07 Sep 2012
Alan elaborates on settling the mind in its natural state. While developing the 3 qualities of shamatha, we are observing external appearances and the (relative) dharmadhatu dissolve into the substrate and our mind (subjective mental events) dissolve into substrate consciousness from the perspective of the substrate or our best approximation thereof. The substrate is the repository of our karma and travels from lifetime to lifetime. Shamatha is sufficient to give us access to the substrate.
Meditation: mindfulness of feelings. Let your eyes be open, and rest your gaze vacantly in the space before you. Single-pointedly direct your mindfulness to the space of the mind, resting awareness without distraction and without grasping. If necessary, identify the space of the mind by giving yourself a target—e.g., a discursive thought or a mental image. Introspection checks for rumination, but rather than banishing thoughts, release grasping at the referent. Also, be aware of feelings, including neutral (e.g., feeling calm). Experiment by generating a pleasant feeling with a thought or an image. Is it static or changing?
Q1. You’ve discussed the relationship between quantum physics and the number zero. Is there a relationship between the number zero and emptiness?
Q2. Are buddhist philosophers like Nagarjuna akin to quantum physicists of the mind? How does the Dalai Lama debate with quantum physicists? Are there any areas of agreement?
Q3. Is observing sensations at the chest/heart a supplementary shamatha practice? It appears to calm the system just like watching the breath.
Q4. While I can understand teachings cognitively, I don’t appear to be able to translate this understanding into realization because the ego is too strong.
Q5. Is music running through my mind rumination?
Q6. In settling the mind, nothing happens there, so what should I do?
Meditation starts at: 21:09
I suggest that during the retreat, in the morning sessions, students follow the guided meditations that cover one of the three methods of shamatha: mindfulness of breathing, settling the mind in its natural state and awareness of awareness. But then, throughout the rest of the day, I suggest that you follow the one of these three practices that you find most beneficial. And so, some of you may have already found that mindfulness of breathing really works for you, and that one of its three methods (or maybe even three) really work for you. And so, if you’re getting benefit from the practice, why change? And what’s benefit? It’s relaxation, stability and vividness. If that’s happening, why change? You are very welcome to just continue with the flow of mindfulness of breathing, because that’s a good basis, that is the method that the Buddha taught at the beginning of his great discourse on the four applications of mindfulness. He didn’t teach all of the others methods of shamatha, he just taught that one, mindfulness of breathing, so clearly that has to be good enough.
But having said that, not everybody likes mindfulness of breathing, not everybody gets maximum benefit from it, and some people as soon as they’re introduced to settling the mind, they take to it immediately, so if that is the case, go ahead and emphasize that practice. If other people, in other retreats or through podcasts, have find most beneficial the practice of awareness of awareness, then go ahead right away to it (you don’t have to wait until we explore it here), and follow that method.
So, in terms of your daily shamatha practice, I would suggest that this be kind of like a base camp for climbing a very high mountain: you maybe go up to 6.000 meters and there’s your new base, and then you make expeditions up from there: so shamatha is your base camp. So whatever your base camp is, you can use mindfulness of breathing and settling the mind, or you may alternate between of these two. I call that balance earth and wind, so that could be a nice balance, mindfulness of breathing is really good for relaxation and stability, and settling the mind is really good for clarity. So having back to back sessions, you may go first to mindfulness of breathing probably, and then settling the mind. Or you can have a very nice combination of earth and sky, doing first mindfulness of breathing and then awareness of awareness… All of these are good.
(3:40) So this afternoon we are going to return to the close application of mindfulness to feelings, specifically mental feelings, psychological feelings, but still keeping it very simple. We have a wide array of emotions, very rich, very textured, very diverse, but when we are focusing on vedana, feelings, that is just pleasure: ”I like it”, ”I don’t like it” and ”It’s neutral”: pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, just keep it there. Next week, when we are going to the close applications of mindfulness to the mind, then we will cover all others emotions, thoughts, memories and everything else. But for this week, we’re focusing on this kind of primary directive, this deep impulse that we share with all sentient beings. So it is easy to feel greater empathy for some people than others, that’s true for all of us, and it’s easy to feel more empathy towards mammals, than towards reptiles. They are just ‘more like us’, but reptiles too, are sentient beings. It is easier to feel empathy with the dog than with the cockroach, but the cockroach is still a sentient being. You look at the cockroach and you may say “You and I, we don’t have a lot in common” but think that the cockroach doesn’t like pain either, that it likes to eat, it likes pleasure. So there is, empathy all the way through.
(5:10) So that is why we are lingering for the whole week on feelings, because that is our common ground with all sentient beings, even with arhts and Buddhas, because they too, have feelings. So establishing this cognitive basis for empathy, which is the basis for loving-kindness, compassion and bodhichitta, and we are going from there, so that is a base camp, as we venture into the expedition of vipashyana to the body, now to feelings and then beyond that. But note that we can always come back to our base camp, we can always come back to straight shamatha practice.
And with this practice to which we are returning today, settling the mind in its natural state, as you well know now, although it is presented as a shamatha practice, nevertheless it is right there on the border, because it’s so easy to start getting insights into impermanence, just for start, and as you attend moment by moment and you just say: “Oh, there is nothing static here!”, even the space of the mind. And if you really attend to it, closely, you may find number one, that it’s not black, and, number two that it’s not a sheer absence of something. It is a real space, out of which stuff emerges and into which things extinguish, it is three dimensional and you may actually find it has kind of a vibration quality, it is a like an exciting quality, like a plasma.
And so, as you’re just resting in settling the mind in its natural state as a shamatha practice, then it is good to know what is for. When you are taking that as a shamatha practice, what are you seeking to do?
I’ll tell you: you are seeking to get your best approximation of observing your mind, your woman’s mind, man’s mind, specific old and young mind and, with all of that, that specific psyche, you are developing your best approximation to observe your mind with all the objective appearances and subjective impulses, desires, emotions and so forth. You are seeking to observe your mind from the perspective of substrate consciousness, which is knowing - bear in mind substrate consciousness is not just spaced out, absolutely not that - would be substrate, but it is possible for the substrate consciousness to slip into substrate, and that is what it’s like when you have general anesthesia. When you have a general anesthesia, you do not know anything, you are not absolutely unconsciousness, but all you have is implicit consciousness, but you do not know anything. But then, sooner or later the anesthesia wears off, the substrate consciousness comes out of the substrate, and out of the substrate consciousness, emerges like a sequence and there you are back to awaken reality again, so it is gone very, very dormant.
(8:42) When you are practicing the settling the mind, you certainly do not want to go into the state of unknowing of the substrate, because that’s just not useful. But you are slipping into that state of knowing of the substrate consciousness, which of course when you fully realize it, is blissful, luminous and non-conceptual. But we cannot simply turn on bliss, but consciousness by nature is luminous. You do not have to turn that on or turn it off, it is by nature luminous and what you are seeking to do here is to observe your own mind from a non-conceptual perspective, that nevertheless is knowing. So if I gaze here at a bit of hair, I do not have to think about it, I do not have to label it or anything, I just can look at it and I am knowing something and that is whether or not I have language to describe it, something is coming in so it is appearing. The Tibetan word is “Nhepa”, ascertaining, so both things are happening and that is before any articulations, so that is the type of immediate, non-verbal knowing, one could say intuitive knowing, that you’re resting in, a kind of just getting into a flow of an immediate, non-verbal, really quietly conceptual, intuitive and quite immediate knowing.
(9:50) So once again what is the purpose of settling the mind in its natural state, as a shamatha method? The purpose of course is relaxation, stability and vividness, but what is the purpose of that specific method? It is the fact that you’re actually observing your mind dissolving into the substrate, substrate consciousness, observing all appearances dissolving into substrate, all the appearances dissolving into substrate that is the space of the mind, and all your subjective appearances and all your subjective impulses dissolving into, substrate consciousness. The subjective impulses, the mental process of this elaborated man’s mind, woman’s mind, psyche, course mind, all that now just getting simplified and dissolving back into substrate consciousness, which has no gender, no ethnicity, not old, not young and not even human, but still knowing, so that is what you are watching happen, and it is actually a really interesting preparation for dying lucidly. But happily. That is, practicing settling the mind in its natural state is not just one happy day after another, because you are dredging up a lot of stuff, so all kind of stuff will come up. It will be occasionally a rough ride, but you are doing it voluntarily and you have all kinds of ways to make it a smooth ride: the Four Immeasurables, refuge in all kinds of nice things to help, including having dharma’s friends… and having desert! :-) Anything that helps.
But overall, as you just get into the flow and go deeper, deeper and deeper, then the blissful quality becomes more evident, and then there you are, watching your mind dissolving into the substrate consciousness, which is exactly what will happen, lucidly or non-lucidly, when you die.
But here you are, doing it when it is really good for your health, and we have seen now from the Shamatha Project, that it may actually increase your life span, so you get quality and quantity.
(12:20) So the purpose of settling the mind in its natural state is to attend very closely, but not with the primary motive of gaining insight into the nature of emotions, images and so forth, but rather to develop relaxation, stability and vividness, as you watch your mind dissolve into the substrate consciousness. And again, the perspective from which you are viewing your mind gradually dissolving is your closest approximation to the substrate consciousness, which is clear, non-conceptual and knowing. Note that as soon as you start thinking about the mind, then that is no longer a good approximation of the substrate consciousness, that is just the mind thinking about the mind, so it is being totally caught up in course mind.
So that is why we keep on coming back and whatever thoughts arise, you observe them, but you do not conceptualize them, you do not get caught into the dialogue, the commentary, the rumination, you observe it quietly and as much as you can non-conceptually, until eventually your mind dissolves into the substrate consciousness and that richly populated dharmadhatu, the domain of your mind, is now being simplified, reduced, unadorned, unelaborated, un-configured, so it is reduced to the alaya, the substrate.
The dharmadatu, the relative dharmadatu, space of the mind, is now nakedly appearing as alaya, substrate, as your richly adorned, heavily configured psyche, your mind, your chitta, is now reduced down to bare bounds, which the great Penchan Lama, which was the fifty Dalai Lama’s tutor said: “Now you have ascertained the essential nature of your mind”. He is not talking about emptiness and he is not talking about rigpa, but he is saying now you know the mind is all about, now you know it nakedly, all the elaborations of your mind, your memories, your personal history, all that stuff is your mind, it is very well, but you know in the next life you will not even remember what you have in this life, so that could not be essential to know thyself, which means, “Oh, I know my personal history, I know about my character, my personality and so forth, it is just a short history, let’s get over it”. So it is not insignificant to know thyself on that dimension, but after all, you would like to see: “Where is all that coming from?”, “What is keeping what is carried on?”: So if that’s true, and of course this can be checked, that is the beauty of the practice. There’s no one scientific theory about the nature of consciousness that can be checked, that could actually be tested, because they are simply assuming the materialism view, they are not testing it. They are just saying that that’s what they assume. That is fine if you are a theologian, we do not question God, we just assume God and we built everything on our God’s belief, which is fine, there is nothing wrong with that. But I do not think science is at its best, when it has unquestioned assumptions. That is exactly what science is not supposed to do.
(15:38) So here we are, no-unquestionable assumptions, including Buddha’s assumptions, but there it is, the hypothesis is that the substrate consciousness carries on through from lifetime to lifetime and if you can ascertain that, I do not mean believe or simply have faith in it - Lama Zopa Rinpoche once said, when "Is it necessary to believe in reincarnation to achieve enlightenment?” he replied “No. You need to know it!” So find a belief, but this is something to be known and not just to believed just because a Lama or the Buddha said so, but let’s go forward and put that to the test of experience.
(16:07) One incredible thing it is that just shamatha, not even vipashyana let alone Dozgchen or Vajrayana, it is just shamatha and that is enough to actually ascertain substrate consciousness, which is that deepest consciousness that carries from lifetime to lifetime and is the repository for all your memories, experiences, karmic imprints.
(16:40) There is shamatha: to view, to be able to explore the nature of the mind from the perspective of having achieving shamatha, having your mind dissolving into the substrate consciousness.
(18:28) Here, when we are going from shamatha in the next session to vipashyana, we are doing our best to approximate the perspective of substrate consciousness, but instead of turning it in words, to probe into the substrate, into the ultimate dhamadatu, into rigpa, dharmakaya, and all of that, we get to that vantage point which is quite free of distortion, subjective bias, “I like”, “I do not like”, and all the labels viewing from this rather distilled perspective, but instead of turning into the deep space of consciousness, and multiple dimensions of consciousness, but take that hub telescope and go and look right back the earth.
It is probably a crazy idea, by looking from that telescope I doubt it can be good for that, but we are doing something like that. You get to this very clear, very distill, un-contaminated, relative un-configured state and then you turn it right back on to the mind and say, “Ok mind, now I am looking at you objectively” that is, not from with my emotions and my hopes and my fears and my personal history, but from this perspective of substrate consciousness, or my best approximation. In a way, it’s really scientific, it is really a perspective that is quite free of objective bias, and since you are viewing it non conceptually, then there is no bias, with the limitations of languages like Italian or Germany or French or Sanskrit, because every language has its strength and weaknesses, but also as soon as you are looking through languages, then you know you are configured by way of that language, whereas if you are viewing non conceptually, then you are free of the limitations from all the languages, and you are just getting straight on, direct, and relatively immediate experience.
(21:03) So now, we are going back to settling the mind in its natural state, which will be our base camp, and then from that, we can make our expedition into closely applying mindfulness to mental feelings. Having said that, we are not going to try to do it single pointedly on the space of the mind, when we are doing in vipashyana, but when you are experiencing feelings come up (pleasure, pain and indifference), but when you experience that coming up, you may very well simultaneously experience sensations in the body. “My heart is heavy with grief”, “My heart is feel with joy”. So you may feel grief and joy, somatically, there are some sensations there. So now, when we move beyond shamatha and vipashyana, it is perfectly fine to attend to both the mental feelings (pleasure, pain and indifference) but also to the correlated somatic sensations, looking to the whole system, seeing how they’re interrelated.
(22:00) Settle your body in its natural state and your respiration in its natural rhythm, and for a short time, calm and balance your mind by way of mindfulness of breathing.
(26:00) Now according to the classical instructions on settling the mind in its natural state, let your eyes be opened. They may be wide opened if you wish, or partially opened, or when you’re just beginning, if you find it quite distractive, let them be closed, and as you get more familiar with the practice, then try opening them, for example in a dark room, and get used to the practice with the eyes opened. So I will speak more generically now: let your eyes be at least partially opened, and vacantly rest your gaze in the space in front of you.
And now single pointedly direct your mindfulness, your interest, your attention, to the space of the mind and whatever arises in that domain. Remember that the first challenge in this practice is to experientially distinguish between the stillness of your own awareness and the movements of the mind, of thoughts, images and so on. You can experience stillness of your own awareness only when there is a course sense of relaxation, of ease, of letting go. Resting your awareness without distraction, without grasping.
In order to clearly find the target, the space of the mind, if you are new to the practice you might find it helpful, as we did before, to very deliberately give yourself a target, a discursive thought, or mental image generated, and focus on it. Allow it to fade back in the space of the mind, and then be quiet, keep your attention right where it was, and see what comes up next, all on its own accord.
(30:25) It is very easy to be carried away by thoughts, just caught up in mind wandering or rumination. And so as soon as you recognize that with your faculty of introspection, let your first response just be to loosen up, and then without trying to make the thought vanishing, just release your grasping onto it, or onto its referent, and then very gently, happily, return your attention to the present moment, to whatever’s arising in the space of your mind, right now, and observe without judgment, without seeking to modify it, without identifying with it. Observe it without distraction and without grasping.
(33:25) And now as you sustain this flow of mindfulness, of the objective appearances that arise in the space of the mind, be aware also of the feelings. How are you experiencing them in the mind? How are you feeling altogether, mentally, psychologically? Recognize the feeling of neutrality, just feeling calm. But if you become bored, uneasy, restless, note the gradations of dukkha, of mental unhappiness, as well as the occurrence of pleasure, that arises in the mind.
(38:21) If at times you want to come down to a kind of a lower altitude, just to get a bit more grounding, you always come back to mindfulness of breathing for a little while, as it is more tangible, easier to engage with, and then return to the space of the mind, as soon as you are ready.
(40:03) And then you may start running experiments: feelings don’t just happen to you, you can deliberated generate them, and so, why not start up with a pleasant feeling? You may bring to mind someone who you love, the very thought of whom brings forth a happy feeling, or remember some happy occasion, some pleasant memory, or some inspiring fantasy or wish, or generate a thought, image or memory, and as the feeling arises, observe it, observe with the question: “Is it permanent or impermanent, static or changing?” Closely apply mindfulness to feelings, those that arise spontaneously and those you deliberately generate.
Transcribed by: Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by: Diogo Rolo
Final edition by: Rafael Carlos Giusti