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The Sadhana of Mahamudra

"[The Sadhana's] purpose was to bring together the two great traditions of the Vajrayana, as well as to exorcise the materialism which seemed to pervade spiritual disciplines in the modern world. The message that I had received from my supplication was that one must try to expose spiritual materialism and all its trappings, otherwise true spirituality could not develop. I began to realize that I would have to take daring steps in my life." -from Chogyam Trungpa's Epilogue to Born in Tibet.

his is the darkest hour of the dark ages.Disease, famine and warfare are raging like the fierce north wind.The Buddha's teaching has waned in strength.The various schools of the sangha are fighting amongst themselves with sectarian bitterness; and although the Buddha's teaching was perfectly expounded and there have been many reliable teachings since then from other great gurus, yet they pursue intellectual speculations.The sacred mantra has strayed into Pon, and the yogis of tantra are losing the insight of meditationThey spend their whole time going through villages and performing little ceremonies for material gain.  -These are the opening lines of the Sadhana of Mahamudra

Sadhana of Mahamudra discussion page

The Sadhana of Mahamudra was completed on September 6, 1968. Forty years later, it continues to be practiced by an ever-widening circle of students. Please share your thoughts and comments about the Sadhana.

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About the Sadhana

by Carolyn Rose Gimian

Adapted and excerpted from the Introduction to Volume Five of The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa. Introduction © 2004, Carolyn R. Gimian. Used by Arrangement with Shambhala Publications

The Sadhana of Mahamudra, which Trungpa Rinpoche "discovered" in Bhutan in 1968, is a particular kind of text or teaching called terma. In Tibet, Chögyam Trungpa had already been recognized as a tertön, a teacher who "finds" or reveals terma, which are the teachings that Padmasambhava concealed in physical locations throughout Tibet and in the realm of mind and space. As Trungpa Rinpoche describes in Crazy Wisdom, "He [Padmasambhava] had various writings of his put in gold and silver containers like capsules and buried in certain appropriate places in the different parts of Tibet so that people of the future would rediscover them....This process of rediscovering the treasures has been happening all along, and a lot of sacred teachings have been revealed. One example is the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Another approach to preserving treasures of wisdom is the style of the thought lineage. Teachings have been rediscovered by certain appropriate teachers who have had memories of them and written them down from memory. This is another kind of hidden treasure". The Sadhana of Mahamudra is such a mind terma.

This text is particularly important because of how it joins together the teachings of both the Nyingma and Kagyü lineages. As Chögyam Trungpa says in the article, "Joining Energy and Space": "The lineage of The Sadhana of Mahamudra is the two traditions of immense crazy wisdom and immense dedication and devotion put together. The Kagyü, or mahamudra tradition, is the devotion lineage. The Nyingma, or ati tradition, is the lineage of crazy wisdom. The sadhana brings these two traditions together as a prototype of how emotion and wisdom, energy and space, can work together." Additionally, the sadhana contains a vivid description of the obstacles presented by physical, psychological, and spiritual materialism in the modern age and prescribes unwavering devotion to wakefulness as the antidote to the materialistic outlook.

While in England, Chögyam Trungpa had been tutoring the crown prince of Bhutan, now the king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, while the prince was studying at Ascot. At the invitation of the queen of Bhutan, Trungpa Rinpoche journeyed to Bhutan in 1968. Rinpoche was accompanied to Asia by one of his young English students, Richard Arthure (who worked with Rinpoche on the translation of the sadhana and was also the editor of Meditation in Action.)1 In preparation for the publication of The Collected Works, Richard kindly contributed information about their journey and the circumstances under which the sadhana was received:

It would be a sad thing if The Collected Works were published without including as least an excerpt from The Sadhana of Mahamudra. Along with the Shambhala teachings, it seems to be the quintessential expression of his [Trungpa Rinpoche's] enlightened mind and was openly recognised as such by both Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and H. H. Dilgo Khyentse. The Vidyadhara [Chögyam Trungpa] himself wanted it to be propagated and practiced widely and without restriction, and he gladly shared it even with acquaintances, such as Thomas Merton, who were not Buddhist.2

Before going into retreat at Taktsang, Trungpa Rinpoche and I traveled with Khyentse Rinpoche by jeep from Bhutan to Sikkim in order to spend some time with H. H. the sixteenth Karmapa. At [Trungpa] Rinpoche's request, the Karmapa performed the Karma Pakshi empowerment for us. Immediately, the Vidyadhara, with my assistance, set to work to prepare an English language translation of the Karma Pakshi sadhana.3 (There exists a photograph — tactfully suppressed for general purposes — of the two of us sitting side by side in the guesthouse at Rumtek smoking cigarettes and working on this translation.) It was to be my daily practice at Taktsang. It is unlikely that this translation has survived.

On our return to Bhutan, we received the Dorje Trolö [the wrathful aspect of Guru Rinpoche, in which he manifested at Taktsang before entering Tibet] empowerment from Dilgo Khyentse in a very informal setting, with just a handful of people present in Khyentse Rinpoche's tiny bedroom. Then we went up to Taktsang, traveling on horseback and then on foot up the steep trail, to begin our retreat. Once there, my morning practice was the Karma Pakshi sadhana. At noon I would go to Trungpa Rinpoche's room and we would have lunch together. In the afternoon I would sit with Rinpoche in the main shrine room while he performed a Dorje Trolö feast practice, tormas and butter lamps having been prepared by a Bhutanese monk and a Tibetan yogi who were students of Dilgo Khyentse. We would share a light meal in the early evening and generally stay up late talking. A principal topic of our wide-ranging discussions was how to create an enlightened society, what form it would take, etc., Rinpoche favoring a combination of democracy and enlightened monarchy. The idea of the delek4 system was first proposed during these discussions. A young Australian woman traveler, Lorraine, showed up with a copy of Erich Fromm's The Sane Society in her backpack. We devoured it. Rinpoche had me write a synopsis of the main ideas in it to add fuel to our discussions.

Richard Arthure in Bhutan, 1968
Photograph by Dan Russell

Towards the end of our retreat, The Sadhana of Mahamudra arose in Rinpoche's mind, and the main part of it was written down very quickly, in one or two days. Several more days were spent in refining and polishing. We began translating it into English almost immediately, although most of the work was done after we had come down the mountain from Taktsang and were staying in a guest house belonging to the Queen's mother on the outskirts of Thimphu. Here's how the process worked, more or less (and you should understand that I don't speak or read Tibetan): Word by word and phrase by phrase Rinpoche would explain the meaning to me, as far as his vocabulary allowed. From those basic building blocks of meaning, it became possible to construct the English language version of the sadhana. I tried to create something that would transmit the dharma in a powerful and poetic way, utilizing the natural cadences and rhythms of spoken English. For example, Rinpoche would say something like: "All . . . namthok is thoughts . . . disappear . . . Shunyata . . . like a bird in the sky, doesn't make, how would you say, footprints?-not like a horse or man walking in snow, but same idea." And this, after a few tries, would give rise to:

"All thoughts vanish into emptiness, like the imprint of a bird in the sky."

Later, I saw that same simile translated as "like the traceless path of a bird in the sky," which I think is pretty good. I chose the word imprint because it gives the echo or faint suggestion of footprint, so carries the resonance of that image into the dimension of space.

Perhaps the Dakinis inspired our work together. Rinpoche seemed to think they were taking an active interest, at least. While we were staying in that guest house, tremendous rainstorms and floods caused landslides and destroyed roads and bridges so that we were unable to travel. Rinpoche commented: "This is the action of the Dakinis, making sure we don't leave until the translation is finished."5

Richard's commentary provides quite a lot of new information about the circumstances surrounding the "discovery" of The Sadhana of Mahamudra. It has previously not been widely known that Chögyam Trungpa received both the Karma Pakshi and Dorje Trolö empowerments prior to entering retreat at Taktsang. He undoubtedly would have received these abhishekas earlier, while studying in Tibet, but having them "refreshed" in his mind may have had some influence on what occurred at Taktsang. These two gurus, visualized as yidams or vajrayana nontheistic deities, are combined as one central figure in The Sadhana of Mahamudra, thus unifying the energies of their respective lineages, the Kagyü and the Nyingma. We also see in Richard's reminiscences that Trungpa Rinpoche's facility with the English language was still limited in 1968. It is, therefore, remarkable both how accurately the translation of the sadhana captured the spirit and meaning of the original Tibetan (the translation used today is virtually the same as the original) and also how fast Rinpoche's grasp of the language developed after 1968. We have recordings of him teaching in America as early as 1970, and his sentence structure and vocabulary are nothing like the fragmentary approach that Richard reports, less than two years earlier.His remarks complement Trungpa Rinpoche's own description of the retreat, which appears in "Joining Energy and Space." Richard sets the outer scene for us; Rinpoche describes more of the inner experiences he had, empty at the beginning, charged with energy and power at the end.

Although this article and the attendant excerpt are brief, they deserve significant commentary, because The Sadhana of Mahamudra had such a huge impact on Trungpa Rinpoche's development as a teacher and on the whole thrust of his teaching in the West. In a sense, the most articulate presentation of spiritual materialism and the most profound understanding of how to vanquish it are presented in this sadhana. In this, as well as other areas of his teaching, Trungpa Rinpoche first had the main realization, full and complete within itself, received almost in an instant. He then spent years sharing that understanding with others. This was also true with his propagation of the Shambhala teachings, which were heralded by his receiving another terma text, The Golden Sun of the Great East, well before he began to lecture publicly on the Shambhala path of warriorship. This approach is, in fact, quite orthodox. The Buddha first became enlightened; only some weeks later did he begin to teach. Similarly, Chögyam Trungpa discovered the heart teachings of his lineage-the ecumenical tradition of Ri-me-in Taktsang in 1968. He spent the next two decades sharing that realization with sentient beings.

As Richard also points out in his letter, after discovering and translating The Sadhana of Mahamudra, Trungpa Rinpoche was delighted to share this practice with anyone who might be interested. When he returned to England, his students there took up the practice of the sadhana immediately. In an unpublished memoir, Rinpoche's wife, Diana Mukpo, describes the practice of the sadhana at Samye Ling, Rinpoche's meditation center in Scotland: "When I was visiting Samye Ling with my mother in 1969, Rinpoche had only recently returned from this trip to Bhutan. Now, in addition to traditional Tibetan practices, students at Samye Ling chanted an English translation of 'The Sadhana of Mahamudra,' crudely printed on coloured paper."

Once he arrived in America in 1970, in spite of his insistence on the sitting practice of meditation as the main discipline, Trungpa Rinpoche encouraged students to gather together and read the sadhana on the new and full moon. This practice continues to the present day. During Trungpa Rinpoche's lifetime, he conferred the formal empowerment, or abhisheka, for this sadhana twice that we know of: in India in 1968 and slightly later in England. In 1982, His Holiness Khyentse Rinpoche requested that Trungpa Rinpoche write down the abhisheka text, which he had spontaneously composed when he gave the transmissions years before. He did not accomplish this before he died, but Khyentse Rinpoche, who had a very close connection to Trungpa Rinpoche and to his students, completed both the abhisheka and the feast liturgy in 1990. Rinpoche's eldest son, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, who inherited the leadership of the Shambhala Buddhist community in 1990, has conferred this abhisheka in a number of ceremonies, beginning in 1993. Several thousand students, both senior students and recent meditators, have taken part in these events. Carried out of a lonely retreat in a cave in Bhutan, the lineage of transmission has traveled far and grown quite large in less than three decades.


1  See the introduction to Volume One of The Collected Works for Richard Arthure's comments on the editing of Meditation in Action. [I can't find this info anywhere and I think I meant something else.]

2  It was during the 1968 visit to Asia that Rinpoche met Thomas Merton, shortly before Merton's untimely death.

3  Karma Pakshi (1203-1282) was the second Karmapa. He was invited to China by Prince Kublai Khan and by his rival and older brother, Mongka Khan. When His Holiness the sixteenth Karmapa made his second visit to the United States in 1976, Trungpa Rinpoche asked him to perform the Karma Pakshi abhisheka as a blessing for all of Rinpoche's students, which he did.

4  Delek is a Tibetan word that means "auspicious happiness." It was used by Ch`gyam Trungpa to refer to creating a system of governance that fosters peace and good communication within the meditation centers he established. The discussion here is of the genesis of the idea of the delek system in 1968. Trungpa Rinpoche did not actually introduce deleks until 1981. At that time, Rinpoche suggested that people in the Buddhist communities he worked with should organize themselves into deleks, or groups, consisting of about twenty or thirty families, based on the neighborhoods in which they lived. Each neighborhood or small group was a delek and its members, the delekpas. Each delek would elect a leader, the dekyong-the "protector of happiness", by a process of consensus for which Rinpoche coined the phrase "spontaneous insight." The dekyongs were then organized into the Dekyong Council, which would meet and make decisions affecting their deleks and make recommendations to the administration of Vajradhatu, the international organization he founded, about larger issues.

5Letter from Richard Arthure to Carolyn Rose Gimian, December 2001.

6  The Nalanda Translation Committee did prepare a more literal translation of "The Sadhana of Mahamudra" in 1990, for students' use in studying the text. The beginning sections of this translation were done with Chögyam Trungpa. He himself felt that the original translation captured something that would be lost by making extensive changes. The NTC's work is available to interested students.

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Historical Comments

by Chögyam Trungpa

This is Talk Six from Chogyam Trungpa's Sadhana of Mahamudra seminar, November 30, 1975. This talk can be found in the Sadhana of Mahamudra Sourcebook. © 2002 by Diana J. Mukpo. Used here by arrangement with Lady Diana and the Shambhala Office of Media and Communications.

Thank you to the Shambhala Office of Media and Communications for making this transcript available. To purchase the Sadhana of Mahamudra Sourcebook, please visit the Shambhala Shop.

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Thank you to the Shambhala Archives for making this audio recording available and for all of their hard work in perserving Trungpa Rinpoche's teachings.

SEEMINGLY THIS is the last day of our seminar. The subject that we have gone through is connected with our general attitude to the sadhana principle. We have stayed somewhat on the safe side: the sadhana can be discussed at a much deeper level, but I feel hesitation to get into unnecessary problems. If people don't have enough understanding of these principles, they could become more confused than anything else. Interestingly enough, nevertheless, I have managed to say everything. The subjects that we covered contain many things which have connections at a deeper level, so I suppose you will have to wait and think and read over your notes.

Chögyam Trungpa in Bhutan, 1968
Photograph by Dan Russell

This sadhana has been written in a traditional style. Sadhanas are traditionally written in a certain environment by someone who has a feeling about the subject. To make a long story short, there was tremendous corruption, confusion, lack of faith, and lack of practice in Tibet. Many teachers and spiritual leaders worked very hard to try to rectify that problem. But most of their efforts led only to failure, except for a few dedicated students who could relate with some real sense of practice. The degeneration of Buddhism in Tibet was connected with that lack of practice: performing rituals became people's main occupation. Even if they were doing practice, they thought constantly about protocol. It was like one of us thinking, "Which clothes should I wear today? What shirt should I wear today? What kind of makeup should I wear today? Which tie should I wear today?" Tibetans would think, "What kind of ceremony can I perform today? What would be appropriate?" They never thought about what was actually needed in a given situation.

Jamgön Kongtrül, my root guru, my personal teacher, was constantly talking about that problem. He wasn't happy about the way things were going. He wasn't very inspired to work on a larger scale because he felt that unless he could create a nucleus of students who practiced intensely and who could work together, unless he could create such a dynamic situation he couldn't get his message to the rest of the people. You might think that Tibet was the only place in the world where spirituality was practiced quite freely, but that's not the case. We had our own difficulties in keeping up properly with tradition. Before the 1950's, a lot of gorgeous temples were built, a lot of fantastic decorations were done. There was lots of brocade, lots of ceremony, statues, lots of chötens, lots of horses, lots of mules. The cooking was fantastic, but there was not much learning, not much sitting. That became a problem.

The degeneration of Buddhism in Tibet was connected with that lack of practice: performing rituals became people's main occupation.

Sometimes Jamgön Kongtrül got very pissed off. He would lose his temper without any reason, and we thought that he was mad over our misbehaving. But he was angry over something much greater than that. It was terrible what was going on in our country. Many other teachers besides Jamgön Kongtrül began to talk about that: the whole environment was beginning to flip into a lower level of spirituality. The only thing we needed was for American tourists to come along. [Laughter] Fortunately, thanks to Chairman Mao Tse-tung [laughter], that didn't happen, which actually saved us.

There are a few readings connected with that situation in the first part of the sadhana, which is about why the sadhana was written.


This is the darkest hour of the dark ages. Disease, famine and warfare are raging like the fierce north wind. The Buddha's teaching has waned in strength. The various schools of the sangha are fighting amongst themselves with sectarian bitterness; and although the Buddha's teaching was perfectly expounded and there have been many reliable teachings since then from other great gurus, yet they pursue intellectual speculations. The sacred mantra has strayed into Bön and the yogis of tantra are losing the insight of meditation. They spend their whole time going through villages and performing little ceremonies for material gain.

On the whole, no one acts according to the highest code of discipline, meditation and wisdom. The jewel-like teaching of insight is fading day by day. The Buddha's teaching is used merely for political purposes and to draw people together socially. As a result, the blessings of spiritual energy are being lost. Even those with great devotion are beginning to lose heart. If the buddhas of the three times and the great teachers were to comment, they would surely express their disappointment. So to enable individuals to ask for their help and to renew spiritual strength, I have written this Sadhana of Mahamudra.

VIDYADHARA: There were a lot of problems, obviously. Tibetan Buddhism was turning out to be a dying culture, a dying discipline, a dying wisdom-except for a few of us, I can quite proudly say, who managed to feed the burning lamp with the few remaining drops of oil. Suddenly there was an invasion from the insect-eater barbarians called the Chinese. They presented their doctrine called Communism, and they tried to use a word similar to "sangha" in order to hold together some kind of communal living situation, in order to raise the morale of the masses. But what they had in mind turned out to be not quite the same as the concept of sangha. So there was no practice, no discipline, and no spirituality. When the Communists finally realized that they couldn't actually indoctrinate anybody, they decided to use greater pressure. They invaded the monasteries and arrested their spiritual and political leaders. They put those leaders in prison. Asking the Communists to do something about it further intensified their antagonism: rather than letting these political and spiritual leaders come out, they just told the stories of what happened to these prisoners. That created further problems.

I don't want to make this a political pep talk as such, but you would be very interested to know that in the history of Communism, Tibet was the first place where workers have rebelled against the regime. The Tibetan peasants were not all that aggravated or pissed off by their situation before the Communists; they were well off in their own way. They had lots of space for farming. Maybe they were hard up in terms of comfort and things like that, but our people are very tough. They can handle the hard winters; they appreciate the snow and the rain. They appreciate simple ways of traveling; they don't need helicopters or motorcars to journey back and forth with. They are very strong and sturdy; they have huge lungs in order to breathe at a high altitude. We're tough people! The peasants took pride in those things, obviously. Their faith and their security and their pride was based on some kind of trust in the teachings and in the church, which was slightly crumbling but which still remained. So for about nine months new energy was kindled, and the peasants rose up against the Communists. That was the first time in the history of Communism that such a thing took place.

After I was forced to leave my country, people from my monastery sent me a message: "Come back. We would like to establish an underground monastery." I wrote to them, saying, "Give up. It would be suicidal. I'm going to leave India in order to do my work elsewhere." So that was that. Hopefully they received my message; hopefully they left my country.

My journey out of Tibet, my walk across the country is described in Born in Tibet. I appreciated enormously the beauty of that country, although we saw only mountain range after mountain range after mountain range. We could not go down to the villages because there might be Communist spies there to capture anybody who was trying to escape. So we saw fantastic mountain ranges in the middle of winter, fantastic lakes on top of plateaus. There was a good deal of snow, and it was biting cold, which was very refreshing-fantastic!

I finally crossed the border into India, and took my first plane trip-in a cargo plane provided for us by the Indian army. I was excited to fly for the first time, and it was a good trip. A lot of my colleagues got sick; a few were very nauseated. But I was very interested in getting to a new world. We arrived in the refugee camp, where I spent about three months. I could talk on and on about that life, which was very interesting to me because I was having a chance to explore what it was like outside of our world.

India was very exciting to me: in Tibet we had read all about India in our books. We studied all about it, particularly about the Brahmins and the cotton cloth that they wrap around themselves. We talked about Brahministic ceremonies, and all kinds of things. It was very interesting that finally history was coming to life for me. It was good to be in India, fantastic to be in India.

Then one day I was invited to go to Europe, and I managed to do so. I traveled by ship, on what is called the Oriental Lines, or something like that. It was interesting to be with people who were mostly Occidentals. They had a fancy dancing party, and they had a race on board. In fact, they had lots of parties; every night there was entertainment of some kind, which was interesting. [Laughter] That was the first time I actually tasted English beer, which is bitter. I thought it was a terrible taste; I couldn't imagine why people liked the stuff. [Laughter]

When we got to England, there was a certain amount of hassle with customs, but everything turned out to be okay. My stay at Oxford University was also interesting because there was a lot of chance to communicate and work with people from Christendom. They were soaked in Christianity and in Englishness to the marrow of their bones, and they were still wise, which is a very mind-blowing experience. Such dignified people! Very good people there. But at the same time, you can't ruffle their sharp edges; if you make the wrong move, you're afraid that they are going to freeze to death or else that they're going to strike you dead.

At Oxford, I heard lectures on comparative religion, Christian contemplation, philosophy and psychology. I had to struggle to understand those lectures. I had to study the English language: I was constantly going to evening classes organized by the city for foreign students. I was trying to study their language at the same time that I was trying to understand those talks on philosophy, which was very difficult, very challenging. The lectures were highly specialized: they didn't build from the basic ground of anything, particularly. They presumed that you already knew the basic ground, so they just talked about certain highlights. It was very interesting and very confusing. If I was lucky, I might be able to pick up one or two points at each lecture.

I was continuing with that situation, nevertheless, but I was looking for some way to work with potential students of Buddhism. I made contact with the London Buddhist Society, which is an elderly organization more concerned with its form than with its function as Buddhists. Quite a lovable setup! Then I was invited to visit a group of people who had a community in Scotland. They asked me to teach and to give meditation instruction. It was very nice there, a fantastic place! Rolling hills, somewhat damp and cold, but beautiful. It was acceptable. I spent a long time with them, commuting back and forth between Oxford and Scotland. Finally they asked me to take over the trusteeship of their place, and offered their place as up to me to work with. The whole environment there was completely alien, completely untapped as far as I was concerned. But at the same time, there was some kind of potential for enlightenment in that world. It was very strange, a mixture of sweet and sour.

I stayed there and worked there for several years; I said goodbye to my friends and tutors in Oxford. Great people there! But I was glad to leave Oxford for a while. When I visited Oxford again, it looked much better than it had for the very reason that I didn't have to live there. The situation in Scotland turned out to be somewhat stagnant and stuffy: there was no room for expansion except for my once-a-month visits to the Buddhist Society, which was filled with old ladies and old gentlemen. They weren't interested in discussion, and the longest they could sit was twenty minutes. They thought that they were very heroic if they could sit for twenty minutes. We wouldn't be able to mention anything about nyinthüns to them [laughter]; they'd completely freak out. From their point of view, being good Buddhists was like being good Anglicans-the Church of England. That problem still continues, up to the present.

At some point, I planned to make a visit to India. I thought it would be appropriate to check it out again, so to speak. I also wanted to visit His Holiness Karmapa at Rumtek. I was also invited by the queen of Bhutan, Ashi Kesang, to visit her country. She was very gracious, and also somewhat frustrated that she couldn't speak proper Tibetan. She was hoping that her English was much better than her Tibetan, so that I could teach her in English about Buddhist practice. I tried to do so, but she was a rather lazy student and didn't want to sit too long. But she had good intentions. She is now the royal mother of the king of Bhutan.

Taktsang, 1968
Photograph by Dan Russell

I took my retreat at Taktsang, which is outside of Paro, the second capital of Bhutan. Taktsang is the place where Padmasambhava meditated and manifested as Dorje Trolö. Being at Taktsang was very ordinary at first. Nothing happened; it looked just like any other mountain range. It was not particularly impressive at all, at the beginning. I didn't get any sudden feedback, any sudden jerk at all. It was very basic and very ordinary. It was simply another part of Bhutan. Since we were guests of the queen, our needs were provided for by the local people. They brought us eggs and firewood and meat as part of their tax payment; they were very happy to give their tax payment to a holy lama. They liked to fulfill their function that way rather than give it to the administration. They were very kind and very nice, and we were provided with servants and with everything we needed.

The first few days were rather disappointing. "What is this place?" I wondered. "It's supposed to be great; what's happening here? Maybe this is the wrong place; maybe there is another Taktsang somewhere else, the real Taktsang." But as I spent more time in that area-something like a week or ten days-things began to come up. The place had a very powerful nature; you had a feeling of empty-heartedness once you began to click into the atmosphere. It wasn't a particularly full or confirming experience; you just felt very empty-hearted, as if there was nothing inside your body, as if you didn't exist. You felt completely vacant, without feeling. As that feeling continued, you began to pick up little sharp points: the blade of the phurba, the rough edges of the vajra. You began to pick all that up. You felt that behind the whole thing there was a huge conspiracy: something was very alive.

The geko and the kunyer, the temple-keeper, asked me every morning, "Did you have a nice dream? Did you have any revelatory dreams? What do you think of this place? Did we do anything terrible to this place?" "Well," I said, "It seems like everything is okay, thank you."

Dorje Trollo, a wrathful manifestation of Padmasambhava,
Thangka by Sherab Palden Beru

The Kagyü tradition and the Nyingma tradition are brought together very powerfully at Taktsang; the influence of the practicing lineage is very strong there. There is a feeling at Taktsang of austerity and pride and some sense of wildness, which goes beyond the practicing lineage alone. When I started to feel that, the sadhana just came through without any problems. I definitely felt the immense presence of Dorje Trolö Karma Pakshi, and I told myself, "You must be joking. Nothing is happening here." But still, something was coming from behind the whole thing; there was immense energy and power.

The first line of the sadhana came into my head about five days before I wrote the sadhana itself. The taking of refuge at the beginning kept coming back to my mind with a ringing sound: "Earth, water, fire and all the elements. . ." That passage began to come through. I decided to write it down; it took me altogether about five hours to write the whole thing. During the writing of the sadhana, I didn't particularly have to think of the next line or what to say about the whole thing; everything just came through very simply and very naturally. I felt as if I had already memorized the whole thing. If you are in such a situation, you can't manufacture something, but if the inspiration comes to you, you can record it.

That difference between spontaneous creation and something manufactured is connected with a little poem that I composed after the sadhana was already written. The spontaneousness was gone, but I thought that I had to say thank you. Somehow I had to write a poem for the end, so I wrote it deliberately. You can feel the difference between the rhythm and feeling of the sadhana and that of the poem, which was very deliberate. The poem is something of a platitude, but the rest of the sadhana was a spontaneous inspiration that came through me.


In the copper-mountain cave of Taktsang,

The mandala created by the guru,

Padma's blessing entered in my heart.

I am the happy young man from Tibet!

I see the dawn of mahamudra

And awaken into true devotion:

The guru's smiling face is ever present.

On the pregnant dakini-tigress

Takes place the crazy-wisdom dance

Of Karma Pakshi Padmakara,

Uttering the sacred sound of HUM.

His flow of thunder-energy is impressive.

The dorje and phurba are the weapons of self-liberation:

With penetrating accuracy they pierce

Through the heart of spiritual pride.

One's faults are so skillfully exposed

That no mask can hide the ego

And one can no longer conceal

The antidharma which pretends to be dharma.

Through all my lives may I continue

To be the messenger of dharma

And listen to the song of the king of yanas.

May I lead the life of a bodhisattva.

V: I feel that this poem has a lot of platitudes because it was just some personal acknowledgement of my own stuff.

I think that in the future people will relate with this sadhana as a source of inspiration as well as a potential way of continuing their journey. Inspiration from that point of view means awakening yourself from the deepest of deepest confusion and chaos and self-punishment; it means being able to get into a higher level and being able to celebrate within that.

Any questions?

QUESTION: Rinpoche, why do we read the sadhana at the full moon and the new moon?

VIDYADHARA: Well, the full moon is regarded as the fruition of a particular cycle in one's state of mind. It's like a cosmic docking, like a space ship landing. It is very conveniently worked out: that day is regarded as sacred. Most of the full moon and new moon days are also related with things the Buddha did. So the sadhana is read on that particular day because of our potential openness: we can open ourselves, we can take advantage of the gap that is taking place. It could be a freak gap or a very sane gap.

Q: Do you think that the traditional observances of ceremonies on various days of the month-I don't mean just the full moon and the new moon, but a whole monthful and a whole yearful and a whole calendar full of liturgies-is an expression of decadence? Or do you think there is something to it?

V: Well, originally it was not an expression of decadence. Of course, it could become decadent, just like the Christian notion of Sunday, which has become just a day off. But at this point, I don't think it's possible. The sadhana is simply an expression of tradition, and it should be conducted properly; it depends on how you take part in it. You have two choices. For instance, you could regard the day that you get married as a sacred day or as just a social formality. It's up to you.

Q: I guess I'm bothered by the relationship between tradition and impermanence. It seems to me that institutions and rigid traditions are the public analogies of ego clinging at an individual level. It seems like they provide the illusion of security, the same disastrous consequences within the long run that we find at the level of the individual, at the level of ego.

V: Well, that's an interesting question. From the point of view of revolutionaries . . . socialists-

Q: Anarchists?

V: Anarchists, yes. I think one of the problems with that approach is that if there isn't any format; there's no freedom. Freedom has to come from structure, not necessarily in order to avoid freedom: freedom itself exists in structure. And the practices that we do in our own discipline are very light-handed practices. They have nothing to do with a particular dogma. We're not particularly making a monument of our practice; we're simply doing it. If we have too much freedom, that is neurotic: we could freak out much more easily. We could get confused much more easily because we have every freedom to do what we want. After that, there's nothing left.

Q: Might that freakout be crazy wisdom?

V: Absolutely not! That's just crazy. [Laughter]

Q: Would you talk about the mahakali principle in the sadhana?

V: The mahakali principle is simply an expression of the charnel ground: if you don't relate with reality properly, there are going to be messages coming back to you, very simply.

Q: So the mahakali principle is just that innate energy we have all the time, which gives us messages?

V: Yes.

Q: You said that there are certain people who can write sadhanas, and I was wondering what you meant by that.

V: Well, not just anybody-not just any old hat-can write a sadhana for his girlfriend or for his boyfriend or for his teacher or for his Mercedes or for his Rolls Royce. You have to have some feeling of connection with the lineage-simply that.

Q: But there are no more specific criteria than that?

V: Well, that's criterion enough. You have to be trained in the vajrayana discipline already; you have to have some understanding of jnanasattva and samayasattva working together. You have to understand devotion.

Q: What does it mean that Padmasambhava manifested as Dorje Trolö at Taktsang?

V: Well, you could say that you manifest as a mother when you become pregnant or when you bear a child. You have a different kind of role to play.

Q: I've been wanting to ask you about the topic of business mentality that keeps popping up. First of all, do you see a problem with it in the business world per se?

V: No see problem.

Q: No see problem? [Laughter]

V: The whole point is to have a vision of the totality. Then there's no problem. If you don't have a vision of the totality, obviously you will have problems.

Q: Usually when you talk about business mentality, it seems to be in opposition to a spirit of givingness or openness. Does that create a problem if you're involved with businesses in the outside world?

V: I don't think so. That's simply part of the adornment. You have to relate with your parents and your background and your culture in any case, which is all outside of the Buddhist tradition. Doing that is very new to most of you. So you have to relate with those situations in any case. I don't see any particular problems; those things are regarded as reference points, as the stuff we have to work with.

Q: I wonder if you think that in terms of this community and the businesses happening within it, if there might be a need for a more straightforward approach to business?

V: Sure-on the basis of the same logic that we are involved in already.

Well, friends, I think it's time to end at this point. This seminar has been an unusual one: it is the first time that we have tried to study the sadhana. I'm very glad that nobody just came here from hearing an announcement on the radio. Everything has happened by word of mouth, on a personal basis. That gives me a lot of encouragement that we could do this more in the future. We don't have to simply present what we are doing as newspaper announcements. An actual student-teacher relationship can take place here, which is great, fantastic.

But I don't think you have sat enough during this seminar. I must say I'm rather disappointed in your participation in the sitting practice. However, we should try to do better next time. Last but not least, I'm glad you had a chance to learn more about the sadhana, and I hope you will be able to work on those things. We have seen that there are different levels of development within the sadhana: the charnel ground principle, devotion, generosity. All those subjects are very compact and very definite, so hopefully you will be able to work on those things. Whether you go back to your hometowns or whether you live here, please try to sit and practice. That's the only way to understand the sadhana better.

For our closing reading I would like to read the section at the end of the sadhana, which is dedicated to all of you.


The wisdom flame sends out a brilliant light-

May the goodness of Dorje Trolö be present!

Karma Pakshi, lord of mantra, king of insight-

May his goodness, too, be present!

Tüsum Khyenpa, the primeval buddha

Beyond all partiality-may his goodness be present!

Mikyo Dorje, lord of boundless speech-

May his goodness be present here!

Rangjung Dorje, faultless single eye of wisdom-

May his goodness be present here!

The Kagyü guru, the light of whose wisdom is a torch

For all beings-may his goodness be present!

The ocean of wish-fulfilling yidams who accomplish all actions-

May their goodness be present!

The protectors who plant firm the victorious banner

© 2008 The Chronicles of CTR