Spacious Path to Freedom: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamundra and Atiyoga

Spacious Path to Freedom: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamundra and Atiyoga

by Karma Chagme, Karma-Chags-Med
This manual of Tibetan meditation simply and thoroughly presents the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra systems of practice.


This manual of Tibetan meditation simply and thoroughly presents the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra systems of practice.

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Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.08(w) x 8.98(h) x 0.72(d)

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Chapter One

A Treasury of Oral Transmissions

Namo guru lokitara deva dakini sarva siddhi hum

Not composing this out of my own mental constructs, I bow at the feetof Amitabha, Avalokitesvara, Padmasambhava, and my gracious spiritualmentor, a Nirmanakaya who has taken human form in these degeneratetimes. I shall set forth advice concerning the essential instructionson the union of Mahamudra and Atiyoga. May the assembly ofThree Roots, the Lords of Dharma, and the Guardians grant their permissionand blessings.

    On this occasion when there is a confluence of circumstances of theteaching, an audience, a place, and time, as soon as I sat down uponthe Dharma throne, I visualized myself in the form of Avalokitesvara,the Great Compassionate One, and cultivated the samadhi of immeasurableloving-kindness. So that there may be no hindrances in thismonastic courtyard, recite this mantra to vanquish the power of maras,as taught in The Sutra of the Questions of Sagaramati. Recite it three, seven,or twenty-one times or as much as you can. This should not be recitedso [loudly] that it can be heard in the marketplace:

Tadyatha same samavati samitasatru ankure mamkure marajite karote keyure tejovati aloyani vivrttanirmale mama panaye khukhure khakhagrase grasane amukhi parammukhi amukhi samitani sarvagrahabandanane nigrihitva sarvaparasravadina vimuktamarasasa svatita vrddhamutra anurgatitva sarvamare sucaritaparivrddhe vigacchantu sarvamara garmani.

Sagaramati, utter these syllablesof the mantra. If you speak of Dharma, within a radius of a hundred yojanas, no kinds of maras will come to harm the gods. Those who do come will not be able to create obstacles. Then explain the words of Dharma coherently, clearly, and mindfully.

    Then an offering assistant offers a mandala.

— Whether the teachings take place in a monastic courtyard or inside themonastery, it is best to recite this mantra fairly quietly. Both the recitationof the mantra and the offering of the mandala are preparations for givingand receiving the teaching. —

Homage to Avalokitesvara!

These are the profound instructions of Avalokitesvara. In presentingthe essential instructions of the union of Mahamudra and Atiyoga, Ishall first discuss the qualifications of a spiritual mentor. The ThreeHundred by Sakya Ö states:

Possessing ethical discipline and knowing the rituals of the vinaya, With merciful compassion for the ill, and having a pure retinue, Eager to serve by means of the Dharma and material goods— Those who stand out as such are praised as spiritual mentors.

— It is best to devote oneself to a spiritual mentor with the followingqualifications: A fully qualified spiritual mentor must be well-versed inboth the sutras and tantras. In particular, a Mahayana teacher should bemotivated by the spirit of aspiring for awakening and the spirit of venturingtowards awakening. Furthermore, a Vajrayana spiritual mentor musthave accomplished the stages of generation and completion, and haveextensive experience in terms of oral transmissions, explanations, andempowerments. The Lama must know the purpose of each element of theempowerment, and the disciples should know how to receive an empowerment.Otherwise, it will be nothing more than an empty ritual. This isalso true for the vows of refuge. By understanding their meaning andrejoicing in having received them, there will later be less danger of yourletting these vows degenerate. This will be of benefit to you in this and infuture lifetimes. Otherwise you will be like an alcoholic who gives updrinking for a few days, but then goes right back to it because of not recognizingwhat truly needs to be done. —

The Twenty Precepts states:

Accept a spiritual mentor who abides by his precepts, Who is knowledgeable and capable.

— In Tibet, occasionally people took novice or full monastic precepts withouteven knowing what they were, and some of them never did learn.Whatever precepts you take, whether lay vows, novice vows, or full ordination,it is important to know what they are, so that you truly arrive attheir essence. Similarly, the cultivation of the spirit of aspiring for awakeningleads to the spirit of venturing towards awakening. Moreover, tantricpractice becomes meaningful only if you learn about the generation andcompletion stages. Engaging in such practices or taking precepts withoutunderstanding makes it difficult to penetrate to their real significance. —

The Ornament for the Sutras states:

A teacher of supreme beings Is one who is gentle, free of arrogance and depression, Whose knowledge and understanding are lucid and broad-ranging, Who goes everywhere without material compensation, Who is endowed with the Spirit of Awakening and great learning, Who sees the truth, is skillful in speaking, and is merciful. Know the greatness of this sublime being, Who is not despondent. Expansive, having cast off doubts, And revealing the two realities, he is worthy to be accepted. This one is called a superb teacher of Bodhisattvas. Devote yourself to a spiritual friend who is peaceful, subdued, and utterly calm, With superior qualities, zeal, and a wealth of scriptural knowledge, With realization of thatness and with skill in speaking, A merciful being who has cast off depression.

— Great teachers of the present and the recent past, such as His Holinessthe Dalai Lama, Dudjom Rinpoche, Gyalwa Karmapa, and Kalu Rinpoche,were never known to boast about their qualities or to put on airs. A spiritualmentor should not show signs of depression. Without thinking aboutmaterial compensation, the Lama should serve the needs of sentient beings.For example, as a young Lama in Tibet, I frequently went to placeswhere beggars lived so that I could be of service to them. Many, manytimes, I would go accompanied by monks to recite prayers for them. Wewould take our own food so we would not have to ask them for any.Eventually, the Chinese communists took over the area where we lived,imprisoning all of the monks and Lamas who had not previously fled.But I was overlooked, for the beggars had petitioned the government,requesting that I be left alone because I had taken care of them and hadasked for nothing in return. Although I did not flee until later, peoplethought I had died or had been imprisoned. It was only due to these beggarsthat I was not. —

Nagarjuna says:

Devote yourself to one possessing twelve qualities: Much learning and great wisdom, Not aspiring for material goods or possessions, Possessing the Spirit of Awakening and great compassion, Enduring hardships and having little depression or fatigue, Having great practical advice, liberated from the [mundane] path, And possessing knowledge and erudition and comprehension of the signs of warmth.

Atisa's A Lamp on the Path of Enlightenment states:

Know a good spiritual mentor to be one Who is knowledgeable of the precepts and rituals, A spiritual mentor who abides by the precepts, And who endures granting precepts and is compassionate.

    I personally do not have such qualifications of a spiritual mentor,but in degenerate times it is rare to find mentors who are faultless andwho are imbued with excellent qualities. Therefore, it is appropriateto devote yourself to a spiritual mentor whose virtues are equal to hisfaults or to one whose virtues even slightly outweigh his faults. Worshipof the Ultimate states:

Due to degenerate times, the faults and virtues of spiritual mentors are mixed, And there are none who are totally free of sins. Upon well examining one who has greater virtues, Disciples should devote themselves to him.

— Spiritual mentors are not the only people with shortcomings or faults.Disciples and students are in the same situation. We must recognize ourflaws and by reading books on Dharma, we can learn not only how tolisten to the Dharma but determine which defects are to be eliminated.This is true for everyone because each of us, whether rich or poor, fromthe West or East, is seeking enlightenment. So we need to abandon ourfaults and learn how to receive teachings.

    I have taught Dharma in the United States for many years. In one highschool where I taught, I saw students sitting with their legs propped up,barely listening while they fooled around with other things. On one hand,you can't blame them because they didn't comprehend the significance ofwhat I was teaching. But unfortunately, they were not able to receive anyblessings. You don't show reverence for the sake of the Dharma or foranother person. You show reverence solely to receive the benefits and blessingsof the teachings. —

Lord Gampopa says of the tradition of the practice lineage:

If a spiritual mentor lacks realization, it does not help even if his disciples act with reverence and devotion. As an analogy, although the clay may be good, if its mold has no indentations, it will not form into a statue. If the disciples have no reverence or devotion, it does not help even if the spiritual mentor has realization. This is like a cow having milk, but its calf having no palate.

— A fully qualified spiritual mentor should have not only the qualities oflearning, thinking, and meditating, but also experiential realization thatresults from spiritual practice. As a result of such practice and realization,one's own mental afflictions are pacified. Today people tend to spend manyhours working on computers rather than gaining the inner quality of experientialrealization. A computer may have a tremendous amount of informationloaded onto it, but we have yet to see a computer that has attainedliberation or omniscience. The pacification of mental afflictions iswhat the practice of Dharma accomplishes and what a computer cannotachieve. The great Mahasiddhas of India and Tibet followed this tradition.To subdue their own mental afflictions and attain the state of liberationand enlightenment, they applied themselves to Dharma. For this veryreason, Buddha Sakyamuni turned the wheel of the Dharma. This is theavenue that all of the Buddhas of the past followed. In Tibet, specifically,the twenty-five disciples of Guru Padmasambhava and the many greatbeings of each of the traditions attained their states of realization by puttingthe teachings into practice.

    If a calf has no palate it will be unable to suck milk from its mother'steat. To give a similar example, after serving the Buddha for twenty-fiveyears, Devadatta thought he had the same qualities as the Buddha. Heacknowledged that the Buddha had a crown protrusion and an aura oflight extending all around him. But apart from those qualities, he believedhimself to be the equal of the Buddha, so he saw no reason to revere him.As a result he took birth in a miserable state of existence as a great preta.To avoid that pitfall we need faith. By the power of faith, we are able toeliminate the two types of obscurations. Through the power of faith bothontological and phenomenological knowledge arises. It is also by thepower of faith that both the common and uncommon siddhis arise. —

    Nevertheless, according to the general tradition of the teachings,even though I have no fine experiential realizations, if you listen withfaith, realizations will arise. In the past there lived in Nepal an intelligent,literate man who killed both his parents. Thereafter, while hewas out roaming, he secretly killed an Arhat who was living in a vacatedtemple. Putting on the robes of his victim, he pretended to bethe slain Arhat. Everyone thought that he was that Arhat, and withfaith and devotion they asked him for Dharma. By reading the scripturesto them and explaining the Dharma, he gathered a following ofa hundred thousand disciples, including monks. Those with goodkarmic momentum attained Arhatship, and many acquired extrasensoryperception and paranormal abilities. Those Arhat disciples whocould see with extrasensory perception saw that their spiritual mentorwas a sinful man, and they tried to guide him. However, they didnot succeed, and he went to hell. This account is explained at length inDharma histories, and it is called The Account of Bhiksu Mahadeva.

    Sakya Pandita implied the same thing in his remark, "Even if someonehas many disciples, there is no guarantee that he is good." Withrespect to the stream of oral transmissions and so forth, even if thelineage is impure, this is no problem. If a hole in an irrigation channelis blocked even with a garment of a corpse, the water still helps thefields. It is like that. Drogön Chöpak received an empowerment froma shepherd, and he received a sadhana of The Perfect Expression of theNames of Manjusri from the widow of a liturgist. The reason he did sowas that he was afraid that the lineage of that empowerment and oraltransmission might be cut. With that in mind, the Kadam spiritualmentors say, "People's faults do not taint the Dharma."

— Certain people speak very highly of their own accomplishments, evenclaiming that they are emanations of the Buddha. Such people often attracta following, and indeed, they may be able to display certain outwardsigns. However, such signs may actually be due to blessings of amalevolent spirit.

    For example, in Tibet, there was a Lama called the Black Horse Lama.With an exclamation of phat and a snap of his fingers, he was reputed tobe able to send people's consciousness to a pure realm. These outer signswere not due to realization, so when he died, he did not enter a purerealm himself. Shortly after his death, an enormous fish was found inLake Kokonor in the Amdo region of Tibet. Parasites were devouring thishuge fish bit by bit. A clairvoyant Lama recognized that this fish was, inreality, the incarnation of that Black Horse Lama.

    Some time ago, an indigent man made his way to Lhasa. Upon reachingthe outskirts of the city, he leaned against a boulder for a nap. Whileasleep, a malevolent spirit possessed him. Suddenly, he was endowedwith extrasensory perception and other siddhis. Exploring his abilities, hediscovered that he was able to thrust his foot right through stone andcould mold rock as if it were dough. Quickly, word spread that he was anaccomplished being.

    The previous incarnation of Tonglen Rinpoche, who truly had extrasensoryperception, realized that this poor man had simply been possessed.So he invited him to his monastery and greeted him with much pompand ceremony. After greeting him, he put a rock in the man's hand andasked him to demonstrate his power. Before making this request, TonglenRinpoche had exorcised him. No matter how hard the man tried to kneadthe rock, nothing happened, and he realized he possessed no special qualities.He no longer had extrasensory perception; he couldn't explain theDharma. He had nothing.

    Then he asked the Lama what had happened. Tonglen Rinpoche toldhim he had been possessed by a spirit, but that it had been exorcised.Upon hearing this, with tears rolling down his face, he prostrated to theLama and requested advice. The Lama said, "In order to be sure that all ofthese people don't lose faith in you, I suggest that you go into retreat andpractice Dharma." The man did so, but he had to start from the beginningstages of practice, because in reality he had accomplished nothing.

    With respect to oral transmissions, even if the lineage is impure, it isnot a problem. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche often sought out and receivedany oral transmission he thought was on the verge of disappearing. Itmade no difference who was giving it. He would receive it and, in turn,pass it on to make sure that the lineage remained unbroken. —

    Even if those who listen to the Dharma lack faith, do not know howto listen, and do not understand the meaning, they benefit from merelyhearing the sound of Dharma. In the past, a female dog heard thesound of Bhiksu Upakuta teaching Dharma. As a result, her obscurationswere attenuated, and as soon as she died, she was reborn as aParanirmitavasavartin god. In India a pigeon heard a bhiksu recitingThe Condensed Perfection of Wisdom. As a result, its obscurations wereattenuated, and after it passed away it was reborn as a man. Thereafter,he took monastic ordination and remembered all of The CondensedPerfection of Wisdom that he had heard before. Moreover, a frog heard abhiksu teaching Dharma from the sky, its obscurations were attenuated,and upon its death was born in the Trayastrimsa Heaven. Uponexamining the cause of its rebirth, with a flower in hand, that devaputrawent to make prostrations to the Buddha. The Buddha uttered a verseof Dharma beginning with "All composites are impermanent," andthat being saw the truth.

    The crucial, primary qualification of a spiritual mentor is stated byNaropa, "The qualification of a spiritual mentor is that he possessesthe lineage." The Single Meaning of the Vajra Speech states, "There isgreat profundity in the connection within the lineage of the holyDharma." The real lineage of the realization of this Dharma, whichtransfers blessings, is the unbroken rosary of Buddhas: Vajradhara,Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa, Dagpo, Düsum Kyenpa, Rechenpa,Pomdragpa, Karma Paksi, Orgyenpa, Rangjungwa, Yungtönpa, RölpeyDorje, Kachö Wangpo, Dezhin Shegpa, Ratnabhadra, Tongwa Dönden,Jampal Zangpo, Paljor Döndrup, Chödrak Gyatso, Sangye Nyenpa,Mikyö Dorje, Könchok Yenlak, Wangchuk Dorje, and Chökyi Wangchuk,who is Amitabha in human form.

    From Chökyi Wangchuk, I, Raga Asey, received the pratimoksa vowsof going forth, the novice vows, the bhiksu vows, the Bodhisattva vowsof the Spirit of Awakening, and one month of instructions on mindtraining and the Kadam stages of the path. I also received three timesthe complete four empowerments of Secret Mantra, one month of instructionson Mahamudra, and two weeks of instructions on The SingleMeaning, entailing an extensive explanation of the fivefold practice. Inaddition, I received many oral transmissions on the inner meaningand so forth of the Five Dharmas of Maitreya and A Guide to the MiddleWay. In short, I devoted myself to that spiritual mentor for three years.Just as a receptacle may be poor while the strap is fine, so [while I ama poor vessel] this is a superb lineage. All real lineages of realizationof other Dharmas are included in this lineage. Tilopa heard the Dharmadirectly from Vajradhara and Vajravarahi. By again devoting himselfto spiritual mentors of the lineage of the Four Doctrines, he receivedteachings belonging to the four unsurpassable classes of tantras. TheBodhisattva Lodrö Rinchen and the son Rähula, bearing the secretname Déwé Gönpo, both granted the teachings on Mahamudra toSaraha. Then the lineage runs from Nagarjuna, Sawaripa, and Maitripato Marpa.

    From Manjusri and Nagarjuna stems the lineage of the profoundview. From Maitreya and Asanga runs the lineage of vast activities.From Manjusri, Santideva, and Serlingpa runs the lineage of mindtraining. They were brought together in Atisa. That lineage camethrough Dromtön, Gyalsey, Kumché, Jayülwa, Gyachakri, Kangkawa,and so on to Dagpo. That is called the nondual union of the streams ofthe Kadampa and Mahamudra. It also runs from Sharawa to DüsumKyenpa. Düsum Kyenpa heard The Great Perfection Aro Oral Lineagefrom his spiritual mentor Dragkarwa, so the real lineage of the GreatPerfection is also synthesized there.

    Karma Paksi received The Sutra of the Synthesized Meaning, The Tantraof the Net of Magical Displays, and The Great Perfection of the SupremeMind from Katogpa Jampa Bum, and he gained expertise in them. Hiscompositions concern the union of Mahamudra and Atiyoga. The PithInstructions of the Dakinis received by Rangjung Dorje from PadmaLedreltsal came to be known as The Yellow Document. For six monthsRangjung Dorje prayed to Orgyen Rinpoche, who then granted theseinstructions to him directly; they are called the Pale Document on ThePith Instructions of the Dakinis. He was given the meaning of the unionof Mahamudra and Atiyoga.

    In the region of Ugpa, Yungtönpa skillfully trained in the threefoldtreatises on the sutras, apparitions, and the mind, so his view waschiefly the Great Perfection. Rölpey Dorje had a vision of Vimalamitra,who then dissolved into his forehead. As a result, realization of theGreat Perfection arose in him, and he composed spiritual songs andinstructions. Therefore, the real lineage of the Great Perfection is alsosynthesized in this lineage.


Excerpted from A Spacious Path to Freedom by Karma Chagmé. Copyright © 1998 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.

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