What is Mahamudra? How to Begin
What is Mahamudra? Mahamudra may be a term that we have heard but don’t genuinely understand. In this teaching, Phakchok Rinpoche introduces us to Mahamudra. He explains the meaning of the two syllables of this important word. In Sanskrit, ‘Maha’ means ‘great’ (as in Mahayana – The Great Vehicle). ‘Mudra’ literally means ‘seal,’ but in this presentation, Rinpoche in the context of Mahamudra practice, Rinpoche defines it to mean ‘nature.’ Therefore, Mahamudra means “the great nature.” Rinpoche reminds us that the essential point of Mahamudra practice is the realization of the truth of this great nature. The nature of our minds, all other beings, and all phenomena are inherently pure of any obscuration.
What is Mahamudra? How do we begin to train?
Rinpoche explains that we can easily find ourselves lost in the various elements of Buddhist practice. We are attracted to the practices of bodhicitta and samadhi (meditation). However, without first grounding ourselves in generating ordinary, simple compassion for other beings, we can never actualize these more advanced concepts and live up to the bodhisattva ideal. He reminds us to begin by exchanging ourselves with others. We build our compassion muscles by exercising basic empathy in our relationships. You can find some teachings on learning how to practice this exchange here.
Rinpoche concludes the teaching with a simple pith instruction to those practitioners who have busy daily lives and do not have much time available for practice. He emphasizes that the Buddha taught the importance of motivation above all else. If our actions are motivated by non-attachment, non-anger, and non-ignorance, we are performing right action. If we are performing actions motivated by attachment, anger, or ignorance, we are performing wrong-action. Therefore, learning to watch our minds and continuously check our motivation is critical to our progression on the path.
What is Mahamudra? Self-paced Study Courses
Samye Institute has worked with Phakchok Rinpoche to produce self-paced study courses for students interested in pursuing the path of Mahamudra meditation. These courses feature video teachings from Phakchok Rinpoche as well as study guides and other support materials. We recommend that you begin with The Noble Wisdom of the Time of Death Sutra course. This eight-unit course is a perfect introduction to the investigation and training of your mind. If you are intent on committing yourself to a year-long program of study, reflection, and meditation, then the Path of Meditation Level One course will meet your needs.
In this teaching, Rinpoche provides a simple, two-minute practice that we can perform before our practice, whether it is a formal meditation practice, yoga, or even mundane physical exercise. If we spend two minutes contemplating and repeating, “The nature of my mind is pure; the nature of all beings is pure,” he assures us that we will experience the beginning of our mind’s transformation within one month.
Rinpoche also reminds us to persist in putting ourselves in the experience of others to generate basic compassion, and to constantly check our minds to be sure of our wholesome motivations.