This is a very condensed and precious explanation of what Buddhism is all about.
So take your time to read this text bit by bit and repeatingly.
When you clearly analyze and feel able to accept the meaning, you more or less hold the key to understand most other Buddhist texts and (very important!):
the main purpose or goal of meditation, whatever technique or method is used (e.g. shine, deity yoga, awareness).
This teaching by HH. Kalu Rinpoche
should be printed in gold letters and illuminated with sparkeling rainbows of enlightenment!
The Mahamudra.(1).experience and approach is perhaps the quintessence of
all Buddhadharma.(2). In order for this quintessential approach to be
effective, we must have some understanding of the nature of the mind that we
are attempting to discover through the Mahamudra techniques.
Mahamudra has three aspects: foundation, path, and fruition.Foundation
Mahamudra is the understanding which is based on our appreciation of the
nature of mind. This must be augmented by the process of path Mahamudra
which is direct experience and acclimatization to that nature of mind through
meditation. Finally, there is the fruition or result aspect of Mahamudra,
which is the actualization of the potential inherent in the nature of mind.
This actual aspect of transcending awareness includes the Dharmakaya.(3),
Sambhogakaya.(4), and Nirmanakaya.(5) as the facets of completely enlightened
experience. It is not beneficial to speak of Mahamudra lightly; we must not
ignore any of these three aspects of the Mahamudra approach.
Foundation Mahamudra implies a deep appreciation and understanding of the
nature of mind. When we say that this is the correct view, we do not use the
phrase in a casual sense. Very often, we say, “Well, in my view, such and such
is the case,” but this does not necessarily mean that we have understood it at
all. We may say, “I believe in previous existences,” or, “I don’t believe in
future existences,” but very often our talk is not based on experience and
appreciation, but merely on an idea to which we give lip service. What is meant
in foundation Mahamudra is a thorough appreciation of the nature of mind
itself, the mind with which we are working, and the mind which we are
attempting to discover.
To get a deeper understanding of the nature of mind itself, we can quotes the
authority of enlightened masters of the lineage as a guide. The third Karmapa,
Rangjung Dorje), wrote a prayer of aspiration for the realization of Mahamudra
in which he said, “It is not existent because even the Buddha could not see it,
but it is not non existent because it is the basis or origin of all samsara.(6)
and nirvana.(7).” It does not constitute a contradiction to say that mind
neither exists nor does not exist; it is simultaneously existent and non existent.
Let us consider the first part of the statement that the mind does not exist.
We take into account that the mind is intangible. One cannot disscribe it or
find it. There is no fixed characteristic that we normally ascribe to things
which we can ascribe to mind. Consciousness does not manifest with any
particular color, shape, size, form or location. None of these qualities has
anything to do with the nature of mind, so we can say that the mind is
essentially empty of these limiting characteristics.
Even the fully enlightend Buddha Shakyamuni.(8).could not find any thing that
is mind, because the mind does not have identifying characteristics. This is
what Rangjung Dorje meant when he said, “It does not exist because even the
Buddha could not see it.”
So, then, is mind nonexistant? No, not in the sense that there is nothing
happening. That which experiences confusion, suffering, frustration and all the
complexity of samsaric existance is mind itself. This is the origin of all
unenlightened experience; it is within the mind that all unenlightened
On the other hand, if the individual attains enlightenment, it is mind
which is the origin of the enlightened experience, giving expression to the
transcending awareness of the various kayas.(9).
This is what Rangjung Dorje meant when he said, “One cannot say that it does
not exist, because it is the basis for all samsara and nirvana.” Wether we are
talking about an enlightened state of being or an unenlightened one,we are
speaking about the state of experience that arises from mind and is experienced
by the mind. What remains if mind neither exists nor does not exist?
According to Rangjung Dorje, this is not a contradiction, but a state of
simultaneity. Mind exhibits, at one and the same time, qualities of
non existance and qualities of existance. To state naively that mind exists is
to fall into one error; to deny the existance of anything at all is to fall
into another error. This gave rise to the concept of what is called the Middle
Way or Madhyamika. Finding a balance between those two beliefs, where there
is simultaneous truth to both, is the correct view, according to the Buddha’s
description of the nature of mind.
When we hear a guru make the statement, “Mind does not exist;mind does not
not exist; but it is at the same time existent and nonexistent, and this is
the middle view,” we may say, “Fine, I can accept that,” but that is not
enough. It is an idea that may appeal to us, a concept with which we are
comfortable, but that kind of understanding lacks any real spirit or depth.
It is like a patch you put on your clothes to hide a hole. One day the patch
will fall off. Intellectual knowledge is rather patchy in that way.It will
suffice for the present but it is not ultimately beneficial.
This is not to say that intellectual knowledge is unimportant.It is
crucial because it is that which gives us the ability to begin to develop
personal experience of what is being discussed. However, mere understanding
on a superficial or intellectual level should not be mistaken for the direct
experience. We can only arrive at that through meditation and the continued
analysis of our own experience. The value of intellectual knowledge is that
it is a springboard to deeper, more intuitive experience.
First, then, we say that mind is essentially empty, that is not describable
as some thing. Other than using the label mind., there is no thing that could
be further described in terms of form, shape, size, color or any
Beyond this essential emptiness, we can make the statement that mind is
like space. Just as space is all-pervasive, so is consciousness. The mind
has no problem conceiving of any particular place or experience. While we
have attempted to describe the indescribable by saying that mind is
essentially empty, that is not the complete picture. We are speaking of
something that is obviously qualitatively different from simple space.We
need to remember that when we are using these terms, we are attempting to
describe something that is indescribable. However, that does not mean that
it cannot be directly experienced. The person who is mute is still able
to experience the sweetness of sugar without being able to describe it to
anyone else. Just as the mute person has trouble describing the taste of
sugar, we have trouble describing the nature of mind. We search for examples
and metaphors that will give us some idea of what is being experienced.
Another aspect of the nature of mind is its luminosity. Normally we think
of this term in a visual sense. We think of a luminous body like the sun or
the moon which shines and gives off light. However, this is merely a
metaphor to give us some idea of what is being hinted at. To say that the
mind is luminous in nature is analogous to saying that space is illuminated.
For example, we can have empty space and there might be no illumination;
then the space would be obscured. There is space, but no ability to see
clearly; there is no direct experience possible in complete darkness.
Just as there is clear vision in illuminated space, so in the same way,
while mind is essentially empty, it exhibits the potential to know,which
is its luminosity. This is not a visual experience per se, but the ability
of mind to know, perceive and experience.
In our continuing attempt to describe the nature of mind, to discribe the
indiscribable, we next speak of the unimpeded or unobstructed dynamic nature
of mind. It will be useful to divide this element of unimpededness into a
subtle and a gross aspect. The most subtle or fundamental level of the
unimpeded quality is an awareness of the emptiness and luminosity of the
mind. The mind is essentially empty and has this illuminating potential to
know and experience.
The coarse or gross aspect of the unimpeded dynamic manifestation of mind
is conscious experience, which does not depart from emptiness and
luminosity, but is the experience of, for example, seeing and recognizing
form as form, hearing and recognizing sound as sound, and so forth.This is
the ability of mind to experience the phenomenal world, to make
distinctions, to make value judgments based upon that discrimination.
We may utilize a metaphor here. The Emptiness of mind is the ocean; the
luminosity of mind is the sunlit ocean; and the unimpeded dynamic quality of
mind is the waves of the sunlit ocean. When we take the waves of the sun lit
ocean as an event or situation, it is not as though we are trying to seperate
ocean from waves from sunlight; they are three aspects of a single
experience. The unity of these three aspects forms the seed or potential
for enlightenment. They are the pure nature of mind; the impurity of
obscurations, ignorance and confusion overlays what is inherently the
nature of mind itself.
There has always been the pure nature of mind and there has always
been fundamental ignorance in the mind. The essential empty nature of mind
has never been recognized for what it is; the luminous nature of mind has
ever been experienced for what it is; and the unimpeded or dynamic
manifestation of mind, this consciousness, this awareness, has never been
directly experienced for what it is. Because this level of ignorance is so
subtle and so fundamental, and because it is co-existent with mind itself,
it has been valid as long as mind itself has been valid. We speak of it as
Just as there are subtle and gross aspects to the dynamic awareness of
mind that we noted earlier, there are subtler and coarser aspects to the
ignorance of mind. We have already spoken of the fundamental level of
co-emergent ignorance, the lack of direct experience of the empty,clear
and unimpeded nature of mind itself, and this is the subtle aspect of
There is second level of ignorance that we might distinguish which is
termed labelling ignorance; it is a more conventional or relative ignorance.
Not only do we lack direct experience of the essential emptiness of mind,
for example but we substitute the self or ego for that experience.The
individual mind as something ultimately real is a distortion that has taken
place, due to a lack of direct experience, and this is an example of
labelling or relative ignorance. Likewise, due to a lack of direct
experience of the clarity and luminosity of mind, there is a projection of
something other than the mind, an object other than the subject. This is
again a relative level of ignorance. Rather than being a simple lack of
direct experience, there has been a distortion into something.
So the second level of obscuration in the mind is the aspectof ignorance
which begins to label things as I and other. Lacking direct experience,
the distortion takes place on a coarser level of dualistic fixation between
subject and object.
Once we have this dualistic framework, of coarse, emotionality develops
and action takes place. Karmic tendencies are reinforced by actions based
on the emotional confusion which springs from dualistic clinging. All of it
is based upon the fundamental ignorance which is the lack of direct
experience of the nature of the mind itself.
The nature of mind is like empty space, like the sky, which at present is
filled with clouds and fog and mist and periodically has all kinds of
activity such as hailstorms, snowstorms, rainstorms and thunder and
lightning. This activity does not change the fact that the empty space is
still present, the sky is still there. However it is temporarily obscured
by all these activities. The reason the Buddha presented his teachings,
which encourage basic moral choices between virtuous and nonvirtuous
actions and encourage the practice of meditation, is to eliminate the
obscuring and confusing aspects of our experience. This permits the
inherently pure nature of mind to become more obvious and be discovered,
just as the sun becomes more obvious as the clouds begin to dissipate.
As the most effective means to bring about that transformation rappidly
and directly, the Mahmudra approach has no equal. It gives us the most
powerful methods to turn the balance, to eliminate obscurations and allow
that manifestation to take place. Our present situation as unenlightened
beings is due to the victory of ignorance over intrinsic awareness;
Mahamudra speeds the victory of awareness over ignorance.
When we are concerned with foundation Mahamudra, then, we first and
foremost need to be exposed to ideas. This should take place in the
presence of a teacher who holds the transmission and can accurately
introduce us to the concepts which are the theoretical underpinnings of
the Mahamudra approach. After we receive the teachings and understand
what is being said, we take them home with us and begin to apply them
to our own experience. We say to ourselves, “Well, mind is empty,
clear and unimpeded. What do I experience when I experience mind? Does
it exist; does it not exist?” We check with our own experience. That
is very beneficial for developing a kind of mental construct from which
we can work, though it is not the ultimate experience. Conceptual
understanding is only a springboard, because the theme of Mahamudra is
spontaneity and uncontrivedness, and it is still a very contrived
situation to think of the mind as being empty. To directly experience
the nature of mind itself requires meditation.
So on this foundation level of Mahamudra, the analytical approach is
followed by, and interwoven with, the more intuitive approach of relaxing
the mind in its own natural state. The particular skill required is that
it must be a state of total relaxation which is not distracted or dull.
It is not an objective experience of looking for the mind or looking at
the mind. On the other hand, it is not a blind process; we are not
unaware. There is seeing without looking; there is dwelling in the
experience without looking at the experience. This is the keynote of the
While the mind is poised in the state of bare awareness, there is no
directing the mind. One is not looking within for anything; one isnot
looking without for anything. One is simply letting the mind rest in its
own natural state. The empty, clear and unimpeded nature of mind can be
experienced if we can rest in an uncontrived state of bare awareness
without distraction and without the spark of awareness being lost.The
pure nature of mind calls to mind an image such as the sun or the moon,
a luminous body. The unimpeded nature of mind permits the act of
thinking of this form in the first place, and we can rest in the bare
perception of that form without any further elaboration; we dwell in the
bare awareness of that form.
Thus one’s approach in developing the foundation aspect of Mahamudra
is, at times, an analytical or conceptual approach of examining the mind
from the point of view or trying to locate it, describe it or define it,
and at other times an intuitive approach of dwelling in the experience of
total relaxation of mind, an uncontrived state of bare awareness which
allows the experience of the nature of mind to arise.
The third Karmapa wrote a prayer in which he said that confidence comes
of clearly establishing the parameters of practice by defining the nature
of mind precisely. Then the confidence of actually experiencing and
appreciating it on an intuitive level completes the foundation. The prayer
describes meditation as remaining true to that experience by refining
through continual attention to and absorption in that experience. Path
Mahamudra is the refining of and attending to the basic experience of the
nature of mind and refine it, then at a certain point, an automatic
quality arises; the experience happens without one generating it or
discovering it. The mind is subject to very little distraction at all.
When this occurs, one has entered into the level of path Mahamudra which
is termed.one-pointedness.or focus on a single thing. In this case,the
focus is on a single aspect of experience, the experience of mind nature.
Traditionally there are three degrees of this one-pointed experience:
a lesser degree of intensity, an intermediate, and a very intense degree.
As meditation continues, the next clearly definable stage is a certain
spontaneity, where the experience is no longer the result of any particular
effort; to think of meditation is to have the experience. One begins to
discover the incredible simplicity of the nature of mind, absolutely free
from any complication and this, in fact, is the name given to the second
phase of experience,.simplicity, the freedom from complication.
Traditionally this phase also has three degrees of intensity; a lesser
degree, an intermediate degree, and a very intense degree.
In the beginning, one is meditating for short and frequent periods of
time rather than attempting long periods of forcing the mind. But as
experience accumulates and simplicity arises, one’s meditation naturally
begins to be longer and longer duration. Soon the phase termed one flavor
arises, which is the experience of the essential quality of all aspects
of phenomenal experience. Soon, seeing form, hearing sounds, smelling
smells, tasting tastes, feeling textures, thinking thoughts, formless
states of awareness and form states of awareness all have the same flavor.
One perceives the underlying essential nature of these experiences,rather
than being concerned with the superficial content. This is the third phase
of the experience of path Mahamudra, the unique flavor of all aspects of
one’s experience, and again, it has different degrees of intensity forming
a spectrum of experience, rather than clearly defined steps.
The spontaneity of the experience will take over completely so that there
seems no need to meditate at all. The experience arises without there being
any particular thought of meditating. This is a glimpse which itensifies
further to become the actual experience of the nature of mind without there
being any thought of meditation. The most intensive degree of this stage is
that meditation and being become one. At that point there is no longer any
distinction between meditating and not meditating because one is always
meditating. The full experience of this is the most intense degree of the
fourth phase of path Mahamudra which is termed beyond meditation..The
sustained experience of this phase is the result of all one’s efforts,
Mahamudra. It is the quintessential experience, the pinnacle experience in
terms of the attainment of enlightenment and realization.
It is important to identify the context of the Mahamudra experience.
Tradition assures us that any approach, other than one’s own efforts at
purifying and developing oneself and the blessing that one receives from an
authentic and qualified guru.(10), is stupid. Of course, at a certain
point, the practice becomes spontaneous and the efforts to purify oneself
and to develop devotion to receive blessings from one’s guru become second
nature. However, this does not become spontaneous until the intense level
of the simplicity experience, the second phase of Mahamudra practice,when
the practice of meditation becomes one’s purification, one’s development
and the receipt of blessing from one’s guru. The fundamental identity of
the guru’s mind and one’s own mind begins to be directly perceptible;
one’s deepening awareness assures further development of merit and the
further purification of obscurations and negativity; there is no necessity
to formally supplicate one’s guru, meditate upon one’s guru or generate
devotion in order to receive blessing, because the meditation practice
carries one along.
Up to that point, however, the efforts that we make to purif yourselves,
to develop our devotion and open ourselves to the guru’s blessing are
absolutely crucial. Only present exertions will convey us to the time when
they are no longer necessary; the practice of meditation becomes the process
of purification, the process of development and the process of receiving
- This teaching was given by Ven. Kalu Rinpoche at a meditation retreat in
Marcola, Oregon, USA, in 1982 and edited from tapes by a team of
translators. It is part of the book: H. E. Kalu Rinpoche ‘The Foundations
of Tibetan Buddhism’ (Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY USA).
- Some Annotations
(1).Mahamudra = Great Seal (Sanskrit) ~ (2) Buddhadharma = teachings
(dharma) of the Buddha ~ (3) Dharmakaya = enlightened mind of pure light
and emptiness (our immament etheric Buddha nature of light and sound;the
formless and non-dualistic ‘reality’) ~ (4) Sambhogakaya = the mind in a
various dreamlike form-body’s (like during sleep or having visions of e.g.
deities, ghosts, various magical emanations) ~ (5) Nirmanakaya = the mind
in a physical body (physical ‘reality’) ~ (6) Samsara = world of illusion,
ignorance and karmic restrictions (our obvious ‘reality’). In the Buddhist
view even the worlds of highly realized gods and goddesses are not free of
illusion and karmic restrictions ~ (7) Nirvana = state of emptiness
(beyond illusion, ignorance and coarse karmic restrictions / our hidden
‘reality’) ~ (8) Buddha Shakyamuni = the historical Buddha ~ (9) kayas=
embodyments/states (Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, Dharmakaya) ~ (10) guru=
spiritual friend, experienced practitioner and teacher (p.s. in case you
don’t find such a person, try to visualize a radiant golden Buddha in front
of you or sitting on top of your head, blessing you with radiating golden
or rainbow-colored light, becoming your personal guru, and by melting into
- Thank you for your interest!