Tilopa’s Ganges Mahāmudrā Session Five: Part Two: Profound Interdependence

The Pavilion, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India
January 11, 2019

After a break, H.E. Kyabje Drubwang Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche reprised a line from the morning’s teachings:

If you don’t transgress the nonabiding, unobservable nature
You will not transgress samaya. This is a lamp in the darkness.

Here, “the lamp in the darkness” is a metaphor for the nature of mind, the actual basis of practice. It is free of all characteristics and mental constructs--it does not abide, cannot be seen, has no root, beginning, middle, or end. When you have arrived here, everything is naturally liberated. Knowing the nature of one, you know the nature of all.

Nowhere To Abide and Nothing To Observe

When there is something serving as reference point, a fixation takes shape. If you cannot deconstruct it, you maintain a focus over time with a beginning, middle, and end. Focusing on the characteristics of things captures your mind, and this prevents you from resting in mahamudra, free of mental engagement. Nagarjuna’s Sixty Stanzas makes a similar point:

There’s nowhere to abide and nothing to observe,
No root and no foundation;
Coming entirely from the cause of ignorance,
Beginning, middle, and end are entirely left behind. (26)
Without essence like a hollow plantain tree,
Like a city of gandharvas in the sky--
It’s a stupefying urban scene difficult to bear
Where all the beings appear as illusions. (27)

Tilopa speaks of “nonabiding” and “unobservable” and similarly, Nagarjuna speaks of “nowhere to abide,” and “nothing to observe.” Why is this so? Nagarjuna’s second line explains that there are “no root and no foundation.” This statement is often found in mahamudra texts; for example, the Siddha Lingje Repa (1128–1188) sang:

This nature of mind, free of foundation or root,
Is like appearances in the dream of last night’s sleep.

When a practitioner arrives at the nature free of any basis, it is like waking from a dream: we do not know where the appearances went and they seem unreal. Therefore, the verse states:

There’s nowhere to abide and nothing to observe,
No root and no foundation.

Ignorance Is a Problem

If that is so, how does samsara come about? In the beginning of Entering the Middle Way, Chandrakirti explains:

First you think “I” and cling to a self,
Then you think “mine” and cling to things.” (Ch. 1, v3ab)

Like a turning water wheel, you circle around in samsara due to clinging to an “I,” and once you have fixated on this self, there is “mine,” what belongs to you, and then comes the “other,” those seen as enemies, and so forth. This is the usual way that samsara appears—through clinging to “I” and “mine” and then “self” and “other.” This kind of grasping is the cause of all faults.

Nagarjuna writes, “Coming entirely from the cause of ignorance.” Due to ignorance, we take something to remain over time, which it cannot do; we grasp onto a referent where there is none; and we take something to have a root when it does not. Coarse clinging to things as real and the subtler clinging to characteristics as real are both caused by ignorance. Until you realize how ignorance is, you will continue to suffer. As much as you wish to be free of suffering that much effort should you make to be free of its cause, ignorance. If that is the case, what do you need to discard? Nagarjuna’s fourth line counsels:

Beginning, middle, and end are entirely left behind.

Grasping onto these three should be released back into their ground because these are all forms of clinging to permanence. And “permanence” is merely a concept imputed by your intellect; ultimately, it has no essence or core. As Nagarjuna states:

Without essence like a hollow plantain tree,
Like a city of gandharvas in the sky.

There are many examples for this absence of an essence, which is mistakenly taken to exist. Mind is caught in discursive thinking that projects a nonexistent reality. In the context of mahamudra, however, this process would be called the dynamism or the display of luminosity, clarity, or the cognizant quality (gsal ba) that is part of mind’s nature.

Not knowing this to be the case, you take these projections of your discursive mind to be real and wander, as Nagarjuna explains, in “a stupefying urban scene difficult to bear.” So benighted in taking phenomena to be real, you do not recognize that they are the dynamic energy and play of mind; you fixate on appearances and concretize them into self and other. Ultimately, however, the source of these appearances is primordial wisdom aware of its own nature. It is mere ignorance that creates the illusion of self and other, this projection of your afflictions, so you wander in a delusive world:

It’s a stupefying urban scene difficult to bear
Where beings appear as illusions.

Seeing Dependent Arising

Arising as illusions, these beings appear while not existing—they are merely imputed by the intellect. If we can see this lack of true existence, we will realize one of the key points of the teachings—dependent arising (tendrel, rten ‘brel), which means that things arise merely from the gathering of causes and conditions.

There are different ways to understand dependent arising: the mahamudra understanding, the understanding that comes from analyzing a chariot and its parts, or the more conventional understanding fabricated by conceptualizing mind. This latter interpretation of tendril depends on how things go for us. If we receive a hundred dollars, we say, “That was a good connection, a great tendril.” And we say the opposite when we slip and fall, when the food we are served is burnt, or when people fight among themselves. This understanding, however, is made up by concepts and does not cover the entire range of what dependent arising means.

In his Circlings of a Lance in Space, Gyalwa Gotsangpa speaks of inconceivable dependent arising, which is found, for example, in madhyamaka texts that show how things arise from causes and conditions. This understanding of dependent arising precedes that of emptiness. If you can see how dependent arising operates and know its nature correctly, on that basis you can find emptiness within your mind. Gotsangpa’s verse reads:

The grasping that pollutes is cleared away;
Dependent arising of causes and conditions that appear as reflections;
Tireless, persevering, not self-seeking,
Dependent arising free as a lance circling in open space.

The first line indicates that in order to properly realize dependent arising, first you must conquer ego-fixation. Whenever there is grasping, it is not possible to realize dependent arising in its full measure. Whatever arises in dependence on causes and conditions is not independent, because it occurs through relying on conditions that are different from it. Therefore, what can be grasped, clung to, or perceived by the intellect has no ultimate value. However, if an object of attachment arises and it is authentic (not a delusion), by using it wisely to accomplish a positive goal, your attachment and working with it do have their value.

This kind of conventional thinking, however, is not from the perspective of the ultimate nature of phenomena, but its reverse. When you are thinking, “If only it would happen,” the object of your thinking does not ultimately exist. You are deluded in thinking so, because the object is merely imputed through your ignorance—it is a product of conceptualizing mind. The object does not exist in the way we perceive it to be. We might want to get rid of it then, but just wishing, “May it not exist!” “May it be false, not real!” will not turn around our mistaken concepts.

You might have a doubt about your concepts and think, “Maybe things are not like that,” but your intellect cannot help you here, as it is mistaken itself. First, with your unmistaken wisdom, you have to see the nature of dependent arising and then realize it through your experience. This will give you confidence in what it actually is: “Oh, this is really the way things are. They all do come about in dependence on one another.” You become certain that everything is interconnected and nothing is independent and self-existing. Phenomena (ourselves included) are not autonomous. This confidence is the result of practice. Further, it is also possible to realize profound interdependence through experiencing the twelve links of dependent arising, from ignorance through to death.

If you practice like this, Gotsangpa assures us that “The grasping that pollutes is cleared away.” Even though the pollution has no real nature, you might think that it actually exists, because you have been habituated to thinking like this from beginningless time. Whatever you happen to meet, you see in a dualistic way—self and other, good and bad, and so forth. These are all mistaken cognitions, coming one after the other, which misapprehend their conceptual object. Helplessly, you go around like this through the six states of existence and the activities of life, experiencing suffering. This comes from grasping, from not knowing that the conceptualized object you cling to is not actually there, yet you take it to exist as it appears.

Through finding your own wisdom, you can see that what you previously thought and believed in was false. Thinking that this is not the way things are, you can come to see dependent rising through your wisdom. This is the first profound point. You come to it through analyzing and reflecting; just wishing or turning ideas around in your head will not bring about this deeper seeing. Repeating concepts, “This is an illusion. It’s not true,” does not help. You must give rise to an unmistaken mind that can realize the nature of the object it is seeing. A dualistic, conceptual mind, one that takes things at their face value cannot do this. Your mind should be in accord with the way things are, so that this confusion is cleared away.” This is the first stage.

Looking into Cause and Effect

Next you need to consider cause and effect and how one thing arises from another. What makes for an excellent result and for an unvirtuous result? How is it that dependent arising is infallible? How is it that a virtuous cause unfailingly produces the result of happiness? Once self-fixation has been vanquished, you can experience on a conventional level that the activity of dependent arising as cause and effect is undeceiving; virtue brings about happiness and nonvirtue, suffering. You can reflect on each action to see how the activity of dependent arising does not deceive.

You might think that if you lose your worldly mind based on self-fixation, the sequence of various activities of dependent arising might become jumbled up and that would present many problems. But this is not the case. What happens is that your intellect that grasps onto a self and perceives incorrectly cannot see how dependent arising operates. It is this confusion that is eliminated.

If you examine how thoughts arise dependently and how you cling to things as real, you can come to see clearly how dependent arising is undeceiving. Dualistic perception will fade, grasping onto things as real will be self-liberated, and you will be able to realize the dharmata or suchness. On this basis, you see all phenomena in their undeceiving natural state.

While its essential nature is emptiness—not established by having a basis and not existing ultimately—dependent arising nevertheless performs its merely illusory activity on a relative level. As much as emptiness free of mental constructs is present, so much does dependent arising function according to its nature and without deception. This is the subtle aspect of dependent arising described in the madhyamaka. In other words, the unmistaken mind that realizes emptiness rests correctly and sees the natural way that phenomena arise in dependence. Based on that, phenomena arising from causes and conditions perform their activity effortlessly, naturally, and inconceivably.

Just like an Illusion or a Reflection

The second line of Gotsangpa’s verse states, “Dependent arising from causes and conditions appearing as reflections.” Reflections are not actual forms but merely resemble them; for example, we call the moon we see in water a reflection of the moon—not the actual moon but something resembling it. In a similar way, all phenomena that arise through causes and conditions are like reflections. You realize that forms are not truly or actually established; their essence is empty and their nature is free of mental constructs. From this arises the mind’s dynamic energy and display, which you do not grasp onto or identify as something: it is just like an illusion, a dream, or a reflection of the moon in water. If you realize this, then whatever arises we will not take to be real.

In the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita) Sutras, the Buddha states:

Understand dependent arising to resemble an illusion.
The consciousnesses of the five aggregates are like five illusions.
Illusions and aggregates do not arise apart from each other.
Avoid the perceptions that take a phenomenon to resemble something.
This is the conduct of the perfection of wisdom.

The first two lines were explained before. The third line means that it is impossible to separate the aggregates and being illusion-like: there is not one aggregate that does not resemble an illusion; the two are inseparable. This way of explaining emptiness points to the same meaning as the famous lines from the Heart Sutra: “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Form is none other than emptiness, and further, emptiness is none other than form.”

The fourth line reads, “Avoid the various perceptions that take a phenomenon to resemble something.” A perception that apprehends a similarity is one that grasps onto characteristics, such as “It’s empty.” “That’s the middle.” “This is the end.” “That’s a form.” “This is a sound.” and so forth. You should be free of such clinging to an object of perception.

Usually, we do not understand the term perception or discrimination (‘du shes). It means that we are making things real by clinging onto them as an object or as having characteristics or existence. Whether we are taking things to be existent or nonexistent, both ways are grasping onto something as real or true. In this fourth line, what is to be negated is that something truly exists. We take a thing to exist even though it does not. This is perhaps the most difficult problem because it relates to an instinctual clinging to a self.

The imaginary or imputed clinging to a self that comes from studying texts is easy to eliminate by bringing in new views that counter it. What is difficult is eliminating the instinctual clinging to a self that is naturally present in all living beings down to the smallest insect. There is no need to establish it through logical proofs; it is there for all to experience. It is crucial to recognize this, as instinctual clinging to a self is the basis of all faults and wrongdoing. As long as you have this mistaken, ignorant grasping within, you will not be able to correctly realize dependent arising.

For the mind that authentically sees dependent arising to appear, you first need to correctly engage the instinctual mind, and on this basis, you discover that it is dependently arisen. When you find this mind that knows instinctual clinging to come from causes and conditions, then all appearances will arise as reflections. These lines from Gotsangpa’s song are very profound:

The grasping that pollutes is cleared away,
Dependent arising from causes and conditions appear as reflections.

Through this you can know the foundation of the madhyamaka.

What is the benefit of realizing appearances to be reflections? Your suffering diminishes and your lives become delightful and happy. It is difficult for your mind to be under the sway of the afflictions because you have no freedom. What you want to have happen does not, and what you do not want arrives at your doorstep.

If you can analyze correctly, your mind will entertain its object and know its way of being just as it is, so the mind’s power will expand. Then, from this perspective, all phenomena arise as mere appearances from causes and conditions. At that point, you will not cling to anything and all points of reference will collapse. Until this happens, you will still have objects of reference and clinging to characteristics. The instinctual grasping onto a self will continual to appear to the mistaken mind. Deconstructing the ignorant mind’s grasping onto objects will not be possible until the object dissolves. This points to the abiding nature of the ground in Mahayana meditation.

Similarly, Maitreya through Asanga’s Ornament of the Scriptures states that when you realize that there is no object and then no mind, you can rest in the expanse of dharma (chos dbyings), knowing all mere appearances to be dependently arisen while seeing causes and conditions come into view as reflections. Phenomena are seen to be mere names or mere imputations and not ultimately existent.

Growing Confidence

You must recognize this and be fully confident that this is the way things are. You might say that you are convinced that something is so, but if you investigate carefully, you will see that actually this conviction is quite coarse. It comes from studying and reflecting, which are not sufficient to create real confidence. For that, meditation is necessary. Dzogchen speaks of introducing mind to its own nature. Other phrases are “making a firm resolution,” or “meditation arising as a friend.” Knowledge without confidence remains useless.

How is it then that you find deep conviction? It is not on the basis of a conditioned object but through comprehending your previous experience, which gives you a confidence that cannot be budged by any outer or inner conditions. No matter what happens, you are able to remain within the nature of your mind, stable and unmoving like the king of mountains. Nothing can disturb it. This is what it means to remain or abide.

If you stay in the flow of this wisdom, the utterly purified mind, you come to the third line of Gotsangpa’s verse, “Tireless, persevering, not self-seeking.” You are delighted to go along the path of practice, engaging in virtuous activity, such as gathering the two accumulations and purifying obscurations. There’s a joyful feeling in progressing along the path of practice. To the extent that you find certainty in emptiness and profound dependent arising, that much will you enjoy gathering the accumulations and purifying obscurations. And when you realize emptiness, you are even more joyful in continuing these two activities. So it is not the case that once you have realized emptiness, you do not keep gathering merit on a relative level, reciting rituals, practicing Tara and daily Mahakala, for example. These are important.

After the Buddha attained full awakening at the Vajra Seat here in Bodh Gaya, he first turned the Wheel of Dharma in Sarnath, teaching that you should understand suffering and so forth; he did not teach about emptiness. While resting in the vajra-like nature of the mind, he taught the foundation of the Mahayana and the root of all practice—the Four Truths of the Noble Ones: to know suffering for what it is, discard its origin, realize cessation, and rely on the path.

When practicing the Dharma, you need to be careful and reflect, “This is appropriate to do and that is not. This will make what I want to see happen and that will not.” Things will not go well if you just act without reflecting. The stages of the path according to the Victorious One are related to view, meditation, and action, and not simply doing whatever you want.

The last lines of Gotsangpa’s verse state,

Tireless, persevering, not self-seeking,
These three show dependent arising fully free.

You recognize dependent arising and see that it is empty and not established through having an inherent nature—what comes about in relying on a support is not independent. Further, it has no basis, no root, no beginning, middle, or end, and it is not a thing. To the extent that you can develop confidence in mind’s nature being free of such mental constructs, to that same extent dependently arising thoughts will come unerringly from their ground. To the extent that you can be confident in the profound meaning of emptiness, to that same extent will you have respect for the way karma and results work. To the extent that the correct view of emptiness is born within you, to that same extent will you feel a deep sorrow and compassion for all living beings, who are caught in samsara chained by cause and effect.

Until samsara empties out, you vow to work for their benefit. Knowing that phenomena are not inherently existent and merely dependently arisen—that the phenomena we cling to are mere names and conventions—we have an even greater compassion for those who have not realized this.

For this realization and compassion to occur, however, they must be preceded by the correct view. Through its powerful influence, the correct view will bring all practice onto the right path. Without it, concepts will run their own misleading course through samsara. If you practice under the influence of samsara and concepts as they follow their own direction, you will not be able to eliminate the ignorance that has to come to an end. And if this is not possible, your suffering will never leave you.

If, however, in relation to dependent arising, you can practice developing the view first and then meditating, it will be as Gotsangpa describes:

The grasping that pollutes is cleared away;
Dependent arising of causes and conditions appear as reflections;
Tireless, persevering, not self-seeking,
These three show dependent arising fully free
Like a lance circling in open space.

This is the essence of dependent arising. As Tilopa sang:

If, free of all wishes, you do not dwell in extremes,
You will see the dharmas of all the scriptures.

The Blessings of the Guru

Tilopa’s following verses then advise:

Fools who take no interest in this meaning
Are always swept away by the river of samsara.
The sufferings of the lower realms are inexhaustible—pity the fools!
You who want to be freed from inexhaustible suffering, follow a wise guru.
When the guru’s blessings enter your heart, your mind will be freed.

In the tradition of our pith instructions, it is said that you will not attain realization if you only study the view or only work with the reasonings of logical analysis. In addition, you need the precious blessing of the guru. As the last line states, “When the guru’s blessings enter your heart, your mind will be freed.” These blessings are special and must come from the guru and through your devotion. What is the actual basis whence the blessings come? It is not that, grasping onto characteristics as real, you make the lama into someone terribly special and indescribably precious. Rather, you receive pith instructions from the guru and one-pointedly meditate on them, following the example of the masters in the ocean of Kagyu siddhas, such as Milarepa, Gotsangpa, Yangonpa, and others. Practicing like this, blending the instructions with your mind, the blessings of the guru will flood your being and your mind will be freed.

This is the blessing that flows down through an actual and true lineage, and to receive it we must rely on a guru. For example, in the Kamtsang lineage we imagine Dorje
Chang (Vajradhara) and then a series of teachers and disciples coming down to our own root guru. The passing of the lineage did not happen by just praising disciples; they received teachings, devoted themselves to meditation, and developed clear realization through profound and intense practice. This is not something that others can see, yet their minds were deeply transformed.

However, receiving the blessing of the guru is not enough--you need to practice. You practice alone, without friends or enemies, and following the reasonings and key instructions. These will heal your wounded mind, which has been harmed by the afflictions, by hatred and attachment, by grasping onto a self and other, by clinging, and in many other ways. Until now, this injury has not been healed, and further, there is a danger that it will grow even bigger. The first way to heal these wounds is to meditate in a remote place. Since you are not yet able to meet the afflictions face to face and actually see them as self-liberated, isolation will keep at a distance the conditions that cause them. Then day and night, one-pointedly you reflect on what suchness is until realization arises and you gain the stability of a stronghold. At that point, your behavior and way of thinking is transformed and different from what it was before; now you are able to reverse a mundane way of thinking.

Milarepa’s song about how to realize mahamudra explains:

Through the blessing of the lama’s lineage
And your qualities, arisen from meditating in solitude,
You‘ll realize the lineage of the glorious, great Naropa.

The pith instructions, descending from the Dharmakaya Dorjechang to Telopa, Naropa, and Marpa, came in their purity to Milarepa who practiced them and experienced realization. At the very beginning of Milarepa’s verse, there is a relative pronoun that refers back to the previous verses. Their subject matter treated how, when searching for the cause of external, delusive appearances, you turn around and look inside at your mind with an inner awareness. This comes to know that the outer appearances are the dynamic energy, the display of inner awareness itself. It is free of root and not caught by grasping onto something as real. When this appears, look at it nakedly.

This is a realization that cannot be discovered through words and concepts. The mainspring, or dominant condition, for this special realization arising within your being is the blessing of the guru, and in the Kagyu, this lineage extends all the way to the heart/mind of Marpa himself.

In the second line of Milarepa sings, “And your qualities, arisen from meditating in solitude.” Just having the lineage is not enough; you have to meditate in remote places where no one comes, where you will not be harassed by your enemies or admired by your friends. Like a wild animal living in the natural world, you take yourself to a cave in the snowy or rocky mountains. You become a child of the mountains wearing clothes of mist. There, when concepts of desire or hatred spike, you can immediately dismiss them.

Practice and the Lineage Are Important

On the basis of these two conditions—the blessing of the lineage and meditating in isolation on the pith instructions of our guru—we come to the third line, “You‘ll realize the lineage of the glorious and great Naropa.” The special lineage of Naropa is also the lineage of the Great Brahmin Saraha as well as the Victor Maitripa. This lineage has special features as it has passed down through an unbroken and unimpaired lineage of great masters skilled in study and meditation.

Practicing these key instructions of Dharma allow you to participate in a lineage that not only brings about signs but also involves practicing the ultimate truth. Mahamudra is realized through blessing, practice, and a lineage with the ultimate truth, practice, and realization. We have looked at this song of Milarepa as a way to look into the last line of Tilopa’s verse: “When blessings enter your heart, your mind will be freed.”

Even with blessings, you still have to practice in order to attain stability. Once you gain realization, you have to work with stabilizing it. It is said that you should meditate as the Victor did, which means stabilizing your realization, bringing it to its culmination, and finding its ultimate basis. If you only have words for what you have realized, they could be mistaken, and in giving an explanation, you could go wrong. On the other hand, if you find realization within and cultivate it, your realization becomes valuable and meaningful; our words, meaning, and explanation will not be mistaken.

Milarepa meditated free of distraction, and so he had no fear, worry, or doubt. Not dividing his days into sessions, he meditated day and night no matter what he was doing whether walking, standing, sitting, or sleeping—everything was self-liberated as it appeared. Knowing this, he had finished training, and so he sang, “thoughts of delusive appearances fade into the expanse.”

Like Milarepa, if you find an authentic guru and a special lineage, you can realize a meaning and experience that are free of error. Through this, one day you will realize their basis, and resting within that truth will serve as an antidote for all the delusive appearances in your mind. They will fade away like clouds into the depths of the sky. From the perspective of mind’s nature, they are recognized as delusive appearances, and liberated of themselves, dissolve into space. Since they are returning to their essential nature, there is no need to pacify delusive appearances.

The next lines of Milarepa’s song state:

Whatever teaching might appear in the three baskets,
I’ve decided that the ultimate meaning could be none other than this.

There is no other meaning than this in all of the profound scriptures of the sutra and tantra and their commentaries. If you do not decide on the ultimate meaning, the only other choice is the world with all its problems; in that mundane context, what is authentic is difficult to know since concepts are mistaken. It is like being asked what Lhasa is like if you have never been there. There’s nothing to say.

“I’ve decided that the ultimate meaning could be none other than this” means that for Milarepa, liberation was released from within; realization was discovered inside. Since whatever was superimposed had been cut from the mind, knowing one, the ultimate meaning of all can be realized. The meaning of these lines is the same as Milarepa’s famous song about texts:

Since all possible appearances arise as text,
I’ve never looked at those with their letters in black.

Compassion for Suffering

To return to Tilopa’s verses, he sings:

Fools who take no interest in this meaning
Are always swept away by the river of samsara.
The sufferings of the lower realms are inexhaustible—pity the fools!

However much you have realized the profound meaning of emptiness, that much does compassion naturally arise for those who have not realized it. Saying, “Oh, too bad. I’m so sorry. What a pity” does not help. What does help is an authentic view, which can bring forth love and compassion.

Nagarjuna said that compassion is the root of everything, both the seen qualities of this life and unseen qualities of the next. So first we need to develop the wisdom (prajna) that can ascertain the authentic view. When this is possible, you can develop the faith that comes from knowing, and you will want to practice. Then difficulties will fade and it will be easy to visualize the yidam deities. You will feel compassion for those who have not developed prajna.

The compassion referred to in the line, “The sufferings of the lower realms are inexhaustible—pity the fools!” needs to come from the very depths of your being. You see people continually wandering day and night in samsara taking things to exist that do not, grasping onto a “self” or onto “other,” and you have genuine compassion for them. Suppose a person wanted to go somewhere, but did not know the way, so they took all the wrong roads, exhausting themselves going down numberless streets that led nowhere and wandering like this for a long time. Actually, their home was nearby, and so all their searching was just pointless suffering. Who would not have compassion for someone like that?

You need to be aware, then, of the direct path that leads to your nearby destination and not lose your way. Not knowing where to go is foolish and stupid. Following a long and convoluted route is a waste of time and painful both physically and mentally. If you are fortunate, someone will come along and say, “Come here along this short path. This is what you need to know. What you’re looking for is nearby.”

But if this person misleads you, of course, that will not help. Reliable guides must first realize themselves the unmistaken path. They need to find the authentic view of mind’s way of being and based on that, they can alert others to the wrong way and lead them along a correct path. Through their compassion and through realizing mind’s nature, they can guide those who have not realized it. It is crucial that teachers first realize the nature of their own mind.

Longing for Liberation

There is not one person who does not wish to be liberated from samsara, whether they seek rebirth in the pure lands of Dewachen, the Coppered Mountain, Pemako, or Arrayed in Turquoise Leaves. Individuals will choose where they would like to go. Many wish to be reborn in Amitabha’s pure land while others recite Chenrezik’s mantra, not knowing the meaning yet imagining a four-armed deity in a place called Potala where they expect to arrive. This is all right but not profound. It is merely thinking that samsara is suffering and life seems pointless, whereas pure lands are free of misery and very pleasant with soft ground to walk on and other lovely features, described in the Aspiration Prayer for Rebirth in the Pure Realm of Dewachen (Sukhavati). Lacking a compassionate motivation, these people might recite this prayer day and night but at the same time, they remain stuck in greed or hatred, so what they are seeking is at odds with their actual practice.

If we really long for liberation, you must know that, as Nagarjuna explains, “Through karma and the afflictions coming to an end, liberation happens.” It is the wisdom realizing no self that eliminates karma and the afflictions, and for this authentic wisdom to take birth in your being, clinging to a self must be uprooted. Once this happens, you will see that all phenomena arise in dependence on one another and realize profound emptiness. This eliminates any basis for karma and the afflictions and they naturally cease along with the suffering they cause.

If you seek liberation, you need to rely on a guru and receive teachings so that you will not take a wrong path. A genuine guru teaches in accordance with a disciple’s mind, showing how to travel an unmistaken path, how to practice purifying the mind and becoming free from the prison of concepts. As Tilopa counsels:

You who want to be freed from inexhaustible suffering, follow a wise guru.
When blessings enter your heart, your mind will be freed.

How to Look and Be

The next verse reveals the essential meaning:

Kye ho! These samsaric dharmas are causes of pointless suffering.
The things you’ve done are pointless, so look at the meaningful essence.

This is easy to understand. The phenomena that make up samsara are ultimately meaningless. As much as you are involved with them, so much will you experience suffering and not know happiness. Whatever mundane activities you engage in, such as backing our friends and opposing enemies, are pointless and cannot bring about the happiness we seek nor fulfill the hopes we cherish. Instead, we should look at the essential nature, which is meaningful, and which will appear through practicing profound listening, reflecting, and meditating.

The next verse is a series of pithy statements, following the advice above to “look at the meaningful essence”:

Transcending all objects and subjects is the king of views.
Having no distraction is the king of meditation.
Lacking effort is the king of conduct.
Having no hope or fear reveals the result.
Beyond objects of focus, the nature of mind is clear.
With no path to traverse, you’ve embarked on the path to buddhahood.
There’s nothing to be used to. When used to that,
You have achieved the impossible.

Related to this king of views, the second verse of Gotsangpa’s song treats view under three aspects:

You’ve determined the true nature of your mind.
Not leaning toward samsara or nirvana,
You’re convinced and do not change your mind.
Your view’s unhindered like a lance circling in open space.

The first line means that through having the correct view, you have clearly decided for yourself what the nature of mind is. Before this, you made choices, such as preferring nirvana to samsara. Now you have the confidence that the suchness of samsara is nirvana, so there is no samsara to give up and no nirvana to adopt. You have eliminated these two conceptions from within, and therefore, there’s no need to choose between the two. Knowing this deeply, you do not change.

Tilopa’s verse speaks of transcending subject and object, which happens through determining the view and realizing that there is no need to choose between samsara and nirvana, because both subject and object are transcended.

The next line states, “Having no distraction is the king of meditation.” Resting one-pointedly is the main practice. As is stated in the Dorje Chang Thungma:

Non-distraction is the body of meditation as is taught.
Whatever arises is fresh, the nature of realization.

The Gotsangpa’s verse on meditation reads:

Cutting through the root, it holds its ground.
Six-fold consciousness is unaffected by artifice.
Free of effort created by concepts,
Meditation is free as a lance circling in open space.

The first line speaks of “Cutting through the root,” which cannot happen through only knowing the view; the view has to be sealed with meditation so that it cuts through the root of fixation. This does not mean that you are cut loose and set adrift, not knowing where you are or what to do. It is the genuine view that allows severing the root of samsaric existence and ego clinging and then you take firm hold of your place, so that no one can make you move from there.

The third an fourth lines state, “Sixfold consciousness unaffected by artifice / Free of effort created by concepts.” You do not need to change anything, but just let things be as they are. Whichever of the six objects of consciousness appears, you do not examine its characteristics but look at its nature and relax into it without contrivance or effort. This will not happen if you try to seal your experience with a conceptualized emptiness or luminosity. As explained before, if you know the point of liberation upon rising, you can come to a place of nonthought; just wishing for it will not bring successful meditation.

To work with good or bad situations, we need to realize that they do not transcend the nature of luminous mahamudra. All the phenomena of samsara are included therein, so everything we see and hear is self-liberated. The power for this to happen comes from the nature of phenomena and not from thoughts. This is what allows for effortless conduct. The next verse of Gotsangpa’s explains what excellent conduct is:

Experiences are naturally unhindered.
Free of fear, depression, and anxiety,
You vanquish the duality of perceived and perceiver.
This is conduct free as a lance circling in open space.

When conduct is blended together with view, profound experience is continuous and free of grasping. Since there is no wish to achieve them, when the experiences of bliss, clarity and nonconceptuality arise, they are not hindered by clinging. Here, not only are you free of hope for what is positive, you also have no fear of negative experience. This type of conduct brings victory over duality. In sum there is no grasping, fear, or duality when conduct is blended with the correct view and meditation. [This is an edited transcript of the talk.]

20190111AM_The Ganges Mahamudra_Teaching 6-5

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36th Kagyu Monlam Schedule

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Seven Point of Mind Training

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Dharma Teachings

Teachings on the Seven Points of Mind Training
Recorded during the 36th Kagyu Monlam, Bodhgaya, India. January 14-17, 2019.


Ganges Mahamudra
Recorded during the 36th Kagyu Monlam, Bodhgaya, India. January 9-11, 2019.


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