Mahāmudrā: Part Two





Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche:

Having outlined the path in concise form I am now going to discuss a little more on mahāmudrā. At the beginning of his Root Text for the Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra, the First Paṇchen Lama, Losang Chökyi Gyältsen (who is also author of Lama Chöpa) makes prostration to the guru as the special deity in order for the success of the teaching.[1] The poetic words fulfil the traditional purpose of making homage at the beginning as well as making a promise to fulfil the commitment of composing the text. It is also a means of accumulating merit in order for success to arise.

The text says,

I respectfully bow at the feet of my peerless guru, lord of that which pervades everywhere.    

What this is saying, as mentioned in the teaching by Khedrup Sangye Yeshe, is that all the buddhas came from the guru.[2] Also it means that all the buddhas are the guru referring to the ultimate guru—the dharmakāya, which is the transcendental wisdom of nondual bliss and voidness. Whenever one thinks of the guru one should think of the buddha. This is how to generate realization of the guru as buddha and buddha as guru. Eventually one will feel like this all the time naturally, without any effort. That is the sign that one has developed realization of guru devotion.

One prostrates (chag tsal lo, phyag ‘tshal lo) because everything, from the benefits of happiness up to enlightenment, depends on the guru-deity. So chag means purifying. This in turn refers to purifying or wiping away all the wrong conceptions extending from the thought of mistakes toward the virtuous friend up to the subtle dual view. So chag is like cleaning all the garbage away. Tsal means “I wish.” Therefore “I wish to clean all the wrong conceptions away.”

In the Lama Chöpa, according to the practice instruction of Khedrup Sangye Yeshe, one first generates oneself as a deity. Then comes refuge in the first verse, which begins,

De chhen ngang lä rang nyi la ma lha[3]

With this one’s own mind becomes the root guru’s holy mind: the dharmakāya, the primordial mind. In that recognition one experiences great bliss (bde chen; de chen). Out of that blissful state one manifests as the deity—not just the deity but the guru-deity!

From that holy body that is clarified, beams emit in all the ten directions blessing animate and inanimate beings, the living beings and the place. All beings then become the deity and the place becomes the maṇḍala.


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You can see that one therefore starts with one’s own mind transforming into the root guru. What this means is that it becomes the ultimate or absolute guru which is the dharmakāya. The entire Lama Chöpa is performed on this foundation. All the merit field, the offerings, the requesting prayer, indeed, everything is seen as manifestations of that mind. Similarly, the mahāmudrā requesting prayer, called “Praises and Supplication to the Gelukpa Mahāmudrā Lineage,”[4] starts with the verse:

Namo Mahāmudrā ya
Homage to the Great Seal!

lhun drub ku sum gyi zhel yä su / päl dang bö sang gyä rig kün tso
You are the Primordial Buddha, principal of all Buddha lineages/ Dweller in the palatial mansion of the spontaneously created Three Bodies.

khyab dag dorje chhang chhen la söl wa deb
I request to the all-pervading lord, great Vajradhara.

It is then followed by the refrain:

gyü dag dzin thri wa chhö pa dang
May I be blessed to completely sever the continuum that is clinging of self-grasping,

jam nying je jang sem jong pa dang
To generate loving-kindness, compassion, and the pure mind of enlightenment,

lam zung jug chhag gya chhen po yi / chhog nyur tu thob par jin gyi lob
And to quickly attain the path of unification, the highest state of Mahāmudrā.

In the opening lines, “Primordial Buddha” refers to the ultimate guru, the dharmakāya, which, due to pervading all existence, has no beginning or end. Also, it is bound with infinite compassion for all sentient beings, including us. The ultimate guru is the chief or principal of all the buddha lineages.[5] We can refer to the buddha lineages (or buddha potential/nature) in the mental continuums of all sentient beings in two aspects. One is the ultimate nature of the mind (its emptiness) and the other is the potential for development (transformational nature).[6] We can also refer the primordial buddha to Buddha Vajradhara of which all the maṇḍalas and maṇḍala deities are the manifestations as well as the buddhas of the five buddha families.

Vajradhara is the principal among the buddhas who dwell in the palatial mansion of the spontaneously created three bodies. So, as I was explaining, within understanding of the guru as Buddha Vajradhara, one makes requests.[7] Purified nectar beams are then emitted which purify the defilements and a replica of Vajradhara, the all-pervading lord, chief of all the lineages, absorbs into oneself. At this point one thinks:

I have actually realized emptiness and thus cut the root of ignorance. My mind is transformed into loving kindness, bodhicitta and I attain the sublime realization of mahāmudrā which is the path of unification.

Here, when referring to the path of unification or path of total integration, the Tibetan words are:

lam zung jug chhag gya chhen po yi

So, lam means path, zung jug means unified or unification, chhag gya means mahāmudrā and seal, chhen po is great, and yi is of.

chhog nyur tu thob par jin gyi lob

In relation to chhog nyur tu thob par jin gyi lob, chhog is sublime, nyur is quickly, thob par is to achieve, jin gyi lob is bless, so: please bless.

So together we have:

lam zung jug chhag gya chhen po yi/ chhog nyur tu thob par jin gyi lob  [8]

All this can be related to the very fundamental meaning of mahāmudrā. In the sūtric mahāmudrā, we say that all phenomena are sealed by emptiness. This is the same as saying form is empty, for example. When we say all phenomena, which are dependent arisings, are sealed with emptiness, we mean that they exist merely as dependent arisings imputed by the mind, relating to the name and the base.[9] So this is a subtle dependent arising.

Now you can see how phenomena, because of being subtle dependent arisings, cannot exist without being empty. Or, if not empty, how can they exist? Things can exist only by depending on the base and the mind labeling. One can see no other way in which their existence is possible. Therefore, dependently arising phenomena are sealed with emptiness. Form is empty and empty is form. The two are unified. While empty they exist and while they exist they are empty.[10]



Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography

[1] Rinpoche is referring to the Great Seal of Voidness, found in the Dalai Lama et al., Four Essential Buddhist Texts (Dharamsala: LTWA, 2001), 53–82. It has also been more recently retranslated by Alex Berzin with extensive commentary by Berzin together with two major commentaries by the Dalai Lama in Gelug/ Kagyü Tradition. The opening words, which Lama Zopa Rinpoche is introducing, read, “Namo mahamudraya: Homage to mahamudra, the great seal of reality. I respectfully bow at the feet of my peerless guru, lord of that which pervades everywhere, master of those with actual attainment, who expounds the all-pervasive nature of everything, the great seal of reality, mahamudra, inseparable from the diamond-strong sphere of mind that is beyond speech.” Gelug/Kagyü Tradition, 97.

The Dalai Lama glosses, “The ‘all-pervasive nature of everything, the great seal of reality’ refers to voidness as an object of mind. This object, voidness, and that which takes or apprehends this as its object, namely a mind with a correct view understanding voidness—referred to here as the ‘diamond-strong sphere of mind’—are inseparable. Not tainted by even the slightest trace of discordant appearance-making, or ‘dual appearances,’ the two are totally of one taste, like water mixed with water” (ibid., 107–8).

[2] Sangye Yeshe (1525–91) is fervently praised by the First Paṇchen Lama, Losang Chökyi Gyältsen, as the source of the personal essential mahāmudrā teachings: “As for the methods that can lead you to recognize the actual [deepest] nature of the mind, I shall now record the personal instructions of my root guru, Sanggyay-yeshey, who [as his name literally means] is the embodiment of the Buddhas’ deep awareness. Assuming the guise of a monk clad in saffron, he has eliminated the darkness enshrouding my mind.” The Dalai Lama, Gelug/ Kagyü Tradition, 99–100.

[3] This translates as “From within great bliss, I arise as the Guru-Deity” (bde chen ngang las rang nyid bla ma lha). The remaining lines of this verse read:

From my body, masses of light rays emanate into the ten directions,
Blessing the world and beings.
So that all is perfectly placed
In the quality of utter infinite purity.

Gyältsen, Lama Chöpa, 5.

[4] Praises and Supplication to the Gelukpa Mahamudra Lineage (Gan den ka söl chag gya chhen bö thri kyi la gyü söl deb kha kong chä zhug). For  the full text. Note: since this version has been produced for English-language recitation practice, pronunciation-friendly phonetics rather than Wylie have been used for the Tibetan and no diacritics for the Sanskrit.

[5] See note 1 above for the Dalai Lama’s gloss of “the all-pervasive nature of everything, the great seal of reality.”

[6] The Dalai Lama explains, “In the system of the Middle Way School, the Buddha lineage, in general, is identified as that which, when transformation takes place, is suitable to transform into a Buddha Body. It is divided into that which is suitable to transform into a Buddha’s Truth Body and that which is suitable to transform into a Buddha’s Form Bodythe first being the naturally abiding lineage and the second being the developmental [transformational] lineage. Based on this teaching of a Buddha-nature present in all beings, the Middle Way School explains that there is only one final vehicle.” Harvard, 105.

Though attributes of a single mental continuum, the two lineages (used here synonymously with natures) are to be distinguished. The naturally abiding lineage refers to the mind’s ultimate nature, emptiness, and is the base of achieving the dharmakāya; the developmental, or transformational, lineage refers to the mind’s capacity for profound transformation right up until enlightenment and is the cause for the rūpakāya. This transformation is possible because the mind is empty—lacking inherent existence and thus being a merely labeled dependent arising, it erects no impediment or barrier to transformation from its own side. As His Holiness says, “In our continuums now we have a capacity such that, when we meet with certain conditions, in the future we will manifest uncontaminated qualities. The developmental lineage refers to a time when that capacity has been nourished, or activated” (ibid.,138).

For a thorough examination of buddha nature drawing on the individual presentations of the four tenet systems, see Sonam Rinchen, Buddha Nature (Dharamsala: LTWA), 2003. See especially chapter 2, “Understanding Our Disposition,” where the transformational disposition for enlightenment is discussed, and chapter 3, “The Clear Light Nature of the Mind,” which details the fundamental nature of our mind, which is primordially free of adventitious defilements. Regarding “primordially free” in this context, Tsongkhapa quotes the Samādhirāja-sūtra:

Primordially empty, not coming,
Not gone, not enduring and without abode,
Having an illusory nature, and always without a core,
All things are as pure as the sky.

He then glosses, “Here ‘primordially’ means originally.” See Tsong khapa, Ocean, 276. Peljor Lhündrub, writing of the nature of the primordial mind, explains, “No matter what conceptions sway you, their nature is nothing but mind. For example, various things, like clouds, arise within space When they arise, they arise from space; when they disappear, they disappear into the expanse of space; and when they remain, they remain within the expanse of space. Likewise, when conceptions are projected out, they are projected out of the mind; when they disappear, they disappear into the mind; and when they abide, they abide within the mind. Like the center of clear space, the nature of those conceptions, as this is experienced by yogis, cannot be expressed.” See the Dalai Lama et al., Meditation on the Nature of Mind, 101–2.

[7] In his published commentary on Lama Chöpa, the Dalai Lama quotes Verse 11 and briefly elaborates,

In his heart sits the all-pervading Lord Vajradhara, with a blue-colored body,
One face and two arms, holding vajra and bell and embracing Vajradhatu Ishvari;
They delight in the play of simultaneous voidness and bliss,
Are adorned with jewelled ornaments of many designs and are clothed in garments of heavenly silks.

Union of Bliss And Emptiness, 71.

[8] This is translated in the printed version as “And to quickly attain the path of unification, the sublime state of Mahamudra.”

[9] The Dalai Lama comments, “In short, what does ‘mahamudra’ mean in this context? Because voidness is the actual nature of all phenomena, or the manner in which all things exist, voidness is a ‘mudra’ or seal. Voidness, as the manner in which everything exists, is the seal that guarantees the nature of all things in the sense that there is nothing that can go beyond this. Everything has voidness as its nature. Furthermore, because the realization of voidness liberates us from all the fetters of suffering and their causes, it is ‘maha’ or great.” Gelug/Kagyü Tradition, 258. For Peljor Lhündrub’s account, together with the concise meaning of base [ground], path and result mahāmudrā, see also the Dalai Lama et al., Meditation on the Nature of Mind, 111–12.

[10] The root text also says,

When the time comes that you can perceive simultaneously the appearance of things without causing their voidness to be obscured to your mind, and their voidness without your mind ceasing to make their appearance dawn, you have directly manifested the excellent pathway mind that perceives everything from the single, integrated point of voidness and dependent arising being synonymous.

The Dalai Lama glosses, “Practicing like this, we realize that voidness and dependent arising are completely synonymous. They become yoked together as equals. When we look from the point of view of understanding the meaning of the voidness of anything, we understand it dependently arises as ‘this’ or ‘that’ by virtue simply of mentally labeling, and vice versa. On the basis of our mind giving rise to dependently arising things as a foundation, our mind also gives rise to their voidness. Through the gateway of a foundation of voidness, our mind simultaneously gives rise to the appearance of things existing as what dependently arises.” Gelug/ Kagyü Tradition, 162.


Sera Je Monastery, India. Photograph Ross Moore



1 Comment

Thank you Ross. This is so helpful to understanding. Your efforts are appreciated.


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