Why I Stopped Worrying About Togal

I gave up on Togal – the great mystery of gazes and visions – to just concentrate on seeing clearly … it’s far simpler! Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t! Life is too short to have mysteries hanging over one’s head: it’s like living in hope that one’s lottery numbers will come up, or that the teacher to see that you are worthy. That will never happen, so it is we who have to know.

There are descriptions of Togal online, but they seem to be based on over-elaborate manipulations of our vision. Tibetans are very colourful. My wife and I were at a monastery on a hill just outside Kathmandu in Nepal, and we were taught a secret teaching by the lama: “Go outside and do the four-fold sky-gazing practice”, which entailed staring at a cloudless, blue sky and realising subtle emptiness. So we did that. Then came back and had supper. What was that all about? There was no further discussion.

Some teachings aren’t explained enough, while others are over-explained. It all depends on who is talking. To a Tibetan, visions and dreams are very important, but to others, perhaps we need a more straightforward explanation, a sequence of understanding and experience – and not all traditions use the descriptions of Togal.

Togal in Dzogchen is our natural, spontaneous presence at its finest level.

This is not a secret. It is just something to be personally realised; clarity joins up the dots.It is not a intellectual, scholarly exercise for which we get points; it is genuine experience. When the text mentions ‘visions’, it may simply mean the qualities of essence seeing clearly.

‘Rigpa’ is Tibetan for pure consciousnessorempty awareness, and has two aspects – Trekcho and Togal. Trekcho means ‘cutting through concepts’ = seeing clearly, and Togal means ‘direct crossing’ or ‘the direct approach’ = seeing clearly immediately. Concepts are acknowledged immediately upon arising, and spontaneously realised as emptiness. This ‘seeing clearly’ represents the natural wisdoms. It’s the Dharma made practical.

Before we can look at cutting through and the direct approach, we have to recognise that empty awareness or Rigpa has three qualities: emptiness, awareness and the unity of the two, which is compassionate activity. It may sound pedantic but it’s very important to see this clearly, for if either emptiness or awareness are missing or forgotten, then we fall into the extremes of ‘Nothing is real’, or ‘Everything is real and permanent’: in this way, we dwell ignorance, and therefore there can be no truly compassionate activity.

So, the one empty awareness prisms into these three qualities, called ‘Kayas’; Dharmakaya (emptiness), Nirmanakaya (awareness)and Sambhogakaya (the compassionate unity of the two).

Rigpa is clear-seeing, like a crystal. This empty awareness or pure consciousness crystal further prisms into five qualities: reflective, discriminating, all encompassing, equalising, and spacious. These wisdoms are the natural outcome of Rigpa.

Mirror-like wisdom.
Discriminating wisdom.
All-accomplishing wisdom.
Wisdom of equality.
Wisdom of space allowing the other four to operate.

The clarity of these enlightened activities translates into pacifying, enriching, magnetising and destroying. Tögal bring this spontaneous presence to realisation. This is practical Dharma. Happy now? 😀

Healthy and Safety: Please do not poke your eyeballs for the phosphene effect … 😀 😀 😀

NB. If you know better, please comment! 😀

A phosphene is a phenomenon characterised by the experience of seeing light without light actually entering the eye. The word ‘phosphene’ comes from the Greek words phos (light) and phainein (to show). Phosphenes that are induced by movement or sound may be associated with optic neuritis – a demyelinating inflammation of the optic nerve.

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  1. Wannabe Yogi says:

    I’m no Buddhist monk. Truth be told, I’m probably not supposed to be practicing the stuff I am, since I’ve never met one or even a ngagpa in person, and I only recently received my first transmission via webcast. However, I have attempted to put various publicly available teachings into practice, consistently, for long periods of time, with interesting results. I’ve tried dream yoga, clear light, and trekchö.

    When I intuitively tried clear light, subsequently to dissolving the dream into a black space by attending to the emptiness of all things but especially my mind (while releasing all mental activity), very specific sets of visual experiences arose consistently, which I later learned after thorough investigation line up with the descriptions of the four empties in the Guhyasamaja tantra. There were white appearances in the black space like shiny mirages, smoke, like sparkler flecks or fireflies in a giant circle, like big teeth with a gradient resembling that of a butter lamp, followed by the appearance turning red, everything going completely dark, and the appearance of a vast dark blue light with no duality of subject or object, with the clarity of my mind shining inseparably. These occurred long before I had ever known any such things to be possible. This is to say that such visions were not the result of conditioned expectations, but arose of their own accord.

    Similarly, when I tried trekchö, at first I would just have a clarity similar to what I just mentioned, but when I did it in the context of dream yoga, instead of the aforementioned visions, I saw visions of moon-like and sun-like gold and white disks, many stars of the five basic colors, and rainbow spheres. I later learned that such visions are associated with togal practice, and given that it’s possible to enter a state of sleeping with one’s eyes open, it’s not entirely unreasonable to me that they may arise while practicing in the daytime.

    What I’m getting at here is that the visions that are associated with practices like the 6 Yogas of Naropa, trekchö, and togal are things that can and definitely do occur under certain circumstances, without forcing it, and that they are more than just metaphors for the equanimity, clarity, and nonconceptuality that arose in earlier stages of meditation (though those three are certainly still present when they are experienced). I would not say you should “worry about” not experiencing them. In my experience, such experiences arise of their own accord when one practices earnestly, for long enough periods of time to seed practice as habit, and consistently. Another important thing to have is an understanding of emptiness, not just from reading but also from observing the way things are experienced and investigating, in and outside of meditation. I find that when such experiences fail to occur, it’s because I’ve neglected one of the aforementioned factors.

  2. Jigme says:

    Sky gazing is not something you do once only ,after a few weeks you will see results

    • tony says:

      Hello Jigme,

      Thank you for your advice.

      What works for one may not work for another, no matter how long they try.

      Years ago, and after twenty five years of meditation, my teacher, a Tibetan lama, said it had been twenty five years of idiot meditation which had been with other teachers and lamas from other traditions.

      I was very angry, but accepted this.
      Now, after fifty years of meditation, I always go back to the first moment.

      Beginner mind, Dzogchen mind.
      Our path is dissolving our own confusion.

      May compassion, empathy and understanding see us all through the next year, so that we remain stable and happy.


      If you’d like to talk in private write to

    • tony says:

      Ah, just found it. Me at Nagi Gompa nunnery in Nepal, doing the three fold sky mingling among the pray flags. 😀

      /Users/tonybarrs/Desktop/Mingling the 3-fold Sky.jpg

  3. Kathie says:

    Hi Jigme –
    I think you could be missing the point Tony’s making 🙂 To suggest that he has only practised the technique of sky gazing once, and has found no benefit from it is to ignore the evidence to the contrary – this blog was not written by someone who tries something once and then gives up! The essence of sky gazing – the unity of inner and outer space, the gaze becoming aware of awareness itself within the timeless unity of inner and outer space – permeates all the words written on this blog.

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