Tilopa and the Attainment of Non-Attainment

Book coverOnce, Tilopa advised his disciple to go off to an isolated retreat and avoid any meditation. Now, this may seem a little unusual for a meditation retreat. He explains, however, that when you go to meditate, you normally take up something to meditate on, some thing. That thing, and therefore that meditation, is necessarily artificial. The practice of Mahamudra is not like that at all. It is not taking up a thing called Mahamudra and meditating on it. Ultimately, Mahamudra practice is meditation directly on reality itself.

Reality itself is not something devised or made up. What you have to do here is accustom yourself to that, practice that. You are not taking up a meditation, but rather are practicing something. Like any activity, when you practice and become accustomed to it, it becomes easier and easier. So, acquaint yourself with this lack of anything whatsoever to be taken up as a discrete object. Focus on reality itself and become accustomed to that. Tilopa’s advice, then, is that if you attain something by this Mahamudra practice, then you have not attained Mahamudra. Attaining Mahamudra is attaining non-attainment. If you are not getting anything, then you’re getting Mahamudra. If you get some thing, then necessarily it is not Mahamudra.

What is the meaning of this? If, when we strive for Buddhahood, we think that Buddhahood is something that we are going to get, we will be making a great mistake. We would be like hunters going after an animal. Buddhahood would be reduced to just another worldly activity in which we engage to get some pleasure for ourselves. Mahamudra is not like that, it is not some thing to be obtained. It is attaining the state of non-attainment. Understanding that, we do not focus on obtaining something but on transcending. We have to get beyond that search for something to grasp onto.

Now the nature of reality is beyond the illusion of the phenomenal world, the world as it appears. What appears is illusory; reality is something else. So, when engaging in this meditation on Mahamudra, one seeks to realize Mahamudra. As long as it is something that is an object of mind, something that is conceived by mind, then is it necessarily something other than Mahamudra. Mahamudra is not a conception, not something which is of the nature of appearances or of the nature of objects of the conventional mind.

Therefore, whatever we look for, whatever we try to hold on to in terms of objects of mind, is not going to be Mahamudra. It is something other than that. It is not of the nature of the phenomenal world in any sense. As long as we conceive of it as something, we are making a mistake and will not attain the realization of Mahamudra in that way. Tilopa’s advice is that if the disciple wishes to see Mahamudra, the disciple must go beyond conventional mind and abandon worldly involvement, because the conventional mind and worldly activities are what obscure the realization of Mahamudra and can never lead to it.

—excerpted from The Practice of Mahamudra

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