20 Sep 2012

Teaching: Continuing from Asanga’s Shravakabhumi, Alan introduces the 3rd thorough training by way of dependent origination. Asanga begins by attending to the breath which is dependent upon the body and mind which are in turn conditioned by the life faculty (subtle continuum of mental consciousness and prana) which is in turn dependent on previous compositional factors (samskara) which are in turn dependent on ignorance. The antidote to ignorance is wisdom which leads to the cessation of ignorance and so forth. Alan briefly sketches the 3rd thorough training by way of the 4 Noble Truths which involves contemplating them repeatedly.
Meditation: mindfulness of breathing per Asanga followed by mindfulness of phenomena (aggregates).

I) Mindfulness of breathing per Asanga. Let awareness rest at the space of the navel, and observe sensations of prana coming to fill that space and flowing out again like at a train station. Observe the body breathing without inhibiting the exhalation or pulling in the inhalation.

II) Mindfulness of phenomena (aggregates). For each of the aggregates, view them as being impermanent, devoid of self, and having no owner: 1) see form as form, 2) feelings arising in the body and mind, 3) observe recognition of the space of the mind, 4) observe the compositional factors in the space of the mind, 5) direct awareness to the experience of being conscious. Open awareness to the realm of all phenomena.
Q1. What stage of shamatha can we reasonably expect to achieve while living in the modern world?

Q2. At times, part of the mind is wandering while part of the mind is still on the object. What should I do? Should I multi-task?

Meditation starts at 26:55

Download (MP3 / 49 MB)


O Laso, we’ll return to Asanga’s text on the practice of mindfulness of breathing, we’re now definitely into vipashyana territory, having looked at the aggregates very closely one by one with that basis, that shamatha basis in mindfulness of breathing, and then kind of making this forays, these expeditions out into the close examination of the five skandhas. But for our purposes here in this 8 week retreat, what I would suggest is that if you’d already all, for example already achieved shamatha, then I would say, ok your shamatha’s now in total support of vipashyana, full speed ahead vipashyana. You know that’s what we are really here for, vipashyana and what’s the point of vipashyana - now that with your achievement of shamatha you’ve really subdued, you’ve made dormant your five obscurations, your mind is really working well, now come in and finish the job with vipashyana you know, to really cut these mental afflictions at their root, and with that union of shamatha vipashyana you’re extremely well equipped to do that.

But I’m going to make a wild guess that you haven’t achieved shamatha just yet, in which case I think it’s still worthwhile, I speak for the whole tradition here, Theravada, Zen, Tibetan, none of them are so rigid that that they say, no I won’t teach you anything more advanced until you absolutely finish this one, it’s too narrow, it’s too rigid and so while what I would suggest though is for the remaining 4 weeks, because as of today we have hit the midway point, for the remainder of this four weeks focus primarily like 80/90% of your time on the practices for which you really, you clearly are deriving benefit, and I would imagine that’s probably going to be mostly shamatha. If you really get benefit from the vipashyana, absolutely go for it. But even if you’re just really overwhelming focusing on the shamatha, maybe some of the four immeasurables to sweeten the soup, bring in the vipashyana just to sow these seeds, sow seeds of insight, because these like the four immeasurables, when you return to wherever you are going when you leave here, the four immeasurables are very applicable in daily life, all your social interactions and so forth they can be very, very helpful.

(2:19) And likewise the four applications of mindfulness, not with the full depth and the richness of investigating the skandhas, but in terms of the broad themes, they really can bring much more discernment, wisdom, intelligence, clarity to your engagement with whatever’s happening in your life anywhere.

So in short for the time being the four immeasurables, and the four applications of mindfulness are kind of in service of shamatha, because I do feel shamatha together with the four immeasurables, will be the practices that bring about the greatest shift, for which you’ll derive the most clear benefit from your meditation. So that said, now let’s go right back to the text.

(2:54) As we go deeper into vipashyana territory, so we’ve covered the first one thorough training by way of counting, that was flat out shamatha of course, and then we had thorough training by way of the aggregates, so already looked at that, and now we go deeper into vipashyana with the third, and that is thorough training by engaging with dependent origination, so now we go into really the heart core of the Buddha’s teachings, and also the realization that he himself gained, the direct experiential realization on the third watch of the night, that is when he’s coming to the end of his night of enlightenment that which was the final breakthrough to full awakening, was his investigation of dependent origination. So this is really central to his own experience and to the core of Buddha dharma in all schools, there isn’t any school that doesn’t care about dependent origination, if there is they’ve lost the scent, they are no longer connected to the Buddha dharma. So back to Asanga’s:

(Explanation for one that is reading this transcript: See below the complete text of session III in bold letters between quotation marks “…”will be the text which Alan is reading and following by his comments to explain the themes of each part of the text.)

III. Thorough Training by Engaging with Dependent Origination

“When one sees and thoroughly understands the mere aggregates, mere formations, and mere phenomena, then one engages with the dependent origination of composites. And how does one engage with them? One seeks and inquires as to the basis and the cooperative conditions for the inhalation and exhalation. One considers that the in- and out-breaths depend upon and are conditioned by the body and by the mind. Moreover, by what are the body and mind conditioned? One realizes that the cooperative condition for the body and mind is the life faculty. {What is the cooperative condition for the life-faculty? One realizes that the cooperative condition for the life-faculty is previous formations. What is the cooperative condition for the previous formations?} One realizes that ignorance is the cooperative condition for previous formations. Thus, due to the cooperative condition of ignorance there are previous formations, which condition the life-faculty, which conditions the body and consciousness; and the body and mind condition the in- and out-breath. Now due to the cessation of ignorance, formations cease; due to the cessation of formations, the life-faculty ceases; due to the cessation of the life-faculty, the body and mind cease; due to the cessation of the body and mind, inhalation and exhalation cease. Thus one engages with dependent origination. One who dwells repeatedly on that is said to be thoroughly trained in dependent origination. This is called the thorough training by engaging with dependent origination.”

(3:57) “When one sees and thoroughly understands the mere aggregates, mere compositional factor and mere phenomena (so mere phenomena at large) then one engages with the dependent origination of composites”.

(5:15) Alan’s explanation: so once again this is a short sentence but really loaded. When speaking of the mere aggregates, this term mere “tsam” in Tibetan, the mere aggregates what is he getting at here? It’s something really clear, transparent, not complicated and that is having refined your mindfulness, your attention by way of shamatha, then like that Hubble telescope beyond all the distortions of the atmosphere, when then you bring that clarity, and that stability to the close examination of the skandha of form, of feelings, of recognition, compositional factors and consciousness, then bringing that clarity that inquiry of vipashyana then you see them for what they are, when he says “mere”, he is saying just like the Buddha said to Bahiya, “you seeing mental events as mental events, sounds as sounds”, here you’re seeing each of the aggregates as they are nakedly without the superimposition, and the fusion of the delusional projections of permanents, of these things being inherently pleasurable by nature, and of course “I and Mine”, you’re seeing them empty of “I and Mine”, you’re seeing them simply as phenomena, that is why he says “mere phenomena”, empty of “I and Mine”, empty of all the stuff that we conceptually project upon them, and just see them nakedly, so this is the issue of “mere”. You simply seeing them as natural phenomena arising in dependence upon prior causes and conditions but devoid of the delusional projections that we superimpose upon our own aggregates, the compositional factors in particular, then looking especially within, the factors, the processes of the mind and then phenomena at large. So with that basis now seeing clearly without fusing your projections with what is being presented then one engages with dependent origination of composites.

(6:04) For those of you, and I think especially for those of you from Germany, where you have such a wonderful center there for studying Buddhism well, a lot of you have a good solid basis in theory, Buddhist philosophy and psychology, then you’ll see how beautifully this dove tails or how do you say, coincides, could be integrated with Sautantrika view, because Sautantrika view is saying that which is real is that which immediately presents itself to your senses.

Whoom, there it is, whereas all the delusional stuff is conceptually imputed and that’s static, it’s not real, it exists but it’s not real, so once again the marriage of the Sauntrantika philosophical view with the practice of vipashyana in this context, is really I think quite extraordinary, I’m surprised that it really has not been taught before. I am not making up anything here, all the components are there, so why in all the training as soon as they are studying Sautrantika, don’t they say, hey this is not just a head trip or to get good at debating, this is to purify your mind, but you won’t do that just by thinking a lot about Sautrantika, you need to practice, bring some experience to it, but let your experience be well informed, enriched with the depth, the sophistication, the subtlety of Buddhist view, and here’s just a perfect marriage, Sauntrantika with basic vipashyana, three marks of existence and so forth.

(8:25) But now we move on to dependent origination of composites, what are composites? They’re the real phenomena according to Sautrantika, these are exactly those phenomena that arise in dependence upon causes and conditions. The phrasing here is always so precise, I do find in Buddhism just generally speaking, words are used very carefully and so when saying that phenomena arise in dependence upon causes and conditions, what this doesn’t mean is that they are predetermined by whatever the past was now the future is locked in, why? Because of causality, it’s not predetermination the Buddha is very explicit about that.

So do things arise randomly? No. For no cause at all? No. Are they then therefore determined by whatever the whole matrix of what causes and conditions were? No. So it’s something in between, arising in dependence upon the past but not determined by the past, and not happening for no reason at all. So once again one engages with dependent origination, the dependent origination of composites, those phenomena that arise in dependence upon causes and cooperative conditions. And how does one engage with it? One seeks and enquiries as to the basis and the cooperative conditions for the inhalation and exhalation, so you start with the microcosm - what you are attending to, your basis in shamatha and say: ok, here’s a natural event, here’s a natural process taking place it’s called breathing. So now how do we understand breathing within a causal nexus? What are the primary causes, the contributing circumstances giving rise to it? One considers that the in and out breath depend upon and are conditioned by the body and by the mind, good start. Moreover by what are the body and mind conditioned? So now we start going deeper, we start tracing this back, exactly in terms of links of dependent origination. By what are the body and mind conditioned?

(10:13) One realizes, now bear in mind and just imagine if you have actually achieved shamatha, this means, just like having a very obedient dog and you go shiiiiiii (
Alan whistles) and the dog comes running, you say, hello substrate consciousness shiiii, yes there it is, I mean there it is, there’s your current that links lifetime to lifetime to lifetime, that is the basis, the carrier, one way or another at least conventionally speaking, it is the carrier for imprints, for memories, for all of these pratityasamutpada from lifetime to lifetime. So you have immediate access to that, it is not an object of belief. Again it’s like Lama Zopa answering when he was asked. Do you need to believe in reincarnation to achieve enlightenment? “He said no, you need to know it”. Yeah, you don’t get to enlightenment simply by believing all the right things, and believing too much could actually shut down inquiry. Oh, I already know the right answer, I memorized it, great, well then in this case let’s all be Zen practitioners because I think there is a book out there that has all the answers to all the koans, we’ll memorize those and we’ll be Zen masters, no problem.

So the answer is interesting; by what are the body and mind conditioned? One realizes that the cooperative condition for the body and mind is the life faculty. As far as I can tell the life faculty is really nothing other than that continuum, that subtle continuum of consciousness and prana, that’s the life faculty, it’s in dependence upon the life faculty that your coarse mind emerges in dependence upon that, that there’s actually a living organism, it’s not enough just to bring together chemicals to have a living conscious organism, the sperm and the egg that’s enough to have a biological organism but to have being a living organism that is conscious, there has to be that continuum. This is a hypothesis but that certainly is the Buddhist hypotheses.

(12:30) So this life faculty, what is the cooperative condition for the life faculty? One realizes that the cooperative condition for the life faculty is previous compositional factors, so in dependence upon what is this continuum, this continuum of the subtle consciousness and energy in dependence upon what is that being propelled through from one lifetime to the next, to the next, to the next? The samskara, the compositional factors. Samskara in Pali, these are all of those imprints, all those imprints that are stored upon it, imprints propelled it, as it, so to speak carries the imprints. What is the cooperative condition for the previous compositional factors, so in dependence upon what do they arise?

(13:14) One realizes, now think about it for those of you who studied the twelve links of dependent origination, one realizes that ignorance is the cooperative condition for previous compositional factors. So just think about the first three is, first of all ignorance (avidia) and then its compositional factors, (samskara), and then its consciousness, this consciousness, and then we have name and form and then the rest flows on.

(13:39) So we’re really seeking, it’s like that person what was his name, Drona, Drona in Sankrist who saw the footprints of the Buddha, extraordinary footprints and like a hunter he tracked him because he was so intrigued, and he tracked the Buddha to find him because he wondered who left those footprints, you know if you have 32 major and 80 minor marks you leave some pretty unusual footprints, and so he tracked him and then he saw him and then that gave rise to a very interesting short conversation and the culmination was when he asked, are you a man?

And the Buddha said: I am not a man.

Who are you?

He said – I’m awake.

Remember? It’s a nice story that’s just the punch line at the end

(14:43) But the point here is that in a way, metaphorically speaking, as Drona was following in the footsteps to trace him and then beheld him directly, as we seek through our vipashyana practice to venture, to explore these links of dependent origination we are exactly following in the spiritual footprints of the Buddha. We are seeking to replicate his realization, his insight; which then replicates the kind of liberation and awakening that he experienced. So we are trackers so to speak.

(15:07) So thus due to the cooperative conditions of ignorance there are previous compositional factors which, so now we go forward - ignorance giving rise to previous compositional factors which condition the life faculty which conditions the body and consciousness, and the body and mind condition the in and out breath. So now we’ve taken it forward. Now due to the cessation, so now there’s forward, there’s how samsara plays itself out.

(15:32) But now if we track this right back to its origin - ignorance, the not knowing, the unknowing of the nature of reality, back to ignorance, now due to the cessation of ignorance which can only come in one way, not by obedience, not by faith, not by compassion, only one way to remedy ignorance, only one way to remedy avidiya with vidya, with knowledge, with knowing, with wisdom. So due to the cessation of ignorance, compositional factors cease, because the cooperative conditions are no longer there, therefore they can’t get launched, due to the cessations of compositional factors the life faculty ceases, due to the cessation of the life faculty the body and mind cease, due to the cessation of the body and mind inhalation and exhalation cease, thus one engages with dependent origination.

(16:13) This is from the shravakayana perspective where it really is looking at the total termination of your whole continuum that is conditioned by karma and klesha. So an arhat, a person who has achieved arhatship, let’s say in this lifetime, his mind is completely pure of mental afflictions, there’s nothing you can do to him or her to arouse mental afflictions, they are gone but nevertheless that body and that mind of the arhat are still there, they’re still being perpetuated by prior karma, so the arhat in that last lifetime is still subject, even though they are pure, completely pure, is still subject to karma from previous lifetimes.

Like Bahiya who with one paragraph achieved arhatship and then within a week he was dead because he was gored by a cow. Well there is a karmic connection with the cow.

Or a really striking example and I’ve mentioned it before, Mogallanaputa, incredible paranormal abilities. Among all the disciples of the Buddha, the foremost and yet he died by getting mugged, beaten to death. I mean just think what he could have done with his paranormal abilities, he could have turned them into mush, he could have done anything he wanted to, but no he couldn’t, because he saw, when they kept on coming back for him, he would just disappear, say oh give me a break, disappear, evaporate his body, they would leave he would re-manifest, and then he saw – okay why are they being so persistent? What’s behind this? Is this something I can escape from? Maybe I can teach them dharma, something? And then he looked back with his extrasensory perception and said – ah, I see, there is some karma here, this is the last little bit of karma I have to experience before I’m totally free. And so he just waited for them, like just some ordinary person, waited for these assassins to come, they came, they beat him to death, and that was the end of his life, that’s how he died.

(18:25) But then with that, according to shravakayana, with that then that the whole continuum of his individual consciousness arising in dependence upon causes and conditions, conditioned by karma, by klesha, that is totally terminated and he’ll never have a body like that again, because he’ll never have a continuum that is, he’ll never have the life faculty and so forth and so on. It’s terminated, right? So there on there the hangs a tale: does anything linger over or not? And that’ll be a discussion for another time.

(18:54) So thus one engages with dependent origination, one who dwells repeatedly on that, in other words fathoms it, it’s not just a catechism where you give the right answers, you have to actually fathom this by way of your own experience, one who dwells repeatedly on that is said to be thoroughly trained in dependent origination, this is called thorough training by engaging with dependent origination.

So there it is part core, heavy duty central of vipashyana but still you can see, still in touch with the breath, so it’s still using the mindfulness of breathing as your vehicle but now plunging full head over hills into vipashyana.

(19:41) Let’s read a little bit more and so now we carry on, the fourth training is thorough training by engaging with reality, well the term is “satia” reality, and he’s referring specifically to four realities which are called four noble truths. Scholar have been looking at this translation, which has been around for I think over a 100 years, and I think there is a growing consensus that “truth” really isn’t the right word, it’s not a good translation, because the term “satia” can be translated as “truth” but also as “reality”. But a statement is true, but these are not statements, this is not a truth about a statement, this is reality, and so it really isn’t a good translation, I still use it just because everybody does, but if you’d like to know the actual meaning it’s the four realities for “aryas, aryas are the noble part for people who have gained direct realization of nirvana. What rises up to meet them as being the most salient features of reality as a whole - that most profoundly catches their attention that requires their attention? The reality of suffering which they see all the way through. The reality of the source of suffering which they completely fathom. The reality of cessation which they know directly. And then the reality of the path to that cessation, ethics Samadhi and wisdom. For the aryas, these are the most important realities or aspects of reality in the whole of the universe and they are real for them. Therefore they’re called the four realities for aryas so “four noble truths”, a bit vague, but there it is.

So here is the thorough training by engaging with the four realities for aryas.

And the text reads –

One who is thoroughly trained thus in dependent origination realizes that compositional factors, being dependently related events, are impermanent. Since they are impermanent, they occur upon not having occurred previously, ( in other words they freshly occur) and upon occurring, they disappear.( so he is talking about their momentary nature) Moreover, those phenomena that occur upon not having occurred previously and, having occurred, disappear, are subject to birth, aging, sickness, and death. ( he is referring of course to sentient beings, so now we are getting pretty person here because these are the four noble truths pertaining to sentient beings ) Those phenomena that are subject to birth, aging, sickness, and death are unsatisfying. (Why? Because they are conditioned by karma and klesha. Not because birth is intrinsically, or aging is intrinsically, not true, but insofar as they are conditioned by karma and klesha they are unsatisfying, they are not wellsprings of genuine happiness ) Those phenomena that are unsatisfying are identityless, (devoid of I and mine) not independent, and without an owner. (A rich statement) Thus, by means of impermanent, unsatisfying, empty, and identityless properties, one engages with the reality of suffering. (So there’s the first noble truth) Such a person thinks, “Everything that is suffering, illness, and a boil, resulting from compositional factors (this again is the propulsiveness of karma) is conditioned by craving. (So once again we are getting to the root of it, we are moving to the second noble truth)

Moreover, the eradication of all craving, which produces suffering, is tranquil and excellent— that I know. (So he has moved onto the third noble truth) If one dwells thus repeatedly, there will be a complete eradication of craving.” (So one ponders in that way) Thus one engages with the reality of the source, the reality of cessation, and the reality of the path. When one dwells on that repeatedly, one comprehends the Four Realities for Aryas. That is called the practice of engaging with reality.”

I think it’s pretty deep, and that’s the four noble truths in a very encapsulated form.

(24:05) So, what’s coming up is quite detailed, we’re not going to cover it now, our time is pretty much finished, it’s the fifth and final of these thorough trainings, and this is thorough training by way of 16 aspects, and this goes right back to the Buddha’s discourses, his primary discourse in Pali, it’s called the Anapanasati Sutta, the discourse on mindfulness of in and out breathing. I’ve not seen this in Sanskrit or Tibetan; I imagine it must be there because he’s referring exactly to it, it may be buried in the Vinya, I just don’t know, it’s a very short discourse but what Buddha does in this discourse, because I have read it from the Pali, English translation from Pali, and Buddhaghosa’s commentary to it, is he takes this core practice, mindfulness of breathing, and then he unpacks it in sixteen phases. I’ve mentioned this before, the first four are straight forward shamatha, breathing in - out long, breathing in - out short, realizing the whole body of the breath, calming the composite of the body and the mind. The first four are all about shamatha, The last twelve then are penetrating into vipashyana practice. And that’s what he unpacks here, as I said based directly on the Buddha’s full scale explication of mindfulness of breathing as a complete pack, the whole works, to achieve shamatha and then achieve vipashyana, the union of shamatha vipashyana and the culmination of the sixteenth aspect or phase – you’re an arhat.

So that’s where we’re going here, we’re more than halfway through the text and I need to polish this next session, I haven’t finished it yet, so a good time to pause. Now as we return to the meditation, obviously if we don’t have direct realization of this life faculty or the substrate consciousness, then it’s more a matter of intellect but let’s venture into it and just again, having your home, your resting place, a place where you can really get some traction, feel that you can really engage with the practice, let that be in your shamatha, coming there going deeper, deeper, deeper, just making your incremental progress towards settling your mind in its natural state, realizing this life faculty, achieving shamatha so primarily working there, but we will just for this 24 minutes session making these forays into the vipashyana aspects that he was talking about here.

So please find a comfortable posture and we’ll go right to it.


(27:45) Like stepping into a cool clear pool of water on a hot summer day let your awareness slip into this field of the body right down to the ground, this non-conceptual space, non-verbal. Settle your body in its natural state, relaxed still and vigilant and your respiration in its natural rhythm.

(29:30) And settle your mind with a quality of ease, of stillness and clarity. As you attend to the sensations of the breath, the in breath, out breath flowing through the body and perhaps focus especially on the terminus, the end point, as these vital energies flow by way of the nostrils down through the torso, the terminus is that space in the region of the navel, why not let your awareness come to rest there and observe the sensations of the prana coming, coming to the end of the line, filling that space and then like smoke going up a chimney, prana is going upwards again to the exit to the nostrils or to help stabilize your attention and may find helpful to keep it focused in one area, this is a good one.

(31:36) Like watching a train coming into a station turn around and depart from the station, observe the pranas coming to that level, the region of the navel and then departing from whence they come.

(33:54) Just to remind you of a key point as the breath flows out, don’t inhibit it in any way, release it completely, and as the breath flows in don’t help it out in anyway, don’t pull it, just let it flow in, observe the body breathing.

(39:10) Now closely turn your attention to the aggregate of form, specifically that of your own body, and observe it for what it is, impermanent by nature, devoid of a self, devoid of an owner, simply perceive form as form.

(41:15) Direct your attention to feelings, feelings arising in the body and in the mind, and recognize this aggregate of feelings simply as feelings, impermanent by nature, devoid of a self, having no owner.

(43:55) Direct your attention to the aggregate of recognition as you focus your awareness on the space of the mind and the mental factors arising therein, while maintaining a basis in mindfulness of breathing, observe the process of recognition taking place with this metacognition, observe this mental process.

(45:12) While grounding your mindfulness in the flow of prana in mindfulness of breathing, direct your attention to the space of the mind and the various compositional factors, the mental processes, the impulses, the thoughts, the activities of the mind, observe how they arise and pass all of them being devoid of a self and having no owner.

(47:09) Now still resting in the flow of mindfulness of the in and out breath, bring your awareness right into the immediate experience of being conscious and rest in that awareness, seeing conscious itself rise by moment by moment, devoid of a self, devoid of an owner.

(49:30) Open your awareness in all directions to the realm of phenomena, the dharmadhatu, the domain of all phenomena, observe them rise and fall, none of them being a self and all of them lacking an owner.

Teaching after meditation:

(52:05) I think this is s realm of vipashyana that’s not out of reach because after all we all already have these five skandhas, it’s not something that we’ll achieve one day, and to bring even without having achieved shamatha, to bring, as a clear, as stable an attention as we can to the body, and certainly do that, and then likewise for the other aggregates and the core reason for doing this is to un-confuse, so a confused existence for example as a human being would be like having a body and like being a cook, and going into your pantry and saying ah, there’s a body and put that into your vase, and oh, there’s some feelings, oh, recognition, can use that, oh nice medley of compositional factors, ok, put that in. Six consciousness? Absolutely! And this is a mixer, and then put on the lid and hit high and you get a puree of you! And when you finish you just say: that’s me.

But notice how this is really, this is actually I think how it works. I was just thinking especially for a woman and someone comes to a woman, especially woman to woman, and there is nothing derogative here, just one day it happens and says –oh you have beautiful nails, right, they say that sometimes, right? And what does the polite woman say - thank you. You have very pretty hands. Thank you. You’ve got great legs. Thank you. You are very intelligent. Thank you. You have good teeth. Thank you. You have a nice car. Thank you. You have great kids. Thank you. Nice house. Thank you.

Because you’ve just been praising me all over the place. And so it’s the blender, that we’re just saying, this is all mine. You’ve praised me every single time, even you live in a nice neighborhood. Thank you. My neighborhood, right? I mean it’s my neighborhood because this is where I live, you know, the ripple effect goes all the way out right to the end of my neighborhood, unlike the other neighborhoods.

(54:30) But also there is a real pointedness here, when we say – I’ve been really screwing up my practice or I’ve done this or I’ve done that, and always giving all the agency - I meditated really well the last session or I do, I, I, I, it’s like there’s one entity in here that’s responsible for everything. And so if it’s bad, then I have low self-esteem because I didn’t do well on the exam, this just didn’t work well, when I was involved in that relationship, and I loused up that relationship, and so forth, the buck always stops in one place, it’s an Americanism, but it always points to, okay, who is in charge here? Like in a company, you don’t blame the janitor, you don’t blame the secretary, say who’s in charge, who’s the captain of the ship, who’s in charge? Or you know this happens in American Politics, the embassy in Libya was attacked, the ambassador was killed together with some other people and you know who is responsible, Obama and there are actually people saying that, Obama you are in part responsible for this, after all you’re the captain of the ship, that embassy is your embassy. Don’t look for Obama see that happens when Obama’s in charge, embassies get blown up, or people get killed in embassies, so there.

(55:57) You know, so it’s the point of sheer absurdity, sheer absurdity on a national level but also here, and here is where it really hits the road, is confusing everything, mushing it all together, me, my mental afflictions, my virtues, my body, my finger nails, my memories, my imagination and just blending it, hit high and get a puree of everything and then say, I’m the owner and operator. That’s really disastrous, it’s fundamentally delusional, but it’s really disastrous. So if I focus on things that I’ve done well, then it naturally gives rise to an exalted sense of self, because who has done that well, I have a Stanford PHD why don’t I identify with that? Much better than a UCLA PHD. Or whatever, you know, rubbish, rubbish, that’s a good PHD, I’m happy to have that degree, I am honored it was paid for the whole way, so thank you to everybody that paid for my tuition because I didn’t pay for any of it. So thank you all, it was a joint effort, it was paid by tax payer money, I had about 330million people helping me to get my PHD, and that’s literally true. So that was a group effort, I did not have the money to pay for that tuition, it wasn’t there.

And so it can either give rise to pomposity, arrogance, a sense of superiority when we are saying, I did that, as if “I” the autonomous agent, and of course the flip side. Oh I am such a terrible person. By the way, I want you to know that each one of you, because I’ve listened to you now, each one of you, is definitely the slowest, most backward, ungifted meditator here. (laughter) You wall win F. Equally though, you are all the worst, so now you should be relieved that there is nobody beneath you. Oh, and I am the worst meditation teacher within a broad variety, in a whole range you know, I am definitely the worst one. So at least we are made for each other. So there you are, you see how silly it is? It really is silly. So there it is, so this is like, it was a beautiful experiment, cited by David Bohm – with his implicate order, this will be short, but it’s quite beautiful. You put a viscous liquid with a dye, into a centrifuge, and then you turn it on and it goes vrrrr and you just get this grey soup, the dye merges with the paler liquid, the viscous liquid, and so you just get kind of grey, so that’s confusion, where it’s all blended together. But then he points out, it has to be just the right viscosity, but then if you turn it around, you turn it in reverse order, then actually they do separate again and you can say, oh here is the dye and here’s what was dyed, you can actually turn it in reverse, and that’s what he’s saying, there’s an implicate order, underlying, that you don’t see obviously, but if you could unspin it then you could see how there’s a distillation. That’s frankly exactly what we are doing here. We are un-confusing, we are turning that puree back into – what where the ingredients that got all blended together into great big “me”, and then, and this is the Buddha’s brilliance, he emphasized this probably every year of his teaching for forty five years, he was coming back to these 5 skandhas again, again and again. Why? Un-puree them. So you are not just saying, oh I screwed up there, oh I’m so beautiful, and oh I’m intelligent, and oh, I’m so ugly, and oh I’m so stupid, I, I, I, just the puree, was something I feel good about or I feel bad about. Get over the puree, distill it back into its composite and see it clearly with discerning wisdom and you say, oh, but this is just a body, this arose in dependence upon my parents, sperm and egg, and then a lot of food, but I didn’t do it. It wasn’t sperm, egg and “me”. Yes, sperm, egg and continuum of consciousness but that’s not me either, that’s just a continuum of consciousness.

And so the body is just a body, and then feelings arise in dependence upon causes and conditions in the body and the mind but they’re just arising and arising and that goes for all the skandhas so when you see each of these heaps, that is what the word skandha means, you see all of these bundles, each of these aggregates, there is the bundle, the assembly of feelings, there is the bundle of compositional factors, a lot of them, the bundle of six types of consciousness, when you see them distinctly without smearing them, you see oh how interesting, form is just form, feelings just feelings, recognition, compositional factors, consciousness, now it’s all clear, the only thing that’s not there is there’s no- self amongst them, and there is no autonomous- self outside of them, how refreshing! And that is the experience, if you are well prepared for that experience. If you’re not then you start freaking out, thinking, I don’t exist, I don’t exist, where is my rumination? And I think, therefore I am, I think a lot of therefore I am a lot, I think, I think, I think, therefore I am a whole lot. Then you get to be a clone of Descartes. Congratulations, to samsara you’ve now full membership.

Session of questions and answers transcribed by Cheri Langston.

Q- What stage of shamatha can we reasonably expect to achieve while living in the modern world?

A- Expect is a six letter word, look out for six letter words. This is a real killer, expect. The other, an eight letter word is just a killer, it’s like drinking arsenic, you ready for it? Progress. You’ve been here for a whole month, so what’s your progress? And what can you expect in terms of progress for the next four weeks? Just give me a rope and let me hang myself.

Okay, so what stage of the shamatha practice is it reasonable to expect to achieve while living in the modern world and being dedicated to the practice? And it is a good question, and again, it’s all a question of balance, we’re not meditating for no reason, if you are then find something else to do. At the same time if we’re practicing always hovering around – am I progressing, am I progressing and with expectations I should be achieving stage three within two months and thirty days, whatever, then it’s a recipe for failure. So where’s the middle way there? I’d say broadly speaking, but I’m immediately going to adjust what I broadly say, so broadly speaking – there are two approaches let’s say for Shamatha, because that was the question. Broadly speaking there is the psychological hygiene approach, and I say that with only respect. There is nothing dismissive, nothing at all about that, any more than I shower every day, I shave, I brush my teeth, that’ physiological hygiene and there is nothing ridiculous about that, even though I am not getting any cleaner from day to day, my teeth are not getting cleaner, and what else do I do? Not much, I mean that’s about it. I am certainly not getting any more handsome that’s for sure, so basically I am just slipping down into old age but meanwhile I’m trying to clean and hold onto my teeth and that’s good enough reason to shower and brush your teeth every day. Even though you are not getting better at it it’s good to have a healthy body with teeth rather than a decaying body without any teeth. Right, so there’s no progress but it’s 20 minutes a day, very well spent, to keep your body clean and brush your teeth, right. And we’re all accustomed to that, and on top of that if you do whatever it may be without being an Olympic athlete, if you exercise for 20 / 30 minutes a day, all the better. Whether it’s yoga, whether it’s jogging, whatever, then all the better, then you keep the system working. Even though you are not learning how to run faster, you’re not getting better and better and better as the decades go by, in yoga and so forth, but it’s good, and that’s hygiene and it’s keeping the system in good working order, so in a similar fashion then meditating, half an hour, 2 gatikas every day, shamatha and then augment that one way or another, between sessions, on the cushion, four immeasurables, the best companions you can find in the world, and as you become more familiar with the four applications of mindfulness you see how this brings clarity, insight, wisdom, understanding, to everyday life, and that’s a tremendous boon. Even if most your practice is in between sessions. So, with these two as kind of your support, the four immeasurables, each of these being so valuable in and of themselves, but focusing on shamatha, if you do one or two gatikas every day in the midst of a very busy life, maybe tremendous demands on your time but you still do it because it’s a high priority, what can you expect? To achieve shamatha? Extremely unlikely. In that lifestyle, two sessions a day? I can’t say it’s impossible, but the chances are so remote that I’d be willing to bet against it, and I’d probably win. But if you’re not progressing, not marching along the nine stages to shamatha, then we think well it’s a waste of time, if I am not progressing why should I do it? And then think of the analogy of exercising half an hour a day. Are you getting stronger and stronger so that by the time you get to 50 you’ll look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his good days? Even Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his good days. It’s not getting any better. But with a Gatika or two, preferably 2, one to start the day, one to end the day, could that enhance the overall quality of your day? The way you are engaging with other people, the quality of relaxation and stillness and clarity you bring to your work, interpersonal relationships, mundane things like driving and shopping, also entertainment, enjoying yourself, doing so with just those qualities of sanity, greater mental balance, and could that be enriched, could you mature, cognitively, could you become wiser and wiser, in your desires, aspirations, yearnings. Could you gradually be more and more attentive, engaged, could you do so with greater wisdom and insight and through all of that, as the years pass, not missing two gatikas every day, could you find as the years go by, greater emotional maturity, balance, intelligence, resilience? The answer is yes. So I think that’s a good enough reason. It just improves the whole quality of life, right.

(1:07:05) And then of course if you’re raising children, as every parent knows if you’re paying attention, what you’re teaching your children primarily is who you are and not what you’re saying, and so if you’re embodying those qualities, mental balance, and manifesting by restraining impulses that could be harmful, and being benevolent in your activities, boy, good parent, good worker, good employee. Everybody will want you. So that’s 2 gatikas a day, that’s not bad, and making no progress in shamatha, maybe stage 2, and just living at stage 2, right.

Now there’s another approach, and this is for persons who really have as a high priority, in the midst of fully active, socially engaged way of life with lots of responsibilities and so forth, attending to that, giving unto to Ceasar, Ceasar’s due, but in the midst of that, having in the back of the mind – I would really like to transform from a cat to an elephant. So in the midst of all of that, become less and less dependent on hedonic pleasures. Still engaged with the life, be in the world, but as they say, be in the world but not of it. Go to the movies, but if the movie breaks halfway though, you recognize the movie has broken halfway through, I think we’re finished here, and leave the theater, without thinking crap, why did it happen to me, I paid good money, ah man what a bummer, I can’t stand ( moan, moan, moan) give it a rest, it’s just a movie. So thinking just in the back of the mind, this whole way of life is not just to eat a lot of food and create a lot of stuff that gets flushed down, we can do that anyway, but the whole point here is to mature, to mature. Psychologically, spiritually, to lead a more meaningful way of life. And in the process of that, through that maturation process, more and more you’re releasing attachment to this life, and more and more you’re letting your mind become dharma. Such that when the time is ripe it’s in the back of your mind, and you see the outer constellation of the circumstances of your life, and your inner constellation, what you are bringing to life, you see a real symmetry there. A harmony, a compatibility, and you’re looking out and you’re seeing is there any reason not to go off and achieve shamatha? No? Thank you! And you look inside, oh, no reason here either, I’m set! I really could live with few desires, with contentment, with few activities and concerns, ethically and I’ve really got the hang of releasing rumination. I think I am set, okay, let’s bring these two together, and let’s make short work of shamatha, not piddle around with it for years on end. And of course outward is also the conducive environment. So hopefully we’ll have our contemplative observatories up so when that happens then, having lived a very active way of life, maintaining a regular meditative practice, then when the outer and inner mandala are ready, then you go off and achieve shamatha, and once you’ve achieved that, then I would have to say the sky’s the limit. The sky’s the limit, what can’t you achieve if you’ve achieve shamatha? To say you can’t achieve vipashyana is crazy, of course you can that’s the whole point. But if you’ve really been developing the four immeasurables along the way, now why couldn’t you achieve bodhichitta?
Genuine, uncontrived, authentic Bodhichitta, why couldn’t you, what’s in the way? And if you’ve got shamatha, you’ve got realization viphashyana style realization, you’ve got bodhichitta. Now tell me what your limits are? And whatever you say, it’s wrong. It’s wide open. Stage of generation completion, Thogyal I wouldn’t place any limits.

So those are the two, the hygienic approach, and then when the outer and inner mandala are ready, go for it! 6 hours, 8 hours, 10, 12, 14 hours a day, as it just gets more and more alluring and you want to devote yourself and you don’t want to spend any time off the cushion, then you just go for it, get into the flow and just flow right through the nine stages and achieve shamatha. So those are two large scale avenues that have been explored for a long time, throughout the whole Buddhist history there have been very, very dedicated lay people and monks and nuns who have many responsibilities but they are doing some meditative practice and they really do mature very well in practice. And then we’ve had for, since the time of the Buddha, people who retire into the jungle into the mountains, to the desert, full time contemplatives.

And they often, not always, but often, wind up being like beacons, lighthouses in the wilderness – look, there’s one, there’s one, that one achieved shamatha, that one achieved stage of generation, whatever, so there they are. But now is there anything inbetween?

Because what I just mentioned, those are two routes that have been well traveled, is there anything inbetween? And the answer is, yes. And it’s not that this is virgin territory - that is we’re the first generation to explore it, but something inbetween would be worth exploring more deeply. And that is not utter solitude, meditating 12, 14 hours a day, not just an hour or so a day while devoting 18 hours a day to activities in the world, but how about something inbetween, where maybe you are meditating maybe 3 ,4 or 5 hours a day but still doing in the world what you need to do? But here’s the catch, not doing anything more. And I don’t mean being stingy, I mean every person that comes to you, that really needs you, you give them all that they need, but you don’t give them more. Just like our dear friend Natu, it’s wonderful that you receive what you need, but not more, it just then gets pleasant, unpleasant, but it’s not necessary. By definition it’s not necessary. Give what’s needed and then stop, because you’ve given everything needed so that’s it, right. And so, a person who is meditating four or five hours a day, living as consciously, as mindfully as possible, a really contemplative way of life, while still having some social engagement, tending to this, attending to that, but just bringing the contemplative mind to everything, could a person achieve shamatha in that way? Four or five hours of formal practice a day, something like that, could be six or seven, could be three or four, but in a way of life that is truly a contemplative way of life, it’s just not one of total solitude, could such a person achieve? Why not?

And here’s the arithmetic of it – and that is – if you know how to practice well, then when you sit on the cushion, you should, incrementally, step by step, gradually be developing these qualities. Relaxation, stability and vividness, gradually moving along the nine stages. That’s what it’s for. So when you’re on the cushion, there you are, giving your whole concerted effort to developing along the path of shamatha as you’re moving forward. Inbetween sessions, if you are on the phone, talking to that person, on the internet going grocery shopping and so forth, chances are you’ll probably slide back a little bit, just because there are a lot of pulls on your attention, so there’ll probably be some diffusion, some entropy, that coherence you develop on the cushion probably dissolving somewhat. So here’s the simple arithmetic – if you are spending four hours a day on the cushion, supine or sitting, are you progressing more in four hours a day than you are falling back in the other 20? If you are falling back more during the 20 so that when you come to your next session you are back where you were because you just fell back all the way, then no, that means you are having a good practice and you are getting a good benefit from those four hours but you are not progressing, so those other 20 hours may be much richer. More so than if you meditated only 1 hour. More mindful, more attentive more good, good, good, but not progressing because in terms of sheer relaxation, stability and vividness, you keep on unraveling it, right. And that means because there is not enough mindfulness. Not enough engaged, too much rumination, too much scattering so then that simply erodes or undermines that coherence, that anti-entropy, that Samadhi that you are cultivating while on the cushion. But if you’re so mindful, so present, so engaged, so not marching backwards by way of rumination when you are off the cushion, if you take four steps forward while on the cushion, and only two steps backward the other twenty hours, and that includes of course, sleep, if you take four steps forward and only two steps falling back, well then do the math, as they say. You may not achieve shamatha as quickly as someone who is practicing 14 hours a day and doing almost nothing inbetween sessions, maybe gardening, walking and a little bit of yoga, maybe not as quick, but four steps forward and two steps back is definitely moving in the right direction. So I’d love to see that. As we have our contemplative observatories up, one easy trial would be that when we have these contemplative observatories up, somebody has to maintain them, somebody has to do the grocery shopping, hopefully not the yogis. Maybe there will be some building maintenance, maybe there’ll be a garden, that’s be nice, nice organic garden, maybe there will be other things, ways to keep the place going, administrative stuff, doing the accounting and so forth, answering emails about you know, do you have an opening at this center I would really like to come and so forth, doing administrative stuff, hopefully that would not be a burn out totally 12 hours a day kind of job. If it is then we’d better reconsider what’s going on here.

(1:17:20) But imagine a person who is making right livelihood, probably very modest income, but is getting paid for it, this is you know, can’t expect everything for free, imagine a person getting a modest income, enough to get the requisites, food, shelter, clothing, medical care, maybe some dharma education, and is working 4 to 5 hours a day to do whatever’s needed and working 4 to 5 hours a day you’re making enough to live on, that leaves you what? 20 hours a day. Not to be like a yogi who is in full retreat, gosh. So there is a lovely story, a really nice story it’s during the time about a thousand years ago, nine hundred years ago, I think it was the disciples of Dong Dhupa, the great lay disciple of Atisha, and he had a number of disciples who were really dedicated yogis, those Kadampa Geshes, everybody loves them, they did not politics they were just purely focused on dharma, no monkey business, just straight dharma, they were just loved by everybody because they didn’t make enemies, they just practiced dharma and shut up, they made no big deal, oh look at me I’m a vajrayana practitioner, they were just outwardly, it’s very sweet, they were outwardly ordained, outwardly they would simply show that they were good monks. They were willing to just display that, not flaunt it, but just observing their behavior they could see oh yes, you are a good monk, a good nun, that’s manifest, it’s physical and verbal, you could see that, and they would be unabashed, unreserved about showing – I’m a good monk, like His Holiness Dalai Lama – he often says, I am a simple Buddhist monk, he doesn’t say simply – practitioner. He’s really a monk, a really good monk and you can see that, right. So outwardly they would display – I’m ethical, I am not embarrassed about that, I’m not hiding it, I’m not pompous about it, but this is what I am displaying, I am ethical, monastically ethical, raising the standard pretty high. Inwardly – Mahayana, bodhichitta, cultivation of six perfections. Secretly – Vajrayana, and nobody would even know, only after they died and somebody is going into their cave to pick up their belongings – oh, got a vajra and bell, guess they must have been practicing Vajrayana, but nobody would even know about it, that’s the old style, that’s the old school, that’s the old stuff, that’s the authentic Kadampa tradition. So, there was Dong Dhupa, had quite a lot of disciples who were of that caliber, meditating away, and then there was the cook who took care of them, brought them their food and so forth, and after some time Dong Dhupa called them all in, called in the troops to see how they’re all doing, report, report, he is our meditation teacher, called them in 20, 30 who knows how many, how are you doing? And as they are speaking to their dharma teacher they’ll be completely candid, so he called in all the meditators, the cook was there as well, and each one reported and Dong Dhupa said, okay , I have heard all of you, now the one who has done the best, progressed the most deeply – congratulations – cook. You can imagine it too, motivation – bodhichitta – every act, an expression of his bodhichitta, every act of getting the food, preparing the food, cleaning up, attending to with humility, because he’s just the cook. With humility attending to each of the yogis, serving them to the best of his ability, with no attachment, in other words given up all attachment to this life, and his mind is totally dharma. Deepest realization. Doesn’t Tibetan Buddhism have great stories? I think it does.

Q – At times part of the mind is wandering while part of the mind is still on the object, what should I do, should I multi-task?


A- Yep, called coarse or medium excitation, subtle excitation. Q -Is it better to focus the mind more on the object of meditation or to wholesome multi-tasking? For example focusing on awareness of awareness and at the same time, with a corner of the mind noticing the flow of the breath?

A- A very good question, not silly at all. It’s a matter of where we are in the practice, and that is - we’ve seen in Asanga’s presentation of Viphashyana, it’s clearly a kind of a multi-tasking. Because he is establishing that basis on the mindfulness of the in and out breathing, that’s mindfulness and then with attention – then you’re attending to the body, feelings and so forth. That’s clearly a kind of multi-tasking, or like riding a bicycle and doing something else at the same time, maybe singing, or site seeing or taking photos, who knows what, and so there is a roll for going back and forth, and in fact as you well know, and it’s good to remember, that the practice of shamatha up to stage eight, out of nine stages preceding shamatha, the practice of shamatha up to but not including stage eight, entails multi-tasking. What’s multitasking? Attending to your meditative object, whether that’s your breathing, whether that’s the space of the mind, awareness of itself, but also attending to the flow of mindfulness itself, the quality of attention, recognizing whether excitation and laxity have arisen, those are two different tasks. They’re two different job descriptions, one is looking this way, the other is looking this way, which means that when introspection intercedes, interferes, it does break the flow of mindfulness, because we have only one mind, and in Buddhist psychology, in one single moment you can’t attend to two entirely different fields or domains of experience, in one single moment. In one cluster, like a 30 millisecond, 50 millisecond one cluster, you can’t pick up, you can’t turn your attention to the visual and the mental, you can’t attend to the breath and be attending to the flow of mindfulness. Now, there are many, many clusters per second, so they get blurred together like a motion picture, and you feel like oh, I am doing these all simultaneously, and over the course of a second are you doing multiple tasks? Definitely. Yes, over the course of a quarter of a second, you’re doing multiple tasks, but when you cut it finer and finer, you say – oh at this level you’re jumping back and forth, your jumping tracks and doing this and that and that is multitasking. And that’s what everybody does when they multitask. They are on the phone and they’re looking at their child and they’re watching the pot on the stove. So what are they doing? They are not doing all of that in one time, in one moment, they’re going (Alan makes a flittering sound). And so, for this practice, it’s a given, it’s not optional, it’s a given that we will be multitasking, then the question is only, how much. Then as you progress along those nine stages, of course, slowly, slowly you can decrease the frequency of the intervention by introspection, until when you achieve stage eight, since even subtle laxity and excitation are no longer arising, then you don’t break the flow of mindfulness at all, so now you are uni-tasking, mono-tasking. But for the array that we have here, when you are practicing mindfulness of breathing I would suggest that you do just the multitasking, of attending to the sensations of the breath and break that flow with introspection. That’s multitasking, so it’s simply that.

(01:25:36) If you’re practicing settling the mind in its natural state, and you’re still prone to getting a bit disoriented, a bit kind of spaced out or drawn away, sucked away, sucked away and feeling oh, I’m not quite sure that I am up to this, then feel free, to have a bit more multitasking, something a little more rhythmic, predictable, because when you’re attending to the space of the mind you don’t know what’s coming up next, you never do, unless you did it, in which case then you’re not settling the mind in the natural state, it was deliberate, it’s coming up stircastically, right, by its own accord which means you don’t know what, one second what’s the next thing to come up, you don’t know, so if you still find that quite challenging, then what I would suggest is that as within this vipashyana practice, ground yourself in the flow of mindfulness, and then from that nice undulating flow, direct more and more attention to the space of the mind, until you get into a flow there, it’s not undulating but you feel – ah, I really am holding my own ground, in a flow of still awareness, watching the comings and goings of the mind, and I am maintaining continuity, good, now I can release that peripheral awareness of the breath and just do this single pointedly, and I am just multitasking mindfulness and introspection.

And likewise for awareness of awareness. I’ve introduced a contaminate into that practice, what Padmasambhava suggests is oscillating, releasing out into space withdrawing into awareness, that’s his teaching, which is not multitasking it’s just an ongoing flow of somewhat different tasks. I’ve suggested that if you’re new to the practice, don’t really have the hang of it yet, then you might conjoin, that rhythm of the release and contraction, with the breath. So as you breathe out, releasing awareness into space, as the breath flows in, withdrawing awareness into itself. I’ve messed with Padmasambhava’s teachings just to provide people with some entry if that’s just too subtle and they can’t do it, that’s why I’ve messed with his. But I always say, it’s like the Wallace footstool, to get into the Padmasambhava carriage. So you just use it to get into the carriage, once you’re in the carriage don’t mess with the footstool any longer. So once you feel you really can do that oscillation and you’ve set your own rhythm, the duration of how long do you go, how long do you release, how long do you retrieve your awareness, then you set your own pace, and at that point, kick away the Wallace footstool and say – I don’t need that anymore. And then just do the practice singlepointedly.

Okay? Good. One can see this also with Tonglen. That Tonglen is really all about the cultivation of compassion and loving-kindness, as a prelude to bodhichitta. At the same time, as you well know from Atisha, it’s conjoined with mindfulness of breathing. The breathing out, the breathing in, so a bit of multitasking there, but it keeps you engaged, keeps you with a nice rhythm. And rhythm’s good.

Okay, enjoy your evening.

Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Revised by Noa Leshem and Cheri Langston

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti


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