Angelica and I rode the subway into downtown Manhattan, then walked to a packed hall near 8th street in the simmering east village to hear this lama speak. And she was right — he was brilliant and magnetic. In hindsight, it is easy to see how his unique methods of teaching eastern wisdom gave my own life rich meaning, and forever changed its course.
The next few years flashed by as I studied with him, absorbing every nugget he dropped. I saw his ego grow monstrous as his flock swelled, but I stayed on, convinced that his teachings were authentic, culled directly as they were from the ancient scriptures. In fact I was so enraptured by his efforts to spread the dharma among the lost tribes of Manhattan that I offered to transcribe his teachings on Mahamudra — a word that has many connotations in the Buddhist world, but which he introduced to us as an ancient teaching on the nature of samsara, or relative reality.
Eastern philosophy teaches that there are Two Truths — Absolute and Relative. The Absolute is the true nature of all beings without exception, and is often characterized as having three qualities — existence, consciousness and bliss, which are really the same one thing — just as mango ice-cream is simultaneously cold, sweet and tastes of mango. It is only the Relative (samsara) that varies from being to being.
Before we can begin to merge with the Absolute that is our true nature, however, we must first make sense of our relative lives. And this is where Mahamudra enters the picture, for it is an analytical meditation that breaks mundane reality into easily digestible, and therefore dismissible, blocks.
When one accepts that all things are subject to these flavors (flavors, not steps or stages, since none is higher or lower), one’s relative reality finally begins to make sense, and one is free to move forward with clarity and confidence.