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Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Mahamudra (Skt. Mahāmudrā; Tib. Chakgya Chenpo; Wyl. phyag rgya chen po), or ‘Great Seal’ is the meditation tradition of the Kagyü lineage which passed from Maitripa and Naropa in India to Marpa Lotsawa in Tibet.
The Mahamudra Sutra emphasizes dwelling in tranquility and insight, and progressing along the Five Paths (which starts with the beginning of Dharma practice and the accumulation of merit and ends with complete Enlightenment).
Subdivisions or Levels of Interpretation
- Mahamudra of the sutra system refers to the attainment of perfect enlightenment through the five paths and ten bhumis.
- Tantric Mahamudra is related to the inner yogas and the practice of dzogrim.
- Essence Mahamudra (Tib. ངོ་བོའི་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེན་པོ་, Wyl. ngo bo'i phyag rgya chenpo) is closer to Dzogchen and is described in terms of a meditative practice leading to the nature of mind.
Relationship to Dzogchen
- Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, Mahamudra, The Moonlight: Quintessence of Mind]] and Meditation, translated by Lobsang P. Lhalungpa, Wisdom Publications, 2nd ed. 2006.
- Jackson, Roger R. and Kapstein, Matthew T. (ed.) Mahāmudrā and the bKa´-brgyud Tradition [PIATS 2006: Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies. Königswinter 2006], 2011
- Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Crystal Clear: Practical Advice for Mahamudra Meditators, translated by Erik Pema Kunsang, Ragjung Yeshe, 2004.
- Roberts, Peter Alan. Mahamudra and Related Instructions: Core Teachings of the Kagyu Schools
The name refers to a body of teachings representing the culmination of all the practices of the new translation schools of Tibetan Buddhism, who believe it to be the quintessential message of all of their sacred texts.
History and semantic field
The usage and meaning of the term mahāmudrā evolved over the course of hundreds of years of Indian and Tibetan history, and as a result, the term may refer variously to "a ritual hand-gesture, one of a sequence of 'seals' in Tantric practice,
the nature of reality as emptiness, a meditation procedure focusing on the nature of Mind, an innate blissful gnosis cognizing emptiness nondually, or the supreme attainment of buddhahood at the culmination of the Tantric path."
Here it also denotes a hand gesture, now linked to three other hand mudrās—the action (karma), pledge (samaya), and dharma mudrās—but also involves "mantra recitations and visualizations that symbolize and help to effect one’s complete identification with a deity’s divine form or awakening Mind (bodhicitta)."
- Though still connected there to creation-stage maṇḍala practice, it is more often related to completion-stage meditations involving the manipulation of mental and physical forces in the subtle body so as to produce a divine form and a luminous, blissful, nonconceptual gnosis.
Here, though, it usually is the culmination of the series, a direct realization of the nature of Mind and reality that transcends and perfects other, more conventional seals, including those involving actual or visualized sexual yoga.
Sealing something implies that you cannot destroy it.
The Kagyu lineage divides the mahāmudrā teachings into three types,
"tantra mahāmudrā," and
in a formulation that appears to originate with Jamgon Kongtrul.
Sutra mahāmudrā, as the name suggests, draws its philosophical view and meditation techniques from the sutrayana tradition.
Tantric mahāmudrā employs such tantric techniques as tummo, dream yoga, and clear light yoga, three of the six yogas of Naropa.
Essence mahāmudrā is based on the direct instruction of a qualified lama, known as pointing-out instruction.
There have been many prominent practitioners and scholars of mahāmudrā in the Kagyu tradition.
The Third Karmapa wrote;
'Aspiration Prayer of Mahāmudrā'.
The Ninth Karmapa wrote
'Pointing Out the Dharmakaya' (Tibetan: Chos sku mdzub tshugs);
'An Ocean of the Definite Meaning' (Tibetan:Nges don rGya mtsho) and
'Eliminating the Darkness of Ignorance'.
Tsele Natsok Rangdrol wrote the
'Lamp of Mahāmudrā' and
Dakpo Tashi Namgyal wrote
'Clarifying the Natural State' and
'Moonlight of Mahāmudrā'.
- Certain aspects of the Bka´ brgyud teachings on mahāmudrā, such as the possibility of a sudden liberating realization or the possibility that a beginner may attain mahāmudrā even without Tantric initiation, became a highly controversial issue in the 13th century.
For Maitrīpa, the direct realization of emptiness (or the co-emergent) is the bridging link between the Sūtras and the Tantras, and it is thanks to this bridge that mahāmudrā can be linked to the Sūtras and the Tantras.
- From the point of view of individually ascribed names, there are numerous traditions, such as those of the simultaneously arising as merged, the amulet box, possessing five, the six spheres of equal taste, the four syllables, the pacifier, the object to be cut off, dzogchen, the discursive madhyamaka view, and so on.
- The Karma Kagyu "Simultaneously Arising as Merged" tradition - This is the tradition introduced by Gampopa with a main practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa.
- The Shangpa Kagyu "Amulet Box" tradition - This tradition came from Khyungpo Naljor and its main practice is the Six Yogas of Niguma.
- The Drigung Kagyu "Possessing Five" tradition - Jigten Gonpo founded the school and mahāmudrā lineage whose main practice is devotion via Guru Yoga and purification and merit collection practices.
- The Drukpa Kagyu "Six Spheres of Equal Taste" tradition - Tsangpa Gyare founded this tradition which encompasses a range of practices, including the Six Yogas of Naropa.
The four syllables are a-ma-na-si which comprise the Sanskrit word meaning 'not to take to mind' and passed through the Dagpo Kagyu branches, i.e. any that descend from the teachings of Tilopa rather than those of Niguma, which in practice means all but the Shangpa Kagyu.
The main text of the First Panchen Lama is 'A root text for the precious Gelug/Kagyu tradition of mahāmudrā: The Main Road of the Triumphant Ones' (Tibetan:dGe ldan bka' brgyud rin po che'i phyag chen rtsa ba rgyal ba'i gzhung lam zhes bya ba) .
According to Alexander Berzin:
The advice and guidance of a qualified teacher is considered to be very important in learning and practicing mahāmudrā meditation. Most often mahāmudrā (particularly essence mahāmudrā) is preceded by pointing-out instruction.
The Dalai Lama has been influential in making public some of these formerly esoteric Tibetan teachings, while still some remain entirely esoteric, available to a student only through a private guru-student relationship.
The mahāmudrā shamatha teachings also include instructions on how to work with a mind that is beset with various impediments to focusing, such as raising the gaze when one feels dull or sleepy, and lowering it again when one feels overly excited.
For the Kagyupa, in the context of mahāmudrā, mindfulness of breathing is thought to be the ideal way for the meditator to transition into taking the mind itself as the object of meditation and generating vipaśyanā on that basis.
- Looking at the settled mind. One repeatedly looks at the mind's still state, possibly posing questions to arouse awareness, such as "what is its nature? It is perfectly still?"
- Looking at the moving or thinking mind. One tries to closely examine the arising, existence, and ceasing of thoughts, possibly posing oneself questions so as to better understand this process, such as "how does it arise? What is its nature?"
- Looking at the mind reflecting appearances. One looks at the way in which phenomena of the external senses occur in experience. Usually, a visual object is taken as the subject. One repeatedly looks at the object, trying to see just how that appearance arises in the mind, and understand the nature of this process. One possibly asks questions such as "what is their nature? How do they arise, dwell, and disappear? Is their initial appearance different from how they eventually understood?"
- Looking at the mind in relation to the body. One investigates questions such as "what is the mind? What is the body? Is the body our sensations? What is the relation of our sensations to our mental image of our body?"
- Looking at the settled and moving minds together. When the mind is still, one looks at that, and when the mind is in motion, one looks at that. One investigates whether these two stages are the same or different, asking questions such as "if they are the same, what is the commonality? If different, what is the difference?"
- The settled mind,
- The moving or thinking mind,
- The mind reflecting appearances,
- The relation of mind and body,
- The settled and thinking mind together.
- One taste: last part of the path of meditation, most of the path of no-more-learning (bhūmis seven through nine)
- Nonmeditation: last part of the path of no-more learning (tenth bhūmi) and buddhahood (bhūmis eleven through thirteen)
- Outer and inner preliminary practices and one-pointedness: path of accumulation
- Simplicity: path of application
- One taste: paths of meditation and part of the path no-more-learning (bhūmis two through eight)
- Nonmeditation: rest of path of no-more-learning, buddhahood (bhūmis nine through thirteen)
- One taste: paths of meditation and no-more-learning (bhūmis two through ten)
- Nonmeditation: buddhahood (bhūmis eleven through thirteen)
|First short, literal translation||Later long, explanatory translation||Tibetan (Wylie transliteration)|
|1||Don’t recall||Let go of what has passed||mi mno|
|2||Don’t imagine||Let go of what may come||mi bsam|
|3||Don’t think||Let go of what is happening now||mi shes|
|4||Don’t examine||Don’t try to figure anything out||mi dpyod|
|5||Don’t control||Don’t try to make anything happen||mi sgom|
|6||Rest||Relax, right now, and rest||rang sar bzhag|