Menu Close

Dzogchen Meditation: Background & 5 Key Practices

This is a practical, non-technical introduction to Dzogchen meditation that you can use to begin your practice today.

I’d like to show gratitude to my teacher Lama Surya Das for passing on his wisdom and these five meditation practices. The information here comes from a blend of his work, the Dalai Lama’s book on Dzogchen, and my own experience.

Background to Dzogchen Meditation

Dzogchen is the pinnacle of the Nyinmga school of Tibetan Buddhism. It’s an ancient oral tradition that came to Tibet from India in the 7th century AD.

Though all contemplative Buddhist practice ultimately leads to the same clear light, Dzogchen meditation is special. It points directly to enlightenment, to our Buddha nature, to Kuntuzangpo.

It’s a direct non-dual path that works top-down, swooping down from above, rather than building up from the ground like most other Buddhist traditions. It’s not about developing through stages, but recognising our inherent pure presence and Buddhaness. For this reason, Dzogchen meditation is called “the pinnacle of all vehicles”. It’s the sister practice of Mahamudra, which is a down-up approach.

There are three types of Dzogchen teachings: Semde, Longde and Menngagde. Menngagde, or Pith, is the variety that goes right to the point. These secret oral, esoteric, non-dual teachings form the basis of the meditations you’ll learn in this article.

Dzogchen means Natural Great Perfection, and this is the view that underlies the entire tradition and all its practices. From this point of view, everything in our body, mind and senses is impermanent; like bubbles, or a candle in the wind, like a dream. Everything within us is also equally divine, even the five poisons or obscuring emotions (greed, hatred, delusion, pride and jealousy) are nothing but light, arisings in wisdom awareness.

Since Dzogchen is a direct path, everything is seen in the light of Perfection. The Five Perfections detail this: this is the perfect time, the perfect place, perfect teacher, perfect teaching, and the perfect student. You can see your Buddhaness, right now.

It’s about going from here to truly here; we are there while we get there. We awaken from the dreamlike daze of the Default Mode Network and our limited, egocentric perception. We go from attachment and aversion, from blindness to true vision.

And we see the Buddha in everyone and everything. We’re all Buddhas, but we all need tuning up! And Dzogchen meditation is how we tune up.

Dzogchen Meditation: View, Meditation & Action

The ground for all the phenomena of samsara and nirvana is the fundamental innate mind of clear light, and these phenomena are its radiance or display.

The 14th Dalai Lama

In Dzogchen, the triad of View, Meditation and Action gives us the ground, practice and result of Dzogchen all in one.

Our View is immediate, open, like the sky, as it is, all-inclusive. There is no inside or out, no beginning or end. There is no path to enlightenment, yet we also don’t overidealise enlightenment or postpone it. We simply look into the mirror of naked awareness and see our innate Buddhaness, or tathāgatagarbha. We walk the path while already resting in the fruit, and always keeping in mind this View.

Our Meditation is natural meditation – we relax, remain open, allow, bring clarity and insight, and see the ownerless of everything we experience. We are a mountain, unchanged by conditions.

Natural Meditation, or non-meditation, is the baseline meditation for all others, whether it’s trekchö, tögal, skygazing, or Kuntuzangpo. We rely on Natural Breath, Natural Body and Natural Mind.

There is no need for special asanas, and we don’t try to focus the mind on a single object. We aren’t trying to kill the ego, rather contact pure, empty presence, luminous, open Nowness.

Dzogchen meditation isn’t about stages of concentration of absorption or realisation, unlike other systems. I’ve found the concentration is there, but it’s not on a single object: it includes all possible objects.

The fruit of the practice, our Action in the world, reflects our View and our Meditation. It as is needed, responsive, undriven, natural.

Dzogchen Meditation: 5 Main Practices

Let’s get to the five main practices of Dzogchen.

First, it’s useful to know that there are three phases in each meditation session in Tibetan Buddhism:

  • Beginning: we sit, arrive, breathe, relax the body, and turn inwards. Take a few deep breaths. Feel your breathing, your pulse, your body contacting the seat and the ground. This lasts a few minutes.
  • Middle: this is when we intensify our practice and go into the main technique. This lasts as long as you like.
  • End: we release effort and just sit for a few minutes. We send goodwill and compassion to ourselves and to humanity.

You can use these phases to structure your meditation. Now let’s move on to the five main Dzogchen practices.

Natural Meditation: The Backbone or Foundation

Dzogchen Natural Meditation, or non-meditation, is the backbone of all the other forms.

The basic instructions are:

  • Just Sitting: there’s no need for a special asana, or to strain the body, or to try to get somewhere. Just sit comfortably.
  • Just Breathing: be aware of your breathing as it causes your stomach and chest to expand and contract.
  • Just Being: notice what’s going on in your body and mind, without trying to alter it in any way. Be aware, be present.


In Trekchö, we begin with Natural Meditation then go deeper. Trekchö means seeing through, being through. As phenomena come and go in our awareness, we see through them, bring exquisite attention to them, penetrate them, see their illusoriness. We be through them, feeling them fully, realising they’re not separate from our very identity.

I like to categorise phenomena using Shinzen Young’s taxonomy:

  • Mental images
  • Mental sounds
  • Emotional body sensations
  • Physical body sensations
  • Sights in the environment
  • Sounds in the environment
  • or any combination of the above.

It is my understanding that in Trekchö we can work with any and all of these phenomena. By doing so, we discover that they are impermanent, fleeting, and that there is nobody experiencing them.

They’re also a way for us to discover Kuntuzangpo, since all phenomena arise and disappear into raw, naked awareness or pure presence, and we are that pure presence. Experiencing this is called Dharmakaya awareness.

For a wonderful explanation of Trekchö, get a hold of The Special Teaching of the Wise and Glorious King by Patrul Rinpoche. This is among the most revered texts in Tibetan Buddhism.


See my article on Kuntuzangpo for a detailed description of both the state of Kuntuzangpo and the meditation. As I say there:

Now contact the fullness in all your senses, beyond light and dark, pain and pleasure, perfect and imperfect, outside and inside, me and other. In every blink, in every breath, your body and senses contain everything.
Watch all phenomena – sights, sounds, thoughts, emotions – go by on the stream of awareness as the basic background remains unchanged. Radiate awareness outward, and embrace everything.


The purpose of skygazing is to connect us with the “outer infinite”: the Natural Great Perfection as it appears around us. We practice with eyes open.

Though you can practice this while looking at the sky, the name itself doesn’t literally mean staring at the sky. It means holding open awareness with eyes open. You can practice it wherever you are and whatever is around you, whether it includes the sky or not. That said, natural expanses like the sky, lakes and rolling hills can be conducive to this meditation, and offer pleasant visuals.

After the Beginning phase, open your eyes and gaze softly at a level height. Zoom out on your senses and hold open, spacious awareness.

Embrace everything that appears in your senses, and try to experience it all at once. Lose track of distance, time and reference points. Don’t hold on to anything. Try to be aware of the entire Natural Great Perfection, the entire parade of inner and outer experience as it rises and falls.

Everything comes and goes within you. Not little you, but the Kuntuzangpo You. This vessel is oceanic, expansive, clear, transparent. It’s endless, groundless, one beyond one. It’s the ground of all dualities, the one that liberates all.

Just rest in this pure open awareness as you keep your eyes open and gaze out. This is skygazing.

Tögal: The Pinnacle

Tögal is the pinnacle of Dzogchen practice, yet it’s tricky to find clear instructions on it because the lineage guardians have largely kept it a secret. Let’s hear what Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche says about it:

“Trekchö is to simply acknowledge that one’s innate essence is empty. Tögal is to recognize that the natural display is spontaneously present. They are not our creation; they are not produced by practice. There is no imagining of anything in either trekchö or tögal.

“Without cutting through with trekchö, you can’t directly cross with tögal.”

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

Check out the Tibetan Buddhist Encylopedia page on Togal for more information.

In practice it takes a lot of meditation experience to simply rest in tögal, and I recommend you work with the other Dzogchen practices beforehand.