Tony Duff, Flight of the Garuda, 2011

This is a fruition term that refers to the kind of mind, the kind of knower possessed by a buddha.  Sentient beings do have this kind of knower but it is covered over by a very complex apparatus for knowing, dualistic mind.  If they practise the path to buddhahood, they will leave behind their obscuration and return to having this kind of knower. The Sanskrit term has the sense of knowing in the most simple and immediate way.  This sort of knowing is present at the core of every being’s mind.  Therefore, the Tibetans called it “the particular type of awareness which is there primordially”.  Because of the Tibetan wording it has often been called “primordial wisdom” in English translations, but that goes too far; it is just “wisdom” in the sense of the most fundamental knowing possible.

Dowman: Flight of the Garuda, 1994: “literally, ultimate cognition; Awareness, pure or primal awareness, non-referential awareness, gnostic awareness as a non-dual cognitive mode.”

Dowman: The Yeshe Lama, 2014:

The Now, ye, ye nas: This little word ye peppers Dzogchen texts and is often ignored. If it is translated as “timeless”, we have “timeless awareness” or “timeless matrix”, which allows easy reification. But “Ye!” like “Eh!” is an onomatopoeic evocation of the now and can be translated as such: “awareness in the now” for ye shes, and “matrix of the now” for ye klong. Ye nas is “in the here and now” rather than “primordially” (Jurassic or Devonian?) or “originally” (at the time of the Big Bang, surely?). See gdod ma’i.


Translation of Dzogchen into English has been in process for more than fifty years now, and in the light of the recent understanding of it as separable from Buddhism, its vocabulary is being re-evaluated and revised. First to translate Dzogchen (or rather to edit translation of Dzogchen), W.Y. Evan-Wentz belonged to the pre-sixties period, which was dominated by the Theosophist’s Annie Besant and Charles Leadbetter and company. Then Dr. Herbert Guenther, strongly influenced by contemporary philosophy, created a revolution in translation in the ‘sixties. But subsequent mainstream work has been firmly grounded in Mahayana and Vajrayana vocabulary. A major obstacle to developing a dedicated Dzogchen vocabulary and multivalent English prose has been the dharma-pidgin that lamas barely literate in English used – sometimes quite effectively – to transmit novel notions to students in preverbal trance states. Chogyam Trungpa is long gone and Dungse Thinle Norbu has now followed him. The tendency of even non-Tibetan translators to reproduce Tibetan sentence structure within literal translation thus transgressing the habitual speech patterns of our native language may sometimes achieve benefit in Breakthrough, but to replace a rich and flexible pattern by one which is thin and rigid militates against it. A final insult to our language and to Dzogchen emerges from university departments of religion or philosophy where ambitious academics pimp virginal Dzogchen (albeit in ignorance of what they do) by drawing it into the net of comparative and analytic sophistic philosophy. Their language deracinates and diminishes the Dzogchen that is paradoxical when it is not simple and clear. The failures of Dzogchen translation are multiplied by the tendency of dedicated sectarian Buddhist publishers to accept ineptly translated English manuscripts from high profile lineal sources.

Certainly, highly questionable equivalents like “wisdom” for “yeshe”, as an outstanding outstanding example, will be difficult to eradicate on a non-academic level, but as “existential” rather than “academic” understanding of Dzogchen increases it will soon be perceived that unless old habits of translation are eradicated the Breakthrough view and nonmeditation will suffer. A glossary of technical terms has been included at the back of this book, representing the present (although temporary) state of the radical Dzogchen vocabulary, developed over fifty years, in which some questionable and redundant terms are listed and discussed. The two principal innovations in the glossary may be the establishment of the notion of “in the now” in place of “primordial” “from the beginning”, etc., and the introduction of “existential” as descriptive of the natural dispensation of being. Regarding the former, without neglecting a nod to Herr Eckhart Tolle, the Dzogchen Breakthrough view insists upon the matrix of the here and now as the arena of timeless (nondual) cognition, in “the great time”, and in a nonspatial or zero dimension: there is no origin, no primordial depths, no beginning, only “awareness of the now”. Regarding the latter, the use of “existential” earths the Dzogchen adept who is about to lose himself in the supernal realm of notional rainbow body. The dharma is experiential-existential rather than notional; reality is here-and-now existential rather than transcendent or other-worldly; nirvana is implicit in existential samsara rather than “on the other shore”; the natural condition is immanent-existential rather than transcendental or belonging to any other “state”; authenticity is existential rather than rational or logically consistent. In this way what is existential anchors us to the Leapover meditation in the sensory fields, and actualizes the realization of Breakthrough.

Tony Duff, Longchen Nyingthig, Guidebook called Highest Wisdom by Jigmey Lingpa, 2010: This is a translation of the same book as Dowman’s Yeshe Lama. Lama Tony explains the title thus:

Amongst Tibetans, the title is usually abbreviated to “tri yig yeshe lama” and it has become known by that name amongst Westerners. In it, “tri yig” means a book of written instruction and “yeshe lama” means highest wisdom. “Tri yig” does not mean manual. The word manual would convey the idea that one could pick up the text and use it as a manual for the practice but the text is not written or intended to be used like that. Oral instruction explains that these words mean Tib. “lam yig”, a guidebook used by a traveller. This text is indeed a guide that exposes all of the places passed through on the Nyingthig journey. However, it needs a great deal of explanation to be used as a basis for practice. Therefore, as the oral tradition says, it is a guidebook, not a manual.

and a bit further on…

In Tibetan, following the main title, the essence of the text is presented in the sub-title “yeshe lama” meaning “highest wisdom”. There is an important point here. While the sub-title “highest wisdom” could be taken to mean highest wisdom in a general way, there is the important point that “highest wisdom” also is the name of a sixteenth level of wisdom taught only in the ninth or Ati vehicle and not in any of the eight
vehicles below it8. Using exactly the right words, the sub-title encapsulates the meaning of the guidebook. Sitting, as it does in Tibetan, at the end of the title, it also leads directly into the teaching contained in the text. A teacher who knows these subtleties of the wording of the title can and will use the explanation of the subtitle as a springboard to the exposition of the text.