Swooping Down from Above

I'd like to read something by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, whose name means the self-existent diamond. This Karmapa was a Dzogchen master. He was the Dharma brother of Longchenpa, the enlightened fourteenth century Dzogchen patriarch. This is a very important pith-instruction from the secret, oral pith-instruction lineage of the Mahamudra and Dzogchen tradition. It's called The Single Word of Heart-Advice.
The Single Word of Heart-Advice
Homage to all the sacred masters.
The heart-mind of all the Buddhas of the past, the present, and the future, widely renowned as Dharmakaya, as Mahamudra, as enlightened mind, is precisely your own mind, which thinks of this and that.
What kind of Buddhist teaching is this? Even with all the poisons and everything, today's mind is inseparable from Buddha Mind? This is what the Karmapa says; and, as you all know, the Karmapa is the big boss, so it must be true. (Just joking!) But let's find out for ourselves if it is true. It's possible.
The Karmapa says that the essential nature of your own mind, which thinks of this and that, is the Buddha Mind, is Dharmakaya, absolute truth, Mahamudra, Dzogchen. All the phenomena of Samsara and Nirvana appear within this unique awareness, your awareness. Samsara is not downtown somewhere, while Nirvana is uptown, or on the other shore. Karmapa says all the phenomena of Samsara and Nirvana fit within this unique awareness. This unique innate awareness is the heart-essence of all the sutra teachings, the tantra teachings, and all the commentaries and pith-instructions.
Yet, when you apply it in practice, there is nothing whatsoever to be meditated upon. It is an empty, luminous, spacious, unobstructed void.
Simply allow this unique awareness to rest vividly awake and present in its natural way.
This is Karmapa's teaching. That's what you have to do. There's nothing to meditate on. Just allow awareness to rest totally present and awake. That's why it's called mirror-like awareness, sky-like awareness. Not doing anything. Everything happens as if in that sky-like mirror of mind. The sky and the mirror don't do anything of their own volition, but simply accommodate transitory reflection, without essentially changing.
You don't need to worry or think, "Is this really it? Could this be Mahamudra?" Don't bother yourself with these doubts and questions. Don't hope for improvement or be afraid of degeneration.
How can we progress and develop spiritually if we don't hope for improvement? What kind of Dharma path is this? Karmapa says don't hope for improvement and don't fear going down. Don't chase such transient concepts, like improvement and degeneration. Just rest nakedly at home in this vividly awake present awareness. Relax loosely and rest. Beside this, you don't need anything to meditate on. So let that be the object of your meditation, of non-meditation. The non-meditation called sustaining present wakefulness.
By practicing in this extraordinarily simple way, again and again, you will definitely recognize the groundless, rootless open essence of all thoughts, appearances, and phenomena. When that happens, realization blooms naturally. All attachments, all habitual patterns, all conditioning is spontaneously liberated and released in this blossoming of realization.
This is called Buddhahood. This is what is meant when it says, "One moment makes all the difference. One moment of total awareness is one moment of perfect freedom and enlightenment."
That's why this practice is so profound. One moment is enough. One eternal instant. You don't have to build it up like an investment program, until it ripens. One moment includes it all. One moment makes all the difference. Why not this moment? What are we waiting for?
I swear there is not a more profound and ultimate instruction from all the holy and realized masters of the enlightened lineage that is more profound and more vital than this single word of my heart-advice. Please don't waste this. Don't squander it. Remember this teaching always. There is no mistake in it. Rely on the blessings of such a teaching, rather than on the blessings of others.
This was written by Karmapa Rangjung Dorje in the Yangon Hermitage. May all beings be happy. Sarva mangalam.
What, then, does this mean, that one moment makes all the difference? One moment of perfect awareness-pristine, primordial being-is one moment of freedom and enlightenment. Karmapa says that is called Buddhahood. Some people say you can't become a Buddha if you're a woman. Some people say you can only become an arhat. Some people say you can't become a Buddha without developing through the ten bhumis (Bodhisattva levels) for three endless eons. Some people say all kinds of things, but the practice lineage teachers say we are all Buddhas by nature. We only have to awaken to that. And that happens in the present moment, through total awareness, through a total moment of illuminated presence. We are far more Buddha-like that we think.
So that's the result of this kind of practice. But that's also the practice itself, isn't it? It's not different from what we are doing. It is the practice we're doing. This trekchod practice of cutting through, seeing through-perforating the solidity of ideas and things with this sharp, penetrating awareness in the present moment-that's the practice we are doing here. That's the path as well as the result. And not only that, it is also the basis, the ground where we are coming from. This innate or present awareness is where we begin, where we live, where we are coming from-not just where we are heading towards. It is the ground, our fundamental nature; it's the path, the way we practice; and it's the result, the freedom itself. That's why it is said that the ground, path, and fruit are one and inseparable.
The Dalai Lama said something once, which is often misunderstood. He said Dzogchen is the practice of Buddhas, not of beings. Some people think that means we can't practice it. But what he was saying is that it's the Buddha itself, the innate Buddha Mind called Rigpa, that is practicing it. It's not that we "beings," like lead dolls, are polishing ourselves until we polish it enough that we become like a diamond. He's not saying that. He's saying it's the Buddhas practicing it. It is Rigpa practice, not conceptual practice or mind-made meditation practice. That is why Trekchod is most often taught and practiced in the context of a guru yoga sadhana, in which it is no longer one's ordinary limited self that is practicing the meditation.
Rigpa is the basis, our true nature; it is the path, our practice; and also the result, Buddhahood, freedom, peace. That's why we say Dharmakaya or Rigpa, this innate awareness, this inner wisdom, is Nirvana. Nirvana is not somewhere else. Rigpa is Buddha. It is the ultimate refuge. It is the entire truth. It is the sublime Dharma. And it is the noble Sangha. It is all of us, whether we know it or not. Such exaltedness may seem far from us sometimes, but we are never apart from it.
I have a lot of faith in this practice. I've found, much to my surprise, that it is all true. When my beloved teacher Kalu Rinpoche used to tell us this twenty years ago, I couldn't believe it. My head was too thick. It seemed too good to be true. He said your very mind, thinking of this and that, is not apart from the Buddha-mind. It's not your mind, your problem. It's Buddha's problem; give it back to Buddha. Buddha already "got enlightened for your sins." You can relax. It's not your problem. It's Buddha-nature expressing itself as a rainy day, as a storm, or as a sunny day. It is Buddha-nature expressing itself as winter and also as summer. Also as fall, when we are dying, and as spring, when we are being born. Everything is an expression of Buddha-nature or suchness, tathagatagarbha.
There is nothing else happening. It's the beginning and the end. The alpha and omega, as we say in our own Western wisdom tradition. We are alpha and omega both. Nowhere to go and nothing missing. That's why Karmapa says that this very heart-mind is it; don't overlook it! It is too close, so we can't see it; we overlook it. It is innate, so we can't get it.
When my teacher Kalu Rinpoche used to say this to me twenty or more years ago, it seemed too good to be true. I couldn't believe it. It didn't make sense. Not possible! It must be something else, I thought: Self-improvement, enlightenment or bust, get better, transform, find something, understand something, learn something special, become different. We all think like that, don't we? But what about the other side? What about pure being, not our doings? Where we are coming from, not just where we think we are going towards on this highly touted express train to enlightenment. It seems too good to be true, but it is true. It is too close, so we can't see it, we can't get it. It's too obvious and too evident, so we don't notice it. It's too transparent.
Have any of you read Mount Analog by Rene Daumal? It is a spiritual allegory about many seekers seeking something special, the crystal mountain or the mystical jewels, the transparent diamonds of enlightenment. Actually it's an unfinished story, because what is happening is that they are walking on the transparent mountain. And every rock is the transparent jewel, but they can't recognize it because it is transparent. And because it's not just one thing that they have to find. It's everything. And it's the climbers too. So how to find something that's not separate from you? Moreover, how to become what we are?
It's very subtle, so it's hard to recognize. But we might start to look in this direction; towards the view, the ground of being: Towards where we are coming from, not just where we think we are going towards. Towards the goal, not just the present means or meditation technique. Then we can experience this incredibleness; what we would call in English perfection or completeness, illumination, realization, great peace, unconditional love and openness. Freedom. What was it that Kris Kristofferson wrote? "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." When we have no more illusions about enlightenment and Nirvana and when we have no more illusions about ourselves; when we're free of illusion, free of everything-Free! Not just getting into the right concrete castle or blissful, peaceful meditation state. Freedom is much bigger than that. Any state is temporary, is fabricated, so we can fall from it. Any seat, throne, or pedestal we can fall off of. But the ground we can't fall off of. It's like gravity. The Dharma is upholding us. Even if we jump up, there's nowhere to go. We don't need to stand or tiptoe to get higher. We just exhaust ourselves in that way.
We keep trying to tie knots in the vast, open sky, so we have something to hold onto to. We keep trying to jump up. We stand on tiptoes trying to get higher, keep reaching up, put a ladder up, climb a tower; but we can never leave the groundless ground. Even if we fly or are in orbit like an astronaut, it is the groundless ground of being that we are all based in. This is what we are looking into here. And this is what we are using and living and breathing every day, while hardly even knowing it because it takes so many different forms. We are lost in the myriad forms.
I love the vital teaching in the Heart Sutra, saying "Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form." Not just that all forms are empty, but also that emptiness takes form. Recognize the shapes of emptiness also, so we know what we are doing here. You should see through the window, but don't forget the window is there. Otherwise, you just break it, or crash into it like a bird. Did you ever see a bird flying into a window because it didn't see it? That's just seeing the emptiness of things, but not recognizing the forms, the karma, the interconnectedness, the interdependent origination. How things actually function and work. As we say in the Mahayana teachings, "See how things appear to be, as well as how they actually are." If you are having a dream or a nightmare, you could know that. You don't just say, "No, there's no dream." It's a dream. It's a nightmare or a good dream, but it's just a dream. Recognize the appearances as well as their nature. And ourselves, our own appearance, how we are and what we seem to need and how we work. This is variously called the two levels or aspects of truth: absolute and relative, or ultimate and conventional, essence and function.
Not just saying, "Oh, we're all just one. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters." When you start to hear "nothing matters," the red flag should go up. The bullshit detector should flash and beep! Be alerted to whatever self-justification or rationalization is there. "I don't mind. You don't matter. No mind, no matter." That's bullshit. It's rationalization. It's nihilism. It is a symptom of too much emptiness. Sage Nagarjuna said, "It's a pity that some people believe in concrete reality, but much more pitiful are those who believe in emptiness." It's easier to get stuck in emptiness. There's no way to get out; no steps. No exit, as Sartre said. No enlightenment. No hand holds, no helping hands. No anything. That's fine when you've experienced it; but until then, it's too soon to say that it doesn't matter, that everything is empty, like a dream.
Let's try to be very conscientious about our spiritual work. As we say in the Dzogchen tradition: Swoop down from above, with the vast view of everything perfect, as it is-absolute truth, emptiness-while at the same time, climbing up from below according to our capacity, through relative practices, relative truth. Swooping down while climbing up from below. Let's broaden our minds a bit, so we're not stuck with just one perspective. Can we hold both at the same time? Can we see the forest while we are down on all fours in the trees, counting wild mushrooms? It is very important to be sensible and balanced in our spiritual work so we don't just space out, swooping down from above and having a crash landing. Skiing straight down the mountain is a good example of too much hubris. You can get out of control and crash right into the parking lot at the bottom or go through a guard rail and over a cliff. On the other hand, we don't want to be totally bogged down with schlepping up from below with all our heavy baggage, being so serious and grim about how far it seems to be to enlightenment and missing all the joy of the journey. We need both the absolute picture-swooping down, with the effortless joy and the freedom of freefall flight-and the relative picture-carefully, meticulously taking care of all the details, climbing up from below according to our capacity through relative practices, including virtuous living, honesty, ethics, purification, and all the transcendental paramitas. Each of those Bodhisattva virtues is a practice: perfection of patience, perfection of generosity, perfection of effort, perfection of forgiveness, perfection of meditation, and so on. All those are practices to do. It doesn't just come because we read about it or believe in it. Buddhadharma is a do-it-yourself path. We have to actually walk the talk, not just verbalize it.
I find in my own life that although I'm always thinking about the highest truth, and inspired when I read about these things-and I hope you read them too, writings by poets like Longchenpa, Patrul Rinpoche, Shabkar, Rumi, Kabir, and Milarepa-yet when you really bring it down to your life, it must filter down to a very practical level, to how we actually live. Do we always take the best seat? Do we cut corners? Do we steal little things? Do we lie? (Just little white ones, right?) Maybe we keep the moral precepts. We don't hear much about the precepts here, because that's not really the emphasis of Dzogchen, but of course we understand that the training in virtue, restraint, nonharming, and morality is very helpful. "Of course, I don't kill." Maybe I forget that my speeding car kills a lot of moths and other insects; but, we might assert, at least I don't intentionally kill. I don't fish. I don't hunt. But maybe I eat meat, wear leather clothes, have ivory on my mala beads, millions of silkworms in my silk kimono. And maybe you do too. The precept is not just not to kill; it is about cherishing life. We ought to really look into what it means to respect and cherish life in all its forms.
Another important precept is not to steal. Well, maybe I don't steal formally; but maybe I invest in companies that steal, in companies that steal from other countries or that steal or destroy the environment. It's not just we shouldn't steal. It's that we shouldn't exploit. We don't need to take more than our share. You can apply this to any of the precepts. Maybe I don't lie (that's probably a lie, but maybe not); but what about slander, gossip, harsh words, and the little white lies we tell ourselves everyday along with our internal story line? You get mad sometimes at somebody, and you say harsh things, don't you? They count too. That's the principle of the precepts. The little lies, the deceptions, count karmically too. Self-deception also counts. How straightforward, forthright, and honest are we, really? You can say the same with the precepts regarding intoxication, sexual misconduct, and pride. It says in the Buddhist sutras things like "Don't sleep on a high bed." And you say, "I don't sleep on a high bed. I sleep on the floor-on my imported Japanese futon with silk sheets and duck featherfilled pillows." But who cares about inches and feet high and low? That's an old-fashioned manner of expression. The precept is about pride, about taking the higher place, about being above others. And it's about simplicity and contentment, rather than excess.
How much excess do we have? How many tape recorders, cameras, TVs, phone numbers, credit cards, and computers do you have? Maybe you have one of each, but I know a lot of us have more than one of each. We have last year's and this year's, and are looking for next year's. I personally have a Walkman, a dictaphone, and my partner has a stereo and also a Walkman and a CD player and two TVs. That's a lot between just the two of us and a dog. Excess. I read that 20 million children are dying every year in the Third World of diarrhea and malnutrition. And the Western countries are collecting the best from those countries, exploiting them, deforesting them. Of course, it's not just the Western countries. Now China is deforesting Tibet. The powerful often exploit the weak. I try to see if I am doing that. And if so, how? If we realize these profound mystical truths, that we are all Buddha, that everything is sacred, wouldn't we treat everybody like we treat our own bodies, like we treat ourselves and our most beloved family members, as a responsible, affectionate, caring guardian rather than as an exploiter?
If these teachings don't filter down from the highest level right into most aspects of our lives, into our relations, where it really counts-what use are they? So let's examine and see how it affects our life. Does our spiritual practice actually affect our life? Do our beliefs change our life? Does the Buddhadharma actually work for us? Because if it doesn't, who needs it?!
One of my friends who is a Buddhist teacher, Ken McLeod, who is a senior American lama in our Kagyu tradition, said, "It doesn't matter what you believe. It only matters what you do." I thought that was very profound for somebody who has been a full-time Buddhist "believer" for 25 or 30 years. I then asked whether it helps to believe that the practice you are doing will help you, and what's the use of doing certain Buddhist practices if you don't believe in them? Or of praying if you don't believe in it? He said that if you pray, it means you believe in it, whatever you may think you believe in.
So if you come here and meditate, you are already doing something. It is the actualization of a deeper belief, deeper than our conscious mind. I have a lot of faith in Ken, so it must be true! (Just joking!) Does it matter what we believe, or does it matter more what we do, how we live? That's why Gandhi said, when asked by a reporter what was the heart of his teaching, "My life is my teaching. How I live is my teaching." He tried to walk his talk, to practice what he preached. So look at how you live, and you'll know what your teaching is. (Your children are getting that teaching daily, by the way, so pay attention.) And it's not just your teaching, but it's also indicative of your realization. So look there; don't look at the gilded Buddha statue on the altar here. Look in the mirror. Have a good look every day. Reflect on what you perceive there. But please don't get too depressed!
There's nothing to get too depressed about actually, but there's also nothing to get too excited or elated about. Getting enlightened is just one more experience. The world will just keep turning.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately in meetings with other teachers. We've explored this with the Dalai Lama also: What is it that is most truly transformative? Eating oranges is supposed to be good for a cold, but what is in it really that is good for the cold? The vitamin C, maybe. So what is it in the various spiritual activities and practices and studies that we do that is most truly transformative? Some people say mindfulness. Some people say devotion, love, compassion. Some people say investigation, inquiry. Some people say meditation. There are many ideas. So what is it? Let's look at our own life. What is it? If we can refine that question, it's like a life koan. Let's try to delve more and more deeply into that question-what is truly transformative-and let go more and more of what is extra, so we can gradually learn to go more directly towards it. (By the way, the Dalai Lama answered, "analysis and meditation.") I personally have been thinking that what was most transformative for me was the longing, the aspiration, the passion for enlightenment. Keeping at it over a long time, in all parts of life. Not just in religious settings, but all the time, wherever life led me. This is probably part of bodhicitta, which means aspiration for awakening. I think each of us have our own piece of that active within our hearts and minds, whether we know it or not.
Any questions tonight? Please feel free. Anything left from this week? We've been here about seven or eight days together.
Do you still practice, meditate, pray, and study after becoming enlightened?
The Dalai Lama gets up at 4 every morning and meditates and studies and does his practices. But that can be said to be an expression of enlightenment itself. But I shouldn't use the word "enlightenment." It has too many imprecise interpretations. Dogen Zenji said, "Meditation is enlightenment." Not that you meditate to get enlightened, but rather that zazen or meditation is Buddha, freedom. That's the other side of the seeker's notion of spiritual climbing. Like in the tale of Mount Analog. You're climbing the mountain, but don't forget it's the mountain from the beginning to the end, not just the top. And all the rocks are the transparent diamonds of enlightenment. These are just poetic images. But if you can do practice from that place, rather than from an impoverished mentality of incompleteness; it's much more vast. For example, we could let Buddha do your sitting tonight. Let Tara do your chanting of the Tara mantra. Let Avalokiteshvara do your chanting of the compassion mantra. If you don't conceive that it's me and mine, and my distractions and my bad voice, and my weariness, then it all takes on a very different character. It's not just meditation in action. It's freedom in action. It's the view in action. Then every practice we do, even ringing the bell at the Hanuman Temple or bowing to idols, takes on a completely different meaning. You can light a candle to the Buddha and put some incense in front of the statue there, but you don't have to forget what your deepest practice is. You know it's not for that statue; Buddha statues don't need to be warmed or illumined by candles. But external observances can help us to be more thoroughly observant, inside and out.
Spiritual practice is a way of life. It's not just a means to an end. It's like living sanely or healthy. It's not to get some other goal. It is to be fully present here and now, not just to be high now and roll-your-own-dharma. It is to be totally one with all and everything, totally present here and now.
What does emaho mean?
Emaho is kind of a Dzogchen exclamation. It means wonderful, far out, amazing, yes! Emaho!
What is the meaning of the mantras we do?
We don't really chant mantras for their meaning, but the Sanskrit words do have a meaning.
The first chant on the practice sheet is simply "Ah." Ah is hard to translate. It's like Om, but it's ah. We'll just leave it like that. It's like the Buddha is the doctor. He gives you the medicine that heals you of all disease, all unease, all suffering. Just think that he is saying, "Ah!" and checking to see if anything is wrong, like when you open your mouth and say ah to a general physician who checks you.
Next is the mantra of Great Compassion of Avalokiteshvara: "Om Mani Padmé Hung." Om is the universal sound. Mani means jewel. Padmé, pema, means lotus. So it means the jewel is in the lotus. Then there's Hung, but that's not there for the meaning; it's there for the completeness of the vibrational tone. Hung is the consort of Om. It is the seed syllable of the five wisdoms. But the meaning is that the jewel is in the lotus, or wisdom and compassion are within us all, like pure seeds blossoming and unfolding within our own tender hearts.
The next one, "Om Ah Hung Benzar Guru Padmé Siddhi Hung," is the Vajra Guru mantra of Padma Sambhava, the Lotus-born Guru who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century. He is called the Second Buddha, the Buddha of Tibet. First Om Ah Hung; then it says Benzar, or Vajra, Guru Padmé. It's like saying homage to the diamond master, born in the lotus. Padmé is lotus. Siddhis mean spiritual powers, like love, wisdom, compassion, forgiveness, enlightenment. So the meaning is homage to the enlightened powers of the Lotus-born Guru. It's a way of affirming that the lotus grows and flourishes out of the mud of one's own nature. Those enlightened powers grow in the mud of our own base nature. Human nature is like the tip of the vast iceberg of Buddha-nature.
The last one is "Om Taré Tutarré Turiyé Soha." That's the mantra of the female Buddha, Tara. Again, we start with the cosmic sound, Om. Taré is her name. It's an invocation that Tara is present and guarding and awakening us. Tutarré is her name again. So is Turiyé. Soha or swaha is like amen, or so be it. So it's her name mantra. Chanting it attracts her (our) attention, exhorts her swiftly enlightening activity, and brings down and brings out her bountiful blessings.
As I said, we don't really chant these mantras thinking of their meaning. When we chant it, we can feel the vibration on an energy level. Something happens, much more than just thinking or saying that the mantra means the jewel in the lotus. You can begin with the meaning, but then you go quickly deeper into it and experience it from the inside out by chanting and meditating on it. It works in your chakras and in your psychic energy channels, and so on, vibrating in different sacred dimensions. There are different kinds of mantras: softening mantras; energetic, generating mantras; peaceful and wrathful mantras; healing mantras; purification mantras; and so on.
These mantras are made up of seed syllables. Each of these syllables is called a seed, a bija in Sanskrit. Om is such a seed syllable. A mantra is a string of them, like a rosary. The string linking the beads is the breath and the attention. Each seed syllable germinates in a slightly different way. Just look at the different seed syllables. Like P'et! That's very sharp and cutting, so we call that a cutting syllable. Then there's Ah! A very softening, opening, spacious, relaxing, dissolving seed syllable. So we try to harmoniously balance different aspects. We balance the sharpness, the one-pointedness of the P'et with the spacious, expansive softness of the Ah. You can feel the different quality of the sounds. Mantric sounds have a lot of vibrations, and different levels that they vibrate on. These mantras are kind of a technology for awakening different energies and actualizing different qualities. It's not really like asking an external deity named Tara to do something. It's more like actualizing within ourselves that sacred feminine energy which Tara embodies.
With a mantra like Om Mani Padmé Hung, some lamas make a vow to do huge numbers of recitation practice, like 100 million times, which they count with their beads. They are always saying it. They try to say 20 or 30 or 50,000 mantras every day. They are always concentrating on compassion and loving-kindness, radiating and warming up and softening, seeing everybody as the Buddha and every place as a Buddhafield. They radiate blessings and light rays to all the different kinds of beings with Om Mani Padmé Hung. Kalu Rinpoche, for example: We took him once to the aquarium in Boston in the winter of 1976. There were some huge glass walls thick with little fish there. There were thousands of fish in huge tanks. Rinpoche would go up to the glass and, holding his bodhi-seed mala beads in hand, say Om Mani Padmé Hum again and again. He went up to each fish and individually, touched a finger gently to the window near its little face to get its attention, to make a connection, and said Om Mani Padmé Hung. We couldn't even walk around the aquarium, because he was busy, blessing and teaching the fish. He seemed to connect personally with each one. Nor was he the least bit self-conscious about it. It was marvelous.
If you do this kind of loving practice, it comes out naturally in many ways. Rinpoche used to say Om Mani Padmé Hung over bowls of rice or sand every morning. Then he'd throw them out the window or spread it as he walked, so all the ants and dogs and snakes would eat the rice grains or touch the sand and make a spiritual connection, be blessed and benefited. He did that every day of his life. He even suggested to us, his students, that we had to do that. I admit to not living up to his standard.
Mantras have power. Mudras, hand gestures, have power. Yantra, or visualizations, mandalas, have power. Of course, it is the power of the mind that invests in them such resonance. Buddha said, "Mind comes first. Before deed and words comes thought or intention. So guard carefully your own mind."
October 8, 1994