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 o