The Mind of Mahāmudrā - Selections

Advice from the Kagyü Masters

The Mind of Mahamudra introduces the conception of mahamudra in India, its transmission to Tibet, and the varying practices within the Kagyü School of Tibetan Buddhism. This volume includes important texts by the Third Karmapa such as “Prayer for the Definitive Meaning” and other texts by Shonu Lha, Lama Shang, Drukchen Pema Karpo, and Tsele Natsok Rangdrol.



256 pages, 5.5x7.75 inches


ISBN 9781614291954

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eBook Bundle (PDF, epub, mobi)


ISBN 9781614292128

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1. The Unrivaled Instructions of Shang Rinpoché
The Preliminaries and Main Practice of the Great Meditation of Mahāmudrā
Shönu Lha

The Unrivaled Instructions of Shang Rinpoché is an early teaching on
the preliminary practices for mahāmudrā. Preliminaries became central
and ubiquitous practices in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. This
presentation is simple compared to later versions; there is no emphasis,
for instance, on accumulating manifold repetitions of these practices.
The instructions on meditation that follow the preliminaries consist of
direct and simple advice on resting the mind in the natural state. It does
not explain a graduated path of successive stages of meditation, as is
found in later mahāmudrā works.

Not much is known about the author, Shönu Lha (thirteenth century).
The work is from the Tsalpa Kagyü lineage founded by Lama
Shang (1123–93), the author of the next text in this volume. Its title
indicates that it presents instructions passed down from Lama Shang.
Shönu Lha was a lama of Pangshong Lhari Monastery and a pupil of
Lharipa Namkha Ö, presumably the founder of Lhari Monastery, who
was in turn a disciple of Lama Shang.

I pay homage to the sublime gurus.

I pay homage to the precious guru.
The activity of your compassion comes to all beings from the state of great bliss, the elaboration-free dharmadhātu,
and the power of your blessing liberates your pupils.
I shall write these instructions from the guru exactly as he taught them;
they are the essence of the Dharma, the highest of all vehicles,
the inheritance from the great Kagyüpas of the past,
the practice of the lords, the path that guides pupils.

The principal teaching of the Lord of Dharma, glorious Lharipa,  is the method for revealing mahāmudrā to be within the grasp of your hand. It is an instruction given to karmically worthy pupils. It is the Dharma of the father of the entire Dakpo Kagyü. It is a sublime secret path; the blessing of the direct introduction that enables you to see nakedly the precious nature of the mind; it reveals to us our inner, innate realization. Here are this tradition’s preliminary and main instructions.

My sublime guru established the three levels of vows as the foundation for pupils, ripened them with empowerments, and taught them these instructions. The precious guru gave the following teachings:

We have obtained the precious human body with its freedoms and opportunities. We have no defects in our five senses. While we have this independence, we should accomplish the goal of eternal peace and happiness. In order to accomplish that, we need the Dharma. In order to practice the Dharma, perfect faith is indispensable. In order to develop faith, we must contemplate the defects of samsara and meditate on death and impermanence.

Everyone in the past was born and then died. Everyone who is yet to be born will definitely die. For those of us alive now, it’s impossible that only one or two of us will die while the rest of us go on living. We’re born and then we die—that’s the nature of impermanence. It is said in a sutra:

It is doubtful that you have ever seen
or even heard of someone
on a level or world of higher existence
who was born but has not died.

The death of every being is terrifying and near. It’s impossible that it won’t happen. We shouldn’t even feel certain that we will still be alive tomorrow morning. Acārya Śāntideva has said:

It is not right to comfort myself by thinking
“I will not die today.”
The time will doubtless come
when I will cease to exist.

We definitely will die, but we don’t know when. The young should not feel certain that they won’t die, because in this world there is no definite time for death: a baby dies in one family, a child dies in another. Most people die in adulthood, and only a few don’t die until they’re old. We have short lives because the lifespan has declined in this degenerate age. Even the few who live a full life only reach sixty. So we can’t know whether we will die tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, or next year. Suddenly we are seized by something we have not planned, and, terrified, we die with wildly staring eyes and a hundred goals left unachieved.