This supplication to the mahamudra lineage contains a condensed presentation of mahamudra meditation instruction. For an excellent discussion of the entire supplication, see Showing the Path to Liberation by Thrangu Rinpoche (Tara Publishing, 1983).
On mahamudra and devotion
“Introduction,” The Life of Marpa, pp. xxxix-xliii. “Song of Lodrö Thaye,” The Rain of Wisdom, pp. 81-90.
“Mahamudra Upadesha,” The Myth of Freedom, pp. 157-63.
Lamp of Mahamudra by Tsele Natsok Rangdrol (Shambhala, 1990).
“Devotion,” The Heart of the Buddha (Shambhala, 1991), pp. 59-82.
On the Kagyü lineage
Buddhist Civilization in Tibet by Tulku Thondrup Rinpoche (Mahasiddha Nyingmapa Center, 1978). A good summary of all four lineages of Tibetan buddhism.
History of the Sixteen Karmapas by Karma Thinley (Prajna Press, 1980).
The Life of Milarepa, translated by Lobsang P. Lhalungpa (Shambhala, 1984).
The Rain of Wisdom , translated by the Nalanda Translation Committee (Shambhala, 1980). The Afterword, pp. 293-333, is very useful.
Explanation of Terms
Takpo (Tib. name of a place): This refers to all the Kagyü lineages stemming from Gampopa, who was also known as Takpopa or Takpo Lharje, “the physician from Takpo.”
Kagyü (Tib. “command lineage”): “Ka” refers to the “word” or oral instructions of the guru. It carries a sense of enlightened vision and therefore has the connotation of a command to be awake and sane. The principal teaching of the Kagyü is mahamudra. The Kagyü lineage is included among the New Translation Schools, along with the Sakya and Geluk lineages.
Vajradhara (San. “vajra holder”): For the Kagyü lineage, the primordial or dharmakaya buddha, indestructible and all-pervading. Vajradhara is a symbol of the totally unconditioned quality of enlightened mind. It is said that when King Indrabhuti asked for the vajrayana teachings, Shakyamuni Buddha manifested as Vajradhara to teach them. He is traditionally depicted as dark blue, holding a vajra and ghanta (bell) in his crossed hands, a mudra which symbolizes the union of knowledge (San: prajna) and skillful means (San: upaya). He wears the customary silks and jewel ornaments of a peaceful deity.
Tilo: Tilopa (988-1069), an Indian mahasiddha, or supremely accomplished yogin, who was the first historical holder of the lineage. Although he had other Indian teachers, he received the transmission of mahamudra from Vajradhara directly. Tilopa made his living through pounding the oil from sesame seeds (San. tila); hence his name.
Naro: Naropa (1016-1100), an Indian pandit and mahasiddha, was first trained within the traditional monastic framework. He was appointed one of the four academic gatekeepers at Nalanda University (or Vikramashila, according to some sources), a supreme scholastic achievement. However, one day he had the vision of an ugly hag, who showed him that he had not learned the meaning behind the words. He sought for and found a genuine guru in Tilopa, with whom he studied for twelve years, undergoing twelve major and twelve minor hardships.
Marpa: Marpa Lotsawa (1012-1097), a farmer and renowned translator, journeyed to India three times to receive teachings from his root guru Naropa and others. He was the first Tibetan in the lineage, bringing the mahamudra teaching of Naropa and Maitripa (his other main teacher) to Tibet.
Mila: Milarepa (1040-1123), probably the most renowned Tibetan yogin, was renowned for his songs and ascetic discipline. He was the principal disciple of Marpa.
Gampopa: Gampopa (1079-1153), also known as Takpo Lharje and “Lord of Dharma,” was a chief disciple of Milarepa who joined the mahamudra yogic tradition of Tilopa with the monasticism of Atisha’s Kadampa lineage, which formed his early training. He founded the Kagyü lineage as a monastic tradition.
three times: The past, present, and future.
Karmapa: The word Karmapa in Tibetan means “one who performs buddha activity.” Here this refers to Tüsum Khyenpa (1110-1193), the first Karmapa, whose name literally means “knower of the three times.” He was a principal student of Gampopa and the founder of the Karma Kagyü lineage.
four great and eight lesser lineages: From the time of Gampopa, the Kagyü lineage developed into a number of branches, called “the four great and the eight lesser schools.” The four “great” lineages (referring to the first generation of disciples) derive from students of Gampopa (1079-1153) and his nephew Takpo Gomtsül (1116-1169). They are:
Karma Kagyü or Karma Kaîtsang, founded by Tüsum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa (1110–93)
Tsalpa Kagyü, founded by Gampopa’s nephew Takpo Gomtsül (1110–1109) and his student Shang Yudrakpa Tsöndril Drakpa (1123–1193)
Baram Kagyü, founded by Baram Dharma Wangchuk (1100–?)
Pagmo Drupa Kagyü, founded by Pagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110–1170).
The “eight lesser” (or “subsidiary”) schools are the second generation of disciples that developed from Pagmo Drupa. They are know as Drikung, Taklung, Tropu, Drukpa, Martsang, Yelpa, Shuksep, and Yamsang. Only three of these survive today: Drukpa, Drikung, and Taklung. In addition, there are several other well-known Kagyü lineages such as the Shangpa Kagyü and the Ugyen Nyendrup.
masters of the profound path of mahamudra: The Karmapas are especially associated with the teachings of mahamudra. There are traditionally eighty-four mahasiddhas, or accomplished masters, of the mahamudra path. For a brief biography of each, refer to Buddha’s Lions, translated by James B. Robinson (Dharma Publishing, 1979) and Masters of Mahamudra, translated by Keith Dowman (SUNY Press, 1985).
mahamudra (San. “great seal or symbol”): The meditative transmission handed down from Vajradhara and Tilopa to the present day. It is the ultimate realization of the Kagyü lineage: that all phenomena are “sealed” or marked with the empty, luminous nature of wisdom mind.
I hold your lineage: This is an acknowledgment that we are members of the same tradition of meditation and learning as the Kagyü masters. We are thus all lineage holders.
revulsion: A strong sense of disgust for the allurements of samsara. The basis of meditation is revulsion, which leads to renunciation and a turning towards the dharma.
devotion (Tib. mögü; “longing and respect”): The teacher presents the wakefulness of the world to the student, pointing out the nature of the student’s own mind, Therefore, the teacher is the “gate to the treasury of oral instructions.” In the Tibetan term, “longing” is for the teacher and realization; “respect” is based on intelligence and experience.
awareness (Tib. ma-yeng; also translated as “nondistraction”): Awareness is the thread that runs from the first efforts at practicing shamatha to the final realization of mahamudra, or enlightenment.
whatever arises is fresh: During meditation, whatever appears is directly seen to be transparent, the play of mind.
rests simply without altering it: The ultimate discipline is to leave mind just as it is—to make no effort, yet not to be distracted. We hold the mind not too tight, not too loose. Meditation is viewed as a natural process, not a ritual.
free from conception: When we properly understand emptiness, we realize the three purities: that the meditator, the act of meditating, and the subject of meditation are all empty. Therefore, we do not cultivate any particular “ideal” state of mind. Any kind of habitual or contrived meditation is seen through.
dharmakaya (San. “dharma body”): The mind of enlightenment itself, wisdom beyond any reference point; unoriginated, primordial mind. At the tantric level, the projections of thought are no longer rejected as belonging to samsara. They are seen through as inherently empty; at the same time, the vividness and dance of their energy is fully appreciated. Their vividness or brilliance is the discovery of luminosity.
samsara (San. “to wander, pass through, transmigrate”): Confused existence; the vicious cycle of birth and death in the six realms, which arises out of ignorance and is characterized by suffering.
nirvana (San. “extinguished”): Freedom from samsara, enlightenment; cessation of ignorance and of conflicting emotions, attained through the path of meditation. In this text, the two opposites of confusion and enlightenment are said to be inseparable because, from a wider perspective, both are seen as empty or illusory in nature; both are equally the creation of mind’s own play. To quote the Vidyadhara:
Tantric wisdom brings nirvana into samsara. This may sound rather shocking. Before reaching the level of tantra, you try to abandon samsara and strive to achieve nirvana. But eventually you must realize the futility of striving and then become completely one with nirvana. In order to really capture the energy of nirvana and become one with it, you need a partnership with the ordinary world. One cannot reject the physical existence of the world as being something bad and associated with samsara. You can only understand the essence of nirvana by looking into the essence of samsara. (Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, p. 220)
paths: The Buddhist journey is commonly divided into five paths, or stages of development: the paths of accumulation, unification, seeing, meditation, and no-more-learning.
bhumis (San. “ground, level”): The path of the bodhisattva, or mahayana practitioner, is divided into ten stages, or bhumis. The first bhumi, called “very joyful,” corresponds with the path of seeing.
state of Vajradhara: The state of enlightenment itself.