Jonathan Foust

October 31, 2008

The Non-Dual Shuffle

Filed under: Dharma — jonathanfoust @ 6:52 pm
Tsoknyi at the Fall Retreat

Tsoknyi at the Fall Retreat

I’m just back from a week-long Dzogchen retreat with Tsoknyi Rimpoche. I led the afternoon movement sessions and the rest of the time I was free to sit.  This was my second retreat with him. Tara and I sat with him in Crestone, Colorado a few summers ago.

Ah …. a whole week at Club Med. (itation.)

If you haven’t had the opportunity to take a retreat of silence dedicated to practice and study, I highly recommend it. It’s not just the days of silent practice, the opportunity to be touched by timeless teachings, it’s also what you’re NOT doing.  No email, vmail, magazines, tv, newspapers, etc, etc.  Just the latter alone is transformative.

Dzogchen (The Great Perfection) is all about coming into cognizance of the non-dual – or primordial state of consciousness.    I took about sixty pages of notes and and I look back over what he taught in our twice-daily sessions, I appreciate how systematic and thorough he was.  Dzogchen is at the same time the most utterly simple practice there is … with a very complex and sophisticated context to understand it fully.

While Tsoknyi is a brilliant scholar, he is also incredibly funny, and with great frequency had the room exploding in laughter.


The first element of practice is learning how to steady the mind so we can experience, as Tsoknyi says, ‘now-ness’.  To do this we use concentration, training our attention to rest more and more in the here and now.  The breath is the most traditional anchor.  This is known as practice ‘with support.’

As we become more steady in our experience of ‘now-ness,’ we can drop the specific anchor and rest in now-ness ‘without support.’

Both with and without support, there is the constant drama of the mind wandering, obsessive thinking, rogue emotions coming and going.  Over time there are also more frequent bouts of pleasantness, relaxation and steadiness.  In all of this, though, there is still an observer, a witness of what is arising and passing through.  This is where the practice gets really interesting.

At some point, you dissolve the observer.  You ‘drop’ all technique.

How do we ‘drop it?’  I was reminded of what they teach in the Forum (formerly EST) trainings.  “Try to hit my hand,” the instructor would say.  You can’t “try.”  You do it or you don’t.

So you drop it. Or you try, and you don’t drop it. Sometimes I would feel a momentary sense of expansion, sometimes various forms of mental gymnastics that became increasingly frustrating, sometimes a sense of peace before the mind would rush back in with a comment.  

The invitation, again and again, is to drop any effort, any manipulation, any attempt to make your experience anything other than exactly what it is.

So simple.  So amazingly difficult.


A phrase I’ve found helpful:

“Awareness Open to the Senses –Non-Fixated Awareness”


So much more I can say, but I’ll stop here.


You can read more on Tsoknyi here and more on Dzogchen here.



  1. I was sitting on a bench today in the park today, and.commented to Janet “you know that drop it that
    Rinpoche felt a lot like EST got it.”

    Comment by Gary — November 1, 2008 @ 7:19 pm

  2. I hope you’re interested in The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Here are links to a Guide that covers this book and other books of the Oxford Tibetan Series.
    If you find this useful, please mention it on your blog.

    Comment by amosanonslinkblog — February 25, 2009 @ 7:00 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: