15 Sep 2012
Teaching: Alan reminds us that all the shamatha practices have been attending to the mind in that there is mindfulness placed on an object and introspection to the mind. In settling the mind, the object of mindfulness is the javana of the psyche. In awareness of awareness, the object of mindfulness is the bhavanga. In mindfulness of the mind, we attend to both the javana and the bhavanga with probing and inquiry vis-à-vis the 3 marks of existence. We see first-hand how mental afflictions are unpleasant, how they come and go, and how they have no substantial nature.
Meditation: silent session with practice of your choice.
Q1a. In mindfulness of the mind, are feelings of desire and curiosity mental afflictions? Desire leads to craving and attachment, so would desire to achieve shamatha also be wrong? Curiosity can lead to anxiety. In my practice, both mental states can trigger unpleasant feelings, but can’t they also be positive states leading us to liberation?
Q2. Why aren’t you teaching settling body, speech, and mind with 3 breaths as explained in your book?
Q1b. Following up on the question on desire and curiosity, do they fall on a continuum with other mental afflictions, or are they in a category of their own? How about attachment as something positive as what a baby develops towards his/her mother?
Q3. In awareness of awareness, does the oscillation serve a purpose other than being an antidote to laxity and excitation?
Q4. In awareness of awareness, is it referring to one awareness that is different from all the other awarenesses? In my practice, my awareness jumps to different objects rather than staying on awareness itself. I let go, and it becomes like open awareness.
Meditation starts at 23:00
This is our last day in this cycle for the close application of mindfulness to the mind and in a way we are broaching or encroaching onto this topic from the very beginning, in the very initial phase of mindfulness of breathing, the shamatha practice, because if you are engaging in shamatha then you must be applying your mindfulness not only to the meditative object but also you are utilizing and refining your faculty of introspection which in shamatha practice is primarily attending to the mind so you’re already peeking-in out of the corner of your eyes so to speak, it is not center stage but it has to be there otherwise you would not even know when laxity and exaltation are setting in. So we’re already venturing into the application of mindfulness to the mind in mindfulness of breathing.
(1:53) Then when it comes to settling the mind in its natural state where we are putting it in center stage, attending to really the psyche above all, or really attending to psyche: our own minds, our own thoughts, images, memories and so forth, it is quite personal, quite unique attending to them but just with that simple attentiveness without any real probing or analyses, investigation, simply being-present-with, and of course the idea which you all recall now is we are attending to it not primarily with the incentive to gain insight into it but with the incentive to allow it to settle in its natural state and come to the ground of your own mind, the relative ground of the mind - so there is the primary motivation, nevertheless while it’s a shamatha practice by sustaining that flow of discerning mindfulness to the mind you are just bound to get insight into it at the very least by that especially as the vividness begins to increase. The vividness bear in mind is of two kinds: I call them temporal and qualitative.
(2:53) The temporal vividness is that you are able to discern more and more fleeting events and in this case of course mental events, but these little sparks, these little bursts, little flashes of mental images, of discursive thoughts, could be a desire that just barely peeks-up, that kind of spikes through and then dissolves again and so we are able to discern, to identify, to ascertain briefer and briefer events. So that would be the temporal vividness or acuity, this is getting sharper and that is clearly being demonstrated in one very brief study at The University of California with two meditators and just showing that even though what they had been meditating on was not at all what the experiment was it showed that because they were experienced meditators they could detect very, very brief images on a screen that most people could not and they could not only identify them but know what the images were of, I think they did better than anybody else who hadn’t been specifically trained in that particular skill. So it just shows that acuity had been developed - no big deal. But this is an important thing that we really can enhance; we can develop higher frequency attention so that you are able to ascertain briefer and briefer events. How brief could it go? I think the answer is we do not really know. Buddhist psychology states that we have on the order of magnitude about six hundred individual bursts or cognition per second and then scientifically we know that thirty milliseconds or so people can ascertain something. But then can it be twenty, can it be ten, can it be five, can it be two, and if it is two then we’re right down to about six hundred burst per second. So that is an open question but that is one type of vividness and the other one is qualitative vividness. But now the temporal vividness may be something that is really quite a sharp vivid impulse but it is extreme brief.
(5:12) The qualitative vividness is something that may go on for a second, two, three, five, ten seconds or longer but it is a quiet murmur, it is really subtle so normally it would be beneath the threshold of what you’re consciously aware of because your mind is probably caught up in something more course, tangible, easier to access. But with the increasing vividness - specifically qualitative vividness - when it comes to settling the mind you are able to discern, to identify, to recognize even subtle surges of a bit of emotion, or a very quiet murmuring of some discursive thought, desire, whatever it may be. So it is really developing high definition awareness, in this case awareness of your own mind and especially as you enhance the temporal vividness then you discern with greater and greater clarity, with greater and greater acuity the momentary nature of whatever arises in the space of the mind and I do not know how you can avoid having some insight into impermanence, subtle impermanence if you go that route of observing very carefully how they arise, how they pass, and how they do so ever so fleetingly. So in settling the mind in its natural state clearly we are closely applying mindfulness to the mind but without the investigation, without the probing, without questioning, without attending specifically to the factors of origination and factors of dissolution, without really posing questions about the nature of impermanence, the nature of suhkha and duhkha, questions of self and not self. We are not interrogating the mind, not probing into it with questions but simply in a way you are very familiar with now attending to it without distraction, without grasping: so again as you well know, on the cusp between shamatha and vipashyana.
(7:30) By the time we move on to awareness of awareness it is really as if you kind of look right through your mind, like the focus is just deeper, like if my mind were where this video camera is when I am practicing awareness of awareness it is just gazing right through it. It is a deep space probe and is going right into the nature of awareness of awareness, it is not attending to the things emerging from it, it is going right to the source and in shamatha of course simply attending to it, just resting there and knowing it with increasing clarity and then coming to know - just by shamatha - the essential nature of your own mind, without vipashyana, but of course it is the conventional nature - that is really something. In fact I think If we had psychology students all of the world learning how to observe their minds professionally, really developing professional attention skills, introspective skills, mindfulness skills and then going out and for their research, rather than doing questionnaires and so forth which has its place, then going on and actually discovering the essential nature of their mind, I think that would deserve an A, I think they should really graduate, I have a Bachelor’s [degree] in knowing the nature of my mind, I actually know the nature of my mind, I’m ready to go on to a Master’s degree and I will get that when a realize the empty nature of my mind and then I will be a true Professor of Philosophy when I realize rigpa, I will be a vidyadhara, PhD vidyadhara, that would be quite a graduate program.
(9:06) So awareness of awareness, it is close application of mindfulness to the mind but if we go back to Theravada terminology it is between javana and the bhavanga out of which all those javanas are emerging and into which they are dissolving of course the focus there is on the ground, the ground of becoming, the ground out of which all the javanas become, emerge, manifest and into which they dissolve. So we have a nice word for that, depth psychology, it is not just looking at the fluff on the surface but kind of looking into the depths and I would say the bhavanga, ground of becoming, substrate consciousness, that is depth - not ultimate depth – but that’s got some real depth to it and if that actually carries on from lifetime to lifetime that’s got depth. If that is true - and of course I am totally persuaded that it is - but if that came into the public domain, if that become a public truth and that is people from multiple perspectives - simply humanistic, that is just open minded but not having alliances with any particular religious world view and so forth but coming in with an open minded, how about the three qualities: coming in with perceptiveness, an open mind and a great passionate yearning to investigate, to put into practice, the three prerequisites for being a practicing Buddhist.
(10:18) If we have humanists doing that, and Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Taoists, Buddhists and so forth - if we have people coming from multiple perspectives and - so frameworks - and this were corroborated and they are all coming in and discovering the same thing that in fact there is a dimension of consciousness that is not contingent upon the brain, but in fact rather the emergences from that dimension of consciousness are configured by the brain, the nervous system, culture, upbringing, education, diet, vitamins, and so forth. But if that came into the public domain and it is replicated, replicated, replicated from multiple perspectives so you see it is not just a Buddhist truth or a Hindu truth and so on and that is there are truths that are not contingent upon one particular ideology, on one culture or another: it is just the way things are. So what is coming up is not a Buddhist truth, it is just what is happening.
(12:00) And so as far as I am concerned this assertion about the continuity of consciousness, of that dimension, carrying on from lifetime to lifetime: either it is true or false. I do not care about it being a Buddhist truth, it is either truth or false, it cannot be a Buddhist truth and a Christian falsity, it is either truth or false and then it can be checked out, investigated. If that came into the public domain, that is something corroborated again, again and again [it means replicated] by people who are objective, open minded and rigorously sophisticated in their radically empirical investigation of the nature of the mind - well that would actually shake the foundations of not just mind science but shake the foundations of all of modern science. That would be quite radical. So the methods are quite clear, they’re transparent and meaningful, they are perfectly intelligible, there is nothing crazy about them, so it is just waiting to be practiced.
(12:53) And then we have the actual vipashyana practice, the close applications of mindfulness to the mind, so all of the above still has mindfulness, introspection, still attending to both the javana and to the bhavanga, the ground from which the javana arise, but then also with the questions, the close inspection, the contemplation of the factors of origination and dissolution, nature of impermanence, duhkha and non-self. And then finally as one goes deeper, deeper internally, closely applying mindfulness to the mind internally - get an up close, very good look, get very familiar with, well acquainted with the one specimen that you can really exam closely, of all the mind streams throughout the universe here’s one you can really get the inside-scoop, really get some deep insight by direct observation. On the basis of that, really becoming knowing a lot about, oh, this is how the mind works, and also so importantly when we see we never choose to have mental afflictions, we never wake up in the morning and say: I think today is a day for delusion, or I am feeling so good I think I am going to try hatred today, or I am so content, I am really missing craving and attachment. We just never choose mental afflictions; we have them but we never choose them any more than people choose to get flu or pneumonia or any other serious disease. So when we see that how that happens that they come upon us, then as we closely apply mindfulness to the minds of others externally and we see people displaying [the mental afflictions] by way of their behavior, their speech and so forth, it certainly looks like they are displaying mental afflictions and we may be right, when we see that then we may be less prone to saying:
(14:38) “What an idiot, I cannot stand that person; this person is so selfish, that person is so arrogant, despicable, really disgusting”. It is very easy to do, to simply equate, to fuse a certain mode of behavior and its underlying mental affliction with the person. This person is just arrogant, he does not actually have any other qualities at all and he is just a carton of arrogance, if you know that he is arrogant then you know everything you need to know about that person. Well then we know that is not true because if we inspect closely - unless you’re a very unusual person not like me - then you’ll find all of these mental afflictions come up, it is just waiting like seeds, like a big garden full of seeds and it’s just waiting [to germinate], as in my case I can go by for days and days and no envy or jealousy and think, Oh I am probably free and then: Oh, no I am not, I thought maybe that [mental affliction] was gone. And so it is just waiting for the right circumstances to come along like a little water pot to water the seeds of the mental afflictions that you thought you were free from.
(16:41) So when we see how these mental afflictions arise in ourselves, that we really are the first victim of our own mental afflictions, we are the first to be afflicted by our mental afflictions, then when we witness, we infer, we intuit the occurrence of mental afflictions in other people that are displayed by way of their behavior. If we really have deep insight into how the mental afflictions arise then we are not so inclined to think that person is just arrogant, any more than when I see the mental factor of arrogance arising in my own mind and I observe it, observe it arising, observe the factors of origination and how it influences other mental states, what kind of desires, what kind of anxiety it gives rise to and so forth. So I see that is not a person, it is not this person; it is not any person, it is a mental factor and then it (mental factors) comes and then it goes.
(17:21) When I’ve really seen that and then I see somebody else apparently displaying arrogance, then I am not going to jump to the delusional equation that this person equals arrogant, this person is the personification of arrogance, because I know that it is just not how it works. I am not a personification of arrogance when it arises in my mind stream therefore you cannot be either, and that goes for all of the other mental afflictions. So it kind of loosens it up a bit - and then there is the cognitive basis for empathy and then compassion. Because if you’ve really noticed how mental afflictions influence your own mind stream, they do exactly what it’s said they do: they afflict. I’ve experienced arrogance and it is not pleasant because it’s by nature that sense that I am superior and the problem is, probably hardly anybody else agrees with me, which then I should be anxious because I am holding a view that is an incredibly minority view. And that is just one, let alone anger, anger is like a poke in the eye, that is not pleasant, and craving and attachment - anxiety is just built into it, and likewise for jealousy, what a headache. It’s like putting the break on and then hitting the accelerator at the same time: it’s just the smell of burning rubber, because you’re not really going anywhere, because you want and you don’t want, you want what that person has and you don’t want them to have it, but it’s not effective for getting what you want and it’s not effective for them not getting it. So it’s just making us stink of burning rubber – hitting the accelerator while holding down firmly on the break. That’s not pleasant.
(19:37) So there’s the segue* – internally, externally, and then of course as we’re dynamically engaging with others, then observing our own mental states arising, and then attending to other peoples facial expressions – for which people like Paul Ekman are world experts - or by the tone of their voices, their behavior and so forth, we can often infer or intuit what is going on in their minds. (*segue, meaning ‘to make a transition from one thing to another smoothly and without interruption.’)
Meditation: silent session with practice of your choice, practice what you find more beneficial from mindfulness of breathing, settling the mind or awareness of awareness all the way up through mindfulness of the mind.
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by Erik Koeppe
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Posted by Alma Ayon