Mahamudra: Tantra Level Mahamudra Practice

The Authenticity of the Traditions of the Dohas and Dzogchen

In the root text, the Fourth Panchen Lama states that the explanation of anuttarayoga tantra's complete stage level of mahamudra practice is in accordance with "The Seven Texts of the Mahasiddhas and The Three Core Volumes." The seven texts are Establishing the Hidden Factors by Mahasukha, Establishing Method and Discriminating Awareness by Anangavajra, Establishing Deep Awareness by Indrabhuti, Establishing Non-discordance by Lashmikara, Establishing What Simultaneously Arises by Dombi Heruka, Establishing the Very Nature of the Reality of the Great Hidden Factors by Darika, and Establishing the Very Nature of the Reality of What Follows from Becoming Clear about Functional Phenomena by Yogini Chinta. Some of these are still extant in the original Indian languages. The Three Core Volumes refer to the three collections of Saraha's dohas, songs recounting his meditation experience. These are The King Dohas, The Queen Dohas and The Commoner Dohas.

In the autocommentary, the Fourth Panchen Lama raises a query which we can paraphrase as follows. Some may object that since the methods of mahamudra meditation outlined in these texts are not homogenous with those described by Nagarjuna in The Five Stages of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage, they are incorrect. After all, the method presented in Saraha's doha collections is one of here-and-now, noncontriving meditation and is intended for the practice of those of sharpest faculties for whom everything happens at once. The five stages system, on the other hand, as presented by fatherly Nagarjuna and his spiritual sons, is to be followed like climbing the rungs of a ladder.

The conclusion that the mahamudra system of the dohas is fallacious, however, is an erroneous conclusion. The doha collections indicate a gateway for practice that is harmonious with the complete stage. Even though they contain certain differences in practice from the graduated path of the five stages, there are no contradictions. The Fourth Panchen Lama decisively states, "They are in no way incorrect texts."

A similar question arose with regard to dzogchen in the collection of Kedrub Je's Answers to Questions in his Miscellaneous Writings. Someone had remarked that certain people at that time were denigrating practitioners of dzogchen, and had asked whether the dzogchen teachings were pure. Kedrub Je has answered, "The dzogchen teachings are definitely pure. The criticism of dzogchen practitioners is because there are certain individuals among them who practice a contrived version of dzogchen that they have made up from their misunderstanding. Basically, however, dzogchen presents a path that is harmonious with that of anuttarayoga tantra."

A certain Indian translator in Tibet at that time "had seen certain dzogchen texts in Magadha in the possession of some learned Indian masters there. Furthermore, many excellent practitioners in Tibet have achieved advanced pathway minds and bodhisattva levels based on dzogchen practice. Therefore repudiation of these teachings is an appropriate cause for a fall to rebirth in one of the three worse forms of life."

Despite such a statement, Kedrub Je himself, in several of his works, has refuted certain aspects of dzogchen, such as the oral guidelines of Aro, using very strong language. In those texts, however, he is clearly using the name "dzogchen" to refer to certain specific cases and not to all of dzogchen in general. He is faulting and refuting the manner of explaining dzogchen used by certain specific dzogchen practitioners. But concerning the dzogchen teachings in general, he has said very decisively in his Miscellaneous Writings, "The dzogchen teachings are definitely pure... Repudiation of these teachings is an appropriate cause for a fall to rebirth in one of the three worse forms of life."

The same thing applies to the mahamudra teachings of the dohas. They present a practice harmonious with anuttarayoga tantra's complete stage. If a beginner were to attempt to practice them, they would be totally wrong, but basically they are completely pure teachings. It is the same situation, then, as dzogchen.

Dzogchen teaches that practice conducted with contriving, rough fleeting minds cannot bring enlightenment. Only practice with the deep awareness of noncontriving rigpa, pure awareness, can bring us to the state of a Buddha. We can understand this in the same way as we do the statement that practice of the yoga class of tantras and below cannot bring us enlightenment by itself. The ultimate, deepest reason why it cannot is that the pathways of practice of these levels of teaching cannot by themselves make manifest the deep awareness of subtlest clear light mind. Without the manifestation of the deep awareness of clear light mind, we do not have the perpetrating causes for an enlightening body and enlightening mind of a Buddha that are in the same uncommon category of phenomena as such a body and mind. Therefore, no matter how much we practice with pathway minds of yoga tantra and below, we are never able to attain enlightenment on their basis alone.

This is exactly the same as the dzogchen assertion that we cannot attain enlightenment with any practices conducted with contriving minds. If we try to use a coarse level of mind – the level of mental cognition included in the six networks of coarse levels of consciousness – as the mind that would actualize and meditate further on the pathway minds, it can never become the perpetrating cause for an omniscient mind. Such a cause would have to be in the same category of phenomenon as such a mind. Similarly, when we make clear light mind of deep awareness prominent or enhanced through methods presented in the anuttarayoga tantra texts, and then transform it into the nature of being a pathway mind, only then do we have what can actualize an enlightening body and enlightening mind of a Buddha. Thus the statement in dzogchen that we cannot attain enlightenment with any contriving level of mind, and the statement in anuttarayoga tantra that we cannot attain enlightenment by relying on pathway minds of yoga tantra and below by themselves, have exactly the same meaning.

Division Schemes of Maha-, Anu- and Atiyoga, and Father, Mother and Nondual Tantra

Dzogchen practice is by no means intended for just anyone to practice in just any fashion. It is definitely only for those who have established an enlightenment-building network of positive force and have extremely sharp faculties. For such persons, it offers special, uncommon methods for making clear light mind prominent and enhancing it. Its way of proceeding can be understood in terms of equivalent parallels in the new translation anuttarayoga tantra system.

If we look at the Nyingma texts from the point of view of a practitioner who has studied and trained in the Gelug tradition regarding the tantras of the new translation period, we can easily understand the classification scheme of maha-, anu- and atiyoga that appears in the context of the nine vehicles. Mahayoga emphasizes the material of the generation stage of anuttarayoga tantra at which we practice on the basis of imagination and fervent regard. Anuyoga emphasizes primarily the complete stage practices with energy-winds and energy-channels, such as tummo. Atiyoga, or dzogchen, emphasizes methods for making arise the object sensed by reflexive pure awareness and which go beyond the maha- and anuyoga methods for making it arise.

If we apply these to the new translation traditions of anuttarayoga tantra, then, I believe according to Sakya Pandita's Differentiating the Three Levels of Vowed Restraints, we have generation stage practice, then complete stage practice up to and including the mind isolation stage, and then, by relying on external and internal methods for penetrating vital points of the vajra-body, the manifestation of clear light deep awareness as the result. Making manifested clear light deep awareness into a pathway mind is the lower boundary of what is included in dzogchen practice. There are great similarities between the two systems, despite slight differences in terminology and manner of explanation.

The way in which old translation dzogchen and new translation anuttarayoga tantra offer equivalent paths that can bring us to the same resultant state of Buddhahood is the same as that in which father and mother tantra provide the same within the fold of new translation anuttarayoga tantra. According to the Gelug presentation, father tantra emphasizes and offers more detail on the practices of illusory body, while mother tantra does the same with respect to clear light practice. Tsongkhapa rejected the criteria of earlier Sakya masters, also accepted by Kagyu scholars, that father tantra emphasizes the practices of blissful awareness, mother tantra the practices of voidness, and nondual tantra the combined practice of both. His reason is that the defining characteristic of all anuttarayoga tantras is their emphasis on inseparable bliss and voidness. Therefore, the category of nondual tantra is redundant and unnecessary.

In An Ocean of Teachings on the General Meaning of Kalachakra, however, the post-Tsongkhapa Sakya scholar, Tagtsang Lotsawa, has asserted a different criterion for differentiating father, mother and nondual anuttarayoga tantras. Of the four anuttarayoga empowerments, father tantra emphasizes the secret or hidden empowerment which plants seeds for achieving an illusory body on the basis of practices with the subtle energy-system. Mother tantra emphasizes the deep awareness empowerment which plants seeds for achieving a clear light mind of inseparable bliss and voidness. Nondual tantra emphasizes the fourth or word empowerment that plants seeds for achieving the state of the two true or actual phenomena as a unified pair. Such presentation of nondual tantra and the defining characteristics of these three divisions of anuttarayoga tantra are perfectly acceptable.

There is no need, however, to practice both father and mother tantra, or all three – father, mother and nondual tantra – just as there is no need to practice both anuttarayoga tantra and dzogchen. Just practicing one of them is sufficient. Each provides a full path leading to enlightenment on its own. The enlightenment gained through one is never superior or inferior to that which is gained through any of the others. Within the context of anuttarayoga tantra, however, if we wish to engage in a really splendid practice, we can train ourselves by practicing both a father tantra and a mother one.

For example, the Gelug tradition teaches special methods for the combined practice of Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara and Vajrabhairava. Since each of these anuttarayoga systems has its own speciality for which it provides the most extensive explanations and methods, their combined practice provides the most splendid build-up of comprehensive causes for enlightenment. But such extensive practice is not suited to everyone, and is certainly not required. In Tibet we have a saying, "The great practitioners of India practiced one Buddha-figure and were able to actualize hundreds, while the practitioners of Tibet practice hundreds of Buddha-figures and are not able to actualize even one!"

Within the Nyingma system, practitioners for whom everything happens at once have no need to practice all three classes – maha-, anu- and atiyoga. They simply practice dzogchen alone. Those who progress through graded stages, however, usually practice at least mahayoga tantra before proceeding to dzogchen. Thus we commonly refer to dzogchen practice not only as atiyoga, but also maha-atiyoga.

Unconventional Behavior of the Most Highly Realized Practitioners

In certain ways, the behavior of the most advanced practitioners of new translation anuttarayoga tantra and dzogchen may seem similar, but there are certain theoretical differences. According to the new translation tantra system, practitioners of varying levels of dull and sharp faculties progress through the stages of the anuttarayoga path by relying on behavior with or without varying degrees of elaboration. Thus, after realization of actual clear light mind, there are yogi practitioners who continue their path by engaging in behavior with elaboration, especially with what is technically called "adding the lord of our Buddha-family trait."

In anuttarayoga tantra in general, behavior with elaboration takes as its basis our sexual organs, purified of their ordinary state and transformed by crowning them with the lord of our Buddha-family trait, or "Buddha-family." It uses them for enhancing our practice of clear light deep awareness of bliss and voidness by helping us intensify our blissful awareness as much as possible. This is the reason explained in the texts. Thus it seems that this could even apply to the generation stage on which our visualizations of adding the lord of our Buddha-family trait can serve, through a process of dependent arising, as causes for our later full attainment of blissful deep awareness of voidness with subtlest clear light mind.

It is relatively easy to visualize our organs crowned with the lord of our Buddha-family trait in some manner or another that would facilitate our mind's giving rise, more conveniently, to a pure appearance of them. The texts speak of such behavior in order to enhance and deepen our practice. There is no other special reason for it than what is explained in terms of the path of using desirable sensory objects. This is easy to understand. On the most advanced levels, however, although manifested, actual clear light deep awareness cannot be improved, yet there is the explanation of adding to it the lord of our Buddha-family trait. The importance and necessity for doing so at this stage of practice is not so obvious.

Let us look, by way of comparison, at the behavior of dzogchen practitioners on an equivalent level. If we were to try to progress along the stages of the spiritual path and, throughout the entire process, try to actualize all the pathway minds and bodhisattva levels on the basis of coarse mental cognition included in the six networks of coarse levels of consciousness, but transformed into constructive or virtuous states of mind, we would still commit many positive or negative actions mixed with confusion when we were not totally absorbed on voidness. This is because we would still be under the influence of coarse levels of mind. We need to properly safeguard ourselves from positive or negative actions mixed with confusion, otherwise we experience their results in terms of uncontrollably recurring rebirth in either better or worse conditions.

The presentation of positive or negative pertains to states of mind within the set of coarse mental or sensory cognitions. But once we have crossed the threshold of having ceased the three unconscious, most subtle conceptual appearance-making levels of mind of appearance-congealment, light-diffusion and threshold, and have manifested the clear light subtlest level of mind, at that point we are beyond the realm of positive or negative and we remain there so long as we maintain that level of mind. We have crossed the border fence marking the boundary of what we consider positive or negative for beginners in general.

Thus yogi practitioners taking as their basis their practice of pure awareness or clear light have overcome all conceptual, judgmental levels of mind. They have gone beyond the fence of "good" or "bad." I think that their practice on this level also has a relation with that. Sometimes we hear that even if persons at this stage commit actions that conventionally would build up negative force because they are destructive, they build up no such potentials. But this is extremely difficult to understand and I cannot make a decisive statement on all levels of its meaning. It certainly does not mean that the realization of such persons invalidates the conventional operation of the karmic laws of behavioral cause and effect. Nor does it mean that the level of realization of such persons releases them from all responsibility for their actions and behavior, and allows them to act in a manner that is harmful to others.

When we look from the point of view of such persons, it seems as though since they have gone beyond the level of conceptual minds that are constructive or destructive, and since only those or more coarse levels of mind would build up positive or negative karmic force, their actions do not accumulate karmic force. Being not far from the ultimate state of enlightenment endowed with seven facets, this ultimate, final level of mind on which they rely as a method – the manifested, noncontriving clear light mind of deep awareness – is far beyond the manner of thinking of our coarse level of mind mixed with confusion. Like the sutra presentation of "contaminated" and "uncontaminated" actions – in other words, karmic actions mixed with confusion about voidness, or pure, non-karmic actions unmixed with such lack of awareness – all their actions serve as pure causes for their enlightenment. They meditate on and continually remain mindful of the clear light mind that is known as the most constructive phenomena of all that is constructive.

It is in this context that we can perhaps understand the statement that persons who practice with such a mind totally absorbed on the nature of all phenomena do not need to make prostration or circumambulation, or recite mantras or any recitation-style meditation text. It is perfect for such persons to meditate on clear light alone. This indicates perhaps one level of meaning of the statement that the actions of such practitioners are beyond "good" or "bad." Thus we find mention in the dzogchen texts concerning the close bonding practices for atiyoga dzogchen that "being without safeguards is the best safeguard." The behavior of such practitioners must be understood within the context of conventional appearances reflexively emanating and automatically releasing themselves or disappearing. This is an important point.

Another point is that when yogi practitioners at such a level of attainment enhance their clear light practice, they gain control over their internal elements. Then, just as they are able to bring their internal elements under their control, they are able to bring under their control as well the external elements around them. Concerning the actions of such yogis with others, from the side of other sentient beings – literally, others operating on the level of limited awareness – there would be karmic actions, mixed with confusion, and the experience of their results. But from the side of the yogi practitioners themselves, they can take others' lives and then revive them because they have control over the elements.

In A Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge, Vasubandhu has differentiated three types of constructive phenomena – those constructive by concomitance, motivation or nature. The same threefold division equally applies to destructive phenomena. Consider the case of a bodhisattva, motivated by compassion and the wish to be helpful, who takes someone's life. According to this abhidharma system, that act of mercy killing ripens into something unpleasant to be later experienced by that bodhisattva. It is considered a destructive act, not something constructive. But what makes it destructive?

According to Vasubandhu, physical and verbal actions have two stages of motivation – causal and contemporaneous. A causal motivation draws us toward an action, while a contemporaneous one, occurring at the moment of the action, subsequently brings us into the specific activity of that action. The contemporaneous motivation determines whether an action is destructive or constructive, not the causal one.

Compassion and the wish to help are certainly the causal motivations for a bodhisattva's act of mercy killing. But we cannot say that the contemporaneous motivation in this example is a destructive disturbing emotion such as repulsion or aggression – as when an ordinary person squashes a cockroach that is half-crushed and squirming on the ground – and that is what renders the act destructive. Only anuttarayoga tantra systems, such as Kalachakra, assert taking disturbing emotions, such as repulsion or aggression, as a pathway of mind. This is a special feature unique to anuttarayoga tantra. Therefore only from the point of view of such a system can a bodhisattva's act of mercy killing be contemporaneously motivated by repulsion or aggression, because only such systems assert bodhisattvas who do not rid themselves of disturbing emotions. The perfection vehicle systems hardly assert at all taking disturbing emotions or attitudes as a pathway of mind. Therefore, from the point of view of such systems, bodhisattvas do not rely on repulsion or aggression as the contemporaneous motivation for any of their actions. In Notes on the Five Stages of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage), Sershul has cited many quotations to the effect that when practicing the path of the perfection vehicle, there seem to be no occasions when one purposely acts with repulsion or aggression.

Whether or not this is totally the case with practitioners emphasizing the perfection vehicle, consider the case of a yogi practitioner of anuttarayoga tantra, for instance one on the generation stage. Suppose such a practitioner were to let repulsion or aggression arise and, with this as contemporaneous motivation, commit a mercy killing. This yogi's action still could not be considered constructive. It still undoubtedly ripens into an unpleasant experience for the yogi in the future.

The ethical status and results that ripen from the actions of bodhisattvas on the five stages of the anuttarayoga complete stage, however, depend into which of the five stages they are included. Bodhisattvas who have manifested actual clear light and are practicing on the stage of a unified pair still with further training left have rid themselves totally of all disturbing emotions and attitudes. Any mercy killing that they might commit would be beyond the fence of what is either destructive or constructive. In general, however, if a bodhisattva commits a mercy killing motivated by bodhichitta, it is beneficial for the other being and contributes to the bodhisattva's build-up of positive force. But, be that as it may, it is undoubtedly certain that the force built up by the act ripens in the form of a future unpleasant experience for that bodhisattva. I think we can decide that this is so. Whether a bodhisattva's mercy killing is destructive or constructive, then, is just quibbling with words.

Thus, the behavior explained in the context of the atiyoga dzogchen presentation of its view, meditation and behavior is, on the one hand, rather awkward to explain, and yet, on the other, extremely deep and profound. I think this is slightly different, then, from the behavior of adding the lord of our Buddha-family trait explained in the new translation tantras.

Compassion and Wisdom within the Context of Anuttarayoga Tantra

The Fourth Panchen Lama summarizes the meaning of the dohas by explaining that it is necessary to combine compassion – which in this context means a clear light mind simultaneously arising each moment with greatly blissful awareness – together with voidness, in the manner of the former being the mind that apprehends the latter. Meditation on voidness alone, lacking the compassion that is a greatly blissful deep awareness and that blocks bliss in general or the bliss of orgasmic emission, is not the supreme pathway of mind that can bring us full enlightenment in one lifetime. On the other hand, a blissful awareness by itself, which lacks the practice of voidness and thus arises on the basis of the craving that apprehends everything as having true and inherent existence, can only keep us in uncontrollably recurring situations, samsara. It cannot bring us liberation from them. Only the power of a union of method and wisdom – namely the union of compassion, as a greatly blissful awareness, and the discriminating awareness of voidness – allows us not to remain in samsara but to attain the total release of supreme nirvana, namely enlightenment. Thus it enables us to overcome the extremes of both compulsive samsaric existence as well as the inertia of remaining at rest with an arhat's nirvana.

The Sanskrit word for compassion, "karuna," has the implication of "that which blocks or prevents bliss." In general, when we develop compassion, we develop very strongly the attitude that cannot bear the suffering of other beings. We wish for it to end and that they become free. Although we do not actually experience others' suffering ourselves at that time, yet the strength of our attitude that cannot bear their suffering causes our mind also to become unhappy. This is the general sense in which compassion blocks bliss.

Moreover, greatly blissful deep awareness arises only on the basis of blocking the bliss of orgasmic emission – either male or female. More specifically, it arises from binding the subtle energy-drops, or energy-sparks, so that we do not emit and lose them, as happens with orgasm. This is why such a blissful awareness is also called "karuna," compassion – that which blocks bliss. Furthermore, greatly blissful deep awareness enables us to free others from their suffering. Thus another reason for calling greatly blissful awareness "compassion" is that it acts as a cause for success in the practice of compassion.

How Chittamatra Practitioners of Tantra Gain a Madhyamaka View

The Fourth Panchen Lama goes on to discuss a point that comes out the clearest in the collection of the Sixth Panchen Lama, Palden Yeshe's, Answers to Questions. There were certain masters in India who held the chittamatra view, such as the learned scholars, Shantipa and Bhairava, who later became yogi practitioners of tantra. The latter, when he had previously been a pandit, an erudite scholar, was called Dharmapala, the elder mentioned by Chandrakirti in An Autocommentary on "Engaging in the Middle Way". Someone had asked the Sixth Panchen Lama what were the circumstances for such chittamatra practitioners of tantra as these to upgrade their view of reality to a more subtle one of madhyamaka.

Panchen Palden Yeshe has explained that there were some practitioners among them who were unable to upgrade their realization and gain a decisive understanding of the prasangika-madhyamaka refutation of the apprehension of true, inherent existence solely on the basis of external study. Although of course they had to rely on some external circumstance such as pondering to a certain extent the correct understanding concerning the apprehension of true, inherent existence, they relied primarily on internal methods.

When, through the methods of anuttarayoga tantra concerning the complete stage practice with the energy-channels and energy-winds, chittamatra practitioners are able to make their coarse level of cognition increasingly more subtle, they make manifest the clear light, most subtle level of mind. As their experience of this clear light mind becomes increasingly more profound and subtle, the mass of their discordant appearance-making minds and the discordant appearances of true, inherent existence that their mind emanates automatically dissipate and cease by the strength of their focus on clear light. As the ceasing or stopping of them becomes total and they reach the full, complete experience of primordial, simultaneously arising clear light, they directly experience their clear light mind automatically giving rise to an aspect that has the appearance of the object the mind gives rise to when it has straightforward, non-conceptual perception of voidness – a total absence of fantasized, impossible ways of existing in general. By means of their inner experience of the dissolution of the most subtle level of discordant appearance-making minds and the most subtle level of discordant appearances, they consequently gain a decisive understanding that the fantasized, impossible mode of existence that is totally absent from the appearance of voidness their mind gives rise to is, in fact, the true and inherent existence of even an atom or micro-moment of any phenomenon whatsoever, established from its own side. In this way, they gain conviction in the non-affirming refutation and nullification of true, inherent, findable existence – the prasangika-madhyamaka view.

The Sixth Panchen Lama has summarized this by answering that, "The boundary line marking when yogi practitioners holding a chittamatra view gain a decisive understanding of the prasangika-madhyamaka view, with nothing incorrect, is when they practice the mind isolation stage of anuttarayoga tantra's complete stage. At that stage, their inner experience induces exceptional conviction in the correct madhyamaka view."

This indicates a very important point, I believe. In general, when we make manifest clear light mind, as I just explained, that mind gives rise to an appearance of the object that also arises when we have straightforward, non-conceptual perception of voidness. Kedrub Norzang Gyatso, a great Kalachakra master, for example, has similarly explained in An Ornament for "The Stainless Light" Commentary on "The Abbreviated Kalachakra Tantra", that at the time of the clear light of death, clear light mind gives rise to an appearance of voidness. This is what allows for an upgrade in our view of reality. When primordial, simultaneously arising clear light mind becomes manifest through the power of meditation, this experience can, in certain cases, bring conviction in the fact that all phenomena, except for existing as what the names or words for them refer to, do not exist from their own side.

When we experience death, then although we make manifest primordial clear light mind, we are normally unable to become aware of the nature of that manifested clear light mind. Under the influence of deceptive states of mind, those experiencing death have fallacious perception of the appearance their clear light mind of death gives rise to. But when yogis have realization of the straightforward, non-conceptual experience of primordial mind, they see that all phenomena, in a cognitive sense, are emanations of that primordial mind.

All Phenomena as the Play of Primordial Clear Light Mind

What the Fourth Panchen Lama explains here is the same as what Tsongkhapa has noted in Precious Sprout, Deciding the Difficult Points of Chandrakirti's "An Illuminating Lamp for 'The Guhyasamaja Root Tantra'." In his explanation of the prologue of The Guhyasamaja Root Tantra, in the section concerning the activity of illusory body, commenting on a line from Nagarjuna's The Five Stages of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage, Tsongkhapa has explained that yogis abiding in a state of absorbed concentration on all phenomena being like illusion see that all appearances mind produces of what exists – either of the inanimate environment or the animate beings within it – are the play or in the nature of subtlest energy-wind and subtlest mind.

Since, in general, the ultimate or deepest basis for labeling beings is the continuity of their individual stream of subtlest energy-wind and subtlest mind, then in this sense all animate beings are the play of subtlest energy-wind and mind. As for the external, inanimate environment, such as mountains, valleys and so on, although they do not directly have subtlest energy-wind and mind as their basis for labeling in the same way as do the beings within it, nevertheless they come about by the power of karma or impulses, with the provisions we discussed before, that affect this primordial level. Being that which karma makes appear, both in a material and cognitive sense, external phenomena arise by virtue of their being devoid of existing by means of an inherently findable nature. These external phenomena that mind gives rise to an appearance of, because of being devoid by nature, arise in our experience on the crest of the three unconscious, most subtle, conceptual appearance-making minds of threshold, light-diffusion and appearance-congealment. In other words, when the subtlest energy-wind causes movement from the sphere of clear light, the coarser levels of mind that emerge, from the three most subtle, conceptual appearance-making minds onwards, produce the appearances of all phenomena of the environment. In this sense, these phenomena, arise as the play or emanation of this primordial level though the power of karma.

In short, all appearances mind produces of what exists are the play of primordial mind. Although this primordial mind always becomes manifest at the time of our experience of death, we normally never recognize its nature. This is because we are unable to remain in the experience of the clear light of death with an intelligent, perceptive mind. Thus although we experience clear light mind, we are unable to be aware of it. Once we are able to recognize clear light mind, however, we arrive at a very great stage. We gain an exceptional realization of the most subtle abiding nature of all phenomena. To be able to do this, however, we must rely on a guru as our spiritual guide.

As the dohas explain, simultaneously arising clear light mind of deep awareness functions as the basis for all phenomena of samsara or nirvana. It is like the ultimate or deepest creator of all samsara or nirvana. Is primordial clear light mind something established as truly and inherently existing? No, it definitely is not. This clear light mind, however, as a non-inherently existent phenomenon, is not totally nonexistent either. It functions as the basis for all samsara or nirvana, being neither totally nonexistent, nor truly and inherently existent. This is the Buddhist explanation for what is called the creator in other traditions. Perhaps this is what is meant by the Holy Ghost!

Primordial Clear Light Mind as Buddha-Nature

A primordial clear light mind is something that we all have within us. It is not something external to us. It is on this as a basis that we can attain enlightenment. When we can see, straightforwardly and non-conceptually, the nature of our clear light mind and remain totally absorbed on this nature, without ever regressing from it, we have become a Buddha. That being the case, Buddhahood is not something that can be given to us by someone else. If we think in this way, we must conclude that we all have Buddha-nature – the factors that allow us to become a Buddha. This is the ultimate, deepest point that we come to in meditation on the essential factors for blissful progress discussed in Maitreya's The Furthest Everlasting Continuum.

Primordial, simultaneously arising clear light subtlest mind that we all have had without beginning, and which becomes manifest each time we die, is the basis Dharmakaya – a body encompassing everything and which forever abides as a basis. Since basis Dharmakaya continues each moment after the next, when we transform it, with skillful means, into having the nature of a pathway mind, it functions as a pathway Dharmakaya. When we cultivate pathway Dharmakaya, continually making it more and more excellent, so that it becomes totally purified of all obstacles regarding knowables, together with their instincts – or, if we describe it from another point of view, we reach the state at which we forever remain totally absorbed on clear light mind without ever being parted from a correct view of reality – clear light mind becomes the resultant Dharmakaya.

Relying on a Sealing Partner

In order to make primordial, simultaneously arising clear light mind fully and completely manifest, we must totally stop or cease all coarser levels of energy-wind and mind. In order to stop the coarser levels of energy-wind and mind from being prominent, we need to generate a greatly blissful deep awareness. To generate a blissful awareness that is sufficiently intense and powerful to accomplish these aims, it is necessary for most persons to rely on a mudra, a sealing physical partner. The reason why the central Buddha-figures in the mandalas, or symbolic universes of the anuttarayoga tantra class are mostly in the aspect of a father and mother couple is to indicate this necessity.

There is a great difference between relying on a sealing partner with full awareness that doing so is solely to provide the circumstance and source for developing a greatly blissful awareness to be used for the above purposes, and relying on one as a pathway of practice in the manner of a trespasser. Therefore, only especially well-qualified practitioners well-advanced on anuttarayoga tantra's complete stage, who have trained in the practices of the subtle energy-channels and winds and who have gained mastery over them, are permitted to practice with an actual, physical karmamudra, a sealing partner for their behavior. Because they have gained full mastery over their energy-winds and channels, such practitioners never have the danger of experiencing the ordinary bliss of orgasmic emission that would either prevent or destroy their generation of a greatly blissful deep awareness. They are merely using their external and vajra-bodies as a mechanical devise to intensify the blissful awareness of voidness they have already achieved.

Before we have reached this advanced level of accomplishment, we are permitted to practice only with a visualized jnanamudra, a sealing partner for deep awareness. In An Ornament for "The Stainless Light" Commentary on "The Abbreviated Kalachakra Tantra", Kedrub Norzang Gyatso has explained that, for practitioners of especially sharp faculties, relying on a visualized jnanamudra partner can also serve as a method for generating a greatly blissful awareness strong enough to dissolve at the center of the heart chakra all the energy-winds that are the most difficult to dissolve so that their clear light mind becomes totally and completely manifest. Thus it is not absolutely mandatory to rely on a physical karmamudra partner.

But regardless of our level of realization, and whether we are practicing with a visualized jnanamudra partner or a physical karmamudra one, it is extremely essential to keep the purpose in mind and never practice without the three types of discernment or recognition. In order to block our mind's ordinary appearance-making and apprehension of true and inherent existence, we discern ourselves and our partner in the aspect of Buddha-figures made to appear by our mind that is blissfully aware of voidness. We discern our speech as the expression of clear light mind of inseparable bliss and voidness, symbolized by the seed syllables from which the appearance of our sexual organs arises in a purified form and with which they are "crowned" or marked. Furthermore, we discern our mind as always being a primordial clear light mind that arises simultaneously with each moment as a blissful awareness that is inseparable from also being a discriminating awareness of voidness. These are extremely important points that render reliance on a visualized or physical sealing partner into a skillful method on the path. Such reliance generates a deeply blissful awareness that acts as a circumstance for blocking the coarser levels of energy-wind and mind and making manifest clear light mind so that this clear light mind can be generated as a greatly blissful deep awareness of voidness. Only such awareness can eliminate the obstacles preventing liberation all at once and only such awareness can remove the obstacles preventing omniscience. To rely on a sealing partner as a method of practice without these three types of discernment is a transgression of the tantric vows.

Summary of the Tantra Level of Mahamudra Practice

If we have trained ourselves thoroughly through intensive practice either in previous lives or in the earlier part of this life, we are able to recognize mahamudra by the force of one concerted effort. We are able to cultivate our practice in the manner of those for whom everything happens at once. If we are a beginner, however, we must train in stages. We need to make manifest mahamudra by practicing, in stages, tummo and so forth. All great masters of the past, such as Milarepa and Gampopa, have proclaimed this with a single voice.

This concludes the Fourth Panchen Lama's presentation of the tantra tradition of mahamudra. Because he has explained it more briefly, he has placed it first in his text. He now explains the sutra level of mahamudra, placing it second because there are more texts indicating this level of practice and also because he will explain it much more extensively.

The Differences between the Sutra and Tantra Levels of Mahamudra

The sutra tradition of mahamudra, as the Fourth Panchen Lama states in his root text, entails "the ways of meditating on voidness as directly indicated in the expanded, intermediate and brief prajnaparamita sutras." The special feature of the mahamudra presentation of voidness meditation is that such meditation is focused primarily on the nature of the reality of mind. Although the object having this nature, upon which we focus, and the manner of explanation are slightly different, the actual body of practice for gaining a decisive understanding of voidness is the same as that which the prajnaparamita sutras present.

In Differentiating the Three Levels of Vowed Restraints, Sakya Pandita has stated there is no difference in the correct view of reality according to sutra or tantra. Dzogchen and similar systems, on the other hand, assert a great difference between the two. I think, however, there is simply a difference in the manner of meditation on a correct view between the sutra and tantra traditions, but the meaning at which they both arrive is the same.

In order to understand the assertion by the masters of the Sakya and Gelug traditions, such as Sakya Pandita and Tsongkhapa, that there is no difference between the sutra and tantra views of reality, we must differentiate between two senses of the word "view." Just as we can use the word "aim" in either a verbal or substantive way to mean either "aim at something" or the "aim at which we focus," likewise we can use the word "view" in the same two senses. We can "view reality" or focus on a "view of reality." Those who assert no difference between the sutra and tantra views are using the word "view" in its substantive sense to mean the object, namely voidness, on which we meditate. Voidness, as the absence of true and inherent existence, is exactly the same in both the sutra and tantra traditions. But, from the point of view of the mind that does the correct viewing of reality, there is a great difference.

All the great Gelug commentaries on tantra, such as Tsongkhapa's A Lamp for Clarifying the Five Stages of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage, also assert that although there is no difference here in the object upon which we meditate, there is a great difference in the mind that does the meditating. In A Root Text on the Tenet Systems, the omniscient First Jamyang-zhepa has also asserted that the sutra tradition indicates primarily voidness as an object, but keeps hidden and does not indicate the special mind of greatly blissful deep awareness with which to apprehend it as its object. This clearly shows the widespread acceptance in the Gelug tradition of a difference between sutra and tantra concerning the mind with which to understand voidness.

We find this in the Sakya tradition as well. While declaring in Differentiating the Three Levels of Vowed Restraints no difference in view between sutra and tantra, Sakya Pandita, later in the very same text, has explained four types of view, correlated one each to the four anuttarayoga tantra empowerments. One of his special, unique manners of teaching is to explain the four empowerments in terms of four views and four tenet systems.

The tenet system associated with the vase empowerment is that of the inseparability of samsara and nirvana. Its view is seeing the nature of everything to be of the same entity or in the same package as three things – appearance, voidness and the two as a unified pair. The tenet system correlated with the hidden or secret empowerment is that of the total completeness of that which is unadulterated, namely clear light mind. Its view is to see, with the four types of deep awareness, that which automatically occurs – namely, to see, with absorbed concentration, that disturbing emotions and attitudes, conceptual minds, the turning around and stilling of both, and clarity and illumination each occur automatically from clear light mind. The tenet system of the deep, discriminating awareness empowerment is called modestly expansive blissful awareness and voidness. Its view is seeing voidness with the four levels of simultaneously arising joyous awareness – joy, supreme joy, separated joy and simultaneously arising joy – that occur when subtle energy-drops descend through the four chakras, starting from the top of the central energy-channel in the subtle vajra-body. The tenet system associated with the fourth empowerment is vastly expansive blissful awareness and voidness. Its view is seeing voidness with the four levels of joyous awareness that stabilize when the subtle energy drops re-ascend through the four chakras, starting from the bottom of the central energy-channel, bringing realization of the very nature of total purity of all phenomena.

In A Commentary on Sakya Pandita's"Differentiating the Three Levels of Vowed Restraints," Ngari Panchen Pema Wanggyal, a Nyingma master from the northern treasure-text lineage, has written, "If there were no difference in view between sutra and tantra, then doesn't the Sakya tradition indicate four different views, one each in relation to each of the four empowerments? Surely this indicates a difference in view." This is certainly true. In sutra practice, we use simply a single view. Thus there is a great difference between sutra and tantra concerning the mind that aims at voidness, while the voidness of true and inherent existence aimed at by both is the same.

Concerning the difference in mind that meditates on voidness, in the sutra tradition we employ an individualizing discriminating awareness for meditation to gain a correct view. For achieving vipashyana, an exceptionally perceptive state of mind, we need scrutinizing, or "analytical" meditation. We use individualizing discriminating awareness in meditation to scrutinize intelligently in order to discern voidness. In the anuttarayoga tantra system, on the other hand, the mind that recognizes voidness engages only in absorptive, or "formal" meditation with placement on certain vital points in the subtle vajra-body that are more special and more powerful than others. This is a great difference. By the force of there being a special mind that is aimed at voidness, there is the circumstance for attaining together, at the same occasion, both serenely stilled and settled, as well as exceptionally perceptive states of mind. Thus, by relying on special methods, we attain shamatha and vipashyana simultaneously with anuttarayoga tantra meditation, whereas with the sutra methods we first achieve shamatha by itself and then combine it with vipashyana. In either case, however, as our foundation we must meditate on a correct view of reality as explained by Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti. Therefore the Fourth Panchen Lama bases his presentation of voidness meditation on the teachings of Nagarjuna.

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.