5 – H.H. The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche on Mahamudra

His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche:The highest result, which is the attainment of Mahamudra, arises only when one transcends all hopes and fears. 

His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche:The highest result, which is the attainment of Mahamudra, arises only when one transcends all hopes and fears.

His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche: The attainment of non attainment and Tilopa’s pith instructions.

Notes and questions by Dr. Luciano Villa and Eng. Alessandro Tenzin Villa within the project “Free Dharma Teachings” for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Question. Which is the Ultimately Mahamudra practice?

His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche. Once, Tilopa advised his disciple to go off to an isolated retreat and avoid any meditation. Now, this may seem a little unusual for a meditation retreat. He explains, however, that when you go to meditate, you normally take up something to meditate on, some thing. That thing, and therefore that meditation, is necessarily artificial. The practice of Mahamudra is not like that at all. It is not taking up a thing called Mahamudra and meditating on it. Ultimately Mahamudra practice is meditation directly on reality itself.

Reality itself is not something devised or made up. What you have to do here is accustom yourself to that, practice that. You are not taking up a meditation, but rather are practicing something. Like any activity when you practice and become accustomed to it, it becomes easier and easier. So, acquaint yourself with this lack of anything whatsoever to be taken up as a discrete object. Focus on reality itself and become accustomed to that. Tilopa’s advice, then, is that if you attain something by this Mahamudra practice, then you have not attained Mahamudra. Attaining Mahamudra is attaining non-attainment. lf you are not getting anything, then you’re getting Mahamudra. lf you get some thing, then necessarily it is not Mahamudra.

What is the meaning of this?

If, when we strive for Buddhahood, we think that Buddhahood is something that we are going to get, we will be making a great mistake. We would be like hunters going after an animal. Buddhahood would be reduced to just another worldly activity in which we engage to get some pleasure for ourselves. Mahamudra is not like that, it is not some thing to be obtained. It is attaining the state of non-attainment. Understanding that, we do not focus on obtaining something but on transcending. We have to get beyond that search for something to grasp onto. Now the nature of reality is beyond the illusion of the phenomenal world, the world as it appears. What appears is illusory; reality is something else. So, when engaging in this meditation on Mahamudra, one seeks to realize Mahamudra. As long as it is something that is an object of mind, something that is conceived by mind, then is it necessarily something other than Mahamudra. Mahamudra is not a conception, not something which is of the nature of appearances or of the nature of objects of the conventional mind. Therefore, whatever we look for, whatever we try to hold on to in terms of objects of mind, is not going to be Mahamudra. It is something other than that. It is not of the nature of the phenomenal world in any sense. As long as we conceive of it as something, we are making a mistake and will not attain the realization of Mahamudra in that way.

Tilopa’s advice is that if the disciple wishes to see Mahamudra, the disciple must go beyond conventional mind and abandon worldly involvement, because the conventional mind and worldly activities are what obscure the realization of Mahamudra and can never lead to it.

Search, then, for mind itself. Search for the perceiver or the meditator, the essential nature of the one who is seeking the realization. Turn your search inward and seek mind itself. Abandon all the coverings of mind which are like clothing—all the things which are associated with it and which one thinks of in terms of what mind is. All of these are like clothing, and the search is for the naked mind, the unclothed mind, mind in its very essential essence. All of the conventional attributes of mind are just concepts, things we must transcend in order to penetrate to the very core of the essential mind itself. To see the nature of reality, to realize Mahamudra, it is necessary to abandon involvement in the world.

In practice, this actually means to get rid of inner involvements. Inner involvements are the kleshas, the wholesome negative mental activities of desire, aversion, delusion, and so forth. These are what must be abandoned, or dispelled.

The technique for dispelling these is the practice of shamatha.

The example given here is a pool of water. If you want to see the depths of the water, one must clear out the mud, the defilements, in the water that makes it impossible for you to see the bottom. So the kleshas-greed, hatred, delusion, and so forth-are like the mud that fills the pond. Until all that mud settles out, you cannot see the bottom. It is the practice of mental quiescence that allows all of these kleshas to cease.

Then with vipashyana, you can see through the clear water to the essential nature of reality And so, the realization of Mahamudra is not the creation of something which was not there, nor is it the removal of something. In other words, to realize Mahamudra you do not get rid of or abandon appearances; they are not what is obstructing the view. Appearances can be allowed to stand just as they are. Nor is there anything to be achieved or produced. There is nothing to be obtained from reality to realize Mahamudra. Rather, through the practice of mental quiescence, allow the disturbing tendencies to subside and then reality will appear by itself.

The realization of ultimate reality can be approached in various ways by developing insight through establishing the correct philosophical view. With regard to the various inner and outer phenomena, one can gradually learn the right and the wrong in terms of the view and develop the realization

of one thing after another. In this way a realization can gradually build up. However, the most effective way is to get at the very root of delusion and cut it off. Once this is cut off, the trunk, the leaves, the stems, and the branches of the tree of illusion will wither and die. So rather than remove them one at a time, it’s best to go right to the root of delusion.

The way this is done in practice is to look at the essential nature of mind. Once that has been realized in its true nature, the root of delusion is destroyed and all the delusions with regard to all other appearances of the world will cease.

The realities of the inner and outer worlds will be realized together. Through this process of realizing ultimate reality by looking at the essential nature of mind itself, the root of all delusion is destroyed and one sees reality the inner and outer, as it actually is.

In the process of doing this, one also removes all the defilements from beginning less time. In all of our past lifetimes-from countless ages ago-we have accumulated vast negative karma, incalculable non-virtuous activities and defilements. If we tried to apply antidotes to each of these and purify them one by one, it would be an interminable task. However, by cutting the root of delusion, we cut the root of all these defilements and remove them all at once. So the direct view, the direct realization of the ultimate truth of Mahamudra, in and of itself destroys all the defilements accumulated from beginningless time.

The practical instructions for engaging in the meditation leading to Mahamudra are given here from the very beginning of the path. The priority at the beginning is to gain a sense of control whereby mind does not go this way and that, becoming attached to worldly appearances which make it impossible to progress in Mahamudra practice. This is where the practices related to mental quiescence come into play The techniques to achieve it are described here. The various meditation techniques, like concentrating on the breath, are explained. The point is not control so much as it is unnifying the essence of mind with the breath as it comes in and goes out.

This process can be compared to learning to drive a car. In the beginning, you have to learn how to steer in a rough sense so that the car stays on the road. Later you can drive efficiently and go to your destination. So, these things—lilge the breathing and the focus of your gaze—are the necessary controls.

Once you gain proficiency in this, mind will settle down, and you can continue more efficiently in this path of meditation.

By controlling the eyes and breath, mind itself comes under control. Having gained control through these techniques, mind is then used to focus on mind itself. When mind focuses on mind itself, the kalpana arise, and these must be cleared away Before mind can perceive itself, you must abandon all conceptual ideas; these are not mind. This is said to be like trying to find the centre of the sky. The sky in this sense means the vastness of empty space. If we look for something that we can call the centre, we will not find anything. Or if we look for the end of space, we will also not find anything. The very nature of space is that it is endless, so finding the centre or an edge is impossible.

Similarly when we look at mind and try to find characteristics like that, we will not find them. These characteristics are conceptual, they are the dichotomies between center and edge, or size or shape or colour. We must go beyond these dichotomies of thought in order to see mind in its essential nature. Viewing the essential nature of mind is compared to viewing the ocean or the sky If you look at the ocean superficially your view is obscured by the waves on the surface. If you look at the sky you just see clouds and not the sky. The waves on the ocean and the clouds in the sky are like the kalpana. If we go beyond the waves, we see the depths of the ocean. If we go beyond the clouds, we see the extent of the sky. Likewise, we have to go beyond the kalpana to see the mind. They disappear just like the waves on the ocean and the clouds in the sky. They are not permanent or abiding in their nature. So, by seeing the true nature of mind, all of these kalpana simply dissolve and disappear.

Taking the example of the sky, we can see that even though things like clouds appear in the sky when they disappear, they leave no trace. Colours appear in the sky – the whiteness of dawn and the darkness of midnight. The darkness does not leave a stain; when the sun rises in the morning, it’s all gone. Likewise, the colours of the day; although they appear in the sky they are gone at night without a trace. So the nature of the sky itself is undefiled, unmarked, unstained by that which appears within it. Its nature is that it is non-composed. It is not made up of parts. It is not something which we can define in terms of size, shape, colour, or form. So, like that, mind has various contents which appear in it but do not leave a residue. They just disappear. Mind is also not definable by way of size, shape, colour, extent, or any characteristics like that. In its essential nature, mind is identical with the Tathagatagarbha, Buddha-nature. It is also the wisdom of self-knowledge. The wisdom of self-knowledge and Buddha-nature are by their most intrinsic, basic quality free of all attributions. By realizing their nature, all of these adventitious contents are dissolved.

The nature of the mind is also compared to space. In empty space, various things arise—various appearances, material objects, worlds, suns, moons. All of these things arise in space and stay there for a very long time, moving this way and that. All of the activities of the world take place in space. But then everything moves on and the space that was filled at one time is empty at another time. Once all of the things have moved on and are no longer present in a certain space, that space is completely empty and completely free of any residue of all that took place there.

Likewise, mind. Although it has been engaged for countless aeons since beginningless time in all sorts of activities, accumulating all sorts of karma and defilements, its very nature is completely unstained by all these things. When one realizes the clear light of reality, then all those stains completely disappear, leaving no residue whatsoever in mind.

Question: Which are Tilopa’s pith instructions?

His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche. Tilopa’s pith instructions are the essential teachings that are said to be like the root and the trunk of the tree of Mahamudra practice. So they should be heeded very carefully and always kept in mind. The title of the text we are following is The Mahamudra of the Ganges http://www.sangye.it/altro/?p=1264 , so called because Tilopa taught it on the banks of the Ganges River. This is called the root text, the basic text which Tilopa taught. It has been expanded upon in great commentaries, but this teaching is from the root text itself—in Sanskrit, the Mahamadra Upadesha. Mahamudra is, of course, chak-gya chenpo, and Upadesha means essential teachings, or precepts. (A full translation of Tilopa’s original text can be found in The Myth of Freedom, and the Way of Meditation (Boston: Shambala Publications, 1976), pp. 157-163 , by Chogyam Trungpa.)

After the title, the text begins with the homage, saying, ”I bow down to the simultaneously arisen.” What is the meaning of ”simultaneously arisen”? It means that phenomena, especially the subjects that observe objects, are in the objects themselves; they are simultaneously arisen. In other words, there is no earlier or later, no first or second, no beginning or end to the essential nature itself. Since it has existed since beginningless time, we can’t even speak of earlier or later; we must speak of arising simultaneously. This refers to phenomena as objects and their attributes. Or you could say phenomena and their essential nature, or their reality. These are all simultaneously arisen. The example can be given of sugar and its sweetness. They arise together in the same way as fire and its heat. These are objects with their attributes. You can’t speak of one arising first and the other next, but rather they arise simultaneously from the beginning. As with sugar and fire, so all phenomena together with their reality, or their essential attributes, exist together from the beginning.

Dharma Lord Gampopa said, “That which is simultaneously arisen with mind is the dharmakaya. Just like sugar and sweetness, mind and dharmakaya arise together from the very beginning.” He also said, “That which arises simultaneously with appearances is the radiance of the dharmakaya.” So, all appearances—all that we see, including our kalpana, our false, dualistic conceptions—all of these things arise simultaneously with what is called the radiance of the dharmakaya or the light given off by the dharmakaya. This obeisance, then, is to mind and the Dharmakaya, which arise simultaneously with appearances, which are the light of the dharmakaya.

The text says here that Mahamudra is not something that can be simply pointed out or demonstrated. It is not that type of thing. The explanation of this is that any ordinary phenomenon can be pointed out, demonstrated, or indicated in some fashion, but we cannot do that with Mahamudra. Why? The answer is that Mahamudra is reality itself, in the ultimate sense. It is absolute reality. And because of that, anything that we point out or indicate falls short of that reality It is artificial, it arises from some dichotomy Mahamudra is not that sort of thing. Rather, it is non-dual; it is ultimate reality. It is reality itself; therefore there is no easy way to point it out.

So, the realization of Mahamudra requires some exertion, some application of effort and concentration because it is not a simple thing or some worldly object. Because of this, those who seek to realize it must practice. The text mentions that someone like Naropa had to undergo twelve great trials in order to receive the essential teachings and realize Mahamudra. Not only that, but he had to prepare himself over a significant period of time by purifying all of his obscurations and accumulating great merit. Then he approached the teaching, made many requests, underwent many great hardships, and gradually was able to acquire the teachings and realize Mahamudra.

Tilopa begins the text saying, “Kye ho!” He is looking at the nature of the phenomenal world and saying, “Alas!” This great illusion wherein living beings wander constantly – whoever is born into this world must pass away and die. Whatever is built in this world eventually falls apart. Whatever is accumulated by the beings of the world is eventually dispersed. Every gathering of people and association of people, in the end, is lost, and everyone goes his own way.

There is nothing whatsoever in this world that is permanent, abiding, or stable. There is nothing to be relied upon. Everything is impermanent, just like a mirage or a dream. There is nothing to place confidence in or rely upon. The nature of impermanence is not only seen in the grosser forms such as the death of every living being, the destruction of everything that is built up, and the dispersal of everything that is accumulated, but it is the pervasive nature of all phenomena in the world. Everything changes moment by moment, instant by instant. When we say a word, that word goes out and never returns again. It appears to be there, but when we try to hold onto it, it is already lost. All phenomena are of that nature, subtly changing from instant to instant. There is nothing that can abide, nothing in the world that has any stability or any ability to stay beyond an instant. So all phenomena are said to be like a cloud in the sky that is constantly moving and changing, disappearing and reappearing, but never truly able to abide or hold its own nature.

There is nothing in the world that can do that. So the world is said to be like a show with many different appearances and sounds, but with no stability or reality behind it. It’s just a performance. Understanding impermanence in both its gross and subtle forms leads us to realize that the world is like a dream or an illusion.

When we dream, we see and hear many things; we feel many things. It seems very real, but when we wake up, it’s all gone. If we look for the reality of the houses, the people, the events, they’re all gone. Like a bird flying across the sky – once it has flown away there is no remainder, there is no trace left, nothing to be grasped. So, because of their impermanence, all phenomena are like that. They appear, they seem to be real, but a moment later they are gone. There is nothing left of what was there before. If we look at our lives up to this moment, if we look into the past, what we did years ago or last year or yesterday it’s gone, it’s completely like a dream. When we see the nature of the present, we realize that things do not exist the way they appear to exist. There is absolutely nothing in all of these appearances that is firm or abiding.

That is not just true for us, but for all other living beings, even in the divine realms of the great long-lived gods. Even they pass away. Even their realms are changing moment by moment. So there is nothing to be found that is permanent. That’s why all that appears to us in the conventional world lacks any true reality; nothing exists as it appears to exist. It is all empty. The ultimate nature of all things, then, is emptiness, the lack of any inherent existence, whereby they cannot abide and exist from their own side, as they appear. The world exists in this ephemeral and transitory way. When we get caught up in the world and believe it to be something real, we act in certain ways that inevitably lead to misery. Therefore, it is said, all activities of the world are without essence, without any real meaning, and miserable by their very nature because they are based on the delusion that the world actually exists as it appears. They are based upon ignorance of the fact that the world is illusory and there is nothing there to grasp. When we attempt to grasp at things, we engage in actions which inevitably lead to misery. When we are born into the world, we experience the misery of birth, of sickness, of old age, of death—these are inevitable.

Once we take birth into the world, once we become involved in this illusion, then these things will happen to us and there is no escape. We are born into the world through craving. So when we crave or desire something and do not achieve it, that is one kind of misery Then there’s the misery of getting the many things that we don’t want; there’s the misery of not being able to meet with loved ones; there’s the misery of finding oneself meeting with people one dislikes or who make one unhappy. All of these things are simply part of the world. Once we are involved in the world with all these illusions, there is no escape from these miseries.

The commentary includes a story which Tilopa told Naropa to illustrate this teaching about the lack of any essence in the world and how activities lead to miseries even when things go relatively well. The story is of a hunter in Tibet. Hunting was the only way he could make a living. He set out to catch an animal and bring it home. He went for many days, crossing over high mountain passes, getting hungrier and thirstier, and was unable to even see any animal to kill and bring home. So he faced this great misery of seeking but being unable to find. This went on for a while until finally he saw an animal, a mountain deer, which he shot with his bow and arrow. Although he hit it, he just wounded it. So he followed the trail of blood, and it went on and on and on.

Finally after a great search, he found the animal dead but only after experiencing all this additional misery. Then he loaded the animal up on his back and started the long journey home across the mountains. The dead animal was very heavy, and he suffered greatly from carrying it back and having to guard it against predators and thieves. Finally, he arrived home with the deer, completely exhausted. The people of his village were so happy to see him with this animal and praised him, saying how great he was, and, by the way could they have just a little bit of the meat? By the time his family divided it up, giving little pieces to this person and that person, there was virtually nothing left for the hunter himself.

So this is Tilopa’s analogy for the activities of people in the world: “their miseries of searching for a livelihood or searching for what they desire and being unable to find it; even when they find it, being unable to grasp it, once they grasp it; having nothing but misery in trying to hold on to it and not lose it. In the end when the time comes to enjoy it, there is very little, if anything, left to enjoy ” The advice which Tilopa gave to Naropa was to always understand that this is the nature of the world and worldly activities and, through this understanding, to disengage from the world and from its activities.

There is no way to practice and obtain liberation and Buddhahood while engaging in worldly activities, while caught up in the illusion of the world, attached to it and unable to let go. That condition is contrary to the requirements of practice. And so Tilopa advises his disciple to retreat to a place that is isolated from the busyness and involvement and entanglements of the world. There, he should detach himself and disengage from society and the world. Only then can one have a real opportunity to practice effectively.

To return to the initial statement about Mahamudra—Tilopa said that Mahamudra is not simple, not something that can be pointed out. It’s not this thing or that thing or some other thing. It is reality itself. This is again illustrated with the example of empty space. Empty space is non—composite; it’s not made up of anything; it doesn’t have parts. And so, when we speak of empty space, we can use various examples but can’t really point to something and make someone understand empty space in its entirety That is not the nature of space. Likewise, the clear light of mind can be compared to the light of the sun, but that also is not an accurate comparison and it is not very enlightening. The clear light of mind or of reality itself—this is what must be experienced directly not understood through analogies or similes. Ultimately it cannot be understood through these things, but must be directly perceived. If we think about the nature of empty space and how we might point to it or describe it, we can see how imprecise this method is. We can only describe individual objects. Even then, our descriptions are always going to be mere indicators and not the objects themselves. When we really try to define or point out something as subtle and difficult to grasp as empty space, we can only do it in a rough way So there has to be a leap of cognition in which we leave the conceptual level to experience the actual thing.

Now, attempting to describe empty space is very difficult.

All we have is a conception and, when we try to grasp what it actually is, this conception does not take us very far. Yet still we feel that we know what it is. The nature of mind itself is much more subtle than that. We cannot even roughly grasp it conceptually. However, by clearing away these attempts at conceptually grasping mind, we can proceed to see it directly. From the very outset of approaching a realization of the nature of mind, we have to abandon conceptual attempts. By understanding their futility, we abandon any idea of building it up or creating something in our minds which accurately describes or reflects the nature of mind. We must first abandon these attempts as being completely futile. Therefore, in the meditation, we have to cultivate this sense of letting go of all attempts to construct a viable hypothesis of what the nature of mind is. These things just tie mind in knots and do not reveal its nature. The example is given here of tying a knot in a snake. If you attempt to untie it, it is very difficult; but if you just let the snake go, it will tmravel itself.

Describing mind as empty space is describing reality itself. Reality itself is like empty space. In its very nature, it cannot be grasped conceptually; nothing can be grasped conceptually It is not that we are trying to find this thing called mind and extract it from of the rest of reality. In fact, all reality ultimate reality essential reality is beyond grasping and is like empty space itself. Ultimately when we practice approaching the realization of Mahamudra, there has to be an abandonment of all types of mental, physical, and verbal activity. The very nature of all of these is dichotomizing and, accordingly, they obstruct the realization of the nature of reality.

Now, when Dharma Lord Gampopa first went to Jetsun Milarepa to receive teachings, he was already very accomplished in the study of the Dharma. He had been a disciple in the Kadampa lineage for a long time. He had been engaged in very high-level practices involving various meditations and visualizations, verbal activities like reciting mantras, physical activities like making tormas—all sorts of religious practices. Milarepa said this was very good and worthwhile, and a great result had ripened and developed in him. However, to realize the truth, to manifest the realization of Mahamudra, in the end all of these things have to be abandoned. All involvements of body speech, and mind have to be released so that the nature of reality can be realized. The nature of reality does not involve creating or achieving something or building something up. Rather, it is letting go of all that is false, of all that is limited, of all that involves the nature of the world – everything that involves any type of dichotomy or conceptual thought.

The physical body is compared to a reed that grows in the water. The reed appears to be substantial but is actually completely hollow. Likewise, the body appears to be substantial, something important, but really it has no essence. Mind itself is like the empty sky without attributes of center or edge or color or shape. To realize the nature of mind, one has to ultimately let go, just completely let go of all striving, of all creative mental activity. Just abandon all of these things which involve dichotomies. Mind is not subject to specifications like ”it is this or it is that or it is the other thing.” As long as we try to specify what mind is, we will always be lost and will never find its essential nature.

So what has to be done to stop specifying what mind is?

Stop assuming what it is and thinking of it in one way or another. Then go on to accustom mind completely to that state of non-specification, non-construction, non-dichotomizing.

Once mind becomes completely accustomed, completely comfortable in that state of non-specification, then one can realize Mahamudra.

Mind has nothing in its essential nature that can be identified. There is nothing there to be specified, identified, or pointed out because its nature is clarity. There is nothing within it, there is no part of it or quality that can be separated out and identified. So, getting beyond that, one arrives at the stage of finding the path to Buddhahood through this non-specification, this non-identification of the nature of reality; and by becoming accustomed to this state which is free of all kalpanas.

The path itself becomes a non-path, a path which is ultimately not specifiable. Becoming accustomed to that path, one achieves the path of Buddhahood. The attainment of the state of perfect Buddhahood arises from the practice of accustoming oneself to the state of non-identifiability, non-conceptualization, the state of mind which does not create or produce any conceptions, does not create anything artificial, but rather lets go of all this creative mental activity. This allows ultimate reality itself to manifest and be realized without projecting anything upon it, or separating anything out of it, just allowing it to shine forth. This requires exertion. This requires focusing mind on this state, which is beyond all conceptualizations.

Then we have the three necessary aspects of view, meditation, and activity:

(1) The view of Mahamudra is that which is completely beyond the dualism of subject and object. It is the abandonment, or renunciation, of the dualism of subject and object.

(2) The highest meditation is that which is free of all wavering or distraction. Mind is set in such a way that it is completely free of any type of movement.

(3) The highest activity is that which abandons all discrimination—al1 choosing the better thing, rejecting the worse thing, making discriminations between this and that. The highest activity is beyond that sort of discrimination.

The highest result, which is the attainment of Mahamudra, arises only when one transcends all hopes and fears. As long as one is caught up in hoping for something, for some very good state (Buddhahood or something else), as long as one cherishes a hope for that and also fears falling into a lower state, one is caught up in a condition which is beneath the highest realization. One has to go beyond that, abandon hopes and fears. In that state free of hopes and fears, Mahamudra is obtained.

The text now repeats itself, again going over what the very highest view is and what the meditation activities are and so forth. It goes into a little more detail here, specifying, for instance, the very highest view. Before, it said that this is the view which is beyond the dichotomy of subject and object.

This state of transcending the view of subject and object is that state which is free of extremes. The extremes have to do with that which is internal or external. All of these are relative views, the views that some thing exists in some way relative to something else. From the perspective of something else, we can speak of subject and object. But ultimate reality is beyond all such dichotomies and such limitations of perspective because it is all-inclusive.

Now again, the meaning of the state of the highest meditation is briefly explained. The highest meditation is one in which mind does not waver at all. The wavering here is not just wavering from the object of meditation, but it is wavering to any type of limited view that is only relatively true.

Hold one-pointedly to the absolute which is without any specifications or determinations. The highest result, or goal, is the realization of the ultimate nature of mind itself. Therefore, any goal that entails an achievement or an attainment or an obtaining of something is always short of the ultimate goal. That is because as long as one’s self is attaining something or realizing something, then there is still the self and the other, still some sort of dichotomy. Yet the very ultimate goal is the self in its very essence. It is not the self attaining something other than the essential self. Therefore, that is the highest goal, which is free of any dichotomy whatsoever. The practice that we engage in to reach this ultimate result, of course, entails exertion on the path of mental quiescence. This is the substance of our practice from now until we obtain the ultimate goal of perfect enlightenment. This journey of developing the state of mental quiescence is compared to a great river like the Ganges in India. When we start to practice shamatha, it is like the Ganges in its uppermost headwaters in the region of Mt. Kailash. lt’s just a tiny little stream that at the beginning has stops and starts with a lot of rocks and obstacles in its way; it is very tentative. At this point, it is very vulnerable. As it goes downstream it is very turbulent, going over great rocks and rapids. Gradually it gets stronger and wider. It comes down to the plain where it’s a tremendously large and deep river that flows swiftly Accomplishing mental quiescence is like this—the stream of meditation is very powerful and cannot be blocked or disturbed. It just flows very strongly. Then finally it meets the great ocean, and at this point it is bottomless and unfathomable and stays completely still. That is the simile used to illustrate the nature of this practice of mental quiescence, which leads to the goal of Mahamudra.

We should understand that none of the preliminary practices are able to reveal the clear light of Mahamudra in and of themselves. All of these practices—meditation, the cultivation of virtue, the practices of discipline and ethics, the practices of Tantra—all these things in themselves contribute along the way to the stream of the river, develop it and lead it to its goal. But none of them alone can be expected to reveal the clear light of Mahamudra. It is through the practice of meditation that one gradually becomes freer and freer of all attachment and clinging, first of the gross aspects of existence of the world and then of the subtler and subtler, until one becomes completely free of all clinging to physical, verbal, and mental events or objects. One becomes free of all dichotomies and, therefore, comes to realize the meaning of all three baskets of the Buddha’s teaching. This is the ultimate realization of the clear light of Mahamudra.

Through realizing, by merely seeing the clear light of Mahamudra, the doors to the prison of samsara swing open. One is released from the bondage of cyclic existence. Then, by practising and stabilizing mind on that clear light of Mahamudra, all of the gross and subtle defilements of body speech, and mind from beginningless time are completely bumed away and eliminated, and the highest state of perfect enlightenment is attained.

First, one becomes fearful of falling into the tremendous miseries of the lower forms of life in cyclic existence, all of the lower migrations. Approaching the realization of Mahamudra and becoming free of this fear, one is filled with compassion for all of those living beings who helplessly wander in samsara, falling again and again into the inconceivable miseries of the lower realms. Powered by that great compassion, one practices these essential precepts of the Lord Buddha’s teaching and attains full insight into ultimate reality, which occurs when mind becomes stabilized in Mahamudra. One thereby attains the state of Buddhahood, which alleviates all of these miseries.

Tilopa makes a dedication at the end of this text for the welfare of all beings:

By the virtue of full engagement in this practice,

may all obstacles to realization of Mahamudra dissolve away.

May the clear light of Mahamudra dawn in the minds of disciples.

May all living beings then come to abide in the hearts of those disciples who realize Mahamudra.


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