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Appendix. The Vow of Mahámudrá [p. 284 p. 285}

Translator's Introduction

Buddhism seldom positively asserts what is the Truth. * Rather, it teaches the truth-seekers to understand and to explore their own minds, for in the quest of Reality nothing is more important or befitting for the seeker than to know what the mind actually is rather than to know only what mind knows of – the so-called knowledge and objects known by the mind. Reality is the object known, but the first step is to understand the knower of this Reality. ** Whatever one's beliefs, opinions, and thoughts, all these depend on the mind and come through the mind, for there is no possibility for one to escape from the sphere of mind in thinking or knowing.

After waking from sleep, each day of our lives begins with an awareness of 'I'. Descartes observed, "I think, therefore I am" – which seems logical to common sense since it feels the necessity for a knower in order for anything to be known. But whether or not this 'I' really exists and is substantial is debatable, says Buddhism. Although Buddhism denies the reality of the ego, it does not absolutely deny the reality of the "awareness," or thinking-process (at least in Mahayana Buddhism). Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to know what this "awareness" or "mind" is. [p. 286}

Buddhist schools employ two different approaches in the study of mind. The Vaibhasika and Yogacara may be said to use the "horizontal" approach, i.e. studying the mind analytically by mapping its divisions, characteristics, functions, etc., including the 8 Consciousnesses and mental functions of the different stages of Samadhis. The Tantric [Buddhist] schools and Zen, * however, employ what may be called a "vertical" approach – urging the student to disregard the analysis of functions and peripheral knowledge of mind and instead to penetrate directly and deeply to the very foundation of mind-essence.

To clarify for the readers the Buddhist view of these two approaches in studying the mind, the translator will explain them through applying what may be called the "three-dimension system" to the mind: The first dimension – function; the second dimension – the form; the third dimension – the essence-of-mind.

The first dimension (Chinese "Yung"; Tibetan "Rtsl") means "activity" or "function"; the second dimension, (Chinese Shang;Tibetan Rnam Pa) refers to the "form" or "characteristics." The third dimension (Chinese Ti; Tibetan Ngo wo) points to the essence or real nature of mind. The manifestations in the first dimension of mind – the peripheral or outer realm of mind – are comparatively easy to comprehend. The second dimension, the form and characteristics, is not easily understood without a certain kind of study or investigation. The third dimension denotes the transcendental aspect of mind or the Dimension of Beyond.

The function of mind refers to the capability of the [p. 287} mind to know or to be "aware" of the Five Objects (of sight, sound, touch, taste, feeling, smell), of Dharma (all objects, existences, and ideas, etc.), and if we include the two obscure consciousnesses (No. 7 and No. 8) their functions are to become aware of the illusory ego (in the case of No. 7) and the "form of all Dharmas" (in the case of No. 8). Also, the function of mind refers to the emotional manifestations of mind in being able to express love, * hate, anger, joy, etc. This realm, of the functioning-aspect-of-mind or the first dimension of mind, is very obvious and immediately known by all. Now, the second dimension – the form or characteristics of the mind – refers to the awareness ** of the mind, or more clearly, the "awaring-aspect-of-the-mind". This "awaring-aspect-of-mind" is found in all the Eight Consciousnesses, though some consciousnesses (such as No. 8, the Alaya) are not as sharply aware as the mind-consciousness or the eye-consciousness.

Although this "awareness" continually takes place in the mind of every individual, seldom is the individual conscious of the "awareness" itself but is rather primarily conscious of the objects of the awareness. To become "aware" of the "awareness" requires some study and effort. Holding onto the "awareness" for long periods during meditation will in [p. 288} time produce a change in the function and pattern of the 8 Consciousnesses and a relative transcendental accomplishment will be achieved. According to Buddhism, the final transcendental accomplishment – the perfect Buddhahood – will only be reached through the realization of the Void-nature of the "awareness." The frequently used terms in Mahamudra – "brightness" and "light" – refer to the "evolved-awareness" of the mind, while the "Void," "non-existent," and "non-creating" refer to the "root-nature" of awareness. This realm of the "Void-bright" is the essence of mind, here – the third dimension of the mind. In short, the essence of mind, as taught in Mahamudra, is the "void-bright" or "awareness without subject-object".

Thus the teaching of Mahamudra disregards the first dimension of mind and even does not concern itself much with "awareness" but strives to cut through the Samsaric "awareness" which stems from the subject-object pattern of thought.

To completely realize the essence-of-mind is by no means an easy task. It requires years and lives of study and effort. One may ask, Why is it so difficult if the Buddha-nature is inherent in one's mind? What prevents this realization is the force of our "habitual thinking." On a small scale this bondage may be likened to that of some childhood habit or obsession which, although we know it is illusory and irrational, nevertheless grips us and influences our thinking and behavior because of early, deep-set conditioning. It is much the same in the case of our "endeavor for enlightenment"; though the Void-nature of mind is somewhat glimpsed or even realized, this does not permanently eliminate habitual thoughts which have been operating through immeasurable lifetimes in the past. [p. 289}

Therefore, Mahamudra and Zen can never be considered merely philosophy or art, for they are actually the most serious teachings of the Buddhist religion. They are teachings of liberation * and should not be abused, as Zen has recently been in the Occident, by being made a subject of vain talk or subtle speculations as though they were only a game of the mind.

The reader will discover that the opening stanzas of The Vow express the religious and spiritual tradition of Mahamudra. The first five stanzas present the fundamental principles and the necessary "wishes" of the Buddhists. The author of The Vow is Garmapa III (1284-1339) a very great authority and accomplished yogi whose numerous writings include The Profound Inner Meaning Of Tantrism, considered by Tibetan scholars the greatest work on the subject. The Vow is recited by the White School as a daily prayer.

Although this Vow is comparatively short, it contains the majority of the essential teachings of Mahamudra. In Tibet, there exists quite a body of books and commentaries explaining this Vow. At present these works are not available; therefore translator has supplied a short commentary to accompany the stanzas also . Also, since the original text was not available, the present translation was made from the Chinese text that the translator had previously made from the Tibetan.

The translator is confident that this Vow of Mahamudra is one of the highest teachings of Tibetan Buddhism and [p. 290} firmly believes it will contribute much to the search by psychologists and religionists for a deeper understanding of man's essential nature.

Editor's Note

Mahámudrá (Tib. p'yag-rgya-chen-po) means literally "the great attitude or symbolic gesture". The term derives from the Hindu Tantra (as shri or maháyantra) and the subsequent Buddhist Tantra of North India. One writer of that school, Advayavajra, in his Caturmudrá, refers to Mahámudrá in very much the same way that Shakti – as ultimate Divinity as Goddess – is referred to in higher treatises of the Hindu Tantra: "She is not an object subject to time . . . she combines samsára and nirvána; her substance is universal Love; she is the unique essence of the Innate Transcendent Bliss."


The Vow of Mahámudrá

By Garmapa Rinchen Dorje

With Commentary (in smaller type)

by the translator and

notes by the editor


I pray to the Guru, to the Yidam, and to those holy beings in the Mandala,

I pray to the Buddhas and to their Sons (Bodhisattvas) in the Three Times and in the Ten Directions,

Remember me, have compassion and pity on me,

Bless with accomplishment my wishes.

First, according to the traditions of Buddhist Tantric ritual, a supplication is offered to one's teacher (who is considered more important than the Buddhas), next to one's patron Buddha, then to the Darginis, Guardians, and other beings of the Mandala who grant protection and certain powers to the yogi. This supplication to the esoteric or Tantric lineage is followed by one to the esoteric lineage of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the past, present, and future, and in all directions of space.


The pure action of my body and my mind

My virtuous deeds and those of all sentient beings

Are like clear streams flowing from the Snow Mountain

– devoid of the defilements of the Three Circles

May they flow freely into the great ocean –

the ocean of the Buddha's Four Bodies. [p. 292}

The pure action of body and mind and the virtuous deeds of sentient beings exist (pure in essence) only if one realizes that the action, the doer, and the receiver (The Three Circles) are alike empty and void. The unimpeded realization of this enables one to merge with (obtain) the Four Bodies of Buddha, or the three-in-one – the Dharmakaya, the Sambhogakaya, the Nirmanakaya, in the all-encompassing (Tantric) Body of Universal Essence.


Until I attain the Four Bodies of Buddha,

May even the name of Samsaric miseries and sins

Be unheard in all my future lives

While I enjoy the happy Dharma-Oceans.

It is a long journey from sentient being to Buddhahood. Even a diligent and well-gifted person, after strenuous efforts, may not attain Buddhahood in one lifetime, even though he depends on Mahamudra which is considered an "Abrupt" or "Sudden Enlightenment" teaching like that of Zen. Therefore, in Buddhist countries, people are made mindful of this and taught to pray for auspicious conditions and favorable environments in their future incarnations.


May faith, intelligence, diligence and leisure,

Good Gurus and the essential teachings come to me,

May I practice rightly without stumbling and hindrances –

The blessings of Dharma filling my future lives.

Mahamudra is not just philosophical. Without faith, intelligence, diligence, favorable environment, and skilled teachers there would be no base for its study and practice and no result for sentient beings still existing in the realm of causation. [p. 293}


The Holy and Wisdom reckonings liberate me from ignorance

The pith-instructions destroy my dark doubts forever

Through the light from meditation, vividly and unmistakenly, I behold Reality

Increase, O Light of the Three Wisdoms!

Buddha taught that to judge rightly one should rely on the admonishments of the Sutras and on one's own innate reason (the Holy and Wisdom reckonings). By not leaning blindly on just one or the other, one is less likely to err.

Some doubts can be dispelled through intellectual reasoning, but more subtle and deeply intrenched doubts cannot be eliminated through reasoning or study of the Sutras. These can only be destroyed by the "pith-instructions" – the clear, precise, practical instructions given by one's own Guru.

The real nature of mind can best be compared to the transparent brightness of physical light. Here, however, the word "light" is also used in a symbolic aspect to refer to the experience of the Three Wisdoms of the Foundation (the undeveloped Buddha-nature in every sentient being), of the Path (the partially realized Buddha-nature from meditation practice), and of the Fruit (or full enlightenment).


The Root-Principle is the Two Truths – the absence of the concrete and the null views

The superb Path is the Provisions – without either the exaggerating or minimizing views

The Fruit is the Two Benefits of neither Nirvana or Samsara

In future life, may I meet such right teachings. [p. 294}

These three terms – Root or Foundation, Path, and Fruit – are frequently used terms to explain the complete philosophy and procedure of Buddhism, though in Hinayana, general Mahayana, and Tantric Buddhism the terms Root, Path, and Fruit are applied differently. Here, the author points out that the basis or "Root" of Mahamudra is the view which transcends Yes and No, which goes beyond the truth of either existence or non-existence. The Path of Mahamudra is knowing the mind in its essence without either adding or deducting anything to its original nature. The Fruit is Buddhahood, the realization which transcends the concepts of both Nirvana and Samsára. This Fruit is expressed in the Two Benefits – blessings accruing to oneself and blessings bestowed on others.


The Essence of Mind is the Two-in-One – the void and radiant original source,

Mahamudra, the Diamond-Practice, is the Purifier

The Purified are the flickering and insubstantial Blindness and Defilements

May I attain the immaculate Dharmakaya, the purified Fruit.

Mahamudra is called the "Diamond-Practice" because it is held to be the strongest antidote for delusory thoughts and worldly desires. To the sentient beings the Blindness (ignorance) and Defilements (desires) appear real and substantial, but the enlightened being knows them as insubstantial and nonexistent.


The View of Mahamudra lies in neither adding nor deducting from the nature of mind

Being mindful of this, (the View) without distraction, is the root-action of Mahamudra

Of all meditations, this is the highest practice p. 295

Let me always find this right teaching of the View, Action, and Practice.

To understand the nature of mind is easy if one can recognize it without making any mental effort, and grasp it instantaneously as it is at this very moment. The practice of Mahamudra lies in the constant awareness of this view. Other teachings using visualization, mantras, and bodily and prana exercises must all employ effort and are With Form. Compared to them, the practice of Mahamudra, effortless and Without Form, is superb.


All Dharmas (manifestations) are the expression of mind

The mind is of no-mind – void in essence

Void, yet not extinct, it manifest all

Let me observe this essence, and retain this immutable view.

Dharma: In Buddhism "Dharma" has two meanings. It means "Doctrine" and is also a general term to include all "objects, manifestations, and existences".


In our confusion, we consider the self-manifestation (which never came into being) apparent in outer objects

In our blindness, we hold the self-awareness to be the real ego

Because of the Two Clingings, sentient beings wander in Samsara

May I cut this root of Confusion and Blindness.

Two Clingings: 1) The Clinging of Ego – clinging to the individual conditioned and continuously changing consciousness [p. 296} as the ego. 2) The Clinging of Dharma – clinging to objects and manifestations as real.


"Nothing really exists!" Buddha, himself, sees no existence

"All is not empty!" since the causes of Nirvana and Samsara exist

This, is the Middle Path of the Two-in-One, neither agreeing nor contradicting.

May I realize the discrimination-free Mind-essence.

One trying to understand Buddhism is often puzzled by its apparently contradictory statements such as, "Everything exists," "Nothing exists," "There is an ego," "There is no ego," "Meritorious deeds are beneficial," "Meritorious deeds do not exist." Such statements can be understood only if one learns to think from the standpoint of different categories of truth. For instance, in the Mundane category (or point-of-view) everything exists; but from the standpoint of Transcendental truth, nothing exists. * This distinction in Buddhist philosophy between the Mundane and Transcendental views must be kept in mind. [p. 297}


No one can describe that by saying, "This is it!"

No one can deny that by saying, "This is not it!"

Such is the Non-created nature of Being which transcends the realm of Consciousness

May I attain, decisively, this uttermost truth.

Because "the Non-created nature of Being – Mind-essence" lies beyond the realm of words and thoughts, it is indescribable; therefore, it can neither be affirmed nor negated. Furthermore, this Mind-essence though beyond words and thought is, nevertheless, all-pervading. Since it embraces all, no one can deny it by saying of anything, "This is not the Mind-essence".


Ignorant of this, we drift in the ocean of Samsara

If one realizes this essence, there is no other Buddha

In the final truth, there is neither Yes nor No

May I realize the Dharma-nature – the principle of Alaya!

The cause of Samsara is the Blindness – the subject-object pattern of thought which does not exist in the dualistic-free Mind-essence. Enlightenment or the attainment of Buddhahood is nothing but the complete realization of this Mind-essence. The experience of the final realm of truth lies beyond the opposites and thoughts of Yes and No.


The manifestation is mind, the Voidness is also mind

The enlightenment is mind, and the Blindness is also mind p. 298

The springing of things is mind, and their extinction is also mind

May I understand that all Increasing and Decreasing inhere in mind.

All activities, existences, experiences, Sangsaric or Nirvanic, all stem from the mind. If one understands and realizes the mind, he understands and realizes all.

'Increasing' and 'Decreasing' here means the two opposites: the purity and defilement, the merits and sins, the enlightenment and blindness etc.


Unsullied by intentional practice or meditation-with-effort

Away from the Worldly-Wind of distraction

With no effort and correction, I rest comfortably on the natural state of mind

May I find the adroit and subtle teaching of Mind Practice.

The difference between Mahamudra and other types of meditation is that in Mahamudra no meditation-effort and no correction is employed; but in most other types of meditations such as visualizing a subject, holding the breath, meditating on love and divine mercy a mental effort is always required *, [p. 299} concentration – choosing one and rejecting the other – is always stressed, whereas in the practice of Mahamudra, no effort whatsoever is required. After one has realized the essence of mind, concentration or non-concentration, distracted thoughts and Samadhi all become Mahamudra itself. Though for the beginners of Mahamudra, the distractions are obstacles for their meditation, they still should not 'intentionally practice Mahamudra' or meditate Mahamudra with effort. Because any effort or intentional practice helps not but impedes the realization of Mind-Essence. Hence, to comfortably rest on "the awareness of mind" and observe it is the key-instruction of Mahamudra.


The waves of Thought-Flow – strong and weak, clear and dim – subside

Without disturbance the River-of-Consciousness flows naturally

Far from the mud of drowsiness and distraction

Let the steady and immutable Ocean of Samadhi, absorb me!

The chief difficulty for the meditator arises from the habitual flow-of-thought common to everyone and which, according to Buddhism, has had this characteristic flowing nature from the very no-beginning. Besides this uncontrollable and habitual thinking the two chief obstacles hindering the meditator are drowsiness and distraction. Only through the attaining of a steady Samadhi can these obstacles be overcome. [p. 300}


Repeatedly contemplating the incontemplatable mind,

Clearly discerning the indiscernable meaning,

I forever eliminate the doubts of Yes and No

Let me surely behold my original face.

"Original face" – A symbolic term denotes the original Buddha-nature innate in every sentient being from the very no-beginning. It is interesting to note that this term, "Original face", is widely used in Chinese Zen as well as being found in the Mahamudra teaching of Tibet. [Here we have a fleeting reference to the all-important gotra concept. See our introduction. Ed.]


When I observe the (outer) objects, I find nothing but my own mind

When I observe my mind, I find nothing but the Voidness

Observing both mind and objects, free am I from the Two Clingings

Let me realize the true nature of the illuminating Mind-essence.

In the first step of Mahamudra practice, the yogi is taught to observe the outer objects and to keep on observing them. Continuing in this, he will come to the actual realization (not merely through belief or intellectual reasoning) that all objects are the phenomenal reflections of mind. Then he is taught to observe the mind, itself. From this continual observance, the yogi finally arrives at the realization that mind, itself, is merely voidness. When the yogi observes both mind and objects he is liberated from the Two Clingings – the Clinging of Ego which is the subjective-illusory conception of mind, and the Clinging of Dharma, which is the objective-delusory conception of mind. When one realizes the illuminating Mind-essence, one finds [p. 301} that neither ego nor objects exists. [The two-fold egolessness – of persons and of things – taught also in the Lankavatara Sutra, one of the texts basic to Mahamudra and Zen. Ed.]


Because that transcends the mind, it is called the Great Symbol

Because that frees from the extremes, it is called the Great Middle Way

Because that encompasses all and embrace all, it is called the Great Perfection

Let me understand that knowing one is knowing all.

The Great Symbol (Tib. Pyag Rgya Chen Po) literally means "The Great Hand-Seal," referring to the custom of ancient times when the Emperor signed imperial edicts with the print of his hand. Mahamudra is like the imperial law which was supreme in its own realm and came to be called "The Great Symbol," being acknowledged as the teaching which could not be violated and which surpassed all others.

Since Mind-essence is intrinsically apart from the subject-object pattern of thought, the teaching of realizing the Mind-essence is in this respect called the teaching of the Great Middle Way (Tib. Dwu Ma Chen Po). Since Mind-essence intrinsically encompasses all and its teaching is the consummation of all teachings, it is called the Great Perfection (Tib. Rdzogs Pa Chen Po). If one succeeds in practicing one teaching, no matter by what name it is called, he succeeds in realizing all.


With Clingings absent, the great bliss continuously arises

With no form to cling to, the radiant light outshines the dark hindrances p. 302

May I constantly practice the practice of no-effort – transcending mind

The natural and spontaneous Non-Discerning.

The sufferings and miseries of sentient beings are the result of 'tensions' which are originated from the 'fundamental tension'. Buddhism denominates this fundamental tension as 'clinging' (Tib. atsin Pa). If one can eliminate, or even subdue this Clinging to some extent, a great bliss or Nirvanic ecstasy will arise.

Hindrances cannot exist without being embodied in forms; therefore, if the yogi can realize in his Mahamudra meditation that no forms whatsoever exist at all, he automatically overcomes all hindrances.

Any effort, or intentional practice in Mahamudra meditation is redundant, useless, and even harmful since the Mind-Essence is ever-present and has always existed. The closest description one can give of the experience of the enlightenment mind is the feeling of a natural and spontaneous non-discriminating, subject-object-free awareness.


The craving for ecstasy and good experience in meditation naturally dissolves

The evil thoughts and blindness rest innately pure in Dharma-dhatu

In the "ordinary mind" there is no loss or gain, no claim or disclaim.

Away from words, let me realize the truth of Dharma Essence.

It is common for the yogi to cling to the rapture, brightness, and pleasant visions and feelings experienced during meditation-practice. Buddha, however, has warned that those who continue to crave such experiences cannot liberate themselves. In practicing Mahamudra rightly, the yogi will find his craving for such ecstasies diminish and finally dissolve. [p. 303}

Dharma-dhatu may be translated as "the Universal Whole" in which evil thoughts and virtues, blindness and enlightenment are innately identical *.

There is a famous Zen story that once a monk asked the Zen master Chow Chu, "What is Tao (reality or path)?" The master answered, "The ordinary mind is Tao." This "ordinary mind" can be easily misunderstood as referring to the ignorant and illusory mind of the ordinary person. However, it really means the Mind-essence which the enlightened being sees and which is not a new mind or something which is different in essence from the common mind. The enlightened see mind as it is – natural, common, and intrinsic. In this sense, Mahamudra denotes the Mind-essence as "the ordinary mind" wherein one finds no loss or gain, no claim or disclaim, since it excludes all discriminations and includes all differentiations.

Before actually and directly realized the Mind-essence, whatever philosophy or theories one holds ("Reality is one," "Reality is two," "Truth is this or that") are nonsense like 'Playwords' of children. When one directly and actually realizes the Mind-essence, he reaches the world-beyond or the state called here "Away From Playwords." [p. 304}


Not knowing their natures are identical with Buddha's

Sentient beings wander endlessly in Sangsara

To those misery-bound who have undergone endless sufferings

May I forever pity ["Succour" would be a better translation then the condescending "pity," we feel. Ed.] them with the unbearable great compassion!

May I forever pity them with the unbearable great compassion!


Right in that moment when the Great Compassion arises

Emerges nakedly and vividly the Great Voidness.

Let me always find this unmistakable Two-in-One Path

And practice it day and night.

The teaching of Buddhism on Great Voidness and Great Compassion is not rightly understood by most people. These two are, actually, one entity manifested in two aspects. But to the Sangsaric beings, these two are seemingly irreconcilable since in many characteristics they seem opposed, the wisdom seems 'cold' while the compassion is 'warm'; the Voidness has no object while the Compassion demands an object, etc. Only the Buddha and enlightened beings can merge the two, or, more accurately speaking, realize and unfold the identicalness and simultaneous-existing-nature of the two. Here the author points out that the unmistakable sign of the experience of the enlightened being is that during the moment of enlightenment, when the great Voidness is seen, the Great Compassion automatically arises, or, in some cases, a great and unbearable compassion, should it ever arise, will automatically bring forth the emergence of the Great Voidness.

[In this stanza is expressed the essence of the Buddhist Tantra: that the SHunya (or prajná) and active Love (or vajra) [p. 305} must be and are forever joined at the heart of reality. Here is the true inner meaning of the profound Yab-Yum symbolism of the phrase "the jewel (or diamond, i.e. upáya, vajra) is in the lotus (padma, shunya, prajná)." In the terms of the Hindu Tantra, with its emphasis on the formative center and energy, SHakta and SHakti are forever united in a not indistinct, but rather in a dynamic polar union. Ed.]


With meditation-produced clairvoyance and other miraculous powers

May I ripen all the sentient beings and adorn Buddha's Pure Land

May I fulfill the compassionate vows of all Buddhas

And eventually achieve the highest enlightenment and perfections.


The power of the compassion of Buddha

The power of the loving Bodhisattvas

The power of all virtues and good deeds

May I bind these powers into one great force

By which the pure vow of mine

And the benevolent wishes of others may be readily fulfilled!




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