accessible, so present, and so simple. It is possible – but that in itself is the major barrier. It is also too close, too accessible, too present, and too simple. That simplicity does not seem to be where we experience ourselves as being. The complexity of the ‘unenlightenment’ we appear to experience would seem to contradict these marvellous assertions of our closeness to the realised state.

So it would seem that we cannot approach Dzogchen directly. Or if we can, it is a type of ‘direct’ which is so different from what we understand by ‘direct’, that there is nothing ‘direct’ about it. We have a paradox. Wherever there is a paradox, metaphors k symbols are apparently helpful. It would seem that we might need explanations which are as elaborate as we would appear to be. It should be possible simply to give this teaching in five words: ‘Remain in the natural state.’ From the perspective of Dzogchen that should be enough. It should be enough to merely to hear that. Then, on hearing that we should be able to allow everything to relax into its own condition. But what do such statements mean? From the dualistic perspective it leaves many questions unanswered. It also seems to create a broad variety of new questions.

We are often so immured within the relentless censorship of intellect that simplicity can become a complex matter. The complexity of intellect can impose such severe restraints on our perceptions, that the instruction: ‘Remain in the natural state.’ is rendered incomprehensible. Thinking about such a proposition does not help, so we have to abandon the attempts to understand (on the basis of what we already comprehend), and that leaves us with the roaring silence of meditation.

Meditation enables us to side-step the bureaucracy of rigid intellectual processes and experience ourselves directly. But before side-stepping the intellect, intellect needs to be fed a little. The intellect needs real food if it is to satiate itself adequately.

In order to feel replete, the ‘intellectual sense’ needs to masticate, digest, and excrete. The intellectual appetite needs to be directed away from the processed abstractions of philosophical junk-food. Intellect itself needs to taste the manner in which it functions as a method of obscuring the nature of Mind . This is where the use of intellect stops being a pass-time or a conspiratorial battlefield of conflicting notions. This is where intellect becomes a valuable tool with which we can begin to prompt interesting departures from the experiential myopia of the materialistic rationale. This is where we can give birth to the possibility of looking directly into the nature of Mind. Through study, through wholesome inquisitive scepticism, we could arrive at the point where looking directly into the nature of Mind becomes a feasible proposition. This is known as the development of view.

View is the collected experience of almost three thousand years of meditation practice in which a great number of yogis and yoginis have made the same discovery. View comprises the ‘mechanical functioning of unenlightenment’, and the ‘nature of the enlightened state’ insofar as it can be expressed in language. So, view consists of seeing ‘how we are’ in terms of our disquiet, dissatisfaction, confusion, frustration, irritation, and pain. But view also consists of glimpsing the nature of the enlightened state insofar as it can be or pointed at by oral, symbolic and direct transmission.

In the Dzogchen view, which concerns the nature of Mind, the approach is highly pragmatic. The view has the same pragmatism as the art of lighting a fire - no one ever got colder sitting in front of a fire. No one ever succeeded in making a fire using pebbles and river-water. When one knows how to allow a fire to spring into being by mixing wood and oxygen through the medium of heat, one does not need to remember the exact wording of the instruction booklet – one simply creates fire. As soon as we integrate the view, the view disappears and becomes knowledge. Knowledge is like breathing - we do not have to remember how to breathe. So view is a way of employing intellect to transcend intellect. To this end, view must always be tested in the laboratory of our own experience.

This is the creative use of intellect in which we confront the day-to-day sensation of what we are. Because the intellect is in essence a genuine faculty, it can become untangled. This is an exploration of how we are as ‘beings tangled in complexities’, and of how we are as ‘beings becoming untangled’.

To begin this exploration we are going to look at the three crucial aspects of the path. In the Dzogchen tradition these are known as: view, meditation and action. View provokes or incites your natural intelligence. Meditation opens our realisation to the view. Action is the pure appropriateness of our spontaneity in the state of realisation. Meditation enables us to find out for ourselves.

It is deliciously and painfully amusing that we are, at the ultimate level, our own greatest teachers. It is deliciously amusing because sometimes everything seems to unfold spontaneously - we seem to flow with circumstances. It is painfully amusing because the irony of situation makes its own point and sometimes one cannot help but notice. In some ways, we are setting out to stand conventional logic on its head, but this does not mean that there is no place for intelligent reasoning in this process. One merely needs to allow an unlearning process to inaugurate itself – a process in which habits of compulsive attachment to conditioned patterns of intellect start to become transparent. The reach and range of 'reasoning-mind' is quite small and although it is capable of remarkable feats, it cannot give us access to all the answers. Let us take an example. It could well be considered that ‘thinking’ is not a particularly efficient way of dealing with emotional pain. Thinking about emotional pain invariably generates thoughts which run circles around themselves. Thinking about emotionally painful experiences, seems only to make matters worse. It never appears to bring anyone nearer to an understanding of what they are individually experiencing. Thinking about pain merely constitutes ‘thinking around it’ - that is to say: thinking about the circumstances which surround the pain.

Apart from certain psychotherapeutic contexts, people seldom think about pain itself. The reason for this is that if people were to think about pain itself, they would unavoidably enter the language of pain. Thought is not capable of bringing us to an understanding of the fundamental texture of pain. We can only investigate pain with the non-conceptual observation of meditation. Thoughts merely create a barrier -- as if ‘pain’ and the ‘experiencer of pain’ were separate. Most people will be familiar with the way in which circular thoughts keep them awake at night, even when their greatest wish is to sleep. Human beings are evidently addicted to the process of thought, and as with any kind of addiction there is a necessity to consider the consequences of ‘the habit’. What we are about to embark upon, is an exploration of ‘the habit’.

Roaring Silence is a handbook of the Aro naljor-zhi – the Four Naljors. It is also an introduction to the Aro ting ng ’dzin – the four absorptions. We use the term ‘handbook’ because exercises are given in a manner which can be followed, and because advice is given on the typical experiences which arise when following them. However, the reader should not assume that the Four Naljors can be encapsulated within a handbook. Transmission is required and should eventually be sought.

The Four Naljors are the ngndro, or preliminary practises for Dzogchen sem-d. Sem-d is one of the three ‘series’ of Dzogchen. It is characterised as containing the most extensive body of teaching on sem – ‘conceptual mind’, and sem-nyid ‘the nature of Mind’. The Four Naljors are methods which enable the development of the necessary experiences through which Dzogchen becomes practicable.

The word naljor means literally ‘natural state remaining’. So in ordinary contemporary English, the Four Naljors means: the four methods of remaining in the natural state. The Four Naljors are comprised of the practises of shi-n, lha-tong, nyi-’md, and lhun-drp. We will introduce shi-n without further ado, but lha-tong, nyi-’md, and lhun-drp will need to await definition in the following chapters where their practice will be given in detail. Shi-n is the method for freeing oneself from addictive referential attachment to the thought process. This is the basic method of meditation according to the Four Naljors. It is called shi-n, and it is a method is also found in the other traditions of Tibetan practice. Where ever it is taught however, it concerns the relaxation of involvement with internal dialogue. It concerns letting go of the ‘mental gossip’ which inhibits direct perception. Shi-n is the treatment for our addiction to thought patterns. If you decide to enter into this treatment, the first thing you may find is that it can be boring. It is crucial to understand this: shi-n can be boring. Shi-n can be irritating. It can be frustrating. It can be deadly tedious - especially in the initial stages, and especially if you are an active, intelligent, creative human being. This is because the practice of shi-n is ‘going without a fix’. The experience has some slight similarity to the ‘cold turkey’ experienced by heroin addicts who abjure from injecting. This kind of comparison may sound a little extreme, but to anyone who has ever entered into the practice with commitment, it will seem fairly apt as a description of some of the very worst moments – especially in retreat. Thought attachment withdrawal symptoms can be emotionally fraught, and can make people want to give up almost as soon as they have begun to practice. But the appalling alternative is to resign oneself to living life as 'a thought attachment junky'. From the perspective of natural being, the world of the ‘thought addict’ is actually much more distressing than the ‘thought withdrawal process’ of shi-n. Unlike the dreadful discomfort and distress of heroin withdrawal symptoms, however, ‘thought attachment withdrawal symptoms’ are a fertile field of self-discovery. Whatever you feel when you practise shi-n, is a fundamental expression of how you are.

When you confront yourself in shi-n you are brought face to face with underlying insecurity, fear, loneliness, vulnerability and bewilderment. These underlying tensions distort your being whether you practice shi-n or not. To avoid the practice of shi-n is not an answer. In fact, from the Buddhist perspective, no one actually has much choice in the situation. It is not really so different from events which might surround the receipt of an electricity bill. The bill can either be paid, or it can be pushed under the doormat with the pretence that it never arrived. Pushing bills under the doormat is not an answer - one either pays the bill, or one is disconnected. If you find yourself in the midst of a battle, then whether you face the enemy or not is almost not an issue – the chances that an arrow or a bullet will find you are high. However, if you face the ‘enemy’ you can at least gain the measure of the situation. Like all analogies these only hint at the meaning and you should not elaborate on them too much. If one ask too many 'intellectual' questions about analogies, the best of them fall to pieces. So, to practice shi-n is to work directly with how we are.

To practice shi-n is to begin to live your life rather than letting your life ‘live’ you. To practice shi-n is to get back into the driver's seat - to open your eyes and see the world. With our eyes open we realise that we no longer have to play ‘blind man’s buff’ with our emotions.

Clarity spontaneously arises from the discovery of openness within the practice of shi-n. Loosening one’s white-knuckled grasp of the thought process enables thought itself to be more intimately experienced. We experience the colour, tone and texture of thought.

These qualities arise because we develop sufficient experience of openness in which to see thought in a spatial context. We become transparent to ourselves. Motivation becomes simpler. A natural compassion arises – a compassion which does not need to be forced or fabricated. The first real taste of freedom.

Shi-n does not particularly depend on accepting dogmas, or elaborate Asiatic philosophies. The teachings of the Dzogchen Sem-d ngndro do describe a view, but it is a view which must be validated through experience. The view must be real-ised. As far as the simple practice of shi-n is concerned, ‘belief’ in Buddhism is not required, nor for that matter is the need to believe in anything. We belong to the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and the methods outlined are from that tradition. People who belong to other religious traditions may well benefit from the practises we outline, but we cannot offer advice as to how the Four Naljors might function in the context of paths we have not personally followed. The practice of shi-n as we describe it exists within the context of the Nyingma yogic tradition. Nyingma yogis and yoginis practice shi-n in conjunction with many other practices. These other practices involve the generation of compassion and the development of devotion toward one's Lama and lineage. People who try to practice spiritual methods out of context with the religious tradition which gave rise to them, often find themselves lacking the impetus to maintain a regular practice. Without a regular practice it is difficult to get anywhere. Lacking the background of a religious context, people often find that the basic enthusiasm for the discipline of mediation dissipates. Certainly, without the richness and support of a religious tradition it proves difficult to persevere through the times when one's practice seems ‘unrewarding’. From our experience, one has to belong somewhere. One has to be part of something which is sufficiently bigger than oneself in order to find support in a higher, deeper, broader context. On requires a context which goes beyond the isolated island of ‘me and my process’.

Vajrayana Buddhism is obviously the religion of choice for this practice - because Vajrayana is the religion from which these practices originated. Furthermore, it is likely therefore that someone who considers themselves to be a Nyingma practitioner will derive more inspiration from the colour of these practices, even than a person of another Tibetan tradition. These are not value judgements; they are merely pragmatic statements, designed to be helpful rather than to confine, alienate, or exclude. Inspiration is crucial to maintaining a practice such as shi-n, so one needs to address the issue of where and how one derives one’s inspiration. Until you find yourself working with a Lama, of whatever tradition, you will be working on your own. Working on your own is not necessarily contra-indicated in the beginning - so it is possible to begin employing shi-n in order to gain an understanding of what you are. If you approach practice in this way, then when you do have the opportunity of meeting a Lama, you will have real experiential questions to ask – and these question will come from ‘you’. If you are new to Buddhism, do not be too quick to exchange old beliefs for new ones, even if they are part of the Buddhist view. Buddhism isn’t structured to promote belief in Buddhism. The Sutrayana in particular is an experiential science which encourages us to test everything. In the context of Sutrayana, Shakyamuni Buddha stressed that people shouldn't accept what he said just because he said it. Although the Four Naljors do not stem from Sutrayana, the approach to shi-n equates with Sutra. Because shi-n equates with sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha’s injunction, that we should test his teaching rigorously against our own experience, is vital. The Lama does not ask us to sell our integrity, but rather to sell our limitations in order to discover ourselves on our journey into vastness.