Dzogchen most likely originated in Central Asia outside of both India and Tibet as Upadesha (man-ngag), or secret oral instructions, communicated orally from a real master to a disciple, in the Tibetan tradition. In the Buddhist tradition, this mysterious region was designated as Uddiyana (Orgyan), identifiable as Eastern Afghanistan before the Muslim era. According to the Bonpos, their own Dzogchen tradition, known as the Zhang-zhung snyan-rgyud, "The Oral Transmission from Zhang-zhung," comes from two masters, Tapihritsa and Gyerpung Nangzher Lodpo, who lived in the then independent kingdom of Zhang-zhung in Western and Northern Tibet in the seventh and eighth centuries. These Dzogchen precepts, exceedingly brief in form, were originally oral, but Tapihritsa gave permission for his disciple to write them down in Zhang-zhung smar-yig, the writing and language of Zhang-zhung. Later, in the following century, these same precepts were said to have been translated from the Zhang-zhung language into Tibetan by Ponchen Tsanpo for his Tibetan disciples. Like the famous Tibetan Yogin Milarepa, these early masters of the Zhang-zhung tradition were not educated monks residing in monasteries, but solitary hermits and ascetics living in remote mountain caves in the wilds of Northern Tibet. Thus, this tradition, like the early Nyingmapas before the eleventh century, gives us much insight into the evolution of Dzogchen as a mystical and spiritual transmission existing outside the more familiar monastic context.
In both traditions, the Nyingmapa and the Bonpo, Dzogchen (rdzogs-pa chen-po), "the Great Perfection," focuses on the Nature of Mind. This Nature of Mind (sems-nyid) must be distinguished from the mind (sems) that represents the ordinary thought process. This Nature of Mind is identified with the Bodhichitta or Natural State (gnas-lugs), a state of total primordial purity (ka-dag chen-po) discovered by way of contemplation (khregs-chod), and this contemplation is then developed through the practice of vision (thodrgal), also known as the practice of the Clear Light ('od-gsal)