An Ocean of the Ultimate Meaning: Teachings on Mahamudraby Khenchen Thrangu
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In this new book, Khenchen Thrangu provides an exhaustive commentary on the longest and most comprehensive of the three classic treatises on Mahamudra composed by the sixteenth-century scholar Wangchuk Dorje, the Ninth Karmapa. Khenchen Thrangu's teachings encompass the entire path of Mahamudra, including the preliminaries, the main practice, removing obstacles, and attaining the result of buddhahood—with detailed instruction in tranquility and insight meditation. This is the only available volume that presents Khenchen Thrangu's detailed commentary on this entire text.
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2: Essential Points of the Main Meditation
The main meditation is composed of shamatha, or tranquility meditation, and vipashyana, or insight meditation. Happy and unhappy thoughts arise continuously in the mind. When we examine them, we see that the majority of our thoughts are unhappy. Therefore, reducing the number of thoughts is beneficial.
Through the practice of shamatha we can make the mind more peaceful and stable.
We have to think, and we have lots of thoughts. We have thoughts that are unnecessary and thoughts that are necessary. When we look at our mind, we see that most of our thoughts are unnecessary, while the necessary thoughts are very few and brief. Yet from morning until night we have one thought after another, and most of those thoughts are meaningless. When we have achieved the state of shamatha, all these purposeless thoughts cease while the meaningful and purposeful thoughts become stronger and clearer, so that we know what needs to be done, we gain understanding, and so on. At present we are caught between meaningful and meaningless thoughts, and the latter are more powerful. With the development of shamatha, the meaningful thoughts increase so that we know what we have to do. We achieve understanding, wisdom, and clarity. This is called the wisdom that arises from meditation. This wisdom is not like the ultimate wisdom of a buddha; nonetheless, all unnecessary,
meaningless thoughts are diminished, and the meaningful, purposeful thoughts become more powerful and clear.
Points of the Body: Posture
We have a body and a mind. We meditate with the mind, yet the mind and body are interconnected. Machig Labdron said that in terms of the physical posture, the body, the muscles, and all the channels should he relaxed. There are key factors of the posture of the body that are beneficial for the mind's stability. These are taught as the seven aspects of the posture of Vairochana.
The first of these seven aspects concerns one's sitting position. Sit on a cushion in a cross-legged position so the mind doesn't go to sleep. The mind needs to he stable but not dull—one needs clarity. Standing up does not provide stability, and lying down is too relaxed and produces stupor. So one sits on a cushion if one is able, or in a chair if one has problems with the legs or body.
The second point concerns the placement of the hands. The hands should be resting evenly, placed together below the navel with the palms facing up, right hand on left. This discourages the arising of thoughts. Or, alternatively, the hands may rest evenly on the knees, as taught by the third Karmapa in
Direct Recognition of the Three Kayas.
The upper arms should be lifted slightly upward, which creates firmness and alertness for the meditation. This is the third point.
The fourth point is that the throat should he pulled in. In the Zen tradition it is taught to pull the chin in; in the Tibetan tradition it is taught to pull the throat in. These instructions are the same. This is because if one is having a lot of thoughts, the throat extends outward.
The back should he straight as an arrow, not bent over or leaning to the side. This creates stability for the mind. If the body is straight, the channels will be straight. If the channels are straight, the airs will be straight and the mind will be calmed. This is the fifth point.
The sixth point has to do with the eyes. The eyes should look beyond the tip of the nose. Look into the space in front of you, four finger-widths in front of the nose. This basically means looking straight ahead. Don't look up like those who believe in deities, and don't look down like the
In the Vajrayana, we look straight ahead with the vajra gaze. Closing the eyes might improve stability, but keeping the eyes open without distraction can bring greater clarity. This sixth point concerning the eye gaze is very important. The mind should rest with what is seen by the eyes without exploring or getting involved in what is seen, which creates thought. For example, if you see the color blue, don't think "blue." Don't be too tense, because this can bring discomfort, and don't be too relaxed, as this may cause seeing double. If you can gaze without any thoughts arising, you can achieve greater clarity.
The tongue should rest against the upper palate. This prevents the formation of saliva so that continual swallowing doesn't become a distraction. It also helps in developing stability and clarity. This is the last of the seven aspects of the posture of Vairochana.
All these points help the mind gain stability. As the
Machig Labdrön said, "We have to develop relaxation." The muscles in the limbs should not be tense. It is possible to sit in the seven-point posture of Vairochana and be tense. Relaxation of the limbs of the body is important. If one relaxes the body, the mind will be more relaxed.
There are also the five dharmas of meditation, praised by Marpa. This posture instruction is less relaxed than the seven—point posture of Vairochana.
The first of these five is called "straight like an arrow." One positions the back so that it goes beyond the point of being perfectly straight, just as when one straightens a bent arrow and has to bend it even farther in the other direction. When the central channel is bent (usually forward),
is empty. By applying a little more tension and
actually bending back a little, this allows the air to enter the central channel.
The second is "throat like a hook." Again this helps the air in the central and side channels to flow properly. The hook straightens the channels and modulates the air rising in them so there are fewer thoughts and therefore greater stability.
"legs interwoven." This is the vajra posture, which is like latticework and is beneficial for stability of mind.
The fourth point is "bound as in chains and fetters." The meditation belt holds the meditator in the appropriate posture.
The fifth point is "tight like vowels." Two of the Sanskrit vowels,
are a little tighter and harder to say than the Tibetan vowels. One practices in a way similar to these, and with this tight posture and controlled state,
stability, warmth, and bliss can arise.
we use the seven-point posture of Vairochana. Occasionally, however, one can try this posture; it is a tighter posture that can be useful if one is experiencing dullness or stupor.
Khyenpa, the first Karmapa, said that in order to attain stability of mind we have to have the right posture. In order to see the stability of mind, we work with the stability of the body. The example he used was that in order to really see the mountain one is on, one must go over to another mountain and look back.
To help us do this meditation, we imagine the guru over our head and ask for his blessing. The guru melts into us, creating stability of mind and auspiciousness for meditation.
Points of the Mind: The Eight Consciousnesses
In the sutras sometimes the Buddha taught that there are six consciousnesses and sometimes that there are eight, as two of the consciousnesses are not experienced directly.
First we will look at the six consciousnesses, the ones that we experience. These six consciousnesses are of two kinds: nonconceptual and conceptual.
The nonconceptual consciousnesses are the five consciousnesses that are connected with external phenomena. For example, the visual consciousness occurs through the visual faculty of the eye. Through the physical organ of the eye, there is the perception of an external object, that is, a visual form. So for a visual perception to take place, there is the primary condition—the physical organ of the eye—and there is the objective condition, the visual form, the different shapes and colors. Together, the primary condition of the organ of the eye and the objective condition of the external form give rise to the perception that occurs through the visual consciousness.
This explains how we see forms. When we hear sounds, there are the primary condition, the sensory organ of the ear, and the objective condition, the sounds. Through the presence of these primary and objective conditions, the auditory consciousness hears sounds. Next we have the primary condition of the nose as the sensory organ together with the objective condition of different kinds of smells, pleasant and unpleasant. Through that primary condition and that objective condition we have the consciousness of smell, the olfactory consciousness. The next primary condition is the tongue sensory organ. The objective condition is the different kinds of tastes, sweet, sour, and so on.
Through those two conditions the consciousness of the tongue, or the gustatory consciousness, experiences tastes. These four consciousnesses are very localized. The corresponding sensory organs—eyes, ears, nose, and tongue—experience their particular sensory objects—visual forms, sounds,
smells, and tastes.
It is said in the Buddhist teachings that within these physical sensory organs the actual sensory faculties exist in the form of light. For example, in the eye there is the visual faculty in the form of light, in the shape of something like the flax flower. The auditory faculty in the ear resembles a knot on a tree that is exposed when you pull the bark away. The olfactory faculty in the nose is like copper needles, and so on. The sensory faculty of the body pervades the whole body.
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Meet the Author
Khenchen Thrangu was born in Tibet in 1933. He has founded numerous monasteries and nunneries, schools for Tibetan children, and medical clinics. He has taught extensively throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States, and is the abbot of Gampo Abbey. He was appointed by the Dalai Lama to be the personal tutor for the Seventeenth Karmapa.
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