What You Will Learn in Each Lesson
Maintaining the View
“The natural, ordinary state has to be cultivated and worked with in three ways. The first way is by not preparing too much. It is by cutting off our preconceptions of the past. The second way is by not expecting a greater flash. It is by cutting off our preconceptions of the future. The third way is by not holding on to our present flash experience. It is by cutting our preconceptions of the present. We simply rest our mind, this very ordinary mind of nowness.”—Chögyam Trungpa, from The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness, Chapter 56: Ground Mahamudra
The word “mahamudra” can be translated as “great symbol”—but what is it a symbol of? We’ll begin this course by exploring this question, along with other key tenets of the mahamudra view. We’ll establish some context for the mahamudra teachings: its lineage holders, its place in the landscape of Tibetan Buddhism, and the particular approach of Chögyam Trungpa in presenting it to his Western students.
“In meditation practice, discipline is not how many hours you sit; it is your total involvement in the practice. In shamatha, body, speech, and mind are completely and totally involved in the sitting practice. In vipashyana, there is also total involvement of body, speech, and mind; in addition, you are also completely aware of the environment around you. When you are involved so much that there is no longer an individual entity left to watch itself, that is the shunyata, or ‘emptiness’ level of practice.”—Chögyam Trungpa, from The Path of Individual Liberation, Chapter 24: The Basic Minimum
When we try to pin down reality, to make it solid, we lose touch with its dynamic nature. The challenge of holding the mahamudra view is that we have a habitual tendency of doing just that. Shamatha-vipashyana meditation gives us the ability to work with that very tendency as we train our mind to open outward. In this lesson, we’ll explore this practice as a means of connecting with reality more fully and directly.
Wisdom and Compassion
“When you look at your own mind beyond the perceptual level alone—which you can’t actually do, but you pretend to do—you find that there is nothing there, and you realize that there is nothing to hold on to. So your mind is unborn. At the same time, your mind is insightful because you still perceive things. You should contemplate these things by looking into who is actually perceiving dharmas as dreams.”—Chögyam Trungpa, from The Bodhisattva Path of Wisdom and Compassion, Chapter 36: Point Two: Resting in Ultimate Bodhichitta
It is said that bodhisattvas thrive in a world that’s full of suffering, the way a lotus blossoms out of the mud. How is it that this path can help us arouse deeper compassion for the pain we encounter, even as we discover a more profound sense of joy? In this lesson, we’ll explore the key aspects of the mahayana path, which joins wisdom and compassion, love and emptiness.
The World of Mahamudra
“Dzogrim is a way of making yourself completely naked. . . .In dzogrim, the word naked does not mean being purely harmless or indulging in good living; it means being unconditioned by expectations or conceptualizations of any kind.”—Chögyam Trungpa, from The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness, Chapter 49: The Great Symbol
Our discomfort with things as they are causes us to perpetually manufacture a reality of our own making. But what if we could just drop all that on the spot? What if we could perceive the vividness of ordinary reality, and rest with the dreamlike arising of each moment? In this lesson, we’ll learn how mahamudra enables us to cut through the smallness of our habitual mind with the vastness of space. (And if that sounds confusing, you are on the right track!)
Gentleness and Devotion
“The mahamudra experience depends on devotion alone. As it is said in the texts: great devotion brings great practice; medium devotion brings medium practice; and small devotion brings small practice.”—Chögyam Trungpa, from The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness, Chapter 50: Devotion: The Essential Prerequisite for Mahamudra
In the West, the notion of having a guru is particularly provocative. How do we make a connection to a teacher who challenges us to surrender our ego while still maintaining our critical intelligence? Chögyam Trungpa talked about nontheistic devotion as joining warmth and cynicism. In this lesson, we’ll explore the role of the vajra master in introducing us to sacred outlook.
The Four Yogas of Mahamudra
“In the final mahamudra experience, any phenomenal experience you involve yourself with is seen as a working basis. Sights, smells, touchable objects, and mental contents are all seen as expressions of your particular deity or yidam. There is complete, total involvement, total openness beyond any limitations or hesitations. Therefore, you do not have to meditate. . . .Because everything is so vivid already, it is self-existing meditation.”—Chögyam Trungpa, from The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness, Chapter 57: Path Mahamudra: The Experience of Meditation
When we release the tightness of our mind, we make space for insight to enter. We can cut through the confusion that distorts our awareness, using practice and skillful means to gradually peel away the layers of what blinds us. In this final lesson, we’ll discuss in more detail how shamatha-vipashyana is the most important tool for glimpsing mahamudra. It’s not just about cultivating mindfulness-awareness. It is a means for connecting with reality.