In this video from February 2010, Ngakma Nor’dzin explains the the three yanas of Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen.
Ngakma Nor’dzin: From the Dzogchen point of view there are the three yanas of Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen. Sutra is the renunciate path, so the base of the path is the experience of unsatisfactoriness. The path is to renounce the causes that we see for that, such as desire and anger, and the result is the experience of emptiness. Emptiness is seen as the fruit of the path of Sutra, whereas in Tantra emptiness is seen as the base of the path of Tantra. So we begin with that.
Now some people would say: “How can you begin with that unless you fully practise the path of Sutra?” But one can experience emptiness through devotion to the Lama, or through one’s empty experience of engaging with the preliminary practices of Tantra. With the traditional preliminary practices such as prostrations and mandala offerings, of which you practise a hundred thousand, one experiences a quality of emptiness simply through flinging yourself on the floor going up and down up and down a hundred thousand times. It’s an extraordinary thing to do – “Why am I doing this? I’m getting all sweaty and hot.” It takes up a lot of time and one has to let go of something in order to engage in and complete that path.
A very direct way of experiencing emptiness is in relationship to the Lama. If you meet a Tantric teacher who inspires you, who you feel you have confidence in, you can engage in the path with that person. Then one’s sense of devotion is an experience of emptiness because you’re able to put aside your own rationale and enter into being open to what they teach. In the path of Tantra we don’t separate ourselves off from all the things in the world that might produce unhelpful emotions. We engage with those as the energy of the path, so that we can transform them into the experience of non-duality – and non-duality is the fruit of the path of Tantra.
Now in Dzogchen, the base, the path and the fruit of Dzogchen are all the same. They are all non-duality. They are all the spontaneous experience of non-duality. Here it becomes very clear that a relationship with a teacher is totally essential, because the teacher introduces you to the experience of non-duality. Now this can be done in a formal way through pointing-out instructions, Dzogchen empowerment. But this can also happen in an informal way of just being with your teacher and just discovering the view through entering into the relationship with your teacher. You may be doing very mundane tasks like helping them cook the dinner, and there’s something about the quality of that experience, or something that is said in casual conversation, that shifts your view so you have a direct experience of the non-dual state. And then, once one has had that experience, one has to remain there without doubt – one has to have confidence in that experience. Allow the flickering of that experience to increase through one’s practice and then eventually you arrive at a point where you can simply continue.