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Mahāmudrā, the Great Seal, is a vital “term of art” in Tibetan Buddhism, where it typically connotes the view of the ultimately empty nature of persons, mind, and phenomena; a meditation practice in which the mind seeks to realize its own nature; a mode of conduct in the world that is free and spontaneous; and the buddhahood that unfolds as a result of the path.

Mahāmudrā was important to one degree or another in all of the key New Translation (post-1000 CE), or “Tibetan Renaissance” traditions, especially the Kagyu and Geluk, but also the Sakya, Shijé, Chöd, Jonang, and even Nyingma. Mahāmudrā became important in Tibet because by 1000 CE it had become a crucial term in India – where its usages were often quite different from those favored by Tibetans.

We’ll trace the development of the term mahāmudrā in Indian Buddhism from its initial designation as a hand-gesture, to one of a set of four seals in the higher tantras, to an index of ultimate reality and ultimate realization that came to be synonymous with such other key terms as emptiness, buddha-nature, luminosity, great bliss, sahaja, and dharmakāya.


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