Mahamudra meditation practice works to directly reveal emptiness to one's own direct experience in one's own mind. This is achieved by meditating directly on one's own mind. This is known as "taking the path of direct valid cognition"—it emphasizes directly experiencing the phenomena of one's own mind and experiencing emptiness.
As in all Buddhist schools of meditation, the basic meditative practice of Mahamudra is divided into two approaches: śamatha ("tranquility") and vipaśyanā ("insight").
The meditation manuals (in particular those of The 9th Karmapa) are among the most detailed and precise in the Buddhist literature. For tranquility practice they enumerate the stages of settling the mind and specify many common problems (eg. excitement, torpor, doubt, apathy) and practices to remedy these problems. The objects of meditation are simple objects, statues of the Buddha, the breath, mantras, complex visualizations and deities and Yidams. These objects of meditation are common throughout Tibetan Vajrayana practice.
The detailed instructions for the Insight practices are what make Mahamudra (and Dzogchen) unique.
The meditator is instructed to observe the mind at rest and then during the occurrence of thought. In some practices disturbing emotions are deliberately invoked and the meditator is directed to experience their "empty" nature. The meditator is further instructed to observe that which is looking for the nature of the mind: to observe the observer.
Mahamudra is most well-known as a teaching within the Kagyu lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. However the Tibetan Buddhist Gelug and Sakya schools also practice Mahamudra, as does Shingon Buddhism, the other major sub-school of the Vajrayana. The Nyingma and Bön traditions practise Dzogchen, a cognate but distinct method of direct introduction to the empty nature of mind. Nyingma students may also receive supplemental training in Mahamudra, and the Palyul Nyingma lineage preserves a lineage of the "Union of Mahamudra and Ati Yoga" originated by Karma Chagme.
Conquer the angry man by love. Conquer the ill-natured man by goodness. Conquer the miser with generosity. Conquer the liar with truth. -The Dhammapada