Last weekend, Lama Jampa Thaye gave the second in a series of teachings on the ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje’s short guide to Mahamudra entitled Pointing the Finger at the Dharmakaya. On the Sunday afternoon Lama Jampa bestowed the initiation of Namgyalma.
The first section of the text, given in December 2017, covered the preliminary practices with teachings on the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to Dharma, followed by instructions on the first three of the Four Special Preliminaries of the Ngondro: developing one’s connection to the lineage and strengthening one’s bodhichitta through prostrations, refuge and bodhichitta; purification through meditation and recitation of Vajrasattva; accumulation of merit and wisdom though the practice of the mandala offering.
The Practice of Guru Yoga: The Qualities of the Lama
This weekend’s session began with teachings on the practice of Guru Yoga, first with the importance of the receipt of the lama’s blessings for the realisation of Mahamudra: ‘The ultimate reality cannot be pointed out by words and reasoning but only by the blessings of the lama entering your mind’. With such emphasis on devotion to the guru in Mahamudra, one needs to know the appropriate characteristics of the lama, both in the ordinary and tantric Mahayana.
The lama must have the ordinary qualities of being in control of his or her senses, not proud or angry, regarding his or her disciples as like their own children. These qualities should be evident in the guru’s behavior. They must also have received all of the necessary teachings, being learned in both the perfection and tantric vehicles. The lama should also keep all of the vows and pledges that they’ve received, that is they must have ethical strength and goodness. It is down to the student to examine the lama to see whether or not these qualities are present in them. The one who teaches Mahamudra must have accomplished the necessary meditations, recitations and retreats.
The student must therefore arm themselves with great intelligence and common sense and knowledge about the dharma in order to ensure that they will not be mistaken about the suitability of the lama.
The Lama as a Mirror of our own Buddha Mind
Lama Jampa went on point out that the lama is the one who is like the mirror in whom we see the reflection of our own Buddha mind. Devotion to the Lama in the dharma is not sentimental, one is not praying to be saved, rather through receiving his blessings we will achieve realisation and recognise our own Buddha nature.
The Four Conditions of Practice
A later section of the teachings on the Four Conditions of Practice described the conditions that need to come together in order for the receipt of blessings to occur. First there is reflection on impermanence and the all pervasiveness of suffering in samsara:
Unless we have this feeling about samsara then we have not really entered the dharma path.
The second and main condition is reliance on the Guru as the embodiment of Mahamudra itself, the ultimate nature. Third, there is the object condition, which for Mahamudra meditation is to take no position, to have no framework but to relax in one’s true nature. Finally, there is the immediate condition of having no ambition in one’s practice, not looking for results or checking one’s meditation.
Two Approaches to Mahamudra in the Karma Kagyu tradition
This is the main section of the text, which covers samatha and vipassana meditations as practised within this tradition. Lama Jampa began by describing how there are two approaches to the achievement of Mahamudra within the Karma Kagyu tradition. Firstly, through development and completion stage practices, following receipt of Annutaratantra initiation, and secondly through what the eighth Situ Rinpoche, Chokyi Jungne, referred to as ‘ordinary Mahamudra’. However, although this system uses terms such as samatha and vipassana, in common with the sutra tradition, the practices themselves are expressed in ways that are unique to Mahamudra. For example, the calming of the mind using samatha techniques is used for beginners to help them to calm the endless turbulence of their mind and gain stability in meditation. The practice of samatha in Mahamudra is much more subtle and is not for beginners but only for those who have completed the preliminary practices (Tib: Ngondro).
Seven Instructions for Samatha Practice
The text goes on to describe in detail the seven instructions for practice, beginning with the key points of the body, the key points of the mind, individual practices, remedies for sinking and scattering, meditating without an object and increasing focus through vase breathing. In the next section on how to give rise to samatha and how to recognise it Lama Jampa explained that:
the mind does not become obsessed with the detail of things, is always fluid, doesn’t fasten onto thoughts in a neurotic way; a person with the mind of samatha can be interrupted and return to sitting practice without loss of composure… Enhanced perception may arise, or difficulties. Whichever arises, give up attachment and aversion and meditate diligently.