27 Aug 2012
Meditation: mindfulness of the body. For each of the following senses—1) visual, 2) auditory, 3) tactile—engage in the following steps 1) direct mindfulness to the sense objects, 2) observe to see if they are unchanging, 3) direct mindfulness to space of sense field, 4) observe to see if it is unchanging.
Teaching: Mindfulness of the body includes your own body, others’ bodies, all objects of the 5 senses. Alan recounts the story of the Buddha’s teaching to Bahiya, „In the seen, let there be just the seen...“ as a teaching on vipasyana where there is no atman here (in the self), there (in phenomena), nor in between. Bahiya realized arhatship as someone with sharp faculties.
Sentient beings suffer due to the misapprehension of reality as characterized by the 3 marks of existence—1) impermanence, 2) suffering, and 3) non-self—and the 4 ends of impermanence—1) whatever is born, perishes, 2) whenever there is meeting, separation, 3) whatever is acquired, lost, and 4) whatever goes up, comes down. Mindfulness means more than just bare attention, as we need to bear in mind the insight of how phenomena really exist when engaging with reality. Only this will lead to (irreversible) transformation.
Q1. What’s the difference between emptiness and dzogchen? Why go further when one has already realized emptiness?
Q2. In mindfulness of breathing, to exhale until there is nothing left, do we exhale naturally (there appears some air still there) or do we expel the air?
Meditation starts at 5:30 (meditation was cut short because of some technical problems. Sorry!)
We continue on our trajectory in the close application of mindfulness to the body, being aware that that includes not only one’s own body and other people’s bodies, but in fact, the whole physical domain, all of the five physical senses.
(1:06) What we are seeking to do here is to approximate, but not to reach, a state of non-conceptual awareness. We cannot simply decide to go non-conceptual and then achieve it, because, in the buddhist understanding, there’s going to be some precognitive or subliminal or implicit degree of conceptualization that takes place and is not voluntary - we can’t just turn it off.
(1:29) Nevertheless, we can attenuate or turn down the volume of the sheer conceptual noise that’s coming up that we “plaster” onto the various fields of experience, the different senses domains, and thereby concretize, objectify and subjectify our world. This is very much in accordance with shamatha, where we are seeking to slip more into a quiet and non-conceptual way of knowing. Bear in mind it is ever so crucial that, whether it is in shamatha or whether it’s in vipashyana, in both cases it’s nothing remotely like a trance. It is sustaining a flow of knowing. If it’s not, then you’re falling into dullness and you’re exercising stupidity, you’re actually cultivating stupefaction, right? It’s a very important point. So in both of these, it is a flow of knowing, but it’s a flow of knowing that is not talkative, it’s not discursive, it doesn’t have a commentary.
(2:18) Again the short finger or the long finger, sweet, bitter, sour, red, green, blue, loud, soft and so forth. We just know them – boom! Immediately. So I won’t say non-conceptually, but I will say without the verbal commentary or the conceptual or discursive commentary. So we’re seeking to cultivate that way of knowing in shamatha. Bear in mind this is a close reflection or a clear, very transparent preparation for entering into the knowing that comes at the culmination of the practice of shamatha, and that’s when your coarse mind has dissolved into substrate consciousness. There is a mode of knowing that is direct, it’s non-conceptual, it’s the portal to developing an array of types of extrasensory perception, whether precognition, remote viewing, remote auditory (divine ear or clairaudience). Substrate consciousness is the portal to that, because they have something in common. It’s a knowing, but it’s not by way of our five sense faculties, nor is it by way of reasoning, cogitation, inference. It’s another type of knowing.
So that’s what we’re cultivating in shamatha, and in a very simple way. Long finger, short finger, long breath, short breath - very, very simple, right? So we’re developing that and getting that noise of rumination to quiet down. Likewise, when we are moving here into the shallow end of the pool in terms of just attending very closely, that is, closely applying mindfulness to the different sensory domains within the physical realm, we’re sustaining that same quality of knowing that is immediate, it’s direct, we can’t say it’s infallible but it is very, very direct and is not mediated by a lot of conceptual categories. It tends to be like, if you get smacked, I’ll just smack my hands [claps hands] like that. I feel a stinging sensation, of course - [claps hands] there it is. I don’t have to think about it. Afterwards, I’ll call it stinging, or I’ll call it sharp, or I’ll call it whatever but - [claps hands] there it is, right there, you get it, right? Then you can qualify and talk about it ad infinitum, but there’s something [claps hands] immediate, and that is exactly where we are going.
(4:30) That theme that you’ve probably heard of from the Dzogchen Tradition - PHAT! I’m not going to try to mimic it, but that’s where you’ve already settled into the substrate consciousness, ideally, you’ve already tapped into [something] very subtle. And that PHAT! is like a pickaxe. A pickaxe that you use to breakthrough something really hard. Like a pickaxe to break, not through your psyche, through your course mind, but to actually break right through the individuation of your own substrate consciousness, OK? So we’re moving in that direction. When you gain an unmediated, non-conceptual realization of rigpa, that’s totally non conceptual. When you gain a non-conceptual realization of emptiness, that’s totally non conceptual. But when you’re resting in the substrate consciousness, it’s not overtly conceptual, but it is implicitly, or covertly, conceptual, but it’s still very clear and so on a coarse level we will say that the substrate consciousness, when you are getting it clearly, fully by way of shamatha, is blissful, luminous and non-conceptual. Not totally, but a pretty good approximation. OK?
So let’s move along that trajectory. I will talk a bit about the practice that we’re doing now, afterwards, but first let’s just jump in and taste it.
(6:00) As soon you hear the bell, that can be like the sound, “dive, dive, dive”. Come right down to the ground, literally to the earth element. Attend to it. Know it. Directly, non-conceptually. Then let your awareness rise and fill the space of the body, settle it in its natural state, relaxed, still and vigilant, and settle your respiration in its natural rhythm.
Meditation starts at 5:30 (meditation was cut short because of some technical problems. Sorry!)
Teachings/Comments after meditation:
(7:38) Oh la so, I’d like to give just a little bit of background, actually a very important background. It’s in Tibetan called “kung”. What’s your source? Give the source for what we have just done. I hope you never refer to the method of shamatha that I teach or the methods of vipashyana that I teach as Alan Wallace’s method. Please don’t say that. It’s not true. If I came up with any new method it would so pale in comparison to the wisdom that precedes me for the last twenty five, twenty six hundred years, that it would just be trivial. So I have tremendous respect for what’s preceded me, but if I came up with something all by my own, I would say: are you kidding me? The California hippie dharma! I think we can do better than that. So, what’s the source here? Well, I’ll tell you a little bit because it’s kind of a cool story. The source here is in the notes, which I’ll share with you, and if you have Minding Closely, it’s got to be in there. It’s the story of Bahiya. [I’ll tell] the story rather briefly, because I don’t want to spend a lot of time on commentary. I want to make sure we have at least a half an hour this afternoon for just open discussion.
(8:35) The story of Bahiya is quite interesting because he was a sailor and his ship was shipwrecked. It seems like he was the only survivor, at least only one we know about. So he was washed up, kind of one of those classic cases, washed up on shore. Maybe it crashed when he was in bed, so he basically washed up on shore naked. There he is, everybody’s dead and he doesn’t know where he is and he doesn’t know anybody. He’s naked and that was kind of embarrassing, so he found some bark and clad his private parts in bark.
Then the Indians, being the devotional people they were, they thought: naked gay in bark, he must be a holy man. You know, why not? And so they start saying, “sadhu, sadhu, swami, swami! Cool bark! What’s up dude, give me blessing, give me blessing.” And Bahiya, thought, OK, you give me money and I’ll give you blessing. So people starting come to him and thinking he was a holy man, but he wasn’t, he was just a shipwrecked sailor. But the word got out, there’s this pretty serious dude, naked, apparently wearing bark. He’s a real ascetic. So people starting coming and he saw that this is a pretty easy way to make a living. You know, say whatever kind of baloney that comes to mind, you know, Om shanti…, whatever, whatever it is. So he got a reputation, he started having more and more disciples coming, you know, fake it till you make it!
After while he just kind of thought: Oh man, this is getting a bit old, you know, faking to be a holy man and actually something arose from within, like, what would it be like to actually be enlightened and not just be pretending. So he kept his ears open to see if there was anybody who was actually authentic, wasn’t a phony baloney like him. He heard about this man Gautama who had allegedly become awake and so he said, ok, let’s find him.
He must have been very, very dedicated, because as I recall the ship wrecked on the south-western coast of India and Buddha lives way up in north-east central, so way, way up, hundreds miles away. Of course, there’s no trains, just walking. He didn’t even have a horse. Hey, he’s got bark! So he walked all the way up there, to the region where the Buddha was. Bear in mind that there was no GPS, where’s the Buddha now, click click click. I mean, how would you find him? But he was very persevering and so eventually he did track him down. He saw him when the Buddha Gautama was out on an alms round. But the guy had walked so far that he comes right up to him and says. “Gautama, please give me teaching!” And Gautama says (in vernacular), “hey, chill. I’m on Alms round. I’ll get back to you, but cool it; I am doing something else right now.”
But the guy’s really eager, so the next day again he finds the Buddha when he’s on alms round and says, “please give me teachings!” And Buddha says, “I’m on alms round. Later.” You know it’s going to be the third time. So he catches him at the right moment, alms round finished, he comes to Buddha and he asks him, “please give me guidance, I want to become liberated.” This is what the Buddha gave him. It’s one of the shortest discourses the Buddha ever gave, in response to which somebody immediately achieved arhatship. This is the discourse, so, are you ready? This is your first exam, OK? So listen very attentively. It was hearing this discourse, this one paragraph, upon hearing this, right when it was finished, he became an arhat. I’m watching!
This was the Buddha’s response. Of course, he could have suspended his alms just for a moment. He was waiting. This happened a lot, you see this in the Pali canon, the Buddha would be waiting for the right time. It wasn’t just – I’ve got good teachings, shall I give them to you right now? He would be waiting for that time when the person would be perfectly ripe, and then - drop it. That was what he did here. He waited until Bahiya was really balanced and ready to insert, and this is what he inserted.
“In the seen, there is only the seen; in the heard, there is only the heard; in the sensed (tactile), there is only the sensed; in the cognized (mentally perceived), there is only the cognized.
Thus you should see that, indeed, there is no thing here. This, Bahiya, is how you should train yourself.
(13:19) Since Bahiya, there is for you: in the seen, only the seen; in the heard, only the heard; in the sensed, only the sensed; in the cognized, only the cognized; and you see there is no thing here, you will therefore see that, indeed, there is no thing there. As you see that there is no thing there, you will see that you are therefore located neither in the world of this, nor in the world of that, nor in any place between the two. This alone is the end of suffering.” And that was enough for Bahiya!
(14:34) In case you’re not already an Arhat, let’s unpack that a little bit. “In the seen” – conceptually quite clear. By allowing reality to speak to you without you superposing all your categories, labels and reification on the various domains of appearances, then you see that indeed there is no thing here. This term “thing” can be understood as a personal self, so an ego, but atman does not always means ego. It sometimes simply means entity or some kind of intrinsic nature, some real stuff.
In this case he did a step beyond what we did in the last session because I very deliberately excluded, or did not direct your attention to, the mental domain. We’re going to get to that. Next week, the week after, the week after… this week is for the physical, the sensory, right? So that’s why I left it out. But, you see, in these teachings he didn’t leave anything out. The smell and the taste, so marginal, it’s like, “never mind, we won’t worry about those”, right? Because, overwhelmingly, our engagement with the world around us, except maybe when we are eating, is the visual, the auditory and tactile. That’s how we’re really navigating around the world, right? So including those three sensory domains and the domain of the mind, in each of those four domains, simply attending to what is being presented but with no superimpositions at all.
(15:38) We’re also attending to that whole domain of mind, just this array of events, arising, arising, fizzing, frothing, bubbling, collapsing. Just all flux, so called internally, that is in the domain of mind. Nothing there that’s congealed, that’s solid, that’s stable, that’s really static and unchanging, nothing, no evidence whatsoever. As you attend to this whole array of events just arising and passing, arising and passing, you see for yourself that there simply is no thing in here. There is no ego, there’s no self, there’s no entity in here on the subjective side that is unchanging and static.
(16:36) But then as you see that, you see that it’s like a plantain tree that has no core, it’s hollow inside. There’s nothing in there that is abiding, that holds everything together, some hard core, some immutable core. It’s exactly empty of that immutable core. And as you’re aware of that from the inside out and then you direct your attention back to the so-called outer world, the visual, the auditory, the tactile, you see - oh! But all these domains of experience, they are just as empty of any external core, something really out there, static, immutable, unchanging, absolutely there in and of itself. You see, they’re empty. There is no thing out there, there is no atman, there’s no intrinsic identity of phenomena either. This term atman can be personal identity, it’s also phenomenal identity, not just a self or a person. It’s something really there, some core, some essence, something abiding. That’s empty, this is empty. That being the case, then this person is neither here, nor there, nor anywhere in between. Welcome to nirvana!
(17:44) So Bahiya is one of those people we would say, despite his rather motley past of pretending to be a Sadhu when he was not, he outgrew that and clearly he was, in the Buddhist parlance, he was called a person “wombo nunbo”, a person of sharp faculties. Very sharp faculties. He heard one paragraph and that was enough to become a stream enterer, once returner or non-returner. He just flashed through it. Pow! Arhatship by the time the discourse was finished. So a person of very sharp faculties.
So, can we say that this very short discourse was the Buddha teaching him vipashyana? Well, it had to be, because you don’t get to realization of nirvana, you don’t become an arhat without vipashyana. vipashyana is the blade that cuts through all the delusion. That’s it. There’s no other blade, not faith, not worship, not devotion, not shamatha, not dhyana. There’s only one blade that cuts through and brings you to arhatship and that’s the blade of vipashyana. So the answer is, yeah, he couldn’t be teaching anything else, in dependence upon which Bahiya immediately became arhat. It had to be vipashyana.
Therefore, we have to say, ok, in some cases this bare attention, with a tiny bit of commentary - in the seen let there be just the seen and so forth, and seeing there is no thing here, no thing there, therefore you are neither there, here or in between… Boom! That was it.
But in some cases, for those who are of very sharp faculties, just the bare attention. Just that searing, sharp, utterly clear, transparent, discerning… Pow! close application of mindfulness to the immediacy of experience - that may in some cases be sufficient to be called vipashyana and to lead you to realization of nirvana, emptiness and to become an arhat. It can do. It can do. (19:42)
Now I’ll give what I think is a really powerful analogy to this. I will do this frequently. I’ll be dealing with the Pali canon, foundational Buddhism, which is the reason we’re here for the eight weeks. But I keep on throwing the ropes over to Dzogchen, ok? Foundational yana, the shravaka yana, that’s what’s going to occupy us for the first four weeks. It’s the foundation. It’s sweet, it’s really so soft, so practical. And then the highest yana, Atiyoga. Atiyogayana. Dzogchen.
Again, I’ll draw from my primary source, extraordinary source, tremendous authority, depth, utterly profound realization, and that is of course Dudjom Lingpa, in his text The Vajra Essence, which I’ve translated under my Lama Gyatrul Rinpoche’s guidance and also other mind termas that pertain to Dzogchen. Right towards the beginning of each of these texts, at least two if not three of the texts, as far as I know I think I have translated all of his mind termas on Dzogchen, he gives something that we in modern education system call a placement exam, a placement examination. So, for example, if you’ve been home schooled. That’s rather popular these days. Your mother, your father keeps you at home, gives you an education, but then sooner or later they want to put you into the school system. Well, how long have they been home schooling you? How far have you gotten, what grade should you go into? So you get a placement exam. Should you be in kindergarten still, first grade, are you ready to go to high school? Where are you? So that when you enter in, you’re not getting old stuff you’ve already heard before, but it’s also not so over your head that you’re just lost, and then get depressed. You know, like that. So, placement exam. Very useful.
Dudjom Lingpa’s placement exam to see whether you are a person with sharp faculties.
(21:49) Well that’s exactly what Dudjom Lingpa gives. He gives a placement exam right towards the beginning of these mind termas. Here is his placement exam to see whether you are a person with sharp faculties. Very simple, it’s a very nice, easy, straightforward placement exam.
The examination is, retire in solitude, go into total solitude, sit yourself down, make some preparations. Then the main practice, which is the placement exam, is: Alright, now just bring your awareness into space. Rest your awareness in space. There it is, right in front of you, rest there. Just that, no commentary. Just rest your awareness in space. Do that, un-interruptedly, for twenty days. That’s how long the placement exam takes. If, in the course of the twenty days, you have a direct unmediated realization of rigpa, you are a person with sharp faculties. Congratulations! You become a vidyadhara just by resting your awareness in space! Now you’re a vidyadhara. I mean, that’s pretty cool. In which case, skip all of the text except the last phase which is thogyal, the direct crossing over, and have a really nice time becoming rainbow body within a very, very short time. You just come right to the end. Just because you already realized rigpa, then you are totally primed to enter into the explicit practices of thogyal, which will then fully manifest, or unveil, the qualities of the Buddha’s mind and you become awaked quite quickly.
Now, what happens if, during those twenty days, you don’t realize rigpa? Your mind is going blah blah blah. Or even if it’s not, you’re just sitting there: space, space, space… You know, like these frogs, they go [frog impression]. If you haven’t heard them yet, you will hear them. They don’t really change the song, that’s pretty much the whole song. They just sing that indefinitely. So, if all you’re getting is space, and that is all you get, either just wandering mind or getting really restless, or really bored or really depressed or just getting a whole lot of space for twenty days, if that’s all you got, then you just finished the exam, but so sorry, you are not a person with sharp faculties. Which means if you keep on doing that, just “well, I’ll give it another twenty days [frog impression], OK didn’t work. I’ll try it another twenty days, I’ll try it for two years, I’ll try it for thirty years. I’m just going to keep on hoping I’m a person of sharp faculties.” You’re just going to get old. That’s not a technique. Either you get it in twenty days or move on. It’s not working. So sorry, you’re just not a person of sharp faculties. You’re maybe of medium faculties, if not then you are a person of dull faculties and that means you’ve got some work to do. Practice shamatha and achieve it, practice vipashyana and achieve it, and move along the path, because you too can achieve enlightenment in one life time. But not by just staring into space!
So twenty days. Either be a vidyadhara or move on and get back to the text. That’s why he wrote the text! For those people who are not sharp faculties. That’s why you have all the intermediates: shamatha, vipashyana and so forth and so on.
Likewise, these teachings here, they are cited many times in the modern Vipassana movement and the popularization of Vipassana. Look at these teachings of Bahiya and what do you call that? That’s bare attention. That certainly is bare attention and so if worked for Bahiya, well let’s just practice bare attention and never mind all that other stuff. Just practice bare attention.
(26:02) Well, if you are Bahiya, it should work quite quickly. If you’re not, then you’re not practicing vipashyana, and you’re not practicing shamatha, which means… what are you practicing here? Nothing in particular. You are just kind of sitting there hoping you are a person of sharp faculties but reality disagrees. So one wants to find where you are in the practice and then make sure that, almost like gears, make sure the gears mesh. That you are in fact engaging in a practice that’s really working, and not just kind of hoping, “one day over the rainbow, I’ll became an arhat”. Not likely.
That’s why the Buddha taught sila, samadhi, prajna. That’s why he taught shamatha. That’s why he taught the dhyanas. That’s why he taught the four applications of mindfulness, with all the richness, the finesse, the precision, the sophistication of the methods, for people who can’t become arhat by hearing one paragraph.
By the way, a footnote to the story. It was very good that Bahyia achieved arhatship so quickly, because about a week later he has gored by a bull and died. So his karma was quite complex, it was very mixed. He had to travel all across India to meet Buddha and become an arhat and to meet the bull that would kill him. That’s the sentient being with whom he had the karma to be gored, right? So, quite complex. Meet the Buddha, then meet the bull and die. Became an arhat first, that’s good!
So that’s a little background on where this practice comes from.
Likewise in the Dzogchen, that initial settling, just resting in space, well this actually comes up repeatedly in Padmasambhava’s teachings. In Natural Liberation, a text I have translated, when he is teaching shamatha without a sign, there it is. The subtlest form, quite possibly the most profound type of shamatha there is, taught by the Buddha himself. Vijñana kasina it’s called. When Padmasambhava is teaching this, having already explained quite a number of other methods of shamatha, kind of leading up to the culmination, he doesn’t teach any shamatha after this one. He said, “Ok, this one, if you haven’t achieved shamatha yet, well stay here until you do.” That’s what he says. Stay here until your mind has settled in its natural state and then comes vipashyana thereafter. Well when he’s teaching the shamatha without a sign, this is how he starts: settle your body, speech and mind in their natural state, let your awareness rest evenly in space. Then he moves on. He gives very clear, very explicit teachings on shamatha, how do you achieve shamatha. He does say, in the course of his instructions on shamatha without a sign, you may realize rigpa. But even if you don’t, you’re not wasting time, because you are engaging in the practices that lead you direct to realizing shamatha, realizing the substrate consciousness, which is very useful.
(29:03) So, there are three themes that are the core of foundational Buddhist vipashyana practice. They are absolutely core to the four applications of mindfulness and they will be the central themes, the central questions or working hypotheses, especially for the first four weeks and they will continue after that for the final four weeks. That is the three marks of existence. Actually, there are four, but we will focus on three for the time being. They are simply: impermanence (anitya), suffering (dukkha) and then in Sanskrit, anātman, not-self.
The Buddha’s premise here, and this is all utterly experiential, radically experiential, the Buddha’s premise here is that these are highlighted because, out of a very deep ingrained habituation, we are on a regular basis misapprehending reality in ways that give rise to an enormous amount of suffering. It’s not necessary, because that suffering is arising by getting it wrong, by misapprehending reality. Very very similar, in a way, to being in a non-lucid dream. That is, you don’t know that you’re dreaming and while not knowing, avidia, not knowing that you are dreaming, then not just being, “gosh, I wonder what it is happening?” That would be nice and honest, like, “gee, I don’t know what is happening, I wonder what.” That would be really fertile grounds for finding out what is happening.
The first step to wisdom is to know you’re ignorant, that kind of theme. It would be so easy, so useful, so cool, if when you are in a dream and you don’t know you’re dreaming, you’d be aware that you don’t know what is happening. You say, “wow, a lot of appearances happening. I wonder what a kind of experience this is. Let’s check it out.” That would be just ignorance and then responding very well to recognize that ignorance and then trying to become un-ignorant. But that’s not what happens.
You wind up in a dream, not knowing what’s taking place, and then what happens? You falsely apprehend it. You take it to be reality, that is, this consensual reality, this inter-subjective physical world. You take to be that which it is not, and by falsely apprehending the nature of the dream, now you’re just set up to suffer. And we do. About 80% of non-lucid dreams tend to be unpleasant. Very explicitly unpleasant.
So, in a similar fashion, here is the hypothesis. You do not have to believe it, check it out with your experience. There is a deeply ingrained habit, a delusional habit, of apprehending that which by nature is totally fizzing, effervescent, moment to moment, constantly in flux, in micro flux, as something stable. Which it’s totally not, but one is superimposing, projecting an image, a thought, an idea, a concept. Superimposing on the fields of experience something that is unchanging, rigid, static and then conflating one’s projections with the actual reality. On a micro level, in terms of subtle impermanence, taking that which is by nature always arising, fizzing, arising ever so quickly moment to moment and just locking on to that as being stable. That’s on a micro level. Then, on a macro level, we’re working more in the kind of conceptual domain, not being aware of coarse impermanence, and taking that which by nature will definitely dissolve away and viewing it, attending to it, apprehending it as if it’s going to endure indefinitely. It’s just unimaginable how much suffering comes from those two ways of misapprehending reality.
(32:54-45:00) So in terms of mindfulness, it’s ever so important, and so often overlooked, especially in the modern Vipassana movement, that mindfulness is more than bare attention. Mindfulness is more than attending moment to moment to whatever is arising right now. This is very useful, it was useful to Bahiya - he became an arhat by doing that. But there’s so much more to mindfulness. So, while acknowledging bare attention is very useful, extremely good, also good for shamatha, there is nothing about that it’s specifically states it’s vipashyana. You need [bare attention] in shamatha as well. But other types of mindfulness, mindfulness in the sense of bearing in mind, not forgetting and not only remembering your address or your telephone number, where you just put it in the back drawer of your mind so you call out when you need. I remember my cell phone number, but that really has virtually no impact on the way I view reality. When I need it, I call it out - when I’m filling all those forms, when I land at airports and so forth. When I don’t need it, I just put it in the back drawer. I don’t want to think about it, but I know where it is. [Mindfulness] is not that.
(34:19) What bearing in mind [means] here is: tapping into, identifying, ascertaining certain really core features of reality. Then, as you engage with other people, your body, your mind, your environment, just engaging with reality, this you are bearing in mind, in insight, and letting that shape, clarify, distill, the way you’re actually engaging with whatever you’re attending to.
So let’s take four bombs of mindfulness, to be borne in mind with mindfulness. Bear them in mind, let them just suffuse your way of attending to your body, your mind, other people, situations, the entire environment. Let these four insights (if they are true, and that you check out for yourself), if you suffuse your way of viewing reality by bearing in mind these truths, it will change everything. It really will be a revolution in the way you engage with reality.
The four types of impermanence:
1) Whatever is born, perishes
(35:16) [These insights are] so simple, almost transparently obvious, but we forget about them, we cover them over. Like Gyatrul Rinpoche loved to say, like a kitty covers over its poop in the cat box, and then says, “who, me?” That’s how it works! The first of these is whatever is born, perishes. So simple. Whatever is created, whatever is born, whatever emerges, it will perish. It will be destroyed.
Philosophically, when one looks into this, it turns out to be the case (again, test it for yourself), as soon something is born, whether it’s a galaxy, a human being, a human embryo or a termite, or anything else. Anything that’s created, born, arises. The seeds of its destruction are built right in. That is, it’s not waiting for something to come along and clobber it. Something may clobber it, for example, I’ve been born. Now maybe something outside, a rock, a weapon or something outside, a car, maybe something outside will kill me. That can happen. But even if I just sat in a room by myself and was just given food regularly, saying “at least here I’m safe, I’ve got six foot lead walls protecting me in all directions. This is a bomb shelter. The rest of the world can go to hell, but at least I’ll be safe in my room. Nothing can get to me here. Just give me that antiseptic food. I’ll die from internal causes. It doesn’t take anything to kill me, I’ll kill myself. The body is going to die no matter what. It may get a little help from its friends or adversaries, but even with no help from outside whatsoever, freeze me, put me in a space capsule, send me into deep space, I’m still going to die.
So that’s an interesting thing about destruction. The seeds of destruction are right there in a very nature of birthing itself. Outside catalysts, causes and conditions, they may hasten it, catalyze it, sure. But even without anything outside, it’s entropy from the inside out. It will perish. So if one bears that in mind, gosh! Take the subject, as we’d say in debating, take the subject, “me”. I was born. Oh, therefore I’m going to die. It doesn’t matter how much I protect myself from the environment, I’m born with the seeds of my own destruction. This person will no longer be. It’s called coarse impermanence. To live that way, for the existentialist philosophers, they said that’s the only way to live authentically. By bearing in mind, not just like a telephone number but something that is right there in the way you’re viewing yourself and then in the way your viewing every other person and every relationship. It changes everything, in a really good way. Or at least potentially a really good way. It may just make you as morbid as hell. Just incredibly depressed. So thereon hangs the tail. So there’s the first one, whatever is born, perishes. Here’s the second one.
2) Wherever there is meeting, separation
(38:54) Wherever there’s meeting, meeting of anything - galaxies, elementary particles, people, your pet. Wherever there’s meeting, there will be separation. It’s built in. It doesn’t need something from outside to pull it apart, as soon there is meeting, it’s already a given. You can be a prophet here. It will happen. When? Oh, that’s to be seen. But will it happen, that wherever there is a meeting there will be parting? It’s a done deal. It’s already writ. It’s there. All of our human relationship with our children, spouses, our parents, lovers, friends, bosses, employees. Wherever there is meeting, there will be parting. So get used to it. Don’t be surprised, because it was inevitable. It was there from the moment you met the person, there will be separation. Doesn’t matter who it is. That’ll change everything.
Just a little footnote - Atisha’s marital advice. From a person who’d never been married, he gave some of the best marital advice I’ve ever heard. Do you remember it? “Be nice to each other, you’re going to be dead soon.” He was talking some couple who were squabbling a lot. That really works for me! However your spouse is bugging you, or I cannot stand this, or ahhhh… don’t worry, she’s going to be dead soon. Or you’re going to be dead soon. But one way or another, this is a really transient problem. This is one of those problems that’s going to solve itself. You’re going to be dead, she’s going to be dead, but one way or another, this problem’s going to be gone. Just be patient. Wherever there is meeting, there is parting. That’s just the way it is.
3) Whatever is acquired, lost
Whatever is acquired will be lost. Practical stuff like cell phones, houses, your body, any acquisition, of any kind, of something material, tangible. But also fame, renown, the respect from other people, the affection of other people. Something you get. Now this person loves me, respects me, admires me, whatever. You’ve got some respect, you’ve got some praise. Whatever you’ve got, whatever you’ve acquired, it will be lost. It is already built in. You don’t have to wonder, “Gee! Will it happen?” No, it will happen. It’s just a matter of time, and nothing else has to happen from outside. It will happen because it’s built in. Whatever you’ve got, you will lose it.
4) Whatever goes up, comes down
Then, whatever arises, whatever goes up, goes down. Wherever there is an ascent, wherever you go to high status, of power, fame, wealth, prestige, caste, whatever it maybe. Whatever goes up, goes down. It’s only a matter of time. Count on it. Be absolutely certain. Wherever there is some elevation, like a hot air balloon, they will definitely go down. It’s built into the system.
Given that, if these are true, if this is not just some kind of a morbid pessimistic way of viewing reality, you know, Buddha is so pessimistic because India is such a grungy place. That’s the first I heard about Buddhism. Buddhism is really pessimistic, because India is a pretty tough place to live. If it’s not just that, if this is something more core, if this is about existence in the universe, then here’s a really juicy question that will keep you occupied at least for eight weeks:
In the midst of that, those four themes of coarse impermanence, and underlying that is subtle impermanence, everything is fizzing, everything arising momentarily anyway. In the midst of that, if that’s the situation we really find ourselves in, in the midst of all of that, is it possible, working within this world of ongoing change, is it possible to evolve? To have your life transformed? To grow, to evolve in a meaningful way that does not just fall back, or which is not just disintegrated and leaving you back at square one?
In the midst of all that, can you actually evolve? Can there be something that is irreversible? In other words, marga, path? Or is it just, “Oh! I achieved shamatha and lost shamatha, practiced vipashyana and lost vipashyana, I was really compassionate but now I’m a real dirtbag.” Is it just all up and down, up and down? Is that the way for dharma too? Two steps forward, two steps back. What can you say, everything is impermanent. Or is there a possibility of something irreversible? An actual path in a world saturated by change? There is a really good question.
Then on a very practical level: can you imagine how you might truly flourish? How you could truly be happy, with your eyes wide open, clearly discerning in the way you’re viewing reality every time you wake up in the morning and throughout the course of the day. That you’re bearing in mind that you’re always in touch with reality. Whatever born dies, etc, etc. for each of the four. So that this is suffusing your way of viewing reality, because they are pretty core truths and while maintaining that awareness of impermanence, you’re light, you’re joyful, you’re truly flourishing. Is that conceivable? Pretty good question.
That’s what dharma is all about, right there. Dharma is the answer to that question. And frankly, I’m going to be really flamboyantly dogmatic, I really enjoy that sometimes. Dharma is the only answer. I didn’t say Buddha Dharma! Basically, this is a trick. That is, anything that is the answer to that question is Dharma. We’re just going to call that Dharma, because that’s what Dharma is.
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by Jim Parsley
Final edition by Alma Ayon