| The Mahamudra.(1).experience
and approach is perhaps the quintessence of all Buddhadharma.(2).
In order for this quintessential approach to be effective, we must have
some understanding of the nature of the mind that we are attempting to
discover through the Mahamudra techniques.
has three aspects: foundation, path, and fruition. Foundation Mahamudra
is the understanding which is based on our appreciation of the nature of
mind. This must be augmented by the process of path Mahamudra which is
direct experience and acclimatization to that nature of mind through meditation.
Finally, there is the fruition or result aspect of Mahamudra, which is
the actualization of the potential inherent in the nature of mind. This
actual aspect of transcending awareness includes the Dharmakaya.(3),
the facets of completely enlightened experience. It is not beneficial to
speak of Mahamudra lightly; we must not ignore any of these three aspects
of the Mahamudra approach.
Mahamudra implies a deep appreciation and
understanding of the nature of mind. When we say that this is the correct
view, we do not use the phrase in a casual sense. Very often, we say, "Well,
in my view, such and such is the case," but this does not necessarily mean
that we have understood it at all. We may say, "I believe in previous existences,"
or, "I don't believe in future existences," but very often our talk is
not based on experience and appreciation, but merely on an idea to which
we give lip service. What is meant in foundation Mahamudra is a thorough
appreciation of the nature of mind itself, the mind with which we are working,
and the mind which we are attempting to discover.
a deeper understanding of the nature of mind itself, we can quotes the
authority of enlightened masters of the lineage as a guide. The third Karmapa,
Rangjung Dorje), wrote a prayer of aspiration for the realization of Mahamudra
in which he said, "It is not existent because even the Buddha could not
see it, but it is not nonexistent because it is the basis or origin of
It does not constitute a contradiction to say that mind neither exists
nor does not exist; it is simultaneously existent and nonexistent.
us consider the first part of the statement
that the mind does not exist. We take into account that the mind is intangible.
One cannot desscribe it or find it. There is no fixed characteristic that
we normally ascribe to things which we can ascribe to mind. Consciousness
does not manifest with any particular color, shape, size, form or location.
None of these qualities has anything to do with the nature of mind, so
we can say that the mind is essentially empty of these limiting characteristics.
the fully enlightend Buddha Shakyamuni.(8).could
not find any thing that is mind, because the mind does not have identifying
characteristics, This is what Rangjung Dorje meant when he said, "It does
not exist because even the Buddha could not see it."
is mind nonexistant? No, not in the sense that there is nothing happening.
That which experiences confusion, suffering, frustration and all the complexity
of samsaric existance is mind itself. This is the origin of all unenlightened
experience; it is within the mind that all unenlightened experience happens.
other hand, if the individual attains enlightenment, it is mind which is
the origin of the enlightened experience, giving expression to the transcending
awareness of the various kayas.(9).
what Rangjung Dorje meant when he said, "One cannot say that is does not
exist, because it is the basis for all samsara and nirvana." Wether we
are talking about an enlightened state of being or an unenlightened one,
we are speaking about the state of experience that arises from mind and
is experienced by the mind. What remains if mind neither exists nor does
not exist? According to Rangjung Dorje, this is not a contradiction, but
a state of simultaneity. Mind exhibits, at one and the same time, qualities
of nonexistance and qualities of existance. To state naively that mind
exists is to fall into one error; to deny the existance of anything at
all is to fall into another error. This gave rise to the concept of what
is called the Middle Way or Madhyamika. Finding a balance between those
two beliefs, where there is simultaneous truth to both, is the correct
view, according to the Buddha's description of the nature of mind.
we hear a guru make the statement, "Mind does not exist; mind does not
but it is at the same time existent and nonexistent, and this is the middle
view," we may say, "Fine, I can accept that," but that is not enough. It
is an idea that may appeal to us, a concept with which we are comfortable,
but that kind of understanding lacks any real spirit or depth. It is like
a patch you put on your clothes to hide a hole. One day the patch will
fall off. Intellectual knowledge is rather patchy in that way. It will
suffice for the present but it is not ultimately beneficial.
not to say that intellectual knowledge is unimportant. It is crucial because
it is that which gives us the ability to begin to develop personal experience
of what is being discussed. However, mere understanding on a superficial
or intellectual level should not be mistaken for the direct experience.
We can only arrive at that through meditation and the continued analysis
of our own experience. The value of intellectual knowledge is that it is
a springboard to deeper, more intuitive experience.
then, we say that mind is essentially empty, that is not describable as
some thing. Other than using the label mind.,
there is no thing that could be further described in terms of form, shape,
size, color or any distinguishing characteristic.
this essential emptiness, we can make the statement that mind is like space.
Just as space is all-pervasive, so is consciousness. The mind has no problem
conceiving of any particular place or experience. While we have attempted
to describe the indescribable by saying that mind is essentially empty,
that is not the complete picture. We are speaking of something that is
oviously qualitatively different from simple space. We need to remember
that when we are using these terms, we are attempting to describe something
that is indescribable. However, that does not mean that it cannot be directly
experienced. The person who is mute is still able to experience the sweetness
of sugar without being able to describe it to anyone else. Just as the
mute person has trouble describing the taste of sugar, we have trouble
describing the nature of mind. We search for examples and metaphors that
will give us some idea of what is being experienced.
aspect of the nature of mind is its luminosity.
Normally we think of this term in a visual sense. We think of a luminous
body like the sun or the moon which shines and gives off light. However,
this is merely a metaphor to give us some idea of what is being hinted
at. To say that the mind is luminous in nature is analogous to saying that
space is illuminated. For example, we can have empty space and there might
be no illumination; then the space would be obscured. There is space, but
no ability to see clearly; there is no direct experience possible in complete
darkness. Just as there is clear vision in illuminated space, so in the
same way, while mind is essentially empty, it exhibits the potential to
know, which is its luminosity. This is not a visual experience per se,
but the ability of mind to know, perceive and experience.
continuing attempt to describe the nature of mind, to describe the indescribable,
we next speak of the unimpeded or unobstructed dynamic nature of mind.
It will be useful to divide this element of unimpededness into a subtle
and a gross aspect. The most subtle or fundamental level of the unimpeded
quality is an awareness of the emptiness and luminosity of the mind. The
mind is essentially empty and has this illuminating potential to know and
of gross aspect of the unimpeded dynamic manifestation of mind is conscious
experience, which does not depart from emptiness and luminosity, but is
the experience of, for example, seeing and recognizing form as form, hearing
and recognizing sound as sound, and so forth. This is the ability of mind
to experience the phenomenal world, to make distinctions, to make value
judgments based upon that discrimination.
We may utilize a metaphor here. The
Emptiness of mind is the ocean; the luminosity of mind is the sunlit ocean;
and the unimpeded dynamic quality of mind is the waves of the sunlit ocean.
When we take the waves of the sunlit ocean as an event or situation, it
is not as though we are trying to seperate ocean from waves from sunlight;
they are three aspects of a single experience. The unity of these three
aspects forms the seed or potential for enlightenment. They are the pure
nature of mind; the impurity of obscurations, ignorance and confusion overlays
what is inherently the nature of mind itself.
always been the pure nature of mind and there has always been fundamental
ignorance in the mind. The essential empty nature of mind has never been
recognized for what it is; the luminous nature of mind has ever been experienced
for what it is; and the unimpeded or dynamic manifestation of mind, this
consciousness, this awareness, has never been directly experienced for
what it is. Because this level of ignorance is so subtle and so fundamental,
and because it is co-existent with mind itself, it has been valid as long
as mind itself has been valid. We speak of it as co-emergent ignorance.
there are subtle and gross aspects to the dynamic awareness of mind that
we noted earlier, there are subtler and coarser aspects to the ignorance
of mind. We have already spoken of the fundamental level of co-emergent
ignorance, the lack of direct experience of the empty, clear and unimpeded
nature of mind itself, and this is the subtle aspect of co-emergent ignorance.
second level of ignorance that we might distinguish which is termed labelling
ignorance; it is a more conventional or relative ignorance. Not only do
we lack direct experience of the essential emptiness of mind, for example,
but we substitute the self or ego for that experience. The individual mind
as something ultimately real is a distortion that has taken place, due
to a lack of direct experience, and this is an example of labelling or
relative ignorance. Likewise, due to a lack of direct experience of the
clarity and luminosity of mind, there is a projection of something other
than the mind, an object other than the subject. This is again a relative
level of ignorance. Rather than being a simple lack of direct experience,
there has been a distortion into some.thing.
second level of obscuration in the mind is
the aspect of ignorance which begins to label things as I and other. Lacking
direct experience, the distortion takes place on a coarser level of dualistic
fixation between subject and object.
we have this dualistic framework, of coarse, emotionality develops and
action takes place. Karmic tendencies are reinforced by actions based on
the emotional confusion which springs from dualistic clinging. All of it
is based upon the fundamental ignorance which is the lack of direct experience
of the nature of the mind itself.
of mind is like empty space, like the sky, which at present is filled with
clouds and fog and mist and periodically has all kinds of activity such
as hailstorms, snowstorms, rainstorms and thunder and lightning. This activity
does not change the fact that the empty space is still present, the sky
is still there. However it is temporarily obscured by all these activities.
The reason the Buddha presented his teachings, which encourage basic moral
choices between virtuous and nonvirtuous actions and encourage the practice
of meditation, is to eliminate the obscuring and confusing aspects of our
experience. This permits the inherently pure nature of mind to become more
obvious and be discovered, just as the sun becomes more obvious as the
clouds begin to dissipate.
most effective means to bring about that transformation
rappidly and directly, the Mahmudra approach has no equal. It gives us
the most powerful methods to turn the balance, to eliminate obscurations
and allow that manifestation to take place. Our present situation as unenlightened
beings is due to the victory of ignorance over intrinsic awareness; Mahamudra
speeds the victory of awareness over ignorance.
are concerned with foundation Mahamudra, then, we first and foremost need
to be exposed to ideas. This should take place in the presence of a teacher
who holds the transmission and can accurately introduce us to the concepts
which are the theoretical underpinnings of the Mahamudra approach. After
we receive the teachings and understand what is being said, we take them
home with us and begin to apply them to our own experience. We say to ourselves,
"Well, mind is empty, clear and unimpeded. What do I experience when I
experience mind? Does it exist; does it not exist?" We check with our own
experience. That is very beneficial for developing a kind of mental construct
from which we can work, though it is not the ultimate experience. Conceptual
understanding is only a springboard, because the theme of Mahamudra is
spontaneity and uncontrivedness, and it is still a very contrived situation
the mind as being empty. To directly experience the nature of mind itself
this foundation level of Mahamudra, the analytical approach is followed
by, and interwoven with, the more intuitive approach of relaxing the mind
in its own natural state. The particular skill required is that it must
be a state of total relaxation which is not distracted or dull. It is not
an objective experience of looking for the mind or looking at the mind.
On the other hand, it is not a blind process; we are not unaware. There
is seeing without looking; there is dwelling in the experience without
looking at the experience. This is the keynote of the intuitive approach.
mind is poised in the state of bare awareness, there is no directing the
mind. One is not looking within for anything; one is not looking without
for anything. One is simply letting the mind rest in its own natural state.
The empty, clear and unimpeded nature of mind can be experienced if we
can rest in an uncontrived state of bare awareness without distraction
and without the spark of awareness being lost. The pure nature of mind
calls to mind an image such as the sun or the moon, a luminous body. The
unimpeded nature of mind permits the act of thinking of this form in the
first place, and we can rest in the bare perception of that form without
any further elaboration; we dwell in the bare awareness of that form.
approach in developing the foundation aspect of Mahamudra is, at times,
an analytical or conceptual approach of examining the mind from the point
of view or trying to locate it, describe it or define it, and at other
times an intuitive approach of dwelling in the experience of total relaxation
of mind, an uncontrived state of bare awareness which allows the experience
of the nature of mind to arise.
Karmapa wrote a prayer in which he said that confidence comes of clearly
establishing the parameters of practice by defining the nature of mind
precisely. Then the confidence of actually experiencing and appreciating
it on an intuitive level completes the foundation. The prayer describes
meditation as remaining true to that experience by refining through continual
attention to and absorption in that experience. Path Mahamudra is the refining
of and attending to the basic experience of the nature of mind and refine
it, then at a certain point, an automatic quality arises; the experience
happens without one generating it or discovering it. The mind is subject
to very little distraction at all. When this occurs, one has entered into
the level of path Mahamudra which is termed.one-pointedness.or
focus on a single thing. In this case, the focus is on a single aspect
of experience, the experience of mind nature. Traditionally there are three
degrees of this one-pointed experience: a lesser degree of intensity, an
intermediate, and a very intense degree.
continues, the next clearly definable stage is a certain spontaneity, where
the experience is no longer the result of any particular effort; to think
of meditation is to have the experience. One begins to discover the incredible
simplicity of the nature of mind, absolutely free from any complication
and this, in fact, is the name given to the second phase of experience,.simplicity,.the
freedom from complication. Traditionally this phase also has three degrees
of intensity; a lesser degree, an intermediate degree, and a very intense
beginning, one is meditating for short and
frequent periods of time rather than attempting long periods of forcing
the mind. But as experience accumulates and simplicity arises, one's meditation
naturally begins to be longer and longer duration. Soon the phase termed.one
which is the experience of the essential quality of all aspects of phenomenal
experience. Soon, seeing form, hearing sounds, smelling smells, tasting
tastes, feeling textures, thinking thoughts, formless states of awareness
and form states of awareness all have the same flavor. One perceives the
underlying essential nature of these experiences, rather than being concerned
with the superficial content. This is the third phase of the experience
of path Mahamudra, the unique flavor of all aspects of one's experience,
and again, it has different degrees of intensity forming a spectrum of
experience, rather than clearly defined steps.
of the experience will take over completely so that there seems no need
to meditate at all. The experience arises without there being any particular
thought of meditating. This is a glimpse which itensifies further to become
the actual experience of the nature of mind without there being any thought
of meditation. The most intensive degree of this stage is that meditation
and being become one. At that point there is no longer any distinction
between meditating and not meditating because one is always meditating.
The full experience of this is the most intense degree of the fourth phase
of path Mahamudra which is termed.beyond
sustained experience of this phase is the result of all one's efforts,
Mahamudra. It is the quintessential experience, the pinnacle experience
in terms of the attainment of enlightenment and realization.
It is important
to identify the context of the Mahamudra experience. Tradition assures
us that any approach, other than one's own efforts at purifying and developing
oneself and the blessing that one receives from an authentic and qualified
is stupid. Of course, at a certain point, the practice becomes spontaneous
and the efforts to purify oneself and to develop devotion to receive blessings
from one's guru become second nature. However, this does not become spontaneous
until the intense level of the simplicity experience, the second phase
of Mahamudra practice, when the practice of meditation becomes one's purification,
one's development and the receipt of blessing from one's guru. The fundamental
identity of the guru's mind and one's own mind begins to be directly perceptible;
one's deepening awareness assures further development of merit and the
further purification of obscurations and negativity; there is no necessity
to formally supplicate one's guru, meditate upon one's guru or generate
devotion in order to receive blessing, because the meditation practice
carries one along.
Up to that
point, however, the efforts that we make to purify ourselves, to develop
our devotion and open ourselves to the guru's blessing are absolutely crucial.
Only present exertions will convey us to the time when they are no longer
necessary; the practice of meditation becomes the process of purification,
the process of development and the process of receiving blessing.