In the post Mahamudra: Part Six, Geshe Doga began presenting the Mahamudra preliminaries.[1] This post presents, more extensively, the next (and last) preliminary: the practice of profound guru yoga.



The auto-commentary gives a very brief explanation of verses fourteen and fifteen [quoted in Mahamudra: Part Six]:

Developing the pure mind by first developing bodhichitta, meditating on the profound guru yoga contains the points of the entire path. The guru yoga practice is done as presented separately. The remaining part of the verse can be understood from its context.[2]

Though the auto-commentary gives a very brief explanation, there are other commentaries to which we can refer that combine mahamudra with the practice of the Guru Puja or Lama Chopa (in Tibetan). “Lama Chopa” translates as “offerings to the guru.” In the Guru Puja the visualisation of the guru involves visualising the merit field.[3] The lam rim (Graduated Path to Enlightenment) teachings also present an extensive explanation of the merit field. The visualisation that is to be done here is in accordance with how it is to be done there.[4]

The Guru Puja begins with the lines:

From within great bliss I arise as a guru-deity. [5]

We therefore commence by generating ourselves as the guru-deity.[6]

Having visualised the guru[7] one then engages in the Seven Limb practice, which begins with prostrations following by making extensive offerings that include external, internal, secret offerings and offerings of suchness. Next, one does the limbs of confession, rejoicing, requesting the turning of the wheel of Dharma and requesting the guru to remain. Then one meditates on the stages of the path.[8]

When it comes to the point where the guru dissolves into you and merges to become one (with yourself), as explained in the root text, the actual practice of mahamudra begins.[9]

From this [sequence] one can understand not only how guru yoga practice is a mahamudra preliminary, but also the profundity of the mahamudra practice itself i.e. its own preliminary has involved the whole of the Guru Puja! In other words, if the mahamudra preliminary practice engages the entire Guru Puja then that gives us just a hint of mahamudra’s great depth.

We don’t have too much time to go through the profound guru yoga practice in detail. For this reason, you should refer yourself to the text in order to familiarize yourself with the practice.


When you do the guru yoga practice in an elaborate way in conjunction with the Guru Puja, then the deity practice of instantaneous generation as Yamantaka becomes the preliminary practice.[10] Then when we come to the point of visualizing the guru in the external aspect of Lama Tsong Khapa, one actually visualises all the thirty two deities of Guhyasamaja within the joints of Lama Tsong Khapa’s body.[11] This visualisation is from the Guhyasamaja practice, whereas the rituals such as offerings, mudras and so forth are from the Heruka practice.[12] Doing an elaborate guru yoga practice in this way therefore actually involves all three main deity practices. This is explained by the previous great masters.[13]

What one should understand at this point is that according to the Gelug tradition, guru yoga practice and the guru puja or offering to the Guru are the same. The Kagyü use the term la dup, which can be translated as “accomplishing the guru.” This has the same basic meaning as guru-yoga practice. The Nyingma use the term rin-chen don-dup to refer to the guru yoga practice. So in every tradition the guru puja or offering to the Guru is the fundamental practice.


In the next post, Geshe Doga describes the particularly-condensed visualization technique called “combining-all-into-one jewel.” This is recommended as a profound method but also one suited to those “not very good at visualisation.” Then the importance of dissolving the guru into ourselves is presented together with discussion of the significance of using deity practice whenever “one feels unsettled or disturbed.” With this, the discussion of the main mahamudra preliminaries will be completed.





Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography

[1] In this context: 1. Taking refuge and generating bodhichitta; 2. Accumulation of merit and purification of obstacles; 3. Making repeated requests to your root guru. By subdividing several of the above, Geshe Rabten enumerates the general Mahamudra preliminaries as five: 1. Offering of prostrations; 2. Recitation of the Vajrasattva mantra; 3. Taking refuge in the Triple Gem; 4. Offering the mandala; 5. Guru Yoga. He notes that the first two are “primarily aimed at purification of mental obstacles” while “the latter three…are primarily concerned with the accumulation of merit.” See Rabten, Echoes of Voidness, 101.

[2] This refers to the last lines of verse fifteen (quoted in full in Mahamudra: Part Six): “After making fervent requests a hundred times or more with intense faith, you should visualise your guru as dissolving into you.”

[3] The visualisation of the merit field (including the invocation of the wisdom beings into the pledge [visualised] beings) is contained in the following Lama Chopa verses:

9. In the vast space of indivisible voidness and bliss,
Amidst billowing clouds of Samantabhadra offerings,
At the crest of a wish-granting tree embellished with leaves, flowers and fruit,
Is a lion throne ablaze with precious gems, on which is a lotus, sun and full moon.

10. On this sits my root guru, who is kind in three ways;
In essence all Buddhas, in aspect a saffron-robed monk,
With one face, two arms, radiant with a bright smile.
His right hand is in the gesture of expounding the Dharma,
His left in meditative pose holds an alms bowl filled with nectar;
He is draped with three lustrous saffron robes and his head is graced
By a golden pundit’s hat.

11. In his heart sits the all-pervading Lor Vajradhara, with a blue-coloured body,
One face and two arms, holding vajra and bell and embracing Vajradhatu Ishvari;
They delight in the play of simultaneous voidness and bliss,
Are adorned with jeweled ornaments of many designs and are clothed in
garments of heavenly silks.

12.Radiant with thousand of light rays,
Adorned with the major and minor signs,
The Guru sits in the vajra position enhaloed by a five-coloured rainbow.
His purified aggregates are the five Buddhas gone to bliss;
His four elements, the four consorts;
His sense spheres, energy channels.
Sinews and joints are in actuality bodhisattvas;
The hairs of his pores are twenty-one thousand arhats;
His limbs are wrathful protectors;
The light rays are directional guardians, lords of wealth and their attendants;
While worldly gods are but cushions for their feet.

13. Surrounding him in their respective order
Sit the direct and lineage gurus,
Yidams, hosts of mandala deities,
Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, heroes and dakinis,
Encircled by an ocean of Dharma protectors.

14. The three doors of each are marked with the three vajras;
From their HUM syllables hook-like rays radiate and
Draw forth the wisdom beings from their natural abodes
And they become inseparably set.

The verses (above) are found together with extensive commentary in Dalai Lama, The Union of Bliss and Emptiness: A Commentary on the Lama Choepa Guru Yoga Practice translated by Thupten Jinpa (Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 62-89). For comparison with the (in terms of recitation practice earlier performed) Lama Chopa Refuge Field see Dalai Lama, ibid., 42-4. Of the latter, and in the specific context of the Mahamudra teachings, Geshe Doga notes:

One visualizes the object of refuge in the aspect of the guru. As explained in the Guru Puja, the aspect of the guru is Lama Tsongkhapa. In the centre of Lama Tsongkhapa’s heart one visualises Buddha Shakyamuni and at the centre of Buddha Shakyamuni heart one visualises the seed syllable HUM which is blue in colour. That visualisation becomes the focal point of the visualisation of the objects of refuge.

See Geshe Doga, Mahamudra: Great Seal of Voidness, transcript, 26 August, 2008, 3.

You will notice that this visualisation corresponds to the visualisation of the chief figure of the Merit Field in Lama Chopa. As the Thirteenth Dalai Lama indicates, though “the process of generating the visualized merit field is much the same” as that involved in generating the refuge field, with the merit field “there is emphasis on the stages of summoning the Wisdom Beings, etc.” See The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Path of the Bodhisattva Warrior, 203. The process of invocation is described in verse 14 above. As Gyumed Khensur Lobsang Jampa comments, “when you invoke and visualize buddhas, they are actually there.” See Gyumed Khensur Lobsang Jampa, The Easy Path, 45.

[4] For example, see Gyumed Khensur Lobsang Jampa, The Easy Path, 44-6. Several possible variants are mentioned including that “from the Guru Puja” ibid., 45. Hence Geshe Doga’s own comment that he is presenting according “to how it is found in those [lam rim] teachings.” Geshe Doga likewise notes several variants: “Seeing the guru as the essence of Three Jewels is the practice of “encompassing all jewels into one” and is one of the three ways of doing a merit field visualisation. The other forms of visualising the lama in the aspect of the merit field involve having the surrounding deities actually facing the central guru. However, in images, they are depicted as looking down upon us. They are drawn this way so as to make it easier for us to visualise how the deities look. There is also the stacked-one-atop-the-next visualisation which is similar to that found in the Yamantaka practice.” He adds: “As some techniques of the guru meditation have been presented, it would be worthwhile to put them into practice when you return to your rooms.”

See Mahamudra: The Great Seal of Voidness, transcript, 7 October, 2008, 5.

[5] Verse One:

From within great bliss I manifest as a guru-deity;
From my body a profusion of light rays
Radiate forth to the ten directions
Transforming the environment and the beings therein–
All becomes most perfectly arrayed
With only infinitely pure qualities.

See The Union of Bliss and Emptiness, 52.

[6] His Holiness the Dalai Lama: “As for us, who are practitioners of highest yoga tantra, the root guru, who is kind in three ways, should be seen as inseparable from the meditational deity. This will give a special power to our practice.” See The Union of Bliss and Emptiness, 23. Hence the compound “guru-deity.”

After noting that “nobody should practice Lama Choepa who has not received a high tantric initiation” His Holiness comments:

We visualize experiencing great bliss during the initiation and thus have been introduced to this wisdom of great bliss and emptiness, At this point, you should think about the experience of great bliss. When you wake up in the morning are about to become alert after the intoxication of sleep, it is good if you can think that are being awakened by songs of emptiness. Do you do that? You should, even if only at the imagination level, experience the clear light of sleep and from within that clear light arise as the deity. The process of arising as the deity in the morning should not be like a crow chick turning black, but rather you should arise into the deity the moment you wake up. Although in reality you are an ordinary being, at least on the imagination level you an arise into the chief meditational deity you practice–that is, the action deity of that particular meditation deity. If, for example, you are practicing Yamantaka, you should arise into simple Yamantaka, one face and two arms. Also, cultivate the clarity of the visualization. Irrespective of whether you have been mindful of the deity in the morning, it is very good to arise as the deity at the beginning of the session…The use of the words “manifest as a guru-deity” is to emphasize the importance of seeing the meditational deity as inseparable from the guru.

Because guru yoga is like the life of the path, in order to underline its extreme importance Khedrup Sangye Yeshe and coined such terms as “Lama Lozang Thubwang Dorje Chang,” Guru Akshobya” and so forth. As Sangye Yeshe’s guru was Ensapa Lozang Dhondrup, he even went to the extent of calling his meditational deities by the name of Lozang, like “Lozang Chakrasamvara,” “Lama Lozang Akshobya” and so on.

See The Union of Bliss and Emptiness, 52-3.

[7] This is referring not to the guru-deity as self-generation (as described in verse one) but to the guru who is the key figure in the merit field visualized before oneself. Geshe Doga’s (highly condensed) explanation therefore pertains to verses nine onwards (as quoted in note one). The Dalai Lama in his “very brief ‘experiential commentary” notes: “The guru can be visualized in many ways, but according to the guru yoga of Lama Choepa, one first visualizes him in front of oneself, then at one’s crown and finally descending down to one’s heart. Hence this practice contains the essential points of each of these three ways of visualizing the guru.” See The Union of Bliss and Emptiness, 18-19.

[8] Geshe Doga is merely naming the Seven Limb (or Seven Branch) sequence that structures the Guru Puja and thus is effectively glossing, or sweeping over verses 15 to 110. This corresponds to pages 89-170 of the commentary in The Union of Bliss and Emptiness. The implication: it is assumed we will be engaging these verses (and their meanings) in our own practice sessions; hence there is no need to detail them here.

For an account of the Seven Limb Puja considered as a stand-alone practice, see Dhargyey, Tibetan Tradition, 214-222. Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey observes:

The Seven-Limb Püja is an extremely valuable practice for purifying the mind in order to attain intuitive understanding, especially of Śūnyatā. If an important guest were to visit, one would clean the house well beforehand, and in the same way, one practises this Püja to prepare the way for direct insight into Śūnyatā. Like the seed and the conditions necessary for its growth, (e.g., moisture, and heat) meditation is the direct cause of spiritual growth, while the Seven-Limb Püja provides the contributing conditions…A recent great Lama in Tibet who attained Enlightenment gave discourses on the stages of the Path. Before a one-hour discourse, he would spend three hours in preliminary purifactory practices, and his disciples, thinking that much time was being wasted asked him if more time could not be given to actual teaching, The Lama replied, “If what you seek is dry, intellectual understanding, we should do as you suggest, but if you desire true insight, do as I say” (ibid, 214).

Dhargyey, with dry wit, notes: “Tilopa instructed his disciple, Nāropa, “Until Enlightenment, collect mental and physical merit, which act as the two wheels of a carriage.” Accordingly this Püja is practiced even by those who have attained the tenth Bodhisattvabhümi (ibid).

[9] Verse 111 of the Guru Puja reads:

Setting your feet protector, in the eight petals of my heart
Within the central channel,
Inspire me to actualize
The Path uniting clear light and illusory body
In this very lifetime.

That this is a vital stepping-off point for other practices is also made clear by his Holiness’s commentary on this verse:

To explain this in the context of Guhyasamaja, through the “subtle yoga of analysis” and the “gross yoga of single mindfulness” one can experience the isolated body and the isolated speech, which lead on to the isolated mind. on the stage of isolated mind, having received the inspiration of the Lama Lozang Thubwang Dorje Chang, the guru remains in the indestructible drop at the heart channel-wheel of yourself as the guru-deity. The practice of completion stage, if you are undertaking it in particular, should be done at this point.

It is said that all virtuous practices are done on the basis of guru-yoga. If you are undertaking your practice within such a framework, you should recite the Lama Choepa at the beginning of the day, but the merit field should not be dissolve. you should do your other daily practices and other activities during the day, and when you go to bed you can dissolve the merit field and conclude Lama Choepa. As the guru dissolves into you, imagine that your body, speech and mind are blessed by the guru; being so greatly fortunate, you should enter into the clear light of sleep. When you arise in the morning, imagine from this clear light.

So you can leave it either at this point or at a later stage (before verse 115). Leaving Lama Choepa at this point is at least honest, because you are saying to the merit field, “I have done some virtuous things and also I have done some non-virtuous things,” and so you are making an honest declaration.

There is actually such a tradition, which I think is very good. You can leave it at this point; I leave it here myself and do all my daily practices, sadhanas and so on in between.

See The Union of Bliss and Emptiness, 170-71. Lama Lozang Thubwang Dorje Chang (mentioned by His Holiness above) is the principle figure of the Lama Choepa merit field. See verse 10 quoted in note one (above).

[10] This has already been touched upon in relation in relation to the opening line of the Guru Puja: “From within great bliss, I arise as a guru-deity.” Such a self-generation practice is contingent upon having obtained a Highest Yoga Tantra initiation from a qualified Vajra Master.

[11] See verse twelve (quoted in note 3 above) of the Guru Puja. Again, this is contingent upon having received the initiation of Guhyasamaja in the appropriate fashion.

[12] The reference here is to the third main Highest Yoga tantric deity with whom the Gelug practice of the Guru Puja is associated. His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

The origins of the instructions on this Lama Choepa practice are traced back to the explanatory tantra called Vajramala, in which the visualization of the body mandala deities on the guru’s body is explained according to Guhyasamaja. Since the integral practice of the three deities Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja and Heruka has great merit and advantages, Lama Choepa explains how to do it on the basis of this guru yoga practice. The actual practice is explained on the basis of Guhyasamaja, the preliminaries such as the self-generation are explained on the basis of Yamantaka, and the performing of offerings and so forth are explained according to Heruka. This guru yoga is widespread within the Gelug system–so much so that almost everyone knows it by heart–and the way in which it is undertaken is uniform. In other traditions, there are different ways of practicing guru yoga, such as the system of Ngor of the Sakya tradition, and others.

See The Union of Bliss and Emptiness, 11.

[13] A valuable reference in this regard is to be found in Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen”s (1713-93) commentary on Lama Choepa. It has been translated. See Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen, Manjushri’s Innermost Secret: A Profund Commentary of Oral Instructions on the Practice of Lama Chöpa, translated by David Gonsalez, Dechen Ling Press: Seattle, 2014. This book opens with the caveat: “The material in this book is restricted. This book may be read only by those who have received a complete initiation into any highest yoga tantra practice. In order to practice this material, it would be best if you have received a full initiation into either Guhyasamaja, Yamantaka, or Chakrasamvara.”



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