Resting Ocean, Resting Mountain: “Open Presence” as a Framework for Nondual Awareness (NDA) in Dzogchen and the Contemplative Sciences

Dzogchen and Tibetan Modernity Conference, Rice University 

Over the past two decades, there is increasing philosophical and scientific research on nondual awareness (NDA). A technical phrase that has gained currency in the contemplative sciences literature on NDA is “Open Presence,” a phrase that denotes non-referential meditation styles. This phrase is however riddled with problems because it’s poetic translation of the Tibetan phrase, rikpa chokzhag (rig pa cog bzhag), which is deeply embedded in Dzogchen presentations of pure awareness, and because it signifies different meanings in the neuroscientific discourse on meditation. In this talk, I discuss the usage of Open Presence in scientific meditation research as a descriptive category for open focus, fluid attention, and an analog with the well-defined contemplative style of Open Monitoring (OM). In contrast, I present the Dzogchen framework of fourfold resting (cog gzhag bzhi) or being imperturbably at ease as modular expressions of nondual awareness. To do so, I will draw from authors of the Longchen Nyingtik or Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse, starting with Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798) up to Adzom Drukpa (1842-1924) and Kangsar Tenpai Wangchuk (b. 1938) to show how Tibetan contemplatives on the precipice of modernity – many of whom innovated, revived, and preserved Dzogchen’s literary and contemplative vitality – can contribute to contemporary NDA research.