New book: Natural Perfection – Longchenpa’s Radical Dzogchen, by Keith Dowman with foreword by Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche

Posted on June 4, 2010


Keith Dowman’s latest book, “Natural Perfection – Longchenpa’s Radical Dzogchen” has just been published by Wisdom Publications. The foreword is by Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.

Keith Dowman

Keith Dowman

Keith Dowman is a British Buddhist translator and teacher based in Kathmandu, Nepal. His important translations from the Tibetan include “Calm and Clear“, “The Divine Madman“, “Sky Dancer“, “Masters of Mahamudra“, “The Flight of the Garuda“, “Power Places of Kathmandu – Hindu and Buddhist Holy Sites in the Sacred Valley of Nepal” and “The Sacred Life of Tibet“. He teaches Buddhist workshops and meditation retreats worldwide and has gained a reputation for his direct approach to Tibetan Buddhism free of ritual and cultural trappings and jargon. More recently he has been dedicated to leading Dzogchen retreats. Keith Dowman’s website is an excellent resource for Vajrayana Buddhists.


The book is a translation with commentary by Keith Dowman on the great Nyingma master Longchenpa’s Treasury of Natural Perfection. The book was previously published as “Old Man Basking in the Sun: Longchenpa’s Treasury of Natural Perfection“.

Dzogchen, or the Great Perfection, is considered the apex of Tibetan Buddhism and Longchen Rabjam was the pre-eminent master of Dzogchen and one of Tibet’s greatest masters. This book encompasses and optimizes the radical precepts of Dzogchen, which teaches the natural perfection of all experience, phenomena, and life, just as it is, with no need to alter or fabricate complex ideas or philosophical views.

In his foreword to the book, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche states:

“Now that Dzogchen is spreading in the West, we need a popular translation of this extraordinary text…the benefit will be seen as direct experience of the nature of mind. Keith Dowman, the translator who has spent many years with many great masters and has absorbed the realization of Dzogchen, has overcome the difficulties of translation and produced a straight-forward English rendition. I hope that this text may bring realization of the nature of things, just as they are, to all living beings.”

Here is an extract from the book’s introduction:

Natural Perfection by Keith Dowman

Natural Perfection by Keith Dowman

DZOGCHEN was a secret tradition in Tibet. It remained so during the lifetime of the grandfather lamas who were the bearers of the tradition and who became refugees in India and Nepal. Today, recognized increasingly as the final analysis and apotheosis of Tibetan Buddhism, translations of Dzogchen texts are freely available in the marketplace and tulku-lamas teach atiyoga to their students throughout the world. Its popularity may be attributed to a single basic tenet, which is contained in the notion “nonaction.” The buddha-nature is immanent in every moment of experience and simply by recognizing the moment and relaxing into it that realization is achieved. Relaxation is the imperative need of our stressed-out culture and relaxation is the key to buddhahood here-and-now. The materialism, rationalism, and goal-oriented ambition that mark our contemporary societies is undermined by Dzogchen with its promise of optimal awareness and recognition of a natural state of perfection. Tangentially, the message of Dzogchen provides a functional approach to the medical ills of the age, a redemptive approach to sexuality, and a positive, joyful vision of death and dying. These popular effects of Dzogchen, however, should not obscure its fundamental purpose—to recognize the unity of all things in a nondual universe of full awareness, harmony, and compassion.

It is unfortunately true that a heavy seriousness tends to pervade texts on the Dzogchen view; but perhaps that is inevitable in works that purport to resolve our every existential quandary. Yet evidently in the work of providing meaningful commentary and translation of Dzogchen texts somerhing crucial in the heart of Dzogchen is being forfeited. This essence of Dzogchen may be characterized as a lightness of being, humor, and laid back detachment, spontaneous joy and an uninhibited freedom of expression. Perhaps these qualities will emerge here in this work through an understanding of Longchenpa’s intent, but we need to apologize, immediately, for any failure to uphold the cosmic joke, full of joyful laughter, or to induce a dance of cosmic energy involving all life and work, and a pacific play of light that is free of all pain and anxiety. The exemplar of Dzogchen may be anonymous, but he is also the divine madman—or the urban yogi—jumping through decisive moments in life as easily as through the most trivial dilemma, gleefully shouting the absurdity of existence from the rooftops, and asserting the essential beauty of the human predicament. This Dzogchen text should be read as a paean of joy that loosens every knot, opens up every attenuation, and softens every hardening of the psychic arteries in a resolution of the anxiety that marks human embodiment.

Indeed, The Treasury of Natural Perfection belongs to a class of Dzogchen literature that promises to induce the awakened state of awareness that it describes. The difficulties of the text arise from an absence of an equivalent vocabulary in English to render the self-evident truths of Dzogchen’s “natural” language, a language that constantly refers back to its own empty nature, that is the way of natural perfection. A close reading of the root text, and the repetitions of the commentary, is required to allow the magic of the words to act reflexively in returning the reader to the natural state of perfection. It constitutes, therefore, an introduction to the nature of mind, which in the threefold root precept of the founder of the Dzogchen lineage is the initiatory phase of Dzogchen praxis, succeeded only by the phases of conviction and resolution. Baldly stated, this “introduction to the nature of mind” may precipitate the crumbling of all mental constructs and intellectual concepts and projections, like the collapse of a house of cards or a complex system of directories in a computer, leaving the initiate’s mind free of emotivity and motivation in the free and easy spaciousness of the natural state of reality. This purpose and outcome, of course, depends not only upon the craft of language but presupposes a ready and willing mentality, a condition that may limit the number of readers who will gain the optimal benefit, for this book is directed at those who already possess an intuition of the nondual nature of mind. Those readers who require an overview of Dzogchen and information about a system of yoga should look elsewhere. Those who seek a philosophical treatise will not only be disappointed but they may be left confused and rejective.

In a wider purview Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, is Tibet’s principal tradition of gnostic mysticism, commensurate to the Chinese Taoism of Lao Tsu and the Indian Advaita Vedanta of Shankaracharya and Ramana Maharshi. Without reference to similar and parallel Tibetan schools of yoga such as Mahamudra and Lamdre, it describes itself as the pinnacle of attainment of the Buddhist yogin, yet at the same time it maintains a distance from conventional Buddhism. Moreover, insofar as the ancient Bon school of Tibetan religion traces its own Dzogchen tradition back to its pre-Buddhist, shamanic roots, it may be surmised that the vision of Dzogchen is innate in any soteriological culture, or indeed in any human society. If a perfect nondual state of being is indeed the inescapable intrinsic state of all our being, as Longchenpa, the author of The Treasury of Natural Perfection, intimates, then we should expect to see traces of the idea around the world in poetry and historical religious literature, which surely is the case. Yet it is the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition that addresses the mood of our Western cultural moment that we find enmeshed in egregious materialism and the dichotomies of Judeo-Christian fundamentalism. It is in the lived Tibetan tradition founded upon a mellow oral transmission and a vast library of literary sources—most particularly in the revelations of Longchenpa—that we can find immediate access and inspiration.

Within the Tibetan arena of Dzogchen exegesis, there are many variations on the theme of natural perfection developed over twelve hundred years. The principal tradition of Dzogchen taught by lamas both in the West and in Tibet today is derived from Jigme Lingpa, an eighteenth-century mystic, an incarnation of Longchenpa and founder of the Longchen Nyingtik tradition. This later-day Dzogchen praxis is embedded in the Vajrayana Nyingma tradition and at first sight cannot be differentiated from it and is evidently an integral part of a Central Asian cultural form and lifestyle. The current exigencies of parts of Western societies, and indeed of any community that feels itself on the edge of time, demand an immediate, simple, and formless entry into the authenticity of the natural state of mind, and that is provided by what we may call radical Dzogchen. Here, as analogy, with full confidence that the human body can float in water, rather than extending a timorous toe into the pool we jump into the deep end and either sink or swim. Knowing that awareness of radiant reality is the natural state of mind, there is no need of an extended preparatory phase, no need to modify lifestyle or moral conditioning. Radical Dzogchen requires only an intimation of the nature of mind for a rainbow body to be imminent. The precepts of “radical” or “pristine” Dzogchen are contained in the sources of Longchenpa’s philosophical poem and commentary.