Aspiration of Mahāmudrā: Teaching Day 3: Inconceivable Wisdom

In the last of three morning teachings on the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje’s Aspiration for Mahāmudrā, His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche elucidated the fruitional qualities of great practitioners.

His Eminence reminded the assembly to generate bodhicitta and reiterated the previous day’s emphasis on practice. He explained that when practicing mahāmudrā, meditation is initially mixed with appearances, but we gradually resolve doubts and achieve simplicity, seeing the entire dharma nature. Achieving “heroic stride samadhi,” we need not fear the afflictions or anything else.

Rinpoche explained that the Kagyu masters chose the name “ordinary mind” to describe the nature of mind, eschewing an impressive label that could generate attachment in the practitioner. Even the greatest mahāsiddhas, Marpa and Milarepa, had no special experience beyond simply resting in the nature as it is. All thoughts become dharmatā in this state. We too have ordinary mind, but it is veiled by our obscurations. He commented, “The nature of mind is exactly the same. We don’t make anything new. It just manifests. So the path and result are inseparable; they can’t be divided.”

Rinpoche drew a map of the territory ahead: the path is the antidote, removing obscurations. The result is that our obscurations are purified, and the nature of mind manifests. What purifies is prajñā and samādhi. What is purified is mahāmudrā itself, Buddha nature. Along with that, great compassion for sentient beings arises.

Rinpoche gave a moving description of the nature of mind, calling it by various names —Buddha nature, mahāmudrā, prajñāpāramitā — the words and meaning pouring out, his awe and respect palpable. Ordinary beings cycle through saṃsāra due to ignorance. They confuse what exists, Buddha nature, for what doesn’t (a self). Then they engage in unvirtuous deeds like hunting or fishing, generating karma. This is all a mistake. In contrast, perfect Buddhas fully realize their Buddha nature, and bodhisattvas have partial realization. But whether in a pure or an impure existence, all sentient beings share Buddha nature. It isn’t subject to causes and conditions. It is the source of the miracles great practitioners display. It can never be used up. All the qualities of enlightenment are contained in it and cannot be separated out, as we cannot separate the sun from its rays.

Our problem, Rinpoche said, is that we don’t know how to rest in the nature of mind. He continued, “Most important is whether or not we’re confused. When we can distinguish confusion and non confusion, it’s easy to let go and rest in the nature. This is our practice. Those who understand rest naturally. Beginners also copy this and try to rest; this leads to good imprints being stored in the ālaya-vijñāna.” Generally, everything we do leads to imprints in the ālaya-vijñāna, the storehouse consciousness; but when we practice mahāmudrā, no new imprints are created. Instead, imprints primordially there due to the mind’s nature are awakened and revealed. Thus, Rinpoche commented, while worldly people fear external harm, practitioners fear internal confusion and errors in meditation.

Next, Rinpoche discussed the great compassion that arises from realization. We begin the path by generating conceptual compassion and then progress toward the non-referential compassion that is unalterable and unlimited. Rinpoche described the Kagyu forefathers’ compassion; for example, Milarepa once commented that future Kagyu practitioners wouldn’t need to undergo the same hardships he had. Rinpoche explained that because the nature of mind is the same for all beings, Milarepa could rest his mind not just in his own nature, but in ours as well, ultimately smoothing our way. Rinpoche then gave a brief teaching on wrathful deities. It is crucial to remember the inherent compassion of these fearsome-looking deities, whose wrathful forms appeal to and subdue demons and obstructors. In true Kagyupa style, Rinpoche asked the assembly to meditate on compassion for a few minutes, taking it into our experience. He reminded us to practice a unified path, seeing compassion as empty. He noted, “If we fixate on compassion as a thing, it becomes an obstacle.” He then discussed how a realized practitioner would see every aspect of Avalokiteshvara — the deity’s form, hand implements, and realm— as unified great compassion, appearance-emptiness inseparable. He commented, “In the Secret Mantra, when you really meditate on pure realms, these are all the union of compassion and emptiness.”

Rinpoche next addressed the qualities of realization. In an erudite and seemingly effortless presentation, he covered the five eyes— seeing distant worlds, sentient beings’ karma and rebirths, students’ capabilities, and the nature of phenomena — and the six clairvoyances, including producing emanations, performing miracles, and knowing others’ minds. Buddhas and bodhisattvas utilize these faculties to ripen beings; but he commented drily, “First we must ripen ourselves, meditating on mahāmudrā. Then, signs of ripening should occur.”

The Buddha taught that the signs of ripening include four inconceivable qualities. Rinpoche emphasized the first—Inconceivable Wisdom that can comprehend the workings of karmic cause and result. He also mentioned the abandonment of the afflictive emotions, the arising of complete confidence, and the skillful ability to help others. He noted the Vajrayana has many skillful methods of ripening, such as mantras and empowerments. Rinpoche briefly touched on great practitioners’ ability to purify realms, before finishing the teaching with a reminder of the text’s vast scope: we make inconceivably vast aspirations, asking inconceivable numbers of Buddhas and bodhisattvas to support them. He noted, “In the all-ground wisdom, there is no separation between aspiration path and result, because it’s all mahāmudrā. When we realize this, the power of our aspiration is stronger.” In closing, Rinpoche asked us to dedicate the virtue of the teaching to His Holiness Karmapa’s long life, flourishing activity, and ability to return soon to his seat, Rumtek monastery.

All who were present for this extraordinary teaching felt the full force of Rinpoche’s many decades of study and practice, his awe and respect for the dharma, and his unshakable confidence in Buddha nature. They were fortunate to receive a glimpse of the universe as realized beings see it.

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