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How to Do Trekchö Meditation

In this article, you’ll learn how to do Trekchö meditation. This is one of the main meditation practices in Dzogchen, a Tibetan tantric tradition.

I’m primarily a yogi and meditator, not a scholar. This isn’t a philosophical or artistic discussion, but a practical guide. If you want to learn Trekchö and skip the background and esoteric language, this is perfect for you.

To get started, let’s talk a little about what Trekchö means and who it’s suitable for.

Trekchö: The Background

Trekchö is one of the main practices of the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and is pronounced “treg-chud”. It means seeing through and being through, or openness and awareness. It’s often described in English as “cutting”: cutting through everything that obscures or clouds our true nature.

This is an advanced meditation practice that is designed to help your realise Nirvana, Rigpa, the Great Perfection. It’s often described in esoteric language, which is powerful if you can understand it, but tricky for novices. I’ll describe it using more conventional language. If you’re not an experienced meditator, feel free to try it, though you might find it too subtle and elusive at this stage.

Trekchö is both a liberation practice and a non-dual practice. It liberates us from the chains of our sensory phenomena and of the chains of other: the persistent delusion that there is anything experientially outside of ourselves. It helps us cut through our cage-like self-contraction that contributes to the division of self and other.

Trekchö: The How-to

Setup

Since you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re an experienced meditator and you both have a favourite setup and can meditate more or less wherever you are. If so, Trekchö is ideal because it’s perfectly suited for sitting and for on-the-go practice.

You can practice with eyes open or closed, and there are two options for posture:

  • The Standard Way: choose a meditation posture and follow my three posture steps,
  • The Dzogchen Way: keep your eyes open and sit comfortably, not attempting to sit in a special posture.

You might like to go to a quiet space with minimal distractions: it depends on your level of experience. I also recommend you set a timer.

Steps

The Trekchö practice is simple. Once you’ve practiced it for a while, you’ll realise how stupidly simple it is! Yet it’s also very profound.

  • Settle: Take a moment to get settled into your posture. You should feel alert and attentive, yet stable and loose,
  • The Phat Syllable: In Trekchö, we use the “Phat” cutting syllable (pronounced “fet”) to bring us back to the state of openness and awareness. Say it loudly, forcefully and abruptly, and notice how it clears and refreshes your perception. Use it whenever you feel distracted, tired or dull.
  • Openness: Open up your awareness such that it includes all sensory impressions, including the body, thoughts, sights and sounds. Hold it broad, zoomed out. I even wrote in my journal “Establish broad, uncontracted, objectless awareness and keep it there.” This is your default stance,
  • Awareness: Whatever comes up, penetrate it with your awareness. See through it, bring exquisite attention to it, penetrate it, see its illusoriness. Be through it, feeling it fully, realising its’s not separate from you. Don’t cling on to it or push it away.

This is the Trekchö practice explained mostly free of the Dzogchen context. If you’d like a more poetic and traditional description, I recommend The Special Teaching of the Wise and Glorious King by Patrul Rinpoche.

Let’s talk about some common traps in Trekchö.

Common Traps

Overwhelm: you might feel overwhelmed by all the sensory input you’re receiving. This is normal if you haven’t done meditation of this kind, and you’ll get used to it with practice. I’d also advise you don’t pay too much attention to individual sensations. Aim to never lose contact with broad, uncontracted, objectless awareness.

Distraction: we’re meditating, so naturally we’ll fall into distraction, particularly the mental kind. When this happens, you’ll notice a narrowing of your attention and a sense of contraction around the distracting phenomenon. Keep coming back to your default, broad stance, attempting to see through and be through your thoughts rather than contracting around them. Open your eyes if you’re continually distracted.

Stickiness: you’ll likely find sensations that feel dense, blocked and sticky, and wonder how it’s possible to see through and be through them. Know that though there are levels of density and heaviness, ultimately all sensations become transparent, light and airy if we penetrate them enough. It’s challenging, yet hugely liberating when you succeed at it.

Lost in Reactions: you might have reactions to this practice, both pleasant and unpleasant. Often we become identified with our reactions and feed them. We fall into monologues and emotions, which takes us away from seeing through them and being through Try to see your reactions as reactions and continue the Trekchö practice, no matter how convincing they may be.

Now let’s talk about the common insights that come from practicing Trekchö.


Where Trekchö Takes You

Now that you have the basic instructions, let’s talk about the effects of Trekchö practice. If you don’t experience these on any given day, don’t fret. Meditation is about sustaining your practice and effort over time, rather than what happens from day to day. The more you practice Trekchö, the more you’ll be able to contact it whenever and wherever.

In broad terms, it helps you see through the solidity of all phenomena, see that nothing is outside of you, and that your true nature is the light or the ground of being that underlies everything.

By seeing through and being through, we discover the empty and fleeting nature of all phenomena. No matter how solid or dense, phenomena in our first-person awareness are fleeting and paper-thin. Solidity is really an illusion within the greater space, awareness, lucidity, pureness.

This is one of Buddha’s main teachings. When we realise this, “whatever arises is food for the bare Rigpa emptiness”, as Patrul Rinpoche says. We learn not to grab onto or push away anything, because it cannot harm us. It arises, we see through and be through, and it passes.

We realise there’s nothing to be found. My pain is not outside, my joy is not outside. My happiness can’t be found elsewhere. It’s the searching that causes me pain. It’s my lack of embodiment that causes me pain. It’s my belief in “outsideness” that causes me pain. You ride the waves of the Great Sea of Being, and realise your cage-like ego is just a blemish or obscuration in it.

This sounds profound, and it is, yet it was never not true. You’re already awakened, non-dual, not separate. It’s only temporary obscurations that veil that fact.

It’s too close, so we overlook it. It seems too good to be true, so we can hardly believe it. It’s too profound, so we can’t fully fathom it. This splendour is not outside ourselves, so we can’t obtain it anew.

1st Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche: The Four Proclamations of Dzogchen

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