The word Mahamudra draws the attention and tickles our sense of curiosity – the sacred, secret teaching. The essence of all 84000 teachings of Buddha. Our mind tries to understand it in its own terms, our intellect tries to grasp it with the concepts we know, and with our minds eyes – or even with our physical eyes – we try to see the emptiness and the clarity, yet something there just seems artificial. Fabricated. We’re not sure and not confident. What are we really looking for? Where is that thing called the nature of our mind? Are we looking for someTHING?
Lama Rabsang painted a clearer picture of the Path of Mahamudra during an inspiring and blessed weekend in August at Palpung Wales. He started from where we are by highlighting the fact that even though we would have everything we wanted, we are still not happy. Or even though we would be happy for a while, it is difficult to maintain happiness. Due to our habitual tendencies we go up and down. He also posed a question: Why do you practice Dharma? Why did you become a Buddhist? He pointed out that the whole purpose of the Dharma is to transform our negative emotions, and asked us to check is that happening. Lama admitted that since the power of our ego and our kleshas is very strong, we cannot be looking for an easy progress. Reading books and as an idea it all seems wonderful and easy, but really doing, trying to be kind, compassionate, patient and wise in our everyday lives shows that the power of our habitual tendencies is strong. It is easy to think building the house but really building it is very different.
As a foundation to the path of mahamudra Lama Rabsang went through the four contemplations that turn the mind to the Dharma: precious human life, impermanence, karma and samsara. This life is precious because we have found the Buddha’s teachings that can bring us to complete freedom from suffering, and we have the conditions to practice Dharma. By understanding impermanence we feel the push to do practice NOW. Also Lama Rabsang said that understanding impermanence is closest to understanding emptiness. He advised that what ever situations arise now, we should try to take it easy, with compassion, with patience and acceptance and by doing this we can improve and purify our karma. If we take life situations this way, it is easier to deal with what ever comes. Samsara is all the selfishness we have and confusion we are in. When we feel that nothing is enough – that is samsara. When we have more, we want more and we’ll have more greed. We are never happy and satisfied. This way samsara goes on and on, in small cycles in one life time, and bigger cycles over many lifetimes. If we understand mahamudra, we abandon samsara. Lama here pointed out that by abandoning samsara we are not abandoning all beings, but we are abandoning our selfishness. He said that if we cannot completely abandon samsara, then we need balance. We should not be too selfish and greedy. “More problems, more compassionate” said Lama and meant that if we are able to be like this, we have really understood the meaning of Dharma practice. If we really understand the preciousness of this moment, then when someone is shouting or angry at us, we appreciate it since it pushes us to develop our patience, compassion and kindness. Without others challenging us, we would never have the chance to develop patience or compassion. When we apply the teachings this way and then dedicate the merit to all beings’ enlightenment, we are truly practicing Dharma. Lama said that if we don’t really apply the teachings in practice with understanding, our head might be full but our heart is empty.
After explaining the importance of the four foundations on the mahamudra path, Lama then went on to touch the topic of what is mahamudra. He explained that mahamudra is limitless emptiness, but it is not nothingness. Our mind is limitless emptiness and it is cognizant, it has clarity. We cannot say how big is our mind, we cannot find where our mind starts or ends. All phenomena is our mind. Everything manifests from our mind. Mahamudra is that everything. Mahamudra is to see the truth. Lama explained shortly different aspects of mahamudra practice: sutra, mantra and essence mahamudra.
There are many different methods to help us realise mahamudra, but Lama emphasized the importance of the lineage when it comes to the recognition of the mahamudra, the recognition of the nature of our mind. What the Buddha realised under the Bodhitree was mahamudra, the nature of his mind. This realisation has then been passed on from a realised master to a student who then practices it, realises it, and again passes it on. This is called the lineage. Through the lineage we can receive the quality of the experience and the blessing of the Buddha.
Because we easily make things more complicated than they are and we fabricate our meditation, Lama reminded that when we practice meditation, we should not be looking for easy, peace, good feelings or certain experiences. “Just sit. Leave alone your crazy monkey mind.” This simplicity sounds like a relief but yet when tried, we encounter many difficulties: our mind is running around, we feel uncertain about how we should be, what we should do with our mind, where we should look and what we should see if anything – we just don’t have enough confidence to trust that everything is there without fabrication. That’s why we need the purification, accumulation, blessings, the lineage and all the practices (of ngondro) that will aid us first to have the recognition of the nature of mind, then develop confidence in it and then continuously practice of not being distracted from this state of natural mind.
Written by: Pauliina Kossi
Below you can find an account of the teaching day from a course participant:
The Path of Mahamudra and the Kagyu Lineage
About 30 people gathered at Palpung Wales to hear Lama Rabsang’s teachings on Mahamudra and the unbroken Kagyu Lineage, from which this ancient wisdom has been transmitted to the modern world.
Lama explained that Mahamudra literally means ‘great seal’, which refers to the way that our mind’s nature is intrinsically pure. There is nothing to be added or removed from our mind which is already enlightened right here and now. The phrase ‘ordinary mind’ is used in Mahamudra to express the enlightened nature of the mind that we already have. The point was made that to seek Enlightenment as some longed for imagined experience, existing out there beyond yourself, in some distant place and time, is to overlook what is already present. To help us to recognise Mahamudra Lama gave many analogies as ‘pointing out instructions’, and told us stories to help us to understand what seems to me to be a very natural, direct and simple approach to meditation; simple however does not, as far as I can tell, mean easy!
In describing Sutra Mahamudra Lama spoke of the Heart Sutra and the inseparability of form and emptiness, and how this relates to the mind, and meditation. He went on to say that the preliminary practices, a series of contemplations on the preciousness of human life, death and impermanence, the suffering of samsara, and the law of cause and effect, were very important for turning our mind toward the practice of Dharma. One’s motivation for practicing meditation determines whether or not we are successful.
The foundation practices of ngondro are also a very important part of the Mahamudra path of practice. As these practices are the subject of next months teachings, I shall move on to Lama’s description of the Kagyu lineage and it’s importance for our practice today. Much has already been written about these heroic yogis who’s determination to realize the nature of mind, in the face of very difficult circumstances, is the stuff of legends. For me, hearing about Tilopa, Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa, to name but a few, provides inspiration and encouragement to view my own hindrances as something that I can bear and, on a good day, transform into the path. These stories speak to human resilience and our inner potential to courageously face our difficulties. They also arouse a profound sense of gratitude and appreciation to all the great bodhisattvas who have faithfully preserved the Buddhadharma in an unbroken lineage of realisation and transmission.
Lama encouraged us to ‘google’ the historic accounts of the extraordinary lives of the Kagyu lineage holders as a way to get to know them, and hopefully to discover that their life stories contain profound wisdom for us today.
Lama also stressed that we need to have strong faith and trust in the teachings, in our teachers and in the lineage in order to receive the blessings that inspire us to practice.
Attending Lama’s Teachings, my first of many I hope, was like being at a rich banquet, a feast for the mind. Inspired by Lama’s generosity, his friendly, approachable and humorous way of communicating with us, I left Palpung feeling joyful and happy to have the opportunity now to practice Mahamudra.
Written by: Edward Morgenstern