A proper framework for grasping Naropa’s upadesha. * * * * * Mahāmudrā is essentially a simple, direct method for seeing the nature of the mind. It is the central meditation practice of the Kagyü school of Tibetan Buddhism.
In the Kagyü tradition, the higher tantric practices are twofold--the stage of generation and the stage of completion.
The generation stage entails the visualization of oneself as an enlightened deity within a divine palace encircled by an entourage; and the practice consists primarily of visualizations, mantras, prayers, and offerings. The practitioner’s habituation to “pure perception” of the deity and the environs eliminates ordinary habits of perception and reveals the intrinsic purity of all mental and physical phenomena.
The Kagyü school divides the completion stage into two kinds of practice:
the path of methods and
the path of liberation.
The path of methods consists primarily of the Six Dharmas of Nāropa, and
the path of liberation is primarily the practice of mahāmudrā.
Mahāmudrā, or chakchen (phyag chen) in Tibetan, literally means “the great seal.”
Masters of this tradition have explained it to mean that everything is sealed with buddhahood, the intrinsic true nature, which is already perfect. Therefore there is nothing to be added to or removed from the mind. There is no liberation to be attained other than what is already present. A common saying is that the reason why mahāmudrā is not attained is not because it is too difficult but because it is too easy, not because it is too far but because it is too close, and not because it is hidden but because it is too evident.
Therefore the mahāmudrā tradition employs the phrase “ordinary mind” to express that enlightenment is nothing other than the mind that we already have.
The actual meditation entails looking inward, directly at one’s own mind, without conceptualization, categorization, or conclusions. This true nature of the mind is there for anyone to see, and anyone who looks in this way will inevitably see it, at least for an instant, before conceptualization sets in. The practice of the meditation is essentially familiarization with this direct seeing of the mind.
Nevertheless, a series of graded meditations are taught in conjunction with this practice, including basic śamatha meditations, for stabilizing concentration, and successive stages of vipaśyanā meditation, insight practices that lead a practitioner gradually to actual mahāmudrā.
Thrangu Rinpoche has emphasized on many occasions that the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rikpé Dorjé (1924–81), told him that mahāmudrā was the most beneficial practice for Westerners because it eschews complex and culturally foreign practices. Rinpoche has also stated that elaborate practices such as the six Dharmas of Nāropa and dark retreats do not achieve any higher goal than mahāmudrā but are taught for the benefit of those who cannot believe that the ultimate attainment can be attained by such a simple method. Nevertheless, he adds that pursuing an array of practices can aid practitioners in their progress.”