1. Mahamudra Is Beyond Words

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Mahamudra Is Beyond Words


The Great Seal: Emptiness

According to Tibetan Buddhism, mahamudra is one of the most advanced teachings of the Buddha. Mahamudra is Sanskrit: maha means “great” and mudra can be translated as “seal.” When you lend me one hundred dollars, we make a contract and we seal it, don’t we? It shows: “Next year I have the obligation to pay you back.” You have the document as a guarantee.

However, this seal, this great seal, is not a physical seal made in a factory. It is the universal reality of emptiness, nonduality, non–self-existence. It exists in all phenomena, including sentient beings. It is also not some made-up philosophical concept. It doesn’t matter whether you accept it or deny it. If I say, “I don’t believe there is an earth; I don’t believe there is a sun,” who cares? Even though I reject the existence of the sun, 4I’m standing in the rays of the sun. Even though I deny the existence of the earth, I’m standing on the earth.

The reality of nonduality is inescapable. It is the inborn nature of all phenomena. It exists equally in all things: organic, nonorganic, permanent, impermanent, including all beings. It exists always within us. The name we give it is mahamudra.

Mahamudra Brings You Beyond Fear

The trouble is we totally believe in exactly the opposite of nonduality. We grasp at a dualistic me — a self-existent, real, separate me. We’ve been grasping at it since we were in our mother’s womb — actually, the belief in this simultaneously born ego has been with us since beginningless time. It’s beyond intellectual. Even ants and dogs have it. And as the great Mahayana scholar Dharmakirti points out, this primordial belief in a separate “me” creates the concept of “other.” From this tremendous gap comes the evolution of all of samsara, the cycle of existence.

To knock out this hallucinated vision, we must realize mahamudra, nonduality. The realization of mahamudra cuts the wrong conceptions and destroys the nuclear energy of ego. This is revolutionary — more revolutionary than any political ideology. And it brings you totally beyond fear: mahamudra is the antidote to fear. So beautiful!


Mahamudra Is Beyond Words

In mahamudra meditation there is no doctrine, no theology, no philosophy, no God, no Buddha. We go beyond name, beyond shape and color, beyond the relative, beyond self-image, beyond compassion. With our own consciousness we can experience the universal, infinity. We can just be in the experience of totality.

Using Buddhist terminology, we say that mahamudra is beyond arising and beyond cessation. Mahamudra is only experience. The moment I say words, you interpret them in this way or that, and then it becomes a problem. So don’t trust my words — they are the false words of my superstition; Buddhism thinks that way. No matter what words I say, they still come from my conceptions. You have to go beyond words.

We also say that mahamudra has no dimension, no distinct nature, and no cause or effect. Remember, when Shakyamuni Buddha discovered enlightenment, he was silent for several weeks; he felt it was not possible to express the deep, universal mahamudra experience to others. Such profound things cannot be explained to anyone who hasn’t reached that stage.

Two Approaches to Realizing Emptiness

Perhaps you’re thinking that if mahamudra is about emptiness, then you have heard it many times before. You’re right; the teachings are not so different. But the unique approach of this presentation is the emphasis on meditation — the experience of emptiness rather than explaining what it means.


In the mahamudra root text I am using here, Panchen Lama Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen says there are two approaches to realizing emptiness:

Between the two approaches of (1) seeking meditation [on calm abiding] on the basis of the view and (2) seeking the view on the basis of meditation [on calm abiding], the explanation here follows the second approach.

We usually hear that Lama Je Tsongkhapa, founder of our Gelug lineage, says that first we should study, then analyze, then meditate. In other words, we should “seek meditation on the basis of the view.” But Panchen Lama, one of the Gelugpas’ foremost figures and an expert in Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition, is saying here that we can meditate first, then seek mahamudra, emptiness. We can “seek the view on the basis of meditation.”

Which is right? Well, both are right. But here we are following the second approach.

The First Approach: Learn About Emptiness First, Then Meditate

We used the first approach when I studied in the monastery. We read so much, memorizing and reciting and debating philosophical texts every day. Buddhist philosophy is so sophisticated, so intellectual, involving highly complex thinking. I thought that if I understood all the philosophy, the middle way, everything, I’d knock out the ego. I thought about that a 7lot. I checked, checked, checked — and then I realized my conception was not true. I was shocked! I realized that even if I knew all the Buddhist texts and understood them intellectually, it would never touch my heart unless I meditated.

When we learn the words alone, there is no satisfaction; the problem of ego is not solved. And now I look at many of my students: they read so many books! All the philosophy, the psychology, so much information. All this reading, reading, reading!

Of course, with this approach we must also meditate. Lama Tsongkhapa talks about the union of the three wisdoms that arise from hearing, analyzing, and meditating; in Tibetan we say trojung, sangjung, and gomjung. But people sometimes misinterpret this. They hear that we Gelugpas study for twenty or thirty years and think it means that first you listen for twenty years, then check for another twenty years, then, finally, penetrate in meditation. In fact, from the beginning we integrate these three wisdoms — we practice them simultaneously — and at each stage of our development it’s a question of proportion.

Nevertheless, there is the danger that your knowledge will remain merely intellectual. If you don’t go beyond the intellectual level, your mind will not be transformed. It’s as if the knowledge stays in the books and you are separate from it. You can never get rid of ego this way. You end up missing the point.


The Second Approach: Meditate First, Then Discover Emptiness

It is extremely difficult to knock out the ego. You cannot seek the ego’s projections philosophically, with your intellect. When you practice mahamudra, intellect is the enemy. You have to go beyond the intellect — you have to meditate. Then real transformation can come.

We have to understand, Buddha Maitreya said, that the relative Dharma, everything in the books, is like a bridge. A bridge is helpful for crossing a river, but once you’ve crossed it, it’s “Goodbye bridge!” isn’t it? You have to touch the heart. Once you’ve experienced the fundamental nature of your own self — and your own consciousness — it’s goodbye to all the philosophical concepts.

Philosophy is the equipment we use to reach beyond the bondage, but still it is bondage, isn’t it? I’m not trying to be revolutionary! Of course, the philosophy is good; it is unbelievably profound, we should respect it. But we are seekers, and we can make mistakes. We can interpret the teachings wrongly. So we need to develop the skill to go beyond philosophy. We should not be afraid to go beyond it!

When the great yogis Milarepa and Lama Tsongkhapa went into retreat in the mountains, they didn’t bring their books with them; they went beyond scripture, beyond ink, beyond Parker pens. And even as a boy, Lama Tsongkhapa meditated and communicated directly with Manjushri, the buddha of wisdom. So it is definitely possible first to meditate and then discover emptiness. This is the approach here.


Mahamudra is a super, incredible method. This is the experience of the lineage lamas, all the great yogis and yoginis. They all realized mahamudra in meditation.

Your Wisdom Will Explode

When you’ve escaped the bondage of the intellect and touched reality, you experience an explosion of knowledge. In this state you have infinitely more space in your mind and can learn many things effortlessly. You will be amazed. “Wow! I didn’t know I had that much knowledge! What happened?”

Normally you are bound up tightly in your superstitions. If these are released, you can touch an unbelievable dimension of reality. Without expecting it, you suddenly, without effort, realize things; you know. This is possible, I tell you; it’s not some Tibetan religious fantasy.

Milarepa is a good example. He didn’t study any philosophy, but because of his mahamudra meditation he had gained total understanding of all dimensions of reality. The intellectuals, who’d studied for years and years, would come to debate with him, and he always knew the answers. He blew their minds!

They’d ask him, “Do you know Vinaya?” This subject, which covers all the vows for monks and nuns, has so much detail, is so sophisticated, so complicated, and in the monastery we study and debate it for at least four years.

“No!” said Milarepa. “I don’t know anything about Vinaya, non-Vinaya! If my mind is subdued, if I conquer my ego and touch universal reality, that’s my Vinaya.” The 10Tibetan word for Vinaya is dulwa, and it means “to subdue the mind.” His answer is super!

When I was a boy, I really liked Milarepa. Reading about his life was so helpful; it gave me unbelievable inspiration. You, too, should read his life story. It will give you tremendous energy.

Not Seeing Is the Perfect Seeing

In Tibetan, we have this saying of the Buddha: “Not seeing is the perfect seeing.” “My goodness!” you may be thinking, “This mahamudra is strange!” For experienced meditators these words are super profound. They refer to the experience of mahamudra; the experience of universal reality, nonduality.

Let’s say that a Tibetan monk comes to your Western country. He opens his sense perceptions to the West. Meaning well, you want to share with him those experiences you find pleasurable, so you take him to the beach. “You Tibetans have seen only rocks and mountains. Here, look how beautiful the sea is!” you say. “On the mountain, you can’t see fish; here there are so many fish. And people without clothes.” Well, okay, maybe my example has gone far enough! I think I’m getting carried away now; I have to control!

For the poor Tibetan monk, then, maybe seeing all these new things is too much. Perhaps not seeing is the best. Not seeing, not perceiving dualistic phenomena, is the perfect seeing, the perfect experience.

You understand now. When the object is not there, the concept can’t be there. Object and subject operate together. 11When we experience mahamudra, dualistic phenomena no longer operate. When the object breaks down, the concept, the subject, disappears. You don’t need to push. Buddhist teachings work so peacefully. It’s so scientific, so experiential. So, not looking at the dualistic complex situation and instead having the experience of nonduality is the perfect view.

All conventional phenomena are so relative, so changeable, so artificial, so momentary. Our concepts are so fast, the superstitions are so fast, the relative world is so fast. Why? Because according to Buddhism this is a time when superstition is exploding — and the superstitious mind is the resource of the revolutionary change of conventional reality. The problem is ego holding every changing thing as absolute. We need to cut the concept of ego and thereby discover nonduality. We can do it, all right?

The not-seeing of dualistic puzzles is the seeing of perfection, unity, totality. The more we realize this, the more integrated we become, and the less we put ourselves in disordered situations. For this we need tremendous renunciation. We must become flexible; we must learn to let go.

We Will Meditate

So let’s try to make these teachings experiential. Let’s meditate. Actually, sometimes my Tibetan friends criticize me for teaching meditation to Westerners. “They should study for twenty years first, just like you did,” they tell me. But I don’t care!



Panchen Lama Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen

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