Mahamudra: Looking Directly at the Knower

The true nature of mind is empty but knowing. It can’t be identified, says Andy Karr. So look for it.

Andy Karr
30 June 2014
Andy Karr, Mahamudra, Vajrayana, BUddhism, Shambhala Sun, Lion's Roar
Photo by Kathy Halstead.

Mahamudra is the perfect practice for lousy meditators like me who haven’t been able to pacify our minds with more basic practices. In Mahamudra, the Vajrayana meditation system emphasized by the Kagyu lineage of Tibet, thoughts and emotions are regarded as aids to realization rather than obstacles. In this approach, you don’t discard your inner chaos; you bring it onto the path to investigate its nature.

Mahamudra is nothing other than the direct realization of the nature of your own mind. And, since the mind encompasses everything you experience, it also is the nature of all phenomena. The word mahamudra means “great seal” or “great symbol” because the true nature of mind marks or seals everything in reality.

The way to practice this is to look directly at whatever arises in your mind and rest naturally within it. “Looking directly” means to look nakedly, without thinking about what you are doing or what you are seeing. “Resting naturally” means letting go into your present experience, just as it is, without seeking to improve it in any way.

The past mind is gone; you can’t find it anywhere. The future mind has not come into being. The current mind cannot be identified as anything. It is empty from the beginning. Yet it is also knowing. How could that be? Look directly at the knower to see for yourself. Don’t accept any assumptions or suppositions or theories. Look.

Ask yourself: What is the knower like? What is its shape? Where exactly is it located? What color is it? These silly questions will encourage you to look further. Don’t settle for any answer that you can verbalize, but look at the verbalization itself. Is that thinking the knower?

When you get tired of investigating, rest naturally settled within the expanse of your mind. Alternate short periods of looking and resting. Repeat frequently. Don’t expect a big transformation, but stick with it and glimpses of insight will dawn. Gradually, they will add up.

There are countless methods for practicing Mahamudra, but an essential instruction is: have fun!

Andy Karr

Andy Karr

Andy Karr is a Buddhist teacher, author, and photographer who offers profound insights into dharma and mind. Karr trained under Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche before moving to Paris in 1979, where he co-founded the first Shambhala Centre in France. Karr is the author of Into the Mirror and Contemplating Reality and the coauthor of The Practice of Contemplative Photography. He continues to teach meditation, the Mahayana view, and Mahamudra. Learn more at