A Lamp to Dispel Darkness
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From the murals of Shechen Monastery. Used with permission of Rabjam Rinpoche.
A Lamp to Dispel Darkness
An Instruction That Points Directly to the Very Essence of Mind
In the Tradition of ‘the Old Realized Ones’
by Mipham Jampal Dorje
Homage to the guru, inseparable from Mañjuśrī, the embodiment of primordial wisdom!
Without having to study, contemplate, or train to any great degree,
Simply by maintaining recognition of the nature of mind according to the approach of pith instructions,
Any ordinary village yogi can, without too much difficulty,
Reach the level of a vidyādhara: such is the power of this profound path.
The Instruction for Cracking Open the Eggshell of Ignorance
When you leave your mind in a state of natural rest, without thinking any particular thought, and at the same time maintaining a flow of mindfulness, you can experience a state of vacant, neutral, apathetic indifference, referred to as indeterminate, in which consciousness is dull and blank. In this, there is none of the clear insight of vipaśyanā, which discerns things precisely, and so the masters call it ignorance. Since you cannot define it and say “This is what it’s like” or “This is it!” such a state is called indeterminate. And since you cannot say what kind of state you are resting in, or what your mind is thinking, it is also called common equanimity. In fact, you are stuck in an ordinary state within the ground-of-all (ālaya).
Such a means of resting the mind is necessary, as a stepping stone, in the process of bringing about non-conceptual primordial wisdom. However, as this primordial wisdom has not yet dawned, it cannot count as the main practice of Dzogchen meditation. As The Aspiration Prayer of Samantabhadra says:
They are entirely mindless and confused.
This itself is unawareness, delusion’s cause.
Therefore, when mind experiences such a dull state that lacks any thought or mental activity, allow your attention to turn naturally and gently toward the one who is aware of this state—the one who is not thinking. By doing so, you will discover the pure awareness of rigpa, free from any movement of thought, beyond any notion of outside or inside, unimpeded and open, like the clear sky. Although there is no dualistic separation here between an experience and an experiencer, still the mind is certain about its own true nature, and there is a sense that, “There is nothing whatsoever beyond this.” When this occurs, because you cannot conceptualize it or express it in words, it is acceptable to apply such terms as free from all extremes, beyond description, the fundamental state of clear light and the pure awareness of rigpa.
As the wisdom of recognizing your own true nature dawns, it clears away the blinding darkness of confusion, and, just as you can see clearly the inside of your home once the sun has risen, you gain confident certainty in the true nature of your mind.
This is the instruction for cracking open the eggshell of ignorance.
The Instruction for Cutting Through the Web of Conditioned Existence
When you gain this kind of realization, you understand that the nature of reality has always been so, timelessly. It is not created by any causes or conditions, and it never undergoes any kind of transition or change in the past, present or future. At the same time, you cannot find even the tiniest fraction of something called “mind” that is separate from this nature. You could say that the state of mental blankness referred to earlier is also indescribable, but it lacks decisiveness, since you are completely unable to describe it in any way. Rigpa, on the other hand, is essentially indescribable. Yet at the same time it has a decisive quality, which cuts through any doubt about what is indescribable. There is thus a huge difference between these two kinds of indescribability, as great as the difference between blindness and perfect vision. This is also a crucial point in distinguishing between the ground-of-all and the dharmakāya. Therefore, terms such as ordinary awareness, mental inactivity, inexpressible and so on are used in two different ways, only one of which is authentic. And when you come to know the crucial point of how the same words can have a higher level of meaning, you can gain some experience of the true meaning of the profound Dharma.
Some feel that what is to be maintained when resting naturally in the essence of mind is a simple clarity, a simple awareness, and so they settle in a state of ordinary mental consciousness, thinking, “This is clarity.” Others focus their attention on an absorbing sense of emptiness, as though their minds had become empty. But, in both cases, there is some clinging to the dualistic experience of an aspect of ordinary mental consciousness. Whenever you find yourself in either state, look into the very nature of that subtly fixated attention—the clarity and the one perceiving the clarity, the emptiness and the one perceiving the emptiness. By doing so, you will take away the support for the ordinary consciousness that perceives things dualistically. Then, if you can decisively recognize the natural state of your own mind in all its nakedness—clear and open, without any limit or centre—and a state of lucid clarity arises, that is what is called the very essence of rigpa. With this, as rigpa sheds the covering layer of experiences that involve clinging, its pure and pristine wisdom is laid bare.
This is the instruction for cutting through the web of conditioned existence.
The Instruction for Remaining in Space-Like Equality
This is how you should recognize the pure awareness of rigpa once it is freed from the various layers of ordinary thinking and experience, like a grain of rice freed from its husk—by settling naturally and making use of rigpa’s own self-knowing (or self-illuminating) quality. It is not enough, however, simply to understand the nature of rigpa; you must be able to remain in that state with some stability through developing familiarity. For this, it is very important that, without becoming distracted, you sustain constant mindfulness, so as to continue resting in an utterly natural state of awareness.
When you are sustaining awareness like this, at times you might experience a vague, dull state with no thoughts, while at other times you might experience an unobstructed state with no thoughts that has the clarity of insight. At times, you might experience feelings of bliss on which you fixate, while at other times you might experience blissful feelings free of such fixation. At times, you might have various experiences of clarity involving grasping, while at other times you might experience a vivid clarity that is unsullied and free of grasping. At times, you might undergo unpleasant and unsettling experiences, while at other times you might feel pleasant and soothing sensations. And at times, you might be beset by an extreme turbulence of thought, carrying your mind away and causing you to lose your meditation. At other times, you might experience unclear states of mind because of a failure to distinguish between mental dullness and vivid clarity.
These and other experiences come about unpredictably and to an extent you cannot measure, like various waves produced by the winds of karma and habitual thoughts, cultivated throughout beginningless time. It is as though you are on a long journey, during which you visit all sorts of different places—some pleasant, some fraught with danger—but whatever happens, you must not be deterred but continue on your way.
When you are not yet familiar with this practice, and you have the experience of movement, as all manner of thoughts stir in your mind like a blazing fire, do not be discouraged. Maintain the flow of your practice without letting it slip away, and find the right balance so that you are neither too tense nor too relaxed. In this way, the more advanced meditative experiences, such as attainment, will occur one after another.
At this point, investigate the distinction between the recognition and nonrecognition of rigpa, between the ground-of-all and dharmakāya, and between ordinary consciousness and wisdom. Through the master’s pith instructions, and on the basis of your own personal experience, have confidence in the direct introduction you receive. While you are sustaining the essence of mind, just as water clears by itself if you do not stir it, ordinary consciousness will settle in its own nature. Focus mainly on the instructions describing how the true nature of this awareness develops into naturally arising wisdom. Do not analyze with a view to adopting one state and abandoning another, thinking, “What is this that I am cultivating in meditation? Is it ordinary consciousness or wisdom?” Nor should you entertain speculations based on an understanding derived from books, because doing so will only serve to obstruct both śamatha and vipaśyanā to some degree.
At some point, the aspect of familiarity with śamatha (which here means a stable continuity of mindful awareness as you settle naturally) and vipaśyanā (which here means that awareness knows its own nature by itself) will merge together automatically. When your familiarity with this becomes stable, the calm and insight that have always been inseparable, as the primordial stillness of the natural state and the clear light of your own nature, will dawn as the naturally arising wisdom that is the wisdom mind of the Great Perfection.
That is the instruction for remaining in space-like equality.
Glorious Saraha said:
Utterly abandon thoughts and thinking,
And remain without thought, like a young child.
This is the way to be. He also said:
Focus on the guru's words and apply great effort—
Then, if you have received the master’s instructions introducing you to your rigpa:
There is no doubt that the coemergent nature will arise.
As this says, the naturally arising wisdom that is mind’s inherent nature, and which has always accompanied your ordinary mind from time immemorial, will dawn. This is no different from the inherent nature of everything, and so it is also called the actual clear light of the genuine nature.
Therefore, this approach of resting in a completely natural state and maintaining the recognition of your own self-knowing rigpa, the very essence of mind, or the dharmatā nature of phenomena, is the pith instruction that brings together a hundred crucial points in one. This is also what you are to maintain continuously.
The true measure of familiarity is the ability to maintain the state of clear light even during sleep. The signs that you are on the right track can be known through your own experience: faith, compassion, and wisdom will increase automatically, so that realization will come easily, and you will experience few difficulties. You can be certain as to the profundity and swiftness of this approach if you compare the realization it brings with that gained only through great effort in other approaches.
As a result of cultivating your mind’s own natural clear light, the obscurations of ordinary thinking and the habits it creates will be naturally cleared away, and the twin aspects of omniscient wisdom will effortlessly unfold. With this, as you seize the stronghold of your own primordial nature, the three kāyas will be accomplished spontaneously.
Profound! Guhya! Samaya!
This profound instruction was written by Mipham Jampal Dorje on the twelfth day of the second month in the Fire Horse year (1906), for the benefit of village yogis and others, who, while not able to exert themselves too much in study and contemplation, still wish to take the very essence of mind into experience through practice. It has been set out in language that is easy to understand, as raw, experiential guidance for ordinary old realized ones. Virtue! Maṅgalam!
| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2005. Revised 2022.
Mi pham. "rtogs ldan rgan po rnams kyi lugs sems ngo mdzub tshugs kyi gdams pa mun sel sgron me." In Mi pham gsung 'bum. 32 vols. Chengdu: Gangs can rig gzhung dpe rnying myur skyobs lhan tshogs, 2007. Vol. 32: 363–368
This is a reference to five successive experiences that occur during the development of meditation in general and śamatha in particular. They are termed movement (compared to a cascade of water down a rock face), attainment (compared to a torrent in a deep ravine), familiarization (compared to a meandering river), stability (compared to an ocean free of waves), and consummation (a mountain, or lamp that is unmoved by the wind). ↩
Here Mipham plays on the literal meaning of the Tibetan term for Buddha or enlightenment (sangs rgyas), which consists of two syllables meaning "cleared away or purified" (sangs) and "unfolded or expanded" (rgyas). ↩