How Gampopa Combined the Kadampa and Mahamudra Streams into One

Gampopa was famous for combining the Kadampa and mahamudra streams of teachings into one (bKa’-phyag chu-bo gcig-‘dres). After becoming a monk, he first studied with several Kadampa masters and received their stream of teachings from Geshe Potowa. Then, after meeting Milarepa, he received from him the mahamudra

Long ago, Karag Gomchung (Kha-rag sgom-chung) and Potowa (Po-to-ba) used to live on opposite mountains facing each other to the left and right. At that time, the two of them, Karag Gomchung and Potowa, had no connection with each other. However, Potowa thought that Karag Gomchung was an extremely persevering, great meditator, but he didn’t know what kind of good qualities he had or didn’t have. Nevertheless, he thought that if he came seeking me, it would be good if he received teachings from me.

One day, they met each other at a large gathering. On that occasion, Potowa said to Karag Gomchung, “You are an extremely persevering, great meditator. What do you meditate on?” To that, Karag Gomchung replied, “I meditate on impermanence, the drawbacks of compulsive samsaric existence and the thoughts that turn the mind away (blo-log-pa).” He then explained that reversing one’s attitude (blo-zlog) entails meditation on:

  1. Turning your mind away from this lifetime
  2. Turning your mind away from the happinesses of compulsive samsaric existence
  3. Turning your mind away from accomplishing only your own purposes
  4. Turning your mind away from grasping for truly established existence.

Realizing that Karag Gomchung was a Kadampa master who had a great deal of meditation practice, Potowa then requested Karag Gomchung to be patient with his arrogance of having previously thought that except for this Karag Gomchung being a meditator, what kind of meditator could he possibly be?” He told him, “You have extremely great qualities, and your meditation practice is extremely excellent.” Potowa adopted these Kadampa practices himself and transmitted them further to Gampopa. This was the Kadampa stream.

Gampopa received what has become known as the “four themes of Gampopa” (dvags-po chos-bzhi) as the mahamudra stream from his Kagyu teacher, Milarepa. They are in one of the Songs of Milarepa:

I request inspiration for myself and all limited beings to have our minds go toward the Dharma. I request inspiration for us to have the Dharma function as a pathway mind. I request inspiration for us to have our pathway minds eliminate confusion. I request inspiration for us to purify confusion into deep awareness.

I request inspiration to purify away all the emotional obscurations of my karmic impulses and disturbing emotions and my cognitive obscurations concerning all knowables, together with their constant habits. I request inspiration to purify them away right now. I request inspiration to purify them away on this very spot where I sit. I request inspiration to purify them away in this very session.

I request inspiration to liberate this mental continuum. I request inspiration to liberate it right now. I request inspiration to liberate it on this very spot where I sit. I request inspiration to liberate it in this very session.

I request inspiration to develop on my mental continuum undistorted, supreme absorbed concentration. I request inspiration to develop it right now. I request inspiration to develop it on this very spot where I sit. I request inspiration to develop it in this very session.

I request inspiration to develop undistorted, supreme deep awareness. I request inspiration to develop it right now. I request inspiration to develop it on this very spot where I sit. I request inspiration to develop it in this very session.

Gampopa practiced what Milarepa sang in this song. In general, what is called “having the mind go toward the Dharma” refers to having the mind go toward the Dharma based on not clinging to this lifetime. As for the request for inspiration to have the Dharma function as a pathway mind, the Dharma is not functioning as a pathway mind if you cling to and are attached to uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence. If you are a Dharma practitioner, when it is said that you need to have the Dharma function as a pathway mind, it means you need to abandon this samsaric existence. It is said that you need to be someone who leaves aside samsaric activities and has no clinging to sensory desires. It is said that you cannot have the Dharma function as a pathway mind if you cling to and are attached to samsaric existence.

As for the request to have the pathway minds eliminate confusion, when you are meditating on the pathway minds, if you ask what the confusion on the pathway minds is, it is being concerned about only your own purposes. These pathway minds need to be for accomplishing, with a bodhichitta aim for the sake of others, what will be of benefit to self and others. Except for that, if they are only concerned about gaining a peaceful state for yourself alone, they are said to be incorrect pathway minds.

Having confusion dawn as deep awareness means not having any grasping. No matter what disturbing emotions dawn – longing desire, hostility, or naivety – if you recognize the face of the essential natures of what has arisen and then let them settle themselves into their own grounds, what happens is that they come to automatically release themselves. They purify themselves into the five deep awarenesses.

In this way, the Kadampa four thoughts that turn the mind away and the mahamudra four themes of Gampopa are not only combined into one stream, but also they accord with the “parting from the four clingings” (zhen-pa bzhi-bral) teaching of the Sakyas, as elaborated by Dragpa Gyaltsen (Grags-pa rgyal-mtshan):

  1. If there is clinging to this life, it is not Dharma
  2. If there is clinging to samsaric existence, it is not renunciation, the determination to be free
  3. If there is clinging to one’s own purposes, it is not bodhichitta
  4. If there is holding on to grasping, it is not the view.

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