The Toy Train

From the plains to the summit of the Great Perfection.



Written By Mila Khyentse

Mila Khyentse is a French teacher of Tibetan Buddhism and Dzogchen and the Dzogchen Today! project initiator.

Blog | Culture and tradition | Dzogchen practice | The Dzogchen Journey

In this article Mila Khyentse makes a railway parallel between the ascent to Darjeeling with the toy train and the path of Dzogchen.

Darjeeling, the Toy Train and the Dzogchen

If you have been to the foothills of the Himalayas in the Darjeeling region, you will certainly know one of the main attractions of the area along with the tea plantation hills and the orchid nurseries: the Toy Train. Perhaps you have already taken it and made the entire 82km journey from Siliguri in the plains to Darjeeling, at an altitude of 2045m, in just over… 8 hours! This is called the “Long Ride”. If so, you have certainly been able to do a lot of things on board or in the railway stops: admire the scenery by taking pictures, chat with the passengers, share your meal, have a glass of masala chai offered to you through the window by a vendor on the platform or even on the move (that’s how fast the train is in some places!), read, sleep, reread, sleep again, even walk around, and above all, think. Towards the end of the journey (about the last two hours), you become philosopher (you have had time to age a lot in 6 hours of travel) and you can’t help but draw parallels between your railway journey and the path of Dzogchen.

It is also another way of approaching the path in the Dzogchen: the “express package” which is therefore, as its name suggests, much faster, but also much more eventful (…)

The Dzogchen Loops

Life in the Dzogchen is like this: we eat, we talk, we drink, we walk, and we even think…, all that while remaining focused on the nature of our mind. We are on board the toy train of life and the practice of Dzogchen is also on it: it accompanies us wherever we go.

But that’s not all. The Dzogchen is constantly going back and forth between a free, spacious, luminous state, our true nature, and back to our ordinary, dual, complicated, tiring and weary state, as human beings constantly crossed by emotions, pain, suffering.

The Toy Train is the same thing: to reach the skies and the paradise of the British high station, it needs to go through “loops”, successive curves and turns in the shape of a figure of 8, which bring it back and propel it forward, making it gain speed to climb the slope. The path of the Dzogchen is a long succession of loops showing us all the nooks and crannies of our mind, our most anchored habits as well as our lightest ones, our most noble thoughts as well as our most ordinary ones. After a certain amount of practice time, the equivalent of the 6-hour Toy Train ride, all these successive movements and loops finally subside because we definitely realize that what we are living is a dream, without loop or movement, and, like all dreams, it is fundamentally illusory. At this point, we can finish the journey totally focused on the primordial nature of our mind: it is as if we had already arrived in Darjeeling… but there are still two hours to go.

Long Ride or Joy Ride?

For those of us in a hurry, there is the “Joy Ride” formula which runs from Darjeeling to Ghoom, via Kurseong and the famous Batasia Loop, then back to Darjeeling, in a little more than 2 hours.
It is also another way of approaching the path in the Dzogchen: the “express package” which is therefore, as its name suggests, much faster, but also much more eventful (hence the “Joy Ride” which is still very evocative of a rodeo on rails …). It is said in the tradition that it is generally the prerogative of beings who have done a deep training “before” (which can go back much further than we could imagine). They are called, as in the Buddhist tradition, Bodhisattvas: beings whose sole purpose is to attain the ultimate liberation from all suffering so that all beings can also achieve this by following their example. This is why they are often called “beings of enlightenment”.

This route is more turbulent, because the Toy Train has to go through a faster succession of the famous loops, and it only stops at one station, Kurseong, before reaching Ghoom. This means that everything goes much faster: less time to exchange, admire, eat, sleep or drink, and maybe not even time to walk. We are now focused on the ultimate goal. In the express formula of the Dzogchen path, there is no leisure or time to wander: reaching the ultimate nature is the essence of our resolve and all our efforts are directed towards it. The trials we have to go through are accordingly, but we are usually ready.

If we had to summarize, on the one hand: longer, but more “comfortable”, and on the other hand: shorter, but more “perilous”. What about you? Which way are you going to go in this existence? The “Long Ride” or the “Joy Ride”? It may not be a choice…


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