Sherabling, India, October 2000
As I was requested, I am going to give teachings on mahamudra. Mahamudra, as a teaching, is presented in an enormous amount of texts, some of which might take a very long time: some as much as a year, with daily teaching sessions. Then, mahamudra introducing the nature of mind might not even take one hour. So there is so much variety in the mahamudra teachings. Therefore, I am not going to teach from just one particular mahamudra text. This will be very much like an introduction for those who don’t know anything about mahamudra, or for those who know very little about mahamudra.
For those who know a lot about mahamudra, it will be a reminder, because when you know a lot you might get a little bit mixed up. So this might sort out some of the over lapping and some of the confusion, or what is unclear about the mahamudra teachings in general. So for that purpose, I am teaching mahamudra here as an introduction or clarification or general teaching.
First of all we have to define the terminology. Mahamudra is Sanskrit terminology, and it is translated into Tibetan as chagya chenpo. So the terminology itself, or we can call it a title, even though it’s not really appropriate to give a title to something that doesn’t have anything to do with a title. It’s a little confusing, but we have to “play dumb”. We know mahamudra cannot be boxed into anything or packaged, but we have to play dumb and package it, and then put the title ‘mahamudra’ on it. We have to do that, otherwise we might get very confused, and even worse we might get lost. It could be like a 1000 story building with 10,000 rooms which have no floor numbers and no room numbers: it would be very complicated to find anything. So we have to conventionalise the ultimate, and give a title to something that cannot be restricted or limited by a title.
Now the mahamudra word itself, chagya chenpo, somehow has to describe what the teaching is. So here, the simplest way to define the mahamudra terminology is to say that everything which is relative, from heaven to hell, is part and parcel of the most sacred, most ultimate and most profound essence. So let’s put it this way: the most undefiled and pure environment of a Buddha, or pure land of a Buddha, and the most painful, negative environment of hell are connected. They are not un-connected. As long as something is there, it has to be connected with everything else. For example, there is the most profound and pure being, a bodhisattva, and there is the most neurotic and evil being, whoever it is. As long as they are in the universe, they have to move in the same space, they have to breathe the same air, they have to influence the short wave, medium wave and all kind of waves of the universe. So they are all interconnected. You cannot separate anybody from anybody, and you cannot separate anything from anything. Everything is connected. So that is the relative understanding of mahamudra. Now the ultimate potential of that is that the worst being has the possibility and the potential to be the best person, and the chance and potential to become Buddha. So when we see a bad person ¾ I don’t know what it could be that your definition of a bad person is, but I am sure that each one of us has a definition of a bad person, the worst person ¾ in mahamudra understanding that is a Buddha who does not know that they are Buddha. They misused their time and opportunity and got it wrong. So temporarily they appear and manifest as a result of their own doing. Here, temporarily doesn’t mean one week: temporarily might mean ten billion centuries or ten centuries or three life times ¾ It depends. But temporarily, as long as it is not forever, is temporary. So in that way, the definition of mahamudra terminology is most comprehensive, and is the most ultimate aspect of description of the teaching of Buddha.
Then we have the mahamudra lineage, and the practitioners of the mahamudra lineage. This means the teachings of mahamudra, which are bestowed by the Buddha Shakyamuni, who in this case we call Buddha Vajradhara. The Buddha Vajradhara’s teaching, which is the essence of all the teachings, has continued from there until today, in an unbroken lineage of transmission. So how does the lineage get broken? The lineage means the Buddha’s wisdom. Buddha is the embodiment of wisdom, and Buddha is the embodiment of compassion. That compassion and wisdom are received by the disciple, who is the embodiment of devotion. The devotion of the disciple and the compassion of the Buddha connect, and then wisdom is transmitted. That is the blessing; that is the transmission. If that connection is broken then the lineage is broken. But that will never happen from the Buddha’s side; that will happen from us, the followers side. So that connection, unbroken from Buddha up till now, is the mahamudra lineage. Anybody who comprehends the mahamudra teaching, who implements the mahamudra teaching and who lives according to the mahamudra view, practice and action, then that is a mahamudra practitioner. Whoever manages that pretty well, then that is a mahamudra yogi. Whoever does not manage that very well, but tries, is a mahamudra follower. Whoever supports that is a mahamudra patron, and whoever admires that is a mahamudra devotee. So there are devotees, patrons, practitioners, yogis and so on and so forth. So that is mahamudra: the lineage.
Now there is a little, how do you say, ‘unfinished business’ here, because mahamudra means everything, but now here is the mahamudra lineage. One minute it is everything, and the next minute it is somebody, but not everybody. How come? Well that is quite easy to understand and comprehend. The mahamudra practitioner’s view, practice and meditation is about everything; that’s what it is. But it’s like when a person has very clear, good eyes and can see everything clearly, but another person doesn’t have clear eyes and can’t see everything clearly. Or a person who has lost one eye and cannot see three dimensionally. If a person is sick with hepatitis they see everything yellow. If a person has bronchitis they see everything as white and grey. In that way the vision and the perception is limited. In this way, a person who practices mahamudra is supposed to be able to see everything clearly, with mahamudra view, but we can’t claim that we do that all the time. Sometimes we might, but at other times we can’t. It’s like when we catch cold or hepatitis: we have to put on eye glasses and so on. In this way we are not perfect, but we try our best. So I think this much might give a very basic, very simple definition of the terminology and the title mahamudra itself.
The Source of Mahamudra
When we say ‘teaching of Buddha,’ it means sutra, abhidharma, vinaya and tantra. These are the teachings of the Buddha. But it is very interesting, because these days Buddhism has become so popular, and everybody knows a little piece of Buddhism. Because it is so popular it becomes a household language, but then it can become not so clear and sometimes even confused. For example, these days, if somebody sees a Buddhist person reading a book, they always say “Oh he’s reading a sutra.” I even saw one book about a Buddhist printing press, and the title of the book is ‘Buddhist Sutra Printing Press’. So that means that in that printing press there will be only sutra. There will be no abhidharma, no vinaya and no tantra: only sutra. Anyway, the essence of the tantra, the vinaya, the abhidharma and the sutra is the mahamudra. Now out of all of these, which particular teaching of Buddha says this? It is the tantra. The tantric teachings of Lord Buddha cover everything. In the tantra you find the teaching of sutra, vinaya and abhidharma, but in the sutra , the abhidharma and the vinaya you will not find the teaching of tantra. So the tantric teachings of the Lord Buddha are the essence of everything. This means that the mahamudra teaching is the principle and the path that is given in the teaching of the tantra. In the tantra itself, there are so many levels, and the highest of these is anuttarayoga tantra. So the mahamudra teaching is the essence of the anuttarayoga tantra: the highest of all the tantra’s that manifest from Lord Buddha. These tantric teachings, such as Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, Kalachakra etc., are from the anuttarayoga tantra, and the mahamudra principle and teachings are the essence of that tantra.
The source of the mahamudra teachings is the Buddha. These days people use these words “Lord Buddha’s words” or “Lord Buddha’s teachings” and that’s fine, but as a mahamudra practitioner we never think that Buddha was there and some crowd gathered, and he was in his room thinking about what to tell them. Then he did some homework, sought through his mind, and said “This is what I am going to say,” and then came out and talked about this particular thing and taught it. Our mahamudra idea of Buddha is never like that. Buddha manifested as a result of what made him Buddha: his compassion manifested. So, to anybody who has devotion, Buddha will manifest to them. According to the capacity of the being, the Buddha’s teaching manifests. They hear him say things according to their own capacity: their level of maturity, their level of devotion, and according to their level of compassion for all sentient beings, which we should call their motivation. According to that, the Buddha’s teaching manifests. So although we have to say the words such as “Buddha spoke,” “Buddha taught,” “Buddha said that,” and “this is what Buddha meant,” we have to say these things, but we can never mean that. Because if Prince Siddhartha was like that then he is not the kind of Buddha that we believe in. He is a very wise person, a very intelligent person and a very clear minded person, but that’s it. That’s not Buddha. Buddha is beyond all of that. Buddha is not within the perimeter of dualism; Buddha is beyond dualism. Buddha is not limited by anything; Buddha is limitless. So in this way the tantric teachings, such as the anuttarayoga tantra texts that I have mentioned, these tantras and Buddha are inseparable. They are the embodiment of the Buddha. The teaching of Buddha is the embodiment of the Buddha. It is not the thought of the Buddha, or the words of the Buddha; it is the embodiment or manifestation of the Buddha. It manifests in the sound, and beings saw Buddha speak. Actually, in the sutra, Buddha once said “I did not say anything, but all sentient beings heard it”. So surely, from the mahamudra point of view, Buddha didn’t even say that [laughter]. So you can’t say that that was the only thing he spoke: he didn’t even say that. There was a need for that, so that’s what manifested. That’s what those particular beings heard and that’s it. In this way the gyu, or the tantra, is the actual teachings of the Buddha, in which the mahamudra aspect of teaching is taught. That is one source.
The second source of the mahamudra teachings is called gyazhung. Gyazhung actually means those texts which were written by the great masters of India: the mahapanditas and mahasiddhas of India. Those teachings were translated from Sanskrit to Tibetan and are called gyazhung. What defines a teaching rather than just a book is that it is the teaching of the lineage, and not somebody’s research and thesis or somebody’s interest. For example, every year at the Frankfurt book-fare in Germany there are tens of thousands of newly published books, and all of them we would not consider this kind of text (but some of them might be). So gyazhung means the teachings about mahamudra. This is mahamudra gyazhung. Gyazhung can be about anything, so mahamudra gyazhung is the teachings about mahamudra, written or spoken by great enlightened masters of the lineage of mahamudra in India. All of these texts were translated, I think, more than a thousand years ago. So they are not recent translations. They are old, or ancient, translations. These teachings are numerous; there are so many. There are specific teachings, such as the mahamudra doha. Doha is like inspirational sacred poetry, a little bit like a song. For example, the Mahamudra Upadesha or Ganges Mahamudra, by Tilopa; so named because he wrote it at the bank of the river Ganges. Then there are other texts like Naropa’s condensed text of view, which includes the philosophy, the view and the perception. So that is another text. Also, there are enormous numbers of teachings that are individual teachings: the 84 mahasiddhas’ teachings, their poems and their songs; the teachings of the 30 great enlightened women ¾ the dakinis ¾ their teachings, songs, poems and so forth. All of these kinds of teachings that are translated into Tibetan are called gyazhung. They are another source.
The third source is mengak. Mengak means something like sacred instruction. It is not secret instruction, but sacred always becomes secret, because sacred, by definition, means that if somebody cannot comprehend it then it is not available. It is only available to those who can comprehend it. So that is sacred. The transmission of sacred instructions from the great masters of India and Tibet, as far as the lineage is concerned, is called mengak. Most mengak are written down on paper, but also a tremendous amount of mengak is from person to person: from lips to ear. So that is ear transmission. It is not written down.
But these days we have a tremendous amount of liberation, so even the sacred mengak texts, some of these are even translated, and many of them are printed. You can buy for just a few dollars. Very cheap. These are available, but an old fashioned and backward person like me doesn’t like it, because then it is not sacred anymore. It becomes, how do you say, “accelerated” or “short circuit,” and so it will be spoiled that way. The lineage can be destroyed very easily if mengaks do not remain as mengaks. So this is maybe a little bit off: a sign of this time of degeneration, but of course not hopeless.
Anyway, there are a tremendous amount of all of these kinds of teachings, and in our lineage there are three texts that somehow combine as one group of teachings. The first is Ngedon Gyamtso or “Mahamudra Ocean of Certainty”. That’s an elaborate text which has 97 steps of instruction, with each step having many steps of instruction within it. That is a tremendously detailed teaching about mahamudra practice. Then there is a secondary or medium size text, which is Marig Munsel or ‘Dispelling the Darkness of Ignorance’ ¾ I think that is how it is translated. That is the secondary text. The shortest text in this particular group of texts is Choku Dzuptsuk, which means ‘Pointing Out the Dharmakaya’: you use your finger to point out the dharmakaya. That means the direct introduction to the nature of mind: the essence of our self; the essence of everything. So those are three particular texts written by the Gyalwa Karmapa. But then, of course, there are tremendous numbers of other instruction texts, and a tremendous amount of person to person transmission lineage of mahamudra instruction. So gyu, gyazhung and mengak are the physical sources of the mahamudra teachings, which are the essence of all the teachings of the Buddha. That’s where mahamudra comes from.
Ground, Path and Fruition
Now, since we have a basic understanding of the terminology of mahamudra and the source of the mahamudra teachings, I think it is extremely important, not only for mahamudra practitioners but any practitioner of dharma, to understand why we are practicing dharma. What for? You know? When we say “May I become Buddha for the benefit of all sentient beings” then we have to know: why would becoming Buddha be beneficial for all other sentient beings? Why should all sentient beings become Buddha? For what? What is the connection between Buddha and all sentient beings? What are they trying to become when they say “May I become Buddha”? We have to understand all of these things, otherwise it becomes some kind of curiosity or hobby, “lets find out”: sort of temporary entertainment, you know? It doesn’t go further than that. So therefore, we have to know as clearly as possible what all these things mean. What am I? What is Buddha? What are all sentient beings? When I say “may I become Buddha” and “For the benefit of all sentient beings” what am I actually saying? What does it all really mean? We can understand this through the very basic way of teaching dharma, which is through three things: ground, path and fruition. Through these three simple principles we can comprehend and have some idea of what we are saying and what we are doing.
Ground means potential. Path means how to materialise, purify or develop our potential. How to go about it ¾ that is path. Fruition is exactly the same as potential, because potential and fruition are the same thing. When the potential is fully developed, then that is fruition. You cannot achieve something that has nothing to do with you. What you will achieve at the end will be exactly what you are: what is in you or what is about you. So the potential and the fruition are the same thing. Undeveloped potential is ground, fully developed potential is fruition, and how to develop undeveloped potential into fully developed potential is path. So ground, path and fruition. Through this we will then understand what mahamudra practice is, and what we are saying in the mahamudra dedication when we say “Because of this merit may I attain the full realisation of mahamudra, and lead all sentient beings to the realisation of mahamudra.” It’s the same thing as “Because of this merit may I attain buddhahood and lead all sentient beings to the realisation of buddhahood”, but in the mahamudra prayer, sometimes we say that.
I have been teaching you about the general definition of mahamudra, and the source of mahamudra teachings. Then I introduced to you the principle of ground, path and fruition. So that is a sort of general outline which is very simple, but it can somehow unfold. Otherwise you might call it complicated or a deep subject, but ground, path and fruition is easy to remember, and somehow clarifies so many things. Sometimes it is a little bit misunderstood, but when you define it clearly then it is so simple. When you say “I want to be Buddha,” you must have a ground for saying that. On what ground are you saying that? Your ground is that “I am an unenlightened Buddha, because I have the same potential as Buddha Shakyamuni ¾ equal.” Every sentient being has the same potential as Buddha Shakyamuni, and is equal to Buddha Shakyamuni in essence or in potential, but you should never mistake that for thinking you are equal to Buddha right now (but I don’t know, maybe there is some Buddha manifest here as an ordinary person. In that case I don’t have to confess, because Buddha purposely manifested like that, and that is part of the Buddha’s aspiration. If Buddha said before his enlightenment “May I appear as an ordinary person so that I can benefit all the sentient beings, especially those people who call themselves teachers, and give them the privilege and opportunity to teach me.” [laughter] Yes; why not? That is a very, very profound connection. That is a very great honour; so that could be. In that case, I don’t even have to apologise because I am just following the Buddha’s will). Anyway, we are not enlightened, because of our own cause and condition, which is created by ourself: with our own will, with our own decision, with our own effort. That is why we are not Buddha.
Buddha Shakyamuni and three other Buddhas have already become Buddha on this planet, in this galaxy and in this solar system. So four individuals have already become Buddha, with Buddha Shakyamuni as the fourth. So those four were prophesied Buddhas. How many un-prophesied Buddhas were there? It would be countless. From the beginning of the human evolution on this planet, we Tibetans believe that we are evolved from monkeys and ghosts. Once, something like a ghost or a demon, which was female, came together with a male monkey, and the offspring of that combination were Tibetans [laughter]. It’s interesting, because I sometimes think how come? [laughter] We are not like demons or monkeys; so, how can that be possible? But some other times I am convinced [laughter], because if you look at Tibetan history: if Guru Rinpoche did not come to Tibet and tame us, we would be impossible [laughter]. It took somebody like Guru Rinpoche, who did not just teach and bless, but he performed miracles, you know? He turned mountains upside down and boiled an enormous lake: he boiled it with his spiritual power. But even by doing all of that sort of thing, it still took quite a bit of time and effort to make us normal [laughter]. So I think maybe there is some truth in this combination or this genetic engineering. Anyway, by the blessing of the Buddha, by the blessing of Guru Rinpoche and especially by the blessing of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who manifested in Tibet in so many ways: great masters like His Holiness Dalai Lama and His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa are all manifestations of Avalokiteshvara. So with all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas working so hard, and doing so many things to make us what we are, we are privileged. So what I am talking about here is: that since the beginning of the human evolution on this planet ¾ which is relative of course ¾ until now, the prophesied Buddhas are four, un-prophesied Buddhas… who knows? So many, but it cannot be countless. It can be countable, but we don’t know.
By definition, in the entire universe, the sentient beings who attain buddhahood are countless. That is countless. Buddha describes this when he says “If there is one sentient being who attains enlightenment, or buddhahood, in a period of time which is a period of yuga then the equivalent amount to the grains of sand in the river Ganges attain buddhahood.” That means that if one person attains enlightenment on one planet after such a long, long time, (yuga means a very long time. Some yugas are described as from the creation of a universe until its destruction, and some yugas are described as the cycles within that period. So there are different kinds of yugas) Buddha said that even though it is that rare, still, every moment countless sentient beings have attained buddhahood. Because space has no end, you cannot count the universes. It is so infinite that, even though buddhahood is so rare, every moment countless numbers of sentient beings have attained buddhahood. Otherwise you end up with space having an end, and with the universes having a number. But there is no end. It is infinite. Therefore infinite beings have to be enlightened in every moment. So from the time when we began this session until now, in this couple of minutes, countless sentient beings have already attained enlightenment. That is not imagination; that’s the facts. It has to be that way, otherwise nothing will make sense. So that is the reality.
Now, the ground, by definition, is that all sentient beings have Buddha potential. Those who made it are few, on our planet, but those who made it in the whole universe are countless. Why did that happen? Because that’s their potential. That’s their destiny. The destination of every single sentient being is absolute freedom with no limitation, and absolute freedom with no limitation is described by the word “buddhahood.” Buddhahood means you are free with no limitation whatsoever, and that can only be for the purpose of no limitation. So if you wish to be free, without limitation, then it has to be for the purpose of freedom without limitation ¾ for all sentient beings. If you wanted to be free with no limitation just for yourself, it is impossible, because that is the biggest limitation. It has to be for the limitless purpose; it has to be for the limitless outcome, and it has to come from the foundation or the ground: the base of the limitless potential.
So that is ground mahamudra, and this is described as free from the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. Therefore, it is relative truth and absolute truth in union, which means the unity of relative truth and absolute truth. Now, the “extremes of eternalism and nihilism” is what has to be overcome to understand and define the ground mahamudra. The outcome of that is that relative truth and absolute truth will be in unity. Okay, so that is ground mahamudra.
Now the path mahamudra. Why have so many beings attained buddhahood, and why have so many of us still not yet attained buddhahood? Why? It’s not because somebody made some kind of mistake somewhere, or that we lost our plane ticket, but it happened. We are still here, when others have already got there. It is because of our own doing. It is not the fault of somebody’s unfair play, and it is not because of some kind of corruption somewhere. It is our own unfair play and our own corruption that made us stay behind and be left behind. You can’t blame anybody. (everyone is interconnected, of course, but that doesn’t deserve blame).
Now, the path is described as free of assertion and free of denial. So you have to be free of asserting. For example, it’s like you saw a mouse, but you say you saw a tiger. That is assertion. Denial is like you stepped on a cockroach, but you say you did not step on anything. That is denial. So free of assertion and denial. In the path, or in the practice, when we do good things, and we are attached to our good practice then that is assertion, and that is something we have to overcome. It is not something we have to, how do you say, abandon. We cannot, because as a beginner practitioner we should be attached to our good practice. We should be upset when our practice is not doing well, otherwise we will never practise, you know? So that is there, but it cannot go further than that, and we have to do our best to overcome that, rather than increase it. So that is assertion. Denial is when you learn lots of things such as emptiness, non-duality, primordial wisdom and so on and so forth. Then by learning those things you think you understand everything, but you don’t, and you say “I don’t have to practice; doing good is emptiness; doing bad is emptiness; the potential of good and bad is the same.” If you have too much of that kind of perception, and you act on it, then you have denial. You are a little bit like the devil, because your good understanding becomes the obstacle for your progress. So these ways of assertion and denial are both the obstacles one has to, very skilfully, overcome. Once that happens then the practice, or the path, is the accumulation of merit and wisdom in union: the unity of the accumulation of merit and the accumulation of wisdom.
How do you accumulate merit? By doing good things and by avoiding bad actions. By learning, by doing prayers, by being generous and so on. That is accumulation of merit. The accumulation of wisdom you cannot gain like that. The accumulation of wisdom occurs as a result of letting your inner potential or inner Buddha manifest. That is meditation, and the accumulation of wisdom is through meditation. The accumulation of merit is through activity: physical, mental and verbal activity. So, the path which is free of assertion and denial is the union of the accumulation of merit and wisdom. That is the path.
Then, the fruition should be free from, or free of, samsaric end or passive end. Many times the word nirvana is used here, but it means peace or the passive end. Of course samsaric end is something we should be free of, and between samsaric end and nirvana end we should chose the nirvana end, but actually, as far as being an end, it’s the same. So what does that mean? If we go on with worldly activities as a worldly person with a worldly motivation then we will end up in the samsaric end just as usual. That’s very easy to understand, because we are in samsara: you are in samsara; I am in samsara; all of us are in samsara, and all of us are going in circles. Sometimes my circle is a little bigger, so that I might not notice that I am going in a circle, and sometimes your circle is a little smaller, so you might feel you are going in a circle ¾ sometimes. But sometimes it could even be vice versa. It’s not supposed to be, but I think it could be. Anyway, the end of the whole thing about samsara is that no matter how big or small the circle you walk, at the end of the day you did not get anywhere. You can walk very hard; you can be running, or you can be carrying things, but you end up in the same place. That is samsara. The nirvana end means that if we overcome all of that then we have no pain, suffering or defilements, but we don’t have the primordial wisdom awakened. So we will be very comfortable, very happy and very peaceful, in something like paradise. The idea of paradise is that everything is positive and nothing is negative. That is nirvana: the passive peace. That is good, but it’s not buddhahood, which is free from, and a step beyond, both of those ends of samsara and nirvana. It is the union of the two kayas; that is how it is described.
What are the two kayas? One is the dharmakaya, and the other is the form kayas. There are kayas that have some limitation, and the kaya that doesn’t have any limitation. Kaya means body. The limitless kaya is called dharmakaya, which is the mind of the Buddha, but the form kayas are limited, and they are called the sambhogakaya and the nirmanakaya. Sambhogakaya has lesser limitations than nirmanakaya, but the sambhogakaya still has limitations, because sambhogakaya is not the dharmakaya. Sambhogakaya means how Buddha will be perceived by those who are highly enlightened: those above the first bodhisattva level. How they perceive Buddha is called sambhogakaya. Nirmanakaya is how ordinary beings, who do not have the realisation up to the first level bodhisattva, or are below the first level bodhisattva, perceive Buddha. When they are in the presence of the Buddha, how they perceive the Buddha, how they see the Buddha, how they hear the Buddha, that is the nirmanakaya. So sambhogakaya has less limitations than the nirmanakaya, but it still has limitations. The unity of dharmakaya and the form kaya means that Buddha is limitless: he accomplished the dharmakaya and is the embodiment of the dharmakaya, but, for the benefit of sentient beings, he spontaneously manifests as the sambhogakaya and the nirmanakaya. In that way the fruition is the unity of the two kayas.
Now with this we have a little bit of elaboration of the ground, path and fruition ¾ I will try to get this right ¾ the ground is free from the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. It is the unity of the absolute truth and the relative truth. The path is free from assertion and denial, and that will be the unity of the merit and wisdom accumulation. The fruition is free from the extremes of samsaric end and nirvana end, and that will be the unity of the dharmakaya and the form kayas.
So that is some detail about this, but some parts are missing so I want to add those. The ground mahamudra is the basis of the mahamudra path, and mahamudra fruition is enlightenment itself. Then the path itself is the ways through which that potential will be fully developed. The fruition means the result of this path or the final fruition of the path, which is the fully maturing and fully matured potential, and the total liberation of the potential. That is the fruition. So that somehow makes the ground, path and fruition very personal, and related to each one of us individually.
For example, in the entire human realm ¾ you can also include animals, but let’s say humans ¾ do you know anybody who achieved exactly what he or she wished to achieve, absolutely? Any king, any president, prime minister, rich man, poor man, soldier, general, scholar or artist; you know? Anybody who said “I achieved exactly what I wished to achieve, ultimately”. Of course people make decisions like “Oh, I have done enough. Okay, now alright” you know? There is a lot of that. I also do that ¾ a lot. Many times; not only one time. Then I start something again. But anyway, there isn’t anybody, really! If you travel all over the world: any place in the world. If you go to a high mountain ¾ not too high but manageable for human beings ¾ and you dig long enough, you will find some bricks there: some ruins of a house there, you know? People worked very hard to build those things. They brought all those stones all the way up there, sometimes using slaves, and they built there. They may have said “Oh yes, I will build what I want to build,” but then what happened? Most of the time we don’t even know who built those things; so it doesn’t mean anything. In this way there is no end to the efforts and the desire of samsara. Really: there is no end.
But why does everybody think there is an end? Why does everybody work so hard, as if there were an end? In this world, everybody is busy doing something. Some people are doing something physically, some people are talking ¾ I think I am included there right now ¾ and why do they do all of that? Because they want to achieve something. And what makes them think that they want to achieve something? Because it is in them. They do not have any limitation, you know? Everyone does not have any limitation in their potential. So we say “Attachment is so much so that it can never be fulfilled.” It’s very true. You have to stop somewhere. You have to say to yourself “enough is enough,” because if you don’t you will go on forever. You might become the richest person in the neighbourhood, and then, from there, the most powerful person in the neighbourhood. Next you might become the most healthy person in the neighbourhood, and so on, and so forth. From there you want to achieve the same thing in the whole country, and then in the whole world, you know? You might even become the king of the world (I personally don’t think I want to have that, because that will be lots of trouble, lots of problems: you have to take care of everybody). Anyway, if you become the king of the whole world, it is a guaranteed thing that within one week you will want to have something else. I guarantee it. The minute you own the whole world then you are looking for owning the moon, maybe, or mars. We have tried to conquer those things already, so it proves it. In that way, there is no end. That will never be fulfilled if we don’t stop somewhere. Why is that? Because our potential has no limitations. Therefore, our desire, which is the light or the manifestation of our potential, has no limitation.
When will our limitless desire be fulfilled? Let’s put it this way ¾ for a minute make the negative think positive….. So, how do we fulfil our limitless, un-fulfilable, impossible greed? When we become free, with no limitation then it is fulfilled. So enlightenment is our destination, and our impossible greed proves it, you know? Greed is negative; of course it is bad, but there must be a reason why it is there. It cannot be a “bad” accident. That greed cannot be fulfilled by saying “Instead of everybody else, I want to be happy. Instead of everybody else, I want to be free.”
“I want to be free, with no limitation, for the benefit of all sentient beings to be free with no limitation”: that is bodhichitta, that is compassion, and that is the ground mahamudra. That ground mahamudra, if nurtured and cultivated properly on the path, then, will be the fruition mahamudra. Our impossible greed can never be fulfilled by eating everything that we like to eat, or doing everything that we like to do. It will never be fulfilled. It will get worse. Defeating all our enemies; helping all our friends; it cannot be fulfilled. It is impossible. It can only be fulfilled if we become free for the sake of all sentient beings freedom. Then it is fulfilled. So this is the fruition mahamudra: one attains the dharmakaya so that the sambhogakaya and the nirmanakaya will manifest for the benefit of all sentient beings. That is the fruition. That is the destination.
What I am explaining here is that once we understand the ground, path, and fruition clearly ¾ clear enough that we can believe in it ¾ then we have mahamudra view, mahamudra attitude and mahamudra perception. We shouldn’t have a perception, but as long as we have one we can’t help then we must have a good one. So that’s mahamudra perception, mahamudra view. Once we have mahamudra view, if we conduct ourselves according to the mahamudra view then that is mahamudra action. Then we meditate according to the mahamudra meditation instructions, and that is mahamudra meditation. So that is view, meditation and action. Without having clear understanding of ground, path and fruition, we cannot have the view. Without having the view, we cannot have the action and meditation, generally speaking. So, for that reason, it is quite important to understand.
But there is another side: if you have faith in the Buddha, if you have faith in the Buddha’s teaching, and if you have faith in the practice of dharma then you don’t have to know anything. If you practice with faith then everything works. You don’t have to know ground, path and fruition. Whether you know it or not, it is there. When you know, nothing new appears, and when you don’t know, nothing is disappearing. So you really don’t have to know, but these days it is important to know. Why? Because this is a degenerating time.
I am not a negative person. I don’t consider myself a pessimistic person. Actually I consider myself having some weakness of optimism [laughter], you know? So maybe my problem is optimism, not pessimism. But the fact of the matter is that this is a degenerating time; so, many things are getting worse, and many things are getting better. But it is those things that make us worse that are getting better, and those things that make us better that are getting worse. In that way, it’s getting better for worse. That’s true, I think. I could be wrong; I have the right to be wrong (right?), but I think that’s true.
One thing that really proves this to me is that, these days, anything that is sacred and divine needs a lot of explanation, and people don’t believe it, but anything that is not sacred and not divine doesn’t need any explanation, and everybody believes it. For example, many wars are being fought right now, all over the world, and most of the people that are fighting there don’t know why. Only the ones who instigated the wars know, but the other people don’t know. They just believe; so they follow and get themselves killed, or they kill other people and destroy so many things. Then think about making money: it’s good that people make money, but lots of the ways that people make money are really other people’s plans, and other people’s ideas that they just follow. Many people just follow, and sometimes they get lucky, and they make some money, but many people are actually just donating a lot of money to those people who plan those things. They lose money, but they just go on, one loss after another. So in that way, they really don’t need a lot of explanation. Also, with taking drugs, and all these kind of things: even if somebody explains so hard they still don’t believe that person. They can see themselves getting crazy. They see themselves dying, and they see their brain becoming like a scrambled egg: it’s not working anymore, not connected anymore, all separate, you know? One part of the brain doesn’t function with another part; so two and two doesn’t make four anymore Two and two is maybe five or three or six. They see that they are confused, but still they go for it. They don’t need explanation, and they don’t need clarification. Then also with politics: many of the politicians, I think, don’t even know what they are doing. They just believe, and they go for it. Of course all politicians are not bad; many of them are very good. If there was no policy, then of course, the world would be in chaos, but what I am saying is that nothing requires more explanation than dharma. So when it comes to dharma, everybody wants all the detailed explanations. Not only once, but two, three or four times, you know? But everything else doesn’t need explanation, and people just follow. For example, with fashion: today you see a funny hat, which I think is a terrible hat, but tomorrow so many people are buying it and going crazy for it. So that way, everybody believes in things without having to know, except when it comes to something that is sacred and divine. This proves that this is a degenerating time. If it was not a degenerating time it would be the other way around, so that the things that are less meaningful, and even harmful, such as war, should need more explanation. People would find it very difficult to accept and very hard to participate. Something that is divine and profound, like dharma, would be easy for people to follow and easy to believe. If that happens then it shows that it is not a degenerating time but a generating time or a good time. So in this degenerating time, the clear understanding of ground, path and fruition will help us all, and will also equip us to help others. Because, after all, the basis of the mahamudra is Mahayana, and the purpose of mahayana is to help sentient beings. This is the foundation of all the highest teaching of Lord Buddha.
So, whatever we are learning here, we are learning so that we can benefit others. If we want to benefit others, there are many ways, but the easiest way is to make people understand something that is important and beneficial for them. If people come to us wanting to understand something about dharma, and we are able to explain to them, in a simple way, the ground, path and fruition then it will help them. It will change their life. So in this way, I think explaining these simple things is very important, and I hope my limited knowledge is beneficial for you. Because you all have primordial wisdom, whatever information or teaching you receive here might help you, so that your primordial wisdom can start to work.
Now, when we meditate and practice, what is really happening to us is that our primordial wisdom is awakening. That’s what it is. When we meditate, what we are doing is allowing our primordial wisdom to awaken. Even in an ordinary, day to day situation, like when you are in a terrible dilemma; if you are able to ask your friends to leave the room, and then you say to yourself “I am going to sit down and be quiet.” If you do that for half an hour, then no matter what kind of terrible dilemma that you are in, you will see the situation very clearly. You will have a perspective over your problem, and you might even find out, to your surprise, that there is no problem at all. Maybe what you were calling a problem half an hour ago is actually a very good thing. Maybe it is exactly what you need to get, for what you want to achieve. Otherwise, it might be something that is a problem indeed, but there is more solution than problem itself, and I can guarantee you one thing (this is my little experience through the blessing of the dharma): the solution for the problem is in the problem. I guarantee you. It’s always there. It’s just like a question: when somebody asks a question, if that person breaks down that question for themselves then that is the answer. The answer is in the question, you know? The solution is in the problem, but it’s very hard to see ¾ especially if it is your problem. You can feel your problem from the tip of your hair into the middle of your bones, and therefore you cannot have the perspective easily, but if you can relax then you are able to see more clearly. That’s the principle of meditation. When you meditate with sacred methods of meditation then, through the blessing of the lineage and so forth, that potential for seeing things clearly ¾ the primordial wisdom ¾ awakens. Even temporarily, it makes all the difference on earth, all the difference that you can think of. It will make a big difference, an enormous difference. So in that way, I think when people understand the ground, path and fruition, it will help. Why do people have all these problems, and why do they think that they want to be something? All of these things come from the ground or the potential. OK. So I hope this is beneficial for you all.
So far, I have been teaching about mahamudra in a very general sort of way. You may call it an introduction or summary of mahamudra. Now, I thought perhaps it will be beneficial for all of us to learn about mahamudra practice, not just a general introduction but about practice. It will also be very much an introduction to, or a summary of, the practice. In principle, all the teachings of Buddha are for practice; all the teachings of Buddha only give us the final or complete result if we practice them. Without practice, of course, we get benefits. For example, knowing something is much better that not knowing, and knowing correctly is much better than knowing incorrectly. So this way, knowing dharma is very, very beneficial. Just associating with dharma is also very, very beneficial. Associating with good things is much better than associating with bad things, and associating with the right thing is much better than associating with the wrong things. So association with the dharma and understanding of the dharma is all beneficial, but we only achieve the total benefit if we practice.
The definition of practice is that our body, our speech and our mind has to be functioning according to the teaching of the dharma. We have to integrate the dharma into our physical, verbal and mental activity. So we think according to dharma, we speak according to dharma and we act according to dharma. If we manage to do that well then we are a mature practitioner. If we are not able to do that well then we are not a mature dharma practitioner, but we are trying. So in this way, at least, we have to try our best. We have to put effort into implementing the dharma that we learn, in our physical, verbal and mental activity. Then we get the benefit.
Out of this, the most important is mind, because mind is the most important essence. For example, we might physically do all the good things, never doing anything wrong, and verbally, we might say all the good things and never say anything wrong, but in our mind, we think of all the negative things. If we have a vested interest in our mind, for our positive physical and verbal activity, then it is no good. It is like eating very good food, on a very good plate, with lots of very good eating tools (eating weapons I call them), like chopsticks, spoons, knives, forks and all kind of things: no matter whether we eat with gold, silver, or diamonds, if the food is poison then we are going to die right after the meal is completed. It will be our last meal. So it will be like that if we have a negative motivation in our mind. Even if, externally, we act positively, it is like poisoned food. So in this way, the most important thing is mind.
Now, the practice of meditation is actually directly involving the mind. You can pray with mind and body together through your speech. You can pray, but still your mind can be negative. For example, we have so many kinds of wildlife here, and one of them is the parrot: the green bird that speaks human language if they are taught. You can teach this bird a very special and sacred mantra, like OM MANI PEME HUNG for example, and this bird will say OM MANI PEME HUNG. If there is a worm crawling in front of him, he may say OM MANI PEME HUNG, and then eat the worm: the worm is moving and gets chopped into pieces, and the bird enjoys it. Then the bird goes for another one. So, in that way, you can be verbally saying good things, but mentally you are totally disconnected with what you are saying. That can happen. But with mind it cannot happen, because if your mind is purely aware and purely dedicated, and engaged with the practice of dharma, for example, with a good motivation such as devotion and compassion, then that wouldn’t happen. In this way the mind is the most important.
At the same time, according to the mahamudra teaching, everything that we see, hear and interact with: nature and the universe, everything is the interdependent and interconnected manifestation of everything that has to do with our mind. So there is no difference between our mind and everything else. In essence, it is its reflection. Some reflections are very serious, so it’s solid. Some reflections are not that serious, so they are not that solid. For example, some people like big hats, some people like small hats, some people like blue hats, some people like purple hats and most people like white hats. So there are different perceptions, you know? But some things are very, very, very serious, and very much in common with everybody else. In this way, the mind is the most important. It’s like a king. Its like the heart or core of everything, and so practice with the mind is actually the most important.
Out of all the aspects of practice then, the most important is meditation, because without meditating one cannot attain buddhahood. It is impossible without meditating. This is because what has to be enlightened is our mind, and our mind has the perfect essence in it, as the embodiment of it, and we have to let it manifest. And how can it manifest if we don’t let it manifest? So meditation is letting it manifest, and in this way, meditation is the most important aspect of practice.
In itself, mahamudra practice has a tremendous amount of methods. At the same time, mahamudra is about everything; so everything is mahamudra, in principle. I can’t say we have the method, but, in principle, if you are able to do anything correctly and ultimately then you will become Buddha, you will attain realisation of mahamudra. I will give you a very, very simple example: we eat rice or bread every day, or we drink water or some form of liquid every day. So anybody who knows how to drink a glass of water 100% perfectly and ultimately, that person is Buddha. If we know or if we do anything perfectly, ultimately, then that is mahamudra practice. However, we don’t have the methods for all of those things so I can’t teach you. I can only talk about it, but I can’t instruct you how to drink a glass of water properly, so that you become Buddha. We don’t have that method, but it is our principle.
Our method, then, is those teachings that are transmitted by our masters, through the centuries, continued from master to disciple for over 2,500 years. These are the methods that we have. These methods were compiled by many of our great masters, and then it became a systematic, organised method that goes one after another, step by step. Out of all of them, as far as our lineage is concerned, the most complete, most sacred and most implemented text is ‘Mahamudra Ocean of Certainty,’ by the Gyalwa Karmapa.
This text starts with the contemplation of precious human life and ends with the recognition of the nature of mind. It has teaching chapters and practice chapters: a total of 98 (or you can say 97, because the last one is final, so that doesn’t count). These 97 chapters lead us from appreciating what we are: the precious human life, to the realisation of who we really are, what we really are, and what we have always been. They lead us to the recognition or the realisation of the nature of mind. So this is the most comprehensive text, as far as the mahamudra practice is concerned, in our lineage.
In this teaching there are two categories: the first is known as the preliminary practice, and the second category is the main practice. Preliminary means preliminary for the main practice. For instance, if you put up a building, you have to prepare the ground, and you have to make the foundations. You can still put up a very big building if you don’t do this, but it will not work, because you might not get to live in it. So the foundation is very important. The deeper or more profound the foundation then the more your practice will be effective later, and there will also be less obstacles, less confusion and so forth. So the foundation, or the preliminary practice, is first.
The preliminary practices that are taught in the Mahamudra Ocean of Certainty are twelve: the first four are the four contemplations, the second four are purification and accumulation practices, called the four foundations, and the last four are the four conditions; four conditions because in order for your dharma practice to go well and to progress smoothly, effectively and deeply, you have to have all the conditions for it. So those four are about the conditions. So twelve foundations: four and four and four.
After that, the actual practice involved is: first, shinay or shamatha [tranquillity meditation], and then lhaktong or vipashyana [insight meditation]. The reason for this is that first our mind has to be as pure as possible and as calm as possible. Pure and calm in a sense that it is not influenced by all the things that occur in day-to-day life: the things outside and inside ourselves. We shouldn’t be affected by those things, not negatively at least. So, for that, shinay is the best method, because shinay is letting yourself be calm from inside, and not trying to make yourself calm from outside. If you have good shinay you can be in the middle of a festival with singing, dancing, music, food, the smell of food, people, and all kinds of things can be happening around you, but you can still be calm. That can happen only from inside, not from outside.
To be calm from outside you have to isolate yourself. You have to go somewhere where nothing is happening, where there are no people, and there you can become externally calm. Then, inside, you can be alone on the whole planet but very much crowded inside. In that way, the means to make you externally calm does not help us in the long term; it does not help us deeply. I will give you some not very, how do you say, uplifting examples, some quite sad examples. Lots of people take alcohol, lots of people take drugs and lots and lots of people smoke to make themselves calm. However, that is external calm, and it doesn’t help for that long, because you need more. First you smoke three cigarettes a day, then after that ten, then thirty and so on. Then you become a chain smoker, and you can get worse. If you take alcohol you can become an alcoholic. First you cannot go to sleep so you take a little before you go to bed. After that you have to increase it. Eventually, you have to take your drink right after you get up, and that’s very bad; you are already an alcoholic. With drugs, first you take the lightest form of drugs, but then after that you need to take heavier drugs. You have to take drugs not only from smoking or eating, but you even have to inject them into your blood system, and that is bad. You are already doomed ¾ almost. If you are very strong, physically and mentally, you can come off it, but it’s very difficult. So, in this way, external means of calmness are not the solution. Internal means are the solution, and that means shamatha or shinay meditation.
So next is the lhaktong practice, then introducing the nature of mind, and then dealing with every aspect of the mental and emotional states which delude the mind. For example, when we are angry we are deluded in such a way that we see everything as ugly and everything as bad. When we are deluded by attachment we are so deluded that everything becomes totally shining and all of that sort of thing: romanticising about everything. When we are jealous, everybody’s happiness becomes our suffering ¾ what a terrible thing ¾ and when we are proud everybody’s suffering becomes our happiness ¾ what a terrible thing. This is how the defilements delude us. They influence us and change everything.
The practice of mahamudra, step by step, is dealing with each one of those: going to the heart of each one of those and transforming them one by one. This makes the Mahamudra Ocean of Certainty a complete practice instruction for mahamudra.
The Four Contemplations
The first four preliminary practices are the four contemplations. I am not 100% sure in English language what is the difference between contemplation and meditation, but, by asking lots of questions of English speaking individuals, I came to a conclusion for myself. Still, I am not 100% sure, because I am not a linguist, but contemplation means you have something to think about or to analyse. That is contemplation. But in meditation you are not analysing anything. You are visualising, or you are just sitting, or you are following a particular text, but you are not analysing anything or trying to confirm anything. That is meditation, and that’s what I understood is the difference. So I am using this terminology as if that were true, but I am not sure. Anyway, the first four I call contemplations. In Tibetan we call them chi gom. It’s a gom, or a meditation, but it’s a chi gom: chipa means thinking or analysing. These first four are very important, because it is described as lo duk. Lo duk means your mind, your motivation, your perception, your wish or aspiration which is not towards worldly things but towards enlightenment. Sometimes practitioners may misunderstand this and think that it means we have to become, or we are becoming, anti-social, or that we are against samsara. We are not against samsara. We are absolutely for samsara, you know? We try to attain buddhahood for the benefit of everybody in samsara; so we are not against samsara. We are deciding to take the journey towards enlightenment, which is a journey with goal, instead of continuing to journey in samsara, which is a journey without goal. We go, again and again, in a circle.
So that is the definition of lo duk. We are not saying samsara is bad or terrible, and that we are against it. Definitely not. We are saying that samsara is samsara: it is going in a circle, and samsaric activity will not get anywhere. We will keep on doing the same thing, again and again, forever. Therefore we decide not to do that. Instead, we want to journey towards enlightenment, which is not going in a circle. So every single practice and every single activity will take us one step further. It can be a baby step, or it can be a magnum step; it can be an elephant step, or it can be a tortoise step, but it is a step towards enlightenment. So we decide to do that. For that reason, these first four contemplations are extremely important.
The first contemplation is “precious human life.” Precious human life we all have, but if we don’t know it then we can’t appreciate it. If we can’t appreciate it then it is as good as, or as bad as, if we didn’t have it. One of the Gyalwa Karmapas says in a teaching ¾ I think it is the first Karmapa, but I am not 100% sure ¾ “If you want to see this side of the mountain clearly, go to the other side of the mountain.” If you are here and you try to see what this really looks like, you cannot see it clearly. If you go over there and turn around this way then you will see this place very clearly. So we have the precious human life, but if we don’t look at it, by putting ourself over there, we cannot see what we have, and then we cannot appreciate it. If we don’t appreciate ourself then all the problems happen, you know? All of us, one way or another, have something to complain about, or maybe a couple of things to complain about. We have a couple of things to moan about and a couple of things to worry about, but if we are able to see ourself clearly, we will know how fortunate and meritorious we are. For example, I consider myself very, very, very fortunate, you know? But if I don’t think about it then I have ten thousand things to complain and worry about. Really! So, in this way, the contemplation on precious human life is extremely important. That’s number one.
Once we are able to have that appreciation then death/impermanence is very important. If we don’t have the understanding of death/impermanence then the understanding of precious human life doesn’t really help. Death/impermanence we know very well. We don’t have to use any special effort, and it doesn’t take a genius to discover this. If we look around, who is 100 years old here? Nobody. And the newborn of today will also not be here after 100 years; that is almost guaranteed ¾ almost. So in that way, we will not last very long. I came here for the first time 25 years ago, and even this project [the construction of Sherab Ling] is not finished. Three times that will be 75 years, and four of that will be 100 years. It’s nothing. Human life is so short; it’s really nothing. So if we don’t use this life meaningfully then we will lose this for sure. Therefore, after learning to appreciate our precious human life, our existence, we have to realise impermanence or death/impermanence.
After knowing death/impermanence, we have to understand karma or cause and condition. When we die it is not just like a candle ran out and the flame goes off; it’s not like that. It’s not like a glass dropped on the floor and broke; it’s not like that either. We are here, and this is proof that we came from somewhere. Also, because we are here, this is the proof that we will go somewhere. How can we be here without coming from somewhere? Impossible. How can today exist without yesterday? How can today exist without tomorrow? So it is a very simple thing. This makes us aware that we are the result of our past, and our future will be the result of now. It will be. So karma, or cause and result, means that. If there is no karma then everybody will be equal. Everybody will look the same, sound the same and think the same. The state of education, state of power and state of economy will be precisely the same. As long as this is not so then it is the karma that makes everything so different.
I know all kinds of people: some people are very educated, and some people are uneducated; some people are rich, some are poor; some are healthy, and some are unhealthy. There are so many variations. I know people who are healthy, rich and powerful but very unhappy. I also know people who are poor, with bad health; they are sick and have no power, but they are very happy, and vice versa also. So many different things, why? Because each and every one has their own cause and condition: that’s karma. Also, there’s another proof for that, which is that when you become Buddha, you are above and beyond karma. Therefore all the Buddhas are equal. When you become Buddha and are beyond karma, you are liberated and purified of all karma: cause, conditions, everything. So all the Buddhas are equal. Until then nobody’s going to be equal, 100%. Of course, equal opportunities and equal rights are one thing, but exercising the equal opportunity and equal rights is another thing, and achieving the equal opportunity and the equal rights is absolutely a different thing. So that is karma. We have to know that after we die it’s not just finished. It is the same thing. It continues. Therefore, when we live we have to live, but we also have to appreciate our life. We have to use each moment as positively as possible, as meaningfully as possible. So that is the third contemplation.
The last contemplation is the suffering of samsara. After knowing the first three, the suffering of samsara is a very important thing to understand. If we don’t understand that then we might be a very virtuous person, a very religious person, but we still end up in samsara. How? If we don’t understand the suffering of samsara then we may say “Oh, I better not lie.” Why? “Because in my future life nobody is going to believe me, even if I tell the truth, or I might be born as somebody who cannot speak.” So for that purpose you speak the truth. Then we want to be generous and don’t want to steal anything, because of the fear that in the next life we will become poor: that we will have nothing, if we steal in this life. Of course, those kinds of attitudes are good. You don’t want to be sick next life, so in this life you don’t cause any injury to anybody. You don’t want to be poor in the next life, so this life you don’t steal anything. In the next life you want to be respected by everybody for what you say, so in this life you don’t tell lies. These things are very good, but that’s still samsaric dharma: not for enlightenment, not for buddhahood. Therefore, one has to understand the shortcomings of samsara.
In this way, the four contemplations: precious human life, death/impermanence, karma, or cause and result and the suffering of samsara, all of these four contemplations, have their own very, very important reason for that step. Those four stages have to be practiced as they are. Okay.
Purification & Accumulation
Now the second foundation, which is known as the four foundations, is actually a practice which includes meditation, recitation and also physical practice. This begins with the refuge and prostration practice, then Vajrasattva visualisation and recitation practice, and after that the mandala offering and guru yoga. In principle, all of the practice of dharma is, in one way or another, a form or purification and accumulation. Purification, I think, is the correct terminology, but accumulation I have some problem with, because it also really means that what is negative has to be purified, but what is positive has to be accumulated or developed. So maybe this terminology of accumulation is not 100% correct, but let’s use it as a working terminology. Purification and accumulation, in essence, are actually the same thing. You cannot say that this is purification only, and that is accumulation only. For example, if you have dirty clothes, they are dirty clean clothes. It has to be, because the clothes have to be clean first, so that when you wash out the dirt, they can become clean again. They were clean, and then something happened so that they became dirty: paint or dust or whatever. When you wash the clothes to make them clean again, what you are doing is purifying or cleaning the dirt, and accumulating, developing or revealing the cleanness which is there when it is still dirty. So that’s exactly how dharma practice is: we are Buddha in our essence.
This is very interesting, because lots of people say “I want to become Buddhist,” or “I am not Buddhist,” or “I am Buddhist but they are not Buddhist.” Well, officially and intentionally, whether you say you are Buddhist or not is one thing, but in essence everybody is Buddha. So actually, everybody is more than Buddhist: everybody is the embodiment of Buddha. Anyway, that is what is clean or what is perfect. Through our countless lifetimes of wrong doings or right doings and all of those things, we became obscured, so now we do not look like a Buddha, we do not sound like a Buddha, we do not think like a Buddha, and we definitely do not manifest like a Buddha. That is what we have to purify. When we say “purification” then as we are purifying the pureness has to be revealed. There’s no such thing as just purifying without the pureness being revealed. It’s not two efforts; it is one effort. We clean then cleanness appears. So purification and accumulation are the same thing, but these particular practices of the foundations are divided into two, with the first two being purification oriented practice, and the second two, accumulation oriented practice.
The descriptions of vajrayana teaching are so many, but one of them is that there are plenty of methods; never short of methods. In this way, all of these practices, such as the four foundations, are part of this variety, and these varieties are for a specific purpose. The first two are purification, so prostration practice comes first and Vajrasattva practice comes second, and the reason is very, very clear: prostration is first as a physically oriented practice, and Vajrasattva is second as a mental and, specifically, verbally oriented practice. You have to recite the Vajrasattva mantra, and then you have to visualise the purification. Now, with prostrations, you have to recite the text, and you have to visualise, but, at the same time, the main part of the effort here is the physical prostration. So, when you are prostrating, you know you are prostrating. It’s not unnoticeable, you know. When you are doing Vajrasattva it can be unnoticed by you: whether you are reciting or not, or whether you are visualising or not. But when you do the prostrations, you will never have that problem. However, for a meditator or practitioner to sit down for hours and say mantras is very difficult, definitely for beginners. Of course, even for seasoned practitioners this can be a problem, because if you are doing well then you will fall asleep, you know? If you fall asleep as soon as you do the meditation and prayer that means you are doing well. You are able to relax; your practice doesn’t cause you stress, and that’s a very good sign. If it happens that after you do the practice you cannot sleep, and even at night you have problems sleeping, then you have a problem with your practice, because you are not doing it right. You’re not able to relax; you’re not able to calm down, and the practice causes you stress. That is not right. Something is wrong. So although falling asleep is a good sign, it is also an enormous obstacle. However, vajrayana methods are such that when you are doing prostrations it’s very difficult to fall asleep [laughter]. In that way it is very good practice for the beginner; it is a very good practice for someone who starts.
Now what are we purifying? We are purifying our body, we are purifying our speech and we are purifying our mind. So, with the body, what are we purifying? This body is nothing more and nothing less than the fruit of our karma; this is what it is. All of our karma is physically manifest as however we manifest physically. Of course there is much more, but physically. Second is our speech. Our speech is expression; we communicate through our speech. Some people communicate with themselves through their speech, but most of us speak to other people. It is communication and expression of ourself, and that is actually the translation of our karmic cause and conditions, all translated and communicated through our speech. So that is karmic fruit as well. Next is our mind. Of course, when we say mind (we have so many Buddhist scholars and masters here so I have to be very careful), mind has so many levels. So here, when I say mind I mean the dualistic aspect of our mind. We call ourselves ‘I’ and everybody else ‘others,’ so this is the kind of mind I am talking about. This mind is the fruit of our karma as well. We think in a certain way, certain things affect us in a certain way, and we react to certain things in a certain way. All of this is the result of our karma. So when we say purify then there has got to be something pure in there, otherwise you cannot purify. For example, you cannot purify a bowl of ink. It’s impossible. No matter how much you wash it, it’s still black. It still comes out as ink. You wash, wash, wash, and you are finished with it. There’s nothing in there that you can clean, because it’s all ink, but if it is a diamond that is covered with dirt then you can purify it, or you can clean it. When you clean it, the dirt is gone, and the cleanness inside is revealed. So, like the clean clothes that became dirty, if you wash them then the cleanness is revealed. In that way, when we say purification, there has got to be something pure in there, and that is our mind: the essence of our mind. So we purify all of the temporary defilements, all of the temporary outcomes of our defilements, and all of the habits that are created through the defilements. These things are what we purify. Now, the essence of our mind is incorruptible. It can never be contaminated by anything, so it is always pure. Therefore the purification terminology becomes justified.
Prostrations are physical purification. I wouldn’t say it is hard practice, physically, because when you look at the workers at the construction sites or in a coal mine then that is hard work. But, with prostrations, you are in a nice room, you have a clean floor and you are appropriately dressed. You have a little pad for your knees, a little pad for your hands, and you have a beautiful Buddha image up there. You sit quietly and meditate first, and then do your prostrations and counting, one by one. That’s not such hard work. Out of all the other practices that is, how do you say, the most noticeable physical activity. In this way, it is physically oriented purification practice, but it also involves visualisation, which is mind, and recitation, which is speech. So that’s first. In the tradition of our lineage we do 110,000 prostrations. 10,000 is to make up for any mistakes we make in the counting. When you do something good and set a certain number, less is not good, but more is no problem. So to make sure we do 100,000 prostrations we add 10,000.
After completing the prostration practice, next we do the Dorje Sempa practice, or in Sanskrit (which I am not very good at because I did not study) it will be something like Vajrasattva. Tibetans will pronounce it Benza Sato, so the Dorje Sempa or Benza Sato recitation. This recitation involves visualisation of a particular deity, and that’s a very important part of it.
Buddha is two things: there is the historical Buddha of our time, Buddha Shakyamuni, and the lineage of dharma comes from him. Another Buddha is all the Buddhas: not just Prince Siddhartha but all the Buddhas. Earlier I said that all the Buddhas are equal, because they are above and beyond anything that is dualistic, which includes karma. The Buddha that represents that, the Buddha which represents all aspects of Buddha, is Buddha Vajradhara. Then we have the five Buddha families, and the king of all five Buddha families is represented by Buddha Vajrasattva or Dorje Sempa. We recite the hundred-syllable mantra of Dorje Sempa and visualise the purification, and in this way we purify all aspects of our karmic conditions, and the causes of all the karmic conditions: the defilements themselves. The five Buddha families represent the transformed aspects of the five defilements, and Dorje Sempa represents all of it. In this way, it is the highest kind of purification deity (if you like, you can call it a deity). Then we say the purification mantra of that deity 110,000 times. As you see very clearly, prostrations are physically oriented purification, and Dorje Sempa is verbally oriented purification, and both go with the mind, because both physically and verbally oriented purification practices involve your mind. Mind is the key, of course. With these two practices the purification oriented practices are complete. Then we start the accumulation oriented practice.
When we say accumulate, as I mentioned earlier, it means when we are accumulating merit and when we are accumulating wisdom. Merit is necessary, because wisdom can only be contained if we have merit. Wisdom cannot be contained if we don’t have merit. I will give you a very stupid example: not a wise one, not a divine one and not a spiritual one but a worldly one. So, everybody knows that everyone wants to be rich ¾ not everyone but most people. Rich means you have a lot of money, but even for that one has to have merit. If a person who does not have much merit is given a big amount of money, what will that person do? That person will not be able to handle it. Instead, that person will get into so much trouble, and that money will destroy them, but if that person has merit then they are able to use it and enjoy it; they are able to do good things with it. In this way, even for worldly things we need merit, and for spiritual things, of course. So we cannot contain wisdom if we don’t have merit. In order to develop wisdom we need merit, and for that we practise the accumulation of merit. Merit accumulation means doing good things: physically, mentally and verbally good things, beneficial things that are meritorious. Accumulation means you do lots of good things or lots of positive things, so that after some time it becomes natural for you to do good things. When it becomes un-natural for you to do bad things, that is a sign of merit. When it becomes easier for you to do positive, helpful and good things, rather than to be negative and harmful and all of that, then that means you have developed some merit.
These days I have sensed (but I could be wrong) that many people think, when somebody is doing something not so good, they will say “Oh, its human nature.” It is a widespread popular concept that it is easier to do bad things than good things. It is kind of a natural concept. That’s what many people experience, which means a time of degeneration, or that we are not so meritorious, if that is the case.
Through doing good things we accumulate merit, so here, in the practice of mandala offering, the means of accumulating merit that we are using, or are taught, is the offering of the universe. Giving to the poor, disadvantaged or needy, offering to Buddha or bodhisattvas, or for a good cause are all giving. Here we are following the path of devotion to all the Buddhas, bodhisattvas and deities, and we are offering the universe. Of course our real offering here represents one solar system: the sun, the moon and the continent etc., but then that is followed by an aspiration of the whole universe.
The Buddha taught that our solar system is part of a “third thousand” universe system. That means 1000 times 1000 times 1000, or one billion solar systems functioning together, and we are part of it. So we are envisioning the offering of all of the universe. Of course Buddha also says that this third thousand universe system is just like one grain of sand in the river Ganges, and that there are countless third thousand universes in endless space. They cannot be counted. When we are offering this, we are offering the whole universe represented by one solar system each time. If we believe in it, and if we mean it then we are really offering the whole universe. The whole universe belongs to us, because the whole universe is the manifestation of our karma. The universe, as we perceive it, is the manifestation of our own karma, and so it belongs to us; we belong to it; we are part of it. In this way, we are truly offering one solar system representing the whole universe each time we make one mandala offering. One mandala offering, once you are really practicing it, takes maybe 20 or 30 seconds. So each 20 or 30 seconds you are offering one whole solar system representing all the universe. That can, and will, be meritorious. Giving one apple to a beggar is meritorious; donating money to a good charitable organisation is meritorious; helping somebody sick is meritorious, but offering the whole universe has to be meritorious, because it will be so much of what we consider meritorious. In this way, it is a tremendous vajrayana sacred method, that really gives the opportunity for everybody, rich or poor, fortunate or unfortunate. Anybody can afford to do the mandala offering. Of course, if we don’t believe in it then that’s another thing, but if you truly, truly mean to offer the whole universe each time then it is meritorious. If you just follow the ritual and are not really feeling it or believing in it then it will be meritorious, but that’s not exactly what it’s meant for. So that is one thing. Another thing is that when we are doing some small things, we can be quite non-dualistic about it, but when we are doing a little bit bigger things then we are very dualistic about it, and we hold onto it. For example, when you give 5 rupees to a beggar, you will not think about it, and you will be quite non-dualistic about it, but if you do a little bit more than that, it comes into your mind, and you will think of it for several days “Oh my goodness, I gave such and such to that fellow, and I’m a good person”: that sort of self gratification. In the same way, if we offer something to a Buddha image or something then whenever we see the Buddha, we will also remember what we have done before. Here we are offering such an enormous amount, but it doesn’t even occur to us that we have done it. Of course, for most of us, that may happen because we don’t believe that we are offering a universe [laughter]. We think that we are just offering a few grains of rice on a plate, you know? So that’s why. However, if we really mean it, it’s a tremendous way of accumulating merit. We practice this 110,000 times, and after that we do the guru yoga.
The guru yoga is the accumulation of wisdom. Wisdom, of course, many of you know, and I think I also mentioned something about it earlier, but I will try to make it more clear. Here, wisdom actually means the awakening of primordial wisdom. It’s the same thing as purification: we have wisdom; we are all Buddha in our essence right now; we all have primordial wisdom right now, but that primordial wisdom has to manifest. That primordial wisdom has to shine forth. So, for that, we do the guru yoga.
Terminology wise, Guru yoga means the practice of the guru. But really, the meaning of guru yoga is that from Buddha until now, for over 2500 years of the lineage, the transmission has taken place from the guru, or master, to the disciple. In that way, the living blessing, the living presence of Buddha’s primordial wisdom, has continued, so that we can receive it. Then our primordial wisdom can start to manifest. It is like if you have a seed: you put water on it, and it slowly starts to grow. So that is what blessing is; that is what guru yoga is.
As an example, you know that I am a guru, or everybody thinks that I am a guru. That’s fine, but when I talked about guru yoga I used to feel a little bit paranoid. It sounded like I was telling others how important I am, and how everybody should worship me, you know? That kind of fear was there, sometime back. But that happened because I really didn’t understand 100% (then I would be Buddha). I didn’t understand then as much as I understand now about what guru yoga and guru devotion are, and what all of these things mean. So there’s no reason for me to get paranoid, because it is the blessing of the lineage. It is not my blessing, alright? It is the blessing of the lineage. If it is my blessing that I have to give you then you would have to wait for quite some time [laughter]. If I said that I am very ambitious, maybe 100 lifetimes, because if I improve by 1% each lifetime, I will be Buddha after 100 lifetimes, and so then you will have a blessing: you will have my blessing, you know. But it is not like that. It is the blessing of the Buddha that you are getting through the guru. It is like this light: the bulb is not giving the light, the wire is not giving the light and the switch is not giving the light, but the powerhouse which gives the current is way over there. You don’t see it, and you don’t hear it, but it’s over there. So it is the Buddha’s enlightenment, which is ever present, beyond time or any limitation, that continues through the gurus of the lineage, but it can only continue if the samaya is not broken. If the wire is broken the light won’t come. The powerhouse can be a very big one, but the light won’t be here. Also, if the bulb is burned, no light will come. Similarly, if the lineage is not broken somewhere, because of the broken samaya, then the blessing continues from Buddha to the guru, and from the guru to the disciple. So that’s how it works. It’s very clear, I think.
Now, the mahamudra lineage guru yoga of the four foundations is such that you receive abhisheka or empowerment. You receive the body empowerment, speech empowerment and mind empowerment, in the form of absorption of the mandala of the refuge: the mandala of the guru, deity, Buddha, dharma, sangha and protector. From this mandala you are receiving the blessing, you are receiving the abhisheka. In this way, we do the first two practices as the purification, then we accumulate merit so that we can contain the wisdom, and then we receive the abhisheka. We do the guru yoga so that we receive the transmission of the blessing of the Buddha, the blessing of the lineage. So that is how the four foundation practices are taught: with that particular purpose.
Many times I have met with individuals who say that they have done this practice and that practice, but they haven’t done that one or that one. Sometimes it appears that people did mandala offering but not Vajrasattva and not prostrations. Sometimes they did the Vajrasattva first and prostration second, because it was more convenient or less convenient, and so on like that. Nothing’s wrong with that, of course, but that is not really how it should be done. First should be prostrations then Dorje Sempa, mandala offering and then guru yoga. Then it is in order. Otherwise, it is little bit like eating dessert first, and then you eat the main course. Nothing wrong with that ¾ it won’t explode ¾ but that’s not the purpose of each thing. For each thing the purpose has to be served.
Now one last thing: with many new practitioners there is a sense of a little bit of a complex, or a feeling, about doing foundation practice. It sounds like the person is somewhat immature and something like at kindergarten or a beginner somewhere. They think that foundation practice is almost like a punishment, or a test for the practitioner, as to whether you can really make it or not. This is really wrong, because each one of these practices, if you do it as a main practice, can lead you all the way to enlightenment. So if you just do prostrations as your main practice, it can lead you to buddhahood. If you do Dorje Sempa only, it can lead you to buddhahood. Each one is a complete practice in itself. So that is briefly about Ngondro or preliminary practice, and with all the general things about mahamudra, I think these are now somewhat addressed.
Then, in mahamudra practice, after the ngondro, shinay meditation is taught. Shinay is extremely important, because it is allowing us to rest, in peace, so that our true essence can manifest and function. When you practice shinay, the sign of whether your shinay is doing well or not is very simple: if your defilements become less then it is a good sign that your shinay is going well. It is due to our ignorance that we develop dualistic perception, and through that we reinforce our defilements. As long as there is ‘I’ and ‘other,’ there will be attachment, anger, jealousy and pride: naturally. You cannot have ‘I’ and ‘other’, these dualistic concepts, without having attachment, jealousy, anger, ignorance, pride and all these things. It’s impossible. As long as there is ‘I’ there will be some choice: “I like this very much; I like this quite okay, but this I definitely don’t like,” you know? So if there is something that I don’t like (this happens to me a lot) then I will be angry. If there is something that I like very much, and if somebody else has achieved that, but I don’t, then I will be jealous. If I achieve what I like very quickly, but others have to work very hard, then I will be proud. I will think, “I must be good. I must be better than everybody else.” So these things are a production of one another. Shinay practice is to overcome the influence of those defilements, by overcoming the hindrances of thoughts, perceptions and those things. So then we become calm, and our true clearness is somehow allowed to function. That’s shinay.
Lhaktong is clarity. Calmness is one thing, but clarity is another thing. So, calm but clear. When I see some person who has drunk lots of whiskey and is just lying there looking very calm, not doing anything and not saying anything, that is not clear. Definitely not [laughter]. So shinay is the calmness, but lhaktong is clarity. The calmness that one achieves through shinay is maintained with awareness, and that is lhaktong. There are a tremendous number of methods in that.
After good shinay and good lhaktong, the union of shinay and lhaktong is addressed. If we don’t have the unity of shinay and lhaktong, we might be very a good practitioner in the shrine, and a very good practitioner on the meditation cushion, but as soon as we are off the cushion and out of the shrine, we will be just like everybody else (when I say everybody else, I am presuming that everybody is not Buddha yet). So in order to have true maturity, and maintain the state of mind which we achieved through good shinay and lhaktong, then the unity of shinay and lhaktong is emphasised.
Once we are able to develop a good state of meditation there, then introduction to the nature of mind is addressed. Introduction to the nature of mind is something that happens as the result of our own inner progress, our own awakening of primordial wisdom. It cannot be done just because we want it to happen. It cannot be done by force or wanting. It can only happen when it happens. Once we have good shinay, and we are calm and stable, then we try to generate pure devotion: devotion to the Buddhas, the bodhisattvas, the lineage of the masters of mahamudra and our guru. In this way the most sincere, pure, state of mind manifests, as result of our pure devotion. Once that is achieved, we maintain the awareness of that pure devotion. That is one way to have a glimpse of the nature of mind.
Another way is to generate compassion for all sentient beings. All sentient beings are suffering in samsara, and all sentient beings are our mother sentient beings. They are suffering, and we have sincere and pure compassion towards them all. Once we generate that then we do the same thing: we maintain the awareness of that compassion, that pure compassionate state of mind, and that way we have the chance to have glimpses of the nature of mind.
But of course, both of these are not 100% pure and naked recognition of the nature of mind, because both of them are tainted by devotion and compassion. For us, we don’t have any choice. It has to be that way, to begin with. It is like somebody who has hepatitis: they look at a conch shell which is white, and they will see it as yellow. They can’t help , because they have hepatitis, but the good thing is that they see a conch shell which is whiter than everything else. Everything is yellow, but out of that, the conch shell is more white. It is not the real conch shell that they see, but still they see it. So as long as we are dualistic, we cannot force ourself to be non-dualistic; it is impossible. Therefore, as long as we are dualistic, we have to go through such methods as devotion and compassion. Through that we recognise the nature of mind. Then, as the practice progresses, we will be able to truly realise the nature of mind, which is not influenced by any dualistic perception whatsoever. Those are the particulars of the step by step practice of mahamudra.
As you develop, there are four stages of mahamudra progress. The first is one-pointedness, the second is simplicity, the third is one-taste and the fourth is non-meditation. Each one of them has three steps, so altogether there are twelve stages of mahamudra progress, or mahamudra realisation. For example, when you reach the third step of the fourth level of maturity, that is known as one-taste. It means “mind and matter,” and there is very little duality. As a result of that, a practitioner may manifest miracles.
When I go to the west, people somehow try to pretend that they are not interested in miracles. I don’t believe it; it’s not true. They say that because they are interested. Then of course, when I am in the east everybody is thrilled by miracles. So anyway, why do miracles happen? What is the difference between miracles and magic? Magic is a dualistic outcome, whereas miracles are the manifestation of non-dualism. Milarepa could fly in the sky, just like birds. Why? Not because he learned how to fly, but because, for him, walking on the ground or flying in the sky is the same thing. There is no difference. That’s why he can fly.
One time Milarepa was with one of his disciples, and there was a big storm coming. Milarepa disappeared, and so the disciple was in big trouble. Then he heard his master sing a song; so he was looking around in the pouring rain and storm, but he couldn’t find him. Finally he listened to where the sound came from, and he saw a horn on the ground: the horn of a dead animal. So he went there, and heard his masters voice coming from the horn. He looked inside, and Milarepa was inside the horn, but Milarepa hadn’t become smaller. Then the disciple looked outside, and the horn had not got bigger. So, I think he was a little bit puzzled, and then Milarepa said “If you are as good as me then come inside” [laughter]. So that is another one of his miracles, but it doesn’t mean Milarepa knows only those two things.
A miracle, by definition, is not playing tricks or playing games, but it means that one has reached the state of realisation where mind and matter are non-dual. From that state, the great masters, like Milarepa, can manifest miracles. We may say perform miracles, but I think that’s very misleading. Anyway, that is one example of the particular steps of mahamudra practice. Then comes the twelfth stage, and beyond that is the realisation of mahamudra. That’s the realisation of buddhahood, which is absolute freedom and liberation, with no limitation whatsoever, for the sake of all sentient beings: for their liberation and realisation, without any limitation. So that is the final part of the mahamudra teaching and practice. Now I am saying all of this and teaching this according to the Mahamudra Ocean of Certainty. That is how Mahamudra Ocean of Certainty is introduced by the Gyalwa Karmapa.
A final thing for our mahamudra teaching here that I would like to share with you, is a few words which have been very, very beneficial for me. I am not a great practitioner ¾ I think everybody knows that ¾ and I am not a Buddha for sure, you know. Very, very far away from it, but I have received lots of blessing from many, many great masters, especially my Vajradhara, His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa. Through their blessings I received a tremendous amount of transmission, and, as a result, I think I have some blessing in me from them, which is still alive and functioning. As a practitioner, or as a trying practitioner, of mahamudra, the particular terminology or the particular words written by the Third Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, in his Mahamudra Prayer, have been a tremendous help for me, to say the least. So therefore I would like to share some of these verses with you.
The first is about shinay. There are four sentences that Gyalwa Karmapa writes about shinay. He says:
Let the waves of subtle and coarse thoughts subside into their own place
And the waters of mind, without movement come spontaneously to rest,
Free from the contaminations of discursiveness and sloth,
May I establish a still ocean of shamatha
He gives the example of mind as an ocean, and a stable calm ocean as a calm mind. So it tells us, very clearly, that the biggest obstacle to shinay is thoughts. Thoughts are caused by emotions, and they are caused by defilements, of course, and vice versa.
Now, he did not say that we should stop thinking, but he said subside: the waves subside in the ocean. That’s very important. Lots of the time, people think that when you meditate, especially in shinay meditation, you should not be thinking. That is very strange actually, because everybody has thoughts, but when you say “I should stop thinking” then that thought, which you create purposely, has to be stronger than the thought that is already there naturally. So you are not overcoming thought, you are actually creating more thoughts.
How to remedy this is very simple: don’t try to recollect the past; don’t try to generate thoughts of the future; just let things come and let things go. Everything is perfect as it is, if we don’t do anything. So if we just sit there quietly, and decide not to have anything to do with planning and all of these things for this one hour of our meditation, then, first there will be lots of thought, but if we don’t do anything then it will be less and less, and we will have a quite calm state of mind. Of course, we will not have a totally thoughtless mind. A thoughtless mind is impossible. If we have a thoughtless mind we will not even notice it. So if anybody says “I have a thoughtless mind” then that is already a thought [laughter]. So noticing, itself, is a thought. Next the Gyalwa Karmapa writes about lhaktong, and here he says:
Looking again and again at the mind which cannot be looked at,
Seeing vividly, just as it is, the meaning which cannot be seen,
May the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ of doubt be cut
And the genuine self-nature understood.
This is about lhaktong. Once we have a good state of shinay then, not looking for anything, not looking at anything, just maintain the awareness of that state of calmness. Just maintain the awareness. Just maintain it, and maintain it with awareness. That is lhaktong; that we can comprehend. Of course lhaktong has many levels.
Now the Karmapa’s words about compassion. He says:
The nature of all beings is buddha;
Not realizing that, we wander in endless samsara.
For the boundless suffering of sentient beings
May unbearable compassion be conceived in my being.
So the purpose and definition of compassion are very clearly stated here. True compassion is really true respect for all sentient beings. When you see somebody doing terrible things and suffering terrible consequences, you are not feeling compassionate towards that person just out of pity, but that person is Buddha, and so they do not deserve to suffer; they do not have to do all of that, and that is not what they want to do. Even the worst person, the most evil being, definitely doesn’t want to be evil. It’s guaranteed. So therefore, once you know all of that clearly, then what you feel for that person is compassion. That’s called compassion. Unbearable compassion does not mean you have to become desperate, and will do all sorts of things, you know? That’s not correct. If you do all sorts of things because you have unbearable compassion, desperately, then you might make things worse, and that’s not what it means. It means that you will do everything that you can to awaken your Buddha essence, so that you will be able to awaken each one of those sentient being’s Buddha essence.
One of my very good friends asked me a very interesting question. I was talking about enlightenment, and this person asked me “What is the benefit of enlightenment? What is the benefit of becoming Buddha? What it will do for society?” That person is a very hard working and very good person: interested in helping people. Not only interested, but doing lots of things for people. Then I said (and I really mean this), “It will do exactly what Buddha Shakyamuni did for all of us. If I become Buddha, it will bring benefit to all sentient beings, just as Buddha Shakyamuni brings benefit to all of us. If you become Buddha, it will bring benefit to all sentient beings, just as Buddha Shakyamuni brings benefits to all of us. That’s how it will benefit.” So unbearable compassion means this.
Then, the unity of compassion and emptiness is extremely important. For that Gyalwa Karmapa wrote four sentences. He said:
Although such compassion be skilful and unceasing,
In the moment of compassion, may the truth of its
essential emptiness be nakedly clear.
This unity is the supreme unerring path;
Inseparable from it, may I meditate day and night
So the Gyalwa Karmapa describes the unity of compassion and emptiness this way. Now, what does this mean? When we practice compassion for all sentient beings, we don’t get dualistic about it. We are as non-dualistic as possible. We know that all sentient beings are not suffering ultimately, and all sentient beings are not ignorant ultimately. All sentient beings are suffering relatively, and all sentient beings are ignorant relatively. So it is emptiness: it’s all interdependent. All sentient beings appear to be ignorant and suffering because of all of the karma, and that is because of the ignorance, and that is because of… and so on and so forth. So everything is interdependent. Nothing is independent; nothing is ultimate. Therefore, as you generate your compassion, the non-attachment or non-grasping in your compassion is constant. Then your compassion will never go wrong. Otherwise your compassion might turn into “idiot compassion.” That means having compassion for one person, because somebody is causing that person suffering, and so you hate that other person. That is idiot compassion, you know? You help one to hurt another, or you hurt one to help another. That’s back to square one. That’s nothing more or nothing less than going around in samsara. There is a very old Tibetan saying: ‘kill the fish and feed the dog’ [laughter]. So that is idiot compassion, you know? We should be able to have impartial compassion, limitless compassion, for the benefit of all sentient beings. That will happen with the unity, or the union of, compassion and emptiness.
There is one last verse from the Gyalwa Karmapa that I would like to share with you. It says:
Self-appearance, which never existed, has confused itself into projections;
Spontaneous intelligence, because of ignorance, has confused itself into a self;
By the power of dualistic fixation one wanders in the realm of existence—
May ignorance and confusion be resolved.
This means that all the objects, those we like and those we hate, all of them, are our own our own karmic manifestation. If we don’t have this particular ‘eye,’ we will not see this particular colour and this particular shape. If we don’t have this particular ‘body,’ we cannot touch and feel these particular things. If we don’t have this particular ‘ear,’ we cannot hear these particular sounds. We might have the same mind, and we can be equally neurotic, but that wouldn’t have anything to do with this; that’s something else. In this way, everything is our own manifestation. So, constantly mistaken as an object, the seed of dualism is planted ¾ constantly. When we call ourself ‘I’ ¾ like I notice I am here; you notice you are there; you notice how you feel; you notice what you want ¾ that is constantly recognising yourself, but that is mistaken as ‘I’. In that way the dualism is further established, so that object and subject are maintained, and the outcome of that is samsara. Gyalwa Karmapa says “may I recognise everything as my own manifestation, and may I recognise ‘I’ as the non-dualistic recognition of my essence, and may that transformation take place.” So these words are a tremendous blessing for me. It helped me so much, and I hope it will do the same thing for you. Okay.