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The Gelug-Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra

Originally published as
H. H. the Dalai Lama and Berzin, Alexander. The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra. Ithaca, Snow Lion, 1997

Order this book directly from Snow Lion Publications

Part III: A Discourse on A Root Text for Mahamudra

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
Dharamsala, India, June 1978
translated by Alexander Berzin
July 1996

6 The Deep Awareness Subsequently Attained

Recognizing Anything to Which Mind Gives Rise

The First Panchen Lama next explains how to cultivate seeing everything to be like illusion with the deep awareness we subsequently attain after we arise from total absorption on voidness. We cultivate this during our so-called “post-meditation period,” when we are either engaged in other meditation or conducting our ordinary affairs of life. Mainly, our understanding is as before. We simply reaffirm and thus reinforce our strong conviction in the lack of true and inherent existence.

The text continues,

Having accustomed yourself like this, then no matter what has dawned as an appearance of a cognitive object to your sixfold network (of consciousness), inspect minutely its manner of appearance. Its manner of existence will dawn, denuded and distinctly.

No matter what our mind makes appear as an object of one of our six networks of consciousness – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile or bodily sensations, or mental objects or events – we thoroughly scrutinize its mode of appearance. Our mind is making it appear as though its existence were established by virtue of itself, empowered by some truly and inherently existent self-nature – and not by virtue simply of mental labeling establishing its existence as what can be labeled as “this” or “that” from this side. We thoroughly scrutinize this mode of appearance and the mode of existence it implies. There does appear to be something solidly there, not existing as what it is by virtue simply of mental labeling, but by virtue of itself, independently of anything else. But, by reminding ourselves that it does not exist as our mind is making it appear to exist – by being mindful that its existence and identity are not established through its own power – we automatically reconfirm and become even stronger in our conviction in its bare mode of existence. In other words, as the text says, “ Its manner of existence will dawn, denuded and distinctly.”

The text continues,

(This is) the essential point for having whatever has cognitively dawned being like what you recognize.

In short, no matter what arises in our mind, we do not apprehend it actually to exist in the manner in which it appears to exist. When our mind normally gives rise to an appearance of something, it seems to exist in a manner other than being devoid of existing in the way in which our mind makes it appear. Our mind gives rise to an appearance of it as something truly and inherently existent – as something solid and findable – and it seems to us that it actually exists in the manner implied by how it appears. But the manner in which it appears to exist is a fantasized, impossible way of existing.

As is explained, “When our mind gives rise to an appearance of something as if it existed solidly on its own, our mind does so because it is obscured.” Therefore we must not apprehend what appears in our mind to be solidly existent as actually existing in the manner in which our mind makes it appear. Our mind gives rise to an appearance of it as if its existence were established by not relying on anything else – as if its existence were not established by virtue simply of mental labeling. It gives rise to an appearance of it as if its existence were established under its own power, in the foreground before us, as its appearance implies. Our mind makes it appear as if it were something that did not exist as what is impossible ultimately to find as being inherently itself. But, in fact, it is merely the obscuring obstacles preventing omniscience – the instincts of unawareness – that are causing our mind to give rise to an appearance of it as though, from the beginning, it had a inherently findable self-nature establishing its existence from its own side. Nothing, however, actually exists in the manner in which the obscured mind makes it appear to exist.

The text continues,

In short, any object whatsoever that cognitively appears, such as your own mind and so on, make yourself certain about its manner of existence – don’t grasp at it (to exist in the manner that it appears) – and always sustain (that certainty).

We keep firm to the actual mode of existence of phenomena by remaining mindful of what we have previously realized upon close inspection. In other words, no matter what our mind gives rise to, appearing to have true and inherent existence as its mode of existence, we remain ever mindful of its total lack of this impossible mode of existence. We do not apprehend it actually to exist in the fantasized manner in which our mind makes it appear. In this way, our mind eventually gives rise only to an appearance of it as existing as “this” or “that” relative to circumstances, by virtue simply of mental labeling – existing in the manner of arising, abiding and passing without it being ultimately findable as what it is. In short, by remaining always mindful, as our subsequently attained deep awareness, that the mode of existence of anything that arises in our mind is actually that it exists as what it is by virtue simply of circumstances, we further our subsequent deep awareness, gaining ever stronger conviction in voidness.

Applying Our Understanding to All Phenomena

The text continues,

When you know (one thing to exist) like this, (you see that) it applies uniformly to the self-nature of all phenomena of samsara or nirvana.

We induce conviction in noninherent existence first on the basis of one phenomenon. We do so by relying on the reason that its appearance as “this” or “that” arises dependently, simply on the fact that it can be mentally labeled as “this” or “that.” We understand, in this way, that its voidness does not impede its appearance and its appearance does not impede its voidness. In fact, its voidness and appearance establish each other. Consequently, voidness dawns to us in the sense of dependent arising and dependent arising dawns in the sense of voidness. When such an understanding occurs on the basis of one phenomenon, the nature of all phenomena becomes clear to us in the same way. We realize that the same understanding applies to the devoid nature of all phenomena of samsara or nirvana, “ uniformly the same.”

The text continues,

Aryadeva has also given voice to that in saying, “Any seer of one phenomenon is the seer of everything. Any voidness of one thing is the voidness of everything.”

When we apply our understanding of voidness to all phenomena, there is no need to rely on various and sundry reasons to prove the voidness of each and every one of them equal to the number of all knowable things. There is no need to proceed in the same manner as when we first come to decisive understanding of the voidness of one thing. Once we are able to gain conviction in the total lack of true and inherent existence, in the full definition, on the basis of one phenomena – in other words, once we are able to induce conviction in noninherent existence by reason of dependent arising with respect to one phenomenon – we are able to gain strong conviction in noninherent existence on the basis of all other phenomena as well. We accomplish this by merely recalling that they too are things that dependently arise as what they are. This is the way in which we gain strong conviction in the voidness of everything.

Alternating Total Absorption and Subsequent Realization

Furthermore, although the two truthsconventional and deepest – concerning any phenomenon are of a singly cognizable nature, yet at this point in our practice, our mind can make voidness dawn on it only intermittently, and only by itself, in a meditative state of single pointed, absorbed concentration focused on the deepest truth. This is because we have not as yet eliminated the obstacles preventing omniscience. Until we have removed this final set of obstacles regarding all knowables, we cannot experience a deepest truth – the devoid nature of a phenomenon – as the object of our mind simultaneously with our mind also giving rise to the conventional truth of that phenomenon – its conventional appearance as something arising and ceasing, passing and remaining. Because we cannot as yet have the two truths of a phenomenon as the object of one moment of our awareness, simultaneously and starkly with bare, straightforward perception, the root text continues,

Before the face of proper, total absorption on the actual nature (of everything) like that, there is just the severance of mentally fabricated extremes regarding (everything of) samsara and nirvana, such as (inherent, findable) existence, (total) nonexistence, and so on.

In the state of total absorption on voidness, our only object of cognition is an absence and our only way of apprehending it is as the mere refutation and nullification of what is to be refuted and nullified. We experience everything other than this – namely all appearances of what can be established as conventionally existing – to have set, like the setting sun. This being the case, the text continues,

Yet after you have arisen, when you inspect, (you see that) the dependent arising of the functioning of what is merely imputedly existent, simply by names, undeniably and naturally still cognitively dawns, like dreams, mirages, reflections of the moon in water, and illusions.

When we arise from total absorption on voidness and scrutinize closely with deep awareness, subsequently attained, we find that our mind still gives rise to an appearance of this or that phenomenon as if its existence were established through its own power, by virtue of its own inherent self-nature. There can be no mistaking that our mind still gives rise to this type of discordant appearance of things despite everything actually being simply what can be labeled by names. When our mind gives rise to this appearance of something as if it were truly and inherently existent by nature – or, more fully, when our mind gives rise to a discordant appearance of it because of being under the influence of obstacles preventing omniscience – we recall our previous ascertainment of noninherent existence. We recall our certainty that while being noninherently existent, everything appears as if inherently existent. Despite our mind giving rise to a deceptive appearance of something as if inherently existent – which is discordant with its actual mode of existence – our discordant appearance-making mind does not establish it as actually being inherently existent.

What happens as a result of this understanding? From our scrutiny and reliance on reason, we are totally convinced that even though our mind gives rise to an appearance of something as if it were truly and inherently existent, it does not exist in that impossible way. In other words, we are convinced of the fact that when our mind ordinarily gives rise to an appearance of something, it makes it merely appear as if it were existing under its own power, but does not establish or prove that it actually exists in that way, because, in fact, nothing does. Consequently, by simply recalling our two-fold conviction in the appearance of true, inherent existence and yet the total absence of true, inherent existence, we experience our mind now making everything dawn like an illusion, a dream, a reflection of the moon in water and so on.

Therefore, the deep awareness to which we attain subsequently to our arising from total absorption on voidness is that we see things, as the author says, to be “like dreams, mirages, reflections of the moon in water and illusions.” In other words, we see that although our mind gives rise to a discordant appearance of things, they do not exist in the way they appear – they have no true, inherent existence. They are like illusion, in the sense that things do not exist in the deceptive manner in which our mind gives rise to an appearance of them. Conventional phenomena, however, are not illusions. Conventionally existent food can produce an effect – it can fill our stomach – an illusion of food cannot. We cultivate our practice during post absorption periods by seeing appearances in this manner.

Simultaneous Perception of the Two Truths

The text continues,

(When you realize simultaneously that) appearances do not obscure voidness and voidness does not make appearances cease, you are manifesting, at that time, the excellent pathway mind (that cognizes from the single viewpoint) of voidness and dependent arising being synonymous.

Practicing like this, we realize that voidness and dependent arising are completely synonymous. They become yoked together as equals. When we look from the point of view of understanding the meaning of the voidness of anything, we understand that it dependently arises as “ this” or “that” by virtue simply of mental labeling, and vice versa. On the basis of our mind giving rise to dependently arising things as a foundation, our mind also gives rise to their voidness. Without voidness being set aside in the background, but through the gateway of a foundation of voidness, our mind simultaneously gives rise to the appearance of things existing as what dependently arises. Thus on a single foundation, looking from the point of view of voidness, we strengthen our enlightenment-building network of deep awareness and, on the same foundation, looking from the point of view of dependent arising, we strengthen our enlightenment-building network of positive force.

In other words, we must investigate on a specific basis, for instance our mind, and on this foundation come to a decisive understanding of its two truths. On a single foundation, we come to a decisive understanding of both dependent arising and voidness, or the conventional and deepest truths – the two truths about anything. A mind that gives rise, with decisive understanding, to these two truths simultaneously is a pathway mind of inseparable method and wisdom. Practicing in the way the author describes, we eventually experience our mind giving rise to this pathway mind of method and wisdom. On the basis of this ultimate pathway mind as its immediate cause, we directly manifest the two sets of resultant bodies of a Buddha: two bodies of forms, or rupakaya – namely, a body of forms with full use, sambhogakaya, and a body of their emanations, nirmanakaya – as well as two bodies that encompass everything, or dharmakaya – namely, a body of deep awareness, jnana-dharmakaya, referring to an omniscient mind, and a body of self-nature, svabhavakaya.

Closing Dedication and Colophon

The text concludes with the author’s dedication and the colophon.

The speaker of these words has been the renuncient called Lozang-chokyi-gyeltsen, who has listened to much (teaching). By its positive force, may all wandering beings quickly become triumphant Buddhas through this pathway of mind, apart from which there is no second gateway to a state of serenity.

(Author’s colophon:) I have compiled these methods that lead you to know, face to face, the great seal of reality, mahamudra, at the repeated previous request of Gedun-gyeltsen, (who holds the monastic degree of) Infinitely Learned Scholar of the Ten Fields of Knowledge, and of Sherab-senggey from Hatong, (who holds the monastic degree of) Master of the Ten Difficult Texts. They have seen that the eight transitory things in this (world) are like dramas of madness and now live in remote solitude, following a sagely way of life and taking this pathway of mind as their essential practice. Further, many other disciples, who wish to practice mahamudra at its definitive level, have also requested me.

Moreover, (I have especially composed this text now since) the great triumphant Ensapa, the omniscient, majestic commander of the ennobling ones with actual attainment, has said in one of his songs of experience to instruct himself and others, “I have compiled the instructions concerning lam-rim (the graded stages of pathway minds) from the Kadam tradition, all the way from entrusting yourself to a spiritual teacher up through shamata and vipashyana. But, in the end, I have been unable to set out now, in written words, the ultimate guideline instructions for mahamudra, which are not included among these aforementioned pathways of mind and which are not well known at present to those of the Land of Snows.” Thus, what was not set down (in writing) at that time due to the power of its being restricted was intended for a later period.

Also, for example, in The Lotus Sutra, it was stated, “ Because it is to be realized completely by the Buddhas’ deep awareness (Sanggyay-yeshey), you could never say to those who would (prematurely) write about this method of their own accord that you are enlightened. If you ask why, it is because those who are protectors of refuge have regard for the times.”

Therefore, also in order for such prophesies as this to be fulfilled, I, the renuncient Lozang-chokyi-gyeltsen, who have not let degenerate the lineage of inspiration from those who have practiced straightforwardly this pathway of mind from the peerless Universal Teacher, the King of the Shakyas, down through my root guru, the omniscient Sanggyay-yeshey, and who myself have become a member of this lineage, not letting the close bond of its practice be lost, and who uphold the quintessence teachings of the sutras and tantras, have compiled this at Ganden Monastery.

These apparently were restricted teachings, which means they were not written down in the eighteen volumes of Tsongkhapa ‘ s works. Changkya Rolpay-dorjey has confirmed this in his Answers to Questions. Someone from Amdo had asked, “These days in U, central Tibet, there is a discourse tradition among the Gelugpa known as mahamudra. But I do not see this in the works of Tsongkhapa . How is this? Are they correct?” Changkya Rinpoche has answered that it was a special, uncommon discourse tradition and, as such, it was very good.

Thus, the term “Gelug-Kagyu tradition” in the title of the text seems to refer to some specific lineage. I believe that it does. The manner of exposition in it is slightly different from the general way Tsongkhapa has spoken about the madhyamaka tradition, as seen in An Ocean of Reason [Commentary on Nagarjuna’s “Root Stanzas on the Middle Way”], Totally Clarifying the Intentions [of Chandrakirti’s “Supplement to (Nagarjuna’s ‘Root Stanzas on) the Middle Way’”], A Grand and A Short Presentation of an Exceptionally Perceptive State of Mind and The Essence of Excellent Explanation of Interpretable and Definitive Meanings. Also in our text there are a large number of quotations from works by previous Kagyu masters. Even in A Ritual to Honor the Spiritual Master, concerning guru-yoga in connection with mahamudra, the First Panchen Lama uses technical terms such as “ primordial Buddhahood” and, “Samantabhadra, the totally excellent state.” Especially the words of the ceremony, praises and requests in connection with the fourth empowerment, or “initiation,” are a bit eclectic. They have a shared basis with the terminology of the dzogchen view.

That being so, we can conclude that among the lineages transmitted by the Gelug Geshes, there was one of inner, hidden, personal instructions, the explanation of which did not appear publicly. Thus, this was a previously restricted guideline teaching that was not well known and that was passed down orally from mouth to ear up to Sanggyay-yeshey, and which the First Panchen Lama, Lozang-chokyi-gyeltsen, has set down here in words. As Tsongkhapa has said in A Lamp for Clarifying the Five Stages [of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage], “Do not just pass down the texts wrapped up on the shelves by poking them [as a blessing] from one nose to the next.” In other words, these are quintessence teachings to be put into practice.

Concluding Advice

This concludes an explanation of A Root Text for Mahamudra. It is an excellent, very clear and beneficial text that is extremely meaningful and purposeful for the mind. It has a close connection with the practice of anuttarayoga tantra’s complete stage. In order to give those who are intensely interested in its practice far-reaching and unshakable inspiration, I have delivered, as requested, this discourse on mahamudra on the basis of inspiration from the entire line of lineage masters.

After listening to merely one discourse, we cannot gain a complete understanding and full realization of everything. And to try to understand it just on the basis of merely listening to an explanation is of little benefit. Only on the basis of personal experience are we able to settle into a conviction that comes from pondering and meditating.

This being so, then, on the one hand, we need to scrutinize with intelligence. We must think about the subject matter – investigate and understand it – then practice it in meditation. On the other hand, as was said, we must have the backing support of building up and cleansing. If we have this backing support, then with the slightest circumstances, we are able to realize the total absence of true, inherent existence. But if we lack the backing support of building up and cleansing, then even if we are learned and practice meditation on the basis of other qualifications as well, we experience great difficulty in decisively apprehending with a correct view that is not the opposite or contrary of what it should be. Therefore, in order to gain certainty about voidness, the abiding nature of all phenomena, we must practice on the basis of both listening, pondering and meditating, as well as building up and cleansing. This is what all the holy masters have said. Have you understood?