teachings of a modern spiritual adept


How Wondrous the Non-dual

EH MA HO! teaching on the non-dual view of gnosis as radical enlightenment

 To begin with I want to read to you a small piece of a Tibetan text.  It goes like this:

 EH MA HO!  This marvelous and wondrous fact is the mystery of all perfect Buddhas. From that which has no origin, everything that is, has taken its origin yet in so having taken its origin it remains that which has no origin.

EH MA HO! This marvelous and wondrous fact is the mystery of all perfect Buddhas. From that which never ceases all that ceases seems to come, yet in ceasing it remains that which never ceases.

EH MA HO! This marvelous and wondrous fact is the mystery of all perfect Buddhas. From that which has no locus, all that is located comes yet in being so located it remains that which has no locus.

EH MA HO!  This marvelous and wondrous fact is the mystery of all perfect Buddhas.  From that which is unobjectifiable all that is objectifiable comes yet in being so objectifiable it remains that which is unobjectifiable.

EH MA HO! This marvelous and wondrous fact is the mystery of all perfect Buddhas.  From that which neither comes nor goes, all that comes and goes proceeds, and yet in so coming and going it remains that which neither comes nor goes.


A long time ago, ten years or so, I read this and spent a number of days contemplating it. When I would sit in meditation, I would hold the verses of it in my mind and contemplate them in a non-conceptual fashion, just cradling them in the midst of non-conceptual non-elaboration. And then one night I had a dream in which Longchenpa and then Jigme Lingpa and then Do Khyentse appeared and each gave me a variety of teachings, some of which elaborated this set of verses and the term, EH MA HO.

EH MA HO is an exclamation of wonderment. It's an exclamatory exuberance. And to understand this you must contemplate for a moment because this is not meant to be a philosophical statement. It is a statement of sheer feeling, but feeling based in the wisdom mind of the Buddhas. So, it's an exuberant exclamation, which is like a river and its banks, because it's an exuberant exclamation it is meant to draw us into a demeanor or a disposition of feeling and mind. The feeling of wonderment that arises in mind when mind is allowed to rest in the non-conceptual and so in this sense it gives a shape, it’s like the banks of a river, but it also is inseparable from the authentic nature of our beingness, so it is the river flowing through. A prayer like this, words of the Buddhas’ teachings of this manner are not mere philosophy, they are actually siddhi or spiritual power; to read them is a practice in and of itself and to contemplate them, the lowest level of contemplation being an intellectual one, but the highest level, to hold the disposition of the Buddhas’ teaching in our being in a non-conceptual non-elaboration—this is the highest form of contemplating them.

            All of the Nyinthig teachings, the heart essence teachings, or the Thugthig, the essence of the heart teachings that arise from the Nyingmapa tradition, are the teachings on this exclamatory exuberance. EH MA HO, the teachings of the wonder of the mind resting in brilliant openness. A phrase like EH MA HO, if we are going to consider it in terms of the practices that we do, has two different aspects. It has a provisional meaning and a definitive meaning. The definitive meaning is the meaning of the phrase in truth, it is the meaning of it according to the Buddhas’ wisdom understanding of it. The provisional meaning of it is the meaning that might also be given in order to benefit beings according to their tendencies. Provisional teachings are teachings which are not necessarily definitively true according to pure wisdom understanding, but they are teachings which are necessary to guide us upon stages of the path. So, one could start with the provisional meaning of it, or one could start with the definitive meaning. But within the context of this teaching, we will start with the definitive meaning. And the definitive meaning is the exclamation of the disposition or dimension of spacious luminous mind, which is not other than, or inseparable from, Kunzang Yabyum—Kuntuzangmo and Kuntuzangpo and their inseparable union. The male and the female and the inseparable union of them which makes the mysterious wholeness, which is not localizable, non-objectifiable—the wholeness of gnostic awareness. How amazing and how wondrous and how astonishing! There is this quality of astonishment; how astonishing that Kunzang Yabyum, the male and female Dharmakaya teachers, who appear as subject and object within the realms of beings while remaining perfectly non-dual. The essence of this teaching is the manner in which enlightened and unenlightened, pure and impure appearances, never stray from Kunzang Yabyum. Whether you find yourself in the six spaces of Samantabhadra or whether you find yourself in the impure realms of the sentient beings, you still have never strayed from the perfect luminous wholeness, which is Kunzang Yabyum. This is amazing, how astonishing that even beings lost in delusion are not anywhere other, or anything other than the dimension and the disposition of perfect fully enlightened Buddha nature.

            In the vision I had of Longchenpa that night, a number of years ago, he appeared in the sky in the dream state, and he said, “I am your own Tathagata,” which Tathagata here is Buddha. “I am your own Tathagata come to reveal the Tathagata to the Tathagata.” This is a phrase you find in Longchenpa's teachings, to understand the manner in which it is your own . . . I thought the other day when I was contemplating this, I thought maybe I would make a bumper sticker saying, “I am your own Tathagata.”  Buddha himself appears to Buddha himself to reveal Buddha himself. The great Zen Master Bodhi Dharma once said, “Only a Buddha can liberate Buddhas.” A Buddha cannot liberate sentient beings. Buddhas can only liberate Buddhas. The Tathagata appears to liberate the Tathagata, not a sentient being.

            So, everyone experiences the mind and the objects of mind if we contemplate Kunzang Yabyum. Generally, Kuntuzangmo is understood to be the vast open empty spaciousness and Kuntuzangpo is the luminous rays of that spaciousness. Kuntuzangmo is Emptiness and Kuntuzangpo is the Luminosity of that Emptiness that pervades that Emptiness. There is a teaching I received that same night called Kunzang Yabyum and the Three Spheres, and it explains the manner in which while at the basic level Kuntuzangmo is the empty vast open spaciousness and Kuntuzangpo is the rays, that it must also be understood that Kuntuzangmo is the object of perception and Kuntuzangpo is the perceiver. This can be confusing sometimes because people would assume that Kuntuzangpo is the object of Kuntuzangmo the perceiver. But this is an important teaching because it also can be explained as Kuntuzangpo is that which fixates and Kuntuzangmo is that which is grasped. It is also elaborated on in the Tsa Lung teachings in that the white drop becomes the subject and the red drop becomes the objective appearances. This is explained in depth in Karmapa Rongjin Dorje's The Profound Inner Principles.

            The way to understand this is to understand that the nature of all phenomena is emptiness. The Buddha once said that for those who are omniscient, the word omniscient means all-knowing, composed of only knowingness, it doesn't mean that the Buddha knows what all stock prices will be tomorrow. What does it mean when we say that the Buddha is all-knowing? It doesn't mean that the Buddha knows what you ate for lunch yesterday. So, what does it mean? It means that the Buddha knows the nature of all phenomena. There are no phenomena whose nature Buddha does not know. The Buddha said for those whose seeing is omniscient, that seeing is that everything, all phenomena, are non-existent. They are utterly and perfectly empty, this is the unconventional further seeing, further seeing here is a translation of the term lha tong.

When you practice shine and lha tong, samatha and vipassana practices, there is the calm abiding and then there is further seeing. And this further seeing is the seeing of the omniscient ones. That all appearances are empty, that the nature of the phenomena themselves is emptiness. That the basic space of phenomena is empty. That the nature of the phenomena themselves is emptiness. And this nature of the phenomena which is emptiness is not different than the basic space of phenomena. “Hear Oh Sauraputra, Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Form is not other than emptiness and emptiness is not other than form.” This is the complete, full understanding of the second turning of the wheel of Dharma. The second turning of the wheel of the Prajnaparamita Sutras elaborates itself, completes itself in the understanding of Dzogpachenpo.

            So, if you understand the manner in which all appearances are emptiness itself, then pure and impure phenomena are exactly the same in having this empty nature. Pleasure depends on pain and pain depends on pleasure, they are dependently arisen, and they are empty of inherent reality and therefore have the nature of equality. And the nature of equality is luminous vast open emptiness. Appearances themselves, pure or impure, are exactly the same in having the nature of equality and non-existence. They have no inherent existence. Conditioned phenomena are simply empty, and their nature is unborn and primordially pure regardless of how they appear.

            A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk on the syllable AH as the unborn nature of all appearances. All appearances do not stray from the syllable AH. In Do Kyentse's Terma’s, Prajnaparamita appears as the syllable AH in the heart of Yeshe Tsogyel. This is the essence; the supreme essence of all appearance is the unborn syllable AH. And because all appearances have this unborn empty reality, then the nature of phenomena is exactly Kuntuzangmo. When you see an object what you are seeing is emptiness, what you are seeing is unborn and therefore it is Kuntuzangmo, who is the unborn empty vastness. This is why the red drop, the female drop, which has the nature of emptiness becomes objects, because objects have the nature of emptiness. The basic space of phenomena and the phenomena themselves are identical in having the same nature of emptiness. The empty nature of phenomena is exactly Kuntuzangmo—all objects of appearance. So Kuntuzangpo, the radiant, is the rays of wisdom mind which never depart from wisdom mind. Kuntuzangpo is that which recognizes the nature of objects and the basic space of phenomena. The radiant awareness mind of the Tathagata never departs from vast uncontrived space. Knowing all objects as inseparable from the basic space of phenomena. This is the subject, Kuntuzangpo. So Kuntuzangpo, the rays of wisdom knowingness, of the pure knowingness, is not a knowledge of this or that thing. Not a reification or concretization of empty appearances into objects which can then be grasped at as definable facts or bits of knowledge. Instead, when appearances and objects are allowed to rest in their basic nature, to abide as the unborn syllable AH, then knowledge becomes pure knowingness—pure gnosis, immediate living. Then the rays of wisdom mind embrace the object without becoming a concretized separate subject and object. So, the natural radiance of Kuntuzangmo embraces the objects without concretizing them. So Kuntuzangmo becomes the objects of appearance, which are intrinsically empty. Kuntuzangpo, the wisdom rays that self-recognize wisdom mind, encounters those objects and unifies perfectly with them because that self-recognizing wisdom mind does not ever stray from the basic space of uncontrived vast openness. It is simply the luminosity pervading that basic space. “Kuntu” means “all,” and “zangpo” means “good.” Zangpo is the fact that nothing leaves the basic space, that whether phenomena are pure or impure, they do not leave the basic space, otherwise it would not be “all.” Kuntuzangmo is the all-good nature of pure and impure appearances. Kuntuzangpo is the all-good self-recognition of the nature of appearances.

            When appearances are known by this radiant perceiving self-cognizing wisdom, then appearances are known as Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Buddha consorts in union. Even if phenomena appear as impure, appearances would still not have authentically strayed because there would be nowhere to stray to. There is nowhere for them to abide except for the basic space of phenomena, which is Kuntuzangmo and there is no way for them to abide except as emptiness. So, appearances cannot abide anywhere or in any way separable from Kuntuzangmo. So, whether they appear as pure or whether they appear as impure, they still have the same fundamental wholeness.

            The one who knows, is Kuntuzangpo—the rays of wisdom space. Kuntuzangmo is the space itself. Kuntuzangpo is the rays of wisdom gnosis. Kuntuzangmo is the empty objects which are being known by this living knowingness. So, all appearances, whether pure or impure are nothing other than the Vajra queen, the syllable AH. EH MA HO! How astounding, how astonishing, this fundamental wisdom! Because what could be more astonishing than that, what could be more astonishing than the fact that even impure appearances are nothing but Kuntuzangmo? What could be more astonishing than the fact that even the five poisons are nothing but Kuntuzangmo and the experience of the five poisons is nothing other but Kuntuzangpo? How astonishing! How wondrous! How astounding! And like the banks and the river, if you allow yourself to feel into this disposition, then the disposition itself shapes the quality of gnosis. So contrived fabricated conceptual elaborations in your desperate and fretful attempts to unravel the problem of appearances is relaxed. Because all appearances are already free in Buddha nature. And when it is relaxed, then contrived conceptual knowingness, which is always fundamentally based on a problem, self-liberates in space and becomes non-conceptual non-elaboration gnosis.

            Appearances appear to arise, but they are like dreams and empty, they are primordial empty purity. This is the basic space of phenomena and the wisdom which realizes this is Kuntuzangpo, the lover. So, we have the male and the female and the union of the two. And if you understand this, then you can understand the manner in which Kuntuzangmo and Kuntuzangpo become the five wisdoms. They elaborate from emptiness no different from Kuntuzangmo and the wisdom of knowing it, Kuntuzangpo. Appearances arise in spaciousness and the wisdom that knows them is the wisdom of that spaciousness. Appearances arise like images in a mirror without any substantial reality, and the wisdom that realizes this is the mirror-like wisdom. So Kuntuzangpo becomes the mirror-like wisdom of the five Buddha families, becomes the five Buddhas and Kuntuzangmo becomes the Buddha consort of that Buddha. Like the sky appearing and yet free of abiding in any particular fashion.

            There is vast open equanimity and then there is the wisdom that realizes this equanimity. Concepts, even, arising and getting caught up in endless acceptance, rejection, and indifference—the three poisons—when understood correctly are baseless and empty. In reality, there are no three poisons there is only a vast open space of discerning awareness and then there is a wisdom that realizes this discerning awareness. The discerning awareness itself is Kuntuzangmo as one of the five Buddha consorts. The wisdom that realizes the discerning awareness is one of the five Buddhas of the five Buddha families.

            All appearances abiding as the unborn syllable AH are free of coming and going and yet they appear. Emptiness is empty and yet it appears. Appearances are empty and yet they appear. Emptiness and is empty and yet it appears. You read this again and again in Mipham’s Buddha Puja. And here is the essence of what it means. Free of coming and going and yet they appear, this is the all-accomplishing awareness and the wisdom that realizes, this is the Buddha Amoghasiddhi of the Karma family. So, in the five Buddha families the Buddha of the Karma family Amoghasiddhi is Kuntuzangpo when his wisdom rays realize the basis of the empty nature of coming and going. That wisdom is Amoghasiddhi, and the actual empty baselessness of all appearances is Kuntuzangmo appearing as Samaya Tara. And then here we have the Buddha couple. How wondrous! This is the definitive meaning of EH MA HO. It is definitive, because this is the actual way things are. It is definitive because this understanding does not stray from reality. It does not stray into accepting the authentic existence of deluded beings. Deluded beings and Buddhas are identical in the basic space of phenomena. Buddhas and sentient beings are identical in being empty. Buddhas and sentient beings are identical in being primordial purity. Buddhas and sentient beings are identical as appearances being the object which is Kuntuzangmo and the wisdom that realizes this is Kuntuzangpo—the rays of wisdom gnosis, pure knowingness. So, this is the definitive teaching on the meaning of EH MA HO.

The provisional teaching of EH MA HO, is that EH MA HO is the statement how astonishing and how wondrous that in the midst of this purity never straying from the basic phenomena of space, sentient beings become lost in confusion. This is then the way that we understand the cultivation of bodhicitta in some of the texts, and also the cultivation of understanding in the confessional practices, that in the basic space of phenomena there has never been impurity, but sentient beings wandering in deluded conceptuality are lost in notions of pure and impure. How astonishing that this fact of the authentic nature of things can be hidden from sentient beings, can be self-secret!

Sometimes you hear the term self-secret in Tantric teachings. Self-secret means that nobody else is keeping it hidden from you, there is no oppressor who was keeping it hidden from you. Sometimes this is called extremely secret because delusion is self-sealing, creating a closed loop and within the logic of that closed loop there is no escape whatsoever. It's the supreme secret because you keep it from yourself, and therefore, because you keep it from yourself and nobody else is keeping it from you, nobody else can liberate you from it. So, an external being cannot come along and liberate you from the self-secret you keep from yourself that beingness is empty.

            So, what is the hope then? Well there is only one hope and that is the Tathagata. Your own Tathagata will appear before you to liberate your Tathagata. I am your own Tathagata, Buddha nature, appearing before you to liberate you from the self-secret prison of delusion. So, in loving kindness there is the exclamation EH MA HO because of conceptualization occurring, appearances are fixated upon in realms and objects arise as confusion—happiness, sorrow, bondage, and liberation; all of these arise because conceptualization is fixated upon. But when you realize the conceptualization itself is baseless, then this is the discerning wisdom, the wisdom that realizes that is the Buddha, and the awareness of discerning wisdom is discerning awareness which is the Buddha consort.

When I was a child, I used to play this game. When I was going to sleep, I would hold my arm up straight over my head and then I would imagine that my arm was encased in concrete, and I would concentrate on this more and more intensely until I completely felt that I could not move my arm. I would do this until it freaked me out. I knew that it was just a hypnotic trick, but I was still alarmed even in that moment, though the arm obviously wasn't encased in concrete. Longchenpa gives an example that this is like a knot, you imagine a rope tied in a knot.  Nothing can untie that knot except the ceasing of the conceptualization that tied it to begin with. Confusion seems to appear and becomes tied into the knots of sentient beings. But in the end, nothing can untie that knot except recognizing the baseless and empty nature of conceptualization. The groundlessness of appearance, the unborn abiding and empty nature of appearance, only realizing that appearances in the basic space of phenomena never strays from each other—this wisdom realization, the wisdom rays which realize this, Kuntuzangpo, enter into again in union with Kuntuzangmo and everything is corrected. This lack of recognition is easefully self-revealed to the self-tying knot and then it's relieved. EH MA HO! How wondrous! That compassion arises as your own Tathagata to reveal to you that you have self-tied a knot in space.

This is the provisional meaning of EH MA HO. EH MA HO! How astonishing the Buddha's teachings, which are the revelation of our own Tathagata designed to untie the knot in space! That’s the provisional meaning because it’s based on the notion of sentient beings having strayed from wisdom, of there being sentient beings who believe in knots tied in space that need to be untied. The definitive meaning is that Kuntuzangpo and Kuntuzangmo are always in perfect immaculate pure union whether appearances are pure or impure, whether they are Buddhas or sentient beings, they do not stray from the basic space—all appearances are complete and whole in the basic space of phenomena.  So, both of these meanings, contemplate them. How wondrous the loving kindness and compassion of the Buddha that appears as our very own Tathagata within the deluded realms of beings to self-trick us into untying the self-tied knot, that self-tricks us into self-revealing the self-secret nature of appearances and awareness!

            EH MA HO! How astonishing, the basic space of phenomena!

t.k., tsogyelgar, traktung khepa, traktung yeshe dorje

Priya Tsomo