13. The Natural State of Mahāmudrā


A Dharma Teaching by His Holiness Rimay Gyalten Sogdzin Rinpoche


Section 13


The Natural State of Mahāmudrā

A Teaching by H.H. Rimay Gyalten Rinpoche


In the beginning, we all learn about cause and condition, how all things are created by causes or conditions. Those fortunate enough to be connected with the Path of Mahāmudrā also learn about the ground, the path, and the attainment.

To remind us to avoid the extremes, help us see the bigger picture with more opened mind, and keep our mind on the goal rather than the means along the Mahāmudrā Path, the following is a popular and profound teaching that is often taught on the subject. The nature of our mind cannot be realized simply by being taught, as it is beyond words and intellectual comprehension. It needs to be realized through taking a path on our own, a middle path between the extremes. Avoiding the extremes, as far as progressing along the path is concerned, is like not closing our eyes when we are trying to see something.

In Mahāmudrā :

There is no Cause, but faith and devotion are the causes of Mahāmudrā

There is no Condition, but the holy Guru is the Condition of Mahāmudrā

There is no Ground, but the unmodified mind is the Ground of Mahāmudrā

There is no Path, but the undistracted mind is the Path of Mahāmudrā

There is no Attainment, but the self-liberation of mind into reality is the Attainment of Mahāmudrā.



No Cause, but faith and devotion are the causes

We have been told that everything that happens is a result of cause and condition. But here it is said that Mahāmudrā has no cause. Does it mean that it has no cause; then nothing will come to fruition? No. When it comes to Mahāmudrā, it is already everything; nothing needs to become something else. Mahāmudrā is beyond cause. You cannot cause Mahāmudra. Saying something is the cause of Mahāmudrā, is like saying that your body is the cause of the space the body is in. Space has always been there, unchanging, unmoved, like Mahāmudrā.

When we talk about causes, we refer to something like seeds that we plant in order to grow something. That something has to come from somewhere; something must have arisen, been produced, occurred, taken place, or given birth. That something is always limited by our concept of it. And Mahāmudrā is beyond any concept of ‘something.’  In Mahāmudrā nothing is produced, changed, or has truly occurred. It is beyond birth and it is the natural state that is not and cannot be governed by any conceptual theories that can be intellectually explained. It just isn’t a thing. It is so pure and natural that no cause can or needs to exist. It is simply all within Dharmakaya -- no form, no formlessness, no room for causes, it cannot be influenced by conditions, nothing can come from it, and there is nowhere it can go.

The point of this reminder is to keep us from being too attached to causes, the concept of causes, or the need to find causes for everything. At the same time, try to get a glimpse of the natural state which is vast and empty like space and beyond cause.

But if there is no cause, how do we reach enlightenment? Do we, or does anyone, just sit there and wait for enlightenment to drop into our laps? Is there nothing that we can do, no seed that we can plant? How can it come to fruition? Of course we do not just sit and wait for luck. We do need to have a cause. But is that a contradiction? No. Perhaps we can say that there is a cause required to lead us to the realization of the causeless natural state of Mahāmudrā . Faith and devotion are the causes. Have faith in what? Have faith in the Three Jewels and the Three Roots. Have faith in the Buddha and his pure intentions to show us and continue to show us the way to liberation, have faith in the absolute truth of the Dharma without doubt, have faith in receiving all the support we need from the noble sangha, have faith in the compassion, wisdom, and ability of our guru, have faith in the swift, effective, and positive attainment the Yidams can bring us, and have faith in fully trusting and relying on the protection from the Dharmapalas. Have devotion to what? Have devotion to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. Have devotion to the Three Jewels and the Three Roots. If we do not have faith and devotion, Mahāmudrā is useless to us, no seed is planted, no recognition, no realization, no fruition. So they are the causes in Mahāmudrā.


No Condition, but the holy Guru is the Condition

Just like no causes, there cannot be conditions in Mahāmudrā. Mahāmudrā is beyond condition, beyond any concept of condition. It is so pure and natural it cannot produce or be produced by any conditions. You cannot change it, improve it, damage it, or distort it. It is totally immune to any condition that we can think of. Just like nothing can take root in space, while everything is within space.

Again the point is that, emptiness is emptiness and Mahāmudrā is beyond limits, it is beyond being bound by our concept of conditions that we impose on our view of reality. It does not need conditions, and yet it is all conditions.

But without conditions, how do we or anybody, get from here to liberation. Of course we do need conditions, a vehicle to take us there. Or we can say proper conditions are essential to lead us to the realization of Mahāmudrā, which itself is beyond conditions. That is our holy Guru, the representation, and the only representation or living presence of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha that we, at this stage, can recognize, relate to, make connection to, and gain anything from. So our Guru is the condition in Mahāmudrā , without whom no fruition can come.


No Ground, but the unmodified mind is the Ground

The ground, also called the foundation or basis, generally refers to the principles, the beliefs, and the whole truth that Buddhism is based on. They include, in the beginning, principles of reincarnation, six realms of samsara, emptiness, non-existence of phenomena, illusory appearances, and all the right views and so on. We have been told of the importance of these principles as a foundation of everything, of all practices, that are built on it. If we do not believe in any one of these principles, nothing we do as a Buddhist would make sense, and nothing we do would work.

Now then why does it say Mahāmudrā has no ground? Does that mean all the principles are false or do not apply in Mahāmudrā? It is the exact opposite. The point is again to show that Mahāmudrā is beyond ground, beyond conceptual principles. Although all the principles are truthful, without doubt, they are still limited by labels and concepts that we have grown accustomed to. Mahāmudrā is beyond these limits.

So in Mahāmudrā all these principles, or the ground, are still very valid. Only in Mahāmudrā they are imprinted in our mind so deeply through practice that they need not be given a second thought. That is why the unmodified mind is the ground in Mahāmudrā . How unmodified? It is the total faithful acceptance of these principles as essential without needing to think about it, question it, or justify it. We do not question why fire is hot and ice is cold. We just know. Same thing with these principles, nothing can change that, the mind just knowing, the mind is unmodified. We begin by accepting these principles, and upon analysis and meditating on them we gain realization, and these principles which we previously just learned about, become part of simply knowing. Later on perhaps, more advanced practitioners will become accustomed to meditating on reality, realizing no difference between meditating and post-meditation, they will see all phenomena and reality as pure experience of Dharmakaya. This is a mind that has become stable, vast, natural, relaxed, non-seeking, non-self, unchanging, and unmodified.


No Path, but the undistracted mind is the Path

Having understood the Ground, with all the principles, how do we transform this ‘knowing’ into realization? Science proved to us that fire is hot. Faith let us know that fire is Empty. But still this is knowing, and not a direct experience of the Empty Nature in the appearance of the fire. Such process of transformation is often referred to as the path, and the main substance of it is meditation. That is, meditate on these principles and other experiences until you see them, until realization occur beyond the conceptual level. There are other practices, or rules to observe, such as the Six Perfections and Noble Eightfold Path that are considered part of the Path in general. In Mahāmudrā, the Path delves deeper into the working of the mind, finding the nature of it, where stability, concentration, non-grasping, non-seeking, recognizing Emptiness in Reality, as it is, and other similar practices are developed.

As you can see, these are important trainings that even Buddha has said would lead to Liberation. But why tell people that there is no Path? Are these practices useless, ignored in Mahāmudrā? Again there is a Path that must be taken; in order to lead us to the ultimate Mahāmudrā, and that path itself is beyond any Path that we can intellectually comprehend.

Meditation is good, essential, but attachment to one kind of meditation is not so good. At best it will bring us to the form or the formless realm. So it is helpful to be reminded that in Mahāmudrā there is no Path. The point is also that Mahāmudrā is beyond any Path that we can label or conceptualize. And whatever Path we are taking, meditation or other way of practices, are still only the means and not the final goal. A commonly told Buddhist story is that, Liberation is like reaching the other shore across the river. The boat that is taking us across is the Path. If we are too attached to the boat or mistaken a part of the boat as the other shore, we will never reach the other shore. The boat itself has no part in the other shore; it is not the shore, just as the Path has no part in Enlightenment itself, or in Mahāmudrā. The Path is not Mahāmudra. At the stage of non-meditation, Mahāmudrā has nothing to meditate on, no object, no subject, not a thing as we know it. At that stage there is no Path. Another aspect of this reminder is to focus on selflessness in our practice. If there is no-self, then who is taking the Path? If no one is taking the Path, is there a Path?

That is the natural state of Mahāmudrā where there is no Path. But how do we get to that natural state, and what happens in that state? There is another popular story where a jealous yogi who meditated day and night like a rock, challenged a very popular high Master. He asked the Master, “Why is it that I meditate day and night, but I hardly see you meditate at all? How can you call yourself a High Master?” The master replied, “Although you do not see me sitting like you do, when was I ever distracted?” There were suggestions that Milarepa has said this. The perfect post-meditation state is the undistracted mind.

How does a mind become distracted? Usually it is distracted by ignorance, not knowing, attachment to appearance that is illusory, and all the emotions that originate from these. This is not a suggestion that we should ignore appearances and emotion and pretend nothing happens. It is the opposite. Reality is emptiness and the path is reality, is emptiness. We should observe its true nature, its true expression, not in the worldly sense of good and bad, but in the vast open Emptiness of Dharmakaya. How do we make the mind undistracted? Practice, be aware, and be mindful. Be mindful of what? Be mindful of our body, our mind, our feelings, and all external appearances. Be aware of what? Be aware of the Empty Nature of all things. What is an undistracted mind? It is a Mind of Enlightenment, a mind that sees appearances are emptiness, or in fact, sees no difference between emptiness, appearances, and form, just as the Heart Sutra said, “Emptiness is Form and Form is Emptiness.” An undistracted mind is a mind that is focused and concentrated, but relaxed and effortless. It is a mind that is in the natural state of stable meditation without the meditation, a state of non-meditation.


No Attainment, but the self-liberation of mind into reality is the Attainment

Attainment in Mahāmudrā is the result of having a cause and taking the Path. A transformation has occurred; mind is liberated from the fixation on conceptualized appearances. Freedom is achieved beyond hope and fear, concepts and labels.

No attainment; here does not mean Mahāmudrā fails to achieve such a Liberated State. Not only it does not fail, it achieves beyond any concept of attainment. And does it mean that we gain nothing in Mahāmudrā? In a sense that is true. If we follow the logic in no cause and no Path, how can it be attainment? According to that, nothing is gained, nothing is changed; there is nothing to be liberated from. If we have to find a ‘thing’ to call it successfully attaining something, that ‘thing’ has always been there. That is our Buddha-Nature. It can never be changed, and nothing can be added to or be taken away from it. If it has always been there and we are just returning to that nature, we attain nothing additionally. So there is no attainment.

Does that mean that we space out into nothingness in Mahāmudrā? Is that the idea? Of course it is not. Although nothing is gained, a transformation has taken place. One may argue that if we have a transformation, something is gained. Over the years as we age we are transformed through maturing and gained a little wisdom and insight at least in the worldly sense. Is that not a gain? But we must get beyond the concept of something being gained in the practice of Mahāmudrā. That ‘seeking’ mentality is not productive. It will only further cover up our true nature. So it is better to look at these transformations as nothing gained. When we recover from an illness we gain nothing as we were healthy to begin with. When we recover from our ignorance we also gain nothing as ignorance was never our true nature to begin with. Even then, our Buddha-Nature is still beyond a ‘thing.’ It is a non-thing. So what we gained is non-gain, an attainment of non-attainment.

Then what does it mean that Self-Liberation of Mind into Reality is the attainment in of Mahāmudrā? Whether we consider Liberation is a gain or not, which is dictated by our concept of ‘gain’, there is still a true transformation whichever way we look at it. This transformation turns our mind into something different from before even though nothing is gained. This mind is now liberated from the misconception of reality and the attachment to such illusions. At the same time it realizes the true nature of reality as a pure experience of Dharmakaya. So this is what shall become of our minds in Mahāmudrā and this is what is attained in the natural state of Mahāmudrā.

H.H. Drubgen Yizhin Norbu said:

I have shown you the methods, the true Path that will lead you to Liberation or complete Enlightenment. But you should know, Liberation depends totally on you.

Tilopa said:

Without change, rest loose in the primordial state;

There is no doubt that your bonds will loosen…

You will discover the path of Buddha, when there is no path of meditation.

By meditating on non-meditation, you will attain the supreme bodhi

If you would attain the realization of transcendent mind and non-action,

Then cut the root of mind and let consciousness remain naked.

Let the polluted water of mental activities clear…

If there is no accepting or rejecting, then you are liberated in the Mahāmudrā.

Indrabodhi said:

This Ultimate Reality

Is also called the Supreme Indestructible Awareness

And the Universal Excellence

It is also known as the “Great Seal” (Mahāmudrā)

Understand this as being Dharmakaya

Maitripa said:

Mahāmudrā is non-dual awareness that transcends intellect; it is non-conceptual, lucid, like all-pervading space. Though manifesting boundless compassion, it is devoid of Self-Nature… It is lucid and beyond words, without center or circumference, unstained, undefiled, and free from fear and desire. Like the dream of a mute, it is inexpressible.

Milarepa said:

Mental projections way outnumber the dust motes you see in the sunlight; 
A great yogi knows what appears for what it is. 

At bottom (ultimately), the nature of things isn’t a product of causes, nor of conditions 
A great yogi cuts to the core of the issue.

Even a hundred men with spears couldn’t stop the thought-bubbles of consciousness; 
A great yogi knows not to get hung up on them.

You can’t lock up the flow of mind in an iron box; 
A great yogi knows mind to be intrinsically empty. 

Wisdom gods and goddesses don’t say no to sensory pleasures; 
A great yogi knows this full well. 

The Buddha himself couldn’t block the appearance of objects to  consciousness; 
A great yogi knows there is no object behind the appearance

I am Mahāmudrā, (Appearances are just appearances, they do not imply the existence of a hidden separate “self”, a “someone” or a “something” that is appearing. Mahāmudrā is the non-dual realization of the identity of emptiness and appearances. From the enlightened point of view, Mahāmudrā is all-encompassing. )

There’s no higher, other nature.

I let my awareness settle without fixation.

Because there’s no difference between meditation and post-meditation,

I don’t get into “levels”  of meditation.

Because whatever appears is Empty of Self-Nature,

I stay mindful and do neither apprehension nor non-apprehension.

I’ve tasted the flavor of no-arising, (The realization of Mahāmudrā recognizes Emptiness, the absence of any “self” or inherently existing separate thing, everywhere. It is the truth of all conditions, and of no condition. What arises is ultimately not different than no-arising.)

I’ve meditated on Suchness,

And these are superior to all the others--

Superior to tantric karmamudra,

To practices with the energies, channels, and seed essence of the body,

To mantra recitation and deity visualization,

To meditations on love, compassion, joy or equanimity,

All of which are mere introductions to the great vehicle

And do not wipe out anger and attachment.

Understand that all appearances are not different from mind

And that mind itself is empty.

If you stay with this experience, this realization,

You’ll complete your practices, ethics and all.

When I meditate on Mahāmudrā,

I rest without effort in the natural state

I rest undistracted in a relaxed state

I rest lucid in Emptiness

I rest aware in Bliss

I rest easy in non-thought

I rest unperturbed in diversity.

This very mind which rests as I just said

Is a mosaic of knowledge in an endless display

Brought to light just like that, the easy way.

No more hunger for results -- I feel good!

No hopes and fears, no duality -- I feel happy!

Confusion flashing as Wisdom -- I like it!

By  H.H. Rimay Gyalten Rinpoche