What is contained here is a remarkably extensive and detailed approach to looking at the mind, which represents the teachings on insight. [Vipashyana] meditation as presented in the tradition of mahamudra. Students who have received over the course of years rather short and pithy introductions to the nature of mind, and introductions to how to look at the mind, will find in this extraordinary set of instructions systematic and comprehensive approaches to ascertaining the minds true nature, to checking ones experience, and to refining and extending ones insight.
In order to make use of these instructions in order for these instructions to become something other than a passing academic curiosity one must first develop the experience of shamatha, or tranquility meditation.
If one can rest undistractedly in an awareness of the present moment, then the vipashyana instructions contained here, when accompanied by the appropriate direct transmission, will not only be of great interest and great benefit but can become the one sufficient path that will lead the practitioner to the understanding, direct experience, and full realization of selflessness, the emptiness of phenomena, and the emptiness of consciousness. If one is still having difficulty resting undistractedly in an awareness of the present moment, one needs to practice shamatha until one can. If one has difficulty practicing shamatha in the rather formless way of now following after thoughts of the past or inviting thoughts about the future, then one should practice shamatha with a support. The most common support, as Rinpoche mentions, is to follow the breath. Five additional supports for the practice of shamatha are mentioned in this text.
If one is still having difficulty achieving the experience of shamatha, then one needs to practice the preliminary practices, or ngondro, to remove karmic obstacles to meditation; to create openness, surrender to the teachings, and proper motivation; to accumulate virtue and positive spiritual energy; and to induce the merging of ones own mind with the enlightened aspect of the gurus mind, thereby drawing into ones mental continuum the blessings of the enlightened state transmitted by the root and lineage gurus.
If one is having difficulty in motivating oneself to practice, one needs to think long and hard about the fundamental truths of samsaric existence as embodied in the "four thoughts that turn the mind to dharma." These are presented here, but if one requires greater detail, one can find them in all books that give a systematic presentation of the path, such as Gampopas Jewel Ornament of Liberation or Jamgon Kongtruls Torch of Certainty. In particular, one needs to evaluate and reevaluate ones own personal samsaric agendas in light of their inevitable consequences as illuminated by these teachings. Just as bodhichitta is the heart of dharma, these four thoughts that turn the mind to dharma are the adrenaline.
If one finds oneself so emotionally conflicted that one dislikes meditation or dislikes what one sees when one meditates, one needs to adopt a policy of meditating at first only for very short periods of time thirty seconds, forty-five seconds, two minutes, five minutes and one needs evluate ones conduct and ones relationship with others in light of the seven points of mind training as presented, for example, in Jamgon Kongtruls Great Path to Awakening, and in light of the teachings of Shantidevas Bodhisattvacharyavatara, sometimes rendered Bodhicharyavatara, or in English, A Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life or The Way of the Bodhisattva.
The teachings of mahamudra are the essence of all the Buddhas teachings. Together with the teachings of dzogchen, they comprise what is known as the path of liberation. Traditionally, these teachings are practiced in tandem with deity meditation and the various tantric yogas that comprise the stages of creation and completion of the path of means, the path of method. This was not overly difficult to do in the highly spacious and open conditions of Tibet and other Himalayan countries. But in the very busy, highly stimulating, and stressful conditions of Western life, it is often difficult to find the time, the opportunity, the motivation, and even the willingness to practice the path of method. Practiced without the proper foundation and preparation in shamatha and vipashyana, without proper motivation and training in the practice of bodhichitta, without a substantial accumulation of merit and wisdom, and outside of an appropriate environment, some of the advanced practices of the completion stage can actually lead to even greater stress and, as it states clearly in tantric literature, can endanger ones health and sanity.
But the teachings of mahamudra are much gentler, and their practice leads to further and further relaxation and openness, to the gradual resolution and elimination of all personal mental and emotional problems, to increasing mental clarity and intelligence, and to the general well-being and uplifting of sentient existence and one can still get enlightened practicing them.
I would like to point out that, since Vajrayana regards the enlightened state as the path and not simply as the goal, for these teachings to be truly effective one must receive or have received some introduction to the nature of mind from the tantric tradition, whether that occurs or has occurred in a totally informal situation, in a teaching on mahamudra, or in a tantric ritual such as an empowerment. And it is important that such an introduction be received in the very presence of the lama. Lama Tashi Namgyal
At the heart of successful Mahamudra practice is the ability to get directly at the nature of mind. The 9th Karmapa was the acknowledged master of this approach. No more authoritative instructions exist than the 3 texts he wrote. This easy-to-use, practical manual, which serves also as an indispensable companion to The Ocean of Definitive Meaning, the most detailed of his texts, is so clearly laid out that the instructions are easy to recall and put to use.
Brilliant explanations by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, tutor of the young 17th Karmapa, make the text vividly relevant for contemporary Western practitioners.
"A clear and thorough guide."-- HH the Dalai Lama
"Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche is among the wisest and most compassionate Buddhist masters alive today."--Pema Chodron, author of When Things Fall Apart
"From the Seventeenth Karmapa's tutor, a pithy distillation of the Ninth Karmapa's Mahamudra manual. Its emphasis on the arousing of bodhicitta makes this an indispensable companion to Rinpoche's The Ninth Karmapa's Ocean of Definitive Meaning."--Ziji