Naked Awareness: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen

Naked Awareness: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen

by Karma Chagme, Karma-Chags-Med

In this classic seventeenth-century presentation of the union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, Karma Chagmé, one of the great teachers of both these lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, begins with an overview of the spirit of awakening and the nature of actions and their ethical consequences. Next, drawing from his enormous erudition and profound experience,


In this classic seventeenth-century presentation of the union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, Karma Chagmé, one of the great teachers of both these lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, begins with an overview of the spirit of awakening and the nature of actions and their ethical consequences. Next, drawing from his enormous erudition and profound experience, Chagmé gives exceptionally lucid instructions on the two phases of Dzogchen practice—the "breakthrough" and the "leap-over"—followed by an accessible introduction to the practice of the transference of consciousness at the time of death. The concluding chapters of this treatise present a detailed analysis of Mahamudra meditation in relation to Dzogchen practice. This tour de force of scholarly erudition and contemplative insight is made all the more accessible by the lively commentary of the contemporary Nyingma Lama Gyatrul Rinpoche.

Although this book stands alone, it is the concluding section of a single body of teachings by Karma Chagmé, the earlier section published under the title A Spacious Path to Freedom. Karma Chagmé was a major teacher of the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and his writings have also become central to the Payul Nyingma order, making him an ideal figure to integrate these two great meditation systems.

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Karma Chagme's Naked Awareness reviews the spiritual beliefs of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, considering the two phases of Dzoghchen practice and perspectives on consciousness and philosophy.

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Chapter One

An Oral Transmission on the Vows of
Mahayana Refuge and the Spirit
of Awakening

Homage to Avalokitesvara!

— While this text begins with teachings on the vows of Mahayana refugeand the spirit of awakening, please bear in mind that refuge, the FourThoughts that Turn the Mind, and the spirit of awakening itself are reallythe pivotal focus of the teachings and practice. Without them we're noteven Buddhists, and liberation and enlightenment are out of the question.It's by means of refuge, the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind, and thespirit of awakening that we actually accomplish our own ends, as well asserve the needs of others.

    Before beginning to study this text, we must bring to mind the importanceof cultivating a wholesome and meaningful motivation for both theteachings and the practice. Our motivation must be to attain enlightenmentin order to be of benefit to all sentient beings. Without cultivating awholesome motivation, this commentary, its translation into English, andreading this work will be pointless.

    What if we do neglect our motivation? We must then ask, "Is it enoughto simply become a Buddhist? Is taking the vows of refuge and therebyentering the door of Buddhadharma enough?" No, it's not. Nor is it enoughto take the precepts of refuge and the bodhisattva vows. Our goal is theattainment of the omniscient state of enlightenment. Why is this needed?It is to attain enlightenment and to liberate ourselves from suffering. Andto achieve this, we must first focus on the Four Thoughts that Turn theMind.

    The first ofthese four topics is the precious human life of leisure andendowment. Now, to understand this in terms of an analogy, imagine thatyou're drifting in a vast ocean and come upon a small island overflowingwith everything that you could possibly need. It has forests, excellent soil,water, and a fine climate. However, although this soil is so rich that youcould grow anything in it, it hasn't been properly prepared. Boulders,thorns, and so on need to be cleared away, then you can sow any crop youwish, and it will bring a fine harvest. Our precious human life is like thisisland with its rich soil. The stones, thorns, and so forth are like the threepoisons of the mind. Just as this soil can give rise to a harvest that can beenjoyed and shared with others, similarly, this human life with which weare presently endowed is replete with all the necessary causes, personalas well as public opportunities or endowments, to accomplish our ownends and the goals of others.

    Now, imagine that you fall back into this vast ocean, and it's filled withdangerous animals, such as sharks and crocodiles. This ocean is like thecycle of existence, in which so many sentient beings devour one another.The moment you fall back into the ocean, your situation becomes virtuallyhopeless.

    There are many islands in this ocean, some of them dry with poor soiland some with no forests. There are very few that are replete with suchexcellent soil and such ideal conditions for prospering. Moreover, sincenone are permanent, eventually they will all sink back beneath the water.These other islands are like the various types of human life. Among humanbeings, there are some people who have some kind of spiritual practice,while many others have none at all. Human life without spiritualpractice is like living on a dry and barren island.

    Right now in our present circumstances we are on a very fertile island.This is a good island—our present human life yet we need to bear inmind that we have it for only a short time. Spend this time most effectivelyand meaningfully in order to recognize what is virtuous and whatis nonvirtuous, adopting the former and avoiding the latter. Most importantly,once you have taken precepts or vows, keep them. If you breakthem, then recognize and confess this and carry on, restraining from suchacts in the future. In the meantime it's important not to fall into erroneousviews and misconceptions that can lead you away from the spiritual path.By following these very simple, basic guidelines, our human lives can bevery meaningful.

    Even if you are drawn to the teachings and practice of Dzogchen, theGreat Perfection, it's important to proceed step by step in order to gainrealization in such practice. First, establish a foundation in the Hinayana,or the Individual Vehicle. Take the precepts of individual liberation, suchas the five precepts, for example. Upon that basis, you can then proceedto Mahayana and cultivate the two types of the spirit of awakening, thespirit of aspiring for awakening and the spirit of venturing towards awakening,each having its own precepts. Most importantly, within the contextof Mahayana practice, never be separated from these two types ofthe spirit of awakening. In developing a spirit of awakening and takingthe precepts, we need to counteract our long-standing tendency to actout of self-centeredness. We need to engage in the practice of Dharma forthe sake of others.

    The Great Perfection is included in the context of Buddhist tantra, forwhich one must receive an empowerment before engaging in the practice.Of the various empowerments given, the fourth is of special importance.With the stage of generation and the stage of completion practicesas the basis, receive this empowerment, while paying special attentionto the fourth initiation and its samayas, or pledges. When fully understood,each of the preliminary practices, such as taking refuge, Vajrasattvameditation, and guruyoga, contains both the stage of generation and stageof completion. For example, if you have a full understanding of the practiceof taking refuge, all forms are seen as emanations of the field ofrefuge; and all sounds are heard as the speech of the objects of refuge.Taking refuge in this way becomes a complete tantric practice. Similarly,as you engage in Vajrasattva meditation, you will see all forms as theform of Vajrasattva and hear all sounds as the speech of Vajrasattva.This is also true of the practice of transference of consciousness, whichincludes the stages of generation and completion. However, transferencehas the special purpose of preparing us for death, and therein is its specialadvantage.

    Bestowing and receiving an empowerment is very important, so it'svery important to maintain the proper attitude. Some people seem to gofor empowerments as if they were simply making a collection, proudlytelling their friends of their latest acquisitions. This attitude is like throwingall precepts and empowerments into the garbage. It's just a waste.

     The practice of the Great Perfection clearly relates to the two stages ofgeneration and completion. Let's look at the Dzogchen view. Sometimes Ihear people say they have received teachings on the Great Perfection andhave gained realization. It seems that most people who make these proclamationsfall into one of two categories: (1) while they think they're realizingthe meaning, they are still grasping onto a mental object, so the subject/objectdichotomy is still being sustained; and they are also graspingonto the idea that they have realized something. We can decide for ourselveswhether that is on the right track. (2) Other people who make suchclaims are really remaining simply with a blank mind while they are apparentlymeditating. If that were true Dzogchen practice, then the stagesof generation and completion and all the teachings on the ten bodhisattvagrounds and five bodhisattva paths would obviously be irrelevant. If Dzogchenpractice consisted simply of stopping thoughts and remaining in astate of mental vacuousness, then the two stages of this practice—-of theBreakthrough and the Leap-over—would also be irrelevant.

    Sometimes we try to justify other peoples' conduct, saying they aresiddhas, or accomplished beings, who are beyond judgment. But GuruRinpoche himself said that while his view was as vast as space, he wasmeticulous in terms of his conduct. If Guru Rinpoche felt this was necessary,why should we make exceptions for siddhas who may have lesserdegrees of realization?

    Whether you are grasping at an object or becoming spaced out, youare not free of conceptual elaborations, so you are not truly engaging inDzogchen practice. Grasping onto an object seems to entail the extreme ofsubstantialism, while spacing out is associated with the extreme of nihilism.At the same time, it is one more error to spend one's time focusing onothers' errors in practice instead of attending to one's own situation, forthis is a kind of spiritual hypocrisy.

    Both the preliminaries and the actual practice of Dzogchen are crucial.Without training in the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind, even on theverge of death, we will still cling to all the things we're so accustomed tograsping onto, such as our possessions, home, environment, status, andreputation. It's so difficult to let them go. It's so easy to have the sensethat you can't die yet because you haven't completed your projects. Itdoesn't work that way. If you're an old man like me, the Lord of Deathhas already half swallowed you, so if you still have no renunciation anddon't think about future lifetimes, that means that you're not really disillusionedwith cyclic existence. In this case, what's the difference betweenbeing a Buddhist and non-Buddhist?

    It's also possible that once you have taken refuge and heard some teachings,you might become conceited and think you have thoroughly fathomedthe teachings. You might even think of yourself as a teacher. Bear inmind, it's not so easy to be a teacher. First, you must purify and subdueyour own mind. Only then may you be in a position to help others subduetheir minds. For example, if one blind person tries to lead another,they're both out of luck. Consequently, in order to accomplish our owngoals and the goals of others, it's important to go back to the beginning, tocultivate what the Zen tradition calls a "beginner's mind"—totally fresh,unknowing, wide open to everything. Go back to the Four Thoughts thatTurn the Mind, because they are the key that opens up the great treasurehouse of Buddhist teachings. In order to become familiar with them, readthem. And, as you read them, study them, and put them into practice. —

    [524] These are the profound practical instructions of Avalokitesvara.On your right side arrange an image of the Buddha, and Dharma volumessuch as this text of instructions. If you have a stupa, place itthere as well, and in front of all these lay out the sevens kinds of offerings,a mandala, and so on.

— The author initially gives instructions on setting up an altar as a directpreparation for taking the precepts of refuge and purifying the mind. Theminds we bring to the practice are impure, so it's helpful to create anenvironment, with beautiful offerings and so forth, that is pure and inducesa sense of gladness and faith. —

    I shall offer a more extensive explanation of the meaning of refugeand the spirit of awakening than was presented earlier in the instructionson the preliminaries. Once you have understood the meaningof this, if you again request these vows, they truly will arise in you; itis difficult for them to arise simply by engaging in recitations withoutunderstanding the meaning. In this supplementary Dharma, the vowswill be bestowed.

— Some people may wonder whether it is enough to take the vows ofrefuge just once. If one has taken these vows and kept them, in one waythis is sufficient. On the other hand, taking these vows is like eating: weneed to eat every day to sustain our health. Likewise, until we attain perfectenlightenment, it's very important to continue taking these vows ofrefuge and to keep them. —

    In terms of the vows of refuge, [525] there are those common to thedifferent yanas and there are the Mahayana vows of refuge; and nowwe are concerned with the latter. Here is the object from whom thevows are requested, according to the tradition of the present teachings:In the space in front of you there is a broad, vast, and mightythrone of jewels supported by lions. Upon it is a variegated lotus witha hundred thousand petals, on which rests a round moon-disk. In itscenter is your own primary spiritual mentor Amitabha, present in thegarb of a sambhogakaya, surrounded by Kagyü lamas.

— When visualizing the Kagyü lamas, you might be wondering whichKagyü lineage (the Karma Kagyü, Drukpa Kagyü, and so on) you shouldimagine. Actually in this reference to the Kagyü lamas, the syllable "Ka"means "teachings" and "gyü" means "lineage." The term "Kagyü lamas"here refers to all spiritual mentors who hold the lineage of the kama andtermas. This includes Kagyü lamas as well as the Geluk, Sakya, andNyingma lamas. —

    In front of him is the chosen deity Avalokitesvara surrounded by amyriad of chosen deities. On his right is Buddha Sakyamuni surroundedby a myriad of buddhas including [526] the thousand buddhasof this fortunate era. Behind him is The Perfection of Wisdom Sutra inOne Hundred Thousand Stanzas, surrounded by a myriad of treatisesand volumes of sublime Dharma. On his left is Vajrapani, surroundedby a myriad of the Mahayana and Hinayana Sangha, including theeight bodhisattva spiritual sons and the eight supreme sravakas. Allthe cardinal and intermediate directions are filled with viras anddakinís. Beneath him are a myriad of Dharma-protectors, includingthe Four-armed Mahakala, Six-armed Mahakala, and Draklha Gönpo.On the crowns of their heads is Om, at their throats, Ah, and at theirhearts, Hum. From the Hum at their hearts rays of light are emitted inthe ten directions, inviting all the spiritual mentors, chosen deities,viras, dakinis, and Dharma-protectors like gathering clouds. Imaginethat they dissolve into the deities visualized in front of you.

    With palms pressed together holding a stick of incense, the masterand disciples invite them by chanting together:

You are the protector of all sentient beings without exception, the unassailable, divine conqueror who defeats the hosts of maras, who knows all things as they are. Lord, please come to this place together with your retinue.

Lord, for countless eons you have cultivated compassion for sentient beings, and you have made vast prayers to fulfill the needs of us all. Now, when the time has come, please dispense a myriad of miraculous blessings from your spontaneous palace of the absolute space of phenomena. In order to liberate limitless hosts of sentient beings, please come together with your entire retinue.

You are the Lord of all Dharmas, your complexion is like pure gold, with a splendor more magnificent than the sun. Due to my faith, may you gaze upon me. Peaceful and compassionate, subdued and abiding in meditative stabilization, with your Dharma and primordial wisdom free of attachment, you possess inexhaustible power. Return, return, O being of the peace of purity. Omniscient sage, foremost of living beings, come to this place of offerings, which are presented like beautiful reflections.

Lord, it is good for you to come here. We possess merit and good fortune. Please accept our offerings, attend to us, and grant your blessings.

When we offer this eight-petalled lotus as vast as the galaxy, with joy and open-heartedness, [527] please remain as long as you please.

— Holding a stick of incense, a flower, or any other suitable offering, askfor blessings and for forgiveness for all of the downfalls and errors youhave committed in the past. —

    If you wish, you may expand on this by offering the ritual bath andthe mandala. This is the brief liturgy:

Just as the gods bathed you as soon as you were born, so do I bathe you with pure, divine water. This is a glorious, supreme bath, with the unsurpassable water of compassion. With the water of blessings and primordial wisdom, grant me whatever siddhis I desire. The body, speech, and mind of the jinas are free of the obscurations of mental afflictions, but in order to purify the obscurations of the body, speech, and mind of sentient beings, I bathe you with pure water.

— The buddhas are free of all obscurations and defilements, so there isnothing that devas or human beings can do to purify them. But in orderto purify our own obscurations, negative actions and so on, this ritualbath is offered. For example, in terms of the usual offerings placed on analtar or offerings made during a sadhana practice, there is the offering ofwater for drinking. The buddhas aren't really thirsty, so this offering is notsomething they need. Rather, we offer it for our own benefit. The secondoffering is water to bathe the feet. Once again the buddhas don't need theirfeet bathed, but for our purification, we offer this as a ritual bath. To performthis ritual more elaborately with two phases not included in thistext, one would imagine drying the buddhas with a pure towel, and thenmake an offering of beautiful garments.

    These offerings are followed immediately with the concise mandala offering.You may instead recite the intermediate or extensive mandala offeringwhile either placing a mandala on your altar or performing themandala offering mudra with your hands. —


The foundation of the earth annointed with perfumed water and strewn with flowers, adorned with Mount Meru, the four world-sectors, the sun, and moon I visualize as a pure realm of the buddhas. Due to this offering, may all beings experience this perfectly pure realm! Idam ratna mandalakam niryàtayami.

    Thus, imagine that the objects of refuge are experientially presentin the space in front of you. Indeed, they are actually present, for it issaid, "For those who believe in the Buddha, the Sage is present beforethem," and "Like reflections of the moon in water, they appear whereveryou look." So they are actually present. Moreover, the buddhasand bodhisattvas dwelling in the pure realms of the ten directions seeyou with their eyes of primordial wisdom, and they certainly hearyou chanting. So this is the same as requesting the vows from all thebuddhas.

— At this point, you don't need to have any doubts. By having faith, thebuddhas are, in fact, actually present. Buddhas are not like rocks that can bepresent in only one place. Rather, they are like a hundred reflections ofthe moon in a hundred water-filled vessels. Wherever there is a vessel ofwater facing the moon, there you will find the reflection of the moon.Buddhas are present, not as material entities, but as forms of primordialwisdom, for all those who have faith in them.

    Moreover be certain that all the buddhas and bodhisattvas hear youchanting. That is, as you take vows from Buddha Amitabha or your ownspiritual mentor in the nature of Buddha Amitabha, since they are thesynthesis of all of the buddhas, this is the same as taking the vows fromall of the buddhas. —

    With the representations of the enlightened body, speech, and mindthat you have set out in front of you as the basis of your visualization,request me to be your mentor. Imagine requesting the vows ofMaha-yana refuge. The objects of refuge [528] are of the nature ofthe three embodiments, and the blessed buddhas are the Jewel of theBuddha. Request them to be your fundamental refuge. The holy Jewelof the Dharma is of the nature of the Mahayana scriptures and insights.Request this as your refuge in terms of the path. Thebodhisattvas abiding on the first ground and beyond are the MahayanaJewel of the Sangha. Imagine requesting them to be your refuge bybeing your companions.

— Here Karma Chagmé Rinpoche is telling his students to request that hebe their mentor from whom to take these vows. That is one way to proceed,but you don't necessarily need to have your spiritual mentor presentto take the vows of refuge. If he's not available, it is still possible simply toset up your altar with the representations of the enlightened body, speechand mind of the Buddha, and take the vows on your own. As you do thevisualization, moreover, the person that you visualize may be your ownspiritual mentor or it may be Guru Rinpoche. The being in whom youhave the greatest faith is your primary spiritual mentor and you visualizethat person as being of the nature of Amitabha.

    Moreover, Mahayana refuge involves entrusting oneself from thistime until Buddhahood. This is the level of commitment. It's not likethe common tendency of practicing Buddhism until you're bored andthen throwing it away. Being fickle like this doesn't hurt the Three Jewels—theBuddha, Dharma and Sangha. Instead, it is detrimental to you.It's taking this altogether unique opportunity in which you have thepossibility of attaining perfect enlightenment in one lifetime—all ofthese causes and conditions which have come together in this extremelyrare and precious situation of your present life—and then throwing itinto the garbage. That's not so appropriate, is it? Isn't it like spillingfood all over yourself in an excellent restaurant? —

This does not entail going for refuge for our own sake alone. Seekrefuge in order to bring all sentient beings to the state of spiritualawakening. This is not seeking refuge only for the duration of yourlife, as in the case of the Hinayana; rather think, "I seek refuge fromtoday until I achieve spiritual awakening." On bended knee, with yourpalms pressed together, and with the single-pointed wish to requestthe Mahayana vows of refuge, recite this after me three times:

All buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions, please attend to me. Mentor, please attend to me. From this time until I am present in the essence of enlightenment [529], I take refuge in the blessed Buddha, the foremost among human beings. I take refuge in the holy Dharma, the foremost freedom from attachment. I take refuge in the aryas and non-returning Sangha, the foremost community. (3 times)


Excerpted from NAKED AWARENESS by Karma Chagmé. Copyright © 2000 by Gyatrul Rinpoche and B. Alan Wallace. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Karma Chagmé was a major lineage-holder of the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and his writings have also become central to the Payul Nyingma order, making him an ideal figure to integrate two of the great meditation systems of Tibet: Mahamudra and Atiyoga.

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