12. Mahāmudrā


A Dharma Teaching by His Holiness Rimay Gyalten Sogdzin Rinpoche


Section 12



A Dharma Teaching by H.H. Rimay Gyalten Sogzin Rinpoche.

Nothing moves but the mind.

Recognize the Nature of Mind:

Realize it to be Empty,

Relax in Awareness.


I pray to the Holy Root-Guru, who combines all Sources of Refuge in one, who is the Embodiment of the Three Jewels, the Three Roots, all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Dakas and Dakinis, and Dharma Protectors:

I pray, please bestow the blessings that cause all sentient beings, as many as the limitless sky, to turn their minds towards the Holy Dharma.

I pray, please bestow the blessings that keep us on the perfect path of the Holy Dharma.

I pray, please bestow the blessings that remove all confusion from the Path.

I pray, please bestow the blessings that transform all obstacles into Primordial Wisdom and Compassion.

May my body, speech and mind be of benefit to all sentient beings.

When we work on Mahāmudrā, we are working on our own mind, which in essence is to mix with the minds of all sentient beings.

The mind exists without any deceit, bias, favor, or taste.  It is immediately present for everyone.  Therefore the opportunity to directly recognize the nature of mind and discover the joyfulness of an awakened mind is available to all beings in possession of the proper conditions. Traditionally, these conditions are referred to as the “Freedoms and Advantages”. The great Indian Saint, Nagarjuna, lists them plainly as follows:

“Born a human, in a central place (a place where the Buddha’s teachings are available) with all one’s faculties, without a conflicting lifestyle and with faith in the Dharma.”

These factors, or conditions, support the practice of Dharma.

Since the time of the Buddha, his disciples have gathered his teachings and passed them on, one to another, creating Lineages of Buddhist thought and realization. The Lineage of this teaching comes from the Karma Kagyu Lineage, which was brought to Tibet in the 11th century by Marpa, an extraordinarily spiritually motivated man. Marpa traveled on three separate occasions to India in order to receive teachings from Indian Masters including Naropa, a Mahasiddha, who was taught by the unequalled Tilopa. Tilopa traveled to pure realms in order to receive teachings on the nature of mind from Vajradhara, the primordial Buddha and source of all the Tantras. So from Vajradhara, Tilopa, Naropa, and Marpa, we have the beginnings or roots of the Karma Kagyu, or Whispered Lineage, of Vajrayana Buddhism.

We will be discussing the text, or Upadesha (Upadesha means a text of practical instruction which grew from the Shastras, or commentaries of the Lord Buddha’s teachings) called the Mahāmudrā Upadesha. Tilopa first gave Naropa these instructions on the banks of the Ganges River in India nearly one thousand years ago.

The first stanza in the text says:

Although Mahāmudrā cannot be taught, intelligent and patient Naropa, tolerant of suffering, who is engaged in austerity and is devoted to the Guru, fortunate one, take this to heart, do this with your mind.

Naropa underwent Twelve Major and Twelve Minor hardships while attending to Tilopa. Therefore Tilopa acknowledged Naropa’s austerity and tolerance of suffering. Furthermore, through Naropa’s devotion and faith in his Root-Guru, he is said to be fortunate. I think if one has faith and devotion to the Root-Guru then one is fortunate. Because he is fortunate or worthy, possessing faith, respect, and devotion toward his teacher, Tilopa instructed him directly by saying, “fortunate one, do this with your mind”.

Tilopa’s presentation of the Mahāmudrā in this instruction consists of Seven Topics. These Seven Topics are 1. The View of Mahāmudrā; 2. The Conduct of Mahāmudra ; 3. The Meditation of Mahāmudrā; 4. samaya of Mahāmudrā ; 5. Benefits of Mahāmudrā practice; 6. The defect of not practicing Mahāmudrā, and 7. How to actual practice Mahāmudrā.

The first of these topics is the View. With the correct View the Ground will be revealed, it will arise. Ground means the Ground where everything occurs, where everything arises or appears.  In short it is the Nature of Things.

The Ground can be pointed out by the View in two ways. These are the Common View and the Uncommon View. The Common View uses the intellect and logic to determine that Emptiness is the nature of all things. Before Naropa met Tilopa, he was engaged in the Common View of book learning and academic study. The Uncommon View, which is the view of the Mahāmudrā Upadesha, uses direct experience to realize truth. This view (Uncommon View) appears directly from the mind and therefore is not subject to the relative truth, which is the domain of the intellect. The intellect is confused and unsure; it cannot escape its own confusion and uncertainty. In the Uncommon View one looks directly at one’s own mind to determine its nature. This is using direct experience or direct realization to arrive at the Authentic Nature of Things. This is the special characteristic of Mahāmudrā.

We see that because Mahāmudrā’s view is of direct valid experience, it has a unique quality that Tilopa presents by saying, “Although Mahāmudrā cannot be taught…

Because Mahāmudrā is the Absolute Truth, it cannot be expressed or described with words or concepts.  Shantideva supports this view with his words, “Absolute Truth is not an object of the intellect, because the intellect itself is a relative truth.” Since the intellect contains the stain of ignorance and relativity, it cannot experience Absolute Truth or the nature of mind that exists beyond relative learning.

The intellect can achieve a great deal but the intellect is always limited or experiences things through the falseness of the ego. Therefore it never gets things straight. The intellect, no matter how much intelligence it possesses, can only see things in a deluded way. So you cannot trust or use the intellect to experience Mahāmudrā. Because of this Mahāmudrā cannot be described by using words or concepts. The only thing you can do is practice meditation, rely on the Root-Guru, and allow innate wisdom, which is always aware of itself, to arise and appear.

Tilopa says:  

For example, in space what is resting on what?

Tilopa employed the example of space to illustrate something about the Ground of Mahāmudrā. We know that space is a physical expanse. Space allows other things to be present. Everything appears in space but space is nothing in and of itself. Space does not require any kind of support nor does it rest on or in anything. Therefore space cannot support anything else. Space is space. Things can only rest within space, not on space or outside of space. In the same way, because Mahāmudrā is emptiness or the absence of solidity or substantiality of the mind, it therefore cannot be shown. Because it is not anything, there is nothing that can be point at and say, “That is Mahāmudrā.”

Tilopa says,

In one’s mind, Mahāmudrā, there is nothing to be shown.

So what is the point of us being here, if there is nothing I can say about it? What can we do? The next line tells us,

Rest relaxed in the natural state without attempting to alter anything.

This instruction is poignant, and important, because it tells us to let go of our thinking, logical mind and exist as our natural, primordial mind, our naked mind. It means to stop stirring the waters and let everything settle and be just as it is. When we can do this we will experience Mahāmudrā, definitely.

The great Master Saraha said the mind is like a wish-fulfilling jewel, in that, if we attend to the mind, our awareness and understanding of the nature of things will be perfected. Thus the mind is the key to understanding the nature of everything. The problem is we are too involved with our mundane mind, or our ego mind. We think our thoughts are our mind. Thoughts, truly, are miracles of the mind but thoughts are not the totality, or the essential nature of the mind.  Is this clear? Just let it be. Let the being be in the being. Trust your mind to be what it is.  Even if it is nothing, let it be nothing. And if it is something then let it be something.

One might ask, “How do I do this? What do I do with thoughts when they prevent me from resting in my mind?” Tilopa’s answer to this question is:

… it is like looking in the middle of the sky and not seeing anything. In the same way, when your mind looks at your mind, thoughts stop and you attain unsurpassable awakening.

This means regardless of what arises in your mind, if you look directly at it (with your mind) then it will dissolve. When thoughts appear they do so by arising, remaining, and dissolving. At any point, if you look directly at a thought it will dissolve back into the mind. Because it (a thought) has no substantiality or substance, awareness of it will cause it to dissolve. When we cultivate this practice we will eventually become liberated from our thoughts and this will lead us to unsurpassable awakening. This is what Tilopa meant when he says,

If this fetter or bondage of thought is loosened,

there is no doubt that you will be Liberated.

Remember that even the great Masters and Mahasiddhas were once ordinary practitioners, who through their great effort and watchfulness attained the unsurpassable state of awakening and captured the indestructible Vajra-Mind. In the same way we should walk the Path toward Liberation. When we put these teachings into practice, when we put this watchfulness into our practice, then gradually we will find some good results, some freedom from samsara. We can never be watchful enough of our mind. Milarepa said when we watch our thoughts we see our mind.

Maybe you think it is impossible to watch your mind, but it is your mind and you can look at it anytime you want. My Most Precious Root-Guru, His Holiness 8th Drubgen Yizhin Norbu always said, “With Dharma, the impossible becomes possible.” And you see, being watchful of our mind, or having mindfulness, is Dharma, where anything and everything is possible. 

My Heartfelt Wish for Everyone

 May the Glorious Blessing of the Root-Guru enter the mind of beings, so there is no more fear in any moment, not even the moment of dying.


May the Glorious Blessing of the Root-Guru enter the mind of beings, so there is no more attachment to worldly achievement.


May the Glorious Blessing of the Root-Guru enter the mind of beings, so everyone has the wisdom to gracefully manage all difficulties.


May the Glorious Blessing of the Root-Guru enter the mind of beings, so that no one will lose their way in life.


May the Glorious Blessing of the Root-Guru enter the mind of beings, so every one can awaken Bodhicitta.


May the Glorious Blessing of the Root-Guru enter the mind of beings, so every one feels confident of reaching Enlightenment, and no one will ever be stopped by any kind of misfortune or obstacles.

For the Glorious Blessing of my Root-Guru, I have nothing to repay but can only spend my whole life doing good things for all beings, in order to never be separated from my Perfect Guru and live in the Glorious Blessing of my Perfect Root-Guru life after life.

This has been translated from Tibetan into English by Trime Yeshe.