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Phenomenological Notes on Rigpa


Rigpa is translated as “Knowledge of Ground”. The goal of Dzogchen and Mahamudra practice is to rest in Rigpa. It is a state of pristine, pure, luminous awareness, wherein there is no craving, aversion, or ignorance. The natural radiance of the awake mind in its essence shines through in a magnificent fashion when the three poisons are extinguished in waking and dreaming reality. The seven factors of awakening are present in the mind, and the mind has attained some non-dual insight prior to attaining Rigpa, because by definition, it is a state free of the three poisons of mind- which are ever-present until we attain to conformity knowledge on the progress of insight map for the first time. I think even practitioners who have not attained cessation can access Rigpa, as long as they have equivalent insight into non-self.

In this state of pure awake awareness, there are certain qualities of mind that shine through:

Luminosity– the lack of ignorance and the highly refined state of consciousness makes sense impressions vivid and spectacular- there is a sense of pervasive subtlety and richness to experience. Colors and sounds are spectacular and vivid. The mind is in a state of open vivid presence that is not like normal experience. The hindrance of dullness is completely gone in order to access this state for the first time. Later developments show how every mind state is also Rigpa and this can be perceived directly.

Agent lessness- There is a sense that nothing is happening or it’s all happening by itself – effortlessly, without an agent doing things. There is no autonomous center of anything directing any other aspect of experience or bringing it into being. Everything in the field is perfectly, causally related to everything else in the field.

Bliss – There is a pervasive sense of satisfaction in every sense impression, and not only the sense impressions themselves, but the entire flow of experience has a distinct quality of “fit” – everything seems to fall right into place, perfectly on time and in synch. This is such a vivid sense – almost like every moment is a crescendo of meaningful significance, and that climax just keeps rolling through- every moment feels perfect- aligned with a higher intelligence somehow- I refer to this as synchronization- because that’s exactly how it feels- it’s very obvious that everything is continually falling right into place – it has nothing to do with actual circumstances, and when you see this it shows you something very profound about the mind and its activities.

Time– there is a vivid sense that time is one continuous eternal moment- in fact this is probably the most important aspect to the mode that I call Rigpa- there is a wildly different relationship with time- and the longer you experience this state, the more it changes your default perception of time. It’s almost as if in Rigpa, time is a spherical phenomenon. It’s very clearly seen that every “moment” contains every other moment in time packaged there into it. This is known directly in an obvious, visceral way, almost like you are looking into a spherical – shaped lens that perceives in every direction- and every moment is clearly related to every other moment- and the concept of time entirely falls apart. It is seen how time is only a thought in our head and a concept that relates events to one another and the self. The perception in Rigpa is one eternal now – the concept of time literally falls apart- it is an utterly timeless state, and when you experience that you will know that’s what you experienced.

Space – There is a vivid sense of everything occurring in a vast-open space- similar to how the mind perceives in high equanimity. The raw power of the mind has to be pretty high to be able to perceive the vast space. This aspect of experience is interrelated and inseparable from the time aspect in some very hard to describe way- but it feels like time and space as fundamental concepts in the mind are seen directly as concepts within the other sense impressions.

The goal of practices such as deity yoga is to attain to Rigpa and maintain it throughout the day. We first learn to perceive Rigpa for moments at a time, then we can hold that perception for longer and longer, and what we see happening is a wonderful process of “synching up” to experience- and the qualities of experience explained above come into the fore.

When I first started to experience Rigpa was after 3rd path when I was working with the perfect parent protocol, using the materials and protocols available online. I had a pretty good samatha-vipassana skillset at the time, but perfect parent and deity yoga was profound because it let me drop some identity attachments that I did not even recognize- and the nature of the practice is that it works on an emotional level that is non-conceptual- and it does it in a really efficient way. Most people, to see non-self, they have to let down their unconscious defense mechanisms- these can be thought of as the higher fetters or combinations of the fetters.

I would get to the phase of the deity yoga where I would be in the presence of the deity and then I investigated with vipassana the “merging” phenomena – and that merging is how deity yoga is supposed to “tee up” the meditator into a state of Rigpa. I will say, it is a definite state and way of perceiving- and it can become a baseline state. A person can maintain this sense of flow and perfection indefinitely. It truly is a state of Nibanna- no suffering. The various accumulation stage (Ngondro) practices all build up a devotional emotional letting go- and that’s how you temporarily drop the higher fetters, it seems to me. I have noticed that shifts in overall luminosity of mind have often corresponded to emotional shifts, and the deity yoga that I did highly catalyzed this.

 I started to see how there was this moving, transient aspect of experience that makes it feel like everything is constantly changing, falling into place perfectly, and what seems to be the case is that that “mode” is entirely independent of actual circumstances or events happening, necessarily. Something about how the non-self-insight loosens up the identity attachment of the self-sensations- it makes everything appear to have the same essential essence- this is the “ground” aspect of Rigpa- in the utter transience there is some permanence- there is a consistency in the basic nature of existence- we are all one process.

These two aspects – the transient aspect and the ground aspect- in TMI I think this equates to the resting state and the active state in the meditation on mind practice. What is profound about these two modes if you can perceive them- that is another doorway into the insight of cessation- the mind always is creating whatever is happening right now. [Theoretical speculation} The resting state that we can experience in TMI meditation on mind is equivalent to conformity knowledge, and the active state is falling out of conformity knowledge. In the meditation on mind practice (and in any Mahamudra instruction) if you really home in on those two fundamental aspects of experience- it seems to tune your mind to conformity knowledge, and you can learn to dip into and out of cessation and hang out at the border of cessation. That’s what it feels like for me- there is a non-dual and blissful mode where there is no ignorance, and it is right next to cessation- so much that you can dip in and out. I have practiced being able to do this and that’s how I learned all about cessation and frequencies and resonance and all that. Often when you do the meditation on mind practice in TMI- you notice that you can sometimes hang out in conformity knowledge without dipping into cessation- and when you do that- at least for me, I got the insight that the conformity knowledge is like a basic perception that is “unlocked” when there is no craving aversion or ignorance. It’s like a hard absorption into 2 of the 3 characteristics- sort of like a basic mental fabrication that is fundamental- like you’re seeing behind the scenes or backstage- no one is allowed back here. It seems to be an absorption because as far as I can tell you can never metacognitively perceive anything more basic than impermanence, non-self, or suffering- you only know what happened after the fact because it’s an absorption.

The difference between Rigpa and say, a jhana, is that Rigpa has all sensate experience, and the source of bliss is not from any one jhana it is from the recognition of the “ground” aspect – the unchanging essence of pervasive change, viewed without ignorance, and the “appearance” aspect- which is the mind fabricating something and falling from conformity knowledge into normal experience.

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