“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.
Above is a small excerpt from the Song of Mahamudra by Tilopa. In the West people are familiar with the Tao Te Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada and a handful of other texts from the East that inspire them to step into foreverness. Unless someone has a strong relationship with Buddhism, in particular the Kagyu linage they may not have heard of the Song of Mahamudra and the name Tilopa would be meaningless. There are numerous stories about Tilopa that vaguely outline his life but as usual like with most Teachers or Sages the details are sometimes not overly relevant, scholars could argue for years about ‘information correctness’. If we are serious about Spirituality we will be interested in transformation. That is what Tilopa’s goal is about, what lives on is a loose map of his experience to create a doorway for others to step into. His student Naropa is a much more familiar name to many and then there was Milarepa .
Generally if I was to discuss Tilopa and his work I could make it very brief and say one short statement from his Song of Mahamudra that would clearly define his perspective, “Naropa, although it cannot be said, I will say it for you.” This is my loose translation but it embodies the essence, the indefinable is outside the ‘ known’ and the framework of thought. I will dig in and unpack more of his often misunderstood approach that is hidden within dogma and wisdom. In truth Tilopa was a Jnani, the word Jnana is often translated as knowledge, this translation is incorrect in this context, Jnana is more about
experience than information.
Tilopa was Indian not Tibetan, although he was an advanced Buddhist scholar in his earlier years in Bengal his understandings and depth of experience were way outside what would these days would be considered mainstream Buddhist thought. Although it is not referred to in texts about his work because of his relationship to Buddhism, he was what we would call a non dualist, his perspective was closer to Advaita than anything else, his experience and understanding of Emptiness and the Void eclipses what is presented in mainstream Buddhism. This is in no way a criticism of Buddhism or implying there is a limitation, what I am doing here is breaking the ‘box’ open and going past the surface. Some may disagree, this is not a concern for me as I know this subject from the ‘inside’ and I don’t have a problem saying that some people are slaves to dogma and it gets in the way as they try and squeeze everything into their belief system. Tilopa was not about dogma, that came later after he passed over/through; he was interested in removing the dogma that surrounds Advaita and creating a doorway for others to pass through, the fact that it comes under Buddhism is incidental. I will also clarify and this will be in contradiction to some pundits, Advaita is not about philosophy, it is about experience.
Let’s Go There
The wonderful Sage Jiddu Krishnamurthi once said, ‘you must become nothing‘. These words are nestled in one of his lectures. And this is where the Maha Siddha Tilopa and Krishnamurthi meet. A core aspect of Krishnamurti’s work was about undoing dogma, tradition and social conditioning.
Emptiness is something we often hear about in Buddhism, this Emptiness in certain cases equates with what some of us call the Void, the Silence or Nothingness. Currently, we live in a world where things are valued, if we wanted to name the age we live in it could quite comfortably be called the Age of Obsession, as well as Self Obsession or to coin a new phrase the Age of Attachment to Stuff… let’s dig in and explore a little .
The World Around
The chaos of life rings and hums all around us, music that resembles ‘filler’, something which often is a product that has very little meaning, it is really just a distraction to make people absent, it adds extra noise to what’s going. Lots of objects taking up SPACE, information about nothing in particular, academics theorising, philosophers looking smart but really just throwing their opinion into the mix, pride in their words and loving their mirror reflection. The world we move in is a maze, a mousetrap, a labyrinth, that’s not a problem and although many people on the Spiritual path think we need to escape, I am not in a hurry to run, we can become its slave or master. Instead of running I will let everything around rise and fall, the relation to space is something that needs attention.
The world is not solid. People assume it is, the evidence is if we run head on straight into a bus stop pole, we may cause serious damage; we could call up numerous examples that confirm the world is solid. The world has rules, nature has guidelines that objects generally adhere to… but when we look closely, things come and go, they appear on the stage temporarily, some for thousands of years, they are not permanent. By observing and understanding the depth of and importance of impermanence comes freedom. Objects and that includes the bodies people inhabit are constantly being recreated, there is a ‘molecule shuffle’ going on, a refresh every moment. Emptiness is the constant, like a canvas or the silence that allows music notes to breath.
Buddha and the Mousetrap
Although it may be an uncomfortable thought, it is worth considering going past the Buddha, by saying this I am not being disrespectful. The Buddha and the teachings in the end are a noose, they are a comfortable place to be in for a period of time, it’s like stopping and pitching a tent as you pass through the desert to seek shelter for the night, a resting place for your camel. But if you stay too long, nothing changes and you become caught in a maze, it might be a beautiful and enchanting and SAFE but it’s the Buddhist maze and the observer/experiencer of the dream is much bigger than that.
Mahamudra although it is a word that has been given numerous meanings, it is something that encompasses and includes ‘totality of things’ it is really ‘that which perceives’. If I was to say it is a WAY of SEEING, it would be partially correct but could be misinterpreted, if I were to define it as a process, Mahamudra is more about the moving of ones awareness. The real issue is thought, thought is the problem, thought is like a fabric that wraps around things and hides what’s outside it or inside it, thought works like weeds wrapping around a tree that eventually strangles it, thought is a network that imprisons man.
Tilopa tells us
“Without making an effort, but remaining natural,
One can break the yoke thus gaining liberation.”
This snippet of brilliance is contradictory to most teachings. People want to do something and think they have to, there is an understanding that they need to go through a series of steps to reach the goal. People are educated to achieve, to be more, to score a lot of points and be acceptable to God, it is a classroom mentality. However, Wisdom comes by extraction, experience leads to Wisdom; there is an over obsession on being good, religious people can be very ugly with their guilt and judgement of others. Lao Tse’s Tao Te Ching reminds humanity to be natural, to see what polarity does. Tilopa is closer to Lao Tse.
What people don’t understand is LIBERATION is the BEGINNING not the end.
The eye of wisdom pierces the veil of Maya
“Don’t do anything” says Tilopa
Taking the wriggles out of nature brings ugliness
Adding to oneself creates a sense of loss and unnecessary seeking
Lao Tse prefers to live by the River
Buddha is long gone, his people are attached to ending suffering
The Void remains the same, Emptiness is full to the brim