08 Oct 2012
Teaching pt1: Alan revisits the 3rd application of mindfulness to the mind. Mindfulness means recollection. Here, we are taking the impure mind as the object of investigation. Specifically, we are examining the reified sense of “my mind”. Alan continues with verses 102-103 of Ch. 9 of Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara. The mind is not located in the sense faculties, sense objects, nor in between. It is nowhere to be found. Therefore, it is non-existent. As this impure mind which keeps us in samsara is actually non-existent, we sentient beings are by nature liberated. Realizing the empty nature of your own mind is realizing nirvana.
Alan gives instructions on gentle vase breathing which is an optional accompaniment to settling the mind. Practice this only in the upright position. Keeping your respiration natural, use a teaspoon of effort to maintain the roundness of the belly during both in and out breaths. Eventually, you will be able to do this on auto-pilot and direct your full attention to the space of the mind.
Meditation: Mindfulnes of the mind preceded by settling the mind.
1) settling the mind. Let the breath flow naturally, and experiment with gentle vase breathing. When the belly expands with the in breath, hold the roundness, and let the breath flow out naturally. Open your eyes, and direct the full force of mindfulness to the space of the mind and its contents.
2) mindfulness of the mind. Hold in mind that which you grasp onto as your mind. Can you find it in the body, in objects, in the space of the mind, or in mental events? If the mind is still, do you still have a mind? Investigate the mind as a whole and parts. How does the mind arise? Do mental events have inherent nature? Do the most elemental components of the mind has their own attributes? The mind is empty. The appearances are empty. Emptiness is nirvana waiting to be unveiled.
Q1. What are the 2 kinds of composites?
Q2. When the counterpart sign arises, initially it is difficult to sustain. Is this due to absence of mindfulness? Should we invert consciousness upon itself to access the counterpart sign, or should we dwell in the substrate and wait for it to reappear?
Q3. How does the acquired sign appear?
Meditation starts at 40:00
Teachings pt 1:
Alan revisits the 3rd application of mindfulness to the mind. Mindfulness means recollection. Here, we are taking the impure mind as the object of investigation. Specifically, we are examining the reified sense of “my mind”. Alan continues with verses 102-103 of Ch. 9 of Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara. The mind is not located in the sense faculties, sense objects, nor in between. It is nowhere to be found. Therefore, it is non-existent. As this impure mind which keeps us in samsara is actually non-existent, we sentient beings are by nature liberated. Realizing the empty nature of your own mind is realizing nirvana.
So this week we turn to the close application of mindfulness to the mind, and it would be good to refresh our memory of the meaning of mindfulness. The term, in classic Buddhist philosophy and psychology, entails a holding in mind of something with which one is already familiar, so you cannot practice mindfulness of something you have never ever seen before. You can gain a fresh acquaintance once you gain the acquaintance with, made some contact with, ascertained - then you can practice mindfulness, now it is familiar. So it is almost like having to be introduced first, then you can practice mindfulness afterwards - because of course the primary connation of the term, “sati” in Pali, “smrti” in Sanskrit, “trenpa” in Tibetan, is recollection and you cannot recollect anything you did not collect in the first place so it is recollection, right? And so with this in mind here we have the closely application of mindfulness to the mind.
(1:38) So in each of these cases, the body, feelings and now the mind, it is really quite analogous to taking an specimen and putting it between two glass plates and fixing it firmly. The last thing, if you look through a microscope, I have done so of course, as I think we all have. The last thing you want is have it jiggling around and then you could not make any interesting observation especially through a microscope. So you want make sure it is well mounted, that is, pressed between the plates for example like a drop of water with little amoebas and so forth in it. And so get it firmly fixed, then you want make sure it is very well lit through microscope. There is your stability, there is your vividness and then bring it into sharp clear focus and then as you are gazing through a microscope you are really closely applying mindfulness to something you have seen before but you are sustaining that flow of mindfulness, you are holding it in mind so you can take a good long look, so to speak, a good long look, hold it in mind. Or in terms of kind of doing this in a short term is called working memory, where you take something and hold it in mind for a matter of seconds, it is quite a neutral concept that you hold it in mind in working memory and while holding in mind you can if you wish manipulate it, work with it, play with it, so you do not just keep it static. And a study was done quite recently showing that there are methods for developing working memory, this is straight psychology now and very brief foray outside of the Buddhism, but I found quite interesting and that is by engaging in exercises, mental training, to develop your working memory, within a matter of couple months you can increase your IQ by up to twenty points and all the time I was growing up, we always heard IQ is locked in. You get your IQ measured when you are in high school maybe, and then that is your number, kind, like you social security number, it just doesn’t change, right? Well, one more area where they got it wrong. So many areas, the twentieth century when it came to the mind, was really big on the notion that the mind and brain being static. No new neurons, for example, that went unquestioned for about a century until a man I met, Fred Gage at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, discovered; well that is not true. There is such a thing as neurogenesis, I believe it is the hippocampus, which is kind of the generator of new neurons by the hundreds of millions and then you ask interesting questions: “Ok, what are the circumstances under which fresh neurons are generated?” So this is a really fascinating branch of one more area of neuroplasticity.
(4:26) Coming back here though, coming back, so working memory whether you are holding just for a matter of seconds or whether you develop shamatha and then maybe you hold it for matter of minutes or hours - but you hold it in mind and if you wish to work with it, probe into it, investigate it, and analyze it, you got it there between the glass plates. So you can really probe deeply, well of course, it kind of goes without saying; for that, the for more developed you are in terms of attention skills namely shamatha, then the more rigorous, refined, replicable, sophisticated, penetrating and incisive will be your actual investigation of that which you are holding in mind, bearing in mind, such that the tether of your attention is fasten to the object of mindfulness and the tether is mindfulness itself. So your attention, how do you keep on in the object? With the tether, with the rope of mindfulness. It is really classic Buddhist teachings and it goes across - I have seen the same metaphor used in Theravada tradition as well as in the Indo-Tibetan.
(5:22) Having said that, now we move into interesting territory in some ways very familiar; number one we already gone through the citta satipatthana, but then more underlying that, we have already spent some time and will spend some more time this afternoon in this practice which is basically getting the specimen between the slides so that you can view it from a stable position even if it is moving, it is kind of a neat analogy, I have not really thought of before, but even if the little amoebas are moving around, squiggling and doing all kind of interesting things, as you are gazing through the eye piece you are not going oh, oh, oh [whirling]… you keep still, let the amoebas move, do not jitterbug with them, right? There you go, you have heard that before: stillness of your awareness, observing the activities, the amoebas of your mind, and do not get infected. You know, so the metaphor is there of course the method, the perfect method for this is settling the mind in its natural state, also known as taking the appearances and awareness as the path and then the third one; taking the impure mind as the path - or shamatha focusing on the mind, that is the Gelugpa terminology, .All refer exactly the same practice with the same method, the same purpose. There it is, but it is just that, it is basically before you engage in the investigation, the probing into really, let’s say a cell biologist or maybe your profession is to study single cell organisms from primitive organisms. The first thing you need do in that profession would be, I mean in terms of sheer technique, do you know how to put it between the plates, do you know how to get it stabilized there, do you know how to get the right light and focus and so forth, so that when you look it is there in a steady fashion, steady and clear, that is shamatha, that is shamatha through microscope, right?
(7:25) So here we are looking now into to the space of the mind for all of the little creepy colored things that come out of that but what we have been doing thus far is basically just learning how to use the microscope, the microscope of your own mind or the telescope - whatever metaphor you like, but that we can maintain that stillness of our awareness, keep the object in focus. That is, we are not drifting off to the sensory fields, we are not drifting off to the referents of the thoughts, images and so forth. We are staying here and now and we have a lock on the objects, space of the mind, whatever arises. We are able to sustain that in a clear and - and interestingly enough - as an inside job - in an objective fashion, right? Because it is objective, you are observing without, hopefully without bias, that is without likes and dislikes - just like you would be a ridiculous cell biologist if you say “oh, but I don’t like those amoebas, kill those, I want to watch these”. If it was just out of whimsy - that would be ridiculous.
So in a similar fashion here we are seeking to observe whatever comes up without preference, without bias and then of course without the overlay, without the conceptual projections upon it so that already, the kind of the sheer contemplative technology of learning the shamatha method of how do you focus on your mind, pretty formidable. Let alone the fact that the mind heals in the process, which is then a pretty spectacular perk or side benefit, right? It is not just learning something, actually you are healing that which you are attending to, and that is very rare. So there is the technology of it and before we go to the text, we will return to Bodhicaryāvatāra [The four applications of mindfulness Excerpted from the Wisdom Chapter of A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life] very few versus here but very substantial, very hard core.
The gentle vase breathing:
What I would like to do now is share with you something I have not shared in this retreat. Some of you are already familiar with it, some of you maybe not. But now that we have a week for the mind, more or less, then I thought now is a good time to share it. And that is the gentle vase breathing and it is taught in conjunction with this practice of settling the mind in its natural state and it is not necessary, so of all the teachings I received from multiple traditions, Nyingma, Kagyu and Gelugpa - only in one text have I seen the gentle vase breathing taught, so clearly it is not indispensable. Having said that, Lerab Lingpa, the great teacher of the nineteen-century Dzogchen master who taught this, did suggest it and it is a very good practice and having said that it is going to be for some of you like counting the breath. Some of you may find very useful, some of you not useful from the beginning and you will never like it and some of you may not really get the hang of it early but then get familiar with it and say, “hey it is kind of useful,” ok? (10:17)
So, gentle vase breathing. It is not the full [lung bumbachen] or vase breathing that you use in tummo. I would not teach that, I would be disallowed from teaching it, without you having Vajrayana empowerment. Anyway, I have been trained in it, but it is a very strong practice. And again you can see it being practiced in the movie “Yogis of Tibet”. It is pretty formidable, very demanding, practice. It entails kumbhaka – restraint, and so forth, I will not go into any more detail. Suffice it to say is that it is a very powerful practice, an authentic practice of course, within the Six Yogas of Naropa, especially stems back to Naropa of course. So that is the full one to develop tummo. And then tummo as a means to realizing emptiness and the clear light nature of mind. So, pretty big deal. This gentle vase breathing is safe, it is very gentle. So if you learn it here, you practice it, the chances of this harming you in any way are so remote that I am not going to loose any sleep over it, I am not going to worry, OK? And so, here it is, it is very simple. I like to do this so when we are doing the meditation you do not have to try to be looking at me, which could be quite a distraction. So, here is a practice to be done only when you are sitting upright, not in the supine position. I would not even try it in the supine. So you are sitting upright, you really want to be having settled your body in its natural state. So with the erect posture and then, before you do so, make certain that you have already settled your respiration in its natural rhythm. So the gentle vase breathing is not a controlling of the breath, a manipulation of the breath. You are allowing it to flow effortlessly as you did before, but with one small caveat or one little characteristic. And that is that as you are breathing in and then as you breathe out you allow there to be a fullness, kind of a pot shape, like an earthen jug or a pot right where your belly is. So we can call it a potbelly, right there in the abdomen, the lower abdomen area and so as you are breathing in – I am putting my hands on my abdomen just so it is a little bit more obvious, but you do not do that, put your hands wherever your normally put them in meditation, but just to accentuate the movement of the abdomen – so here I am sitting quite erect, and I am just breathing in normally now. And so in doing this, so you just see the obvious, no surprises here. The belly comes out, I am leaving it nice and loose so the sensations of the breath come down to the belly, down to the navel. And as I breathe out of course the belly falls back again. So there is simply normal breathing. And the gentle vase breathing: so I breathe in normally again … and as I breathe out you see the belly did not go in. It did not quite stay as full as it was. Here I breathe in again, fullest, and then out. It is round. And so just a very, a teaspoon full of effort, just to hold that roundness in the belly and as you breathe out – having done this for a number of years now off and on – when you breathe out you may very well, like me if your body is like mine, you may have that sense of kind of settling. Like a soufflé that rises and then does not and then kind of falls back in. So kind of a rising but then, maybe not, and then kind of just settles back down. So that is just what it feels like inside; breathing in, and then breathing in again. The belly gets a little bit bigger as you breathe in, not much, and as you breathe out, again that settling sensation. Now it is such a simple task, it requires so little effort that when you first are doing it you have to pay attention to it. It is a skill to be learned. But once you have learned it, it is so simple. It is about, it is simpler than riding a bicycle, which means that after you have learned it you should be able to give less attention to the abdomen and the holding of the abdomen than you would need when riding a bicycle which means then once you have got the hang of this, you have got accustomed to it then you should just be able to let that go naturally, spontaneously, and give your full attention to the space of the mind and its events, cause it is so simple. Then you just kind of put it on autopilot and let it run by itself. So now why? Why do this? In doing this obviously you are creating a fullness in the abdominal region, the center of which is right there in the navel. And so having that fullness, there is just a bit more, literally, breathing space in the belly and so any type of contraction, tightness, knots, blockages of prana associated with or around this navel chakra, they could be loosened up just because you are giving them more space. It would be just like having a traffic jam and then suddenly adding more lanes and then the traffic could flow better because you are giving them more space to move. This is the purpose of it, you loosen things up there, the prana flows a bit more easily and then as it does – and of course you are not just sitting there breathing in this way but also settling the mind in its natural state. Because you are doing that, then the pranas will of their own accord - without any visualization, no manipulation of the breath, but you may very well feel the pranas – actually converging in upon the center. As they do so, then you might just find that they are gravitating up, that is, gradually just flowing like well-trained sheep into the fold and coming up to the heart chakra. So that is the purpose of it, a little physiological boost on the pranic level or energetic level. A little bit of a boost, a little addendum, an augmentation to help the pranas coming into the center. Well, as the pranas are coming into the central channel, up to the heart, that will have this synergistic quality as your awareness helps to bring the pranas into the center, creating the circumstances so that the pranas do come into the center. Then from the prana side and its influence on the mind, that helps your mind also get more centered and your mind to settle into its natural state. That is the whole of it. It does not get more complicated. There are in two postures, no; actually there are in three postures you can do it. Standing, walking and sitting, but for shamatha practice; standing - you might fall over, walking - you walk into things. So by process of elimination then just sitting. If you try to do it in supine position, of course I have tried it, it is just too contrived because you having to make the belly go straight up into the air rather than just laterally and so I would not recommend it. I do not think it is really dangerous but I think it is too contrived and so do not recommend it. OK?
(17:07) So all of that then is the prelude to the vipashyana practice of the close application of mindfulness to the mind. Now we have already done this considerably, some of you a lot, because it is maybe one of your main practices for the last almost seven weeks, six and half weeks now, in which case then you are very familiar with observing the space of the mind and then the thoughts, the images, memories, and then perhaps the emotions, the desires, so you are very well aware of seeing this come up, that come up, that come up rather like a physiologist looking into the body and say – oh, yeah there is the liver, yeah there is the stomach, there is the heart, there is the lungs and so forth - so just seeing them one by one, all very good for stabilizing the mind for developing your attention- and mindfulness skills. But now of course this being vipashyana and this being Madhyamaka vipashyana - then the real question here is to try to bring to mind what comes to mind when we think “my mind”, when anyone of us thinks “my mind” - because I think we all have opinions about our mind, we have a sense what our mind is, do you have an very intelligent mind, creative mind, peaceful mind, aggressive mind, harsh, dull, energetic, serene, etc, etc, ok? So we have being experiencing our minds for a long time and then if I ask – what do you think, do you have the mind of a Buddha or do you have the mind of a sentient being? I think most of you perhaps have a pretty quick answer there, the one you are familiar with.
(18:58) And so there it is, as we have Dudjom Lingpa beginning his Sharp Vajra of Conscious Awareness Tantra - beginning with taking the impure mind as the path - here Shantideva is taking the impure mind as the object to be investigated, to be understood, to be probed to see whether or not it is really there or whether it is just a concoction, just a concoction, a creation, a myth, a superstition. Like the silly example I gave, thinking that I am Napoleon, and walking around thinking I really am Napoleon and being very convinced of that, but then if you said exactly where is this Napoleon? Then of course not to be found.
(19:34) And so, do we really have a mind? There is a question.
And for that as we found with the body, thinking that we really have a body and what did he do? He took the parts, he took us through the whole, he took us through the process of origination and dissolution, saying if you really have a body then it should be really findable and likewise if you really have a mind and the mind you think you really have is certainly one that is samsaric, subject to mental afflictions and so forth, then it should be possible to find it. But for this then once again the task here is to be able to hold in mind and it is a subtle maneuver, it is more subtle than shamatha of course, and I am following straight classical Tsongkhapa here, to be able to hold in mind when you think, “my mind” and you do so in a reified sense, taking your mind very seriously, something that is really there by its own nature - that you have, that torments you sometimes, “oh my mind torments me, I am really upset, my mind is so agitated”, etc. We are talking about something that seems very real, that has causal efficacy, that really beats us up at times, or sometimes is a nice neighbor.
But the idea here in this close application of mindfulness of mind is to hold in mind your own reified sense of “my mind”, holding that in mind, which Tsongkhapa would call the object to be refuted and then scrutinize that, to see whether it exists at all.
So he has very few verses here. So we start with the verse 102, and he starts with the whole issue of location. That is, if the mind is real, if anything is real; a spirit, a ghost, anything, a galaxy, elementary particle, anything: if it is real - exist by its own inherent nature, it should be someplace, it should exist someplace. And so this mind, we go to verse 102, the mind and he just says point blank: this is the way it is, but now, not as dogma but to be investigated.
102. The mind is not located in the sense faculties, nor in form and other sense-objects, nor in between them. The mind is also not found inside, nor outside, nor anywhere else.
(21:55) The mind is not located in the sense faculties. So just for starters so the sense faculties well there are five, he is referring to five sense faculties. If we bring in this in the 21-century, then we have a visual cortex back here, we have the auditory cortices on the side, we have a couple olfactory lobes, I don’t know exactly where they are, but I know there are two of them, yeah, quite sure – two of them. And then we have the parts of the brain associated with taste, the gustatory, and then of course a host, a whole field of neurons that provide us with, that act as a sensory basis for tactile sensations. So we have these varies forms of the aspects of the nervous system, parts of the brain and in the 21 century we say these are the physical sense faculties in dependence upon which visual perceptions, auditory and so forth arise.
(22:58) And his first point is that the mind that arises in dependence upon, or the six modes of consciousness or simply the mind where we are focusing - “citta” - the mind, he says, is not located in any of the sense faculties, which means nowhere to be found in the brain or the skin or the neurons in your gut, or the neurons in your heart. There are neurons in varies interesting places about the body let alone nerve endings throughout much of the body. But the mind is not located in any of those, and why? Why does he say this? Because there is no evidence that the mind is located, if you look at those sense faculties, whether contemplatively or scientifically. So here is actually a congruence. Either look at it objectively or subjectively, do you find the mind in any of these physical sense faculties? And the answer is no. So this is why, I am not going to elaborate on this, but this is why I find it exasperating that the people keep on saying “it is, it is, it is”, saturates the media with no evidence whatsoever but because it is said so often everybody just starts believing it, it is a really creepy propaganda and it is beneath science. Science deserves better than that, science has a noble lineage for four hundred years rather than letting a little cheap shots like this slip in and go unchallenged, so that is it. It is out of my love for science that I have such a passion about this. Not because I denigrate science at all, which I absolutely do not. But sloppy science, sure - just like sloppy Buddhism. I think I have been a bit critical of that too. Do you recall a chocolate covered turd? I think it is a bit - critical.
So the mind is not located in the sense faculties. If you think it is, good, demonstrate; show some evidences of any kind, first person, third person or anybody.
So for starters not located in the sense faculties, nor in form and other sense-objects.
So it is not in anything you see, not in - in my case - the computer right in front of me, not in the sounds, not in in the smells, not in the tastes and so forth - nowhere to be found there. So the objects being out there that we experience in the surrounding environment. And nor is the mind located in between.
We have kind of looked at that already but in a very limited fashion when I asked (and I get burgundy here): the color of Elizabeth’s blouse there, so the color that I see, is it in the molecules that constitute her blouse? The answer is no, not from a neuroscientific perspective or physicist perspective, the molecules are not red, the photons are not red and no part of my brain turns red, so the image, the color, the qualia of red is of course not mine but it is a mental kind of event. And it is quite clear, is not in here, not out there and not in between. So would that not imply the red does not inherently or really exist at all?
He is now moving into a much bigger, a bigger realm, and that is the mind itself. Simply the mind.
The mind is also not found inside, nor outside, nor anywhere else.
Not inside the head, not outside the head, not in between the two, so he summarizes: “the mind is not found inside, nor outside, nor anywhere else.”
If it were real, you think it would be findable. So in the next verse he says:
103. That which is not in the body nor anywhere else, neither* intermingled nor somewhere separate, is nothing. Therefore, sentient beings are by nature liberated.
* subscriber’s note: in the original text it is written “neither” but here Alan says “nor”.
nor intermingled: somehow a blending of the two
It does not exist, if it is not anywhere it is kind of like I do not know – unicorns? I do not know whether they exist now, but they do not seem to. If you look for them then, if unicorns really exist you should be able to find them. Or yetis, maybe they exist, but you think they would have shown up by now. At least to get a social security number so they could be legitimate. I do not know. So, “nowhere to be found, therefore not existent”. And then he has got a real clincher, he really throws these things in just when you kind of think you are getting into the flow of it. Ok, I am getting a hang of this, and then he says something like this, I am going to read the whole verse it is a very short verse, 103.
That which is not in the body nor anywhere else, [neither*] intermingled nor somewhere separate, is nothing. Therefore, sentient beings are by nature liberated.
*Subscriber’s note: again Alan says “nor” while in the text it is written “neither”.
Alan reading the text again and introducing comments:
“Therefore” is very important.
Therefore sentient beings are by nature liberated. It is kind of making sense. He did say therefore.
That which is not in the body, nor anywhere else, nor intermingled, nor somewhere separate - is nothing. Therefore, sentient beings are by nature liberated. You did not see that one coming, unless you had memorized this text already, I did not. Therefore sentient beings are by nature liberated. It kind of makes sense, he did say “therefore”.
(27:20) What keeps us in samsara? Why are we here, why are we suffering? Because of our minds, the mind that is the impure mind, the mind that is dominated by mental afflictions, that creates karma, that propels us from lifetime to lifetime. The mind, dharmapada: “all phenomena are preceded by the mind, issued forth from the mind, and consist of the mind” [which is the first verse of the dharmapada containing one of the most frequently cited aphorisms of the Buddha]. Boy the mind must be really important in Buddhism, right? But then if you cannot find it in anywhere, this samsaric mind, that torment us and so forth and so on, if it does not exist and if it is the mind, the samsaric mind that is “the thing” that keeps us in samsara and if it does not exist, therefore by nature you are not in samsara and by nature therefore you are liberated in one stroke, well does any cool parable come to mind? (28:18)
Cool heh, the beggar, the beggar prince coming to the minister’s house and the minister immediately recognizing him knowing he already is liberated from being a beggar because he never was a beggar, knowing that he is already of a royal lineage and is suitable to be put on the throne right now, but the young man, the so called beggar, does not recognize that so he says: good, where are you from? What is your history? How did you become a beggar? If you are really a beggar then you should have a real history. And if you cannot find it, if there was no point at which you became a beggar, if you have no history, no childhood as a beggar. Then, if you have no history as a beggar then you have no present as a beggar and of course no future as a beggar. Therefore you are not a beggar. Welcome home, here is the throne and you by nature are liberated.
It is so strange, it is really like that cage out in the Sahara, the mind creates his own cage and then throws away the key and then screams: “Bloody murderer, I am in suffering, I am in suffering”. So interesting.
(29:29) So if we consider that this line of inquiry; it is not just reasoning. I think it gets a bit arid, a bit too conceptual, a bit too locked up in a head when we confine it to thinking and debating and talking and talking and thinking more about and thinking more, more, more. At some point it really has to go into meditation, right back to your experience, to investigating: when you think “I have a mind that is deluded, that is prone to anger, suffering and all of that”. Good, bring it to mind and now see; does it really exist or not, or is it a simply a self-imposed kind of punishment. And if you see, even gain some glimmering, into the total absence of any real samsaric mind, any real mind of my own, “my mind”, you see its total absence and you see the emptiness of mind, emptiness is synonymous with nirvana, shunyata – nirvana. Two words for the same reality, ultimate reality, right? According to Prasangika Madhyamaka the two are the same. So to realize the third noble truths is to realize emptiness, to realize emptiness, perfection of wisdom, is to realize nirvana. Therefore if you realize the shunya nature of your own mind, you have realized liberation and you have realized liberation and nirvana and emptiness that was already there, because of course your mind does not become empty simply by investigating it, it was already empty, which means it was already by nature free. So in a way it looks, it makes liberation look very close not something you know many lifetimes distant, how much merit do we need to have to accumulate and so forth.
(31:21) When nirvana is simply the nature of your own mind, the empty nature of your own mind and your mind is already empty of inherent nature then how far away can liberation be, nirvana be? So we can come at it cognitively exactly in this way and we can also come at it more pragmatically, these theme runs throughout all of Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. And that is for those who are more cognitively inclined, he just served up a big dish there in just two verses, but we find especially in the Pali Canon but elsewhere as well, another way of approaching nirvana is primarily the pragmatic aspect: “give up all attachment, all grasping, give up all attachment and grasping”, it is pragmatic, it is not a big head trip, it does not take powerful investigation, investigation. It is pragmatic; give up all grasping and all attachment and then that is the way to liberation.
(32:17) So Shantideva, I think it is in his first chapter, and I cannot quote exactly it would probable take me three minutes to find it so I will not take that time right now. But he said: releasing everything at once, just releasing all attachment, like a little girl releasing the handful of balloons, ok I give them all up, bye. That sense of just instant total release of every object of attachment, my body, my mind, my personal identity as well everything that I own, either literally, like a computer, or mine, as in spouse, family, nation, religion, religious community and so forth and so on. Everything that I identify with, grasp onto, am attached to. He said, instantly releasing everything is nirvana.
(33:50) So once again, it does not look like it is so distant, not so distant. Just like for the prince, he did not have to go to king’s school, he did not have to go through a whole detoxification program to learn how, that he really is, you know like long, long therapy, that you are not really a beggar, you are not a beggar, let us talk about this let us analyze it and so forth, he did not have to go through a whole detoxification program of his notion of being a beggar and then he did not have to get a whole royal education, you know you really are a king believe me, I am serious and so forth.
(34:17) It was bam! Realizing emptiness of him being a beggar in that instant. Then he recognized who he was. What is left over? What was left over when he recognized, when he cleared away the veils of grasping on to his identity as a beggar. Just clearing that way, what was left was then the glimmering of an earlier memory, mindfulness of who he actually was, because the amnesia did not get down to his marrow, it did not get down to the core and completely obliterate his memory of being the prince he had being just several years earlier which just had been heavily covered over, but in the instant that he cleared away those veils by recognizing who he was not. That what is left over immediately became apparent and then instantly he was put on the throne. So, it is a very interesting juxtaposition, I think I will end here. It is a very interesting juxtaposition of these two themes that runs through multiple schools of Buddhism and that is, is enlightenment gradual or sudden, right? And we find this in Theravada it is largely gradual, read the Visuddhimagga, that is a long gradual very intricate path, on the one hand. On the other hand Bahiya gets it in one paragraph. And the Gelugpa tradition, the lam rim, the great lam rim. I mean, it is a masterpiece of sequence, of path, of path, of path and yet in the Gelugpa tradition, as in other traditions of Tibetan Buddhism there are those individuals, they just (Alan snap his fingers) get it.
(35:31) Karma Chagmé Rinpoche, the author of a large volume that I have translated most of under the titles “Spacious path to freedom” of “Naked awareness”. A consummate scholar, great scholar, and in the text that I have translated lays out step by step, here is the path, here is the path, preliminaries - lays them out in detail. And then into a brief foray into the stages of generation, Chenrezig, then marching through shamatha, vipashyana, Mahamudra, Dzogchen and right through Dzogchen to, you know, rainbow body. Very sequential, very much the path on the one hand. On the other hand there was Mingyur Dorje and Mingyur Dorje was a boy that took birth when Karma Chagmé Rinpoche was already an accomplished master, renowned for his erudition and realization. And this little tulku showed up, Mingyur Dorje, and this child was just naturally liberated, he was already awake. He was an awaken being from the time he was a child and Karma Chagmé Rinpoche recognized that and then at the same time recognizing; although you really either have extremely powerful realization or else you are simply a Buddha and let us not worry about the details, but here is a person with incredibly deep realization in a body of a child and so what did he do? Something not unique but quite interesting took place between the two of them. It is Karma Chagmé Rinpoche wanting to train this child, bring the child into the seventeen century into the current of the guru lineage and so that he can really pass on the lineages, the transmissions, the empowerments and so forth, then Karma Chagmé Rinpoche took him on as his disciple, right? Good, I mean he is the senior, senior Lama, realization and all of that so quite naturally you find a precious tulku then you offer them the guidance to bring them in, just like great geshes, great lamas in the Gelugpa tradition, who pass away, they are still brought through the geshe training most likely - the “tsennyi” - but they will have it collapsed down and instead of twenty five years maybe ten years but they still get a refresher course, right?
(37:45) And so that is what Karma Chagmé Rinpoche was doing with this Mingyur Dorje is, ok, you are going to be an incredibly fast student but I want download the transmission from the seventeen century here because he was a great vessel of dharma so he is poring the transmissions and so forth into this child but what is making the relationship interesting is that the child had such profound intuitive spontaneous wisdom that the child was the guru for his guru, because he was just teaching it straight, you know, right from his own wisdom, spontaneous, so a guru disciple relationship, it went both ways.
(38:17) I have meet at least one individual like that and I spent one hour with this person, at the end of the hour then said, “please be my Lama”. I have never done that in my life and that is Khandro-la who lives in Dharamsala. I had the opportunity, I thought it was just going to be a meeting, getting a head blessing, but I did have the audacity to ask her to give some teachings and after her saying “no, no I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know” and I kept on pushing: “more than I do”. Then she did and what flowed was like miraculous, I never seen anything like it, it was really [?], because it was just like nectar, absolutely spontaneous, very, very deep, full of light and punctuated with laughter, just like dakini laughter, just like the tingling of bells, I mean it was just beautiful, the teaching was simply beautiful but they were so deep and there were just about five of us in the room and her teachings went to all of us just to our heart immediately, and all of us just went up one by one with no consultation amongst us and it was just one by one and we each asked her to be our Lama. So it was a little of a reminiscent, it is a stretch but nevertheless I will say it: The five disciples of the Buddha, they simply rose to meet him but after he gave the teachings, you know …boom there they were, they had not been his disciples before, more like comrades. So there it is, so if you like to meet someone, she is happily still quite young - Khandro-la living in Dharamsala. Quite young I still think she is thirties, maybe late thirties but in terms of spontaneous wisdom flowing forth, with just extraordinary purity, absolutely exceptional purity, she is a very precious being. So, namo to Khandro-la. If you have an opportunity to meet her, to receive teachings from her, I really recommend it. And she has tremendous guru devotion for His Holiness Dalai Lama, really quite extraordinary. There is nothing about her that is not extraordinary.
Settle your body, speech and mind in their natural states.
And making a point of letting your breath continue to flow in its natural rhythm, without any deliberate modification of any kind. Experiment if you will, with the gentle vase breathing.
Let your belly expand quite naturally and with each inhalation, without forcing at all, just let it be, but then as you breathe out with just a minimum of effort; hold that roundness of the belly and again let the breath flow out completely without forcing it out, just let it flow out until the next breath flows in and you feel the belly expand a little bit, but still holding that roundness as you breathe out.
Letting your eyes be at least partially open direct the full force of mindfulness to the space of the mind and its contents.
We observe the mind with the unflickering, unwavering flame or light of awareness itself and like looking into the body and identifying specific organs, blood, tissue and so on, we look into the space of the mind and we observe events that are said to belong to the mind to be parts of the mind, aspects of the mind, functions, properties of the mind. Thoughts, images, memories, emotions, desires, dreams - all occurring in the mind, produced by the mind, consisting of the mind, but you have only one mind, one body, one mind, one person.
So with the power of retention, the power of mindfulness, hold in mind your sense, your concept, that which you grasp onto as your mind and see if you can find it. You may make quick work of trying to find the mind in the body because it is so obviously not there and obviously not in objects and obviously not in between but is your mind, this one mind that you have, the samsaric mind that torments you, gladdens you, and bores you. Can you find it here in the space of the mind? Is it anywhere to be found among any of the individual events arising in the space or in all of them collectively, or anywhere else? Seek out that which you grasp onto and reify as “my mind”, your mind.
If your mind grows still, all the activities of the mind, the snow in the snow globe, if all the activities of the mind subside, mind grows quiet, do you still have a mind? And if so, what are its qualities and how is it that the mind has thoughts, images and so on?
Investigate the mind in terms of the whole and its parts and attributes.
If you do have a mind and it is a conditioned phenomenon arising in dependence upon causes and conditions, at what point and in what way does the mind arise? What are its factors of origination? When you look for how this truly existent and inherently real mind comes into being, how does it happen? Do you ever observe it?
If upon careful scrutiny you cannot find your mind, this reified object, well then turn to the components of the mind, anything that comes up, a thought, an image, a memory examine it closely. Does that mental event exist by its own inherent nature; does it have attributes? Apply the whole and parts analyzes to anything that arises in the space of the mind. Is it really there? That includes mental impulses such anger, desire, craving, fear, sadness. Does anything here stand up to such critical ontological analysis, looking for the essential nature that exists in and by itself. Examine it closely.
Observe right down to the most elemental constituents of the mind that you can identify, the most fleeting thought, the surge of an emotion or simply a moment of consciousness. Do each of these events no matter how brief, do each of them not have their own attributes? Can any of them be identified, found, in terms of their own intrinsic nature, independently of our conceptual designation of them?
If the mind itself is empty and if all that arises in the mind is empty, consisting of nothing other than empty appearances if even single moments of cognition are empty - then it is all empty. Where the mind presumably was there is only emptiness and emptiness is nirvana, simply waiting to be unveiled.
Alan’s teachings after meditation:
So in Shantideva’s soliloquy, his internal meditation, which he shared with us in the Bodhicaryavatara; at one point he addresses his own mental afflictions, his own kleshas. I have not memorized the verse. It is a verse in chapter 4 or 5. When he fully confronts them [mental afflictions], he kind of stares them down and does not fuse with them, does not identify with them, it as almost as if he taunts them, and says “now that I have seen you, now where are you go, where will you go?”
Just by that, by not reifying our own mental afflictions and by not identifying with them, they become powerless. Very wonderful strategy!
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by Joakim Gavazzeni
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Posted by Alma Ayon