practicing alone

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DesertDweller
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practicing alone

Post by DesertDweller » Tue Apr 21, 2015 12:20 am

Greetings friends.
A question: while it goes without saying that having a teacher is always best, is it possible to study and practice Mahamudra on one's own, at least until such a time as a teacher can be found? Is it a discipline which requires empowerments, etc.? If it is possible to practice without a teacher, what are some helpful resources available online?

Any insight on this will be most appreciated.
_/\_

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Adamantine
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Re: practicing alone

Post by Adamantine » Tue Apr 21, 2015 1:50 am

Actually there is a Mahamudra master who is likewise a Dzogchen master of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage named Garchen Rinpoche who is these days often offering live webcast teachings as well as webcasts of empowerments which he feels is an authentic means of transmission if the motivation and attention of the student are in tune. Assuming you have a good enough internet connection for streaming, that would help you get started before you could meet him in person, which I highly recommend. Likewise, Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche is a Dzogchen master who gives Dzogchen transmission regularly via live webcast. Dzogchen and Mahamudra are not too different. So you could tune in to both or either of the teachings of these great masters and begin to cultivate pure vision of them and see them as your Gurus. Then inevitably I feel the causes and conditions will ripen for you to meet them in person. Worth a shot!

It's a far cry better than trying to practice mahamudra from books alone. If you value what all the great masters of the lineages report, this is useless at best.
Contentment is the ultimate wealth;
Detachment is the final happiness. ~Sri Saraha

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Adamantine
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Re: practicing alone

Post by Adamantine » Tue Apr 21, 2015 1:52 am

btw, what desert are you in?
Contentment is the ultimate wealth;
Detachment is the final happiness. ~Sri Saraha

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Re: practicing alone

Post by Jinzang » Tue Apr 21, 2015 2:05 am

It depends upon your determination and ability. You certainly start the practice of shamatha by yourself. But it's not a good idea to try to undertake the practice of vipashyana without a teacher.
"It's as plain as the nose on your face!" Dottie Primrose

DesertDweller
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Re: practicing alone

Post by DesertDweller » Tue Apr 21, 2015 2:08 am

Thanks Adamantine. These are good suggestions. I've heard of these teachers and will look them up.

As for my "desert," it's purely in my head :-)

_/\_

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Re: practicing alone

Post by Loren Enders » Tue Apr 21, 2015 2:10 am

DesertDweller wrote:Greetings friends.
A question: while it goes without saying that having a teacher is always best, is it possible to study and practice Mahamudra on one's own, at least until such a time as a teacher can be found? Is it a discipline which requires empowerments, etc.? If it is possible to practice without a teacher, what are some helpful resources available online?

Any insight on this will be most appreciated.
_/\_
The Third Karmapa's Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra will teach you something about Mahamudra (maybe a little about the Great Middle Way and Dzogchen also)

As the first line says, "NAMOGURU" think that answers that.
'Lorem', 'Loren', 'Loren Enders'

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Re: practicing alone

Post by Astus » Tue Apr 21, 2015 8:09 am

Mahamudra Center:
To support those interested in Mahamudra or working with Mahamudra study and practice groups, MMC's Meditation Manual is made available at: An Online Guide to Mahamudra Meditation.

Also, it is recommended to look into the Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa and follow the practices of mind training (lojong). They are very useful for mahamudra.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: practicing alone

Post by philji » Tue Apr 21, 2015 9:00 am

A teacher is essential but as already stated there are options to get you started. Here is another one that has just been presented. It is given by Phakchok Rinpoche whose root teachers include Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche.
http://samyedharma.org/study-practice/t ... editation/

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Re: practicing alone

Post by maybay » Tue Apr 21, 2015 1:00 pm

Don't wait for a saviour. Know your own mind. Do whatever it takes.
People will know nothing and everything
Remember nothing and everything
Think nothing and everything
Do nothing and everything
- Machig Labdron

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Re: practicing alone

Post by DesertDweller » Tue Apr 21, 2015 1:33 pm

Thanks for these great tips and leads, everyone. I'm actually more of a Chan guy, but sometimes the "map" offered by Mahamudra and related disciplines (i.e. gradual path) can be tempting, especially when there are so many training resources available online (I live in an area without Ch'an or Zen teachers, though there is a nice Kagyu temple.) Then again, sometimes the "map" of Mahamudra seems too detailed for my comfort. Maybay's advice is basically my own--i.e. "don't wait for a saviour"--so there is daily practice in any case according to one's ability, however limited that may be. Still, this is all something to consider carefully....

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Re: practicing alone

Post by DesertDweller » Tue Apr 21, 2015 6:49 pm

I've been looking at Peter Barth's manual [http://www.mahamudracenter.org/MMCMembe ... c420995709], and it has actually cleared up quite a lot of confusion, the first being the status of Mahamudra as a complete path in itself, independent of ngondro, tantra, etc:
Unfortunately, since its introduction to the West there has been quite a bit of confusion regarding the preliminaries of Mahaumudra. Several teachers have erroneously taught that Mahamudra is strictly a path of transformation or skillful means (thap lam). They apparently were unaware that it is traditionally an independent path of liberation (dröl lam). This has led to a lot of confusion among students who were first introduced to the path of tantra. I have witnessed no less than a dozen occasions where upon receiving Mahamudra instruction from a qualified teacher, a long-time student asks for confirmation that this is indeed a complete path to liberation on its own. The student may also ask whether the tantric special preliminaries (ngondro) must be completed prior to setting out on the path of Mahamudra. The answer from leading teachers of the lineages has consistently been, "Yes, Mahamudra is a complete path of liberation. It can be done before, during, or after ngondro." Indeed, Mahamudra instruction is frequently given to students who have not even taken refuge, which is a requirement for all further initiations in the path of tantra. I believe that the teachers who are in error are speaking based on their own training and experience in which they have found the combination of the path of skillful means and the path of liberation to be most beneficial. However, I find it extremely unfortunate that they state their belief in an exclusive way and thereby undermine confidence in those who might benefit from a more direct Mahamudra or Dzogchen approach.

Without doubt, Mahamudra has been declared to be an independent path by the father of the Dakpo Kagyu lineage, Gampopa. Similarly, the father of Dzogchen, Garab Dorje, never made the tantric preliminaries a requirement for Dzogchen. Thus, the student should be assured that the first five cycles present the profound meditation practices of the path of liberation based on the Dakpo Kagyu lineage. It is interesting to note that according to the teachings of the Nyingma and Bonpo lineages, these Mahamudra practices are very similar to the Mind Series (sem de) of Dzogchen. In fact, Dzogchen teachers frequently intermingle Mahamudra teachings when teaching the sem-de series. Therefore they may also be considered to represent a complete path to liberation from a Dzogchen perspective. Certainly, Mahamudra can be practiced independent of the path of tantra or in conjunction with the path of tantra, however one chooses.
The other source of confusion was in regard to the necessity for a teacher:
If possible, students should undertake these practices with the help of a spiritual friend. A teacher does not have to be a Buddha. Thrangu Rinpoche defines a spiritual friend as someone with ‘a little bit of experience and a little bit of integrity’. Still a teacher who has experience in these practices and some integrity may be difficult to find even among lamas in these degenerate times. When it is not possible to find a suitable teacher, I recommend that a student at least obtaining a copy of the first transcript of Moonbeams of Mahamudra from Namo Buddha Publications. This transcript of Thrangu Rinpoche’s instructions will provide a firm foundation for one’s practice until such time as a suitable teacher becomes available.

It has been said that the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion extends to every living being and with enough confidence and devotion, one can succeed in these practices even on one’s own. Since life is short and uncertain, I strongly recommend against putting off practice until one finds the ‘ideal’ teacher. It has been said that when considered and applied carefully and diligently, these practices alone can help open the door to the heart of Mahamudra. The practices serve to point-out one’s true nature directly within one’s own experience and condition. Given the choice between practicing without a teacher and not practicing at all, Tibetan teachers of the path of liberation have always said that the former is infinitely preferable. This is in contrast to the path of tantra where it is said that practice without the empowerment of a teacher is futile.
This has helped a lot. Thanks for posting, Astus.

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Malcolm
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Re: practicing alone

Post by Malcolm » Tue Apr 21, 2015 7:34 pm

DesertDweller wrote:I've been looking at Peter Barth's manual [http://www.mahamudracenter.org/MMCMembe ... c420995709], and it has actually cleared up quite a lot of confusion, the first being the status of Mahamudra as a complete path in itself, independent of ngondro, tantra, etc:.
Of course this person directly contradicts himself on the same page: He says:
Certainly, Mahamudra can be practiced independent of the path of tantra or in conjunction with the path of tantra, however one chooses.

In the Kagyu lineage and other lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, the ordinary preliminaries are taught prior to meditations of the type included in this manual. These include reflection on and awareness of (1) the precious human existence, (2) impermanance, (3) cause and effect or karma, and (4) the prevalence of suffering (samsara). In addition, special preliminaries are taught as a foundation to tantric Mahamudra and tantric Dzogchen practice. These include (1) refuge and bodhicitta, (2) Vajra Sattva purification, (3) mandala offering, and (4) guru yoga. Dzogchen has its own set of preliminaries which in some schools include reflection on and awareness of the illusory body and the practice of heat yoga (tummo). Interestingly, practices similar to these are advanced practices of the Kagyu and Gelug/Kagyu lineages.

In any case, preliminaries are indispensable to the practitioner. It is commonly noted by teachers that the preliminaries are in no way less important than the main body of teachings. In fact it is said that the preliminaries are (1) helpful at the outset to get one to turn to the dharma, (2) helpful on the path to get one to persist in dharma practice, and (3) helpful at the end to help one complete realization. Thus, their importance should be underscored. Several excellent texts are now available for those who want to follow the Tibetan traditions within the context of individual lineages. Serious students should refer to these.
Vajrasattva is a Vajrayāna practice; mandala offerings and guru yoga are practices unique to niruttarayoga tantra. Without receiving empowerment into a mandala such a Hevajra, Cakrasamvara and so on, there is no Mahāmudra to speak of, much less realize. He declares first that Mahāmudra is an independent path, and then second that that Vajrayāna practices are indispensable for Mahāmudra.
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Re: practicing alone

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Tue Apr 21, 2015 8:08 pm

I don't really see the contradiction Malcolm. He seems to be saying that it is of greater benefit to practice Ngondro is one is going to practice Mahamudra, but also saying that sutra level Mahamudra meditation instruction is available in some sense without them.

Since some teachers seem to teach "sutra Mahamudra", whether they class it as that or not, to me it stands to reason that one is better off doing that than doing nothing at all, whether or not they choose to undertake Ngondro or other tantric practice, get empowerments etc. This is doesn't seem unusual, for basic meditation instruction to be offered independent of any tantric practice. Granted the manual goes beyond that, but part of it is just basic shamatha etc. instruction..and the parts of the manual that go beyond that are labeled as such.
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Re: practicing alone

Post by DesertDweller » Tue Apr 21, 2015 8:40 pm

Maybe I'm misreading Barth, but I don't see any contradiction either. He mentions two types of preliminaries--ordinary and "special"--and seems pretty clear that "tantric special preliminaries (ngondro)" (specifically) are not indispensable to study Mahamudra, although they are often presented as though they are:
The student may also ask whether the tantric special preliminaries (ngondro) must be completed prior to setting out on the path of Mahamudra. The answer from leading teachers of the lineages has consistently been, "Yes, Mahamudra is a complete path of liberation. It can be done before, during, or after ngondro." Indeed, Mahamudra instruction is frequently given to students who have not even taken refuge, which is a requirement for all further initiations in the path of tantra.
As for the "ordinary preliminaries," what he says in this paragraph doesn't negate their importance, but they are--precisely--separate from tantra.

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Re: practicing alone

Post by Malcolm » Tue Apr 21, 2015 8:50 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:I don't really see the contradiction Malcolm. He seems to be saying that it is of greater benefit to practice Ngondro is one is going to practice Mahamudra, but also saying that sutra level Mahamudra meditation instruction is available in some sense without them.

Since some teachers seem to teach "sutra Mahamudra", whether they class it as that or not, to me it stands to reason that one is better off doing that than doing nothing at all, whether or not they choose to undertake Ngondro or other tantric practice, get empowerments etc. This is doesn't seem unusual, for basic meditation instruction to be offered independent of any tantric practice. Granted the manual goes beyond that, but part of it is just basic shamatha etc. instruction..and the parts of the manual that go beyond that are labeled as such.
One cannot practice Guru Yoga in a real sense without empowerment. Ergo, it is a Vajrayāna path.
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


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Re: practicing alone

Post by Astus » Tue Apr 21, 2015 8:52 pm

From Mahamudra the Moonlight (2nd edition):

"In recent times meditators of Mahåmudrå sought to make adjustments according to both the sütras and the tantras. They have incorporated [in the Mahåmudrå tradition] many practices that require preparations, such as the mystical empowerment that sows the seed of a spiritual blossom, devotion to preliminary exercises, and methods of enhancing experiences. It is for that reason that it is not contradictory to regard Mahåmudrå as identical with the common and profound path of the sütras and tantras, due to the fact that many superior and inferior minds are going to benefit from it."
(p 112)

"Regarding the manner of imparting the profound path [of Mahåmudrå], the venerable Gampopa considered it to be an independent path of tantra. So he did not make the esoteric empowerment a prerequisite for receiving the Mahåmudrå teachings."
(p 123)

"On the other hand, if one follows venerable Gampopa’s system in elucidating Mahåmudrå alone, it is not necessary to bestow the empowerment upon devotees. In keeping with his system one should adhere to the preparatory exercises that he prescribed without incorporating the tantric meditation of Vajrasattva, the utterance of mantra, the transformation of oneself into the yidam, and the visualization of one’s guru in the form of Buddha Vajradhara – the source of the empowerment."
(p 124)

"In the present age,Mahåmudrå and Mantrayåna [tantric mysticism] are being blended and meditated upon in order to enhance realization. Many tantric elements are also incorporated into the preparatory practices. For those who wish to practice these, the empowerment for actualizing the inner potentiality is certainly essential. One should receive either an elaborate or short empowerment, based on a genuine tantra, associated with a realization deity such as Chakrasamvara with his consort. Such a tradition must be sustained by the living masters of a spiritual lineage, for they are the source of blessing."
(p 125)
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: practicing alone

Post by DesertDweller » Tue Apr 21, 2015 9:10 pm

One cannot practice Guru Yoga in a real sense without empowerment.
But Barth does not suggest this!

Astus, thanks. These quotes are helpful and clarifying, as usual.

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Re: practicing alone

Post by Malcolm » Tue Apr 21, 2015 9:55 pm

Astus wrote:From Mahamudra the Moonlight (2nd edition):


"On the other hand, if one follows venerable Gampopa’s system in elucidating Mahåmudrå alone, it is not necessary to bestow the empowerment upon devotees. "
Yes, this is a mistaken tradition that cannot be defended in anyway whatsoever. Many have tried, none have succeeded, and this is why everyone who wishes to actually realize Mahāmudra has received empowerment and practiced the two stages, including Gampopa, and especially Tilopa, Naropa, Maitripa, Saraha, Shavaripa, you name it, all the Mahasiddhas of the past.
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The knowledge imparted through the guru’s instructions that formerly was unknown (avidyā) is vidyā.


—Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, Longchenpa.

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Re: practicing alone

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Tue Apr 21, 2015 11:04 pm

I'm going to hazard a guess that basically, "practicing Mahamudra" without a teacher is something akin to just doing shamatha/vipaysana...you can use Mahamudra techniques, but their result and function would be like sutra meditation.
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Re: practicing alone

Post by Tsongkhapafan » Wed Apr 22, 2015 7:02 am

Mahamudra realisations depend upon the blessings received by relying upon a qualified Vajrayana spiritual guide through the practice of Guru Yoga, therefore it is impossible to gain realisations without having a Guru and without receiving a Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment and practising the two stages sincerely.

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