30 Aug 2012

Teaching pt1: Alan begins the session by introducing the buddhist theory of causality. Here, one distinguishes between substantial causes and cooperative conditions in how effects are created. We can contemplate the factors of origination and dissolution in reference to the 18 dhatus—i.e., 6 sensory fields, 6 modes of consciousnesses, and 6 faculties.
Meditation: mindfulness of the body focusing on the 2nd mark of existence dukkha. Closely apply mindfulness to see if sensations of pleasure/pain or comfort/discomfort are coming from the object. Have awareness illuminate all 5 sense domains and ask: 1) is there anything unchanging/static?, 2) is anything a true source of pleasure/displeasure?, and 3) is there any overlap between the sense domains?
Teaching pt2: Alan returns to the 1st and 2nd marks of existence with the idea that when they saturate our mind, there’s a profound shift in our world view. The 1st mark of existence: unconditioned phenomena are impermanent. The 2nd mark of existence: any experience contaminated by disturbing emotions is unsatisfying.
Q1. What is the difference between conceptual and non-conceptual (experience)?

Meditation starts at 35:07

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This afternoon we return once again to the close application of mindfulness to the body, and I’d like to spend a short time providing a little bit more theory to inform, to enrich, to illuminate our actual empirical investigations.

To my mind one of the terrific success stories of modern science over the last four hundred years — going right back to the time of Galileo and even before then to Copernicus — is this ongoing dynamic between theoretical physics and experimental physics. During the time of Galileo, they were both … although Kepler, for example, was only a theoretician, he wasn’t an experimentalist. Copernicus was only a theoretician, not an experimentalist. But Galileo was the whole package. Newton was the whole package: great experimentalist and a great theoretician. But as we move on into the nineteenth century and twentieth century then you pretty much fall into one of the two camps, although people like Anton Zeilinger was experimentalist and also was very well versed in theory. But my point here is a simply one, and that is there are people like Einstein — I don’t know if he had run any experiment in his life, I doubt it — his research laboratory was his blackboard or just pencil and paper.

(2:01) So coming up with these, and Max Planck’s saying, coming up with these theoretical ideas, that wouldn’t be then just simply debated, and debated, and debated among other theoretical physicist and just with more and more theory but actually the whole idea of the theory at its best, and it often was at its best, was “here is the theory, ok you experimentalist try this on for size, can you put that to the test of experiment?” And then they would come up with new empirical investigations or discoveries, and that would enrich the theory and then the theory would go back and enrich the experiment and so back and forth, back and forth. It was really just a fantastic combination, quite spectacular.

And that is exactly what we don’t have for the scientific study of the mind. We have people studying behavior; we have people studying brain. Where are the great theoreticians? I don’t think there are any! I think the neuroscientists, they’re really only coming up with one experiment after another, but who is standing back? We have the philosophers of the mind, but they’re not coming up with any experiments! So they’re sitting on the lines debating among themselves while most people ignore them, and so it’s kind of lost touch, they’ve drifted off by themselves and the experimentalists are sludging around in nineteenth century physics. There are really a dearth of really fresh ideas. I mean obviously that’s my judgment, but it is my judgment, I stand by it.

(3:15) So in Buddhism that happens too, it happens frequently that people who are really brilliant in the debating, in the analysis and the writing, theory and so forth, hardly do any meditation and then there are people who really gung-ho in meditation – doing tummo and so forth – they hardly have a clue about the theory. So it easily gets separated there as well. But that’s not Buddhism at its best and there is such a thing as Buddhism as its best and that is people like Shantideva, Tsongkhapa and so forth and so on. You find, like Galileo, they were great experimentalists and they were yogis and they were brilliant when it came to theory. And when they come up with theories, and of course the theories are for the sake of putting it to the test of experiment, or experience, back to your research, to meditation.

So in that spirit, really trying to revitalize — and that’s exactly what His Holiness was talking to me about one week ago – revitalizing the whole spirit of shamatha/vipashyana, not only in Buddhism but across the boards among all the contemplative traditions that have something like shamatha and vipashyana, to revitalize, breathe fresh light into it. Because as he told me last Wednesday, he said “well there are Tibetan yogis here and there that are really practicing shamatha and vipashyana but they’re rare, and most of them are doing chod, they’re doing tummo, six yogas of Naropa, lamrim, vajrasattva, they are doing three years retreats and so forth and so on, Hello is anybody doing shamatha?” Almost nobody! Is there anybody doing vipashyana with the power, the muscle of shamatha behind it? Well almost nobody, but that doesn’t mean nobody! So if anyone on the planet can find really accomplished Tibetan yogis who are deeply experienced in shamatha and vipashyana he is the man and he is going to be the recruiting force to cherry-pick some of these people and bring them down to Bangalore when ready. That would be very cool. And he is going into the “Kumbh Mela”, the great Hindu gathering I think next January 2013 and keep his eyes open for those yogis from the Himalayas, the swamis, and see if he can persuade some of them. Want to come to Bangalore? As he was saying to me, in old times, your whole tradition was off in your caves and so they disappeared, they are low profile and nobody knows about them. He said now in the twenty-first century we need to have a bit more in an institution, so please, out of your compassion, come from your cave, come down to Bangalore and help these younger aspirants who would really like to learn from your experience.

(5:53) So bit of theory but now theory not in terms of just something to think about, but theory in the sense of teoria, the term I mentioned yesterday from Greek, which means to behold, to look, so theory, talking, concepts intended to enrich your way of viewing, investigating, probing into experience itself like the dynamic between theoretical physics and experimental physics.

The Buddha’s theory of causality:

So I just draw on theme this afternoon and it’s a really powerful one with just a tremendous application in daily life and it’s a very simply point. Some of you who’ve studied Buddha’s philosophy you already know it but I bet you’ve never had any chance to practice, because so often it’s just taught by itself. The Buddhist theory of causality. We are right back to classical physics, I mean classical Buddhism, Sauntrãntika, just classical. You learn this when you are in kindergarten or in the first year as a Buddhist monk or nun, now we get some nuns, Tibetan and one westerner now Geshe. So they’ve been through all of this. Well you get this in first grade but saying it is the first grade does not mean it is silly or stupid or primitive it just means it’s foundational. Buddhists notion of causality: here it is in a nutshell.

(7:06) And that is, so we are dealing with real phenomenon, real phenomena are those that you can perceive, that have causal efficacy, everything you perceive or that is perceivable has causal efficacy, which means it arises in dependence upon causes and conditions and everything that is a fruit, a result, is itself a cause.

So there’s no unmoved mover, there’s no cause that doesn’t have a preceding cause, there’s no cause that does not have its own effects; there is no effects that don’t have their own effects and so it’s all in a network, a web of causality. So that’s just for starters.

Substantial Causes and Cooperative Conditions

But now within this network of causality there are two types of causes, we’ll call them substantial causes and cooperative conditions. Don’t get too heavy about the notion of “substantial.”

  • Substantial causes:

Substantial is just the stuff of which the phenomenon in question is made.

Let’s take a nice easy example, the classic example and that is a little grain of wheat:

Now that arose in dependence upon causes and conditions. There’s something that transformed into that grain. That’s what you have in your hand right now. You put it

in the soil and then you fertilize it, mulch it, add a little bit of water, let some sunlight come to it, and then what happens: the stuff inside the husk, the juice inside the grain of wheat, as it germinates then it sends a little tendril down, a little taproot, and it sends a little shoot up, the first shoot of the wheat stock, and the stuff inside the wheat kernel, ie the husk inside, actually gets transformed and used up, gets used and transforms into the taproot going down and the shoot going up, so by the time it’s really growing then that husk is empty. There is no more seed inside, because the stuff of the seed has turned into the root and the sprout and there it goes.

And so we are going to say that the wheat seed, a little grain, is the substantial cause of the subsequent wheat stock and eventually the whole wheat sprout because it actually transformed into the stuff of the wheat stock and in so doing got used up. It lost its former identity as the seed. It is no longer a seed. The seed is gone, but the stuff of which the seed was made has transformed into the stuff of which the sprout is made.

  • Cooperative Conditions:

Now in the process of that there are many cooperative conditions and a general principle in Buddhism is that anything that arises always must arise from a substantial cause which is to say you never get something from nothing, you can never have a lot of cooperative conditions coming in and transform nothing into something. That would be magic and there is no magic in Buddhism. There is paranormal but there is no magic. And so something always transformed into something but you never have nothing transformed into something with a lot of help of his friends.

So let’s take just an indisputable aspect of this. You have that little grain of wheat. It’s within a sack full of wheat, and it’s owned by a farmer, and the farmer is looking at the newspaper saying ok what’s next year’s cost of wheat likely to be? What are the futures? What are the prospects for the price of wheat? Compared to soy, and barley, and oats, looks like wheat’s going to do very well. Over there, there was a drought, so this year I’m not going to go for barley, oats, or soy, it’s going to be wheat next year. He makes a decision based upon what he read in the newspaper. He says Ok! Wheat it is! So his decision to plant that field with wheat is a cooperative condition. Had he not made that decision, that wheat could just sit in the bag and eventually rot, and never turn into a wheat sprout. But he made the decision, that’s where the profit is, that’s where it’s going. So there’s a cooperative condition. Now there are many others as well. He needs a tractor, he needs something to plough the soil.

There are many cooperative conditions that do not actually transform into the wheat but without, them that seed would not be transform into the wheat either. He didn’t transform into the wheat, his tractor didn’t transform into the wheat, his idea or decision did not transform into the wheat.

(11:50) And so basic principle: for whatever effect there is in the universe, it never comes about as a result of one cause. Never one. One is never enough, doesn’t matter if it is God, Buddha or Buddha Nature or anything else, one is never enough. It always has to be that concatenation or that confluence, that gathering together of substantial cause and then any number of direct and indirect cooperative conditions. Like why is the cost of wheat next year going to be high? Because there’s a drought here. That drought is a cooperative condition for this farmer planting his wheat here. And what caused the drought? Oh well, it was global warming. What caused the global warming? Oh, Detroit. It always boils down to Detroit. But you can see you can just take that chain back and back and back, and you wind up with Indra’s net, this inconceivably vast array of direct and then indirect, going back in time, of all of the conditions that, in dependence upon which: Ah there’s a wheat field! You need the substantial cause and cooperative conditions and a variety of cooperative conditions, not just one.

Now let’s see how to apply this view of causality to the close application of mindfulness to the body.

(13:10) Now we come here to the body, the close application of mindfulness to the body and the Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutra, I am taking Sautrãntrika view and applying this to the Satipatthana Sutra, Buddha’s teachings on the close application of mindfulness. It’s really a marriage made in Bodhgaya, haha! They just fit so beautifully together, you just savor it like fine wine. Because the Sautrãntika by itself does not naturally suggest this practice, but as soon as you see Satipatthana then you say, Oh man, those should go together, absolutely go together.

So what does the Buddha say about the close application of mindfulness to the body, referring to your own body, others’ bodies, physical phenomenon at large? He says now – the term translated into English is “contemplate,” that is attend closely but intelligently and do not be afraid to think once in a while — contemplate the factors of origination, that is you’re experiencing earth element arising in your body, you’re experiencing water here, you’re experiencing your body here, you’re experiencing movement and so forth, your own body, others people’s body and so forth. So what are the factors of origination? What are the substantial causes and cooperative conditions that gave rise to this effects that you are experiencing right now in the present moment? What are the factors of origination?

And then contemplate, — again: attend to closely, reflect upon, observe, investigate, analyze — the factors of dissolution.

So whatever it is, sensation of earth element in your knee or whatever it may be, they don’t last. Number one they’re not static, and number two they probably don’t last forever. So when they vanish or when they’re dissipating, when they’re dissolving, what are the factors, what are the conditions giving rise to the dissolution, the vanishing of whatever you are attending to in the physical world? Because that’s what the close application of mindfulness of the body is. I should quote it. I don’t have it right here, but there’s a very famous quote, where the Buddha says – and I paraphrase badly — within this fathom long- body you will find the nature of the origins, the nature of the universe. Here is the microcosm. Understand your body 100% and you get the whole picture. And really in a way that’s not silly, because you consider from the cosmology perspective, where did the atoms in your body come from, where did the energy in your body come from? It traces back to the big bang.

(15:59) So there it is without pushing that too far. Nevertheless the Buddha was saying that there’s a well of wisdom, insight, knowledge to be gained not only about what is enclosed within your skin but your body is embedded in the fabric of nature at large. There are no hard borders that separate the five elements of your body with the five elements of the rest of the universe. So understand this little microcosm and the implications may flow in all directions, big time, right?

So as we now attend to the body and we observe these emergences arising, the emergence of earth, water, fire, air and so forth, we observe colors arising and shapes as we bring in the whole show, all five sensory fields. We will get to the mind later right now it is just physical.

As we attend to the visual, attend to the auditory, you pick up anything, smells, taste and certainly the tactile, then we hold this thought in mind, these basic working hypotheses of causality and then we can not only observe it with bare attention but we can bring our intelligence — this is where he uses the word contemplate – and not just apply bare attention.

(17:23) [Alan snapping his fingers] The sounds you hear, the colors you see, what are the factors of origination? That’s an effect (Alan snapping again his fingers), the colors and so forth, the taste, smell, the tactile sensations; these are effects. They are arising in dependence upon causes and conditions. Is it or is it not true?

Again, none of this is dogma and you do not get any prizes just by believing in everything I am saying. That doesn’t liberate anything! That just gives you more heaviness in your head: I got a little bit more knowledge, I think it’s on the right side of my head [laughter]. That’s baggage! But a view is a way of actually transforming the way you engage with reality. That can actually have some practical benefit.

(17:56) So, Is it true? Is it true that these effects that we are directly perceiving which are real — colors, shapes, sounds, taste, tactile sensations, and so forth, earth, water, fire, air, and all of these as we immediately experience them — is it true that they are arising from a substantial cause and if so what is that? And what are the cooperative conditions if the substantial cause by itself is never enough, if it needs cooperative conditions to catalyze, to manifest, to make it come forth like the sprout from the seed? What are the cooperative conditions?

So bringing some real intelligence and bringing mindfulness now in the sense of bearing in mind, what are the factors of origination? In dependence upon what? And this is where the Buddhist analysis really goes and we see it is there when the Buddha discusses the 18 dhatus, the 18 elements or – hard to find a really good translation —18 domains of experience, so we have:

  • We have the 6 senses fields, the visual field, auditory and so forth but the mental field as well, which is called dharmadhatu on a relative level, the dhatu, the domain of dharmas, mental phenomena as well as the visual, auditory. We have six of those.
  • And then of course we have 6 modes of consciousness, visual, auditory, right on through mental consciousness, now we have twelve.
  • And then we have the faculties, the faculties in dependence upon which these various modes of consciousness arise. In other words we do not have an empty head here. We do not just have a lot of sound waves and photons and so forth coming in from the environment and an empty head and then just consciousness coming out. But there is something in here. Now clearly Buddhist physiology 25 hundred years ago — which is first person physiology after all — is going to be clearly different than the very sophisticated, marvelous knowledge we have thanks to neuroscience of the visual cortex, the auditory cortices, the olfactory lobes and so forth, different parts of the brain in dependence upon which visual perception, auditory, olfactory and so forth arise, right?

(19:45) One point before we jump in — and this is just kind of a sneak preview for later — and that is when it comes to the faculties, the indriya, the faculties in dependence upon which consciousness itself arises, the indriya or sense faculties in dependence upon which the five sensory modalities of consciousness arise are all physical. They’re all physical. So there would be in principle very much in accordance with modern neuroscience. And therefore both would agree — and I do not mean to suggest they’re simply the same, they’re not — but in principle if we leave it on this level we are in agreement, so in principle here in the Buddhist tradition if you damage your visual faculty you’re going to lose your sight. Damage your auditory faculty you will not hear any longer, right? That auditory faculty is physical; damage that, auditory consciousness will not arise any more or it would be altered, it would be damaged in one way. You’ll start having hallucinations, what have you.

(20:43) So the Buddhist principle here is that the sense faculties of the five sense fields are all physical. Damage them, alter them and the consciousness that arises in dependence upon them will be modified or eliminated. What is the sense faculty, what is the faculty for the arising of mental consciousness? It is not physical! It is not the frontal cortex, it is not the hippocampus, it is not any part of the body. It is not your heart chakra. It’s not physical at all. It is not material but it’s not physical either. It’s just not physical at all! That faculty in dependence upon which mental consciousness arises. So if that is true then the modern search lead by Christof Koch, who has a background in engineering and then in biology and then in cognitive neuroscience, he has spent now decades. I spent a whole day with him some years ago in dialogue with him and his colleagues and his students, fellow faculty and he has really devoted to his professional life now, with his own Koch laboratories at Caltech, to seeking out and identifying what are called the neural correlates of consciousness, the NCC. And the NCC as defined are the minimal amount of neuronal activity required for the generation of consciousness. So there are clearly many parts of the brain that are not necessary. You can damage your visual cortex, you can’t see any more, but that doesn’t mean you become unconscious. And you damage another part and another part you lose your memory, then you lose your intelligence, and then you do not have the same emotions, and you damage more and more and more, but you can still be somewhat conscious, right? Maybe not that interesting, right? (laughter) And so just by the process of elimination, you damage this, you damage that, how much do you need to damage to get to the point where you say: hey about now its consciousness is a cell phone? Zero. So what is the minimal amount? And they’re assuming of course — because almost all of them without exception are materialists — they are almost all assuming that consciousness emerges from the brain or is equivalent to some neuronal activity in the brain or is a function of some neural activity in the brain, one of those three options. I mean those are really, within in the church of modern science, those are kind of the only the three hypotheses that you are allowed to even present. If you ask anything else they say: I am sorry that is heretical and you may not say that! Be quiet! We don’t allow that kind of talk here. We will call you a Cartesian, which means go to hell! At least get the hell out of here. And this is the great limitation. This is where the blinders of the scientific imagination come down that either you are a materialist or you are a Cartesian Dualist,* which means either you are moderately smart or you’re just flat-out stupid. And there is no third alternative.

*Cartesian Dualist:

First of all what is written below was not said by Alan Wallace during the lectures but may help shed light on the meaning of “Cartesian Dualist” and of course to understand the context. We are giving just some information and the source is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renne_Descartes

“Cartesian” refers to the work of French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes. His views on what he called “mind” and “matter” are now referred to as Cartesian dualism. See more details below:

René Descartes (French: 31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650) was a French philosopher, mathematician and writer who spent most of his life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed The Father of Modern Philosophy, and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day. In particular, his Meditations on First Philosophy continues to be a standard text at most university philosophy departments.

Descartes is often regarded as the first thinker to emphasize the use of reason to develop the natural sciences. For him the philosophy was a thinking system that embodied all knowledge.

In his theology, he insists on the absolute freedom of God’s act of creation.


Descartes in his Passions of the Soul and The Description of the Human Body suggested that the body works like a machine, that it has material properties. The mind (or soul), on the other hand, was described as a nonmaterial and does not follow the laws of nature. Descartes argued that the mind interacts with the body at the pineal gland. This form of dualism or duality proposes that the mind controls the body, but that the body can also influence the otherwise rational mind, such as when people act out of passion. Most of the previous accounts of the relationship between mind and body had been uni-directional.

(23:52) Well Buddhism says we have another idea. So the Buddhist answer is there are no NCC (neural correlates of consciousness) so that is a fool’s errand, it is a smart fool’s errand, it is not a silly idea, but it is an idea for which you’ll never get satisfactory answer. And they haven’t yet! Because there is no minimal amount of neuronal activity that is necessary for generating consciousness because you can be brain-dead and still have consciousness. You can be dead-dead and have consciousness! It is called the bardo. So there is no minimal amount, which means that your psyche, your mental consciousness that you experience, is emerging from something and of course it has cooperative conditions. The cooperative conditions are found inside the head. As your mental consciousness is arising from moment to moment is flavored in so many different ways: with emotions, desires, clarity, with dullness, with agitation, with sanity, with insanity and so forth. Your mental consciousness gets tremendously configured by brain chemistry, by genetics, the environment, food, drugs, alcohol and so forth and so on. But they are all cooperative conditions. Where is your consciousness emerging from, what is the substantial cause that actually transforms into your consciousness? Well, not your brain! Otherwise the older you got the lighter your brain would become, because your brain, which is made of matter, would be transforming into something that’s immaterial and you’d become more and more light-headed as you got older! (laughter) which nobody believes.

(25:40) Is it true that consciousness actually emerges from nothing? You get a whole bunch of neuronal activities together as cooperative conditions and they actually transform nothing into something! That would be very magical. Buddhism says, yeah, it’s magical it does not exist. Brain activity does act as cooperative conditions for the emergence of consciousness from moment to moment, conditions, configures, modifies, has tremendous impact on mental consciousness, but mental consciousness does not and never has emerged from matter. Not the matter inside the head or anywhere else.

(26:09) And if one studies physics and chemistry, if you just study physics and chemistry and say, Oh by the way those atoms you’ve been studying they actually give rise to emotions. Where the hell did you come up with that idea? That is so out… Why do you think that? I mean, that is just so bizarre. Because in the whole understanding of the natural world there are emergent properties all over the place. The notion of emergence just saturates the whole universe. You have phenomena and then you have the compilation of a lot of aggregates coming together and then emergent properties coming out of large configurations of neurons, of stars. Galaxies do things that individual stars don’t do, stars do things that individual hydrogen atoms don’t do, and so forth and so on. Emergent properties are everywhere throughout nature. But here’s also something that’s true everywhere throughout the nature: the emergent properties of physical phenomena are physical. That is true everywhere in the universe. The emergent properties of physical phenomena are themselves physical, which means they lend themselves to physical measurement. Mental phenomena do not lend themselves to physical measurement. They’re all invisible! So that should really end the debate right there but it doesn’t of course.

(27:10) So here we come back to our experience of being in the physical world and the close application of mindfulness to our immediate impressions, the appearances that arise that are the very constituents of this lebenswelt, of this lived world of being in the physical world and we can ask Where do they come from, where are they emerging from, what are the factors of origination and factors of dissolution? Ok?

So that was a mouthful! That was about 26 minutes!

So let’s go back now. That is the theory but theory not in just something to think about, talk about and refute or agree with, because if you refute it, ok, that is fine but then you’ve just stopped the conversation and if you simply agree with it, that is fine and you’ve just stopped the conversation. In which case, what was the point? Just have more stuff to think about? You already had plenty to think about! You didn’t need me! But if you take some of these ideas and say “this is interesting”, let’s take this into experience and probe closely and start examining closely our experience of the physical world and attending closely.

(28:19) And this is a very important point in Buddhism, the Buddhist notion of causality — and this is right in Sautrãntika, I’m still talking about classical Buddhist philosophy – it’s simply:

in dependence upon this, that arose,

in dependence upon that, this arose,

with this being absent, that no longer arose,

with that being absent, this no longer arose,

It is purely phenomenological. Purely phenomenological. The notion of mechanism, that in order for causality to happen that two things have to bump into each other. Good old Newtonian mechanics, billiard balls going bing, bing, bing like that.

That’s all very well for billiard balls! But it doesn’t work well when you interface electromagnetism with classical mechanics. It doesn’t work well at all. Electromagnetic fields are not billiard balls. So there is no mechanical explanation for the interface between electromagnetic fields and atoms. There is an explanation and it is intelligent but it is not mechanical. So this unfortunately seems to be lost on most people working in the mind sciences, because they keep on talking about the “underlying neural mechanisms” of subjective experience and then they insist that your subjective experience must itself be brain mechanisms, because otherwise how could the brain ever influence the mind if the mind is something other than the brain? And then they just stop thinking!

And if they’d look into the fact that in physics something interesting happened in the 20th century and maybe even in the 21st century, they would see that that notion of causality where the only way that events can take place in the brain is if something bumps into them, that notion went out with the horse and buggy in the late nineteen century! No serious physicist believes that’s the only type of causality any longer. It’s quantum mechanics, relatively theory and so forth. It’s totally passé. But we still encounter this! We encountered it in Hamburg, remember? That woman, that very sharp neuroscientist, and I asked her if they had some really clear empirical evidence to refute your materialistic assumptions, would you, like the Dalai Lama, throw out your beliefs in the face of compelling empirical evidence? And she was just very equivocal. But then she said I’m a neuroscientist, I believe the mind is the brain. That’s pretty much a direct quote, remember? I’m a neuroscientist, I believe the mind is the brain! And I don’t remember the exact dialogue but I said, “Why? Why do you believe that? I mean your mind and your brain are so different! It’s like looking at Natu, then looking at Danny, and saying You know, they’re really the same person. I know they don’t look alike, and they have really few qualities in common, but they really have to be the same person.” And she said, “Because I cannot imagine how there can be a mind-brain interaction if the mind were anything other that the brain.” And since she can’t imagine it, case closed! It’s just – and I don’t mean to pick on one person who is representing a whole field, so I’d rather just pick on the whole field – severe imagination deficit disorder. Because it’s so obviously, manifestly, flamboyantly false. And it’s not even really debatable. It’s really not even debatable.

Just this one thing, and then we’ll go back to the meditation.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “We are living in the information era” Ever heard that one? Information age. We should start taking that seriously because information physicists know it, neuroscientists know it, psychologists know it, philosophers know it: information does exist. Information, what do you think? Does information have causal efficacy? Yeah. Do you know how I know? It’s because I just asked you a question and you nodded your head. It wasn’t the sound waves coming from my mouth that made your head go up and down. Because listen very carefully: (Alan makes gibberish sounds here). She didn’t nod in agreement! She just started laughing at me! (More gibberish sounds). Does information have causal efficacy? The sound was pretty much the same. A little bit of hot air coming from my mouth, as usual. But in one case there was information, in the other case it was just some hot air with some noise coming together. What do you think? Does information have causal efficacy? She smiled and she nodded. And so, that was a moving of facial muscles, and moving of head in response to, catalyzed by what? Information! A question. Not the physical medium, the sound waves. The sound waves are physical, yeah, but that didn’t cause her to nod her head. It was the information, and information is not physical.

Information has no physical attributes whatsoever, no mass, no location, no momentum, no weight, no charge, not a single physical attribute. It is not physical! It is not material or physical! It certainly has causal efficacy.

And my asking the question “do you think information has causal efficacy”, without a shadow of a doubt catalyzed – serving as a cooperative condition — certain brains events in her brain, which then they catalyzed more brain events, which then caused her head to go up and down. As well as, of course, thinking going on, and coming to a conclusion: Yes information does have causal efficacy. Information has no physical attributes whatsoever, and it clearly has causal efficacy. It influenced her brain, it influenced her behavior. Her behavior influenced my behavior, and so forth and so on. Information is there to stay. It’s not physical and it has causal efficacy. It has impact on the brain, and the brain has impact on information as well. So information is part of the natural world.

So now finally we go to the practice, we’re going to go right back to the close application of mindfulness but with discerning intelligence, being willing to reflect, to contemplate when it seems appropriate, through bare attention getting the raw data, getting good measurements and then reflecting on the substantial causes and the cooperative conditions giving rise to your immediate experience of the physical world with your body being in the center of the universe. And of course it is! Your body is in the center of your universe, right? Not everybody else’s, just yours.

So there we are. So let’s go in, I will just give a little bit of guided instructions for the practice. But no new methodology but just now more enriched with ways of viewing that with which we are familiar.


First of all we reboot, settle down and let your awareness slip out of the conceptual mode, the ruminating mode, and come right down to the ground. Non-conceptually settle your body in its natural state, your breathing in its natural rhythm.

For just a brief time simplify your mind, releasing concepts about the future and the past and even about the present, come and let your awareness rest in its own place, quiet, still and clear in the present moment.

And let the light of your awareness flood the space of your body with discerning intelligence, mindful presence.

We’ve already attended to the first of three fundamental marks of existence, and that is the ubiquitous nature of impermanence of all conditioned phenomena, arising and passing from moment to moment. Take note of that.

And now within this field, this fathom-long body, within this field of tactile sensations, let’s turn our attention to the second of those three marks. It’s called by one term: dukkha. We are not looking here for suffering, but rather as you attend to the appearances arising within this tactile field, when you note either pleasure or pain, comfort or discomfort, closely apply mindfulness and see whether any of these tactile appearances are themselves by nature — objectively — pleasant or unpleasant. We will apply this in between sessions as well, when we eat tasty food, we see a lovely sunset, we hear pleasant sounds and so forth. We will ask in between sessions: Is the pleasure actually coming from the object? Is it by nature a true source of sukkha, of joy, pleasure? Is it by nature a true source of dukkha, suffering, dissatisfaction, displeasure?

Within the field of the body examine the very nature of the events you’re perceiving, to see whether any of them, by nature, are intrinsically pleasurable or unpleasurable.

And now open up all five doors of sensory perception, that is of the five physical senses, and let the light of your awareness illuminate all of these five domains and let your way of viewing these five domains of experience be enriched with the question: is there anything here that is static, unchanging, and immutable?

We are not asking for example whether the molecules and tiles of the floor are permanent or impermanent, that is very subtle, perhaps too subtle for us to observe right now, it is up to the physicist to tell us, that is not the question.

The question is in the visual appearances, colors and shapes arising, do you see anything static, hear anything static, smell, taste, touch, anything unchanging?

And if you experience anything among these five sensory fields as being pleasant or unpleasant, examine closely. Are those qualities right in the very nature of the phenomena themselves, in the appearances? Are they there objectively? Are they the true sources of the pleasure or displeasure that you experience?

And now let’s come back to a simpler question from before and that is in terms of the phenomenon that actually appear to your visual perception, the phenomenon that arise in the auditory field, the tactile field, is there any overlap among the phenomena arising in these three domains? Which is to say, is there anything that does actually appear within the visual that also appears in the auditory or tactile or vice versa? Or are these non-overlapping domains of appearances? It’s a simple question.

For just a little time, let your awareness be totally still, illuminating all the five sense fields without going out to any of them or grasping onto anything, simply illuminating the appearances.

Instructions/teachings after meditation:

Summary: Alan returns to the 1st and 2nd marks of existence with the idea that when they saturate our mind, there’s a profound shift in our world view. The 1st mark of existence: conditioned phenomena are impermanent. The 2nd mark of existence: any experience contaminated by disturbing emotions is unsatisfying.

Let’s come back briefly to the first two of the three marks of existence, and relate it to a theme that runs through all of modern science, but very briefly. And that is the notion of revolution. So until Copernicus, until Galileo, it was widely believed the earth is in the center of the whole universe, the universe is about 7000 years old – that is, within the Eurocentric view, Judeo-Christian view – we’re in the center, all of those are pretty much ornaments, thank you God, very pretty night sky. And that was it. And that’s speaking with no joke. This was Newton’s view, Galileo’s view, though not with earth in the center. And then with Copernicus coming up mathematically and Galileo giving some empirical confirmation, then earth is no longer in the center. It’s just one of the various planets going around the sun. Now the sun seems to be in the center. But nevertheless, we got displaced from the center, and so that doesn’t really revolutionize a way of life, but in terms of your understanding of the place of our world within the whole universe, once you get that you simply cannot look at the universe the same way any longer. It’s just different. We’re not at the center. That’s a big deal. It’s a really, really big deal. If you don’t understand, you’ll be pre-revolutionary, but if you do understand it, then you simply cannot look at the night sky, or the place of our planet in the universe, in the same way anymore. Your way of viewing reality is fundamentally shifted. There is the first revolution in modern science. It was in astronomy.

The first revolution, the only revolution we’ve had, or at least beginning of a revolution in the life sciences, is Darwin. Again, prior to Darwin, it’s widely believed that species were static. Even in the time of Darwin, there were still people who thought – not the very educated ones – that the universe is 7000 years old. Geology was proving that to be false, but it was tough to let go of, for those taking a literal interpretation of the Bible. But the notion of species being static was there, it was really right there until the mid-19th century. Darwin, based upon about 25 years of very careful research, empirical research, shows that’s not true. And once you get it, once you really understood the empirical basis for his theory – and then Wallace was the cohort, he also did his research, not me the other Wallace, Alfred Russell Wallace, co-discoverer, did his own marvelous research, but Darwin’s was more thorough, was richer, more sophisticated, more elaborated, so he really deserves to get primary credit – but once you’ve understood that, you really cannot view life on this planet, or human existence, our own biological presence here, in the same way. You just can’t go back to pre-Darwin. So the way of viewing life on the planet, it’s a revolution, you simply cannot view it in the same way any longer.

And then in physics – now it’ll just be really quickly – quantum mechanics, relativity theory. Anybody who really followed that, you simply cannot view space, time, matter and energy in the same way. If you’ve understood it, you cannot go back to 19th century physics. There are assumptions there that are just false, and you have to view reality in a new way. Second revolution in the physical sciences.

Alright? But that’s what “revolution” means. It’s not just an adding of ideas, or a new bright idea or a fresh discover. It’s that the whole axis is shifted, right down to the core. Some fundamental assumptions you do not hold any longer: earth being in the center, species are static, we’re all by ourselves, human beings are totally different from all the animals, you know? And likewise, absolute space/time/matter/energy: they’re gone! They’re as gone as the dodo! They’re extinct. You cannot believe that if you know physics. You can if you don’t know physics, but that means you’re just not up to date.

If one really only believes, that’s not a big deal. But if one really fathoms, so that it gets into the bone marrow of the way you view reality, right into the stream, the flow of the way you’re viewing reality, if you really get this simple statement: all conditioned phenomena are impermanent, if that’s not just a belief, if that gets right into your view, it’s saturating your view, your way of viewing reality, coarse impermanence and subtle impermanence, you cannot view reality in the same way. And that is, even though we do project our evaluations, our judgments, our categories, our labels and so forth, “I’ll love you forever, this relationship is forever, oh, now finally I got something I can really hold onto, now I’m really whole, oh I am so glad I am healthy”, I’m locking onto all these things, all these superimpositions relatively static. People think they are attractive; don’t hold your breath! You’re losing it right now as you speak! I mean if you’re not yet twenty ok, there’s a little bit of good time left, but after twenty! The image, the idea is static, I am attractive, I am intelligent, I’m this, I’m that, other people, my relationship, this, this, this: that which we superimpose is relatively static. But when we actually fathom the reality of impermanence you see that’s just fluff, that’s camouflage, and the reality is everything is just fizzing.

(1:05:41) One of the meditations done in the Theravada Tradition – I’ve never seen it in the Mahayana — comes in Buddhaghosa’s Path of Purification, it is really powerful. It’s way up there in the vipashyana section. It’s for people who are really, really professional yogis, I mean they’ve nailed their shamatha, probably got some of the dhyanas and they’re deep into vipashyana territory. They this extremely high frequency, really high definition samadhi, and they select, they are very selective, they are observing impermanence. Within impermanence there’s arising and passing, arising and passing, moment to moment to moment. Standard Buddhism. What do they do empirically? They come into a very narrow bandwidth, and they focus their attention like a brain surgeon, going down and doing something incredibly precise, they focus just on the factor of dissolution. Whatever they are attending to they just focus like with a laser view, just looking at that, just the process of dissolution, just the falling away. And they go into Samadhi on that, of just the falling away. That just blasts any attachment you have to anything. Any attachment you have to anything! Because you just see it all vanishing! Whether it is your body, your loved one, your reputation, your wealth, your home, your planet, your guru, whatever it is. It’s like going to a train station, and seeing the train pulling out of the station. How attached can you get to that train? You’re not going to catch it! Gone. And that’s whole of reality. Bye bye! So long, farewell. I’m gone. And that’s everything! Now of course they can focus on origination too, but when they want to develop really intense, radically revolutionary renunciation, they’ll focus on dissolution. It just blows the crap out of attachment, just dissolves it, it is like trying to grasp onto a waterfall and you see that there is nothing to grasp onto, so you get radical disillusionment, I mean existential disillusionment of thinking that you can attend to anything that appears, and thinking Oh that’s going to deliver happiness! The train’s leaving the station. It’s not going to deliver anything. It’s going. It’s gone. Very powerful. That’s revolutionary, to really realize the subtle and the coarse impermanence of all phenomena. That changes everything.

Because here we are, we have this prime directive as sentient beings: avoid suffering and find happiness. And we open our eyes and say Oh, what’s going to make me happy? First thing is mamma pretty much, right? Momma, and what she’s got up here, upstairs. That’s where happiness comes from, I think babies got that one figured out. And then we go from there, and you know, men never get over it (laughter). Sorry! Still looking for it, you know. But even if it’s not that, we are still looking for the substitute, after that, after breast milk, after that, what’s going to give it to me? So the attention tends to be focused there, and thinking with this ever-arising, fresh hope: That marriage didn’t work out, but I bet this one will, I didn’t like living there, but I’m sure this will work out better, that job sucked, but this one may be good. Wake up! Smell the roses, they are fading. And then you can either going into total meltdown of abysmal, existential, mind crunching depression or you can see maybe there is another way you can find happiness that isn’t by grasping onto objects and appearances. If that doesn’t work out, then you’re really toast. You either got dharma, or you’re really down the sewer. Really, there’s no other hope. So but that’s it, that is what dharma is for. That is when people come really authentic in their dharma practice. That’s when they get irreversibly into the stream of dharma practice, when they say there is nothing else that has even a smidgen of hope, none, to really provide satisfaction, genuine happiness. Nothing else has any chance so therefore even if it’s only one chance in a million for dharma go for it because it is the best bet because everything else is zero out of a million. One out of a million? I’ll take that over zero out of a million. And if you have a Buddha-nature, the odds are looking even better.

So that is the first one: All composite phenomena, all phenomena that arise in dependence upon causes and conditions, that are formed, configured: they are all impermanent.

And then we have this one, which is the theme for today, because we’re moving right through these pretty quickly. But we’ll keep on returning to these three marks of existence, because they are absolutely revolutionary. Not just to believe in: then it’s just more baggage. But if you actually let this into your way of viewing reality, they just change everything.

And the second one, which is – when you dumb it down to Neolithic brain damage, you call it “life is suffering.” Well please throw that one out, because that’s just too stupid to talk about. I don’t know. It keeps on cropping up. I just want to get a sledge-hammer, and just smash it whenever I see it. The phrase in Tibetan is (syache tamje dukngelwa). Sakche” means “contaminated,” “tainted,” “defiled,” so that’s just an adjective. That which is defliled. “dukngelwa” means “unsatisfying.” It doesn’t mean suffering, like you know, getting a knife poked into your cheek. That’s suffering, that’s pain. That’s not this work. “dukngelwa” is not just pain. It’s a subtle distinction. It’s unsatisfying. So what’s defiled? Any experience – there it is, vast, vast statement – any experience that is configured by, defiled, contaminated, tainted by mental afflictions. You can just take three for starters: delusion, craving and hostility. Any experience of anything, your own mind, your body, your lover, your children, your parents, your home, possessions, your reputation, anything whatsoever, sunsets, nature, galaxies, anything you experience, any experience whatsoever that is configured by, tainted, caught up in the network of mental afflictions will be unsatisfying.

You may look upon it and say, Oh this place really makes me happy, I’ve always wanted to live in nature, because living in nature just makes me happy. That lake, those trees, and the mountains, I just love living in nature because it just makes me happy. As if it’s just oozing little pods, little puffs of joy, coming out of the water, out of the trees, the clouds. As if nature is actually making you happy. Oh I love nature, it makes me happy. Or I love you! You make me so happy! I’m just getting the happy vibe from you, I’m so happy you make me happy, because you are the source of my happiness. I cannot live without you, because if I didn’t have you I wouldn’t be happy at all, so keep it flowing! People talk that way! Not quite that silly, but that’s what they say. You make me so happy. And then of course: You make me miserable. You just make me miserable, quit doing that! Quit spraying me with misery. You make me so unhappy. I just see you and I get unhappy. Don’t talk, your voice makes me unhappy. I don’t want to see your face, I don’t even want to see your toenails! I just see your toenails, it makes me unhappy. I don’t want to hear your name, I hear your name it makes me unhappy. Just, you know, “Fred”. Ugh! Can’t stand Delhi, such and unhappy place. Ever been to Delhi? Have you ever seen the sun in Delhi? I haven’t in a long, long time. Doesn’t matter what time of day. Have you ever been to Beijing? Have you ever seen the sun in Beijing? I’ve been to Beijing, I’ve never seen the sun. I don’t even know where it is. And Delhi’s the same. Three o’clock, nine o’clock in the morning, noon, you never know where the sun is. There’s just so much crap in the air, you can’t see anything except the crap in the air. Boy these places, they’ll make you miserable. Beijing, Delhi, the list could go on. You know, they’re just unhappy places. Whereas Santa Barbara – Santa Barbara is a happy place. In fact they did a whole soap opera that I first saw in Beijing, and it’s quite obvious that Santa Barbara is just a happy place because number one, everybody’s gorgeous. You see the soap opera, they’re all young, or if they’re old they age really, really well. They never go to the bathroom. They never need to bathe, and they all have such interesting lives. That’s Santa Barbara! It’s a happy place. But the happiest place in the world is called Disney Land. They said so! It’s actually the happiest place in the world, because you go there and become happy because it makes you happy.

So that notion that is actually emerging from the side of objects, from appearances, it’s all over the advertising industry. It sells, and it’s utterly delusional. So sakche tamje dukngelwa, it’s really like Ay caramba! If that’s true, that changes everything. That is, no matter where I go, to Santa Barbara, to Disneyland, to Beijing, no matter what, whatever I experience, whatever I acquire, whoever I meet, wherever I go, it’s never going to really deliver the happiness that I seek. When it says “dukngelwa,” it means that you may focus on something, someone, something intangible like a gold medal in the Olympics, or fame, reputation, or power, or acquisition of this, that, or the other thing, or a relationship, and you may think, “This really does make me happy, this person really does make me happy, it’s all very well that you’re making light of this, Alan, but this person actually does make me happy.” You can actually believe that. And is it true that when we’re with this person, that a lot of happiness arises? Yes!

But the Buddhist premise here is this: if something is truly the source of your happiness, this means that whenever the person, some physical object, a place, if it’s truly the source of your happiness, then it should be like an artesian well of happiness. An artesian well always gives rise to water. Whenever you go to it, you get water. Spend ten hours by it, you get ten hours of water coming out. That’s an artesian well, that’s a true source of water. If another person, place, reputation, tangible, intangible, whatever, is a true source of happiness, then the longer you stay with that person, the happier you should become. If this cell phone, which used to be a new one, if this really made me happy, I should just be able to hold it in my hand and just feel the happiness flowing, and I can just sit there and it just makes me happy indefinitely. If that’s the true source of happiness, it should just keep on flowing, just make me happy, happy, happy, happy indefinitely.

Is there anything you really want to do indefinitely? Hour after hour after hour? That you would expect would still make you happy? Think of your favorite thing. Now think about doing that for twelve hours straight. Is there a point when it’s not quite so pleasant? And is there a point where you’ll just be screaming your head off, Please make it stop! So that is unsatisfying.

It’s not to say that there’s no such thing as a satisfactory marriage, of course there are. Or friendships, relationships with teachers, with jobs. There are very satisfying jobs, for sure. I love my work, find it very satisfying. Do I want to teach all day? It is not a true source of happiness. So that’s dukngelwa. Any experience we have that is tainted by mental afflictions is unsatisfying. It’s not a true source of happiness. It is not the genuine article.

And so once again, the easy response would be, Ah, so everything sucks and just become miserable, depressed. Or you may say, all right, if all experiences that are contaminated by mental afflictions are unsatisfying, how about taking the mental afflictions out? And then it does not say that all things are suffering. If your experience of other people, the environment, your body and so forth is not contaminated by mental afflictions then the unsatisfying quality vanishes. In other words, it’s not there in reality, it’s not Planet Earth sucks, or Beijing, or Delhi or Santa Barbara. None of these places intrinsically suck or intrinsically are sources of misery. They are not! It is the way we experience them and insofar – and it is a gradient – insofar as our experience of anything whatsoever is contaminated by mental afflictions, it will suck! It is only a matter of soon or later, but it will be unsatisfying. So then you say, Well that would imply that there is only one thing to do: purify your mind and then everything can be satisfying and don’t purify your mind and you can be as wealthy as Carlos Slim and still be as unhappy as he is. Have you ever seen his face? Not a happy camper! I’ve seen him interviewed. I’m the richest man in the world, I own sixty companies, sixty billion dollars and counting. So what? So what?

So that’s the second one. If one simply believes it, no big impact. But if that gets into the way you’re viewing reality, then it touches everything. There’s nothing that’s left untouched. And it doesn’t mean you become disillusioned with your spouses, your family, your job, your place of living and so forth. That’s not the implication at all. It is to say that if you’d like to find greater satisfaction, greater joy, greater happiness and meaning and fulfillment, it’s not by going from here to there to there to there. It’s by purifying your experience of everything. And that’s really the only solution. So there it is.

Whatever the question is, dharma is the only answer. That ‘s it! That’s what this is about. It’s not to learn a dogma or a doctrine to get all your beliefs right. It’s to radically transform the way you view reality such that your whole experience of existence becomes more and more satisfying. And in the same breath, more realistic. Truth shall make you free.

Written Question from Student: Can you elaborate on the meaning of non-conceptual and conceptual thoughts?

Response: I don’t usually speak of, in fact I never speak of, “non-conceptual thoughts.” Say again? [someone from audience speaking to Alan] So “non-conceptual experience”? Non-conceptual and conceptual experience. Very good. It is a subtle issue, and that could easily take up our whole eight minutes. It’s a very good question. It’s a subtle question, too. And that is, number one, I’ll speak right from the Mahayana perspective, do we have the option, can we simply decide to have a truly, utterly non-conceptual experience of anything? Can we decide? Ok I’ve had it, no more concepts. The answer is no. It’s not within voluntary control. Even when you achieve shamatha, and through extensive, rigorous training in shamatha, your whole coarse mind dissolves into the substrate consciousness. That’s a pretty big deal. Is it non-conceptual? On a coarse level, yes. Subtle level? No. It’s not non-conceptual. Craving still arises. Attachment can still arise to the bliss, the luminosity and non-conceptuality of the substrate consciousness. And mental afflictions are always carried on the backs of conceptual mind. Very subtle, but still there. So Mahayana view — even in deep sleep, it’s subliminally conceptual – so Mahayana view, it’s only when you have a direct realization of emptiness: non-conceptual, that is totally, absolutely non-conceptual. Now interesting point, from Gen Lamrinpa. He’s one of the most formidable yogis I’ve ever met. I had the opportunity to live with him for a whole year in the same cabin, and he was really a very deep meditator on emptiness. Lamrim generally, but with emptiness, he really meditated a lot. He was deep. And he died quite spectacularly. He wandered into the clear light of death, remained there for five days. So there was nothing phony about him, nothing, absolutely authentic. And he said You know, when you go into meditation on emptiness, and the conceptual mind goes totally silent, I mean it goes right down to zero, the whole phenomenal world vanishes. Not because you’ve withdrawn. That happens just by samadhi. You withdraw your awareness, you go into the substrate, the whole world vanishes from your perspective. It’s still conceptual a little bit. It’s not that. It’s not a matter of withdrawal at all. It’s realizing the empty nature of all appearing phenomena, and realizing that emptiness with the non-conceptual mind, the phenomena themselves vanish. The whole entire phenomenal world vanishes! So you see empirically the truth of the statement that all phenomena arise in dependence upon conceptual designation. And if the conceptual designation ceases totally, all phenomena just vanish. That’s a big deal! Of course, when you reactivate the conceptual mind, they appear again. So that’s deeply conceptual.

Now in terms of modern cognitive psychology – and because of the Mind and Life Conferences that I’ve participated in – I think the general view, and it’s a very smart view, but they’re speaking within the bandwidth of normal minds. Basically there’s brain damage, mentally ill, and normal. That’s almost entirely the whole bandwidth that modern cognitive psychology deals with, with hardly any exceptions. Brain damage, mentally ill, and normal; everything above that is invisible. In other words, the most important part is totally invisible, which therefore doesn’t factor in, because why would they? It’s outside their database. Fair enough. The view, and this I learned from the world famous cognitive psychologist at Princeton, Ann Triesmann, she says all of our experience is saturated by concepts. All of our experience. That is, just open your eyes, and the conceptual configuration of phenomena into objects and so forth, is just saturated, it’s right there, you can’t stop it. So they do not make a distinction, and I think she speaks for a lot of people in her field, very, very smart, of course. But that our experience just generally is saturated by conceptual constructs. Lot of truth to that.

But then we can ask the gradient, just like with free will. I’m not going to try to answer that right now, but just broadly. If you’re drunk and somebody’s also just put three tabs of psilocybin into your drink, and you’re drunk, and you get into the car, can you exercise free will to drive safely? You don’t have a chance! You cannot exercise free will. You may say I want to drive very responsibly here. Lots of luck! You have zero chance of driving responsibly, because your brain is damaged by the drugs. How about if you’re psychotic, you’re schizophrenic? How much free will do you have? Very little. So let’s take these cases of person who’s brain damaged, doped, drunk, schizophrenic, and all the way then to a Buddha. It’s a smooth spectrum. The further you are along the spectrum to being liberated, an Arhat, awake as a Buddha, the further along that spectrum, the freer you are. And the more damaged, schizophrenic, psychotic and so forth, the less free you are. In other words, the Buddha has never even raised the question Do we have or do we not, just where are you in the spectrum? And not only where are you on the spectrum, but where are you today? Where are you this morning, this afternoon? Because we vary. So it turns into a very pragmatic question, and the question is not, What can I do to achieve free will?, but rather, How can I be freer? Because let alone being psychotic, if I just get so pissed off that my mind just gets caught up in rage, how free am I to fall asleep? How free am I to enjoy a good joke, or a pleasant meal? Or to even attend to the person I’m pissed off at in a reasonable, clear, unbiased way? I have no freedom at all!

So that goes for craving, it goes for delusion, it goes for anger, jealousy and so forth and so on. The more your mind is dominated by mental afflictions, the less free you are. And therefore comes back to the same thing. Sounds like a broken record, doesn’t it? Free your mind of mental afflictions, you become freer and freer and freer, in every matter, in every way that actually is meaningful.

So in a similar fashion, to be conceptual or not conceptual, well just for starters, wouldn’t it be cool to not be always inundated by the flow of rumination? Because rumination is really coarse junk, like the junk food of the mind. That’s conceptual. But you’ve had moments, five seconds here, ten seconds there, where it was like Oh that was refreshing! I had a period of no rumination, I was just being clear and present. So that would be relatively non-conceptual. And then we go from coarse excitation, medium excitation, subtle excitation, so we see it’s a whole bandwidth there, a whole spectrum of less and less conceptual. And then picking up thoughts and using them intelligently.

Question (continued): How do they relate to discursive thoughts and language?

Response: There’s very good empirical evidence, scientific evidence, that babies inside the womb during the last trimester, the last three months, can distinguish between the sound of their mother’s voice and somebody else’s voice, another woman. Good neurophysiological evidence for that. Now shall we assume that the unborn baby hasn’t learned any language yet? If we go along with that assumption, the baby is able to distinguish this from that. It doesn’t say “mama,” but does recognize that, which means there’s some conceptual process there that is labeling this versus that. Let alone pleasure and pain. And then animals, a wide variety, they may or may not have language but they certainly do conceive. Dogs can be jealous! Anybody who’s owned a dog, you know they can be jealous, and they can be angry, and the can be craving and attached and so forth and so on. So is the conceptual mind possible without language? The answer is yes.

And we find this when we slip down beneath the veil of the rumination, which tends to be caught up a lot in language, and slip down to – how many fingers am I holding up? Before the language comes in, you already know. So there are layers and layers, subtlety upon subtlety of discursive thought, going from the coarse mind to rumination, caught up totally in your own language, down to the more primitive level, softer level, subtler level in the substrate consciousness, all the way right down to the total silencing of discursive thought in the direct realization of emptiness.

Overall, as we now end, core theme in this contemplative science, this inner knowledge, inner science, is to be able to get as clear data as we can, to use scientific terminology. That is, when we’re having a conversation with someone, to be able to attend, to give somebody our whole attention. I’ll quote again my dear friend, this Benedictine monk Lawrence Freeman, very dear friend of mine, we spoke at a conference just a few months back in London, and he made a statement when we were giving another workshop in Santa Barbara years ago. He said the greatest gift you can give another person is your attention. This means that you’re giving them fully your attention, that is, not that you’re attending to them with your commentary and your judgments and I hope you do this and I hope you don’t do that, which is a little like sitting in a dust bowl. But actually going through the dust bowl and attending fully to the other person as that person is presenting him or herself to you as a subject. Giving your whole attention. Quietly. Drinking them in. I drink you in with my eyes. That’s all from romantic talk, but how about setting aside the romance? I’m drinking you in as a human being, I’m giving you my heart, my ears, my mind, my eyes, I’m drinking you in. I’m as fully present with you as I possibly can be, and that’s the greatest gift I can give you first. And after that I might give you a meal, or money, or education, or whatever, something else you need, but first I’ll drink you in. First I’ll give you my most precious and non-refundable and non-renewable asset, and that is my attention. I can’t get it back after I’ve given it to you. Those moments are gone, but I gave you what was most precious, and that’s my time. And I gave it to you as purely as I could. Not from what I can get from you as an investment, but what I can actually offer you, with no expectation or anticipation of kickback. Just what can I offer you. That’s the Bodhisattva ideal, isn’t it?

So with that, then, clearly once again it’s a gradient, but this means we’re attending fully and receiving fully what the person has to offer, whether it’s their grief, or anxiety, their joy, their frustration, their sadness, their satisfaction, whatever it may be. Drinking it in, getting clear. So this is what you have to offer today! And being receptive to it. That’s pretty sweet. That’s very human. Human to human. That’s the way it should be. Likewise with animals. Sentient being to sentient being.

Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Revised by James French

Final edition by Alma Ayon


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