Acharya Lama Kelzang Wangdi


Instructions on the Spiritual Song

“Distinguishing the Provisional from the Definitive

in the Context of Mahamudra”

by Jetsün Milarepa



May I welcome and greet you kindly to a short discussion of Jetsün Milarepa’s spiritual song of realization, entitled, “Distinguishing the Provisional from the Definitive in the Context of Mahamudra.” B efore beginning, though, let us recite “The Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer” together. Disciples connect with the Transmission Lineage of the Karma Kagyu Tradition when they recite this prayer and therefore I want to ask you to acknowledge that it is a wishing prayer and to recite it as sincerely as possible. I will then first speak about the circumstances that led Jetsün Milarepa to compose this most invaluable song of realization.


While meditating in a cave far away from any people and only surrounded by rugged mountains and wild animals, five sisters appeared to Jetsün Milarepa. The five sisters were worldly mountain spirits living on the Tibet-Nepal border and, after they were tamed, became known by the name Tseringmas in Tibetan (which means “goddesses of long life”) and Dakinis in Sanskrit (which means “sky-goers”). Yet, before they were subjugated and tamed they appeared to Milarepa in the form of vicious demons in order to disturb him and disrupt his meditation practice. They wanted to compete with him and sang songs in which they used harsh words, like telling him that he looked like the desolate mountains due to living in total poorness in the solitude of his cave for so long. But they couldn’t harm Milarepa, who told them, “You are outer demons. I have overcome the inner demon of grasping and clinging to a self. I don’t care if outer demons try to get hold of an inner demon that I am free of.” He continued, “Your way of trying to deceive me is an illusion. I meditate on the nature of my mind ever since I have realized it. So, it doesn’t matter what you do or what kind of tricks you come up with. You cannot harm me, because illusions don’t disturb and move me.”


The five sisters were so humbled by Jetsün Milarepa, who had realized the nature of the mind and the reality of phenomena, that they had immense faith and experienced deep devotion for him after he spoke to them. As a result, their chief, Tashi Tseringma, asked him to accept them as his disciples. Milarepa responded, “I live in utter poverty and solitude and there’s nobody else around. Can you live like that?” She again requested that he please accept them as his disciples, and so the Jestün imparted instructions to them in the form of the spiritual song that he sang, entitled, “Distinguishing the Provisional from the Definitive in the Context of Mahamudra.” Having practiced the instructions diligently, the five Tseringmas became protectors of the Dharma, specifically of the Mahamudra teachings that Jetsün Milarepa had given to them.


We see that many non-humans, even demons, practiced the Dharma and practiced much more diligently than human beings, becoming protectors of the precious teachings as a result. And this is how Jetsün Milarepa taught by means of this song to the five Dakinis, which we will look at now.


The Homage


The first verse of “Distinguishing the Provisional from the Definitive in the Context of Mahamudra” by Jestün Milarepa is:


“Right here in this world Jambudvipa, the Victor’s realm

There is One renowned as being a Second Buddha

On the victory banner of teachings that do not set

He is like the crowning jewel at the very top

Respected by all and worthy of offerings

The melodious sound of this rippling flag of fame

Reverberates in every direction around

Is this the lord and accomplished master Maitripa?


Since Lord Buddha appeared on earth, our world is also a pure land, which Jetsün Milarepa stated in the first line of the first verse. It is called “the pure world of endurance,” because it’s the realm in which living beings experience physical and mental happiness as well as need to tolerate physical and mental suffering and pain.


Jetsün Milarepa offered homage to the Mahamudra Transmission Lineage by revering the meditation master of Mahamudra, Maitripa, who the ancient scriptures prophesied would be the Second Buddha in our pure world because of the fact that his realization and activities were only exceeded by those of Lord Buddha. Milarepa paid homage to Marpa in the second verse, seeing that both he and Maitripa, who was the teacher of Naropa, are forefathers of Mahamudra. These teachings that have been handed down to all sentient beings due to the wondrous activities of Maitripa, Naropa, Marpa, and their disciples are famous in this world and in all other pure realms of existence.


Jetsün Milarepa paid deepest homage to Maitripa so that he and his disciples would receive his blessings, which is an indispensable feature of Vajrayana. In the absence of a lineage master and his blessings, it is more than difficult and almost impossible for anyone to attain realization of Mahamudra, because nobody really knows by himself how to gather accumulations and purify obscurations. So a disciple needs to develop and have heartfelt, genuine veneration (mös-pa in Tibetan) and devotion (güs-pa) for his or her Lama in order to partake in the blessings of this most exceptional heritage.


How does a disciple receive the blessings of the pure lineage? By having perfect and full devotion and veneration for a lineage-holder who has the qualities of knowledge, i.e., the sage and saint who is learned in the Dharma and therefore is able to teach it profoundly, is able to dispel doubts that others do have, whose words are worth holding on to, and who is able to explain the characteristics and nature of all disturbing emotions and of the completely purified. A few signs of having perfect and heartfelt devotion and veneration for great lineage masters like Maitripa and Marpa is that tears come to one’s eyes or one’s body-hairs stand on end when one just hears their names, sees a picture, or thinks about them. And that is the reason why a central verse in “The Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer” is:


“Devotion is the head of meditation, as is taught.

The Guru opens the gate to the treasury of oral instructions.

To this meditator who continually supplicates him

Grant your blessings so that genuine devotion is born in me.”


It is needless to say that a body without a head is not a human being and that a headless body is useless. But in the Mahamudra Tradition, meditating without devotion is like a body without a head.


The Mahamudra instructions present another simile to stress the importance of developing and having perfect devotion. It is said that the blessings granted to disciples due to their delight and pure devotion is like the sparkling peak of a snow-capped mountain-top that is illuminated by the sun’s bright rays. It is further said that a Lama or teacher who imparts the blessings is like a snow-covered mountain itself. A dedicated disciple experiences devotion as though his or her Guru or Lama is Vajradhara-Buddha, who embodies all amazing qualities of the Four Kayas. As to the simile: The snow on the peak of the sparkling snow-capped mountain melts and flows into the valley when it is warmed by the sun due to the pure devotion on the side of a disciple. Depending upon the sincerity and intensity of a practitioner’s devotion, the Guru’s blessings flow either fast or slowly. And so, the blessings a practitioner receives depend upon his or her degree of devotion. If we have 100% devotion, then we get 100% blessings; if we have 50% devotion, then we get 50% blessings.


It’s easy to misinterpret the instructions on the importance of having devotion to our Lama and forefathers in Vajrayana. Devotion in Vajrayana doesn’t imply or mean having what is called “blind faith” in a dogma that one feels forced to believe in and therefore succumbs to. Rather, devotion is born from the aspiration to follow the example of our teacher.


There are two kinds of devotion. The first kind is pure and natural devotion, which is the innate tendency one has within oneself to venerate the masters as well as the sacred teachings. This is due to one’s Buddha nature within. Nobody created one’s tendency to appreciate the heritage and one’s natural response in that tears come to one’s eyes or one’s body-hairs stand up when one hears or thinks of Mahamudra and has pure devotion in one’s teacher. This is the best kind of devotion that anyone can possibly have.


If a follower doesn’t have pure and natural devotion in the heritage that is transmitted by one’s teacher, then he or she can develop genuine devotion by learning to have confidence in the Dharma. How does one gain trust? By coming to understand and then by experiencing the truth of the teachings. One tests, What are the Mahamudra teachings? One wins confidence and trust by testing and discovering whether the teachings are true or not. If one progresses, then one has no doubts and has gained genuine devotion. That’s how one develops authentic devotion and receives the blessings of the Lamas and lineage masters. As a result, a disciple’s practice becomes very meaningful and effective and he or she slowly, slowly experiences Mahamudra.


And that’s why Jestün Milarepa formulated the homage to Maitripa in the first verse and to Marpa Lotsawa in the second verse of “Distinguishing the Provisional from the Definitive in the Context of Mahamudra” - in order to receive and then share their blessings with his own students. The second verse is:


“There is one who served at his lotus feet with respect

And drank in full draughts the quintessential elixir

The Mahamudra, the crowning point of view

This put him in touch with reality plain and simple

He perfectly brought all excellent qualities forth

And was an emanation of the Tathagatas in human form

That greatest of beings, Lord Marpa, taught like this:”


Marpa Lotsawa received the three levels of Mahamudra teachings from his Root Guru, Pandit Naropa, who, in turn, received them from his Root Guru, Maitripa. The three levels of Mahamudra are Sutra-Mahamudra, Vajrayana-Mahamudra, and Essence-Mahamudra, which are accomplished by practicing Ground-Mahamudra, Path-Mahamudra, and Result-Mahamudra. The great forefathers of Mahamudra never tired and the excellent masters of our present day never become weary of taking all hardships upon themselves to receive and practice the teachings and to manifest the ultimate result.


In the second verse, Jetsün Milarepa stated that the view and meditation practices of Mahamudra are the quintessential elixir of all teachings that Lord Buddha presented more than 2,500 years ago. The perfect view of Mahamudra is taught so that disciples have no doubts about the true nature of their mind.


Having no doubts and consequently having deep confidence in the view of the mind’s true nature, Marpa Lotsawa meditated on the mind’s true nature and realized the unfabricated result of Mahamudra, which is what ascertaining the view of Mahamudra means. In exactly the same way, Bodhisattvas develop their confidence and gain genuine devotion by meditating mind’s true nature. By developing and increasing one’s understanding of Mahamudra, one eventually becomes free of mental defilements and obscurations that cause suffering and attains qualities of wisdom and compassion.


In the above verse, Jestün Milarepa sang that Marpa is a Tathagata. The Sanskrit term tatha means “in that manner, in that way, thus,” so a Tathagata is “one who has come and/or gone like (the previous Buddhas)” and therefore has attained fruition. Jetsün Milarepa sang the homage to Marpa in the second verse in order to receive and then pass on the blessings of his Root Guru to his own disciples.


The View


It’s very important to know the view of Mahamudra, how to meditate Mahamudra, and how to integrate Mahamudra in one’s daily life. It’s not enough to just hear the words “Mahamudra” and “nature of the mind” and, although it’s good that one has heard the word, it doesn’t really help merely reiterating, “Mahamudra … Mahamudra … Mahamudra.” One needs to understand the view, meditation instructions, conduct, and fruition of Mahamudra. We will look at another short song Jestün Milarepa composed that perfectly explains the view, meditation, conduct, and fruition of Mahamudra.


In the following song of Mahamudra, Jetsün Milarepa taught that “The view is ascertaining emptiness with primordial wisdom.” Furthermore, he advised practitioners how to meditate Mahamudra in order to gain confidence in the view: “Meditation is becoming accustomed to limitless luminosity.” He then sang about conduct in daily life when one is not meditating: “Conduct is actions carried out with wisdom and compassion.” When the view, meditation, and conduct are perfectly practiced together, then “Fruition is naked purity.”


From the viewpoint of Mahamudra, in these short lines Milarepa taught that Mahamudra is the nature of the mind. Sometimes the nature of the mind is called “luminous emptiness” and sometimes it is referred to as “ordinary mind.” What is the ordinary mind? It’s a mind that has transcended duality, a mind that is free of concepts, a mind that is perfectly pure. And so, from the viewpoint of Mahamudra, the mind is completely empty of suffering, empty of mental defilements, empty of negative emotions – it is totally empty of stains and therefore it is immaculate. Milarepa pointed to the fact that mind is not a void but is replete with wisdom and qualities that can unfold to highest levels that are equivalent to the extraordinary wisdom and magnificent qualities that all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have.


Again, the view of Mahamudra is being aware of emptiness, which means being aware of the fact that the mind is free of suffering and obscurations and furthermore being aware of the fact that mind’s nature is utter purity and untainted authenticity.


A disciple first needs to develop confidence in the view. Having gained heartfelt confidence in the view, a disciple then needs to meditate in order to realize mind’s luminous nature. Due to mind’s luminosity, a practitioner then knows how to rest in the nature of his or her mind “as it is,” ever relaxed and at ease. The view of mind’s nature points to attachment, clinging, and duality. Yet, one needs to look at the mind’s nature while coming to appreciate the view, in which case one relaxes naturally while investigating. Relaxing while investigating is practicing meditation.







How does one meditate? When emotions and defilements arise in one’s mind while ascertaining the view, one meditates by looking nakedly, i.e., directly, at a thought the very moment it arises. Looking nakedly and directly at a thought or emotion doesn’t refer to the way one usually apperceives appearances due to habits, rather looking nakedly means directly seeing the nature of one’s thoughts that are, in fact, the indivisibility of emptiness and luminosity. For example, looking directly at a hateful thought the moment it arises - while relaxing naturally in its nature “as it is,” without concepts - and seeing its empty nature and luminous quality is realization of the simultaneity of mind’s emptiness and luminosity.


One looks at any thought whatsoever, whether one usually thinks it is good or bad, and doesn’t follow after it. For instance, one doesn’t think, “Oh, this is a bad thought” when a spiteful thought arises in one’s mind, but recognizes, “Oh, a thought.” At that time, one is like a two-year-old child who, when it sees fire, reaches out its hand to touch it without thinking that it will hurt. Like an impartial little child, one recognizes a thought when it arises, looks at it nakedly, and doesn’t fabricate concepts and ideas about it. Should one do so, one would go astray and get lost. One is also like a two-year-old child who is open but not desirous of what it sees while at the market. One is also like an innocent child who remains pure and doesn’t react in habitual ways when someone criticizes it by speaking harshly. Free like a child, one looks nakedly at one’s emotions or thoughts the moment they arise and doesn’t label them as is usually the case, rather one relaxes one’s mind “as it is,” naturally.


Meditating on the mind’s nature and naturally abiding in non-conceptuality and non-duality is the way of Mahamudra. The experiences one has won through meditation practice do need to be integrated in one’s daily life. How is this done?


Conduct and Actions


After a practitioner returns from a meditation session to daily activities during what is called “post-meditation,” he or she encounters very many appearances and as a result of practice doesn’t cling to them as strongly as before. Through meditation practice, one’s attachment and clinging to experiences and appearances decrease and eventually stop; one’s behavior and actions in everyday life are free of grasping and clinging. Being free of grasping and clinging to a self and to things means that one doesn’t suffer anymore but experiences happiness instead.


How does one recognize whether one is progressing in one’s meditation practice of Mahamudra? One’s ego-clinging becomes weaker and weaker and one is less and less attached to what one considered either positive or negative experiences and appearances until then. Like a two-month-old baby, one becomes free of desire and feels no tension or danger. Suffering ends when one doesn’t feel endangered anymore. Being free of thinking one is in danger, one is no longer attached to such thoughts as losing one’s job, or of getting a new job, or of going somewhere else, or of being stressed by one’s boss. One is free and relaxes in every situation in everyday life.


The Result


As said, one clings and grasps less and less due to having meditated the view and integrated it in one’s daily life. Let me give an example for the fourth point of Mahamudra, which is the result.


There was once a man who meditated Mahamudra fervently in the solitude of a jungle for twelve whole years. He thought that he had become free of all his habits, but there was nobody around anyway who tempted him to notice his habits. He thought that he had overcome all emotions, but there was nobody around anyway to cause him to become aware of his emotions. He also thought that he was extremely tolerant. While returning to his hometown after having left his solitary retreat, he carried tsampa, butter, and cheese in his handbag and a thief stole it. He became furious, so his meditation practice didn’t really work. One has to check one’s mind again and again, notice when one is clinging or not, and then meditate. So, the result of practice is that one’s conduct and actions are completely free of grasping and clinging. As long as there is a difference between one’s practice and daily behavior, one has to continue working at it and one needs to try again and again.


One turns into a completely different person when one succumbs to one’s negative emotions. Before they arose, one was nice, but one’s face becomes red and one says funny things when one gives in to them. It’s necessary to be who one is and not be swayed to be what one isn’t due to defilements and emotions.


The main purpose of meditation practice is to remain in the presence of one’s mind when a mental defilement or emotion arises in one’s mind. One has accomplished the purpose of one’s meditation practice if one is stable and present, relaxing into the nature of the mind in every moment of one’s life. When one realizes the empty and luminous nature of one’s mind, then one has no more obscurations or mental defilements and has attained freedom from suffering and its causes. Total, ultimate happiness that never changes into suffering is the result.




This was a brief presentation and is only meant to give you an idea of the view, meditation, conduct, and result of Mahamudra. Understanding the view serves to eliminate doubts that one may have and to win confidence. Meditation enables one to look at one’s thoughts nakedly and to relax in non-discursive ease and harmonious non-duality that is one’s authentic mind “as it is.”


Let us do a short Mahamudra meditation together. One sits very straight and is relaxed. One looks at one’s mind nakedly and doesn’t even think that one is meditating, which would be an obstacle. One just meditates. Many thoughts will arise while one is meditating and there is no need to block them. Whether they are good or bad thoughts, one simply lets them go on their own. One merely recognizes a thought one has, doesn’t follow it up, and says “bye-bye” to it. One looks at the nature of a thought and relaxes one’s mind naturally and evenly. The Mahamudra instructions teach that one should not block thoughts, because many more will follow, one after the other, and that is not what meditation is. Focusing one’s attention on one thought that one has and looking at it nakedly is practicing meditation. It’s important to meditate Mahamudra for short times but many times.


Let us now sing “Distinguishing the Provisional from the Definitive in the Context of Mahamudra” that was composed by Jetsün Milarepa.


“Right here in this world Jambudvipa, the Victor’s realm

There is One renowned as being a Second Buddha

On the victory banner of teachings that do not set

He is like the crowning jewel at the very top

Respected by all and worthy of offerings

The melodious sound of this rippling flag of fame

Reverberates in every direction around

Is this the lord and accomplished master Maitripa?


There is one who served at his lotus feet with respect

And drank in full draughts the quintessential elixir

The Mahamudra, the crowning point of view

This put him in touch with reality plain and simple

He perfectly brought all excellent qualities forth

And was an emanation of the Tathagatas in human form

That greatest of beings, Lord Marpa, taught like this:


However appearances might appear outside

Not realized are delusory projections

Clinging to objects, that is what ties you down

For those who know, they're illusory appearance

For them what appear to be objects are mind’s resource

In the end, in fact, there is no such thing as appearance

And being unborn, dharmakaya is utterly pure

He taught of its purity in the unborn dharmakaya.


The movements of rational consciousness inside

Not realized are ignorance itself

This is the root of all karma and all affliction

If realized is self-awareness wisdom

Here is where positive qualities spring full-blown

In the end, in fact, there is no such thing as wisdom

Let phenomena go as far as they go and no more

This is as far as they go and no more, he said ---


This skandha of form compulsively taken on

Not realized is four elements making a body

Sickness and suffering, this is what comes of that

If realized it's a deity's union body

Reversing the common assumption you entertain

In the end, in fact, there is no such thing as body

It’s as rarefied as a cloud-free sky is what he taught

Is pure as a cloud-free sky is what he taught.


Apparitions of male and female demons and ghouls

For as long as your guise has not been seen through are maras

Obstacle-makers who nothing but trouble spell

If the guise is seen, thought’s obstructors are dharmapalas

A hotbed of siddhis of such a variety

In the end, in fact, there are neither gods nor goblins

Let concepts go as far as they go and no more

That is as far as they go and no more, he said


In the ultimate yana, to put it in general terms,

Through the anuttarayoga of secret mantra

When a dhatu condensation with nadi aligns

The forms of spirits are seen outside, he taught.


Not knowing these self-expressions are not what they seem

But thinking they’re real will get you precisely nowhere

There was a time confusion made my head spin

Knowing no better I built a nest of delusion

Taking gods that help and spirits that harm as true

But now through the Jetsün-siddha’s guidance so kind

I see stopping samsara and winning nirvana won’t do

I’ve caught on that whatever appears is Mahamudra.


Through realizing delusions have no ground

The water-moon of awareness shines unblurred

The sun of luminosity, free of clouds,

Lights up the darkness of ignorance out to its brink

My spinning head of confusion spins no more

A glimmer of basic being glows within

How precious now the idea of seeing a ghost

It reveals the unborn source, how strange and amazing!”


Thank you. I f you have any questions, please ask.


Question: I understood your instructions but work as a technician and have to deal with and judge thoughts all the time. How can I integrate the practice in my daily life?

Lama Kelzang: Actually, in the beginning it’s not necessary to do this 100%, but we try 1%. So, one looks at thoughts when one isn’t working. One’s meditation practice develops slowly, slowly and then one can look at thoughts during daily life, deal with them naturally, not be involved with them, and not change all the time because of many further thoughts. For example, if a customer calls on you at work and complains about something, instead of being influenced by your dislike, you look at the problem and are who you are. If you need to say something, then say it without being influenced by your negative emotions. Say it as you are. Mahamudra means that one should not change oneself and be somebody one isn’t because of one’s negative emotions. You are who you are, do what you need to do, and aren’t controlled by your negative emotions that change you from being the person you are from one day to the next. Emotions cause us to be friends with someone today and an enemy tomorrow. The mental defilements change us but don’ change the person we really are.

Thank you very much.


Dedication Prayers


Through this goodness may omniscience be attained

And thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.

May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara

That is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.


May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.

May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless in numberas space is vast in its


Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings without exception swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.





The instructions that Lama Kelzang Wangdi kindly offered in English were presented at the Kamalashila Institute, Langenfeld, in 2007 and simultaneously translated into the German language by Hannelore Wenderoth, who we wish to thank here. Gratitude to Katja Langer for organizing the tapes of the teachings and for making them available to us. Photo of Lama Kelzang courtesy of Josef Kerklau from Münster, who we also wish to thank very much for all that he is doing. Transcribed and edited slightly by Gaby Hollmann, responsible for all mistakes. Copyright Lama Kelzang and Kamalashila Institute, 2008.



©Karma Lekshey Ling Institute