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Home > Advanced Meditation > Mahamudra > Commentary on An Aspiration Prayer for the Definitive Meaning of Mahamudra > 4 Boon Experiences, Stable Realizations and Final Attainments

Commentary on An Aspiration Prayer for the Definitive Meaning of Mahamudra

(Nges-don phyag-rgya chen-po'i smon-lam)
of the Third Karmapa Rangjung-dorjey
(Kar-ma Rang-byung rdo-rje) (1284 – 1340)
by Beru Khyentse Rinpoche

translated by Alexander Berzin, January 1978
revised August 2003 and June 2006

4 Boon Experiences, Stable Realizations and Final Attainments

[With Beru Khyentse Rinpoche’s commentary in black script and supplements to that by Alexander Berzin in violet between square brackets.]

The methods for cultivating boon experiences and stable realizations is divided into two sections:

  1. the methods for cultivating boon experiences,

  2. the methods for cultivating stable realizations.

Prayer to Cultivate Boon Experiences Properly

Verse 20 is a prayer to be able to cultivate properly the boon experiences (nyams), also translated simply as “boons,” that we gain with mahamudra practice.

(20) Great bliss, without clinging,
   has unbroken continuity.
Clear light, without grasping for defining
   characteristic marks,
   is parted from the veil of obscuration.
Nonconceptuality, beyond all intellect,
   spontaneously accomplishes.
May my experiencing of boon experiences, without striving,
   have unbroken continuity.

Boon experiences begin to occur [when we gain a stilled and settled state of nonconceptual shamatha. Here, they are presented] when we first gain the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana, [at which stage they are even more prominent.] The boons are experiences of blissful awareness (bde-ba), clarity (gsal-ba), and nonconceptuality (mi-rtog) or bareness (stong-pa) that arise temporarily, but do not remain stable. Buddhahood is not made from these boon experiences; Buddhahood is made only from stable realizations (rtogs-pa).

[With a boon experience, the meditator still has a dualistic sense of there being the meditator on the one side and, on the other, blissful awareness, clarity, nonconceptuality, and bareness as things to be meditated on or experienced. The meditator has this dualistic sense even if he or she has a presumptive conceptual understanding that there is no dualism here. Even though, at an advanced stage, boon experiences may occur continuously, they are temporary and unstable in the sense that they must be surpassed in order to progress to enlightenment. With a stable realization, the meditator has nonconceptual bare cognition of there being no dualism of meditator and meditation. Such realization continues with stability up to Buddhahood.]

Great bliss, without clinging, is unbroken in continuity. It is essential not to cling to conceptually (zhen-pa), grasp at, or become obsessed with boon experiences, otherwise we may be reborn in one of the divine (god) realms. Rebirth as a divine being (god) on the plane of sensory desires (Desire Realm) results from clinging to the boon experience of bliss. Clinging to clarity results in rebirth on the plane of ethereal forms (Form Realm). Clinging to the bareness of nonconceptuality results in rebirth on the plane of formless beings (Formless Realm).

[With the attainment of shamatha, we gain a sense of fitness (shin-sbyangs) – the fitness of being able to concentrate perfectly on anything we wish, for as long as we wish. This sense of fitness induces a nondisturbing exhilarating feeling of physical and mental bliss. With the attainment of the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana, we gain an additional sense of fitness – the fitness of being able to perceive and understand deeply anything we wish. The resulting exhilarating feeling of physical and mental bliss is even more intense.]

Although we need to cultivate the blissful awarenesses [of shamatha and] of joined shamatha and vipashyana for a long time, we must avoid becoming attached to them. Otherwise, infatuated by desire for bliss, we are reborn as a divine being on the plane of sensory desires. If we cultivate the boon experience of bliss while understanding its voidness, we will not cling to it conceptually. Only by not clinging to it will the boon experience become a stable realization or attainment.

Clear light, without grasping for defining characteristic marks, is parted from the veils of obscuration. [Clear light (‘od-gsal) here is a synonym for clarity.] clarity.] When we are attached to clarity [(the appearance-making aspect of shamatha and of joined shamatha and vipashyana), we grasp to it as if it had defining characteristic marks (mtshan-‘dzin). This means grasping for defining characteristic marks, findable on the side of clarity, that established it as a truly existent “thing” that is giving rise to truly existent objects taken and truly existent minds that take them. “Grasping” (‘dzin-pa) means cognitively taking a knowable phenomenon, in this case clarity, in a manner that is discordant with the way it actually exists or with what it actually is. Consequently,] we are reborn in the realm of ethereal forms [in which the clarity of our minds gives rise to seemingly truly existent ethereal forms and seemingly truly existent cognitions of them.

To avoid this,] we need to realize the unified pair of clarity and voidness. This realization eliminates the veils of the obscurations. [It eliminates both the emotional obscurations that are disturbing emotions and which prevent liberation, and the cognitive obscurations regarding all knowables and which prevent omniscience.] Then the boon experience of clarity becomes stable. [It can give rise to all appearances without also giving rise to disturbing emotions and attitudes accompanying them.]

The accomplishment of the unified pair of clarity and voidness enables us to practice in the dream state. [Dream yoga is only possible when we can recognize that the dream-appearances are merely the appearances in a dream and “not real.” In other words, we need to recognize that the appearance-making in a dream is not producing truly existent appearances. This requires realization of the unified pair of clarity and voidness.]

Nonconceptuality, beyond all intellect, spontaneously accomplishes. It is also essential not to cling to the boon experience of the bareness of nonconceptuality, which occurs when we attain the nonconceptual absorbed concentration [of shamatha or joined shamatha and vipashyana] of mahamudra. The intellect (blo) fabricates impossible extreme manners of existence, such as total nonexistence. We must not grasp to the bareness of nonconceptuality and mistake it to be a total nothingness. Otherwise, we will be reborn in a realm of formless beings [in which there are neither gross nor subtle forms of physical phenomena, although we are still in samsara.] Therefore, we need to realize the unified pair of [bare] awareness and voidness and cultivate it so as to render the boon experience of nonconceptuality stable and pure. [Then, we realize that the bareness of nonconceptuality always remains spontaneously accomplishing all (lhun-grub), which means always allowing for appearance-making and appearances spontaneously to arise.]

May my experiencing of boon experiences, without striving, have unbroken continuity. When meditating, we need to avoid any hopes or expectations of gaining the boon experiences. We need also to avoid any fears or worries that we will not attain them or disappointments that we have not yet experienced them. These are major obstacles.

Only when we meditate in a natural, relaxed, unlabored state, without striving for anything special to happen, do the boon experiences occur. They occur simply because bliss, clarity, and nonconceptuality are parts of the nature of the mind. We cannot force the experiences of them to come; they must arise in a uncontrived manner. Then, the continuity of their experience can remain unbroken. This is a prayer to be able to meditate without striving, so that all this will happen.

Saraha said, “When we have understood the mind, we have understood the winds.” In other words, when we calm our minds [to a stilled and settled state of shamatha], we also calm our subtle energy-winds (rlung phra-mo). This is because mind and the subtle energy-winds that are its mount are inseparable.

It is very important to calm and tame our energy-winds because, under our control, we can harness and use them for various ends. For example, we can use our tamed energy-winds in anuttarayoga tantra complete stage practice such as tummo (gtum-mo, inner heat), to achieve a special state of blissful awareness. This attainment brings extraordinary extrasensory and extraphysical abilities, such as the advanced awareness (mngon-shes) to see and hear things at a great distance, to cognize the others’ thoughts, and the extraphysical power to travel great distances very quickly.

Extrasensory abilities follow also from the attainment, through sutra methods, of merely shamatha and the blissful awareness that comes with its sense of fitness. [More technically, the actual states of advanced awareness arise as a byproduct of the attainment of an actual state of the first level of mental stability (bsam-gtan dang-po'i dngos-gzhi, an actual state of the first dhyana), which is attained on the basis of shamatha. As Atisha emphasized in A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (Lam-sgron, Skt. Bodhipathapradipa), advanced awareness is extremely important for being able to benefit others more fully. If we are able to detect, far away, dangerous situations that others are facing and are able to reach them quickly, we can help others more easily. If we can know others’ thoughts and disturbing emotions, we can begin to know the most appropriate way to teach them.

As in the case of the boon experiences,] it is essential not to be attracted to or obsessed with extrasensory abilities. As soon as we think, “What a marvelous power I have!” we meet great obstacles. Moreover, even after we have developed these extraordinary powers, we need to continue our practice and attain a unified pair of blissful awareness and voidness in order to attain enlightenment.

This is a very difficult topic. Without an actual experience of these states, they are hard even to imagine. Now we can only understand at our own levels. Also, we may have the additional difficulty of needing to rely on translations and on our own abilities to take notes. To gain realization, we need to rely on the indispensable aid of fully qualified spiritual masters. We need to receive several oral explanations from our gurus, think about them, and then practice intensely.

Prayer to Cultivate Stable Realizations

Verse 21 is a prayer to be able to cultivate stable realizations (rtogs-pa) once we have attained boon experiences.

(21) Grasping at the boon experiences, clung to as good,
   releases itself into its own place.
Deceptive confusion, conceived of as bad,
   in its self-nature,
   is pure in the sphere (of voidness).
Normal awareness is without ridding or adopting,
   parting or attaining.
May I gain stable realization of the (deepest) truth,
   the actual nature, parted from mental fabrication.

Grasping at the boon experiences, clung to as good, releases itself into its own place. We need to recognize the boon experiences for what they are. Using discriminating awareness, we need to avoid conceptually clinging to them as good. Nevertheless, we need to cultivate these boon experiences in mediation for they are true experiences. The important thing is not to grasp at them [as truly existent].

Buddhahood does not come from the boon experiences of boons. It comes from stable realizations, which arise from deep inner attainment [of the exceptionally perceptive state of mind of vipashyana joined with shamatha. With the continuing practice of vipashyana,] we slowly stop grasping at the boon experiences. On the other hand, [if we do not join vipashyana in a stable manner with our attainment of shamatha,] obsession with the boon experiences we gain forms a great obstacle to further progress.

If we simply observe or look at the boon experiences when they occur, both they and our grasping at them dissolve into their own place (rang-sar grol) [the unified pair of awareness and voidness]. The boon experiences come from the mind and return to the mind. If, however, we grasp at them [as truly existent], our mind’s way of taking them (‘ dzin-stangs) makes a great obstacle. Our grasping at them also arises and ceases by itself. We must merely observe it, without even starting to think that these experiences are “ good.f”

Deceptive confusion, conceived of as bad, in its self-nature, is pure in the sphere (of voidness). Deceptive confusion (‘khrul-ba) [that grasps for true existence], conceived of as bad, and even “bad” conceptual thoughts that conceive of phenomena in a distorted manner, are naturally pure in the sphere (dbyings) of their void self-nature (rang-bzhin, functional nature). When we concentrate on the voidness of our deceptive thoughts, we see right through them to their void nature. [Then, we are not deceived by them and do not follow them out and engage in destructive behavior.] If we do not see through to their void nature, we experience many obstacles.

Normal awareness is without ridding or adopting, parting or attaining. Normal awareness, our naturally abiding Buddha-nature, has nothing to get rid of and nothing to adopt. As the unified pair of awareness and voidness, it is naturally free of all extremes of rejecting or accepting. [Encompassing all appearances,] there is nothing to part from it and nothing to attain or to add to it.

May I gain stable realization of the (deepest) truth, the actual nature, parted from mental fabrication. As we have already discussed, Buddhahood has double purity: the natural purity of the abiding nature and the attained purity that comes from ridding ourselves of the two sets of obscuration – the disturbing emotions and their habits. Normal awareness as deepest truth has the natural purity of our abiding nature or actual nature (chos-nyid) of inseparable awareness and voidness. Thus, it is our naturally abiding Buddha-nature. It is naturally pure: it has always been and will always be parted from all mental fabrication of impossible extreme modes of existence and disturbing emotions and thoughts. This means there is nothing to abandon, because nothing can act on or change this abiding pure nature.

The boon boon experiences naturally return to their place or origin, voidness, and the mind experiencing them automatically returns to its natural state. Both release themselves and settle into normal awareness. This is a prayer to gain stable realization of normal awareness by realizing all this.

The unified pair of compassion and voidness is divided into two sections:

  1. compassion based on recognizing (that all beings have Buddha-nature),

  2. the actual unified pair of compassion and voidness.

Prayer to Develop Compassion by Recognizing that All Beings Have Buddha-Nature

When we reach enlightenment, we do not remain in an inactive state. Because of the unified pair of compassion and voidness, we naturally work for the benefit of all beings, automatically manifesting ourselves in innumerable forms. Verse 22 is a prayer to develop compassion by recognizing that all beings have Buddha-nature.

(22) The self-nature of wandering beings is always
   that of a Buddha.
Yet, by the power of not realizing this,
   they endlessly roam in samsara.
May I develop unbearable compassion on my continuum
For limited beings with boundless suffering.

The self-nature of wandering beings is always that of a Buddha. All limited beings (sentient beings) wandering uncontrollably from rebirth to rebirth have Buddha-nature, with no beginning and no end. In The Furthest Everlasting Continuum, Maitreya gave three reasons establishing this fact. (1) Dharmakaya, a Buddha’s omniscient awareness of the inseparable two truths, pervades all beings and all phenomena. (2) The void nature of all beings and that of the Buddhas is the same. (3) No matter what caste one belongs to, one can attain enlightenment. We can find detailed explanations of these three points in this text.

Maitreya used the word caste (rigs, Skt. kula) here, sometimes translated as “family” [as in “the five Buddha-families”]. As a Buddhist technical term, it refers to the class or type of practitioner, defined according to his or her instinctive state of mind. There are several listings of classes of practitioners, with some texts specifying as many as a hundred different types.

The lowest are rough persons without belief in what is fact, hard to tame in their behavior, and with minds difficult to calm. Then, come those who are uncertain. When such persons meet with Hinayana teachings, they will be satisfied with them. On the other hand, they will also find Mahayana teachings excellent if they meet with them. Having weak discrimination, they change their minds easily and frequently.

Next, come the shravakas (listeners), who work for their own liberation through the Hinayana teachings. After them, come the pratyekabuddhas (self-realizers), who live during the dark ages when the Buddhas’ teachings are unavailable. They do not rely on a guru for their final accomplishment. Then come the bodhisattvas, those who work toward full enlightenment to be able to benefit others as much as is possible. Unable to bear the suffering of limited beings, they have unbearable compassion for everyone. Having developed great compassion (snying-rje chen-po), they wish to aid all beings, to support them in their troubles, and to help them to gain liberation from suffering.

Regardless of which caste people belong to – no matter what type of practitioner they are – all beings have inseparable awareness and voidness as their self-natures. This means that everyone has Buddha-nature, which is a womb containing a Thusly Gone Buddha (de-gshegs snying-po, Skt. tathagatagarbha). [This means that for everyone, the mind is like a womb and its self-nature of inseparable awareness and voidness, as the essential factor enabling him or her to be a Buddha, is like a Thusly Gone Buddha  inside that womb.]

Yet, by the power of not realizing this, they endlessly roam in samsara. All beings have inseparable awareness and voidness as their self-nature. Yet, because of their unawareness (ignorance) of not knowing this, they are confused about their naturally abiding pure natures. Due to this, they have distorted ideas, which bring about grasping for true existence. From this, come disturbing emotions and attitudes, which motivate impulsive karmic behavior. Consequently, they wander uncontrollably from one rebirth to the next, experiencing only suffering.

May I develop unbearable compassion on my continuum for limited beings with boundless suffering. In general, there are three types of suffering: (1) the suffering of suffering [the suffering of pain and unhappiness], (2) the suffering of change [the suffering of ordinary, ephemeral happiness, which never satisfies], and (3) all-pervasively affecting suffering. All-pervasively affecting suffering refers to the five aggregate factors of our experience. The five aggregates are affected phenomena (‘dus-byas, conditioned phenomena), affected by causes and conditions, and thus are nonstatic. They change from moment to moment, affected by our constant unawareness, and therefore attract the first two types of suffering like a magnet.

[In Supplement to (Nagarjuna’s “Root Verses on) the Middle Way” (dBu-ma-la ‘ jug-pa, Skt. Madhyamakavatara), Chandrakirti explained] there are three types of compassion: (1) compassion regarding limited beings, (2) compassion regarding phenomena, and (3) compassion regarding no object.

  • The first is compassion for limited beings simply because they are suffering. As the wish that all limited beings be free from suffering, this type of compassion is common to all religions.

  • The second is compassion for limited beings because they are confused about the actual nature of phenomena. [The actual nature of phenomena here refers to nonstaticness (impermanence). The aggregate factors of their experience are affected phenomena and thus, whatever they experience constantly changes due to the action of cause and effect.] They do not understand karma and thus are unable to discriminate between constructive and destructive behavior. Consequently, they create their own suffering through acting, speaking, and thinking destructively. [Compassion regarding phenomena, then, is the wish for limited beings to be free from suffering and from unawareness of behavioral cause and effect, which is the cause of their suffering.]

  • The third is compassion for limited beings because they are unaware of voidness, their actual deepest nature, which is beyond all objects, beyond all words and concepts. As their deepest truth, it is completely pure and naturally parted from all suffering. People, however, are confused about this. Unaware of their deepest natures, they distort reality, grasp for true existence, and thus suffer from the illusion of true existence. [Compassion regarding no object (dmigs-med snying-rje), then, is the wish for limited beings to be free from suffering and from unawareness of voidness, which is the cause of their suffering.] The second and third sorts of compassion concern only Buddhists.

Gampopa has said that when we realize voidness, we actualize compassion simultaneously. Because we realize the true nature of behavioral cause and effect, and thus realize how the laws of karma work and that they in fact do work, we automatically act in ways that will benefit others. The purification necessary to attain this realization implies ridding ourselves of all destructive behaviors. The power to help others comes from that purification. Compassion arises automatically and becomes effective because we realize the nature of suffering. We know how to benefit others since, having realized voidness, we have left all illusions behind.

Intellectual understanding, however, is not realization. Practitioners who sit back and claim that they have realized voidness have already engaged themselves in destructive behavior [through their proud speech]. If anything, they have merely an intellectual understanding of voidness and, through arrogance, grasp at that understanding and take it to be sufficient. Having not yet gained realization that would enable and empower them automatically to act with compassion, their intellectual arrogance brings them to act only in destructive manners. Because they have not dried up the source of their disturbing emotions and attitudes, they fall once more.

The Buddhas have fully realized their Buddha-natures. With the full realization of voidness, they have left behind all disturbing emotions and attitudes. Beings with limited awareness (sentient beings), on the other hand, are totally immersed in suffering. They do not realize their Buddha-natures or voidness. Thus, Buddhas compassionately manifest themselves in various Rupakaya (Form Bodies), both Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya. The latter include emanations as great beings, as artisans, and as supreme Buddhas enacting twelve enlightening deeds (mdzad-pa bcu-gnyid). With a vast corpus of these enlightening forms, Buddhas shows limited beings how to follow the path leading to enlightenment.

[The twelve enlightening deeds of a supreme Nirmanakaya are (1) descending from a Tushita pure land after having transferred his throne to the next Buddha for this eon, (2) entering his mother’s womb, (3) taking birth, (4) becoming skilled and learned in the worldly arts and sciences, (5) delighting in the company of his wife. (6) taking the robes of a spiritual seeker who has renounced family life, (7) undergoing difficult ascetic practices, (8) proceeding to a bodhi tree, (9) overcoming all demonic forces (Skt. mara), (10) manifesting the full enlightenment, (11) setting flow rounds of transmission of the Dharma (turning the wheel of Dharma), and (12) demonstrating a final release from all troubles (Skt. parinirvana) by passing away. In The Furthest Everlasting Continuum, Maitreya mentioned an additional enlightening deed of taking birth in a Tushita pure land. If this is counted as the first of the twelve deeds, then entering his mother’s womb and taking birth are counted together as one.]

“Lotuses arise in the mud, but are not stained by the mud.” Similarly, Buddhas manifest themselves in samsara, but have no samsaric stains, imprints, or instincts. They manifest in samsara because they see that limited beings suffer in samsara due to their unawareness of voidness. Unawareness disables beings from acting constructively. If beings suffer, it is the very proof of their state of unawareness [because suffering comes from destructive behavior based on unawareness]. Buddhas, on the other hand, never leave their state of full awareness of voidness, which automatically gives rise to compassion and to their manifesting in forms to benefit others. The enlightening activity of the Buddhas, in fact, flows as a unified pair of compassion (their manifestations in enlightening forms) and their void natures. Thus, compassion and voidness are a unified pair in the manifestation of a Buddha’s emanations.

[Dzogchen describes the unified pair of compassion and voidness in a slightly different manner, but it comes to the same intended point as the mahamudra discussion. Rigpa (pure awareness) has three naturally inseparable aspects. (1) It is a primally pure awareness (ka-dag), which refers to its aspect as what mahamudra calls “the unified pair voidness and awareness.” (2) It is an awareness that spontaneously establishes appearances (lhun-grub). This refers to its aspect as what mahamudra calls “the unified pair of appearance-making and appearances.” (3) It is a responsive awareness (thugs-rje, compassionate awareness), in that its appearance-making aspect compassionately responds to and communicates with suffering beings – what mahamudra calls “ the unified pair of compassion and voidness.”]

[See: Fundamentals of Dzogchen Meditation: 1 Recognizing Different Levels of Mental Activity and Appearance-Making.]

Prayer to Practice the Unified Pair of Compassion and Voidness

Verse 23 is a prayer to be able always to meditate with the unified pair of compassion and voidness. It also indicates the way of attaining perfection in behavior.

(23) While showing affection with a display
   of unbearable compassion not at all impeded,
The essential nature – the (deepest) meaning of voidness –
   nakedly dawns.
May I always meditate day and night, without separation
From this supreme path of the unified pair,
   parted from points of deviation.

While showing affection with a display of unbearable compassion not at all impeded. Because compassion and voidness constitute a unified pair, the display of compassion [in the various forms in which we help others] neither is impeded nor remains static.

We can compare voidness to a mirror. The images on a mirror are not blocked or prevented by the nature of the mirror, which is clarity or reflection (appearance-making). [The clear nature of the mirror is itself naturally free of any stains. That is its voidness.] Reflections of images are prevented only by fleeting stains (dirt) on the mirror, but those stains are not the abiding nature of the mirror.

In the same way, [voidness is the natural purity of mind-itself, never stained by disturbing emotions or attitudes or by impossible extreme ways of existing.] Voidness does not prevent the affectionate display of compassion from taking place. In fact, that display can only occur within the context of voidness. [In other words, displays of compassion arise only because the essential nature of the mind is voidness.]

The essential nature – the (deepest) meaning of voidness – nakedly dawns. Voidness and compassion support each other. When we display affectionate compassion [in other words, when the display of affectionate compassion arises], it is the void nature of the mind-itself that is nakedly dawning or appearing. That is to say, the essential nature of compassion is voidness. When we act with compassion, if we realize that its display is occurring based on its voidness, we are following a supreme path of the unified pair of compassion and voidness.

May I always meditate day and night, without separation from this supreme path of the unified pair, parted from points of deviation. Correct meditation on the unified pair of compassion and voidness is free from all points of deviation (gol-sa). Points of deviation are extreme positions. If we fall to them, we lose the correct path. If we are only emotionally compassionate, we have fallen to the extreme of compulsive samsara. If we remain only absorbed in voidness, we have fallen to the extreme of tranquil nirvana. The supreme path is to realize that voidness does not prevent compassion and compassion operates because of voidness.

This verse also describes mahamudra behavior. [In verse 8, the brief explanation of mahamudra behavior concerned regarding all we encounter during our daily activity to be like an illusion. All appearances are the display of voidness, the display of mind-itself. Thus, mahamudra behavior is to act without a duality of total absorption and subsequent attainment. Here, in the detailed explanation, mahamudra behavior entails acting with the unified pair of compassion and voidness.]

In addition to compassion, three further components must also accompany mahamudra meditation and behavior. They are often described with the analogy of a human body. The meditation and behavior are like a body.

  1. Firm conviction (mos-pa) in the fact of our gurus’ good qualities and appreciation (gus-pa) of our gurus’ kindness are like the head. Conviction and appreciation of our gurus are like the head, because our gurus direct our practice.

  2. Being parted from grasping and clinging is like the arms and legs. [They must not grasp or cling to the boon boon experiences or to the agent, object, or action involved in any behavior.]

  3. Being parted from indecisive wavering and mental wandering is like the trunk of the body. [The meditation and behavior need to be decisive and stable.] Only by having all these components complete can we progress on the mahamudra path.

Prayer to Manifest the Result

Verse 24 is a prayer to manifest Buddhahood as the result of mahamudra practice.

(24) (Having attained) the extrasensory eyes
   and advanced awarenesses arisen
   from the power of meditation,
Having ripened limited beings,
   having cleansed everything
   into Buddha-fields,
And having fulfilled Buddha-Dharma practitioners’
   prayers for actualizations,
May I reach the endpoint of fulfilling, ripening,
   and cleansing, and become a Buddha.

Reaching the resultant stage of enlightenment through mahamudra practice entails passing through numerous stages.

  1. The common and uncommon preliminary practices (sngon-‘gro, “ngondro”), undertaken with the good qualities of belief in fact (dad-pa, “faith”), compassion, and so on.

  2. Shamatha practice, followed by vipashyana practice.

  3. Practice of the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana.

  4. Gaining the boon boon experiences based on absorbed concentration on the clear nature of the mind.

  5. With increasing familiarity with voidness, gradually seeing through the boon experiences and attaining stable realization.

  6. Through the unified pair of compassion and voidness, progressing through the four yogas (rnal-‘byor bzhi) until reaching the highest attainment of Vajradharahood (Buddhahood).

The four yogas [into which the five bodhisattva pathway minds (lam-lnga, five paths) are divided] in mahamudra are:

  1. single-pointedness (rtse-gcig) [corresponding to a building-up pathway mind (tshogs-lam, path of accumulation) and an applying pathway mind (sbyor-lam, path of preparation)],

  2. parted from mental fabrications (spros-bral) [co rresponding to a seeing pathway mind (mthong-lam, path of seeing)],

  3. single taste (ro-gcig) [corresponding to an accustoming pathway mind (sgom-lam, path of meditation)],

  4. no further meditation (sgom-med) [corresponding to a pathway mind needing no further training (mi-slob lam, path of no further learning, Buddhahood)].

The different Indian Buddhist tenet systems and the different Tibetan lineages formulate the stages of pathway minds leading to enlightenment in varying manners. Sutra and tantra also differ in their manner of explaining progress through the pathway minds.

Sutra calls enlightenment the state of a Buddha. Anuttarayoga tantra in the new translation period (Sarma) schools (Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug) calls it the state of Vajradhara, while dzogchen in the old translation period school of Nyingma calls it the state of Samantabhadra. Tantra speaks of progressing through the generation stage and the complete stage and passing through the stages with a sign and without a sign. Nyingma presents nine vehicles to enlightenment, six of which are tantra, while Sarma presents four tantra classes. We must avoid the error of imagining that the different names and presentations of the path refer to the attainment of different states. Although the methods may differ, the final realization is the same.

It is important to practice like Milarepa, with firm conviction and appreciation of our gurus, intense work to achieve absorbed concentration, and so on. The mahamudra path is sometimes called the direct path. The Mahayana path in general is a more rapid path to enlightenment [if followed from the start]. However, the Hinayana path of the shravakas and pratyekabuddhas is not an erroneous path or a dead-end. After completing the Hinayana path, practitioners can further practice the Mahayana path. It is important to discern in each of our practices, which paths we ourselves are following.

Verse 24 mentions some of the outstanding qualities and abilities that result from having followed the path and having reached enlightenment. (Having attained) the eyes and advanced awarenesses arisen from the power of meditation. [While still on the path, we may attain a certain degree of three of the five eyes (spyan-lnga) and the six types of advanced awareness (mngon-shes drug). These are types of nonconceptual cognition that enable us to benefit beings to a certain extent before reaching enlightenment. As a Buddha, we possess all five eyes and all six types of advanced awareness to their full degree.]

The five extrasensory eyes are:

  1. The extrasensory flesh eye (sha’i spyan) – cognition that is able to see great distances without obstruction, to see through solid objects such as walls, to see in all directions at the same time, and so on. If we think this is impossible or ridiculous, we need to consider the case of vultures and eagles. Their vision is far superior to ours. They can see exceptionally far.

  2. The extrasensory divine eye (lha’i spyan) – cognition that is able to “see” (in the sense of know) future rebirths. This name comes from the fact that divine beings (gods) are able to see the form they will take in their next rebirths.

  3. The extrasensory eye of discriminating awareness (shes-rab-kyi spyan) – cognition that is able to “see” voidness, nonconeptually. Bodhisattvas [with an actual state of the first level of mental stability] attain these first three types of eyes to a certain degree. Only Buddhas, however, possess the next two types of eyes.

  4. The extrasensory eye of the Dharma (chos-kyi spyan) – cognition that is able to put into effect the ten forces of a Thusly Gone (Skt. Tathagata) Buddha (de-bzhin gshegs-pa’i stobs-bcu), which enable a Buddha to lead all beings to enlightenment. [This is the ability to see (a) the appropriate and inappropriate relations between various types of karmic behavior and their results, (b) the ripened results of all karmic impulses, (c) the various aspirations of all limited beings, (d) the various sources of everyone’s ideas and misunderstandings and the various sources that will bring each being to enlightenment, (e) the superior and inferior levels of everyone’s powers and abilities, (f) the paths of the mind that lead to every type of spiritual goal, (g) the various states of deep meditative absorption so that a Buddha can lead beings lost in them to progress beyond them, (h) all one’s own and others’ previous rebirth situations, (i) the death, transference and future rebirth of everyone up to his or her enlightenment and then where each will manifest subsequently, (j) the degree of depletion of the various tainted factors (zag-pa zad-pa) on each being’s mental continuum.]

  5. The extrasensory eye of deep awareness (ye-shes-kyi spyan), also known as the extrasensory eye of a Buddha (sangs-rgyas-kyi spyan) – omniscient awareness to “see” the two truths about all phenomena – their present appearance and their natural purity.

The six types of advanced awareness are:

  1. The advanced awareness for extraphysical emanation (rdzu-‘phrul-gyi mngon-shes) – cognition that is able to produce many different simultaneous emanations that are any one of three types: (a) physical emanations made of the five elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and space, (b) verbal emanations – speaking in such a way that various people can understand the words in their own languages and at their own levels of understanding, or (c) mental emanations of thoughts and levels of mind, such as awareness of many levels of meaning of a Dharma passage.

  2. The advanced awareness of the divine eye (lha’i mig-gi mngon-shes) – cognition that is able to see the different effects of karma on different beings [such as their future rebirths].

  3. The advanced awareness of the divine ear (rna-ba’i mngon-shes) – cognition that is able to hear sounds at any distance and to understand them, regardless of language.

  4. The advanced awareness of recollection of past situations (sngon-gnas rjes-dran-gyi mngon-shes) – cognition that is able to know past lives.

  5. The advanced awareness of knowing others’ minds (gzhan-sems shes-pa’i mngon-shes) – cognition that is able to cognize others’ thoughts and states of mind. 

  6. The advanced awareness of the depletion of tainted factors (zag-pa zad-pa’i mngon-shes). Cognition of one's own state of being rid forever of the emotional obscurations (nyon-sgrib) preventing liberation from samsara.

Having ripened limited beings, having cleansed everything into Buddha-fields, and having fulfilled Buddha-Dharma practitioners’ prayers for actualizations. [When we attain the yoga free from mental fabrication (a seeing pathway mind), we begin to progress through the ten levels of bhumi-minds, culminating in the attainment of Buddhahood. During our progress, we begin to attain more aspects that we will have in full when we reach enlightenment.]

The text mentions three of the aspects of the resultant stage:

  1. The ability to know the needs of all beings and thus to ripen their mental continuums for spiritual attainments.

  2. The ability to purify everything into Buddha-fields (sangs-rgyas zhing). When a Buddha speaks, the entire environment is transformed into a Buddha-field. [A Buddha-field is a pure environment (pure land) in which all conditions are conducive for making spiritual progress.] When we visualize yidams (Buddha-figures) during tantra meditation, we do the same thing analogously. We purify the place in which we are meditating by recreating it as a pure land in our imaginations. Only after this purification do we visualize the yidam.

  3. [By teaching the Dharma with skillful methods,] the ability to fulfill the prayers offered by aspiring practitioners of Buddha-Dharma to actualize the teachings.

May I reach the endpoint of fulfilling, ripening, and cleansing, and become a Buddha. This is a prayer to manifest the result and thus to achieve all these abilities in full with the attainment of enlightenment.

Final Prayer of Dedication

Verse 25 is the final dedication of the positive force built up by these prayers.

(25) By the force of the compassion of the Triumphant Ones
    in the ten directions and their spiritual offspring,
And of as much ennobling constructive force as there be,
May the pure aspiration prayers of myself
   and all limited beings
Come true in this way, just as we’ve made them.

This verse underlines the power of aspiration prayers and the power of the dedication of positive force for bringing about the realization of Buddhahood.

Listening to or reading an explanation of mahamudra is not sufficient. It is utterly necessary to practice. This teaching gives us just an initial idea of the approach to mahamudra. Words are not enough. We must strive toward stable realizations. Even if this teaching has helped merely to produce some belief in what is true and an aspiration to achieve it, that will be progress. This will certainly help us to take full advantage of our precious human lives and to reach enlightenment one day.