Master Sheng-Yao; Stephen Chan (1982)
When you understand mind,
you understand everything.
Books about the Tibetan practice don't tell you what you will find - only where to look for it. They warn that one should not attempt to learn Mahamudra except by direct oral guidance from a lineage teacher. At least one author claims that key pieces of the teachings were left out of the root texts intentionally to protect them from those who would attempt to learn the Mahamudra without proper guidance. However, obsession overwhelmed patience with the guarded, slow pace of the retreat. So, aware of the irony embedded in grasping for Buddhist teachings, the path was explored further while a search to find a formal teacher willing to take me deeper into this was initiated. I trusted that the modern Western books, authored by lineage holders, were complete and that intelligence and persistence would enable me to muscle my way down the wisdom path alone for awhile.
The Mahamudra points out the way through the mind to the Dharmakaya - the primordial awareness that lies on the "other side" of the veils. It is the fabric of the unmanifested conscious reality. It is more fundamental than the xero point that I'd witnessed which, by comparison, seems now to be a highly differentiated state of clarity.
I haven't written here since the Esalen retreat and I've wondered how I would write about this -- and even considered whether I should write anything in order to respect and protect the highly-guarded teachings. It's now been over 3 months since I first recognized the primordial state, as best I can determine. Though there are valid concerns, it still seems that a more open approach would benefit those who are genuinely called to the teachings. What can I write that begins to approach the profundity without risking misinterpretations that are the cause of concern?
As one dissolves into emptiness, one is able to observe the process of thought origination and mental construct formation. One realizes the mechanism through which our ordinary view is constructed in the mind - the illusion that Buddhists talk about - like a dream without substance or basis -- empty. One observes how thoughts originate from seeds within a mist and how our mind recognizes familiar patterns to quickly generate an image, thought, or behavior. The seeds appear to be those revealed in the Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination. This is the place where diligent attention can reveal opportunities to correct one's view, according to Buddhist psychology, and alleviate the grip of samsaric suffering common to human experience.
Some thoughts and mental constructs - visionary-like images - seem to form out of the wisps of the mind's mist around seeds germinated in the primordial awareness. Here, one realizes that such processes originate outside of "self" - from a subtle intelligence beyond egoic consciousness. It is a communication that each of us seem differentially adept to receiving through different conduits, whether we realize it or not.
Perhaps, the most fundamental insight is gained by looking back at who is observing the process. This is referred to as the "lion's gaze" in the teachings - turning attention from the distraction of what is being observed to discover who is doing the observing. Who is the observer? The answer is profound, but not surprising.
The portal to the Dharmakaya becomes crusted-over with the junk we accumulate during an unenlightened lifetime. This junk blocks the primordial signals as would encrusted corrosion on a radio antennae and obscures its presence within the mind. I'm quite certain that this is the junk I was shown that started me on this journey (see Revealed) - the junk that cripples the human experience. Yet, if one maintains and protects the state of emptiness in stillness and clarity, the portal to the original state is permitted to re-open. From there, one can extend and differentiate into higher realms without losing sight of the fundamental fabric of life.
The experiences and the realizations continue to deepen. It's very elegant and very profound. It ties together many concepts I've wrestled with. Yet, just as ego informs me that I've reached enlightenment, I get a whole new batch of awakenings, followed by another and another - then, ego must try again. It's clear that this is only a path to the portal and a new unveiled, sustainable perspective awaits.
One of the instructors at the Esalen retreat told me that the Sutras reveal two paths to enlightenment: one through wisdom and the other through the heart. At the time, I felt relief to learn that wisdom alone would get me there. Then he said, "Once you get there, you realize that it's the same path." Though I'm not certain which Sutras he referred to (*), the concept he conveyed turned out to be an important clue that let me know that I was on the right path.
(*) Buddha taught two paths to enlightenment: one through understanding the Four Noble Truths and one through understanding dependent origination.
Disclaimer: A reader might infer from this article that the Mahamudra is a path of intellectual conceptualization. It is not. Language and intellect are conceptual and neither are capable of conveying the subtle realizations of Mahamudra. This article only attempts to document experiences and insights encountered by one via inquiries into the manifestations of 'self'. It is not intended as a guide or formal teaching and should not be considered authoritative.