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Mindfulness: Perspectives from the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism

Mindfulness དྲན་པ།

This lecture will focus on the faculty of “mindfulness” (Tib. dran pa, Skt. smṛti) as it has been understood and cultivated in the Nyingma (rnying ma) school of Tibetan Buddhism, and especially in its tradition of the Great Perfection or Dzogchen (rdzogs chen). First, we will consider this faculty according to the classical Indian Buddhist doctrines that are common to all Buddhist schools in Tibet. In this way, we will examine the interrelations of mindfulness with memory, judgment, attention, etc., along the development of wisdom through study, reflection and meditation.

Then, we will focus on the teachings of Nyingma authors, with special reference to Longchenpa (Klong chen pa, 1308-1364) who is revered for having integrated together classical Mahāyāna Buddhism, tantric and Dzogchen teachings. This will serve to articulate different levels of practice with corresponding types and exercises of mindfulness. The foundations of this Tibetan Buddhist path of mindfulness consist in an existential reorientation and in an ethics of attention, with the allied faculties of awareness (shes bzhin, saṃprajanya) and conscientiousness (bag yod, apramāda). Ultimately, we will consider what Jigme Lingpa (’Jigs med gling pa, 1729/30-1798) has coined as the “distinctive mindfulness of Dzogchen” in connection with the recognition of non-dual awareness (rig pa).

Thus, from the solid ground of ethical conduct up to the open sky of pure contemplation, Dza Paltrul (Rdza Dpal sprul, 1808-1887) could write that: “the root of all means that discipline the mind is only mindfulness.” In conclusion, we will reflect upon the instructions on “presence and awareness” (dran shes) of the late and dearly remembered Dzogchen master Chogyal Namkhai Norbu (1938-2018), and how they can be considered as encapsulating this long and rich tradition of Tibet.


Marc-Henri Deroche is Associate Professor at Kyoto University, Japan, where he teaches Buddhist and Tibetan studies. He got his PhD at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Paris, 2011) for a thesis on Trengpo Terton Sherab Ozer (published as Une quête tibétaine de la sagesse: Prajñāraśmi et les sources de l’attitude impartiale, Brepols, forthcoming), a key figure for the successive revivals of the Nyingma school and the emergence of the Rimé movement. His research has then focused mainly on Nyingma texts and traditions, with special consideration of the nature and role of the faculty of mindfulness, and has been published in journals such as Asian Philosophy, Philosophy East and West, etc. He has travelled extensively in Tibet and the Himalayas, and is also a fellow of the Mind and Life Institute.