We speak of mind as being empty, or being void. This means that mind has no form: it has no color, no shape, no distinguishing characteristics whatsoever. In this way we can say that mind is empty. But the mind is not simply void or simply empty.
There is another aspect which we can label the clarity or the lucidity or mind. This is not the same as brightness, or clarity in the sense of sunlight and moonlight or electric light which is bright but is rather the aspect, the potential capability of mind to know and to experience everything. This particular quality - that the mind can know or perceive anything which arises in the mind, any experience, any thought - is what we refer to as the lucidity or clarity of mind. For example, if one had a piece of fruit in front of one, the simple act of experiencing that piece of fruit, of being aware of that piece of fruit in front of one, is a result of this clarity of mind. If the mind did not have this lucidity, one would not be able to experience that piece of fruit. This is a result of the lucid aspect of mind.
There is a third basic quality of the nature of mind, and this is what is known as the non-obstructed quality of mind. For example, once one has become aware of the presence of this piece of fruit in front of one, there are further thoughts which develop in the mind, such as "This looks good, this looks good to eat, I want to eat this," etc., various thoughts which arise in the mind based upon this initial experience of the piece of fruit. All these thoughts come up in a completely unrestricted and uninhibited way. If one did not have this quality of mind, if this un-obstructedness were not a quality of mind, one would not be able to act on the basis of this experience of the fruit; one would not be able to recall or to think based upon this initial perception.This is what we have referred to as the third quality. the non-obstructedness of mind.
So, when one examines the nature of mind, we see it has these three aspects - the emptiness of mind, the lucid aspect of mind and the non-obstructed aspect of mind. All of these are not three separate things but three aspects of one basic nature, which is the nature of mind. This is very often referred to as the Tathagatagarba, or the seed or essence of Buddhahood.
If one is able to recognize, to realize and experience directly this nature of Buddha, this seed of Buddha which is the nature of mind, then one is enlightened. This is the state of Buddhahood.
If one is not, however, able to recognize this state of mind, this potential of mind, then it becomes the basis for all of the confusion and suffering in Samsara.
For this reason, the difference between a Buddha and a sentient being, between an enlightened being and a non-enlightened being, is simply the presence or absence of the recognition of this basic nature. And so it is necessary for us to recognize, to realize, this basic nature of mind, because it is based upon this realization that the experience of enlightenment takes place.
One can consider all practice of Dharma, every element and every technique in the practice of Dharma, as being a means toward this ultimate realization of the nature of mind. One can begin on a very practical, physical level.
It is said traditionally that if one employs the proper physical posture, then this can greatly benefit the realization, or the experiences which arise in the mind. So, the first element in the practice of meditation is the proper posture. The first element of this proper posture is to maintain the body in an upright, straight position.
Tibetans employ the posture of the Buddha Sakyamuni, who is depicted as being seated with the legs crossed in what is called Vajra posture. However, people in the West, because we have a little more material prosperity and a great deal of skillful means, have provided ourselves with chairs. And so we can use what is known as the posture of Maitreya, the Coming Buddha, who is depicted as seated in a chair.
Keep the physical posture straight, keep the body straight, but nevertheless relax. The body should be kept upright butrelaxed, and the mind, as well, relaxed. It was Gampopa who said that if water is not troubled or is not agitated or stirred up then it is clear. If the mind is not held tight or constrained then it is happy. This particular instruction regarding meditation indicates that when one is meditating, it is necessary to keep the mind relaxed and not to force or constrain the mind, not to hold the mind too tightly. In this way the mind will gradually come to rest in a state of happiness. When one is meditating in this relaxed state, one should not follow after thoughts of the past, after what has arisen in the mind before or what one has done in the past. Similarly, one should not anticipate or hope for the future, thinking, "I have to think about this; I have to do this in the future."
One should simply let the mind rest in the present moment, completely relaxed, without concern for the past or the future, simply aware and precisely present in the present moment. It is not necessary for the mind to pay attention to or to focus on anything outside the body, anything in the external world. Neither is it necessary for the mind to concern itself with anything inside, with any internal experience. Simply let the mind rest in its natural state, just as it is, just as it happens in the present moment, without any contrivance,without any artificiality. When one is meditating, letting the mind rest in this state, which is called rang bap in Tibetan (which means simply, "the mind as it is or as it happens in the present moment without any contrivance"), one should not consider the mind as an object of inspection or meditation, or the state of emptiness, as an object of meditation. For the purposes of this meditation, the mind is not to be considered as something to be meditated upon or something to be regarded. One simply lets the mind rest as it is, in its natural state. In addition, it is not advisable, as part of this meditation, to suppress or to interrupt the stream of awareness, but simply to allow the natural intelligence or awareness of mind to continue with vigilance or precision.
If one meditates in this way, then the mind comes to be empty and transparent. One has this experience in which there is no consciousness of anything taking place in the mind. There is simply this transparent mind-essence.
On the level of the body, there is no consciousness of any particular sensation. There is simply the experience of this transparent mind essence.This is the experience of what we call the empty nature or the empty essence of mind. When one is experiencing this meditation of the transparency of mind, the mind should not fall therefore into obscurity or dullness. Also, it is not necessary or advisable to watch the emptiness of the mind or to be conscious of the emptiness or the lucidity of mind in any contrived manner.
There is a natural intelligence or natural awareness of mind, which is simply aware, simply the bare awareness of this experience, and this third aspect, this natural or basic intelligence of. mind, is what corresponds to the non-obstructedness of mind. And so we have an experience in which one experiences the essential emptiness of mind, this transparency of mind. One experiences, as well, the lucid nature of mind, and in addition there is this bare awareness or bare intelligence which perceives this situation, which perceives this mind-nature. And this is the third element, which is the nonobstructedness of mind. To rest in this state, with these three aspects of mind being experienced in this way, is what is called meditation.
To speak of all this is just words. These are just the sounds of the words; and one can consider these words as the conjunction or coincidence of sound and emptiness. What remains to be done is to realize this basic emptiness or basic nature of mind. And so now we will all together meditate for some time on this basic mind-essence, letting the mind rest simply in its basic nature, without any contrivance. We rest with the body held gently but firmly erect, and the mind resting in a state of bare awareness, without any contrivance, without any artificiality in the mind, simply letting the mind rest in this transparent lucidity.
Because we are beginning meditators, it is difficult for us to have a clear meditation at this point; but it is sufficient when one meditates simply to let the mind rest in this clear, transparent state, just barely aware of the state of mind, of the ultimate essence of mind. One simply has to remain alert. As long as there is this perception which allows the mind to remain alert, this is sufficient. Again because we are beginning meditators, it is impossible for us to meditate in this way for any length of time. There are always thoughts and emotions which arise and stir the mind, agitate the mind. But at the very least, when one is meditating in this way, one should not have to reject or repress these thoughts as they arise in the mind, nor to indulge in them when they arise, to follow them.
Better to remain vigilant, to remain precisely aware of the moment while one meditates, so that one knows or is aware of what arises in the mind, one experiences the thought as it arises in the mind without following it. In this way one lets the mind simply rest without repressing thoughts but without indulging in them or following after them. In this way thoughts come to be perceived like bubbles on the surface of water or a rainbow in the sky. Just as the bubbles are reabsorbed into the water and the rainbow dissolves into the sky, whatever arises in the mind is naturally liberated into the mind-essence.
If one is able to let the mind rest in this way, in this state of transparency, lucidity and spaciousness, where there is the emptiness, transparency and lucidity of mind, and there is the bare, naked awareness of this experience, of the mind-essence -- if one can rest the mind in this state without distraction -- then one can say, after a fashion, that one is very close to the realization of Mahamudra.
We can think of the ignorance of sentient beings that exists in our minds now as like a room or a house in which all the doors and windows are closed shut, and even though the sun is brilliantly shining outside, no light can penetrate the obscurity of this house or room. Then when one begins to meditate and has just the slightest flash of this mind-nature -- the empty essence, the lucid nature and the non-obstructed manifestation of mind -- it is just as though one has made a tiny hole in the wall of this building, and a very tiny beam of sunlight is able to enter and just to begin to illuminate the room to the slightest possible degree. In this way we have just the slightest inkling of what the significance of Mahamudra is. If one can do this kind of meditation regularly -- daily, as often as one can and as much as one can, then gradually one will come to develop this meditation, one will come to a clear realization of the empty essence, the lucid nature and the non-obstructed manifestation of mind; and in this way, the mind will become clearer and clearer, and one's meditation will develop more and more. If one can meditate in this way, then all of the thoughts, all of the experiences which arise in one's mind are neither beneficial nor harmful, but simply like waves on the surface of water. They come from the water and they are absorbed back into the water.
Thoughts and emotions arise in the mind and are absorbed back into the mind. They arise from this emptiness and are absorbed or dissolved back into this emptiness. If one can meditate in this way, there is no difficulty presented by anything that arises in the mind. So, fundamentally speaking, the practice of Mahamudra is a very simple thing. There is nothing complicated or difficult about it at all. There is no visualization one has to perform, there is no exercise one has to do, there is no difficulty physically such as with prostrations, there is nothing basically to be done. One simply lets the mind rest in its natural state, just as it is, without any contrivance, without any force, without any tension in the mind. In this way, the practice of Mahamudra is very simple.
In the minds of various sentient beings arise various emotions and passions, various feelings -- desire, hatred, jealousy, stupidity, etc. When one practices the meditation on Mahamudra, there is no need to abandon, reject or repress such thoughts which arise in the mind. There is also no need to indulge in these thoughts or to follow them. One simply lets the mind rest in bare awareness of the moment, just conscious or aware of what is arising in the mind without any repression or indulgence, just allowing the mind to rest in its natural state. At the present moment our minds are like a pot of water boiling on a fire: there is continual agitation, continual activity, bubbles continually rising to the surface. If one takes cold water and throws it into this boiling pot, immediately the water becomes lukewarm and the activity ceases. In the same way, if one can practice the meditation on Mahamudra, whatever passions, emotions and thoughts are troubling the mind -- all of this activity, all of this agitation and destruction -- are immediately appeased and pacified.
The practice of Mahamudra can be condensed into three brief instructions: not to be distracted, not to meditate and not to contrive anything artificial in the mind. We will examine each of these in turn. First, to be distracted is understood as the condition that exists when the mind first begins to follow a sensory experience such as a form, a sound, an odor, a taste, a tangible experience, etc. The mind begins to follow and become seduced by this experience. This is one form of distraction. In addition, if the mind loses its clarity, its vigilance, its acuteness in meditation, this is another, a subtle, form of distraction. It is necessary for the mind to be free of these two forms of distraction. The second point is not to meditate, that is, not to make any effort to meditate. This means that when one is practicing Mahamudra there is nothing that needs to be produced. There is no state of meditation which needs to be forced, created or developed. Simply, one lets the mind rest undistracted, without any wavering, in this natural state. This is what is meant by "nonmeditation".
The third point is that there should be nothing artificial, no contriving in the mind. This means that when one is meditating one does not have to do anything in order to make the mind any better, any worse, any different than it is. Mind in itself is essentially empty. This is the level of Dharmakaya, or the "void" aspect of Buddhahood. In addition, the nature of mind is clear or lucid. This is the Sambhogakaya, or the level or body of enjoyment or glory of Buddhahood. Then there is the third level, the nonobstructed manifestation of mind. This is the Nirmanakaya level or emanation of Buddhahood. The mind embodies these three aspects and is intrinsically pure, intrinsically the best thing possible. And so there is absolutely nothing that needs to be done in meditation in order to create or improve the situation.
Having understood a little of this, it is necessary now for us to practice.