Meditation practice is divided into two sections:
- Brief explanation
- Detailed explanation.
Prayer to Practice Mahamudra Meditation Properly
Verse 15 gives a brief explanation of mahamudra meditation practice with a prayer to be able to practice mahamudra meditation properly.
(15) Without adulterating with meditation that strives with (thoughts) intellectually derived, not being blown by the winds of ordinary commotion, but knowing how to set my mind in the uncontrived, primordial state that it naturally falls to, may I become skilled and cultivate the practice of mind’s deepest point.
The commentaries discuss the second line of this verse before the first line. Not blown off course by the winds of ordinary commotion. Ordinary commotion (tha-mal ‘du-‘dzi) refers to the eight transitory things in life (‘jig-rten chos-brgyad, eight worldly dharmas): [praise or criticism, good or bad news, gains or losses, things going well or poorly. These transitory things come and go.] When they come to us, it is important not to let them disturb us or blow us about like the flame of a butter lamp in the wind. [That happens when we feel overly excited when experiencing the first of the pair and overly depressed when experiencing the second]. If we let that happen, we will not only be unable to attain enlightenment; we will also not even be able to attain one of the better rebirths. Therefore, for meditation, it is important to retire to a quiet place to meditate, cut off from ordinary worldly commotion.
The basic structure of mahamudra meditation is according to the four themes of Gampopa (dvags-po chos-bzhi):
- Having the mind go toward the Dharma (blo chos-su ‘gro-ba) – through the common preliminaries of meditating on the four thoughts that turn the mind toward the Dharma (blo-ldog rnam-bzhi): the precious human life, death and nonstaticness (impermanence), karma, and the shortcomings of samsara. Included also is putting a safe direction in life (taking refuge)
- Having the Dharma function as a pathway mind (chos lam-du ‘gro-ba) – through the uncommon preliminaries of prostration, Vajrasattva purification, mandala offering, and guru-yoga
- Having the pathway minds eliminate confusion (lam ‘khrul-ba sel-ba) – through meditating on love and great compassion
- Purifying confusion into deep awareness (‘khrul-ba ye-shes-su dag-pa) – through meditating on the actual nature of the mind.
The Sakya tradition divides the same method into “parting from the four types of clinging” (zhen-pa bzhi-bral) – namely, parting from clinging to:
- This life
- Samsaric rebirth in any of the three realms
- One’s own selfish purposes
- True existence.
In Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Gampopa similarly divided the meditation into removing the four hindrances to the attainment of Buddhahood (sangs-rgyas mi-thob-pa’i gegs-bzhi sel-ba). The four hindrances are:
- Attachment to objects of enjoyment of this life
- Attachment to the pleasures of compulsive existence
- Attachment to the bliss of peaceful (nirvana)
- Not knowing the methods for attaining Buddhahood.
The four hindrances are removed, respectively, by meditating on:
- Nonstaticness (impermanence)
- The shortcomings of samsara, and behavioral cause and effect (karma)
- Love and compassion
- Relative bodhichitta and deepest bodhichitta (the actual nature of the mind).
Regardless of how we divide and classify the meditation path, it all comes down to the same path.
Now we return to the first line of the verse, Without adulterating with meditation that strives with (thoughts) intellectually derived. Although in the beginning, meditation is necessarily conceptual, later we must pass beyond conceptualization with anything intellectually derived (blos-byas). Mahamudra meditation is non-conceptual, free of the obstacle of contrived (bcos-bcas) meditation that strives with thoughts derived from the intellect. If, while meditating, we say to ourselves, “I must meditate on the unified pair of clarity and voidness,” we will never experience true meditation.
But knowing how to set my mind in the uncontrived, primordial state that it naturally falls to. For proper mahamudra meditation, we need to remain in a natural state of mind, free of conceptual thoughts about the past or future, or about what we are doing at present in meditation. Now, our minds are like muddy water. If we let the silt sink to the bottom, the water becomes pure. The state that mind naturally falls to (rang-babs) is its primordial (gnyug-ma) state, like an unclouded sky. [“Primordial” does not mean that originally, at some point in time, our minds were pure and that later unawareness, confusion, and conceptual thought muddied it. Neither mind nor its accompanying unawareness has a beginning. “Primordial” implies mind’s “deepest point” (sems-don), its actual nature at its core.]
May I become skilled and cultivate the practice of mind’s deepest point. uncontrived (bcos-med), unlabored (rtsol-med) meditation is an extremely advanced level of practice. People have different capacities and, at the beginning, contrived meditation is unavoidable and necessary. To become skilled in it, the usual practice is to sit in the vajra posture (rdo-rje skyil-krung) [the full lotus posture according to hatha yoga] and, without thinking of the past, present, or future, to apply the methods for achieving a stilled and settled mind of shamatha. There are three ways to practice shamatha: with an object, with no object, and entirely without an object. We can achieve absorbed concentration (ting-nge-‘dzin, Skt. samadhi) through any of them.
With such concentration as a basis, we then cultivate it further by practicing to achieve an exceptionally perceptive mind of vipashyana, and mounting the vipashyana state on the absorbed concentration of shamatha. From there, we can realize the unified pair of bliss and voidness and the unified pair of clarity and voidness as the two truths – “mind’s deepest point.” As these are very high levels of meditation, this verse refers to very advanced meditators.
The ability to meditate in an unforced manner without mental constructs varies with different persons. The length of time it takes to reach this level depends on the positive force (merit) built up in past lives and in the present one. Some people progress in stages (lam-rim-pa), like climbing a staircase. For others with an enormous amount of previously built-up positive force it happens all at once (cig-car-ba). Mahamudra practitioners can be of either variety, but in either case, the realization is the same.
The detailed explanation of the meditation practice is divided into three sections:
- The yoga of shamatha-vipashyana meditation
- The methods for cultivating boon experiences and stable realizations
- The unified pair of compassion and voidness.
The yoga of shamatha-vipashyana meditation is divided into three sections:
- The joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana.
Prayer to Achieve Shamatha
Verse 16 is a prayer to achieve a stilled and settled state of mind of shamatha.
(16) The waves of subtle and coarse conceptual thought still in their place. Without movement, the undercurrents of the mind naturally settle. The pollution of the silt of dullness and bewilderment separates out. May I stabilize a stilled and settled, unmoving ocean of shamatha.
Here, the author uses as an analogy for our untamed minds the ocean, turbulent with waves and undercurrents, and polluted with silt. Once the ocean becomes still and settled, it becomes clear and stable.
The waves of subtle and coarse conceptual thought still in their place. Gross and subtle conceptual thoughts (rtog-pa) are like waves, rising and falling back into the ocean of the mind. [Without needing to strive with effort,] they naturally still in their own place (rang-sar zhi). [There is no other place for them to go.]
At present, we are not even conscious of subtle thoughts; we are not even aware of the fact that our minds have wandered at all. Therefore, we need first to identify our coarse conceptual thoughts [with which our minds wander on and on]. When they become still, we can then begin to recognize the ripples of our subtle thoughts.
Without movement, the undercurrents of the mind naturally settle. When our minds are no longer moving with coarse or subtle conceptual thoughts, we still need to quiet down further. We need to let the undercurrents of mind also settle into their own state. [In other words, when our attention no longer leaves our object of focus with gross flightiness of mind (rgod-pa), we need to let the undercurrents of subtle flightiness also naturally settle down (ngang-gis gnas).]
The pollution of the silt of dullness and bewilderment separates out. As our minds become peaceful and more concentrated, the pollution of mental dullness (bying-ba) and “spaced-out” bewilderment (rmongs-pa), which silt the mind and make it unclear, also naturally separate out. In this way, we attain stable absorbed concentration and the stilled and settled state of shamatha. Thus, the prayer, May I stabilize a stilled and settled, unmoving ocean of shamatha.
There are five obstacles (sgrib-pa lnga, five obscurations) preventing the attainment of absorbed concentration:
- Flightiness of mind [to objects of desire] and regret (‘gyod-pa) at not having practiced well
- Malice (gnod-sems), the mental factor of wishing to hurt someone or cause damage – this prevents the realization of a blissful state of mind
- Foggymindedness (rmugs-pa) [a heaviness of body and mind] and sleepiness (gnyid) [an uncontrollable withdrawal of attention] – they prevent clarity (appearance-making)
- Intentions toward objects of desire (‘dod-pa-la ‘dun-pa), when our attention is elsewhere, thinking of schemes to obtain what we find desirable – this prevents mental placement
- Indecisive wavering (the-tshoms, doubt), for example over whether or not we have achieved a proper state of meditation – this prevents stability in meditation.
We can summarize these five obstacles in flightiness of mind and mental dullness.
There are many methods for developing absorbed concentration. Certain methods use an object of focus, such as a Buddha statue or the breath. Others use no object, which means remaining in the natural state of the mind, as inseparable clarity and awareness-voidness. All these methods, when followed properly, lead to the attainment of shamatha.
Vipashyana meditation is divided into two sections:
- The state of mind itself
- Eliminating any basis for confusion.
Prayer to Achieve Vipashyana
Verse 17 is a prayer to achieve the exceptionally perceptive state of mind of vipashyana.
(17) Having looked over and again at the mind that cannot be looked at, and distinctly seen, just as it is, the deepest point that cannot be seen, in a state cut off from wavering whether the deepest point is “this” and “not that,” may (my mind) reflexively know its own face, without confusion.
Having looked over and again at the mind that cannot be looked at. When we seek over and again to find the mind, we cannot find it. [“To look at or for the mind” means to examine the deepest actual nature of the mind to determine if it exists with any of the four extreme modes of existence. When we consider each of the extreme modes, we find that each is false. None of the extreme modes can withstand the analysis: we cannot find a mind that exists in any of the four impossible ways. “The mind that cannot be looked at,” then, means a mind existing in one of the extreme modes. When looked at, such a mind can never be found to exist in that impossible way. In other words, we can never see a mind that exists in that way because that way of existing is impossible.]
So long as we are still wavering about whether or not we can find the mind existing in any of the impossible modes, we will be unable to see the deepest nature of the mind. [So long as we still have doubts that maybe the mind exists in one of the impossible modes of existence, we cannot cognize the deepest nature of mind. We need to cut off all doubts and decisively ascertain that the mind does not exist in such impossible ways.
The impossible modes of existence do not exist at all. If we are still indecisively wavering whether the impossible mode is “this” or “not that,” we will be unable to behold the deepest nature of the mind. Something impossible that doesn’t exist cannot be identified as a “this” and “not a that.” The biological child of a sterile woman cannot be identified as a boy and not a girl. Therefore, to behold the deepest nature of the mind, we need to go beyond conceptual wavering about the impossible modes.]
And distinctly seen, just as it is, the deepest point that cannot be seen. When we have successfully completed our investigation [and are free of all doubts and indecisiveness], we vividly and distinctly (lhag-ge) see, just as it is, the deepest point. In other words, we cognize with certainty the deepest nature of mind-itself.
The deepest nature of mind-itself “cannot be seen” in the sense that it cannot be isolated. [Since mind-itself, as the foundation of all, does not exclude anything, the nature of mind cannot be specified as a conceptually isolated this – in other words, as what is left over when everything “not-mind” has been excluded.]
The mind itself is beyond all physical objects. [The deepest nature of the mind is beyond not only words and concepts that it is “this” and “not that”; it is also beyond being a physical object that can be seen as a “this” and “not that.”] When we consider a physical object, from the viewpoint of its deepest truth, ultimately we cannot find it, but we can find it conventionally [as “this” and “not that.”] However, when we search for the mind, which is not a physical object, we can only see its deepest truth – voidness, which cannot be seen. It is void of any possibility of being found, since it is free of all impossible modes of existence, such as true existence.
[Mind is not a visible physical object that can be conventionally found and seen like our misplaced keys can. The understanding that mind is devoid of existing as a physical object that can be seen, however, is not an understanding of the void nature of the mind. Nor is the understanding that a truly existent mind is devoid of existing as a physical object that can be seen. There is no such thing as a truly existent mind and so whether or not such a mind is physical and visible is not the issue. Understanding voidness is not like understanding that the biological child of a sterile mother does not have blue eyes. The understanding of the void nature of mind is that it is devoid of any impossible mode of existence, such as true existence. Its deepest mode of existence is beyond all such impossible modes.
Moreover, although we can conventionally find and see the biological child of a fertile mother, we cannot conventionally find and see the biological child of a sterile mother. Similarly, we cannot conventionally find and see a truly existent deepest nature of mind.]
In a state cut off from wavering whether the deepest point is “this” and “not that.” The deepest nature of mind is beyond all conceptual categories of “this” and “not that,” beyond all conceptual categories of “being” and “nonbeing.” To ascertain the deepest nature of mind, we need to go beyond wavering about such conceptual categories. Many passages in Saraha’s Treasure House of Songs (Do-ha mdzod, Skt. Dohakosha) stress this point.
[The impossible modes of existence of the mind are beyond existing as a “this” and “not that,” because they do not exist at all. Thus, the impossible modes of existence cannot be known by valid cognition. The deepest nature of the mind is also beyond existing as a “this” and “not that.” The reason for this, however, is different from that concerning impossible modes of existence. The reason here is that the deepest nature of the mind cannot be validly known as a “this” and “not that” because such conceptual categories conceptually imply (zhen-pa, conceptualize) truly existent “this”s and “not that”s. The deepest nature of the mind is not a truly existent anything. Nevertheless, the deepest nature of the mind can be known by valid cognition.]
May (my mind) reflexively know its own face, without confusion. [The deepest nature of mind can be validly known by non-conceptual reflexive deep awareness (rang-rig ye-shes). Mind’s “own face” (rang-ngo) is mind’s deepest nature. Reflexive deep awareness is an aspect of the deepest nature of mind-itself. It reflexively (rang-gis) knows itself because it is “self-aware.”]
To remove confusion and reach the stage at which mind reflexively knows its own face, we need to pass through the stage of understanding what can be found and what cannot be found. [We need to avoid the extremes of nihilism and eternalism.] For this, we need to unify the force of the Gurus’ teachings and the power of the discriminating awareness that arises from our own efforts.
Prayer to Eliminate Any Basis for Confusion
Verse 18 is a prayer to eliminate any remaining confusion so that our attainment of vipashyana on the deepest nature of mind will remain stable:
(18) Having looked at objects, there are no objects – one sees them as mind. Having looked at the mind, there is no mind; it is void by essential nature. Having looked at the two, dualistic grasping releases itself into its own place. May I realize the abiding nature of the mind as clear light.
Having looked at objects, there are no objects – one sees them as mind. [To stabilize our state of vipashyana, we need to reaffirm our realization.] When we look at and for objects, we do not find or see truly existent objects, existing independently of mind. What we see are the appearances of objects. Whether objects of the five types of sensory consciousness or objects of mental consciousness, what we cognize are the cognitive appearances of objects that mind produces in being aware of them.
Having looked at the mind, there is no mind; it is void by essential nature. When we look at and for the mind, we cannot find or see a truly existent mind. As its essential nature (ngo-bo), mind is a voidness [the unified pair awareness-voidness] beyond all words and concepts, beyond all four impossible extreme modes of existence.
Having looked at the two, dualistic grasping releases itself into its own place. When we look at and for the two of them – both mind and its objects – we cannot find or see the two of them arising independently of each other, as truly existent “things.” When we realize this, our grasping for mind and appearances to exist dualistically (gnyis-‘dzin), as two independent truly existent entities, releases itself in its own place (rang-sar grol, “liberates” itself in its own place).
A snake coiled into a knot must unwind. [When it “releases itself,” there is just the snake itself. There is nowhere for the knot to go. Both the coiled and uncoiled snake were nothing more than the snake itself.] In the same way, the mind that is tied into a knot of dualistic grasping must uncoil or release itself into its own place. “Into its own place” means into its own deepest nature as voidness. [The mind tied into a knot of dualistic grasping is still the unified pair awareness-voidness, just as the coiled snake is still a snake. When the mind uncoils, it is still the unified pair awareness-voidness.]
Mind and the appearance of objects have the same taste of voidness and cannot be found. [Mind and the appearances of objects that it produces are both, by essential nature, equally a unified pair awareness-voidness. They cannot be found as anything else.]
We need to understand the voidness of both self and phenomena. [With dualistic grasping, we misconceive consciousness of objects (mind) as a truly existent self or “me” and we misconceive the cognitive appearances of objects as truly existent phenomena.] There is no basis for grasping either as having true existence. Both are devoid of true existence. [Thus, unlike the Chittamatra and Svatantrika-Madhyamaka views that assert a different voidness for the self and phenomena, mahamudra accepts the Prasangika-Madhyamaka position that both are void in the same way.]
The mind that cognizes appearances is cognizing superficial, conventional truth. [The deepest truth is either the unified pair awareness-voidness or the unified pair clarity-voidness, in which clarity is the unified pair appearance-making and appearances, and voidness is the unified pair awareness and voidness.] If we separate deepest and superficial truths [and grasp to them as truly existing independently of each other], we have dualistic grasping. We can gain realization of the unified pair of superficial and deepest truths only by realizing their common basis, which is voidness [mind-itself as awareness-voidness and clarity-voidness, the all-encompassing alaya foundation for everything]. When we realize this, dualistic grasping releases itself into its own place, which is voidness.
We need to remind ourselves that this is a teaching in words and that an actual understanding of it requires deep realization. The power of understanding comes from the teachings and from the power of correct meditation on them. Thus, it is essential to listen to the teachings, think about their meaning, and then, through correct meditation on them, to attain a stable state of vipashyana so that we experience everything described in the teachings ourselves.
May I realize the abiding nature of the mind as clear light. The deepest abiding nature (gnas-lugs) of the mind is clear light (‘od-gsal). This is extremely difficult to understand and actually to achieve. When we read or hear about enlightenment in an instant (skad-cig gcig-gis rdzogs-sangs-rgyas), it refers to enlightenment gained in the instant when we attain the full realization of all we have been discussing. [“Full realization” means that we are able to maintain our realization and attainment of mind-itself without leaving that state ever again.] So long as we have not fully attained this realization, we are not enlightened. Enlightenment in an instant happens only after long practice.
[There are two types of instants: an instant that is the smallest unit of time (dus-mtha’i skad-cig-ma) and an instant that is the final moment or phase when an action is completed (bya-rdzogs-kyi skad-cig-ma). With essence mahamudra, those for whom it happens all at once remove all emotional and cognitive obscurations at once, and achieve seeing pathway minds (path of seeing), accustoming pathway minds (path of meditation), and pathway minds needing no further training (enlightenment) all simultaneously. In the context of essence mahamudra, “enlightenment in an instant” uses the term instant in both meanings: the final moment that completes the path.
The term enlightenment in an instant also occurs in reference to those who progress in stages, as in Maitreya’s Filigree of Realizations (mNgon-rtogs rgyan, Skt. Abhisamayalamkara ). It uses “instant” only in the second sense. The seventh of the eight sets of realizations presented in this text is the realizations applied at the last phase (skad-cig-ma’i sbyor-ba). The term for “last phase” means literally “the instant,” and refers to the final phase of practice that completes the path and thus immediately precedes and brings on the attainment of full enlightenment. This set of realizations encompasses the final realizations gained with the last phase of the tenth-level bhumi stage of a bodhisattva’s accustoming pathway mind.
In either case, both practitioners for whom it happens all at once and those who progress through stages need an enormous amount of practice and huge enlightenment-building networks of positive force and deep awareness in order to achieve enlightenment in an instant.]
Prayer to Realize that the Joined Pair of Shamatha and Vipashyana Is the Same in Various Traditions
Verse 19 is a prayer to realize that the attainment of the joined pair (zung-‘brel) of shamatha and vipashyana is the aim shared by mahamudra, Madhyamaka, and dzogchen.
(19) It is the state parted from taking to mind according to the great seal, mahamudra. According to Madhyamaka, the middle way, it is the state parted from extremes. Dzogchen, the great completeness, calls it also the state incorporating everything. May I gain the self-confidence that knowing one is the realization of the point of all.
The state of the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana is called by various names, according to different lineages – mahamudra, Madhyamaka, and dzogchen. It is the state parted from taking to mind according to the great seal, mahamudra. According to the [sutra] system of mahamudra [expounded by Maitripa in Teachings on Not Taking to Mind, with combined shamatha and vipashyana,] we rest in a state parted from all mental fabrication (spros-bral). This is the meaning of the state parted from taking to mind (yid-byed bral-ba).
[“Taking to mind” or “paying attention” is one of the five ever-functioning subsidiary awarenesses (mental factors) (kun-‘gro lnga). It engages the mind with its object in a certain manner. That manner may be either concordant (tshul-bcas yid-byed) or discordant (tshul-min yid-byed) with the manner in which things actually exist. The four major forms of taking to mind discordantly are to consider the aggregate factors of our experience as static rather than nonstatic, happiness rather than problematic (suffering), clean rather than unclean, and having a truly existent self rather than lacking such a self.]
Joined shamatha and vipashyana is a meditation state parted from any taking to mind in a dualistic manner. Thus, it is parted from any incorrect consideration of the person meditating to be a truly existent self or a truly existent mind and the meditation state or meditation itself to be a truly existent object. When the mind is separated from grasping for any mentally constructed conceptual categories, it is in its natural, spontaneous, uncontrived state. In short, mahamudra meditation is free from taking to mind any mental constructs.
[Here, the Third Karmapa echoes the great Sakya master Togme Zangpo (Thogs-med bzang-po), forty years his elder, who wrote in his 37 Bodhisattva Practices (rGyal-sras lag-len so-bdun-ma), verse 22: “A bodhisattva’s practice is not to take to mind inherent features (mtshan-ma) of objects taken and minds that take them (gzung-‘dzin), by realizing just how things are (de-nyid, thusness). No matter how things appear, they are from our own minds; and mind-itself is, from the beginning, parted from the extremes of mental fabrication.”]
According to Madhyamaka, the middle way, it is the state parted from extremes. In accordance with the Madhyamaka texts of Nagarjuna, joined shamatha and vipashyana is a state parted from grasping for any of the impossible extreme modes of existence: true existence, total nonexistence, both, or neither. It is stilled or parted from any mental fabrications of eternalist extremes such as truly existent arising, ceasing, coming, or going, or grasping for things to exist as one or many truly existent things.
Dzogchen, the great completeness, calls it also the state incorporating everything. The dzogchen system describes joined shamatha and vipashyana as a primally pure state (ka-dag) that spontaneously establishes all appearances (lhun-grub). In this sense, pure awareness (rig-pa) incorporates everything. It is complete with all good qualities, especially the five types of deep awareness (ye-shes lnga): mirror-like, equalizing, individualizing, accomplishing, and sphere of reality (Skt. dharmadhatu) deep awareness.
On the resultant level of a Buddha, pure awareness is complete with the five Corpuses of a Buddha (Buddha-Bodies). In addition to a Nirmanakaya (Corpus of Emanations), Sambhogakaya (Corpus of Full Use), Dharmakaya or Jnana-dharmakaya (Corpus of Deep Awareness Encompassing Everything), and Svabhavakaya (Corpus of Essential Nature), the fifth Corpus of a Buddha is a Vajra Corpus (rdo-rje-i sku) or Immutable Vajra Corpus (mi-‘gyur rdo-rje’i sku). A Vajra Corpus is the immutable or unchanging nature of the other four Corpuses of a Buddha.
[In some other dzogchen presentations, the fifth Corpus of a Buddha is a Corpus of Great Bliss (bde-ba chen-po’i sku). This is reminiscent of the Gelug Kalachakra system in which Svabhavakaya is the great blissful awareness of the omniscient mind of a Buddha. In all other Gelug systems, Svabhavakaya is the voidness of a Buddha’s omniscient mind and its state of being parted (bral-ba) from the two sets of obscurations. This is equivalent to the double purity of a Buddha’s omniscient mind: its natural purity and its attained purity. In yet other dzogchen presentations, the fifth Buddha-Corpus is the Corpus of Deep Awareness' Enlightening Influence (ye-shes ‘phrin-las sku, Wisdom Activity Body).
In still other dzogchen presentations, in addition to the Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, Dharmakaya, and Vajrakaya, there is the Abhisambodhikaya (mngon-byang-gi sku, Corpus of Manifest Enlightenment). In those presentations, the Abhisambodhikaya is the appearance-making factor of the deep awareness of a Buddha’s pure awareness (a Buddha’s omniscient mind). Because all Corpuses of a Buddha are complete in a Buddha’s pure awareness, the Abhisambodhikaya makes Buddha-Corpuses appear in various forms suitable for benefiting others, but without ever moving from Dharmakaya. The Vajra Corpus in these presentations is the voidness factor of the deep awareness of a Buddha’s pure awareness, the single taste and inseparability of all the Corpuses of a Buddha in the sphere of reality.]
May I gain the self-confidence that knowing one is the realization of the point of all. The pure state of full enlightenment achieved through the mahamudra, Madhyamaka, or dzogchen paths is the same. In this sense, if we attain the realization of the point of one system, we attain the point realized through all of them.
This does not mean that the paths of each system are identical. To follow a path to enlightenment requires discriminating awareness of the specific features of that path. The specific feature of mahamudra is parting our minds from mental fabrications. That of Madhyamaka is parting our minds from grasping for any impossible extreme modes of existence. The specific feature of dzogchen is parting our minds from the unawareness that does not recognize the natural purity and completeness of pure awareness.
[Practice of mahamudra, Madhyamaka, and dzogchen are not mutually exclusive, however. To go beyond all mental fabrications through mahamudra and gain the joined shamatha and vipashyana of nonconceptual reflexive deep awareness (rang-rig ye-shes) of voidness beyond all words and concepts requires gaining first a conceptual realization of the voidness of true existence through Madhyamaka logic.
Moreover, there are methods for combining the mahamudra and dzogchen paths into a unified pair of mahamudra and dzogchen (phyag-rdzogs zung-‘jug). Karma Chagmey (Kar-ma Chags-med), for example, wrote A Unified Pair of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, Meaningful to Hear (Phyag-rdzogs zung-‘jug thos-pa don-ldan), based on a pure vision of Avalokiteshvara. With the unified pair, practitioners achieve shamatha and vipashyana, and progress up to just before achieving a seeing pathway mind through the mahamudra methods. They then achieve a seeing pathway mind and proceed from that point to enlightenment through the dzogchen methods of break-through (khregs-chod) and leap-ahead (thod-rgal).]
[See: The Major Facets of Dzogchen]
One of Gampopa’s disciples said, “Discipline means taming the mind.” Discipline (‘dul-ba) is the Tibetan word that also translates the Sanskrit word vinaya (methods for becoming tamed). Vinaya is a topic that deals with the various sets of vows we need to take in order to reach enlightenment: pratimoksha, bodhisattva, and tantric vows. Buddha taught vinaya to help disciples to discipline their minds so that they could eliminate their disturbing emotions and attitudes and have their minds remain in its natural unchanging pristine state.
We can understand the ten levels of bhumi-minds as stages of realization [that arya bodhisattvas progressively attain from their first experience of nonconceptual cognition of voidness up to enlightenment]. The levels of bhumi-minds are stages of realization with which we become increasingly more capable of realizing thoughts to be Dharmakaya and of manifesting Dharmakaya through thoughts. Thoughts are the play (rol-pa) of Dharmakaya, the pure void nature of mind.
[With nonconceptual cognition of voidness, we gain realization of the two truths – inseparable voidness and awareness and inseparable clarity (appearance-making) and appearance. On the resultant level, the level of Buddahood, inseparable voidness and awareness is Dharmakaya. Thoughts, as the play of Dharmakaya, and thus as inseparable clarity and appearance, are Rupakaya (Form Body, Corpus of Forms). During total absorption, Dharmakaya is more prominent. During subsequent attainment periods, the play of Dharmakaya is more prominent. Through the ten levels of bhumi-minds, we progress to enlightenment, at which point Dharmakaya and Rupakaya are equally prominent at all times and forever.]
The process of progressing through the ten levels of bhumi-minds is one of discipline, namely taming the mind to recognize and realize the three Buddha-bodies in each thought. [Rupakaya consists of Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya. Thus, the three Buddha-bodies are Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya.]Within the inseparability of everything in primordial voidness, [mind-itself as Svabhavakaya, the inseparability of the two truths], is the alaya all-encompassing foundation of everything. In terms of that, Dharmakaya arises as deepest level mind or awareness. Sambhogakaya arises as clarity (appearance-making), which enables superficial, conventional truth (appearance) and valid cognition of superficial truth. Nirmanakaya arises as well, as manifest appearances. Through the levels of the bhumi-minds, arya bodhisattvas recognize and realize the three Buddha-bodies as the inseparable facets of every thought.
Gampopa described the methods for cutting false conceptual cognitions about the “I” as “that which uproots.” To reach the essential nature of mind, we need to cut all false conceptual cognitions that interpolate or repudiate. We need to cut off and root out all false conceptual cognitions of impossible extreme modes of existence. Vinaya, as the methods for becoming tamed, is the mind. Cutting or eliminating is also the mind. All is encompassed by the mind.
The pacifier (zhi-byed) tradition, which traces from the Indian master Padampa Sanggyay (Pha-dam-pa Sangs-rgyas), teaches the pacification of confused ideas that misconceive and distort the nature of reality. These misconceptions release themselves into their own place and thus we are left with mind-itself. All these traditions [mahamudra, Madhyamaka, dzogchen, and pacifier] merely use different terms to describe the same realization. The methods taught by each of these traditions enable the identical attainment.