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The Berzin Archives

The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

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The Gelug-Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra

Originally published as
H. H. the Dalai Lama and Berzin, Alexander. The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra. Ithaca, Snow Lion, 1997

Order this book directly from Snow Lion Publications


The present book has evolved through a long history. At the suggestion of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, I initially translated the First Panchen Lama's A Root Text for the Precious Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra in 1973, with the help of Sharpa Rinpochey, Khamlung Rinpochey and Jonathan Landaw, based on an explanation by Geshey Ngawang Dhargyay. Originally published as A Root Text on Mahamudra: The Great Seal of Voidness. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, 1974, it was reprinted in Four Essential Texts. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, 1982.

On June 10, 1978, His Holiness, at the request of the late Ven. Anne Ansermet, delivered in Dharamsala, India, to a small private group of especially interested disciples a discourse on this text. Subsequently, with the help of Ven. Lobsang Rabgyay, I translated these teachings from the tape cassettes into English, which then formed the basis for a French translation prepared by Madame Ansermet. This French version was published as Meditation sur l'esprit, par le 14 e Dalai Lama. Paris: Dervy-Livre, Coll. mystique et religion série B, 1982.

From March 18 to 22, 1982, His Holiness, requested by the late Lama Thubten Yeshe, delivered in Dharamsala a large public discourse on the First Panchen Lama's auto-commentary to his root text. I translated the lectures orally, with the occasional assistance of Ven. George Dreyfus. For years, cassettes of these teachings were unavailable to me. In 1995, however, Kaitlin Collins located a copy of them and prepared a transcription of the English translation. Encouraged by this, I requested Ven. Thubten Chodron to key into the computer the handwritten version of my English translation of His Holiness's first discourse, to which she kindly consented.

At the request of Sidney Piburn of Snow Lion Publications, I have completely retranslated the First Panchen Lama's root text and His Holiness's two discourses, and edited them for publication. I have incorporated into the flow of the discourses His Holiness's answers to questions asked at the end of each session, as well as elaboration and clarification of points, persons and texts mentioned in abbreviated form, drawing from other teachings by His Holiness and Tibetan reference works. I have used a system of translation terminology initially developed under the guidance of my root guru, the late master debate partner of His Holiness, Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpochey, and which I have refined over the last seventeen years by experimentation and use. It is designed to help overcome obstacles to understanding due to jargon that has become meaningless. The root text appears as Part Two of the present volume, while His Holiness's teaching on it as Part Three and his explication of the auto-commentary as Part Four. As an introduction to the subject matter, I have added, as Part One, an edited, expanded version of a set of lectures on mahamudra meditation I delivered from November 7 to 8, 1995, at the Aryatara Institute in Munich, Germany, at the request of Alnis Grants. For ease of reading for non-specialists, I have used a simplified phonetic transliteration system for Sanskrit and Tibetan names and terms. Their standard transcription, as well as the Tibetan, and Sanskrit when available, for the titles of cited texts and major technical terms specific to the subject matter, occasionally along with their more common translation, are included in the indices.

Rajinder Kumar Dogra kindly provided me with the facilities in Bangkok, Thailand, for a two-month intensive work retreat during the rainy season, 1996, to prepare this book. I acknowledge his and my Snow Lion editor, Susan Kyser's, helpful suggestions for improving its style and language. I worked on the final draft during the autumn of 1996 at various places on an extensive lecture tour of the Middle East, the former Soviet Central Asian Republics and Mongolia, during which I was kindly given facilities to work by many universities and private individuals. Bakula Rinpochey, the Indian ambassador to Mongolia, generously offered me his time to clarify certain obscure points. In the end, the research staff of the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, in Dharamsala, India, provided me with further textual resources and details for finalizing the text. The pre-publication process was initiated by donations made by several persons who attended the meditation courses I taught in Western Europe during the spring of 1996, and then funded by a grant from the Kapor Family Foundation, for which I am extremely grateful. This book thus exists by virtue of its having arisen dependently on the kindness of many. By the positive potential of the joint efforts and contributions of all these people, may everyone attain to enlightenment for the benefit of all.

Alexander Berzin
Dharamsala, India
December 5, 1996