Lama Ole Nydahl

Union of Basis, Way and Goal




Buddha as
mirror of
Union with
through mind's
or devotion
the pure
truth and
= highest joy.
Never losing
that state



The Great


and wisdom
in balance
of emptiness,
of anger.



The Small


Outer practice
Working with
cause and
Calming mind
to create a
A ( note)
1.Knowledge 2. Meditation 3.Holding the Level

The Level of Yogis

A few general observations about way and goal always make sense. Before entering the Diamond Way, the most exiting part of Buddha's teachings, it is useful to remind oneself that mind's unchanging quality is awareness. Perfection is everybody's natural state and manifests through a very simple process. The way computers do everything with the numbers 0 and 1, two steps of growth repeat themselves until enlightenment: the accumulations of positive impressions and the development of wisdom. Kind thoughts, words, and actions pacify mind, bringing forth liberating insights, and actions pacify mind, bringing forth liberating insights, and such pleasant feedback again motivates one to do more good. As beyond-personal awareness shines ever stronger, it becomes painfully evident how all beings chase joy and try to avoid suffering but usually seek their bliss in conditioned situations where no lasting happiness can be found.

Realizing how strongly all are hostage to them, one will naturally protect them. Focusing rather on people's long-term needs than on their passing wishes--be they political or whatever--one will be more than a fair-weather friend. Accumulating positive impressions that lead to wisdom, which in turn produces more good, it thus the way. Finally everything will fit; wherever one looks, there will be only purity. There is then only happiness within, and fulfillment without. 

From a position of such richness, mind joyfully goes beyond concepts and trusts in its timeless space; in this state freed of hope and fear, every breakthrough makes one more spontaneous and effortless. However, one still has to watch out: what is left of one's illusion of self will try to harness any experience to its left of one's illusion of self will try to harness any experience to its ongoing horse-trading. Producing thoughts such as, My clear light lasted longer than his last week , or Now, I shall soon be enlightened , stains the freshness of experience and makes conscientious mediators believe they have fallen down. In reality, however, such thoughts are meaningless. If one gives them no power, they can do nothing. Staying ever longer in mind's clear light, subject, object and action becomes one, and it is no longer possible to lose this state.

1. Knowledge

Seeing things as mutually conditioned, constantly changing and not truly existent, such as they actually are, while at the same time accumulating vast quantities of positive impressions, leads one to the level of yogis. This invariably brings about enlightenment. Insight on this level goes or something outside but as a constant mirror to one's mind. He expresses a perfectly attractive essence that one can entirely trust. As disturbing feelings, veils of confusion, and clumsy habits are no longer taken seriously and thus diminish, this state is recognized as somehow deeply familiar. Having arrived on this third level and protected by unbroken bonds to one's teacher, the unshakable experience mentionable above will solidify. The understanding that experience, object experienced and act of experiencing are mutually conditioned and truly one becomes certainty. Freeing all mind's power, this is enlightenment and the final goal.

2. Meditation

When Buddha's students shared this understanding, he taught them three approaches. Starting with the Foundational Practices or Ngondro, all ultimately lead to the realization of mind's natural purity. As the wealth of psychological and philosophical wisdom employed on each of these ascents of the Diamond Way is so unique, amazing, and at the same time so little known, here is an extensive presentation. Buddha's path of methods contains countless tools and is for people of a practical bent. He empowered them by either radioing out the single Buddha-forms of the three lower classes of Tantra or by changing his own body into the highest united aspects, Looking like holograms, but radiant with limitless energy, the feedback from the colors, positions, attributes and invocations (Mantras) of these light- forms brings forth various enlightened qualities. 

Kriya, Charya and Yoga are the names of the first Tantra levels, and meditating on their single forms gradually strengthens beings confidence in their Buddha-nature. Mind's full expression of its space and joy, however, only manifests as the peaceful or protective united forms of the Anuttarayogatantra. These male-female aspects in union alone contain all aspects of enlightenment, and meditating on them can bring complete realization in one life. Even though one may immediately meditate on the close forms of a lineage which are embodied by one's teacher, it is of great value to also take the permission (lung), the empowerment, (wang), or the guided meditation (bum lung), from a street-wise lama who keeps his style, and will cause no later embarrassment. Seeds thus planted in one's store-consciousness will grow, and most ascribe a real change or deepening of absorption to such ceremonies. If it is additionally understood that one is meeting aspects of the mind's inherent perfection, such rituals constitute one's entry into a pure land. Many strongly experience the daily informal transmissions of Mahamudra from their lama, and everybody can follow a guided meditation in one's own language, but as so few know what the occasional giver of a formal initiation chants and does with his instrument, here follows a short description of this process as it has been handed down. 

After a symbolic purification, a presentation of the text read in Tibetan, the bribing of bad energies to make them leave, and the giving of refuge, the point where the receiver becomes active is during the first or vase initiation. Touching people's heads with a vase and sometimes letting them drink the nectar from it, the lama here transmits the power to experience one's body as the light form of the Buddha invoked. In the second or secret initiation one repeats the key vibrations- heart-mantras- of these forms to open one's inner channels and share their energies. The third or wisdom insight initiation conveys the joy of yogic union, bringing together compassion and wisdom, joy and space, while the fourth and highest, the so-called word initiation, introduces one to the ultimate state of Mahamudra.

Here, the teacher's space-awareness unites with one's own, and one partakes in mind's timeless state. Thus, if one removes the cultural Tibetan frame, initiations work like guided meditations or blessings. Their texts may well be described as invocations, which are interrupted at certain points to transmit the built-up enlightened energies. Above all, they introduce one to mind's timeless, limitless insight, which is the only refuge. Afterwards, if one's awareness is linked to a pure land, sound is heard ever more as mantra, and every form is increasingly seen as meaningful, while any mental activity is recognized as the playful brilliance of mind. This highest view totally protects its holders, and its blessing filters down and also influences the levels of altruists and egocentrics. 

If we are all Buddha's in pure lands, it is only natural to express compassion and wisdom, and any premeditated harm to others is totally out- except to teach them a lesson. Such complete tools for the mind- if given by a capable yogi who transparently acts as he teachers- not only boost one's inner development. The invoked energy fields stay active around one and transform the outer world into a teacher. The protectors especially make themselves felt. Even before one may consciously think of them, one is already noticeably surrounded by their energy field. The mere thought of a mantra condenses the activity of the respective Buddha out of space, and the repeated melting-together when meditating will gradually bring an absorption of their eminent qualities. Identifying with the enlightened Buddha-forms, until one has become them, is the way of methods. 

The way of insight is more relevant to today's busy life style and short vacations, but requires more time. It was also brought to Tibet by Marpa nine hundred and fifty years ago and is much more intricate than many people would like to believe. It certainly needs the support of an experienced teacher. This way, too, is best entered after the Foundational Practices (Ngondro), because the vast accumulation of positive impressions built up through their massive repetitions safeguard against dangerous white wall effect, where mistaken pacifying meditators and overly adjusted groups are warning examples. Quality, not quantity, is the key here: short periods of real awareness interrupted by phases of relaxation and ample teachings on the nature of mind. Whoever just sits for hours on end will become dull, and mind's natural freshness will be lost. 

The meditations which hold pacify mind are known as Shine in Tibetan and Shamatha in Sanskrit, leading to the penetrating insight called Lhagtong or Vipassana. Its simplest form consists of observing the flow of breath at the tip of one's teacher or closet Buddha-aspect, while one rests naturally in his pure land. Though both meditation on the Buddha-aspects and staying in penetrating insight bring immense growth, the most direct way to realize one's lama's qualities are the Guru Yogas, as practiced in the Karma Kagyu transmission and from the yogis of India up to today, one sees students realizing their full potential in the stream of their teachers blessing. 

Here is an example from when Buddhism was brought to Tibet the second time. The day when Marpa sat in front of Naropa, nine hundred years ago, Naropa's Buddha Aspect Hevajra- Kye Dorje- appeared at his side, as big as a house and with many arms. He was standing union with Dagmema, his consort, and they radiated like a thousand suns. Marpa was of course deeply impressed and Naropa, who probably looked like any old Indian, asked him: Now you see him and me, whom will you greet first? Marapa's reasoning was quite understandable; he bowed towards the Yidam, but Naropa laughed. Mistake, he said, with us the Lama is everything. He dissolved the vast energy-field into a rainbow and absorbed it into his heart. 

Today, this rapid method of growth works very effectively in the Karma Kagyu groups. As the power field involved on may be certain that everything pleasant is a blessing, and that everything difficult removes later suffering and is useful teaching on how to benefit others. Because a full identification on the level of perfection presses countless enlightenment buttons in one's subconscious, it is a very fast way to realize one's original awareness. Here, the mutually conditioned, dependently originating nature of things is clearly recognized--a precondition to the ultimate insight that seer, seeing and object seen are inseparable parts of the same totality. 

Through whichever means one may enter, however, the Mahamudra is unique. It's view effortlessly blends the basis-- the Buddha-nature of all beings--with the way to its joyful discovery and thus brings about a the goal of full enlightenment. All concepts fade when it is imparted, and it especially provides those with basic confidence a fast lane to enlightenment. The intensity of experience on this highest level irons out any thing stilted in one's expression, and the self-liberation of all dualistic processes becomes completely natural. Beyond any doubt,the Mahamudra demonstrates mind's space, clarity and limitlessness to be the only reality. 

The resultant insight, that it is much more important not to be disturbed by thoughts or feelings than to judge them, liberates masses of energy in everyone. The ocean is simply so much more important than its waves. Buddha directed his highest teachings to those mainly influenced by their desires. These methods rely on beings own experience and the wealth of mind's free play. Their formless aspect is than called Mahamudra or Chag-Chen, and the same kind of people take naturally to the Mother Tantras. These methods are the specialty of the Kagyu lineage. If people have dominant anger or pride, the view of mind's self-liberating quality--that it will all go away again--is stressed in the Maha-Ati or Dzog-Chen, and the Father Tantras are the best approach. This part is much taught by the Nyingmapas or old Tibetan school. Through their total or tantric view, these two lineages transform body, speech, and mind with countless methods for quick enlightenment. 

The Madyamaka or Uma Chempo contains a similar level of theory but from Buddha's Sutras and essentially removes ignorance and confusion. It is the main practice of the Gelugpa or virtuous school, the state church which governed Tibet. Since the motor for one's development is the intellect, however, it is a much slower path. The Buddha-family most directly transforming ignorance is the Nondual, and, as may be experienced today with the 17th Karmapa, Thaye Dorje, in the free world as well as from sources such the Mahamudra-texts of his various incarnations, one fine teacher and school may embody all of the above.

3 Holding the level

One major decision maintains this highest realization and secures the whole framework of one's growth: that one will never leave the pure realms again. In Buddhism this goes not involve mere positive thinking, which means clinging to what is beautiful and willfully missing out on suffering. Here, it is the mirror which is important, the experience, and not the gods, demons or other images coming and going there. On this level, one knows in the very marrow of one's bones that the highest truth is the highest joy, and one experiences mind as fearless and rich, as naturally compassionate and powerful. The recognition, that whatever happens or doesn't happen are expressions of mind's unlimited clear light, removes all tightness, and the knowledge that one's true essence is indestructible brings near and lasting security. From here on, one is at home in whatever happens. Having understood that one is neither the body that will become sick, old and die, nor the thoughts that change all the time, one becomes that which looks through one's eyes and listen through one's ears, right here and now: aware, limitless space. It is totally beyond any coming and going, beyond birth and death. On this level of fearlessness, every thing is the free play of mind. 

Appearance as well as disappearance only shows its unlimited richness. One no longer needs to hope for a good film; one owns the cinema and can play what one wants. What is being acted out is now less relevant; the important part is the screen has no holes and that the projector works. When minds radiant energy no longer restricts itself through attachment or aversion, all phenomena, outer as well as inner, will manifest as fresh and exiting just because they can make place. From this state of freedom, one's experience will be like this 

A few days ago I was jealous, then I became angry, and right now I am confused. How exiting, lets see what tomorrow brings! while all the time continuing in an unconcerned way whatever meaningful activity lies in front of one. Acting from much certainty and richness, minds awareness of its unlimited quality will bring actions of real and long term benefit for all, whatever the collective confusion or political correctness of the times may prescribe. Today, for instance, every human equipped with reason should insist on limiting the birth rates in the ghettos and poor countries of the world. 

As a sure sign of inner growth, the wish of egotistical joys will gradually disappear. This happens both because the permanent bliss of full awareness goes far beyond any conditioned experience, it's very intently dissolving any illusion of a separate self, and because every body so obviously relieves every thing in life from others. Seeing that, what other feeling could one foster towards them that gratitude? Choosing this motivation means behaving like a Buddha until one becomes one, and possessing real power, one does not need to follow popular views. Evidently, the speed of one's arrival depends on the method employed. One may dig a hole with one's hand, a shovel or a dredge, and walk, drive or fly to enlightenment. If one chooses the first by mainly avoiding the causes of one's own suffering, the process is repetitive. It concerns things one should have learned already as a child, and is not very inspiring. On the second level, compassion and wisdom are the guide. If they are kept in balance, the outcome will be good. 

Important at this point is one's own attention to intuition and to feedback from the world. Here one has to examine one's one mind frequently. If egotistical thoughts increase, compassion for others must be diminishing and the world will soon become difficult. If one finds stiff ideas multiplying, the lack of immediate experience will quickly make one irrelevant. The third and ultimate step depends on one's view. Here all one needs to observe is the level of awareness: is the feeling in every experience growth, purity, and freshness? Does one see the potential Buddha in others and oneself? If the answer is yes, inner wealth and meaning will only grow, and the world will manifest steadily deeper levels of inherent perfection. Nothing is more important than consolidating the above experience. Even though the understanding of non-ego as developed in Southern Buddhism means liberating and an end to suffering, this view only brings some of minds capacities into play. Its realization takes countless life times, and one stays vulnerable until the end, if lacing the strong protection afforded by compassion. That noble feeling, combined with beyond-personal insight into the emptiness and dreamlike nature of all phenomena, is the reason why Northern Buddhism is so well-rounded, flexible and practical. Only the Diamond-Way, however uses all the capacities of body, speech, and mind, and employs beings' sexuality, fantasy, and courage on their way. From the construction crane of highest confidence--the view of natural purity--it first lays the necessary foundation of right actions, then places the walls of motivation and wisdom, and finally positions the roof of enlightened view. Correctly understood, the yogi-level thus already contains the Mahamudra.

fragment from Lama Ole Nydahl, The Way Things Are (first online at:, where it had disappeared August 2007)

Footnote by Katinka Hesselink 2007

The above has many important insights and is valuable as a reflection of the Tibetan Buddhist view. It is clear however that the Therevada Path isn't selfish in the way that the table suggests. Philosophically the main difference between Mahayana and Theravada is that in Theravada Buddhism their is no sense that one person can save another. In early Buddhism it was thought that there was only one Buddha per kalpa (age). Since the kalpa of Gautama Buddha hadn't yet ended, no other Buddha's were expected. All anyone else could do, or was expected to do, was to reach enlightenment for oneself and while still living teach as many people or sentient beings as possible. The Mahayana and Vajrayana perspective is that each of us can reach Buddhahood, not just enlightenment, in this lifetime. From that perspective, those who are only working towards enlightenment for themselves are selfish. But that's only because the realm of the possible is seen differently. ( back to the table on Mahayana, Hinayana and Vajrayana)