Tilopa transmitted to Naropa the Mahamudra Way,
in the "Song of Mahamadra".

This transmission has been passed on from master to disciple and it's profound potency can still be felt by those who are spiritually mature and willing to empty themselves of ego identification. Although Buddhist in origin, this teaching transcends all labels and concepts and points directly to that which can liberate and illuminate.


The Song of Mahamudra by Tilopa                     

Mahamudra is beyond all words and symbols,
But for you, Naropa, earnest and loyal, must this be said.

The Void needs no reliance; Mahamudra rests on naught.

Without making an effort, but remaining natural,
One can break the yoke thus gaining liberation.

If one looks for naught when staring into space;
If with the mind one then observes the mind;
One destroys distinctions and reaches Buddhahood.

The clouds that wander through the sky have no roots, no home,
Nor do the distinctive thoughts floating through the mind.
Once the Self-mind is seen, Discrimination stops.

In space, shapes and colors form
But neither by black nor white is space tinged.
From the Self-mind all things emerge;
The Mind by virtues and by vices is not stained.

The darkness of ages cannot shroud the glowing sun;
The long eons of Samsara ne'er can hide the Mind's brilliant light.

Though words are spoken to explain the Void, the Void as such can never be expressed. Though we say "the Mind is a bright light," it is beyond all words and symbols. Although the Mind is void in essence, all things it embraces and contains.

Do naught with the body but relax;
Shut firm the mouth and silent remain;
Empty your mind and think of naught.
Like a hollow bamboo rest at ease your body.
Giving not nor taking, put your mind at rest.
Mahamudra is like a mind that clings to naught.
Thus practicing, in time you will reach Buddhahood.

The practice of Mantra and Perfections, instructions in the Sutras and Precepts, and teaching from the Schools and Scriptures will not bring realization of the Innate Truth.
For if the mind when filled with some desire should seek a goal, it only hides the Light.

One who keeps the Tantric Precepts yet discriminates, betrays the vows of Awakening,
Cease all activity; abandon all desire; let thoughts rise and fall as they will like the ocean waves.
One who never harms the Non-abiding nor the Principles of non-distinction, upholds the Tantric Precepts.

He who abandons craving and clings not to this or that,
Perceives the real meaning given in the Scriptures.

In Mahamudra all one's sins are burned; in Mahamudra one is released from the prison of this world. This is the Dharma's supreme torch. Those who disbelieve it are fools who ever wallow in misery and sorrow.

To strive for liberation one should rely on a Guru. When your mind receives the Guru's blessing emancipation is at hand.
Alas, all things in this world are meaningless; they are but sorrow's seeds. Small teachings lead to acts. One should only follow teachings that are great.

To transcend duality is the Kingly View; to conquer distractions is the Royal Practice; the Path of No-practice is the Way of the Buddhas. 0ne who treads that Path reaches Buddhahood.

Transient is this world; like phantoms and dreams,
Substance it has none. Grasp not the world nor your kin;
Cut the strings of lust and hatred; meditate in woods and mountains.
If without effort you remain loosely in the "natural state," soon Mahamudra you will win and attain the Non-attainment.

Cut the root of the tree and the leaves will wither;
cut the root of your mind and Samsara falls.

The light of any lamp dispels in a moment the darkness of long eons; The strong light of the mind in but a flash will burn the veil of ignorance.

Whoever clings to mind sees not the truth of what's beyond the mind.
Whoever strives to practice Dharma finds not the truth of Beyond-practice.
One should cut cleanly through the root of the mind and stare naked.
One should thus break away from all distinctions and remain at ease.

One should not give and take but remain natural, for Mahamudra is beyond all acceptance and rejection.
Since the consciousness is not born, no one can obstruct it or soil it;
Staying in the "Unborn" realm all appearances will dissolve into the ultimate Dharma.
All self-will and pride will vanish into naught.
The supreme Understanding transcends all this and that.
The supreme Action embraces great resourcefulness without attachment. The supreme Accomplishment is to realize immanence without hope.


---------------------------------------------------------------Tilopa's case was very special since his guidance came from the commanding appearance of a dakini ("sky-flyer" - female spiritual being), who manifested at important moments in his life to set him in the right direction. From the very outset, she made it clear to him that his real parents were not his worldly ones, but primordial wisdom and universal voidness:

"...your father is Cakrasamvara and your mother is Vajravarahi .."

On her advice, he frequented monasteries and gradually took up a monk's life, eventually becoming an erudite scholar and an exemplary monk, known as Prajñabhadra. Following a vision, he discovered a text hidden in the base of a statue in the monastery. Not understanding its meaning he prayed to his dakini mentor, who sent him to the illustrious gurus Matangi and Saryapa to study tantra. Returning some time later to the monastery, he furthered his classical studies. Another critical encouter with his celestial dakini teacher initiated him further and definitively closed the gaps that existed between his theoretical knowledge and his experiential insight.

Taking avantage of his new-found freedom, Prajñabhadra practised meditation very intensively, travelling when necessary to receive the special techniques and guidance of most of the great teachers of his day: Guhya, Darika, Dingi and so on.

The best of students, he mastered all their vital teachings and was able to appreciate their common points and their particularities. The lineages which he inherited all condense into four streams of transmitted wisdom. It is from these that the Kagyu tradition derives its name, for 'Kagyu' is a short form of the Tibetan

theg pa gsum gy snying don bka bab kyi chos bzhi'i gdams ngag bar ma ckad pa'i brgyud pa,

which roughly means the unbroken lineage of profound and intimate guidance in the four sorts of transmitted mastery, the heart meaning of the three yanas.

In the above, Ka is short for Ka.pap.zhi. - which could be loosely rendered as 'four transmissions of mastery'. Zhi simply mean four. Ka.pap is a term without any equivalent in English. It means transmission—of knowledge, skill, insight and teaching ability—in a specific domain, from master to student, to the point where the student enters into complete possession of all the master's prowess. It is the sort of thing that takes place when someone already gifted in, or deeply predisposed towards, a certain subject seeks out the best person in that field and learns from them everything they have to teach. Implicit to this process is the spontaneous appreciation and rapid assimilation that occurs when a student has a natural feel for a subject.

The four Kagyu transmissions referred to here are those of:

.. great seal - (Tib. phyag.rgya.cken.po Skt. mahamudra) in this instance 'uncharacterised mahamudra', i.e. without ritual, form or sophistry,
.. heat yoga -(Tib. gtum.mo, which literally means 'angry mother'),
.. lucidity - (Tib. od.gsal means ' as clear as if illuminated'--sometimes called 'clear light' in modern translations) this includes dream and between-life (bardo) yogas
.. union - (Tib. Ias.kyi.phyag.rgya Skt. karma mudra)

...These four transmissions contain the very essence of all three levels (yana) of Buddhism. Each contains the others and therefore each contains everything. As a whole they are called mahamudra.

If each of the above were not an aspect of a whole, tu-mo, subtle heat, would simply be a technique for producing warmth; one would be no more than a human oven. Radiant lucidity would be just something illuminating, like torchlight. They are not like that. Subtle heat and lucidity are very profound practices, richly supported by mahamudra's insight, mantras, visualisation-stage mahamudra etc. They are very complete, each being a highlighted aspect of the same thing.


These four, one of which is intimate knowledge of mind and the other three skilful areas of technique, have been transmitted in their original integrity, via a lineage of perfect masters and perfected students, from the time of Tilopa until our present day. They form the hub of the present Kagyu Lineage.

During this period of his life, he acquired the name Tilopa, which means sesame-grinder, as this was the secret guise in which he lived externally, while all the time perfecting his meditation internally. A marvellous phrase occurs in this part of his biography:

"From this moment on, not one moment of his life, day or night, was wasted."

Having inherited the Buddhist lineages of his time, Tilopa was then advised by his guiding dakini to go to the impenetrable valleys of Orgyen, where he would receive extraordinary transmissions of teaching. In a veritable épopée, he worked and fought his way through earthquakes, hallucinations, demon army attacks and other phenomena and was rewarded by becoming heir to some very special teachings; the heart teachings of the dakinis. These included the nine secret dakini teachings and the four wish-fulfilling-gem teachings.

Then followed his enlightenment. Although he had had many excellent gurus, including celestial dakinis, his enlightenment occured through direct fusion with the mind of Sakyamuni's sambhogakaya. Tilopa experienced this as meeting "the Buddha Who Holds the Vajra(yana)" (Vajradhara Buddha). The fivefold transmission of insight that took place then is indescribable. It ended with Tilopa being indistinguishable from the enlightenment of all the Buddhas. The remainder of his earthly life was spent teaching and ensuring that the precious wisdom and lineages he had inherited were perpetuated by worthy disciples for the future benefit of humankind.

The above is and extract from a chapter on Tilopa and the origins of mahamudra, from Ken Holmes book "Karmapa" (Altea 1996), which quotes extracts from the 12th Tai Situpa's biography "Tilopa - some fragments of his life" (KDDL, Scotland).


Kagya lineage (Buddhist) picture.

Mahamudra Thanka - wall hanging picture.

Milarepa picture.

The Kagyu (bka'-brgyud) lineage was founded by the great siddha Tilopa (988-1069), also known as Prajnabhadra. Tilopa was a holder of the entire teachings of the various classes of Tantra which can be divided into two types of lineages: a direct sambhogakaya lineage and an extensive nirmanakaya lineage. The first of these involves either one or a few previous lineage holders, in that the related teachings were revealed by the 'Enjoyment Body' (sambhogakaya) directly to a master. Hence, it is known as a direct sambhogakaya lineage. The second of these involves many lineage holders in that the related teachings were passed on from master to disciple in a long unbroken line. Hence, it is known as an extensive nirmanakaya lineage. As to a direct sambhogakaya lineage, Tilopa received the entire teachings from Vajradhara and Vairayogini. As to an extensive nirmanakaya lineage, Tilopa received the four special transmissions (bka'-babs-bzhi) from his four main teachers. He received the oral instructions on the yoga of luminosity ('od-gsal) (prabhasvara) land the yoga of illusory form (sgyu-lus)(mayadeha) from Matangi, whose ineage originated with Nagariuna. Nagar-juna had passed on these teachings to Aryadeva who gave them to Candrakirti who transmitted them to Matangi. These masters are associated with the south of India.

Tilopa received the oral instructions on the yoga of dream (rmi-lam) (svapna) from Indrabhuti, whose lineage originated with Dombi Heruka, followed by Vinapa and Lavapa, to Indrabhuti. These masters are associated with the western part of India. Tilopa received the oral instruction on the yoga of tummo (gtum-mo)(candali) from Tsaryapa, whose lineage originated with Mahasukhasiddhi, followed by Tanglopa, Shinglopa and Karnaripa, to Krishnacarya. These masters are associated with the eastern part of India. Tilopa received the oral instruction on the yoga of transference of consciousness ('pho-ba)(samkranti) and the yoga of the intermediate state (bar-do) (antarabhava) from Sukhasiddhi, whose lineage originated with Luipa, followed by Dengipa and Darikapa, to Sukhasiddhi. These masters are associated with the north of India.

Thus, Tilopa received the four special transmissions. Having mastered these teachings, he passed them on to his main disciple Naropa (1016-1100), also known as Jnanasiddhi. Naropa mastered the same teachings and passed them on to Marpa (Mar-pa) (1012-1097) the translator. Marpa, having mastered the same instructions, spread them in Tibet. He transmitted them to his main disciple Milarepa (Mi-la-ras-pa) (1052-1135). Milarepa passed them on to Gampopa. The lineage has been passed down from master to disciple and is still very much alive today.


Mahamudra Thanka



May all mother sentient beings, boundless as the space, have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May they be liberated from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May they never be separated from the happiness which is free from sorrow.
May they rest in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.



Enter the space of sacred sounds with a concentrated mind.

Sit still in a comfortable position.

Let the sounds float around and into the body, effortlessly.

Join in and chant the sound Om or Hum, whichever is more pleasing.

Listen to the resonance of the sound.

Close the ears with the index fingers, chant hum and experience the resonance within.

In moments of silence stretch the ears to hear the farthest star.

Experience the stillness of sound.

While leaving the space retain the inner resonance to experience the world anew.


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A good primer on basic spirituality with a few religious overtones.