Jigten Sumgön’s Mahāmudrā Instruction “Yoga of the Innate: The Two Armours”
[Updated version (May 20, 2019)]
The “Yoga of the Innate” (lhan cig skyes sbyor, Skt. *sahajayoga) is a special transmission of Gampopa and all the Kagyüpas after him – but before I discuss some of its details, let me first briefly explain my choice of the term “innate.” The literal meaning of the Tibetan term lhan cig is “together.” In connection with the Tibetan term skyes pa, the idea is that something is “born or arising together,” and Gampopa has pointed out that it means “at the same time,” namely that dharmakāya and mind♦ 1
have no “earlier” and “later” concerning the time [of their arising] and they are not a “good thing” [i.e. the dharmakāya] and a “bad thing” [i.e. the mind with its thoughts]. They are, therefore, “arisen together”
or simultaneously, that is, innate. When, in the mahāmudrā instructions of the “yoga (Tib. sbyor) of the innate,” the disciple is introduced to the nature of the mind right from the beginning, the topic or contents of this introduction is that, chiefly, the dharmakāya is innate to the mind, i.e. they are “arisen together.” In particular, as Gampopa said to the first Karmapa:♦ 2
What is innate to the mind is the dharmakāya.
What is innate to appearance is the radiance of the dharmakāya.
The innate nature of the mind is its nature or essence. The innate appearance is the thought that has arisen from [the mind]. They are like the sun and the rays of the sun or sandalwood and the scent of sandalwood.
In other words, any outer appearance is in truth a thought arising in the mind, where the mind is actually the dharmakāya and the thought dharmakāya’s radiance. This nature of reality, which is introduced to the disciple, is after that used as a means of practice on the path. Another way to express this are these words of Phagmodrupa:♦ 3
Mind, thought, and dharmakāya
are from the beginning innate (lhan cig skyes pa).
Since this is trained (sbyor ba, Skt. yoga) through instructions,
it is called “yoga of the innate.”
The perhaps most important characteristic of this yoga is, therefore, the involvement of thoughts and appearances in the practice of the path, as it is only through them that the dharmakāya can be seen. In other words, *sahajayoga is “mahāmudrā on the level of the path.”♦ 4
Jigten Sumgön has used this basic instruction of innateness in his Introduction to Mahāmudrā, the Yoga of the Innate in the chapter where he introduces appearances as dharmakāya. When the disciple dwells in an original or natural state of the mind, relaxed and without grasping,♦ 5
… appearance and mind vividly arise as inseparable without the appearing objects remaining outside and the mind being inside as different from the appearance. (…) Therefore, [the appearance] is the unhindered self-appearance of the natural radiance of the nature of the mind. (…) [I]t is not so that formerly separate things become one after they have merged – they have always been like that!
Since that is the case, Jigten Sumgön says in the instruction translated below that a thought “is seen as possessing qualities, as a kindness, or as indispensable” as it can be used to fully unfold the potential (rtsal) of discriminating knowledge (shes rab), leading to the realisation that dharmakāya is from the beginning innate to the mind.
Gampopa received two traditions of the instruction of this yoga; one by the Kadampa Geshe Chagriwa♦ 6 and the other one by Milarepa. The teaching that was transmitted by Phagmodrupa to Jigten Sumgön is called the “two armours” (go cha gnyis). According to Phagmodrupa, it is the teaching that Gampopa received from Milarepa. It occurs, however, that elements of Chagriwa’s instruction are also visible in Jigten Sumgön’s instruction translated below.
There exists a very profound and important commentary by Jigten Sumgön on Phagmodrupa’s teaching of the four yogas of mahāmudrā which has been translated by Alexander Schiller in his remarkable book on the four yogas.♦ 7 Jigten Sumgön mentions here that Milarepa’s transmission of the “two armours” – one concerning the “outer view,” the other “inner wisdom” – includes the following instructions. (1) All thoughts and mental afflictions did not arise from anywhere, which is the dharmakāya, they did not disappear anywhere, which is the sambhogakāya, they abide neither outside nor inside, which is the nirmāṇkāya, and they do not exist anywhere, which is the svabhāvikakāya. They have always been like that.♦ 8 (2) This knowledge is cultivated in meditative practice until thoughts and mental afflictions have completely vanished, like the centre of space, free from all clouds. – Here, the “outer” and “inner” aspects appear to be that the first is an “outer view” in the sense of an analysis based on learning and reflecting and the second a cultivation of inner wisdom leading to realisation. These two aspects of “outer” and “inner” are differently interpreted in Jigten Sumgön’s instruction translated below.
Jigten Sumgön’s commentary of the four yogas also mentions the instruction Gampopa received from Chagriwa. These are, at first, that thoughts, even though they do not have a real existence, are “a kindness” (because they are a means of realisation). Moreover, thoughts are non-existent-[yet]-manifested (med sprul), which is to say that although they are in truth not existent (med), they manifest (sprul) as possessing qualities, as a kindness, or as indispensable for the arising of the potential (rtsal) of discriminating knowledge.♦ 9 Furthermore, one overcomes thoughts on arising (phrad ‘joms), which is the conviction that at the very moment a thought arises, it is without origination. Thoughts are, still furthermore, retraced (rjes snyags). In Gampopa’s teaching, this is done by asking: Where did they come from?, and so forth (as above). In the commentary on the four yogas, thoughts are “removed without experiencing their taste.”♦ 10 These three points of Chagriwa’s instruction (together with two further points) also appear in Jigten Sumgön’s instruction translated below, at the very end of the text, almost as an afterthought.
The next section in the commentary of the four yogas refers to the four aspects of “taking as the path” (lam ‘khyer rnam pa bzhi). These are the instructions for taking thoughts, mental afflictions, illness (nad), and demons (gdon) as the path.♦ 11 These, too, are to be practised as not arising from anywhere, not disappearing anywhere, abiding neither outside nor inside, and not existing anywhere, that is, they are the four kāyas. In the instruction translated below, afflictions and illnesses seem to be mentioned at the beginning as the armour of the outer view. Concerning the afflictions, Jigten Sumgön mentions (as he does in his Single Intention 6.17) that one would have to be very attentive concerning even the most subtle evil. Proceeding like that, the virtuous disciplined conduct is never interrupted. Concerning illnesses, the instruction translated below states that neither the illnesses of the outer body nor the sufferings of the inner mind are to be abandoned. That is, they are not to be seen as a “bad” thing to be removed, but rather as something to be taken as the path. In general, instructions of how to take thoughts, mental afflictions, illnesses, and demons as the path can be found in many teachings of Jigten Sumgön (which can hopefully be explored on another occasion).
The commentary of the four yogas mentions in the section on the armour concerned with inner wisdom only that the knowledge that thoughts are unarisen, etc., is cultivated in meditative practice until thoughts and mental afflictions have completely vanished. The instruction translated below, however, has a different emphasis. Here, again in accordance with the Single Intention (6.9), Jigten Sumgön points out that the experience of the samādhis is not a quality in itself (and its not-arising is not a defect). In the commentaries of the Single Intention, a similar point is made for the three samādhis of bliss, luminosity, and non-thought. Clinging to bliss, one is only sidetracked to the realm of desire (Skt. kamadhātu), clinging to luminosity, to the realm of form (Skt. rūpadhātu), and clinging to non-thought, to the realm of formlessness (Skt. arūpyadhātu). The reason that the experience of bliss, luminosity and freedom from thoughts is not leading to any useful realisation is that it is a conditioned phenomenon and thus impermanent, but realisation is not conditioned and thus also not impermanent. An unconditioned realisation, however, cannot be achieved by a conditioned practice. This point is also briefly mentioned in a different section of the commentary of the four yogas.♦ 12
In conclusion, while Jigten Sumgön’s commentary of the four yogas is a systematical presentation of Phagmodrupa’s teaching, including a presentation of the teaching that mind, thought, and dharmakāya arise together, the instruction translated below is a direct personal instruction for the practice of the “yoga of the innate,” i.e. the practice of appearances and thoughts as unarisen and nothing to be abandoned.
The Instruction of the Yoga of the Innate: The Two Armours♦ 13
I pay homage to the guru!
At the time of practising the yoga of the innate, there are two armours: Being careful about the most subtle evil and not to interrupt the virtuous disciplined conduct are the armour of the outer view. Not to abandon illnesses of the outer body and sufferings of the inner mind is also the armour of the outer view.
Secondly, concerning the armour of the inner discriminating knowledge (shes rab), not to view the arising of the samādhi of the abiding, tranquil, and blissful mind as a qualitiy, and, likewise, not to view its non-arising as a defect is the armour of the inner discriminating knowledge.
By being endowed with the two armours in that way, one regards the thoughts with the eye of discriminating knowledge (Skt. prajñā). Thereby, at the time of non-distraction, thoughts are primordially unarisen. When there is a distraction, a thought arises. However, if you want to know if that thought has to be abandoned, it has not to be abandoned. It is seen as possessing qualities, as a kindness, or as indispensable.♦ 14 Why is that so? On the basis of that thought arises the potential (rtsal) of discriminating knowledge. Therefore, as a non-existence of thoughts is not established after [merely] abandoning that thought, examine from where that thought first arose. It did not arise from anywhere else but your empty nature of the mind, like, for instance, a cloud arises [in] the empty sky. By examining where [the thought] disappears at the end, [you will find that] it does not go anywhere but your [mind’s nature], like a bubble disappears in the water. By examining how [the thought] exists in the time between [arising and disappearing], [you will find that] it is not established as an essence of anything at all and does not abide anywhere.
In that way, by examining and practising the thought as unborn, the idea arises that somehow all phenomena of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa do not exist apart from your mind. By maintaining that experience, at first, it is an experience like the falling of snow upon a lake [i.e., the thought and the nature of the mind become of one taste]. By maintaining that [experience], it is then an experience like a fire spreading in a forest [i.e., the fire of experience is well-nourished with thoughts]. Then, thirdly, it is an experience like meeting a person one is familiar with from earlier times [i.e., there is an immediate recognition of the true nature of thoughts and appearances also in the post-meditative state]. [Now], you must not examine [anymore] from where that thought first arose, how it abides in the middle, and where it disappears at the end. That freedom from arising, stopping, and abiding is the dharmakāya.
[Generally, thoughts] are turned back by overcoming [them] on arising (phrad ‘joms), retracing (rjes snyags, also: phyi bsnyags), non-existence-[yet]-manifested (med sprul), removing hopes [of obtaining nirvāṇa] and giving up fright [concerning saṃsāra] (re ba ‘gag dogs pa bsu),♦ 15 and repenting from the heart (? zhe nas ‘gyod pa).
The Mahāmudrā-Yoga of the Innate is complete.
1. [sGam po pa’i gsung ‘bum, vol. 2, p. 356: dus la snga phyi med cing dngos bzang ngan med pas lhan cig skyes pa’o; in: Schiller (2014: 454).]↩
2. [Gampopa, Dus gsum mkhyen pa’i zhus lan: sems nyid lhan cig skyes pa chos kyi sku// snang ba lhan cig skyes pa chos sku’i ’od// sems nyid lhan cig skyes pa ni/ sems kyi rang bzhin nam ngo bo de yin/ snang ba lhan cig skyes pa ni/ de las byung ba’i rnam par rtog pa de yin/ de yang nyi ma dang nyi ma’i ’od bzhin nam/ tsan dan dang tsan dan gyi dri lta bu yin/. (Unfortunately, TBRC provides no folio numbers.)]↩
3. [Phag mo gru pa, lHan cig skyes sbyor, in: Schiller (2014: 454): sems dang rnam rtog chos sku gsum// dang po lhan cig skyes pa de// gdams pas sems su sbyor ba’i phyir// lhan cig skyes sbyor zhes su bshad//.]↩
4. [Cf. Gampopa’s characterisation of the difference between the two in Schiller (2014: 453, ftn. 37).]↩
5. [Phyag chen lhan cig skyes sbyor gyi ngo sprod, vol. 9, p. 489 f.; Cf. Sobisch 2006: 53.]↩
6. [Chagriwa (rGya lCags ri Gong kha ba) was one of the most important Kadampa teachers of Gampopa.]↩
7. [Chos rjes mdzad pa’i rnal ‘byor bzhi’i grel pa rnam dag rang ldan, in: Schiller 2014: 344-378 (Tib. text), 462-539 (translation and notes).]↩
8. [In his Phyag chen lhan cig skyes sbyor gyi ngo sprod, Jigten Sumgön explains that “the not being established as anything whatsoever is the dharmakāya, completely unhindered expression is the sambhogakāya, and the non-duality of these two and non-abiding anywhere whatsoever is the nirmaṇakāya” (Sobisch 2006: 43).]↩
9. [Cf. also Schiller 2014: 368.]↩
10. [See Trungram (2004: 196) and Schiller (2014: 506).]↩
11. [Cf. Schiller (2014: 369).]↩
12. [Cf. Schiller (2014: 361).]↩
13. [Khams gsum chos kyi rgyal po, vol. 5, no. 745.]↩
14. [Phagmodrupa describes thoughts as “the kind teacher” and as Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha; Chos rjes mdzad pa’i rnal ‘byor bzhi’i ‘grel pa rnam dag rang ldan, in: Schiller (2014: 344 ff., esp. 368).]↩
15. [This point is explained by Gampopa in the context of the sameness of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. By realising saṃsāra itself to be nirvāṇa, one does not hope anymore to obtain nirvāṇa from somewhere. Instead, one realises nirvāṇa itself to be saṃsāra and does not have a fear of falling into a “bad” saṃsāra. See sGam po pa’i gsung ‘bum, vol.1, p. 223: re dogs med pa ni/ de ltar ‘khor ba nyid mya ngan las ‘das pa rtogs pas/ mya ngan las ‘das pa logs nas thob tu re ba med la/ mya ngan ‘das pa nyid ‘khor bar rtogs pa dang / ‘khor ba ngan pa cig tu lhung gis dogs pa yang med de/.]↩
Bibliography (Tibetan Texts)
Chos rjes mdzad pa’i rnal ‘byor bzhi’i grel pa rnam dag rang ldan, in: Schiller 2014: 344-378 (Tib. text), 462-539 (translation and notes).
Dus gsum mkhyen pa’i zhus lan, by Gampopa, TBRC W3JT13326.
Khams gsum chos kyi rgyal po, vol. 5, Zab chos of ‘Jig rten gsum mgon’s Collected Works, Dheradun, 2017.
lHan cig skyes sbyor, by Phagmodrupa, in: Schiller (2014: 454).
Phyag chen lhan cig skyes sbyor gyi ngo sprod ma rig mun sel ye shes snang ba’i rgyan, by Jigten Sumgön, in: The Collected Works of Khams gsum Chos kyi rgyal po thub dbang Ratna Shri, Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche (ed.), Dheradun: D.K. Institute, vol. 9, p. 489 f.; cf. Sobisch 2006.
sGam po pa’i gsung ‘bum, Khasup Gyatsho Shashin, Delhi, 1975.
(Western Academic Publications)
Schiller, Alexander (2014) Die „Vier Yoga“-Stufen der Mahāmudrā-Meditationstradition, (Indian and Tibetan Studies 2), Hamburg: Department of Indian and Tibetan Studies, Universität Hamburg.
Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich (2006) Einführung in die Mahāmudrā „Angeborene Einheit,“ München: Otter Verlag.
Trungram, Gyaltrul Rinpoche Sherpa (2004) Gampopa, the Monk and the Yogi: His Life and Teachings, PhD thesis, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University.
What a brilliant article Jan-Ulrich. Thank you for pursuing this research with such determination. It always seemed to me that the beauty of Saraha’s mahamudra was repeatedly conflated with (and largely overwhelmed by) sutric and tantric elaborations down through history. Klaus-Dieter Mathes makes this point in relation to Maitripa in his book ‘A Fine Blend of Mahamudra and Madhyamaka’. Tony Duff makes the same point in relation to Gampopa in his book ‘Gampopa Teaches Essence Mahamudra’. After the Kagyu students of Phagmo Drupa split into factions, essence mahamudra (sahajayoga) was almost entirely displaced by the five part mahamudra. My guess is that many Kagyus came to embrace Dzogchen for that very reason, but Dzogchen also succumbed to tantric pressures as you can see in Jigme Lingpa’s polemics.
I think a great many western practitioners would benefit from the key points you are making here. For example, where you say, “*sahajayoga is mahāmudrā on the level of the path.”♦ 4 [I think that comes from Gampopa’s interview with Phagmodrupa. See Tony Duff, p.198-199. And as to sahajayoga being the core Kagyu practice when it first arrived in Tibet, see Tony Duff, p.vii.] How I wish I could read Schiller’s book on the four yogas, but alas, I don’t read German. Anyway, keep up the good work, and thanks again.
yes, it seems that teachings are again and again updated to the respective recent doctrinal development. We can try to trace the development of ideas through history. But tracing it backwards and discovering earlier versions does not necessarily mean “better” or “more original”. Wedemeyer has written an interesting chapter in his “Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism” on this doubtful concept of “the earlier, the more original”. Everyone is free to dig up, examine, and utilize ideas from the history of mankind and there are, in fact, again and again “revivals.” Maybe Gampopa was doing just that, i.e. going back to a more “straight foreward” and less “contaminated” version of Mahamudra. But we should also be careful with such evaluations. I tend to see all that as the “great diversity of Buddhism” and believe that it is just that diversity that has kept the transmission of the essence of such practices alive. Its a treasure.
Yes, my “on the level of the path” statement goes back to that interview, which I find one of the most fascinating documents of the Kagyü mahamudra teachings.
Someone should translated at least the translation part of Schiller’s book into English. Maybe a bilingual Dharma-practitioner with some language education could do that, it would be absolutely worth the effort. Maybe I will do that for his translation of Jigten Sumgön’s commentary of Phagmodrupa’s teaching on the four yogas, but it will be difficult to find the time to do that. I also think that I should retranslate my 15 year old translation of Jigten Sumgön’s Lhan cig skyes sbyor text. Things have become a bit more clear in the meantime.
Yes, I concur with all your points, especially the importance of Gampopa’s personal interviews. They are absolutely inspiring. And I would love to see you do an English translation of Jigten Sumgön’s Lhan cig skyes sbyor text. I think many practitioners would benefit from that. I sure would. Thanks again, Jon