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Esoteric Teachings of the Tibetan Tantra, by C.A. Musés, [1961], at

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p. 284 p. 285

Translator's Introduction

Buddhism seldom positively asserts what is the Truth. * Rather, it teaches the truth-seekers to understand and to explore their own minds, for in the quest of Reality nothing is more important or befitting for the seeker than to know what the mind actually is rather than to know only what mind knows of—the so-called knowledge and objects known by the mind. Reality is the object known, but the first step is to understand the knower of this Reality. ** Whatever one's beliefs, opinions, and thoughts, all these depend on the mind and come through the mind, for there is no possibility for one to escape from the sphere of mind in thinking or knowing.

After waking from sleep, each day of our lives begins with an awareness of 'I'. Descartes observed, "I think, therefore I am"—which seems logical to common sense since it feels the necessity for a knower in order for anything to be known. But whether or not this 'I' really exists and is substantial is debatable, says Buddhism. Although Buddhism denies the reality of the ego, it does not absolutely deny the reality of the "awareness," or thinking-process (at least in Mahayana Buddhism). Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to know what this "awareness" or "mind" is.

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Buddhist schools employ two different approaches in the study of mind. The Vaibhasika and Yogacara may be said to use the "horizontal" approach, i.e. studying the mind analytically by mapping its divisions, characteristics, functions, etc., including the 8 Consciousnesses and mental functions of the different stages of Samadhis. The Tantric [Buddhist] schools and Zen, * however, employ what may be called a "vertical" approach—urging the student to disregard the analysis of functions and peripheral knowledge of mind and instead to penetrate directly and deeply to the very foundation of mind-essence.

To clarify for the readers the Buddhist view of these two approaches in studying the mind, the translator will explain them through applying what may be called the "three-dimension system" to the mind: The first dimension—function; the second dimension—the form; the third dimension—the essence-of-mind.

The first dimension (Chinese "Yung"; Tibetan "Rtsl") means "activity" or "function"; the second dimension, (Chinese Shang; Tibetan Rnam Pa) refers to the "form" or "characteristics." The third dimension (Chinese Ti; Tibetan Ngo wo) points to the essence or real nature of mind. The manifestations in the first dimension of mind—the peripheral or outer realm of mind—are comparatively easy to comprehend. The second dimension, the form and characteristics, is not easily understood without a certain kind of study or investigation. The third dimension denotes the transcendental aspect of mind or the Dimension of Beyond.

The function of mind refers to the capability of the

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mind to know or to be "aware" of the Five Objects (of sight, sound, touch, taste, feeling, smell), of Dharma (all objects, existences, and ideas, etc.), and if we include the two obscure consciousnesses (No. 7 and No. 8) their functions are to become aware of the illusory ego (in the case of No. 7) and the "form of all Dharmas" (in the case of No. 8). Also, the function of mind refers to the emotional manifestations of mind in being able to express love, * hate, anger, joy, etc. This realm, of the functioning-aspect-of-mind or the first dimension of mind, is very obvious and immediately known by all. Now, the second dimension—the form or characteristics of the mind—refers to the awareness ** of the mind, or more clearly, the "awaring-aspect-of-the-mind". This "awaring-aspect-of-mind" is found in all the Eight Consciousnesses, though some consciousnesses (such as No. 8, the Alaya) are not as sharply aware as the mind-consciousness or the eye-consciousness.

Although this "awareness" continually takes place in the mind of every individual, seldom is the individual conscious of the "awareness" itself but is rather primarily conscious of the objects of the awareness. To become "aware" of the "awareness" requires some study and effort. Holding onto the "awareness" for long periods during meditation will in

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time produce a change in the function and pattern of the 8 Consciousnesses and a relative transcendental accomplishment will be achieved. According to Buddhism, the final transcendental accomplishment—the perfect Buddhahood—will only be reached through the realization of the Void-nature of the "awareness." The frequently used terms in Mahamudra—"brightness" and "light"—refer to the "evolved-awareness" of the mind, while the "Void," "non-existent," and "non-creating" refer to the "root-nature" of awareness. This realm of the "Void-bright" is the essence of mind, here—the third dimension of the mind. In short, the essence of mind, as taught in Mahamudra, is the "void-bright" or "awareness without subject-object".

Thus the teaching of Mahamudra disregards the first dimension of mind and even does not concern itself much with "awareness" but strives to cut through the Samsaric "awareness" which stems from the subject-object pattern of thought.

To completely realize the essence-of-mind is by no means an easy task. It requires years and lives of study and effort. One may ask, Why is it so difficult if the Buddha-nature is inherent in one's mind? What prevents this realization is the force of our "habitual thinking." On a small scale this bondage may be likened to that of some childhood habit or obsession which, although we know it is illusory and irrational, nevertheless grips us and influences our thinking and behavior because of early, deep-set conditioning. It is much the same in the case of our "endeavor for enlightenment"; though the Void-nature of mind is somewhat glimpsed or even realized, this does not permanently eliminate habitual thoughts which have been operating through immeasurable lifetimes in the past.

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Therefore, Mahamudra and Zen can never be considered merely philosophy or art, for they are actually the most serious teachings of the Buddhist religion. They are teachings of liberation * and should not be abused, as Zen has recently been in the Occident, by being made a subject of vain talk or subtle speculations as though they were only a game of the mind.

The reader will discover that the opening stanzas of The Vow express the religious and spiritual tradition of Mahamudra. The first five stanzas present the fundamental principles and the necessary "wishes" of the Buddhists. The author of The Vow is Garmapa III (1284-1339) a very great authority and accomplished yogi whose numerous writings include The Profound Inner Meaning Of Tantrism, considered by Tibetan scholars the greatest work on the subject. The Vow is recited by the White School as a daily prayer.

Although this Vow is comparatively short, it contains the majority of the essential teachings of Mahamudra. In Tibet, there exists quite a body of books and commentaries explaining this Vow. At present these works are not available; therefore translator has supplied a short commentary to accompany the stanzasalso . Also, since the original text was not available, the present translation was made from the Chinese text that the translator had previously made from the Tibetan.

The translator is confident that this Vow of Mahamudra is one of the highest teachings of Tibetan Buddhism and

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firmly believes it will contribute much to the search by psychologists and religionists for a deeper understanding of man's essential nature.


Mahāmudrā (Tib. p’yag-rgya-chen-po) means literally "the great attitude or symbolic gesture". The term derives from the Hindu Tantra (as śri or mahāyantra) and the subsequent Buddhist Tantra of North India. One writer of that school, Advayavajra, in his Čaturmudrā, refers to Mahāmudrā in very much the same way that Śakti—as ultimate Divinity as Goddess—is referred to in higher treatises of the Hindu Tantra: "She is not an object subject to time… she combines saṃsāra and nirvāṇa; her substance is universal Love; she is the unique essence of the Innate Transcendent Bliss."


285:* The translator must here be restricting himself to the skeptical method of Nagārjuna and some schools of Zen, for there exist very explicit Buddhist cosmological and psychological texts, both in Hinayana and Mahayana.—Ed.

285:** The translator overlooks here the ancient Upaniśadic dictum, which became part of the essence of the much later Zen: O Maitreya, the knower cannot be known! Ed.

286:* Growing out of more of a Mādhyamika emphasis. Ed.

287:* Not the correct word here, merely "affection" being meant; (see our note to stanza 15) the word "mind" in the same line could also be bettered by "consciousness", "mind" having too intellectualistic a connotation. Ed.

287:** The editor here assumes responsibility for this term throughout, having suggested it to the translator, in several discussions preceding the writing of this essay, as a better one in this context than "consciousness," quoting to him the editor's definition of mind as "that which orders awareness." The awareness is thus more primal than the ordering.—Ed.

289:* They become such only when linked to a definite practice of tantric yoga type. See also our remarks in the footnotes on pages 244 and 296.—Ed.

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