04 Sep 2012

Teaching: This practice of mindfulness on feelings using the space of the body is a nice prelude the settling the mind where we attend to the space of the mind. As in the latter, we need to distinguish between stillness and movement—i.e., the stillness of awareness and the movement of sensations or thoughts. Loose, present, and luminous, awareness can remain still if there is no grasping or preference. If we can release desire and aversion, appearances are just appearances.
Meditation: mindfulness of feelings. Let awareness clearly illuminate the space of the body, in particular the tactile sensations associated with the 4 elements. Closely apply mindfulness to the affective ways you experience those tactile sensations—i.e., 1) pleasant, 2) unpleasant, or 3) neutral. Examine whether pleasant/unpleasant is intrinsic to the experience or whether it is our mode of experiencing. Is feeling static and unchanging? Is the magnitude of feeling instrinsic to the feeling itself? Exercise: Visualize the part of the body associated with pain and lay on the rumination about the pain.
Q1. In this practice, most feelings appear to be neutral. Is this correct, or do we need to dig deeper? 

Q2. In my meditation, I apply antidotes to sleepiness, but they don’t work, and I struggle. How should I deal with such situations? 

Q3. I’ve always found working with pain difficult, but in this practice, I could not actually pinpoint the pain (though still present), so I concluded it must be in the mind. 

Q4. In this practice, I try to locate the pain by going in closer and closer, but I can’t really find it, and it appears to pulsate and travel. Why can’t pain be an object of meditation?

Meditation starts 14:16

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This practice of attending to the space of the body – to the emergences of the four elements, as well as the feelings that arise within the space of the body – is a very nice natural prelude to, or leads to, the more subtle practice of attending to the space of the mind; the thoughts, images, emotions, feelings that arise in the space of the mind. So as you recall, the general sequence within the four applications of mindfulness is from coarse to subtle, just like “mindfulness of breathing”, “settling the mind” and “awareness of awareness”. It’s following that same trajectory.

So in the practice of “settling the mind in its natural state”, which we’ll start in two days, the entrance to the practice, as so eloquently and precisely taught by Dudjom Lingpa, is to be able to distinguish between stillness and movement. The stillness is of your own awareness. The movement is everything that’s taking place; all the comings and goings, images, thoughts, desires and so forth that are arising. [You] see through your own experience that they [stillness and movement] are not the same, that they’re not melted, they’re not merged, but in fact there can be stillness of the awareness even while the thoughts and so forth are in motion. That is, through the absence of grasping – it’s actually a very simple thing, not easy but it is simple – through the very absence of grasping, even while thoughts, memories, even troubling memories, or very happy memories, when these come up, through the absence of grasping, they don’t catch and drag your awareness after them, dragging your awareness off to the referent of the images, back to the event in the past, or some happy thought for the future and so forth.

Your awareness is just like “Teflon” awareness, so free of grasping, of clinging, of attachment. So loose! This is where we always come back to the first phase of relaxation. The implications flow all the way through the meditation. That looseness, that ease, that letting-go that we’re doing in phase one of mindfulness of breathing; we’re going to absolutely need that in “settling the mind in its natural state” because it’ll be precisely by that looseness, that ease, that relaxation that you’re able to simply be present with whatever comes up, without being drawn into the drama, [whether it’s] positive drama or negative drama.

So as that is the case for attending to the space of the mind and its contents, which again we’ll start on Thursday, here we’re doing the prelude to that something, a bit more tangible, easy to find. Some people find the space of the mind difficult to find; where is it? How big is it? And so forth. Whereas the space of the body? Pretty easy. Pretty straightforward.

So, you’re attending to the space of the body, but now within [that space], for those of you who have a background in Buddhism, you’ll recall that there are three types of suffering: blatant suffering, suffering of change and this more ubiquitous, extensive suffering. (4:17) That third one, that ubiquitous, extensive suffering of conditioned phenomena, which is really kind of our ground level of suffering. That’s what Buddhadharma is all about. It can be applied to stress reduction, to making your day happier, a better sex life, better performance in athletics, in business and creativity; and all that kind of stuff. But what the Buddhadharma is really about, at its core, is addressing that deepest dimension of suffering. Our fundamental vulnerability to suffering, even beyond the suffering of change; it’s a deeper dimension of that and if you receive classic teachings on, well, what is the nature of that? What is the nature of that fundamental vulnerability to suffering that permeates all of our experience, in the desire realm, form realm, formless realm, what’s the nature of it? What’s the essence of it? Zag bcas nye bar len pa’i phung po. The contaminated, closely held skandhas. It’s contaminated. Why? Because our whole experience of them is bound up with mental afflictions. Not contaminated because bad breath or something like that. It’s coming from, conditioned by, mental afflictions and the karma generated by mental afflictions. That’s the Zag bcas contaminated part, that is caught-up in, contaminated by, tainted by mental afflictions. But this nye bar len pa’i, nye bar means “closely” and len pa’i means “to take”. So we hold on to, we identify with, hold close, my body, my mind, my feelings, mental states and so forth. It’s that very holding close that sets us up for vulnerability to all manner of suffering.

So this practice of vipashyana is going right to that. Directly. So, we’re about to go back to the close application of mindfulness to the body and, specifically within that domain, to feelings. Feelings arising in the body. Then, the challenge here, as in settling the mind and that distinction between stillness and motion, is to be so loose, so free of grasping and so not holding closely, but just… letting be.

So there’s a mudra [Alan clenches his fists], holding closely, mine, mine, my country, my spouse, my body, my car, my, my, my… holding closely. If there was a mudra to just letting be, it would be something like this perhaps [Alan makes another hand gesture]. Just being present with, not contraction, not recoil, not dissociation, and not plunging into either, by way of grasping. Just being present with luminously, clearly, discerningly. But if you can see, as you observe the four elements arising in the body and then especially as you observe the feelings, because that is our topic for the day, the feeling arising in the body, insofar as you can observe them without your awareness moving, without recoil, and in just ordinary English, without preference. That is exactly the practice in settling the mind in its natural state, happy thoughts, unhappy, virtuous and non-virtuous, what have you. Since, in total absence of grasping onto all of them, the ideal there is to have zero preference. In this context, preference; I want that kind of image, that kind of thought, I don’t want that emotion, and I don’t want that desire and so forth – all of those are expressions of grasping. So in settling the mind in its natural state, when one says settle your awareness without distraction, without grasping, that’s really a core element of it. Without preference, let alone without superimposing “I and mine” but even without preference. It’s so loose!

(8:12) So again, as an analogy, imagine being radiantly clear, radiantly lucid in a dream. I mean you’ve nailed it! You’ve so thoroughly comprehended the dream, that you see that your own embodiment in the dream, others people bodies, everything taking place in the dream; you’ve really fathomed it. You’re an accomplished dream yogi, or yogini, and your insight is so deep that you really know that this is just like looking at an array of mirages, or rainbows, or reflections in a mirror. You simply know, not intellectually, but you really know experientially that there’s nothing there from the side of anything that appears in a dream. From the waking awaking state we know that, “Oh yeah, you’re just dreaming” – that means there wasn’t anything there. But when you’re in the midst of the dream you don’t know that at all.

Imagine that you really are deeply awake, thoroughly awake within the dream, and so not only the people, the situations that you encounter objectively but your own presence, that persona of you in the dream, who has a very short life. Maybe ten minutes, half an hour, ninety minutes, maybe two hours, but that’s totally maxed out. According to sleep and dream researchers, the longest dream is maybe two hours, but that’s really unusual.

So that’s your life span. That little persona in the dream. You know, that’s shorter than a gnat! Or a housefly. That’s a really short life span. So, there you are, but you’re aware that that little “you”, that little persona in the dream, that there is nothing there from your own side, any more than if Miles was in my dream, there would be nothing there from his own side.

(9:40) The way that His Holiness does it, and it really gets me, if I were dreaming right now and there’s Miles appearing to be substantial, but as His Holiness points [out], he says: Zug ah zug sah. It means “that which you are pointing your finger at”. So if I’m really lucid in a dream, I point my finger at Miles and say: “that”, you know “that”, that which I am pointing my finger at, which really seems to be there from his own side, is totally empty! There is nothing there at all from his own side.

So if you really fathom that, in the dream, that means you are very, very lucid. Then it’s obvious, if there’s nothing even there from its own side, there’s no possibility of something that’s not there from its own side harming me in any way. But then if you, Zug ah zug sah, pointing the finger here – nothing! An appearance, yes, of course; but there’s nothing here from its own side.

So now if we have nothing versus nothing, how much damage can be done? Who’s going to damage who? So if you have that kind of insight, you really are living in a kind of a flow of vipashyana within your dream. Then number one, you’re going to be fearless, right? Because you know there simply is nothing whatsoever to fear here. It would be like going out and being afraid of rainbows. You think it’s going to catch you in the eye? Like, “oh, I hate it when a rainbow jabs me in the eye!”

You’re fearless, but not only you are fearless, but if you’re really there as a scientist, if you’re just keenly interested, in even more thoroughly fathoming the nature of dream reality. Then whatever comes up, you can imagine perhaps being totally without preference. Totally without preference. You’re simply observing whatever comes up but you can be without preference because you’re fearless. You’re fearless because you know there’s no possibility of harm.

And why? It’s so simple! Can you be harmed in a dream? Sure, you can be physically harmed in a dream, you can really hurt, someone can punch you and it can really give you a bad headache or really feel bad, or pierce you with a weapon and so forth, can be very painful. Even in a dream, even though we [think] from the waking state, how is that possible, but it is. You can feel physically bad, you can be injured in a dream. And then emotionally of course, no difference.

Is it possible to be physically and mentally harmed within a dream by other people in the dream, or situations in the dream? Sure! So much so that if you wake up from a really rotten dream, maybe a nightmare, a traumatic dream, miserable anguish dream, it can ruin your day! If it was really vivid, it can linger right through the morning. [Someone might ask] “How are you?”

“Ah, really cruddy, I had such a terrible dream.”

“But how are things this morning?”

“Great, but the dream last night really sucked!”

So the emotional overflow can carry right into the waking state.

How is that possible? How can nothing harm nothing and leave such a residue that it can ruin your morning, or even ruin your day? You know how, because there is the mudra, it’s grasping. Coming from not knowing and then misapprehending, reifying self, reifying everything else. Now you’re just ready to suffer in any which way, including, somebody can just grimace at you! “I respected him so much, and he just thinks I’m a jerk!” A grimace can ruin your day. A grimace from somebody who doesn’t exist. That’s pretty wimpy, right? But it’s true, isn’t it?

I remember someone attending the Dalai Lama’s teaching and he just made her day, she told me afterwards: he looked at me, he looked at me. My eyes, his eyes. It really made her day. And then on another occasion, she was attending some class of mine, and she was very wounded. She said: Alan, you didn’t look at me. She was very upset. I wasn’t making any point, I was just doing what I’m doing right now. I imagine that right now, I haven’t looked at Mary yet. There, she’s grieving, you can tell! Why hasn’t he looked at me? What’s wrong with me? So even not looking at a person, let alone [grimacing at them] can ruin their day. That’s how fragile we are with grasping.

So it’s simple isn’t it? I said it would be short, but OK, now we’ll wrap up. [Laughter] And you do believe me don’t you? I’m sure you believe me. Because you’re so gullible [More laughter].

Now, we’re going to the body, and we are going to try to emulate that. We’re going to try to be lucid with respect to the body. Try to be as lucid as you can. That distinction between stillness and motion, bring that stillness of awareness, that Teflon awareness, that awareness free of grasping but full of mindfulness, clarity, discernment. Attend to the space of the body, but attend to whatever’s arising with as little grasping as possible, just being present with it and then we’ll run a little experiment in the midst of that. It’s a surprise experiment. Find a posture.


(16:45) Your whole experience here in retreat will very likely be strongly influenced if you make a point at the beginning of each session to enter with a spirit of loving kindness. You’re here not simply to follow with discipline, to work hard, but to do something wonderful for yourself. The first thing is to set your body and mind at ease. Let your awareness descend into the body right down to the ground. Settle your body in its natural state, relaxed, still and vigilant.

(17:50) Then we turn our attention to the breathing. We’re still alive so we may think, “I already know how to breathe. I need no instructions there. Let’s get on with it!” Of course we know how to breathe, but do we know how to let the body breathe? Apart from those occasions when we are in deep sleep? So once again, relax deeply and let go completely with every out breath.

If you’re ruminating at the end of the out breath, you’ll very likely inhale prematurely, before you really need to. As you come to the end of the out breath, be very quiet. Completely release the breath until there’s nothing more to give away.

Then, as if you’re receiving a gift, without even reaching out and taking it, but simply receiving it in open palms, receive the gift of the next in-breath, flowing in of its own accord. Receive just what’s given, without taking anymore. Then, give back what you do not need as you breathe out.

(21:17) Now, setting your mind at ease, releasing all rumination, let your awareness come to rest in stillness in the present moment, clearly illuminating the space of the body.

Illuminate the sensations associated with earth, water, fire and air. These appearances that arise objectively to your tactile perception, just as colors and shapes appear objectively to your visual perception.

(23:59) Then closely apply mindfulness to the affective ways you experience the sensations arising within the field of the body. Pleasant, unpleasant and neutral.

Clearly distinguish experientially between the objective appearances, the tactile sensations themselves, earth, water, fire and air on one hand; and the feelings, pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. See if the feelings themselves are not intrinsic to the objective appearances, they’re not simply presented to you, they are in your mode of experience, the way you apprehend the sensations arising within the field of the body.

Clearly recognize the different types of feelings, but to the best of your ability without preference, without grasping, without identifying with them. Observe them nakedly without superimposing upon them mental images, labels, constructs. Non-conceptually. Simply observe the feelings arising from moment to moment as they nakedly present themselves to you.

(28:40) To move from shamatha to vipashyana, introduce a question, some element of inquiry, probing into the nature of the phenomena you are attending to. These feelings, are they static, unchanging? Or are they arising moment by moment? You may know the answer intellectually but now pose it experientially.

(30:50) As you closely observe the feelings, see if you can determine whether they are absolutely as they appear. That is, is the unpleasant absolutely objectively without any context, with no relativity, unpleasant, exactly to the degree to which it appears? In other words, is the magnitude of the pleasant, unpleasant, neutral feelings you experience, is this an intrinsic element or aspect of the feeling itself? Or is that magnitude relative to experiences outside of itself? Probe right into the very nature of the feelings. Penetrate as if with a laser and see if you can determine their intrinsic nature. How they are all on their own. You must do this with the quiet mind, clear, radiant and sharp.

(33:13) If, for example, there are unpleasant feelings arising in the body and if they are intrinsically, absolutely unpleasant, then the more you penetrate, you focus right in upon their core, the more intensely you should experience the unpleasantness of that feeling. Is that so or not? Explore.

(34:30) Now here is the other side of the experiment. If, for example, there are unpleasant feelings arising in any part of the body, focus your attention on that part, and now do just the opposite of what we did previously. Visualize the part of the body that feels uncomfortable; imagine it. Tell yourself, this feels awful. This is really uncomfortable. I really don’t like this at all. I hope it doesn’t get worse. Elaborate, ruminate, develop it. Lay on the conceptual projections, all negative, as if you are a hypochondriac. Does this or does this not influence your experience of the discomfort itself? Examine closely. When you do this, does the discomfort increase, decrease or remain the same?

Now, terminate that experiment. Once again let your mind be utterly silent, clear, as free of grasping as possible. Letting your awareness be like space. Let it simply illuminate the sensations and feelings arising in the body, as free as possible from preference, from the superimposition of “I and Mine”.

Post meditation teaching

Oh la so. Let’s start with a truism. That is, if we really want something, and then it appears to us, we’re happy. We think that’s something good. A really good example of that that occurred to me is fame. Some people really like to be the object of other people’s attention, like to be in the limelight, like a lot of people attending to them. And other people really just don’t. They would much prefer to be invisible.

I was with Richard Gere once, years ago. We were in an auditorium, something was over, and he and I were just chatting together, and then a paparazzi came up. He wanted a photo or whatever, and I could just see that, from Richard’s body language, he was like, “Will it never end?” He’s been famous so long, that can you imagine he got much of thrill? Like, “Oh, someone wants to take my picture!” You can imagine. He was being gracious, but he really didn’t have much time for that. Whereas if you’re just starting your career as an actor, and you’re hoping to one day become as famous as Richard Gere, and a paparazzi comes to you, you’d be like, “Oh, how much time would you like?” You know? And it’s the same paparazzi! Right? But because you desired it, it appears to be pleasant. That’s true, isn’t it, much more broadly than that. That’s just a good example.

So, Richard Gere did not find that a pleasant experience, he would have preferred that person not to come, because he and I were just having a nice short conversation. Is it not also the case, that when we don’t want something, and then it appears, then lo and behold, it appears undesirable because we didn’t desire it. So insofar as we can release the desire, then it’s simply an appearance. And insofar as we can release the aversion, it’s just an appearance. That gets very up close and personal within the body, right? But there’s something very empowering here, that we are not simply the victims of the appearances, including the feelings, that arise in the space of the body. So, anybody have any interesting experience when you tried to probe into the nucleus of unpleasant feelings? To find if you could find something that was 100% absolutely disagreeable? Or when you did just the opposite, you kind of zoomed out, and then just like a dump truck, piled on images, labels, dislike, imagination and so forth and so on, either way did that have any impact on your experience of the feeling itself? Anybody?

[An audience member reports that they found the pain increased with rumination, and disappeared when observed closely, without rumination.]

Well that’s the profound message of the experiment, that you do actually have a choice. That is, when I hold up my hand and you see the color of my palm, you have no choice. You may want to see it purple, or have my palm be invisible, but really you have no choice. If your eyes are open, that’s what you’re getting. You have no choice at all. Isn’t it true? Likewise [Alan claps] you have no choice! There’s the sound, it’s coming to you. It’s a given. Pow! Delivered in your lap. But a feeling is not like that.

So I think there’s clear empirical evidence that the feeling is not simply presented, it’s in a mode of apprehension, but since it’s in a mode of apprehension, then how are we apprehending? It is very much within our own hands. We can certainly modify it. So thank you, Titi. I wasn’t surprised, but I’m delighted with your response. It’s a very important discovery.

There’s a statement too to make this very practical. There’s one line from Shantideva’s sixth chapter of The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, patience chapter. I memorized it a long time ago, probably about 40 years ago, and it’s really stuck with me. It’s pretty short. “There’s nothing whatsoever that does not become easier with familiarization, as you accustom yourself to it.” There’s nothing. That is, through the process of familiarization, habituation, becoming accustomed to, everything can become easier.

He’s couching that, inserting that line, in this patience chapter. So this is a good application of it. For most of us, maybe all of us I don’t know, but most of us in this short session, the degree of discomfort in the body was probably not intense. I didn’t hear anybody screaming, you know? I would really ask you to find another posture if that’s happening! But I imagine quite a number of people felt some degree of discomfort, but not just white hot screaming pain.

Have you ever experienced incredibly intense pain? Probably have if you’ve been around long enough, sure. So in terms of developing this wisdom, developing this skill, learning how to release grasping, we don’t wait for some intense pain and then start practicing there. We’ll be overwhelmed by it. But if we can take an itch. That’s about as trivial as it gets. That’s about as lightweight as it gets. An itch is unpleasant, right? That’s why you want to scratch it. It’s hard to imagine a less magnitude of [unpleasantness]. Start with an itch. Then you can say, yes, I’m itch proof. I experience the itch, but it’s just arising in space. And now it’s subsiding.

Then go from there to something pretty intense, I think it’s literally true, it’s a story I heard, I think it was Gyatrul Rinpoche, and he, a man of impeccable honesty, one of my core Lamas, Dzogchen Lama above all, he told me of a Lama that was in Tibet during the cultural revolution. He was very accomplished. Captured by the Chinese communists, imprisoned, tortured. And, as it often happened, almost as if they were religious zealots, these Cultural Revolutionaries, they were zealots, they wouldn’t call themselves religious zealots, but they really behaved like it. With this particular Lama, it wasn’t the only case by any means, it continues to this day, but the people who captured this Lama and tortured him, they tortured him and said we will stop the torture, all you have to do is say I renounce the Buddha. That’s all you have to do, just say that. They just wanted to break his will. They wanted to show that we can conquer you, you’re a conquered people, you’re one of the spiritual leaders of these people, and say that and you will demonstrate that we have conquered you. Say the words, and we’ll stop the torture. The torture was they literally nailed him to the side of a wall. Not to a cross, but they nailed him. So there he was, spread eagled like a fly, on a wall, a wooden wall. He was spread-eagled there, nailed.

They said, “We’ll let you down, we’ll put salve on your wounds, just say the words!” And of course he wouldn’t. His disciples came to him. They were in tears, they were in anguish, seeing their Lama being tortured in this way. They came to him, and said, “Lama, please. We all know you. We know your faith in the dharma, we know you’d never reject the Buddha, we know, so give them the words, the words don’t mean anything at all, just say the words. We don’t care, we know perfectly, but we’d love to take you down, try to heal you. So please just say the words!” And the Lama smiled at them, and said, “How can I say the words, ‘I reject the Buddha? I am a Buddha!’” Pretty good punchline!

If this Lama was in a radiantly lucid dream, that is, as far as we’re concerned, that actually took place, but from his perspective, if he was seeing this so lucidly, the non-inherent existence of the torturers, the wall, the nails, his body and so forth, he’s seeing this all as empty of inherent nature. If he’s lucid, if he’s actually viewing this, and the chances are extremely high that he was, he was viewing this whole situation from the perspective of rigpa, which means that he was awake during what we euphemistically call the waking state, then he’s awake. It’s just an empty apparition that appears to be nailed on the wall. With the pain, physical discomfort arising in space with no owner, and so he can look with total relaxation. With ease, with a smile, and say “How can I reject the Buddha?” As if he’s talking over a cup of tea.

So, you don’t start there! You start with the itch, and then you gradually move along, but if you don’t start with the itch, then you can be eighty five years old and say, “These itches are killing me! I can’t stand it, I have one itch after another, I hate my life. It’s just one thing after another. Life is suffering.” You can be a total wimp forever. So start now! Especially the young guys, and young ladies. Start young. Because man it’s so possible, it’s so possible to age gracefully, nobly, with wisdom, with joy, it really is possible. Really possible, to just grow in wisdom, grow in depth, grow in compassion, grow in happiness, genuine happiness, right up to the point of death. And it’s also possible to grow old miserably. So start early! Start early.

Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Revised by Phil Gardner and Jim Parsley

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Posted by Alma Ayon



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