Togal – You Decide

Dzogchen has two aspects: in Tibetan, these are called Trekcho and Togal. Trekcho is seeing concepts as soon as they arise and ‘cutting through’ them. Togal is ‘leaping over’; it is direct experience of spontaneous presence. Trekcho is doing something, as in seeing, which is wisdom. Togal is just being, which is skilful means.

All phenomena has the nature of emptiness: this is relative understanding – trekcho.
Emptiness is the nature of all phenomena: this is ultimate realisation – togal.

Now we come to the tricky part!
Togal is described as visions – inner visions. This is where we can become confused. Togal is practised with guidance from a qualified teacher: one first must be stable in Trekcho.

In ordinary retreats, I’ve heard students ask about visions and ‘doing something’ with their eyes. There has never been a reply to this question, as this teaching is said to be secret. However, we can glean some understanding:

Matthieu Ricard describes the four visions as:
the absolute nature becoming manifest
the experience of increasing appearances
awareness reaching its greatest magnitude
the exhaustion of phenomena in dharmata*

Sogyal Rinpoche: fromThe Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Tögal has a quality of instantaneousness, of immediate realization. Instead of traveling over a range of mountains to reach a distant peak, the tögal approach would be to leap there in one bound. The effect of tögal is to enable a person to actualize all the different aspects of enlightenment within themselves in one lifetime. Therefore it is regarded as the extraordinary, unique method of Dzogchen; whereas trekchö is its wisdom, tögal is its skilful means. It requires enormous discipline, and is generally practiced in a retreat environment.
Yet it cannot be stressed too often that the path of Dzogchen can only be followed under the direct guidance of a qualified master.”

You notice they do not mention actual visions. Maybe some do see visions, as focused light can be interpreted in different ways. Or the ‘inner light’ is just “phosphenes”: atoms constantly emit and absorb tiny particles of light, or photons – coloured snow in the dark.

All phenomena has the nature of emptiness.
Seeing this is Trekcho.

Emptiness is the nature of all phenomena.
Being is spontaneous realisation: Togal.

You decide.

*dharmata: the intrinsic nature of everything, the essence of things as they are. Dharmata is the naked, unconditioned truth, the nature of reality, or the true nature of phenomenal existence.

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3 Responses to TOGAL – YOU DECIDE

  1. Daisy says:

    Hello Tony
    Interesting you should write about this subject – I understand how sensitive it can be.
    Togal is something that I’ve heard spoken about in hushed tones for years: it seems to be pretty well impossible to find out anything about it without having done a three year retreat.
    I have always wondered about this…is it really something so profound and powerful that it can only be undertaken by the initiated or is there an element of drama and excitement that keeps the students curious and in awe? I certainly don’t know the answer to that, but I think it’s important not to be intimidated, and to ask questions.
    Regarding the phosphenes: people who are blind don’t live in a pitch black world. The brain tries to compensate for the lack of visual input by creating lights and colours and imagery. Makes you wonder about the visions spoken about in togal.
    Would you say that trekcho and total are indivisible? That one leads naturally to the other?
    And another thought regarding the visions associated with togal. I can only surmise that any visions that arise are seen as illusory and mirage-like, lacking any true reality – in the same way that the physical world around us lacks true reality. It’s not that the visions themselves have any “message” or importance other than a metaphor.
    I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
    Thanks for raising a difficult topic (it’s something you do so well! 😉 )

    • tony says:

      Hello Daisy

      I agree, why the mystery?

      In the dark or when one’s eyes are closed phosphene inner lights are seen. It is said that over a prolonged period of time illusory images may appear. The “dark retreat’ is a practice for the bardo period after death, seeing all appearances as merely projections of the mind.

      As with awareness meditation where we sit with eyes open taking in the whole view at once, which include peripheral objects, so we can do the same with eyes closed in observing the phosphene lights. If it stops the mind wandering why not!


  2. Daisy says:

    I’ve just remembered what the visions seen by those who spend time in the dark, lacking sensory input – “The Prisoners’ Cinema”.

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