The three common ways of practicing the Dharma in Tibetan Buddhism are Sutra or Renunciation Way, Tantra or Change Way, and Dzogchen or Liberation Way. Most of us who were born and socialized in Thailand are familiar only with the Sutra Way. Hence, we often leave the role of Dharma practice to ordained Sangha. Lay people do not need to be enlightened. Their duty is to support the Sangha and accummulate merit for the next lives.
In Tibet there is a special group of practitioners called “Ngagpa” and “Ngagma” referring to male and female tantric practitioners. They wear long hair and wear simple clothes. They may wear special clothes (usually in white), when they are in retreat and when there are special occasions. These practitioners can be masters or lamas and perform religious functions in no different ways from the ordained group. In fact, practitioners in Tibet in early society were all of this kind.
A question may be raised: what is the difference between general people who are interested in the Dharma and these tantric practitioners. The answer is their motivation and their goal in life are different. Tantric practitioners live their lives for other sentient beings. They may raise cattle or do agricultural works for a living, but their mind is the awakened one with the aspiration to realize Buddhahood for the sake of others. These tantric practioners usually have families. Some of them may live alone in far away hermitages like yogis and yoginis, as we have seen the great example from Milarepa.
Dzogchen (or other names like Mahamudra or Lamdre) is the goal of Dharma practice of these two groups.
It’s a great risk if people simply judge practitioners from the appearances or their clothing. What matters most is the quality of their mind.
Given the variety of lineages, we should celebrate and respect diversity. It doesn’t matter what name you call your venicle – Honda, Mercedez, Toyota, etc., it’s important to know that it has a capacity to take you to the destination.