Mahamudra by The Great Path to Enlightenment (Part 3 of 3)
by Khenchen Sherab Gyaltsen Amipa
Duality is always linked to ignorance. It leads us to differing opinions and constant uncertainty. Being free of it means having only one, correct view. Liberation from samsara cannot be produced by intellectual knowledge alone. We need to develop feeling, accumulate experience, and practise shunyata.
The most important thing is a warm mental feeling, for great intellectual knowledge alone may make the ego even stronger. In order to prevent such a strengthening of the ego, we must follow the path of Mahamudra with shiney (samatha) and lhag- tong (vipashyana). Ego and attachment diminish only when we constantly examine our mind. In our practice, we need to carefully observe whether our mind is becoming freer. If not, we must find the reason. What is essential is the knowledge that everything comes from within ourselves. The cause of all disturbances lies within us, not outside. We only believe that disturbances come from outside because we are not yet free from attachment. Attachment results in wrong views. Doubts and wrong views can only be recognised when we are rid of attachment.
Only when we have more experience of shiney, lhag-tong, bodhicitta and shunyata, and have trained ourselves in self-observation (Tibetan: nal-jor) can we expect the duality of our perception to change and our perception become correct. Our mind will then be in samadhi. It will have developed the quality needed to practise Mahamudra.
Nal-jor is the Tibetan word for sadhana. A sadhana is a form of meditation with an object. For example, Buddha Avalokiteshvara, the loving compassion aspect of the Buddha, can be taken as an external object or our own consciousness as an internal object.
Nal signifies that the mind has become gentle through this practice: it has acquired selflessness which is the quality of love and compassion.
Jor means concentration. Consciousness enters the meditative state. Nal-jor, also expresses all the different aspects of the Buddha, for example, Manjushri – the wisdom aspect, Avalokiteshvara – the loving compassion aspect, Tara – activity, or Vajrapani – wrathfulness.
The practice of the four classes of Tantra also comes under nal-jor, (See chapter 5).
A nal-jorma or a nal-jorpa is a woman or a man who has experience in the development of the mind.
Samadhi or yoga (Tibetan: ting nge dzin) has many meanings. It means great concentration coupled with insight. It also refers to yoga exercise as well as the higher practice of a person with great development.
All the paramitas are necessary for yoga practice: in other words, if we wish to practise correctly we need to know and exercise all six or ten paramitas. This lessens the non-virtuous part in us and increases our feelings of joy. The non-virtuous part covers negative thoughts, doubt, lack of faith, of love and compassion, as well as a lack of interest in virtue.
As soon as non-virtues disappear, the mind becomes as clear as the sun or the moon in a cloudless sky. These are the distinguishing marks of inner development. If we have produced this clear mind we are liberated from the two root illnesses, egoism and attachment.
Sometimes we wonder what it feels like to be free from ego, or we might ask: what is ego, what is consciousness?
Ego and consciousness are totally opposed. Ego is the error through which we are enchained to this world and the sufferings of samsara. Ego means selfishness, that is, me-only. It causes wrong activity, keeps thoughts concentrated upon oneself, limiting them severely. It is only without ego that they can open up and we can develop a feeling of the importance of other living beings.
We need to know exactly what ego is and what it means in order to develop good practice. First there is ego, and through ego, attachment. The two together confine us within narrow limits and until we have eliminated them, we can have no freedom. In our ordinary state, so long as we do not know our own mind, we often cannot tell if we are acting rightly or wrongly. We suffer from innumerable doubts, make many mistakes and become more and more uncertain.
Through practice, study, and attentive listening to Dharma teachings, we gradually get to know ourselves. In this way the hold of the ego lessens. However, theoretical knowledge is not enough, we have to develop compassion. Our wrong dealings are then reduced, our knowledge of the Dharma increases, and our nature becomes gentle. In this way we gradually gain faith and confidence in ourselves and find the path which leads us out of the sufferings of samsara.
Unlike the ego, consciousness exists individually and continually, both in samsara and in nirvana, and it continues to exist unchanged even beyond the point where Buddhahood is reached.
In other words, all enlightened beings keep their own specific characteristics, but they are free from ego, attachment, and ignorance, while the ordinary mind is constantly mixed up with disturbances and ignorance. One could say it still possesses positive and negative karma. Through practices such as yoga we can purify all non-virtue and ignorance. We become flled with inner clarity, compassion and wisdom. We have no more ego and attachment, only pure, clear awareness. We reach a higher state and fnd the path to enlightenment.
Samadhi means skillful yoga. This kind of meditation brings great joy. With our fully transformed perception, we can carry our development, through method and wisdom, even further, that is, we can practise still higher samadhi, like the great Mahasiddhas, Nagarjuna and Virupa. In this way we reach Mahamudra. We act only for the beneft of other living beings. This is yeshey, the virtuous mental quality. It signifes freedom from ignorance and the attainment of shunyata.
At this point we can recognise more clearly our own precious consciousness, the pure Buddha-nature within us. We experience this moment as great joy, like that of parents when a long-absent and deeply loved child returns home. Even this example does not sufficiently express the deep-felt joy, for this is our own original consciousness that we had lost and have now found. The mind can now be compared to a palace, full of joy. In religious terms, we say that the mind is like a mandala. In this state there is no difference between samsara and nirvana, all is nirvana. This too is a characteristic of Mahamudra.
When we listen to descriptions of this kind, we might think that Mahamudra is beyond our reach and unattainable. Indeed, Mahamudra is a very high state, but it is not outside us, on the contrary, it is within us. It is true however that it is not easily achieved.
THE BODHISATTVA PATH
In Mahamudra practice, which has now been explained up to its highest stage, we can use any type of meditation whose goal is enlightenment. This is Mahamudra. In Buddhist philosophy, the Hinayana path is said to lead to enlightenment in eleven bhumis; Mahayana takes thirteen. Bhumis are stages on the path of mental development.
The eleven stages or bhumis on the Bodhisattva path in Hinayana are as follows:
First the bhumi of the supreme joy Second the bhumi of the stainless Third the bhumi of the luminous Fourth the bhumi of the radiant Fifth the bhumi of the very hard to conquer.
Sixth the bhumi of the directly facing Seventh the bhumi of the gone far Eighth the bhumi of the unshakeable Ninth the bhumi of wisdom mind Tenth the bhumi of the cloud of Dharma (Dharma-essence) The eleventh stage is enlightenment, (Buddhahood).
In Mahayana there are thirteen bhumis. Those who practise its essence, that is, Bodhicitta and Mahamudra, can reach the thirteenth stage, either in this life or at least in the bardo, the intermediate state between death and re-birth.
The thirteenth stage is the quality of Buddha Vajradhara. Buddha Vajradhara includes the qualities of all five Dhyani Buddhas: Aksobhya, Amitabha, Amoghasiddhi, Ratnasambhava and Vairocana to which is added the quality of Buddha Vajrasattva, who has the spiritual power to purify.
In this context the question now arises: how can we reach Mahamudra in a single lifetime?
This possibility does exist in Mahayana through the practice of Tantrayana or Vajrayana. Vajrayana is also called the swift vehicle since it can take us to enlightenment in one lifetime. Tantrayana is divided into four classes:
THE FOUR CLASSES OF TANTRA
Kriya-Tantra, Carya-Tantra, Yoga-Tantra, Anuttarayoga-Tantra
The four classes exist because people have very different dispositions. For some, Kriya-Tantra is the most appropriate practice for reaching enlightenment. For others it may be Carya-Tantra and some yogis and yoginis practise all four classes on their way to enlightenment. The choice of method arises naturally out of our practice and through our own consciousness.
However, we need a qualifed guru if we wish to take this swift path.
A good guru is very important for Mahayana practice since we cannot directly perceive the Buddha. We can, however, receive his teachings through the guru. A guru needs to have the right qualities; not everyone is eligible. For this reason we should not be hasty, but give ourselves time to seek out a suitable person and, before taking refuge with someone, make sure they have suffcient experience, knowledge, and above all, compassion. Only a guru who has these characteristics can show us the way. All true gurus have the ability to awaken in us Bodhicitta thought through their compassion and wisdom. A teacher and a guru are not the same. A teacher can give us knowledge, but a guru changes our nature (body, speech and mind) through the initiations given to us. When we are in a position to represent the guru’s qualities, we can see the guru as Buddha Vajradhara. We can take refuge with a guru of this kind. We develop faith and trust, show respect and keep good tamzig. Tamzig means mutual respect for the secrecy of the teachings and respect for the relationship between guru and disciple. Out of compassion and at our request, the guru gives us the four consecrations of body, speech, mind, and wisdom. During the consecrations the guru develops great power to help disciples realise their own nature.
Yoga practice means observation of our own mind and the accumulation of experience of its purity. For this, our nature needs frst to be gentle, clear and supple. In addition, we need the strength of virtue.
In the first place, we should practise developing loving compassion, Mahakaruna, relative and absolute Bodhicitta.
Those who are engaged upon this path are called yogis or yoginis. Yogis and yoginis can be recognised by the fact that they practise correctly and act impartially for themselves and for others.
Without practice we experience how joy and sorrow, peacefulness and aggressiveness alternately arise in our minds. Through the practice of Mahamudra our mind is calmed and we recognise that our original mind is clear light; this state is called gyuma yeshey in Tibetan. This is the wisdom aspect of the mind, completely free of all ignorance.
Several names are given to this high development, for example, chöying yeshey (Tibetan). Translated, this means: the mind is very spacious. It is free from ego and has the same characteristics as Buddha Vairocana. This quality can also be called dorje sem. Dorje means vajra and vajra stands for unchanging, unshakeable plenitude of power. The mind is so powerful that ignorance cannot disturb it.
Yogis and yoginis who reach Mahamudra in one lifetime no longer have normal bodies, but unchangeable, powerful vajra-bodies. They can work with the energy of their chakras. Chakras are energy centres, the most important of which lie inside the body near the spine. Working with energy means that the veins are not blocked, the yogis’/yoginis’ consciousness is full of Bodhicitta and Shunyata qualities and they have deep faith in the guru. We hope with the guru’s blessing to take on the characteristics of Vajradhara.
To work with the chakras without thorough directions from our guru can entail danger to the mind and body. However, if we have received sufficient training from our guru and have developed the necessary understanding, these exercises allow us to make rapid progress.
Human beings are made up of five elements: earth, water, fre, air and space. Among these, the air element is especially important as it is directly related to our consciousness. In addition, it is the element which allows us to move our bodies. In order for us to work with all the chakras and the veins, the connection between the wisdom-air element and our body must be maintained. In ordinary people the air element is not pure, but a yogi/yogini can change it into the wisdom element (Tibetan: yeshey lung) through correct practice.
Teachings on this subject are not given publicly, but through direct contact with an experienced guru.
If we practise further on this path we obtain the Dharmakaya. This is the state of knowledge which Bodhisattvas possess. It is one of the four kayas: Nirmanakaya, Samboghakaya, Dharmakaya and Buddhakaya.
Buddhakaya signifies enlightenment, Samboghakaya is the form that is active under many different aspects, and Nirmanakaya is the conscious higher state of great knowledge, higher than Dharmakaya. There is a great difference between normal and enlightened knowledge, as also between Bodhisattva-knowledge and Buddha-knowledge. Only a Buddha has at his disposal the eighty different spheres of knowledge.
The goal is Mahamudra, enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings.