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Mahamudra Yoga

Page numbers in red brackets refer to the book Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines (Tiy).


The Other Shore of this world is Nirvana - cf. W. Y. Evans-Wentz, (Tiy 144n)

From the History of the Great Symbol Teachings

The orientalist, Dr Walter Y. Evans-Wentz of Oxford University tells that the Indian guru Tilopa was telepathically inspired by Vajra-Dhara (also called Dorje-Chang), and through Tilopa quintessential Great Symbol teachings were handed down to Milarepa, who was in a line of Great Symbol teachers (101-2). (1)

Great Symbol teachings go into methods that are said to lead to adeptship in yoga. The sanctity of gurus and a guru dynasty and the Great Symbol tradition is much venerated. (111, 113)

The Buddhist philosopher Saraha (in or about the first century BCE) stated that already in his day the Great Symbol teachings were ancient; and that gurus had uninterruptedly transmitted the teachings direct from the Great Seers (rishis) of old. The Tibetan block-print that lies at the back of our resume bears the title, "Herein Lies the Epitome of the Great Symbol". (101) (2)

In the Orient, wisdom consists of secret wisdom and public wisdom. These particular methods were handed over by a dynasty line that handed over secret teachings and other very helpful teachings aimed at a broader public. The first known teacher of its interesting history is called Vajra-Dhara (also: the Adi-Buddha of the line: Adi is Sanskrit for 'first'), His disciple Tilopa taught Naropa, who in turn handed over the wisdom teachings to Marpa, who passed eighteen years as a shishya (disciple) in India and established the Tibetan branch of the Great Symbol dynasty of gurus during the latter half of the 1000s AD. (101-2, 110)

Marpa in turn instructed Milarepa, who developed supernormal powers and had "saintly disciples as numerous as the stars in the sky". Two of them: [Rechungpa][Gampopa].

So Milarepa passed on the secret lore to disciples and they in turn handed its secrets over to other disciples in an unbroken succession of initiates. The Tibetan branch of the White Line of Gurus is commonly known as the Kagyu or Kagyupa school of Buddhism. Today it is one of four main schools of Himalayan Buddhism. Kagyu mainly follows the Vajrayana teachings, also called Tantric teachings. Kagyu is marked by strong emphasis on devotion to a Tantric guru who is considered essential as a guide. There is much more to it too. (101-2, 110, 111, 113) (4)

Gurus of the White Dynasty

As the twenty-fourth head in the line after Marpa, Guru Padma-Karpo, the author of our text of The Epitome of the Great Symbol compiled it as we have it, after extracting its essentials at the wish of a disciple (a probation-shishya) who was the King of Kashmir. The king returned to Kashmir, the Land of Saffron, and seems to have established a Kashmiri hierarchy of the White Line there. Today the poet and compiler and editor Padma-Karpo is the chief authority concerning the Tantric lore of the Kargyutpa School. (111, 112)

His line of the gurus of the Great Symbol teachings is called the White Dynasty [or Line]. In it we find the hermit guru Norbu (The Gem Possessing Power of [Divine] Speech" (Nor-bu). (110)

A History of Hidden Texts

Walter Y. Evans-Wentz knew of three or four Tibetan versions of the wisdom teachings of the Great Symbol (103). Yogis who produced them included Rechung, who was authored of Milarepa's Biography. (103)

A later translation was made by Nagpo Sherdad of Ngari, a Tibetan who visited India and there met Chyagna (Tib. Phyagna), who possessed the teachings too. Then there was Dom, another teacher, who produced an independent Tibetan version of The Great Symbol. (103)

The purified version was compiled by Padma-Karpo during the 1600s CE, after comparing texts and purported extracts. (103)

The Work of Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup and W. Y. Evans-Wentz

In the course of time Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup (1868-1922) received the set of texts from his guru, the late hermit-lama Norbu (the name means "Gem") of Buxaduar in Bhutan. Evans-Wentz, in turn, received from the late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup, his own guru, who also produced a first English translation of it "for the benefit of the non-Tibetan peoples of the world", as he said. (104, 105)

After Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup and Evans-Wentz had completed the translation of The Tibetan Book of The Dead (published in 1927) and other Tibetan works while together in Gangtok, Sikkhim, the lama introduced Dr Evans-Wentz to the teachings of The Great Symbol and suggested the translation of its Epitome [epitome: summary, brief presentation, etc.]. At the time they knew of no other copy, "not even in Bhutan". (2)

They began translating it in July 1919, and completed the first draft that month. When the whole was finished and revised again, the lama said:

I had hoped on more than one occasion to translate this text of The Epitome of the Great Symbol, but the sublime nature of the subject-matter, together with my lack of knowledge of the phraseology of European and modern philosophy, which is essential for the production of an intelligible English rendering, deterred me. My earnest desire thus remained unfulfilled until now, when, through your aid, it has been realized. Therefore I rejoice at having been able to carry out the injunctions of my guru to transmit this precious teaching to the world - especially to the educated and thinking men and women of Europe and America. (107-8)

He also said, "It seems to me that these sublime truths will make more appeal to truth-seekers in Europe and in America." (106)

How The Great Symbol Teachings Were

From the onset, the Great Symbol teachings were for attaining Existence, and that Way was taught by certain gurus in India. (108)

The term Great Symbol is equivalent to the Sanskrit Mahamudra, "Great Mudra". Capable of bringing about practical experience of Existence, in its essentials it has been considered to be of more than ordinary value. By practically applying these instructions, Nirvana may be gained. (108-9) (2)

The Great Symbol teachings were originally oral teachings, it appears. As basically yogic teachings, they avoid the two extremes of ascetical mortification and licentiousness. [108, 109) (3)

Swami Satyananda near Rishikesh examined the translation of Dawa-Samdup and Evans-Wentz and found that its methods of tranquillizing the mind were easy to follow, and so could bestow an indescribable peace. (108-9) (4)

Secrets of mantras and images

Mantras are sound-bodies of beings somehow, or they may become that. They ought to be very well chosen, and fit for the individual in question. Well visualised images of spiritual beings [devatas] to focus on some way or other, ought to be regarded with devotion as real enough, although held in mind. For as the mind at depth is That . . . its ideas may manifest forms of That too. As the mind encompassed all the world, the devata is there throughout the whole world too. (44)

Devatas "must be thought of as being within the worshipper himself." (45)

"The Deities constitute the Path." (45)

The White Line of Gurus

The Tibetan branch of the White Line of Gurus is known as the Kagyu or Kargyütpa Line, or "followers of the Apostolic succession". (110)

  • Marpa Lotsawa (1012–97), after eighteen years as a shishya (disciple) in India, is the first of the Tibetan gurus of the Line. (110)
  • Milarepa is his successor. He developed supernormal powers. (110)
  • Two of Milarepa's disciples are Dvagpo-Lharje and Rechung. In addition to them Milarepa is reputed to have developed eight other disciples to adeptship in yoga. It is also said he left behind him numerous saintly disciples. (111)

The Line of the White Gurus continued. Padma-Karpo (or Ngag-Dvang-Nor-bu), was the twenty-fourth in a direct succession from Marpa, and he wrote The Epitome of the Great Symbol as we have it. Padma-Karpo, who flourished around the late 1600s, had access to various Tibetan manuscripts with commentaries that had accumulated during the six centuries since the days of Marpa. At the wish of his disciple, the Kashmir King, Padma-Karpo extracted the essentials and compiled The Epitome of the Great Symbol as we have it. (111-12) The compiler, poet, and editor Padma-Karpo is now a chief authority on the Tantric lore of the Kargyütpa School. (112)

Toward the end of the 1600s a guru of the White Line became the king of the Bhutanese. He became known to them as such as The Irresistible Destroyer of Illusion. Through this king and from then on to the Hermit guru Norbu, the teachings of The Great Symbol continued to be fostered and handed on. (113)

"Nirvanaland", or Unwavering Reality

"Nirvana is conceived somewhat differently within various schools of Buddhism. In the Theravada tradition, it is tranquillity and peace. In the schools of the Mahayana tradition, Nirvana is equated with sunyata (emptiness), with dharma-kaya (the real and unchanging essence of the Buddha), and with dharma-dhatu (ultimate reality)." - Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB, "Nirvana")

Be lamps to yourselves.
And hold fast to the Truth.

- Buddha (p 240).


Mahamudra yoga, Great Symbol Methods, Tibetan Mahayana, Vajrayana Buddhism, Literature  

Tiy: Evans-Wentz, Walter Y, ed. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1967 (1st ed. 1935 - 3rd ed. 2000). ⍽▢⍽ Dr Evans-Wentz has edited many translations of Tibetan Buddhist texts, texts he got English translations of by his Tibetan Guru, Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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