Question: I am tormented by the lack of time I have to practice because of my work. This makes me angry at work. It is a serious attachment problem, and I would like to know how to work with it.

Rinpoche: What you described is quite familiar. It is really a matter of the balance of meditation and post-meditation.

By meditation I mean sitting down somewhere and drawing attention to the mind.

If we have the aspiration to meditate for a long time and are busy and have other things to do then we get up and go do them while practicing post-meditation. This makes our meditation continuous.

Whether we are speaking with someone or working on a particular task, we bring mindfulness and alertness to the activity so that our mind is not fluttering here and there in great distraction.

When we are able to bring meditation into post-meditation through this practice of mindfulness, work and meditation cease to be contrary.

If we don’t combine meditation and post-meditation, meditation will be one thing and work will be something else, and they will fight with each other. We will feel that we can’t work when we meditate and we can’t meditate when we work.

But, if we bring this practice of alertness and non-distraction of mind into all of our actions, work and meditation will go together.

In fact, we will find that meditation and post-meditation begin to stimulate one another: the more we practice meditation in our actions, the easier our meditation on the cushion will be.

Then we will be able to easily carry that good meditation experience back into our work.

Meditation and post-meditation will begin to help one another so that we do not have the feeling that we have to flee from work, and working itself will become a way of subduing and overcoming the disturbing emotions, the wildness, dullness, lack of clarity, and instability of mind.

Source: Based on Rinpoche, Khenchen Thrangu. Essentials of Mahamudra: Looking Directly at the Mind. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2014.

Mindfulness and Alertness in Post-Meditation

As our concentration gets better little by little through the power of meditation, we will be able to expand this natural concentration to the rest of our life.

Whether we are walking, sitting, talking to other people, or working we can learn to stop our mind from wandering.

If we are distracted while working, we can’t do our work properly.

If we can eliminate distractions and develop better mental concentration, our life will automatically be better.

This will improve not only our world, but also our dharma practice.

If we had to depend on other people to modify our state of mind, it might be a very involved process.

Controlling our mind is entirely up to us. This is something we can do ourselves with a little mindfulness and awareness. Little by little, as our concentration improves, we can turn our mind inward more easily.

Mindfulness is having control of our mind and not letting it run out of control.

Alertness is knowing exactly what we are doing while we are doing it.

Source: Based on Rinpoche, Khenchen Thrangu. Four Foundations of Buddhist Practice. Namo Buddha Publications. Kindle Edition.

Shamatha and Vipashyana in Post-Meditation

It is very important to develop mindfulness and alertness in post-meditation so that when you are working, you are mindful and very aware of what you are doing.

If you are writing a letter, you pay attention to the letter, not letting your mind stray to something else.

If you are speaking to someone, you pay attention to that conversation and don’t let your mind wander to something else.

That way work does not need to be detrimental to the development of mindfulness and alertness. The mindfulness and alertness that one experiences in meditation and in post-meditation come about through different techniques.

But, they are the same in terms of being mindful and aware. This is the development of shamata in post-meditation.

There is also the development of vipashyana in post-meditation, which is to look right into the thing itself to see what it is.

Whatever one is experiencing, whatever one is thinking, whatever one is feeling one asks, “Where does this come from? Where is it?” This is difficult for a beginner, but as you become more familiar with it, it can be quite helpful.

The Nature of Meditation and Post-Meditation: Space and Illusion (Appearance)

What do we mean by meditation and post-meditation?

Meditation is when faults such as heaviness and wildness of mind have been cleared away and the mind rests within recognition of mind as it is.

Post-meditation, or subsequent attainment, is when we have “risen from that”. This does not mean that we get up from our cushion, but rather that our mind shifts and then our mindfulness of fundamental nature is restored. It means that we have recovered what we had before.

It is particularly important to consider how we sustain the meditation and how we come to have post-meditation, because once we have risen from the meditation period, we are particularly prone to becoming completely wild in thought. That is the time we need to sustain meditation.

If we learn how to do this, then the meditation can be joined with whatever activity we are doing through the power of mindfulness and alertness.

In the tradition of the quintessential instructions it is often said that meditative equipoise, or meditation, is like space.

This means that the main practice – when we recognize just what the mind is – is like space.

The period of post-meditation is said to be like an illusion.

This means that whatever work we do between the sessions of meditation appears to be like an illusion.

If worldly activity is joined with the definite knowledge, certainty, and mindfulness of mind as it is that we experienced in meditation, then worldly activity is said to be like an illusion.

Saying meditation is like space emphasizes the aspect of emptiness.

Saying that post-meditation is like an illusion emphasizes the factor of appearance.


Devotion and faith are necessary for our experience in meditation to increase.

In the Kagyu Lineage Prayer it is said, “Devotion is the head of meditation.”

If we have a head, then we can see, hear, eat, speak, and so forth. If we do not have a head, we can’t do much of anything.

Similarly, in meditation if we have devotion, our meditation will improve; it will become clearer and more stable.

The power of devotion is illustrated in the story of the old woman who had great faith in the Dharma and the Sangha.

The woman’s son was a merchant who went back and forth to India. One time, prior to his departure, the woman said to him, “You are going to India, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, and the place where many scholars and siddhas lived, taught, and became realized. I want you to bring back a relic for me that can serve as a basis for faith.”

Her son then went to India but forgot all about it. He came back with nothing. When her son was about to go to India again, the old woman said, “This time you just have to bring something for me. Don’t forget. I really need this.”

Her son went to India, conducted his business, and forgot all about it once again. When he was about to leave a third time, his mother begged him, saying, “This time please, please bring something for me. If you don’t, I am going to be very sad and will die right in front of your eyes.”

Again he almost forgot, remembering only on the very day when he was to meet his mother. He thought, “Oh no! Now what am I going to do? If I don’t bring her something she will die!”

He looked around and saw the remains of a dead dog by the side of the road. It had been there for quite a while, so most of the flesh was gone, leaving just the dried bones. He went over and yanked out a tooth, cleaned it off, and wrapped it up very nicely.

“You are extremely fortunate,” he told his mother, “I have brought you a tooth of the Buddha himself.” Believing that it was the tooth of the Buddha, the woman supplicated the tooth, made offerings to it, and generated extraordinary faith and devotion. The tooth had no potency or blessing in and of itself.

Nevertheless, there appeared in it what is known as ringsel (tiny, pearl-like relics) that spontaneously appear in the body of a powerful guru, in a particularly sacred stupa, or in association with a great lama.

Due to her confidence and faith alone, the tooth had received the blessings of the Buddha.

This story indicates the great power of faith. Similarly, if we have faith and devotion toward our root guru, the gurus of the lineage, and the great practitioners, when we practice mahamudra, our meditation will progress more and more.

The Reason for Maintaining Mahamudra

How do we sustain the meditation that we have developed through exertion, mindfulness, and alertness?

The text doesn’t teach the nature of mind but discusses pointing it out, because there is nothing to learn; we simply need to recognize.

Pointing out the nature of mind, however, is not enough. We must sustain our meditation on it so that what has not yet become clear will become clear, what is shaky will become stable, and whatever good qualities are present will develop further.

It is inconceivably fortunate to have the nature of mind pointed out to us. Our practice has led to the birth of a profound opportunity within the stream of our being.

If we don’t exert ourselves in sustaining this recognition and realization, however, the good qualities we have inherited will decrease and our faults will increase.

If we do not sustain the meditative experience, we return to the state of an ordinary person, and realization will have been meaningless.

Thus, we should feel we have found a precious jewel and take care not to cast it into the mud. This requires exertion.

The great master Tsangpa Gyare said, “Not nurturing the meditation that has arisen in your mental continuum is like a rich man carried away by a wind illness.”

In the Tibetan medicine there are three different systems that are subject to illness—wind, bile, and phlegm.

In one wind illness, the body’s wind energy becomes completely imbalanced when we don’t get enough to eat. It is ridiculous for a rich person to suffer an illness of malnutrition.

Tsangpa Gyare also says that if we have a precious jewel, we ought to care for it by wrapping it in good quality cloth and handling it properly.

Not to take care of our meditative realizationour insight into the mind’s way of being—is like allowing a precious jewel to fall into the mud.

Sustaining Mahamudra Meditation

This nature of mind has existed within us from the beginning of time, but, until the point of our recognizing it, we were confused.

The habits and predispositions established by our confusion are so strong that, even if we recognize the nature of mind, these latencies resurface and our confusion returns.

Therefore, we must meditate again and again. The Tibetan word for meditation is gom, which means habituation.

So, we must habituate to, become familiar with, the nature of mind. For our meditation to improve, it is important to hold our mind on the nature of mind.

Shantideva said that those who wish to protect their minds and practice the Dharma must have three things: mindfulness, alertness, and attentiveness. These are largely similar, but when we analyze them in detail, we can distinguish their different natures and characteristics.

Mindfulness, Alertness, and Attentiveness

We could say mindfulness (Tib. drenpa) means not forgetting. In this context it means not forgetting mahamudra, not forgetting mind as it is.

Alertness (Tib. shezhin) is very closely related to mindfulness. The alertness that we are speaking about is in-the-moment alertness, a present, active knowledge that becomes possible by way of mindfulness.

If we have mindfulness, alertness can develop; if our mindfulness declines, alertness is not possible.

When we talk about attentiveness (Tib. bagyöpa), we are evaluating our mind, asking:

(1) Are faults of this sort or that sort arising?

(2) Is samadhi or the stability of meditation declining?

Attentiveness is making sure we don’t get on the wrong track in our meditation.

Mindfulness and alertness are important at all times.

The reason for this is very simple: If mindfulness and alertness are present, faults will not arise; if they are absent, faults will arise.

Shantideva compared disturbing emotions to bandits. Thieves and murderers will not harm us if we are protected by people who are strong. But if our guardians become lazy, stupid, or weak, burglars will be able to sneak in, harm us, and steal whatever they want.

Shantideva said that it is similar with thoughts and disturbing emotions. As long as we are protected by mindfulness and alertness, thoughts and disturbing emotions cannot take control.

But as soon as mindfulness and alertness slacken or are abandoned, thoughts and disturbing emotions arise and bring trouble by blocking and covering over whatever good qualities there are.

Therefore, it is important to adhere to mindfulness and alertness at all times.

Attentiveness tames the mind.

(1) It subdues the disturbing emotions and keeps us from doing things that cause others to give rise to aggression, envy, pride, and so forth.

(2) At the same time attentiveness dispels the joy we take in doing harmful things; in other words, it prevents us from seeing attachment and aggression as good characteristics.

(3) Attentiveness lets us see harmful things as faulty so we don’t enjoy them.

(4) It is attentiveness that understands why Dharma is beneficial.

(5) It enables us to take delight in the Dharma and prevents us from disliking the Dharma.

In sum, mindfulness, alertness, and attentiveness enable our meditation practice to develop further and further. Let’s look more closely at mindfulness and alertness.


The text says, “As for mindfulness, it enables one not to forget the meaning that one is seeking to accomplish.”

Mindfulness keeps our mind on the point we are contemplating in our meditation and maintains clarity within our meditation.

The Sutra Requested by the Student Who Had a Jewel upon the Crown of His Head points out the different functions of mindfulness.

The first function is that “through mindfulness, delusions do not arise.” Because we have become so accustomed to disturbing emotions, and have established such strong predispositions and habits in that direction, disturbing emotions arise quite naturally through the force of these habits. If we can sustain mindfulness, however, disturbing emotions such as desire, hatred, and pride will not have an opportunity to arise.

The second function of mindfulness is that “through mindfulness, we do not become involved in harmful activities [Skt. mara].”

These first two functions are related as root and branch: through mindfulness, we protect our mind so that disturbing emotions do not arise; once disturbing emotions do not arise, the activities of body and speech do not go in the direction of harmful action.

Finally, “through mindfulness, we do not stray from the correct path.” Mindfulness keeps us on the path that leads to genuine benefit.

In this sense, mindfulness can be understood as a doorway. Since mindfulness prevents the mind from going in a non-virtuous direction, the text says, “We should exert ourselves in genuine mindfulness.”

When we talk about mind in the Buddhist tradition, we often talk about mind and mental factors. A mental factor is “that which arises from mind.” Mental factors are different types of thoughts, which in Buddhism are subtly distinguished from one another.

Mindfulness is one such mental factor. Its particular aspect is continually recollecting whatever we are trying to pay attention to, whether it is remembering our vows, maintaining a beneficial motivation, or avoiding harmful actions.

In this context, mindfulness allows us to keep the mind on the point of the meditation. If we guard our mind well with mindfulness, it will not wander from this point; we will not sink into dull mental states or develop wild mental states.

When we have understood the dharmata that is the mind’s way of being, the power of mindfulness prevents us from straying from that to something else.

Thus, mindfulness is critical in guarding the realization that comes about as the insight of vipashyana.


Alertness is knowing what’s going on in our mind and examining it closely. Alertness arises in dependence upon mindfulness.

The text says that first we have to establish mindfulness; then this quality of evaluating what’s going on in our mind in the present moment can arise. It monitors the activities of body, speech, and mind, and discerns what to pursue and what to reject.

Alertness is critical for nourishing a healthy state of mind.

In Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva put it very simply, “When mindfulness guards the door of your mind, then alertness naturally arises.”

In mahamudra meditation, it is important to rely upon mindfulness and alertness because they sustain our realization of the mind’s way of being and enhance that realization.

Since mindfulness and alertness enable us to know precisely what to accept and what to reject, then without them, faults arise.

In Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva said that without alertness, the fruits of listening to the Dharma, reflecting upon its meaning, and meditating upon what we have understood will disappear. Our good qualities will not increase and we will not retain what we have accomplished. It will be a waste of time.

When we have proper mindfulness and alertness, then self-restraint or conscientiousness can arise in the continuum of our mind. What exactly is this self-restraint or conscientiousness? It knows when delusion is arising and sounds the alarm, “Oh, I think there’s a delusion coming around here.” We can then respond appropriately.

Mindfulness as the Root of the Other Characteristics

If we sustain mindfulness, our meditation, or samadhi, and all good qualities will increase straight away.

If mindfulness declines, our meditation and good qualities will also decline.

Therefore, the siddhas of the Kagyu lineage talk about “holding mindfulness.”

Mindfulness is like the shepherd who collects the sheep when they have wandered into a place where fierce animals could devour them. If a sheep wanders into a dangerous place, the shepherd brings it back to a place with water and grass, a place where it will be happy and wants to stay.

In the same way, when the mind strays from meditation, mindfulness brings it back and places it in the relaxation of meditation so that we can enjoy its benefits.

Mindfulness is vital to the practices of listening, contemplating, and meditating on the meaning of the Dharma.

Furthermore, mindfulness is important for sustaining meditation because it focuses the mind on a single point and prevents it from becoming distracted.

If we do not have mindfulness, we lose sight of the purpose of our meditation; we become confused and get lost.

If we have mindfulness, we can maintain our meditative stabilization; if we do not, our meditative stabilization gets lost. For that reason, it’s important.

Je Drikungpa said, “The main highway for the buddhas of the three times is mindfulness that is never interrupted.”

How did the buddhas of the past, the buddhas of the present, and the buddhas of the future progress to enlightenment?

In all cases, the great highway on which they travel is the highway of mindfulness. They have a mindfulness that never lapses.

Je Drikungpa continued, “If you do not know undistracted mindfulness, then you will fall prey to restive tendencies of body and mind.”

If we don’t have mindfulness, we simply won’t attain the fruition that is buddhahood.

The Nature of Meditation and Post-Meditation

By way of review, what do we mean by meditation and post-meditation?

Meditation is when faults such as heaviness and wildness of mind have been cleared away and the mind rests within recognition of mind as it is.

Post-meditation, or subsequent attainment, is when we have “risen from that.” This does not mean that we get up from our cushion, but rather that our mind shifts and then our mindfulness of fundamental nature is restored. It means that we have recovered what we had before.

It is particularly important to consider how we sustain the meditation and how we come to have post-meditation, because once we have risen from the meditation period, we are particularly prone to becoming completely wild in thought. That is the time we need to sustain meditation. If we learn how to do this, then the meditation can be joined with whatever activity we are doing through the power of mindfulness and alertness.

In the tradition of the quintessential instructions it is often said that meditative equipoise, or meditation, is like space.

This means that the main practice—when we recognize just what the mind is—is like space.

The period of post-meditation is said to be like an illusion. This means that whatever work we do between the sessions of meditation appears to be like an illusion.

If worldly activity is joined with the definite knowledge, certainty, and mindfulness of mind as it is that we experienced in meditation, then worldly activity is said to be like an illusion.

Saying meditation is like space emphasizes the aspect of emptiness.

Saying that post-meditation is like an illusion emphasizes the factor of appearance.

The Beginning Level of Mahamudra

When discussing the practice of mahamudra, we classify the stages of a practitioner’s journey somewhat differently than we usually classify these stages.

Ordinarily we talk about the student’s journey from confusion to liberation in terms of the ten bodhisattva levels.

In mahamudra, we speak about the four yogas.

Those four yogas are:

(1) One-pointedness

(2) Freedom from complexity

(3) One-taste

(4) Non-meditation.

The first yoga, the yoga of one-pointedness, is the stage of a beginner. At this stage, the experience that the student has is temporary in nature. While the experience might be quite dramatic, it doesn’t last. At the stage of one-pointedness, the student has a temporary experience of insight during meditation rather than genuine realization. Such a student does not experience genuine meditation or post-meditation.

The latter three yogas—freedom from complexity, one-taste, and non-meditation—have actual meditative equipoise and actual post-meditation. In these stages, the practitioner experiences genuine and complete meditation and post-meditation.

The first yoga of one-pointedness is free from the fault of a heavy and wild mind. It is a mind that rests upon the true nature of mind, which is the co-emergent mind that was previously pointed out to the student. Thus, in the first yoga, the meditator comes to rest within luminosity and emptiness. Moreover, the meditative equipoise of one-pointedness is free from other thoughts and mental activity. It does not wander or become involved in thinking about this or that. It does not lose this mindfulness. It is a mind that has come down into its own nature and that rests there, without being distracted by anything else.

In his Quintessential Instructions on the Middle Way, Atisha said, “One abandons all mindfulness and mental engagements.” This teaching does not mean that we cast aside our mindfulness and intelligence, as it is mindfulness that causes us to remain with the understanding of reality and not to wander from that.

Rather it means that we should not take other things to mind when we are resting within meditative equipoise upon the nature of mind. We should give up mindfulness and consideration of anything other than the meditative stabilization within which we are resting.

As long as we remain mindful and do not wander, thoughts of other things will not arise.

But, when we do lose our mindfulness and begin to wander from that, other things come to mind.

If we gave up mindfulness altogether, it simply would not be possible for meditative experience and realization to come about.

As long as mindfulness remains steadfast, mind remains focused on understanding reality, and distracting thoughts do not arise.

When mindfulness wanders just slightly, very subtle thoughts arise; when mindfulness wanders greatly, gross thoughts arise, thoughts apprehending and assenting to the appearance of things as if they were inherently established.

The arising of these thoughts and appearances means we are no longer within meditative equipoise; rather, we have passed to “ordinary subsequent knowledge and appearance.”

Subsequent here means we’ve gone back to being an ordinary person with a very ordinary mind, as if we’d never experienced meditation.

Later, when we rediscover mindfulness, we can again rest within the mind’s true nature without having to avoid thought and appearance.

Our awareness will be permeated by the mindfulness that is aware of and rests right on the mind’s way of being. When we have rediscovered mindfulness in this way, we have found “the union, or integration, of appearance and emptiness.”

Thought and appearance do not become obstacles in any way; rather, they are understood as merely inseparable appearance and emptiness, the nature of which cannot be identified as anything at all.

To summarize, we begin with the meditative stabilization of meditation on the mind’s way of being. That state is then lost. Mindfulness returns, and we achieve meditative stabilization on the nature of mind once again. For that reason, it’s called subsequent attainment. Meditation is spoken of as being like space, meaning it is free from dullness, heaviness, sinking mind. Post-meditation is said to be like an illusion, meaning that appearance is illusory in the sense that although it appears, we know that it is really nothing.

Further Skills for Sustaining Meditation

Gampopa discussed three skills in sustaining meditation:

(1) Skill in the beginning

(2) Skill in adhering to experience

(3) Skill in cutting through elaboration.

The first skillskill in the beginning – is mainly a matter of understanding that meditation is valuable and that it brings with it good qualities. This causes us to delight in meditation and aspire toward it.

We understand that if we have meditation, good qualities come about, and if we do not have meditation, whatever good qualities we have will disintegrate.

And so, we have great confidence in meditation and feel strongly inspired. At the same time, we do not feel aversion toward it or take delight in what undermines meditation; in other words, we are not overwhelmed in a flurry of thoughts and disturbing emotions.

The second skill is being skilled in recognizing the two basic faults in meditation—heaviness and wildness—and knowing how to repair them.

In addition, we learn not to become attached to temporary experiences (Tib. nyam) that arise in meditation.

There are three types of temporary experiences:

(1) Experiences of great clarity or luminosity

(2) Experiences of non-conceptuality

(3) Experiences of bliss

We must learn not to become attached to these temporary experiences of pleasure, clarity, and nonthought, which can be rather seductive and deceitful.

These experiences seem to be real but in fact they are false. They are like the husk around something. We have to strip them away to get down to the mind as it isnaked, unfabricated, and uncontrived.

So, the second skill is “the skill in how to avoid becoming attached to such experiences.”

The third skill of cutting through elaboration occurs when we have developed our meditation to the point where we are not easily seduced by these false experiences.

Nevertheless, we are not able to sustain our meditation for any length of time, so we begin to resent meditation and find it to be irritating. When we begin to feel this way, it is very difficult to continue meditating.

We must become skilled in seeing this totally unelaborated meditation as delightful. When we see our meditation as good and delightful, we want to practice.

The name of this stage is “eliminating our resentment and irritation with regard to the practice of meditation.” It has the sense of getting rid of what is left over after the main part of the meal.

Methods for Maintaining Mahamudra within Meditation

We will first look more closely at how mahamudra is sustained within periods of meditation. There are six basic methods for doing this.


We will first consider Tilopa’s famous six points for sustaining meditation, also known as Tilopa’s six ways of resting.

The verse from Tilopa says:

Do not recall,

Do not think,

Do not anticipate,

Do not meditate,

Do not analyze,

Do rest naturally.

The words all mean more or less the same thing; however, we can observe some distinctions.

The first three points are concerned with how to sustain meditation within a formal session of meditation by working with thoughts of the past, the present, and the future:

(1) “Do not recall” means do not follow after thoughts that are concerned with the past.

(2) “Do not think” means don’t fabricate or ponder in the present moment.

(3) “Do not anticipate” means do not invite thoughts that are concerned with the future, that is, don’t make arrangements and plans for what to do later.

The fourth point, “Do not meditate,” means that you simply sustain the awareness of mind without trying to manufacture something else. For example, do not meditate upon emptiness because, by doing so, you will manufacture emptiness upon which to meditate. Similarly, do not meditate upon luminosity and thereby fabricate some luminosity upon which to meditate.

“Do not analyze,” means that you do not become involved in speculation about or analysis of the quality of your meditation. For example, do not think that the meditation is good or bad. Do not investigate using theoretical speculation or inferential realization. Rather, place your mind directly, without any intermediary, upon your own mind.

Finally, “Do rest naturally,” means that the mind rests with mind as it is in an unfabricated way. Mind is placed in ordinary mind; it rests in the mind’s own nature. These are six methods taught by Tilopa for sustaining a session of meditation.


Another set of instructions includes the four ways to sustain meditation that are renowned in the Kagyu tradition. These were first explained by Gampopa. The meanings of these four instructions are similar, but the words and perspective are slightly different.

The first instruction for the meditator is not to tighten, constrict, or concentrate, but to relax.

The second instruction is to experience freshness and newness; that is, mind as it is without theories, classifications, or fabrications of emptiness or luminosity.

The third instruction is to let the mind be. “Let the mind be” means do not dress mind up, fabricate or manipulate the mind, or look for something special or unusual. Instead, just sustain the awareness of that which was previously pointed out.

The fourth instruction is to realize that the nature of mind already exists within your mind. There is no need to dress it up as something else, or to think, “I’m not sure I’m doing this right.” There is no need to get involved in pride, thinking, “I’ve figured it out.” Understand that the recognition of the mind comes through the blessing of our guru, and simply relax.


Three more main points for maintaining meditation are discussed:

The main point of Tilopa’s six points is the one that says, “Do not meditate.” This means simply rest in ordinary mind without fabricating anything. From that point of view, meditation is not a mental activity.

This is illustrated by the advice given by the great master Saraha in which he likens the practitioner’s mind to the red thread worn by a Brahmin—the thread must be neither too tight nor too loose. If our mind is too tight, we will have problems in our meditation. The antidote to this is, “Do not meditate.” This advice allows us to relax. If we relax too much, however, pretty soon we won’t be meditating on the mind’s true nature. The antidote to excessive relaxation is, “Do not be distracted.” These two antidotes contain within them the advice we need for training and extending our meditation on the mind’s true nature.

The second point applies when the mind begins to scatter and all sorts of thoughts begin to arise. The mind wanders here and there, and we fall under the sway of the different patterns that arise. At this point what is helpful is mindfulness and alertness, and of these two, mindfulness is especially helpful. The essential point is not to wander.

Thus, all the instructions on how to sustain meditation could be summed up in these two points: “Do not meditate” and “Do not wander.”

The third point considers how “Do not meditate” and “Do not wander” include within them the essential points of meditation. “Do not meditate” is principally connected with shamata in that the instruction is for mind to relax, and “Do not wander” is principally concerned with vipashyana in that it instructs the meditator to tighten or to focus appropriately. For a beginner it is easy to fall into a state in which the mind sinks and becomes dark and heavy, or becomes wild. As the antidote to the sinking and heaviness of mind, the instruction is not to meditate. As the antidote to wildness of mind, the instruction is not to wander.

Maintaining Mahamudra in Post-Meditation

Between sustaining mahamudra in meditation and sustaining it in post-meditation, sustaining it in post-meditation is more important.

The reason is that, in any twenty-four-hour day, we can spend only a small amount of time in formal meditation; the rest of the time we are doing something else.

It will be extremely beneficial if we can sustain our experience of mahamudra in the times of post-meditation.

It will enable our experience to develop further and further while also reducing stressfulness and hardship in our work and our life.

Therefore, the methods for sustaining our meditation experience in the periods of post-meditation should be regarded as extremely important.

This aspect of mahamudra practice is what makes it particularly useful for the Western world and for the twentieth century.


Maintaining unbroken mindfulness in post-meditation requires some exertion. The aspect of mindfulness that is required is not forgetting co-emergent mind.

If we were to maintain mindfulness completely and never wander from our experience of co-emergent mind, we would still be in the period of meditation.

What then is the difference between actual meditation upon the nature of the mind and the periods that follow?

In the periods of post-meditation, resting in the mind’s true nature is maintained slightly. The text suggests, “It is not lost.” We just don’t stray from it. There’s still a bit of mindfulness of the mind’s true nature. As long as we maintain that little bit of mindfulness of the mind’s way of being, then when different kinds of thoughts or appearances arise, we don’t fixate upon them as some real and true thing that must either be rejected or affirmed.

Rather, we remain right with that thought or that appearance, experience it and experience the luminosity of it.

Because we have that kind of mindfulness and are able to refrain from clamping down on things as real and true, we don’t get involved in attachment and aggression.

We don’t have to form opinions—evaluating thoughts or appearances as good, bad, and so forth.

The example for this is a young child in a Vajrayana shrine room. When a young child sees depictions of the peaceful and wrathful deities, the child just looks at them, without having to decide whether they are good or bad.

In the same way, mindfulness allows us to experience thoughts or appearances that present themselves in all their vividness and brilliance without fixating upon them, without giving rise to various views and conceptions of them.

And so, we are able to remain in a state that is not only spacious but also pure and unadulterated because it is not harmed by thinking of things as being either good or bad, attractive or unattractive.

Sustaining Mindfulness in Post-Meditation

The method for sustaining meditative experience in post-meditation is mindfulness.

We spoke earlier of the three types of coemergence:

(1) Coemergent mind

(2) Coemergent thought

(3) Coemergent appearance

In the meditative session, we are concerned with coemergent mind; we are recognizing and studying the coemergent mind and its nature.

When we rise from a meditation session, we must make some effort at mindfulness while we go about our business, engage in conversation with others, and do other activities.

This mindfulness doesn’t come about naturally. At times we have mindfulness and at other times we do not, but as we exert ourselves, mindfulness becomes steadier; as we become more familiar with mindfulness, it becomes more continuous.

In the meditation session we are mindful of the mind’s nature.

The mindfulness of post-meditation is to not separate from that.

In post-meditation we have the mindfulness of reflecting, thinking, and remembering the nature of the mind.

Our mind is affected by the force of that mindfulness.

Thoughts arise, various appearances arise, and we don’t attempt to stop them. At the same time, we don’t become attached to them.

As different thoughts and appearances arise, we do not become afraid of them or uncomfortable in the face of them, nor do we give rise to the disturbing emotions.

Rather we feel peaceful, free from attachment, and free from fear.

In the example of the young child who has wandered into a shrine room and is looking at various objects, the child sees everything, but doesn’t stop to think, This is white, This is red, This is a deity, This is the Buddha, and so forth.

If we have that attitude and mindfulness in post-meditation, our mind will become very relaxed, spacious, and vast.

What exactly do we do with thoughts and appearances as they arise?

The text approaches this by setting out two kinds of mistakes that we could make, and then explaining the proper way to go about it.

The first mistake is to obstruct or dam up thought and appearance so that it is either halted or it doesn’t appear clearly.

The second mistake is to follow after or be led along by thoughts and appearances so that we become completely distracted and lose our mindfulness. We get involved in very ordinary thoughts as though we’d never practiced meditation at all. We then become like ordinary people, harshly rejecting some things and affirming others.

Instead, we must work with the thoughts and appearances that arise for the six consciousnesses.

No matter what their objects are or how they appear, we maintain the understanding of them as being of a nature that defies any of our efforts to categorize, grasp, or define them.

The fruition of the meditative experience of coemergent mind is that all thoughts appear as emptiness. They appear but we do not grasp at them. We do not contrive, fabricate, or manufacture anything.

Rather, we sustain the meditative awareness in which the mind has settled into its own way of being.

That’s the kind of mindful understanding we require to maintain our meditation as post-meditation. We need to keep this kind of mindfulness active in whatever we do.

As beginners, we are distracted most of the time. There are two things we can do about that distraction—one in meditation and one in post-meditation.

The most helpful thing to do in meditation is to give rise to a very strong mindfulness of the mind’s coemergent nature.

In post-meditation we must exert ourselves in applying our mindfulness.

Once we have done that, we will be able to stay in luminosity and emptiness, without applying much exertion when thoughts and appearances arise.

If this mindfulness and the experience of thoughts and appearances as luminosity-emptiness do not arise, this is a sign that we have not related sufficiently with meditation.

It is an indication that when we practice formal meditation, we need to make an effort to experience coemergent thought and coemergent appearance, examining them in terms of where they arise, where they abide, and where they go.

Bringing Everything to the Path

The third section on post-meditation is concerned with how we bring thought onto the path. Gampopa suggested that we do this in three ways:

The first is “destroying whatever is met with.” If we have some familiarity with the experience of post-meditation, it is like meeting an old friend. When thoughts arise, we immediately give rise to mindfulness and alertness that understands their nature. We recognize the nature of thought very soon after thought arises, without getting involved in analysis. When we can do that, we are able to enter into the unborn mind when thoughts and appearances dawn without having to first analyze. We naturally recognize the non-arising of mind, its birthlessness.

The second way is “reviving awareness.” This is like noticing that a friend who has been visiting us has left something behind. We have to run after and try to catch up with our friend to return what he or she left behind. That’s the way we are practicing at this point. We’ve really fallen under the spell of thoughts and appearances, we’ve been somewhat overwhelmed by them, and we have to put our whole meditative process back together from scratch. We have to look at things carefully and revive our mindfulness of what’s going on.

The third way is translated literally as “emanation of nonexistence.” In this situation we are thoroughly familiar with the practice of mindfulness in post-meditation. It is like a great fire blazing in a forest. Whatever we throw at the fire is consumed right on the spot.

If the fire is in its early stages, then damp wood or a gust of wind tend to threaten the fire. But once the fire is blazing, whatever it comes upon becomes more fuel for it. At this point we have become so familiar with the practice of mindfulness in post-meditation that any kind of thought or appearance, even one that would ordinarily be quite difficult, is just the spontaneous expression of reality, dharmata.

These three ways of working with thought and appearance in post-meditation come down to how familiar we are with this practice. If we are very familiar with it, we can practice in the third way described; if we’re somewhat less familiar, we practice in the first way described; and if we’re still less familiar than that, we practice in the second way described.


The fourth topic in this section is a discussion of what it means to say that appearances are like illusions.

We said earlier that meditative equipoise is like space and post-meditation is like an illusion.

When we say “like an illusion” we mean that the things of the world—colors and shapes, sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects—are not established as what they seem to be. They appear to be a certain way for a consciousness that does not see things as they are.

Two things need to be present if we are going to truly realize reality as an illusion:

(1) The realization that phenomena are empty

(2) The realization that appearances are illusory.

When the mind understands this definitely and clearly, we have “illusion-like appearance.”

An example is when a magician creates the appearance of things—such as horses and elephants—that others actually see with their eye consciousnesses.

Of course, the magician who creates these appearances is not fooled by them; he or she knows that the appearances are not what they seem to be from the perspective of the eye consciousness.

In illusion-like appearance, things appear to the sense consciousnesses, but the mental consciousness knows, without hesitation, that these appearances are not what they seem.

Illusion-like appearance occurs when the appearance and the definite understanding that the appearance is false occur together.

What does illusion mean in “whatever appears is like an illusion”?

A passage in the King of Meditation Sutra says:

Meditation on characteristics

Is empty of an unborn essence,

Like a mirage, a phantom city of gandharvas,

Like an illusion or a dream,

Understand all phenomena in this way.

Tashi Namgyal suggests that illusion could mean, one, that dharmata and complete realization are illusion and, two, that phenomena such as the five aggregates are illusion.

Illusion-like appearance refers to the meditator’s knowledge that things do not exist in the ways that they appear.

Having identified the mind that understands illusion-like appearance, the text then explains the way in which illusion-like appearance arises.

Various things will appear to the sense consciousnesses—the eye, ear, nose, tongue, or body sensation consciousness—but the mental consciousness knows that these phenomena do not intrinsically exist and are mere appearances.

That is the dawning of illusion-like appearance in post-meditation.

The text then presents ways in which we could deceive ourselves about illusion-like appearance.

In the quintessential instructions on mahamudra, it is frequently said that we should not manipulate our mind in any way; rather, we are to recognize it as it is without fabrication. We let our mind settle into the space that is natural to it.

There are a number of ways we might misunderstand these instructions.

We might, for instance, be experiencing many disturbing emotions based on external objects and be quite confused and then think, “I will just relax within this without trying to alter it or fix it.” That would be a big mistake.

Or we might experience mistaken appearances that are based on and polluted by ignorance and think that the practice of illusion-like appearance is to relax within that.

There is a big difference between relaxing within mind as it is and relaxing within ignorance. It is not correct to relax within ignorance or conceptuality that does not understand things as they are.

Union of Meditation and Post-Meditation

The text goes on to discuss the way in which the periods of meditation and post-meditation can be brought together.

The mixing of meditation and post-meditation occurs only at a very high level of realization, and it requires tremendous exertion.

At the present time, we don’t have much control or power over this. Nevertheless, it is set forth here in the text to clarify this point.

When asked by his students about the mixing of meditation and post-meditation, Gampopa replied that it refers to never being separated from clear light. This means that the realization of clear light occurs in anything we do—sleeping, eating, anything.


QUESTION: When we do not recognize ordinary mind and are in a mess, how do we go about practicing the Dharma and trying to be of use to sentient beings?

RINPOCHE: It’s wonderful if we can give birth to the realization of mahamudra in the stream of our being.

If we are unable to do so, however, it is not that all of our actions are worthless and futile and that there is nothing we can do to develop the Dharma. We can revitalize our faith and devotion to our root guru, generate love and compassion for sentient beings, practice shamata to pacify our own mind when it is in a worried state, and perform virtuous activities. When we do such things, our understanding increases and we are of more help to others.

QUESTION: You said the three definitive characteristics of ordinary mind are that it is not polluted by the Dharma, not polluted by worldly thoughts of passion and aggression, and not encased within heavy conceptuality. Do we recognize this by noticing the absence of something that’s usually present? For a brief period of time do we notice, either on the spot or later, that something wasn’t there?

RINPOCHE: It’s not necessarily a short period of time. In any case, the main thrust is not noticing what the mind is not, but noticing what it actually is. When we talk about it being unpolluted, it’s not a matter of contriving something that is regarded as good, such as wisdom or luminosity, but rather it is the mind without the interference of attachment and aggression, which are not essential to mind’s nature. Likewise, it’s not the case that the mind’s nature is wrapped up in thought or in heaviness due to fabrications on the one hand while ordinary mind is unfabricated and uncontrived on the other. It’s not a matter of looking at something different. It’s the mind noticing itself, not trying to fix itself or accomplish anything. It is mind just seeing what it actually is and resting within that. Through mindfulness, that is sustained and extended. Mindfulness notices that some thought has boiled up and is about to take us for a ride and just doesn’t go with it.

QUESTION: Of mindfulness, alertness, and attentiveness, which is the most important?

RINPOCHE: From among these three, mindfulness is the main thing.

Mindfulness keeps us in, or brings us back to, meditation. It may involve some intention and effort, “I am going to meditate,” and if we slip and lose the meditation, mindfulness thinks, “Whoa, what happened here?” and restores the meditation.

If mindfulness is present, alertness will come about. If mindfulness is not present, there is no possibility of alertness. Alertness looks to see how well the meditation is going and takes a closer look: “Now that I am meditating, I can look and see how well my meditation is going.” It is on the lookout for different faults that might arise. It looks to see what the state of the meditation is, whether thoughts have arisen and are taking over.

Attentiveness is a bit different. It is a care, a very definite concern or heedfulness, that we do not allow certain problems to arise. So, it is not so much an inquiry into whether or not something is happening as it is a very definite taking care of one’s state of mind.

QUESTION: If we are practicing this particular meditation without object and a thought arises, do we simply avoid feeding it and allow the thought to dissipate? How does this relate to not regarding thought as an enemy?

RINPOCHE: Meditating upon the nature of mind is somewhat easier than meditating upon other sorts of things.

We are simply recognizing mind’s luminous emptiness, which is already there.

It is not like meditating upon external phenomena because we can only apprehend the emptiness of external phenomena through meditative and analytical strategies, and that inevitably involves some difficulty, distance, technique, contrivance, and fabrication.

Looking at our own mind involves only looking at our own mind with our own mind. We don’t have to look somewhere else, and we don’t have to concoct an elaborate strategy for how to do it. So, it is a good bit easier.

As for how we regard thoughts that arise at that time, we are not looking to negate them; we are simply investigating their nature, recognizing them for what they are.

Suppose some very coarse thought arises in our mind. We simply look at the thought to see what it is: from where did it arise, where is it, where does it go?

Like bubbles that arise in water, thoughts appear to arise from somewhere, abide somewhere, and disappear somewhere, but in fact they don’t. We look at thought in this way not because we want to stop thought but because we are investigating the nature of our mind.

We do not want to get rid of thoughts or do anything to them; we simply want to know what they are. So that is how we investigate them.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you could explain how we would remedy dullness by using non-distraction and wildness by using non-meditation. A passage in the book says, “Beginners should know that non-meditation connotes tranquillity and relaxation, but that an excess of relaxation will produce dullness; and that non-distraction includes insight and exertion, but an excess of exertion will produce wildness:” How do we work with these in our practice?

RINPOCHE: The essentials are non-meditation and non-distraction. Through non-meditation the mind rests in peace or shamata, but if that resting becomes too strong, the mind becomes dull.

Through non-distraction sharp insight develops, we experience vipashyana; but if that becomes too strong, wildness arises.

The essential point is that both need to be present and in balance. What has been described as developing something as an antidote and then falling into the other situation is a matter of the two not being in balance. That is to say, either the factor of non-meditation becomes too strong or the factor of non-distraction becomes too strong. So, what is ultimately required is a union of shamaca and vipashyana in which non-meditation and non-distraction are completely balanced.

QUESTION: Is it spinning our wheels to exert mindfulness with the intent of mixing meditation with post-meditation, since we don’t have much experience in this?

RINPOCHE: No, it’s not a waste of time for us to exert ourselves at mindfulness during post-meditation.

We tend to forget samadhi within post-meditation, and because we forget it, the force of it doesn’t come into our experience.

But if we were to develop some mindfulness of it, to remember the keenness and the feeling of samadhi, then later when we returned to samadhi it’s strength would increase.

Therefore, the mindfulness of samadhi within post-meditation is very helpful for meditative equipoise.

It also is helpful for the post-meditation period because it tends to weaken the disturbing emotions.

It is very helpful given all the difficult experiences we have during post-meditation, for the times in which our body is in pain or our mind is ill at ease, frightened, or undisciplined.

If we can bring the sense of samadhi, the memory of it, the mindfulness of samadhi, to bear on the life we live in post-meditation, that will help to pacify our fears, to tame our disturbing emotions, to ease all the physical and mental suffering that we have. So, it is a very helpful thing to do; it helps our body, our mind, and it helps everyone else.

QUESTION: In that case is it useful to use reminders, an object of focus in post-meditation, to encourage meditation?

RINPOCHE: Within samadhi we experience our mind as lacking any nature of its own.

If we can remember that experience in post-meditation, it helps a great deal with the suffering that we encounter, such as strong passion and attachment, strong aggression and hatred.

If we can remember that feeling of samadhi, it helps to increase the stability of our mind.

It helps to lessen any pain we are feeling, and it enhances our stability and insight when we practice meditation again.

For instance, if we were to practice meditation and then make no effort to sustain the meditation during post-meditation, when we sat down to meditate again a month later we would feel, “What happened? I meditated last month but there doesn’t seem to be anything happening now.” However, if we maintain some awareness during post-meditation, it will help a lot the next time we sit down to meditate.

Source: Based on Rinpoche, Khenchen Thrangu. Essentials of Mahamudra: Looking Directly at the Mind. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2014.

Mindfulness is having control of our mind and not letting it run out of control.
Alertness is knowing exactly what we are doing while we are doing it.
(Thrangu Rinpoche)
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