Mahamudra Eliminating the Darkness of Unawareness
by the Ninth Karmapa Wangchug-dorjey
(Kar-ma-pa dBang-phyug rdo-rje, 1556-1603)
translated by Alexander Berzin, 1977
according to explanations by Beru Khyentse Rinpoche
revised translation by Alexander Berzin, February 2008
Part One: Preliminaries
I make heartfelt obeisance to the precious Kagyu line. Although manifestly enlightened countless ages ago, you have been emanating in whatever bodies have been suited for taming those needing to be tamed, so that even hearing your names eliminates the fears of recurring samsara.
Having prostrated to my guru and his lineage, I shall say a little about mahamudra, the great seal, the innermost heart of the diamond-strong vehicle of mind, Vajrayana, in order to encourage disciples desiring liberation. It is the singular pathway of mind through which all Buddhas have traveled. Moreover, with the undissipated warmth of inspiration from the guidelines transmitted orally, one ear to the next, in succession from the Buddha to my root guru concerning the essence of the minds of all the Buddhas of the three times, it is a method for achieving, in a single lifetime, the extraordinary supreme state of a unified Vajradhara pair.
For elaborating the practice of mahamudra according to the non-degenerated manner of explication of the precious Kagyu, there are three parts: the preliminaries, the actual fundamental part, and the concluding material.
For the first of these, there is taking safe direction or refuge and generating a bodhichitta aim.
In the space before you, imagine a wish-granting tree with one trunk and dividing into five branches. On the central one is your guru, on the front one are the Buddha-figures, the yidams, on the right one the Buddhas, on the back one the Dharma scriptures, and on the left one the Sangha community. Each is surrounded by a cluster of figures of its own class.
Imagine yourself situated in a multitude of all motherly limited sentient beings, with yourself standing in front as their leader and all of them joining you in a chorus of taking safe direction. (Everyone) is reciting what is appropriate for taking safe direction and is in the state of mind that thinks, “Realizing that all limited beings have been my mothers and fathers, may they be endowed with happiness, parted from suffering, and attain the peerless purified state of enlightenment. And so, for that purpose, I shall take safe direction and generate a bodhichitta aim.” (Recite, then), “From the Buddhas, the Dharma, and the Highest Assembly….” and meditate on the four immeasurable attitudes: “May all limited beings be endowed with happiness and the causes for happiness,” and so on. At the conclusion, meditate that the objects of safe direction melt into light and dissolve into you.
That is the first (preliminary practice): purifying your mental continuum through the meditations for taking safe direction and generating a bodhichitta aim.
Meditate on the crown of your head your guru as Vajrasattva, white in color, with right hand holding a vajra scepter at his heart, left holding a bell at his hip, and arrayed with the excellent bodily signs and exemplary features. Then (having recited), “O Guru Vajrasattva, I beseech you to purify me of all my negative karmic force and obstructions,” and, in addition, having applied what is appropriate for open admission (of your previous mistaken behavior), imagine white nectar falling from the large toe of Vajrasattva’s (right) foot. It enters you through the crown of your head and fills your entire body. All your negative karmic force and obscurations leave you and, in their place, you are entirely filled with nectar. Pleased, your guru melts into light (and dissolves into you). Meditate that your body, speech, and mind and the enlightening body, speech, and mind of Vajrasattva have become inseparably mixed together.
That is the second (preliminary practice): purifying yourself of negative karmic force and obscurations through Vajrasattva meditation and mantra recitation.
Meditate (before you) that, in a mandala arranged with five mounds, your guru is in the center, before him are the Buddha-figures, to his right are the Buddhas, behind him are the Dharma scriptures, and on his left is the Sangha community. This is the actualized mandala.
Then, having arranged another mandala with mounds, offer it to it with, “This base, anointed with fragrant waters, strewn with flowers…” and so on, and, in addition, the appropriate mandala ritual. Then present actually arrayed material offerings and mentally created ones.
By the force of having made offerings like that, you will complete your two networks (of positive force and deep awareness). Then, having made requests, “Inspire me to develop sublime boon experiences and stable realizations,” think that the host of deities in the actualized mandala melt into light and dissolve into you.
That is the third (preliminary practice): completing your two networks like that through earnestly practicing the instructions for the mandala offering.
Meditate that on the crown of your head is your root guru, either in his own bodily form or in the aspect of a Buddha-figure, whichever you prefer. Meditate that the (lineage) gurus going back to Vajradhara are either stacked one atop the other above his head or meditate that they are in a multitude (clustered around him). Directing toward them immeasurable firm conviction, appreciation, and extraordinary fondness, make them requests very strongly and for a long time. When your state of mind has transformed (through their inspiration) and you have made it stable, then meditate that the lineage gurus, together with a host of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, viras, dakinis, Dharma protectors, and guardians, dissolve into your root guru and that your root guru is the embodiment incorporating them all.
Present the outer, inner, and secret offerings and offer the seven-limb prayer. Then strongly take safe direction, enhance your bodhichitta aim, and make requests with: “(Together with) all motherly limited beings equal to space, I make requests to you, my guru, the precious Buddhas; I make requests to you, my guru, all-pervasive Dharmakaya; I make requests to you, Sambhogakaya of great bliss; I make requests to you, Nirmanakaya of compassion,” and so forth.
Then, by your guru dissolving into you, think that your guru’s enlightening body, speech, and mind have become inseparably mixed together with your own mind and then set your mind into a state parted from mental fabrication.
Earnestly practicing by relying on this method for gaining the stable realizations of mahamudra is the fourth (preliminary practice): causing inspiration to enter you through meditation on guru-yoga.
If you do not meditate on impermanence, you will not turn your mind away from concern for this life. If you do not turn your mind, you will not become liberated from samsara, uncontrollably recurring rebirth. Therefore, concerning that, (Nagarjuna has written in his Letter to a Friend, verse 55), “Many things can damage your life: it’s more impermanent than a bubble on a river, tossed by the wind. Any respite (from death) you may have – to breathe out after breathing in and to awaken from having fallen asleep – that’s utterly amazing!”
Like that, then since, in general, all affected phenomena are impermanent and, specifically, since the life force of wandering beings is as impermanent as a bubble, you can never know when it will burst. There is no certainty that you will not die right now. Since, at the time of death, nothing except Dharma is of any help and since, in accomplishing meaningless tasks that are worldly and for this life, you will not pass beyond the causes for suffering, swear an oath that whenever your mind wanders for even a moment toward thoughts of food, clothing, and so forth for this life, you will immediately think about death.
Count those who have previously died from time to time – your own relatives and close ones. (Think about) the manner in which they have died and how their corpses were taken to the cemetery and nothing remains of their bodies. Further, since you, too, do not transcend such a nature, work yourself into a state of trembling fear like a limited being placed into the hands of a hangman. When (you have done that, then) by not letting your mind escape into mental wandering and by completely discarding any interest in this life, meditate completely wrapped up in just that.
That is the fifth (preliminary practice): meditation on death and impermanence.
After that, as it is necessary not to mix up what is to be adopted and what is to be discarded in reference to karma and behavioral cause and effect, (think about how) the fruits of whatever karmic actions embodied beings have themselves performed ripen on them individually. Moreover, if you commit the ten destructive actions, you are reborn in one of the worse rebirth states. Depending on (which of) the three poisonous emotions (motivated them), their frequency, whether their objects were mighty or not mighty, and whether what you committed was major, middling, or minor (in nature), you are reborn either as a hell being, a clutching ghost, or an animal. Once you are born as that, you have to experience these or those (kinds of) hard-to-fathom sufferings. Depending on whether you have committed major, middling, or minor constructive actions, you are reborn either as a human or as a god on the plane of sensory desires, on the plane of ethereal forms, or on the plane of formless beings. Therefore, at all times, investigate and scrutinize your three gateways of behavior.
Feel joy at whatever constructive acts you have performed and bring to a halt whatever destructive or unspecified actions you have done. In other words, not mixing up what is to be gotten rid of or adopted, what is to be engaged in or rejected, break the continuity of your destructive actions and make the rounds of constructive acts of your three gateways (of action: body, speech, and mind) have no breaks in their continuity. That is the very meaning of Buddha’s teachings and is what accomplishes the aim of having done the practices. Therefore, once you have come to know, in great detail, what is to be adopted and what is to be discarded with respect to karma and behavioral cause and effect, train yourself (in accord with that).
That is the sixth (preliminary practice): the teachings on karma and behavioral cause and effect.
After that, if you have not meditated on the shortcomings of uncontrollably recurring samsaric rebirth, you will not turn away from clinging to it, nor will you develop thoughts of renunciation, the determination to be free. Because of those circumstances, boon experiences and stable realizations will not dawn on your mental continuum. Because you will be depriving yourself of your share of them dawning, you must meditate on the sufferings of samsaric rebirth in order to rid yourself of them.
Further, when limited beings are reborn as hell beings, they have the sufferings of the eight hot hells, the eight cold hells, the neighboring hells, occasional hells, and so on. Clutching ghosts have hunger and thirst. Animals have being killed and slaughtered. Humans have birth, old age, sickness, and death. Gods have transference of consciousness and falling. Demigods have fighting and disputes.
Moreover, in those six classes (of rebirth) with such sufferings and more, the experiences of manifold obvious sufferings are the suffering of suffering. That which appears to be happiness is the suffering of change. That which has the tone of abiding with a neutral feeling is the (all-pervasively) affecting suffering. Because you are uninterruptedly harmed (by this last one), then even if, within this circle of samsaric rebirth, you have attained the high state of a universal chakravartin emperor, Brahma, Indra, or the like, you have not passed beyond suffering. Therefore, thinking definitely to separate yourself, as much as is possible, from this (terrible situation) right now, decide that this samsaric circle of rebirth is like a dungeon or a pit of flames and make efforts in the methods for liberating yourself from it.
But, even if you have achieved a Hinayana purified state with residue, you still have not transmuted to a supreme state of ultimate happiness. Therefore, you need to attain this peerless purified state of enlightenment now, by all means whatsoever. For the sake of that, with the certainty that all limited beings, without exception, have been nothing but your mothers and fathers, kind without any beginning, develop an uncontrived bodhichitta aim, thinking, “I shall definitely place them in the stable happiness of a peerless, perfect, completely purified state of enlightenment.”
That is the seventh (preliminary practice): earnestly practicing just that.
The working basis for actualizing that is the precious human body. Because it is extremely difficult to find, you must wrap yourself completely in the practices, not letting yourself come under the sway of indolence or laziness. If you have to leave, returning empty-handed, from the respites and enrichments (of a precious human body) snatched away by the demons of death and impermanence, then what will you do? In other words, since this precious human body is so difficult to find and so easy to lose, make your attainment of its respites and enrichments meaningful at all times and in all situations.
That is the eighth (preliminary practice): practicing that extremely earnestly.
Of the four conditions for actualizing the practice, the causal condition is earnestly practicing to develop disgust (with samsaric rebirth) and to send off, as something to be turned away, your clinging (to it. Do this) by taming your mental continuum with (thoughts of) impermanence and by seeing the individual and general characteristics of samsaric phenomena.
That is the ninth (preliminary practice).
Entrust yourself to a perfect spiritual master – a guru who is a person in the lineage, the guru that is the enlightening words of a Blissfully Gone Buddha, the guru that is the deepest actual nature, the guru that is a gesture in a vision, and so on – and practice his or her guideline instructions just as they are.
Because being cared for by a perfect spiritual master is the dominating condition (for actualizing the practice), entrusting yourself in that way is the tenth (preliminary practice).
Cut off completely all sectarian, biased feelings toward these (tenet systems and lineages)
established by convention and mental labeling by concepts. Develop the certainty that they are all
non-contradictory and, from all of them (come) a dropping down to the natural state of the actual
nature of all things – the especially distinguished, primordial abiding nature.
As being undeceived about what is to be meditated upon is the focal condition (for actualizing the practice), becoming certain like that is the eleventh (preliminary practice).
Not only must you develop steadfast effort from the state of mind that is parted from clinging to meditation (in a sectarian manner), you must also not have any sign whatsoever of hopes or worries, such as thinking, “I am doing meditation; I will continue doing it; I have done it; and when (success) has arisen, that will be good.”
As being parted from hopes and worries is the immediately preceding condition (for actualizing the practice), practicing from a state of mind that is uncontrived is the twelfth (preliminary practice).
This concludes the preliminaries.
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