golden dorje

Calm and Clear

- Translation and Commentary by Keith Dowman -

by Lama Mipham

golden dorje


First edition, 123 pages, 1973
Dharma Publishing
Berkeley CA
ISBN 0-913546-020X
cover and illustrations by Arthur Okamura
frontspiece by Glen Eddy

Calm and Clear

The Wheel of Analytic Meditation
Instructions on Vision in the Middle Way
by Lama Mipham

Translation and Commentary by Keith Dowman

The Wheel of Analytic Meditation - Sems kyi dpyod pa rnams par sbyong ba so sor brtag pa' i dpyad sgom 'khor lo and Instructions on Vision in the Middle Way dBu ma'i lta khrid zab mo by Lama Mipham, translation and commentary by Keith Dowman under the auspices of Tarthang Tulku. Includes a foreword by Dr. Herbert Guenther and images of the original Tibetan pages.

A manual of basic, simple Buddhist meditation for the beginner that takes him all the way.

Translator's Note: In the Tibetan Tradition it was customary for the disciple to attribute his work to his lama. Tarthang Tulku was one of my Refuge Lamas, and since the project was initiated by him and some initial spadework on the translation was done by his disciples, notably Mervin Hanson and John Reynolds, the work is attributed to him in some contexts in the book. I am solely responsible, however, for the translation and commentary of Calm and Clear.


From the Introduction

'The Tibetan Buddhist tradition is sometimes divided into sutra and tantra, the sutras forming the doctrinal basis of the straight monastic path and the tantras forming the root of a broader more tolerant way to buddhahood. Sometimes it is said that the sutra path was designed by Sakyamuni Buddha for karmically pure beings in an age of purity and that tantra was taught only for highly compassionate beings of a decadent age.

The basic state of meditation, though, which can be defined as attentiveness to the nature of mind, is common to both sutra and tantra, and in Calm and Clear, the basic techniques of Buddhist meditation are described formally and in detail. These techniques, taught by Lama Mipham, a great Nyingma master of the 19th century, are modifications of concentration and insight meditation.

The process begins by visualizing an image of one's greatest desire -- usually a man or a woman -- in front of one and holding it. This develops concentration. Then, through a process of analytical deconstruction of the objects that appear in the mind, a sense of the ephemeral, impermanent nature of existence increases along with an awareness of the unsatisfactoriness of being human.

Turning from object to subject, an examination of the watcher who is performing this meditation produces no sense of an 'I', of an ego, or of anything substantial. The result is an unattached flow of awareness of whatever arises in the mind.

With practice, which increases in efficacy like the velocity of a falling object, a sense of the spaciousness of existence and awareness develops that is inseparable from every sensory perception, thought or emotion. The unity of emptiness and bliss in all our experience is the final fruit of this oh so simple meditation technique.'

Contents of Calm and Clear

Foreword by Dr Herbert Guenther
PART ONE: The Wheel of Analytic Meditation
PART TWO: Instructions on Vision in the Middle Way
Tibetan texts

The Wheel of Analytic Meditation

The cause of confusion and frustration in life
Is the virulent passion of the mind.
Distortion and dispersion, the causes of passion,
Must be replaced by incisive attentiveness.

Method of Meditation

Imagining an image before one
Of whatever is desired most
And distinguishing the five groupings of elements
Begin to analyse the imaginary body.
Flesh, blood, bones, marrow, fat and limbs,
Sense organs, internal organs and cavities,
Faeces, urine, worms, hair and nails --
Distinguish the foul parts of the body.
Categorise and classify these parts
By composition and sensory field.
Then divide and analyse them
To irreducible particles.
Looking for arising desire for any part,
See this 'body' as nothing but foul fragments.
Remember it as a dirty machine or frothing scum,
Or a heap of sticks, stones and pus.
When this flow of insight ceases,
Examine the nature, the composite complexity,
Of feeling and conceptualisation,
Reaction associations and consciousness.
Seeing the image as a bubble or mirage.
A banana tree or magical illusion,
There will be no desire for it.
So let the stream of insight flow until it vanishes.
Do not attempt to prolong the glow
But proceed and examine another image
So that all corrupted perceptions
Are seen as unfounded fabrications.
Watching these baseless fabrications,
Seeing insubstantial phenomena arise
Only to dissolve in an instant,
Is the right way of contemplation.
Aware that all worlds of the past have perished
And deducing the inevitable decay
Of the worlds of the present and future,
Discover the cause of suffering in conditioned existence.
Knowing that all creatures are born to die
Suddenly and alone
And that all forms of life go through changes,
Look at the transience of the fabric of existence.
In short, whatever forms exist,
Impermanent and transitory,
Are illuminated in contemplation
By the power of each mind.
As each synthetic desire-image arises,
Shimmering like a bubble, cloud or lightning flash
Let the stream of insight flow
Enlightening until it vanishes.
Then, in the complex multiplicity of becoming
Watch each momentary state of the flux
For the nature of inherent suffering
And the illusive pleasure that will surely
Become subsequent suffering.
Contemplate to capacity
All the pain of the human condition,
The bodymind contrivance as the basis of it all.
Through this intrinsic defect of bodymind
Not even so much as a needlepoint
Of its alloyed fabric is free
From the taint of suffering.
So it is called the origin of suffering,
A foul sewer, a fiery pit
Or a cannibal island.
Retain this realisation until it fades.
With final insight into suffering
Search in this complex, transient heap
For whatever is thought to be I,
Seeing it to be empty of self.
Like a waterfall or shower of rain
Or like an empty house,
Let the state of certainty
Stay until it vanishes.
When this realisation fades,
Examine methodically as before.
Watch a suitable diversity of images
Sometimes ignoring the precedent order.
Searching for the meaning again and again
Sometimes look at others' constitutions
Sometimes investigate one's own contrivance
And sometimes examine all of conditioned existence.
So all attachment is broken. In brief,
Rejecting all thought but this fourfold examining --
Diversity, transience, pain and Emptiness --
Constantly turn this wheel of meditation.
Directing the clear light of understanding
Upon every kind of distorted image,
The unbroken stream
Of Practice increases
Like a raging prairie fire.
Throughout all previous lives, the 'I',
Distorting, obscuring and scattering,
Created a stream of daydreams and mistakes.
Composure must replace that delusion.
When scattered energy has been consumed,
And the antidote, examining mind, is still,
When no obstruction arises in mind,
Relax in equilibrium.
With the revival of mental activity
Continue analysis as before.
Always keep presence of mind
And mindfulness of the realisation.
When one becomes forgetful
And passion arises,
Take this examining to it
As a sword to an enemy.
Practice of watchful examining,
Like a light in darkness
Destroys the last vestiges
Of injurious passion.
Insofar as imperfection is understood
And conditioned human nature seen as it is,
So the utmost serenity is known
And the sheer purity of the Great Beyond.

Progress Along the Path

Recognising through constant meditation
The complexity and the transience,
The pain and the absence of substance
Of all conditioned existence, own and other's bodyminds,
Mind is imbued with full comprehension
And even without effort,
When vision is phantasmal,
The head of passion is subdued.
Free from the breakers of passion,
The ocean of mind is unruffled and clear.
Attuned to self-possessed purity,
Concentration in peace and calm are gained.
One-pointed absorption in mind
Diffuses in piercing insight.
This is the way of initiation,
The common door to the three careers.

Significance of Achievement

Arising in mutual dependence, seen as magical illusion,
All things are primordially unborn,
Essentially Empty, with no substantial base,
Free from the extreme of the one or the many.
With realisation of indivisible space,
All things identified, the Womb of Buddha Bliss,
Beyond confusing existence and peaceful cessation,
All pervasive is the Great Transcendence of Suffering.
Supremely pure and blissful,
It is called the Great Unconditioned.
Here, the attribute of the Great Self
Is unsurpassed and transcendent.
In the Tantras, Ati, Anu and Mahayoga,
Great Bliss and Pure Space come together
In spontaneity of simple understanding,
Thereupon, completing the path.
Following the instruction of a Buddha Lama,
Practice the initial purification of the common path
Of both Sutra and Mantra Mahayana
In the tradition of Direct Revelation of the Great Perfection.
Withdraw from the bewilderment of conditioning
On this excellent path of mindfulness
First by virtue of examination
Passionate reactions no longer occur.
Then with certainty in the Emptiness of bodymind,
All desire for the three worlds is destroyed.
Gradually all trace of delusion
Vanishes into the relief of Emptiness
And dispensing with the antidote of rejection,
All 'I' and 'mine' is finally destroyed.
Clinging to nothing, but aspiring to compassion,
Like a bird in the sky of simplicity,
Gliding through life without fear,
The Buddha-son reaches the highest plane.
In the teaching of the Noble Tradition
This purification by mindfulness,
Preparation of calm and clarity,
Has crucial stress in the three careers.
In continuous practice of inspecting mind,
Purifying through examination,
And finding the smallest of obstacles,
The slightest trace of passion,
Scrutiny facilitates serenity.
Just as gold when purified by fire
Becomes malleable, soft and pliant,
So mind, freed from desire, is made responsive
In the Sutras it is said that
Ritual offering to the Triple Gem
For a thousand years of a god,
Is less beneficial than recognition
Of transience, Emptiness, and selflessness
For the instant of a finger snap.
Expressing the fourfold truth of the Mahayana
And explaining the eighty four thousand topics
Are equal in value, said the Buddha.
Meditating upon the meaning of this reaching
Essentially identical to innumerable Sutras,
Then committing oneself to this form of practice,
A vast source of knowledge is easily found
Leading rapidly to liberation.
By virtue of this explanation
And by power of the nectar of detachment
May all beings suffering these painful times
Attain a state of peacefulness.

These verses were written by Mi-pham rNam-par
rGyal-ba in the Iron Hare year [ 189 1 ]
on the eighteenth day of the month of the Pleiades.
May all beings be happy!

Instructions on Vision in the Middle Way

Root Verses with Commentary

After examining and purifying mind
Finding the absence of a personal self
And with certainty of this crucial insight
'I' become the composition of the parts.

Examining what is still unknown
Distinguishing between conditioned and unconditioned,
Analysing each form of experience,
This is called 'this' and that is called 'that'.

Practice of the previous meditation induces certainty that 'I' does not exist in any substantial form. Discovering, however, that what was previously considered to be a concrete entity is a composition of parts which for convenience were categorised under the five groupings of bodymind, the tendency is to identify with the sum of the parts. Continuing meditation by examining whatever arises in the mind, the distinction should be made between the experience of the parts of the bodymind complex and the unconditioned states of concentration which should become more frequent as meditation progresses. Gradually each experience will become well defined, but the object of experience will continue to appear as an independent entity, existing regardless of the other ingredients of the perceptual situation, namely, the organ of sense and the sensation. The habit of belief in the material existence of things is difficult to break. A chair will still be considered as 'existent' even after the perceiver leaves the room.

Still clinging to the various forms of the flow
Searching for substance, nothing is found
Then going beyond the 'irreducible duality'
(This is explained by science)
Ever finer reductions establishing nothing
An interdependent field appears
Consisting of both the manifestly real
And the fictional fantasies of mind.

So long as there is a belief in the existence of forms independent of the perceiver, the search for the self-existent substance continues. The categories of mind and matter, subject and object, are transcended in this search. But the all-important transformation occurs when all things are seen as an inter-related field evolving in its entirety from one pattern into another. The belief in any 'self' or 'entity' is shattered in this vision of totality. However, the realisation of this higher reality may not be achieved immediately, but more likely, it will first appear as a bright possibility and only with constant perseverance in meditative practice will it become clear. The fictions of mind, the fantasies which have been mistaken for the genuine reality remain to colour the vision in ways that obscure it. These are deeply ingrained habits of perception, insisting that somewhere there is a fundamental distinction between 'I' and 'it', between subject and object, between the poles of every duality.

Focusing whatever must be examined,
Both manifest reality and mental fantasy,
Closely inspecting with penetrating scrutiny,
Neither root nor base is discovered.
So nothing is.
But like illusion and dream,
Echo, faerie or the moon's reflection in water,
Hallucination or mirage, chimera or phantom,
Meditating on the nature of the apparent Emptiness of Illusion --
Emptiness is in form and form in Emptiness.

Continuing to search for the base of existence, everything which enters the mind is scrutinised. Although a vision of reality excluding the limitations of duality and selfishness is dimly perceived, the same process of examination and purification during meditation is essential. Gradually as the vision becomes a constant mode of perception, all things take on an illusory quality, they become lighter and shimmer as if immaterial and gossamer. The realisation dawns that the Emptiness which contains release from the weight of mundane existence is nowhere but in the forms which are perceived. There is nowhere to go to, nothing to discover but the nature of mind.

Such is the specific ultimate reality.
But with the certainty of this realisation
And with an ongoing vision of magical illusion
Understood through unsullied insight,
Still bound by the fascination of form
And failing to relax hypnotic ideas,
Balked by conceptualisation,
The essential pervasive passivity is unseen.

Here the vision is sufficiently developed to perceive the Emptiness in every form and the form in Emptiness, but because of the obscuring function of profoundly rooted habits of thought, the particularising tendency prevents full understanding of the identity of all forms. The intellect still has sufficient power to intensify the discriminating faculty at the expense of the underlying compassion. The details of manifestation still bind attention by means of their decorative quality, and the preconceptions fortified by the common sense assumptions which have previously provided a supporting value system still block pure awareness. In the post-meditative state reality sustains the dreamlike quality which has been developed and insight does not vanish with the completion of formal practice, yet the root causes of delusion remain as subtle and elusive obstacles to full understanding.

When certainty in this magical vision arises,
Focus the fascinating vestiges of delusion
And thoughtfully examine them --
No substance to these objects exists.
Then finding no mind which is clinging,
Relax, detached in simple freedom,
And thus composed, the outer and inner
Stream of images flows unbroken.

The subtle obstacles to the stream of spontaneously apparent forms are removed in the same way as the grossest forms of passion --by means of close attention while searching for the essential nature of the object. The momentarily arising visionary field has some snags in it and pulls mind in that direction, limiting the scope of vision and preventing the full awareness of the breadth and depth of reality. Attention to them, discovering their substantial Emptiness, destroys their fascination. In the same way, attention to the mind which is attracted and which imposes a delusory fiction upon the tapestry of perception discovers no mind. Then having finally destroyed all attachment to both external and internal forms, the distinction between subject and object is destroyed and the all-pervasive ultimate reality is understood. The flow of perception is unimpeded.

In this original state of detachment
All that is woven into the continuum
Primordially unborn and unimpeded
Free from grasping and fascination
Is identified in the realm of self-sameness.
Without assertion of something or nothing
In the flow of ineffable significance
Only unquestionable experience dawns.

With the realisation of the realm of free space in which all things are identified, anything which enters experience is known to be unborn in its origin. This is the attainment of the ultimate refuge, for with complete certainty in the essential reality of whatever is experienced, no fear arises to begin the process of action-reaction producing attraction and aversion, clinging and anxious repulsion and complex reaction patterns. Detached, without any tendency to slow the natural progression from unitary totality to the intimately related flash of the following moment, no doubt or fear arises, no expectancy remains unfulfilled simultaneously with its arising. Rather there is a continuous sense of amazement at the ineffable beauty and sublimity of the being in life and understanding. Nothing need be asserted and nothing need be negated, for the perfection of the moment excludes the possibility of detracting expression which both positive and negative assertions imply. The precise discriminating awareness which is inseparable from the realm of self-sameness prevents the overbalance into an entranced state of blissful unknowing. The particulars of every situation are perceived, but none bring disquiet for the ultimate relationship between the parts is the harmonising, unifying factor.

The transcendent, all-pervasive ultimate reality is seen
As the suchness of all aspects of experience,
Active self-awareness of distinctions
By passive, undivided understanding.
Meditation is the constant spontaneity
Of coincident Emptiness and relativity,
The two truths become one in the authenticity
Of the Master Adept of the Middle Way.

This is the ultimate reality in which there is no attempt to postulate any formula or metaphor descriptive of the experience of the unity of Emptiness and form. There is nodivision between thought and experience. Thought has been transformed into the underlying understanding which is inseparable from the self-awareness of the form which is discerned. Like sugar dissolved in water, like heat and fire, or like water and wetness, there is not one without the other. The two truths, the relative empiric truth and the ultimate and absolute truth become one, and the yogin is the knowledge holder in this authentic state of being. This is the culmination of the Madhyamika Path in what is known to the Tibetans as Umachenpo, the Great Middle.

This nondual immanent understanding
Free of the objectifying process of mind
When desired, can be immediately realised
By following Mantrayana instruction.
Or this ultimate crucial height
Can be reached after purifying inspection
Attaining gradual conviction on the path
In the Middle Way meditation practice.

The mental state or level of consciousness with which the reader has apprehended the above information and visions is the ground, the starting point. The Nyingma tradition offers two possible vehicles to travel the path to a realisation of the inadequately expressed goal which the visions imply. The first is the direct and immediately efficacious Mantrayana, and the second the Madhyamika path of the Mahayana which is an easier, slower, and less dangerous means of attaining the same ends.

When a man is parched by thirst
The thought of water brings no relief --
Only drinking can quench his thirst:
So information differs from experience.
The exhausting search for information
For mere objective knowledge
Becomes needless with meditative experience
Which quickly leads to equanimity.

The necessary study which teaches skill in self-expression, metaphysical postulation, logic and other arts and sciences precedes practice. It is customary to look at a map before starting out on a journey. However, to believe that the knowledge which is gained from the map is the terrain itself is to mistake the concept for the reality. No mere intellectual certainty is valuable when faced with the naked reality of the depths of mind. Like accumulated wealth at the moment of death or the gift of snow in the tropics, theoretic knowledge has no relevance out of its own sphere. The spontaneous expression of the view perceived in profound equanimity, which is the acceptance of whatever may arise without addition or subtraction, replaces the preconceptions of dogma and philosophical dicta.

These verses were written by the great Nyingma master Lama Mi pham writing under the name 'Jam dpal dgyes pa'i rdo rje on the twenty ninth day of the eleventh month of the water-dragon year so that all beings may realise the meaning of the profound Middle Way. Commentary by Keith Dowman.

Sarva Mangalam!
May all beings be happy!