Kagyu Mahāmudrā : origin of the term, distinction between Sūtra and Secret Mantra Mahāmudrā , and pith advice from Je Gampopa by 17th Karmapa

In October 2014, HH 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, visited Dongyu Gatsal Ling, India—the nunnery founded by British nun and teacher, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo –  and conferred Mahāmudrā  teachings and a White Tara empowerment. A report of the visit can be read here but it only gives a brief summary of HH’s teaching. Thus, I am publishing here my full edited transcript of it (based on both the original Tibetan and the oral translation). The teaching can be viewed  here.  For more teachings by HH 17th Karmapa on Mahāmudrā,  see also here and here.

In terms of Indian textual sources of Mahāmudrā, Gampopa, a key figure of the Kagyu school, refers to three important cycles of Indian texts which discuss Mahāmudrā as his main sources:

  • “The Seven [or eight] Siddhiḥ Texts” (Saptasiddhiḥ, Grub pa sde bdun), which include Padmavajra’s Guhyasiddhi and Indrabhuti’s Jñanasiddhi.
  • “The Cycle of Six Heart Texts” or “Six works on essential meaning” (Snying po skor drug), including Saraha’s Dohakosha and Nagarjunagarbha’s Caturmudraniscaya.
  • Maitripa’s “Cycle of Teachings on Non-Cognition” (Yid la mi byed pa ‘i chos skor).

This classification existed since the time of Bu ston Rin chen grub (1290-1364).

Indian sources of mahāmudrā were later compiled by the Seventh Karmapa Chos grags rgya mtsho (1454- 1506) into a three-volume compilation entitled “The Indian Mahāmudrā Treatises” (Phyag rgya chen po ‘i rgya gzhung) compiled by the 7th Karmapa, which were recently published in a set of thirteen volumes by the 14th Sharmapa in New Delhi [i].  For more on that, see the article by Klaus-Dieter Mathes (2011). This compilation includes the above three collections, along with the Anavilatantra and texts that teach a non-tantric “instantaneous”approach to the practice by an Indian master named Sakyasribhadra. I have also included a brief Bibliography of some of the academic articles on this subject.

Works and commentaries on Mahāmudrā are many, however, as HH Karmapa reminds us at the end of his teaching, complex and sophisticated words about Mahāmudrā are never an adequate substitute for authentic and lasting inner experience. For example, five minutes of listening to HH Karmapa explain Mahāmudrā contains within it more spiritual depth than years of scholarly study and reflection. May it be of benefit!

Teaching on Mahāmudrā at Dongu Gatsal Ling Nunnery

by HH 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, October 2014

Full Transcript

”So when talking about Mahāmudrā, there are two aspects, Sūtra and Tantra Mahāmudrā, there are those in Kagyu who say these are separate and some who say they are not separate. Whatever the case may be, there is a tradition that has developed of distinguishing between these two, Sūtra and Tantra Mahāmudrā.

So in terms of Sūtra Mahāmudrā , it is considered to be based on the Victorious Mother’s ultimate intention (Prajñāpāramitā) and is connected to Nāgārjuna (mGon-po klu-grub), and the meaning of Madhyamaka. These are renowned as the Madhyamaka tenets and view.  So the Sūtra Mahāmudrā is generally considered to be the view of Madhyamaka and connected to the writings of Nāgārjuna.

In Nāgārjuna’s teachings on Madhyamaka, such as The Wisdom of the Root Verses of Madhyamaka and so on, there are some references to it. There are different variations, but most commonly it comes from the Nalanda tradition that Pandita Atiśa Dīpaṃkara (c. 982-1054) is renowned for,  and also the foremost among the Madhyamaka proponents, the incomparable master, Candrakīrti (zla ba grags pa (c. 600 – c. 650) ).   There are some questions whether or not he was a real student of Nāgārjuna. Whatever the case, he is one of the most prominent masters in presenting this tradition of Nāgārjuna.

So, for Nāgārjuna and Candrakīrti, the thinking about Madhyamaka is the same.  Je Gampopa (1079-1153) [ii] is a master who really highlighted the Mahāmudrā tradition.  Regarding the appearance of Je Gampopa, this was prophesised in the King of Samadhi Sūtra (Samādhirāja Sūtra: ting nge ‘dzin gyi rgyal po’i mdo)[iii], as a Bhikshu physician who would make an incredible impact on spreading this doctrine.

Je Gampopa

The ultimate meaning of the King of Samadhi Sūtra is called Madhyamaka and some say Mahāmudrā. In that Sūtra, that which is called Madhyamaka, ‘is the unsurpassable secret mantra’s emptiness-bliss indivisible primordial-awareness’. It is on that term the word Mahāmudrā was applied. This name was not taught in the Sūtras, even though that is the meaning of it in the Sūtra tradition, the application of the label ‘Mahāmudrā ’ to that expression came from the unsurpassable secret mantra tradition.

So in the Sūtra tradition of Mahāmudrā , different names are applied to it like infinite basis, ‘thought as the Dharmakāya’, ‘inseparability of appearance-emptiness’, but in terms of the meaning or ultimate point of these, that is the Sūtra tradition of Mahāmudrā.

The pith instruction that most impressed Je Gampopa

Phagmo Drupa

Phagmo Drupa ((phag mo gru pa rdo rje rgyal po) 1110-1170), first studied primarily with Kadampa teachers and then with a famous Sakya master he studied Lamdre. After that, he met Dagpo Gampopa, and when he met him, he was able to receive pith instructions on the nature or mind.  At first, Gampopa paid great interest in finding out the cause of wandering around in samsara. He asked this question several times. What is the cause of wandering in samsara? However, Gampopa reported that the one instruction that benefited his mind the most was the teaching he got from Dagpo Gampopa.  His advice was that normally, when people speak about the cause of wandering samsara, they speak about ignorance (ma rig pa). However, Gampopa said it is not just like that. The cause of samsara is within one’s very own consciousness right now, at this present moment. If it is taught that the cause of samsara is ignorance, people might take this to mean something very far away and enormous and so not much can be done with one’s mind as it is now, but it is not like that. The cause is within one’s very own mind right now, it is the cause of samsara and also the cause of nirvana and so on. This was a very effective instruction for Phagmo Drupa.

Maitrīpa (Image from Himalyan Art)

In the Sūtra tradition of Mahāmudrā  from the King of Samadhi Sūtra, there was a student of Maitrīpadā  (1007-1085) called Sahajavajra, who wrote a commentary on a Maitrīpa text (དེ་ཁོ་ན་ཉིད་བཅུ་པའི་འགྲེལ་པ) , in which he mentioned three points:

The essence (ngo bo) prajñāpāramitā, which is in accordance with Secret Mantra, is named ‘Mahāmudrā ’.

ངོ་བོ་ཕ་རོལ་ཏུ་ཕྱིན་པ། སྔགས ་དང་རྗེས་སུ་མཐུན་པ། མིང་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེན་པོ་

So these three main points can be is referred to as Sūtra Mahāmudrā [iv]. The essence is pprajñāpāramitā, free of elaborations, is the meaning of the Sūtras. Even though it has been given other names in the Sūtras, but the actual meaning is in accordance with secret mantra. The name is Mahāmudrā: in the Sūtras the name Mahāmudrā  is probably not mentioned. The word mudra (phyag rgya) is mentioned but together with the word maha (chen po), it probably was not taught. So, this word ‘Mahāmudrā’ came from the secret mantra tradition, they applied this name to it. Thus, the unelaborated view of the Sūtra tradition was given the name Mahāmudrā. That is the Sūtra tradition of Mahāmudrā .


In the Dagpo Kagyu, there is this idea that to receive the Mahāmudrā instructions of the Sūtra tradition, it not necessary to get a prior empowerment. The reason they say this is because in other lineage traditions, it is said that out of the four empowerments in the highest secret mantra tradition, Mahāmudrā is the fourth, word empowerment. Therefore, Mahāmudrā  is sometimes thought to be the primordial awareness generated in that empowerment. So, some say that it is absolutely essential to get the empowerment to realise Mahāmudrā [v]. However, here in the Kagyu, according to the Sūtra tradition it is thought that there is no need for an empowerment, that one can realise it through introduction to the nature of mind and so on[vi].

According to Gyalwang Gotsangpa [vii] ’s heart sons, among those who understood the traditions of the ultimate meaning of Mahāmudrā , there are two traditions : that from Saraha and that from Nāgārjuna. So how are these two Mahāmudrā traditions different? From Saraha, he teaches it via establishment (drub chog) [about what it is] whereas in the Nāgārjuna lineage it is more about refutation (gag chog) [what it is not].

However if one asks where Mahāmudrā  came from in terms of texts, it is generally considered that in Great Mother Prajnaparamita texts, the ultimate view of Mahāmudrā is presented. In terms of commentaries, the Uttaratantraśāstra by Maitreya is considered to a commentary that presents Mahāmudrā  and which was handed down via Dagpo Gampopa to Phagmo Drugpa and Gyalwa Drigungpa and so on, who all agree that the ultimate view of Sūtra Mahāmudrā  is fully presented in that text. In the Kagyu Kamtsang, there are the three foremost texts and one is that text. There is also the tradition of the Profound Inner Meaning (Zabmo nang don), from Ranjgung Dorje, 3rd Karmapa onwards, which also relies on that commentary. For that reason, studying, contemplating and meditating on the Uttaratantraśāstra and all the commentaries on it, is considered to be very important.

In terms of the Uttaratantraśāstra, in Tibet it is called Gyu Lama, whereas in India, they call it the Ratnagotravibhāga. So, in India this text was translated in the third century. As for the transmission of this text some say it was Asanga.  However, these days, some scholars say that Asanga did not write it. So, it is necessary to check and analyse that. However, the Chinese tradition states it was written by a certain Sāramati, not the whole text but the chapters five, six, seven. So the Tibetan tradition considers the verse portion to have been composed by Maitreya and the prose commentary by Asanga[viii]. This is quite interesting, since in Tibet is is not understood like that. They consider Sāramati to be a Mind-Only proponent. Yet, in his explanations, maybe there are refutations of the Mind-Only view. Therefore, I think in the future, if we can translate into Tibetan those chapters he composed, then it will be of great benefit in understanding the Uttaratantraśāstra.

The importance of a solid foundation on death, impermanence and karma

Whatever the case may be, whether one is talking about Sūtra or Secret Mantra Mahāmudrā , the practise and study of the Kadampa Lam Rim (stages of the path) is extremely important. Dagpo Gampopa said that the most beneficial for my mind were the teachings of the Jowo Kadampa tradition. Even though the Oral Instructions of Nāropa are very clear, without the stages of the path for the three types/capacities of individuals, such as mind training and so on, even they are not really of much benefit. For example, whatever level of mind a person has, the stages of the path trainings are all beneficial.

If one trains in thinking about death and impermanence, this will always be beneficial in terms of developing the mind positively, in an upwards direction. It cannot go downwards that way.  However, if one hasn’t really practiced much on death and impermanence and tries to practice Mahāmudrā , whether one’s mind will improve upwards or degenerate downwards is uncertain. Therefore, before training in Mahāmudrā , one should lay the foundation via study of the texts by Je Gampopa, such as the Jewel Ornament of Precious Liberation and the Precious Garland of the Path, the common stages of the path are very important.

Gyalwa Yang Gonpa (yang dgon pa rgyal mtshan dpal) (1213-1258 or 1287)[ix] said that people tend to really like high teachings, saying ‘all is emptiness’ and lofty views, and thenpeople are eager to listen. Yet they don’t really want to listen to teachings about refuge and karma, cause and effect, they feel bored and their attitude is not enthusiastic. But when big ideas like Mahāmudrā and Mahati are mentioned they become much more interested and alert. The point here is this, it not sufficient that the teaching is about the Great Perfection (Dzogchen) if the person themselves is not perfected.  Sometimes think they have perfected it, when they haven’t.  The person should mix their mind with the Dharma. Their mindstream and Dharma must become one and mix completely.

There is an example, connected to the Kuri ritual for dead people, a tantric yoga ritual, and a student asked his master if it is a Mahayana or Hinayana practice. The master was very clever and straightforward and said, ‘if someone has a Mahayana mind level and qualities then it is a Mahayana teaching/practice if someone is Hinayana mind level then when they practice it is Hinayana. For us it is neither!’  So, whether or not a practice is profound or not, depends on our practice and not what is taught. The teaching becomes profound only with a stable foundation and solid practice, without that it is neither beneficial nor profound.

These days, I have seen many are people who are able to able to speak about Dharma in very smart, beautiful ways but they have no real inner practice. It’s like when one sees a horse and thinks it’s very valuable to pay good money for it. Yet, yesterday’s dog has no real value. These days, dogs are very expensive too! [laughter]. So even if someone teaches Dzogchen or Mahāmudrā very eloquently, if there is no depth or realisation to their practice, it is of no real benefit. For example, if they do not have a deep understanding of death, impermanence and karma, cause and effect, and yet talk about Mahāmudrā practice, it’s  like a contradiction.

On the use of the name Tsunma instead of Ani for female monastics

In the area of Kham where I was born, people used the term “Jomo” to refer to nuns. Like the word ‘Jowo’ (meaning Lord), Jomo was a high term of respect, reserved in ancient times for queens. In Tibetan,  there is the word  “Tsunma” (meaning “venerable”) to refer to nuns. This term “Tsunma” is better than “Ani” (meaning “Auntie”, the colloquial term commonly used for nuns in Tibetan) and I do not know where the use of the term “Ani” originated.  Some people wrongly assume that it is only because of modern-day talk of gender equality, and women seeking to become more visible and demanding more respect, that such things are being recommended now. Actually, the need and recommendation to respect women was there in Buddhist teachings right from the very beginning.”

Translated, edited and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 6th August 2020.

The teaching can be viewed here (Tibetan and English translation):

HH 17th Karmapa teaching at Dongyu Gatsal Ling nunnery, 2014

Further Reading

  1.  Hookham, S.K. (1991). The Buddha Within : Tathagatagarbha doctrine according to the Shentong interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhaga. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-0791403587.
  2. Jackson, Roger R., and Matthew T. Kapstein, eds. (2011). Mahāmudrā and the Bka’ brgyud Tradition, 2006: Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Köningswinter 2006.) Andiast, Switzerland: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies GmbH.
  3. Higgins, David and Martina Draszczyk (2016) Mahāmudrā and the Middle Way: Post-classical Kagyü Discourses on Mind, Emptiness and Buddha-Nature. (2016). Vol. 2. 254 pp. See here.
  4. Mathes 2003: “Blending the Sūtras with the Tantras: The Influence of Maitrīpa and his Circle on the formation of Sūtra Mahāmudrā in the Kagyu Schools” by Klaus-Dieter Mathes in Tibetan Buddhist Literature and Praxis : Studies in its Formative Period, 900-1400, PIATS 2003: Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the Tenth seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies. Oxford: 2003.
  5. Mathes 2011: The Collection of ‘Indian Mahāmudrā Works’ (phyag chen rgya gzhung) Compiled by the Seventh Karma pa Chos grags rgya mtsho.
  6. Mathes 2016: A Fine Blend of Mahāmudrā  and Madhyamaka: Maitripa’s Collection of Texts on Non-Conceptual Realization (Amanasikara), (Sitzungsberichte Der Philosophisch-Historischen Klasse), 2016.
  7. Mathes 2019: “Sahajavajra’s integration of Tantra into mainstream Buddhism: An analysis of his *Tattvadaśakaṭīkā and *Sthitisamāsa 2019, Tantric Communities in Context. Ed. by Nina Mirnig, Marion Rastelli, and Vincent Eltschinger. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 137-169.
  8. Mathes 2020: Mahāmudrā in India and Tibet (2020).  Ed. together with Roger R. Jackson. Brill’s Tibetan Studies Library 44. Leiden: Brill.
  9. Roberts, Peter Alan, Mahāmudrā  and Related Instructions: Core Teachings of the Kagyu Schools (Library of Tibetan Classics) 2011, p. 11-12.
  10. Ruegg, D. Seyfort (2009). “The Meanings of the Term Gotra and the Textual History of the Ratnagotravibhāga”. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 39 (2): 341.
  11. Takasaki, Jikido (1966). A Study of the Ratnagotravibhāga (Uttaratantra): Being a Treatise on the Tathāgatagarbha Theory of Mahāyāna Buddhism, Including a Critical Introd., a Synopsis of the Text, a Translation from the Original Sanskrit Text, in Comparison with Its Tibetan & Chinese Versions, Critical Notes, Appendixes and Indexes. Instituto italiano per il medio ed estremo oriente.
  12. The Supreme Siddhi of Mahāmudrā: Teachings, Poems, and Songs of the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage. Snow Lion Publications (2016). Translated by Sean Price, Adam Kane, and Gerardo Abboud

[i] Mathes writes: ”In 1996, the 14th Shamar Rinpoche published in New Delhi a thirteen-volume collection of Indian and Tibetan mahāmudrā works under the title Treasury of Instructions on the Definitive Meaning of Mahāmudrā (Nges don phyag rgya chen po’i khrid mdzod). The first three volumes of this collection contain a photo mechanic reproduction of a Palpung (Dpal spungs) block print titled Indian texts on Mahāmudrā (Phyag rgya chen po’i rgya gzhung). There is no colophon at the end, but the third volume (which is assigned the letter hūṃ ) contains at the beginning an additional text with its own folio numbering and the title “A Short Index and Inventory [Showing] How the Three Volumes of Indian Mahāmudrā Works on True Nature Were Put Together as a Literary Source: Earrings of Accomplishment[for the] Practice Lineage.”  This 42-folio-long Rgya gzhung dkar chag  was composed by a disciple of Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (Kong sprul Blo gros mtha’ yas (1813–99)), Karma Tashi Chophel (Karma Bkra shis chos ’phel), at the monastic seat of Palpung. In it, Tashi Chophel informs us that these three volumes of Indian mahāmudrā works were compiled by the seventh Karma pa, Chodrag Gyamtso (Chos grags rgya mtsho (1454–1506)). Moreover, we are given a detailed account of how the Indian texts on Mahāmudrā was compiled and its blocks carved.”

This three volume collection published in 1997 in New Delhi by 14th Shamar Rinpoche can be accessed online at TBRC W23447: https://www.tbrc.org/#!rid=W23447

[ii] See also, Ulrich Timme Kragh, (1998) Culture and Subculture: A Study of the Mahamudra Teachings of Sgam po pa (MA thesis, University of Copenhagen).  According to Mathes (2011) in thhis Rgya gzhung dkar chag , Karma Tashi Chophel provides detailed lists of the reading transmissions (lung ) of the various texts and cycles in this mahāmudrā collection. We are thus informed that the works of Maitrīpa and his disciples were not only transmitted through Rechungpa (Ras chung pa), but also reached Gampopa (Sgam po pa) directly from Marpa and Milarepa:

…another transmission of [these works of ultimate] meaning is as follows: Maitrīpa, the translator Mar pa Lo tsā ba, Mi la [ras pa] bzhad pa rdo rje, Ras chung grags pa. Or, from Mi la [ras pa] to the peerless Dvags po lha rje [i.e. Sgam po pa]….

[iii] It is asserted in the Kagyu tradition that the Samādhirājasūtra predicted the dharma activity of Gampopa and the Karmapas.  Düsum Khyenpa (Dus gsum Mkhyen pa, 1110–1193), the first Karmapa, was a disciple of the Tibetan master Gampopa. whose coming was predicted in the Samadhiraja Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra.  The Samadhiraja Sutra is part of the Kagyupa transmission known as the Do Tenzin Gyalpo teaching (The King of Samadhi Teaching). A complete English translation of the Sutra can be read at 84 000 Reading Room website: https://84000.co/new-84000-translation-and-reading-room-publication-the-king-of-samadhis-sutra/

[iv] See Mathes 2019, in which he references this quote directly:

”In his Ratnagotravibhāga commentary, gZhon nu dpal thus claims, on the basis of the Tattvadasaka and its tikā, that what Maitripa called mahāmudrā is a Pāramitānaya path that accords with the secret Mantranaya (see below). The way in which the Paramitanaya would accord with the Mantranaya is evident in gZhon nu dpal’s description of how those who rely on pith instructions take refuge by seeing their guru as the Buddha:

Those who rely on pith instructions must be certain about [their] refuge in the Three Jewels. For this reason, they have to take refuge with the confidence that [their] guru is a Buddha. The guru, furthermore, cannot be anyone, but he must be one who has seen reality.

This is what Maitripa called mahāmudrā a Pāramitānaya path that accords (rjes su mthun pa) with the secret Mantranaya. This is the meaning derived from the Tattvadaśaka and its tī Likewise, it is obvious that the well-known guru yoga exclusively accords with the Mantra[naya]. If it is not right for followers of Pāramitānaya to practice something that only accords with [Mantranaya], then it is also not right for śravakas to pacify sickness with mantra formulas, which lean on [Mantranaya]. In other words, guru yoga, or rather one’s reliance on somebody who has seen true reality as it is, in this case upgrades ordinary Pāramitānaya into a system that deserves the label mahāmudrā.”

Also, in “Maitrīpa’s Amanasikāra-Based Mahāmudrā in the Works of the Eighth Karma pa Mi bskyod rdo rje,” Mathes (2020) states that:

”it shows how Mi bskyod rdorje’s position of combining the via negation is of analytic Madhyamaka with the via affirmativa of Mahāmudrā fully profits from Maitrīpa’s radical non foundationalism, which still allows for ontologically unproblematic, positive descriptions of emptiness as luminosity or awareness. Following the tantric Nāgārjuna’s Caturmudrānvaya , Maitrīpa combines Mahāmudrā with the Madhyamaka view of “non-abiding” (apratiṣ󰁴hāna), which aims at radically transcending any conceptual assessment of true reality. The related practice is amanasikāra, which is not only taken in terms of its normal meaning of mental non-engagement, but also as “luminous self-empowerment.” The term lends its name to a cycle of texts by Maitrīpa, which played an important role in the writings of the Eighth Karma pa Mi bskyod rdo rje. Mi bskyod rdorje thus combines Apratiṣṭhāna-Madhyamaka with the “Mahāmudrā of the nature of mind,” a term signifying that the uncontrived nature of mind manifests without effort in the absence of any dichotomizing reification. On the topic of Sūtra Mahāmudrā, Mi bskyod rdo rje comes to the defense of Gampopa (Sgampo pa) against the critique of Sa skya Paṇḍita, but follows a different approach than ’Gos Lo tsā ba Gzhon nu dpal (1392–1481). While the latter argues with reference to the Tattvadaśaka , its commentary, and Jñānakīrti’s Tattvāvatāra that there is a Sūtra-, or rather Pāramitānaya-based Mahāmudrā, which works without the formal tantric practice of the creation and completion stages, Mi bskyod rdo rje warns that calm abiding and deep insight tend to be overstated as the exemplifying and actual wisdoms of tantric empowerment. Still, as Mi bskyod rdo rje points out, Maitrīpa teaches in his Kudṛṣ󰁴inirghātana the attainment of buddhahood through the causal vehicle (i.e., Pāramitānaya). On a topic related to Sūtra Mahāmudrā, Mathes also shows how Mi bskyod rdo rje identfies in Maitrīpa’s description of the Vajrasattva-maṇḍala the possibility of an immediate access to the goal of buddhahood through pointing-out instructions (ngo sprod ), as the deities are not cultivated as in the usual creation stage practice but directly pointed out.

[v] Casey Kemp’s article (see Mathes and Jackson (2020)), The Definitive Meaning of Mahāmudrā According to the Kālacakra Tradition of Yu mo Mi bskyod rdo rje’s Phyag chen gsal sgron ”is a study of an eleventh-century text on mahāmudrā written by Yu mo Mibskyod rdo rje (b. 1027), who came to be associated with the Jo nang lineage and is considered a proponent of a “tantric gzhan stong” view. Kemp’s essay explores how the Kālacakra master, Yu mo ba draws from Indian sources to refute wrong views, and asserts that the only means to realize Mahāmudrā is through the tantric path, describes Mahāmudrā as the spontaneous appearance of emptiness, and states that one must renounce worldly life and be guided on the path of cultivation by someone who has realized Mahāmudrā. Yu mo ba refutes Prāsaṅgika, Svātantrika, and even Dzogchen (Rdzogs chen) views of Mahāmudrā, claiming that Mahāmudrā cannot be defined through emptiness without appearance. Yu mo ba asserts that from reliance on authoritative Buddhist literature, particularly from the Kālacakra tradition, it is clear that attaining Mahāmudrā must be a realization of nonduality as the unity of emptiness and appearance. Since according to Kālacakra sources this is described as the ultimate consort who manifests at the time of empowerment, Mahāmudrā can thus only be attained through tantric means. According to Yumo ba, the Mahāmudrā consort is none other than Viśvamātā, Kālacakra’s consort, herself. In tantric cultivation, the yogin ceases conceptualization through his desire for the Mahāmudrā consort, and she spontaneously manifests as the pure appearance of the mind’s luminosity.”

[vi] As Mathes (2011) says: ‘’In the thirteenth century certain aspects of the Bka’ brgyud teachings on mahāmudrā became highly controversial, such as the assertion of the possibility of a sudden liberating realisation or of a beginners attaining mahāmudrā even without tantric empowerment. Such teachings were propagated by Sgam po pa (1079–1153), but criticised by Sa skya Paṇḍita (1182–1251), who maintained that there is no conventional expression for mahāmudrā in the paramita tradition and that the wisdom of mahāmudrā can only be a wisdom that has arisen from empowerment. ’Gos Lo tsā ba Gzhon nu dpal (1392–1481) defended Sgam po pa’s notion of mahāmudrā, however, by pointing out its Indian origins in the persons of Jñānakīrti (tenth/eleventh century)1 and Maitrīpa (ca. 1007–ca. 1085), together with the latter’s disciple Sahajavajra. The works of these masters belong to a genre of literature that was eventually called “Indian mahāmudrā works” (phyag chen rgya gzhung ).”

[vii] Gotsangpa is considered to be the founder of the Drugpa Kagyu tradition known as Upper Druk (stod ‘brug). For more on his life, see the biography at: https://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Gotsangpa-Gonpo-Dorje/TBRC_p2090

[viii] Ruegg (2009) suggests that the Chinese and Tibetan traditions may be reconciled by understanding the name given in Chinese sources as an epithet for Maitreya. Takasaki is certain that the author of the embedded commentary is Sāramati through his comparison of the RGV with the Dharmadhātvaviśeṣaśāstra. According to Hookam, there is no evidence that the work was associated with Maitreya before the time of Maitripa and modern scholarship favours the view of the Chinese tradition.

[ix] Gyalwa Yang Gonpa was a great yogin of the Drukpa Kagyü school and one of the foremost disciples of Gyalwa Gotsangpa (1189-1258).

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