30 Aug 2012

Meditation: mindfulness of breathing at the nostril. Same instructions as before. Use introspection to attend to the flow of mindfulness. If there’s excitation, relax, release, and return. If there’s laxity or dullness, refresh, refocus, and retain.
In between sessions, let your default mode be perception of real phenomena as defined in the Sautantrika and release rumination. Also, check to see that your respiration is flowing naturally.

Meditation starts at 9:30

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[Recording begins after Alan has begun speaking] … passage of the breath most clearly; focus right there [at the sensations of the breath at the nostril]. In other words you’re kind of holding on to the desire realm, or the physical realm, just with the finger… I mean about the size of your baby fingertip, tiny, so you’re withdrawn from most of your body as well. And that further retreat so you are just holding on by fingertip, tiny, tiny little target area of tactile sensations, which then gets subtler, and subtler and subtler. That’s a big retreat.

So there we are. Now while we’re practicing mindfulness of breathing to these increasingly subtle sensations of the breath in this very tiny target area and retreating from all other physical phenomena, what else are we doing if you are practicing shamatha properly? What else are we doing besides, or in addition to, focusing mindfulness on the tactile sensations of the breath? What else? Introspection! Attending to what? Introspection primarily. I could elaborate but I’m not going to right now.

I want to rephrase that. The words are important. If we get the words down correctly, that’s going to give precision and accuracy to the practice itself. So let’s try to use words as carefully as possible.

Introspection is not attending to laxity and excitation. Now I’m nit-picking. If we were when there is no laxity or excitement then you would have nothing to attend to. So that’s not quite right.

What are you attending to in introspection? The quality of mindfulness or one can simply say the flow of mindfulness, which means mindfulness being a mental factor then with your faculty of introspection you are attending the mind. That is, when thoughts come up, images come up, restlessness, agitation, dullness and so forth, you’re picking that up with introspection.

When you are now practicing mindfulness of the breath, introspecting, monitoring the flow of your awareness, your mindfulness, attention, are you or are you not aware of being aware? Yes, you are of course you are [aware of being aware].

(2:47) So think of *Russian dolls, the outer Russian doll, the biggest one, is attending to the sensations — now that’s a pretty small doll but here it is — attending to the body, a little tiny region in it but you are attending to the body, but now the Russian doll inside of that is introspection monitoring the mind, and the Russian doll inside of that is aware of being aware. So in other words all three of our practices are all included for the price of one.

*[A russian doll is actually a set of dolls. Each doll is painted exactly the same way, with the same exact shape, except one is just a little smaller than the last. What makes them special is that every doll, except the smallest one, is hollow, and are cut in half horizontally so that they can be opened up, and each smaller doll fits perfectly inside the next larger one. When you open up a russian doll, you find another whole doll waiting to be opened. It’s very charming. More details about Russian dolls: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matryoshka_doll and google.]

(3:17) Mindfulness of breathing (first stage) is covering all three. And then over the coming weeks as we then move to settling the mind in its natural state, we throw off – almost like one of those rockets that goes into orbit and throws off its first stage, it just expends all of the fuel and drops the first stage and maybe even the second — well we are just kind of dropping the body when we go to settling the mind and then when we go to awareness of awareness we drop the second stage, we are no longer interested in anything that happening in the mind at all, mind as such, we’re going to drop that stage as well. In other words going into deeper, deeper retreat. So it is mindfulness of breathing without breathing, and then it’s mindfulness of mind without mind, and then it is just awareness of awareness.

(4:03) Now if you are practicing according to Padmasambhava, when you are doing this inversion and release, inversion and release, really kind of doing what I like to call a “cognosopy”, scoping, penetrating right into your immediate experience of being the observer, being the agent. And if you are very ripe, you are kind of Bahiya type, a Bahiya class meditator, if you are really, really ripe then Padmasambhava says that when you are doing that simple exercise of just probing right in — who is the observer? Who is the agent? — just by doing that practice you may go into the ultimate retreat and break through substrate consciousness into rigpa. It is possible! That one little, simple little shamatha practice may be enough to break right through not only your psyche to the substrate but the substrate consciousness to rigpa itself, pristine awareness. You have to be very ripe for that but that is a very deep retreat. That is going right down to the very ground, ultimate ground consciousness, ok?

(5:16) So meanwhile back at the mind center! Practicing mindfulness of breathing and why this among all the different shamatha methods that the Buddha taught and that have been developed later on from multiple Buddhist traditions? Because this is the one, the Buddha himself said this is the one most suitable for people who are heavily prone to rumination. Not everybody is equally prone to, but for those who are especially prone to, like Oh, gee everybody in the twenty-first century who has caught up in modernity. They weren’t all like that 25 hundred years ago but now it’s like a mental virus, that we’re all catching. And according to one friend of mine who is a very interesting guy — clinical psychologist, trained in Tibetan medicine and we were monks together in a monastery almost forty years ago — addressing western people, he was in Washington D. C. at the time, he said: “you know, you people all have nervous system disorders, you all have nervous imbalances. But considering how ill you are, you are coping very well!” So he was talking about modernity.

(6:24) So here we are. And one central feature, almost like the rat that holds the virus of the bubonic plague of the mind, is rumination. It carries with it the seeds for delusion, craving, hostility and just a mass of suffering. So here we are, the prime directive of mindfulness of breathing is “get over it!” Get over it! If you know the term “cold turkey”, if you’re a heroin addict, you just stop taking heroin altogether, and the withdrawal symptoms are really painful, but you have to go through that and get out the other side and hope you survive. Go through the withdrawal symptoms of just going cold turkey on rumination. And that is with every out breath be relentless and just release it, and release it and release it. And then Tsongkhapa says, when he is talking about actually achieving shamatha, and what you need to do for that — and he’s citing classic sources, he’s always a classicist, he himself being a great authority, cites the great authorities from India especially – he says that if you are really intent on achieving shamatha, then between sessions, let alone during sessions [here Alan recites the original Tibetan phrase] completely eliminate all rumination involving desires and so forth. In other words just be relentless. Be like the person who’s joined Alcoholics Anonymous and be a non-practicing ruminator. How long have you on the wagon? Ten seconds, oh, good!!! Twenty seconds, Oh!!! Ok, back to one second. Break the habit of rumination, be relentless. And having said that, there is no implication you just stop thinking (during mindfulness of breathing of course there is no need to think for that time except for a bit commentary to keep you on track) but in between sessions of course you if you want to think, think! We’re not being tyrannical here, there’s not an authoritarian regime, but think consciously, think lucidly and be aware that every time you fall into rumination, you’ve just fallen into a little mini, non-lucid dream, which means if enlightenment is this way, you are marching the other way, you are marching in the opposite direction from awakening because every time you fall into rumination you are falling into a little, mini non-lucid dream, which is the opposite direction, coming, from ignorance, saturated by delusion and a host for all the vermin of the mind.

So think yeah, but think lucidly, think creatively, think analytically, think retrospectively, think about the future, think in any way you like! Just like there is nothing wrong with dreaming! But certainly it is better to dream lucidly than dreaming delusionally which is what every non-lucid dream is.

So you ready? Roll up your sleeves, let’s go cold turkey!

Fewer words, same practice, mindfulness of breathing phase three.


Settle your body in its natural state and the respiration in its natural rhythm. And then with a brief reflection upon the disadvantages, the debilitating disadvantages of rumination, of the five obscurations that obscure the luminous and pure nature of your own awareness: sensual craving, ill will, laxity and dullness, excitation and anxiety, and afflictive uncertainty. Reflecting upon the disadvantages of these obscurations of your own awareness, arouse a powerful aspiration and a great interest and an enthusiasm to heal and balance and unveil your own awareness, and with that motivation give yourself the freedom, the leisure for this short session to release all rumination about the future and the past, all rumination about the present, let your awareness refreshingly come to rest in stillness in the present moment.

For just a short time let your awareness illuminate the sensations associated with the breath throughout the body, relaxing more and more deeply with every out-breath, releasing thoughts, rumination, releasing the breath itself with every exhalation.

(14:31) And elevate and narrowly focus your attention on the sensations of the breath at the apertures of the nostrils. Identify the target area conceptually and then release the concepts and focus on the bare attention, the bare tactile sensations of the breath. Be very clear that you are keeping the eyes soft, relaxed and unfocused, no tension around the eyes, forehead opened and spacious, just focusing mental awareness on the target area, arousing your attention with each inhalation, relaxing with each exhalation and maintaining as much continuity as you possibly can throughout the entire course of the cycle of the respiration.

Experiment with counting, see to the extent to which it is useful and practice accordingly. Monitor the flow of your awareness with introspection, taking special note of the occurrence of laxity or excitation, as soon as you note with zero tolerance the occurrence of excitation, having your attention being caught up by rumination or carried away to some other sensory field, relax, release and return.

It is absolutely imperative in the practice of both shamatha as well as viphasyana that you are maintaining ongoing flow of knowing, of ascertaining. As soon as you see that you have gotten soft, dull, spaced out, disengaged, this means laxity or dullness have settled in. So in response refresh, refocus and retain.

Let’s continue the practice now in silence.

Instructions/teachings after meditation:

If you recall that little nugget of philosophy from yesterday, from the Sauntrãntica view, that only that which is directly perceivable is real, and that which is only conceivable but never perceivable may exist but is not real.

So in between sessions just let your default mode, the place of resting, your home be in an ongoing flow of perception. Perceiving whatever arises in the mind: that is real! Perceiving whatever comes by way of the 5 senses: that is real!

But as soon as you’re caught up on rumination, you’ve just slipped out of that and you enter the realm of the unreal, into the realm of unreal. So get real and stay real, always releasing rumination. And yet think whenever wish to, just do so lucidly and in the meantime also especially when you are just walking or moving about and so forth make a real habit, an ongoing habit of seeing that your respiration is just in an ongoing way, flowing and resting and flowing in its natural rhythm, and that means just releasing with every out-breath, and letting that in-breath just flow in, shallow, deep, regular, irregular, just let it flow, flow without interrupting it, inhibiting it, straining it with emotions, thoughts and so forth and so on. So this both then rehabilitation of your nervous system as well as the detoxification program for the mind. So that’s good! And it is possible in the midst of all of that to enjoy the day, so go for it! See you later!

Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Revised by James French

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti


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