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Approaching Mahamudra

Approaching Mahamudra

The second talk during a weekend course led by Harry Milward in Kagyu Samye Ling

I mentioned last night the four ways of changing the mind, or the four ordinary foundations as it is sometimes called. And the first one - by the way in some books it is in a different order, so don’t worry too much about the order.

With the precious human birth, we have to ask ourselves what is it that makes human beings precious? Well, we have the potential in us of being Buddha and that is why we can reveal what is precious in us. As we are now full of ordinary things and so far as spiritual practice is concerned they are defilements, all our habits, good habits, bad habits; even the good habits can get in the way too. We have to be able to let them go. And to be able to do that we have to practice.

But first we need to know as much as we can about ourselves. And the precious human birth we can read about what Lamas say about it and so on, but we need to look at it ourselves. And we’ll have now, I think we’ll have 10 minutes doing what we could call contemplation. We are meditating, but on a subject. The subject is the precious human birth. Now what do we know about it? Keep your mind on the subject. Of course we are going to think, but we let any thought which is interfering, we let it go. We notice it, we let it go.  So it’s really a form of shinay meditation. In this instance. So lets have 10 minutes, and we can go over what we know, really about ourselves and other people too.


Well I am sure all of you have had different things come up in your mind. But one of the things we need to contemplate, ponder on if you like, is the fact that human birth is difficult to obtain. And if we begin to understand karma, we can see that. It is difficult to obtain. If it is solely chance that makes us into a human being instead of an animal or a hungry ghost or whatever, then we have to remember that we humans are a limited number, I don’t know what it is now, so many billion, I can’t remember how many. If you think of animals in the world, just in this world, how many animals are there? Many, many more of them than human beings, aren’t there? I mean think of all the little animals, mice for example. They reproduce very fast. It must be a million times more animals than human beings, I guess, and then we don’t know about the other realms. We can’t see, we can’t perceive them with any of our senses.

When you think of it, we live by our senses, don’t we? Seeing is terribly important, for most of us. Hearing is important. I now know the importance of hearing. And then sensation and so on. We live by the senses, most of the time. And of course with that we have mental awareness. What we call consciousness. As I mentioned yesterday, consciousness is limited. It is limited really by what we perceive outside, and also in the mind.

And as I say we don’t know what really goes on in the other realms. But it is said each realm has many, many more beings in it than the human realm. So, if it is all put into a ball mill, which is a sort of sawmill which goes round, and a lot of different coloured pebbles, with just a few pink ones, and then you look into the thing and see how many pink ones there are on top. There won’t be many, compared with the others. If it is all by chance.

But of course karma is the thing that gives us a different chance if we use it. And the other thing we have to consider is that everything is changing. We always want to have something which is permanent. It feels safe if we are in an environment which is the same always. Ain’t that true?

But it doesn’t. It is all changing. And of course if you go into it from a scientific point of view, you can often see the changes. If you look into a powerful microscope you will see changes going on all the time even what looks quite stable. And of course with us in the world, the weather is always changing, particularly in Scotland. So impermanence is also a very powerful factor in what we are, where we are.

And this human awareness can be born in any of the six realms. And it is karma that more or less directs the selection when we die. So if we have a white karma we are likely to be born as humans. Although the god realm seems very pleasant, the human realm is the only one more or less in the middle, and the human being is the only one who can realise his full potential.

When you are a god you are so self-satisfied, you don’t look for anything else. And you can see reflections of that in our own realm here. The big businessman, the important businessman who has all the money in the world, billions at his disposal, he is not happy of course. Because he is wary all the time he might lose it. But he is able to command everything. He tells people to do things, and they do it. When he wants food, it is brought to him. All very pleasant. But there is no incentive for him to want to improve himself. Inwardly, in his mind.

So, then the next realm is something called semi-gods. There is another word for it, I’ve forgotten (maybe Azuras?). But they are jealous, because….If we go into the business world again, they are the top executives. They want the Chairman’s place. They are jealous of it. They are envious. And they spend so much time being envious, that they don’t think of anything else.

Then the human being is in a sort of middle position. And there is a certain degree of dissatisfaction in everyone’s life, I think. My own came when I was somewhere in my thirties. I realised that whatever I planned to do, I never succeeded fully. I was always turned aside by something. Something that attracted me or something that repelled me. Something turned me aside from what I really wanted or needed to do. And so I had this dissatisfaction. I wanted to know why. I wanted to know what it was that was causing this.

And so I gradually got turned onto the spiritual track. Looking for something more to get me out of the dissatisfaction. That’s a form of unhappiness, of course. Suffering. And, I was very fortunate, and somehow my karma guided me here and then I found Akong Rinpoche. And he led me eventually to Tai Situpa who was teaching what we are talking about now, Mahamudra. But it is only entirely due basically to these two people that I was able to find something which satisfied the inner hunger I had.

And if we can find that in ourselves, it’s a great help in being diligent. Practice, practice, practice. Diligence. And if we have this dissatisfaction in us, we want to know something we don’t know, then we will make the effort. After all meditation can be very boring, particularly if we are sitting and we can see out of the window and someone out there is enjoying themselves. Very difficult really. 

That is why in Zen, they always meditate just looking at a wall. So nothing to distract them. In Vajrayana we don’t do that. That is one of the difficulties that we need to help us on the way. If we don’t meet the difficulties we don’t generate the strength. And we all know in games, if we don’t make the effort and suffer from making the effort, we don’t become an athlete. If we want to be a top boxer, we are going to have a lot of pain before we get there. But it does strengthen you. If you have the wish, the real intent to do something.

So there were are. Impermanence. We have really almost covered karma as well. Karma, cause and effect. Action. Karma means action in Sanskrit. We all act, from babyhood onwards, until we die, and each action has a result. It may not have a result immediately. It may produce a situation where the result happens way in the future. For example, we steal some money, and for a long time we think we have gotten away with it. And then someone digs up the evidence, and then we land up in jail.  Maybe two years later. Or whatever. That is only a very crude example. But karma is something which never stops. Even when we are dead, it guides us through the bardo. It is karma which guides us, unless we have developed the awareness so we could still be aware in circumstances like that.

On the other hand of course, if we lead a good life, we help people, we do all the positive things, then we are likely to be reborn as humans. If we are very self-satisfied, and we sit in the sun all day, and our money seems to roll in, then we can easily be reborn as a cat. They love sitting in the sun all day, don’t they?

These are crude examples but its something like that. I don’t think we can ever exactly know how karma works but it is something like that. So it is up to us in this lifetime to make a good karma apart from whether we are searching for enlightenment now, this lifetime. So that is one of the reasons that later on we have to go through the Ngöndro practices where the second is Vajrasattva - purification. And we all need a certain amount of purification. In Hinayana purification is, you could almost say, the main thing. And if you purify yourself enough, then you get an enhanced consciousness or awareness. It is not impossible but it is not easy. It will take many, many lifetimes to become a Buddha.

The Buddhist principle is to be everybody's friend, not to have any enemy.
Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche
Meditation means simple acceptance.
Choje Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche
Only the impossible is worth doing.
Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche
Whenever we see something which could be done to bring benefit to others, no matter how small, we should do it.
Chamgon Khentin Tai Situ Rinpoche
Freedom is not something you look for outside of yourself. Freedom is within you.
Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche
Hasten slowly, you will soon arrive.
Jetsun Milarepa
It doesn’t matter whatever comes, stop judging and it won’t bother you.
Choje Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche
Whatever obstacles arise, if you deal with them through kindness without trying to escape then you have real freedom.
Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche
To tame ourselves is the only way we can change and improve the world.
Choje Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche
I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
Strive always to be as kind, gentle and caring as possible towards all forms of sentient life.
Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche
Every sentient being is equal to the Buddha.
Chamgon Kentin Tai Situ Rinpoche
Wherever and whenever we can, we should develop compassion at once.
Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche
Reminding ourselves of how others suffer and mentally putting ourselves in their place, will help awaken our compassion.
Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche