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Lions Roar : September 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2012 72 freeing oneself from the samsaric network. Maha means “great” or “grand” in Sanskrit. Great here has the implication of going as far as you can go, rather than comparing yourself to something smaller. There are three stages of Mahamudra tantra: the ground, the path, and the fruition tantras. Our discussion here is associated with ground tantra, which is connected with developing awareness in which existing symbolism is important. Symbolism becomes a guideline in our day- to-day situation. Symbolism in this case is not representational, where a symbol stands for something else. Symbolism here is seeing the deep core of the phenomenal world as it is. It is seeing the heart of the phenomenal world as it is. This is not just connected with relating with people; it is also about relating to events and inanimate objects as well. Mahamudra has both a destructive and a creative aspect. The destructive aspect of Mahamudra is cutting through the samsaric network. The creative aspect is developing shunyata wisdom. From the point of view of Mahamudra, perception and seeing symbolism in the phenomenal world involves both these processes. To begin with, you cut the dualistic fabrications that develop. Then you see the emptiness of perception. We could say that the approach of cutting through is the masculine principle, and the approach of seeing emptiness is the feminine principle. Shunyata is open space, and the samsaric net is the obstruction, which creates a problem in seeing the spaciousness of shunyata. There is a further approach to Mahamudra, particularly to the wisdom of emptiness. This is experiencing primordial wisdom, wisdom that is born together with ignorance. Whenever there is a dualistic split, wisdom is there already. Wisdom occurs together with confusion at the same time. So Mahamudra can only be perceived by what is called one taste. This one taste, or one flavor, is beyond two. Pain and pleasure are experienced and perceived as one flavor. Flashes of Mahamudra are twofold: first there is a sharp blow, and then there is clarity. It’s very dramatic, in some sense. Each time you perceive something, the process of perception is to cut and then experience the clarity. This kind of awareness is not just smooth and tranquil awareness. The first perception of Mahamudra awareness is a sharp blow, and then there is an explosion into the nonexistence. Having cut through any fixation, you discover desolation of some kind, which is actually a discomforting situation. That is the first glimpse of shunyata in the Mahamudra experience. Nonexistence in this case is quite different from the shunyata principle in the Mahayana path of the bodhisattva or the Zen style of experiencing shunyata. In the Zen tradition, or more generally the Mahayanists’ approach to shunyata, obstacles are removed rather than cut through. The obstacles are dissolved. It is more like a cleaning-up process than a tearing-out process. This cleaning-up process is referred to in the Zen tradition as the experience of no-mind. This comes from the Yogacaran school of thought within Mahayana. Yogacarans look at the experience of shunyata as an experience arising out of luminous consciousness, which is brilliant and highly intelligent. But still it is mind and mind’s view of the nonconception of duality. It is a gentle blow. The Heart Sutra talks about no form, no feeling, no concept, no nothing. The approach is a gentle one, simply negating, rather than emphasizing the cutting through. The Mahayana tradition of shunyata is a very contemplative one, because you contemplate the nonexistence with no-mind. When you reach the final experience of shikantaza in the Zen tradition, of transcending any techniques of working with the breath, you are tasting the core of both duality and non-duality, of no-mind. However, there is still allegiance toward emptiness. Up to a certain point, there is a euphoric experience of being absorbed into the nothingness. It’s very cool and precise. It’s simple but artistic. It is a work of art. On the other hand, the Mahamudra experience has no room for a work of art. It is not an artistic measure of anything, and the work of art is not a reference point. A gentle work of art is too civilized from Mahamudra’s point of view. Rather, there is an element of craziness, an element of unreasonability. You are not conned even by the artistic simplicity of nothingness. Marpa’s understanding of tantra was a very living experience, not an artistic or gentle one but a very abrupt and direct experience of Mahamudra. When he confronted situations in his life, Marpa simply plunged in. At one point, after having made two trips to India to study with his root teacher, Naropa, and other great teachers, Marpa returned home and was absorbed in the pleasure of teaching his students. He had set up an elaborate tantric mandala and shrine, and he was preparing to give empowerments to his students. But the night before the empowerment was to begin, Marpa had a dream in which his own guru, Naropa, was calling to him. Adapted from talk four of “The Life and Teachings of Marpa,” a seminar given by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche at Karme-Chöling meditation center, Barnet, Vermont, September, 1973. Symbolism in Mahamudra is not representational, where a symbol stands for something else. Symbolism here is seeing the deep core of the phenomenal world as it is.