21 Aug 2014
Welcome to Thanyapura Fall 2014 retreat.
This session outlined what will be covered in the retreat. The teachings are based on two texts: Padmasambhavas Natural Liberation, and excerpts from Dudjom Lingpa’s Vajra Essence. The teachings focus on three of the six bardos (living, meditation and dreaming).
Alan describes himself as a dharma chef, serving up a juicy offering. Shamatha is the starting point.
There are 36 people on individual retreats at Thanyapura, but all crew members together - so be considerate to others. Now give up all attachment to this life and devote it to Dharma.
Transcriptor’s note: Since this is the first talk of the retreat, it contains an introduction to the teachings and practices that are the focus of the retreat, and also a fair deal of information of a more practical nature for the participants at Thanyapura. Only the portions of the talk that are focused on content, and thus of use to podcast listeners, have been transcribed. This means continuous transcription from 01:09 to 41:51, and then just a few paragraphs transcribed towards the end. Enjoy!
[01:09] I am already very inspired by the material that I will be sharing with you, simply to do my best to convey it with accuracy and with clarity. It will be my great privilege to do so. And as I was meditating this afternoon, it occurred to me, I thought I would add another component to the intended subject matter. As you all know when you came here, we are going to be focusing on the very heart of this book right here: Natural Liberation - a marvellous book, consisting of teachings from Padmasambhava, revealed in the 14th century by Karma Lingpa, one of the great treasure revealers... And we’ll be taking really the heart of the text, that is the first 90 pages or so, something like that, consist of very detailed and I think very inspiring wonderful presentation of the common and the uncommon preliminaries. And so I’ve invited all of you, I think you know, to purchase this book already, to have studied, to have reflected upon, meditated upon the preliminary practices. I know many of you have been practicing for years, and so you already have a lot of foundation, a lot of grounding there, establishing motivation, purification and so forth. So I’m going to assume that one way or another, you’ve cultivated that ground. You know, to prepare you, so that you can really derive very deep benefit from these core teachings of Padmasambhava, as set forth in this text. It is called in Tibetan [Alan gives the phrase in Tibetan], the self-liberation, [Tibetan], in terms of, by way of the view of the [Tibetan], of peaceful and wrathful emanations, and fundamentally it’s emanations of your own mindstream. But it’s his teachings on the six bardos, with his long introduction, or preliminary prelude. Actually, as I recall, it was a disciple of Karma Lingpa, in the 14th century, and then Padmasambhava’s own teachings on the six bardos begin right with shamatha - which is quite interesting, because that is exactly what happens in for example The Vajra Essence, this very large teaching by Padmasambhava, coming by way of Dudjom Lingpa in the 19th century. And a similar thing: he refers to the preliminary practices, and in fact he refers to seven, and in fact there are seven cited here - the common, and then the uncommon. That is there’s the common preliminaries, and then the seven uncommon preliminaries. And so we see a lot of, a lot of how do you say... parallel there. And so to my mind, these two texts really are wonderfully complementary.
[03:58] And what occurred to me this afternoon, as I was gazing once again over the setting forth for the presentation of the six bardos, it occurred to me that we’d really focus in, as I intended, and as we advertised, on the first three out of six bardos. So the first of these six bardos, it’s called in Tibetan [Alan gives the name of the bardo in Tibetan], the transitional process of birth and becoming. So I’m calling that the transitional process of living, because that’s what it is, but literally it’s birth and becoming [Tibetan], involving grasping. So here we are, having been born, and how we are in the moment, from moment to moment, day to day, in the process of becoming. That whole process is saturated, if your experience is anything like mine, with grasping. I want; I don’t want; I hope; I fear; and so forth. And so, there’s one transitional process, the first of six.
[04:57] And then the second of these is the, oh... [Tibetan], it is the delusive bardo, the delusive transitional process of dreams, of dreaming, right? So we know, this pertains to dream yoga. And then the third one is [Tibetan], the transitional process of dhyana, dhyana or deep meditative stabilization, involving meditation, of course. And so, there are three others following that, but I think we’ll have our hands full in eight weeks, covering the first three of these. And they all pertain to how we can transform the circumstances of this life into a platform for achieving awakening, even in this very lifetime. Alright? And so that is the nature of Padmasambhava’s teachings on the six bardos. There is those three, and then there is the transitional process of dying. Alright? And then the transitional process of Dharmata, which comes right after the dying. And then finally there is the [Tibetan], the transitional process of becoming, which is the classic bardo, the intermediate state. Right. And so... These are the six bardos. And Padmasambhava’s presenting each of these six, each one of them individually. And he sets out how to do this, each one of these as being a platform, a field of possibility for achieving awakening. Each one, any one of them, can be your vehicle for awakening. So, of living, which he focuses on shamatha and vipashyana. Right? Dream yoga - some people are very, very gifted in that regard. That can turn out to be their very major practice - they may do most of their meditation while asleep. And you find those yogis tend to sleep a lot. Whenever possible, they’re taking a nap, they’re just saying “what, I think I’m a bit... I might be feeling tired! Yeah, definitely.” You know. [laughter] And then, you know, even though they’re exception, you know. And so, those are kind of hidden yogis, because outside, they look like they’re just totally loafers.
[07:06] And then the transitional process of dhyana, by way of meditation, of course is the cutting through - I have been translating it as breakthrough, but a bit more literal and a bit more common translation, which I’m going to now conform to, is cutting through. Tregchö. Treg means something hard, gnarly, difficult to penetrate, and chö means to cut. So it’s cutting through your ordinary mind, cutting through the substrate consciousness, to pristine awareness. Right? And that pristine awareness is one of original purity - therefore it is called cutting through to original purity. So we’ll be looking into that. That will be really the culmination of the three bardos that we focus on during these eight weeks. On some other occasion, who know, maybe we’ll do the other three bardos, but I think again, we’ll have our hands full with these three - that will keep us busy. And so it’s going to be essentially shamatha and vipashyana, the bardo of living this life. Right? And then dream yoga. And then tregchö - the first of the two major phases of Dzogchen practice, designed to of course realise, to identify and dwell in the ongoing awareness of pristine awareness, or primordial consciousness. So we reach right into the heart of the text, and we’ll be drawing from that heart for these eight weeks.
[08:34] So as I mentioned something occurred to me this afternoon in meditation, was to complement what I was fully intending and do fully intend to focus on, the very heart of this text here, Natural Liberation, with Padmasambhava’s teachings and a wonderfully clear and delightful commentary by my own lama, Gyatrul Rinpoche. But in addition to that, I thought I would teach another text as well, and that is the Vajra Essence. It begins again, after a brief introduction [it] goes to shamatha, vipashyana, and then [an] elaborate presentation of stage of generation, stage of completion... Then the tregchö, cutting through to original purity...cultivating, and then finally the tögal, the direct crossing over to spontaneous actualization, which is really kind of the full flowering, the final fruition of, flowering of your Dzogchen practice, right, to lead you to rainbow body, realizing rainbow body in this lifetime. So he sets forth the whole path, and then he even lays out different stages of manifesting rainbow body, you know, in the Vajra Essence. And then when it’s all done, you say: well I think you finished everything, you went from start to finish, showed how to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime. But then in this visionary experience - because all of these teachings are coming, stemming from, fundamentally stemming from Samanthabhadra, manifesting in the form of Padmasambhava, specifically one of the eight manifestations, the Lake Born Vajra, Tsokyé Dorje, or Saroruhavajra, Saroruhavajra. And so it’s this manifestation of Padmasambhava who’s appearing in this vision, this pure vision, to Dudjom Lingpa, and then he’s writing it down. And so after setting forth this whole path, then Padmasambhava is accosted by this circle of the disciples in this vision, and they say: well, but what about if we don’t come to the culmination of this path in this lifetime. What should we do then? And then Padmasambhava sets forth a very concise and, I think, utterly brilliant presentation of the six bardos. Right? Kind of like, remedial work. In case you haven’t achieved rainbow body yet, well, you know, this is backup. This is backup, you know?
[10:55] And so, what I thought, what we would do, I would do, share with you these eight weeks, is give you the oral transmission, the commentary, to the first three of those bardos in the Vajra Essence. It’s wonderfully complementary to what we find here in Natural LIberation, and then what we find here in the Natural Liberation, in the presentation of those three bardos, can really be seen like, it’s like a commentary, even though the Natural Liberation appeared in the 14th century, and the Vajra Essence in the 19th century. When it comes to Dzogchen, frankly it’s timeless. I couldn’t tell. By the teachings themselves, I would have no idea, whatsoever, that the teachings in Natural Liberation came in the 14th century versus the 16th, 18th or 20th. It’s just... It is really timeless. And likewise for the Vajra Essence. There it is - it could have appeared in the 14th or the 12th century. But what is distinctive about the Vajra Essence, one of the many distinctive factors or qualities of it, is that the speaker there, Padmasambhava, says that these are for disciples in the future. It has a very clear future orientation. And... More than any other text I’ve read. Literally, more than any other Buddhist text I’ve read, in terms of the classics, the Vajra Essence and the other four, the major treatises on Dzogchen, that are transmitted, written down and revealed by Dudjom Lingpa, to my mind - and I know this is simply a subjective impression - but they have an incredibly contemporary quality to them. On the one hand, they’re totally classic, mainstream, representative of the entire Dzogchen tradition. There’s nothing peculiar, or like iconoclastic or anything like that about them. But just the way it’s presented I find enormously fresh, inviting, inspiring, and contemporary. I really feel like here in 2014, Padmasambhava just speaking right to me here. And so, that of course is very inspiring.
[12:51] So we’ll be going back and forth, then, between the text in the Vajra Essence, his presentation of the first three of the six bardos, that’s establishing that route. And so we’ll start, maybe tomorrow, and then for each give first let’s say the presentation in the Vajra Essence, of the transitional process of living, from the Vajra Essence; then go to the commentary, which isn’t really a commentary but a much more elaborate presentation, in the Natural Liberation, and likewise go on to the next two. Now when it comes to the teachings in Natural Liberation, on the transitional process of living, it goes right to shamatha and to vipashyana, and I’ve taught shamatha so many times here - seven times here, and then weeklong retreats all over the place and translated so many books, written a number of books, that I feel that is pretty well covered. And our time here is really precious. It’s really short. So I don’t want to just be going over material you are already very very familiar with, such that you might actually start waiting, like “when’s he gonna get on with it”, you know, "we’re very familiar with this, when is he gonna go beyond, so we can really get to, you know, what is distinctive, what is... which I haven’t taught before. And I haven’t taught this material before, from Natural LIberation, not in any detail anyway. And so we’ll go through the shamatha section, and actually we will pick up, frankly, I will be picking up, at the culmination of his teachings on shamatha. So he gives other practices, methods - very good, of course - but we are just going to go directly to the shamatha without a sign. Because the other ones, he says: do this for one day, three days and so forth; it’s kind of like passing through town on a train. You know, do that for a day or so. And then, even when it comes to shamatha without a sign, even there he has this sequence. Many of you will be very familiar with this - it’s a sequence of methods. He says; Do this for one day. Then he shifts to another one: Do this for one day. Maybe he does that three times. And then he comes to the culmination of that sequence of methods within the context of shamatha without a sign, where he says: Now, that you’ve done all the warm up, now... Release your mind into space. And then he doesn’t say do that for one day. He says: Do that until your mind has settled in its natural state. I think many of you know, have a very clear idea at least conceptually, what that refers to - but in a phrase: it is where your mind, the mind that you identify with, your psyche, the one that arises in dependence upon the brain, where your memories, thoughts, personal history and all of that are embedded that one... melts away, and dissolves into the ground from which it arose, which is the substrate consciousness, in the Theravada tradition called the bhavanga. In the new translation schools of Tibetan buddhism it is called the subtle continuum of mental consciousness.
[16:02] So... I won’t be addressing the earlier practices of shamatha that Padmasambhava explains. You’re welcome to read it, you can certainly practice it. But I will be returning to a practice that I have been teaching now for... what is it, 37 years. And that’s mindfulness of breathing. I will be returning to that one. Because in terms of the shamatha practice, the one I will kind of encourage to emphasize for these eight weeks, will be a combination plate... [jokingly] ...as I come to you as the Dharma chef, your Dharma nutritionist... a combination plate. And the combination plate, once again I am sure many of you are very familiar with, is what I call by shorthand, by a short label, balancing earth and sky. Balancing earth and sky. It is really a wonderfully balanced set of practices, where the earth is referring to mindfulness of breathing; sky, the awareness of awareness - or, you can just take the culminating phase of the shamatha without a sign, awareness of awareness, where you simply release your mind into space. Padmasambhava’s words: Release your mind into space. Now lo and behold, that practice, the culminating phase of shamatha without a sign, also crops up in the Vajra Essence!, but right towards the beginning. Right towards the beginning, before he teaches - gives a full detailed account of shamatha in terms of the practice of taking the mind as the path, also known as settling the mind in its natural state - but before he goes into that detailed presentation, which I’ve commented on and been published in the book Stilling the Mind, which is a commentary just on the Shamatha section of the Vajra Essence... Before that, as you’ll know if you have read that text, Padmasambhava gives his readers, his disciples, a kind of placement exam. Remember? A placement exam. There are individuals - and this is widely known through Buddhism - there are individuals who, simply upon hearing teachings, they are so ripe that they hear the teachings and simultaneously gain realization. You find this in the Pali canon, the first recordings of the Buddha’s teachings, and the most famous one of these - some of you know - Bahiya. Remember? Bahiya receiving that one paragraph of teachings from the Buddha, and by the time the teaching - this must have taken about three minutes, maybe less - by the time the Buddha was finished, Bahiya was an arhat. He went from zero - just talk about acceleration! - it was zero to arhatship in three minutes. That is very fast, you know? He’s said to be, of all the disciples of the Buddha that were recorded in the Pali canon, the one that was fastest. One can really say simultaneous individual, because he heard the teachings and became an arhat. And then we find the Zen tradition. The Zen tradition is all about sudden awakening. Really not so cool or not so... how do you say, not so emphasizing or embracing the notion of gradual enlightenment, step by step by step by step, but just sudden breakthrough. Sudden cutting through, to what? To Buddha nature. Right? So, have there been individuals throughout the course of Chan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, who have just... they receive teachings, or a smack in the face with a sandal, as in the case of... who was it, Naropa? Where they just have a sudden awakening? Yes, that’s occurred many times in Chan, and in Zen, and in the Mahasiddha tradition of India. So the Saraha, Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa lineage, that one right there - famous for these cases where you kind of get primed, you get set up, and then something just enables you to cut through. So it’s a sudden awakening. And so there are individuals, very ripe individuals, who are these simultaneous individuals - people of superior faculties. They’re very ripe. They’re not superior just because they’re intrinsically better; they are superior because they have a lot of momentum coming in, from past lives, this life, or what have you. And so they’ve done a lot to make themselves ripe, and then just a little... a little dusting - actually, that’s the wrong, probably the wrong metaphor - but just a light sprinkling of Dharma, and suddenly they’re... They’re awake.
[20:30] But in the Vajra Essence, Padmasambhava, having set forth the teachings, then he says; well, if you haven’t already achieved enlightenment - after he gives a brief introduction about nature of mind - if you haven’t already achieved realization of rigpa, then there’s still hope. You may be a person of middling faculties, or inferior faculties. And then to see, to have your placement exam, to see - well, are you a person of middling faculties or a person of inferior faculties? Then you have a little placement exam. And the placement exam is twenty one days, going off into solitude, and, pretty much day and night, merging your mind with space. Merging your mind with space. It’s taught in the Vajra Essence, together with a couple of other simple practices, and then in another one... I think it’s the View of Samanthabhadra. Then he just focuses on this one practice, merging mind with space. There he says, do it for twenty days. And so, it’s a test, really, and it’s a very benevolent test. And that is, if you do that, and just as much as you can, continually, day and night, for twenty - twenty one days, just merge your mind with space, then if you’re a person of middling faculties, then you will realize rigpa during that time - become a vidyadhara - in which case, you’re like now in advanced placement program. And then you just skip right over shamatha, because you’ve gotten that just by the by, and skip over vipashyana - you have that by the by. You’ve realized rigpa already, so you can skip tregchö, and you go directly to the direct crossing over. So if you’re a person of middling faculties, I have to say, if you are in this room, you’ve definitely come to the wrong place. [laughter] Because I don’t think I’ve anything to teach you at all. You know, I should be sitting at your feet, learning from you.
[22:17] But, on the other hand, if you go into retreat for three weeks, and you’re doing your very best to merge your mind with space, and you don’t realize rigpa, but rather your find yourself getting a bit spaced out and restless and having a lot of thoughts, and wandering and hopes and fears and so forth, and then three weeks has passed by - don’t be discouraged, but you’re not a person of middling faculties. [laughter] You’re a person of inferior faculties. [jokingly] Which means, join the club. [laughter] I’ve been a member of this group for a long long time. And then you have... Then it’s for you to engage in a gradual practice. You go do the shamatha - you achieve shamatha. You move on to vipashyana - you gain realization of emptiness. In fact, I love the way the phrasing comes, in the Vajra Essence. He says: first of all, first phase, for these inferior individuals, they just need to take it step by step. That is, from kindergarten right down through - they don’t just leap over, they don’t have a direct crossing over to middle school or high school or, you know, graduate work. But the first phase - you might recall - I think it is very very meaningful. It is: Taking the mind as the path. Taking the mind as the path, or he also uses the phrase: [Tibetan] Taking appearances and awareness as the path. The appearances arising in the space of the mind and your awareness of them, and you’re taking that as the path. And it’s like a village train, that just goes from one little village to another - a local train. And it takes your mind as the path - as the path means like as your vehicle. And your mind is your path or your vehicle to take you from where you are right now to the end of the line, and the end of the line is where you no longer have a mind, because it has dissolved into the substrate consciousness, the alaya vijnana. And so your mind was the path, until the mind is extinguished, and dissolved into substrate consciousness, or subtle continuum of mental consciousness, it’s the same. And then he says the next path is taking dharmata as the path. Dharmata, ultimate reality, suchness. It’s a synonym for emptiness, shunyata; synonym of dharmadhatu, the absolute space of phenomena; and now that becomes your path. You take that as the path, to the realization of emptiness. And then after that you take rigpa. Rigpa is your path. Right? And so there is kind of a gradual sequence that’s set forth in the Vajra Essence.
[24:46] So we see, once again, just a beautiful complementarity between these two texts. So we’ll be focusing on these three... But in terms of the shamatha, this practice of mindfulness of breathing is in fact taught in the Vajra Essence, and one or two other of these revealed teachings of Dudjom Lingpa, where Padmasambhava sets forth the taking the mind as the path, which any of you are welcome to practice during this eight weeks, but I really won’t be going out of my way to teach it. I’ve taught it so many times. I think most of you, if not all of you, are very familiar with it already. But after he lays that out... And, also, backing up a little bit; after he’s given a cautionary note for people living in degenerate times, who have coarse minds, and and kind of are very... high strung, or [Tibetan], are of the nature of vatta... So this very restless, hyper, very active, talking quickly. and so forth, as a constitutional type. He says for those kind of people, if you follow a practice of visualization, where you just try to create a mental image and lock onto it - which is a classic practice and it’s a very good practice, whether a Buddha image in front of you, or an orb of light at your heart, or what have you - he said well, the prognosis is not good. With that kind of psychophysiological constitution, if you try to put your mind into lockdown, really just holding on to a generated mental image, you may go comatose and crazy. Right? And he’s saying this in the 1860s in Tibet. So he’s talking about high-strung nomads, right? [laughter] They’re probably like the mellowest person in the back woods of Wyoming as far as we are concerned. But when I read that, I said: “Why, I think you have just described modernity.” So it’s not to say that these classic practices are no longer suitable, that, you know, we can’t do them - I’m not saying that at all. There are always people who are exceptions, or who find themselves very suitable, you know, for such practices. But generally speaking, it’s a tough row to hoe, in the modern world, with the pace of life, the amount of information, the multitasking - I don’t need to describe your lifestyle to you. And so in the midst of that, to try to, again, just lock onto a mental image and hold it - it’s tough, and it does tend to get people really strung out. Now, not everybody. But what Dudjom Lingpa does recommend - and this happens repeatedly, in his multiple texts, his five texts, his five major treatises on Dzogchen - the practice that he emphasizes above all, is the taking the mind as the path. Taking the mind as the path. But what’s interesting is, after he’s laid that out, and told about the kind of upheavals that will arise, the challenges that will arise on the way, how to deal with those - just don’t reify, don’t reify, don’t reify - and what I find very interesting, is after he’s finished all of that, he says: then, if you’re still having problems, let the rider of your mind ride the stallion of your breath. Back to mindfulness of breathing, back to mindfulness of breathing. I thought that was very significant, very interesting.
[28:03] And so... I’m gonna be teaching mindfulness of breathing in a way that I haven’t taught before. I had a very wonderful time in Scotland just recently, and after teaching quite intensively for three weeks, teaching my portion of the Cultivating Emotional Balance teacher training, then I had the... one very juicy week, where I just got to live in kind of a cave cabin, built into the side of a hill, on this holy island off the west coast of Scotland, and everybody just left me alone for one week. No email, no nothing! And I just got to meditate twelve hours a day. So nice... And so it was very beneficial. And it occurred to me that... various kind of ideas - stuff - came to mind. But it occurred to me to take a slightly different approach to teaching mindfulness of breathing. It’s a very minimalist approach. So like, almost no interpretation at all - just a literal reading of what the Buddha said, when he set forth the practice of mindfulness of breathing, which he did, it seems like countless times, as narrated in the Pali canon. But also in the Mahayana. It’s very interesting, even in the Mahayana, also, in the Prajnaparamita sutras, he teaches mindfulness of breathing, and he teaches it in the same way. A minimalist way. And it’s so simple that you wonder; “Why, is there any instruction there at all?” But he simply says: Breathing in long, one knows: 'I breathe in long’. Breathing out, one knows ‘I breathe out long’. OK, got it. And then, Breathing in short, one knows 'I breathe in short”. Breathing out short, one knows “I breathe out short’. Nothing complicated, right? And then: Experiencing the whole body, I breathe in. Experiencing the whole body, I breathe out. OK? And then, finally; Calming the composite, or the system of the body, the whole system of the body, I breathe in. Calming the system of the body I breathe out. And that’s all! That’s what he says. That’s it, for mindfulness of breathing as a method for achieving shamatha. And even proceeding beyond shamatha. Even beyond access to the first dhyana, to the second, third and fourth dhyana. There’s nothing more to say. That’s what he teaches. I just gave all of what he taught. And when I was off on retreat there in Scotland it kind of dawned on me: actually, I think that is enough. That these interpretations from the Theravada, focusing on the sensations at the nostrils, and the preliminary sign, the acquired sign, the counterpart sign - it’s marvellous teaching. Marvellous teaching, I just say: Namo! Wonderful teaching. Asanga’s teaching, where he gives detailed account of attending to the flow of prana, the energy flow, the flux, these fluctuating, foggy fields of energy throughout the body as you breathe in and out - it’s a beautiful presentation. Namo! I have nothing to criticize. It’s beautiful. But the Buddha’s teachings are beautiful too! And they’re the simplest ones. Right? Because I just gave the entire teaching. So we’ll be going back to that, and seeing: how could we just do what he said, and keep it real simple? And the simplicity of it struck me as being very resonant with Dzogchen. Very resonant with. That’s all. I’m not saying it’s a Dzogchen interpretation, because it’s not - you see it’s just basically a literal reading of what he said. There’s virtually no interpretation at all.
[31:40] But I will say this, as a preliminary to everything that goes on, for these eight weeks, with our shamatha being kind of our baseline, our foundation, our fundamental cultivation of sanity, for the vipashyana, for the dream yoga, for the cutting through - if you don’t have a serviceable mind, then all the other ones kind of like evaporate, right, into restlessness and dullness. But a core theme in the practice of shamatha within the Dzogchen tradition - and this is set forth really clearly, most clearly in the briefest of Padmasambhava, or Dudjom Lingpa’s presentations of the path, in the Sharp Vajra of Conscious Awareness Tantra; there it’s stunning for its brevity and depth. And in that very short tantra - again, taught by Padmasambhava, revealed to Dudjom Lingpa who then wrote it down and then gave his own brilliant commentary to it - the entry into that practice... When do you crack the door open? When are you beginning to do it correctly? It’s very simple. It’s when you distinguish between the stillness of your awareness and the movements of the mind. Between stillness and motion, stillness and movement. When you can experientially - not just conceptually figure it out, but experientially taste it, know it, experience it. The unflickering candle flame - that will be always my mudra, it keeps on cropping up! That’s my little mudra, of awareness, still, resting in it’s own place. Just like an unflickering candle flame - just straight up. Straight up, right? When you can be aware of the distinction between that and the movements of the mind, ok, then you can go. That’s your entry, that’s your access. Can you follow the rest of the practice? Well, if you can do that, then the door is open. If you can’t do that - if every time a thought, a memory, an emotion, a desire comes up - everytime there’s a movement of the mind, if your awareness is similarly in motion - a desire comes up, and then: “Oh, I want that.” And then a fear comes up - “Oh, I’m afraid of that.” And a thought comes up: “I’m thinking that.” And a memory comes up; “I’m remembering that.” You know, if there is cognitive fusion of your awareness with the mental process every single time - that your awareness is always directed to the referent of the thought, the memory, the fantasy, the desire, the emotion, the intention - if there is fusion every single time, then you can’t do the practice. You’re so... like, in a straitjacket of the mind. It’s like trying to play baseball in a straitjacket. Or any sport - how do you play? Maybe soccer. [laughter] But any American sport, you need your hands, right? So you can’t play it with a straitjacket, and you can’t do shamatha - you can’t follow the Dzogchen path of shamatha, taking the mind as the path, shamatha without a sign; those are two classic practices of shamatha within the Dzogchen and Mahamudra tradition - you can’t do them. The door is closed, locked and sealed if you can’t distinguish between the stillness of your awareness and movements of mind. Right?
[35:15] And then there are four types of mindfulness. I won’t teach all of the four right now, they will probably come up later. But then, when have you really got in stride, when are you really on the path - now, of shamatha; not the path to enlightenment, that comes after you’ve achieved shamatha, actually - but when are you really, you can say “I am on the path of shamatha, I am taking my mind as the path, I am moving along, the trajectory is in the right direction”? There are four types of mindfulness. And the first of these is called single-pointed mindfulness. Remember? Single-pointed mindfulness. And you can get to that if, and only if, you’ve cracked the door open by being able to distinguish between the stillness of your awareness, and the movements of mind. So what’s this first type of mindfulness, single-pointed mindfulness? You can do the two simultaneously. You are simultaneously aware of the stillness of your awareness, and the movements of the mind. And that’s all kinds of movements. It’s very subtle. It’s not just a little bit of chit-chat coming up here and there, a little slide, a little mental image, a little video clip in the mind, and while they’re coming and going, letting the awareness remain still. It’s also the arising, the passing of desires; the arising and the passing of emotions; of intentions - and all the while, as your mind is in motion, coming and going, coming and going, coming and going... you’re still. Still, discerning, vigilant, attentive - but still. Right? So that’s the mood. That’s the mood of shamatha within the Dzogchen tradition. Right? That stillness of your awareness, that awareness holding its own ground. [Tibetan] - awareness resting in its own place, [Tibetan] - awareness resting in its own place, holding its own ground. Absolutely core, to the practice of shamatha within the Dzogchen tradition.
[37:16] So... How might one practice mindfulness of breathing with the ambience of Dzogchen? Your awareness remains still, like an unflickering candle flame, as the breath is coming and going, coming, going, coming, going. So we’ll try that. Try that. I think you can’t be too far off, of what the Buddha actually said. Because it’s so literal. It’s taking him so seriously, that in fact you really actually don’t need to specifically direct your attention to the sensations at the nostrils, the sensations of the rise and fall of the belly, the sensations of the flow of prana throughout the body. If you’re simply sitting there quietly, your awareness resting in its own place, holding its own ground, you’re gonna be aware of the rhythm of your breath. You don’t have to particularly look anywhere. It’s kind of like... It’s around you, it’s kind of - you’re in the rhythm. You’re in that field, right? You’re in the field of the rhythm of your breath. You don’t have to do something specific to look for it. It’s kind of like, it’s the air you breathe, the rhythm of your own presence in reality. So I’ve experimented with that. I like it! I find it quite useful.
[38:49] So I’m happy to say; very happy to say; that - this is kind of as background - I’ve been working for some years now, really like 15, but over the last couple of years more intensively, on translating all of Dudjom Lingpa’s five great treatises on Dzogchen. They’re all either 100 % or mostly his revealed teachings, that are received from Padmasambhava. And so, I’ve translated all of them now, in addition to three commentaries: Dudjom Lingpa’s own commentary to the Sharp Vajra of Conscious Awareness Tantra, and then a short and then a longer commentary by Sera Khandro on Buddhahood Without Meditation. One of the commentaries is really the preliminaries for that practice; buddhahood without meditation. And then, the most definitive and detailed commentary by her of Dudjom Lingpa’s text Buddhahood Without Meditation. So, those are eight texts, all translated, with some very good help from some very dear friends of mine, without whom my efforts would not have borne good fruit. But I think they’re ok! And Wisdom Publications will be publishing all three of them in a box set, three volumes, about a thousand pages a translation, about a year from now, if all goes well. But the work is almost finished, so even if I die today, they’ll still get out there. No worries! No worries, they’ll be ok. The baby is basically, it’s being born... And so, very happy about that. Really really happy. Gyatrul Rinpoche kindly wrote a wonderful endorsement for it, so you can see he is the one who authorized me, encouraged me to do those translations. So that’s really in the background here, something quite wonderful indeed.
[40:31] So... Anything more... A little bit on format - that was kind of the content. So, we’ll be lingering a little bit with mindfulness of breathing for a few days, but with a different ambience. It will take you, I think, very smoothly into shamatha without a sign. Right. And then the culminating phase of that, of merging mind with space; we’ll do that. And then we’ll go right directly from there into vipashyana - Padmasambhava’s teachings on realizing emptiness. From there, to dream yoga. And from there to tregchö, to realize rigpa. So, it’s - 'boy - it’s a gourmet menu.’ I’ll just try to cook it up well, but the ingredients, the material that I’m dealing with, it’s like - oioioi. [laughter] How can you ruin that, you know? It’s so... It’s almost like precooked. I think I maybe don’t even have to cook it, I just have to serve it. I think it’s more likely. I don’t have to cook it. I could mess it up if I tried to cook it. Cook the books, you know - bad idea. But maybe I can just pass it on, in which case, the more invisible I am, the better. Padmasambhava teaches himself. Padmasambhava is the teacher. So that will be the content, for these eight weeks. [41:51]
[1:05:10] And so, before we close - it’s almost nine o’clock here - I just want to greet everybody who is listening by podcast! [1:05:13]
[1:05:25] I must say, I’ve just been delighted, over the last couple of years especially, to be travelling all over the world, and then find people saying “Oh, you’ve never met me, but I’ve been listening to the podcasts.” You know. I’ll say “Oh! There is some benefit there. And at no extra effort at all!” [01:05:41]
[1:06:24] There is this wonderful lama I mentioned; his name is Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche, from Bhutan. And we just made a wonderful connection, he’s now one of my lamas. I’m just very impressed by him - a wonderful teacher. He’s clear, he’s articulate, he’s grounded. He has nine years in meditation retreat himself, full time retreat. He’s also really knowledgeable. And so, just in the couple of days he was in Santa Barbara, I learned so much from him, even though I’ve been trained in Dzogchen for twenty four years. Like: wow, where are my notes? You know, I wanted to take notes. So the long and the short of it is, he’s the representative of a whole lineage of Dzogchen within the Tibetan tradition, or Bhutanese Tibetan tradition - of the Pema Lingpa lineage. He’s said to be the emanation, one of the three emanations of Pema Lingpa. [He’s the] primary lineage holder for his whole country, which means the world. Because Pema Lingpa is like the patron saint, after Padmasambhava, he’s like the patron saint - a tertön, a treasure revealer, the principal one for all of Bhutan. And so, there’s a core text that he’s been teaching for some years now. And when I was with him in Bhutan, I was translating for him and serving as interpreter of his concluding teachings, because he’d given earlier teachings that I’d been not part of, and then I was invited in to translate for the conclusion. It was just on thögal, the direct crossing over, primarily. But as I read through the translation, I commented: “I think there’s room for improvement in this translation.” And he said: “Good. Do a new one.” [laughter] I was like, you know, me and my big mouth. But it was really a very joyful responsibility to take on. [1:08:06]
Transcribed by Helena Ringnér
Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Final edition by KrissKringle Sprinkle