29 Aug 2012

Meditation: body scan. Single-pointedly focus on sensations (both outer and inner) at one target area, scanning the body from top to bottom as instructed in the guided meditation.
Teaching: Alan introduces some Sautrāntika philosophy—view of reality—to help us observe closely. There are 1) things that exist and 2) things that don’t exist. Among things that exist, there are 1a) real and 1b) unreal. Real phenomena constitute anything that can be perceived directly or with the help of instruments. Unreal phenomena exist only because we say so—i.e., conceptual designations. 

This framework helps us in the practice of the 4 applications of mindfulness to distinguish through careful observation between 1) what’s being presented and 2) what’s being superimposed.
Q1. In the practice of the 5 elements, each element appears to be in flux, so does each element contain air element?

Q2. Is the experience of prana (lelung) upon achieving shamatha the same as kundalini?

Q3. Can walking meditation be integrated into shamatha practice? 

Q4. How to refresh and renew interest in the breath without tension? 

Q5. Do the 3 shamatha practices present a gradual progression from gross to subtle? And if so, does this mean that we have to master all 3 practices to achieve shamatha?
Meditation starts at 10:50

Download (MP3 / 48 MB)


This afternoon we’ll return to the close application of mindfulness to the body. We’ll engage in a practice a number of you I’m sure are familiar with, called “body scanning”. I first learned this from the very renowned teacher who disseminated it, directly or indirectly, all over of the world, and that is Goenka, S.N. I attended his course back in 1974. I’ve not found any evidence that the Buddha taught this method, there’s no evidence at all from any source that I can see. [However], it’s clearly very helpful and it clearly is a close application of mindfulness to the body, so I would say that there’s absolutely nothing incompatible between this practice and the Buddha’s teachings. So, perfectly compatible. Goenka’s teacher, U Ba Khin, taught it, and he taught it to a quite number people, including a number of westerners who he authorized to teach. [U Ba Khin] learned it from his own teacher who was a Burmese monk, forest monk; that’s about as far as I can trace the method back, but most importantly, pragmatically speaking it’s very helpful.

(2:00) I’ll talk very, very briefly about what it entails and then we’ll just do it. It entails mentally scanning through your body, on the surface but very much in the interior as well. It is a close application of mindfulness, especially if you enrich the practice with a question. There are multiple questions you can ask, but a really a good one, which then clearly shifts this over from simply a mindfulness practice or a shamatha practice and into the realm of vipashyana, is: as you’re scanning through – and we’ll generally go top to bottom, not bottom to top, top to bottom – as you are scanning through, there’s just an implicit question there, you don’t need to talk about it, it’s just there, quietly, and that is:

Can you detect anything here as you’re scanning through the body that is stable, unchanging, durable? It’s called “anitya”, permanent. That’s the question, OK? A simple question. Obviously you don’t need to think about it, you just observe very carefully, but that’s there in the back of the mind. As long as it’s there, you can definitely call this vipashyana, because vipashyana, classic vipashyana always entails some degree of inquiry. It maybe a very simple question; it maybe the elaborated syllogisms of Nagarjuna, that also can be vipashyana.

(3:35) But if there is no inquiry whatsoever then there’s just really no reason to call it vipashyana. That is, bare attention by itself isn’t vipashyana. That should be obvious; when you’re practicing mindfulness of breathing, what quality of awareness are you bringing to the sensations of the breath at your nostrils? Bare attention. That’s not vipashyana, it’s shamatha, right?

But now, why would one do this? I’ll talk about it a little bit more. As you’re scanning through, there’s a principle that I’m utterly persuaded is true, it comes from Mahayana and especially from Vajrayana Buddhism, and that is – and we find this for sure, even though I’m not a scholar of Hinduism, I think it must be there in Hindu tantra and the whole understanding of the Chakras, the Nadis and so forth – and that is: wherever you direct your awareness within in the body, there you are directing prana.

(4:35) Prana is physical [but not material]. I think there’s at least one professional physicist here, I think you’ll bear witness with me that there’s a difference between something that’s physical and something that’s material. If we define material as something that’s created with matter; that is, particles of matter, such as electrons, protons, neutrons and so forth; let’s just call that material. It’s kind of a straightforward definition. But then there are things that are physical but are simply not composed of particles of matter; a really good example of that would be an electromagnetic field. Electromagnetic field – is it physical or not physical? Well, that almost doesn’t need to be asked. They’re physical. They’re measured physically, they display physical properties, electromagnetic fields colliding with each other display interference patterns and so forth. They are waves; electromagnetic fields travelling through space bearing wave properties. So, physical but not material.

Well, we would say now, using that [model], [that] physical means: located in physical space, having physical properties, interacting with other physical phenomena directly. Boom boom! Like that, ok? [For example,] an electromagnetic field will interact with a light detector, a photo-electric cell. Directly interacting, nothing spooky about it, nothing mystical, but it’s not made of matter.

(5:55) There’s similar distinction in Buddhism. We can say “zugchen”; “zugchen” means physical and “bembo” means material. The definition of “bembo”, of material, is something that’s composed of elementary particles or particles of matter. So - quite clear.

(6:11) So prana is physical, it directly interacts with, causally interacts with the physical constituents of your body. It’s physical and not composed of particles of matter. Clearly not. But it is located in physical space, has physical properties, causally interacts with other physical phenomena including material phenomena like your brain, neurons and so forth and so on.

(6:35) Here is the premise, and you can test for yourself: When you’re directing your awareness through the body, those particular types of prana or energy, vital energy, prana whatever you want to call it, there are different types and I won’t go into elaborate discussion now, but just those types of prana that are specifically related to, or most closely conjoined with, consciousness. Wherever you’re directing your consciousness, those pranas are going along for the ride, they’re there.

(7:05) So as you’re scanning through your body, it’s a little bit like taking a comb through a woman’s hair, man or woman it doesn’t make any difference, but a big full head of long hair. Taking that comb and just stroking it through it, through it, throught it. You’re going to comb out the knots, because there’s going to be areas that it’s all knotted up and so forth. And after a while, it’s silky, silky, no snags. Nice and free flow all the way up and down, no more to be done. Your hair is fully combed, right? All the snags are gone.

[Likewise,] you’re “combing” your body. You’re “combing” your nervous system, and you may find also that, as you’re scanning through the body, bear in mind it’s a three dimensional scan, as you do so, you may find areas (and this is where you want to closely apply mindfulness), you may find areas within the space of your body where, as you scan through, and you’re seeking to detect whatever tactile sensations are there, earth, water, fire and air, you may detect some areas where, as you’re scanning through, you’re not getting anything. I mean it’s like, “ok, I’m getting space, that’s all I’m getting here, but there’s no content”. Rather like some of you when you’re practicing settling the mind in its natural state and you say, “ok, I’m ready to focus on, there is the space of the mind, what’s happening in it? Oh, nothing!” All the cockroaches of the thoughts disappeared. They’re waiting until you want to practice mindfulness of breathing and then they [appear], right?! So as you may find as you attend to the space of the mind, sometimes it’s just empty space. Like, was it something I said? Everybody vanished! As you may find just emptiness in the space of your mind on occasion, you can also find just emptiness in the space of the body. Then, you might be interested!

(9:10) Now we’ll just do a brief introduction, it’s going to be a twenty four minute session as usual. If you want to do this again, then you might, as you’re scanning through, as you’re combing through, if you find areas that you just don’t pick up anything, then you might return to those areas. It’s especially interesting for yoga teachers, people doing a lot of yoga, really developing a lot of sensitivity to the body. As you’re doing that, then come to those dark areas where you’re just not picking up any content. No elements – earth, water, fire and air; just nothing. Then, just kind of start mentally massaging it, going in and encroaching into it. Ok, where do you pick up some sensations, get some content? Then, start encroaching into those dark areas and maybe starting spiraling in on it, spiraling in. You’ll be looking to see, maybe there were some sensations there, but they were subtler than my awareness. Now, I’m going to attend more closely and maybe they’ll start to manifest, or maybe as I’m drawing my awareness in and I’m also drawing prana in, maybe these will actually activate, illuminate, arouse, make manifest, areas which are kind dead; make them alive.

(10:22) So, this is actually significant for shamatha. If we think far ahead to coming to the end of the trajectory, the nine stages of shamatha, the nine attentional stages and then finally achieving shamatha – what’s that like? Well I won’t give an elaborate description, I’ll just say one aspect of it, and that is, when you fully achieve shamatha, you have this total free flow – they’re called “lelung” or karmic energies, dynamic energies – but the energies, these robust dynamic energies within the body, they just go into total free flow. It’s like you just put your finger into an electronic circuit and you just feel like the whole body is charged. I mean there’s just no part that’s untouched. Total free flow, total body of energy, like just somebody turned on the light and it’s just – woah! Man is my body charged, and it’s just total free flow.

This is a nice preparation for that. To kind of be scanning through, illuminating dark areas and so eventually you’re just getting more and more [sensations of] energy throughout the whole field. So, something like that.

You can be in the supine or the sitting position, whatever feels good. Find your posture and we’ll jump right in.


Now, with few words, settle your body in its natural state, your respiration in its natural rhythm, and for a short time, calm and balance your mind; calm the discursive mind by way of mindfulness of breathing.

Now, single-pointedly direct your attention to the sensations of the breath right at the apertures of the nostrils, again making a point of focusing just your mental awareness, not your visual awareness. Keep your eyes totally disengaged from the focus of your attention.

Now, as if you were focusing a laser pointer or a spotlight, single-pointedly focus the light of your attention on the very crown of your head, the very top of your head, to a little disk maybe two centimeters across, size of a small coin, and focus on the tactile sensations arising in that target area. First you visualize, and then you just focus on the tactile sensations themselves, with no mental imagery, no labeling or concepts.

Now, expand this disk of attention to about fifteen centimeters or about the size of a beany, or a little cap on top of your head. Observe the sensations right there on the surface of the scalp, whatever they are.

And now we will gradually move this more or less two-dimensional field of mindfulness, expanding it a little bit and moving it down the right side of the head, down to the ear, focusing just on the surface of the head and attend to whatever sensations arise within this relatively two-dimensional field.

(20:05) Move this field back to the back of the head.

Over to the left side of the head.

Up to the forehead.

[Then] gradually move this plane of mindfulness from the top of the face down to the chin. Like a topographical map, note the sensations along the contours of your face.

Now, expand the field to cover the entire front side of your head or your whole face.

Now, scan; take this vertical field of mindfulness, scan from the front of your face, from the front of your head to the back, scanning right through the interior to the back side of the head.

And then from the back to the front, noting the sensations both on the surface as well as the interior.

Expand this vertical field of mindfulness to a three-dimensional field. Simultaneously, let your awareness, your mindfulness, permeate the whole head; a three-dimensional field of mindfulness, illuminating the sensations on the interior and exterior.

Now, move this three-dimensional field of mindfulness down the neck, down to your shoulders, to the base of the neck. Keep this three-dimensional field of mindfulness slowly in motion, moving it across now to the right shoulder.

From the right shoulder down the upper arm to the right elbow.

From the right elbow down to the right wrist, along the forearm.

From the wrist through your hand to the tips to the fingers.

(26:32) Now, move this three-dimensional field of mindfulness back up to the base of the neck and move gradually over to the left shoulder.

Down to the left elbow, to the left wrist and through the hand to the tips of the fingers.

(28:09) And now, refocus this three-dimensional field of mindfulness to the upper left region of your torso; that is the upper left chest through to the upper left part of the back, three-dimensionally upper left.

Over to the upper center.

Over to the upper right.

Down to the middle right, centered more or less at the diaphragm.

Over to the middle center.

The middle left.

The lower left down to the pelvis.

The lower center.

The lower right.

Down to the right buttock, noting the sensations of contact and also the sensations on the interior.

(31:38) Move the field down the right side to the knee.

Down to the right ankle.

Down the right foot to the tips of the toes.

Shift over to the left buttock.

Move down to the left knee.

Down to the ankle.

And through the foot to the tips of the toes.

Once again, single-pointedly focus your attention to the sensations at the top of the head. Take about thirty seconds to scan from top to bottom; a quick scan top to bottom.

Back to the top; quick scan top to bottom.

Final very quick scan top to bottom.

Now expand the field to suffuse the entire space of your body.

Teachings after meditation:


Alan introduces some Sautrāntika philosophy—view of reality—to help us observe closely. There are 1) things that exist and 2) things that don’t exist.

  • Among things that exist, there are 1a) real and 1b) unreal.

1a) According with the summary: Real phenomena constitute anything that can be perceived directly or with the help of instruments.

Alan’s teachings:

(37:25) I’d like to introduce just a very little bit of philosophy, but it’s utterly practical, or empirical, experiential philosophy. It will give us some hypotheses to put to the test of experience; not just to think about a lot, that won’t take you very far, but to observe very carefully. This is from, the term is Sautrāntika. Sautrāntika is the name of one of the four philosophical schools of classical India, part of the Nalanda Tradition. It means The Followers of the Sutras. So there is a lot to be said about it, but I’m going to focus just on one theme. It’s a very interesting one. I’m not even saying it’s true; I am saying it may be very useful. Then, you can see for yourself: true or false, a little bit true, wholly true, totally untrue – you can check.

(38:04) Here’s the assertion:

[Consider] the domain of things that exist, as opposed to things that don’t exist at all like the raccoon seating on top of my head. It’s not there. It’s something that doesn’t exist at all. Raccoons yes, but the one on top of my head? Non-existent. So there are things that do not exist at all and then, within the domain of things that do exist, they are said to be real and unreal; so something could be existent but not real.

Once again, a lot can be said. I’m going to just try to go right to the point here. At least make one point right now. And that is, what’s real? What’s real is anything that can be directly observed by way of any of these modes of perception. This is not materialism, it’s not materialist reductionism, because we have not five modes of perception; [instead] we have six modes of perceptions.

So your emotions, are they real? Can you directly experience them? Of course you can. So it’s real.

Your thoughts, can you directly observe your thoughts? Of course you can. You don’t just imagine them, you can observe them.

Dreams. Dream situations, dream events, dream people: real or unreal? Real. They are real! There’s as real as… they’re real! There’s no more or less real; it’s either real or unreal. And dreams are real. They’re directly perceived.

We directly perceive things with mind, we see things directly, we hear things directly, directly we perceive by way of six modes of perception.

(40:14) I will introduce something very silly, I mean… simple to the point of silliness.

A long time ago we used a pencil, but it doesn’t matter what you use; this pair of glasses would be quite sufficient. I’m going to close my eyes and you just imagine what I’m doing. Imagine you’re doing the same thing, or if you have a pen just do it yourself. You don’t need to close your eyes. The point here is I’m holding this [pair of glasses], I know the density and so forth of the glasses; I’m going to close my eyes now and I’m going to run the glasses around the surface of the paper. I can feel the texture of the paper. I can feel its bumps, I feel it’s smooth but not perfectly smooth. [Moves the glasses to a different surface] Oh, that’s a lot rougher. [Moves the glasses again] That’s quite smooth, it’s actually a bit oily. It’s slick. It’s not like the paper.

There’s no nerve endings, obviously, in these eyeglasses. But nevertheless, through them we are perceiving. We’re not inferring. I mean you pick it up, you try with a pencil, a stick, anything you like and you actually do perceive it. So this is called an instrument. It’s called a measuring system and so there’s an interesting parallel in science, it’s just classic philosophy of science. Very, very mainstream and that is that there are two types of phenomena:

  • Observational entities. These you can directly observe with some system of measurement, [such as a] telescope, electrical microscope, stethoscope, an x-ray machine, whatever; but you can directly observe it.
  • Theoretical entities, like gravity. It’s not something you directly measure. Gravity does exist. [Another example is] charge. So there’s a number of things, they do exist, but you can’t really say you directly measure them. Philosophers of science do make this distinction: theoretical entities do exist but you can’t directly measure them. Nevertheless, they do exist.


1b) According with the summary: Unreal phenomena exist only because we say so—i.e., conceptual designations.

(42:35) Likewise in the Sautrāntika, there are things that do exist but you cannot directly perceive them. For example, the ownership of this pair of glasses. This pair of glasses, does it have an owner? Is there any ownership related to this pair of glasses? The answer is yes! If you disagree, you’re wrong. Now is there any way that you can do a measurement on those pair of glasses and determine its owner? Not the finger prints on it, not the DNA on it, but actually – who does it belong to? Because these could have been borrowed, you don’t know, right? These could be somebody else’s. They just lent them to me. So is there any measurement you can do that will actually say, “Ah, I just measured it and the owner of this is…” and fill in the space. The Sautrāntika’s answer is no, because the ownership is not Real.

It does exist, and I’ll tell you now, yes these glasses, of course, they do belong to me; but even without looking, I could say “Miles, do you like my pair of glasses?” And he says, “Yep.” “OK, Miles – they’re yours”. And then they are! That’s it, all it takes is: “Ok, Miles, you can have them” and then he’s understood, I’ve understood – they belong to him. So in other words these are Unreal entities. They do exist, like the ownership of the glasses, they do exist but they exist only because we say so. Only because we have agreed, “ok, now they are yours”. But if we don’t say so, it’s not true. If I don’t think and nobody else thinks that these glasses belong to me, they don’t. The ownership changes as easily as “ok they’re yours” and somebody hearing me say that.

Who can say that ownership doesn’t exist? Of course it does, but only because we say so. In other words, it’s purely conventional. It shifts just with a shift of convention.

Now, the eyeglasses themselves, we can call this a paperweight, we can call it a tiara, we can call it a strange mustache, we can call it food; we can call it all kinds of things, but it really doesn’t matter what you call it – there’s something there. It doesn’t matter whether you think so or not, it doesn’t matter what you call it, it doesn’t matter whether you’re looking, it doesn’t matter whether you’re touching it, it doesn’t matter whether you’re measuring it! It’s already there!

That’s why you can be in the dark and somebody throws a pair of glasses at your head and it bounces off, you’d say “Oh, I didn’t see that coming!” Well, that’s because it didn’t matter whether you saw it coming, whether you thought it was coming, or not, or what you called it. It was just “Oh, what was that? Eyeglasses in the head! What a strange thing.”

Interesting point here: what is real is what you can directly perceive. And that which you cannot directly perceive may exist or may not exist at all. You can’t directly perceive the raccoon on top of my head. That’s because it doesn’t exist at all. But, there are things you can’t directly perceive, but you can know; by way of language, by way of thought – you can know it conceptually. Those things do exist, they’re not real though.

Summary: The central theme about this discussion of things being Real or Unreal: only real things have causal effect, only real things do things. Only real things exist arising from the network of causality, cause and effect, cause and effect.

(45:50) Interesting point here. It says that only real things have causal efficacy. That is, only real things do things or arise within the network of causality, cause and effect, cause and effect. Only real things.

So the ownership of this [pair of glasses] has no causal efficacy. My belief that this is mine – oh, that is real. So if Miles stole my glasses I could be quite upset. That could set up a causal sequence, like I seek him down, grab the glasses out of his hand, and say “how dare you, how dare you!” So it can give rise to a whole sequence of causal results. But it’s my belief that triggers that and not just the ownership itself. The ownership is just a convention, but I grasp onto it conceptually and a mental process, a real mental process takes place: “Oh, my glasses, I found my glasses”, you know. That’s real.

You might just at your leisure, if you’re feeling in a little bit of a philosophical mood sometime, think if you can identify anything else that does exist but which is not real.

Now why bring up this? Is it just philosophy for philosophy sake? Not in Buddhism. That is, are there Buddhist philosophers who just philosophize for the sake of philosophizing? Yes there are, but they’ve kind of lost the mark. They’re like a hound dog that’s lost the scent. They’re just wondering around in the forest howling.

But authentic Buddhist philosophy is always connected to practice. It never strays to far from the four noble truths. Fundamentally, philosophy is therapeutic, it’s pragmatic, it’s designed to liberate. So, it really deserves the name philosophy – philosophia, love of wisdom. It’s wisdom that is pragmatic wisdom that really does something useful. In other words, wisdom is real. Philosophy is real, it has causal efficacy.

So what would be the value of adopting this set of categories, real and unreal, within the domain of the existent?

Summary: this framework helps us in the practice of the four applications of mindfulness to distinguish through careful observation between 1) what’s being presented and 2) what’s being superimposed.

Alan’s teachings:

(48:10) To distinguish experientially, I’m going to take that philosophy and I’m going to give some it some wheels! That is, give it an empirical carrier: the four applications of mindfulness, or vipashyana generally, but especially this foundational four applications of mindfulness.

And that is the central theme here. To distinguish experientially; in other words, the four applications of mindfulness is not a head trip. It’s not a “conceptual meat-grinder”, trying to crunch ideas, complex thoughts, rationalizations, syllogisms and so forth. No, it’s pretty much, here’s a concept and then – launch! It’s much more like Galileo. It’s Galileo having some ideas and then looking carefully, in contrast with string theory, for which there’s no empirical basis at all! String theory is one hundred percent conceptual, because it never touches down on empirical corroborating evidence. So it’s very cool, it’s incredible elegant and it’s entirely theoretical; whereas Galileo with his telescope, Galileo dropping masses off the tower of Pisa, rolling balls down a ramp – now that’s observational! He had ideas and he was testing, when a ball rolls down a ramp does it go at constant velocity or does it accelerate? That’s a question, and then you answer it by looking very carefully. Not by thinking about it a lot.

(49:35) So here is an empirical issue: as we are engaging with the world around us, as we engage with our own mind, mental perception, observing thoughts, images and so forth; tactile perception, observing your own body; sensory modes, observing the environment around you. A crucial, absolutely central theme of these four applications of mindfulness is to distinguish experientially, to draw the distinction between: a) what’s being perceptually presented to you, rising up to meet you? And b) what’s being conceptually projected on?

(50:07) To conceptually project is not an evil, it’s not a bad thing, it’s not delusional. For me to look these glasses and say, let’s just double-check here… yep! Those are my glasses. “Those are my glasses” – is that a delusional statement? No, nothing wrong with that. To think that there’s something in the nature of the glasses, that actually this is really mine, it’s really mine – now that’s delusional. All you have to say is, it’s just glasses! There’s nothing there that’s Alan’s. It’s just glasses. Now, yes, I purchased it, they have my prescription, and so forth; but to not conflate the conceptual designation, the projection, the superimposition, which maybe is something true. Are the glasses mine? Yes, they are. That’s true, but it’s purely conceptually designated. There’s nothing there from the side of the glasses that suggests ownership.

(51:00) Is there anything from the side of the glasses (speaking in terms of Sautrãntika) regardless of what I think, whatever I say, that is earth element? [Alan taps the glasses] I can think “water, you’re water, you’re air.” And it disagrees! It says, “I’m sorry, you call me earth element. Call me whatever you like; there’s something there whatever you think.” It’s real.

So to distinguish, to draw a clear distinction between what’s being presented, what’s real, arising directly to any of your six modes of perception, [and what’s superimposed]. That’s why this is not materialism. One of the dumbest ideas ever conceived by man: only material things are real. Man, what a dumb idea! Who ever thought of that? What passed through their mind when they thought only material things are real? Something material? It’s really crazy. When you just step out of the mass hypnosis of materialism, and think, “man is that stupid!” But it’s groupthink, it happens; racism, religious dogmatism and so forth. Just get a large enough [group of] people all to bleat in the same voice and people believe the craziest things. So there it is.

But now we’re trying to cut through that and this close applications of mindfulness is a really good way to cut through dogma, to cut through baloney, to cut through conceptual junk that we superimpose upon reality. Just to observe very carefully: What’s presented? What’s superimposed? What’s real? What’s merely conventional? Really useful.

(52:57) Final point on that theme, something also really very interesting… I love Sautrãntika! I love it also because it’s flawed. That it challenges me to find out – where is it flawed? The flaws are embedded in it; you have to ferret them out with intelligence and very close observation.

So what was that final point…? Oh yeah. That which we superimpose, that which we do not perceive but we only conceive: I think, this is mine; that these glasses belong to me. I think that; I don’t see that but I do think that. And it’s true! That which is not real but does exist is static. That is, the ownership of this pair of glasses now, and then the ownership of this pair of glasses now – is the same ownership. It wasn’t pulsing “Mine mine mine mine mine…” It’s just a static construct superimposed upon reality but it didn’t become more mine, sweet mine, bitter mine. It didn’t change, it was just mine or not mine.

So that which we conceptually superimpose has a relatively static quality. I’m not saying immutable, I’m not saying forever, I’m certainly not saying permanent because again, the ownership of this can change as quickly as, “OK, Miles you can have it.” Boom! It’s gone. Now it’s no longer mine, so it’s certainly not permanent. But as long as I have the notion, “this is mine”. That notion is quite static. That is, the “mine” is; the ownership of it. That’s true for all of the other conventionally existent but unreal phenomena.

Whereas the theme here, [in the] Sautãntrika, is that everything that we directly know –this is an hypothesis, you don’t have to believe it, it would be much better to realize it for yourself – but the hypothesis here, is that everything that is real can be directly measured.

[This could be] with an instrument; [so] we’re opening up the whole field of technology here. That is, direct measurement doesn’t mean just with your five or six senses. It also includes eyeglasses, detecting smoothness, x-ray machines, electron microscopes, hadron supercollider and so forth. Are they measuring things? Yes! They’re not just conjuring up concepts. They are measuring particles. Right? Likewise telescopes, and so many, many marvelous instruments of technology. Are they measuring things? The answer is yes. Are they measuring things that are real? That have causal efficacy, that you may not be able to detect with your five physical senses but you can measure with the augmentation or the extension of our senses by way of sonar, x-rays and so forth and so on. So yes, these are observable entities.

[For] all of these observable entities, I would say there is a strong correlation between “observable entities” as philosophers of science use the term and what the Sautrãntika says is “Real”; something that is perceivable. That doesn’t mean you’ve perceived it yet, but it’s perceivable, right?

[In other words,] all perceivable things are causally efficacious. They’re real. They matter. They matter in the sense that they do things, they have influence. The relatively static ones, these existent-but-unreals, they have no causal efficacy of their own; it’s only the way we latch onto them with grasping, hope, fear and so forth. It’s the mental activities that have causal efficacy; but that which exists merely by conventional designation, by agreement, by simple verbal language norms, has no causal efficacy of its own. It’s static, whereas everything that’s directly perceived has a momentary quality. It’s arising and passing, arising and passing, always in a state of flux.

[These are] big, big statements; universal statements; large statements. So there they are. But they’re statements about our experience; in other words if we’re going to test those hypotheses, test those statements, then you closely apply mindfulness to your own experience, and you find, is it true or false? So, it’s an interesting set there:

  • That which is real is that which can be measured, either directly with your six senses or with extension of technology and so forth. That which is real has causal efficacy; that which is real has a momentary, arising and passing, arising and passing nature.
  • Whereas those things that are existent, but not real, cannot be perceived. They do not have causal efficacy and they do not have that momentary existence.

So, it’s very pragmatic. It’s all about our experience. These are some of the themes that really enrich; that bring a richness, a theoretical sophistication, a depth to the close application of mindfulness, to then clearly distinguish, clearly and sharply as we can, almost as if we were surgeons, to distinguish – ah, that was presented and that was superimposed; that was real, that was merely conventional. Quite interesting.

Because where we get caught up in delusion, and delusion then being the progenitor of all suffering, is where we’re conflating that which is superimposed with that which is real. It’s an act of misapprehension of reality.

Oh la so. That was a little Sautrãntika 101! We’ll not be covering a lot of the detail of it, I’m just highlighting elements of that philosophy, or that way of viewing reality. That’s the Tibetan word. We have “philosophy” [from] Philosophia – the love of wisdom; a beautiful term. But the Greeks also had another term that’s not the same, but it’s a very useful term, and that’s Theoria, from which we get “theory”, and then you have all the permutations of that in the Indo-European languages, but Theoria actually means “to behold”. Right? Now Sanskrit term, Darshana, means “theory”. But it comes from the Sanskrit verbal root, Vrish, which means “to see”, “to look”. So “theory” means a way of viewing. The Tibetan term Tawa is a direct translation of Darshana, it’s “theory”, or “view” but literally means “look”. So this is very practical philosophy.

So often [philosophy], especially analytical philosophy, gets so caught up. It’s like a fly caught in a spider web, and it just struggles and struggles and struggles until eventually the great big spider of death comes and just munches the philosopher, and that’s the end of the philosophy. It’s just entangled in a network of concepts and never extricates itself. Conceptualization giving rise to conceptualization giving rise to conceptualization.

I think the motto of modern analytical philosophy is “I disagree therefore I am”. Because if you don’t disagree, you’re student of philosophy; but if you do disagree, then you can be a philosopher. That’s why they don’t agree on anything! They really don’t they agree on anything at all! Because each one is saying, “well, here is where I stand; I disagree, therefore I am.” [I am] insignificant. Because I’ve not discovered anything that anyone else agrees with, or maybe a few compadres* that just happen to share opinions. Big deal.

[*compadres is a Brazilian word and the English translation in this context is: buddies, close friends.]

Alright, but when you go to the classics, the greats, like Socrates. He’s great. Plato’s great, Pythagoras is great, Aristotle’s great. They differ yeah, but – man! These were deeps ones. They really viewed. They lived their reality. It wasn’t just a profession in which they got a doctorate. They were philosophers. They transformed their whole lives into being philosophers. That commands my deep respect. They weren’t the only ones but, man, they set the standard. They set the bar very high. And so, philosophy is a way of viewing reality. That’s what the Sautrãntika’s for. Not just to give food for thought; cogitate, cogitate and then fall asleep. Cogitate to launch! Right back into experience, so that your concepts, your ideas, your working hypotheses; they illuminate, they test. You’re probing into the nature of reality, and philosophy is the handmaiden of direct observation. So, [that was] a little introduction to Sautrãntika.

Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Revised by Jim Parsley

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti


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