Introduction to Mahamudra

bestowed by H.E. Garchen Rinpoche in April 2023
– Oral Translated by Ina Bieler & Transcribed by Florence Lee in 2023

My dharma friends, spiritual masters and all the lamas here, I’m going to give a brief instruction on Mahamudra, the co-emergent unification by Lord Jigten Sumgon. I will give these instructions in a form of a transmission for the sake of auspiciousness; because this text has a really excellent lineage. So, I will offer this to you as a mandala offering.

It is said in the Uttara tantra that the enlightened activities to benefit sentient beings emerge effortlessly. This is related to how I have received this text in the beginning when I first came to America. Drukpa Lodro invited me to his house and His Holiness was also there. There was this pile of Khatags but they were not folded nicely. So I thought maybe I should fold them nicely so that His Holiness can easily pass them out to others.  As I was folding the Khatags, I found this text wrapped in one of the Khatags. When I saw that it was the co-emergent unification Mahamudra text, I was quite amazed by that. It also contains a handwritten note by His Holiness in small print at the end of the text. When I saw this text I thought about this quote in the Uttara tantra that enlightened activities really are accomplished effortlessly.

Although His Holiness loves me very much, he did not have the intention of giving me this book. I just came across the book and was new to America. I was also new to teaching the dharma and didn’t know what to say. I was teaching a little about the preliminary practices but then I got this book and it gave me something to teach about. When I found it I thought that this is really precious.

I first taught this text in Tuscon when I came to Arizona to give teachings. I felt it was very fortunate for me to find this text. His Holiness really accomplished his enlightened activities in this way just effortlessly. I am not someone with great qualities or much learning but since I’m in America I also have to teach the dharma. And His Holiness said that I have to teach Mahamudra so this was what I did.   Up until then, I did have some understanding through my own personal practice but did not really know how to teach the dharma. Although on an ongoing basis I was reading the Ganges Mahamudra. During that time when I gave teachings on this text for the first time in Rochester, there was this old thangka. When I saw this image of Tilopa, an indescribable feeling arose in me.

Someone wanted to take a picture of me together with the thangka so I stood in front and took a picture. Then the way this picture turned out was that Tilopa’s foot was exactly at my heart and it became translucent. I really felt that this was a sign that my own mind, the guru’s mind and the Buddha’s mind are one and inseparable from Tilopa’s mind.  When I saw this photograph , a really strong trust arose within me. Then I felt that I have to teach Mahamudra to the best of my abilities. There were some people who wanted to listen to those teachings and at that time the translator was Khenchen Könchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche. He sat right next to me when I gave these teachings and Khenchen Rinpoche also said that when I’m teaching the Vajrayana secret mantra, I made it a little difficult for him. But these are the words and this was what I had to teach.  In any case regarding Mahamudra in this lineage, it goes back to Geylong Pachung Rinpoche. There are a few occasions that I met him which was back in Tibet after having visited my mother. I was not allowed to go to Lhasa at that time but arrived at a place called Bhumi. ”

I met a person who looked like a monk because he didn’t have any hair. This person said to me, “you need to go to Lhasa because Geylong Pachung Rinpoche asked for you to come.” But I replied that I was not allowed to go to Lhasa. I wondered about what this monk said but I thought he probably would not have told me a lie. But what happened was that the road flooded and I couldn’t go any further.  I was so happy about that because now I had no other place to go except to go to Lhasa.   I called Nangchen and said that I was not able to travel through this road but had to head to Lhasa. I was then able to meet Pachung Rinpoche but at that point Pachung Rinpoche was already quite ill . He hasn’t talked in several months and when I met him he also did not say much. But he did say “Look at the nature of your mind” and he touched my crown.

Pachung Rinpoche then said I must uphold the transmission lineage of Drikung Kagyu. I then agreed to that and that was the first time I met with him. The second time was when I was actually going to leave. I had been in Lhasa for a few weeks and had to head back home. There were several people that rented a car together and we were about to leave. I received the phone call from His Holiness Chungsang Rinpoche but he said he could not leave now because Pachung Rinpoche had just passed into Nirvana . So His Holiness said that I had to come to perform the funeral ceremony.

It also really made me remember the monk that I first met who seemed to be a real person. But in the end nobody knew of such a person and he also could not be found at all. But he was the one who told me to go to Lhasa on Pachung Rinpoche’s request. Then I met Pachung Rinpoche and he told me to look at my mind. And when I was going to leave again, he passed into Nirvana.  So, I was able to perform all the funeral ceremonies and I really felt that all of these occurrences are quite auspicious. And again another example of this Uttara tantra quote that says “the enlightened activities are accomplished spontaneously and effortlessly.” Then also what I want to mention is another practice that I have continuously engaged in besides Mahamudra which is the 37 Bodhisattva practices.

This is a transmission that I had mainly received from my Guru Chimee Dorje and I have been reciting this prayer continuously. Everytime I read it my devotion in these teachings really increases. I have also received this image which is inside of the small booklet of the 37 practices that we are handing out. It is the meditation place of the Bodhisattva Ngulchu Tokme who composed this book and when I saw this image, tears really streamed forth. A really special devotion arose and I really felt that this is actual devotion because I wouldn’t just cry for no reason.

Some people may think that when they see that it’s not really Ngulchu Tokme because after all it’s just a place where he meditated. But what pervades is his Dharmakaya mind of Bodhicitta. That is the mind of all the Gurus who are alive and has passed away. Maybe this is also due to a karmic imprint in my mind but a very special experience arose when I saw that image. That is why I also wanted to share it with my dharma friends and add it to the text.   In any case, I’m going to introduce this text on Mahamudra to the best of my abilities. But it will be more in the form of a transmission because we won’t be able to go into every detail. There is also no need to because you all have great understanding of these teachings. We will just point out the special qualities of this book because the more we hear about this the more our devotion to the teachings will also increase.  All of this really is an example of this quote from the Uttara tantra “the enlightened activities to benefit sentient beings are accomplished effortlessly.” For example like it was with my meeting with Pachung Rinpoche and so forth. So what I’m sharing is the enlightened qualities of the Buddhas.

I myself am a very sinful person and there’s probably no one who is more sinful than I am. I have encountered many hardships in the past and fought like a barbarian in the war. I am fully aware of my great negativities but there is no point in talking too much about that. It happens to be due to the force of karma that I’m also the one who is needed to uphold and preserve the teachings. At the same time I am fully aware of all the negativity that was created during the war.   Even though I do regard myself as someone of great negativity I still am not separate from the great qualities and the blessings of the holy dharma. I also know that all negativity is just a temporary obscuration and obscurations can become purified. I am fully confident in that and also Milarepa had said that “one needs to gain an actual experience in meditation practice. ” He said in his mind that an unceasing and unstoppable certainty in his own experience has arisen.  So that is the kind of confidence and trust that I have really developed in the holy dharma. I just wanted to share this background story with you because there are many who love me and like to listen to what I say on the livestream. So this is an opportunity to share this with you and now I’m going to explain these teachings to the best of my abilities in the form of a transmission. Also I will give an explanation on the basis of my own understanding .

Even though you all know about these teachings if you hear about them again and again, a greater faith in the teachings will develop within you. Milarepa also said that one must gain certainty in the view and experience in meditation then bring it all to perfection in conduct. Regarding this teaching that is related to the view, this is what we need to first ascertain within our mind.  When you hear about these teachings over and over again, this kind of certainty and understanding of these teachings will arise. First to explain the name of the title which is a teaching on Mahamudra. In Tibetan it is Chag gya chenpo; the first word Chag gya means mudra where Chag refers to emptiness. What is empty is the self that we believe to be truly existent. We think that there is a self or “I” but when you try to find it you can’t find it.

The “I” does not actually exists but all sentient beings in the six realms believe that such an “I” truly exists. After the body has died this concept and imprint of “I” continues to go on. It is said in the 37 practices that all suffering without exception comes from wishing for one’s own happiness. There is this concept of an “I” and an attachment to a self. From this self-grasping arise the six afflictive emotions and they create samsara.

Chag means the emptiness of a self where there is no self. When you realize that there is no self, you realize that the mind is just like space just as Milarepa had said. When we look at our body, our body is comprised of the five elements. Our flesh and bones are the earth element, blood is the water element, breath is the wind element, body heat the fire element. Then the mind is the space element and of these elements, the mind or space element is the most important one.

Within space, there is no duality. For example if you have a hundred phones, they are all powered by the same electricity.  Again this Chag in Chag Gya is the emptiness of the self and Gya the second syllable means vast or expansive. That is when you realize there is no self and the mind abides like space which is vast and all-encompassing.  That is the meaning of the word Mahamudra or Chag Gya Chenpo.

Where can we see or find that self? No one can find it . It’s nowhere to be found. But for example even a little ant thinks that there is a self and goes around thinking that he exists. This co-emergent Mahamudra means innate or inborn. Although no self exists, we believe in the existence of a self. This belief in “me” or “I” is what obscures our mind; that which is inborn or innate to us.

The Buddha had said all sentient beings are actually Buddhas. They are only obscured by adventitious stains . So this concept of “I” is an adventitious stain. We think that everything is “mine” ; this is “my cup” and so on. This empty nature of the “I” is the Chag in Chag Gya and the ‘Gya’ is the vastness of the mind which is realized when you see that there is no self.  Co-emergent or innate is a hidden state that no one has recognized. It is a nature that is innate to us. Those who see the nature of the mind see co-emergent Mahamudra. Then the name says it is an ornament which is luminosity of the primordial awareness that dispels the darkness of ignorance. It is said if you see it you are a Buddha, not seeing it you are a sentient being wandering in samsara.

When one recognizes that no self exists , then the darkness of ignorance is cleared away. Believing that there is a self is like finding oneself in darkness. While we are in a state of darkness, there is a belief in the existence of a self. And the mind is referred to as the consciousness which we are all familiar with. We call it the consciousness for as long as we have not recognized the nature of the mind.

When you recognize the nature of this consciousness, then it is referred to as primordial wisdom. Primordial wisdom is the non-dual mind. Milarepa had said “I do not see consciousness, I see primordial wisdom. I do not see sentient beings, I see Buddhas. ” But if we do not recognize consciousness as primordial wisdom, we will also not be able to see sentient beings as Buddhas. So we first need to recognize non-dual primordial awareness.   In the title it says it is an ornament so there are the six realms of samsara or the three planes of existence. The Gods, humans and so forth. And all of these realms are actually a Pure Land when you see things with a pure perspective. So this is how it appears to someone who sees the ultimate truth. So that is the meaning of the “ornament” and basically we can understand this whole title to represent an introduction or a method to seeing all sentient beings as Buddhas.  Then the text begins with “to those who dispel the darkness of ignorance of beings by expanding a thousand rays of unceasing compassion throughout the sky, of the unborn, pristine, pure expanse of phenomena. To all sublime Gurus I pray.”

These Gurus who introduce us to the nature of things are like the light which clears away the darkness. We prostrate to the Guru because even though the Guru’s qualities are equal to the Buddha, the guru’s kindness exceeds the kindness of the Buddha or us. Because the Guru is the one who introduces us to the Buddha’s enlightened intent. If the Guru would not introduce us to that then we would not be able to understand it.  Then it says “with the intention to benefit others I shall write an introduction to the clear revelation of the mode of existence by innate co-emergent primordial awareness in conformity with sutras and tantras and as taught by the Guru.” Innate refers to the space-like nature of the mind that is in an uninterrupted state. Innate also means co-emergent, to be together with the state of Mahamudra.  It also says I’m going to introduce these teachings given by the masters of sutras and tantras; and the masters of the practice lineage of blessings. In brief this term innate refers to the unceasing and uninterrupted space-like nature of the mind that is together with primordial awareness. So the author says ‘this is what I’m going to introduce you to.”

Next it begins with the preliminaries consisting of 4 practices. There are 3 sections and it begins with karma, cause and effect. To understand karma is what’s most important. Even though the mind is actually the Buddha, if one does not understand or trust in karma , one will develop the six afflictive emotions which will create the six realms of samsara. This will cause the mind to freeze into an ice-block.  Of these preliminary reflections, the reflection on karma , death and impermanence are most important. Regarding karma, cause and effect the seed for karma is within the mind. Everyone will have to die; there’s no one who will not have to die. We all know about death and impermanence. However since the mind does not die , it transcends birth and death. It will take on lifetime after lifetime.

Lord Jigten Sumgon said “that which wanders in the ocean of samsara is the body. ” There are six kinds of bodies in samsara experiencing various kinds of suffering. Reflect on karma and think ‘after I have died, I will continue to follow my own karma’ .  It’s very important to reflect upon karma , death and impermanence.

Then it says “generate a strong sense of renunciation by contemplating death and impermanence. Completely abandon short-sightedness and think those who are born in the past have died , those who are taking birth are destined to die , those who are now alive will die. I too may die today or tomorrow leaving everything behind. Nothing being of any use.   Then meditate on compassion for all suffering sentient beings by reflecting on how they not recognizing themselves, not realizing that their mind is the truth body Dharmakaya,grasp at “I” that does not exist; grasp at self that does not exist.” Sentient beings who do not know that a self does not actually exists grasp at self and therefore are bound to experience suffering. It is most important to understand karma, death and impermanence. Mainly we encounter difficulties because we pay no attention to karma. It is also said that if one has not developed true certainty in karma, cause and effect then it’s just a lie if one talks about profound emptiness . We do need to understand the subtle workings of karma, cause and effect.

How we need to understand is that if an afflictive emotion arises but you don’t act out on it , you might think that you have not accumulated any karma because you have not done anything. But that’s actually not the case. What causes the imprint in the mind is the afflictive emotion. For example when you get very angry and keep getting angry, these imprints are reinforced within the mind. The imprints grow stronger and thicker.  Eventually it will be reflected in your activities in body and speech. For example when you get very angry then immediately your face changes and you say something nasty to someone. That is because the imprint is there in your mind and the water has frozen into an ice-block. Lord Jigten Sumgon also said that the preliminaries are more profound then the main practices.   With preliminaries we need to recognize it to be an understanding of karma cause and effect. Regarding karma, Lord Jigten Sumgon also said that karmic ripening are the natural manifestations of one’s moment to moment thoughts. This is a quote that I have reflected on over and over again and I found it to be very beneficial. And I always remember that for example when I see a little animal.

There are all kinds of animals, some are extremely small and some are as large as mountains. Sentient beings in the six realms of samsara appear in myriads of ways due to the different kinds of merits that they have accumulated. For example there are animals that possess a very small level of merit and as a result of that, they also take birth in a very small body.  But there are also some with very large bodies and lack merit. There are all kinds of different animals and the appearance of each of these has a very precise cause. But it all comes from not having realized the nature of mind. When one does not see the nature of the mind, one will develop ordinary unrestrained afflictive emotions.  When they are unrestrained, they will leave karmic imprints in the mind. Then these karmic imprints will manifest as one’s experience. So one follows one’s karmic winds. From a practical perspective what is a karmic wind? For example when anger arises then instantly your face changes and you say something nasty and so on. So that is caused by the karmic wind within you.

Someone who is experienced with practice they will first know that mind is non-dual and inseparable from others. When an afflictive emotion or feeling arises, then they will immediately recognize that understand that ultimately, the afflictive emotion is empty. Recognizing that , one transforms the five afflictive emotions into the five kinds of primordial wisdom.  One who realizes the natural state of the mind recognizes that self and others are inseparable. Through this knowledge they are able to let go of the feelings caused by the afflictive emotion. In the 37 practices it also says ‘in all our activities, we must be mindful of our state of mind.’ It is very important to be heedful of karma, cause and effect at all times.  Until one has reached the furthest limits of practice and realized the nature of mind it is very important to be mindful of the workings of karma.

Regarding karmic ripening, karma ripens in different ways. There is the result of full maturation, the result corresponding to the cause, the experience corresponding to the cause and the activity corresponding to the cause. Especially if you are a dharma practitioner, you should discuss this with each other over and over again. And not just let it be with a mere understanding of karma.  For example reflect upon the result corresponding to the cause. Once you understand that, then think about the activity and the experience corresponding to the cause. First the mind needs to be very clear and with a clear mind , you can reflect that if you are not careful then after this life you might be reborn as an animal. Then understand the suffering of the animals so when the mind is clear, you will be able to sustain an awareness of karma.  There is an excellent saying in Tibetan “if you want to know what you did in your past life, look at your present body. And if you wish to know where you will go next , look at your present actions.”  If you hold on to these words in your mind, you will really understand karma.

Next is the Guru yoga which swiftly instills blessings. The root from which develop all experiences and realizations are the Guru’s blessings and your devotion to the Guru. The Vajra Tantra says ‘unspoken by others, the co-emergence can’t be found anywhere. Be known that it arises from following the Guru for an extended time and from your own merits.   The display of samaya also says “meditating for a hundred thousand eons on a deity who possesses the nature and minor marks is not equal to remembering the Guru for even a moment. Better than a million mantra recitations, is a single supplication to the Guru. This is the practice of Guru yoga where it also mentions visualizing your body as the yidam deity.  So the visualization of the yidam deity is an antidote to the grasping at a self. Even greater than visualizing the deity is to cultivate devotion for the Guru for just a moment. It is said that recognizing the Guru as the Dharmakaya is the perfect non-dual devotion. So when you recognize that the Guru is the Dharmakaya, then you recognize that both the deity and the Guru is inseparable from your own mind.

The Guru is the Dharmakaya , the deity is the Sambhogakaya and the deity’s mind is also inseparable from the guru’s mind. Then there is also the appearance of Nirmanakaya, the actual form of the Guru. The Guru’s body represents the Sangha , his speech represents the dharma and his mind represents the Buddha. If you understand this then whatever practice and blessings your Guru possesses, the power of that will arise within your own mind through the power of your own devotion to the Guru.   Milarepa also said that disciples should possess faith and compassion. Even though a disciple must possess the qualities of compassion, he really must have great devotion to the Guru. Your love will also increase as your devotion increases. When both love and devotion increases, you see the nature of mind.  This feeling can often arise when you think about the suffering of a sentient being or someone that you love very much. For example someone that you love very much who is far away calls you on the phone, you might start to cry.  There is a special feeling and it is similar to the devotion that you feel to a Guru. When such a strong feeling arises you may see the nature of your mind on an experiential level. How your own mind is inseparable from the mind of the Guru.

Then it says “listen , I’m going to make supplications to the Guru who is the embodiment of the four kayas.” There is the Dharmakaya which is like space and within the expanse of primordial wisdom all the Buddhas are inseparable. Then there is the Sambhogakaya which are the various yidam deities that appear according to the varied needs of sentient beings.  For example, in the Prayer of Dewachen it says that “from Amitabha’s right hand a billion Chenrezigs appear and from his left hand a billion Taras appear.” So there are billions of emanations but they all have the same mind. Just like how a thousand phones are powered by the same electricity. The Dharmakaya nature of the mind is just like this electricity.  Then the Sambhogakaya is the various activities that are performed through the electricity. Many different forms of Nirmanakayas manifest directly in this world. But the most important is the 4th kaya , the ‘Svabhavikakaya’, the essence kaya. The Svabhavikakaya is to recognize that your own mind is inseparable from the guru’s mind. Knowing that, half your mind has already become inseparable from the guru’s mind.

The mind becomes inseparable when you meditate on the four immeasurables; in particular immeasurable love. When immeasurable love arises your mind becomes one with all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. It is just like you have one moon in the sky that is reflected in a thousand different vessels of water. So the svabhavikaya or essence kaya is to recognize that your mind is inseparable from the guru’s mind.  It is the mind that is free of conceptual thinking which is inseparable from the Guru and all the Buddhas. When the mind becomes free of grasping at a self at an instant, the ice-block melts. And when the ice melts into water , it can be used for many different things.  As an antidote to grasping at a self, we visualize ourselves as the yidam deity.  Of the four kayas, the most important kaya is the Svabhavikaya or the essence kaya. We need to recognize that our own mind is inseparable from the Guru’s mind which is the Dharmakaya. As Jigten Sumgon had said “I’m a yogin who has recognized that the guru’s mind, the Buddha’s mind and my own mind to be one”. So when you reflect on this over and over again, you will recognize that you are actually never separate from the Guru.

As for the way we practice the Guru, there are some who visualize the Guru in the form of the deity sitting on a lotus throne with various implements and ornaments. Then there are some who have particularly strong devotion to the Guru and they visualize the Guru just as he or she appears in real life. This is also a way to practice according to the lineage of blessings.  In brief what is essential is that we develop great love and devotion in our minds. It is not about the outer appearance of the Guru but it is about cultivating love and devotion. Of course if you are able to visualize the outer appearance of the deity, then you are accumulating great merit. But what’s really most important is to cultivate great devotion and if you have devotion you can visualize the Guru in any form.

Then it says “having meditated thus, dissolve the root and lineage gurus into the Guru’s heart like drops of rain and flakes of snow melting into the sea. Thus meditate on the Guru as the embodiment of all Gurus.”  What this represents is that their body speech and mind is all the same. The body is the Sangha, the speech is the dharma and the mind is the Buddha.