The goal of Dzogchen meditation is to discover the mind’s true essence, its natural state. This essence is traditionally described with words like spacious, open, clear, luminous, and aware. It is nondual.

Nonduality is the natural power of the mind to not get preoccupied with making distinctions between this and that, right and wrong, them versus us. In the nondual state, our typical mental chatter gently subsides; any attachment to resolving the past or planning for future naturally dissolves, and the worries and frustrations that compel us self-liberate. Peace ensues, and we are able to rest in open awareness.

The capacity for the self-liberation of suffering in Dzogchen meditation can occur at three levels, depending on how deeply the mind enters into its true essence or natural state. In the Nyingma tradition, these three capacities are referred to as Cherdrol, Shardrol, and Rangdrol.

Like a dew drop evaporating in the sun.

At this level, meditation practice is developed to the point where we can observe or as my teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, likes to say “host” any difficulties or distracting thoughts in the pure light of awareness. This means that we are resting quite peacefully in a clear, open state. We’re not terribly occupied with trying to fix or resolve all our problems in that moment. We feel present. We’re aware of our five senses. We can touch our breath.

Then, if any troublesome thoughts do arise, we simply shine the light of our awareness on them instead of following them. They eventually self-liberate and we move back into a state of open awareness.

While this is considered to be a minor capacity, in fact, it is to be celebrated. At this level of development, you are moving in the direction of being far less tormented by negative emotions. You have the ability to work with your own mind.


Like snow melting as it falls into the sea.

At this level, meditation practice has developed to the point where any disturbing thoughts that arise are liberated at the moment that they arise.

In other words, imagine any kind of disturbing thought pattern that plagues you. Maybe it was something somebody said at work. Maybe you feel you were unfairly judged. Could be somebody cut you off and then gave you the finger! That was rude. Or perhaps you’ve been struggling with family issues for years. You know exactly how it feels when these thoughts come up. There’s the typical emotional onslaught, tightening in the belly, a rush of anger, a flash of grief, tears, rage. Any number of responses can occur. Whatever the situation, you’re completely caught up in it.

Now, imagine that you’ve been sitting in meditation for awhile. Your mind feels clear; your heart is open; your energy is even; you’re at peace. Then, the exact same thought pattern that typically sends you into a tailspin arises and dissolves all in an instant. It has no impact. Like a soap bubble, you see how illusive and transparent it really is. In that moment, you are free.

This is considered to be a medium capacity. In fact, at this level you have the potential to be completely liberated from your suffering. You are no longer attached to being right, and you feel no need to justify your own pain.


Like a snake unwinding the knot of its own body.

At this level, meditation has developed into a completely nondual state. The whole entire illusory separation of this and that, subject and object, me and you collapses into itself. The mind discovers its own inherent peace and joy, and it rests evenly in a state of rigpa–clear, luminous awareness. There is a tremendous sense of oneness as the whole world opens up in a vivid display of sacred energy. Primordial wisdom arises and all of the enlightened qualities are yours. In terms of disturbing emotions, there’s nothing to talk about here. They are completely and utterly resolved.



This article is my own interpretation of a teaching given by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in his book The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen. Learn more about the teachings of Namkhai Norbu at

Emaho is a Tibetan term that comes up a lot in the practice and study of Dzogchen meditation. It means “How marvelous!”

Author's Bio: 

Kimberly has an M.A. in Religious Studies from Naropa University. She studies and practices Bon Buddhism and Dzogchen meditation. She is a student of Tenzin Wangyal Rinphoche. She offers practical tips for integrating meditation practice with daily living.

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