January 19, 2017 – Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India
Having finished explaining the creation phase, His Holiness turned to the completion phase. He read the passage from the text that speaks of three focuses for the practice of mahamudra: 1) staying undistracted like a soldier whirling his sword as he enters battle; 2) being skilled in abiding without altering like an elephant herder; and 3) sustaining freely like a bird taking off and returning to a ship.
The first example refers to a keenly aware mind that is also open to thought. The second refers to the fact that an elephant herder does not have to run around a lot, so it points to looking inward at the mind, letting cognitions dissipate, and relaxing. The third example is of a bird on a ship in the middle of the ocean. If the bird flies away, it will have no other place to land but the ship. In the same way, when a practitioner is resting in samadhi, no matter what thoughts they might have, by applying mindfulness and awareness, these subside back into the samadhi.
Next, the text speaks of the key point that allows everything that appears to become spiritual practice. With the goal of attaining genuine awareness, we should apprehend appearances with mindfulness and the feeling of letting them do whatever do whatever they want. Then we should devote ourselves to supplications, practice, and dedications. Once you have this awareness, you will not need external teachers. No matter what adversity occurs, you will know how to take it as an aid on the path.
Following this, the Karmapa spoke about the Six Yogas of Continual Flow (chu bo rgyun gyi rnal ‘byor), which relate to practices that should be done continually between meditation sessions: the yoga of eating, of clothing, of residing, and of sleep plus the two practices of transference and bardo. Here in our text, Mikyö Dorje speaks of the yogas of residing and sleep plus transference and bardo.
When the text discusses the completion phase, the Karmapa noted, it emphasizes the practice of mahamudra, and these teachings are usually not given right away; one needs to have completed the preliminary practices first which make one a suitable vessel for the Dharma. So, the Karmapa discussed the different ways of understanding mahamudra in general and the practice of calm abiding.
There are two main types of mahamudra, sutra and tantra, the Karmapa began, and scholars debate what the difference is between them is or if there is a difference at all. From the point of a third type, the essence mahamudra, there is no difference. “As it is generally known,” the Karmapa remarked, “the sutra mahamudra comes from Gampopa’s teachings based on the Samadhiraja Sutra (King of Samadhi Sutra). Mikyö Dorje states that most mahamudra instruction comes from the sutra tradition and explains that this tradition is not different from the Middle Way free of mental elaboration, which he presented in the Chariot of the Kagyu Mahasiddhas (Mikyö Dorje’s commentary on Chandrakirti’s Entering the Middle Way). The Kagyu practice of sutra mahamudra and the great Middle Way are the same thing with two separate names.” The Karmapa remarked that usually mahamudra instructions based Indian texts belong to the sutra tradition, which does not require an empowerment as the tantric traditions do, and therefore, the sutra tradition is generally followed.
When meditating, the Karmapa continued, we should leave three things unaltered: our body, speech, and mind. Our body sits in the seven-point posture of Vairochana. The stale winds related to our speech are cleared out with three breaths each through the right nostril, the left nostril, and both together, after which we just let them be. Our mind remains unaltered, isolated from thoughts of the past, present or future: it does not chase after thoughts from the past, does not summon thoughts of the future, or does not engage thoughts of the present. We simply abide in equipoise, letting the mind be.
Next the Karmapa discussed the three stages of meditation, illustrated above by the three examples. The first is to abide undistracted as a soldier entering battle. The Great Brahmin Saraha stated that when practicing mahamudra, we are not meditating and not not meditating. We are resting, one-pointed and relaxed. Our meditation is not something fabricated by thought, such as thinking “I’m meditating on this.” However, not having anything on which to meditate is not the same as not meditating at all while just remaining our typical self.
To sustain mahamudra meditation, the Karmapa continued, we need to post the sentry of mindfulness so that we are not distracted even for an instant. On the one hand, there is nothing special going on (we are not meditating on a particular thought), and on the other hand, we are resting without distraction. In brief, we are abiding one-pointedly without distraction in a relaxed way.
It is important to remain undistracted, the Karmapa emphasized, and it is our mindfulness that recognizes thoughts and knows our situation. “Nothing special going on” does not mean not meditating or being sunk in a blank state: our mind is clear, vivid, and aware of the changes happening within it. For example, if a thought of hatred arises, mindfulness catches it, knows it. This should not make us feel uncomfortable and think, “Oh no, I should send this bad thought away.” Rather, we can rest one-pointedly on the concept that is present to us, and naturally its power will decrease. The Karmapa explained, “All concepts are mistaken apprehensions, so if we look at them directly, it’s as if they become embarrassed and naturally go away.”
The Karmapa then turned to the second example of remaining without altering like an elephant herder. Here, we are free of hoping not to be distracted and free of the fear that we will be. Our mind is not too tight and not too loose—it is perfectly taut. All we need to do is recognize the concept and rest within it. The text illustrates this through the counter example of a hunting dog whose energy is spent by tenaciously chasing after a deer. We do need to find the thought and recognize it, but then following it so insistently is not helpful. We simply need to relax and prolong this state without altering it.
The Karmapa brought in another example of two wrestlers competing to see who is stronger; one is big and strong and the other is small and weaker. The smaller one must use all their strength, which will soon dissipate. The stronger one will not have to us all his power, just enough to do the job. Similarly, to prolong the flow of meditation, we do not need to use too much power. Like the weaker wrestler, if we spend all our strength at the beginning it will soon dissipate, which is what happens when we run after our thoughts. So, when a thought arises, there is no need to chase it down. Simply recognize it and rest in equipoise clearly and naturally.
The third example is the bird circling back to the ship. If the boat is in the middle of a vast ocean and the bird takes flight, the only place it can land is on the boat, so it must return. Like the bird, whenever our mind takes off into a stream of thoughts, the only place to which it can return is the practitioner’s mind resting in samadhi. The Karmapa commented that if one abides one-pointedly in samadhi and can relax right within it, this state is not disturbed by whatever thought arises, whether of hope or fear, the eight worldly concerns, or the three poisons. They are immediately recognized, and through mindfulness and awareness these become the samadhi.
The mahamudra tradition also explains three ways of abiding or resting, which are free of hope and fear: resting right within abiding, resting right within motion, and resting right within awareness or emptiness. In practicing these three, the Karmapa explained the importance of sustaining mindfulness and awareness: if we focus on a thought, for example, it will change when a new one appears. When we are not able to continue meditating on the old thought, we become somewhat uncomfortable since we cannot remain within the focus. However, what is most important is not the object of focus, which can change, but maintaining the continuum of mindfulness and awareness. The Karmapa remarked that this was a brief teaching on shamatha or calm abiding meditation and that there is nothing specific in this commentary on vipashyana or insight meditation.
The Karmapa then read from the text explaining that no matter where you might go, with ardent faith meditate clearly that the world is a palace and all sentient beings are Avalokiteshvara. To practice the yoga of sleep, focus on a clear blue space at your fontanel (where the plates of your skull meet at the top of your head). By focusing on here, thoughts dissipate and the mind feels weightless. Rest in nonthought, meditate a little on emptiness, and then lie down to sleep.
Lama Nyan commented here that the sleeping half of our lives we spend pointlessly like animals. After receiving this instruction, we can use sleep as part of our spiritual training. It is often said, the Karmapa noted, that if we fall asleep with a virtuous thought in mind, our sleep would also become virtuous.
At the time of death, you should feel faith and practice whatever was your first yoga, so visualize noble Avalokiteshvara above your crown. Focus on a white sphere of light—the essence of your mind—on which the six syllables are written as if in vermillion. Meditate that Avalokiteshvara is saying “oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ,” which allows the sphere to achieve his state.
The Karmapa advised that whatever practice we might be doing, we should begin with refuge and bodhichitta, conclude with dedication and aspiration prayers, while between sessions we should practice the Six Yogas of Continual Flow. The first of these six is the yoga of eating, during which we visualize ourselves as Avalokiteshvara and our lama above our crown. Imagine the food to be divine amrita and bless it with OH AH HUNG. Also visualize as Avalokiteshvara, all living beings in the universe as well as all the parasites and microbes in your body. Imagine that they receive the amrita and are delighted. Lama Nyan remarked that before hearing this instruction, we are just like animals eating grass, but afterward, eating can have the purpose of perfecting the form and formless two kayas.
The Karmapa emphasized that it is especially important for the Sangha to offer their tea and food (known as dkor, or offerings to the Sangha) with prayers to the lamas and the Three Jewels, remembering that these offerings were given by faithful sponsors. Not doing so entails a karmic debt and will bring obscurations to liberation. Thinking that we have no time and enjoying the offerings immediately is not the right way. If we hold one of the vows, then we can receive these offerings, but they should always be offered first.
Practicing the yoga of clothing, especially when it is new, you imagine that it is celestial clothing; seeing you self as the deity bless it with OM AH HUNG and offer it. For the yoga of the place, wherever you are staying, inside or outside a dwelling, see it as an infinite palace and offer it to the lamas and deities thus making it part of the two accumulations.
Shamar Rinpoche explains the Six Yogas a bit differently, the Karmapa noted, including as one of them circumambulation. We can transform wherever we go by imagining that on our right is Avalokiteshvara, a deity’s palace, or a stupa with the deity and retinue. Each step we take is equivalent to circumambulation, so we do not need to journey to a stupa or monastery.
Shamar Rinpoche gives another way to practice the yoga of sleep, the Karmapa remarked. We visualize ourselves as the yidam deity, and above our crown is our lama who embodies them all. The wisdom being in our heart who is an inch tall radiates light upward through the central channel, which links the figures in our heart and at our crown. The light from the wisdom being strikes the lama above our crown who dwindles in size to one inch and passes down along the central channel to reside as the lord of the family above the head of the wisdom being. Try not to have other thoughts than these, and relaxing into emptiness, fall asleep.
The Karmapa explained that we can do this practice at the end of a workday when there is nothing left to do. We sit on our bed, create the visualization, and at the end, let our mind be spacious and relaxed. In this way, we fall asleep.
The Karmapa then read the last part of the text, which presents the lineage of the practice, beginning with Avalokiteshvara, Vajra Yogini, mahasiddha Tsembupa, Chilhepa, and moving down to Jampel Sangpo, who wrote the Mahamudra Lineage Prayer. He was a teacher of the 7th Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso, and with him the text entered the Karma Kamtsang lineage. Finally, the transmission came to the author of this text, Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, who wrote the preliminaries, refuge, bodhichitta, and so forth. From Tropu Gyatso come the field of accumulations, the main practice, and mahamudra, the essence of which is based upon the mahasiddha Tsembupa’s instructions.
In conclusion, the Karmapa mentioned that this lineage of Tsembupa is important to the Jonang tradition and represents one of its four main practices. Coincidently, this twentieth Winter Debates is the first time a Jonang Khenpo has been invited to be a judge, so there is wonderful internal and external connection at play.