"If mind is without fixed reference point, that is
Mahāmudrā. Meditating and familiarizing with that, unexcelled
enlightenment is attained."
The Gangama Mahāmudrā, 9 (Nyenpa,
Mahāmudrā (literally "great seal") is one of the supreme
yogas (Ati-Yogas) of the
Vajrayāna, especially transmitted in the Kagyu school, but also found
in all other schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
When integrated in the traditional curriculum, Mahāmudrā is only
practiced after a very long period of preparation, the Bodhisattva having
finished the Path of Preparation.
Mahāmudrā is often translated as "Great Seal" or "Great Imprint".
More than a "seal", this is rather an "imprint", both existing
upon something and conveying some meaning. The imprint
exists upon all possible phenomena. The meaning is always the same : the
phenomenon at hand exists as a process, not as a substance (cf. the Z-operator).
The Great Imprint is one all phenomena bear. In that sense, it is another
word for absolute, ultimate reality, the way things just are.
Mahāmudrā seals the full realization of the union of emptiness
("shūnyatā") and luminosity (pure awareness, radiant clarity, cognitive
lucidity). Luminosity encompasses all minds : coarse, subtle & very
subtle. The coarse mind is conceptual. The subtle mind is
hyper-conceptual. The very subtle mind is non-conceptual & nondual.
As long as emptiness is only apprehended by the conceptual mind
(self-emptiness), Sūtra Mahāmudrā ("prajńā")
is at hand. The six perfections, five paths and ten grounds ("bhūmis") are
As soon as emptiness is prehended by the yogic perceiver of non-conceptual
intuition (other-emptiness), Buddha-nature is recognized as always
existing & inseparable from its enlightened properties,
always present & free from obscurations.
Here Tantra Mahāmudrā ("jńāna")
is the case. The Four Joys are ways (levels) realizing the ultimate view
of Mahāmudrā, the self-emptiness of all sensate & mental objects.
The view of the Great Seal is the emptiness of the mind. The path of the
Great Seal is mindfulness, nonminding, unborn & beyond intellect. The
fruit of the Great Seal is appearance & emptiness simultaneously rising. The Great Seal is also the actual
perfection of wisdom, effectively uniting emptiness & bliss into one
momentary spontaneous existence hic et nunc. This is Essence
Mahāmudrā. At this point, the Great Gesture is nothing but compassionate
activity. Buddhahood realized, the work healing others begins (cf. "To
Town with Helping Hands" in Zen).
This presentation is based on Saraha, Tilopa, Maitrīpa & Gampopa.
Over the course of hundreds of years of
Indian and Tibetan history, the term "mahāmudrā" evolved. Countless yogis
have attained thanks to these excellent teachings & practices. What these
lineages teach is Ground, Path & Fruit Mahāmudrā. What they practice is
Sūtra & Tantra Mahāmudrā. What they realize is Buddhahood in a single
In Sanskrit, "mahā" is "vast, very large, pervading", pointing to
quantity, and "mudrā" is "seal, symbol, gesture", pointing to quality. All
phenomena are subject to this Great Seal, this Great Gesture. They all
carry its imprint.
So the word "mahāmudrā" refers to a solemn hand-gesture, to the
culmination of the Tantras, to a meditative procedure recognizing the
nature of mind, to the living wisdom understanding existence lacks own-self ("nirsvabhāva")
& self-power ("nirsvabhāvasiddha"), to the always existing, actual, innate
blissful "gnosis", "intuition" or prehension cognizing emptiness
non-conceptually, directly & nondually, to the actual attainment of
Buddhahood, to absolute reality, etc.
The Tibetan translators used "chen po" for "mahā" and "gya"
("phyag rgya") for "mudrā",
but added "chag", or "chag gya chen po". "Chag" is a honorific syllable and
also a honorific word for "hand", suggesting the image of a king sealing a
document. It has also the connotation of "cleansing, purifying, removing
misery & obscuration". "Gya" also refers to the fact emptiness, the
absence of substantial instantiation, has an innate aspect of lucidity,
implying the mind's ability to know, also described as "luminosity" or
"radiant clarity". This is only indirectly related to "light", namely in
the sense the presence of light allows us to see objects. As a word,
luminosity comes from the Sanskrit "prabhāsvara", with "pra" meaning "to a
great degree" and "bhāsvara" or "illuminating, radiant light" ("bhāsa" is
"light" and "vara" means "making clear or evident"). In Dzogchen, "rigpa"
or Bodhi-mind (Buddha-nature) also means "to see". Likewise, in Zen,
"kensho" means "seeing nature". In general terms, luminosity refers to
"cognitive lucidity", but also points to the radiant qualities of the very
subtle level of mind.
The word "chen po" is
also made used to denote the inseparable nature of appearance ("mu") and
emptiness ("drā"). It is not the case phenomena appear and are then known
by the wisdom realizing emptiness, rather, they arise as part of the
energy of this wisdom itself. This is a special knowing, a "gnosis" or
intuition, not an excellent conceptual understanding ("prajńā"), but a
living, non-conceptual wisdom ("jńāna") nondually prehending reality
as it becomes ("yathā-bhūtam").
The great seal "marks" all phenomena with the union of emptiness
& unchanging bliss beyond object and subject ("mahāmudrā-siddhi").
Mahāmudrā became the most secret part of the Tantras (cf. word
In the first Mahāyoga Tantras (Guhyasamāja Tantra,
the early 7th century CE), "mahāmudrā" has
multiple meanings. It acts as a synonym for the awakened
mind, but -realizing emptiness- is conducive to the enlightened Body,
Speech and Mind of the Tathāgatas.
Later, in the popular Yoginī Anuttarayoga
Tantras (Hevajra, Samvarodaya, Cakrasamvara, Candamahārosana,
Mahāmudrātīlaka, Vajrakīlaya, Catuhpītha, Buddhakapāla, Kālacakra), "mahāmudrā" is turned into a major concept.
One should not be oblivious of the impact of Kashmiri Shaiva Tantra on
The Buddhist Mahāmudrā lineage is said to have started in India with Saraha (ca. 9th
century), one of the "mahāsiddhas" first to introduce Mahāmudrā as the
central practice of meditation. Saraha was the first of a series
extraordinary practitioners : Tilopa (988 - 1069),
Nāropā (1016 - 1100), Maitrīpāda (Maitrīpa, ca.1007 -
1085), Marpa (1012 - 1097), Milarepa (1040 - 1123), Gampopa (1079 - 1153),
the fountainhead of all Kagyu lineages.
The "treasuries of dohā" ("dohākosa") are collections of rhyming couplets
about Mahāmudrā attributed to Buddhist tantric masters like Saraha &
Tilopa, living in northern India around 1000 CE (other famous figures are
Kānha, Shavaripa, Virūpa and the tantric Nāgārjuna). Although these words
have influenced countless Buddhists in India, Nepal and Tibet for a
thousand years, they seem closely related to Shaivite ascetics like the
Pashupatas and Kāpālikas and Kashmiri Shaivas and Bengali Shaktas. The
treasuries were likely written somewhat later than 1000 CE, whereas the
"dohās" of Saraha and Tilopa were composed around the end of the first
Most of these extraordinary men and women are collectively known as
"mahāsiddhas" (great adepts) and in the twelfth-century hagiographic
collection of Abhayadattashrī eighty-four great siddhas are mentioned
(later texts mention eighty-five, twenty-four, fifty-nine etc.). Most of
these "siddhas" were pre- or non-sectarian wandering yogis. They were
appropriated by the sectarian traditions they resented or ignored ...
adepts of the Yoginī Tantras, erotically & soteriologically charged texts
flourishing among north Indian Buddhists starting around the eighth
century and becoming especially important in the later orders of Tibetan
Buddhism (Kagyu, Sakya & Gelug). So when Buddhism was first spread in Tibet in the
eight century, Tantra was already part of Indian Buddhism. The Old
Translation School, the Nyingma, focused on Tantras translated into
Tibetan before the Yoginī Tantras arrived in Tibet in the tenth & eleventh
Saraha, the "arrow-maker", disciple of a female tantric practitioner and
also know as the "Great Brahmin", was an eloquent poet and fountainhead
for lineages of practice related to the "great seal" of reality.
When he once saw a woman making an arrow, she (as a "dākinī") made him see
the realizations of the Buddhas did not come through words and writings,
but through skillful methods and indications. From that point onwards, he
-born into the Brahmin caste and a Buddhist monastic called
"Rāhulabhadra"- changed his lifestyle from monk to siddha. As he lived
with this woman, the king sent a group to ask him to behave as a monk
should, and his response was his first spiritual song, A Song for the
People, the longest of his songs (160 verses in the venacular of
southern India). The people got realizations and stopped asking Saraha to
change his ways. Then the king send his queen and her retinue. Responding
with his second song, the king finally decided to go himself to ask Saraha
to mend his ways. This resulted in the third spiritual song.
Despite the beauty of this story, we cannot
be certain that two of his most celebrated poetic works, A Song for the
King and the A Song for the Queen were written by him or by some eleventh
century Nepalese master. His A Song for the People is deemed to
relate to the "nirmānakāya", whereas the first two relate to the
"dharmakāya" and "sambhogakāya" respectively. The first is the shortest,
the most subtle and succinct.
The Ground of Mahāmudrā is described by Saraha in terms of the nonduality
of appearance and emptiness, pointing to the nature of mind. The Path is
mapped through a unique presentation, laid out as four symbols, defining
increasingly subtle levels : (1) mindfulness, (2) nonminding, (3) the
unborn and (4) beyond the intellect. Saraha's four stages bear close
resemblances to the later "canonical" Four Yogas of Mahāmudrā :
one-pointedness, simplicity, one taste & nonmeditation.
Let us briefly look into these :
(1) mindfulness : calming the busyness of proliferating concepts, reining
the distracted, overactive mind, bringing about a more calm state ;
(2) nonminding : an extension of mindfulness, here concepts grasping into
"I", "me" and "mine" slip from mind, and one rests in a state free from
depression caused by faults or elation caused by positive qualities ;
(3) the unborn : recognizing the mind as unborn, thereby transcending
(4) beyond the intellect : even the name "unborn" is left behind, and one
is liberated into a state beyond conceptualization, word or thought.
Tilopa, the "sesam-pounder", said to have received four great tantric
lineages, received teachings from Saraha but also from actual or visionary
female figures. He distilled this into twelve profound instructions
transmitted to Nāropa, who then taught his own "Six Topics" to Marpa. His
"dohākosa" is unattested as an independent text and extracted from a later
anonymous Sanskrit commentary, the Dohākosa-Pańjikā-Sārārtha-Pańjikā.
Although the "dohās" promote "mahāmudrā" as a separate yogic technique, in
practice "mahāmudrā" was integrated in the Yoginī Tantras. Nevertheless,
there can be little doubt as to the importance of "sahaja", translated as
"the innate", "the spontaneous", "coemergence", "the together-born", and
synonymous with "inmost nature", "stainless mind", "that", "nirvāna",
"Buddha", the Thus Gone", "nondual mind", "the union of wisdom and
method", "the profound", "the ultimate", etc. It is also clear the
"dohās", although accepting "intrinsic emptiness" (self-emptiness) are
amenable to "extrinsic emptiness" (other-emptiness). Indeed, "sahaja",
although empty by nature is replete with all possible virtues (enlightened
Anything leading to the experience of the innate is celebrated, even if it
contravenes accepted ideas and practices. A hallowed idea hindering this
should be rejected ... And as Saraha evidences, the Great Seal is a yoga
on its own, albeit one for advanced practitioners.
One may treat the Great Seal as the culmination of the Highest Yoga
Tantra. Mahāmudrā as an integral part of Tantra. This is the traditional
take. The "empowerment" to practice this profound yoga (initiation) is
part of the Four Tantric Empowerments.
Instead, this exceptional yoga may be classified as an instance of
Ati-Yoga, the supreme yoga. The fact it shares a lot with other Ati-Yogas
like Dzogchen & Zen makes the case of "mahāmudrā" being a special
yoga, one exclusively dealing with the mind (and no longer with the
energy-body) and it fundamental nature or ground. And this does not preclude prior tantric activity.
The quest for the common ground or view of Mahāmudrā is answered by Ground
Mahāmudrā, Path Mahāmudrā and Fruit Mahāmudrā.
The "ground" is the view, the foundation or basis of
The view of Mahāmudrā is the self-empty nature of mind itself ; pure,
ultimate and free of inherent existence.
The ground is the liberating (enlightening) view explaining (a) how things
truly are, namely without self-existence & other-powered, and (b) how
confusion about things comes about and ends. Realizing phenomena, without
own-nature ("svabhāva"), are not self-powered ("svabhāvasiddha"), but
other-powered, understand why they appear as solid, independent, and
existing from their own side (as substances). This confusion results from
the innate & acquired tendency of the mind to grasp at objects by
superimposing (non-existing) substantial permanence on what truly are
impermanent dependent-arisings. Sentient beings are delusional. Innate
self-grasping stems from our previous lives as well as from the
ante-rational processes in this life. Acquired or intellectual
self-grasping results from our upbringing in this life.
In the 11th century, a collection of teachings of Indian masters of
Mahāmudrā was made in Tibet. Called The Indian texts of Mahāmudrā,
it contain the "dohas" of Saraha, but also most of the available writings
of the Indian Master Maitrīpa, a contemporary of Nāropā, who's
presentation of the view formed the basis of the Kagyu view. His approach
is a view combining Mind-Only and Great Middle Way. He is the main source
of the Tibetan views of Other Emptiness & Mahāmudrā.
"Emptiness and compassion become one
Is not done through conceiving of it ;
Emptiness and its utter luminance are
By nature unification."
Maitrīpa : Unification Totally Clearly Shown (Duff,
The meaning of the ground is the
Two Truths beyond the extremes of substantial permanence &
annihilation. The ground is not substantial (the extreme of eternalism).
It does not exist from its own side, self-powered and independent. The
ground is a dependent-arising and therefore changing from moment to moment
(impermanent). This does not preclude the ground to be an uninterrupted
continuity (the ground is a moving symmetry-transformation), an always
existing continuity or "holomovement" (Guenther). The ground is not
non-existent or total absence of existence (absolute annihilation). The
ground is some thing, not nothing, and this something called
"ground" is not a substance, but a special process, an
As for Gelugpas the Third Turning is not definitive and the Second Turning
is the finality of the definitive, these Rangtong Pandits refuses
themselves Buddha-nature as unfolded from beginningless time. Indeed,
exclusivists & purists reckon the Buddha Within to be viewed as a seed
only, a potential to be actualized by meditations on the
self-emptiness of the mind. Without right practice, Buddha-nature is of no
actual meaning. The case the enlightened properties are inseparable from
Buddha-nature fails in argument, running into absurd, paradoxical results.
Enlightened properties need to be generated. In absence of this, the
Buddha Within is of no soteriological value.
In answer to this, proponents of Other Emptiness remark : (a) in practice,
self-emptiness alone does not automatically lead to awakening (a
self-empty mind does not cause awakening), (b) Tantra practiced without
the view of other-emptiness is like going through the motions without
inner realizations, like mimicking the fruit and (c) suppose the Buddha
Within indeed has no soteriological value before its generation, then one
cannot explain why sentient beings actually seek liberation &
enlightenment, truly answer the silent whispers of the fully endowed
Mahāmudrā without devotion for the actual Buddha Within does seem rather
The Great Seal of an object is the ultimate absolute nature of this object
(or "dharmadhātu") as prehended by Buddha-mind (or "Dharmakāya").
In Sūtra Mahāmudrā, this ultimate nature is empty of inherent existence
In Tantra Mahāmudrā, this ultimate nature is self-empty, but also
other-empty or resplendent, radiant, open and endowed with an infinite
number of inseparable enlightenend properties. These special
dependent-arisings, naturally & always just existing, are empty of
anything other than themselves. Buddha-nature is an exceptional and
special uncontaminated dependent-arising, namely one lacking all
(conventional) realities other than itself (other-emptiness). A mere
potential cannot possess these properties innately. Buddha-nature, empty
of inherent existence, is full of inseparable uncontaminated
dependent-arisings. The challenge here is how to describe something so
extraordinary special as existing conventionally. This can only be done if
the sublime lies in the always existing harmony of constant movement.
After accepting the ground (the view,
the basis, the foundation), we cultivate the realization of the ultimate
nature of all phenomena, in particular the mind. This is the path, it has
three phases : hearing (studying), contemplating (reflecting) and
Because the waves of ignorance are not
instrinsic to the ocean, it is possible to calm them. The process-nature
of phenomena is there, but we fail to see it. But it is possible to remove
this. A path exists. It is possible to remove the confused appearances and
directly observe the true nature of phenomena. The path is the method to
realize the view. It is a way leading to the fruit.
In a very general way, the process of the Vajrayāna involves two stages :
the path of ripening and the path of liberation.
On the path of ripening, we
accumulate merit & wisdom and purify our obscurations by preliminary
practices (Refuge, Prostrations, Offerings, Generating Bodhicitta,
Vajrasatta, Guru Yoga, etc.) and then Deity Yoga (Generation Stage). This
is a process of maturing, preparing for the actual process of liberation
On the path of liberation, we practice Ati-Yoga, turning one's samsaric style
of existing into an enlightened style of being. In terms of Mahāmudrā, we
stabilize the wavering mind (Calm Abiding), and then investigate the mind (Insight
Meditation), opening up for the direct recognition of the natural mind.
say about the authentic path of Mahāmudrā ?
This is given by Saraha's Four
Symbols, associated with the
Four Joys, Four Levels of Practice and Mahāmudrā Stages.
free from projection
insight in self
|joy without joy
insight in others
beyond the intellect
||free of meditation
We first practice Calm Abiding. This
leads to a stable and equipoised mind in which the afflictive emotions
have ceased. The waves on the surface of the mind are pacified.
Mindfulness & alertness are strong. Then, having developed mental
stability and stillness, we realize the emptiness of mindfulness itself,
in other words emptiness of personal self. We begin to see the nature of
mind beyond conceptual elaboration. After this, we recognize the emptiness
of others. Not only our own mind is
unborn, but this quality belongs to all phenomena. The best of the
intellect is accomplished ("prajñâ"). Finally, beyond the
intellect, there is the non-conceptual, nondual prehension of the nature
of mind itself. All conceptual paraphernalia are dispensed with. The
living wisdom of "jńāna" is the reality of the subject, and "tattva"
(things as they are) is the reality of the object. Both are inseparable
Nondual does not mean one, but merely intimately united, as two
inseparables. This differs from "advaita", which also means "nondual", but
then as "one without a second". When Vedantists discuss oneness they do so
from an ontological point of view, whereas in the Buddhadharma an
epistemological perspective is at hand. The nondual indestructible realization is to know the gold of the
Buddha-nature within, the Great Seal ("jńāna"). The identity of
"samsāra" and "nirvāna" does not imply there is absolutely no difference
at all between both. In ontological fact there is a difference, but in
existential actuality there is not. On the level of how things exist there
is no difference between suffering and happiness, but on the level of our
consciousness a difference is the case. So in the nonduality of Mahāmudrā,
duality is not removed, but integrated into reality (in Mind-Only, duality
has to be removed, in itself another dualistic mentality) ...
experiential path of Mahāmudra has Four Levels of Practice :
(1) one-pointed yoga : thanks to training
Calm Abiding, meditative equipose is realized, and the mind is stable
enough, for a certain amount of time, to hold on to an object
one-pointedly without distraction. The mind is also taken as object of
placement. The first realizations of the natural mind dawn, but one is
uncertain whether these experiences are conceptual or direct yogic
high : holds the object of placement without effort ;
middle : holding the object of placement with effort ;
lesser : holds concentration at times, but also loses it ;
(2) yoga free from projection : directly,
face to face, in a non-conceptual manner, the nature of mind is recognized
or doubtlessly prehended, and so there is no "projection"
(conceptualization) anymore. The non-arising, non-abiding and non-ceasing
of the natural mind is directly experienced ;
high : nondual prehension of ultimate nature of phenomena ;
middle : total control of mind, hesitation about implications ;
lesser : still with doubt & illusions due to a limited view of reality ;
(3) yoga of one taste : conventional &
ultimate reality are integrated and form a dual-union, an organic whole
composed of many & various complementary (symmetrical) parts. "Samsāra"
and "nirvāna" are seen as one, but both are appreciated insofar as their
own modalities go ;
high : nirvanic & samsaric, of same essence, is appreciated for what it is
middle : oneness as a completely integrated whole with no distinctions ;
lesser : the way things appear and how they are, are of "one taste" ;
(4) yoga free of meditation & non-meditation
: meditation is no longer separate from anything else, and the distinction
between practice and non-practice is gone ;
high : limitless compassion for all sentient beings ;
middle : manifestation of the Three Kayas ;
lesser : unbroken stream of pure enlightenment.
As long as meditations are conceptual, they are analytical and so
approximate. This is certainly the case on the first stage of practice
(one-pointed yoga). But even there, the nature of mind may already be glimpsed.
LESSER Level Practitioner
||limited view of
the nature of mind
Meditation & Non-Meditation
||unbroken flow of
MIDDLE Level Practitioner
concentration with effort
Meditation & Non-Meditation
HIGHEST Level Practitioner
prehension of nonduality
Meditation & Non-Meditation
In Mahāmudrā, self-awareness is not like the mind being able to be aware of
what it is experiencing right now (as in Calm Abiding). The latter, a
merely being aware of your mind, is a
valid cognition and this self-awareness a conventional truth. Neither is
this self-awareness like the mind actually directly experiencing its
ultimate nature, its self-emptiness (as in Insight Meditation). Nor is
self-awareness which cannot possibly exist, like the mind being able to
actually see itself as an object other than itself (like a sword cutting itself).
In Mahāmudrā, self-awareness is the direct, immediate, here & now recognition of the
original, natural mind. This a nondual cognition, a prehension. It is
experiencing the emptinesses of the mind and at the same time
experiencing its cognitive lucidity, inseparable from these emptinesses.
These are the lack of self-power ("svabhāvasiddha") and the lack of
anything other than these enlightened properties.
As a supreme yoga in its own right, Mahāmudrā has three paths : Sūtra
Mahāmudrā, Tantra Mahāmudrā and Essence Mahāmudrā.
The Sūtra path focuses on the true nature of phenomena, their
self-emptiness, or their lack of inherent existence. This is a vast
approach, calling for all sensate and mental objects to be analyzed.
Self-emptiness is the nature of all phenomena. This is the conclusion
reached on the sutric path. Emptiness Meditations anchor the right view,
but they are based on the conceptual mind. This mind is unable to directly
witness emptiness. It is a conceptual perceiver, not a yogic perceiver.
The realizations reached on the basis of such a conceptual perceiver are
contrived, approximate and mediated by the generic idea of emptiness
generated by Emptiness Meditation (insight meditations on the Path of
Preparation). Sūtra Mahāmudrā, using a special meditation to empty the
mind itself, removes confusion but does not focus on the original nature
of the mind, the fact the natural mind has properties of its own. While these are not
substantial (the very subtle mind also being self-empty), they are uncontaminated
The Tantra path is not so vast as Sūtra, does not involve all phenomena,
but is very profound, focusing in the cause of our confusion : the mind
itself. While the sutric approach allows us to analyze the nature of
phenomena, direct experience of emptiness is not possible (or extremely
difficult). Tantric methods, looking directly at the mind, allows to
directly "see" emptiness. This method is no longer on the Path of
Preparation, but on the Path of Seeing. In this sence, Tantra Mahāmudrā is
actual Mahāmudrā, whereas Sūtra Mahāmudrā is preparative Mahāmudrā. This
is also the path advocated by Saraha. It explains why -in practice- his
view is ordered differently, starting with nonminding (insight in the
self) and then mindfulness. Saraha recognizes the nature of mind first,
and then stabilizes this recognition. In Sūtra Mahāmudrā, we first calm
the mind and then look within.
Both methods lead to the accumulation of merit and the accumulation of
wisdom. The former generates the right conditions for the accumulation of
the latter and can be done physically, verbally & mentally.
Essence Mahāmudrā is the most profound path, bringing the realization of
enlightenment on the spot. This is brought about through the
blessings of the Guru and the sharp mind & devotion of the disciple. It
has no elaborate methods, no gradual progression etc. The instantaneous
transmission is called "forcefully pointing out the profound essence".
This reminds of Ch'an/Zen.
Ground, path & fruit are also taught on this path. The ground is the mind
of the moment, the mind existing here & now. The instruction is to simply
look at this ordinary mind in every moment of experience. The path, as in
Sūtra Mahāmudrā, begins with Calm Abiding and Insight Meditation. Here
Calm Abiding is nondistraction. The ordinary mind, which is simply
clarity, is attended.
Insight Meditation calls for eight points (Ponlop,
2003, p.167) :
(1) rest in present awareness ;
(2) rest in the nature of this ordinary state without focus or desire;
(3) rest without hope, fear and without altering anything ;
(4) rest in fresh awareness, without thoughts of past & future ;
(5) rest in clear awareness, without agitation & dullness ;
(6) rest with awareness & understanding of the self-empty nature of
(7) rest within bare perception without following objects ;
(8) rest in the continuity of mindfulness.
The fruit is relative & ultimate. Relative realizations are the Five
Freedoms (complete happiness & joy, free of focus, free from effort, free
from laziness, pride, hope & fear and great bliss arising from the
experience of primordial purity) and Ultimate fruition is the realization
of the Three Bodies of a Buddha.
The fruit is the result of walking the path, this
spontaneous, natural existence wherein the emptinesses of objects rise
simultaneously with the actual blissful experience of them being
dependent-arisings. This union of bliss & emptiness happens through
nondual & non-conceptual prehension beyond apprehension. This highest
state of realization is an instance of the categories of absolute & mere
existential instantiation. The conventional & ultimate properties of every
appearing object are simultaneously perceived. In this ultimate state of
non-differentiation, they are of "one taste". Like letters written on
water, their existence is differential.
The fruit of Mahāmudrā divided in two : the state of
fruition and the meaning of the fruit.
The state of fruition is beyond decrease
and increase. The realization involves the prehension of the qualities of
the ground, the nature of mind as it was since beginningless time,
as it is here & now in this moment, and as it
will be for evermore. There is nothing to be removed from this (no
decrease) and nothing to be added to this (no increase). There is no
defect in the nature of mind that needs to be removed, nor is there
something outside this natural mind that needs to be introduced into it.
The meaning of
the fruit in Sūtra : the ground of the mind is a very subtle Clear Light
mind realizing self-emptiness ; a mind existing just like that,
absolutely freed of inherent existence and uncontaminated. In Tantra, the
meaning is recognizing the fully endowed, actual Buddha Within, the
Depending upon the quality of one's joyous effort and ongoing practice,
three types of practitioners : best, middle & lower. Each type represents
a level of realization.
In the imagery of Lord Gampopa (1079 - 1153), the "father" of the Kagyu
school, the Tibetan yogis inheriting the Indian lineage of the
"mahāsiddhas", the best practitioner is like the Sun dawning in a sky free
of clouds, crystal clear. Realization is resting. The middle one is like
the Sun dawning in a sky intermittently open & clouded. Resting is near,
but recognition is lost, comes back and is lost again, etc. The lower is
like the Sun shining in a deep abyss. A glimpse of light is seen, not to
be seen again. With each step down, obstacles are more difficult.
For the lesser practitioner, the fruit is a stage free of arriving at a
realization of something arising ; an unbroken stream of pure awareness. The
middle practitioner manifests the Three Bodies without exertion. In the
best practitioner, having attained all good qualities, compassion for all
beings radiates spontaneously & uninterruptedly. All limits upon object &
subject are gone. In this total, complete realization, all causes &
conditions of awakening have been met.
At no point should best, middle & lesser practitioners become attached to
their respective higher states of consciousness (formless, form &
desire) and mistake them as the ultimate level of realization
(Buddhahood). This is said to cause rebirth in the heaven worlds.
Emptiness is not to be turned into a new kind of substance. Neither is
bliss to be denied (cf. the Four Joys), except as something existing on
its own, causing attachment to the very high & pure levels of bliss for
their own sake.
The Path of Sūtra
In Sūtra Mahāmudra one does not manipulate the Vajra Body
(make the winds enter the central channel) or take the fruit (Buddhahood)
into the path (as in Deity Yoga). One either practices without
anticipating & recognizing the nature of mind (Mahāmudrā of Abiding,
Moving & Knowing), or this being directed to the natural mind is indeed an
integral part of the practice (Mahāmudrā on the basis of Calm
Abiding & Insight Meditation). In the former, a self-introduction is aimed
at. In the latter, the role of the Guru is central.
(1) Mahāmudrā of Abiding, Moving & Knowing :
In this system of practice -also making it possible to introduce
oneself to the natural mind- is called "Threefold Abiding, Moving &
Knowing". The pivotal point here is to immediately recognize the
instant present thought.
When meditating, the mind is either abiding or moving, never
not moving and not abiding. During Calm Abiding, turn all possible
discursivity into the object of placement. This meas trying to come closer
to discursive thought itself. When concepts enter the mind, no thinking is
required. Knowing it when they come, one cannot be distracted by
them and that is the practice. No matter what discursiveness enters the
mind, one stays right with that without being distracted from it.
Like the beads of a "mālā", these thoughts follow each other. Allow
yourself to be aware of each.
"So, if you are just aware of a thought when it
comes, then that thought itself becomes the support for the
non-distractedness of mind." -
Duff, 2007, p.126.
Do not generate aversion when something comes up you dislike. Do not cling
to something pleasurable. Do not dwell in a blank state of indifference.
First, recognize the thought in the moment it arises. Secondly,
look at it, but do not disturb it. Stay with it as it comes, stays and
goes. Then even negative thoughts are a way to remain undistracted. Stay
with the content of mind, whatever it is. Whatever arises is all right and
nothing needs to be done with it.
"... if you do the practice as described above and
look again and again at mind to see is it abiding, is it moving, then
it is possible that the knower, which in this case is a coarse,
separate observer, might dissolve and the knower which is innate to the
essence of mind might come forth. If that happens, the essence of whatever
abiding happens is the knower and the essence of whatever moving happens
is the knower. Thus, the abiding and the movement come to have the same
essence, which is the mind's innate knower." -
Duff, 2007, p.129, my italics.
When the innate knower, natural mind or Buddha-nature is present,
meditation disappears and "no-meditation" has been realized. At some
point, observer & observed are no longer experienced as separate and the
natural mind is returned to. This recognition must be stabilized.
This practice can be done during formal sessions, but also as
"micro-practices" during post-meditation. In the former case, first short
but frequent sessions are indicated. In the latter case, the "STOP"
routine is at hand :
(1) Stop : stop what your are doing
and attend the present thought ;
(2) Take a breath : be aware of your
breath, in & out ;
(3) Observe : take note of the
thoughts or state of mind at hand ;
(4) Proceed : continue with what you
(2) Mahāmudrā on the basis of Calm Abiding & Insight Meditation :
These instructions of Sūtra Mahāmudrā involve : (1) meditative equipoise
(Calm Abiding, which is not a nondual practice) and (2) Insight Meditation on the mind. As Calm Abiding has
been explained in
Book I, we skip the instructions specific to it. The core point being
never to cut the "rope of mindfulness".
Mahāmudrā Insight Meditation, positioning the mind itself as object of
placement in Calm Abiding, investigates the mind, asking : What kind of entity is the mind
? What are its defining characteristics ? What is its nature ? This
investigation is very akin to Insight Meditation on the Selflessness of
Persons (Book I).
The first question is answered when it is realized mind implies clarity or
luminosity. Not directly referring to light, but compared to act of
actually seeing something, this points to the fact our
mind merely exists as a cognitive act, as possessing
knowledge, as being cognizant (of).
The mind is always being aware of something. The suffering mind then
attends this, lending attention to particulars.
The mind, the "merely cognizing", is defined by Five
Factors : sentience, space, time, continuity & ground.
Sentience refers to the fact the mind can be aware of something, be
affected, physically, emotionally, conceptually (rationally),
intuitively etc. by sensate & mental objects appearing to it. Space &
time designate the material context mind is found in ; in all cases
in some way "defined" by its location and existing in one of the Four
Times (past, present, future, timeless time). Continuity refers to the
fact each moment of consciousness is also an energy propelling towards
the next moment. This energy is also highly informational and invited by
the slightest change of direction as a result for free will and
initiative. But when this continuity is studied and taken as an object
of meditation, the illusionary nature of this appearance is seen,
clearing the way for the absolute nature to shine through, the ground of
the mind. This is the fully enlightened fundamental & very subtle level
of mind, the "just existing" natural mind, with an infinite number of enlightened
properties of body, speech & mind. To recognize it, just remove all
adventitious material from this luminous mind.
Has the mind a location ? It is outside or inside the body ? Where does it
exist ? The mind seem to move. Where does it arise ? Where does it stay
for a while ? Where does it go ? Where do the thoughts entering the mind
come from, where do they stay and where do they go next ? These and many
other questions bring the point home the defining characteristic of its
appearance : the mind arises at all times. Looking for the natural mind,
we realize it is free from generation, annihilation and abiding. The mind
does not arise at some point, it is always arising. It does not abide in
the sense of not changing, nor does it cease or end. The mind exists from
beginningless time and continues to arise for ever. The substance of the
mind is like the substance of all phenomena (both samsaric and nirvanic) :
empty of inherent existence. So in all directions, focusing on the subject
and focusing on the object, all is selfless.
The style of these Insight Meditations varies from teacher to teacher. The
Karmapa Wang-chu'g Dorje (2007) has the following order :
(1) looking at the settled mind : place your
mind in equipoise and look at the settled mind when it is in perfect
mental quiescence, inquire : does it have a colour, a form, a shape ? Is
it arising, abiding, ceasing, outside or inside ? Aside of being settled,
is the mind blank or is there a vividness, a pristine purity, a
(2) looking at the moving, thinking mind :
placing yourself in a state of bliss, clarity and non-conceptuality, let a
fleeting thought all of a sudden arise, look at it and ask : Does it have
shape ? Colour ? From where did it arise, is there a place it endured in,
a place it ceased into ? So watch the moving mind and recognize it for
what it is. Likewise, look at the train of thought for what it is.
(3) looking at the mind reflecting appearances
: look at a specific object or imagine one. Do so for all the senses.
Inquire whether there is a difference between an appearance that is the
object of a consciousness and the consciousness that has is as its object.
(4) looking at the mind in relation to the body
: as before look to see whether the body and the mind are the same or
different. Body and mind are like something supporting and something being
supported. They are neither the same, nor different ;
(5) looking at the settled & moving minds together
: place yourself in a state of pure clarity and let a thought
arise. Inquire whether the thought and the moving mind are the same or
different. The realization dawns both are the same.
(6) recognising the nature of the settled mind
: look at the nature of the settled mind again and recognize its nature :
vivid brilliance, clarity, open, resplendent, gently flowing consciousness
one cannot identify as this or that. All the time, these pristine, pure,
brilliant & vivid moments of consciousness happen. The defining
characteristic is this clarity and open awareness, alert and with no
discontinuity. You realize "nirvāna" and "samsāra"
(the process of reactive self-torture) are only different in
terms of your awareness of their nature.
(7) recognizing the nature of the moving, thinking
mind : realize all conceptual minds are not different than the
non-conceptual nature of mind, the former are like waves, the latter the
ocean. They have no endurance and are always permeated by the nature of
(8) recognizing the nature of the mind reflecting
appearances and (9) recognizing the nature of
the mind in relation to the body : place yourself in the state of
the inseparability of appearance and emptiness, of bliss and emptiness, of
clarity and emptiness. Realize blending mind and appearances is not like
mixing flour and cement, but rather like pouring water into water.
(10) recognizing the nature of the settled and
moving minds together : when your mind is settled it is not moving
and when it is moving it is not settled. Recognize the agent of both is
the mind alone and the nature of both is clear, luminous emptiness. At
this point, we see with absolute nakedness, without any kind of "vikalpa"
(concepts, words). This is "mind-as-such".
Mahāmudrā Insight Meditation brings about two realizations : mind has the
defining characteristics of clarity and mind is (self)empty, i.e. lacks
inherent existence. Realization is not merely intellectual understanding.
To actually experience both rising together, one needs to repeat this
meditation again and again. When each point has been investigated
thoroughly without distraction for about a few weeks or so, some clear
determination can be arrived at. At some point, depending on the degree of
opacity of the obscurations at hand, the ultimate natural mind, clarity
& emptiness rising simultaneously is "seen" and the Path of Seeing
entered. Samsaric existence is then known as "maculate Mahāmudrā" and
"nirvāna" is "immaculate Mahāmudrā".
In any case, without a direct introduction to the natural mind,
this procedure -like all instructions based on sūtra- is not a fast lane.
Gampopa warns us not to fall off the path of Mahāmudrā, described by him
in four ways :
(1) confuse ultimate reality with an intellectual understanding, like
thinking one has been to a certain place by only hearing it described. The
latter is merely an approximate facsimile, whereas the Great Seal refers
to reality in its ultimate sense. Non-conceptual, it is not an
intellectual understanding. This is like identifying approximate emptiness
(the realization at the end of the Path of Preparation with an actual
prehension of emptiness) ;
(2) trying to transform oneself into something one is not because one
thinks Buddhahood is something ontologically entirely different than a living being.
This is like a prince who thinks he will become something radically
different when he becomes king. Upon attaining Buddhahood, one does not
adopt a new mind or another ontic state (a transfiguration in a Platonic
sense), but one completely becomes what one already is, namely a fully
realized Buddha Within (cf.
(3) rejecting conceptual elaborations or the conceptual mind as a whole
because we think the pure mind to be something separate from these
elaborations. However, both the conceptual mind as the mind realizing its
own emptiness are of the same natural mind. This is like discarding some
parts of a medicinal plant, thinking the medicinal properties are only
found in one part of the plant, whereas in truth the whole plant is needed
& wholesome. The conceptual mind is actually a manifestation of the
nature of mind, an ornament of the "Dharmakāya" ;
(4) thinking appearances exist in their own right separate from their
emptiness, one goes searching for this emptiness excluding appearances.
This is like someone trying to separate wetness from water. Appearances
and their emptiness rise together, in other words, in every moment of
their existence, objects have conventional & ultimate properties.
The Path of Tantra
"Genuinely experiencing the Mantra
Mahamudra journey is totally dependent upon the strength of our trust,
longing, and devotion. There are no other causes whatsoever. Intellectual
knowledge is not the cause, nor is great endurance on the meditation path
with some conceptual hope of realizing buddhahood. The cause of such
experience is complete trust and confidence in the guru, in the lineage,
and in our own true nature, which is the union of bliss and emptiness."
Polop, 2003, pp.142-143.
When Mahāmudrā is part of secret mantra, two sets of
instructions are to be noted : Tilopa's Mahāmudā Upadesha and the
Five-Part Mahāmudrā of Gampopa.
"There is no 'teaching' of Mahāmudrā,
Yet an example is space : upon what does it rely ?
Our mind Mahāmudrā, likewise, has no support.
Not remedying anything, relax and settle in the unborn primordial state."
Tilopa : Mahāmudā Upadesha, 2 (Nyenpa,
The first text, the so-called Ganges Mahāmudrā, is a "doha", a
spontaneous song expressing realization, by the mahāsiddha Tilopa to the
pandit Nāropa. Rather than analyzing self and others individually, as in
all sūtra approaches, Tantra Mahāmudrā understand the ultimate nature of
phenomena by studying their relationship to mind, in particular
Buddha-nature or the very subtle mind of Clear Light, the irreducible,
unpolluted core of consciousness of every sentient being. Here, the focus
of attention is directly on our Buddha-nature. This Clear Light mind is
caused to manifest by directly focusing on the present moment of
awareness. According to Gampopa, this kind of yoga does not require
initiation (only Generation Phase and Completion Phase Yogas call for
this). Constant mindfulness of all mental activity is the way to go.
So Tantra Mahāmudrā, contrary to Sūtra Mahāmudrā, does accept the message
of the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma as definitive, anticipating
the existence of a fully endowed, completely unfolded actual Buddha
Within. This enlightened mind is an object of devotion and introduced by
the outer Guru. Not by a special Pointing-Out Instruction (as in Dzogchen
or Other Emptiness), but merely as part of the special relationship
existing between disciple & Guru. Although no special empowerment is
necessary here, without an outer Guru the path to this Ati-Yoga is too
obscured to be seen. Focusing on Buddha-nature is foremost a devotional
practice based on the intense & emotional bond with the Guru. It is not an
attainment based on intellectual work.
"Practitioners of Mantra, and of the Pārāmitas,
Vināya Sūtra, the Pitakas, as so on,
Will not see the clear light Mahāmudrā
By way of the tenets of each of their scriptures.
Because of their assertions, clear light is obscured, not seen."
Tilopa : Ibidem, 10 (Nyenpa,
In total relaxation, with our mind remaining in the present moment, not
entering past & future or moving away from "here", without discarding or
placing, settling in that state, without reference point, seeing the Clear
Light mind, unexcelled enlightenment is attained.
"Intellectual Dharma does not see what transcends
Fabricated Dharma does not realize what 'nonactivity' means.
If you wish to attain 'transcendence of intellect' and 'nonactivity',
Cut the root of your mind and leave awareness naked.
Immerse conceptual thought in that bright stainless water.
Do not approve or reject appearances ; leave them as they are.
Not abandoning or adopting, all of existence is liberated in Mahāmudrā."
Tilopa : Mahāmudā Upadesha, 18 (Nyenpa,
True Buddha-nature is an actual existence, always fully
unfolded since beginningless time. When this Clear Light mind is
prehended, all what exists is merely the natural display or
ornamentation of the original mind.
Finally, the Five Part Mahāmudrā of Gampopa. His heart disciple Phagmo
Drupa summed this up as follows :
"First, meditate on enlightenment mind ;
Meditate on the yidam deity ;
Meditate on the holy guru ;
Meditate on Mahāmāmudrā ;
Afterwards, seal it with dedication."
Phagmo Drupa (Duff,
Enlightenment mind is "Bodhicitta", delivering all sentient beings. The
Yidam is the meditational Deity, the inner Guru. Generation Stage Deity
Yoga is implied (as in
Lower Tantra). This is followed by Guru Yoga. The outer Guru is a
living Buddha. Only at this point is Great Seal yoga at hand (and followed
by the standard dedication, sealing the merits of the activity). Gampopa
integrates the yogas of Mahāmudrā (one-pointed, no projection, one taste,
By actually practicing the Path of Meditation (second to seventh stage) we
gradually remove the adventitious obscurations, thereby attaining all the
enlightened properties of Buddhahood. The clarity aspect of the mind has
always been unified with its self-emptiness, but a Buddha is fully radiant
because nothing other than what a Buddha is & does shines. Ground
Mahāmudrā is "the way your inner disposition is
present" (Ibidem, p.99).
Regarding the path, after having attained calmnes, one looks directly at
the discursive thought, not following or stopping it. A conceptual flow of
cogitation is allowed to rise. But thoughts are just recognized and left
by themselves. There is no reactivity.
"Since it is the root of meditation,
Look at mind with mind !
When mind looks at mind,
If there is nothing whatsoever to be seen,
Then meditate in that state !
If a blizzard of different thoughts appears
Look hither at the esence of the thinking !
If past thoughts have dissolved,
Then rest in that essence !"
Khenpo Tashi Ozer (Duff,
The way to meditate in Tantra Mahāmudrā, is -in equipoise- look at the
mind with the self-generated mind of the Yidam. This is like an approximate Buddha
in search for an actual Buddha (the very subtle Clear Light mind of the
In the space of this short exposition, the vast topic of
reality just as it is cannot be exhausted, obviously. This ultimate
nature or emptiness of any phenomenon is empty of inherent existence,
always rising simultaneously with the clarity, luminosity & open, pure
awareness attending this phenomenon as appearance.
Scholars teach "clarity" and "luminosity" refer to the cognitive act
itself, the fact something is "possessed" by a subject. And indeed, even
at an innate level of cognitive activity, the knower grasps at the known
(cf. mythical & pre-rational cognition). Critical self-awareness (its
reflective nature) is also connoted. The coarse & subtle minds are
addressed. The coarse mind by formal-critical thought and the subtle mind
by creative thought.
What about the very subtle mind, the self-reflexive awareness cognizing
Buddha-nature ? The direct recognition of the natural mind is called the
Path of Seeing. So besides to know or cognize (attend appearances), there
is this notion of the natural mind shedding light upon the subtle & coarse
minds, radiating out to them and via them to the world. The natural mind
is an unseen seer or hyper-reflective mirror-mind. This
"secret Sun" of Buddha-nature is always existent, without disintegration, without beginning and end, unborn and
timeless. It is uninterruptedly continual ... and because of all these
properties, absolute & ultimate.
"Dharmakāya" is the actual state of mind of a Buddha at any given moment
since beginningless time and this for all moments after the present moment
("Sambhogakāya" the actual state of "mantra" and "Nirmānakāya" the actual
state of physico-mental manifestation).
Essence Mahāmudrā is realizing the natural mind in this every moment here
& now. The ultimate
reality (or "dharmadhātu") of any phenomenon is the Great Seal or "mahāmudrā"
of that object ; "Dharmakāya" its nondual cognition or
prehension. Nonduality does not eliminate duality, it merely ends the
reification (substantialization or "dualistic perception") of both object
& subject and integrates them.
From its inception, Great Seal Yoga was intimately related with
Tantra and the indirect (Lower) & direct (Higher) manipulation of the Vajra-body. It
represents the highest set of yoga practices part of Tantra, namely those
dealing with the mind itself, in particular the Clear Light mind (Tantra),
in Ati-Yoga designated as "nature of mind", "natural mind", "primordial
mind", "original mind", "Buddha-nature", etc.
Saraha is said to be the first to teach Mahāmudrā as a yoga in its own
right, as a
separate method. On the
basis of tranquility, one insightfully looks for the mind and then at the mind
in various ways. This may lead to a recognition of the natural mind.
coarse ("skandhas" of form, volition, affection and thought) and subtle
aspects of mind ("skandha" of consciousness and the white, red &
black minds) are in sequence, gradually found to lack substantial
"own-form" or "self" ("nirsvabhāva"). The mind thus freed from
false ideation is reborn in the "fourth time" (timeless time) at the same
time Clear Light mind emerges.
When this happens, one directly "sees" this mind and stabilizes this
recognition. Eventually one is able to rest in it. Fruit
Mahāmudrā or Buddhahood is at hand.