Mahamudra: The Four Seals, Mahamudra & Dzogchen

Different Presentations of the Four Types of Seals

The text continues now with the next point in the outline, the actual methods of mahamudra. Although mahamudra practice can be explained in many ways, it divides it into two: the sutra and tantra levels of mahamudra methods. As subdivisions within these two, Drigungpa Jigten Gonpo, the founder of the Drigung Kagyu tradition, elaborating on the intentions of Drogon Rinpoche, has explained four types of mudras or seals with respect to each of the three vehicles. This refers to the hinayana vehicle of the shravakas, the mahayana vehicle of the bodhisattvas and the tantrayana vehicle of hidden measures. Let me read out his words, filling in here and there what needs to be expanded in order to be clear.

In the context of the shravakas' mode of practice, never separating the actions of their body, speech and mind from the behavior shaped by the vinaya rules of ethical discipline is karmamudra, the seal of their behavior. The realization of the lack of any true, unimputed identity of a person, specifically the total absence or voidness of a person existing as a substantial entity able to stand on its own – the coarse identitylessness of a person according to the prasangika-madhyamaka presentation – is dharmamudra, the seal of their preventive measures. The state of separation from disturbing emotions and attitudes, on the basis of the abiding nature of purity, attained through meditation on the identitylessness of a person is samayamudra, the seal of their close bond. The nirvana or total release that they attain without any remainder of aggregates is mahamudra, their great seal.

As for the four seals presented in terms of the bodhisattvas' practices, never separating the actions of their body, speech and mind from behavior based on practice of the six far-reaching attitudes is the seal of their behavior. Based on their practice of the six far-reaching attitudes in general, and particularly of the joint path of shamatha yoked with vipashyana, their meditation on voidness, free from all mental fabrication and fabricating, seeing that all phenomena appear but without true, inherent existence, like illusion, is the seal of their preventive measures. Through the ethical self-discipline of a bodhisattva, restraining themselves from all selfish thought or action so that they are never tainted by any stain of working for their own purposes is the seal of their close bond. Having followed a path that has had as its essence the combination of compassion and the understanding of voidness, on which they have practiced method and discriminating awareness without one having ever been missing, but rather with method always apprehended within the context of wisdom and wisdom within the context of method, their single taste of compassion and voidness is their great seal. Since the great seal of the listeners' mode of practice refers to the resultant state they attain, the great seal of the bodhisattvas' practice undoubtedly refers to their resultant state as well. At that point, their ultimate combined vision of both the full extent of what exists and how it all exists, being of a single taste of compassion and wisdom, totally pacifies the extreme of remaining passively in a nirvanic state of total release from all suffering.

As for the four seals formulated in terms of tantra, specifically its anuttarayoga class in general, tantric practitioners' relying on a transferring partner, or "messenger," – someone to help them transfer themselves to higher states of insight and realization – as an external method to bring life-force to their practice is the seal of their behavior. By relying on external and internal methods, joining their mind and energy-winds together at the center of their chakras – primarily, their heart chakra – without ever separating the two, is the seal of their preventive measures. Never letting the vows and close bonds degenerate that they receive at empowerments is the seal of their close bond. Taking as foundation their keeping of all their vows and close bonds and then, by relying on external and internal methods such as gathering their mind and energy-winds at the center of their heart chakra, manifesting the deep awareness that is a discrimination of voidness arising inseparably from being a blissful awareness, in other words manifesting simultaneously arising deep awareness, is their great seal.

Drigungpa has also explained the four seals in the exclusive context of practitioners of anuttarayoga tantra's complete stage. Their many pathways of practice, such as of the oral instructions for developing tummo, the inner flame, and likewise the physical exercises explained in the six practices or "yogas" of Naropa, the various branches of energy-wind practice such as holding the vase-breath, vajra-recitation and so forth, are the seal of their behavior. By relying on these types of method, the deep awareness that arises as a blissful consciousness is the seal of their preventive measures. At the time when they manifest a simultaneously arising, blissful awareness, their lack of attachment to it is the seal of their close bond. In other words, the root of attachment is apprehending things as existing truly and inherently. The opponent for such apprehension is the discriminating awareness of the lack of true, inherent identities. Thus generating, as running together as one, a greatly blissful deep awareness and a discriminating awareness of voidness, without either of them ever quitting, is, more specifically, the seal of their close bond. Having familiarized themselves with this deep awareness that is also a blissful awareness and a discrimination of voidness, then when, without having to rely on any other external or internal circumstances, their merely focusing on voidness as an object induces by itself a greatly blissful deep awareness, its spontaneous arising is their great seal.

These then are the various presentations of the four seals gathered together by Drigungpa based on the intentions of Drogon Rinpoche. In addition, our text mentions that the great translator Go Lotsawa Zhonnupel, a contemporary of Drigungpa's teacher, Pagmo Drupa, had taken mahamudra, the great seal, to be the non-conceptual deep awareness that realizes voidness.

Penetrating Vital Points of the Vajra-Body

In general, however, we can classify all mahamudra practices into either the sutra or tantra categories. Concerning the latter, the tantra tradition of mahamudra, the Fourth Panchen Lama states in the root text, that it entails "a greatly blissful clear light mind that has been brought about by such skillful methods as penetrating vital points of the subtle vajra-body and so forth."

As human beings of this world, we have a coarse body made of six constituent elements of earth, water, fire, wind, space and consciousness, and a subtle vajra-body of energy-winds, energy-channels and energy-drops. Consequently, through various methods, such as penetrating vital points of our subtle vajra-body and so forth, we can manifest our subtlest clear light mind and generate it into a deep awareness that is simultaneously a blissful awareness and a non-conceptual discriminating awareness of voidness. The methods involving penetrating these vital points succeed in making subtlest clear light manifest by stopping the coarser levels of mind. To stop those levels of mind, we must stop the energy-winds upon which they ride from coursing wildly through the energy-channels. We must cause those energy-winds to enter and abide in the central energy-channel, and dissolve there either at the center of the heart chakra, according to the new translation anuttarayoga tantras other than Kalachakra, or at the center of all six major chakras, according to the Kalachakra system.

The vital points of the subtle vajra-body are those points at either the top or bottom end of the central energy-channel at which the energy-winds can be made to enter that channel, or the center of the various chakras where the energy-winds can be made to dissolve. To penetrate these points means to gather there the energy-winds and the subtle minds that ride on them, basically by means of different types of absorbed concentration focused on these spots. Such practices as Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara, Hevajra and, within the body of Kalachakra teachings, Vajravega, provide various methods for penetrating these vital points, such as causing tummo to flare, joining the energy-winds together at the upper or lower gateway to the central energy-channel, holding to the non-dissipating energy-drop at the center of the heart chakra, and so forth. For example, in A Lamp for Further Clarifying the Five Stages of Guhyasamaja, a commentary on Tsongkhapa's The Pure Stages of the Yoga of Guhyasamaja, in the discussion of the level of practicing with elaboration at which we take the supreme mind of death as a pathway for actualizing the bodies of a Buddha, Kedrub Norzang Gyatso has mentioned two methods for manifesting clear light mind through stages similar to what happens at the time of death. These are penetrating vital points of the vajra-body through focusing there either energy-winds or blissful states of awareness.

The subtle vajra-body in all people, whether male or female, is exactly the same. Thus there is no difference in method between a man or a woman penetrating vital points of the vajra-body, and no difference in the primordial clear light mind that he or she manifests. On the basis of this lack of gender difference, anuttarayoga tantra asserts the attainment of enlightenment on the foundation of either a male or female body, whereas sutra and the three lower classes of tantra assert that we can only attain enlightenment or liberation as an arhat during rebirth as a human male.

In the autocommentary, the Fourth Panchen Lama goes on to explain the expression, "and so forth," in the above-quoted line from his root text. It refers to the fact that there are other methods as well for manifesting clear light mind. Those who practice the Nyingma system of meditation, for example, do not rely on actions for penetrating vital points of the vajra-body. They follow, instead, a guideline instruction for manifesting clear light mind by relying solely on meditation on a non-conceptual state. Thus making manifest simultaneously arising, greatly blissful, clear light mind of deep awareness, either by relying on methods for penetrating vital points of the vajra-body or, for those of especially sharp faculties, by not having to do so, is the tantra tradition of mahamudra as explained in the texts of Saraha, Nagarjuna, Naropa and Maitripa.

Those Who Progress through Graded Stages and Those for Whom Everything Happens at Once

The Kagyu system refers to those who manifest clear light mind by relying on the methods for penetrating vital points of the external and internal body as those who progress through graded stages of methods. Such practitioners manifest clear light mind by progressing through stages. Those with sharp faculties, however, may be practitioners for whom everything happens at once. The Nyingma tradition of dzogchen also distinguishes between these two types of practitioners. Those who manifest rigpa, pure awareness, by training through stages involving various practices with the energy-winds, tummo, and so forth are those who progress through graded stages, while those for whom everything happens at once achieve the same by relying solely on meditation on a non-conceptual state of mental consciousness without the practices of the energy channels and energy-winds.

According to Maitreya's A Filigree of Clear Realizations, there are five pathway minds that we progressively develop during the course of attaining to enlightenment – accumulating, applying, seeing and accustoming pathways of mind and, finally, such a mind needing no further training. These are often translated as the "paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning." Practicing as a bodhisattva, we achieve an accumulating pathway of mind when we have bodhichitta as our motivation, day and night. With an accumulating mind, we build up and add shamatha and vipashyana to this bodhichitta foundation. When we have accomplished that, we have an applying pathway of mind we can effectively apply to removing the obstacles preventing our liberation – namely our disturbing emotions and attitudes, and particularly our unawareness of voidness, together with its seeds. When we gain straightforward, non-conceptual realization of voidness with our mind that already has bodhichitta, shamatha and vipashyana, we achieve a seeing pathway of mind and become an arya.

Disturbing emotions and attitudes, including unawareness, have two levels – one based on preconceptions from an ideology and the other that automatically arises, even in animals. If, with sutra methods, we make our subtle – not subtlest – mental consciousness into a seeing pathway of mind, we experience that its non-conceptual seeing of voidness rids our mind of disturbing emotions and attitudes based on preconception. Once we have accomplished this, we achieve an accustoming pathway of mind, rid of these obstacles, with which we now accustom ourselves to seeing voidness. In this way, we gradually rid our mind of its more subtle obstacles.

There are ten bhumi or bodhisattva levels of mind, with the first corresponding to a seeing pathway of mind and the other nine to graded levels of an accustoming mind. When we achieve these levels of mind with subtle mental consciousness on the sutra path, we remove the automatically arising disturbing attitudes and emotions, together with their seeds, in stages as we progressively attain the first seven bodhisattva minds. These are the seven impure levels, since they are not yet fully purified of all the obstacles preventing liberation. The last three levels are purified of them, and as we progressively attain them, we remove the obstacles preventing omniscient awareness. These obstacles are the instincts of unawareness, which cause our mind to give rise to discordant appearances and prevent it from cognizing the two truths about anything simultaneously. When we rid our mind of this subtlest level of obstacles, our mind becomes an omniscient awareness. We become a Buddha, with a pathway of mind needing no further training.

According to Tsongkhapa's A Grand Presentation of the Graded Stages of the Secret Mantra Path, if we progressively develop these pathway minds through the practice of anuttarayoga tantra, we achieve a seeing mind with primordial, subtlest clear light mind that is inseparably a blissful awareness and a non-conceptual deep awareness of voidness. Because of the special features of such an intense, subtle mind, we rid ourselves at that point of all obstacles preventing liberation – both the preconceptual ones based on ideology and those that automatically arise. With an accustoming pathway of mind, we work exclusively on removing the obstacles preventing our omniscience as we progressively attain the various bodhisattva levels of mind. This is the mode of practice of those who progress through stages. For those for whom everything happens at once, straightforward, non-conceptual realization of voidness with clear light mind, as a seeing pathway of mind, removes all obstacles at once – both those preventing liberation, as well as those preventing omniscience. As Indrabhuti has said, "Realization and liberation with enlightenment come simultaneously."

According to one Kagyu text, the method of practice of those for whom everything happens at once is powerful medicine. But it is deadly poison for those who progress through graded stages. In other words, the method of practice of meditating solely on the non-conceptual state of the mind is suited only for those of sharpest faculties. For those who are not of their level, such practice brings only harm, no benefit. For them the medicine acts like a poison.

Kedrub Norzang Gyatso, in A Lamp for Clarifying Mahamudra to Establish the Single Intention of the Kagyu and Gelug Traditions, has explained that those for whom everything happens at once are persons who have trained extensively through stages either in previous lives or earlier in this life. As a result, meditation on the non-conceptual state of the mind, without need to rely on any further meditation on penetrating vital points of the vajra-body, alone causes clear light mind to manifest so that everything happens at once. Such meditation does this by acting as a circumstance for triggering the ripening of potentials built up from previous practice with energy-winds and so forth, so that they automatically enter, abide and dissolve in the central energy-channel. If a practitioner has not built up these potentials, then no matter how intensively he or she may focus in a non-conceptual state of mind, this person is unable to manifest clear light mind or pure awareness. They lack sufficient causes.

Before Milarepa studied with the great translator Marpa, he studied with a master of the dzogchen tradition. This lama told him of the guideline instruction that without need to study, meditate or even do any practice, one can instantly become a Buddha. When Milarepa heard this, he just lay down and went to sleep, thinking, "Wonderful, now I do not have to do any practice any more!" He did not even have a good dream. When he awoke in the morning, this master scolded him for his pretension and laziness. He told him these instructions certainly did not pertain to him and that, in fact, his mental obstacles were so thick he could not help tame him any further. He mentioned that there was, however, another guru, a translator who had studied and trained in India with the great master, Naropa, who could be of great help.

At merely hearing the name of the great translator, Marpa, Milarepa developed extraordinary faith and respect in him, convinced that he was the appropriate guru for him. When he went to study with the translator, however, Marpa gave him a very hard time, didn't he? Milarepa had to endure a great deal of difficulties and make incredible efforts to practice in stages over many years. But, as a result of his efforts, he was able to reach total enlightenment in this graded manner. Therefore, we should not imagine that practitioners who progress through stages are stupid or inferior, or that they do not attain the same result as those for whom everything happens at once. Also, we should not be pretentious and think we are more advanced and well prepared than in fact we are.

Dzogchen in Comparison to Mahamudra

Although both the Kagyu tradition of mahamudra and the Nyingma one of dzogchen present manners of practice for those who progress through stages and those for whom everything happens at once, there are subtle differences in their style of practice. Although these differences are difficult to appreciate and understand without personal experience, let us look briefly at some of them and compare them both to the Gelug-Kagyu tradition of mahamudra which transmits only a path for those who progress through stages.

The main point in the Gelug-Kagyu tradition of mahamudra is meditation on voidness as the object clear light – in other words, as an object realized by primordial clear light mind. In the purely Kagyu tradition of mahamudra, the main emphasis is, on the other hand, meditation on clear light mind itself. Unlike either of these two mahamudra traditions, however, dzogchen asserts that all impure or pure phenomena – in other words, all phenomena of samsara or nirvana – have a foundation for their being a phenomenon, in the sense of a foundation for their appearing. This is the creator of all samsara or nirvana in the sense of being the foundation for the arising and disappearing of all impure or pure appearances and all impure or pure appearance-making minds. Dzogchen meditation focuses on this foundation.

The dzogchen teachings differentiate two types of alaya, or all-encompassing foundations – one that is primordially there from the depths and one that is for various instincts or propensities of karma. The former is the foundation for all impure or pure appearances – the foundation for the appearance-making of all impure or pure phenomena. As the root of all samsara or nirvana is like a foundation, then all conventional phenomena of samsara or nirvana – everything that emanates, in the context of cognition, as conventional phenomena – arise out of and pass into this sphere. That being the case, we must come to know this point which is the ultimate, final way in which things exist, the foundational situation, the way in which everything abides. This is because when we do not recognize the alaya that is primordially there from the depths, that alaya functions as a foundation for the instincts of karma that bring us all our problems.

Once we have come to know the way in which this ultimate point functions, we need to cultivate our focus single-mindedly on this point. We need to see the correct view of reality single-pointedly with it and hold to that view with mindfulness. This mindfulness is not the intermittent one that we ordinarily employ on coarser levels of mind and which can be lost due to flightiness or dullness, but rather is a special, uncommon type of mindfulness that arises spontaneously and is simultaneous with this foundational level. We meditate, holding to this point and this view with this special mindfulness. When all our actions are held by the force of this type of meditation and view, then everything we do, whether conventionally good or bad, arises without any action being better or worse than any other.

The dzogchen tradition differentiates between sem or limited awareness, and rigpa or pure awareness. Limited awareness is the level of mind that is fleeting. Adulterated with conceptual thinking, it contrives and mental fabricates totally fantasized and impossible manners of existence. A sentient being is, literally, an animate being with such type of limited awareness. Because of this, a Buddha is not a sentient being. Pure awareness, on the other hand, is the level of mind that has been there forever, with no beginning, primordially pure from its depths, unadulterated by any stains. The Kalachakra system calls it the holder of the diamond-strong scepter of space, pervasive with space, or, simply, the diamond-strong scepter of mind.

We must come to recognize this pure awareness that is a deep awareness. When we recognize and know it through seeing and experiencing its nature, we can cultivate this pure awareness that is parted at a far distance from all variety of minds that contrive and mentally fabricate. Then, it is explained, we come, figuratively, to that which abides with great spaciousness.

This is slightly different, then, from the mahamudra systems, which have no equivalent to this differentiation of limited awareness and, as its underlying foundation, pure awareness. If we speak from the point of view of dzogchen, when we have divided our pure awareness from our limited awareness, seeing them as two distinct levels of mind, and have compared that level of mind to which we have come in meditation with those states of mind that are adulterated by conceptual thinking and that contrive and mentally fabricate, we clearly see that the latter is far inferior to the former. The profundity and extensiveness of the dzogchen system derives from this point.

On the basis of having recognized pure awareness like this, we then cultivate the ultimate of correct views with respect to the nature of all phenomena that exist and which mind can thus produce an appearance of that emanates out of and dissolves back into pure awareness. We do this by gaining, through meditative experience, a decisive understanding of pure awareness itself being primally pure of concrete reality – in other words, its being devoid of an inherent, findable nature. We must fully experience and thus know the meaning of being primally pure and then, on that basis, proceed with meditation on the meaning of spontaneous establishment.

In dzogchen we speak, on the one hand, of pure awareness being primally pure of concrete reality. Equivalent expressions for this in the madhyamaka system are that all phenomena are totally devoid of fantasized and impossible ways of existing, such as true inherent existence or existing as concrete reality. Primordially and from their depths, all phenomena are totally devoid of an inherently findable nature that can establish them as being something concrete and real. In dzogchen, we say that the clear light diamond-strong scepter of mind – which is like a foundation for everything that exists, impure or pure, which can thus appear – is primally pure of concrete reality.

In dzogchen, we also speak, on the other hand, of pure awareness, by nature, spontaneously establishing everything. This means that all phenomena abide as the play of this deep awareness in the sense that all appearances of phenomena are its effulgence. Pure awareness, by nature, spontaneously establishes the existence of all phenomena in that all appearances mind produces of what exists are its effulgent play. Seeing this point is extraordinarily profound for bringing us even more conviction in the fact that all phenomena can only be established simply as what their names refer to.

This is very significant because there are certain persons who are unable to gain a decisive understanding of the prasangika-madhyamaka view of reality based on reasoning alone. When such persons, however, experience in meditation practice the manifestation of primordial clear light mind – by either penetrating vital points of their vajra-body or other means – they are able to understand, based on personal meditative experience of clear light mind, that the existence of things can only be established dependently upon names. In this way, they come to a decisive and correct understanding of the prasangika-madhyamaka view of reality.

In the Gelug-Kagyu style of tantra level mahamudra meditation, as we advance in our practice, we achieve a unification of bliss and voidness, which is not merely a mind with conviction in the voidness of mind, but has a special feature from the point of view of the mind that has this conviction – that mind is a clear light mind generated simultaneously as a blissful awareness. Thus the unification of bliss and voidness is a clear light mind having the special feature of being a blissful awareness that understands voidness. When, through mahamudra meditation, we realize the unification of appearance and voidness in terms of our conviction in this subtlest primordial mind's lack of an inherently findable nature, we come, I believe, to the same essential point at which we arrive through dzogchen meditation.

One of the most difficult points in dzogchen that makes it so profound and extensive is its methods for recognizing and experiencing clear light mind, that has as its nature mere clarity and awareness. We do this without need to block and dissolve the cognitions of the six networks of coarse levels of consciousness – visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile or bodily, and mental. In the mahamudra presentation of the path for practitioners who progress in stages, we must block and dissolve these coarser levels of mind in order to make manifest subtlest clear light mind.

The Coarse and Subtle Primordial Minds

The anuttarayoga tantra systems of Kalachakra and Guhyasamaja, taken in general, have a slightly different manner of explanation of how clear light mind arises than that found in dzogchen. One of Aku Sherab Gyatso's teachers, Gyalrong Tsultrim Nyima, in A Last Testament Letter Cast to the Wind, a commentary on the Fourth Panchen Lama's mahamudra text, has differentiated between coarse and subtle primordial minds. When we consider that our coarse levels of mind are fleeting, we cannot possibly call them primordial. In general, primordial signifies something that has never been and can never be fleetingly contaminated due to causes and circumstances. Normally, we refer to primordial mind as the clear light mind that arises after the unconscious, most subtle conceptual appearance-making minds of appearance-congealment, light-diffusion and threshold have ceased. Therefore, the word "coarse" in the term "coarse primordial mind" cannot refer to fleeting levels of mind such as clear light mind when it is together with these three subtlest conceptual appearance-making minds, since primordial and that sense of coarse are mutually exclusive.

Gyalrong Tsultrim Nyima has explained coarse and subtle primordial minds in the context of the mahamudra system. According to his presentation, the unique feature of mahamudra is its use of a decisive understanding of the devoid nature of coarse primordial mind as a special, uncommon aid for manifesting subtle primordial mind. This gives much to think about in terms of the Fourth Panchen Lama's presentation of the mahamudra method of recognizing first the conventional nature of clear light primordial mind as its mere clarity and awareness – which is undoubtedly coarse primordial mind – and then coming to recognize the deepest nature of that clear light mind – its voidness of existing in any fantasized and impossible ways. For example, seeing that the conventional nature of mere clarity and awareness applies to all states of mind, like the nature of water remaining the same for both murky and pure bodies of water, helps us to see that voidness as the deepest nature is also the case with respect to all states of mind. This also gives us much to think about in terms of the differentiation made in dzogchen between effulgent pure awareness and essence pure awareness, and the dzogchen method of first recognizing the former in order to recognize the latter.

[See: Steps of Dzogchen Meditation]

The Dzogchen Tradition in Bon

The dzogchen tradition is found not only in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, but also in the Bon tradition as well. These two lineages of dzogchen, however, are extremely similar. Bon is the ancient religion of Tibet, present there before the spread of Buddhism. It is not clear how widespread it was, however, in ancient times and whether, before the advent of Buddhism, it had a full system of a view of reality, meditation and modes of behavior. But after the coming of Buddhism to Tibet, the Bon tradition became more extensive. For example, Bon has equivalents of not only dzogchen, but also the Buddhist Kangyur canon, including hundred thousand and eight thousand stanza prajnaparamita sutras. There are also Bon equivalents of pramana, or valid cognition, with full systems of epistemology, logic and debate, as well as of madhyamaka, the middle way view of voidness.

The question arises, Was Buddhism modeled on Bon, or Bon on Buddhism? Buddhism flourished in India for over a thousand years before it came to Tibet, and its scriptures were translated from Indian languages into Tibetan. Since we can certainly say with decisiveness that Buddhism in India was not modeled on Bon, we can say with equal decisiveness that the features of Bon in Tibet that are similar to those found in Buddhism were modeled on Buddhism. But, if we look from the point of view of the original stock of teachings that are at its core, we would have to say that Bon is a separate tradition from Buddhism. We could not consider it one of the Buddhist traditions since then it would need a traceable Buddhist source. Nevertheless, externally, it transmits many practices that are modeled after Buddhist ones. Since these practices contain mixed with them ultimate guidelines concerning the correct view of reality, anyone properly practicing them is doing what I think amounts to Buddhist practice, whether or not they call it that.

For example, if we look at the Bon tradition of dzogchen, it has many similarities with the Nyingma presentation. But, for the same reasons as above, we cannot say that the Buddhist tradition of dzogchen is modeled on the Bon one. The Nyingma tradition of tantra flourished in Tibet for a long time before the new translation period began and, during that old translation period, the Bon and Buddhist traditions had intimate contact. During that period, then, Bon undoubtedly adopted many dzogchen methods from Nyingma Buddhist tantra. After all, it was during this time that Bon adopted the Nyingma classification system of nine vehicles to structure its own teachings into nine vehicles.

Concerning Bon dzogchen, the terminology is different from that used in Nyingma dzogchen, but the meaning of its terms undoubtedly follows the Nyingma guideline instructions they borrowed. Thus in general, Bon is not a Buddhist system, but regarding specific practices, some seem to be Buddhist, while others seem not. Moreover, there are some Buddhist practitioners who perform certain ceremonies according to Bon ritual procedures, for example propitiating local deities, extending life span and so on, and there is nothing inappropriate with that. Thus, both the Tibetan Buddhist and the Bon traditions contain practices of each other.

Summary of the Anuttarayoga Tantra Tradition of Mahamudra

Our text now continues with a summary of the anuttarayoga tantra approach to mahamudra from the new translation period. "First, we receive the four empowerments purely and keep all the vows and close bonds with the practice in the proper manner. Then, when our familiarity with the generation stage has stabilized, we use various external and internal methods to penetrate vital points of the vajra-body and so on, causing all energy-winds to enter, abide and dissolve in the central energy-channel. With the deep awareness that is a greatly blissful, simultaneously arising awareness that comes from this" – namely, that arises after the dissolution of the three unconscious, most subtle, conceptual appearance-making minds – "we first gain a conceptual understanding of voidness through an accurate idea of it based on its meaning. This is known as the illustrative or approximating clear light. When this deep awareness has straightforward, non-conceptual perception of voidness, it is the actual or ultimate clear light. The illustrative and actual clear light states of deep awareness are the great seal of mahamudra.

"Different traditions use different technical terms to refer to the mind that has become of the nature of these two levels of clear light, for instance the definitive level short syllable 'A,' the non-dissipating drop, noncontriving mind, the normative way to be aware, primordial mind and so on." We can include here, from yet other great texts, terms such as the diamond-strong scepter of mind and the holder of the diamond-strong scepter of space, pervasive with space, and so on.

"Many great masters of India, such as Mahasukha – also known as Padmavajra – and likewise Saraha, Nagarjuna, Shabari, Tilopa, Naropa, Maitripa and others, as well as numerous great Kagyu masters of old, such as Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa, Pagmo Drupa and so forth, have all concurred that the ultimate mahamudra is the greatly blissful clear light mind manifested after causing the energy-winds to enter, abide and dissolve in the central energy-channel" – and dissolving there as well the three unconscious, most subtle conceptual appearance-making minds.

The Appropriateness of This System of Mahamudra Being Called "Gelug-Kagyu"

It is clear from the above lines from his autocommentary that when the Fourth Panchen Lama discusses the Gelug-Kagyu tradition of mahamudra, he is referring to a tradition that takes as its basis the oral guidelines of the great Kagyu masters of the past and supplements it with the profound methods for gaining a decisive understanding of voidness that Tsongkhapa has uniquely presented in his great texts concerning the madhyamaka view. Thus this tradition seems, I believe, to be a synthesis of Kagyu and Gelug approaches. Although at various points in his autocommentary, the Panchen Lama quotes several texts from the Sakya tradition, he specifically mentions here a list of Kagyu masters of old, not Sakya ones, who have concurred on this anuttarayoga tantra level of mahamudra. Furthermore, the Sakya tradition asserts only a tantra level of mahamudra, whereas both the Kagyu and the Gelug-Kagyu traditions assert both sutra and tantra levels. Therefore I think that the Fourth Panchen Lama had something specific in mind when he used the term "Gelug-Kagyu tradition of mahamudra."

We find evidence for Tsongkhapa himself being the source of this Gelug-Kagyu synthesis in Gungtangzang's Notes from a Discourse on the Gelug Tradition of Mahamudra and Aku Sherab Gyatso's two Notes from a Discourse on" Interspersed with Mahamudra. Gungtangzang's notes were based on a discourse by his teacher, Yongdzin Yeshe Gyaltsen, a disciple of the Sixth Panchen Lama and the first to comment on the Fourth Panchen Lama's mahamudra texts in conjuntion with A Ritual to Honor the Spiritual Master. Aku Sherab Gyatso's two works are notes on discourses by two more of his teachers, Detri Jamyang Tubten Nyima and Welmang Konchog Gyaltsen, both of whom were disciples of Gungtangzang. All these masters have concurred that Tsongkhapa had given a restricted discourse on mahamudra to Gungru Gyaltsen Zangpo and some others at Gaden Jangtse Monastery. This is only reasonable since Tsongkhapa himself had received numerous mahamudra teachings, for example from Lama Umapa, one of his Karma Kagyu teachers, following the tradition of the latter's Drugpa Kagyu master, Barawa Gyaltsen Zangpo, disciple of the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. Yongdzin Yeshe Gyaltsen had mentioned, as recorded by Gungtangzang, that Tsongkhapa had told another of his teachers, Rendawa, that he had an uncommon guideline teaching based on the mahamudra explanations of maha-madhyamaka, or great madhyamaka, but it was not yet time to propagate them widely. Furthermore, another of Tsongkhapa's disciples, Kedrub Je, has written that the explanation of voidness, the non-affirming nullification that refutes what is to be refuted, that is found in some of Gungru Gyaltsen Zangpo's writings, is not Tsongkhapa's manner of explanation, but is merely Gungru Gyaltsen Zangpo's own style of explication. I think Kedrub Je's point is relevant and adds further evidence supporting our conclusion.

Likewise, the Second Changkya, Rolpay Dorje, the teacher of most of Gungtangzang's teachers, has written, in the collection of his Answers to Questions, that a geshe from Mongolia or Amdo, I don't remember which, had reported to him that these days there was a lineage called the Gelug tradition of mahamudra that transmitted an uncommon presentation of a correct view of reality that was slightly different from Tsongkhapa's usual manner of explication. He wanted to know whether or not this was something important. Changkya Rolpay Dorje answered that this was in fact Tsongkhapa's special way of explaining the correct view that was different from his usual manner.

We have further evidence for this from an incident in the life of the Second Chankya's first teacher, the omniscient First Jamyang Zhepa, Ngawang Tsondru – a great being beyond imagination, who expanded on the meanings of all eighteen volumes of Tsongkhapa's works, in an immaculate manner. He, the Mongolian Lama, Mergen Lozang Tsultrim, and the First Changkya, Ngawang Choden, had heard of a special near lineage of the Se and Ensa oral lineages of Tsongkhapa's guideline instructions that existed to the west of where they were living in Amdo. They thought that they must take interest in this special near lineage and go to receive it. They then added it to the rest of their lineages of Tsongkhapa that they held.

Previously, they had felt that whatever guideline instructions there were in the Ensa oral lineage – deriving from Ensapa, the teacher of the Fourth Panchen Lama's root guru, Sanggye Yeshe – had all been transmitted from the Fourth Panchen Lama to his disciple, Dorjedzinpa Konchog Gyaltsen, and were to be heard from him, and that the complete Se lineage – tracing from the founder of Gyume, Lower Tantric College, Sherab Sengge, a disciple of Tsongkhapa – were to be heard from Segyu Konchog Yarpel. The First Changkya and the others had received these two lineages from them and had previously combined them.

The First Jamyang Zhepa, for example, had gone to Segyu Konchog Yarpel and requested the empowerments and discourses of Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara and Vajrabhairava. When he was told he could not receive all three, only one, he requested Guhyasamaja. Segyu Konchog Yarpel was very pleased and transmitted to him everything. There is an account of this. In such ways as this, these great masters received the guideline teachings of the Ensa and Se lineages of Tsongkhapa from Dorjedzinpa Konchog Gyaltsen and Segyu Konchog Yarpel, and then combined their points.

Yet despite there already being a tradition of explanation according to the Se lineage, the omniscient First Jamyang Zhepa composed An Interlinear Commentary on "A Ritual to Honor the Spiritual Master" – starting from "Within a state of inseparable bliss and voidness..." – to transmit an explanation based on the discourse he had heard on the extra teachings he had added to the previously combined lineage. He himself was extremely learned and accomplished in the Guhyasamaja system. There was not much concerning tantra in general that he left unexplained in his writings. He was totally erudite and vastly skilled in all aspects of sutra, tantra and the various fields of knowledge. He was able to explain all the contents of tantra within the context of the points of the Guhyasamaja path, and he based his word-for-word commentary on A Ritual to Honor the Spiritual Master on Guhyasamaja. Yet, he did not base this commentary on the discourses he had heard of the familiar lineage of the text, but on the special unfamiliar one he had received. This is very clear. I find that quite remarkable and noteworthy, and have often wondered why.

The lineage of his discourse tradition continued in eastern Tibet to the next generation of great masters: the Second Jamyang Zhepa Konchog Jigme Wangpo, the Sixth Panchen Lama Palden Yeshe and Purchog Ngawang Jampa – fully qualified upholders of the teachings, the cream of the Gelug scholar/practitioners. I think this lineage, then, is one that has many special and important features. The great Fifth Dalai Lama, however, the main disciple of the Fourth Panchen Lama, had stated that it was not necessary to add the word "Kagyu" to the name of this lineage and that it was sufficient to call it merely the "Gelug tradition of mahamudra." Among others, the Sixth Panchen Lama's disciple, Yongdzin Yeshe Gyaltsen, and his disciple, Gungtangzang, followed his advice in the titles of their commentaries on the subject. The Fifth Dalai Lama was not just giving this tradition this title for no reason at all. He must have had some important reason in mind. To say that it is totally within the sphere of Gelug and therefore there is no need to also say it is a Gelug-Kagyu hybrid still leaves the question unsettled of why the Fourth Panchen Lama gave it the title he did.

When I look at it, it seems as though this tradition has as its foundation the presentation of mahamudra according to the manner of explanation of the Kagyu masters of old. It then adds, on top of that, Tsongkhapa's manner of explanation of the madhyamaka texts of Nagarjuna and his spiritual sons, as found in An Ocean of Reason Commentary on Nagarjuna's "Root Verses on the Middle Way" and Totally Clarifying the Intentions of Chandrakirti's "Supplement to (Nagarjuna's 'Root Verses on) the Middle Way'", and reflected in his disciple, Gyaltsab Je's, The Heart of Excellent Explanation Commentary on Aryadeva's "Four Hundred Verse Treatise". Tsongkhapa never left any texts, especially on the madhyamaka view, with even a single syllable that he did not fully understand. He took special interest in the most difficult points that the previous learned scholars had not taken interest to explain, whether because they did not know what they meant or had not fully realized them, or for whatever reason they might have had. Relying on the Buddha-figure Manjushri, he explained each and every word and line.

No one else had ever done what Tsongkhapa did. These are not words of sectarianism, but are the fact. The special, unique talent of Tsongkhapa was his ability to explain every word and line of the most difficult sections of the texts in a totally clear and decisive manner. If we compare the collected works of Tsongkhapa with those of some of his predecessors, such as the great Sakya encyclopedist, the omniscient Bodong Chogle Namgyal, the works of the latter were certainly more extensive. He knew and explained each and every text there was on each and every topic. But except for mostly giving a general overview and collecting and abbreviating the major issues, he rarely explained the difficult points concerning each word and line by presenting all the previous interpretations, giving the logical objections to them and, through a process of reason, coming to a decisive conclusion about their meaning. Although Tsongkhapa's works cannot compare with Bodong Chogle Namgyal's in extensiveness and breadth, yet he treated all the difficult points that the latter glossed over.

Let me cite the example of another encyclopedist, the omniscient Buton. This prolific Sakya master has written An Explanatory Discourse on Chandrakirti's "An Illuminating Lamp for 'The Guhyasamaja Root Tantra'" and An Extensive Commentary on Nagarjuna's "A Method to Actualize Guhyasamaja Made in Brief." His explanations flow well, are easy to read and are very extensive, but have considerable trouble making the difficult points intelligible. Tsongkhapa's writings, on the other hand, are unlike anyone else's.

Having come to a decisive understanding of the madhyamaka view of reality, Tsongkhapa was able to gather together the opinions stated in a wide variety of texts and decisively settle the most difficult issues and make them uncommonly easy to understand. This is his special manner of explication which makes him so excellent. Since the Fourth Panchen Lama presents a tradition that sets out the Kagyu manner of explaining mahamudra supplemented with a discussion of voidness in the style of Tsongkhapa, I think that undoubtedly there is a valid point in his calling it a Gelug-Kagyu tradition that combines into one features and manners of approach from both lineages.

Other-Voidness and Self-Voidness

There are two manners of explaining the correct view of reality, then, attributed to Tsongkhapa. One is his unique manner of explanation according to the madhyamaka view, as found in the eighteen volumes of his collected works. The other, whether it is different or not, is his manner of explaining the view according to mahamudra. Let us leave aside, for a moment, the question concerning the authenticity of ascribing two views to Tsongkhapa and speak more in general about different ways of expressing a correct view of reality.

The main teacher with whom Tsongkhapa studied and debated the madhyamaka view of reality was the Sakya master, Rendawa. Manjushri himself had told Tsongkhapa, "The best lama who can clear away your doubts concerning madhyamaka is Rendawa. But you will not gain a decisive understanding on the basis of this. Rather, if you continually study and meditate on the great texts yourself, relying on me, step by step, as your bedrock and standard, you will definitely gain an unmistaken madhyamaka view."

Thus, in that situation, regarding the topic of madhyamaka, the great Rendawa was the best of all learned, erudite masters with whom Tsongkhapa could have a direct relationship. On the face value of Rendawa's writings, however, concerning the decisive understanding of the madhyamaka view, we would have to say that he does not assert voidness as a non-affirming nullification. But Kedrub Je, in his Miscellaneous Writings, has asserted that although Rendawa's and Tsongkhapa's writings on the topic have different manners of expression, they come down to the same thing. This is one point, and I wonder if this is not also the case regarding the manner of meditating on a correct view that derives from Gungru Gyaltsen-zangpo.

Concerning the statement by the Fourth Panchen Lama, Lozang Chokyi Gyaltsen, in the root text, "Nevertheless, when examined by a yogi, learned in scripture and logic and experienced in meditation, their definitive meanings are all seen to come to the same intended point," some later Gelug masters have said that except for when the Fourth Panchen Lama himself was alive and could explain himself, how can we understand that a view that relies on an affirming nullification and one that relies on a non-affirming nullification come to the same intended point? The Sixth Panchen Lama, Palden Yeshe, had asked that when delivering a discourse on mahamudra at Kumbum.

First of all, there must undoubtedly have been a special, uncommon tradition of discourse, transmitted from learned practitioners of the past, explaining their method of meditating on voidness in connection with their practice of anuttarayoga tantra, that asserted and described like this, based on personal experience. Secondly, as we were discussing in terms of dzogchen, we can speak of the nature of reality in terms of either devoid nature itself or that which has voidness as its nature. If we speak in terms of the latter, we arrive at an affirming nullification. Thus we can present primordial, simultaneously arising clear light mind as "other-voidness" – it is devoid of everything other, namely it is devoid of all fabricating levels of mind and their mental fabrications, from the three unconscious, most subtle, conceptual appearance-making minds of threshold, light-diffusion and appearance-congealment onwards. Primordial, simultaneously arising clear light mind of deep awareness, the foundation responsible for the appearance-making and appearance of everything of samsara or nirvana, is devoid in the sense of not being any of the coarser, fleeting levels, starting from the three most subtle conceptual minds. In the terminology of Nagarjuna and Aryadeva's commentaries to Guhyasamaja, clear light mind is all-void. Since the fact that clear light mind is a level of mind that is devoid of all fleeting levels, or devoid of being them, affirms that clear light mind is something else or something other than this, clear light mind, as an other-voidness, is an affirming nullification.

When we speak of clear light mind as primally pure, we are referring to its devoid nature – its nature of being devoid of all fantasized and impossible ways of existing. Something's being devoid, from the depths, of any fantasized and impossible manner of existence as its nature fulfills the definition of being a self-voidness – a voidness of a self-nature. When we go on to speak of clear light mind as also spontaneously establishing the appearance-making and appearance of all phenomena, we understand a type of other-voidness that is based on this. But since this understanding of other-voidness is based on clear light mind's being primally pure, it combines the essence of the second and third rounds of transmission of Buddha's teachings, or "turnings of the wheel of Dharma" – namely, the teachings on, respectively, discriminating awareness from the prajnaparamita sutras and Buddha-nature from The Sutra on the Essential Factors for Accordant Progress. And because such presentation combines the second and third rounds of transmission, it has no fault.

We must note that this other-voidness position which combines the second and third rounds of transmission defines the third round in a manner quite different from that of Tsongkhapa. According to Tsongkhapa's usage of terms, Buddha presented the madhyamaka view that all phenomena lack true unimputed existence in the second round of his Dharma transmission, while in the third he explained the chittamatra view that only some things lack such existence, while others in fact do exist unimputedly. Those who assert other-voidness do not consider the teachings of the third round to concern the chittamatra view, but only Buddha-nature understood within a madhyamaka context. Moreover, they consider the Buddha-nature teachings to imply the anuttarayoga tantra presentation in terms of clear light mind.

Some systems asserting other-voidness, however, do not combine Buddha's second and third rounds of transmission defined in this manner. Although they consider the prajnaparamita sutras to comprise the second round, they say that the main purpose of these sutras is to help people overcome intellectual formulations about reality. Since they say that these sutras do not give any presentation of how phenomena in fact do exist, they take the second round to be interpretable. It is intended to lead disciples deeper, namely to the third round explanation of how everything exists in terms of clear light mind. They teach that the third round propagates what comes from meditation, while the second round clears away what comes from intellectual fabrication. They identify the position of the second round, defined in this manner, as prasangika-madhyamaka, while they ascribe the name "maha-madhyamaka," or great madhyamaka, to the third round teachings of other-voidness.

Although this other-voidness position is not at all the same as the chittamatra view, it uses much of the same terminology but with different definitions. Of the three types of phenomena each having their own defining characteristics, interdependent, or "other-powered," and totally conceptional, or "totally imaginary" phenomena constitute the conventional level and are devoid of a self-nature. They arise dependently on unawareness as the first of the twelve factors that dependently arise. Thoroughly established phenomena, referring to clear light minds, are devoid in the sense of their being devoid of dependent and imputed phenomena, or devoid of being either of those two. They are an other-voidness. Since they do not arise from unawareness, they are beyond dependent arising.

Among those who define the two rounds of transmission in this way, there are some who totally denigrate the second round and take the third round to teach, in addition to Buddha-nature, that some phenomena do not exist at all, whereas others do. They take the lack of self-existence, or self-voidness, taught in the prajnaparamita sutras to be equivalent to total nonexistence – the position of nihilism. Consequently, interdependent and totally conceptional phenomena, being self-void, are totally nonexistent. Ultimately, the impure conventional level that they constitute does not exist at all. Thoroughly established phenomena, on the other hand, being devoid of the other two types of phenomena, are likewise devoid of their mode of existence. Therefore, thoroughly established phenomena – referring to clear light minds – are transcendent phenomena forming an ultimate level of reality, or deepest level of truth, that is not devoid of a self-nature. Other-void phenomena, then, are also devoid of being self-void.

This is the inferior view of other-voidness. Even though it is called other-voidness, it is an extremely deficient and faulty assertion of other-voidness. Many learned and experienced masters from the Sakya, Kagyu, Gelug and Nyingma traditions have refuted it. In taking voidness of a self-nature to be equivalent to total nonexistence and dependent arising to mean arising dependently on unawareness, and asserting thoroughly established clear light mind as an other-voidness devoid of non-self-existence and this type of dependent arising, they are left with no alternative but that clear light mind is truly and inherently existent, existing through its own power, by virtue of itself. It is devoid not only of arising dependently on unawareness, but also of arising dependently by virtue simply of mental labeling.

Such assertion is clearly in total contradiction with what Nagarjuna has expounded. It basically contradicts the sutras. If we accept as the authentic words of Buddha the expanded, intermediate and brief recensions of the prajnaparamita sutras, and take them as valid, this type of other-voidness view becomes untenable. The frequent presentation in these sutras of sixteen or eighteen types of voidness always includes ultimate or deepest truths as bases that are characterized by voidness of a self-nature in exactly the same way as all other bases. This is why these other-voidness proponents are logically forced to assert the second round of transmission as interpretable, not definitive. But even if we explain exclusively in terms of Maitreya's The Furthest Everlasting Continuum, which they take as a source for their view, we find it difficult to be comfortable with their interpretation of how ultimate or deepest truths exist. How can truly and inherently existent thoroughly established phenomena be the source of nonexistent impure phenomena that they are totally devoid of?

Those who accept only the third round of transmission as definitive explain that the source of impure phenomena is alayavijnana – foundational mind – while clear light mind, as foundational deep awareness, is the source of only pure phenomena. Thoroughly established clear light mind dependently gives rise only to pure appearances – but not in the sense of the process arising dependently on unawareness. For those among them who assert self-voidness to be equivalent to total nonexistence, however, they are forced to conclude that nonexistent foundational awareness gives rise to nonexistent impure appearances, while truly and inherently existent clear light mind gives rise to truly and inherently existent pure appearances. The question still remains how can either totally nonexistent or truly and inherently existent phenomena give rise to anything?

Moreover, if (1) they explain that prasangika-madhyamaka asserts only non-self-existence – and they take this as equivalent to total nonexistence – while maha-madhyamaka asserts other-voidness which is devoid of non-self-existence in this nihilistic sense, and (2) at the same time, they identify what they call the prasangika-madhyamaka position with Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti, and denigrate them as arrogantly naive madhyamikas, they have even more problems with their view. In repudiating the ability of madhyamaka lines of reasoning to establish and confirm the functioning of any type of conventional level and dismissing as interpretable and inferior the texts that propound these logical arguments, they deny themselves a stable basis for understanding how even pure phenomena can arise dependently. Even if, based on meditation on clear light mind, they should experience a pure appearance of dependent arising, if they continue to repudiate the prajnaparamita texts, they have difficulty correctly apprehending and understanding what they experience – specifically, difficulty in correlating dependent arising with, for example, voidness of inherent, findable existence in the sense in which Tsongkhapa defines it, or with primal purity as presented in dzogchen. Therefore great care is needed when formulating a correct view that uses the term "non-self-existence" to mean total nonexistence. Of course it is necessary to refute total nonexistence, but we must take care not to limit ourselves by our definition of terms from deriving the full benefit of the prajnaparamita teachings.

The other-voidness tradition that accepts as equally valid the second and third rounds of transmission, on the other hand, and which understands non-self-existence to mean dependently arising by virtue simply of mental labeling and therefore not equivalent to total nonexistence, has its special, unique presentation of the two truths. What is primordial and which spontaneously establishes are the deepest true or actual phenomena, while what is coarse and fleeting, both impure and pure, are the conventional true or actual phenomena. Both levels of phenomena actually exist. What is primordial and which spontaneously establishes is devoid of existing truly and inherently, but, at the same time, is devoid of what is coarse and fleeting and of being, itself, coarse and fleeting. This explanation of other-voidness that accepts a deepest level of actual phenomena that is both self-void and other-void – a deepest level that is primally pure by nature, and yet also has the feature of spontaneously establishing the conventional level of actual phenomena – combines the essence of the second and third rounds of transmission of Buddha's teachings, and is perfectly acceptable.

Primordial clear light mind which spontaneously establishes all phenomena that exist and can thus appear is primally pure by nature. From its depths, it is devoid of being a concrete reality. When we meditate single-pointedly on such a clear light mind as a special basis characterized by voidness of self-nature, we are meditating on what amounts to an affirming nullification. This type of meditation on an affirming nullification, however, comes to the same essential point as meditation on a non-affirming nullification. But its manner of explanation and the method it employs at the start for direct meditation are slightly different. As there is a difference of opinion among various lamas within the Gelug tradition concerning mahamudra as explained in the discourse lineage of A Ritual to Honor the Spiritual Master, it is important to examine this issue from both historical and theoretical points of view.