04 Sep 2012
Alan uses rats as an analogy for thoughts. When a cat (mindfulness) is present, rats (thoughts) stay away. During the bubonic plague, rats (thoughts) carried fleas (disturbing emotions) which carried the bacterial infection (e.g., depression or anxiety). Therefore, we need to treat rumination as public enemy #1. According to Tsongkhapa, we must complete eliminate rumination in order to achieve shamatha.
Meditation: mindfulness of breathing method of your choice. For each breath cycle, arouse attention at in breath to counter laxity, and relax at out breath to counter excitation. In this way, refine your attention and dispel rumination. Breathe effortlesly as in deep sleep.
Meditation starts: 9:27
So this morning I’d like to talk about rats… which are very useful critters; I know, as an environmentalist, creatures all have their niche in nature. Rats are great [at] garbage disposal, but indoors they are not so useful; they tend to create more mess than they clean up. The analogy, of course, is: the rats are like thoughts and mindfulness of breathing is like a cat. Keep a cat in your house and the mice tend to leave!
Back in the 14th century, about one third of the European population was wiped out by the bubonic plague - it was rats! But wasn’t just the rats, it was the rats carrying fleas, and the fleas are mental afflictions. But it wasn’t the fleas that were the problem, that is, they carried the bubonic plague, and that’s what killed everybody.
When we experience the symptoms of mental distress, two big ones are depression and anxiety. You might want to look for the cooperative conditions that catalyze it. You may find that every single time – just for those two, there’s a broad bandwidth of mental suffering, but anxiety and depression are really very high in the list – you may check out, whenever you’re experiencing depression or anxiety, whether it’s not riding on the back of mental afflictions for starters (the answer is yes), and whether the mental afflictions are not carried by the rats of rumination.
So I’ll remind you again, it’s something really important, and that is Tsongkhapa points out – he’s drawing on classic Indian sources, but it’s not just authority, he’s drawing on just generations and generations of tremendous degree of experience, contemplative experience tracing back to classical India – [he points out:] “if you want to achieve shamatha, not only during sessions, but in between sessions, you have to completely eliminate rumination”, or the Sanskrit term is vikalpa. You have to totally get rid of it. It’s like an alcoholic just not drinking any booze any longer, at all, ever! That doesn’t mean, of course, you never think; rats outdoors can be very, very useful. Indoors, let’s call those rumination; the semi-lucid, the semi-conscious or non-lucid, thinking, rumination, which is just the fertile ground for the arising proliferation of mental afflictions which give rise to all kinds of mental suffering.
So the shamatha is just like a straight avenue, especially mindfulness of breathing. It’s a straight method, not for curing the disease, but for totally suppressing its carrier, its host – mental afflictions. Just by doing that, [but] not by going unconscious. That’s very peaceful, but that’s all it is; you know, taking an anesthetic, drinking yourself into a stupor, falling deep asleep. It’s all very nice, but nothing happens. It’s not even blissful.
Whereas as in Shamatha, when you luminously, and lucidly, get your mind to calm down, and the conceptualization goes still, still, still… and your whole conceptual mind withdraws into substrate consciousness, then, lo and behold, it’s not just peaceful – it’s actually blissful! And luminous, and, of course, non-conceptual. So, by itself, does that cure the disease? No, it doesn’t, but it gives you an awfully nice respite from the symptoms. Then, of course, the great boon here is by achieving shamatha, you’re not only temporarily freed from, or have made dormant, the five obscurations; but you’ve also brought out the five dhyana factors. These are your tools, these are tremendous tools that you apply to vipashyana to really liberate the mind.
So this [point] cannot be too strongly emphasized: people who get depressed when they are in retreat, it’s easy to get depressed in retreat. You’re a junky who’s been deprived of all of your stuff! No TV, no chit-chat, no work, no nothing! You’re just sitting there in your cell. Like, “give me a fix, give me a fix!” and since you’re not getting any fix, the body produces its own heroin: blah blah blah blah blah… you know, rumination.
So, of course, you get depressed, but your depression is carried on the back of rumination. It’s really true. This is where there’s a marvelous compatibility, and not only compatibility but a synergy, with the four applications of mindfulness. Because it keeps on bringing us back to perception, which is not conceptualization and is not rumination. It keeps on bringing us back, and you come back; you may experience physical pain, if your body’s in pain then sure you can certainly get that, but when you bring this laser-sharp awareness to it, even that can be attenuated. The degree to which physical pain grips you can definitely be influenced.
But so much of what troubles us when we are in solitude, when we are in retreat, is not so much physical pain – [although] that can be an issue – but mostly, it’s mental. So coming back to the present moment, clearly, in perception, non-conceptually and attending closely in between sessions, [it’s a] tremendous boon. [It’s] almost like antiseptic, like washing down the halls with antiseptic between sessions. Then, while in your session, then you’re really doing the deep work to tap right into the substrate consciousness. Bear in mind, this is tapping into, or leading us to, another whole dimension of knowing. It’s called in Sanskrit abhijñā. “Abhi” means higher, like abhidharma – higher dharma. “Abhi” means something higher; also means manifest, [e.g.] Abhisamaya-alaṅkāra; clear, higher, manifest. And “jñā” simply means knowing, it’s a higher knowing, like a higher frequency knowing, or what do we call that in English? Extrasensory perception.
That is, we perceive by way of our ordinary five physical senses, and then we know all kinds of stuff on a coarse level by means of conceptualization. [It’s] very useful, but mostly hedonic frankly; whereas tap into the substrate consciousness, you’re now in a flow of knowing that is not sensory by way of the five physical senses, but is also not conceptual, because it is non-conceptual. You’re just now in a flow of non-conceptual knowing and you’re not knowing much, when you’re just resting there, because you’re just knowing the substrate, but you’re ready to launch. From that vantage point, you can launch into remote viewing, clairaudience, past life recollection and so forth and so on, you can launch into a lot of modes of knowing, because that’s your platform. Luminous, blissful and non-conceptual and – boom!
And Atisha says: if you don’t have abhijñā, you really can’t help other people. Did he mean you can’t help other people hedonically? No, that would be crazy, of course you can help other people hedonically. In a zillion ways, in an inconceivable number of ways, we can help people hedonically. So many ways: as an accountant, running a hardware store; that’s all very useful. If you need hardware, you need the hardware guy. So what’s he talking about? This man was brilliant. Atisha, he was a genius! As well as a great Bodhisattva and so forth. Of course, what he’s talking about is, if you really want to lead people to genuine happiness, on the path of liberation and to awaking itself, how are you going to do that without abhijñā? How are you going to do that without extrasensory perception? You’re the blind leading the blind. So, shamatha’s an axis to that, and then when we [ask], are there [other] dimensions to abhijñā? Oh yeah, definitely. There’s another whole dimension of abhijñā: extrasensory perception. That comes only from the union of shamatha and vipashyana. That’s way up there. That’s really going deep. Is there anything beyond that, beyond the union of shamatha and vipashyana, vipashyana insight into emptiness? Yes, there is: the knowing from rigpa itself. It doesn’t get any better than that. That’s the path we’re following here.
So, fasten your seat belts! Let’s go. But let’s not be tee-totalers. Tee-totalers, cold turkey. Rumination: public enemy number one. Use thoughts like rats outdoors; let them eat the garbage out there. Use thoughts, pick them up and put them down, but when you put ’em down, you keep ’em down. Don’t let them take over and infest your mind because they just poop all over the place! Yes, they do.
(10:31) As an act of loving kindness for yourself, and indirectly for all those whom you may serve, in the near future and the distant future, settle your body, speech and mind in their natural states.
Then, following any of the three methods of mindfulness of breathing of your choice, arouse your attention with each in-breath. Focus clearly, non-conceptually, knowing, on the sensations of the breath. With every out-breath, relax deeply.
So, in a 24 minute session you have a myriad of very short sessions; one session for each cycle of respiration. Arousing the attention, thereby overcoming laxity; deeply releasing, relaxing, thereby overcoming excitation. Breath by breath, balance your mind, refine your attention and relentlessly dispel rumination.
(18:50) Then, a brief reminder, and that is, in terms of the flow of respiration, see that you are not helping it along [by] reinforcing the in-breath, expelling the out-breath. On the contrary, breathe effortlessly, yet mindfully, but as effortlessly as if you’re deep asleep.
And let’s continue practicing now in silence.
Instructions after meditation:
Between sessions get real, stay real and enjoy your day.
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by Phil Gardner and Jim Parsley
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti