15 Oct 2012

Teaching: Alan completes his commentary on the section on mindfulness of phenomena in Ch. 13 of Shantideva’s Compendium of Practices. Composite phenomena are impermanent and unstable, rising quickly and passing away. This points to impermanence and relative reality. Although this is just the way things are, people may react with depression to the hedonic present, anxiety to the hedonic future, and PTSD to the hedonic past. Composite phenomena are also unmoving and empty, like an optical illusion. This points to their absolute nature, empty of inherent existence. Composite phenomena arise in dependence of causes and conditions. They are neither always there nor passing into non-existence. As for objects, so too for consciousness. All speech is like an echo, momentary and without essence. Its coming and going is unobservable. The essential nature of phenomena is like space. Conditions are empty and nameless. Neither the names nor their referents have any inherent existence. Names illuminate phenomena, but as soon as we reify them, they obscure their nature.
Meditation. Mindfulness of phenomena preceded by mindfulness of the mind.

1) mindfulness of the mind. Let your eyes be open, resting your gaze evenly. Rest awareness in the present moment, mindful presence without distraction, without grasping. You are aware, and you know it. What is the referent of awareness? What has its qualities of luminosity and cognizance? What are its boundaries? 

2) mindfulness of phenomena. Turn your attention outwards towards appearances arising in the relative dharmadhatu. Whatever comes to mind, examine its nature. Does anything exist from its own side? All composite phenomena are empty and unmoving. They appear, and yet are empty, mere configurations of empty space. With awareness still and clear, attend to emptiness and luminosity of all appearances.
Q1. Is it possible to experience timelessness in shamatha or only in the union of shamatha and vipasyana?

Q2. In a guided meditation, I applied vipasyana to an unpleasant feeling and made it go away. I still get stuck on visual appearances, like the square panel on the ceiling. I haven’t conceptually designated it, so how is it empty?

Meditation starts at 37:50

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Oh la so! So today, our last day of silence, and the last day of looking into the fourth of the four applications of mindfulness. We return to Shantideva for the last time. And there was an earlier edition of my translation of the text which you’ve all had for some days, but I had the English translation from the Sanskrit, which I said was about eighty years old, and it had a whole page of further material that isn’t in the Tibetan. And I checked two different copies from the Tibetan, um, Tengyur, so the Tibetan canon. And both of them just cut right off and it just a little bit odd to me. Like, it seemed like it just stopped at the end of the chapter, whereas the Sanskrit version seemed to come to a more rounded end. So then I went back and I translated that extra section as well. So I’ve given you a new draft, a PDF file, showing curly brackets, okay this part’s in Sanskrit but not in Tibetan. So then you have the whole thing. Okay?

So, and I think by now after all of these eight weeks we’ve spent together I think this will be... a little bit familiar. Uh, probably no big surprises coming. (1:24)

So let’s just jump right in. From the Siksasamuccaya, his thirteenth chapter, we’re about half way through it. No, no actually much further than that. Um, but half way through the section on the close application of mindfulness of phenomena. And he begins with a... that is where we left off. We now recommence with a citation from the Arya Lalitavistara Sutra, it’s [inaudible] and it’s really quite nice. It means A Discourse on the Dance of the Great Expanse, it is quite nice, quite poetic. So, but here’s what it says; if this sounds like a dance of the great expanse, then you’re really seeing it from the inside and not from the outside:

“Composite phenomena are impermanent and unstable." So composite again means just anything that arises in dependence upon causes and conditions. “They are subject to destruction, like an unbaked pot. They are like a borrowed article. Like a sandcastle, they do not last long. These composite phenomena are destructible, like plaster during the rainy season. They are like sand on a riverbank. They are fragile, for they depend on contributing conditions. Composite phenomena are like the diminishing flame of a lamp, for their nature is to quickly arise and pass away. Like the wind, they do not remain. Like a bubble, they are fragile and devoid of an essence. Composite phenomena are unmoving and empty.” So the first part of this [introduction] I have to apologize a little bit for breaking into the flow of that. All of that, that first part of this citation emphasizing the relative nature of these phenomena, that they are momentarily arising, all destruction, and so forth. But now as you come to the end of this paragraph then there’s suddenly a shift. After saying they arise, they pass away, they’re fleeting and so forth. And then there’s a shift. And it says, “composite phenomena are unmoving.” Wait a minute, wait a minute. They’re unmoving and empty, unmoving and empty. So that’s..., and its mieu, which means just that. They don’t budge, they don’t waver, they don’t flicker, they don’t move. That’s mieu. And so it’s very literal. I tend to be a literal translator. So, “composite phenomena are unmoving and empty. When investigated, they are seen to be like a mound of plantain trees.” Plantain trees are notoriously known for being hollow inside, they look really firm on the outside but they have no inner. They’re just empty. Like an optical illusion, they delude the mind, and they are like an empty fist used to coax a child.” Like, “I’ve got candy. I got candy. No, I don’t.”

So, I think it’s getting definitely close to time for a final examination. And I’m the teacher, ha ha ha. “Composite phenomena are unmoving and empty.”

If I give you this great big hint. But the first part is all about the relative nature. When he says empty, well we know that. We have a pretty good sense, because this is coming after the first three applications of mindfulness. Unmoving, unmoving, what sense do you make of that? Empty, empty of inherent nature. Where’s this unmoving coming from? What’s your sense? Tanya what’s your sense? When he says that composite phenomena are unmoving what do you imagine he means by that? (answer inaudible) It’s a concept. I think you’re exactly right. I think you’re exactly right. It’s a concept. She’s a Finn. They use very few words. [laughter] And if I can’t figure it out, that’s my problem. [laughs] But I think I did figure it out. And that is, soon as we... that is how do we know about any... How do we ever identify any composite phenomena? Well, we have to distinguish this from that, right? As soon as we distinguish this we have locked it in, we’ve got a grid, there is Patrice, there’s Mike, there’s Dani, there’s Gran, and so boom! And now, okay there’s one composite phenomena, one, two three, four, boom! The conceptual designation comes out and that conceptual designation does not budge. The conceptual designation’s static, it’s static. You know Patrice, you know Patrice. I’ve known her off and on for forty years, lost sight a little bit, but nevertheless, but yeah, I remember you, you are that young gal about nineteen years old, very slender. There she is right over there.

The concept is static, it’s unmoving, but then when you look for the referent of the label, the label Patrice, Patrice, Patrice, how many ways are there that you’ve heard that pronounced? It’s pretty much the same name and the same concept, right? Static. But then when you look for the referent of the name, lo and behold, not the body, not the mind, not anywhere else. Empty. So unmoving and empty, and that’s my best sense too. Good, she’s been meditating for while by the way. It shows. So to continue on, and,

“Like an optical illusion.”

(8:17) You know what that is, and that is they appear to be really there from their own side just like a magical illusion, an optical illusion, they delude the mind, they trick us and they’re like an empty fist, okay, empty fist

“So all changes in composite phenomena are brought about by causes and conditions with one acting as the cause for another.” I think I’m maybe going to pause again... Yep, I am going to.

(8:42) That strong emphasis, it’s so, such an enormously central point in Buddhist world view, Buddhist teachings of the, all of these composite phenomena, ourselves, our loved ones, our possessions, our relationships everything that we cherish pretty much hedonically, everything that people value, hold on to, cherish, all here is unstable, impermanent subject to destruction, destructible like sand on a river bank, diminishing, fading away, passing away, fragile, devoid of essence. Whew... you know, so that whole emphasis.

Why are they emphasizing this? If one is viewing reality from a hedonic perspective, if that’s your view that happiness is the pursuit of hedonic wellbeing, and the avoidance of hedonic misery and unhappiness then this is just like getting smacked on the head with a two by four. I mean it just takes all the fun out, you know, "I finally found my dream partner, I finally found the dream car, the ultimate driving machine, the neighborhood I always wanted to move in, finally I’m able to get in, etc, etc. And it’s just going... And it’s just cutting it off at the knees, all that stuff, all that, all that. I think the point here is that this is actually reality, he’s not being pessimistic, he’s not being optimistic, this is just the way it is, just the way it is. And if one is in the midst of reality purely in the pursuit of hedonic wellbeing the avoidance of hedonic pain, discomfort, suffering, if one gets a glimmering of this, if one gets some sense, maybe a loved one dies, or you lose your job, or one of your children is terribly ill or just anything happens or there’s economic distress in your country or on the planet there’s environmental problems and so forth, there’s a lot of corruption in politics, corruption in medicine, corruption in education, in the medical system, did I say that already, in the pharmaceutical industry, so many things, and one’s own health being so fragile and one looks around and one can just fall into just a nosedive of depression recognizing how difficult it is to find even a little teaspoon of hedonic pleasure in such a world, really difficult. So depression is kind like would be a very realistic response to attending closely to this reality from a hedonic perspective, and that is... so why bother, why bother, why bother at all? And when one looks to the future, so there we have one depression, chronic, clinical abiding depression. And then when we look to the future how do things look tomorrow or next year and so forth? Anxiety, general anxiety disorder would be a very realistic response, because how confident can you be unless you’re just flat out delusional that everything’s going to turn out well? Just believe me, your kids are going to turn out swell. You’re going to have better and better health for the rest of your life and you’re going to die of happiness. And all your relationships are going to turn out really well and the economy really is going to turn around and human beings are going to be so intelligent and farsighted that we will solve the environmental problems we’ve created and things have gotten so bad in the medical industry and the pharmaceutical industry they’re going to just start reciting Vajrasattva forever, you know, to purify all that they’ve done and we’re going to get it altogether and this is gone turn out really well. Well one may not believe that, in which case the alternative is just to fall into general anxiety disorder that maybe that won’t happen.

(12:37) So for the future general anxiety disorder, for the present depression and then when you look to the past, who among us hasn’t been traumatized in some way? So when we go down memory lane we can slip onto the little shoot of post traumatic stress disorder. And in the midst of this, this is just bound to give rise to an awful lot of rumination, of anxiety and mulling over and..., about the past and all the rotten things that have happened and the things that will likely happen in the future that are rotten or will be rotten and then depressive and depressing rumination about things that are happening in the present that are rotten, uh, that when you’re caught in rumination, this gives rise to attention hyper activity disorder but it’s so exhausting that when you’re finished with that you fall into attention deficit disorder because you are so fatigued by all the rumination. And so you zone out at the end of the day watching television and that stirs up more rumination, so when you try to fall asleep you can’t and so to round it off to make sure you have a really rich life you’ve got depression for the present, anxiety for the future, post traumatic distress disorder pertaining to the past, overall attention deficit hyper activity disorder and when you try to finally call it quits at the end of the day then you have insomnia. [laughter] And um, did I miss out on anything?

(14:05) And again as long we are operating completely from a hedonic perspective, you can be absolutely certain that there is a drug for all occasions. They’ve got to have drugs for post-traumatic distress disorder and then for all of the others as well.

(14:15) And so we have one professional composer here and I am actually a non-professional composer of music, yeah. I haven’t made a living out of it, but I actually composed a song this afternoon. And I’d like to share it with you. And then you can judge for yourself whether you think I might be able to actually make a living as a song writer. And I’ll sing it for you so you can see whether I can make my living as a song writer or actually a performer. So are you ready for my performance, okay? I will sing it once but I think you will get it quite quickly. You ready?

Drug, drug, drug, your brain blindly down the drain. Drearily, drearily, drearily, drearily spend your life in vain. [applause]

That could be pretty catchy, don’t you think [laughter] for some big pharmaceutical industry, our little jingle is [laughter], you know?

(15:23) So why is Shantideva doing this to us, and why does the Buddhist tradition as a whole? To wake us up, to wake us up. If there were no alternative, if there were no other source of wellbeing, if there were no way to flourish in the midst of the kind of world we have now and of course there have been many, many bad times. I think it was the fourteenth century, with the bubonic plague, one can say that was a bad time, and it swept all the way across Asia to Europe, wiped out one third of the population and there have been depressions, there have been wars. There’s been so many types of adversity on all of the continents. That here is the great challenge of Buddhism, how can we flourish in the midst of that, you know, and that’s what Dharma is for, so to really focus clearly in on the reality of impermanence.

The Buddha said of all of the footprints of wild creatures, the biggest one is that of an elephant and of all the meditations that makes an imprint upon your mind, that really has an impact on the mind... meditation on impermanence, impermanence, it really does it. But it does it if and only if, this is my absolutely strong conviction, if and only if you see an alternative to the pursuit of hedonic wellbeing. We know that the world can be depressing, we know all of that. We don’t want to be reminded, that’s why the two greatest drugs that people are taking to try to anesthetize the mind from the reality of impermanence and then the symptoms of depression and anxiety are work and entertainment, those are the biggest drugs. Stay busy all day until you’re almost wiped out, watch television and then go comatose so you can work all day, wipe yourself out, get a bit of entertainment. And after all you do have, in Europe I think five weeks of vacation, isn’t it five weeks vacation? Six! Wow! They really reward you for beating your brains out. In America I think only two isn’t it? Two! So it’s merciless, it’s really merciless and so it’s work and entertainment, work and entertainment. Poof! That’s it.

And so Buddhadharma’s offering an alternative to numbing ourselves into insensibility and that is by attending more closely to reality rather than withdrawing from reality. That’s why you can see, I just don’t go for it, that we’re all returning to the real world on Thursday. So there we are. But that’s a little commentary on that.

But the point there is that we know about this, you know this is not really new. Nobody said, “Oh, why didn’t you tell me that relationships break, that people die, that people..., and so forth?” We know it but we don’t want to think about it, we do not want to attend to because it’s depressing, right? And so here he is, he says, yes, do attend to it. But to my mind it’s this very strong conviction once again since we know about the reality of suffering and how depressing and anxiety driven and so forth that can be, to my mind it’s got to be balanced with knowing. To balance that out with simply belief, "Well don’t worry you are going to heaven afterwards, just, you know, believe in the right things and we’ll tell you exactly what those are, believe in those and then it will be swell. Don’t worry, it’ll be after your dead, you know, whether it’s Christian, whether it’s Buddhist, Hindu or whatever uh, that to my mind, there’s not a symmetry there. One we know, and the other one’s just blind faith? And likewise lamrim can be presented in that way. So here it is and so we know about reality of suffering, we know about the reality of impermanence and then but then if the other is just all belief, okay, believing in the six realms of existence, believing in pure lands, believing in nirvana, believing in..., that other people have achieved samadhi, that other people have achieved vipashyana, other people have achieved stage of generation and completion. If it’s all knowledge on one side and belief on the other, that’s, that doesn’t quite seem to be suitable. So I think there’s got to be knowledge on both sides, must be knowledge on both sides and that’s what we’ve been exploring for these last eight weeks, not an indoctrination into a whole world view that will somehow if you believe that, that will make you happy, but practices to go deeper into reality, into the nature of your mind, of awareness, into the four applications of mindfulness to scrutinize, examine impermanence and so on, and then finding in the midst of all of that a sense of inner peace, of calm. Wellbeing in the body, wellbeing in the mind emerges from within. And that’s staring impermanence right in the face and saying, “I see you I see you and I can flourish despite you.” So, powerful medicine, powerful medicine. But that same paragraph could lead others into simply a chronic depression and anxiety and everything else.

(20:15) So we continue from the same sutra, “All changes in composite phenomena are brought about by causes and conditions, with one acting as the cause for another, which arises in dependence upon it. But childish people do not realize this. For example, a grass rope is made by twisting muñja grass and well-buckets are turned by a wheel, but neither of those is brought about the individual elements.” So no one individual strand of grass makes a rope. No one ratchet on the wheel for the well buckets, like in a, you know, in a water wheel, no one of them does the job. “Likewise, all the links of becoming are brought about in dependence upon other links,” This is referring to the twelve links of dependent origination. “but they are not brought about individually,” No one of them will do the whole job. “nor is their past or future ever perceived.”

So here, this whole theme here is pratityasamutpada. All composite phenomena are brought about by causes and conditions, this mutual interdependence, but then when you look for the individual components and try to isolate them, identify them, pull them out and look at them nakedly, devoid of context, by their own inherent nature..., not to be found! So there it is. That’s the essence of the teachings of dependent origination and emptiness, actually referring to the same reality. I just find it awesomely brilliant.This is Nagarjuna, classic Nagarjuna. But here it is from a sutra.

Just as there is a sprout if there is a seed, but the sprout is not the seed, nor is it other than the seed, nor is it both, so its nature is neither permanent nor annihilated.”

That is the sprout wasn’t always there, nor is it really annihilated, nor is the sprout really annihilated, nor is the seed really annihilated, passing into non-existence as a real entity when the sprout arises. So similarly,

“Ignorance is the cause of composite phenomena, but composite phenomena are not really existent. Ignorance and composite phenomena are empty of inherent nature, and they do not waver.” It comes back to that same point with Tanya. “The impression of a seal” like an old fashioned seal, like a wax seal “The impression of a seal appears from the seal,” You place it down, there’s the impression. “but no transference of that cause is ever observed. The impression is not in the seal, nor is it anywhere else. So composite phenomena are neither permanent nor annihilated.” They’re not always really there, they are never really there in the first place nor are they ever passing into non-existence. “Visual consciousness arises in dependence upon the eye and form, but the eye does not depend on form, nor is form transferred from the eye. These are by nature identityless and impure, but they are imagined as having identities” that is, an inherent nature, “and as being pure. Even though that imputation is erroneous and unreal, visual consciousness arises from it. The wise see that consciousness ceases and emerges, arising and passing. The yogin sees that it does not go anywhere nor come from anywhere, like an empty illusion.”

So there he goes right to the core, the emptiness of consciousness itself and not only all the objects of consciousness.

“For example, fire arises in dependence upon the three factors of a fire drill stick,” one of those you go like this, [demonstrates rotating a fire stick in his hands] you rub between your hands, “the basis for that drill,” where you put the fire stick into, “and the manual effort of turning it; but once it has arisen, it does not last long. Then when the wise examine this, looking in all directions to see where it comes from,” that flame, "and where it goes, they find that its coming and going are unobservable. The wise say that the contributing conditions of the psychophysical aggregates and sense-bases are ignorance and craving, and from their assemblage there is a sentient being. But ultimately that is unobservable.

(24:30) So that’s the end of the chapter in Tibetan but then the Sanskrit continues from the same sutra:

"In dependence upon the lips, throat, and palate, from the movement of the tongue emerge the sounds of letters, but they are not in the throat or the palate, and the letters are unobservable in any of them. The speech that depends upon their combination emerges by the power of the intelligence of the mind, but the mind and speech are invisible and formless. They are not observed either inside or outside. When the wise examine the arising and passing of the sounds of speech, the voice, sounds, and melodies, they see that all speech is like an echo, momentary, and without an essence.

For example, when the threefold combination of hand movements in conjunction with wood and strings, pleasant sounds arise from such instruments as a lute and flute. Then when the wise look in all the cardinal and intermediate directions to find where the sound arises from and where it goes, they find that it’s coming and going are unobservable. Thus, all the transformations of composite phenomena arise from causes and contributing conditions. But the yogin who perceives what is real sees that composite phenomena are empty and unmoving. The psychophysical aggregates, sense-bases, and elements are empty inside and empty outside. They are all devoid of an identity and without location. The characteristic of phenomena is the essential nature of space.

(26:31) So once again two sides of the same reality, that is if just viewed from different perspectives. On the one hand the utter uncertainty, the utter flux nature of all composite phenomena, the uncertainty, the ever changing nature of everything around us, from one perspective and it’s very simply the hedonic perspective. It’s just depressing. It’s demoralizing, maybe suicidally, you know, mind numbing and from the side of eudaimonia it is just the way reality is. One accepts it with risk. And of course it’s only because composite phenomena are impermanent that we have any chance of ever gaining release from suffering and the causes of suffering, following the path to enlightenment and achieving awakening. If phenomena were not impermanent that wouldn’t be possible.

(27:25) And likewise coming back to the point that Elizabeth made earlier in a written question, emptiness, I know some translators, not many, but some translators just don’t like the word, even though it’s just the literal translation of the word. It just means..., shunya means empty, tomba means empty, that’s just all it means, it just means empty. But again if one hears the word or hears this description without the understanding, one would think, “Oh man it’s not only are all phenomena impermanent but they’re empty too! I thought life was empty and now that’s what the Buddhists say too, it must be true. Life totally sucks because it’s completely empty.” Okay? Which means you’ve entirely missed the point, entirely missed the point, empty of inherent nature, empty of inherent nature, not intrinsically empty of meaning. Right? I mean Shantideva’s saying elsewhere in the text, in his other text, this one, take the essence, find the essence. Take the essence of the meaningful life. Right? (28:12)

But then some of you will recall the story of the monk from Natong. This is a rather famous story from Tsongkhapa’s life. The monk from Natong, Tsongkhapa giving teachings on emptiness. And large congregation of monks, and there was one monk there from the District of Natong, one region of Tibet. Tsongkhapa was teaching from his profound realization, his brilliant intellect, great, enormously eloquent and articulate. And so as he’s teaching, I mean, some people are being drawn right into the realization of emptiness as he’s speaking. It’s happened many, many times in Buddhist history. So this monk from Natong was listening very intently just drinking it in and then suddenly he just freaked. I think probably something like... [demonstrates], like that, you know. Just his face going into like luhh! And he grabbed his collar, he grabbed his collar. You remember? And then Tsongkhapa being clairvoyant, he picked him out of the crowd and he said, “Ah, this monk from Natong, he’s just established conventional reality with respect to his collar”.

So the point there is that this monk wasn’t really ready to have some powerful insight into emptiness because still too much clinging, too much grasping, self-centeredness, grasping, attachment and so forth. And what if you are coming at it from that, then I think it was Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey told me if you approach the teachings on emptiness as an unripe or unsuitable vessel, that if you get some insight into the reality of emptiness you will feel shattered as if you’ve just lost your most precious possession, that which you thought was really, really there. Empty! You’ve lost it, right? So not exactly good news. Whereas another person who is well prepared, well prepared for developing renunciation, the four immeasurables, bodhichitta and so forth, who’s well prepared, cultivating the first five of the perfections such a person having the same insight, if one can imagine an insight transplant. Take that person’s insight and transplant it over into this person’s mind stream and that person upon gaining some real insight into emptiness feels the he has found the most precious treasure. So one feels he’s lost the most, the other one feels he’s found the most.

So how are the teachings on emptiness not depressing, demoralizing, shattering nihilistic? There is a very simple reason for it. If all of us here in this room and everybody outside listening by podcast, everybody on the planet, if we all each of us here, each of us anywhere, if we actually did exist as autonomous self-existent, ego entities, really there from their own side, the immediate and unavoidable implication is: radical, radical alienation because this means I am totally separate, absolutely separate from everybody else and then it doesn’t stop there, in other words there’s no real connection because I am imprisoned here inside my body and mind, you know the controller, the ego, the agent “me” and my hand always does that, “Hello you did it again. I see you, you know.” It always goes into the fist of this contraction within, and if that’s who I really am, then Daniel’s wellbeing is really none of my concern. I’m sorry but that’s just the way it is because he’s over there with his clenched fist. He’s trapped within his body-mind as an absolutely separate individual, ego, person. So if I feel like it I might say, you know, “Good luck, Daniel.” But how can I really care because he’s just absolutely unrelated to me. There’s no connection. He may as well be from another galaxy, if that’s how we are. So the reification, this reification of self, self and others which means the reification of the separation from self and others is absolute which means it absolutely guts any true sense of empathy or compassion or loving kindness.

(32:42) So what does it mean then? So that’s not how I feel about Daniel. It would be, I don’t know, it would be just incredibly sad to view reality from that perspective and that is the perspective I think some people approximate. People have said, you know, “I’m out for myself, I’m out for myself. I’m one of the stronger ones, the strong survive. The weak people, tough luck on you.” [claps twice] So there we are.

(33:05) But then where’s the human touch, where’s the warmth, where’s the moisture of the teachings on emptiness because it’s not nihilism, it’s not that I don’t exist at all, that never comes up at all if one properly understands the teachings. It never comes up at all that we simply don’t exist at all.

(33:21) But since I do not exist as an inherently separate entity, ego, self, person, but I’m constantly arising and constantly arising in relationship to those around me, arising as a grandfather, as a teacher, as a spouse, as a son, as a friend, as a customer and so forth, always arising, arising, and always in interrelationship with no nuclear, no separate selves anywhere, but all is arising in mutual interdependence. It’s in that context, a profound and essential interdependence that Shantideva in his eighth chapter, the immediately preceding chapter to this one, raises that question, and I’m sure I cited it earlier, “Why should I be concerned for the suffering of others?” He asks himself this. “Because it creates more suffering for me to take seriously, to be concerned about other people’s suffering, that’s more suffering for me, so why should I do that?” He’s asking himself and the answer comes in in the very next one, “Because it’s suffering and suffering has no owner.” And we say, “Oh, oh.” And that is, we’re all in this together.

And so compassion really, empathy, loving kindness, compassion is the only realistic way to attend to others and of course to ourselves.

So that’s it, teachings on emptiness actually are the, I mean to say it really fancy, epistemic foundation for compassion, loving kindness and bodhichitta and the opposite is the foundation for nihilism, aloofness, indifference and sociopathic self-centeredness. So then we continue.

(34:58) And now with the final quote, it’s quite short, from the Lokanatha-vyakarana. So we’ll just go into it.

“Conditions are empty and nameless." Now he’s going right for the emptiness teachings. “Conditions (phenomena at large) are empty and nameless.” They don’t have the name already built in. They’re not already self-identifying. “What can be said of a name? Emptiness. Nowhere are devas, nāgas, or rākśasas to be found. Men or no men, all are known as that.” No type of sentient being is to be found as an inherently existent entity, self, person. Names are imputed, but they are empty, for in names there is no name.” That is, even the names are not intrinsically names. Johann. We know that’s... any German speaker knows that’s a name. I learned it recently. I didn’t know that was a name. It’s not one of the most common ones, I think. But now I know, and it’s a name. But now what makes a Johann a name, whereas Frubash, as far as I know, Frubash Beck, don’t call your kids that. [laughs] What makes Johann a name and Frubash not? And maybe I’m just starting, you know, a new trend here. Maybe there’ll be a whole plethora of children called Frubash in the near future. But until that happens, I’ll assume it’s not a name, it’s just noise. Right? So what makes Johann a name, referring to a person rather than to a fruit or a vegetable. Whereas Frubash... it’s just noise. It’s because we decide. So even names are not,... have no inherent existence, let alone the referent of the names. For in names there is no name. “Nameless are all conditions, but illuminated by name,” Where’s Johann? Where’s Johann? Oh, he’s right over there. And then that illuminates by demarcating Johann from not Johann. Then we have a clear...“But then you mean that person right there who has a body, who has a mind. He’s married to Monica and so forth and so on.” "Oh yeah, that’s the one I’m talking about, yeah, that one." And then suddenly, “Oh, you mean Johann.” And so now suddenly that’s illuminated. Right? So on the one hand, names, language illuminates. On the other hand as soon as we reify names and their referents they obscure. So, “Nameless are all conditions, but illuminated by name, for the nature of a name is neither seen nor heard, it neither arises nor passes away. Of what do you ask the name? Name is a matter of convention, declarations made with labels. This one is Ratnacitra by name;” a person’s name, "that other man is Ratnottama.” That’s it.

This concludes Chapter XIII, “The Close Applications of Mindfulness,” from the Compendium of Practices, and that concludes the discussion of the close applications of mindfulness by Shantideva. I’ve got a lot of sutras in there.

Oh, la so! Let’s jump right into meditation. (36:59)


Settle your body, speech and mind in their natural states.

Let your eyes be at least a little bit open, resting your awareness evenly in the space in front of you without focusing on any object, without meditating on anything, simply rest your awareness in the present moment, sustaining the flow of mindful presence without distraction, and without grasping.

And with nothing else occupying your attention, or catching your attention, it may more and more clearly dawn upon you, that you are aware, and you know it. This miracle of consciousness is yours and I say miracle because we know not from what it stems, it stems from a dimension of reality that we have not yet fully comprehended. Here is the first miracle, that we are conscious at all. Rest in the knowing, of being conscious.

And this way clearly ascertain the relative nature of awareness, of consciousness with its salient and distinctive characteristics. It is knowing, cognizance. It’s luminous, it’s bright, clear, transparent, making manifest all manner of appearances, subjective and objective. Clearly ascertain this reality that is so much to your core, of your very existence, being aware.

So here is the label used interchangeably, consciousness, awareness, either will do. Now as you probe into the very nature of awareness identify the referent of that word. What is it that has the qualities of luminosity and cognizance that takes on so many other transitory or adventitious characteristics, of being dull or sharp, agitated or calm, still or in motion and many, many others qualities? What is that awareness itself? And what are its boundaries?

Luminosity and cognizance are two different qualities quite distinct from each other, in no way are they identical. So what is the very nature of this awareness that has these two qualities?

If you find that awareness is un-findable when subjected to this type of scrutiny, rest in that knowing of its un-observability, un-findability, its emptiness.

Then turn your attention outwards to appearances. Since mental objects can be mentally perceived within what is the visual domain, you can imagine seeing things, imagine hearing things, consider that the relative dharmadhatu is the space of awareness and all appearances arise in this more generic, all encompassing space of awareness. As appearances and objects come to mind, examine their nature, probe deeply to see whether anything upon analysis can be found to exist from its own side, by its own intrinsic nature.

All composite phenomena, all appearances are said to be empty and unmoving, they never go from here to there. They appear and yet they are empty, mere configurations of empty space.

With an awareness that is relaxed, still and clear, attend to the emptiness and luminosity of all appearances, all objects of the mind.

Meditation ends

Oh, la so! On a very practical note, when we venture into these very deep issues, reality of suffering, nature of emptiness, and so forth. I know this had an enormous impact on me. Especially when I first went out to India, to live with the Tibetans there, and ever since then. And that is, if you can identify individuals who have just drenched their minds in such realities, in the cultivation of bodhicitta, realization of emptiness, Vajrayana, and so forth, with really authentic practice, and then see how they turn out, see how they turn out. So some of us have had the great fortune, I mean His Holiness had to be so public that many people can have access to him. You know. He wakes up every morning, I mean pretty much regularly at three-thirty and he’s just devoting himself to these practices for the last sixty years or so. So if you’re wondering how does that turn out? There’s one good example. Right? And there are many others as well. So if you meditate extensively on emptiness would you turn out to be withered, dried up, barren, aloof, indifferent, cold, and sad. Not my experience. So, that’s actually a really crucial element here. And that is actually be able to encounter people who to a significant extent to really embody what’s it like to meditate in that way. And just not just meditation, but drenched, immerse yourself, giving up attachment to this life, letting your mind become Dharma. And I think that’s my own sense, that’s what really keeps Dharma alive. It’s not study, it’s not doing rituals, it’s not building stupas or building temples and courses, courses, courses. All of this has their place. I’m not disparaging any of them, but all of those can be components of a Dharma museum, where dead Dharma goes to die. But what keeps it alive? All of those having its place. None of those were insignificant. But what keeps it alive is that it can be actually from generation to generation, that you really can encounter people who’ve had such experiences. That’s that.

Oh, la so!

Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Revised by Mark Montgomery

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti


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