17 Sep 2014

Alan welcomes two new participants to the retreat and emphasizes the importance of friendship and empathy among all of us. Meditation follows on the topic of compassion.

Alan explains that there is a meaningful sequence to the four immeasurables with profound wisdom. Loving-kindness involves a vision and action, it is not only an aspiration. We cultivate the causes of happiness for the sake of people to flourish.

Elaborating on the topic of loving-kindness, Alan makes reference to the importance of Gross National Happiness of Bhutan versus Gross Domestic Product of USA. We need vision in order to see that samsara and mental afflictions are in the nature of suffering. With this, one needs to have loving-kindness, to know that one is worthy of happiness and to identify the roots of virtue within oneself, otherwise there is no hope. Compassion is about truly opening you heart to the suffering you experience and then opening your eyes to the suffering around you. What we attend to becomes reality. In order to cultivate compassion, there must be vision and hope that it is possible to alleviate suffering. Then, there is tremendous power there. Power to change the world and transform ourselves. Let’s practice dharma.

Meditation starts at 21:50

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Transcriber’s note: Alan Wallace begins the session by asking three students, two of whom recently arrived, to introduce themselves to the group. Their names are Beata, Michelle, and Shane.

So before we start, I would like to have three people introduce themselves. One is Beata. I have invited Beata and Michelle to come to audit this retreat. They are coming in a bit late, but this was arranged months ago. You are very welcome here. They will be here for the rest of the retreat. I would like you to know that we have no strangers here. We are part of a transient family. We’re here to support each other in practice. In the spirit of friendship, in the spirit of affection and it’s hard to do that when you don’t know people. So the microphone please, to Beata over here.

We’ll start with Beata. Welcome!

Beata: Thank you. Hello. I am very delighted to be here and I had the pleasure and the fortune to be here last year already for the eight week retreat and I couldn’t manage to come this time for longer. So very very happy to be back.

Alan: Welcome back Beata. Thank you. And Michelle I don’t know. I don’t think we’ve met before have we?

Michelle: [inaudible]

Alan: Microphone coming.

Michelle: We met briefly at Upaya.

Alan: At Upaya, yes, yes, yes. Welcome, please introduce yourself.

Michelle: Thank you, I’m Michelle

Alan: I think the microphone is not quite on, or else it’s very soft.

Michelle: Hello better?

Alan: Marginally. Speaking up is helpful.

Michelle: I had the good fortune to be with Beata after she was here last year. So I heard all about it. And was really eager to be able to come. Did not imagine it was going to happen this year until I heard from Beata it was possible to come for the one month rather than the two. So I’m thrilled to be here especially after having been with you at Upaya. I was really eager to be able to be here.

Alan: Lovely.

Michelle: Thank you for the invitation.

Alan: You’re welcome. Shane you have been here for the last month but I feel I hardly know you and I would like to know you better. You’re part of our community here, part of this group retreat. Please introduce yourself. I think we’d all like to know you better. Anything you’d like to share.

Shane: Oh I thought I had.

Alan: Please say?

Shane: I thought I had introduced myself.

Alan: I really don’t feel I know you and I would like to so please introduce a bit more, this is my request to you. You’re part of the collective sangha here. We’re in a group retreat and we’d all like to know each other a bit better. And I would certainly like to know you better. Oh, that’s working I can hear that.

Shane: I have nothing else to say. Thanks.

Alan: I’d really like you to say more because I don’t know you. I don’t want strangers in the group. You know and I don’t want you to be a stranger.

Shane: I’m sorry, I can’t think of anything to say.

Alan: I can’t hear you.

Shane: I’m sorry, but I can not think of anything to say right at this minute. Thank you.

Alan: All right then try to think of something for this evening, because if you’re in a group retreat we really want to have a sense of kinship. And when we don’t know who you are it’s very hard, right. So this, you can say it’s a bit of pressure. But it’s a pressure expressed only in the spirit of loving-kindness that we’re all here in a collective retreat and that means we have to some sense who each other are and not simply a body. Anything you’d like to share at all but If you’d like to reflect upon it and get back to me this evening that’s fine. But we’d like to know each other. Empathy to have empathy for each other to have a good feeling with each other requires some sense of understanding each other as well.

Shane: It probably also takes time.

Alan: Say again.

Alan: It probably will also take some time.

Shane: It will take some time?

Alan: Yes, to understand each other.

Shane: I certainly don’t feel that I understand your request.

Alan: You don’t understand my request?

Shane: No.

Alan: Aha

Shane: And probably don’t fully understand who the people are here.

Alan: Oh nobody fully understands. I don’t fully understand even who I am.

Shane: That’s just life, isn’t it.

Alan: Yes, But we can make an effort. This is what we’re here for to make an effort to understand ourselves. But also, we’ll have these mornings will be for discussion, I mean we’ll have guided meditation beginning very shortly. But we don’t get to know each other if we never share, if we never make any eye contact, if we never have any facial expressions, if we never show any kind of communication at all. Then we’ll never get to know each other. That’s just a universal statement to everybody who is listening on the podcast and hello planet earth this is how it is.

[5:14] We need to communicate with each other with open hearts, with open eyes, with open minds and then we come to understand each other. We kind of understand also other sentient beings on the planet. Animals for example, they can’t talk but we can empathize with them if we tend to them closely right. And then we can feel compassion and open heart and warmth and kindness. But it can’t happen when we don’t understand each other, when we don’t pay attention to each other, when we don’t look each other in the eye right. For all of us everybody, people in the podcast, you are in my heart. This is true for all of us. All of us. Let us attend to each other. It’s my favorite word, maybe it’s my favorite word in the English language. Let us attend to each other. What does it mean? Let’s remember this one, if you don’t remember anything else from this retreat, and I’m sure you will, but to attend to each other, means to tend to, to watch over, look after, and care for. Right? We are a community here. We’re here to tend to each other, to look each other in the eye, to care for each other, to watch over each other, when any of us at any time, if we appear to be troubled, then with a loving heart we attend to that person and expect to be attended to by others. It’s true, that’s what we’re here for. Not simply to get more knowledge, not simply to develop deeper shamata, but to practice dharma. This means we’re attending to everyone here, with the groundskeepers, the people who make our food, at the front desk, everyone, we attend to each other. If we’re not doing that, why be here at all? Right. It’s not dharma. We may go through the outer motions of dharma or the outer lack of motion of dharma, but it’s not dharma if we’re not attending to each other. With a loving heart, not being judgemental, not being harsh, never pushing away, but attending to each other. All of us, right. It’s true isn’t it? For that we need to know each other a bit, you know, that’s where empathy comes from. This is why the left hand of wisdom of understanding is supporting the right hand of compassion. How can we have compassion for someone we don’t know at all? We don’t even know whether it’s a sentient being, you know. So the left hand of understanding supports the right hand of compassion and then we bring the two together. So I look forward to getting to know you better at your leisure, Shane. Plenty of time. Plenty of time. But now let’s go to the meditation. Oh you’d like to speak?

Shane: I don’t disagree with what you said about empathy and getting to know each other.

Alan: Yeah.

Shane: But that seems to be contradictory in my understanding to a silent retreat which is what I thought this was.

Alan: Oh it’s never no, well then, there was a misunderstanding. A silent retreat would entail my coming here and sitting silently. But no this is a Dzogchen retreat. And so a silent retreat, a silent retreat is one where our default mode is silence. Our default mode is silence, but when it’s time to engage then we do so, right. A silent retreat is a time we share our thoughts, we share our observations we share our experiences in the spirit of helping other people in the retreat as we hope to receive benefit from them. There’s all types of silence. There is a silence of serenity, a silence of good cheer, there’s a silence of aloof indifference. And it’s ever so important not to conflate those which are so radically different. So this is a silent retreat, but it’s not. This is an individual retreat, but it’s not. It’s a shamatha retreat, but it’s not. We’re looking for balance here. Balance here. There’s a time for eye contact, a time for a smile, there’s a time for silence and the eyes on the ground. There’s a time for all good things. A time for all good things. Go ahead Shane.

Shane: We seem to have a different understanding of the rule of silence then.

Alan: Well that’s fine but since this is a retreat that I have coordinated, to which I’ve invited people, then my notion of silence trumps yours. I’m so sorry.

Shane: I’ve attended on a misapprehension. I am so sorry.

Alan: I couldn’t hear you.

Shane: I’ve attended on a misapprehension.

Alan: Well, you’re always welcome to continue in a silent retreat, that is an individual retreat, that is an isolated retreat. You’re welcome to, that’s not why I invited people to come here otherwise I wouldn’t show up. I would just leave here an empty chair and everybody can be in their own silent retreat. But I came here to share the very best I can right. And that was with the assumption that people came here to want to learn from me. I think that’s generally been true. The individual interviews are so I can help people individually in their practice, do my very best for them. But if this is not what you wish then there was a misunderstanding. Misunderstandings happen, but in which case then I would suggest carry through. And maintain a silent retreat and a solitary retreat. I would really love to have you part of this retreat, that would be my wish. I think frankly, I’m going to be really bold and speak for everybody else here. How presumptuous is that? I’m going to speak for everybody else here. I think everybody else here would love to have you part of our retreat as well, not to be chatting to be getting into involved in distractions and meaningless activity. But having a sense all of us here are part of a greater whole. And not only our community here but out beyond this little temporary cloister of dharma practitioners. But no one can ever be compelled to be a part of a community any more than anybody can be compelled to meditate right. So if there was misunderstanding, then I’m sorry. I don’t think since I’ve led so many of the retreats I think it’s been obvious how I lead retreats and how we try to strike a balance of individual retreat and group retreat. Individual silence, but also sharing even non verbally, with a smile, with looking into the eyes of each other. with the sense of again attending to, attending to. So this is spoken to everyone, everyone listening by podcast. Whether you’re in retreat or socially engaged we are part of a greater whole and part of dharma and the central part of dharma is to embrace that. So, yes Beata, you may speak.

Beata: [12:02] I’m happy to introduce a little bit more, I didn’t want to take up any air time.

Alan: That’s fine, that’s fine, that’s fine. We’re here to

Beata: I was, I was pretty short and last time when I came I’m also a Zen priest and a Zen teacher, a Zen buddhist teacher. And when I said this last time, people told me later they got scared and said this is such a serious practice and you looked so serious. So I better thought I don’t say anything to this time. But that’s my background, I’m not in a traditional form any more. But I was for 25 years a trained very traditionally and became a teacher and a co- abbot and all this things and then I had to leave the US where I lived at that time. Something with my green card didn’t work out and so forth. I’m originally I’m from Germany although I didn’t live for many years now in Germany and so I’m’ kind of traveling around now. But I had met Alan at Upaya where he was teaching and so I remember there are some yogis close up in Prashna mountain who I really liked and so forth. And one of these yogis gave me a podcast where I had never time I had a very very busy life there and so I never had time to listen to them. But then I left, and my first decision was I want to stay three weeks all by myself. And what happened there was I started oh let’s try out what Alan has to say. So I listened to his podcast and something really deeply opened up in me. So I came, that was the reason I came last year, I had the fortune to get in. And I have to say Alan those that eight week really transformed my whole attitude to practice and my really deepened deepened my experience and practice. Because it’s so opposite to traditional Zen where you know where everything is form yea it’s very it’s very strict it’s good and I still love the Zen forms. But here to be able into such an environment where everything is cared for and you just can do your practice and really go deeply into it and nothing else. And these long sets of meditation practice was just a tremendous eye and heart opener for me so I really really am really really grateful for this opportunity to be here again with you. Thank you

Alan: [15:13] Thank you Beata. Olaso so once again welcome to everyone single person who is here, everybody that’s listening by podcast, can’t see you but we can certainly imagine you and you’re welcome to our little virtual community because that’s all it is here too, right. We’re all appearing in the space of each other’s minds. [laughs] Olaso. Let’s go to mediation shall we?

[16:09] Alan and the class chant three times, The Seven Line Prayer and Mantras, in Tibetan.

Transcriptionist note: The Seven Line Prayer and Mantras are written and included here in both Tibetan and English.

In the northwest frontier of Oddiyana,

In the heart of a lotus

Sits the one renowned as Padmasambhava,

Who achieved the wondrous supreme siddhi,

And is surrounded by a host of many dakinis.

Following in your footsteps, I devote myself to practice.

Please come forth and bestow your blessings.


[17:54] chant ends, Alan continues and whispers in Tibetan


[21:13] For those who would like to switch positions do so now.

[21:53] meditation bell

In a spirit of loving-kindness for yourself, for all those around you, for all sentient beings, settle your body speech and mind in their natural state.

[23:31] Rest in that stillness of awareness, that ground awareness, the pristine awareness. You don’t need to fathom it fully, we don’t expect that right now, but rest where it is. Rest in the stillness of your ordinary consciousness. That’s where you will find it. That’s where you will tap into your own depths.

[24:47] Meditation is attending not only to what already is, attending not only to the world of actuality, but also attending to the world of possibilities. That which is not yet actual but is possible. But this is where we need imagination. And we have it. The enormous creative potential of the human mind. To envision that which is not yet real but which could be. We move this morning to the meditative cultivation of compassion, the second of the four immeasurables. And the object of our attention is sentient beings. Sentient beings who are vulnerable to suffering, who experience suffering, who are sowing the seeds of suffering unnecessarily. So I invite you first of all to focus on the sentient being you probably know better than any other. You know this person’s thoughts, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows. You know the past of this individual and you can envision the future of this individual. And of course that is you. Attend to yourself, watch over, look after, care for, yourself first of all. And bring to mind the suffering to which you are presently vulnerable which may be manifest each day of your life now. For many of us there is chronic physical distress, and for all of us sentient beings, there is chronic mental distress. Attend to the dukkha, the manifest dukkha. The dukkha that is evident, obvious to yourself, the discomfort, the pain in your body, and more centrally, the pain in your heart. The suffering in your mind. This is the reality of suffering the Buddha said. Know it. His first words. Know yourself, right. And we begin this morning with the knowing of the most manifest, obvious suffering that we experience. Call it what you will, a mild unhappiness, a sense of ill at ease, low self esteem, depression, anxiety so many flavors of dukkha. This is the actuality, of finding ourselves in the ocean of samsara.

[29:35] Is it necessary? Is it hard wired? Is it ingrained into our very identity that we must suffer because we are human beings? In which case there’s no place for compassion. Because there’s no hope, there’s only samsara, endlessly samsara. But if we look with faith, with confidence, with trust. If we look with clear vision, we see it is evident that not everyone is suffering as much as we are. Not everyone is entangled in the inner causes of suffering as much as we are. This is not faith, this is an observation. It is a truth evident if you have your eyes open and you look. We don’t need to suffer this much. We don’t need to perpetuate our suffering this much. As we arouse this spirit of compassion, the yearning to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering, it takes courage and it takes vision. You must be bold and never intimidated. As you are aware of your own suffering of suffering explicit suffering manifest obvious suffering, that is the actuality but now it’s time to use vision and imagination. Imagine freedom. Imagine your own freedom.

[32:39] And now with each in breath, arouse the aspiration, this compassionate yearning, may I be free. May I be free of physical distress. May I be free of mental distress. And we attend for the time being to that band width of suffering that is easy to see if we only look, nothing hidden about it, not from ourselves anyway. There are multiple dimensions of suffering and we’ll get to them, but we start where it’s obvious, where we are in pain. Wish yourself well. With each in breath arouse the aspiration may I be free, may I be free of distress in the body, distress in the mind. And if you wish, imagine that dukkha, that manifest dukkha in the form of a dark cloud enveiling, enshrouding, suffocating your very being. With each in breath as you arouse this aspiration, imagine siphoning off that darkness into this incandescent radiant orb of light at your heart which symbolizes your true identity. The ground of your being, your pristine awareness the one who is aware. Draw it in, draw in the darkness and extinguish it with each in breath, extinguish it without trace, without remainder. Consume it in the light of your heart.

[35:44] And with each in breath as you venture boldly with courage and vision into this world of possibility, imagine here and now emerging from this manifest dukkha of your body and mind, imagine becoming free. In the absence of darkness there is light. The light was already there. It has simply been unveiled. So imagine now you are indeed a being of light, why not, it’s your imagination. Imagine your body, not as a body of flesh and bone, translucent, a body of sheer energy, a body of light. And now let the light of your awareness reach out in all directions, wherever you are, whether you’re here in Phuket, wherever you are, there you are. Expand this field of your awareness, this field of light, all around you to the sides, above and below, expand the field of awareness, expand the field of your attention, to include those who are around you, in a meditation hall, in your home, in your neighborhood. And you can be sure if you are surrounded by sentient beings, you are surrounded by beings who experience suffering. And they wish to be free of suffering just as you do. And they’re no less worthy to be free than you. Attend to them.

[39:23] With each in breath arouse the yearning of compassion. May you, like myself, may you be free of manifest suffering of the body and of the mind. Draw in the darkness of those around you and extinguish it without trace, in the light of your own heart. And breath by breath imagine them, imagine them becoming free, finding the relief they have been seeking for for so long, but not finding. Finding that peace of mind that inner serenity, the calm that is not cold and aloof or disengaged. But filled with light, filled with warmth, filled with meaning. And breath by breath expand the field in all directions, to human beings and non human beings alike, to every sentient being around about, above and below. As you wish for your own freedom, wish for the freedom of all those around you, near and far.

[44:15] Expand the field of your awareness without limit, excluding no one. We are all of a family, the strongest message from the whole Mahayana tradition, we are all of a family. There is no sentient being who has not been our mother, or our father, our brother or sister, our children. Embrace the whole family. At our heart, in our essence we are of the buddha gotra, the family of the buddhas, embrace the family of sentient beings from your depths, from your buddha mind.

[45:54] Meditation bell

[46:48] There’s a meaningful sequence to the four immeasurables, oh it’s ever so meaningful, there’s such wisdom there. I stand in awe oh, right now, I guess I’m sitting in awe. The first is loving-kindness, no accident, it’s not just a nice assembly of virtues. And loving-kindness is not just a nice warm feeling or a sweet thought, it’s a vision. It’s a vision. It’s not just wishing may everybody [be] well, be happy. Everybody is not going to be happy. Let’s face the music. Everybody’s not going to be happy, we’ve been wishing this for a long time and how many people are happy? [laughing] It’s not enough. I mean we make wishes to santa claus. Dear Santa please make everybody happy. It’s not going to happen. Loving-kindness is not simply an aspiration that we all be happy. It’s an aspiration that we cultivate the causes of happiness. Right. That’s loving-kindness, the aspiration that each of us, all of us find happiness and the causes of happiness because of course the fruit never happens without the cause. That’s just the law of nature, that’s common sense. You don’t get an apple pie by saying may I have an apple pie. You find the ingredients, you put them together, you find a good recipe and you bake. But you won’t bake unless you have the aspiration to get an apple pie. So the cultivation of loving-kindness is a call to action, right. Loving-kindness for ourselves is a call to action, not just a happy thought. Loving-kindness for others is a call to action, not just a warm cuddly feeling that we go home with and sit quietly in our room feeling all warm and nice. Loving-kindness requires vision. Something more than the status quo, something more than the run of the mill, the mainstream because frankly humanity is not doing very well. For those of you who heard that, to my mind, very moving message from Robert F. Kennedy, wasn’t it quite astonishing. If you missed it you really missed something. I don’t share any of these things for no reason. It was visionary and it was more than forty five years ago and I think he died shortly thereafter. And of course he was assassinated, but people come and go, but what about the vision. What about that vision. It was a noble vision wasn’t it. It wasn’t simply let us perpetuate the status quo and do it better. The ever so almighty god damn product, no that’s not it, gross domestic product. [laughter] I mistake sometimes, that the whole meaning of our lives is that the gross domestic product increase then we’ll know we are number one. America, I’m speaking as an American. America has to be number one. We like to tell ourselves that every so often. We are the greatest. We are like Mohamed Ali. I am the greatest. I am the greatest. He did suffer severe brain damage and I say that with compassion. But you only get beaten in the head so many times. So I’m sorry that he’s harmed, but that’s the nature of that sport, goes with the territory. I’m sorry though. Who’s the greatest? So RFK was, his message was clear. This isn’t what makes America, or Norway or New Zealand or any other country great, it just makes you big. What’s so good about big. If you have a fart, what’s better a big fart or a little fart? [laughter] Maybe depends on who is asking. If you’re a bottle fly maybe you’d like the big one.

[51:18] No he gave us a vision, that the whole productivity of society is for people to flourish. It was clearly articulated right? It wasn’t a Christian message or a Buddhist message or a religious message. It was a meaningful message. I think to all people who are listening, Chinese, Vietnamese, Canadian, Australian, American it was a good message. It was clear too wasn’t it? That we’re productive in order to find greater happiness, greater well being, greater sense of connectedness with ourselves within a country, with one country connected with all the other countries, the humans species connected with all the other species. Isn’t that the it. Just more stuff, more locks on the doors bigger and better prisons that keep people more tightly incarcerated. Better bigger and better weapons to make you feel safe and everybody else feel intimidated. What the hell is that? And then now what happened, that was about 45 years ago. How have we done? Let’s do a little reality check here. That was in the late 60’s just before he died, so how has it worked out? Total lack of vision. I’m looking at the United States, I’m looking at planet earth. There’s a little tiny country about the size of my thumbnail called Bhutan, they would rather prioritize gross national happiness. And they’re trying to protect themselves from us and they’re doing it rather well I have to say. Moderately well, yeah pretty well, they’re pretty tiny, they only have 600,000 people, but they’re doing a pretty darn good job. I only have admiration, I have no criticism to make at all. But they’re recognizing the material prosperity, production production production is for the sake of people and human beings and sentient beings to find happiness. So for society, for nations, for the globe, we need vision. We need to follow the vision. We need to find the causes of the vision. We need to have that for ourselves individually. And that’s what gives us light. That’s what gives us emotion true, the emotion of enthusiasm that there is some direction to go to. It’s not enough. Oh it’s profoundly, catastrophically not enough, simply to see that samsara sucks. If you look closely it’s kind of obvious. American samsara sucks. Swiss samsara, it’s a rather nice flavor but it sucks. [laughter] I know I’ve been there. You know, it’s a really nice place but Swiss mental afflictions are no better than anybody else’s. We need vision simply to see that they’re suffering, simply to be utterly disenchanted with the world and all the so called attractions of the world, simply to be disenchanted with our own lives. I want to withdraw, that is not renunciation, and that is not dharma. It hasn’t even started to begin dharma. Dharma has to have a direction to go to and not simply a direction to go from. If you want to be an existentialist ok. If you want to join the ranks of Camus and Sartre your welcome to do it but that’s not dharma. That’s pre school for dharma. That’s not dharma. People merely see the negative in the world and merely see the negative within their own lives and feel profound disillusionment. That’s not dharma, that’s called sadness. That’s called depression. It may be manageable, it may be tolerable, but that’s all. So with that alone we could ever so easily fall into cold indifference, aloof indifference. We are all vulnerable to this as long as we’re sentient beings. Feeling oh I’m following dharma because I think samsara sucks. No you just think samsara sucks, you haven’t found dharma yet. You may be looking, but you have not found.

[56:00] There needs to be light, there needs to be vision. There needs to be loving-kindness. For yourself first of all, you need to know that you’re worthy of happiness. You need to identify the roots of virtue within yourself, otherwise there is no hope. Aloof indifference is the near enemy, the false facsimile of equanimity and the remedy among the four immeasurables is compassion. It moves you from ruts. It moves you from inertia. It moves you, it liberates you from a chronic merely manageable degree of depression, an uncaring for yourself and an uncaring for others. Because how can you, if you truly open your heart to the suffering that you experience and then you open your eyes, you open your eyes and you open your eyes, to the suffering around you. What we attend to becomes our reality. And it’s ever so easy not to attend. And our reality becomes very small and very dark. Open your eyes, your visual eyes, open the eyes of your imagination and attend to the suffering of those around you and you will be moved, you will be moved. And you will not be able to help yourself. You will want to alleviate the suffering of others just as you wish to alleviate your own suffering. But there must be a vision, there must be hope, a sense that it’s possible. So that’s why we cultivate compassion. Tremendous power there, power to change the world, power to transform and liberate ourselves. So let’s continue in the day. Let’s practice dharma. And the on a trivial note, a minor note the interviews this morning will be five minutes late. [laughter] Afternoon will be on schedule. Enjoy your day. Practice dharma.

Transcribed by KrissKringle Sprinkle

Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Final edition by Cheri Langston


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