08 Sep 2012

Alan presents tips on dealing with subtlety in the shamatha practices.

1) mindfulness of breathing. The breath becomes increasingly subtle, and treat this an invitation to increase calm and clarity. Do not change the place you are attending to the breath. Rather, choose a baseline such as the nerve endings at the nostrils, and continue attending to the baseline and any fluctuations throughout the whole body of the breath.

2) settling the mind. When the space of the mind appears quiet, something is still there. It is just more subtle than your awareness. Again, choose a baseline such as the space of the mind, and attend to both the baseline and any fluctuations from there.
The second of the 4 immeasurables, compassion is also an aspiration, not an emotion.
Meditation: compassion. Visualize a white incandescent orb of light at your heart chakra filling the body with light. With each in breath, arouse the aspiration, “May I be free of all hedonic suffering—i.e., unpleasant.” Visualize all suffering as darkness which converges at and dissolves into the orb. “May I be free of all (internally generated) suffering and their causes—i.e., disturbing emotions.” Visualize all suffering as darkness which converges at and dissolves into the orb. Imagine that you are free from all that obscures pristine awareness. Repeat the sequence with another individual (or group) of your choice or who comes to mind.

Meditation starts at 4:10

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A very quick note regarding the shamatha practices. Some of you are finding in the Mindfulness of Breathing that the breath gets very subtle, very shallow, which of course implies that the sensations of the breath can become vanishingly subtle.

When that happens, it’s just an invitation to go to greater depth and to greater clarity, to greater calm, the whole synergy of relaxation, stability and vividness. So it’s really opening the door there, so make you sure you go through the door. And how do you do that is by sustaining a flow of knowing; in other words, don’t give up. If you lose the sensations, don’t think, oh, you’re not going to go someplace else. That was just the invitation to go deeper and so not a time to say, oh, I’ll look someplace else now. And so if you’re focusing at the apertures of the nostrils, and the sensations of the breath become so subtle you can’t detect them, then look for your baseline, and that is whether or not you’re breathing, if you focus quite intently there, at the apertures of the nostrils, you will pick up what I would call kind of a background radiation or just a kind of ongoing flow of sensation there that’s just there because you do have nerve endings at the apertures of your nostrils. So that’s always there, breathing or no breathing.

So if you can tap into that, if you can ascertain that, just the subtle flow of sensation there, that’s just present because you have a nose with nerve endings, then as the breath does flow in and out, which it certainly does, then you will see little fluctuations in that background radiation, and attend to those fluctuations. So now in the Buddha’s teachings, you are at that stage, the challenge is attend to the whole body, the whole body of the in-breath, whole body of the out-breath — very subtle, very shallow, but stay on the mark the whole time, and maintain the flow of knowing., right?

Even if you’re doing full-body awareness, that’s still fine, and now it’s a bit easier. Even apart from the fluctuations of the breath, pick up the background radiation of the body, the sensations arising in the body, and then note those fluctuations corresponding to in-and- out-breath.

And then just a brief reiteration, and that is, if you’re attending to the space of the mind and whatever arises in it, this is simply a reminder, even when you cannot see anything, number one; there’s something there; you’re just not seeing it yet. It’s subtler than your awareness is yet, so make your awareness more subtle, and you will see it. But in the meantime, don’t get frustrated; don’t hit yourself on the head; just attend very closely to the space of the mind and know that. So that’s your background radiation; that’s something to know, and that is, there is something, and it’s called the space of the mind, and you can ascertain it. And then holding that as your baseline, then you can see little fluctuations — a little flickering thought, an image, a memory, an emotion, desire — whatever it is — and those little perturbations, okay? So attend to that; that’s for shamatha.

Now we are going into Compassion, and so we’ll begin with ourselves; we’ll extend outwards. We’ll focus on hedonic suffering as well as genuine suffering, the freedom from it. Compassion of course is not an emotion; it is an aspiration, and all sentient beings want to be free of suffering.

We don’t need to learn that; we don’t need to practice that, but to arouse the aspiration to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering and for that to actually mean something, not a vague generality, but actually, when you say the causes of suffering you actually know what the causes of suffering are and then to arouse the aspiration to be free — now that’s compassion with wisdom. So let’s go there.


Settle your body, speech and mind in its natural state.

(8:08) And now imagine if you will that the very essential nature not only of your mind but even of the display of your body is an effulgence, an expression, a display of your own pristine awareness, by nature pure, primordial pure, luminous, radiant, the ultimate source of healing.

(8:50) Symbolically imagine this, if you will, as a radiant, incandescent orb of light in the center of your chest, emanating light out through your entire being, your body and your mind. And with each in-breath, arouse the compassionate aspiration that you may be free of all hedonic suffering and its underlying causes, hedonic suffering referring to that range of suffering that arises in response to something unpleasant — physical distress, mental distress in response to adversity. With each in-breath, arouse this aspiration: May I be free. And imagine all such adversity and the underlying causes in the form of darkness converging in upon this orb of light at your heart, and with each in-breath, disappearing there without trace.

(11:15) And with each in breath, allow your awareness to move into the realm of possibility and imagine breath-by-breath becoming free here and now.

(12:56) And then move deeper. Consider the range of what I’ve called genuine unhappiness, that arises even without being stimulated by adversity, by something unpleasant happening to us, but a dimension of unhappiness, of distress, that is internally generated because of the activation of mental afflictions within our own mindstreams. With each in-breath, arouse the aspiration: May I be truly and completely free of all suffering and its underlying, its essential causes, and imagine that domain of suffering also in the form of darkness converging in upon and dissolving into the orb of light at your heart with each in- breath, dissolving there, vanishing completely.

(15:04) And imagine being free not only from suffering but from all mental afflictions and all that obscures the essential purity of your own awareness, pristine awareness. Imagine being free.

(16:18) And now for the remainder of the session, you may deliberately call to mind individuals, groups of individuals, as you focus upon them, arousing this compassionate aspiration that they, too, like yourself, may be free of suffering and its underlying causes. You may deliberately focus your attention here and there, or you may simply open your awareness in all directions and see who comes to mind. Attend closely, and practice as before.

(27:30) Then release all appearances, all objects and aspirations, and let your awareness simply rest in its own nature, holding its own ground, resting in awareness of awareness.

Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Revised by Marti Hanna on 02/12/15

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Posted by Alma Ayon


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