The Ganges Mahamudra Verse One (July 22, 2017 part 2)
Back at the end of April, we did a Dzogchen/Mahamudra retreat at Lotus View Ranch and a few students have asked me to continue giving teachings on Dzogchen and Mahamudra, so that’s what I’ll do this morning. I’m going to spend time going over one verse of the Ganges Mahamudra; I’ve asked people practicing Mahamudra to read one verse a day. This morning, I feel like using Ken McCloud’s translation.
It starts out with “I Bow to Vajra Dakini” as homage. The first verse is, “Mahamudra cannot be taught, Naropa, but your devotion to your teacher and the hardships you have suffered/you have met make you patient and also wise. Take this to heart, my worthy student.” We’re going to examine this each part of this verse.
So it’s interesting; we can’t really teach Mahamudra, in the same way you can’t teach someone to have a sense of humor. It’s like if you tell a joke and the other person says, “I don’t get it,” or if you both hear a comedian tell a joke and they don’t get it. It’s hard to retell the joke in a way that will make them laugh. They might go, “Oooh, I get it. I could see how that could be funny.” It’s something that has to be immediate. There has to be some kind of recognition that things are really funny, where we spontaneously laugh at the comedian or our own jokes. In that sense, humor cannot be taught. In the same way, Mahamudra in a sense cannot be taught.
Nevertheless, I’m going to try to explain the joke. (Laughter) “This is why it’s funny.” Like that.
So I understand that if someone wants to be a professional comedian, there are actually courses you can take on being a comedian. Has anyone here ever done stand-up? Has anybody gone to hear a stand-up comedian? These days most stand-up is pretty raw, they get on a roll and I don’t know, you just start laughing and it feels good, it works.
So it can’t be taught in that way; Then Naropa said to Tilopa, “Your devotion and your hardships made you,” that’s one of the ways you have of becoming receptive to the teachings. Those hardships are essential, because we look for a solution.
‘Devotion’ means heartfelt openness, not some sick, fanatical, worshipping a rock star kind of thing. Worshipping that way, where your teacher is brilliant and you’re an insect, you won’t have any transmission that way. Devotion means you’re opening your heart; you’re becoming receptive; you’re having confidence in your ability to do the practice. So devotion has to entail heartfelt openness combined with confidence in your Buddha Nature that you can do it, some sense that you can do it, because then the hardships don’t throw us. We can have a sense of the view; we can call it some understanding of dharma, a glimpse.
It’s like, we can sit in the lodge and look through a telescope and look at the top of the mountain, right? We can see the summit. Has anyone ever done that, maybe in Switzerland? You can sit indoors and be warm and comfortable and look at the top of the mountain, or even the whole thing. You can see it, and there’s definitely something inspiring about seeing the whole mountain from a distance that way. Lots of times the teacher will point out the view – this is akin to the teacher saying, “Look into the telescope.” Maybe when you look, you say “Oh that’s Mars.” You have a glimpse. So there can be a little pin prick of realization there.
But seeing the mountain from the lodge is a lot different than actually getting out there and climbing it and standing on the summit. Don’t you agree? You’re going to have a whole different level of appreciation after a climb then just seeing it through a telescope, just looking at it or much less just seeing it in a picture. This is like people who are readers and they imagine, “Oh I could do that,” or “I could be Milarepa.” But to make actual realizations, we need to climb the mountain. That entails real work.
I don’t know if we have it in the Bodhisattva Vinaya I put together; I like to say, “As you progress on the Path, the climb gets harder, but the view gets better.” So you have to turn around every once in a while and look back to appreciate the view, because of course about a quarter way up the mountain, you can’t see the summit anymore. And there might be a really long period where you can’t see the summit or perhaps there’s even a false summit. Has anybody climbed Mount Shasta? There is a kind of false summit, what’s the other little mountain there, Shastina? It’s like if you climbed Shastina and thought, “Oh, I’m done now.” Sorry, you aren’t done.
There can be a false summit, and sometimes there’s also just losing sight of the summit. When people get discouraged because they’ve lost sight and they’re screwing up, I have to encourage them – I like to encourage people! But when people have gotten to a false summit, those are actually harder students to work with. They feel like “I should be a Lama and be giving teachings.” Those are harder students to work with.
We have to actually make the trek so we have actually walked it, so to speak. We’re becoming what are called in the texts a ‘fit vessel’, so to speak. Also, there’s this funny thing with mountains – there aren’t really short cuts. You can’t take a helicopter to the top. (laughter.)
People want that! “I do want to get to the summit, I want to stand on the summit, but Lama la, I want to take the helicopter or the tram.” (laughter.) I mean, you can, but have you ever taken a tram up a mountain? It’s pretty, sure, but it’s different than walking it. We have to make the effort to walk the path.
So the third sentence in this verse says, “This has made you patient in suffering and also wise.” Patience; kshanti paramita is peaceful endurance, not ‘grit your teeth endurance.’ But the peaceful endurance of patience is developed through enduring hardships, through our responsibilities, through our Shamatha practice.
It’s essential because without patience, then you become angry so easily. Isn’t that so? You’re stuck in traffic, maybe you’re on your way here, and you’re thinking, “Can’t these a-holes get out of the way? Don’t they know I am trying to get to my very important meditation retreat??” (Laughter)
So you need some life experience to learn patience, which goes for all the paramitas, right? If you think of it, it’s like that with all the paramitas, like giving. And it’s interesting, in our tradition, if you perfect one, you’ve done them all. If somebody says you’re patient, you are also a very giving person. The assumption is you’re also developing the other qualities, so you achieve patience and then wisdom comes.
So then Tilopa says, “Take this to heart.” So really take it in the heart – take it in the heart mind. In our tradition, the clear light mind is here (gestures to chest) in the heart drop, not up in the brain mind. That makes sense right? There’s the brain mind, we recognize the brain mind. We’re interested in the brain mind. There are even people called Neuro-Buddhists! But in our tradition, clear light mind, Rigpa, whatever name you want to give it, exists as a continual fresh reemergence, every moment. It doesn’t have a birth. It doesn’t have a death.
Of course in our tradition, you can be brain dead, but also not dead in one sense because heart-mind is still present. In our tradition, if someone has just died, we’re still keeping a sense of peace around them, maybe doing prayers or mantras so they can identify with it. But you know, we’re not saying critical things about the person, or being unpleasant.
Even if people aren’t Buddhists, they tend to be kind of nice. After college, I worked at a Seventh Day Adventist hospital, I was in housekeeping. (Of course, after attending an Ivy League college, I went to be a janitor, it drove my parents nuts.) They were nice, respectful. They said, “As housekeepers, we don’t just rush in after someone has passed away. We don’t take down the flowers, like okay they’re dead, let’s move them.” Maybe some hospitals do that, but there was some respect with them.
Sometimes people’s awareness leaves immediately upon death. You can feel it, “Oh they left.” But usually, technically, there’s not the recognition or personal clear light mind that says, “Wait a minute, why are they pulling the tubes out?” Just after death you don’t want to go, “Well that’s it; that’s the end of aunt Beth,” and just move on. You want to do some prayers, practices, create an inspiring environment. Let the person know they’ve moved on, so they have a good journey. So you’re taking it to the heart mind, not the brain mind, not the information mind, my worthy students. Then, maybe finally we end up with I don’t know, maybe the Buddhas final doubt; I’ve talked about this before.
Buddha’s Final Doubt
So at the end, Buddha had conquered anger and desire but still kind of wondered, “Maybe I don’t deserve this.” Interestingly, at that moment he kind of touched the ground. In images of the refuge Buddha, he’s seated and you see one hand kind of holding an alms bowl and the right hand over the knee. That’s called the bhumi mudra. Bhumi means ground, so like ground-touching, and mudra means gesture. So he touches the Earth, and then he said “As the earth is firm, so is my tradition” and maybe also there’s the energy of the earth goddess, and so he feels that he is worthy so he can say to Mara, “Back off!” And Mara the Deceiver slips away, flees, and is just gone. Isn’t that nice?
So maybe us hearing these teachings, we haven’t done as much work on ourselves as Naropa. But we have to be open to the possibility that we’re worthy to receive them, because that sense of unworthiness can be a very hard thing to overcome. Because you can receive all these profound teachings and then deep down you’ll still think, “Well they all say I’m a Buddha, they all say I can do it, they all say that I’m worthy or they all say that everyone else is the same and can as well, but to be happy I have to have my terminal uniqueness.” That’s what they say in recovery.
Terminal uniqueness is when someone believes “My problems are more profound than anybody else’s. No one can possibly understand them and I cannot be helped.” That’s terminal uniqueness. “My problems are special.” (Laughter) It’s like kind of a badge of honor for them. So they say, “I’m not worthy. I pass.” It’s a kind of hardness.
That hardness can be very stubborn. There’s a saying in Tibetan that goes something to the effect of, “Even if a rock has been at the bottom of the ocean for a million eons surrounded by the water, if you bring it up and crack it open, it’s dry on the inside.” So we have to ultimately identify the misperceived self that’s the flip side of pride and arrogance – one side is ‘I’m fantastic and you guys should worship me,’ and the flip side is ‘I’m bad, stupid and wrong and I cannot be helped.’ So the last phrase to Naropa is, “My worthy student.” Tilopa is communicating that.
So of course this is just information, just intellect in a sense. In our tradition, we do pay attention to intellect and discriminating mind, but it isn’t everything. Why? Because even though they’re useful, intellect and information and belief can’t bring you realization – it can even prevent you. If you think you can’t, you can’t and you won’t. So our intellectual narrative can be very good and it can steer us in the right direction where we want to go, or we can have our finger pointing to the moon. If your finger isn’t pointing in the right direction, you can have all the fricking experiences you want, but you won’t actually get it because you’ll be thinking you’re driving to San Francisco when you’re really driving to Reno.
Intellect is important as a pointer, not as a realization. If you have a strong conceptual framework, and you’re really locked and loaded into, “I’m a terrible person and by the way the rest of you are too,” then you can have all these incredible, beneficial experiences like the water, the ocean of dharma could completely cover you, but if that rock hard shell of terminal uniqueness – which is just based on concepts – is there, it will never sink in.
That’s why we say, ‘The sun may be shining all over, but if you just do this (extends arm, hand and thumb, covering sun) you can block out the sun.’ That’s why we have to spend time at least trying to get the right view. So even though it can’t be taught, we want to at least point out the delusion right? So we know which way to point if we really want to point at the moon. That makes sense doesn’t it?
So proper study is important because if we have an improper delusion (which is always going to be conceptual) then you can have many experiences, you can have all kinds of meditative experiences, but they won’t turn into realizations. Capiche?
Let’s take a few questions, comments or complaints. If this was the monastery, I’d call on people and say, “What did I just say in a nutshell?” But I’m not going to do that because I’m super nice. (Laughter) That really makes a difference! My teacher used to do that all the time and not just in the middle of a teaching, “What’s this? What’s that?” You didn’t get to go drifting off. Just because a student is taking notes, doesn’t mean they’re getting everything.
And maybe we’re recording it! I don’t know, but it’s still embarrassing to be called on and have to say, “Oh sorry, I don’t know, I was thinking about how I’m going to repair the swimming pool.” (Laughter) Okay, questions.
Q: Can’t Lamas just tell us the view outright?
Lama Jinpa: Well actually, we can’t. (hearty laughter) That’s why we need remember that Buddhas can’t transfer realizations; we can’t wash away sins with water; we can’t heal just by laying on of hands – we can just teach. So in our tradition, we don’t invade other peoples space, we don’t force ideas on them.
We really don’t, because you can’t anyway – whatever drill you have, whatever tool you try to use to break the surface, they’ll have a harder surface underneath. So we just keep throwing the Jell-o against the wall. We’re like the water against the rock. We just keep teaching. We just keep calling it out: “Oh, that’s terminal uniqueness.” We just keep wearing it down in a sense, because the Nature of the mind, the Nature of true Rigpa is that if you keep putting the solution opposite the problem again and again, then you will eventually, naturally, see the problem.
Okay, so that’s always what we need to do in dharma. We’re always trying to put one polarity against another polarity, because then we see what’s actually going on. That’s what we always try to do. In other traditions, they try to get rid of it, but we always place it, this and this. So when people see these two things together like this, “Here’s dog shit, and here’s ice cream,” you can see you’re going to want to eat the ice cream, right? So we just have to keep doing it. We have to keep presenting the polarities.
As Bodhisattvas, we wear ourselves out, because we all have terminal uniqueness and we wear ourselves out because the nature of the mind is we have delusions; but look at it this way. It has taken eons but now we’re here! We’re not a salvation religion – there’s no way to rescue people. The door opens from the inside. So we’re not aggressive or claim to be omnipotent in that way. This is a grown up religion. This is grown up spirituality. We are not kids anymore. A teacher can’t intervene like, okay I’m going to intervene and rescue someone from their karma. But we can provide a lot of support around it.
So if someone is struggling, we always give them lots of support. Like we’re putting the truth right next to idiocy, so we can cushion their karma in that sense. The good news is if we start good karma, which we’re doing right now, then the whole thing has to come to fruition. The whole thing is based on that, ladies and gentlemen. The whole thing is based on that. Good intentions, good starts will always have good results. And, no good is ever destroyed. So sometimes when we say “karma”, people think of like, fate in a depressing way. But actually karma is good news, because it means “Not determined.” If you create good intentions, good actions, and good realizations, they must have good results.
You can’t have a good start and have a shitty end. Conversely, you can’t have bad intentions and wind up with a good ending; you’ll always end up with bad results. This teaching is very profound: the Buddhas cannot change someone’s karma. We can dedicate our merit and our blessings, we can surround people with that support, but it’s like someone is locked in their room and they have to open the door from the inside. We can say, “Hey, we’re here!” but they have to open it from the inside. And when they come out, it’s like there’s nice food and their friends are there.
So many movies and books are based on the childlike view that we’re going to bust in and fix someone’s karma. It is nice to have that fantasy, but actually it doesn’t happen that way- otherwise we’d all be fine! Even though Buddha’s realization is infinite and Buddha’s compassion is infinite, we have to do our own practice- with lots of support.
Q: So we make our own karma?
Lama Jinpa: Yes, we’ve created that. So, that’s the other good thing about karma; since we’ve created karma, we can uncreate it. We made it so we can unmake it. And if it can be uncreated, then you really don’t have terminal uniqueness.
But it feels so solid from its own side, doesn’t it, “I’m bad stupid and wrong and don’t try to talk me out of it.” Okay, please come back when you’re ready. Even the Buddha had to sometimes kick people out of the Sangha for doing crazy things, but most of the time people would go, ”Blah blah blah,” and he would go, “This is the way I see it.” and they’d say, “That’s not the way I see it.” And he’d go, “Well okay, I can’t rescue you.”
There’s a famous story, a woman was understandably distressed about losing her child, and she brought her dead baby before the Buddha; he gave a teaching. “If you can bring me a handful of mustard seed from a house that has no death in it, I will revive your baby.” So she spent a long time going from house to house, searching and looking for a house without death in it. She couldn’t find one, and then she had a realization that death touches us all. She was still grieving her child, but was able to move on.
So we just keep pitching – that is our Bodhisattva practice. But sometimes we have to go, “Well you know, go out and have some more lives and see how that works for you. When you’re ready, come back.” We can’t chase anybody down. That isn’t how this works.
We see in the Pali sutras and in the Lotus Sutra particularly, Buddha would say “You fool.” That’s probably a kind translation! (laughter) Buddha probably said, “Well, if you think you can do it that way, you’re kind of an idiot but when you’re ready, come back.” (laughter)
We need to have this basic understanding, so that when we have the Mahamudra teachings about a non-delusional vessel or the possibility of it we’re challenging the idea that we are not worthy. We’re challenging the idea that we don’t have to go through any experiences and that understanding can be taught. Information is taught – not understanding. We have to develop open-heartedness. We have to actually walk up the mountain. Then we’ve developed patience and we can take it into the heart. Then we recognize our worthiness, and then we’re ready. It’s easy.
Okay. Okay, one last question or comment or complaint before break and then we’ll do contemplation on this.
Q: Is the support just from the Lama, or all of us to each other?
Lama Jinpa: So just the act of saying what we say at the beginning and end of every practice, “May the benefits of what I am doing go to support others,” that means we’re not greedily holding onto our world, which zeroes it out actually. When we hear from others that they’re willing to support us, then we can relax and look inside. When we hear that, we can open the door, because on the other side are welcoming people. So we’re going to open the door. This is huge.
The causes and conditions that need to be set up for awakening are extremely important. We’ll open the door if people say, “It’s safe out here and we have comfort and healing waiting, come on out.” It’s like you’re on the ledge and people say, “Come on in.” We are talking people off the ledge so that’s huge, but still people have to say, “I’m willing to come off the ledge,” or “I’m willing to open the door.” We never take away someone’s freedom.
That’s why I say as Lama that I never push someone off the diving board. There are a lot of folks who’ll jump on the diving board for a long time before they jump into dharma or their life but if they jump for a while and say, “I’m not going to jump,” I don’t push them. If you get pushed by a teacher, you don’t experience the freedom and you don’t experience the sense of initiative. You don’t experience that jump. You might end up in the water like everybody else but you don’t experience the liberating Rigpa mind, the real freedom, because you have been pushed. You don’t get the confidence. You don’t experience the release, like that.
It’s always tempting, because people do want that. “I can’t do it. Just push me in, just push me over.” That’s dharma cheating. People can find teachers and teachings that are like that, that will push them, there are definitely co- dependent nutjobs masquerading as teachers all the way up like to Jim Jones. We don’t do that.
You say you’re not ready to go in this time? I learned this as a camp counselor, counseling kids from 5-18 years old: it’s okay to not be ready to go in. Particularly 5 year olds, they don’t want to go in the cold lake in Maine, they’re going to keep bouncing on the board. They want to see if their friends are going to jump in. I’m not going to be yelling, “Jump in!” But people want that, right? “I don’t want to do the work; I want to find a teacher who will push me, particularly if I pay them a lot of money.” That’s not the realization lineage that we’re part of – that’s bullshit. It’s a drag; people get on the diving board a lot and bounce a lot. People are waiting! (Laughter) But it’s okay; we’ll do it again tomorrow. It is really okay. (Laughter)
On retreat, if you get up early like I do, you can do some reading, so we might be reading more relative dharma talks. If we don’t do some dharma reading, we might be a little off with the view. So we should be learning something, we’re giving the mind something to do. Or we might be reading some more profound texts like Mahamudra or Dzogchen texts or something else on emptiness like the Heart Sutra. We are probably doing something a little extra. In interviews, I’ll generally ask people, “Well, what are you reading?” Several people have completed the Foundations course out of Jamyang. This really gives a very strong backbone. People are doing other kinds of reading that is beneficial too. Hopefully you’ve done some of that and have time to do the yogic practice.