10 Sep 2012

As the 4 applications of mindfulness bring us knowledge of our experience, the 4 immeasurables bring balance in our emotions. If feeling down, practice loving-kindness and not its near enemy attachment. If feeling disengaged, practice compassion which is an antidote to the near enemy cold indifference. Worldly life is characterized by restlessness and anxiety, and for genuine happiness and the achievement of shamatha, we need to gradually wean ourselves from the props of hedonic pleasures.
Meditation: silent meditation of your choice.
Q1. Could you please explain the terms substrate and substrate consciousness? Is the substrate consciousness something we can tap into now? Are their equivalent terms in the Gelug and Kagyu traditions?

Q2. Do we also experience the substrate if we fall asleep lucidly?

Q3. Does the tactile consciousness illuminate the body or does the mental consciousness? How does consciousness illuminate?

Q4. What is the object of substrate consciousness? Most of the descriptions I’ve read have focused on what the substrate is not.

Meditation starts at 12:17

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I would like for this afternoon’s session to be silent, so unguided, for you to choose whatever method you find most beneficial. So now we’ve completed two weeks and covered a fairly wide range of meditative practices and really looked into two or one could say four modes of shamatha: three mindfulness of breathing, settling the mind, and now we’ve looked at the close application of mindfulness to the body and feelings. We have a nice spread there in addition to two out of the four immeasurables. So if we have roughly 40 people in the room, what I would assume and expect to be the case is that you’ll have 40 different schedules of practices that you’re doing, that each one is really hand-tailored to you. So I’m giving you kind of “off the rack,” here’s a wide variety of practices, but how much you emphasize one or another — and then tomorrow, when you have a totally unstructured day, I’m sure it will be 40 individual and unique days — what type of practices you emphasize, the extent to which you might want to go out, just get a bit of a breather, entirely your choice. So do see that you’re just being as kind, as wise, as loving as you can to yourself to choose exactly those methods that you find most beneficial.

Even among the four immeasurables, the Buddha himself made it quite clear that one could achieve liberation by following any one of them, that you don’t have to have equal insight into all four, but by gaining insight into any one of them, that can lead to realization of nirvana, and nirvana by way of mindfulness of the body or feelings or whatever is still nirvana, so any one of the four is sufficient. Any one of the three shamatha methods is sufficient, but then I gave a variety so you can create your own menu, so to speak, your own balance.

So I’d like to make just a couple of brief comments about the first two of the four immeasurables that we’ve just dropped into. Loving-kindness: Among the four immeasurables, this is one that is specifically highlighted as a natural remedy for one of the false facsimiles of one of the four immeasurables.

(2:48) The false facsimile of empathetic joy is just the fixation, the attachment, the clinging, the craving and so forth to sensual pleasures, hedonic pleasures, the bounties of the desire realm. So when one just starts going really mundane, really focusing, oh, but this is where it’s really fun, this is where I’m going to really find some happiness, and that is just focusing on the mundane, then this is the false facsimile: Isn’t life grand? I just love my life. I’m doing so well; I’m just doing great, and so forth, and it’s all hedonic. Well, okay, there’s nothing wrong with having a good life, but if one is fixating there for finding your happiness, then that’s going to be pretty limited.

(3:36) So the antidote for that within the four immeasurables is so sweet. I mean, it’s sweet, not in saccharine, but it’s so kind; it’s gentle; it’s warm. And that is, instead of beating it to death with meditations on impermanence and the six types of suffering and the eight types of suffering until it’s just beaten to a pulp and say, okay, I give, samsara really sucks, I mean, that’s one approach, a head-on collision approach. But another one, kind of more nurturing, is that at any time, when we just start losing track of our practice, maybe just giving lip service to the practice, but we’re just basically getting caught up in work and entertainment and frankly, whatever everybody else does — not everybody, but an awful lot of people — of the good life is just pursuing hedonic well being, success and all of that. When we start just going with the flow of samsara, then a very gentle reminder to restore our sanity is loving-kindness.

(4:30) Coming back to the simple aspiration, might I find happiness and the causes of happiness, and we bring some wisdom to that, and we say well, oh, I remember, simply having a lot of entertainments, work, wealth, fame, etc., those are actually not really sources of happiness; they may or may not catalyze it — so coming back to loving kindness in a very loving and gentle and wise way as we come back to our core aspirations. What is it you really seek? Was it really that hedonic stuff, or are you looking for something more meaningful? And so it kind of brings it back to dharma but in a very gentle way. So there’s that.

(5:08) And then in terms of compassion, compassion is a natural antidote for equanimity gone astray. The false facsimile of equanimity is cold indifference, aloof indifference, stupid indifference. Remember, it’s even. Equanimity is even, but it’s an even with an open heart, equally caring, equally attentive, whereas the false facsimile of that is, yeah, even, but not really caring much about anybody. So what arouses us from that kind of apathy, that cold indifference, its kind of disengagement, disassociation from reality, is compassion, because when we attend to our own and others’ suffering, it’s hard to respond with apathy if we really are attending closely.

(6:24) So, and just in our daily lives, we’ll see that here the practice of dharma and the four applications of mindfulness is to really understand and gain insight into the nature of the body, feelings, and so on, and the four immeasurables are really designed to really use the mind in a very beneficial way. So it occurred to me when I was meditating just before coming to the session that when we’re born, and we have this brand new human body with a brand new human mind that’s arising in conjunction with the nervous system, the brain and all of that, when we’re just born, you know what we didn’t get? And I bet it never occurred to you. We didn’t get an owner’s manual. Like, you buy a new computer, you always had, at least online at least, how do you operate this thing? It’s more than a paperweight. You get a new car; you get a new cellphone, it comes with an owner’s manual, tells you how to work it and not break it and so forth. And our bodies and minds are far more complex than even really good laptops, and we got no owner’s manual, which means we’re just screwing up all the time, not knowing how to use the body, not knowing how to use the mind, falling into all kinds of bad habits, rumination and so forth and so on. So an owner’s manual would be good.

(7:45) So the four applications of mindfulness are really designed to understand the system. That’s a good idea. And then the four immeasurables are really designed not only to understand but then to bring forth balance and including balance of feelings and emotions.

(8:02) So loving kindness, to overcome hedonic fixation which is naturally — when we fall into that syndrome, I think we already know, when we just go totally worldly; everything is just about our worldly success, just like a shadow, what’s bound to follow that is restlessness because we are investing in the world over which we have almost no control. So how can we really be at ease if my happiness relies upon things that I have no control over? I’m always waiting, how’s it going to turn out; how’s it going to turn out? Because I am a gambler. A gambler’s life cannot be very restful and at ease, unless you just don’t care how things turn out. So on the one hand, restlessness, but also of course anxiety, and that is, oh, I hope this works out, I hope this works out; maybe it won’t; maybe it won’t. So those two — restlessness and anxiety or excitation and anxiety — those together are one of the five obscurations that obscure the nature of the mind.

(8:55) So these two, loving kindness and compassion are very helpful. In terms of the compassion, it came up in one of the individual meetings, and that is choose well between the loving kindness and compassion. If you’re feeling a bit dark, a bit heavy, a bit blue, depressed or what have you, probably more of the loving kindness — more light, bring light into the system, spread the light out, uplift yourself, illuminate yourself. That’s going to be more balancing. Whereas if you’re just getting cold, indifferent, disengaged, and so forth, then the compassion will be very helpful. In terms of tonglen, so we’re “tong,” the sending out with loving kindness, the “len”, the taking in with compassion, but the point to be made here is a simple one, but very important, and that is, if you do attend to others, or for that matter, yourself, attend to others’ suffering, but also the underlying causes. Sometimes the underlying causes of suffering are malice, jealousy, greed, hatred, some really toxic mental states and also behavior, right? Really, I mean, frankly, the word evil is appropriate. And so as we are wishing, aspiring that others may be free of suffering and the causes of suffering, and then we imagine their suffering and the causes of suffering in this dark cloud, it’s a pretty heavy practice, because we’re imagining bringing in whatever’s causing them suffering, and that may be some really toxic stuff, of malice, of exploitation, of mean, and so forth and so on, greed, and all of that.

(10:30) So if you’re bringing in that darkness, from an individual or it could be a whole community, like a terrorist organization or whatever it may be, as you’re drawing in that darkness — really crucial point here — is draw it into this light at your heart, but imagine the light at your heart, even though it’s really quite small, like a pearl of light, as you draw it in there, no matter how large the cloud, how dark, heavy, black it may be, as you draw it in — here’s the crucial point — draw it in and extinguish it without a trace; that is, have it completely vanish, so you’re not carrying that in your heart afterwards like a residue — don’t want that. So bring it in; the metaphor Tibetans will sometimes use is taking a little fluff of down, a little feather, like from a down pillow or from a goose, and imagine taking that little piece of down and dropping it into a bonfire, just, and you go p-f-f-f-f-f-t! Well, that kind of went out more or less, without a trace, right?

(11:30) And so draw in that darkness, but then have it just extinguished. So the underlying symbolism there is whatever the enormity of the evil or the suffering that you may attend to, including the suffering of all of samsara or the Holocaust or, oh, many other human tragedies that we’ve done all over the world, no matter how large it is as you draw it into the light at your heart, this is greater. This is greater. They can consume it, and p-f-f-f-f-t, just, like, it smacks its lips afterwards. Like, it’s gone; it’s completely consumed. So you don’t carry it. It’s quite important.

So for eight weeks you’re getting an owner’s manual on how to be a human being and like it.

Good. We’ll have now a quiet session. If you’d like to go back to loving kindness or compassion, back to shamatha, back to any of the two of the four applications of mindfulness, it will be a quiet session.


It is a silent session, unguided. You choose the method that you find more beneficial.

Teachings/Instructions after meditation:

(38:12) In terms of the pursuit of hedonic well-being versus eudaemonic well-being, I think I’ve been quite clear; I think it’s an important point, that it’s not as if one is good and the other one’s bad, okay? Getting enough to eat, clothing, shelter, medical care — that’s all hedonic and extremely important. And likewise, just to take tomorrow as an example, there are all kinds of things you can do here. You’ll have a totally unstructured day, no expectations, and nobody monitoring you, right? And so to what extent would you want to be just totally zoning in in your room and just going into meditation all day — there’s one possibility, and the other one is escaping from the place, you know? Get out of the concentration camp, escape, and go off to the beach and just enjoy being out there, enjoying some nice meal, and the sun and the sand and the beach and swimming and all of that, and neither one of those is bad. I mean, there are bad things to do, but neither one of those is something bad. And so then, the choice.

(39:14) And there’s — tomorrow’s a choice, but we’ll have this every day of our lives, including, like, today and yesterday and so forth, and that is it’s this balancing of how much time do we invest in really the cultivation of genuine happiness, and how much time do we invest in the pursuit of hedonic pleasure and all of that? It’s a matter of striking a balance. So I won’t give the whole story, but many of you will remember the whole story, the Buddhist story of the elephant who’s enjoying the pond, and the cat that jumps into the pond and then just thrashes around in excitation or sinks down into laxity, and so the whole moral of the story being to morph from a cat to an elephant.

(39:51) So that when you go into solitude, in the solitude of your own room or go into a meditation hut for a six-month retreat or whatever, and you’re really divorced from or are taken away from the myriad of activities that stimulate you, arouse you, keep you uplifted hedonically, and you’re there in a very neutral environment, your body, your mind in your room, that in fact, you can really flourish, you can be very content, quite happy, even though you’re getting no props, almost no props at all.

(40:19) The extreme case of this — I wouldn’t say extreme in a bad way, but extreme in the sense of really intense, pure and unadulterated — is for example, this dark room of Lama Yeshe in his retreat hut on the Holy Isle, where you go in there for 49 days, and it’s pitch black. It’s hard to imagine being more divorced from hedonic pleasures than that. You get a bit of ordinary food to keep you alive, and that’s it. And besides that, you just enjoy blackout. Lama Yeshe mentioned to me that not one of the students — and he’s got, I’m sure, some very good students; a number of them have been through three-year retreats, multiple three-year retreats or four-year retreats, in his case — he said not one of his students has been able to cut it, make through 49 days, not one, not of his Western students, and he’s really teaching Westerners. He said, two weeks, and then, let me out of here. And of course you can escape at any time. So that’s something of a litmus test.

(41:14) I spoke with a monk in eastern Tibet eight years ago, and he was in a monastery where they focus on Kalachakra practice, a three-year retreat, and part of that is a 49- day black retreat, dark retreat. He said it makes you or breaks you; that is, if you can get through it, and you can make it through it, he said it really purifies the mind, and you really came to know your mind very, very well. You come out much more emotionally balanced, your mental afflictions subdued, and you really have your act much more together coming out than you did when you were coming in. Or you go in, and you go crazy. There’s a certain parting of ways there. And before you go crazy, you just kind of say, okay, I have to come out, because nobody’s going to keep you in there. But there it is.

(42:00) And you can see that if one can so morph from a cat to an elephant; that is, you can live in solitude, really having almost no props of hedonic stimulation and be really content having few desires, having contentment, two of the prerequisites for achieving shamatha; hardly any activities or concerns — another prerequisite of achieving shamatha; no rumination — another prerequisite of shamatha; living in pitch black, it would be pretty easy to be pretty ethical, because what are you going to do, after all? What a marvelous preparation for dying, because when you go into the dying process, you’re heading into a dark retreat. So — good to die happy, having well prepared for it. It could be really good.

(43:50) So striking the balance, and that is we go out for the hedonic in order to, almost like a baby who is eating, you know, not solid food and then gradually goes to solid food, but not all at once, right, doesn’t go from mother’s milk to a steak. So if the idea here, the general dharma orientation is to gradually wean yourself from dependence, not that one should really accomplish, you’ll never have any good food, never enjoy a sunset or music or anything else — that’s not the case; that’s silly, but the dependence upon it: I can’t be happy unless I have work, Internet, people to talk to, blah, blah, blah, all the dependence. Your dependence is loosening, so when it comes, you enjoy it but without attachment. So to get there, it’s very easy to be too intense, really, especially when one first takes ordination. I mean, I did that. Because you’re — g-r-r-r-r —really tough, you know, none of hedonic; I’m a monk, boom, like that. You get really uptight and then also very condescending of people who are still mucking about in hedonic. Very easy to do — sense of superiority: Oh, we monks, we wear dresses. We’re really austere. The nuns are not nearly as intense as the monks, because they wear dresses anyway. But you have to be really, you know, to be a man and wear a dress, and not be, you know, a cross-dresser? You have to have some real renunciation for that. All right.

(44:16) So to be able to gradually move away, so we’re less and less reliant upon hedonic stimulation, so that we can just more, more live in, rest in just that flow of eudaemonic well-being that flows from the nature of a balanced mind.

Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Revised by Marti Hanna on 02/13/15

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Posted by Alma Ayon



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