Naturally Liberating Whatever You Meet

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Khenpo Gangshar

Khenpo Gangshar

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Naturally Liberating Whatever You Meet

Instructions to Guide You along the Profound Path

by Khenpo Gangshar Wangpo

With the devotion of self-awareness, I pay homage to the Guru Vajradhara.

This guidance for disciples who are fortunate enough to wish to practise the profound secrets of the Vajrayāna, the very quintessence of the Highest Yoga tantras, the wisdom of the effortless Atiyoga, has three parts: 1) the preliminary stages of training the mind, 2) the main practice, the yoga of introduction, and 3) the profound concluding instructions on sustaining the practice in which the key points are brought together.

I. The Preliminary Stages of Training the Mind

This has two parts: 1) the common preliminaries, and 2) the uncommon preliminaries that represent the unique qualities of this particular path.

1. The Common Preliminaries

  • The instruction on the four thoughts that turn the mind is the means to prevent grasping at the appearances of this life.[1]
  • Taking refuge marks the difference between a genuine path and an incorrect one.
  • Generating the wish to awaken (bodhicitta) elevates you above inferior paths;
  • The meditation on Vajrasattva and recitation of his mantra purifies adverse conditions, such as past negative actions and obscurations, that hamper the development of bodhicitta, the heart of refuge.
  • Maṇḍala offering is the branch that provides favourable conditions through the accumulation of merit.
  • And guru yoga is the root of blessings, the means by which extraordinary experience and realization may dawn swiftly within your being.

2. The Uncommon Preliminaries that Represent the Unique Qualities of this Particular Path, the Analytical Meditations of a Paṇḍita

It is an infallible principle that virtuous actions lead to comfort while negative actions bring about suffering. Initially, therefore, it is essential to recognize what is virtuous and what is negative. In order to do this, it is imperative that we identify the three doors of body, speech and mind and determine which is the most important.

  • The body is material, the physical support for positive and negative actions.
  • Speech is what facilitates linguistic and verbal communication.
  • And the mind is what thinks of everything under the sun.[2] It is capable of displaying many moods, happy and sad, from one moment to the next, and is the agent of attachment and aversion.

Having identified the three doors, ask yourself which is the most important when performing any action, positive or negative. Is it body, speech or mind? Some will consider the body to be most important, some the speech, and others the mind. If you feel that either body or speech is the most important, your contemplation hasn’t really penetrated the issue. Of the three, mind is most significant, for without its involvement physical actions, positive or negative, and verbal communication would be impossible. Mind is dominant. As it is said:

Mind holds dominion over all, like a monarch.
The body is but its servant in good and bad deeds.

As this suggests, mind is sovereign, while body and speech are merely subservient.

Consider, for example, when you get upset at an enemy. What is the principal source of your anger? Is it your mind or the enemy? Similarly, when feeling affection for a loved one, is the determining factor your mind or the person? You will discover that the enemy or loved one may serve as support, but the related emotion originates from your mind. Therefore, the mind is principal.

Once you have mastery over your mind, external conditions, such as enemies and loved ones, will no longer be able to cause you harm or bring you benefit. However, without control over your mind, no matter where you find yourself, you’ll be continually beset with difficulties caused by the welling forth of attachment and aversion. It is imperative, therefore, to understand that the mind is the source of all happiness and sorrow, good and bad, attachment and aversion. As the Great Omniscient One[3] said:

While under the influence of datura,[4]
No matter what appears to you,
It is all mistaken, nothing more than a hallucination.
Similarly, understand that while under the influence of confusion,
The appearances of the six classes of beings are all mistaken,
Nothing more than empty forms, apparent yet nonexistent.[5]

And:

They appear to the mind and are designated by it,
So strive to tame the confused mind.[6]

It is just as he has written, but don’t simply believe what you read or what others tell you. Recognize for yourself that mind is the source of everything, and recognize appearances to be mind. In this, a distinction must be drawn between appearance and objective appearance. Otherwise, as the Great Omniscient One has written:

The ignorant claim everything to be mind.
They are bewildered as to the three types of appearance,
Have many faults, are confused and absurd –
Give up such perverted ways![7]

The mere appearance of forms, sounds, and the like, the objects of the sensory consciousnesses, are referred to as objective appearance. The attachment toward something pleasant, aversion toward something unpleasant, and confusion toward everything else – the trio of conceptual attachment, aversion and confusion – are simply appearances. It is imperative to understand appearances to be the play of mind, whereas objective appearances, such as the mere appearance of forms, sounds, and the like, only appear due to the power of the mind. They are, however, not mind; they are the shared perceptions of beings, mutually dependent and empty of true existence.

Where does the mind dwell? Investigate from the tips of the hairs on your head down to the ends of your toenails and back again, considering the outer skin, inner bones and flesh in-between, as well as the five vital[8] and six hollow organs.[9] Most Chinese people say that the mind is located in the head, whereas most Tibetans say it abides in the heart. It’s not at all clear, for when touching the head mind seems to be up there, but when touching the soles of the feet it appears to be down there! It has no definite location. It doesn’t dwell in an object outside the body, within the body, nor in any of the spaces in-between. It is imperative to realize that the mind has no fixed location.

If the mind had such a location, would its outer, inner and intermediate parts be identical with or separate from the abiding mind? If they were identical, the mind would need to transform, increase, and decrease just as the outer world and physical body do, but this isn’t the case.

If, on the other hand, they were entirely different, would this separate mind actually exist. If it were existent, it would need to have a colour and shape. But since it has no perceptible colour or shape, it is clearly not existent. Still, since this ever-conscious, all-cognizant sovereign is unceasing, it cannot be entirely non-existent. As Karmapa Rangjung Dorje wrote:

It is not existent, for even the Buddhas have not seen it;
Nor is it nonexistent, for it is the basis of all saṃsāra and nirvāṇa.
This is not a contradiction; it’s the middle way of unity.
May I realize mind’s nature, free from limiting extremes.[10]

This concludes the unique preliminary practices of this path, the analytic meditations of a paṇḍita.

II. The Main Practice, the Yoga of Introduction

The main part of the practice, the yoga of introduction, comprises the resting meditation of a kusulu in two parts: 1) an instruction on resolving the nature of the body, speech and mind, and 2) an instruction on discerning between ordinary mind and awareness

1. Instruction on Resolving the Nature of the Body, Speech and Mind

Sit with your body straight. Don’t talk or make sounds. Keep your mouth slightly open, and allow your breathing to settle. Don’t dwell in the past or anticipate the future; simply settle naturally into the ordinary mind of the immediate moment without any attempt to alter or correct it. Remain in this state of mind-as-such, which is, in and of itself, nothing whatsoever— clear, naked, sharp and vivid, utterly free of any deliberate contemplation or recollection and any thought of comfort or discomfort. This is awareness.

At this time, there is no thought of objective forms, sounds, and so on existing ‘over there’; rather, everything simply appears without obstruction. Similarly, there is no thought of a subject, the six types of consciousness, existing within. Does this cease? Luminous, non-conceptual, naked awareness is beyond cessation.

While you experience this, let your body be naturally loose and comfortable. This is the body of all the victorious ones, the essence of creation-phase yoga.

Speech should be natural and unrestrained. You should freely express whatever comes to mind directly, without holding anything back. You will not be able to find the root of sound, for all sound is beyond arising, audible yet empty. This is the speech of all the Victorious Ones, the essence of all recitation.

No matter what thoughts arise in the mind, be they good or bad, happy or sad, remain naturally settled and at ease. Mind-as-such has no notions of happiness or sadness; it is a luminous emptiness, naked and vivid. For all beings throughout the three realms, this is the nature of their minds: the transcendent wisdom of all buddhas throughout the three times, the essence of the eighty-four thousand gateways to the dharma, and the heart of the supreme guide, the glorious guru.

It is the perfection of wisdom taught in the second turning of the dharma wheel; the buddha nature taught in the final turning; the tantra of the ground, the natural and spontaneously present maṇḍala, according to the general presentation of mantrayāna, and, in highest tantra, it is referred to as Guhyasamāja, Cakrasaṃvara, Kālacakra and so on. According to the threefold inner division of tantra: in Mahāyoga, it is the union of the two truths, the exalted and great dharmakāya; in Anuyoga, the great bliss of the child, the root maṇḍala of bodhicitta; and finally, in Atiyoga, it is referred to as the Great Perfection of awareness and emptiness. These names simply point to the same thing, the nature of the mind. The Geluk tradition also adheres to this point, as the Great Master (Tsongkhapa) wrote:

The knowledge that appearances arise unfailingly in dependence
And the knowledge that they are empty and beyond all assertions—
As long as these two appear to you as separate,
There can be no realization of the Buddha’s wisdom.

Yet when they arise at once, not each in turn but both together,
Then through merely seeing unfailing dependent origination,
Certainty is born, and all modes of misapprehension fall apart—
That is when discernment of the view has reached perfection.[11]

The Lord of the Dharma, Drakpa Gyaltsen wrote:

If there is grasping, it is not the view.[12]

Sakyapa masters consider their view of the Indivisibility of Saṃsāra and Nirvāṇa to be freedom from grasping. Among the incomparable Kagyüpas, too, glorious Rangjung Dorje wrote:

According to the wise, all is neither true nor false,
Like the moon’s reflection in water.
The ordinary mind itself is the dharmadhātu,
Which is called "essence of the victorious".[13]

Thus, the luminous Mahāmudrā is also free of grasping.

On this point, it is said all the learned and accomplished masters of India and Tibet are of a single mind. There is no one in the Sakya, Geluk, Kagyü or Nyingma schools who fails to agree that the exalted wisdom of the main practice is beyond grasping. You must understand this point for yourself and communicate it accordingly to others.

This has been the introduction to the nature of body, speech and mind as the enlightened body, speech and mind of the buddhas, which accords with the verses from the great master of Uḍḍiyāna that begin, "Do this towards all you see…"[14]

2. Instruction on Discerning between Ordinary Mind and Awareness

It is imperative to discern between mind and awareness. The Great Omniscient One wrote:

These days, the oxen who consider themselves followers of Ati
Claim that discursive thought is awakened mind.
Such fools are lost in the realm of darkness,
Far from the meaning of the Natural Great Perfection.[15]

If you fail to discern between ordinary mind and awareness, you will develop erroneous views concerning cause and effect and so on, as you stray from the correct path on which conduct and view are in harmony. While abiding within the naturally settled and undistracted state, awareness is without fixation like the sky, and no matter what your circumstances, be they good or bad, there is not the slightest benefit or harm from hope and fear, joy and sorrow. However, should you become distracted, even slightly, when the conditions mentioned above are met, thoughts of desiring happiness and avoiding sadness will occur, and action (karma) will accumulate – this is the ordinary mind. The metaphor of clouds in the sky will serve us well: awareness needs to be stable like a perfectly clear sky, and the aspects of mind must be dispersible, like clouds within the sky. Through this, you will be able to discern between awareness and the ordinary mind.

III. The Profound Concluding Instructions on Sustaining the Practice in Which the Key Points Are Brought Together

The third section explains the profound instructions of subsequent application, based upon the pith instructions that directly reveal natural liberation.

Whilst remaining in the naturally settled, undistracted state, it is impossible to accumulate karma, and the streams of future karma are therefore severed. You must understand that although you cannot experience the results of karma that you have not accumulated, this does not mean that you will not experience the effects of previously amassed karma. It is crucial, therefore, that you do not stray into the belief that all karma, positive and negative, is simply empty. Unless all previously amassed karma is purified through confession, the ripening of karmic effects is inevitable; in other words, it’s still possible to experience the effects of karma.

The effects of karma will only ripen in your body or mind, for it is impossible for them to ripen elsewhere. You may fall sick if they mature in your body or suffer if they ripen in your mind. This may, in turn, provoke the six disturbing emotions. At such times, it is imperative that you apply the instructions for taking sickness, sorrow and disturbing emotions onto the spiritual path. The essence of these instructions is simply to rest in the naturally settled nature, and this alone is sufficient.

If you indulge the happiness that you feel when encountering pleasant circumstances or the sadness that you feel upon encountering difficulties, you will amass immense karma. Therefore, no matter what circumstances you meet, good or bad, you must initially recognize thoughts of delight or discomfort the moment they arise. Having recognized your thoughts, do not try to suppress or indulge them; instead, look into the thought itself, the one that feels happy or sad. Settle naturally and remain within the nature of the thought. Then, as you relax in mind-as-such, empty, luminous and naked, unencumbered by thoughts of happiness or sadness, innate awareness will be revealed.

When you become physically sick, don’t indulge the illness; instead, settle naturally and remain within the feeling of being ill. The sickness may not abate, but you will directly realize the naked, innate nature of awareness, free from thoughts concerning what hurts, where it hurts, how it hurts, and so on. At the same time, the pain and sickness will become less intense and less substantial.

Moreover, possessing one destructive emotion means possessing them all. However, people are different: some may have stronger anger, some greater miserliness, others confusion, desire, jealousy, pride, and so on. This is why we have different buddha families.

  • The destructive emotion of anger is a feeling of discomfort that arises toward an object felt to be unpleasant, leading to agitation and aggression.
  • Miserliness is the inability to give others the things that you find attractive due to fixation and stinginess.
  • Confusion is likened to darkness and is the root of everything negative. It is a fundamental distortion of reality that arises through not seeing one’s own essence.
  • Desire is an attraction toward and wish to possess pleasant things, including sights and sounds. Carnal lust, in particular, is the most potent form of desirous attachment.
  • Jealousy is a rejection leading to a disapproval of the qualities held by those of greater or equal status.
  • Pride is to feel superior to those perceived to be lower than oneself in spiritual or worldly terms.

These six disturbing emotions are the causes of the six types of being within saṃsāra. Predominant anger, for example, leads to rebirth in the hells, and so on. It is imperative to recognize these emotions the moment they arise and, without suppressing or indulging them, settle naturally. As you remain within the nature of the emotion, natural liberation will occur, bringing what we call mirror-like wisdom and the rest. It is just as we find in Ratna Lingpa's Second Treasury:

The essence of an angry mind is clear awareness,
Empty yet luminous the moment you recognize it.
This nature is called mirror-like wisdom.
Fine maidens, let us rest within the natural state.

The essence of a confused mind is luminous, natural awareness,
Wide awake the moment you gaze into its face.
This vital nature is called the wisdom of the dharmadhātu.
Fine maidens, let us rest within the natural state.

The essence of a proud mind is the expression of natural awareness,
Naturally empty the moment you leave it in its place.
This state is called the wisdom of evenness.
Fine maidens, let us rest within the natural state.

The essence of a desirous mind is lustful attachment,
But sustained without clinging, it is empty bliss.
This nature is called the wisdom of discernment.
Fine maidens, let us rest within the natural state.

The essence of a jealous mind is dualistic grasping,
But when left in its own place, it is nakedly free.
This nature is called the all-accomplishing wisdom,
Fine maidens, let us rest within the natural state.[16]

Should you regard destructive emotions as flawed and seek to reject them, you might win their temporarily suppression. But, as you will not have cut them at the root, their poisonous residue will reemerge, as is the case for practitioners of worldly concentration (dhyāna).

If you meditate viewing the destructive emotions as empty, your path will not be one of taking destructive emotions as the path. It will be taking emptiness as the path and therefore not the short path that is a unique feature of the mantrayāna.

Treating the destructive emotions as if they had intrinsic characteristics and indulging them is akin to eating a poisonous plant; like the copulation of ordinary people, it is a cause for being bound to saṃsāra.

For this reason, just as a toxic plant from which the poison has been extracted may be taken as medicine, the approach here is not to regard destructive emotions as flawed and suppress them, or to believe they have qualities and indulge them, but simply to relax and settle into the nature of whatever arises, so that it is revealed as wisdom there and then. That is the unique feature of this instruction.

Should you wish to receive further direct guidance related to the path of means and so on, this must be learnt in detail from the oral instructions of your guru.

Taking the Bardo as the Path

When you apply slight pressure to your eyes and ears with your fingers, colors, lights, and sounds will naturally manifest. If you naturally settle and grow accustomed over a long time to these empty forms, which don’t exist outside, inside, or anywhere in-between, then when you eventually pass away, since the appearances of the bardo are none other than these natural self-manifestations, you’ll recognize them as such and be liberated, just like recognizing a prior acquaintance or a child rushing into its mother’s lap.

The pith instructions concerning the appearances of spontaneous presence, Tögal, are divided into daytime practices and those performed in darkness. This instruction corresponds to the instruction for training in darkness. There are also instructions for utilizing the rays of the rising and setting sun in daytime, and moonlight or electric lights at night.

Taking Sleep as the Path

There is no need to make an effort to transform or project specific dream appearances. Sleep in a state that is undistracted and naturally settled. When you experience periods of deep sleep without the occurrence of dreams and the clarity of the natural state of mind is maintained upon awakening, this is called the natural luminosity of sleep.

There may be times when you don’t sleep but simply remain quiet and still. On other occasions, you might fall asleep and experience faint dreams that you cannot remember upon awakening; this marks the beginning of the purification of dreams. For someone with great capacity and diligence, [ordinary] dreams cease by being forgotten; for a person with intermediate aptitude, they cease through recognition; and, for a person of the lowest capacity, they cease by being replaced by good dreams. All the sūtras, tantras and śāstras agree that dreams must ultimately be purified.

The stages of phowa, the transference of consciousness, should be learned from other sources.

The above instructions merely summarize the main points of practice.

I have extracted the bare essence of the profound instructions
From the deep wisdom of the victorious ones and their children,
The central guidance of the profound points of the new and old tantras,
And arranged it all concisely in a few words.

When subdual through vehicles involving effort proves difficult,
The teachings based on effortless mind will emerge, it is said.
As this time is now upon us, should you engage with these points
They hold a Dharma that is without error and easy to practice.

Seeing several reasons for such a composition,
And urged on by several sublime individuals,
I have set aside poetics and flowery expressions
To write this freely in a simple, pleasant style.

By this merit, may the infinity of sentient beings
Be victorious over the noxious breath of the warring titans,[17]
And may the brilliant sun of profound quintessential meaning
Herald the dawn of a new golden age of perfection.

Sarvadā kalyāṇaṁ bhavatu! (May all be auspicious!)

| © Shechen Translations, 2022. Translated by Shechen Gelong Tenzin Yeshe Jamchen (Sean Price) based on explanations and clarifications from Kyabje Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Radha Chime Tulku Rinpoche, Kyabje Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, Thrangu Khenpo Karma Gedun, Shechen Khenpo Yeshe Gyaltsen and many others. Dedicated to the Radha Chime Rinpoche, a disciple of Khenpo Gangshar, and Rinchen Dolma, who is devoted to the path that Khenpo Gangshar revealed.


Bibliography

Tibetan Edition

Gang shar dbang po. "zab lam khrid kyi man ngag 'phrad tshad rang grol" in gsung 'bum/_gang shar dbang po. 1 vol. Kathmandu: Thrangu Tashi Choling, 2008 (BDRC W2CZ6597). Vol. 1: 109–135

Secondary Sources

Khenchen Thrangu, Vivid Awareness: The Mind Instructions of Khenpo Gangshar, with commentary by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2011.


Version: 1.0-20220530


  1. This line is not included in some editions of the text.  ↩

  2. Literally, that which thinks the unthinkable nine times.  ↩

  3. Longchen Rabjam, Drimé Özer  ↩

  4. Skt. dhattūra. White thorn-apple, a hallucinogen.  ↩

  5. From the root text of The Wish-Fulfilling Treasury (yid bzhin mdzod), chapter one.  ↩

  6. From the root text of The Wish-Fulfilling Treasury (yid bzhin mdzod), chapter one.  ↩

  7. From the root text of The Wish-Fulfilling Treasury (yid bzhin mdzod), chapter one.  ↩

  8. don lnga: heart, liver, kidney, spleen, and lungs.  ↩

  9. snod drug: the large and small intestines, stomach, colon, bladder, and gall bladder.  ↩

  10. From Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, Aspiration of the Mahāmudrā of Definitive Meaning, verse 11  ↩

  11. From The Three Principal Aspects of the Path. Some editions of Khenpo Gangshar's text omit the final line.  ↩

  12. From Parting from the Four Attachments  ↩

  13. From Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, The Treatise Called Revealing the Essence of the Tathāgatas (de bzhin gshegs pa'i snying po bstan pa zhes bya ba'i bstan bcos).  ↩

  14. From Prayer to Guru Rinpoche in Seven Chapters (Le'u Dünma), chapter four, which was requested by Namkha Nyingpo.  ↩

  15. From The Precious Treasury of the Dharmadhātu (chos dbyings rin po che'i mdzod).  ↩

  16. Note that this final verse is not included in some editions of the text.  ↩

  17. This refers to the bile spewed by those who, while revelling in their own aggression and paranoia, speak and give orders that bring destruction, pain and anguish to everyone else.  ↩

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