Mahāmudrā: Part Four





In his commentary on the Cutting of the I, Paṇchen Lama Losang Chökyi Gyältsen writes,

I prostrate to the guru the special deity.

So in that text[1] he again first pays homage to his guru, to his gurus, whom he sees as buddhas.[2] But he also means homage to all buddhas whom he sees as his gurus. He continues:

All the three realm sentient beings, particularly one’s own mind, have been abiding together with the reality of the mind, from beginningless time whenever ignorance exists.

The next line:

This is the mudra of the base.

So there is reference here to (mahā) mudrā which is translated as (great) “seal” in English. So it is referring to the great seal of the base. The base in this context is all sentient beings included in the three realms (desire, form and formless which also cover the six realms: hell, preta, animal, human, demi-gods and gods who live on top of Mt Meru in the Thirty-Three Realm) and includes those whose senses are dependent on outside phenomena (such as those in the desire realm). It also includes those who, having renounced the pleasures of the five external sense objects, seek happiness and pleasure through the inner concentrations of their minds.[3]

So far [up till now], all sentient beings–including oneself with one’s own mind–have been, from the very beginning of saṃsāra and for the time of ignorance’s existence, abiding simultaneously with the ultimate nature of the mind which is its emptiness. The time of ignorance’s existence refers to ignorance without beginning. But this ignorant mind is together and has always been together with the ultimate nature of the mind. So this is the Great Seal of the Base. [4]

The word “seal” here can be explained by the analogy of putting a wax seal on the envelope so as not to lose the contents. Just as you seal the two surfaces to secure the letter, so have the ordinary and ultimate natures of the mind been sealed together since beginningless time. The text makes this point by referring to sentient beings as those who “have not realized that, due to holding things as truly existent and hence until now have been wandering in saṃsāra.” The seal therefore refers to the unity of dependent arising and emptiness as well as asks you not to separate the two.

Therefore the author is preceding his discussion of the ultimate nature of the mind by identifying ordinary sentient beings as the base mahāmudrā in the sense that they have been mistakenly holding things as truly existent and believing in their appearance as such. Yet all the time their minds have been inseparable from emptiness which is the mind’s ultimate nature.[5] So that is the base mahāmudrā. [6]

The path mahāmudrā, in terms of tantric mahāmudrā, refers to the body [or physical] isolation at the time of the generation and completion stages of highest yoga tantra. It also refers to the isolation of speech and mind.[7] Specifically, it refers to the practices leading to the unification of the meaning clear light and pure illusory body on the path of no more learning.[8]

The clear light mind becomes totally purified through the practice of mental isolation (achieving first the example clear light) and then the meaning clear light, while the subtle illusory body purifies all stains of the gross subtle body and very subtle bodies. Utilizing the simultaneously-born great bliss of the Completion Stage (method) is the quickest way to cease both gross and subtle defilements, while the meaning clear light (wisdom) is what actually causes the defilements to cease. The pure illusory body arises when the gross defilements are totally removed.[9]

To repeat the meaning of base, path and fruit mahāmudrā: the base mahāmudrā is the unification of emptiness and dependent arising. It therefore defines how objects exist. The path mahāmudrā is the unification of method and wisdom which I have just explained.[10] The fruit [resultant] mahāmudrā is the result of the path.[11]

With the unification of the pure illusory body and the meaning clear light, on the path of no more learning the pure illusory body becomes the rūpakāya (or form body of a buddha) while the pure clear light mind becomes the dharmakāya (wisdom body of a buddha). These are completely free of even the subtlest defilements and their imprints including the subtle dual view.[12]

So when we refer in the opening verse of the Mahāmudrā Lineage Prayer to lam zung jug chag gya [“And to quickly attain the path of unification”], we can now understand the meaning of the words zung jug meaning “two” or “two together.” Also, we can better appreciate why we shouldn’t translate lam zung jug as”path of total integration” but as “path which is unification” together with the preceding words translated as “and quickly attain.” For what this text first does is describe mahāmudrā in terms of to what it is that you label mahāmudrā: it is the path which is unification.[13]

Due to not having realized the great seal of the base, ordinary beings continue to hold phenomena as truly existent (as they appear). Even by doing the simple analysis of asking, “Why do I believe I exist?” and answering, “Because the aggregates exist” you get an idea. Or by asking, “Why am I sitting?” and answering, “Because the body is sitting” you prove that the I is a dependent arising, merely imputed in dependence on the aggregates. You get the idea?

Even from this analysis alone the truly existent, inherently existent, independently existent I cannot be found by you. Suddenly there is a big change to the real I. The I becomes so subtle it is like it doesn’t exist. This is the name truth or conventional truth. This I that does exist is merely imputed. It exists as a conception of the mind depending on valid aggregates and is true for that ignorance which sees and believes it to exist as it appears to ignorance.[14]

The unlabelled, independent real I becoming unclear (under analysis) proves that it doesn’t exist from its own side because if it did, as the analysis proceeded, it would become clearer and more findable, not less, as is the case here.[15]


Apart from the last three posts, the reader might wish to consult at this point the immediately-related post  The Defilements of the Mind are Superficial: The Nature of the Mind is Clear Light in which Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche details the profound point concerning how the nature of the mind is clear light inseparable from emptiness: its own final or ultimate nature. Because it is empty it is not intrinsically defiled and thus, in dependence on appropriate factors, may be wondrously transformed.



Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography


[1] This reference may be to Chöd Instruction Guide for Those Seeking Liberation: Tardö Depön (gCod kyi gdams pa thar ‘dod ded dpon). Paṇchen Lama Losang Chökyi Gyältsen was a major lineage holder of the Chöd [Cutting the I] practice tradition. See Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, Chöd in the Ganden Tradition: The Oral Instructions of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. Edited by David Molk (Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2006), 58.

[2] By way of immediate comparison, in the Root Text for the Precious Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra (the main text under discussion by Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche) the Panchen Lama Losang Chökyi Gyältsen similarly writes:

Namo mahamudraya: Homage to mahamudra, the great seal of reality.

I respectfully bow at the feet of my peerless guru, lord of that which pervades everywhere, master of those with actual attainment, who expounds the all-pervasive nature of everything, the great seal of reality, mahamudra, inseparable from the diamond-strong sphere of mind that is beyond speech.

See the Dalai Lama and Berzin, The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition, 107-9; 172-3. Regarding the same verse, the Venerable Geshe Doga writes:

In summary, the first verse of the root text is a salutation or homage to the lama. In presenting the qualities of the lama the verse also presents the two categories of mahamudra, which are the object mahamudra and the subject mahamudra. The object mahamudra is explained as the all-pervasive nature of all things, which is emptiness. It is mudra or seal, because there is nothing that exists, any compounded or un-compounded phenomena, which does not comply with the nature of voidness. The realisation of that emptiness is what makes the mudra great (maha).

The subject mahamudra is the indistinguishable diamond voidness of the mind, As specifically presented here, the subject mahamudra relates to the wisdom realising emptiness within the mental continuum of an area being who is in meditative equipoise. The guru is endowed with that direct perception of emptiness (the subject mahamudra) and who is able to explain emptiness (the object mahamudra). The guru is called lord, because of being the holder of all the secret instructions and attainments. Not only does he have extensive attainments, but he is able to teach them in stark (meaning the finest) detail. So the author pays homage or makes prostrations to the lama who embodies these qualities. 

Mahamudra: The Great Seal of Voidness, Commentary by the Venerable Geshe Doga, translated by the Venerable Michael Lobsang Yeshe, Unpublished edited transcript, 19th August 2008, page 4. 

[3] The Venerable Geshe Doga defined the base mahāmudrā as follows:

The basis diamond-hard voidness of the mind is the nature of mind at an ordinary level which has the potential to separate itself from the defilements or the delusions. Even an ordinary being with an ordinary state of mind has the nature of mind that carries the potential to be separable from the delusions.


Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s reference to those who “seek happiness and pleasure through the inner concentrations of their minds” would refer to saṃsāric beings intent on obtaining the meditative stabilizations of the form and formless realms. Though considerable meditative achievements they do not, of themselves, constitute any real escape from suffering, just a temporary cessation of its grosser sensual forms. Because such accomplishments do not surpass the mundane, those who possess them are likewise considered mundane in that they have not departed (or are yet to successfully depart) the burden of repeated rebirth with afflicted aggregates due to not having yet directly opposed its causes: afflicted karma and root ignorance. 

Referring to the base mahāmudrā from a tantric perspective, the Dalai Lama writes,

In the anuttarayoga tantra system, we can also say that voidness as an object is the basis mahamudra, but we have a further explanation as well. All impure and pure phenomena, both external and internal, are rooted in the mind and energy-winds. Of the various levels of subtlety of mind and energy-winds, they are specifically rooted in the subtlest levels of both. Thus several masters assert basis mahamudra to be the subtlest level of mind and energy-wind that are the basis for all appearance-making and appearances of samsara and nirvana. More specifically, they assert basis mahamudra to be the mother clear light primordial  mind, in other words the subtlest level of mind that manifests once the three unconscious, most subtle conceptual appearance-making minds have ceased.

Gelug/ Kagyü Tradition, 174.

[4] The Dalai Lama, commenting on the opening lines of the Root Text for the Precious Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra:

In the sutra system, basis mahamudra is, as the first line of the root text indicates, “the all-pervasive nature of everything, the great seal of reality.” This refers to the devoid nature of all things of samsara and nirvana–the total absence of their existing in any fantasized, impossible manner. This devoid nature pertains to everything, impure and pure, that arises to both unaware, samsaric minds and nirvanic ones that are purified of unawareness–including, in both cases, what can be affected by other phenomena and what cannot, in other words, both “conditioned” and “unconditioned” phenomena. Nothing exceeds or goes beyond the bounds of this set.

Ibid., 174.

[5] The Dalai Lama observes:

Not only is there an inseparability of voidness and the mind understanding it–with that inseparability likewise being devoid of nature–there is an additional aspect of inseparability. In mahamudra meditation, the mind is taken inseparably as both the object apprehended by mind as being devoid by nature and the mind that is apprehending it as such. Thus when we say that mahamudra entails, on the tantra level, simultaneously arising clear light mind and, on the sutra level, deep awareness realizing voidness, we must understand each within the context of all these types of inseparability. The author offers prostration respectfully at the feet of the guru who expounds the methods for actualizing all this.

Ibid, 108.

[6] Geshe Doga explains,

“The resultant mahamudra is our own unobscured mind manifesting as the dharmakāya, while the path mahamudra is the means for obtaining conceptual and direct realization of the mind’s ultimate nature: emptiness. The base mahamudra is therefore the ordinary mind that is the basis of such transformation or actualization. In this way we are inspired by the knowledge that is the direct continuation of each ordinary being’s mind that leads to their own enlightenment.


This reference to the ordinary mind and our task (as ordinary sentient beings trapped in the three realms as Lama Zopa Rinpoche has just described) of realizing its ultimate nature, is developmentally or progressively described:

First we listen to or read an explanation of this basis level mahamudra, which is the devoid nature of all things and gain an understanding based on listening, Then we ponder or think about the meaning of this and slowly gain a presumptive understanding of voidness. The deep awareness that is the non-conceptual, straightforward perception of voidness gained by meditating on this presumptive understanding is undoubtedly the pathway level of mahamudra. The resultant jnana-dharmakaya. A Buddha’s body of deep awareness encompassing everything and endowed with all positive qualities that we attain as the ultimate endpoint of familiarizing ourselves with the deep awareness that is the non-conceptual, straightforward perception of voidness, is the resultant level mahamudra.

Gelug/ Kagyü Tradition, 174.

[7] For comprehensive elaboration of the three isolations (physical, verbal and mental) constituting the first three stages of completion stage practice, see Kirti Tsenshap Rinpoché, Principles, 151–219. For details on the other three stages (relative or impure illusory body, ultimate or meaning clear light and learner’s union, see ibid., 221–272. For another brief account of the impure illusory body, see Cozort, Highest Yoga Tantra, 94–104. Regarding the pure illusory body, see footnotes below.

[8] The unification (gzung ’jug, yuganaddha) of the meaning [actual] clear light (don gyi ’od gsal) and pure illusory body (dag pa’i sgyu lus) first occurs on the stage of completion called a learner’s union and “extends up to but not including actual clear light at the upper limit of the learner ground.” See Kirti Tsenshap Rinpoché, Principles, 261. Then, by proceeding on the realizational basis of the union of pure illusory body and meaning clear light (while on the path of meditation), one completely overcomes the obscurations to omniscience and thus attains the final union—that of a non-learner (mi slob pa’i zung ’jug) endowed with seven exalted features. The level of buddhahood is also known as the path of no more learning. A non-learner’s union therefore “exists in the mental continuum of a non-learner who has attained the state of Vajradhara” (ibid., 447, glossary). For a detailed account, see ibid., 261–72. See also Cozort, Highest Yoga Tantra, 111–14.

[9] The Dalai Lama indicates, “In general, a body created from subtle wind and mind is called an illusory body. Production of a pure illusory body from subtle wind and mind is the system of the Guhyasamāja Tantra.” Harvard, 94. The pure illusory body is attained when all of the obscurations to liberation (or afflictive obscurations) have been removed; these are the gross obscurations. The obscurations to omniscience still remain. Thus the practitioner engages in the sixth stage of completion stage practice: learner’s union. For more information, see Doga, Mahamudra, 14 October 2008, 4–5. See also Kirti Tsenshap Rinpoché, Principles, 132–40; Cozort, Highest Yoga Tantra, 111–12; and Chöden Rinpoché, Stairway, 77–82, 84–89.

[10] See also the Dalai Lama, Gelug/ Kagyü Tradition, 174.

[11] The Dalai Lama details,

Resultant [fruit] mahamudra is the resulting state of the five types of deep awareness, or ‘Buddha-wisdoms,’ as the foundation for everything, that possesses the seven facets endowing enlightenment. The five types of deep awareness of a Buddha are the mirror-like awareness to know the extent of everyone and everything that exists, the awareness of the equality of everyone as objects of compassion and everything as devoid in nature, the awareness of the individuality of everyone and everything, the awareness of how to accomplish the temporary and ultimate aims of everyone, and the awareness of the sphere of reality—the two levels of truth about everyone and everything. The seven facets endowing enlightenment are features of sambhogakaya, the body of forms with full use that we attain as a Buddha. These facets are having full use of the Mahayana teachings; being always in union; having blissful awareness, full compassion and deep awareness of voidness; never passing away; and manifesting a body of emanations, or nirmanakaya, without any break. We attain both with Buddhahood on the basis of relying on the pathway mahamudra.

Gelug/ Kagyü Tradition, 174–75.

[12] “Subtle dual view” is a reference to the obscurations to omniscience which are twofold: the inability to see the two truths simultaneously with the same mind and the appearance of things as existing from their own side. When these are overcome, the being or person, now suitable to be labeled (because endowed as) a fully qualified buddha, is able to have, within a single consciousness, realization of all phenomena simultaneously. See Hopkins, Meditation, 103.

[13] Writes Daniel Cozort, “Within the resulting realization union of the pure illusory body and the actual clear light, one practices until the obstructions to omniscience have been destroyed and thereby passes on to Buddhahood, the non-learner’s union of the Form Body and Truth Body, that is, the pure illusory body and the mind of actual clear light, devoid of all obstructions.” Highest Yoga Tantra, 112. Therefore, Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s reference to unification here appears to refer to what he has just described as the path of unification of the pure illusory body and the meaning clear light as the two Buddha bodies and thus, the resultant non-learner’s union.

[14] Tsongkhapa writes,

Through the force of that obstructing [consciousness] apprehending true existence, fabricated phenomena such as blue and so forth—which, although lacking inherent establishment, are fabricated to appear to be inherently established and which appear to sentient beings to be true—are true in the perspective of the worldly, erroneous, obscuring [consciousness] described above. Hence, they are worldly obscurational truths.

See Hopkins, Final Exposition, 237.

[15] The Dalai Lama explains, “if there were such a separate I—self-established and existing in its own right—it should become clearer and clearer under the light of competent analysis as to whether it exists as either mind or body, or the collection of mind and body, or different from mind and body. In fact, the closer you look, the more it is not found. This turns out to be the case for everything, for all phenomena. The fact that you cannot find them means that those phenomena do not exist under their own power; they are not self-established.” Dalai Lama, How to Practice, 138.



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