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Mahayoga (Skt. mahāyoga; Tib. རྣལ་འབྱོར་ཆེན་པོ་, naljor chenpö, Wyl. rnal 'byor chen po) — the first of the three inner tantras according to the nine yana classification of the Nyingma school.

Mahayoga focuses mainly on the development stage (Tib. kyérim) of deity yoga, and emphasizes the clarity and precision of visualization as skillful means.

The vehicle of Mahayoga

The following overview is from a teaching by Alak Zenkar Rinpoche:[1]

The vehicle of mahayoga, or ‘great yoga,’ is so-called because it is superior to ordinary yoga tantra since all phenomena are realized to be a magical display in which appearance and emptiness are indivisible.

Entry Point

Once one’s mind has been matured through receiving the ten outer benefiting empowerments, the five inner enabling empowerments and the three secret profound empowerments[2], one keeps the samayas as they are described in the texts.


By means of extraordinary lines of reasoning, one establishes and then realizes the indivisibility of the [two] higher levels of reality, according to which the cause for the appearance of the essential nature, the seven riches of the absolute, is spontaneously present within the pure awareness that is beyond conceptual elaboration, and all relative phenomena naturally appear as the mandala of deities of the three seats.


When it comes to the path and the practice of meditation, the main emphasis is on the generation stage. In the practice of generation stage yoga, one sets up the practice through the three samadhis, ensures that the three of purifying, perfecting and ripening are complete within the visualization, and, once the visualization is complete, seals it with the instruction on the four nails securing the life-force. In the practice of the completion stage yoga, one activates the vital points of the vajra body, its subtle energies, essences, luminosity and so on.


One maintains elaborate, unelaborate and extremely unelaborate conduct.


In the short term one reaches the four vidyadhara levels, which are the results belonging to the path, and finally one gains the ultimate fruition, and reaches the level of the Vajradhara of unity.[3]


The teachings and practices of the Mahayog] belong either to:

  • the tantra class (Nyingma Gyübum Vols. 14-19) or
  • the sadhana class ( consists of sadhanas or means of accomplishment)

The sadhana class itself is further subdivided into:

Mahayoga can also be divided into three classes:

  • Maha of Maha (Wyl. maha'i maha)
  • Anu of Maha
  • Ati of Maha

Texts of the Mahayoga

  • The tantra class contains eighteen tantras, of which the Guhyagarbha Tantra is the root tantra. (Nyingma Gyübum Dergé ed. vols. 9-14, Tingkyé ed. vols. 14-19)
  • The sadhana class has five main sections, corresponding to the five wisdom deities of the Kagyé, to which three sections corresponding to the three semi-worldly or worldly deities of the Kagyé are added. (Dergé ed. vols. 15-24, Tingkyé ed. vols. 20-33)
  • In addition, for the sadhana class, volumes 31 and 32 of the Tingkyé edition of the Nyingma Gyübum respectively contain the general tantras (Wyl. spyi rgyud) and the particular tantras (Wyl. sgos rgyud) associated with the original Indian terma recension of the Tantra of the Gathering of the Sugatas of the Kagyé (Wyl. sgrub chen bka' brgyad dbe 'dus kyi rgyud), from which the later Tibetan terma cycles of the Kagyé derive.[4]


  1. LotsawaHouse-tag.png A Brief Presentation of the Nine Yanas by Alak Zenkar Rinpoche
  2. When relating to the four empowerments: the benefiting and enabling empowerments correspond to the vase empowerment, and the three secret profound empowerments to the last three of the four empowerments. Source: Ju Mipham Jampal Gyepa'i Dorje, Essence of Clear Light, trans. by Lama Chönam and Sangye Khandro of the Light of Berotsana Translation Group (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010), pages 211-213.
  3. ‘Unity’ here means the unity of dharmakaya and rupakaya.
  4. Source: Gyurme Dorje, Guhyagarbha Tantra: Introduction, PhD.

Further Reading

  • Jamgön Kongtrul, The Treasury of Knowledge, Book Six, Part Four: Systems of Buddhist Tantra, translated by Elio Guarisco and Ingrid McLeod (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2005), Ch. 18 Mahayoga.
  • Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, edited by Harold Talbott (Boston: Shambhala, 1999), pages 23-28.
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