The Logic of Liberation: Epistemology as a Path to the Realization of Mahāmudrā

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The Logic of Liberation: Epistemology as a Path to the Realization of Mahāmudrā
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Citation: Burchardi, Anne. "The Logic of Liberation: Epistemology as a Path to the Realization of Mahāmudrā." In The Illuminating Mirror: Tibetan Studies in Honour of Per K. Sørensen on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, edited by Olaf Czaja and Guntram Hazon, 41-56. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2015.

Article Summary

Anne Burchardi[1]

The present article is a contribution to the discussion on the place of epistemology in Tibetan Buddhism in relation to the doctrine of Mahāmudrā, drawing on a selection of Tibetan sources from the 16th century as well as Bhutanese sources from the 19th century.

      While Buddhist epistemology may seem dry and cerebral, it plays a special role as a gateway to Mahāmudrā according to certain masters associated with the gzhan stong philosophy[2]. For them, not only can direct valid cognition (mngon sum tshad ma) in general be linked to the non-conceptual states associated with Mahāmudrā meditation, but the basic epistemological definition of mind as luminous and cognisant (gsal zhing rig pa) is a precursor to the pointing-out instructions for recognising the nature of mind. According to some interpretations, it is the direct valid cognition of apperception[3] (rang rig mngon sum tshad mo), which experiences this true nature, and the direct yogic valid cognition (mal 'byor mngon sum tshad ma), which realises it.
  1. An early version of this paper was presented at the 15th IABS Conference in Atlanta in 2008 as well as at the Seventh Nordic Tibet Research Conference in Helsinki, 2009. It appeared in the proceedings of the latter which were published as the Himalayan Discoveries in 2013. It appears here in an amended version with the kind permission of the editors. I would like to thank Lopon Norbu Gyaltsen for his explanations as well as Karl Brunnhölzl, Per Sørensen, Jan-Ulrich Sobisch, Julian Pollock and Yaroslav Komarovski for their comments and improvements to the previous version of this article. I would like to thank Olaf Czaja for his suggestions, which inspired a revision of the translations in the first half of the present version of the paper
  2. The connection between direct yogic valid cognition and Mahāmudrā most probably predates the inception of the gzhan stong movement in Tibet.
  3. Often translated as reflexive awareness