Updated: Jan 21, 2019
by Khenchen Sherab Gyaltsen Amipa
The essence of Buddha’s teaching is loving compassion, for Buddha’s nature is loving compassion. Wisdom develops from loving compassion and leads to enlightenment. This particular Mahamudra practice comes from the Lam Dre. Maha means “great” and mudra means “spiritual posture”. In this case, mudra signifies love, compassion and wisdom as the path to enlightenment.
Lam means “way”, Dre means “fruitful”, “leading to completion or success”, so Lam Dre signifies the fruitful path, by which is meant the path leading to the fruit of enlightenment.
The Lam Dre goes back to the Mahasiddha Virupa and from him through Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, it was transmitted to the Sakya Order, where it represents a root practice. Primarily, it is concerned with the development of Mahamudra and Mahakaruna. The goal, which is enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, is reached through a series of practices. A more exact description follows later.
The Lam Dre has two parts: Sutra and Tantra. The Mahamudra practice consists of a preparation and three parts, namely, foundation, path and goal. In the preliminary exercises the aim is to accumulate merit. The foundation lays the groundwork for the training of the mind, that is, the development of relative and absolute Bodhicitta. The path consists of the six paramitas, samatha: uncommon or extraordinary concentration (Tibetan: shiney) and vipashyana: uncommon or extraordinary insight (Tibetan: lhag- tong). The goal is enlightenment or Mahamudra of which two different expressions refer to one and the same state.
The accumulation of merit is obtained through:
1. Taking refuge
3. Meditation and the practice of Bodhicitta
4. Mandala offering 5. The purification practice of Vajrasattva 6. Guru yoga
3. TAKING REFUGE
In Mahayana Buddhism taking refuge is of great importance, since it opens up to us the possibility of following the right path. Whether we are meditating on loving compassion and bodhicitta, or on samadhi and vipashyana, we always take refuge at the beginning of any meditation session.
In common ordinary refuge, the object of refuge is what we call the Three Jewels (Sanskrit: triratna): Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
The first object is Buddha, the fully enlightened one. Though there is more than one Buddha, we have a special connection with Buddha Shakyamuni. He had already reached enlightenment a long time before but because of our good karmic relationship with him he re-incarnated yet again. He left the Pure Land of Tushita and was reborn in Lumbini. On the night of his conception his mother dreamed of a white elephant. Immediately after his birth Buddha took seven steps and at each step a lotus blossomed. He had chosen a royal family in which to be reborn, and to begin with, he lived in great luxury in his father’s royal palace. On his excursions outside the palace, which he undertook without his family’s knowledge, he saw people who were old, sick and dying. This suffering affected him so much that he left his family and the palace, withdrew into solitude and exercised great renunciation.
Although he was already enlightened, he followed the path of human life, so as to serve as an example. This too is a form of renunciation. There are many different kinds of renunciation, the most important being to renounce suffering. The Buddha became a hermit and meditated for six years during which time he accumulated many virtues. One night, sitting in deep meditation under a tree in Bodhgaya, he vanquished all the maras. By maras we mean the five non- virtues. They are not external to us, but come from within ourselves. During this meditation Buddha reached full enlightenment. He then travelled to Sarnath where he gave his first teaching on the Four Noble Truths, the basis of our practice.
Buddha Shakyamuni gave many other teachings pertaining to Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. In this way he gave everyone a possible path to enlightenment corresponding to their varied aptitudes, outlook and station in life.
When we take refuge we think of the explanations Buddha Shakyamuni gave, his compassionate nature and his activities for the benefit of all living beings. We then develop a deep yearning to realise these qualities in ourselves.
The second object of refuge is the Dharma. “Dharma” is Buddha-nature, that is, Buddha’s wisdom and knowledge. “Dharma” is also the path. As we come to a deeper understanding we realize that “Dharma” is also our own innate wisdom. At the beginning of our practice we take refuge in the Dharma. When we have developed our consciousness and reached the state of Mahamudra, we take refuge in our own original mind, for the Dharma is our own original mind, the opposite being ignorance and non-virtue. In order to deepen our understanding of the Dharma we need to study the scriptures and to hear teachings, then to reflect upon and practise what we have read and heard.
The third object of refuge is the Sangha, the holy community of Bodhisattvas. All those who practise correctly and fervently also belong to the Sangha. Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are the three objects in common ordinary refuge. When we focus our attention on them we take the Buddha as our doctor, the Dharma as the medicine and the Sangha as our helpful carers. The person who takes refuge is like someone who is sick. We need a great deal of patience in order to get well as our ignorance is a severe illness. We need a good doctor, the right medicine and someone who can take good care of us. If we follow the exact prescriptions of our doctor, take the right medicine and recover our health, we may also one day become doctors ourselves. However, as long as we suffer from our illness we must do as the doctor says. Not to follow the holy Dharma is to be like a sick person who does not listen to the doctor or take the prescribed medicine. The Dharma demands correct and virtuous behaviour of us, and this is our medicine. Our aim is to obtain peace and happiness, but if we behave nonvirtuously and without kindness, we will achieve the exact opposite.
It is also possible to take refuge in four, five, even six objects, that is, in the Guru, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, Dharmapalas and Yidam. If we take refuge in four objects, then the fourth object, the Guru, is put first. We can also take refuge in five objects. The fifth object specifies the Dharmapalas or Protectors (Guardians). They have received a mission from the Buddha to protect those who are seriously practising the Dharma. The sixth object is the Yidam. A Yidam is a divinity given to us by our guru and with whom we build up a personal meditation practice.
Taking refuge is not only important for beginners in the Buddhist practice but it continues to be necessary until we reach enlightenment.
We carry out prostrations with the “three gates”: body, speech and mind. Before beginning we take refuge and should generate the enlightenment thought, that is Bodhicitta. We should then stand upright and put the palms of our hands together at the level of our heart. The right hand symbolises wisdom, the left hand method, the two elements which are fundamental to the conduct of all Mahayana practices. We then raise the folded hands so that the wrists touch the top of our head. This signifies the desire to be reborn in a peaceful Buddha-land. Next we hold the hands in turn in front of the forehead, throat and heart. This purifies any faults of body, speech and mind. We separate our hands as a sign of the activity of the Samboghakaya and kneel down with the feet close together. In this way we express the gradual steps towards the completion of the five paths and the ten Bodhisattva- bhumis. We bow down and touch the ground with the forehead to symbolise the wish to reach the eleventh Bodhisattva-bhumi.
Prostrations stretch the energy channels along the spine. In this way blockages are loosened and energy flows unhindered. On rising we are symbolically released from the sufferings of samsara. We should take care to keep the back straight so that air flows freely through the main channel, the kundalini.
To obtain the full blessing of this practice we should follow the instructions very precisely and control our mental and bodily attitude carefully throughout.
5. MEDITATION AND PRACTICE OF BODHICITTA
If we have developed our mind through correct and continuous practice to the point where no ignorance remains, we produce a deep wish within us to reach enlightenment for the sake of all living beings. To achieve this, we practise giving and taking which is part of the Bodhicitta practice (Tibetan: tong len).
With clear consciousness and free from ignorance, we visualise in front of us someone who suffers from ignorance or other problems. At the same time we experience the deep wish to free them from their suffering through our meditation. Our compassion then is as pure as the sun or moonlight. If we have chosen someone who is sick, then this light goes exactly to the seat of their pain. At this point, the power of our virtue is so great that it purifies the illness. This method is also helpful in cases where conventional medicine is no longer effective.
Giving and taking means transmitting our happiness and peace to others and taking all their sufferings and difficulties upon ourselves, thereby freeing them. Many people are afraid that they will lose their peace and themselves incur the sufferings of others, but if our serenity is strong enough, nothing can happen to us. We will have developed so much strength through practice and meditation that we can give our own serenity to the person who is suffering.
A further meditation practice consists of imagining that our nature is full of happiness and peacefulness and then we give these qualities to all those who are suffering. This exchange encourages the development of Bodhicitta.
Our consciousness can be compared to a jewel or to gold. When the precious jewel is taken from the earth, it needs to be cleaned and cut. On the spiritual level, this is accomplished through the training of the mind. Our original consciousness is a precious jewel; our ignorance is the dirt covering it. Through the development of the mind we experience a deep desire to find more effective ways of helping others. For this we need the right practice which leads to absolute Bodhicitta and so to the best way of helping other living beings.
6. VAJRASATTVA PURIFICATION PRACTICE
There are two kinds of purification:
1. Common or ordinary purification through which incorrect attitudes of body, speech and mind are purified. We can also purify negative karmas and nonvirtues in this way. The practice can also help us to relieve many spiritual, mental or bodily illnesses for which there is no suitable medicine, since they arise out of negative karmic connections.
2. Uncommon or extraordinary purification through the Vajrasattva meditation: through the blessing of Vajrasattva, our body, speech and mind can take on his qualities. An initiation is required for this purification.
7. THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
The first noble truth is the truth of suffering. It says all life in samsara is suffering. Even when we feel happy momentarily, we do not know how long this happiness will last. We are all subject to the sufferings of illness, birth and death and we are not able to protect ourselves from them.
The second noble truth is the truth concerning the cause of suffering. Here Buddha points to the fact that we are the cause of our own suffering created by the false view that ego and attachment impose upon us.
The third noble truth is the truth of the cessation of suffering. This means that our suffering will end when we have recognised that our false view and ignorance are the root of evil, and have renounced them.
The fourth noble truth is the truth of the path of release from suffering. In order to end our suffering, we must put aside the erroneous belief that our own self and all other phenomena exist of themselves, independently of cause and effect
If we observe our lives, we note that this or that annoys us or that something is not proceeding as we would like. We lose people and things we love and cannot protect ourselves from those whom we do not love. Time robs us of the attraction of what we desire. We are constantly under the threat of mental and physical illness, catastrophes and unpleasant incidents. Old age reduces our strength and dulls our senses. We become weaker, sometimes apathetic and severely limited mentally. In the end, we die.
This is samsara. By definition, it implies difficulties, worry and relentless suffering.
9. BUDDHA NATURE
If we find it difficult to accept ourselves and others, we should call to mind that we all have Buddhanature already within us. It is just that we are not aware of this in our present ignorant condition. Ignorance is indeed the reason why we are subject to the sufferings of samsara. If, however, we give the right care to the seed of our Buddha-nature, it will grow into a plant and unfold itself. We will develop the ability to turn towards all beings with love and be able to protect them, for Buddha-nature, as it grows, awakens in us the desire also to liberate all those who like us suffer in samsara.
10. LOVING COMPASSION
Through his teaching on the Four Noble Truths, Buddha shows us how to change our state of involvement. Anyone who is suffering mentally can alleviate both their own suffering and that of others through the development of loving compassion.
This means that we must first of all feel love towards ourselves. As long as we do not accept ourselves we have nothing with which to produce loving compassion or Bodhicitta. This present precious human body and precious mind are all that we have to reach enlightenment. It is only as human beings that we have this possibility. Nor can we alter anything that goes wrong in our lives without first accepting ourselves.