20 Sep 2012
Teaching: Alan talks about the third of the five obscurations laxity and dullness. Dullness occurs when attention is no longer fully engaged with the object. It is experienced from stages 1-4, whereas laxity is experienced between stages 4-5. Its antidote is coarse investigation (aka applied thought) whereby you just check it out.
Meditation: mindfulness of breathing per Asanga. Allow your body to breathe itself as your respiration settles into its natural rhythm. Let the mind come to stillness in the present moment. Shine the spotlight of your attention on sensations of the respiration as prana flows down to the navel, and keep your attention there single-pointedly. Note the end of the in and out breaths. Note the beginning of the in and out breaths. Arouse attention at every in breath as the navel cavity fills with prana. Maintain the flow of mindfulness throughout the entire breath cycle.
Meditation starts at 6:12
O Laso, this morning we turn to another of the five obscurations, it is a pair, in Tibetan it’s called “ching mo”, “ching mo” is laxity and “rmugs pa” is dullness. and so in terms of a very precise explanations of the nine stages leading to shamatha, as far as I’ve been able to see there aren’t any references to laxity before you get up to stage four, and at stage four then one of your major challenges to transition from four to five is to recognize and to apply the appropriate remedy for course laxity. So course laxity way up there in transitioning from four to five. So: does this mean that you have no problems of clarity before then? No, we’re calling it a different word, dullness that’s what you experience on stage 1, 2, 3 and it may still linger a little bit in 4 and so if you ask: is it possible to experience the great union of dullness and excitation? The answer is yes, and that will lead you to deep stability in samsara. Certainly, I mean you can be really totally dope and the mind going bla, bla, bla (rumination) so that’s definitely possible.
Within this one obscuration, laxity the more subtle level, dullness on a courser level, what is the natural antibody there? In sanskrit it is called “vitarka” or “dopa” in Tibetan, and it’s translated from the Sanskrit Tibetan it would be “course investigation”. The common translation from the Pali [Canon] is “applied thought” or “applied attention” and there’s a nice analogy there from the Theravada tradition and we’ll contrast this with the “subtle analyzes” or “sustain thought” little bit later on, when we get to “uncertainty”, I think that will be in two days from now.
But for this course one they say, this applied thought or course investigation is like when you strike a bell, tooonnnnn, right there that is the applied thought, so it is contact [with the sound of the bell]. When they speak of subtle analyzes or sustained thought that is like the reverberation, ohohohohoh, afterwards, but that immediate impact, that is what we are talking about as the natural antibody, the natural remedy for laxity and dullness, just the opposite of that (sound of clap), that direct contact, direct application, or checking it out with, I think the closest in English, we just say “ah! Check out that bird”. We are not talking about some detailed analysis, sustain investigation, but more casual, you are getting it (the thing you are looking at), you are directing your attention there. And the opposite of that, if we go back to Buddhaghosa, is floating, your attention floats. Where it’s just starts to lift off (the attention), and then it gets muddy (gets unclear) instead of that contact.
I’m looking at Nicolas face (a person in the room), you can see it’s eye to eye, and then I’ve done the cartoon many times before, where almost like a helicopter taking off from a pad, then your attention no longer clearly engages, it starts to float off, and the whole thing gets vague. That’s dullness. So the remedy is quite clear then, it is really simply: “hey, pay attention, just focus!".
(3:56) It is kind of like an image that came to my mind in the meditation this morning was: like the light of awareness is already there, so it is like the sun over your back and then you’ve got this piece of paper, let’s say the paper is that vagueness, that dullness and so forth, and then just direct your magnifying glass there with the sun over your back and of course what would that do? It’s going to burn right through the paper, and so the light of your awareness would just burn right through the fog, and that would be another not bad translation of “rmugs pa”, dullness would be fogginess. So what burns through the fogginess? The sun especially when you put through a magnifying glass, ok?
(4:43) One final point, if we continue to follow Asanga, if you find it a bit difficult to take in the whole system from the aperture of the nostrils down to the navel, bear in mind he really did emphasize that cavity, its Tibetan word is “boop” which means just kind of an empty space at the region of the navel. He did not talk about the empty space and the solar Plexus, the heart, the throat, he just said here is the course of it, but he did speak, emphasize that cavity, that empty space in the region of the navel. So what I would suggest to this session which we’re about to begin, is if you like to go back to the method of Asanga, let be very similar to what we did in phase two of mindfulness of breathing, right to the abdomen, but keep that right in the region of the navel, right in the center and just see in this area how far you actually experience the sensations of the breath, whether at the navel of a few fingers beneath it, but do not try to visualize it, just observe closely, right in the center and how far down there in the abdomen you feel the sensations of that prana going. Let’s jump in.
(6:36) Letting your awareness descend into and fill the space of the body, settle your body step by step with the qualities of relaxation, stillness and vigilance.
(7:47) And with that total sense of letting go, letting go of tension in the body, letting go of the breath, letting go of thoughts, especially with every out breath, let your respiration come to settle in its natural rhythm as you allow your body to breathe itself.
(9:34) With your face in an expression of repose, your eyes soft, relaxed, unfocused, set your mind at ease by releasing all concerns about the future and the past, let your awareness come to rest in stillness in the present moment, and shine the spotlight of your attention on the sensations of the respiration, the flow of prana, as they flow down to the navel region. Keep your attention focused right there, single pointedly.
(11:42) Note the very end of each in and out breath, note the duration, be it ever so short or perhaps longer of the interim of the in and out breath, and the beginning of each in and out breath.
(14:35) Arouse your attention during each breath, each in breath as that cavity in the region of the navel is filled with prana, then gently relax as the breath flows out while sustaining throughout the entire course of the in and out breath the ongoing flow of mindfulness of the respiration. Let’s continue practicing now in silence.
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by Noa leshem
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti