Malcolm Smith online course


Dzogchen: Ten Key Terms

An online course with Ācārya Malcolm Smith

Have you ever tried to read Dzogchen texts but found the language impenetrable? Did you find out later that you’d actually misunderstood some of the most important ideas?

If so, you’re not alone. In Dzogchen, it’s important that you learn the special terminology so that when you encounter Dzogchen teachings or texts like the Seventeen Tantras, you can learn with confidence in your practice.

In this course from the Wisdom Academy, you’ll be guided by a master translator through some of the most important and often-misunderstood terms in Dzogchen.

As a student in Dzogchen: Ten Key Terms, you’ll have the chance to delve deep into ten terms and hone a more advanced understanding that will illuminate your practice and inspire your path.

Ācārya Malcolm Smith explores the deep meaning in the dzogchen context of terms such as vidya, kadag, lhudrub, yeshe, and much more.

You’ll enjoy video lectures from Malcolm Smith, curated readings, short quizzes to test your understanding, and a forum for discussion with your fellow students. 

Click the button below to save your seat and get access to this fantastic resource for your practice.

Tuition: $397 USD

When you enroll in this course you agree to our terms of use. After enrolling, check your email for a welcome email. Enrolled students have lifetime access to course materials. Wisdom is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Your tuition supports the creation of more courses like this one. For more about our terms, please see the Wisdom Academy FAQ. Thank you!
Dzogchen teachings

Watch the Trailer

Dzogchen terminology course

Many Dzogchen students find that their practice and understanding are limited by their understanding of unique Dzogchen terms. Malcolm will guide you through ten key terms that he selected, explaining the essence, definition, and divisions of the terms. 

By deeply understanding these terms, you can move toward developing a detailed understanding of your own primordial state–the central point of studying Dzogchen teachings.

Sign up now and retain ongoing access to course materials!

how to practice dzogchen

This course will cover ten key terms used in the Great Perfection teachings. We will look at their meanings, definitions, and divisions. The goal of the course is to introduce students to an evidence-based approach for understanding Great Perfection terminology based on readings from original Great Perfection tantras, primary commentaries, and masters such as Longchenpa.

what is Dzogchen

Lesson Plan

The Basis (gZhi)

Lesson 1: The Basis (gZhi)

In this introductory lesson, Ācārya Malcolm Smith sets the tone for the course, exploring the first of ten key Dzogchen terms: basis (tib. gzhi). This refers to a primordial buddhahood present yet obscured in all deluded beings such as ourselves. The Dzogchen view’s focus on pristine awareness (tib. ye shes) distinguishes it from other systems that assert an impure basis of transformation. Malcolm details a core mode of concentration on the basis devoid of both effortful striving and a prerequisite of extensive calm-abiding (skt. shamatha) experience.

Original Purity (ka dag)

Lesson 2: Original Purity (ka dag)

Presentation of the essence, nature, and compassion of the basis typically comprises the core of Dzogchen teachings. Among these three concepts, the essence—original purity (tib. ka dag)—is the focus of the course’s second lesson. Malcolm characterizes this original purity on the basis of a detailed section (never before presented in English) on the ten pristine consciousnesses found in the (Transformations of) Sound Tantra (tib. sgra thal ’gyur rgyud).

Natural Perfection (lhun grub

Lesson 3: Natural Perfection (lhun grub)

In this lesson, Malcolm uses a detailed section from the Sound Tantra (tib. sgra thal ’gyur rgyud) as the starting point for an exploration of the third among the ten key Dzogchen terms covered in this course: natural perfection (tib. lhun grub). Malcolm shares how the Sanskrit original (i.e., nirābhoga or anābhoga) involves connotations of effortlessness and mode of abiding; it could aptly be translated with greater emphasis on the “proof” or “establishment” flavor of the Tibetan syllable grub, but “natural perfection” is in keeping with the prevailing tradition.

Compassion (thugs rje)

Lesson 4: Compassion (thugs rje)

Ācārya Malcolm Smith delves into the fourth key Dzogchen term addressed in this course: thugs rje. The etymology of this term involves a heartfelt love for sentient beings (i.e., tib. thugs) and the engendering of a special sympathy for them (i.e., tib. rje). Accordingly, Malcolm translates the term simply as “compassion” rather than as the popular “(compassionate) energy” or similar.

Pristine Consciousness (ye shes)

Lesson 5: Pristine Consciousness (ye shes)

In this lesson, Ācārya Malcolm Smith explores pristine consciousness (tib. ye shes). Malcolm identifies two types of pristine consciousness: the self-originated “ultimate” pristine consciousness that has always known its own state and a “relative” pristine consciousness that operates on the basis of the cognition of objects.

Vidyā (rig pa)

Lesson 6: Vidyā (rig pa)

In this lesson, Malcolm covers a Dzogchen term that garners perhaps more interest than any other and yet remains the most elusive: rigpa (skt. vidyā). Malcolm situates an authoritative work (i.e., the so-called rig pa bsdus pa’i sgron me) from the Vima Nyingtik (compiled by Longchenpa) as the basis for an extensive discussion covering topics ranging from the role of guru yoga in Dzogchen to the true meaning of realization (tib. rtogs pa).

Ignorance (ma rig pa)

Lesson 7: Ignorance (ma rig pa)

In this lesson, Ācārya Malcolm Smith follows up on his previous rigpa-focused class to elucidate rigpa’s direct counterpart, ignorance. Beginning with a brief recap of the explanation of ignorance (and the 12 links of dependent arising) originating from Vasabhandu’s autocommentary on the Verses of Abhidharma, Malcolm presents the key takeaway of three operating factors involved in the wheel of samsara: affliction, karma, and suffering.

Play (rol pa)

Lesson 8: Play (rol pa)

In a thought-provoking eighth lesson, Malcolm Smith follows a section in Longchenpa’s Treasury of Citations (tib. lung gi gter mdzod) to explore the implications of the term “play” (tib. rol pa) in Dzogchen teachings. This is often misunderstood term, particularly in the context of statements such as “All appearances are the play of bodhicitta.”

Bodhicitta (byang chub sems)

Lesson 9: Bodhicitta (byang chub sems)

In this lesson, Malcolm introduces the uncommon Dzogchen understanding of bodhicitta (tib. byang chub sems), seizing the opportunity to compare and contrast the modes of meditation on the view at various levels of Buddhist practice and in different schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Transcendent State (dgongs pa)

Lesson 10: Transcendent State (dgongs pa)

In this lesson, Malcolm Smith explores the meaning of the transcendent state (tib. dgongs pa) in the Dzogchen system. This term occurs repeatedly in the scriptural tradition and is commonly mistranslated—rather than mere intentionality or similar, transcendent state here specifically means to be in a state of contemplation without any interruption.

Malcolm Smith Dzogchen


• How much does this course cost? Tuition is $397. Your tuition fee helps support Wisdom’s nonprofit mission so we can create more amazing courses for you!

When does this course run? This course is in self-study mode so you can take it at your own pace.

• What does the course involve? Each lesson includes about an hour of video lecture, a PDF reading, and a short quiz. For each lesson, you can watch the video, read the reading, take the quiz, and then join in the forum discussion. We recommend setting aside 2-4 hours per lesson, or more if possible.

• Are there any live components? No.

Will I lose access? Materials will remain available to enrolled students.

meaning of Dzogchen

Why Take This Course

• If you want to advance and deepen your Dzogchen practice by understanding its key terminology.

• If you want the opportunity to study with a master translator of Dzogchen texts.

If you want to avoid the confusion and distraction that can result from misunderstanding key terms.

advanced dzogchen

Your Course Includes


Ten hour-long video lectures with Malcolm Smith


Ten multiple-choice quizzes to test your knowledge of the course material


Over 100 pages of readings and course notes curated by Malcolm himself


A forum to engage with fellow students

learn dzogchen meditation

Meet Your Teacher

Acharya Malcolm Smith, master translator of Dzogchen texts

Ācārya Malcolm Smith has been a student of the Great Perfection teachings since 1992. His main Dzogchen teachers are Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, the late Kunzang Dechen Lingpa, and the late H.H. Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche. He is a veteran of a traditional three-year solitary Tibetan Buddhist retreat, a published translator of Tibetan Buddhist texts, and was awarded the Āchārya degree by the Sakya Institute in 2004. He graduated in 2009 from Shang Shung Institute’s School of Tibetan Medicine. He has worked on translations for renowned lamas since 1992, including His Holiness Sakya Trizin, Kunzang Dechen Lingpa,  Khenpo Migmar Tseten, Tulku Dakpa Rinpoche, and many others. His works include Buddhahood in This Life and The Self-Arisen Vidya Tantra (vol 1) and The Self-Liberated Vidya Tantra (vol 2).

Enroll today to go deeper into Dzogchen!

Buddhist studies online courses

About the Wisdom Academy

The Wisdom Academy is the leading provider of high-quality online courses about Buddhism and meditation.

The Wisdom Academy was founded in 2016. Since then, we’ve grown to be the leader in online Buddhist learning, with over 45 courses and thousands of students enrolled.

In the Academy, dedicated students come together with beloved teachers to learn authentic philosophy and practices for awakening.

Our courses offer teachings on Dzogchen, shamatha, mahamudra, vipassana, mindfulness, jhana, and much more. The clear, progressive structure of the courses will support you in learning about the profound philosophy and practices of the Dharma. You’ll discover the vivid and immediate ways that the teachings can create more ease, joy, and freedom in your daily life. Click here to learn more and explore our course catalog.