Machig’s Last Instructions

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by Machig Labdron, translated by Jerome Edou

Then Machig spoke:
For ninety-nine years, I have worked
for the benefit of beings.
Now this work is almost complete.
I will not take birth again in this human realm in a physical form,
Nor will I leave behind any remains or relics.
But my emanations in the world will be innumerable;
And many will recognize them.
They will be perceived in different ways,
Depending on karma, pure or impure.
Understand this, my sons.

Fortunate sons, keep this in your heart.
My instructions on Chöd
Are the authentic teaching of Mahamudra [phyag rgya chen po].
This Mahamudra cannot be explained in words.
It cannot be explained, but it is like this:

Phyag is the nature of emptiness of the mind.
Gya is liberation from the vastness of samsaric appearances.
Chen po is the inseparable union of appearances and emptiness.
Primordially co-emergent, this inseparability, like empty space
Does nothing, is not dependent on anything.

In the same way, mind itself, natural and co-emergent
Has no support, has no object:
Let it rest in its natural expanse without any fabrication.
When the bonds of negative thoughts are released,
You will be free, there is no doubt.

As when gazing into space,
All other visual objects disappear,
So it is for mind itself.
When mind is looking at mind,
All discursive thoughts cease
And enlightenment is attained.

As in the sky all clouds
Disappear into sky itself:
Wherever they go, they go nowhere,
Wherever they are, they are nowhere.
This is the same for thoughts in the mind:
When mind looks at mind,
The waves of conceptual thought disappear.

As empty space
Is devoid of form, color or image,
So too, mind itself
Is free of form, color or image.

As the heart of the sun
Cannot be veiled by an eternity of darkness
So too, the realization of the ultimate nature of the mind
Cannot be veiled by an eternity of samsara.

Even though empty space
May be named or conventionally defined,
It is impossible to point it out as “this.”
It is the same for the clarity of mind itself:
Although its characteristics may be expressed,
It cannot be pointed out as “this.”

The defining characteristic of mind
Is to be primordially empty like space;
The realization of the nature of the mind
Includes all phenomena without exception.

Once discursive thoughts are totally abandoned,
Dharmakaya is no other than that.
Once the five poisons are totally abandoned,
The five wisdoms are no other than that.

Once the three poisons are totally abandoned,
The three kayas are no other than that.
Once conventional mind is totally abandoned,
Buddhahood is no other than that.

Once samsara is totally abandoned
Nirvana is no other than that.
Once mental agitation is totally abandoned,
Skillful means are no other than that.

Once emptiness is totally abandoned,
Discriminating wisdom is no other than that.
Once mind is totally abandoned,
Fearsome places are no other than that.

Like the waves in the water, naturally arising, naturally subsiding,
Without conceptualizations, without abiding in extreme views.
In the primordial purity of mind,
There is no transgression of your samaya.
Free of desire and attachment and of extreme views,
Like a single light dispelling the darkness,
You realize at once the teachings of Sutra,
Tantra and all other scriptures.

If you aspire to this path, you will be free from the infinity of samsara.
If you enter this path, you will defeat all mental afflictions without exception.
If you achieve this path, you will attain the highest enlightenment.

Those who don’t aim for this are deluded fools.
Those who don’t enter this path are in darkness like the blind
And certain to be carried away by the river of samsara’s suffering.
This suffering is unbearable—have compassion for these fools.

If you wish to be freed from the suffering of samsara,
At all times rely on a qualified lama, an erudite and realized spiritual friend.
Pray to the lama with respect and devotion,
Serve the lama well and request the oral instructions.
Having analyzed the master’s words, practice accordingly.
Once the blessing has entered your heart,
You will come to recognize the true nature of your mind.

Alas, the phenomena of samsara have no essence.
They are the cause of the suffering we experience
Which increases and remains.
Don’t you realize that this life is being spent in agitation?
If you imagine you will practice Dharma when you have the leisure,
You will lose this opportunity.
Human life is wasted in the thought,
“I will practice Dharma later.”
What would happen if you were to die in an accident?
If you don’t meditate with perseverance now,
And if you died tomorrow,
Who then would provide you with authentic Dharma?

If you don’t do it yourself,
What good will the Dharma practice of others do you?
It is like a beggar’s dream,
In which he is rich in splendor, food and wealth.

Upon awakening all is gone without a trace,
Once virtue and non-virtue are totally abandoned,
Gods and demons are no other than that.
Once the six consciousnesses are totally abandoned,
The six classes of beings are no other than that.
Once the eight consciousnesses are totally abandoned,
The eight armies of demons are no other than that.

Once wandering thoughts are totally abandoned,
Magical displays are no other than that,
Meditative absorption is no other than that,
The practice of the four daily sessions is no other than that.

Once discursive thoughts are totally abandoned,
The practice of Chöd is no other than that.
Once mindfulness is achieved,
The level of final accomplishment is no other than that.
Once the ultimate nature of the mind is realized,
The definitive sign of realization is no other than that.

Abandoning all bodily activities,
Remain like a bunch of straw cut loose.
Abandoning all verbal expressions of speech,
Remain like a lute with its strings cut through.
Abandoning all mental activity,
That is Mahamudra.

In the Dharma tradition of this old lady
There is nothing to do other than this.

Ah, fortunate sons and disciples gathered here,
This body of ours is impermanent like a feather on a high mountain pass,
This mind of ours is empty and clear like the depth of space.
Relax in that natural state, free of fabrication.
When mind is without any support, that is Mahamudra.
Becoming familiar with this, blend your mind with it—
That is Buddhahood.

You may recite mantras, be diligent in offering tormas,
Be versed in the entire Tripitaka teachings,
Including the Vinaya and the philosophical schools with their respective tenets,
But it will not make you realize Mahamudra, the nature of the mind.
Attached to your own point of view,
You merely obscure the clear light of your mind.
Protecting vows which are merely conceptual
Harms samaya in the ultimate sense.
Remain free of mental fabrications, free of consideration for yourself.
Like the passing of a bird in the sky.
All composite phenomena in the world are just like that.

Photo by Inga Walker

Photo by Inga Walker

Right now you have the opportunity.
Look for the essence of mind—this is meaningful.
When you look at mind, there’s nothing to be seen.
In this very not seeing, you see the definitive meaning.

Supreme view is beyond all duality of subject and object.
Supreme meditation is without distraction.
Supreme activity is action without effort.
Supreme fruition is without hope and fear.

Supreme view is free from reference point.
Supreme meditation is beyond conceptual mind.
Supreme activity is practice without doing.
Supreme fruition is beyond all extremes.

If you realize this, enlightenment is attained.
If you enter this path of Mahamudra, you will reach the essential nature.
You cut wrong conceptions about inner, outer and in between,
You understand all the teachings of the higher and lower paths,
You defeat the 84,000 klesas,
You perfect simultaneously the symptoms,
The sign of realization and the level of final accomplishment
And you cross over the ocean of samsara.

This old lady has no instructions more profound than this to give you.

Thus she spoke.

Then, on the morning of the fifteenth day in the sixth month of the Fire-Monkey year, just as the sun rose glittering on the mountain top, Machig spoke: “All of my disciples, gather here. Prepare an excellent ganachakra to please all the dakas and dakinis. For ninety-nine years, I have done vast amounts of work for the benefit of beings. Now I’m going to the realm of Khecari.” Her body shone with a blaze of pink light that emanated like sun rays, and then it rose about one cubit into space, from where she spoke:

My authentic teaching, the unique doctrine of the unborn,
Is the greatest of all systems of profound instructions.
This separation of body and mind and its blessing
Is the greatest of all transferences of consciousness.
This offering of the bodily aggregates
Is the greatest of all banquets.
This wandering in mountain solitudes and fearsome places
Is the greatest of all monasteries.


Machig Labdron (1055-1149) was a master of Tibetan Buddhism and the founder of several lineages of the Vajrayana practice of Chöd.

Jerome Edou has served as an interpreter for various lamas and is an author and translator of works on Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. He has studied with Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso since 1976 and currently lives in Kathmandu.

Jerome Edou, “Machig’s Last Instructions” from Machig Labdron and the Foundation of Chod. Copyright © 1996 by Jerome Edou. Reprinted by arrangement with The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston, MA.

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