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Cannot Be Taught

Mahamudra cannot be taught, but
You, who practiced austerities for the teacher from devotion
And patiently bore sufferings, intelligent Naropa
Fortunate one, listen to this and take it to your heart

Tilopa was a yogi who gathered together the tantric teachings as well as teachings on mahmudra and passed them onto Naropa. Naropa was originally a monk and a scholar, one of the four principal teachers at the Buddhist monastic school, Nalanda. At that time it was not possible to be a monk and a tantric practitioner. But Naropa's zeal for finding the truth was so great that he left the monastery, went searching for Tilopa as a teacher, and underwent hardship as his student.

Finding the truth is not hard, but it does require one hundred percent of your effort. The German theosophist Rudolf Steiner once explained the difference between chemistry and alchemy, saying that in chemistry you are holding a test tube over a flame, but in alchemy you are in the test tube getting cooked. Meditation is exactly like that. You cannit do it casually or at arm's length of you want to see the truth. It has to be a complete commitment. And that is how Naropa practiced.

The first line says that mahamudra cannot be taught. This is for two reasons. First, mahamudra is something that needs to pacticed and not learned. You cannot learn to meditate from someone else, you need to practice it yourself and learn from that.

The second reason mahamudra cannot be taught requires explaining some Buddhist philosophy. According to this philosophy, the first moment of perception is free of thoughts. In subsequent moments, the perception of the object is replaced with a generalized concept about the object. For example, in the first moment you see the car as it actually is, but after that the perception becomes one instance of the more generalized idea of a car. You classify it, categorize it, and judge it. The practice of mahamudra is to remain in that original moment of thought as much as possible. Because this moment precedes thoughts and concepts, it cannot be taught.

Posted on Nov 09, 2014


Continuing the commentary on Ganges Mahamudra:

rdo rje mkha’ ’gro la phyag ’tshal lo/
Homage to Vajradakini

It is also traditional to begin a commentary with an homage to an enlightened being. Here the homage is to Vajradakini, also known as Vajrayogini, who is the focus of many Tantric practices. Dakinis are wise women who are guardians of Tantra. At several points in Tilopa's life he received and followed the advice of dakinis. Naropa also followed the advice of a dakini, who told him to seek out Tilopa as a teacher.

Posted on Nov 01, 2014

The Mahamudra Upadesha

I've wanted to write down some advice on meditation practice for some years, but couldn't decide the correct format for doing it. I read that Garchen Rinpoche recommended that all his students study the Mahamudra Upadesha. So I decided to write a commentary on it a weave my own advice on meditation into it. Although the Mahmudra Upadesha is a Tantric Buddhist text, I believe it holds value for all meditators, whatever their spiritual tradition. And so I have tried to explain the text in a way that will not limit its appeal to BUddhists. May we all be able to help each other, learn from each other, and support each other in the practice of meditation.

It's traditional to begin a Tibetan text the was originally from India with its title both in Tibetan and Sanskrit:

rgya gar skad du/ mahAmudra-upadesha/
bod skad du / phyag rgya chen po’i man ngag/

In Sanskrit: Mahamudra Upadesha
In Tibetan: Chagya Chenpo Men Ngag
In English: Oral Instructions on Mahamudra

This is done for two reasons: first, to show the authenticity of the text and, second, to express appreciation for the translator who translated it into Tibetan.

I translated the second word in the Sanskrit title, upadesha, as oral instructions. Upadesha means personal advice. As, such, it is tailored to the person it is offered to. It is short and to the point and does not include lengthy quotations from scriptures to establish the author's point. Because Naropa was a long time student of Tilopa at the time Tilopa gave his instruction, he did not need a lengthy or detailed explanation. Thet instruction just covers the main points. For that reason it is useful to learn, study, and memorize.

The first word in the Sanskrit title, Mahamudra, is the proper name of a specific kind of meditation. It is usually translated as "Great Seal." And the name is explained by saying that there is a nature that all things have that is like a seal upon them. That nature is disclosed by the practice of meditation. Because that seal is on everything, including the mind of the meditator, it is called the "Great Seal," or Mahamudra.

Posted on Oct 28, 2014

The Four Yogas

I have another quote translated, and this one was a puzzler. The problem I had is that it's rather technical and I wasn't sure when to translate it literally and when to take the word as a proper name. For eaxample, "samadhi like a lion's leap" could be the name of a specific meditation or just an analogy. I do believe I've made some progress. The first time I tried to translate it, I wound up with a jumble. The quote is talking about different stages of progress in the practice of mahamudra. These are usually sumarized as the four yogas: one-pointedness, simplicity, one-taste, and non-meditatation. So please read my translation with that in mind.

rnal 'byor rim pa bzhi po 'ang ā li kā li gsang ba
bsam mi khyab pa'i rgyud las/
seng ge rnam par bsgyings pa'i ting 'dzin gyis
mi g.yo rtse gcig dwangs ma'i shes pa gsal/ rang
rig ye shes khong nas sad par byed/ bzod pa brtan
pos ngan song sdug bsngal spong/ gnyis dang bral sgyu ma lta
bu'i ting 'dzin gyis/ spros dang bral ba'i mnyam
bzhag chen po la/ bsam gyis mi khyab ting 'dzin rtsal
du 'char/ drod thob nas ni skye ba dbang ba yin/
gsum pa dpa' bar 'grol ba'i ting 'dzin gyis/ du ma
ro gcig sa bcu'i rtogs pa 'char/ dus gsum rgyal
ba'i sras po gzhan don mdzad/ rtse mo thob nas 'phel
ba rgyun mi 'char/ bzhi pa rdo rje lta bu'i ting 'dzin
gyis/ bsgom du med pa'i nyams len brtson pa las/
mkhyen pa'i ye shes sang rgyas zhing khams mtho/
ma btsal lhun grub chos mchog chen po'i ngang/ zhes
gsungs so/

The Four Stages of Yoga in the Secret Alphabet:
Through the samadhi that is like a lion's leap one develops unwavering single pointedness and the clear nature of mind shines forth. One awakens to the self cognizant wisdom within. Through attaining the stage of warmth one develops the steady patience which eliminates the suffering of the three lower realms. The creative power arises through the inconceivable samadhi. Having attained the stage of heat, one obtains mastery. Through the recognition of the one taste of diverse phenomena, the ten bodhisattva grounds appear. One becomes an heir of the buddhasI of the three times and accomplishes the benefit of others. Continually increasing one's accomplishment, the summit will arise. Through the vajre-like samadhi the fourth stage, the practice of non-meditation will arise. The wisdom knowledge of a buddha exceeds that of the highest realms. They are the unsought for but spontaneously present supreme qualities of the great expanse.

Posted on Aug 31, 2014

Repeating Myself

This quote is a near twin of the previous one. The only difference is that the sun is used in the analogy instead of lamps. Shavari is part of the Kagyu mahamudra lineage, the teacher of Maitripa, who was Marpa's teacher. Tradition says that he was originally a hunter and converted after Aavalokiteshvara defeated him in an archery contest. He asked how he could be such a great archer and Avalokiteshvara taught him the dharma. Here is the quote and its translation.

sha wa ris/
kye ma nyi ma sprin bral 'od zer kun khyab kyang/
mig med pa la mun pa rtag tu snang/ lhan cig skyes
pas kun la khyab gyur kyang/ rmongs pa dag la de nyid
shin tu ring/

From Shavari:
Alas! Although the beams of light of the Sun freed from clouds fill all the sky, the blind can never perceive them. Although the connate nature pervades everything, the deluded are far away from suchness.

Posted on Aug 22, 2014