Early Dzogchen thought is characterised by its uncompromising insistence on an effortless mode of meditative practice. There is a certain paradox entailed in this position, which can be stated as follows: Given that all forms of training involve some form of effort, how is one to learn to practise in an effortless manner?
Taking stock of this paradox, this talk will look at the notion of effortlessness from two complementary angles. First, Dr. Esler will consider how effortlessness serves to demarcate Dzogchen from the tantric approach of Mahāyoga through rhetorical deconstruction and symbolical transposition. Second, he will seek to show that, when examined in a context-sensitive way, effortlessness is also more than just a rhetoric of deconstruction. This will lead us to explore the implications of effortlessness for an understanding of the contemplative path or of what might be termed, from a comparative point of view, a transcending process.
Textually speaking, the talk will be based on a set of hitherto unstudied commentaries by
Nupchen Sangyé Yéshé (ca. 844 to mid-10th c., Tib. gNubs chen Sangs rgyas ye shes), a pivotal figure in the codification of Buddhist lineages in early Tibetan history. His commentaries are devoted to four of the so-called ‘eighteen texts of the mind section’ (Tib. sems sde bco brgyad) and they are among the earliest works to articulate a systematic exposition of Dzogchen thought.
Dylan Esler is a scholar and translator of Tibetan Buddhist texts. He holds a PhD in Languages and Literature from the University of Louvain and an MA in Buddhist Studies from SOAS, London. He presently works at the Center for Religious Studies (CERES) of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum on the project An Enquiry into the Development of the Dzogchen Tradition in the Commentaries of the Tibetan Scholar Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (10th century), which is sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Prior to that, he worked on the DFG-funded Nyang ral project, also at CERES. His research interest focuses on early Nyingma expositions of Dzogchen and Tantra. His recent publications include: “Yamāntaka’s Wrathful Magic: An Instance of the Ritual Legacy of gNubs chen Sangs rgyas ye shes on the Byang gter Tradition via the Figure of rGya Zhang khrom,” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines 62 (2022): 190–215 and; “Negotiating the Absence of Ritual: Dzogchen in the Tantric Manuscripts of Dunhuang and Beyond,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 44 (2021): 409–440.