Dzogchen in the Zhang-Zhung Tradition of Tibet

by L. Ron Gardner on May 1, 2016

[This is my three-star Amazon review of John Myrdhin Reynolds’ text “The Practice of Dzogchen in the Zhang-Zhung Tradition of Tibet.” I’ve now read enough of the Zhang-Zhung (or Bonpo) tradition to realize that, generally speaking, the Buddhist versions of Dzogchen are superior. Nonetheless, Bonpo Dzogchen is worth a read by those into Dzogchen, and the Bonpo Dzogchen teacher I  most recommend reading is Tenzin Wangyal (see my three-star Amazon review of “Wonders of the Natural Mind: The Essence of Dzogchen in the Native Bon Tradition of Tibet”).]

The Zhang-Zhung Dzogchen tradition, associated with the Bon religion, predates Buddhism in Tibet. Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, though commonly associated with Tibetan Buddhism, transcends all religions – and the degree to which a religious or spiritual tradition can explicate Dzogchen is the degree to which it can be considered a radical (or gone-to-the-root) esoteric Dharma. In the case of Zhang-Zhung, or Bon (or Bonpo), this degree, to me, is unimpressive.

The first problem with Bonpo Dzogchen is that the myriad reductive or remedial practices that it classifies under the rubric of Dzogchen aren’t really Dzogchen. They are lesser practices and should be classified as such. This is especially true regarding the Thodgal (or Clear Light) practices, which are emphasized in this translation. Author John Myrdhin Reynolds insists that these Thodgal practices are not lesser tantric practices associated with visualizations, but rather true Dzogchen Thodgal that emphasize spontaneous visions (bindus, thigleys, mandalas, Buddhas). The practices in these translated manuals, however, are replete with not only visualization exercises, but physical postural and pranayama ones as well – so that, in effect, these teachings read more like a Kriya Yoga, rather than a Dzogchen, text.

My second problem with Bonpo Dzogchen is its misunderstanding of the Trikaya. Bonpo errs in its understanding and descriptions of the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. Moreover, by bringing the uncreated Trikaya into creation, Bonpo, in effect, confuses the Absolute with the relative.

My third problem is with the Bonpo’s perverted philosophic idealism. For example, according to one Bonpo guru’s teachings cited in this text, “What one sees before one is only created by one’s thoughts.” This is complete nonsense. One’s thoughts do not create the world and the objects in it.

This text does have its plusses. It provides extensive, detailed instructions on Bonpo Thodgal practices, which will be of interest to many (though not me). And translator/commenter John Mytdhin Reynolds is a rarity among Dzogchen authors – someone who can actually write clearly and professionally. Given the book’s plusses and minuses, from my critical perspective, it merits three stars.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jadu May 29, 2016 at 10:09 am

Ron you need to start a YouTube channel.


L. Ron Gardner May 29, 2016 at 3:50 pm

Jadu, I hope to do so next year. Right now I am so busy, I don’t even have time to write books.


Jadu May 30, 2016 at 10:33 pm

I think you can corner the niche of asshole spirituality on YouTube. Besides Anadi’s anti-social retardedness, there’s really nobody out there like you that I know about. I bet if you devoted a half hour a week to making short videos, uploading them and light promotion you could a significant following in little time. In my small membered opinion.


Jadu May 30, 2016 at 10:36 pm

Hey also do you have any tips to increase social confidence?


L. Ron Gardner May 31, 2016 at 7:42 pm

Jadu, the key to social confidence is simple: Not giving a shit what others think of you. But many who live this way are arrogant assholes. So one must also be considerate, humane and upright. Consideration, however, only goes so far. If someone, for example, acts abusively toward me, I may very well return the “favor.”

L. Ron Gardner May 31, 2016 at 7:52 pm

Jadu, I hope to give it a shot next year — but I’ve recently figured out how to make some big money arbitraging –and that will consume much of time. Also, I want to write a few more books before I seriously focus on promoting myself as a teacher.


kav August 1, 2016 at 11:56 pm

Thanks for all your reviews and sharing your experience. Although I don’t agree with all your views (eg. zen), I really appreciate the breadth of your teaching as well as insight.
Thank you. Also, congratulations on your recent successes. What are you arbitraging?


L. Ron Gardner September 22, 2016 at 10:49 am

Kav, sorry I missed this and didn’t approve it earlier. Thank you for your comment. I’m arbitraging the U.S. dollar versus the Mexican peso.


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