01 Sep 2014
aka: An insiders approach to understanding reality
Alan continues teaching from the text, beginning with the preface before heading into the meditation and the gentle transition from shamatha to vipashana.
Following the meditation, Alan discusses the contemplative laboratory concept, and the desire to bring His Holiness’ vision to fruition - breaking down the barriers between contemplative traditions (beyond Buddhism) in the name of research. Alan likens mundane vipashana to science in that it is asking questions.
The subtitle of this podcast is explained through how Himalayan practitioners refer to themselves as ‘insiders’ (looking inwards for answers). He (Alan) asked us to strip down our consciousness and make a discovery, reminding us that we are on the ‘fast track’ and there is no time to waste.
There was one question relating to being stuck inside the skull, in which Alan references a 1960’s TV show and a soap box in Hyde Park in his reply.
Meditation starts at 19:42
O Laso! So this afternoon, we cross the threshold from the practice of shamatha to vipashyana, and in other contexts the distinction is quite sharp. You feel you’re doing this type of practice, and now you’re doing a very different type of practice. If you go, for example, to the lamrim literature in the Gelugpa tradition, which is reflected in really all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the most common methods for developing shamatha is focusing on a Buddha image. And you learn how to do that, and develop your stability, clarity, and so on. And then you finish that and then you go to vipashyana, and that’s just totally different! Totally different. There’s no visualization. It’s a very different practice. Nothing wrong with that! Nothing wrong with that at all.
But in this Mahamudra, Dzogchen – we’ll just stick with Dzogchen here – in this Dzogchen approach, as you’ll see very quickly, the transition from shamatha to vipashyana: it is a transition, and it’s seamless. It’s very, very smooth.
[1:08] So I think without further ado: there is a bit of a preface in the teachings themselves as Padmasambhava goes into his presentation of vipashyana, there’s a little bit of a preface before going back to technique, the actual method, so I’d like to share the oral transmission with you on that point. It’s very pithy, as always. Everything here is quite essential.
So in the text, we’re on page 114. And we begin, as you check out, we begin a fairly long section here that includes very deep theory and practice. We’ll just go right to it.
So Revealing the Nature of Awareness, ok? Understanding, one can say on a phenomenal level, this phenomenon: consciousness. Clearly, the point of Dzogchen is to fathom ground pristine awareness, primordial consciousness, something of cosmological significance, really foundational to the nature of reality as a whole. So, very deep.
[2:08] But in the meantime, we simply have this phenomenon of being conscious, the experience. You don’t have to be a very profound yogi to know that you’re conscious. And so, just to have a clearer and clearer sense, What is that phenomenon? And here on the relative level, we’re using these two words — “awareness,” which is rigpa, and “consciousness,” which is my translation for shespa — using these interchangeably. So simply awareness. I’m aware. Oh there’s Martin, there’s Daniel, there’s Marta. I’m aware. I know you’re there. And equally, in English, we can say I’m aware of you, I’m conscious of your presence here. There’s no difference there.
So on this relative level, rigpa and shespa are synonymous. It’s only when you take it to the deepest level that rigpa goes to Rigpa [said in deep, funny voice], rigpa goes to pristine awareness, and shespa goes to yeshe, primordial consciousness. But you see they’re the same continuum. It’s not like turn your back on one and look in a different direction, but keep in the same direction and go deeper.
So this is revealing the nature of awareness. Let’s see what he has to say. [3:19]
In that way, until genuine quiescence [or shamatha] arises in your mindstream, use numerous techniques to settle your mind in its natural state.
Right there. This is technology! Or it’s like if you have a disease, if you have like – I just read today that they have some medicine that is 100% effective in treating Ebola. Well if that’s true, that’s incredibly good news, because they had no treatment at all. But it’s one of those things, it’s not a philosophical debate: well is it a Christian medication, or is it a Buddhist meditation? Was it created by an Asian, or a European? Those are questions — who cares? The only thing that matters is: does it work or not? Does it work? Does it have any negative side effects? But does it work or not? It will kill you, mostly Ebola kills you, right? So it’s really really simple: whatever works! That’s all that matters.
And so when it comes to the five obscurations, the Buddha, what did he say? I can’t quote it exactly here, but he said:
as long as your mind is still encumbered by, dominated by, subject to the five obscurations, you regard yourself as indebted, sick, in bondage, enslaved, lost in a desert track.
If you imagine that — some of the imagery in Buddhism is pretty intense — that was pretty intense! First of all, you’re in debt, and you don’t know how to get out. You don’t just write a check and say I’m finished. You’re in debt! Second, you’re sick. That sounds already bad. Oh by the way, you’re enslaved. Oh crap! You’re not only enslaved, you’re in manacles, you’re in chains. Oh jeez! Oh by the way, you’re out in the middle of the Gobi desert, and you don’t have a clue where you are or which track to take. Mama! That’s sounding really awful to me, right? Not healthy! And he said that’s what you should feel like. [laughs] Health is relative! You know? Health is relative. You’re a buddha, that looks like Oh [Tibetan, 5:28]! He’s only a billionaire, and he only has all that wealth and fame, but he has five obscurations, the poor thing! And they’re serious.
[5:40] And so, then is there a cure? We’re just talking about relative cure. We’re not talking about liberation, enlightenment, Buddha-nature and so forth. If that’s what it is, if that’s really a straight diagnosis of what it’s like to have a mind that is just totally ensnared in these five obscurations, then the simple question comes up: is there a cure? Or are we intrinsically subject to this obsessive craving and addiction for all the bounties of hedonic pleasures, and just addicted to, how do you say — hopeless! Hopelessly subject to ill will, enmity, malice and so forth. Hopelessly vacillating between laxity and dullness, excitation and anxiety. And hopelessly just bound up in afflictive uncertainty, going Ehh Ehh! You know, not knowing where to go. If these are hopeless, if these are just hard-wired, if this is how we are biologically, that’s pretty sad! I mean, that’s intensely sad. And many people think that’s true: “it’s human nature, you’re just one step away from being a chimpanzee, what did you expect?” Chimpanzees have ill will, they have craving, I’m sure they get dull, they get excited, and I imagine even a chimpanzee has anxiety and uncertainty and so forth. “Shall I crawl down that tree and get near that leopard and get some food because I’m really hungry or not? Ehh!” Like that. I wouldn’t like to be a chimpanzee!
And so the good news is, yeah these are really pretty awful, these obscurations, but yeah there’s a cure. The cure is called shamatha. Right, well now which method? Anything that works! If it’s Ebola, anything that works! If it’s TB, anything that works! Obviously we’re not going to talk about anything unethical here, but there’s nothing we’re doing in terms of any shamatha practice that’s unethical. You don’t develop shamatha by going out with a rifle and shooting things, so you don’t have to worry about that.
So what works? Well he says with a variety of methods. This means you might practice qigong; maybe that will really help. Perhaps doing some karate: it’s a very fine discipline. Karl could tell you about that, I’m sure. It’s a very strong discipline for the mind and the body. So this is why in East Asia it’s so often even monks, Buddhist monks will be training in martial arts. Not because they want to go out and harm people; it’s part of their discipline, that this is body/mind. Same thing in yoga.
So anything that works. Maybe it’s shifting your diet. Maybe it’s going to a different climate. I had one person here several years back, she could not meditate this low [elevation] and with this humidity and this heat. She could not meditate. So she learned how to meditate here in an eight-week retreat; had a tough going, just with the environment even though lovely buildings, air conditioning and all that. But then she went back up to eight thousand feet where she lives, in the Rocky Mountains in America. Then it was smooth sailing. So sometimes it’s environment. Doesn’t mean she was a lesser practitioner, it’s just some people don’t really flourish, they can’t get that lightness, the buoyancy in the practice in a really wet, warm, humid environment. And so on.
So the simple point, maybe I’ve used too many words: whatever works. This is technology. Either you’ve built a laser or you haven’t. You have a cure for Ebola or [9:00] you don’t. But you don’t think about: “well, did we do it in a pure way? Was that pure Gelugpa approach? Was that a Mahayana approach?” It works or it doesn’t.
So that was a long commentary. I’ll try to keep on moving faster. But it is important.
All that was use numerous techniques to settle your mind in its natural state. But now a lovely analogy: [9:21]
as an analogy: if you wish to look at reflections, and the planets and stars in a pool of water —
Not quite how we’d say it in English, but I had to translate what it said. If you’re, like, on the edge of a pool and you look, and you see the reflections of let’s say the trees, the mountains on the far shore. Those are reflections. But then, if the pool is very very still and it’s nighttime, and the stars and planets are out, you look into the pool, then you’ll see reflections of stars and planets. So he’s just covering that. It’s a little bit different phrasing in Tibetan, and I had to say what he said. [9:56]
if you wish to look at reflections, and the planets and stars in a pool of water, you’ll not see them if the water is disturbed by waves and ripples,
Quiz time! Among the five obscurations, which one of those is likened to ripples that, like waves that create a lot of ripples and turbulence on the surface of the water? Out of the five obscurations which one? Excitation! Excitation and anxiety. Yeah, exactly that. You can’t see into the depths of your own awareness; you can’t look transparently right through to see the sheer luminosity and cognizance of your awareness, right down to the depths of substrate consciousness, when you’re caught up in all the froth, the agitation, the waves on the surface of your mind, which is just one thought after another after another. Mind being yanked every which way. So if you want to see these reflections even on the surface, you‘ll not be able to see them if the water is disturbed by waves and ripples, [10:52]
but you will clearly see them by looking into a pool in which the water is limpid and unmoving.
Limpid and unmoving. “Limpid” as it’s clear, “unmoving” as in stable. Buy a telescope, you’re going to want to have really finely polished lenses, and you want to have it firmly mounted. It comes up again and again: vividness, clarity, and stability. If you don’t have both of those in a telescope, you’re not gonna see anything worth seeing! Same thing. It’s a constant theme; goes for a lot of other technology as well. [11:25]
Likewise when the mind is jolted around by the wind of objects, stimulation, like a rider on a bucking bronco, even if you are introduced to awareness
That’s pristine awareness, you receive pointing-out instructions. [11:41]
you will not identify it. For once the mind is helplessly manipulated by compulsive ideation, it does not see its own nature.
That’s a very very strong point. This mind that is so compulsively, obsessively, habitually turbulent with conceptual noise, one way or another if you really want to follow this path it’s got to calm down. It’s not enough to skip shamatha, skip to vipashyana and say Oh I see all my thoughts as simply expressions of pristine awareness. Well that’s very nice to say. Very easy to say. But is it just lip service? Are you really seeing that or are you just kind of going through the motions? Very easy to do. A lot of people do that: “Eh I don’t need shamatha, no the mind is naturally creative, it comes up with all these” – and then “shut up over there, I’m trying to meditate!” A little disconnect. It happens.
[12:35] [Alan repeats the immediately preceding passage]
Shantideva adds at the beginning of his chapter on meditation that the mind that’s distracted lives between the fangs of mental afflictions. In other words, your psychological immune system is down. Like with HIV or AIDS, anything can kill you, a cold, flu, anything could kill you because you’re immune system’s shot. Well, when your mind is just caught up in this semi-conscious rumination, compulsive-obsessive ideation — thoughts of craving, hostility, resentment, jealousy, low self-esteem – they’ll all just bite your head off. You’ve got no protection. And they’ll just say Oh, there’s a little minnow! Just swallow you up and spit out the bone. Not healthy! [13:25]
Now here’s a theme you’ve heard before, I’ll just read right through it.
according to the custom of some teaching traditions you are first introduced to the view, and upon that basis you seek the meditative state.
I’ve mentioned this a number of times. You go off and maybe you get an undergraduate degree in Buddhism — in the West — or maybe even a Ph.D. Or you become a kempo, a geshe, you know, you go through years of training. All schools of Tibetan Buddhism offer that, and throughout the whole Theravada world: Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, you find Buddhist colleges all over the place. Well they’ll spend four, eight, twelve years studying the Abhidhamma, the suttas, the commentaries, the sub-commentaries, the Burmese sub-sub-commentaries. And so they know it all, and then upon that basis of really learning Buddhism, understanding it well, then you may then go off to some forest hermitage and really try to meditate. So that’s an approach.
And it can really work. Geshe Rabten was like that. He was one of my core teachers. Twenty four years from the time he started his formal monastic education until he passed the final examination – with flying colors – and he could have had the choice of jobs that he wanted: the abbot of this monastery, abbot of that monastery. He was really outstanding. And instead of that he turned his back on all of that and then lived like a pauper in a little Neanderthal hut up above Dharamsala, you know, [14:43] because he felt the whole purpose of that was just for the sake of meditation. And as he said, my teachers are getting old, and the only way I can really repay their kindness is by putting their teachings into practice. So six years he lived in this little hovel, when he could have had a very comfortable life, he was so good. He lived in a hovel; he preferred that. And just devoted himself day and night to practice, until His Holiness asked him to come out and teach the Western hippies. Which he did!
And so that’s one approach. But Padmasambhava says: [15:19]
This makes it difficult to identify pristine awareness.
When I was translating for Ganten Tulku Rinpoche for the first time in Bhutan just last spring, there were just two Westerners and I was invited in to translate, so my great joy and privilege. And one of the Westerners there didn’t have much academic background or much learning in Buddhism. And he said,
she’s actually easier to teach than a lot of those who’ve done a whole lot of study. She doesn’t know much, so I just teach her! And she takes it right in. You know? Whereas people who’ve studied and studied and studied: I have to talk through that whole mesh of all the things they think they’ve understood, and they’re comparing this to that, and analyzing, analyzing. He said sometimes beginners are easier to teach than people who have acquired a lot of learning. And he’s been teaching a long time.
So he said: if you start with a whole lot of learning, really immersing yourself in the view, it actually can be difficult to come to the utter simplicity of just resting in your own awareness, and then slipping to deeper and deeper levels. [16:30]
In the tradition presented here, you first establish the meditative state,
Now normally that would be a silly thing to say, like wait a minute, there are so many meditative states. But here it’s not silly at all. We know exactly what he’s referring to, because he’s already said: settling the mind in its natural state. In this context, that’s the meditative state. So in the practice, the tradition I’m teaching here, he says (Padmasambhava!),
[16:55] [Alan repeats immediately preceding passage]
So you get enough learning, enough purification, enough merit, enough momentum and so forth, and then just go off! Make your mind sane! Dispel the five obscurations! Come to the ground of your ordinary mind, and then, he says, [17:15]
then on that basis you are introduced to the view.
Then you get pointing out instructions, and boom!, there you go. [17:23]
This profound point makes it impossible for you not to identify awareness [which is to say pristine awareness]. Therefore first settle your mind in its natural state, then bring forth genuine shamatha in your mindstream and reveal the nature of your awareness.
So when he says awareness here, bear in mind it’s one term: rigpa on the one hand just means cognizance, awareness, what we already know perfectly well, we know, you know, just being aware. But the same term, rigpa, then is the same continuum. So he’s saying settle your mind in its natural state, identify awareness – well that’s consciousness, so if you’ve identified substrate consciousness you have identified the essential nature of consciousness, its luminous and cognizant aspect. You’ve nailed it; you really understand it.
But on that same continuum, same continuum going from your mind to substrate consciousness and then cutting through to rigpa, the same term is used. So it’s a smooth, smooth spectrum or continuum there.
So there it is. He said: there’s the path from where you are right now, to becoming a vidhyadhara, having direct, unmediated realization of rigpa. He said: therefore, first settle your mind in its natural state, bring forth genuine quiescence in your mindstream, and reveal the nature of awareness. Well there’s the whole path! Very simply put!
Ok! That’s it! That’s the prelude. And so now I’ll continue reading, but please find a comfortable position. And for this session, it’s ok to be either supine or sitting, as you wish. And I will simply share with you Padmasambhava’s instructions, perhaps with a little bit of commentary if it seems helpful.
As usual, settle your body, speech, and mind in their natural state. Then for a little while, choosing the method of your choice, practice mindfulness of breathing to bring about some degree of calm in your mind so that it becomes serviceable.
Position your body with the seven attributes, like before. At least on occasion it’s very good to experiment with the ideal posture: sitting cross-legged with the seven points of Vairochana. You can read about this, it’s easy to find. But for the time being, most import simply to be resting with your spine straight, your body relaxed. If you are sitting upright, your spine very straight, diaphragm and sternum slightly lifted, abdominal muscles loose and relaxed. So it really is a posture of balance: sitting very much at attention, but also deeply relaxed. Steadily fix your gaze in the space in front of you, into the vacuity at the level of the tip of your nose, without any disorderliness or duplicity.
[24:26] So now as we move into this realm of vipashyana, we’re segueing in, we’re transitioning over to the practice of shamatha, as we’ll see very shortly the eyes being open is really a critical feature of the practice. So bring your awareness out into the space in front of you, but once again, not focusing on the space as an object. The eyes must be open, and you gently cast your gaze along the line of the nose, and rest your awareness in space.
He does give background here as well; I give this even while we’re meditating, since this is what comes up in the text. I’ll give commentary later. I’ll simply read it now. [25:24]
This is the benefit of the gaze: in the center of the hearts of all beings, there is the hollow crystal cati channel. This is the channel of primordial wisdom [Alan: I’m translating this term as “primordial consciousness” now, so I’ll stick with that.]. If it points down and is closed off, primordial consciousness is obscured and delusion grows. Thus in animals, that channel faces downwards and is closed off, so they are foolish and deluded. In humans, that channel points horizontally and is slightly open, so human intelligence is bright and our consciousness is clear. In people who have attained siddhis, and in bodhisattvas, that channel is open and faces upwards, so there arises unimaginable samadhis, primordial consciousness of knowledge, and vast extra-sensory perceptions. These occur due to the open quality of that channel of primordial consciousness. Thus when the eyes are closed, that channel is closed off and points down, so consciousness is dimmed by the delusion of darkness. By steadily fixing the gaze, that channel faces up and opens, which isolates pure awareness from impure awareness. Then clear, thought-free samadhi arises, and numerous pure visions appear. Thus the gaze is important.
There’s one more paragraph explanation. I will read it now, so simply continue practicing. [27:10]
In all treatises other than the “Tantra of the Sun of the Clear Expanse of the Great Perfection” and “The Profound Dharma of the Self-Emergence of the Peaceful and Wrathful from Enlightened Awareness”, the hollow crystal cati channel is kept secret, and there are no discussions of this special channel of primordial consciousness. This channel is unlike the central channel, or the right channel, or the left channel, or any of the channels of the five chakras. It is absolutely not the same as any of them. Its shape is like that of a peppercorn that is just about to open. There is no blood or lymph inside it. And it is lucid and clear. The special technique for opening this is hidden in the “Instructions on the Natural Liberation” pertaining to the lower orifice, great bliss and desire. The lower yanas (or spiritual vehicles) do not have even the name of this channel.
When our meditation is finished, I’ll discuss this briefly. But now we’ll return to the actual method. [28:19]
Thus while steadily maintaining the gaze, place the awareness unwaveringly, steadily, clearly, nakedly, and fixedly, without having anything on which to meditate in the sphere of space.
So again when he says without having anything to meditate on, this means you are resting your awareness in that way, in the space in front of you, but you’re not objectifying even that space, let alone any other object or appearance. [29:05]
When stability arises, examine the consciousness that is stable, then gently release and relax.
So this is familiar. Let’s slip into that oscillation.
Again, the last two sentences: [32:07]
When stability [or stillness] arises [increases], examine the consciousness that is still, then gently release and relax. Again, place it steadily, and steadfastly observe the consciousness of that moment.
Again, the last sentence: [34:41]
Again, place it steadily, and steadfastly observe the consciousness of that moment
In other words the very moment of the present. But he continues: [34:50]
What is the nature of that mind? Let it steadily observe itself. Is it something clear and steady [or still]? Or is it an emptiness that is nothing? [36:45]
In this context, letting your awareness observe itself, observing the mind, he asks:
Is there something there to recognize? Look again and again, and report your experience to me. Thus engage in observing its nature. Do that for one day.
Let’s continue practicing in silence.
Meditation ends at [43:42]
[44:51] O laso! Over the last couple of years, I’ve had some fairly detailed conversations with His Holiness Dalai Lama about creating one or more Mind Centers/Contemplative Observatories that are really focusing on the practices of shamatha and vipashyana, with a clear, open invitation to scientists to come and collaborate, to bring in their own perspectives, methods, and so forth, so that we [45:22] really develop a three-dimensional understanding of what goes on in deep meditation. But really trying to fathom the nature of the mind, consciousness itself.
And it was so clear from what His Holiness said, and it’s my own passionate belief – or really strong conviction – that no one tradition has all the answers. I mean, I adore Buddhism; I think that’s kind of obvious. But if I want to know about the brain, I’m not going to go to the sutras and tantras. Wrong place! There’s kind of like nothing there. And is the brain relevant to the mind, to consciousness? Of course. Is it necessary to understand the nature of the brain, the different functionings of different parts of the brain, in order to develop shamatha, vipashyana, go on to Dzogchen? No. Otherwise they would have been failing for the last thousands of years.
But might it be helpful, in this 21st century, to bring in the Buddhist understanding and let it develop, cultivate meaningful dialogue from multiple perspectives. The philosophers are trained in analytical thinking, really incisive, clear, sharp thinking, that a meditator may not be. People who study behavioral expression – Paul Ekman’s work and so forth – that’s not insignificant. The study of brain; of course that’s important. And so His Holiness and I, we’re really having kind of brainstorming – I can say so! – of envisioning a place, really central focus on shamatha/vipashyana, and breaking down all the barriers. That is, not a Gelugpa center, or a Nyingma center, not a Tibetan Buddhist center versus Theravada center, Theravadas versus Chinese Buddhists and so forth. Something to say, “Hey this is about shamatha/vipashyana!” You know, with open invitation to people from philosophy, from science, cognitive sciences. But for that matter physics as well; they are really kind of stuck, about not knowing the nature of the observer in the measurement problem in quantum mechanics.
But then he went beyond. That’s as far as my boldness, my courage, extended. I thought if we could do something that would break down all the barriers, just cut right through them, in all schools of Buddhism, and say “look, we’re here for shamatha/vipashyana; does that ring a bell?; is that central to the Buddha’s teachings?” I thought, ok, that’s as far as I can go. But then, you might have noticed, I’m not the Dalai Lama.
And his boldness, his vision, is – well, it’s larger than mine! And his vision was, as he told me, he said well, Buddhists don’t have a monopoly on shamatha/vipashyana; we should invite other contemplative traditions, too! They also have. The Hindu tradition has shamatha/vipashyana. The Jainas have shamatha/vipashyana. And keep it wide open: there’ll be other traditions also who have shamatha. Now they don’t call it shamatha, but if you look into the Desert Fathers, for example, from the Christian tradition. Are they recognizing the problems of excitation, mind-wandering? Are they recognizing problems of dullness? Are they addressing those problems? The answer is yes. I’ve written about it in two books, The Taboo of Subjectivity and Mind in the Balance. They’ve got some pretty darn good techniques there! And not just the Desert Fathers; moving right on into the 13th century and so forth. Pretty formidable! And [48:15] some of those monks up at Mt. Athos, in Greece? Twenty years in retreat? They’re not amateurs. They’re not messing around. The Hindus? Nothing needs to be said. Professionals. Taoists? Some of those Taoist yogis climbing the mountains? They’re not messing around either. Do they have shamatha? You bet. Do they have techniques in this direction? Absolutely yes.
But not just shamatha or samadhi. His Holiness was saying they also have vipashyana. Now he wasn’t scolding me like, you know, but he was just pointing it out, making it vivid. Yes they have methods, different schools outside of Buddhism, not only for stabilizing the mind – clarity, stability and all of that – not just the technology, but different contemplative traditions also have modes of inquiry! They’re meditating in order to gain insight, knowledge, discoveries! Right? And they have.
And so that was quite a large vision. I didn’t go that far because I think I knew – I think I have some awareness of my limitations. And that is, if I were to try to organize such a center, start it, I couldn’t hold it together; I don’t have that largeness of being. I’ve never met the Pope. The Dalai Lama has, I think, met all of them recently. And so forth. You know, he is unique. And so actually I quite literally think if there’s one person who could pull that off, there’s only practically probably one, and it wouldn’t be the Pope, or the Archbishop of Canterbury, or Obama, or anybody else with a lot of political clout. He’s probably the only one who could do it. I’m not even in the same constellation.
But there it is. The point there is simple: the shamatha/vipashyana, it really does run through multiple contemplative traditions, and it is above all, first of all, about making your own awareness, your attention skills, your metacognitive skills – refining them, so that when you make observations you can make accurate observations. You can make discoveries. And not only can you make discoveries, but those discoveries can be replicated.
So if one yogi, for example — let’s just make up a thought experiment. One yogi — now, three thousand years ago, whatever – one yogi develops an efficient, effective method for stabilizing, calming, bringing clarity to attention. Let’s imagine that yogi, his mind – it’s a “he” this time – his mind dissolves into the substrate consciousness. And he comes out of his meditation and says,
I’ve made a discovery! My mind dissolved and I slipped into this space that was open, unbounded, just expansive, but a sheer vacuity. And my awareness in that vacuity was luminous, bright, serene, quiet and blissful. And that’s what’s waiting in the depths below! And I plunged to that depth, and that’s what I discovered.
That sounds pretty cool doesn’t it?
Now did I just make that up? Am I just a really good – I wanted to say “bullshitter” but I won’t say that, right? – am I just a really good speculator, really good with the tongue and so forth? Am I saying something that actually happened, or did I just make that one up? I can tell you how. If I just said, out of the blue, “I just had this experience last Tuesday; go figure! It was really incredible,” then you’re going to [51:29] believe me or not, but kind of like Well maybe you can go to the same place and see whether lightning strikes. But you’ll have no method, right?
Whereas if the yogi in the question has spent days, weeks, months, years or what have you in rigorous training, knows the practices that – and I say “he” – is doing, and said, “I made the discovery, and this is how; this is the method I followed; and that was a discovery, and it was a really important discovery of immense significance, a meaningful discovery; and now if you’d like to see whether it’s true or not, I won’t just say it over, or with more passion, more vigor, or more charisma; there’s the method, now if you’re curious, do it and see for yourself!” Right?
So imagine the second person does it and said, “you’re right! Actually your word choice was good too, just like you said!. I might have used the word ‘lucidity’ rather than ‘limpidity,’ but besides that I won’t quibble.” You know? And then another person tries it.
But each time, from the outside, for a person who’s not a meditator, you’re just hearing these people making these lovely sounds. You know? “It was blissful! It was luminous! It was spacious!” And you don’t know whether it’s a conspiracy or a mass delusion, they’re all drinking the same kool-aid. You don’t know. The only way you would know, if you’re a neuroscientist, a plumber, a chemist, an accountant, doesn’t matter what your profession is, the only way you will know whether they’re making actual discoveries or not – because again, reality’s not voted on by majority rule, right? One person may discover something; if nobody else does, that person has still made the discovery, if it’s an authentic discovery. It’s not, you know, the more people who discover it, now it’s truer. It’s either true or false.
So quite clearly, if you’d really like to know whether that hypothesis, that claimed discovery – and I want to emphasize that word – whether it’s authentic or not, there really is only one way. If you’d really, really like to know, not simply have a strong hunch, “oh I don’t think these people are all delusional, they seem very healthy, they seem very sound, they’re probably—“ Well, that’s all belief. If you’d like to know, there it is.
Now if that sounds at all like “oh, well now this is a religious thing,” I’m sorry: mathematics is the same. It’s exactly the same. If you’re studying mathematics – I mean I was trained in higher mathematics, not very high but high enough to study quantum mechanics – I was told by the professor that there is only one way you can learn mathematics, and that’s doing mathematics. You can’t read about it. Memorize texts, read philosophy of mathematics; all that’s very well, but you’ll never know mathematics unless you do mathematics and that’s just the way it is.
So that means that when mathematicians make discoveries – and they do, they’ve made many discoveries, mathematicians — they’re not just coming up with little cool artifacts of their minds; they’re making discoveries. But maybe it takes twelve years of professional training in mathematics, and then really putting your nose to the grindstone, really working, and then: somebody else has come up with a proof, and [54:39] it’s something that nobody had been able to prove for two hundred years, and some genius, some extraordinary mind comes and finds the proof. Is it a proof or not? Again I’m a very poorly trained mathematician, so I wouldn’t know. And a person who is just a mediocrity might say, “Well I don’t know, it seemed pretty good to me, eh whatever.” But if you’ve had the training, and you look into it, and you follow every single step of the proof, then when it comes to and end… Whoa! You’ll have that moment. You will have that moment: you say, “Wow, he did it!”
And that’s what the people who are judging for the Fields medal and so forth, that’s what they’re doing. They’re looking at the most brilliant work out there, and they’re following it, and if they follow it and they get “Whoa!” at the end, then they’ll say “Was that a big whoa, or a middle whow, or a medium-sized whoa,” you know? But they will evaluate the discoveries made by highly trained, brilliant mathematicians, and that’s when they start giving out the Fields medal.
But an outsider, a person who’s not a mathematician, you really don’t know what’s going on. You just have to say, “Well, that’s cool, I wonder what he discovered.” And you’ll hear something, this such-and-such theorem. “That’s cool; whatever!” It’s an inside thing. It’s entirely inside the mind.
And the notion that you would ever understand a mathematical proof by studying the brain of a mathematician of course is silly. The notion that you’ll ever understand meditation by studying the brain of, even if you had 100% knowledge of the brain function – which probably will never happen – they’ll never understand meditation. Never. Not in a hundred thousand years.
So the approach here is, I think, quite ingenious. But it’s also quite ordinary. I elaborated on the theme of shamatha/vipashyana being recurrent in multiple traditions, and of course different methods. And different questions! So in the Buddhist context – Theravada, Mahayana, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism – there is a common delineation or classification of there being “mundane” vipashyana. Mundane vipashyana. Well what’s your baseline? How can you start – when are you suitable to actually start really practicing mundane vipashyana and making authentic discoveries? By means of this first person approach, probing right into the nature of the mind, right? It’s shamatha. Up to shamatha, it’s not called vipashyana. Up to settling the mind in its natural state it’s not called vipashyana at all. It’s called shamatha.
But on that baseline, now that you’ve found the meditative state – you’ve settled the mind in its natural state, you’ve come to meditative equipoise — your mind is sane, it’s clear. You’re getting a clear signal. Now that’s not trivial. I think you all know about this. And that is, you can imagine perhaps, at least have some abstract concept, of being able to rest for, if you will, hours on end with a mind that is just even — I mean, there’s the word: nyamshya, “placed evenly.” That’s relaxed, you can continue for hours and not get fatigued, stressed out or anything. It’s relaxed. It’s still; you’re not getting noise, you’re not getting artifacts of the system of [58:04] measurement, just junk coming up. Blah blah blah, blah blah blah, bias, craving, aversion, blah blah blah, blah blah. You know, you’re not getting that; you’re getting a clear signal. And it’s sharp. It’s clear. You’re radiantly sharp. It’s nothing like a trance here. Good! Now you’re ready to meditate! It’s a clear signal!
Until then, you’re not getting a clear signal! You’re having subtle excitation, subtle laxity, medium, coarse, or just completely losing it and going off to La La Land in coarse excitation. Where it’d be like hiring somebody to be an astronomer in a top notch observatory, and saying “I’d really like you to watch this nebula here, we’d really” – and the person says “Oh yeah but look she’s really pretty!” You know? [laughter] “Hey what the hell are you doing? You’re supposed to be studying the nebula and you’re looking at these girls on the beach ten miles away! Hey we didn’t pay you to do this. You know? You’re fired!”
And so, how’s your mind doing? Nebula? Or handsome guys and pretty girls and so forth and so on. If you can’t even stay on track, then you’d better retire, because you’re just not up to the job. So it’s simple.
So up to this access to the first dhyana, it’s just shamatha. But from that point onwards – and Tsongkhapa’s very, perfectly clear, transparently clear on this point, and others are as well, but he’s just incredibly precise – from that point onwards, if you wish, you may then venture into mundane vipashyana.
Well “mundane” doesn’t me blasé, or stupid, or coarse, or anything like that. It just means that you’re now gaining insight into the phenomenal world. In this world that scientists are studying. So I would say that all of scientific research – from looking at DNA, to cell growth, galactic formations (galaxies), and so forth – all of scientific inquiry, rigorous, authentic, sound scientific inquiry, it’s all mundane vipashyana. Mundane vipashyana! It’s not looking to the ultimate nature of phenomena, it’s not looking for liberation and enlightenment and so forth. It is trying to understand the nature of reality, and they have been tremendously successful where they’ve been looking! Which, why would you criticize them for that? They’ve been very successful where they’ve been looking; where they’re looking is outwards. Outwards to the brain, outwards to behavior, outwards to galaxies, outwards to flower and birds and everything else.
So a tremendous success. Fantastic successes. And it was that marvelous combination that Galileo came up with: the shamatha and the vipashyana. The telescope and the inquiry. He didn’t just say, “Oh isn’t that a pretty star? That is such a pretty star! Well, let’s look for another pretty star. Oh that one’s pretty too! Ooo Jupiter’s pretty. Hey Mom! Jupiter’s really really pretty.” You know? He didn’t stop at shamatha, enjoying the bliss, the serenity and the, you know, the luminosity of looking through his very cool telescope. He had questions. And as soon as you start posing questions, that’s when you slip into vipashyana.
[61:14] And that’s what he did! Exactly what he did. He had stability and clarity, and he started posing questions. He’s the father of modern science. Not Copernicus: Copernicus came up with a really brilliant mathematical theory, but he never made one observation in his life.
So here I’ll mention this again. There were so many wonderful points from Gamten Rinpoche’s teaching the other day in Santa Barbara, but he commented, just by the by, that in like the Himalayan region, the Buddhists there, they don’t call themselves “Buddhists.” Like in Tibetan, they don’t really say sangye-pa. Sangye-pa would be “Buddhist.” Sangye is Buddha, sangye-pa would be, ok, follower of Buddha. They don’t use that word, or virtually never. They’d just: yeah, nangpa. But he gave a gloss on it I’d never heard before; I really liked it. Nangpa means insider. Well it can be very easily understood in kind of like, we’re insiders and all you Hindus and so forth are outsiders. That’s not the way he glossed it. He said:
We call ourselves insiders because the focus of our attention, for discovery, for transformation, for liberation and for enlightenment is looking inwards. Therefore, we’re insiders!
I like that! And he said also, Oh by the way, you know, even though Buddhists would call Hindus outsiders, the Hindus themselves, they call themselves insiders! I thought, Well that’s fair enough!
So in any case, this is an insider’s approach, an insider’s approach to understanding reality. It’s that simple. Not just the mind; understanding reality. Which means you’re understanding reality by way of the mind, understanding the universe by way of the mind, and the role of the mind in nature. Whereas if you start out as Western science did, you are looking outwards to the creation of the mind of God, in which case your own mind is quite irrelevant, and then you can easily overlook it for three hundred years, which is what they did! To the point that in the late 19th century, physicists were saying, like Lord Kelvin, We’ve pretty much finished now. Physics? The universe? We’re pretty much finished; it’s only fine-tuning. And he was a brilliant man, Nobel Laureate, no dummy. But when you’re only looking outside and you never look inside, then you may think (and this still is extremely common): we have understood the outside, we’ve totally ignored the inside, but the inside is irrelevant to the outside, so basically we’re finished. So that’s an interesting approach! But it’s also completely stagnated the scientific understanding of the nature of the mind, its relation to the body, and the measurement problem in quantum mechanics where you can’t avoid the issue of the observer.
So coming back to the point, you’ve achieved shamatha and you want to continue on the track, which is a choice you can make. If you want to continue on the track of cultivating mundane vipashyana, now you’re on a path of discovery. Not just greater serenity, stillness and so forth; you’re actually on the path to discovery. And what you will discover, probably pretty quickly, is another dimension of reality. Not just a mental state; a dimension of reality. I mean, of the universe, a dimension of reality! Because what we’ve been swimming in, and what the scientists have been swimming in for hundreds of years, is what the Buddhists call “desire realm”: where the animals are, we are, and there are a lot of other creatures as well.
[64:43] But we’re pretty much, we’re assuming that’s all there is to it. And why would you assume anything else, unless you’re a mathematician or a theoretical physicist, and asking questions like Why is the universe so mathematically orderly? Why do the laws of physics, like the inverse square of gravity, why is it true to a thousand or a hundred thousand decimal points? Why is it so precisely mathematical? It’s just across the boards: the laws of physics are mathematical. I heard one Nobel laureate, who spoke at a conference I organized at the University of California, Santa Barbara, saying, Nature speaks in one voice! I’ll try to use his voice: “Nature speaks in one voice, and that is the voice of mathematics.” [laughter] Was pretty good? He was speaking like a prophet! He really was, and I hope you recognize there’s no sarcasm here. That was, from his view, there is one language of Nature, and that is the language of mathematics.
But then we can ask, as some brilliant mathematicians have asked, and physicists: why? Why not just have more-or-less inverse square law? Wouldn’t that be good enough? You know, and then it kind of muddles out after a few. But it’s not. So many of these laws are down to kind of like infinitesimal precision. And so there are major mathematicians and theoretical physicists in the world today – Roger Penrose, one of the, probably a lot of people think he’s the most brilliant mathematician alive, just retired from Oxford University – that believe there’s a whole ‘nother dimension of reality that’s pure math, out of which this [transcriber’s note: the world of our everyday experience. jmf] is an expression, an effulgence, but a dimension that’s just pure math. And this world [trans.: Our world. jmf], like a holographic image or like a pop-up, one of those books that you open it and it pops up three dimensionally, that what we’re having here is a pop-up, a pop-up of an illusional world that’s all a display, an effulgence of a realm of just pure math. And this one has mathematical laws because it’s stemming from a reality that’s only math, pure geometry for example.
This is not some kind of New Age hooka-dookle idea. Well, it’s not necessarily true either. But it’s certainly an idea that is out there, and it’s been out there since Pythagoras and others: that there’s another dimension of reality deeper than this one of our senses. Well the Form Realm? Form Realm? That’s a dimension of reality that’s deeper than this one. And moreover, this one emerges from that one. That’s kind of a big deal! But of course the Buddhist approach is fully incorporating the role of mind and consciousness, whereas mathematicians would have no way of accessing that, because they’re not looking into the mind. They’re using their minds in brilliant ways, but they’re not looking into it. And nor are the physicists. They’re all looking outwards, and the mathematician is looking into the realm of ideas, pure ideas, right? And doing so brilliantly.
So there it is, mundane vipashyana. Did you actually explore, start exploring multiple dimensions within the Form Realm? The first dhyana is not only a meditative state; it’s a dimension of that reality. There are beings who dwell there! And then you go beyond that, on this great voyage into the Form Realm: the second [67:55] dhyana, that’s not just a meditative state, it’s a dimension of reality. Third and fourth, third dhyana, fourth dhyana, you’re going deeper deeper into that realm of reality, with multiple dimensions within it. It’s all discovery! And the Buddhists say but, you know, we didn’t discover this first, the Hindus got to it long before we did. Those samadhi masters that Gautama trained with when he was twenty-nine, they’d, that was well-explored territory; they’d already fathomed that all. And so that’s vipashyana. And likewise going into the Formless Realm: that’s vipashyana. It’s mundane vipashyana.
But now the technique here. So if we do, one day, in Santa Barbara or someplace else – it’s been slow going! I tried for two years to get the momentum up and so forth to create what His Holiness would like to see happen; he even gave a name to the place, coming out of our dialogue. Tried in India; so far no success. Just no success; there’s just no momentum. I’m not getting any support at all. And I’m a California guy. Trying to start something in India? You gotta have a great groundswell of enthusiasm, money, expertise and so forth for it to happen in India; some California guy’s not gonna do it. So I could catalyze it, but I haven’t gotten the groundswell. Frankly, that’s why we made no progress at all — after two years! But perhaps where I live, in Santa Barbara, I can have a home there. We’ll see. We probably will find out within a few weeks whether something can really come up there. Something is on the horizon. We shall see.
But if something like that happens — in Santa Barbara; or in Australia; there is something already in Mexico and it will just continue to grow, hopefully; likewise in Brazil, it’s growing, they have land and so forth; and I won’t mention other places but there are two others that are really right on the horizon as well – if such places are established – people are coming, and they’re gifted, and they’re dedicated, and they really are approaching it as passionate scientists of the mind and the role of the mind in nature – then if this goes on and the word gets out, there are likely to be some people who are just very naturally gifted for shamatha, as there are people gifted for mathematics, science, cooking, gardening and so forth. There are bound to be some that are really gifted for shamatha!
So if there are, and there are some among them who achieve shamatha pretty quickly, and they would like to go on that route of mundane vipashyana, I’d love that! I think it’d be very, very cool. To actually have them explore first, second, third, fourth dhyana? Have their breath stop? Hit the singularity and see whether that statement earlier is true or not? That would be… to say it’s cool is a fantastic understatement. And that’s mundane vipashyana.
But on this Dzogchen path – it’s very straight, very unelaborated; no detours, no little side trips to interesting things, attractions on the side. Pew! It’s like an arrow going to a target. Or more like a light beam; even an arrow has an arc to it. This doesn’t. This is like light: bang! Straight, like a light ray going to a target.
[71:08] And so the first thing, as we’ve stepped into vipashyana territory, revealing the nature of awareness. Now, we know what we want to do here. That’s perfectly transparent. This is all about realizing your own Buddha-nature, dharmakaya, Buddha-mind; I mean really, there’s nothing more fundamental, transformative, or liberative than that. So clearly that’s what this is all about, but that’s not where he starts. When he says “revealing awareness,” well you saw the technique now: that’s it, that’s all there is to it. That’s revealing awareness. So I think we don’t need to go very deeply into analysis here to see what level of awareness is he talking about at that stage: I would suggest – and I will debate you! – phenomenal awareness, what we’re experiencing right now.
But get a clear bead, a clear vision, unmixed with anything else. Almost like a chemist that’s looking for some – I just want pure sodium, I want pure oxygen, I want a certain substance and I want no contamination of anything else; I just want to see that unadulterated; I want to study that. So please give me a sample that has nothing else in it except for pure iron or sodium or hydrogen or whatever. Then we say Ok now we got something that’s not mixed with anything else, right? Alloys are very well, but if you’d really like to study the elements one by one, you might want to get them with no mixture of anything else.
Well that awareness right there: that’s elemental awareness. Stripped right down. No gender, nothing about human consciousness, no frontal cortex, no higher mental faculties and so forth. We’ve already seen it; we saw of course that it was completely redundant with the practice we did earlier right? There was really nothing new there. And that’s the smoothness of the transition from the shamatha without a sign, which already is encroaching, nibbling away at the borderlines between shamatha and vipashyana with the questions you’re already familiar with. And then he just slips over the border and you say Oh but now you’re nibbling on shamatha! You’re looking back over your shoulder and you’re nibbling back in shamatha territory, which is where you just came from.
But the point of this, whether you get it on this side of the fence or that side of the fence — what is crucial here? Before you venture into supra-mundane vipashyana on this track, is to get a very, very clear vision, insight, discovery. There’s no other word for it, discovery. What’s the nature of consciousness? And not have a snappy answer you can read out of the end of a book, or something you figured out because you were really clever. Like, Galileo wasn’t really that clever when he saw, let’s say, spots on the sun, sunspots. That doesn’t take a lot of cleverness. You’ve either seen it or you haven’t! If you’ve seen it, then you’ve seen it.
And then likewise with consciousness: it’s not a matter of being clever, it’s have you seen it! Have you seen it nakedly, stripped down, without elaboration, without mixture, a human part, a female part, a European part, an American part. That’s all very fine. Those are alloys! Strip it down to its nucleus, and what Dudjom Lingpa calls, the Panchen Rinpoche called, the essential nature of the mind, or the essential nature of consciousness, either way. Stripped down on the phenomenological level [74:25] ok? Just what is this phenomenon that we all know exists? What’s its nature? Without the alloys, without the mixture. Strip it down to its bare bones, essential, ground-state. What is it? There’s the method, right there. And gosh, you say Well but that’s kind of the method scientists are using for everything else: you very carefully examine what you’re trying to understand, so then you identify, you discover its salient characteristics, what are its defining characteristics. To my mind, that’s just a prime example of Buddhist mind science. Consciousness science. Where you’re doing what the scientists have done successfully for every other field (in many respects; I mean, they’re not finished of course).
So that’s the first thing. Now does one find this, essentially this method, and for this purpose – that on the one hand of course it’s shamatha, but on the other hand, this is really now insight! Insight into what? Understanding the phenomenal or relative nature of consciousness. That’s an insight; that’s a discovery, right? Do you find this in the Pali canon, is that right there in the foundation, any such method? And the answer is Yep! There is! It’s called – I mentioned it before – vinyana kasina, where the Buddha taught it (hasn’t been taught a whole lot recently as far as I can tell), but it’s just that! It’s going right into the nature of awareness. And in fact, even in the Buddha’s account, it entails this expansion, extending the field of your awareness of consciousness itself, and it is a shamatha method, and it does give direct insight into the nature of consciousness. So there it is, you can say Well that’s right from the Pali canon, that’s kind of like Ok that’s foundational Buddhism.
So that’s where we’re starting on this great quest, this great adventure, this great expedition to fathom the nature of the mind from the surface there, on the surface – it’s called the Mariana trench by the way, I checked it out, the deepest place in the ocean. It is indeed off the southeast coast of Japan, just right near Guam, the island of Guam; it goes down almost seven miles or something like twelve kilometers, from the surface of the water to the deepest part of the trench. I just find that kind of interesting. And so, if you’re swimming on the surface of that, right there in the ocean – to my mind, psychologically that’d be a little bit scary! I mean, you can drown in ten feet of water, but to know that there’s seven miles of water beneath you, that’s kind of like, “I could really drown here! I mean, I’ll be really dead! They’ll never find my body!” You know? But I kind of like the idea of being there and knowing that, yes, you’re on the surface, but if you look down, there’s a lot of down. There are depths there beyond anything you can imagine, and things, dimensions of that ocean to be discovered. It’s kind of cool. Mariana trench.
So that’s where you start. Where are you? Where are you? Are you on the surface of the Mariana trench? Have you found the right place? Or are you looking in the wrong place? This is the right place, you’re looking right at consciousness, good, go there and know where you are. Start by having a veridical discovery of the nature of the consciousness you’re already experiencing. Strip it down, and make a discovery. And then you can see whether other people can replicate, or have already replicated, the discovery: maybe you’re the one hundredth person in a row who’s finally made the same discovery.
[77:49] But the cool thing about the contemplative is, when you make it for yourself, it’s for the first time, right? And moreover it’s not just one more little item of knowledge that you’ve acquired, like knowing how many moons there are around Jupiter. Well, you can get that right number and then now what do you have? Something you remember, and then, in my case, to forget! Because I didn’t find it useful. I knew, and then I don’t know. But this is the type of knowledge that transforms. Already there.
So mundane vipashyana gives you insight into domains, elements, aspects, dimensions of this phenomenal world. And this is the insider, the nangpa approach, to seek to fathom the nature of reality from the inside out. And the first discovery to be made on this trajectory, the first discovery to be made: nature of consciousness. And make in empirically, and without the clutter of ideas and opinions and philosophies and metaphysics and dogmas and so forth. Just go there and taste it. Just go there and see it for yourself. It’s not a Buddhist insight; it’s not a Hindu insight, a religious or a scientific insight. It’s just an insight. It’s what’s true. And you start there.
So tomorrow, in what, twenty-three hours or so, then we’ll go to searching for the mind. I’ll give a little preview of that, but there’s one question here that I’ll try to respond to now. When you’ve stripped it down to that lucidity, that transparency, the simplicity, just consciousness simple and clear, you come out of your meditation and you’ll probably find, “Oh shucks I’ve got a mind! And my mind is a lot more than simple cognizance and luminosity.” It’s kind of like, “whoa! There’s a lot of it!” My mind. Oh that heavy burden of my mind: so habituated in so many different ways: it’s an American mind, and it’s an old guy, old-ish guy – not old, old-ish.. .hmm… getting senior! [laughter] In any case, no longer young. Gyatrul Rinpoche told me, Alan, you’re no longer young. [laughter] He just wanted to make sure I had that one figured out. You’re not a young man anymore! I know.
So this heavily configured mind — and I can’t help it, it’s an American mind, but it’s a little bit cosmopolitan too, a lot of happily living elsewhere — but there it is, the mind. And so the next thing will be, Ok you’ve stripped down to the source from which your mind emerges, that’s good. Right? To see your mind is emerging from something. What? Consciousness. Well that’s good, that’s a step in the right direction. But once it’s there, once it’s come into full, shall we say flower? Or manifestation, when it’s really obvious you are now experiencing your mind with all the richnesses, nuances and so forth of that. Then to understand what is the nature of that phenomenon? And there are multiple approaches, but we’ll get into that tomorrow. But the approach here – because this is a no-time-to-waste approach. There’s no time for side-show attractions. It’s the approach for older people, or younger people who recognize there is no time to waste. The older you get, I think that becomes more and more obvious, but you may happily discover that when you are young, and then you have really a great amount of time to deal with, hopefully.
[81:25] But the point here is not to then go into the richness of the mind and understand the multiple nuances, the aspects, the mental factors and so forth and so on, which is very interesting; that would be Buddhist psychology, and there’s a lot of it. But we’re saying, You know, this is a fast track, we have no time for those very interesting side-shows. We’re just going straight from the insight into consciousness, to now what’s the nature of the existence of the mind? Nalug: the nature of the existence, in which we’re talking about how does it actually exist. Not what’s the difference between a woman’s mind and a man’s mind and so forth. No, now we’re talking fundamentally how does it exist? Nalug: what is its ultimate nature? How does it really exist? That’s where we’ll go tomorrow.
But there’s one question for this afternoon. It was written down, I think it’s relevant to probably more than one person, and so I’ll address this, and it’ll be lunchtime, or dinnertime. I had a very interesting lunch by the way! With Klaus; an extraordinary friend of Klaus; the executive director of the whole Thanyapura; the CEO of the Thanyapura; the head of the medical clinic, the clinic here; and a Thai princess. And then there was me! Ha ha ha! They invited me too! It was amazing, But I had an interesting lunch, that’s why I was late for some of the people with their interviews this afternoon.
Ok here’s the question, and I’m not going to just read it, I will try to pick out what might be helpful to everybody here. So in the practice of awareness of awareness – and just that simple practice of simply resting in awareness, being aware of it, you know it well – it’s very easy (I’ve been teaching it for years), it not infrequently happens that people will have a sense of kind of energy starting to get tight, or get drawn together inside their heads. The sense that, when I’m aware of being aware, that my awareness is somehow behind my eyeballs, it’s in there, and that’s where I’m going to go. So when I’m just resting, when the king is resting on his throne, just awareness resting in awareness, it’s there some place behind my eyeballs, inside my head. And I’m going to get really concentrated, and then I’m getting a headache! Not uncommon! Ok?
Too much energy building up in the head! This is why I’m kind of down on the notion of “mind is the brain, brain is the mind.” Because it’s a headache. It’s fault/false [trans. note: couldn’t understand this word], but it’s also a real headache. But here’s something that comes up experientially regardless of your worldview. You may be a materialist or not, but this can happen either way.
So, the person here speaks, on the one hand, kind of the awareness getting experiential, but then the field of awareness thinned out and shrunk back into my skull — and he actually draws a skull here –
comes back into this little space inside this bony cavern, and it’s still almost effortless, no more headaches, but it won’t expand! Even doing the warming exercise is difficult, as there’s a strong pull for the awareness to stay localized in the skull. Whenever I seek to ascertain awareness in and of itself, it feels like a bowling ball on a trampoline. I know Einstein’s book about a bowling ball [84:58] and a trampoline, but that was talking about curved space-time, so that was different! But ok, there it is. So I guess the trampoline is your head and the bowling ball is your awareness. Always rolls back into the middle and stays there. The upside is that I can remain this way for long periods, and it’s not really effortful,
but I would add I don’t really like having a bowling ball inside my head. [laughs] He didn’t say that, but I would add that as commentary.
So it’s a very good question, and I’m leaving it anonymous; very good question and it’s relevant to other people here. That’s why I share it. Stop visualizing your head. It’s a background visualization; very easy to do. Kind of in the back of your mind, the sense “there’s a head.” Stop it. If you’re not visualizing your head, then the notion of being inside of it won’t be there any longer.
I remember one of the funniest skits I’ve ever seen was Bob Newhart – don’t’ look for it now, but after the retreat! Bob Newhart, and then quote, “just stop it” on YouTube. It’s just a scream. You’ve seen it Brian? Isnt’ it? It’s a scream. I’ll tell you, I’m going to ruin it for you. So Bob Newhart, he’s a comedian; very big back in the 60’s and 70’s. He’s there as a psychiatrist in this skit, and he’s giving psychotherapy. And he said five minutes, and it costs you five dollars. That’s a good deal, isn’t it? Five minutes, five dollars. And he said whatever you have, I can deal with it in five minutes. So five dollars man, who can’t afford five dollars, you know? So people come to him and they sit down, there he is across the desk and they’re sitting, and the client comes in and says, “Well doctor,” and they start describing their problem. You know, “I’m suffering from very low self-esteem, or post-traumatic stress disorder and I’m having these thoughts catching,” and he listens to them for about two or three minutes, and he says “Ok are you ready for the treatment? JUST STOP IT!” [laughs] And the person says “but but but!” and “No, JUST STOP IT! And now, five dollars.” I really thought that was kind of cool! Very much to the point, and then give me the five dollars. But it was the same treatment for everybody: just stop it!
And so for the person who wrote that, just stop it! [laughter] What are you thinking you’re inside your head for? You know? Stop it! It’s stupid, you’re not inside your head.
But something I really enjoy doing: there was somebody in Hyde Park, you know, in London? And there’s a famous – I had been there, but I don’t know the little area – there’s the soap box area, right? Where you get on your soap box, and then you can proclaim whatever you like: that you’re the king of Mars, or you love marshmallows, I think you can pretty much say anything you like. It’s England, so freedom of speech. And so there was allegedly – and I think it’s probably true – quite some years ago, there was a guy who stood on his soap box in Hyde Park, and he proclaimed to those people who would listen,
I have no head! I have no head! I’ve looked, and it goes to my neck, and then there’s nothing! And I’ve looked, and I have no head! You may see something, but you’re wrong, because I have the insider’s approach, and I have no head.
This person did not have a problem of awareness congealing inside his head! [laughter] Because it was neck, and wide open space. So [89:05] that’s what I would suggest you do: just consider, if you can give away your mind, you can give away your head. So pow! Oh that’s so refreshing. Tingles, like fresh mist, ah! Having no head; wide open space. And there’s no image of head, because I don’t have a head. Just open, spacious, relaxing, and no headache because I have no head to ache. It’s great! So try that. [laughs] And if you still have a problem, come back to me and we can have another five minute session! [laughter]
Enjoy your dinner. See you tomorrow morning.
Transcribed by James French
Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Final Edition by Cheri Langston
Credits for Scot Soller who informed about some corrections/editions after the final edition which we have already introduced in this transcript.