Mah?mudr? (Sanskrit: great seal or great symbol), (Tibetan: Chagchen, Wylie: phyag chen, contraction of Chagya Chenpo, Wylie: phyag rgya chen po), is a Buddhist method of direct introduction to the nature and essence of Mind (or Buddha-nature) and the practice of stabilizing the accompanying transcendental realization. It draws upon instructions from multiple levels of Buddhism, including Sutra and Vajrayana, to provide a range of approaches to enlightenment suited to various people's needs. Mahamudra is believed to enable one to realize the mindstream's innate purity, clarity and perfection, summed up by the term 'buddha nature', the topic of the Third Turning of the Dharmachakra or the final phase of the Buddha's teaching.

Traditions of Mahamudra

Mahamudra is most prominent in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, but is practiced by the Gelug and Sakya schools of as well, and possibly also by derivative Vajrayana orders in China, Russia and Japan. The Nyingma and Bön traditions and their derivatives practise a cognate but distinct method of direct introduction called Ati Yoga (Tib. Dzogchen). However, it is not unusual for Nyingmapas to receive supplemental training in Mahamudra, and the Palyul Nyingma lineage preserves a lineage of the "Union of Mahamudra and Ati Yoga" originated by Karma Chagme.

All of the various Mahamudra lineages originated in India. The Profound Action Lineage of Mahamudra originated with Maitreya and Asanga, introduced to Tibet by Marpa and Atisha. Atisha passed it through the Kadampa lineage and Marpa was the source of the Kagyu both of which Gampopa joined and passed through to the present day Kagyu. The Profound View Lineage of Mahamudra, which originated with Nagarjuna, also was introduced to Tibet by Atisha. Marpa introduced to Tibet the Profound Blessing Meditation Experience Lineage of Mahamudra that originated with Vajradhara and passed to Tilopa and Naropa. Marpa also introduced a lineage tracing back through Saraha and Maitripa.

In the Kagyu tradition

The Kagyu lineage divides the Mahamudra teachings into three types, sutra Mahamudra, tantra Mahamudra, and essence Mahamudra. Sutra Mahamudra, as the name suggests, draws its philosophical view and meditation techniques from the sutrayana tradition. Tantric Mahamudra employs such tantric techniques as tummo and dream yoga, two of the six yogas of Naropa. Essence Mahamudra is based on the direct instruction of a qualified lama.

Among the most prominent practitioners and scholars of Mahamudra in the Kagyu tradition are the Third and Ninth Karmapas, Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, Thrangu Rinpoche, and Dakpo Tashi Namgyal. Important texts are:

Third Karmapa

Ninth Karmapa

Dakpo Tashi Namgyal

Tsele Natsok Rangdrol

In the Gelug tradition

The First and Second Panchen lamas wrote important discourses about Mahamudra from the Gelug perspective.

The term Mahamudra

The term mahamudra is often explained as referring to the uncontestable validity of the experience. For example, if a document bears the Great Seal of the Emperor, then there is no question as to the authenticity of that document. Similarly, during the genuine experience of mahamudra, one has no question that one is directly glimpsing the nature of Mind (which is Tath?gatagarbha, realization that it is possible to achieve Buddhahood) and that recalling and stabilizing this experience leads to profound certainty and eventual enlightenment.

Mahamudra meditation

Mahamudra meditation practice works to directly reveal emptiness to one's own direct experience in one's own mind. This is achieved by meditating directly on one's own mind. This is known as "taking the path of direct valid cognition"-it emphasizes directly experiencing the phenomena of one's own mind and experiencing emptiness.

As in all Buddhist schools of meditation, the basic meditative practice of Mahamudra is divided into two approaches: śamatha ("tranquility") and vipaśyanā ("insight").

The meditation manuals (in particular those of The 9th Karmapa) are among the most detailed and precise in the Buddhist literature. For tranquility practice they enumerate the stages of settling the mind and specify many common problems (eg. excitement, torpor, doubt, apathy) and practices to remedy these problems. The objects of meditation are simple objects, statues of the Buddha, the breath, mantras, complex visualizations and deities and Yidams. These objects of mediation are common throughout Tibetan Vajrayana practice.

The detailed instructions for the Insight practices are what make Mahamudra (and Dzogchen) unique.

The meditator is instructed to observe the mind at rest and then during the occurrence of thought. In some practices disturbing emotions are deliberately invoked and the meditator is directed to experience their "empty" nature. The meditator is further instructed to observe that which is looking for the nature of the mind: to observe the observer.

Questions are posed to the meditator to verify the experiences, to trigger further insight and to identify and correct misconceptions. The Ocean of Definitive Meaning and Pointing out the Dharmakaya (9th Karmapa) both enumerate these questions and common answers to them.

A relationship with a teacher is strongly stressed, and in the former Tibet these texts would not have been available except through a teacher and without having completed preliminary practices. Some parts of the transmission are done verbally and through empowerments and "reading transmissions". In particular the teacher directly Points out the Mind of the Student.

See also

Further reading

External links

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