19 Sep 2012
Teaching: Continuing from Asanga’s Shravakabhumi, Alan introduces the second thorough training by way of the aggregates. Asanga begins by explaining the characteristics of achieving shamatha—i.e., 1) pliancy in the mind, 2) pliancy in the body, and 3) single-pointedness taking delight in the object. Having achieved shamatha, we return to the desire realm in an expedition to gain insight into the five aggregates: 1) form in terms of mindfulness of breathing, 2) feelings (positive/negative/neutral) arising with the mindfulness of breathing, 3) recognition associated with the mindfulness of breathing, 4) volition associated with the intention to sustain mindfulness of breathing, and 5) mind as composite.
Meditation: mindfulness of breathing followed by mindfulness of phenomena (aggregates). In the first half of the session, practice the mindfulness of breathing practice of your choice. In the second half... 1) know the domain of the body as aggregate of form, 2) recognize feeling associated with mindfulness of breathing, 3) recognize your recognition of the qualities of the breath, 4) recognize that volition which impels the practice, 5) direct attention to awareness itself amidst mindfulness of breathing. Open your eyes, and let awareness flood the 6 domains of experience, illuminating all 5 skandhas.
Q1. If my main practice is awareness of awareness, what should I do in between sessions?
Q2. In mindfulness of aggregates that we just did, do we practice mindfulness of breathing and mindfulness of the feelings associated with mindfulness of breathing? In the final instruction to expand awareness to the 5 sense domains, what exactly is the object?
Q3. Are aggregates and skandhas the same thing?
Q4. Some contents in the mind appear to be more obvious than others. Is this due to grasping?
Meditation starts at 30:05
Returning and reviewing Asanga’s text, is a complete explanation of mindfulness of breathing.
As you’ll recall when he is discussing this practice overall he divides it up into five sections that are: 1) thorough training by way of counting, 2) thorough training by way of engaging with the aggregates, the five skandhas, 3) thorough training by way of dependent origination or pratitysamutpada 4) thorough training by way of engaging with reality, namely the four noble truths, and finally 5) thorough training by way of the sixteen aspects and that takes you all the way to arhatship.
We have already covered the training by way of counting and now we will move on to thorough training by way of engaging with the aggregates, the five skandhas.
[Just to remember, Alan made a brief summary of training by counting, as below:]
Asanga described everything about counting but also with that concluding paragraph commenting that people with sharp faculties and clear minds do not need it, just listen to the instructions and go right to the practice and that would be sufficient. Just to comment on the last sentence or so: By closely applying mindfulness to the object of inhalation and exhalation they closely attend to the place, that is where you are experiencing the flow of the prana, the duration of how long is the breath, long or short, the manner, how does it flow and the time, so when the inhalation is complete, when does the exhalation begin and so forth. They closely attend to the place, duration, manner and time of occurrence of the in and out breath, that is how they train, and then we go to part two, thorough training by engaging with the aggregates, he continues here.
[Alan introduces the second thorough training by way of the aggregates. Asanga begins by explaining the characteristics of achieving shamatha—i.e., 1) pliancy in the mind, 2) pliancy in the body, and 3) single-pointedness taking delight in the object.]
[Now we are going to section two of the text which is:]
II. Thorough Training by Engaging with the Aggregates
“By devoting oneself to that practice, cultivating it time and again with continuity, physical pliancy and mental pliancy arise and upon reaching single pointedness, one takes delight in the object”.
And he has just finished the whole explanation of achieving shamatha by way of mindfulness of breathing; that was it. So no preliminary sign, no acquired sign, and no counterpart sign. It is about as homogenous in methodology as settling the mind in its natural state, it is so simple, it does not mean easy - we all know that - but it is not complex and once you’ve learned it you’ve learned it and that’s it, and now just do it, practice time and again with continuity and just see how that unfolds but all the rest is just happening to you, it is not you getting more clever and now try this more difficult technique - it is not like that, just do this and then just see how the whole process unfolds. And of course in settling the mind you are watching, well just see how your mind then heals itself and gradually, gradually dissolves. The image that I like so much is the snow globe where in the beginning is just chaos, the globe is all shaken up and you see the snow swirling all over the place, and then without doing much at all, kind of almost doing nothing, just put the snow globe down and do not mess with it, do not try to make it go faster, just like shaking it more and saying, come on snow, do not do that, just attend with that quality of awareness and in its own way, some of the snow will swirl this way, and some will swirl that way but overall this all can settle down and you will be looking at a transparent luminous sphere, something like the alaya [substrate].
(5:42) Well in a similar fashion here this practice is simple, especially if you do not do all that counting, you know by hundreds and thousands. If you just keep it simple, (maybe it’s time to be a person with sharp faculty – you really don’t want to go there, do you, all that counting? Do it if it is helpful.) But he says, cultivating it time and again with continuity, physical pliancy and mental pliancy arise.
Well for those of you who have studied shamatha well, studied Tsongkapa, again in terms of just the detail, the sophistication, the precision, the authority of laying out the nine stages and what it is actually like to achieve shamatha, frankly, I do not think this is bias speaking, I do not think you could do better with Tsongkapa. I do not find that kind of detail in Dudjom Lingpa but laying out those nine stages and then exactly what happens - pardon the metaphor - when your water breaks. That is, you’ll know the water breaks when you feel this pressure on top of your head; pressure like as if you were bald and somebody placed their hand on your head and you feel some real pressure there, and Tsongkapa says it is not unpleasant but it catches your attention. What it’s catching is your water broke: that is, you are about to give birth to shamatha and that is the first indication so do not go out with your bike, do not go for a swim, now is the time just sit down and get really comfortable because something very interesting is about to happen. You’ve already achieved stage nine, you should know that by now, and your water has just broken which means you are now about to give birth, I mean now there is going to be a continuum, and watch it happen because you are giving birth to another whole mind and so what happens there: first that is the indicator and then the rest just happens to you and you do not have to do anything special - and the first thing is mental pliancy, this is a word pliancy, pliancy, buoyance, suppleness, malleability, but it is a lightness, flexibility, that suppleness just like as if you are an eighteen year old trained Olympic gymnast and you feel you can do pretty much with your body whatever you like. But you have a mind like that and it is so supple; so that is the first thing, unprecedented feeling of just the sheer suppleness - that is a nice word - and pliancy is another good word. So that is the first thing that happens, it is just, Oh!
(8:47) And then it just continues to flow on from that (having a mental pliancy). And then the next thing is a physical pliancy and here is where you find the energies going into complete free flow throughout the whole body, it is like your whole body is just a field of coursing unobstructed free flowing energy and you feel this lightness as if you could, one Lama who achieved it, he said when you achieve shamatha you feel like you can jump over mountains, you cannot but you feel like as if you could and it is that lightness, that bouncy, (it is a little mountain, what is the problem I am ready to go, you know) and so there is that lightness, a quality of lightness, buoyance, suppleness and so forth but now you are very aware of your body and it has that quality that it is unprecedented and that is called bodily pliancy or physical pliancy and that is very energetic, it is all about the prana now just flowing unimpededly, in another words you now with your twelve cylinder Maserati you are now finely tuned, that energy is flowing right where it should be flowing, unimpeded. And then out of that comes a physical bliss and this is something when the physical bliss arise you really do not have time for anything else because it totally captures your attention and that is a bliss that will saturate your whole body, just total bliss, blissed-in, blissed-out, body of bliss, that is the physical bliss.
Instruction for one that is reading the transcript: the next paragraph we are introducing part of the text in bold together with Alan’s comments.
(10:08) And then almost as if you, like a pot of milk that is on the stove and it is bubbling, bubbling and then afterwards bubbles all over the place and spills all over the stove, well the bliss in the body is as if it just spills over and saturates your mind and then shifts, the locus of bliss goes from the somatic to the psychological, from the physical to the mental and then you’re just blissed-out, I mean you’re just totally, your mind is suffused with bliss and you are busy, your mind is just totally filled with bliss and then that happily - because if you just ended there that could really be a problem because you just feel uhmmmmm for the rest of your life and you couldn’t do much, but happily nature takes care of that and that very intense bliss - that really saturating bliss - as if you’ve turned down the stove, then it just goes down to a nice quiet simmering, everything is calming down and it is still sukkah and there is also ‘priti’, a sense of bliss is there but it is kind of a nice quiet simmering bliss, simmering bliss such that you could do things with that, you are not so overwhelmed by the bliss that you cannot do anything else. So now those are the two of the dhyanas factors, the sense of wellbeing, sukkah and the real bliss, ‘priti’; those are there, but frankly you have all of the dhyanas factors because you also have single pointedness and now you achieved shamatha when that bliss settles down, is simmering like a soup that you can keep on the stove for a couple of hours just quietly simmering away – well, you’ve now achieved shamatha and so now your mind is now right on the threshold, it’s crossed the threshold over into the form realm, your senses are totally withdrawn, now totally into the mind, and there is right there at your fingertips the ability to engage in course investigation, subtle investigation, there is bliss or ‘priti’, there is wellbeing, sukkah, and then there is single pointedness of mind, the five dhyanas factors are all there and you’ve achieved shamatha, you achieve access to the first dhyana. Well that was a kind of detailed explanation drawn from an enormous amount of experience and Asanga just summarized it by saying: “cultivating it time and again with continuity, physical pliancy and mental pliancy arise”, he just described actually the day you achieve shamatha “and upon reaching single pointedness”, well that is the third, now we have three out of five, that indicates that you actually achieved shamatha. “upon reaching single pointedness one takes delight in the object”. Well he’s put sukkah and ‘priti’ into one: delight, you take delight in the object. So there you are. That is how you achieve shamatha.
I do not really see any other alternative and maybe it is just because my limitation in my own imagination of what is going on here in terms of your focus because he (Asanga) never says shift to a mental object, he says your object is the “in and out breath” and then he says: what is that? That is that flow of energy.
(13:40) But now we know what happens here and that is, there is especially when you breathe in deeply you have a really strong sense down there [belly] and back up here [chest] or you also experience and I know some of you may have the sense that actually starting from bottom and going to the top, they are both true, because when you breathe in you do have a sense of not first your chest is expanding and then your diaphragm and belly but rather on the contrary, you have a sense first your belly is expanding and then the diaphragm and then the chest, it is bottom up like filling a pot of water, nevertheless for the actual flow of prana it is coming in and start here [nostrils] as you breathe in and then goes down to the navel and then comes right back out here so both are true, but whatever that maybe the object is clearly, you are focusing on the flow of prana that is what he (Asanga) said, right? It is not an interpretation it is simply what he said.
(14:11) But now as you move from “breathing in long I know I breathe in long and breathing out long I know I breathe out long”, then you are going to “breathing in short I know I breathe in short” and then one goes to “attending to the whole body breathing in and breathing out” and then “calming the composite of the body.” And so what certainly is happening here is that the volume of breath is just getting thinner, thinner and thinner, the sine wave having gone from long to short and then just getting shorter and shorter, subtler, subtler and subtler and you are not attending just to the tip of the nose, you are attending to the flow, but that flow that is just getting finer and finer, almost as if higher and higher frequency until eventually you’ve got to disengage, if you keep on focusing on the desire realm, you are not achieving shamatha that is clear in Theravada, in Tsongkhapa, and so forth - there is nothing to debate there, when you achieve shamatha you crossed the threshold over into the form realm, which means you are not engaging with or attending to the desire realm, that is not debatable. So what must be taking place here is the oscillation must be getting smaller, smaller and smaller and then where is the prana converged when you are actually right there on the cusp? Yea, into your heart, it cannot be anywhere else, it is not in the navel, and it wouldn’t make any sense that is converged into the nostrils; they converge at the heart and of course we know that is from the teachings we received that when you achieve shamatha your course mind dissolves into the substrate consciousness and the correlated pranas converge into the heart chakra. So my strong sense would be that the sensations that you are experiencing as you are attending to the flow of prana that the oscillations is getting finer and finer and then converges into the heart and then you release it. And there you are, and your course mind dissolves into subtle mind and the energies all converge into the heart chakra, welcome to shamatha. So rather like the seed syllable dissolving into the bindu and then the bindu just going into emptiness. So now you have a new base camp: congratulations.
Instructions for one that is reading the transcript: the next paragraph is part of the summary and we are using here as a title and subtitle to the next theme.
Having achieved shamatha, we return to the desire realm in an expedition to gain insight into the five aggregates: 1) form in terms of mindfulness of breathing, 2) feelings (positive/negative/neutral) arising with the mindfulness of breathing, 3) recognition associated with the mindfulness of breathing, 4) volition associated with the intention to sustain mindfulness of breathing, and 5) mind as composite.
Text: “One who has thoroughly trained the body like that engages with the aggregates by attending to objective and subjective phenomena.”
(16:24) One who has thoroughly trained the body like that, engages with the aggregates, this is all five of the aggregates starting with the body, feelings and so forth, engages with the aggregates by attending to objective and subjective phenomena. Okay, so let’s continue to read this (Asanga’s) section. …Now that he’s got us to shamatha, let’s see whether he goes deeper into shamatha or whether he goes right over into vipashyana.
Text: “One who focuses the attention upon the body, which is the basis of inhalations and exhalations, engages with the aggregate of form.”
Alan comments about this paragraph:
It is the first of the five aggregates. Did he say in this phase that you are attending to objective and subjective phenomena? Well, there is an objective one, attending to the aggregate of form.
Text: “One who does so [focus the attention] on the feelings that are conjoined with the mindfulness that apprehends inhalations and exhalations engages with the aggregate of feelings.”
Quite interesting that still you are maintaining, there is something going on here and bear in mind he said that the respiration goes through not only the large cavities but also the subtle cavities and what are they? The pores of the body. So you are still attending to the breath, the breath is still going on, you’ve not achieved the fourth dhyana; that is where it really stops. But what level of the breath? When we have our contemplative observatories around the world and we invite some open minded, high quality scientists to investigate, it will be very interesting to know after we have people achieving shamatha and then moving on, what are they detecting? Is the person still breathing, breathing in a scientific sense of the term the longs are going, pum, pum, pum like that or are they not? Is the breathing that is taking place now only on a subtle level through the pores? It is just a question that is one the scientists could answer well because they are very good at that kind of thing.
(19:01) But here we have “mindfulness that apprehends inhalations and exhalations”. But one who attends to the feelings, it would be with introspection because you are holding your mindfulness still on the respiration, mindfulness on in and out breathing, but you are attending to the feelings, and what are those feelings? The feelings that are conjoined with or working concomitantly with your mindfulness of the respiration and where your interest is, you are attending to the arising of feelings. What kind of feelings are arising, Monica, what kind of feelings are arising at this point? You’ve achieved shamatha: How about sukkah and priti, sense of wellbeing and bliss? So actually we have some pretty nice feelings to look at.
So, “one who does so on the feelings that are conjoined with the mindfulness that apprehends inhalations and exhalations engages with the aggregate of feelings.” So this is interesting, it looks like he is going to enfold all of the five skandhas within the context, within the system of mindfulness of “in and out breathe” and that is as you are attending to that, now you are moving into viphasyana territory. So now you are attending once again to the body, he said: one who focus the attention upon the body, that means you’ve not simply withdrawn into the substrate because when that happens you are not aware of your body at all as if you are deeply sleeping. Now you are venturing out, you have completed your retreat into shamatha and you are ready for your expedition into viphasyana and that entails among others things that you now once again are attending to the breath, the flow of the prana in the body, you are attending to the body and you are in viphasyana territory now, but you are coming back to gain some insight.
So it is now close inspection of the body, which is the basis of the breath, close inspection on the feelings that arise that are concomitant with or conjoined with or on the very nature of the way that you’re mindfully attending to the breath. What is the feeling that goes along with your mindfulness of the breath? That is what you are attending to and that means you are looking at the skandha (aggregate) of feelings, vedana (feeling) skandha.
Text: “One who does so on thorough understanding engages with the aggregate of recognition.”
(21:20) One who does so, one who focuses the attention upon, thorough understanding, this discerning, this discriminating understanding, that is what he says here. One who does so on thorough understanding, thorough understanding of what? You are attending to the breath, so it is not only just placing your mindfulness on it but it is thorough discerning, discriminating, understanding or comprehension of the breath. But one who is attending to that subjective experience of thorough understanding, engages with the aggregate of recognition, the third skandha.
Text: “One who does so on mindfulness, volition, and wisdom engages with the aggregate of mental formations.”
(22:44) One who does so on mindfulness, volition and wisdom, one who focuses the attention on mindfulness, but also you are continuing to practice, not like a zombie or because you have to, but because you decided to. So there is an ongoing flow of volition, of intention, the mental factor; and that is really a core mental factor in the skandha of intention that is really highlighted when you attend to that skandha you are especially attending to intention, volition. One who does so, one who focus the attention on mindfulness, that very flow of mindfulness itself, focus the attention on volition and wisdom, engages with the aggregate of compositional factors, the fourth skandha. And one who does so, that is focus the attention on the mind, which is your primary mind, mental consciousness in this case, one who does so on the mind, on mental engagement, that is that very fundamental just engaging with the object, you are observing that process of engaging with the object.
Text: “One who does so, on the mind, mental engagement, and consciousness engages with the aggregate of consciousness.
Those who engage with the aggregates and abide there many times are said to be thoroughly trained by engaging with the aggregates.”
(24:08) One who does so on the mind, mental engagement, and consciousness.
Perhaps mind here since he is covering consciousness, maybe mind means more the container, the composite. But what he does say is one who focuses the attention on the mind, mental engagement and consciousness engages with the aggregate of consciousness, fifth skandha (aggregate). Those who engage with the aggregates and abide there many times are said to be thoroughly trained by engaging with the aggregates. This is very clearly within the nest, within that context of continuing, now that you have achieved shamatha, because he made that pretty clear, now that you achieved shamatha you come out of your substrate consciousness, you reactivate your course mind because you are not just resting in your substrate, but this is a course mind that has had a major tune-up and that is, it is free of the five obscurations, not absolutely irreversibly but they are really dormant.
But very important you have those five dhyanas factors now at your back and call so the ability of course investigation, of subtle analysis, bliss, wellbeing and single pointedness, you are bringing now a very highly enriched turbo powered, empowered mind to this close application of mindfulness to form, feelings, recognition, compositional factors, and consciousness. In other words all of these constituent aggregates that make up our presence here in this world.
(25:59) So that is how he first uses shamatha, venturing into the realm of viphasyana and that is to really attend to closely and get to fathom to realize and understand clearly through your own direct experience the nature of each of those five skandhas. That is the first thing you do when you step out in terms of the wisdom side - of course you could be developing the four immeasurable and bodhichitta, incredible worthwhile - but on the wisdom side this is what he suggests. Step out but do not step out very far, do not step out to the galaxies and a lot of other interesting things, step right out into here you are, why don’t you understand from the inside out what is going on here, by this closely attending to each of these skandhas, these psycho-physical aggregates and seeing each one for what it is. So even though he does not say this it would be very easy and I think suitable, appropriate to insert here, as you step out and you attend to the aggregate of form - of course you’re form surround by form - as you do so you recognize form as form and you just stop there.
Form is form not as form as my body, my overweight body, my old body, no additions, you are just seen form as form, body as body and likewise when you are attending to feelings you are not laying on any of the packaging, just seeing feelings as feelings, arising from moment to moment and likewise recognition and then this whole array of compositional factors, and you are highlighting a few of them that are especially important. Because we tend to identify very strongly with volition, I did that, I am responsibly for that and so forth and this is our volition, is at the core of karma, karma is at the core of what moves us from one lifetime to the next.
So closely attending there, just seeing compositional factors as compositional factors, not mine, not me, not anything other than what they are, just look at them nakedly in this purely and naturalistic way, just seeing them as natural events arising and then finally consciousness itself, simply observing it for what it is and seeing consciousness as consciousness. It is a really powerful first step to coming to know reality as it is by having this wonderfully refined, clarified, stable, lucid, non-reactive, non-smoggy, that is there is no rumination here, it is clear, it is like that Hubble telescope that is now launched beyond the atmosphere and just sees into deep space, there is almost nothing between you and what you look at, a whole bunch of empty space. And here you are, you’re bringing this distilled, radiantly clear, non-discursive, that is without rumination, attentiveness, so then each is like shining a really bright light, one by one. And the point of this of course is to overcome con-fusion, where we fuse these various skandhas or aspects of our presence here into: “this is just me”, fusing them into an identity, into a person of having a lot of things and just then just glomming them altogether, con-fusing them, fusing them together, and this distilled, one by one recognition of each of the aggregates and you see what is there but in seeing what is there you also see what is not there and that is really crucial. So it is overcoming the cognitive imbalances of not seeing what is there but also the cognitive imbalance of superimposing what is not there and conflating it with what it is. Ok, let’s go back to the practice.
(31:03) Settle your body, speech and mind in their natural states.
(32:03) For the first half of the session I invite you to devote yourself to the practice of shamatha, mindfulness of breathing, in any way you find most helpful, for some of you this will entail focusing on the rise and fall of the abdomen, others, the sensation at the nostrils, others may wish to follow the method of Asanga, these are all good, these are all authentic practices: focus on the one that is most beneficial to you for the time being.
(42:30) And now as you maintain your mindfulness on the in and out flow of the breath direct your attention to the broader context or domain of your body which is the basis of the respiration and know this aggregate of form as the aggregate of form.
(44:40) As you sustain the flow of mindfulness of the in and out breath, direct your attention introspectively to the feeling that arises in conjunction with that mindfulness, which is to say: is the experience of your mindfulness of breathing, is it pleasant, is it unpleasant, or is it neutral. Closely attend to and recognize the feeling as the feeling, whatever it maybe.
(46:10) As you mindfulness attend to the breath you are in fact able to recognize, beginning and end of inhalation and exhalation, the duration, the place of the sensations, how the breath is flowing, able to recognize this with your faculty of recognition, discernment, discrimination, attend to the manner in which you thoroughly understand the in and out flow of the breath; by so doing attend to the skandha, the aggregate of recognition.
(47:38) So this entails discerning qualities of the breath and knowing that you are discerning, recognizing that discernment itself.
(48:43) As you maintain the flow of mindfulness of breathing, recognize that you still intend to do so; you’re not doing this mindlessly, there is a flow of volition that continues to impel you in the practice, see if you can discern, to recognize this mental factor of volition, of intention, representative of the compositional factors, the fourth skandha.
(50:11) This is closely akin to settling the mind in its natural state while you are practicing mindfulness of breathing, noting what is going on in the mind. And finally as you sustain that outward flow of mindfulness of the breathing direct your attention inward to the center to, the directionality of your attention, to consciousness itself, sustain the flow of awareness of awareness even in the midst of sustaining the flow of mindfulness of the breathing.
(52:35) And now with your eyes open continue to sustain the flow of mindfulness of the in and out breath while letting your awareness flood all the six domains of experience, illuminating each of the five skandhas.
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by Erik Koeppe
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Posted by Alma Ayon