Mahamudra is a meditation tradition within tantric Buddhism that points to the nature of awareness itself, elevating our ordinary perception to the level of the sacred. In this view, all experiences arise from a mind that is naturally vast, empty, and luminous. In this online course, esteemed Buddhist teacher and editor Judith Lief takes us on a journey through the mahamudra teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche as presented in his Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma.
Using video recorded during a nine-day retreat, we’ll begin with a deep dive into shamatha-vipashyana meditation—the practice that builds our capacity for experiencing reality directly and completely. We’ll study the hinayana and mahayana—the foundational teachings of the Buddhist path that give us the tools to cultivate gentleness, wisdom, and compassion. We’ll discuss the importance of the heart-opening quality of devotion and the student-teacher relationship in entering the vajrayana. Finally, Lief will guide us in a series of practices and contemplations to glimpse the inherent, sky-like nature of the mind as clear, brilliant, and joyful.
The teachings in this course will help you . . .
- Learn why a strong foundation in the hinayana and mahayana teachings are essential for discovering mahamudra
- Identify the key tenets of mahamudra
- Establish or deepen in a daily shamatha-vipashyana practice
- Explore how our habitual mind functions in contrast to the open, sky-like mind of mahamudra
- Explore how precision invites openness in the meditative journey
- Learn the practice of tonglen (sending and taking)
- Contemplate the absolute bodhichitta slogans from the lojong (mind-training) slogans of Atisha, and learn how they are essential for understanding the instructions on relative bodhichitta
- Discover why the vajrayana path intentionally heightens our obstacles and emotions
- Learn how and why ordinary perception could be considered sacred
- Consider the role of nontheistic devotion as an essential prerequisite of mahamudra
- Learn about the four yogas of mahamudra
- Contemplate the relationship between mind and phenomena
This course includes the following:
Six video talks by Judith Lief—each ranging from an hour to an hour-and-a-half in length—including Q&A, with transcripts and audio-only versions available
Two archival video talks by Chögyam Trungpa
A guided meditation instruction video from Judith Lief
Contemplations to help you integrate the material into your daily practice
A list of recommended readings from all three volumes of The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma by Chögyam Trungpa
Self-assessment quizzes at the end of each lesson to check your own understanding of the material
Unlimited access to the course
A version of this course will be made available this spring for dharma centers and study groups to explore these teachings in a group setting. If interested, please email email@example.com for more information.
An Overview of What You’ll Learn:
Maintaining the View
“The natural, ordinary state has to be cultivated and worked with in three ways. The first way is by not preparing too much. It is by cutting off our preconceptions of the past. The second way is by not expecting a greater flash. It is by cutting off our preconceptions of the future. The third way is by not holding on to our present flash experience. It is by cutting our preconceptions of the present. We simply rest our mind, this very ordinary mind of nowness.”—Chögyam Trungpa, from The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness, Chapter 56: Ground Mahamudra
The word “mahamudra” can be translated as “great symbol”—but what is it a symbol of? We’ll begin this course by exploring this question, along with other key tenets of the mahamudra view. We’ll establish some context for the mahamudra teachings: its lineage holders, its place in the landscape of Tibetan Buddhism, and the particular approach of Chögyam Trungpa in presenting it to his Western students.
“In meditation practice, discipline is not how many hours you sit; it is your total involvement in the practice. In shamatha, body, speech, and mind are completely and totally involved in the sitting practice. In vipashyana, there is also total involvement of body, speech, and mind; in addition, you are also completely aware of the environment around you. When you are involved so much that there is no longer an individual entity left to watch itself, that is the shunyata, or ‘emptiness’ level of practice.”—Chögyam Trungpa, from The Path of Individual Liberation, Chapter 24: Basic Minimum
When we try to pin down reality, to make it solid, we lose touch with its dynamic nature. The challenge of holding the mahamudra view is that we have a habitual tendency of doing just that. Shamatha-vipashyana meditation gives us the ability to work with that very tendency as we train our mind to open outward. In this lesson, we’ll explore this practice as a means of connecting with reality more fully and directly.
Wisdom and Compassion
“When you look at your own mind beyond the perceptual level alone—which you can’t actually do, but you pretend to do—you find that there is nothing there, and you realize that there is nothing to hold on to. So your mind is unborn. At the same time, your mind is insightful because you still perceive things. You should contemplate these things by looking into who is actually perceiving dharmas as dreams.”—Chögyam Trungpa, from The Bodhisattva Path of Wisdom and Compassion, Chapter 36: Point Two: Resting in Ultimate Bodhichitta
It is said that bodhisattvas thrive in a world that’s full of suffering, the way a lotus blossoms out of the mud. How is it that this path can help us arouse deeper compassion for the pain we encounter, even as we discover a more profound sense of joy? In this lesson, we’ll explore the key aspects of the mahayana path, which joins wisdom and compassion, love and emptiness.
The World of Mahamudra
“Dzogrim is a way of making yourself completely naked…In dzogrim, the word naked does not mean being purely harmless or indulging in good living; it means being unconditioned by expectations or conceptualizations of any kind.”—Chögyam Trungpa, from The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness, Chapter 49: The Great Symbol
Our discomfort with things as they are causes us to perpetually manufacture a reality of our own making. But what if we could just drop all that on the spot? What if we could perceive the vividness of ordinary reality, and rest with the dreamlike arising of each moment? In this lesson, we’ll learn how mahamudra enables us to cut through the smallness of our habitual mind with the vastness of space. (And if that sounds confusing, you are on the right track!)
Gentleness and Devotion
“The mahamudra experience depends on devotion alone. As it is said in the texts: great devotion brings great practice; medium devotion brings medium practice; and small devotion brings small practice.”—Chögyam Trungpa, from The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness, Chapter 50: Devotion: The Essential Prerequisite for Mahamudra
In the West, the notion of having a guru is particularly provocative. How do we make a connection to a teacher who challenges us to surrender our ego while still maintaining our critical intelligence? Chögyam Trungpa talked about nontheistic devotion as joining warmth and cynicism. In this lesson, we’ll explore the role of the vajra master in introducing us to sacred outlook.
The Four Yogas of Mahamudra
“In the final mahamudra experience, any phenomenal experience you involve yourself with is seen as a working basis. Sights, smells, touchable objects, and mental contents are all seen as expressions of your particular deity or yidam. There is complete, total involvement, total openness beyond any limitations or hesitations. Therefore, you do not have to meditate…Because everything is so vivid already, it is self-existing meditation.”—Chögyam Trungpa, from The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness, Chapter 57: Path Mahamudra: The Experience of Meditation
When we release the tightness of our mind, we make space for insight to enter. We can cut through the confusion that distorts our awareness, using practice and skillful means to gradually peel away the layers of what blinds us. In this final lesson, we’ll discuss in more detail how shamatha-vipashyana is the most important tool for glimpsing mahamudra. It’s not just about cultivating mindfulness-awareness. It is a means for connecting with reality.
Judith L. Lief is a Buddhist teacher, writer, and editor. She was a close student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who empowered her as a teacher, and she has edited many of his books including The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma volumes and Milarepa. She was given the title of Acharya, or senior teacher, by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. Lief is also active in the field of death and dying, and is the author of Making Friends with Death.
Vajradhara image licensed from DakiniAsArt.org
Important Note on Browser Requirements
We are partnering with Instructure.com’s online learning platform Canvas to offer this course. Canvas supports the last two versions of every browser release.
Canvas supports the following versions of Flash and popular web browsers:
- Internet Explorer 11 and Edge
- Chrome 56 and 57
- Safari 9 and 10 (Macintosh only)
- Firefox 51 and 52 (Extended Releases are not supported)
- Flash 23 and 24 (used for recording or viewing audio/video and uploading files)
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