This book consists of a root text by the great 14th century Dzogchen master Longchen Rabjam and commentary on it by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, a contemporary Dzogchen master and a representative of the same scholar-yogin tradition to which Longchenpa himself belonged. Longchenpa’s root text is itself a commentary on the Four Dharmas of Gampopa. Gampopa, the renowned disciple of Milarepa, presented these four dharmas, or principles, as a condensation of the entire scope of the Buddha’s teachings.
Longchenpa wrote his text as strikingly beautiful poetry, which he penned spontaneously one moonlit night as he sat on a slope outside his retreat cave in the mountains of central Tibet. This root text alternates with Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s verse-by-verse commentary. This commentary was not made in the style of a scholarly composition, but rather as direct personal guidance from teacher to student. Rinpoche presented it in exactly this way – as oral teachings to an assembly of students. He gave these teachings on two occasions, which have been compiled here into a single account.
In the sense of both being direct personal guidance, Longchenpa’s root text and Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s commentary have much in common. The root text is found within a subsection of Longchenpa’s collected works designated as a ‘cycle of oral advice,’ or sheldam kor, which indicates that it was intended specifically to be heard by students who would take its meaning to heart and apply it in their daily lives and their personal practice on the path to enlightenment. The Tibetan word dam has the connotation of advice, counsel, transmission of personal knowledge. Shel is the honorific for ‘mouth.’ The term sheldam can be taken both literally, as ‘oral teaching,’ and, as in this case, oral advice, to indicate the quality of a warm exchange between teacher and student.
So what we have here, in the traditional format of root text and commentary, are two texts of sheldam, given in very different times and places but with an equal degree of compassion and wisdom, by two masters of the highest caliber. For this reason, the text presented here is something very rare and precious: as Longchenpa himself explains, these instructions are like the light of the sun that can sweep the darkness of ignorance from the minds of all beings.