From the Book
Mahamudra is the first English translation of a major Tibetan Buddhist presentation of the theory and practice of meditation—a manual detailing the various stages and practices for training the advanced student. The original Tibetan text of nearly 800 pages was composed by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal (1511-1587), a great lama and a scholar of the sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
His text is so vast and thorough in scope that it is still the primary- source used by living Tibetan meditation masters in instructing their disciples. The many levels of meditation covered include the following: the differentiation between stages of tranquility and insight meditation; preparation for mahamudra meditation; the various methods of mahamudra practice; methods for removing obstacles to meditation; how one achieves realization; and the four is yogas of mahamudra.
The first major text representing the meditational methods of both mahayana and vajrayana Buddhism to appear in English. Mahamudra is an invaluable guide for advanced students, scholars, and Buddhist practitioners.
Dakpo Tashi Namgyal (1511-87) school of Tibetan Buddhism who aim trained in the Sakya School. Was renowned as both a scholar and meditator. During his later years he served as chief abbot of Daklha Campo in southern Tibet.
LOBSANG P. LHALUNGPA (1926- ) was born in Lhasa, Tibet. From 1940 until 1952, he was a monk—official in the service of his Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government. He is also the translator of the Life of Milarepa and author of Tibet - the Sacred realm, and his translations of Dharma verses appear in Sacred Traditions and Living Culture. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Back of the Book
Mahamudra meditation is simultaneously the most profound of meditative disciplines and the most accessible for modern practitioners. Traditionally passed orally from teacher to disciple, mahamudra instructions point the meditator to the innate perfection of every experience.
When it first appeared in 1986, Mahamudra: The Moonlight—The Qnintessence of Mind and Meditation was the first presentation in English of a major Tibetan Buddhist work on meditation. This classic guide was composed in the sixteen century by an eminent lama of the Kagyu School and is so comprehensive and practical that it is still widely used today as a manual. Divided into two major sections, it presents first the common approach and then the mahamudra approach to tranquility (samatha) and insight (vipasyana) meditation.
Preface to the First Edition
Mahamudra: The Quintessence of Mind and Meditation was translated from 1976 to 1977. The finalization was done in stages, from 1981 to 1983, in between my other work. I paid special attention to the careful checking of the entire translation and editorial work, to the preparation of footnotes, to the bibliography of the Sanskrit and Tibetan titles of the Tibetan texts quoted in this treatise, and to the index.
For many years I have devoted myself to the translation of Tibetan literature — both secular and religious — into English, but have delayed publishing my translations of Buddhist texts in order to ensure their complete accuracy. None of us in the tradition has any illusions about being able to achieve the same high standard of writing and translating as that of the learned and enlightened Lama—Lotsavas of ancient Tibet, who translated Buddhist works from many other languages. Besides, the conditions for serious translators are not favorable in these modern times. Yet a series of significant events in my life finally brought about the translation of this great esoteric text.
Since.1959, when many thousands of Tibetans escaped to India and other neighboring countries, I had been asked to translate Buddhist texts by the highest authority within our tradition and by many of my Lamas. In 1969 the late Venerable Dukchen Thuksay Rinpoche, renowned master of the Drukpa Kagyti Order, presented me with a xylographed print of a Tibetan text during an assembly at Sangngak Choling Monastery in Darjeeling (India). While blessing me, Rinpoche, in his gentle voice, said: “This is the most important sacred text! I urge you to translate it." When I opened the book and read the title, I was deeply moved. Here was the Mahamudra text, one of the great Buddhist classics that I had already been studying.
A few years later, His Holiness Karmapa Rigpei Dorje, the Sixteenth Karmapa, presented me with seven great commentaries on the sutric and tantric teachings. He also handed me a certificate bearing his seal that assigned me the task of translating these texts. On the list of titles this Mahamudra text was especially marked for translation.
Finally, during a visit to New York in 1975, Dr. C. T. Shen, president of the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions at Stonybrook, offered me a contract for translating the same Mahamudra text. Dr. Shen also invited the Venerable Dezhung Rinpoche to be adviser for this project. In addition to his generous financial support, Dr. Shen provided us with a lovely, quiet residence on his Long Island estate of Bodhifield. Throughout our two-year stay there, both Dr. and Mrs. Shen extended to us every possible courtesy and assistance. I personally and all of us in the Dharma are indeed deeply indebted to Dr. Shen, especially since his sponsorship represents only one of his many invaluable projects for the advancement of Buddhism. I here also express my deep respect and appreciation to the Venerable Dezhung Rinpoche, a great eclectic Lama and a teacher of the Sakyapa Order, for his advice and explanations of the difficult passages found in this text.
My sincere appreciation and thanks are due to my family for their encouragement and support: to my wife, Gisela Minke, for having enthusiastically and tirelessly typed and checked the English; to my son Samphe Dorje for his invaluable help in editing the first part of the translation; and to my younger son, Nawang Tenzin, for providing me with much practical help.
I wish to acknowledge with deep appreciation the advice and assistance given by a number of individuals: first and foremost my dear friends Mary Ann and Lawrence Tucker, who have consistently encouraged and supported me; my friend Ani Tsering Chodon (Martha Hamilton) for checking and typing the bilingual bibliography of the titles quoted in Mahamudra; the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, Dr. Herbert V. Guenther, and Dr. Garma C. C. Chang for reading my list of Buddhist technical terms in English and Tibetan; and also my friends Gene Smith, Hannah Robinson, Dr. Gloria Count-van Manen, and Elizabeth Dale for having read parts of the translation and for having encouraged me.
My sincere appreciation and thanks also go to the staff of the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions at Stonybrook, Long Island, for making available to me many Tibetan texts and for allowing me to use the facilities of the institute.
I want to express special thanks to those institutions and individuals who have provided me with some of the funds required for the finalization. The major part of this expense and much voluntary assistance came from my own family. I am very grateful to Buddhayana Foundation in Massachusetts, to the Marsden Foundation in New York, and to Mr. Michael Wunmbrand for providing me with part of the funding.
Last but not least, I am very grateful indeed to my publisher, Mr. Samuel Bercholz, of Shambhala, who took a personal interest in this publication.
The xylographed text of Mahamudra used in this translation was printed on handmade Tibetan paper from carved woodblocks that had been preserved at Sri Neuteng of Gyal, in Dingri, western Tibet, until the “cultural revolution.” The folio numbers of this text appear in the left—hand margins of this English translation.
Since this text is an original Tibetan composition and contains numerous terms of distinct Tibetan character, I have included a limited list of Sanskrit equivalents. The Tibetan script (which was adapted from an ancient Indian script) employs many silent letters. The recent practice of literally transcribing Tibetan words seems only to confuse foreign readers. I myself was surprised and amused when I first read my name in English as “bLobzang Phuntshogs.” In this text I have deliberately adhered to the more practical phonetic rendering, which facilitates smooth reading.
Despite my dedicated efforts, there could still be errors and inaccuracies in this translation. If so, I sincerely apologize for these shortcomings. ‘I must confess that in both the translation and in my introduction I have addressed myself mainly to practicing Buddhists and only partly to the general readership. It is my sincere wish that this great text may serve practicing Buddhists as an illuminating guide while conveying the Buddha’s message of universal enlightenment, thus fulfilling the noble goal of the sponsor and of all others directly involved with this effort.
May this translation also be regarded as one of the worthy memorials in honor of over one million Tibetan Buddhists killed in Tibet during the last three decades.
Mahamudra: The Moonlight — Quintessence of Mind and Meditation represents the advanced doctrine and practice as understood and realized by the Kagyupa Order of Tibetan Buddhism.
The original Tibetan title of this sixteenth-century text is Ngedon chakgya chenpoi gomrim selvarjepai lekshey dawaiozer, which reads literally as “The Perfect Description of Moonlight that Illuminates the Stages of Ultimate Mahamudra [The Great Seal]." The term “Great Seal" (Mahamudra) contains many different meanings. Here it stands for the ultimate nature of mind and reality. Lust as a royal seal wields unchallengeable authority, so the all-encompassing voidness of the ultimate reality prevails upon the cosmic phenomena. It also stands for the path of self-realization, which integrates authentic view, contemplation, and action into one perfect insight.
This extraordinary treatise provides not only a wealth of knowledge but also methods for realizing enlightenment. In writing this work the great Tibetan teacher Tashi Namgyal (1511-1587) made known many of the ancient secret oral teachings and published them as xylographic prints. Among other well-known treatises by the author are The Resplendent Jewel: An Elucidation of the Buddhist Tantra and The Sunlight: An Elucidation of Hevajra-tantra. In the course of his extensive studies and training, Tashi Namgyal studied with some Sakyapa teachers and even acted as the abbot of Nalanda Sakyapa Monastery, north of Lhasa. During his later years he functioned as Gampopa’s regent and as chief abbot of the monastery of Daklha Gampo, in South Tibet.
The Mahamudra is neither a students’ manual nor a self-explanatory book. Like other great Buddhist treatises it is studied under the guidance of a chosen teacher. The need for a tutor becomes apparent when one considers the magnitude of this very esoteric work, the profundity of the subject, its complex structure, its conceptual subtlety, and its technical intricacy. Among the problems untutored students would encounter are a certain (deliberate) vagueness, enigmatic quotations, allusions, and even some apparent contradictions.
This great Tibetan classic, which is widely recognized as an outstanding original work, reveals profound wisdom. The text draws systematically on the vital knowledge and the practical methods of the Buddhist sciences that form the major part of the monastic syllabus. From the sacred law (vinaya) comes the tenet of self-control, the conquest and transformation of the mind. From the essential aspects of logic (pramana) come the methods of determining the nature of reality. From the psychological branch of the sublime doctrine (abhidharma) come the methods of identifying and eliminating the root of self—delusion. From the tenets of the Buddha’s transcendental wisdom (prajnaparamita) come the ways of achieving insight into the universal voidness (sarvadharma-sunyata) as the ultimate state. From the Mahayana system of self-realization comes the essential practice known as (the twin principles of) transcendental wisdom and infinite compassion. From this ideal emanate the psychological methods for reorienting self-centeredness to a definite concern and compassion for others. From the Buddhist tantric doctrine come the methods of transforming inner delusion and its manifestations into aspects of transcendental wisdom. The distinct Mahamudra meditation will then reveal the ways of achieving instantaneous insight into the innate perfection of every perception or thought.
The entire text is divided into two parts. The first part contains the principles and practices of tranquility and insight meditation according to the Hinayana (Little Vehicle) and Mahayana (Great Vehicle) systems. The second part contains the advanced meditational system according to Mahayana followed by the higher system of Mahamudra (the Great Seal).
The intricate structure of this text is divided into many segments, which may appear confusing to those outside the Tibetan tradition, but it does not obscure the textual sequence - or the thematic coherence. The divisions are designed to help teachers explain the text systematically and to enable the students to comprehend the complex doctrine and practice.
The elucidation is written in classical Tibetan prose and is illustrated by innumerable quotations, all drawn from the Buddha’s sutras and tantras, from the exegetical treatises (sastras) of the ancient Buddhist masters, and their mystical poems (dohas).
Before the actual text begins, there is the traditional homage by the author, Tashi Namgyal, to the lineage of the Mahamudra transmission: to his personal guru (unnamed), to the Indestructible Mind (vajramanas), and to the Buddha in his ultimate state (dharmakaya) and in his earthly manifestation (nirmana- kaya). The principal masters duly venerated here are Saraha, Nagarjuna, Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa (all of the Kagyupa order). The author especially honors Gampopa as the second Buddha and the e3xpounder of this unique Mahamudra system.
The text begins with a description of the two distinct insights and approaches originating from the Buddha’s teachings of the sutras and tantras, that is, the common path of gradual self-realization and the uncommon path of instantaneous self-realization. The stages of the Mahamudra meditation embody these two paths systematically and coherently. The fundamental and advanced sutric meditations on tranquility and insight represent the gradual path, while the actual Mahamudra tradition represents the instantaneous path. The sutric meditations on the gradual path form the foundation, while the Mahamudra meditation represents the nonmystical, direct approach. However, Mahamudra meditation does not employ tantric methods per se. even though the Buddhist tantra is looked upon as the rapid path of self-realization, it is generally considered to be an essential element of the gradual path.
The Foundation of Buddhist Studies
I am here incorporating a description of the fundamental religious training required of trainees before they starts the Mahamudra meditation, in order to provide a complete panorama of Tibetan Buddhist practice. Such training generally consists of the study of both the fundamental and advanced sutras and tantras. This can be achieved by taking either a comprehensive or a selective course in such traditional subjects as the moral cannon (vinaya), logic (pramana), the central philosophy (madhyamaka), the science of mind and materiality (abhidharma), and transcendental wisdom (prajnaparamita). Some of the Tibetan orders, such as the Kagyupa, prefer to specify these courses in terms of thirteen main treatises. These texts are studied and tested daily in the form of debates. Individual students alternately take the role of challenger. Each defender is questioned by a number of challengers, one-by-one. Instructors, scholars, and abbots witness the debates, especially during the major and minor public examinations. Among the topics chosen by individuals outside their formal courses inations. Among the topics chosen by individuals outside their formal courses could be Sanskritic semantics, linguistics and philology, the Tibetan poetics and prose composition, astrology astronomy, holistic medicine, arts, architecture, and crafts.
One who cannot devote years to such comprehensive studies might take a condensed course. This could be done by studying either the broad outlines of certain texts or abridged versions of them. for every Buddhist order there is a popular and practical text that explains, in simpler language, the general teachings and which is studied by every meditator, student, and scholar. For the Kagyupa practitioners there is Gampopa’s renowned text The Jewel Ornament of Liberation.
The selective course consists of texts on sutric and tantric doctrines. Here individuals may choose some of the concise doctrinal treatises and meditational guides. Buddhist studies represent a complete process of human and intellectual development as illustrated by the following maxim: “Self-control, wisdom, and compassion are achieved only through listening, examining, and meditating? The test of the training should be an immediate spiritual maturity resulting from the taming of the worldly mind through the elimination of some basic malaise like selfishness, greed, or hatred; a deepening insight into the true reality; and a growing concern for the well-being of others.
In the Buddhist tradition, scholarship is only a means to an end. Buddhism combines rationality and faith, knowledge and inner awakening, as a way to spiritual attainment. Knowledge is acquired through years of Buddhist textual studies and debates, and awakening through consistent meditational practices.
A trainee will begin by seeking the oral transmission of a chosen text from a teacher. This is regarded as a significant event, as the teacher bestows on him the energy—stream of the sacred words, along with the blessings of the lineage, both of which he himself received from his teachers. This empowers the student. For tutorial studies. He will then receive the oral elucidation of the text, which may take weeks or months. There are various forms of explaining the texts: a simple literal explanation (tsigtri), a full explanation (dontri), and an experiential elucidation (nyamtri or martri) based on the teacher’s personal experience. The most important of all is the elucidation on each successive stage, which requires the student to meditate for a period of time and then to relate his experience to the teacher. This leads to regular discussions with the teacher in respect to the practice, its problems, and its progress. All the various orders of Tibetan Buddhism practice these oral transmissions.
This text presupposes that the trainee already has a good understanding of the gradual path to enlightenment as the essential religious foundation.
The Contemplative Foundation
The following will show how the student completes the entire contemplative course according to the tradition of the gradual path. The whole course is divided into three practices for “three types of spiritual aspirants”: primary, average, and advanced. In the course of these practices the student develops a right view, right contemplation, and right actions. These practical principles represent wisdom, tranquility, and discipline. He learns how to harmonize his contemplative experience with his active life- How, for instance, to inspire and invigorate his daily life with contemplative insight and tranquility.
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