26 Aug 2014
The Tibeten term ‘nyam’ has no similar term in English. It is a class of experience that is part of the journey. Alan described a nyam as “an anomalous, transient, psychosomatic experience that is catalyzed by authentic meditative experience” and went on to describe various nyam that have arisen or may arise. You cannot tell what kind of nyam may arise, no one has plain sailing. The point is to be with it and not reify it, and the analogy to a lucid dream was given (when you are non lucid in a dream you reify it as being real). Recognize it for what it is.
In the second part of the session, Alan continued the reading from Dudjom Lingpa’s “The Vajra Essence” on the bardo of living, and providing a commentary that ranged from Milarepa, to lucid dreaming, shopping ’til you drop to the great transference rainbow body and everything in between.
One question was asked - on moving from the desire to form realm on the breath
This session began with a silent meditation that is not included in this podcast
O la so. So, I was asked to, um, get a bit of clarification about a type of experience, a general class of experience that really is part of the journey if you’re engaging especially in fairly intensive shamatha practice, and that is the whole issue of nyam.
I know some of you are very familiar with this, but not everybody and I think, actually, for this retreat and generally for practice and for people listening by podcast, very helpful to know. I’m using the Tibetan term nyam, I don’t even know the Sanskrit, because we don’t really have a corresponding term in English because we’re not, in this modern world, it’s not a contemplative society, so things that are specifically associated with or emerge from very intensive contemplative practice are simply not on our radar. It’s just not there so we don’t needs words for it. Whereas a culture like Tibet, which frankly I think probably was the most contemplative culture on the planet until it was destroyed by the least contemplative society on the planet. I mean, it’s probably true – six thousand monasteries for six million people, that’s hard to match.
And so, in Tibetan, they have an immensely rich vocabulary for what they were doing. Just like we have a wonderfully immense vocabulary for science. That’s what we do, you know, our modern society. Tremendous, fantastic.
And so this term ‘nyam’, I’ll translate it, it’s ‘meditative experience’, is as good as I can do. But now I’ll give the definition that I’ve never read it anyplace, I’ve just gleaned it from a lot of reading, a lot of reading and practice. And that is, a nyam, a meditative experience, is an anomalous, transient, psychosomatic – meaning psychological and/or somatic, experience that’s catalyzed by means of authentic meditative practice.
I will say it once again. It’s transient – number one, they don’t go on for days and days, months, years and so forth. If they do it’s not a nyam, it’s a medical condition or something else. And so they’re transient by nature they come up and they go, unless we do something to perpetuate them and that can give them some real staying power. We perpetuate them by grasping on to them, reifying them, possessing them, fretting, hoping, fearing. Then they can really get their claws into us and they can last much longer. But now it’s not simply a nyam it’s a perpetuated, perpetuated nyam, that we are the ones perpetuating. Right? But if we don’t perpetuate it, they are by nature transient, they move on through, they resolve, they release themselves and in that process there is purification.
So, they’re transient, they’re anomalous, that which is to say, they’re out of the ordinary, they’re weird, they’re unusual, not part of your ordinary repertoire of experiences being embodied. It’s out of the ordinary or simply your experience of having a mind in this world with ups and downs, emotions going up and down, it does tend to be something out of the ordinary. Anomalous, and out of the ordinary means just that. It may be really cool, really wonderful, delicious, fantastic. It may be just flat out awful. And it may just be weird, which is interesting but just weird. And so that’s kind of the variety I’ve seen. And I’ve taught a lot, I’ve taught for a while anyway, that’s the kind of stuff that comes up. Really cool, really bad or just really weird. OK.
And then some of the nyam are really purely psychological, it could be, for example, dread. Dread. When Gen Lamrimpa led the one year shamatha retreat starting in 1988, he gave one week of very intensive shamatha teaching and then people just went in, you know, for the year. And he and I were both there, he was the instructor, I was his interpreter and apprentice for leading that retreat. But he told people right at the beginning of this retreat they’re going to really go pretty hard core into shamatha for one whole year, right. And he said it’s very likely going to happen that over the course of the year, you’ll experience fear that doesn’t have any basis in reality – that is, it’s not a snake, a bear, there’s no marauder, there’s just, you’re looking around and there isn’t anything threatening you. Nevertheless, the fear that will come up is every bit as, as authentic, as real, as if somebody’s running towards you with a knife, where you fear your life, you’re about to fall over a cliff. That’s real fear, right? Well, this is no less real. The difference is that in fact there’s nothing there to harm you. It’s a baseless groundless fear that has no roots in reality at all.
That doesn’t mean it’s not real. Just like the emotions we experience in dreams. And look, it’s all a fantasy realm, there’s nothing there at all, right? They’re just, they’re just like rainbows, I mean they’re just empty appearances to your mind, there’s nothing that can possibly harm you, but that doesn’t mean that our fear, our anxiety, dread and so forth and so on, can’t be all of our emotions – joy, bliss, and so forth – the emotions arising in a dream are no less real than the emotions arising when we’re engaging with other people and environments, and so on.
So Gen Lamrimpa‘s advice there, enormously important and very difficult to follow, was, if you see a fear coming up and you look at it and you examine it, with intelligence, you know, it’s called vichara, you carefully examine it and you see ‘this fear has no reality basis in it’. There is nothing to fear, because you’d be able to figure that out. If you’re, you ask ‘what are you afraid of’, are you afraid of dying? OK, you may very well be, but then – are you dying? Have you done something, are you dying? If it’s a nyam – no. If you are, well, we’ll get to that quite soon, [laughter] you know.That’s coming very quickly, you know, there’s something to do then, too.
But you may have a fear of annihilation, and that’s really easy to say - fear of annihilation – so easy to say, just like ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’. But, uh, it’s just as easy to say but, ohh man, when it strikes it can be quite intense. As you’re really having a sense experientially, viscerally, that you’re losing your very identity, you’re losing yourself, you’re about to be extinguished, obliterated, become nothing whatsoever and maybe with no return ticket – that’s pretty intense. And you may have that experience. Because after all, you’re releasing everything you’re identifying with – your body, your thoughts, memories, language – everything. When you’re settling the mind in its natural state, for example, or when you go into the practices we’re doing here. Everything that gives you that comfort zone, you know, well, OK. ‘This is who I am, this is my history, these are my skills, these are my limitations, this is what I can look forward to, these, these are my family, these are my friends and where I live, this is my stuff. This is my stuff, you know.’ Pardon me, but just one of the most hilarious images that I’ve ever seen in any movie was Steve Martin in The Jerk. Anybody ever seen it? I mean it’s really corny, you know, he’s a slapstick comedian, but he’s pretty darn good at it. And there’s a movie came out like twenty-five years ago where he goes from rags to riches and you had all this wealth and so forth and then got sued and he lost everything – all the wealth, everything in one fell swoop, it was from riches to total, you know, poverty. And so there he is, you know, leaving his mansion and leaving all the stuff that’s all being repossessed, and he says ‘I give up everything, I release everything, I don’t want to have any attachment for anything . . . except this. And except that’. And he’s picking up these pieces of crap for his house, you know, like a broom and a box and a pair of slippers. And by the time the poor idiot is leaving the house he’s go all this crap hanging off him – ‘except for this’ ’except for that’ you know. It really was, I mean the words cannot, he just did it marvelously. It was so pathetic and hilarious at the same time. I give up attachment for everything except, you know, garbage.
Well, when you go deep into shamatha, you’re, you are giving away everything, everything you’re identifying with, everything you’re familiar with and you slip into that and you may very well, if the practice is going well, really freak out, that maybe, maybe there’s no return. You know, I’m slipping into kind of this slide and maybe there’s no traction to get back. Maybe I’m going to be lost in oblivion and all the other meditator going a long and I’ll just be uh uh uh and that’ll be the end of me, you know, I’ll just be lost in space.
So, it’s funny. It is funny. But, boy, when you experience it there’s no laughter about it at all, you know. And, so what to do then, if that happened. It didn’t happen to everybody, it did happen to some people, it did happen to some people. So what happens when, with your intelligence you see the fear coming up and you know this is, has no and this has no basis in reality. That people don’t die of shamatha. I want to assure you of that. They may die while practicing shamatha but they’ll not die of shamatha. Unless you’re practicing really crazy like, you know, totally pedal to the metal, pushing until you have a heart attack. But that’s not how I’m teaching it, right? And so, when that comes up, then he said what you need to do, and what I’m about to say is really really easy to say – observe the fear and don’t identify with it and recognize it for what it is. This fear is real fear but it has no root in reality. And it’s kind of like Winston Churchill saying in the middle of the 2nd World War, ‘there is nothing to fear but fear itself’. Well, that’s kind of it, that is exactly right here. If you freak out because of that fear then that can really cripple you, you can become a nervous wreck, but was there any reality, basis, in that fear – no, so you have to hold your own ground.
What we’re doing here in the kind of serenity of this peaceful, lovely, conducive environment – hold your own ground, not too hard, ay? I mean you get carried away by a little thought here and there, but, you know, it’s not horrendously hard, you can come back pretty easily. You can lose it easily but you can come back easily, too. Whereas when you have this great big Godzilla of fear coming up and you’re holding your ground and simply being present without grasping, and so forth, that’s what needs to be done. Don’t reify the fear, don’t grasp on to it, don’t hold it, fear it, don’t desire it or be averse to it – let it be and let it self-release. Let it self-release. And that is the only way through it. And if you can’t do that, that will stop your practice. And if fact, in the shamatha practice, retreat, 1988, it did stop one person’s practice. The person suffered no harm, but actually stopped the practice. Just couldn’t go there, could not do, and this person was not a wimp, not a silly person or something like that, but that fear was so intense, could not face it without being totally caught in its talons, in its claws, in which case, back off, and never really got deeply into the practice again. So, that was a pretty fierce nyam.
Fear is one of many. It can be, again it can be, faith, it can be joy, it can be bliss, it can be paranoia, it can be low self-esteem, it can be rage, it can be dizziness or vertigo, so psychological, it can be psychological. OK? And a wide variety of the whole band width. But they’re just coming up, they’re just being, as you’re dredging your psych the stuff comes up, and you, the response is homogeneous. All the great teachers giving the same advice – be with it and above all, most crucially, do not reify it.
Now, what’s reifying? Well, whenever we’re in a non-lucid dream we’re reifying everything, right? What does that mean? - Oh, there’s Michael. Michael. He’s staring at me. Oh, that’s a glower, he’s going to come and get me, you know, but just the basic of reification ‘there’s Michael over there, what’s he thinking? Oh, he’s big and he’s the one guy here clearly bigger than me. That’s scary!
And so we reify all the time in a non-lucid dream, that’s just the nature of it, we’re fundamentally deluded. Which means we’re grasping on to our own identity in the dream, we’re grasping on to other people’s, the environment, everything. Right? In which case, we’re vulnerable, we’re vulnerable to everything. Some people are afraid to fall asleep because they have nightmares so frequently. The nightmare isn’t hurting them at all, they’re empty appearances, watching a movie for heaven’s sake. But if you reify it, then the fear, the misery and so forth, is as real as if you are actually having it in the waking state. So, that’s reification. What we do, and if you’re wondering about reification, this elegant philosophical term, it’s what we do in non-lucid dreams. The phenomena are not there by their own nature, by their own side, they have no power to inflict any harm whatsoever, but if you don’t know that, if you don’t know you’re dreaming you will reify them and now they do have power to terrify you, to harm you physically – you can hurt physically in a dream, which is bizarre since you have no physical body but you still can, right? Let alone being hurt psychologically. And so that is the core advice is whatever comes up don’t reify it, be lucid. And this practice, settling the mind in its natural state, the practice that we’re going to be going into very shortly, probably tomorrow, of the Shamatha Without a Sign, which we’ll go into step by step, it really is just flagrantly obviously cultivating lucidity with respect to your mind during the waking state. So, lucid dream is lucidity with respect to your mind while you’re dreaming which is really. really simple. You’re recognizing a dream as a dream which means to say, that you’re observing mental events and you are recognizing them as mental events, which kinda like sounds simple but you don’t do that in a lucid dream – in a non-lucid dream. In a non-lucid dream, those are not mental events – no, that’s Michael, that’s Gatye, you know, the sinister nun, and so forth. She’s scary, she looks so gentle and sweet, awww, [laughing in background], you know.
And so, it is just as, we are freed from all harm and all suffering and all pain, all fear in a lucid dream, because you’re lucid, so likewise, in so far as, ‘cause it’s not yes or no, but in so far as you become lucid with respect to your own mind in the waking state, as Lerab Lingpa says, you know with certainty that you cannot be harmed by anything that occurs in your mind. And that’s with the practice of Settling the Mind in its Natural State which is the practice of becoming more and more lucid with respect to your own mind. So whatever comes up – traumatic memories, fantasies, emotions, images, whatever it is, you’re watching a 3D movie, you know, there’s nothing possibly that can harm you there. They’re empty appearances. [15:22]
So I think I mentioned earlier this wonderful, this anecdote that I heard from a friend of mine in Norway who’s pretty, pretty good at lucid dreaming. But did I tell it here? I’ve told it a couple of time since she told me. But, she was having a very lucid dream and a person came towards her in the dream with a knife. Did I say that here? Oh, that’s a cool story. It’s short, but yeah, she was having this dream and the person, but she’s lucid, and the person (and a man) comes at her with a knife to stab her, you know, a menacing, really this is a bad person and she comes, she walks towards him and she takes his hand with the knife in it and she plunges it into her guts, yeah, she plunged it into her guts. And I asked her did it hurt? She said no. She was lucid. She’s taking a dream knife, plunging it into a dream body – it’s like one rainbow attacking another rainbow, a holographic image, how can that be, why should there be any pain, you have no nerves. There are no nerves in your dream belly, right, none. There’s no molecules, there’s no matter, there’s not, it’s a holographic image. Why should it hurt, except you think it will, placebo effect, it goes both ways it’s called the nocebo effect when it does nasty things to you. Right. Placebo means ‘please me’, and nocebo means ‘don’t please me’, you know. So we can bring upon ourselves mountains of misery with a nocebo. We do it every time we have a nightmare, because there’s nothing in the nightmare that’s doing it, right. But then you can take a sugar tablet and that may heal you of a very serious disease and not just make you feel better but I mean it truly is miraculous. Or at least amazing. And there’s no explanation for it in modern science. How is it that when you take that sugar tablet and you have faith that it will bring about some very specific change in your body, not always, but frequently enough that it’s a major scientific issue, it brings out precisely the physiological change in your body that you had faith it would. Now that is totally weird. I wrote, when I was writing Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic, with a whole chapter on this, I wrote to one to one of the world experts on this. He’s written books on this, he really knows his business. And he said -how do you explain this, that you feel better, OK, dopamine, big deal you know. No no, but not that, this is triggering exactly the mechanisms in the body that can actually cure the disease and you don’t know anything about your own body or physiology, you just had faith, right? He said, how do you explain this? And his answer to me was, in writing, “I’ve stopped asking that question.” When you’re, when you’re, when you’ve actually hunkered down for a life long lease in the house of materialism and you are planning to live here the rest of your life and there is no conceivable answer in that house, you either have to move houses or else you just stop asking the question. And frankly it’s a lot easier to stop asking the question than it is to get up and move into another world view where that actually becomes intelligible. So that’s actually the mainstream view right now is there’s no answer and we don’t ask, we we , we’ll call it a placebo effect. Is anybody… you’re fooled, right, it’s a placebo effect. Right, you know. That’s pretty cheap, because it’s a faked effect. If you wanted use one word it’s a ‘faithed’ effect. But there shouldn’t be any faithed effect.
OK, so there it is. This mind grasping, aspiring and so forth, it can bring great good, it can bring great bad but we’re doing it. It’s not in the sugar tablet any more than it’s in the appearances in the dream, right? We empower them, we empower them. And so for the nyam, whatever comes up, don’t reify it. See it as simply appearance arising if it just a nyam. Now I have to say responsibly, none of us should be going crazy here and that is if it’s a, if it must, if you think it might be a medical condition go to a doctor. We’re not doing something ‘like, oh, this heals all diseases’ if you have appendicitis while you’re in meditation retreat don’t worry just meditate harder. That’s foolishness so we don’t do that. If you think it might be a medical condition get it checked out, you know.
But when it’s quite clear it’s not a medical condition, maybe you go to a doctor who says I don’t see anything wrong with you, then pay your bill, say thank you, you’ve just diagnosed it as a nyam. You don’t know what that is but I do, and go home, right. And so there’s the core advice, it’s not easy but that in fact is the only way, it’s the only way. The nyam come up and they can be physiological, somatic, really weird, unpleasant, vertigo, all kinds of weird stuff can come up in the body but then it passes through. So I won’t elaborate on that and Dudjom Lingpa or Padmasambhava says in the Vajra Essence, he gives a list of about two pages of all these, most of them are pretty nasty and then he says that’s … he’s essentially said that’s just a short list, you know, there’s such a wide variety of dispositions, karma, predilections and psycho-physiological constitutions and so forth, there no way to predict, you know, what’s, if you point to one person, say – what’s going to happen to Emerson if she goes into a one year retreat, meditates twelve hours a day – shamatha without a sign – what kind of nyam will arise. No way of telling. Generically, if she’s you know, a bile person, a wind person, fire person, you might be able to make some general, you know, generalizations but not for specifics. So that’s what Dudjom Lingpa states. So, this is really advice that is crucial. You’ll frankly not get by without it. I don’t know of anybody, there may be people but I just don’t know of any, who set out on the voyage of shamatha and just had smooth sailing the whole way. It could happen, I mean Shabkar said, you know, I came, I saw, I conquered, it’s finished. So maybe he didn’t have any, I don’t, I don’t know, it’s not for me to say but the people I’ve engaged with, it’s not smooth. You’ll have these spikes and they will be nyam and you’ll either know how to deal with them and they will release themselves, or you’ll not know how to deal with them and you’ll get stuck. So those are your two options. OK? So that a little talk on nyam. Enormously important and there’s the great challenge. But it is the challenge to enable your mind to heal, enable the blockages in the body that may come out, you know, by way of the prana, blockages in the mind, karmic stuff to mature, to ripen and to flow on through, until you come through, you get all the way through to the other side, this little trip, not the big trip to nirvana or to Buddhahood, but the little trip from your coarse mind to its ground, substrate consciousness. It’s not a bad trip. It’s quite a trip.
O la so. So now, let us go back to this, um, brief introduction, summary, of the first bardo, the bardo of living which entails grasping, we’re all very familiar with that. I’ll pick up where I left of, the last sentence was: [22:39]
Likewise by first devoting yourself to a qualified teacher and by acquiring broad learning and deep understanding, you should be able to proceed to the essential points of the path by your own power without error.
Again, that’s a very powerful statement – loaded statement. He’s saying get your act together, get as much understanding as you need, to be able to really go on the path by your own power and that is you set off and you should be able to do it, you should have enough confidence enough understanding that you really carry on and you can do so without error. So, if we look at the life story of Milarepa, number one, he went through pretty awesome preliminary practices. I don’t know recall his doing 100,000 prostrations, but he did a lot harder, those towers he had to build and then, you know, take down again and again. And so, but he had a lot of stuff purified. I think you all know the story, or most of you do. He had a major, enormous amount purifying and therefore that’s what is his teacher needed to give him. Major, major work to purify all the terrible karma he had accumulated. Ah, and then when he was finished, when he’d done what needed to be done, and there were signs of purification, not just, you know, build 100,000 towers, there were signs of purification that he’d built enough, he’d constructed enough, now you can move on. Then Marpa embraced him as like his only son, gave him empowerment, gave him instruction. And then did he stay with Marpa and have Marpa hold his hand all the way through? No. Marpa said, “OK, now go. Go to the mountains, take off! I’ve given you everything you need to know.” And then there he was. And then he had his nyam, he had his experiences, right. But Marpa gave him everything he needed. So then when the big nyam came up, and some of them were pretty, pretty nasty, Milarepa was fully equipped. Fully equipped. He dealt with all the nyam, passed on through, and then he started singing. His hundred thousand songs.
But that’s what he’s talking about right here, and that is Lerab Lingpa says, be your own mentor, act as your own mentor and do so with precision as if you were threading a needle. Remember the phrase – as if you were threading a needle. It’s such a fine, accurate confident understanding of the practice. That you don’t need to then be there with your teacher. “But oh, today I had a bad experience, what do I do now? Oh, I had a… What do I do now?” You are no longer in kindergarten. Learn it and then you can take off. And that’s what he’s saying here. That’s what Lerab Lingpa was saying there and that’s what he’s saying here – you proceed to the essential points of the path by your own power without error. So, big sentence. That was the last one.
He elaborates a little bit further. First gain a sound understanding of the view meditation and experiential realizations. Here in this context, of course, he’s referring to Dzogchen view, learn about it, learn about what’s a meditation, the experiential realizations, get some understanding of them, the nature of the grounds and the paths, these are the stages of evolution along the path to awakening, the bhumis, the bodhisattva bhumis, the paths, the five paths and so on. And comprehend them through your own experience. So get some taste, some taste. Eventually you’ll never be separated from the awareness that the appearances of this life are like dreams and illusions. If you really fathom the view, that is if you fathom the Dzogchen view you have necessarily fathomed the view of emptiness. And it’s simple, it’s transparent why I say that. And that is to draw an analogy, the most magnificent analogy, the closest one of all the analogies. Buddha gave ten, but among them the dream analogy is so, so close, it’s breathtaking. So, when the Buddha told Drona, I am awake, I’m not even human being, I’m awake, right. What is he saying – we’re in the waking state here, right? What that is, we’re not asleep, I’m awake.in other words he’s saying ‘I’m lucid in the waking state’, which means ‘I am awake’ is what Buddha means. Buddha, Buddha’s awake, right? It means lucid, right? If you’re dreaming, your body’s lying in bed and your dreaming and you become lucid, and let’s say be really, really lucid, slam dunk lucid, then, if you know that everything there in the dream is a dream, all these free creations of your own mind, then by the power of that realization you have to know that there is nothing there in the dream - Michael [? Kilgrow, or Hannah Grache,] or anything else, or houses or mountains or grizzly bears or dragons or so forth, there is nothing there whatsoever in the dream either objectively or from your side subjectively, who you sent yourself to be in the dream, there is nothing there objectively or subjectively that actually exists by its own nature. If you don’t know that then you’re not lucid. You know that this, this little persona, you in the dream is completely empty of anything, it’s just a little... like a puppet show, or again a 3-dimensional holographic image. You in the dream completely empty, a hall of mirrors, empty appearances. You, that little person in the dream. Right? And then everything you’re experiencing phenomenologically around you, all the appearance, all the objects, people, places, activities. If you’re lucid, very, very lucid, then you must know. I mean it’s kind of like you don’t even have to think about it, if you’re lucid you know there’s nothing there outside from its own side and nothing over here from your own side, it’s all empty appearances, right? So by the power of being lucid within the context of the dream, by that power, you know the empty nature of all phenomena, but now what’s weird there, it’s strange, that you’re in the midst of a dream, it’s lucid but now within a dream, do you find some coherent causal interrelationships? Or is it all just sheer chaos, random incoherent spattering of, you know, just random events. Well, we know that’s not how dreams are. They’re weird for sure, but if you, if you, if you encounter Marta in the dream, you say ‘Hi, Marta, how are you?’ You’ll affect her, she’ll say something like ‘Oh, I’m really busy right now, I can’t talk’ or, or you know, but she’ll give a response, she’ll give a response, right? And so that’s a causal sequence. Or if you do something bad to another person, in, in, to another person in the dream they may retaliate. They could do something really nice they might return the favor. And so there are a lot of causal sequences there. Some of them clearly bizarre, violating the laws of physics and so forth, flying and things like that. But nevertheless there are causal interrelationships which are coherent inside your dream, but isn’t that kind of weird? ‘Cause there’s nobody there. And what is most weird, I mean, I just found it so strange when I had my first lucid dream, it’s really just weird, is that, let’s just take Marta. Imagine Marta crops up in my dream and I ask her something, like uh, ‘Sunday’s up, would you like to go out and maybe see some of the islands, maybe a group of us can go out. You know?’ A simple question. I wouldn’t ask it, I’m here to meditate, but you can ask, it’s not a bad question. Right? I don’t know what she’s going to say. Isn’t that weird? She might scold me, she might say ‘oh yes, let’s have a group of us go out, we’ll have a picnic’. She might say ‘you’re the worst meditation teacher I’ve ever met’. You know? She might throw a brick at me, there’s no telling, I have no idea what she’s gonna say, but she’s a figment of my imagination. So she’s my figment I should have some idea, some clue, right? But even in a lucid dream you don’t, you don’t control. If you really want to control, then of course you can, but if you’re just having a lucid dream – isn’t this strange? That was my second lucid... I’ve told so many times of going into that dinner in dream and asking people whether they knew they were dreaming. I thought they’d be more interested. Frankly, exactly like when I wrote Taboo of Subjectivity I thought, woah, this is gonna make some waves. It’s the same, you know, your expectations even in your own dream don’t necessarily come up. I thought at least one person would say, man, you’re really cool, or something. But not just ignore me entirely finding their hamburgers more interesting than my news flash – this is a dream. But nobody rose to debate, everybody ignored me in the whole diner. So, I stopped talking. Woke up. I left the diner. [laughing sounds]
So, running on a bit. But there it is. So but that’s what he’s saying here – let’s go back to it, and that is, oh there was the point – if you really have the Dzogchen view in so far as you are viewing reality from the perspective of rigpa, by the power of that realization, by the power of being awake, viewing reality from perspective of rigpa, then by the power that you know that phenomenon is empty of inherent nature. Exactly as in a lucid dream. You may realize emptiness and not realize rigpa. And once again the parallel is exact. And that is you could be in the midst a dream and in the midst of the dream you could meet a meditation teacher. In fact we had a retreat here not too long ago, a fellow who’s had a lot of lucid dreams and he told me about one of his dreams in a in a personal interview, and he said that I had a dream, you know over the past week and I was dreaming along non-lucidly being an ordinary dream and somebody came up to me and said ‘you know this is a dream?’ and then he became lucid. I get to hear a lot of really cool things when I interview people. So, you may have a person who not only gives you pointing out instructions, because that’s what that was, and suddenly become lucid. I mean, listen, Lama Katasa – what was his name? Tarthang Tulku- who’s kind of vanished from most people off the globe like twenty thirty years ago. Stephen Laberge, the lucid dream guy, he, he had some connection with Lama Tarthang like this thirty, forty years ago, long, long time ago and Lama, and, a, did I say Lama Tarthang? Tarthang Tulku. And Tarthang Tulku’s English back then was very poor and I think they were at Esalen, Stephen Laberge told me they were at Esalen, and Tarthang Tulku’s giving this kind of like workshop there, you know. And his English was poor but he got to the point. He said ‘ This dream!’. That was his teaching. [laughter] I don’t know how many people woke up, but it was certainly to the point. And Stephen Laberge remembered it and I think that facilitated his very rich lucid dreaming experience. So, but, in that stream, a hypothetical dream, it’s all very reasonable, what I’m about to say, I think you can imagine but I could be, you could be in a dream, non-lucid, so as far as you’re concerned you’re just alive, you might meet somebody in the dream who’s appearing to you like a Dalai Lama, or some great Madhyamaka master, great Yogi like Gen Lamrimpa, he spent a lot of time meditating on emptiness, he really did, he really had to make... And so did Geshe Rabten, spent six years in retreat meditation on emptiness was a central theme for him – really big. And so you might meet Gen Lamrimpa or a Geshe Rabten or any other yogi who has profound realization. That appearance could come up, why not? And then if you’re having a nice leisurely dream that goes on for a while, you might receive instruction on Madhyamaka Vipashyana, right? Why not? Why couldn’t you? And in the dream, again you don’t know it’s a dream you might be meditating on that and then probing into the, doing this ontological analysis investigating the very nature of reality in the reality you’re experiencing and if you’re doing the practice clearly, with intelligence, with penetration, maybe a bit of shamatha thrown in, you might start realizing – why not? – that these phenomena you’re experiencing, not a single one exists from its own side, has its own inherent nature. You might start with yourself and see – there’s no person to be found, there’s no self to be found, there’s just, by the power of designation that’s the only way I exist here but without conceptual designation there’s no one here from my side and then I turn my attention outwards and I found – my goodness, it’s the same for other phenomena, that they’re there but only by the power of conceptual designation but not from their own side. And in the midst of your, what we outsiders know to be your dream, you might really have some very deep insight into emptiness in your non-lucid dream while you’re meditating in an in-between sessions, then as you’re just engaging with the world having tea, walking and talking and so forth, then you’d be doing the post meditative practice which is, is called ‘illusory-like’ or ‘illusion-like Samadhi’. It’s space-like Samadhi when you’re in meditative equipoise, it’s illusion-like, right? Illusion-like Samadhi in between sessions, so in between sessions, isn’t it cute? In between sessions, now that you’ve had some realization of emptiness, while you’re formally in meditation and really engaging in ontological analysis, then you come out and you experience all these appearances around you, the people, your body, places and so forth, and you’d really have this on-going lingering sense ‘Wow, this is all like an illusion, this is all like a dream’. And everybody outside your dream, if it, if they could be peeking in, they’d be laughing their heads off. There you are in a dream saying ‘wow, this is really like a dream. It’s really like a dream.’ And they’re saying ‘ahh’ and we imagine them, the Buddha’s having a party and saying’ oh man, look at this guy in a dream and he’s saying ‘it’s like a dream, it’s like a dream’ and pass the beer, this is just too rich.’
So you may have that realization and of course not know you’re dreaming, it’s just really dream-like but if you’re that close, if you’ve realized the emptiness of phenomena within the dream, and then somebody comes over to you, like came to this fellow, came to one of these retreats and said ‘you know this is not like a dream, this DREAM!’ And then maybe, why not, whack you with a sandal. Right? (mumbling noises) Then you can become lucid ‘cause you’re so close, you’re already seeing things to be so dream-like, right, and then whack! And then this sudden radical shift of perspective, instead of viewing the dream from inside the dream as a dreamed person you’re viewing the dream from perspective of waking consciousness and viewing the dream from outside the dream. So, that’s what he’s getting at here. [37:56]
Eventually you’ll never be separated from the awareness that, that the appearances of this life in the waking state are like dreams and illusions. Like, someone shopping in a market, without satiation,
Gosh I didn’t think I’d ever see ‘shop till you drop’ in a Tibetan [laughing sounds] isn’t that what it is? I mean he’s talking about a mall-rat, right? And this is nomadic Tibet a hundred and fifty years ago. This guy definitely knew what was coming. Like someone shopping in a market without satiation. A mall-rat shop-till-you-drop, you know teenage, teenie-boppers, just you know. (laughing) can’t stop shopping, you will practice with zeal and great courage, like a teenager on a shopping spree. [laughing]
Like a traveler from a distant land who has achieved his great goal and does not lose it to enemies or thieves when he sets out on the road. Do not succumb to activities involving the eight mundane concerns such as the great obstacles of entertainment, distractions, defeating your enemies and protecting your loved ones.
And, as in, so, it’s just that every single sentence is attended to very closely. His point here is that you really may have some profound realizations. You know. And then, especially if the people around you are not into it, you know, and that’s kind of like common, and you come onto you this way and say, “You know, take a little bit of a break, we are heading off on this…” I met a number of students whose parents are constantly, in retreat, and their parents are constantly saying ‘it’s really cool, you retreat, but we’re going on a vacation now please come’ or ‘it’s Christmas, you’ve gotta, please come home.’ ’oh we’re going on another vacation.’ ‘oh your grandma’s sick, please come home.’ You know. Because what you’re doing in retreat has no value for them at all, as far as they’re concerned, you’re completely wasting your time. Right? And so anything is good reason to get you out. ‘oh, I’ve got an ingrown toenail, please come out, help out, help, help, help HELP! I’m your mother, don’t you want to help your mother?’ (laughing) ‘I thought you Buddhists took care of your mothers. I’m your mother.’ They’ll find any reason to get you out, any reason to derail you. My beloved father, and I say that with total sincerity. When I was off in India doing things that absolutely made no sense to him at all he said, ‘I’ll send you the money to fly home now, otherwise you can swim home.’ I was in India. That would have been a long swim. It’s only out of love. It was not cruelty, but what I was doing made no sense at all. I was throwing away my whole future, everything – education, future career, family, everything good in life I was completely throwing away, and he would have done just about anything to get me back and that’s the most intense thing he did – ‘take the money now and come home or swim home, ‘cause you’re not getting any more money.’ Even my own money, it was my money, but he could control the bank account. So I say that with no criticism, I hope that’s obvious. He was acting as a loving father, what more do you want of a father, to do the very best he possibly can for his son and that’s what he was absolutely convinced was the best thing. And from his perspective he was right. He changes the perspective, later, but years later. Right? So people who don’t understand, don’t expect them to value it, do expect them to feel any excuse is a good excuse to get you out of what you’re doing. And so then, and then, we fall under the mm, under the Eight Mundane Concerns of entertainment, distraction, defeating our enemies, protecting our loved ones and so forth and he says, adhering to this crucial point is the sublime quintessence for all dharma practitioners, so be aware of it. [42:07]
Even if you’ve had some deep experience, a savvy meditator, experienced meditator, don’t be too confident, you can fall back, even within one lifetime let alone from one life to the next. It does happen even to some very competent meditators. It’s not speculation. There’s one yogi, a past life, very formidable, very formidable, I’m going to keep it a coarse analysis, but he is formidable, real yogi. Died, reincarnation found, didn’t get the, didn’t get the upbringing he needed and I know one of his disciples, who is... did retreats under him, long retreat under him. And he said of the incarnation of his own guru – he didn’t turn out well. He didn’t get the training he needed as a child. And he said of his own guru’s incarnation – he didn’t turn out well. Hard. He’s a Tibetan, Tibetan, you know. So, the continuity, continuity throughout the course of a life is crucial. Continuity from one life to the next. It’s only where there... unless you’re going to finish the whole path in this lifetime, the path has to go from one life to the next. You have to do everything you can to see this continuity. It’s kind of – the stakes are high.
So, a little bit more.
By practicing in this way those of superior faculties attain rain, attain enlightenment as a Great Transference Rainbow Body.
Now this is right at the end of the Vajra Essence, right?
By practicing in this way, [he’s just described it] those of superior faculties attain enlightenment as a Great Transference Rainbow Body. [Tibetan] Without reliance upon death or their full lifespan. [43:59]
So this is the, that’s a spectacular one. Not many in the history of the Buddhism in Tibet, very, very few achieve that. I think I mentioned... I know I’ve mentioned before Padmasambhava did. Virmalamitra, his contemporary did. They’re both Indian. And then in the oh, what was it, I can’t remember the century, maybe 13th century, Chetsun, Chetsun Senge Wangchuk, Chetsun Senge Wangchuk, he achieved Great Transference Rainbow Body. And there might have been one other, very few. When we consider how many great yogis, how many did achieve rainbow body, you know, the body dissolving into light at death. Ah, there like every ten years or so, there’s lots of Dudjom Lingpa’s disciples – thirteen of them, right but the Pho chen jalu is you don’t die, it’s not what happens when you expire and you breathe out then gradually your body dissolves into shimmering light and you leave your hair and nails behind, that’s a lower level. The highest level rainbow body is called the Great Transference Rainbow Body and this is where you’re in perfectly good health and you’re, like, forty-five, your life span is not finished, you are not sick, you’re not, you’re just doing fine, but you’ve come to the end of the path and you’re a person of superior, superior faculties, and while still alive the materiality of your body, I mean we’re talking about atoms, molecules, atoms, down to the elementary particles of matter, they are all, they’re all, um, are withdrawn into Dharmadhatu. Or I think it’s pretty safe to say, into the, it’s called the ‘yeshe ke lung’ the energy of primordial consciousness. So here they are manifesting in this gross, coarse fashion as matter. Well, that matter ultimately emerges from, is an effulgence, an expression, in the Dzogchen view, of primordial consciousness, the nonduality of primordial consciousness, absolute space of phenomena – Dharmadhatu- and both of those are non-dual from the energy of primordial consciousness - ‘yeshe ke lung’. So it’s the Buddhist trinity – space, consciousness and energy – infinite, transcendent, boundless, and there’s a complete non-duality or non-, how should we say, all three are utterly indivisible and this is the ground from which all the phenomenal world ultimately arises. Well, when you achieve the Great Transference Rainbow Body there’s an inversion of that and while you’re still alive and perfectly good health, every aspect of materiality of your body dissolves right back into this ultimate ground and you don’t die. You don’t die. You didn’t just die, it’s just the materiality of your body, and of course, the associated energy and the associated mental states, have all dissolved into this ultimate ground. And so, [snap finger sound] you dissolve into that and then as you wish, whenever you wish, it could be like, it could be like, whoosh, whoosh, like if you blink you could miss it, the person’s body completely dissolves into primordial energy and then in the next moment, out of compassion, re-emerges, but doesn’t re-emerge as matter. Re-emerges with the appearance of matter which is to say you can touch, you can... I mean all the five senses, you can see, you can hear and so forth, including touch, but it’s kind of like touching somebody in a dream or picking up a hammer and whacking it on the palm of your hand in a dream. It feels like a hammer, right, cold hard, really hard, hard, hard and it certainly feels that way. Is there... are there any atoms there in that hammer that you’re banging on your hand? None. Does it certainly feel like a hammer? You betcha. Right? And so, they may appear in one or an infinite number of places but they appear although they appear to be physical when they come back, there is no physicality to them at all. Which is to say that when they leave, so Padmasambhava having achieved Great Transference Rainbow Body, he didn’t die, there’s no references to him dying, he just finished what he needed to do in Tibet and then – bye –whoosh. Just withdrew, but he didn’t die. This is the only exit, his only way not to die is that way, that’s the only way not to die. And the simple reason for that is there’s nothing to die, there’s nothing left to die. All that might have died has already been consumed and withdrawn back into the ultimate ground. Your mind is nothing other than the Dharmakaya, your speech is nothing other than the energy of Dharmakaya, your body is nothing other than nirmanakaya and so there’s just nothing to die, right? And so it’s, I find it quite interesting in this text revealed in the 1860’s that it makes any reference to it at all ‘cause it’s rare. I mean everybody knows that, it’s very, very rare. And yet he doesn’t write it off, and say well, you know, it’s 19th century, getting things pretty degenerate, next century’s probably going to be worse, so, you know, pray to be born in a pure realm. And he says, well, Great Transference Rainbow Body, there it is, click sound, so I had this sense, of course you know I have faith, but I have this sense he wasn’t kidding, you know, wasn’t joking. He didn’t say ‘in the old days, you should have been there’, that in the old days, you know, people really achieved that, but of course you schmucks nowadays – forget it. He doesn’t say that. He could, lamas can be very blunt, but he didn’t, so I find that interesting. So, that’s a supreme, a superior faculties, they achieved Great Transference Rainbow Body without reliance upon death or their full lifespan. They don’t die and they don’t live out their full lifespan, they transmute right while they’re in good health and don’t die at all. Those of middling faculties are liberated during the dying process, with no intermediate period in the nature of ultimate reality, that’s dharmata, so these are the people, the first one, yeah, so these are the people who achieve perfect awakening in the bardo of dharmata, which we will not get to in this retreat. But that’s right after the clear light of death, there comes this relatively brief bardo called the bardo of dharmata or ultimate reality with all the peaceful and wrathful deities manifesting and so forth. That is the time when you may achieve enlightenment. And you do so as sambhogakaya and then you’re enlightened there in that phase. It’s said that Tsongkhapa achieved enlightenment in that phase. Right. So that’s for middle, middling, middling faculties and those of inferior faculties merge the mother in clear light, mother and child clear light, in the intermediate period, that’s simply the bardo, called the bardo of becoming, and attain liberation. So others maybe, go, all the way through the dying process, the bardo of dharmata, ultimate reality, and then not gain realization there and then slip into just the intermediate state, the bardo, which is called the transitional phase of becoming, and in that, which has a very dream-like quality to it, then in that context, really like achieving enlightenment in a dream, it’s analogous to that, where you realize the mother clear light, which is the ground clear light, pristine awareness, and the child clear light is that which you’ve gained, gained some realization of over the course of your practice, you realize the nonduality of those two. And you may achieve liberation in that way, so – three different ways. Two of them, and one of them in this lifetime before you even die, the other one right in the dying process, the other after you’re really dead but you’re in the bardo. So, so that’s that, and we don’t have much more time tonight, so I’m not going to do any more, we’ll have this tomorrow evening. What he does is, the rest of it, I think you have the text by now, yeah, is I say quite seriously, backup plan, a backup plan, right? I mean really optimally you would have practiced everything and you’d achieve enlightenment in this lifetime or in the bardo or in the bardo of becoming, but if that doesn’t work out, or you’re die sudden…, you know, suddenly you find –oh, I just was diagnosed with a terminal disease and I’m going to die in a month, of something like… or you just had an accident and you’re going to die in ten minutes, something unexpected that came up, not a nyam, [laughter] your karma just ran out, you know. Then you might be thinking, well, was there, did you have a backup plan? You know, because I’m going to be dead in two days. Is there a backup plan? And that’s what he gives here. Backup plan. Ok. You may not need it, but if you do need it, it’d be really nice to have it. Ok. If plan A doesn’t work out, plan B would be pretty cool.
[52:41] O la so. We have a couple of minutes, I don’t want to go more to the text, it’s kind of has to be all in one session, and so – any comments or questions thus far, just something really just quite to the point?
Camille, go ahead.
Camille - Eh, so, as far as um I can put a question that has more to do with this transitional stage between the desire realm, so achieving the shamatha and then transforming consciousness into the form realm. And as far as the mindfulness of breathing practice is concerned, there seem to be clear distinctive intermediate stages that allow you to discriminate where you are, so you mentioned this cassinas, so, the subtle the breath and then you focus more this mental sort of image and then you progress from then on, it seems that here the emphasis during this course is more on the mind as the path in this Dzogchen approach, so even though you really emphasize the importance of the breath, it’s more or less peripheral kind of a thing. And I’m wondering whether in that practice that we are going to continue over the next two months there are any distinctive intermediate transitional stages that one could focus, not that I’m anticipating to go to the form realm, it’s just curiosity.
Alan – why not anticipate going to the form realm? And it’s a matter of time, I mean, eight weeks could be pretty sensational. But I won’t say impossible. You know, it’s not for me to say. No, it’s a perfectly good question, very, very good one. And I have been emphasizing this entry, it’s kind of basic, work out to be more or less the first week of the mindfulness of breathing, um, in part because it’s a practice the Buddha emphasized so strongly in the Pali canon, it’s the most widely taught practice that he taught. He taught it for forty-five years, so, and he taught it so quintessentially. Ah, so, number one, it’s a wonderful practice but also in this particular interpretation, this very literal interpretation, which I’ve given a number of times now, this segue from that, the transition from this mindfulness of breathing with this, again with this symbol, primarily simply awareness resting in its own place the transition from that to the next major practice we’ll venture into, shamatha without a sign as taught by Padmasambhava, is so smooth it’s silky, it’s really really smooth but there’s something about the breath, is that it’s notorious, it’s been known for centuries, that it’s really good for you, mindfulness of breathing, it’s good for you , it calms the body, it soothes the body, it balances the whole energy system, ah and, we in our modern world, I won’t say east and west ‘cause I don’t believe in that much anymore, but modernity versus traditional culture, that I believe in, we living in modernity, and that’s all of us, right? We really need to unwind, we mustn’t pretend that we’re Tibetans, or Mongolian nomads or people living in the you know northern jungles of Thailand, whatever, we’re not, you know. And so we really need to take that into account, that we’re bringing a configured nervous system here, prana system here, that has a fair amount of remedial work to be done if these practices are going to bear the kind of fruit that they have for some centuries. In other words, we have to have a body, a nervous system more like what they had a hundred years ago, five hundred years ago and not bring in this wacked out, burnt out, you know, multi-tasking crazy body-mind that’s become normal. So what’s normal for us was not normal a hundred years ago in Tibet, five hundred years ago in Tibet, Bhutan and so forth and so on, so that’s why I’ve been emphasizing this. That it’s really a good grounding, a place to release, to relax, it’s very healthy and then the transition over to awareness of awareness can be very smooth.
Now to answer your question, because it’s a very good one and, clearly, the Buddha taught the mindfulness of breathing as not just a little stepping stone to some other shamatha practice, but one that can take you at least to all the way to shamatha, but first, second, third, fourth dhyana, he doesn’t, he doesn’t say ‘ok, now switch to this technique’ – all the way through, fourth dhyana, mindfulness of breathing. So, it doesn’t have clear signposts as in the classic Theravada that is Buddhaghosa, of preliminary sign, acquired sign, counterpart sign, but that’s the only place you find that, that is, for all the other methods, that is in Theravada, yes, but for the whole Indo-Tibetan current, there’s no references to preliminary sign, acquired sign, counterpart sign. It’s more of a smoother continuum for this particular practice. Then what I would suggest is, is the sign posts, because it’s nice, it’s a very reasonable question, that it’s not just ‘Am I completely lost and bewildered or have I achieved shamatha yet?’ You know, is there something in between where you say, ‘Okay, I’m not there yet, but, you know, I’m one third of the way, I’m not there yet but now it’s kind of I’m two thirds of the way’. Are there some sign posts? And the answer is – yes. There called the nine stages of shamatha, the nine stages leading to shamatha and Panchen Rinpoche, the Panchen Rinpoche, the one who, you know, I’ve, I, I ‘ve taught at many, in fact I think, yes I’ve taught that in the CEB teacher training, that one page by Panchen Rinpoche, I’m quite sure I’ve taught it, remember? Where he’s teaching observing the mind and then also just cutting off thoughts, you remember that, yeah? So basically awareness of awareness. He commented, not in the section that I taught there in Scotland but elsewhere in the same text, he said whatever method you’re following, whatever method of shamatha, from start to finish you will be passing through those nine stages. You may not know what they are, you may not know how to identify them, but if you finish the job, fast, slow, fast, slow, fast, fast, you know, the many ways of doing it, but you’ll pass through those nine stages. And so the signposts are there, I’ve written about those in detail in The Attention Revolution, ah, they’re not so strongly emphasized in the Nyingma tradition but they don’t refute it. But you find there, that uh well that the Lama Mipham Rinpoche gives the analogies that the thoughts are like cascading water fall, like the mountain brook and so forth, so he gives some signposts there. But over all, of course as I’ve said before, is that the, um, the degree of excitation, the degree of getting ‘knocked off your rocker’, and being carried away, or even having the noise, the peripheral noise or a little mild noise, that’s all dying down. And then right out of the center, right out of the center, right out of your awareness itself, is sheer radiance, a luminosity, the clarity of awareness just becomes more and more and more unveiled. So what you’re finding is less and less noise. Less and less excitation, greater, greater clarity. But it’s coming with breath-taking simplicity. That is you’re not shifting method, and so this is very much a discovery path where it’s just rising to, it’s rising to meet you and the stillness is just becoming more still? The clarity’s becoming more clear, what can one say. But it’s a discovery path and just to correct one minor phrasing there, but it’s not trivial, I’m not nitpicking, the practice of settling the mind in its natural state, which you’re familiar with because we just did it. That’s taking the mind as the path and that is what’s, that’s what you’re attending to along the path. You may take the Buddha image as your path. You may take a pearl of light at your heart as your path, that can be legitimate practice and that’s your path, that’s your vehicle, that’s your train to get from here to there, right. You can also take the mind as the path and that’s where you are attending to thoughts, emotions, the whole thing, and all the way through until they’ve totally vanished. That’s taking the mind as the path, that’s called Settling the Mind in its Natural State.
But that’s not what we’re doing here. Not, and especially tomorrow, I think probably tomorrow we’ll start this practice of Shamatha Without a Sign is not taking the mind as the path, because you’re not deliberately looking at it, the thoughts, images and so forth. They happen, you just don’t give them any attention, it’s not what you’re attending to, ‘cause you’re not attending to anything. There’s no vector to your attention, here’s your vector but it’s not looking up there, it’s just straight awareness illuminating itself. And, so, what so you say ‘what are you taking as your path?’ I’ve just said it – awareness is your path, you’re taking awareness as your path. And it’s aware, it’s the awareness of your coarse mind, the mind you have right now, ‘cause right now you have awareness, not just a lot of thoughts and images, but right now you have awareness. You’re taking that awareness which is embedded in your coarse mind, you’re taking that awareness and you are staying there and then the periphery of the coarse mind fades out, fades out, fades out, vanishes – it’s awareness all the way through. But now it’s uncloaked. Un, it’s naked, substrate consciousness and that’s your path. OK?
Very good, excellent, excellent. Alright, we’re finished, enjoy your meal. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.
Transcribed by Diane Strully
Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Final edition by Mark Montgomery