Malcolm Smith: The Seventeen Tantras of the Great Perfection

In this episode, host Daniel Aitken speaks with Malcolm Smith, translator in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and long-time practitioner of Dzogchen. In this rich conversation, Malcolm discusses one of the most influential texts in all of Tibetan Buddhism, the Seventeen Tantras of the Great Perfection. Malcolm shares the fascinating history of these eleventh-century teachings, and reads from his recent translation of two of its central texts, the Self-Arisen Vidyā Tantra (Rigpa Rangshar) and the Self-Liberated Vidyā Tantra (Rigpa Rangdrol). Malcolm and Daniel also discuss the notion of attachment without clinging in the Dzogchen view, the necessary distinctions between trekchö and tögal practice, and why the language of pramāna is important on the Dzogchen path. Malcolm also addresses ways the Dzogchen view rejects nondualism and clarifies a popular misunderstanding of the term “basis” in this context. If you’re interested in hearing more from Malcolm Smith, check out our first podcast interview with him, where he shares stories from his own spiritual journey, as well as insights from his translation of Buddhahood in this Life, a core Dzogchen text.


“If one knows the Self-Arisen Vidya Tantra, the Self-Liberated Vidya Tantra, and the Tantra Without Syllables, one will have command over the general meaning of the tantras, like a king who has command over his subjects.”—Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle

The eleventh-century Seventeen Tantras are the most important texts in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of the Great Perfection. This boxed set provides two luminous translations. The first is the only complete English translation of the Self-Arisen Vidyā Tantra, which is the major commentary tantra on all aspects of the doctrine of the Great Perfection. The second, the Self-Liberated Vidyā Tantra, outlines the structure of Dzogchen tantras in general and also provides a detailed outline of the Self-Arisen Vidyā Tantra.

Malcolm Smith also offers a comprehensive introduction and two vital appendices: (1) a brief historical account and survey of the Seventeen Tantras and (2) an examination of the themes of the Seventeen Tantras, translated from the commentary to the String of Pearls TantraThis is vital reading for any student of Dzogchen.

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Malcolm Smith has been a student of the Great Perfection teachings since 1992. His main Dzogchen teachers are Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and the late Kunzang Dechen Lingpa. He is a veteran of a traditional three-year solitary Tibetan Buddhist retreat, a published translator of Tibetan Buddhist texts, and was awarded the ācārya 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 the Sakya Trichen Rinpoche, Kyabgön Phakchok Rinpoche, Kunzang Dechen Lingpa, Khenpo Migmar Tseten, Tulku Dakpa Rinpoche, Khenchen Könchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche, and many others.