Posted on November 1, 2017
To the master of magical illusion,
Who can make anything appear at all:
Beyond all worlds
And the ecstasy coupled to it.
He is my father, my Lama, my Lord,
Who holds the diamond.
To your feet, to the one who steals away
The terror of this cycle of pain, this enemy of mine.
from Naked Dressed in the Robe of Emptiness by His Holiness the First Panchen Lama
Here is my completed work paying homage to the lineage of mahamudra teachings stemming from Lord Manjushri to Lama Tsongkapa to His Holiness the First Panchen Lama.
The idea for this image came to life when I began creating my current work on Vajra Bhairava. As I sketched out the landscape for that image I reflected on the story I wanted to tell; a story in which Lama Tsongkapa, His Holiness the First Panchen Lama, and Lord Manjushri were all positioned in the sky above Vajra Bhairava. Since half of the work involved in creating a thangka is represented by the line work alone (and I had to draw the lines anyway) I decided at that point to take a little detour and create an additional work. It is a homage to these three magical beings – and their role in bringing the wisdom of mahamudra into the hearts and minds of practitioners.
The real meaning of this thangka is revealed in the imagery of pouring water into water. In Tibetan this is called chula chu shakpa (Wylie: chu la chu bzhag pa): and it is a special phrase used to describe the nature of the subject mind and object mind during the direct perception of emptiness, when they become a “oneness,” like water poured into water.
To my mind there is no end to the number of ways we could misunderstand this concept. Generally, when we read words, a mental image appears in our mind. Ideally, it carries their intended meaning: this is the function of language. If this were always the case, however, whenever we read the Dharma then the mental image arising in our mind would be exactly the same as the realisation that was being described. There would be no discrepancy at all between them.
What mental image arises in our minds as we hear the words ‘like water poured into water?’ I wonder if that meaning – the mental image of that meaning – is in any way the same as the mental image in the midstreams of Lord Manjushri, Lama Tsongkapa, and His Holiness the First Panchen Lama as they write or speak of the very same state, or use the very same words?
I am quite uncomfortable with the idea that Dharma realisations are somehow a personal thing and we each have our own individual experiences of realisations such as refuge, renunciation, Bodhicitta and emptiness. To reinterpret the Dharma to a point where it serves our own afflicted ideas is to rob ourselves of the ultimate goal, one where we reach a parity of mind with our Lama and the Buddha. Not a state where we each somehow find our own paths to a different result.
Consider instead the extraordinary day on which you reach the consummate state where the subject mind of great bliss and the object of emptiness come together inseparably in your mind; perfectly, and free of any elaboration. Were you to meet Manjushri on that day and describe to him this most indescribable of experiences, you might well say that it was not unlike…“water pouring into water.” At that point the meaning in your mind and the meaning in Lord Manjushri’s mind would be the same; and in that way you would have reached a kind of union.
In our own attempts to bring our mind into a state of parity with Lord Manjushri’s wisdom, we follow the threefold method of learning, contemplation and meditation. We study the perfection of wisdom from the lips of our own perfect Lama, then we use our own reasoning, comparing our current understanding against the perfect elucidation of the Middle Way as described by Lama Tsongkapa. Finally, we take that most profound method of meditation – mahamudra – just as it is described by His Holiness, the First Panchen Lama, to reach a state of mind equivalent to Manjushri’s own.
To reach a state of mind equivalent to Manjushri’s own is to meet our own mind, “face to face.” On this day we will become an Arya, having truly realised the meaning of the words “like water poured into water.”
His Holiness the First Panchen Lama affirms that the texts of the great lineage masters of the Geleg-Kagyu tradition, together with the inspiration and instructions of our own Spiritual Master, can lead us to this very experience, wherein we come to know the mind “face to face.” We can experience this on two levels, He explains: on the so-called “relative” or “conventional” level; and on the ultimate level in which how the mind exists – its emptiness – is revealed.
In The Light of Crystal Clarity, his extended commentary on the mahamudra root text which follows the precious tradition of the Gelugpa oral linage, the Great First resorts to the poetry for which he is renowned, to reiterate this point by way of conclusion:
I have churned the vast expanse
Of all the open and secret teachings,
And this is their ultimate essence.
Mahamudra is the crux
Behind the true intent
Of every single sage and saint
In India and Tibet;
It is the path that’s traveled
By every holy truth-seeker
Of highest attainments.
And on this day, the sun
Of its revelation dawns.
As Lama Tsongkapa states in his Exegesis of the “Steps of Exposition:”
“The way to manifest the clear light is this: Once you have “completely withdrawn” the “beholder,” that is, conditioned consciousness, and once even the subtle dual appearance – in which the objective field that is the ultimate, and the subject state of mind that is pristine awareness, seem to be two – is purified, one remains indivisibly, like water poured into water.”
The Lamas want so much to show us the clear light. That we could come to abide, indivisible from the clear light, like water poured into water, in a realm below all ideas of held and holder, is the great wish in their hearts. In the final words of his matchless commentary His Holiness explains why…
Now here is a place of rest,
A grove where we can frolic;
A view that lights a perfect path
For limitless numbers of beings;
A system which is embraced
By the greatest holy beings.
This is Mahamudra,
That crystal mirror which reflects
Every exquisite form,
Clear and unblemished.
It breaks the chains that bind us—
The chains of those eight worldly thoughts
About all that appears.
This teaching is a Lama —
The One who will impart the path,
Pure and unmistaken,
To the many with enough goodness
To play to their heart’s content
Within the bliss of stillness
In a place of solitude.
Now I take whatever virtue
That I may have gathered
From all my efforts here—
Pure white, like the soft moon light
That opens the jasmine flower—
And dedicate it to the goal
Of Highest enlightenment
So that I may free
All my mother living beings.
Through the mystic power of this deed,
May every single wandering being
Revel in the greatest bliss
Of the Union of the Two
Filled with the sweet nectar
Of the eloquent teachings of Mahamudra
Which joins together both the ways,
The open and the secret,
Within the Stainless Vessel
Known as mind.
I hope you like this image and you find inspiration in the pictures and the words.
May you find the perfect teachings of Mahamudra,
Passed down to us from Lord Manjushri,
Through to our own perfect Lama.
May you find a perfect place,
And a perfect time to practice.
May each of us reach our perfect wisdom goal.
On this day they will call us Arya,
For we will have tasted perfectly,
The meaning of the words,
‘like water poured into water’…
Ben (Jampay Dorje)