17 Sep 2012
Teaching: Alan introduces the 4th application of mindfulness to phenomena (dharmas). Whereas the first 3 applications of mindfulness are microscopic, the mindfulness of phenomena takes a step back to understand how it all fits together and their inter-relationships—i.e., dependent origination. While dependent origination applies to all phenomena, the focus here is understanding causes and conditions leading to suffering and happiness. All the different lists of phenomena in this section are presented so that we can become free. Within the 5 obscurations, the first one is sensual craving which means fixating on an appearance and believing therein lies my happiness. Its antidote is single-pointed attention, and we can see how this can be in settling the mind. Lama Zöpa Rinpoche has said that renunciation is a prerequisite for shamatha. Renunciation itself can be cultivated by 1) discursive meditations of the lamrim, 2) devotion, or 3) shamatha.
Meditation: silent session on either mindfulness of the breath as this morning or open presence (without dzogchen). In this proto-shamatha practice, let your awareness settle in the present moment, lighting all the sense fields. Maintain flow of knowing. Keep either mindfulness of the breath or open presence as the baseline, and make forays into other practices from there.
Q1. In settling the mind, is the space of the mind for this practice the same as the substrate which is also referred to as the space of the mind? If so, how can we attend to the substrate as beginners?
Q2. I want to report a strange meditative experience. When I’m very relaxed in the supine position, there is prana pounding at the solarplexes like a heartbeat reverberating through the whole body. It’s not in sync with the heartbeat, and it doesn’t occur when I meditate in a seated posture.
Q3. In settling the mind, how can we recognize subtle excitation and apply the corresponding antidote?
Meditation starts at 41:25
This week we turn to the fourth of the four applications of mindfulness. And as I mentioned before, one might think why do we really need four, why not three? We’ve covered the whole physical world with the first one; feelings that we care very, very much about in the second one; everything about the mind with the third one. Did we miss something? Maybe not, but the reason that I’ve heard — I’ve heard two reasons why there is this fourth close application of mindfulness to dharmas — dharmas just means phenomena.
And the first of these is that, while the first three of these applications of mindfulness were really probing into, investigating the very nature of each of these domains of reality to understand their specific characteristics, characteristics that are unique to the mind, unique to feelings and to physical phenomena, to really understand their own unique nature, but then also with respect to all three of those domains of experience, the three marks of existence, to see how they apply, do they apply? So again it’s open investigation. It’s not simply trying to take some piece of doctrine and hammer it in, you know, like a brainwashing: it really is inquiry. So we’ve done that one by one, and now we come to the umbrella; that is, close application of mindfulness to phenomena.
(1:33) And now one reason there is this fourth one [close application of mindfulness to phenomena] is that, while there is certainly “pratityasamutpada”, there’s dependent origination within each of the preceding three, body, feelings and mind quite clearly, now we’re in a way putting the whole package together, right? So it’s an encompassing; it’s a meta-view, a large encompassing view of the dependent origination, the manner in which body, feelings, mental phenomena, all phenomena, all conditioned phenomena in any case, are all arising in this mode of dependent origination or the Tibetan “ten-ching drelwar jungwa”. A long time ago, I found a translation I very much like, and that is viewing all such phenomena as dependently related events, “ten-ching drelwar jungwa,” “jungwa,” again, that term keeps on cropping up, doesn’t it? Jungwa as in the elements, “sem jung” as elements, as in emergences of earth, water, fire, air, and then emergence, “sem jung,” almost like elements of the mind, emergences from primary consciousness, displaying as the various mental factors, right? And then all phenomena existing as pratityasamutpada, dependently related jungwa, events, again, arising in mutual interdependence. And of course the nuances, the multifaceted nature of the ways that phenomena do arise in dependently related ways goes immensely deep. And during our second month here, our second four weeks, then we’ll check out a whole, another domain of this dependent origination, the manner of dependence that I’ve hardly even touch on; I’ve kind of kept it to myself for these first four weeks, as we really try to focus in on the Pali Canon, the Theravada approach, and then the Sautantrika, the Sauntantrika view. So there’s plenty to work with there, and I’m going to keep to that for this week. I’m kind of eager to jump into the other whole mode, but I am being patient, and we’ll wait. We’ll get to Shantideva, the four applications of mindfulness à la Shantideva during our final four weeks.
(3:48) But for the time being, plenty to work with — understanding the nature of substantial causes; that is, what’s really, what’s the primary cause when we are unhappy about something? There are all kinds of catalysts that may be involved, including brain chemistry for sure and so many other factors, so many cooperative conditions, but when it’s all said and done, what is actually transforming into the unhappiness? Not neurons, not other people, not what people say, not politics, not the economy, not the environment, not, not, not, not, not, not. So what’s actually transforming into unhappiness? What’s transforming into happiness? What’s transforming into anger? What’s transforming into compassion? And so on, and then what are those cooperative conditions, never to be slighted, because they’re enormously important? So this fourth application of mindfulness to phenomena is really looking at, in a very rich, multifaceted way, the manner in which physical phenomena, number one, here’s the center of physical phenomena for each of us; here’s how we identify the center of the world — it’s “me”, our own bodies. Of course that’s the axis: you look in all directions, and everything is around you, including all the stars and planets and all the galaxies; you’re all coming around “me.” Thank you; we can bow, you know? Thank you, ladies and gentlemen and all extraterrestrials, glad to be at the center of the universe — at least my universe, probably not yours. And so there it is. Within that, from that central perspective of being located physically in physical space, here we are, and from that vantage point looking out at the physical, well, the first thing we get from the inside out is this intimate view, this insider’s view of one physical entity, a very complex one. In fact, some scientists say that the human brain is the most complex unified entity that they know of in the entire universe, with a hundred billion neurons, and then it goes into oh, so many zeros when it talks about all the synapses and all the connections among the hundred-billion neurons. So there’s no question it’s an almost inconceivably complex physical organ, which has enormous bearing for our mental states, our well-being and so forth.
(6:01) So attending to the physical from the inside out, attending to feelings internally, externally — internally and externally, attending to the mind inside out, internally, externally, externally internally, right? All of those, and then in terms of this fourth application of mindfulness, then looking at the interface, the interdependence between the body and the feelings, both physical and mental, the feelings mental and physical, and the mind, the whole array of mental events and states of consciousness and how these all impact each other, all of these impermanent phenomena equally real. I think that’s an enormously important point that goes counter to, again, the prevailing view that only material phenomena are real. So there we are. I won’t belabor that point, but I think it’s quite obvious experientially that our mental states are as real as anything else. And so that’s one central theme.
(6:55) Is now it’s not so much boring into or probing deeply into one particular domain while ignoring the others, which is exactly what we do in the close application of mindfulness to the body. Good. Good, then that means we’re not looking at the mind for the time being; we’re focusing there, so we’re getting this, kind of this telescopic view, this probing view, investigative view of each of the first three individually, and then we step back and say okay, now, way beyond bare attention, what are the interrelationships, the causal interrelationships above all among these preceding three including self, others, self and other, how does it all fit together?
(7:35) So Pratityasamutpada, dependent origination, really the very core, the very, almost like the trademark or the most characteristic aspect of the Buddha’s teachings are really Pratityasamutpada. And hence, that statement from Ashvajit to Shariputra, then Shariputra to Maudgalyayana, and that is the causes of causally originated things the Tathagata has explained and their cessation too; thus are the teachings of the Great Sage. He just summarized, I mean the essence of the Buddha’s teachings, and for some people that was enough to achieve realization of Nirvana. And what is Nirvana? It’s emptiness. So when I was reading this lovely little biography of Shariputra, I mean, I found it so inspiring, and they just commented, just by the by, just one little one- liner that, oh, often Shariputra would simply dwell in emptiness. He would just, having achieved arhatship, he would just immerse and just dwell in the realization of emptiness, right? So that’s Nirvana. You would just enjoy it and then come out and be of tremendous service and then you’d go back and dwell in Nirvana again, in that direct, unmediated nonconceptual realization of emptiness.
(8:49) So that’s one aspect. The second aspect, the second rationale for the fourth application of mindfulness is intimately related with that. So I’ve given the more generic one, and then, well, this is all very well if you’re, like, a scientist of reality, if you are a philosopher, truly a philosopher, having a passionate love of wisdom, then of course you’d want to do this. You’d want to see not only what’s the nature of this, that and the other thing, you’d want to see how the whole picture fits together. If you truly love wisdom, then wisdom is of course going to be found by seeing the entirety and not only the individual parts, and so that’s one rationale. But not everybody is a scientist; some people are more artistic, musical. Some people like gardening, cooking, and so forth; not everybody wants to be a scientist. But regardless of one’s own temperament, disposition, special interests, there’s one thing we all have in common, and that is we all want to be free of suffering and find happiness, and when we bring wisdom to that quest, then we recognize there’s more to happiness than simply hedonic well-being, and there’s more to suffering than simply hedonic suffering, and that is just stimulus-driven suffering. There is such a thing as genuine happiness, and there’s such a thing as genuine suffering as well. And we see, oh, we might actually be able to do something there, that we really may have some freedom. There may be just a lot of malleability in that area.
(10:22) How much hedonic well-being here; how much hedonic wellbeing? I think of how many lamas there were in Tibet during the 1950s, you know, virtuous men and women — some were women — but also not just lamas, but monks and nuns, so many of them really virtuous. I mean, of course there were a lot of problems; there’s no question, but it’s just a factual statement, a lot of the monks, nuns and just general practitioners, but I’m specifically now focusing on monks, nuns and lamas. Many, many of them were truly virtuous people, really devoted to dharma, many, many of them. Six-thousand monasteries for six million people, and then how many of them suffered inconceivably as the result of the occupation, the genocide and so forth, and they were singled out. Oh you monastic ones, oh you lamas, oh you tulkus, you’re on our hit list; we’re going to really get you. The mere peasants, the merchants, the farmers and so forth, well we’ll pass them by unless they misbehave, but you, just by your very existence, the fact that you are a monk or nun, you’re a lama, you’re a tulku, well, you’re on our “seek out and destroy” list. So for all their virtue, there was no guarantee that they would dwell hedonically. Right, so, that, and they had very little control over that, kind of like, in many cases, none. They were very virtuous, yeah, but could they control — I mean, Palden Gyatso. I think he was simply a good monk, and I mean, I know him; I translated for him. And before he was incarcerated, as far as I could tell, he was just a good monk. He wasn’t a great scholar; he wasn’t a tulku, he wasn’t a great adept. As far as I remember — you can read his autobiography — Autobiography of a Buddhist Monk, I think it’s called. But as I recall, I think he was just a good monk. But he said something like, “Long live the Dalai Lama,” or something “awful” like that and then spent 33 years in concentration camp. So he really didn’t have any control over the amount of hedonic well-being he would experience in his lifetime. But there was one area there where we might actually develop some control, some real influence, and that is the extent to which we attenuate, decrease, subdue the inner causes of misery, the inner causes of genuine unhappiness and cultivate the inner causes of genuine happiness. That you can do as my own lama, Yangthang Rinpoche did, only 18 years in concentration camp, but meditating right the way through. Or Choden Rinpoche, again, about 18, 19 years, that he was in the basement. Instead of being in the concentration camp, he just went into the basement of one of his patrons, I believe, and just stayed in the basement for 19 years and just turned that all into meditation, and now he is one of the greatest meditation teachers in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, traveling widely.
(13:27) So it’s a simple point. So now we come back, to not stray too much, but I think those are important examples, and that is when you come to this close applications of mindfulness to phenomena, yes we’re looking at dependent origination, but now specifically, there’s all kinds of dependent origination — dependent origination in botany, how do plants grow? And zoology and geology, and there’s so many things to be interested in, but this is not kind of like Reality 101, just check it all out, dudes. You know, life is so short, but you see, yeah, there are many, many things to be interested in, and there’s no reason not to; if that’s what you’re interested in, go for it. We’re not trying to put on blinkers on anybody’s minds, but since life is so short, and we care so deeply already about finding happiness and being free of suffering, why don’t we check out pratityasamutpada with respect to genuine happiness? What really are the cooperative conditions and substantial causes that give rise to genuine happiness? And what, and we should be focusing especially on our own behavior. It’s so easy to be focusing on other people’s behavior: I would be so much happier if you would change this way, and I’ll tell you how you should change so I can be happier.
Odd how people are not generally all that interested in how they can change to make somebody else happy, you know? If you really want to be happy you may as well try to change the one person you actually really have a chance of changing, because anybody who’s even been married knows if you want to change your spouse, like, I want to marry you, and by the way, here’s the checklist of all the things I want you to change, so let’s put on the rings, and then we’ll just get right to it this evening, and I’ll start telling you all the ways I can improve you. You don’t think that’ll work, huh? And that’s a spouse; that’s one where there’s a lot of commitment to each other. It’s not strangers; it’s not siblings; they had no choice. They just got dumped in the same family by their karma you know? Oh, I got a sibling — who are you? We have a similar karma, huh? Okay, whatever. It’s looking at pratityasamutpada very simply; here’s the point. In terms of what I might actually be able to cultivate, where I might actually have some influence, in other words, the way I’m manifesting, by way of my body, my speech and my mind, what, coming from me, is contributing in a pretty core way to my own and others, because this is not selfish, to my own and others’ genuine happiness? What’s contributing? What’s helpful? And in terms of what I’m bringing to the world, what is undermining others’ well-being, obstructing or perhaps actually harming them? Clearly, my influence on others will be only as a cooperative condition, but cooperative conditioning can be pretty powerful, very, very powerful, right?
(16:45) So that’s it; that’s the underlying question. So that’s the rationale for the fourth application of mindfulness, generally, pratityasamutpada, the nature of casualty, the nature of dependent origination. But then very specifically looking into, and you’ll see if you read the Buddha’s discourse and his treatment, his explanation of this fourth application of mindfulness, there are a lot of lists there — the four noble truths, I think the eighteen elements are in there, the five obscurations are in there, I mean, there’s list upon list upon list, and it’s really to try to gain as much clarity as possible, because all those lists are oriented around one theme, to understand reality so that we can be free, right? And there it is. And then specifically, in terms of our own mental states above all that, which are conducive to and which are hindering our evolution, our growth along the path to awakening and finding genuine happiness? So that’s the rationale for it.
(17:51) One point, and that is one of the lists in that fourth application of mindfulness is the five obscurations. I’d like to return to that because we are, over these last three weeks, now the fourth week, we’re venturing into vipashyana, and I would say that, generally speaking, folks here have not yet achieved shamatha, in which case the role of ethics — leading a nonviolent way of life, benevolent way of life, is in the support of — number one, it’s meaningful all by itself even if we never meditate, ever, it’s still extremely meaningful. But then in terms of the path, the ethics is in support of, to nurture, to cultivate, to sustain, to nourish the cultivation of the second of the higher trainings, samadhi. It’s there to support samadhi, right? And our practice of samadhi is especially by way of shamatha. It also includes the four immeasurables; that’s also within samadhi realm, and so one might ask, well, then, why don’t we just stay there? Why don’t we just skip viphasyana, skip the wisdom teachings, and just try to achieve shamatha and not be distracted or getting too complicated? And I think it’s too linear; I think it’s too linear an approach. I think all vipashyana teachers — almost all of the Theravada teachers agree with that point, but Tibetan teachers also. I have not met one, including any of my teachers, who have ever said, oh, well, you know, don’t move into vipashyana or any of these other practices until you’ve completely achieved shamatha. None of them has said that.
(19:34) Natural Liberation is a good example of this. It’s one of the earth termas of Padmasambhava. He starts with the preliminary practices. He goes directly to shamatha, says practice shamatha until you achieve it, goes to vipashyana, vipashyana to dream yoga and goes right on through the six bardos, right up to the threkcho and thogyal. So the whole path is right there in one text, Natural Liberation, with Gyatrul Rinpoche’s wonderful commentary. So I asked him years ago, how should one, after he gave me the whole oral transmission, the explanation of the text, these magnificent teachings, then I asked him how should we approach this text? Should we take it step-by-step, and that is do preliminary practices until you’ve finished them, so to speak? And then practice shamatha until you’ve achieved it, and then go into vipashyana until you achieved it? Do we do this way or how? And he said no, that’s too rigid. Go step-by-step, but sow seeds, sow seeds for all of the steps, okay? So move — primarily know where you are within that bandwidth, within that trajectory. Where are you? Have you already achieved shamatha? Already achieved viphasyana? Already achieved dream yoga? How far you have you gotten? So know where you are within that bandwidth, and so then focus primarily where you are, where you’re getting the most benefit, right? Because you’re really fully prepared to engage in this practice, but not fully prepared to engage in those more advanced practices because you haven’t finished this one yet. Nevertheless, sow seeds for the later ones. That’s what Geshe Rabten told me with respect to the Lam Rim; he said yes, focus 80 percent on practices for where you are right now, that are right for you, that purify your mind, primarily right there and sow the seeds for the Six Yogas of Naropa, and stage of generation and completion and all of that. He says, yeah, do that, definitely, but, again, keep focused on the practices that are relevant, appropriate, for which you are a suitable vessel. And so I’ve received this from Gelugpa teachers, from Nyingma teachers, and so forth. So likewise, here, it would be — this is why — it was my choice and only my choice what to teach during this fall retreat. It would have been ever so easy just to go right back and teach shamatha and the four immeasurables, but I thought, well, we don’t have to stay there all the time. Even if people haven’t achieved shamatha yet, let’s go into vipashyana. But I would say for where we are in our practice right now, shamatha, number one, is valuable in and of itself for itself. It’s rich with insight, which, the reflective life is more worth living than the unreflective life — insightful life rather than a delusional life, the lucid life rather than the non-lucid life, so it doesn’t need a justification. It doesn’t need well, okay, what’s your excuse for teaching vipashyana, that vipashyana doesn’t need an excuse; it’s worthwhile in and of itself.
(22:11) And having said that, since it’s quite clear that one cannot derive the full benefit of vipashyana without having achieved shamatha, then one can say for this phase of practice, what I would encourage, just an invitation, is venture into the vipashyana, but see how much you can let that vipashyana be in the service of your shamatha, just as your ethics is in the service of shamatha — mental balance, cultivating the heart, the four immeasurables, relaxation, stability, clarity, all of that — let it be in the service of that. So for the time being — it’s your choice of course, and I’m happy with your choice whatever it is — but you may want to primarily emphasize the vipashyana between sessions, especially since for most of you, you’re spending more time between sessions than during sessions, during the waking state, which means you may as well use it well. So let the insights of the four applications of mindfulness enrich, support, inform, clarify, bring insight to your various shamatha practices, which are tremendously rich in and of themselves.
(23:17) And now I just want to end with this point, and that is, among the five obscurations, this is one of the points to be highlighted in the close application of mindfulness to phenomena, those are the five obscurations; the five dhyana factors would be there too. Then among the five obscurations, the first one is that fixation on the craving, the attachment for hedonic well-being, stimulus- driven pleasure of all kinds, not just sensual, but, we’ve done this before —fame, renown, power, wealth, the whole thing. You know, like a deer staring into the headlights, thinking, oh, there’s where my happiness is. I’ve being waiting for you for all my life. I’ve never been happy until I’ve met you, but now I’ve found my happiness. Come and just let me grab you around the neck, so you’ll never get away. So, attachment, whether it’s your attachment to a person, to a place, a job, your looks, all kinds of things, you know? But focusing on an appearance, an object, another person, a place and so forth with that fixation, or it could be an idea and thinking therein lies my happiness, okay? That’s an obscuration because it points your attention away from where your happiness actually lies, because it doesn’t lie in any other person, object or appearance of the mind. We know where it comes from, and so that obscures the luminous, pure nature of your own awareness. So we’ve looked at that before.
And now among the five dhyana factors, one of the factors that that arises quite naturally, through the sustained, intelligent cultivation of shamatha is the dhyana factor of single-pointed attention, the unification of the mind, the real focus. That’s one of the five dhyana factors, okay? Single pointed. Again, just to ward off one of the errors around this, it does not mean, necessarily, pinpoint, tunnel vision, tiny, fixated. It doesn’t necessarily mean that at all. It may if that’s what you choose. If you choose to focus, for example, on the seed syllable, that’s your choice. Then it is like a laser, it’s pinpoint; it’s very tightly focused. That’s your choice. With that unification of mind, that single-pointedness, the point that you’re singly focusing on may be as vast as all sentient beings, right, as in loving kindness practice. It may be the space of the mind; it may be awareness; it can be as large as you wish, as small as you wish, relatively stable or utterly in a state of flux. So it just means that that there is a real focus, a concerted focus, a composure, a unification on whatever it is. It may wide-angle, it may be telephoto, it may microscopic, it may be panoramic, but it means just that. So among the five dhyana factors, this one, this single-pointed mind, single-pointed attention that arises as the natural antidote, or I like to think of it as a natural antibody for the obscuration of craving and clinging for the bounties of the desire realm; in other words, hedonic pleasure. That’s the one, and it’s not intuitively obvious. But I think when you go deeper into experience, it actually becomes radiantly clear that it’s true, that it actually serves as a direct antidote for it.
(27:06) So maybe you’ve already had that experience, in which case we could just go into meditation immediately. If not, a little bit more talk, but not much, and that is, within the context of meditation, let’s say settling the mind in its natural state — that’s a nice one; we’ve done it, close application of mindfulness to the mind right next door. If one is bringing, again, like a civil engineer who learns how to really bring all the flow of the water in one channel and not just have it spill all over the place, like our ordinary minds, all over the place, but learns, like a civil engineer, to really get the flow of your awareness directed where you will, whether it’s a broad alluvial plain or whether it’s a narrow channel, whatever it is — when you bring that quality of very focused, very composed, unified awareness, and you direct this to the space of your mind and whatever arises within it, then by that very fact, you’re bound to start seeing clearly, at least more clearly, and then more clearly and more clearly the nature of the things to which you’re giving such full attention. That is, as you’re attending there to the mind, are these emotions, the thoughts, the desires, memories and so forth, are they static or they’re changing? You don’t need to go to into a whole lot of cogitation about that, with that full attention, unwavering, focused, composed attention, permanent or impermanent. Boy, it kind of rises up to meet you, right? Therefore, if you turn that same attention to the object of some desire, fixation and so forth, you see: I’m thinking this person is going to be the source of my happiness, going to make me happy for the rest of my life? Are you kidding? How could that possibly be? You’re no different than the stuff arising in the space of my mind; you’re fizzy. You’re just arising moment to moment to moment, and in fact, as far as I know, when you were designed, you were not designed as a product just to make me happy. So then why should you, since that was not the manufacturer on the label, you know? Here’s Sally; she’s there to make Harry happy, either when they met or any other time later on in their lives. You know, when Harry met Sally, it was a really nice meeting, but, you know, she wasn’t actually designed just to make Harry happy. Even Harry wasn’t designed to make Harry happy. It takes a lot of work. So just with that clarity, by seeing impermanence, that’s going to already start to just take that full commitment out of the fixation, the grasping, the attachment to hedonic pleasure.
(29:52) But then also as one attends just to the space of the mind, the images, the memories, the thoughts and so forth that come to mind, just attend to it, just observe them with discerning intelligence, and it should become quite clear: are these appearances to your mind? Are they actually sources of your well-being? Are they actually sources of suffering? Yes or no, just look, but look closely, sustained, focused, clear, composed, and you might really get some clarity there, which is then insight into dukkha. And then as you’re attending, and you’re seeing how all of these events arise and arise and arise, just of their own accord, arise in dependence upon prior substantial causes and cooperative conditions, but they all arise of themselves without there being a director like you making them happen. You see, but, well, but these are just mental events; they don’t have my brand on them. They’re not intrinsically mine; they’re certainly not I; I can observe them, so I can’t be in two places at once. Oh, there I am over there, and I’m over here too, looking at myself? Not likely that’s not a person; this is a person over here. And so then realization, some glimmering, some insight into non-self. As these insights starts to percolate up, just by attending ever so closely, recognizing mental events as mental events, that’s just bound to be counteracting the old tendency of looking upon anything — your body, another person’s body, a place, a job, anything, and thinking, oh, if had that, I’d be so happy. It doesn’t make any sense. So there it is, natural antidote. So we’ll have one obscuration per day. There’s the obscuration.
(31:56) But Lama Zopa Rinpoche, somebody just quoted him to me, commenting about shamatha, and saying well, of course shamatha is important, but in order to achieve shamatha you really, you must have renunciation. That’s simply true. I don’t think it’s really debatable; it’s simply true. But then we can ask, how do you develop renunciation? And there are multiple ways of doing that, and one is by engaging in a lot of discursive meditation; the Lamrim is just classic, and it’s just brilliant. It is formulated, conceived, that particular formulation by Atisha a thousand years ago and then through the Kadampa tradition and then in the Kagyu tradition. You find it in the Sakya, the Nyingma tradition. Tsongkhapa, of course, one of his greatest treatises, perhaps his greatest, who knows, but the great exposition of the path, the stages of the path, lays out this whole series of discursive contemplations, designed first of all to bring about a radical disillusionment with all of samsara, not only the desire realm, all of it up and down, and then arousing also a great yearning to realize liberation as a foundation for developing bodhichitta. So there’s no question that system has worked for a thousand years, discursive meditations transforming the mind, transforming the way we view reality, shifting our priorities, shifting way of life and so forth, and so that one becomes very concerted, very focused on the path. So discursive meditation, no question, very, very helpful, can be. They can also make you incredibly uptight, strung out, lunged out, fretful, feeling I still don’t have real renunciation; I still don’t have bodhichitta, and I’ve been meditating for 20 years and 30 years, and I still don’t have it. And I’m still — ah, I think I need some chocolate. Man, I know a lot of Lamrim meditators, and I know a lot of stressed out people. And I can’t say they’re the same set, but there’s definitely a lot of overlap. So it has to be balanced, you know? It has to be balanced out.
And so what’s the point of all the discursive meditation? Shamatha and vipashyana — to go non- discursive, right?
So an empirical fact, I think really is — I’m not willing to debate it; it’s so obvious it’s not worth debating, is that renunciation can arise in a wide variety ways:
Discursive meditations are methodical ways, systematic way, that’s proven to be effective, in not all cases, but it in many, for many, many — well, a thousand years at least. And then of course, discursive meditation didn’t start with Atisha. Go back to Shantideva, go back to Nagarjuna, go back to Buddha and others editions as well. Discursive meditations? Definitely.
But sometimes life events will unfold, such that powerful renunciation emerges, right? That can happen. Powerful renunciation can arise by just being, having tremendous faith, of just faith arising, for whatever reason, but in one’s lama, for example, like a person like — who just so moves you from the depths, a person like his HH the Dalai Lama and the many — Khandro-la or Choden Rinpoche or Yangthang Rinpoche, Gyatrul Rinpoche, just feeling, ah! If one can become like that, I want to set everything else — I’m going to take my arm and go, whoosh, everything else is off the table. I don’t care about any of that other stuff. Simply show me the path to go into that direction, because that’s the direction I want to be. So renunciation can arise in that way, joyfully.
Shamatha. And what I have found, having taught shamatha, well, for 36 years and longer retreats for the last five years, is that, lo and behold, it’s happened so many times, I can’t doubt it any longer. If I doubted it before, I don’t doubt it now, and that is by practicing shamatha from the inside out, you see through your practice of shamatha how shallow and effervescent and unreliable hedonic pleasures are. You just see it. You don’t have to meditate on it; it’s, like, I see it. And then when you tap into, you get the taste of just what it’s like to have a calm and serene mind, let alone bliss. Just like, whoa, my mind could have been like this for the last 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years? It could have been, but I was doing others things? You can have a mind like this, but this is kind of nice; this is a nice next-door neighbor. This is okay. Serenity’s good — peace, quiet, clarity, relaxation, stability, whoa! Genuine happiness, huh? And it doesn’t get boring — wow! How can I have more of that? I want seconds and thirds. I want do that for the rest of my life. So renunciation actually can come from the inside. That I found, and that doesn’t mean, okay, which are you, an insider or an outsider? Draw from whatever is helpful. But it really is true that a profound shift of priorities, worldview, way of life can occur from the inside out through the practice of shamatha.
Balanced. Four immeasurables — wonderful balance, and then to augment, to support, to illuminate the four applications of mindfulness —very good.
(37:39) So now finally, I know you by now definitely don’t take me seriously when I say just one more point, even though I think you know I always mean it. What I’d like to do now is have a silent session, and one session will be basically what we did this morning. Come back, and let this be your ground, your shamatha ground of breathing in and out mindfully, just your ground doing it, again, without — I gave detailed instructions this morning; don’t need this it afternoon. Let that be your ground and almost like your tent. And when you wish to make a foray out to explore something, anything that comes up — body, feelings, mental states, whatever, go for it. Make your foray into vipashyana of any sort you like, and then when you finish, come back home again, back to your tent, right?
Nice, quiet place to hang out, in and out breathing, in and out breathing. When the spirit moves you, you can venture out into vipashyana and then come back. That’s a possibility. So that’s one possibility, and the second one is something that, again, it’s not vipashyana, it’s not shamatha; nevertheless, it’s not bad, and a lot of people have found it beneficial, and I will call it proto- shamatha. And for some of you, you might just once in a while want to spice up your daily regimen of practices with this one, and let’s call it open presence without Dzogchen. In other words, we’re not pretending we’re practicing Dzogchen, but there can be something very refreshing. I was critical of it only in the sense of people presenting this as the Dzogchen meditation, or this is vipashyana or this is that one. There are simply no grounds for that; they’re wrong. But this open presence of sitting quietly, letting your awareness come to rest in the present moment, having settled body, speech in natural state, and then simply letting your awareness be open, relaxed, attentive, unmoving, clear, discerning, non-reactive, moment by moment. Not highly focused, more like a light illuminating a room shining in all directions, but still. It’s spacious; it’s refreshing; it’s a nice complement. It’s not vipashyana. It’s not anti- vipashyana. It’s not shamatha, because it’s not selective and it’s very much attending to the physical senses and so forth, whatever comes up, but it can be a very nice, very gentle, very soothing, refreshing, relaxing way to allow your awareness to really come and settle in the present moment. Now what you’re not doing is being carried away by rumination; that’s always a common denominator, because that’s marching backwards, right? But just resting there with an openness, an attentiveness, discerning, clear, not dull, not spaced out, maintaining a flow of knowing, but a way of knowing that’s like a lotus opening up in all directions and just being present there. So poised, if you so desire, to then focus in on shamatha, maybe the space of the mind, maybe awareness itself, maybe all sentient beings, maybe slip right into loving kindness practice. But it’s a nice point of presence, a clear open presence. It’s a lovely phrase, open presence, to start there poised to venture out into vipashyana, to venture out into shamatha, the four applications of mindfulness, the four immeasurables, and so forth, so a good substitute for just sitting quietly in rumination, okay? So you have your choice. Now finally, at long last, you’ve been very patient — no more words from me.
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by Marti Hanna on 2-16-15
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Posted by Alma Ayon
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