© 2021 Jim Manganiello


Dzogchen Psychology holds great promise for depth psychology. Dzogchen psychologists have done many years of experiential research on the the mind's deepest nature.. Their findings deepen our understanding of mind. They enrich depth psychology's understanding of how to cultivate and protect a truly sound mind.

The word Dzogchen is a Tibetan word for the mind’s root essence and condition. Dzogchen refers to the mind’s “Natural State,” as an experience of knowledge, not as an idea or concept. According to Dzogchen psychology, when we are in our mind’s Natural State, we are who we truly are. And we are healthy and sane. When we are not, our we fall into conditioned egocentric patterns and programs that too often make life miserable.

Dzogchen is typically associated with Tibetan traditions, both the Tibetan Buddhist school known as Nyingma and the indigenous Tibetan contemplative tradition known as Yungdrung Bon. But Dzogchen is independent and free of both Buddhism and Bon, or any system, doctrine or dogma. It isn't limited to any cultural, religious or spiritual tradition. Atheists, Rabbis, Imams, corporation executives, homeless people and the Pope can all practice and experience Dzogchen—if they know how. Dzogchen is experiential knowledge about what is and who we ultimately are, beyond thought and concept.


Empirical scientists research the mind through experiments done on the minds of others. Contemplative scientists, in contrast, use experiential methods, done on their own mind. The Dzogchen scientist, for example, systematically observes and explores his mind by following precise methods. He does so with benefit of expert guidance. Not easy at first, but definitely possible. Then he observes and becomes familiar with how his mind functions. 

In time, again with expert instruction, he discovers his mind’s Natural State. Being in the Natural State, is an experience of pure awareness, in the timeless moment. This is often referred to as egoless or non-dual experience. It's egoless in the sense of being free from the confines of a limited awareness focused on an "I" or "me." It's non-dual in the sense of NOT being me (as a subject) being aware of something else, i.e. an object other than me. Being in the Natural State is NOT "me" being aware of something in or about my mind. It's a direct experience of pure, primordial awareness. Which is what the essence of my mind is and what I am as well. 

When we are in the Natural State, we are home. And our confusion about who we are, and about what is real, just drop off.  As if we were under a pure pristine waterfall that removes the grime of our recurring thought movies and habitual patterns and programs. When the astronomer Copernicus discovered that the sun was the center of our known solar system, not the earth, much changed, including astronomy itself. 


The experiential discovery of the MInd's essential nature revolutionizes psychology in the same way.  It changes everything. Any psychology based on speculative thought and concept, even when associated with empirical science experiments, has lost power and relevance. Such a psychology no longer forms a reliable base of critical importance for understanding the human mind. Intellectual thought-based psychology can be of some value, but only as an adjunct to a living psychology that arises out of direct experience of what the mind actually is, in its essential nature.

Depth Psychology is unique in western psychology. It can shake hands with Dzogchen Psychology, because of its  aim is to foster "Individuation," by doing the work needed to make conscious what's unconscious. So that one can break free from conditioned forces and become who they truly are.  But depth psychology has too often been stuck in the ideas and concepts about all this. Without benefit of knowing how to experience the Self directly. Depth psychology has considered the Self conceptually, as , for example, as : "the totality of one's being" or "the central and sacred core of the mind". Which is fine and good, up to a point. Depth psychology feels the pull of something deep within the mind, no doubt.  

Dzogchen psychology discovered the Self, the mind's deepest nature, through direct experience. It is the experience of timeless awareness in the timeless moment. It's known as a direct experience of Pure Presence. The celebrated depth psychologist, C.G. Jung, made this discovery, himself. But not through Dzogchen methods, but through his Near Death Experience, which thrust him into non-duality. 

Dzogchen practitioners aim to do three things: 1) Discover their mind’s Natural State; 2) Verify that their discovery is reliable and valid; and 3) Stabilize and strengthen their ability to integrate the Natural State with daily life.

These three things are a second awakening beyond what our surface thinking-mind considers “reality.”  It’s exactly like awakening from a sleeping dream we thought was literally real. This comes in lightning flashes of self-arising intuitive wisdom, not conceptual formulations or mathematical proofs.

This is gnosis—what Jung was after. Jung, unlike many of his followers, was a contemplative artist-scientist at heart. He picked up the scent of the sacred realms of deep mind. But he didn’t have a direct experience of what he was talking about—until his 1944 heart attack and Near Death Experience (NDE) at 69. His NDE completely transformed his life.

And as Catharina Kempe, Hillman’s first wife, who was nearby Jung at the time, shares with us:

"Jung lives now in an ‘in between’ state somehow, most often he lets himself drop off into awake non-directive states, leaving the ego and the mind [surface thinking-mind] out. He says he experiences truth as light, that is not with the consciousness that he has preached all these years but another kind of awareness, on a very deep level... Jung says he does not trust consciousness in the usual sense any more.... Liliane says it means giving up a great deal to enter into this state where truth so to say lingers on a different level, that Jung has always known about it but not until now really taking it on as a change in himself.”

Dzogchen may give depth psychology an opportunity to explore these deeper levels of mind. But we need to be careful and first understand its views and methods.  We have no history, traditions or institutions that can support and steward the eastern science model anchored in another time and place. Nor are we inoculated against or prepared for its excesses. Which is why so often eastern systems transplanted to the west, give rise to problems among people that make more sense from Freud’s point of view than from Buddha’s. And today pop Dzogchen is becoming trendy among those who would use a block of pure gold as a dinner chair.

Jung rightly called into question the wisdom of westerners turning to the east for spiritual inspiration and practice. Hillman was grateful to Jung for guiding him away from the eastern spirituality. And Hillman’s astute criticism of eastern spiritual disciplines should be better understood today.

But, as noted, Jung was a gnostic at heart. He understood spirit. Not so, many of his followers. Though his wise exhortations about eastern methods still holds today. His cautions were then, and still are now, suitably aimed at westerners trying to bypass their own psychology by resorting to eastern practices such as yoga and meditation. But Jung studied eastern spiritual texts and even wrote an introduction to the first western translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, by Evan-Wentz. His introduction missed the mark terribly, in large part because Evans-Wentz’s translator was way off the mark. Jung had no access to reliable contemplative science methods or findings. He knew nothing about Dzogchen. And so nothing about the Natural State.

Depth psychology today can carefully turn to eastern contemplative science without paranoia that it’s a dead end mistake. Dzogchen scientists are artists who well understand the transformative power of the Creative Imagination and images.

Hillman developed his own personal artistry as a depth psychologist. He was one of the two fathers of archetypal psychology. The other was Henry Corbin, the French scholar-mystic. Hillman’s lens was soul, Corbin’s spirit. In some measure, Jung enjoyed the view from both lenses. Hillman’s writings changed my life. They are breathtaking in the depth and breadth of their consideration. Some, like Tom Cheetham, have likened Hillman’s realization that imagination is reality, as akin to the Buddha’s. But Hillman didn’t really understand spirit’s pull. Doing so was not in his DNA. While he was very capable of seeking what those searching for spirit were missing,  he was always missing what they were seeking.

Depth psychology needs to refresh and reset. It must undergo radical change. As depth psychologists, credentials, certificates, and institute affiliations are not enough. We need a new vision and version of depth psychology education and training. Future depth psychologists must understand, through direct experience, that the light is real, not the states of surface mind that doubt it. We can’t do for others what we can’t do for ourselves. Depth psychology must be a way of life, not a career.

Let's note here something we shall return to again and again. All "psychologists," worthy of the name must become directly aware of how their mind functions. For obvious reasons. Especially because we can't help others understand and free their mind if we haven't understood and freed our own. Ideas, concepts, thought-based theories about the mind—alone—just won't do.