18 Nov 2010
Alan starts the session with an explanation of mindfulness of breathing, saying that, with time and practice, there may be a moment where you do not detect the breath anymore, and you can no longer find any sensation. He recommended doing 2 things: relax more deeply as you are breathing out, and as you are doing so, attend sharply to pick up the sensation.
Then, in the explanation of settling the mind, he said that the substrate is not a mere absence of thoughts. It is something that can be perceived. He used some examples of people in deep sleep, under general anesthesia and in a vegetative state, and he said that the substrate consciousness is present and manifesting in those instances. In fact, the Substrate is always manifesting – or “shining” – but is obscured most of the time. Like the stars in the sky, it shines more when the sun sets.
Alan also explained that the mental domain is the king of all senses. The other domains (taste, sight, sound, tactile and olfactory sense) cannot perceive mental awareness, but the mental domain can perceive the others.
He finished with a talk about how, unlike scientists and philosophers in the West, Buddhists have a methodology for the study of consciousness. Scientific materialists only attend to the brain when trying to understand the phenomena of consciousness, but they lack an empirical methodology. Alan joked that Buddhism is in a fun-loving wrestling match with these other schools of thought – but certainly not a violent boxing match – to get to the bottom of the consciousness question, and that we can all work together.
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