What is Mahamudra

There is no “teaching” of Mahamudra,
Yet an example is space: upon what does it rely?
Our mind Mahamudra, likewise, has no support.
Not remedying anything, relax and settle in the unborn
primordial state.

These are the opening words of the Ganges Mahamudra: the transmission of the great Mahasiddha Tilopa to his well-known disciple Naropa. The two simply sat on the banks of the Ganges river, and Tilopa transmitted these instructions in the form of a spontaneous song of realization.

Try to imagine this. Tilopa and Naropa are sitting together and this is the first thing that Tilopa says, because after all, perhaps Naropa is waiting to receive some teaching—some doctrine, some new philosophy. And the first thing that Tilopa says is, “Just know there is no teaching of Mahamudra.” So this is anti-teaching. This is beyond teaching. It is not a new concept; it is actually the end of all concepts and the end of all teachings. So there is no teaching of Mahamudra; Mahamudra is instantaneous. It is a pathless path.

It is not a process. Teaching means that you learn something; you implement it, you understand it, you practice it. Here, there is no such thing; there is no process. Mahamudra is not a system of thought or practice. It is not Buddhist. There is no knowledge here at all.

So we are trying to enter a path that is pathless. You cannot travel toward the end point. This means that in a way, the end point must be exactly where you are standing or sitting.

Mind like space

So there is no teaching of Mahamudra. But we can give an example. Mahamudra is definitely not space, but as an example, the closest thing to it is space.

Upon what does it rely?

This is fairly simple. Try to think of the sky. The more you penetrate the sky, the more you find just space. Now, Tilopa asks, ‘Upon what does it rely?’ ‘What supports this space?’ ‘Where does it begin?’ ‘Is it held by something?’ ‘Does it arise from somewhere?’

Space is space; space is that which contains everything else—all that arises, all that is reliant and needs support to exist. Space is the very container that holds or sustains everything else, every imaginable object. So Mahamudra is like space.

And Tilopa says: Our mind Mahamudra, the clear light Mahamudra, the deepest layer of our mind, is just like space. And it has no support.

Obviously, here we are not talking about the brain. The brain is of course going to disintegrate, because it is physical. We are talking here about the mind, and we learn that the mind is space itself. It is made of space, which means that it is not an object in space; it is not one more thing in space. It is the space that contains all imaginable objects. Anything that may appear appears within the mind.

How can you teach such a thing? How can you teach space—something that is not an object at all? It is not a thing; it is the very space that contains and enables everything else. You cannot teach a non-object, and you cannot teach something that is unrelated to cause and effect—because if it doesn’t rely on anything, if it is not supported, and if it doesn’t have a beginning or an end, then it doesn’t have cause and effect. You cannot teach something like that. You cannot say, if you do this, you will finally achieve that.

The only thing you can do is to realize the nature of your mind.

The mind is already pure

Now, we don’t usually take a look into our mind, do we? Try to do it now. Turn your attention to your mind right now, and you realize that what you find there is space. That is why the mind is like space.

As long as we are looking from the surface part of the mind, we notice only objects. But when we look into the mind—that is, the entity that is noticing all these objects through thinking—we find that it is just like the sky. It is space.

Try to find the origin or the beginning of this mind. The more you look into the mind, the more you realize that there is no such thing; that it is beyond, without attributes, without limit, without edge, without boundaries. Thoughts arise in it, but the mind is not thought. In fact, it is something like 99.9999999 percent space, and then there is a very tiny bit that is the activity we call “my mind,” as in “my mind is very active today.”


Our mind Mahamudra likewise has no support.

Of course, if this is the mind, this means that we have no idea; we don’t know our mind at all. We have never known it, or taken the trouble to explore it. This is because we immediately focus on the moving objects inside the mind. The moving objects always catch and occupy our attention. But this has nothing to do with the nature of the mind.

So, this instruction follows:

Not remedying anything, relax and settle in the unborn primordial state.

“Not remedying anything.” This is very important. Don’t try to fix anything. You may be trying to fix the mind. You are thinking, perhaps, that the mind is caught in illusion, but this is only because you don’t know the mind’s true nature. So you are trying to purify the mind from certain thoughts to make it less desirous. But just take a look: there is nothing to remedy, because it is already pure.

You are not going to move from illusion to enlightenment. All you need to do is discover the nature of the mind. This is Mahamudra. You just become aware, and relax, because there’s nothing to do. Relax into the unborn nature of the mind—the depth of the mind that has no beginning, no origin. Relax into the space of the mind, into its primordial state, before and beneath any duality.

The mind in itself is unborn, meaning that birth and death arise in it. The person that we are is actually just an object that arises within the mind. So all that is left to do is to relax into this essential nature. That’s it. Relax. This is also what you should do.

The only practice of Mahamudra

Then Tilopa says:

If bonds are relaxed, we are liberated, without doubt.
Just as looking into space stops our sight of visual forms,
If mind looks into mind,
Thoughts cease and unexcelled enlightenment is attained.

So if bonds are relaxed, if our ties and our attachment to the objects of thought are loosened, we are starting to relax—to release our grip and move into this unborn nature. We are immediately liberated. And we understand that it is not that we become liberated, but that we realize the liberated nature of the mind. All we need to do is free ourselves from the grip.

As soon as your attention shifts from the objects themselves to the space in which they appear and disappear, you understand how silent your mind really is. It doesn’t take meditation to realize this. Despite all the endless practices we do, the mind is already in a state of meditation, because it is space, and we only wrongly focus on the objects that create the illusion that the mind is transient and limited. This is like when we look into space, and looking itself stops.

If you look into space; if, for example, you gaze at the night sky, you might focus on the small stars and say, “Oh, how many stars!” But if instead you look into the endless gaps, the unbelievable gaps between each star and the next, you will realize that you are looking more and more into infinite space. This space breaks off your sight of visual forms. It means that suddenly, you don’t notice the objects as much; the stars become just like dots within infinite, unlimited sky. There is not even such a thing as the sky. Looking stops; you realize that there is nothing to see or look at.

You find space and you return to pure attention, pure awareness. You realize that the mind is made of space.

And here is the essence itself:

If mind looks into mind…

This, in one phrase, is the only practice of Mahamudra: turning attention to the nature of the mind, looking backward. Mind looks into mind. You use the very same tool, the same element that can cause samsara and desire, to look into itself.

If mind looks into mind, thoughts cease. This is very important. Tilopa tells us that if you turn your attention to the mind, it is almost like catching it—catching the thoughts and realizing that they cannot exist in a state of full attention. If you are paying full attention to the nature of awareness, thoughts cannot be produced anymore. Thoughts are produced only if you are focused on objects.

Thoughts produce objects. They can produce objects like cars, relationships, and status; they produce all these as long as the mind is focused on objects. But as soon as you look with the mind into the mind, thoughts cannot be active anymore. They are not possible.

Enlightenment, then, is actually being one with the nature of the mind, without focusing on any particular object; then, thoughts cease—suddenly they are not possible, and unexcelled enlightenment is attained.

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