Buddhism: Dzogchen and Mahamudra

Buddhism: Dzogchen and Mahamudra April 9, 2007

Is space anywhere supported? Upon what does it rest?
Like space, Mahamudra is dependent upon nothing;
Relax and settle in the continuum of unalloyed purity,
And, your bonds loosening, release is certain.

Gazing intently into the empty sky, vision ceases;
Likewise, when mind gazes into mind itself,
The train of discursive and conceptual thought ends
And supreme enlightenment is gained.

A portion of Keith Dowman’s translation of Tilopa’s Mahamudra Instruction to Naropa in Twenty Eight Verses

This beautiful poetry stops me in my tracks – which is a good thing. Mahamudra, or ‘Great Seal’, is the apex of Tibetan Buddhist practice (for three of the four Tibetan schools, one school, the Nyingmapa, has an equivalent practice called Dzogchen, or ‘Great Perfection’). I’ll be using this text on Tuesday in my Intro to Tibetan Buddhism course. My plan is, weather pending, to take the students outside and recite parts of the poem to them – then to discuss.

A lot of our discussions regarding Tibetan Buddhism thus far have revolved around the apparent inconsistencies between Buddhist ethics (the 5 precepts especially) and life stories of accomplished masters. There are stories of great Buddhists drinking heavily (Virupa), killing a man to keep him from committing bad deeds (the Buddha in one Mahayana Jataka tale, Padmasambhava – though not necessarily to prevent bad deeds, the monk who killed gLang Dharma, the ‘evil’ king of Tibet in 842, and so on), apparently lying (Lotus Sutra), and generally breaking any/all other ‘rules of ethics’ you might somehow find in Buddhism.

It’s good to see and hear the students inquisitive minds at work, but it will be equally good to see how some of them respond to this. If I have time I would like to give/prepare a verse by verse commentary.

Regarding these two: Tilopa is redirecting the thought of Naropa to space itself, something unimaginable in itself, but which is ever-present and all encompassing. While all things in our experience seem to rest or rely upon other things, space does not. Mahamudra here could be substituted with ‘your pure mind’ or ‘mind itself’ (Tib. sems nyid). It is to those things which rest or rely upon other things that our mind usually attends. It is to them that the mind is caught up in attachment, in bondage. Those things are constantly changing, flowing, growing, disappearing. Our normal mind wants stability, rest, but it is not found in the world of change – our world.

“Relax… settle in” to the flow. In the flow, our clinging mind lets go.

The sky is often used in Tibetan meditation as an analog to the mind and emptiness (Skt. shunyata). See how the clouds float effortlessly through the sky, leaving no mark or trace. Watch as they seem to disappear into sky or grow out of it. Likewise, experiences in our own life enter and leave our pure mind without a trace. Our experiences survive only in conceptual thought, as further experiences. Within conceptual thought our problems, hopes, issues, etc have reality and effects, but they cannot effect the pure mind, just as even the darkest cloud cannot harm the sky.

Allowing our mind to permeate the whole sky in its purity, to see the mind as the same, is to allow experience to flow freely, ungrasping, without worry, with sublime joy.

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