Pith Instructions from Tilopa
I bow to Vajra Dakini.
Mahamudra cannot be taught, Naropa,
But your devotion to your teacher and the hardships you’ve met
Have made you patient in suffering and also wise:
Take this to heart, my worthy student.
For instance, consider space: what depends on what?
Likewise, mahamudra: it doesn’t depend on anything.
Don’t control. Let go and rest naturally.
Let what binds you let go and freedom is not in doubt.
When you look into space, seeing stops.
Likewise, when mind looks at mind,
The flow of thinking stops
and you come to the deepest awakening.
Mists rise from the earth and vanish into space.
They go nowhere, nor do they stay.
Likewise, though thoughts arise,
Whenever you see your mind, the clouds of thinking clear.
Space is beyond color or shape.
It doesn’t take on color, black or white: it doesn’t change.
Likewise, your mind, in essence, is beyond color or shape.
It does not change because you do good or evil.
The darkness of a thousand eons cannot dim
The brilliant radiance that is the essence of the sun.
Likewise, eons of samsara cannot dim
The sheer clarity that is the essence of your mind.
Although you say space is empty,
You can’t say that space is “like this”.
Likewise, although mind is said to be sheer clarity,
There is nothing there: you can’t say “it’s like this”.
Thus, the nature of mind is inherently like space:
It includes everything you experience.
Stop all physical activity: sit naturally at ease.
Do not talk or speak: let sound be empty, like an echo.
Do not think about anything: look at experience beyond thought.
Your body has no core, hollow like bamboo.
Your mind goes beyond thought, open like space.
Let go of control and rest right there.
Mind without projection is mahamudra.
Train and develop this and you will come to the deepest awakening.
You don’t see mahamudra’s sheer clarity
By means of classical texts or philosophical systems,
Whether of the mantras, paramitas,
Vinaya, sutras or other collections.
Ambition clouds sheer clarity and you don’t see it.
Thinking about precepts undermines the point of commitment.
Do not think about anything; let all ambition drop.
Let what arises settle by itself, like patterns in water.
No place, no focus, no missing the point —
Do not break this commitment: it is the light in the dark.
When you are free from ambition and don’t hold any position,
You will see all that the scriptures teach.
When you open to this, you are free from samsara’s prison.
When you settle in this, all evil and distortion burn up.
This is called “The Light of the Teaching”.
The foolish are not interested in this.
The currents of samsara constantly carry them away.
Oh, how pitiable, the foolish — their struggles never end.
Don’t accept these struggles, long for freedom, and rely on a skilled teacher.
When his (her) energy enters your heart, your mind is freed.
Samsaric ways are senseless: they are the seeds of suffering.
Conventional ways are pointless. Focus on what is sound and true.
Majestic outlook is beyond all fixation.
Majestic practice is no distraction.
Majestic behavior is no action or effort.
The fruition is there when you are free from hope and fear.
Beyond any frame of reference mind is naturally clear.
Where there is no path you begin the path of awakening.
Where there is nothing to work on you come to the deepest awakening.
Alas! Look carefully at this experience of the world.
Nothing lasts. It’s like a dream, like magic.
The dream, the magic, makes no sense.
Experience this grief and forget the affairs of the world.
Cut all ties of involvement with country or kin,
Practice alone in forest or mountain retreats.
Rest, not practicing anything.
When you come to nothing to come to, you come to mahamudra.
A tree spreads its branches and leaves.
Cut the root and ten thousand branches wither.
Likewise, cut the root of mind and the leaves of samsara wither.
Though darkness gathers for a thousand eons,
A single light dispels it all.
Likewise, one moment of sheer clarity
Dispels the ignorance, evil and confusion of a thousand eons.
With the ways of the intellect you won’t see beyond intellect.
With the ways of action you won’t know non-action.
If you want to know what is beyond intellect and action,
Cut your mind at its root and rest in naked awareness.
Let the cloudy waters of thinking settle and clear.
Let appearances come and go on their own.
With nothing to change, the world you experience becomes mahamudra.
Because the basis of experience has no beginning,
patterns and distortions fall away.
Rest in no beginning, with no self-interest or expectation.
Let what appears appear on its own and let conceptual ways subside.
The most majestic of outlooks is free of all reference.
The most majestic of practices is vast and deep without limit.
The most majestic of behaviors is open-minded and impartial.
The most majestic of fruitions is natural being, free of concern.
At first, practice is a river rushing through a gorge.
In the middle, it’s the river Ganges, smooth and flowing.
In the end, it’s where all rivers meet, mother and child.
When your mind is less acute and does not truly rest,
Work the essentials of energy and bring out the vitality of awareness.
Using gazes and techniques to take hold of mind
Train awareness until it does truly rest.
When you practice with a consort, empty bliss awareness arises.
The balancing of method and wisdom transforms energy.
Let it descend gently, collect it, draw it back up,
Return it to its place, and let it saturate your body.
When you are free from longing and desire, empty bliss awareness arises.
You will have a long life, you will not gray, and you will shine like the moon.
You will radiate health and well-being and be as strong as a lion.
You will quickly attain the ordinary abilities and open to the supreme one.
May these pith instructions, the essentials of mahamudra,
Abide in the hearts of all worthy beings.
These are the great Tilopa’s oral instructions. On the completion of the twelve hardships, Tilopa taught these on the banks of the river Ganges to the Kashmiri pandit, the wise and learned Naropa. Naropa taught The Twenty-Eight Vajra Verses to the great interpreter, the king of translators, Marpa Chökyi Lodrö. Marpa finalized his translation at Pulahari in the north of India. Ken McLeod translated this into English in Los Angeles in the southwest of the United States, working from the efforts of previous translators and various commentaries.