17 Oct 2012

Teaching: Alan shares the conclusion of phase 1 of the Dudjom Lingpa’s Sharp Vajra of Conscious Awareness Tantra. Phase 1 covers taking the impure mind as the path aka settling the mind. You identify the impure mind that is dissolved into substrate consciousness. How never to be separated from the experience of the practical instructions when distant from sublime spiritual friends. A sublime spiritual friend reveals the path. It is important to distinguish between path and not path. We need to practice diligently in this phase, as shamatha is indispensable when we venture into practice. We know the taste of luminosity and cognizance of awareness. We know substrate and substrate consciousness. But shamatha is just a preliminary to the path. If we just stay put, we don’t actually get on the freeway to liberation. Whether or not we’ve recognized rigpa, if our mind still gets distracted or dull, we need to mount conceptual mind like a cripple onto the blind stallion of the breath. Tethering the mind with attention, uncontrived, primordially present consciousness will manifest, and it will be easy for the guru’s introduction to pristine awareness to strike home. Alan concludes with some suggestions for further reading/study/practice.
Q1. In awareness of awareness, I don’t understand the instruction to forcefully withdraw attention. Is it correct to contract back towards me when inverting?

Q2 What does o laso mean? 

Q3. Can we still have emotions in a lucid dream?

Q4. When I practice emptiness of awareness, there’s an open feeling that’s not there when I practice awareness of awareness.

Download (MP3 / 28 MB)


We have about 45 minutes and then the kitchen staff, front desk, everybody will be coming here for them to do little ceremony, so we have 45 minutes right now and I think the time will be very well spent since we are now clearly in summing up phase to go to a summing up by Dudjon Lingpa in this text of the Sharp Vajra of Conscious Awareness Tantra. It’s the very conclusion of just phase 1 so there are 7 phases and when you complete phase 7 you achieve rainbow body, so then you get a big congratulations and a hug, if somebody can find you to hug, I’m not quite sure whether they could. But this is just phase 1 and you recall phase 1, you may recall, is taking the impure mind as the path, so settling the mind in its natural state, so he gives a marvelously clear account of this both in his root text and then there’s the commentary by one of his disciples which also is very, very helpful and so I wanted to go just to the end of that section of phase 1, and the next one then moving right into vipashyana. So two parts here not a lot but I found it very helpful and I hope you will as well. So he’s given the instructions, the instructions are complete:

  • The first is really identifying nature of mind, what is this mind that you are taking as the path, so conventional nature.
  • And then the shamatha method for settling the mind in natural state, shamatha dissolving into the substrate consciousness.

So now he’s completed it, he’s given the whole instruction, then he says okay now, you can imagine that he is sending his disciples off to their caves for meditation and what have you, giving them some parting advice and so this is parting advice from Dudjom Lingpa, and the first point, just of two is:

  • How never to be separated from the experience of the practical instructions.

So this came up in at least one written note. Many of you will be heading back home, heading back to a socially, I think is very acute to say socially engaged, active way of life, which can be very meaningful, but many of you may be engaging a lot with people who have no interest in dharma don’t know what eudhamonia means, and are not meditating, in which case how can you maintain the inspiration, the enthusiasm, the commitment to practice, which I think really all of you have shown so wonderfully here during these eight weeks, so – how never to be separated from the experience of the practical instructions. (0:2:39) The root text by Dudjom Lingpa, this is again a mind terma so he just simply wrote it down, he received it directly from Samantabhadra. He says:

Those who have become distant from sublime spiritual friends should cherish the five topics as the sublimity of the path.

Ok, about all to disperse, many of us will be distant from sublime spiritual friends, and so cherish what five topics? Well, you might be able to recall:

The first one is that preliminary, the access to taking the mind as a path – and that is are you are able to distinguish between the stillness of your awareness and movements of the mind, remember that? That’s the opening of the door.

And then there are four modes of mindfulness, remember? What is the first one? Single pointed mindfulness.

[Note from subscriber: just to have in mind the four modes of mindfulness summing up are: single pointedness mindfulness, manifest mindfulness, absence of mindfulness and naturally luminous.]

What is the second one, when you really kind of get into the flow, it becomes more and more effortless?

Manifest mindfulness, now you are in the flow and so you are sustaining that simultaneity of the stillness of your awareness while aware of movements of the mind but it’s going to be more and more effortless. Stage four, five, six, seven, eight, nine it’s covering a lot of territory with that second mode of mindfulness.

You achieve stage nine and then you kind of drop off the cliff. Tania what is this type of mindfulness? Absence of mindfulness, exactly right you remember what that is, I’m sure you do.

And then once you’ve come out of that little, very temporary, very coma, Nato what do you do when you come out of temporary coma? Is that dark humor or black humor? I’m not quite sure. What is it, Elizabeth the fourth type of mindfulness? Naturally luminous, yes, the natural luminosity of the substrate consciousness itself.

So he says cherish those, those are the five points.

First the entry into it, simply being able to distinguish, to experience, to know what is like not to be always falling into cognitive fusion with all the rubbish, sometimes not so much rubbish, that arises in the mind, to have that stillness and aware of the movements of the mind and the distinction between the two, in other words awareness and mind are not the same, right?

And then the four modes of mindfulness, he said you should cherish the five topics as the sublimate of the path ok? Here is your essence.

If you strive too hard in practicing single-pointedness, the power of your mind will decline; and with stagnant mindfulness, although your body is human, your mind becomes that of an animal. Some people stray into delirium, so inseparably devote yourself to a spiritual friend.

(So, there is one way, this is very, very dense, this is almost like on a micro disc, so dense so compact, so if you strive too hard, you are going to get exhausted. That’s what I did on my first long Samantha retreat, I was so enthusiastic, only 30 years old, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is my teacher, my Lama, living in a meditation hut of a yogi who had been there 20 years, wonderful yogi, many blessings, not to mention all the wonderful neighbors I had, oh bedbugs and fleas and rats and mice and mosquitos, and ya, it was really quite wonderful, and then what did I do, of course just strove so hard, I just burnt myself out. So then, power of your mind declines, it does, on the other hand ) - and with stagnant mindfulness , although your body is human, your mind becomes that of an animal ( it becomes dull). Some people stray into delirium, so inseparably devote yourself to a spiritual friend.

(So that is it, that is how never to be separated from the experience of the practical instructions, don’t fall to extremes.

Now the commentary, very helpful is not long):

Those who have become distant from sublime spiritual friends who reveal the path, ( that is what a sublime spiritual friend is for, one who shows you a path, doesn’t just give you a whole bunch of practices, anybody can do that, frankly, I mean really anybody can tell you about practice, but actually reveal the path? That’s a bit rare, so those who have become distant from sublime spiritual friends who reveal the path) may not know how to distinguish between what is and is not the path, (really important point) or how to cut through their uncertainties and false assumptions. So the previously presented five topics on stillness and movement and the four kinds of mindfulness are the sublimity of the path. You should know that they are indispensable when first venturing into practice, ( boy Dudjom Lingpa is not mincing his words here, there are so many things you can practice, he said this is indispensable when first venturing into practice, he doesn’t say do 100,000 prostrations, or study Lamrim till your brains fall out, or do a whole bunch of sadhanas or get a whole bunch of empowerments, or get teachings that just numb your mind, he said the first thing is – hey, you might want to get a mind that works so it is a vessel for everything else, might be a good idea, this is what he says) and you must cherish that knowledge by gaining the firm certainty of proper understanding.

08:46 So it is not only enough to practice correctly, you need to know you are practicing correctly.

Some regard the practice that is merely initial, (taking the pure mind as the path,) some regard this as being the ultimate nature of existence and strive only in the practice of single-pointedness. ( if they do, they’ll probably call it vipashyana, or Mahamudra or Dzogchen or something that is really exalted, he said hey, wait a minute this is phase 1, this is shamatha right) Or, without knowing how to apply the appropriate degree of effort in accordance with the state of their own mindstreams, like blocking a water canal, they regard the mere single-pointed awareness of stopping thoughts as the highest view and meditation. (so once again, they think whether it’s in their system, whether it’s satori or Dzogchen, Mahamudra, Stage of Completion, or whatever it is, they will think –this is it. ) Then, if they strive much too hard in the practice, the functioning of the channels and elements) —for some people who are dominant in the water element or earth element, this causes the analytical power of their minds to decline. Their awareness then becomes stagnant, and though their body is human, their mind becomes that of an animal, by becoming stupid and turgid. With this in mind, Mañjughoṣa Sakya Panchen (the great teacher from the Sakya tradition), wrote:

Striving only in meditation, without study, is a way to achieve rebirth as an animal.

So, you can either go to a whole bunch of orgies that would do it, or you can meditate without study, that would do it, (10:31) so actually same the result but they are very different methods. One sounds like it would be a lot more fun, especially in Phuket I mean I’ve never been to Phuketan orgy but I think they must be good because people come from all of the world here for that and we somehow miss that, and you’ve been here for eight weeks, not even one orgy, that you told me about.

Some people who are dominant in the fire element ( and they tend to be redheads or blonds, by the way) or earth element stray off the path as their minds become muddled due to delirium, fainting, and so on. (these are the people who need motorcycle helmets when they sit in meditation, how could he have known? People listening by podcast, this is a private joke, so you’ll just have to live with it) So cut through your false assumptions by inseparably devoting yourself to a sublime spiritual friend who knows how to teach the essential points of this path correctly. (the next point is very interesting) Even if you lack such good fortune, (such spiritual friends are rare, after all, even in Tibet, let alone this world we are living in, even if you lack such good fortune) it is indispensable that you, without falling into indolence, (laziness) properly seek out and familiarize yourself with the practical instructions of the vidyādharas of the past who have achieved siddhis by way of this path.

( 12:50) It reminds me some of the quintessential advice from my primary yoga teacher, he is very, very confident he knows his business very well, he is also very confident and one of his aphorisms was: “when it comes to yoga it’s better have a good book than a bad teacher”.

There is something to be said for that. I mean it’s better to have a good teacher and a good book, but if you’re going to have a teacher who doesn’t know what he or she is talking about, or you have a good book then you’d probably do better with a good book, and I think that is exactly what Dudjom Lingpa or the commentary is saying here.

Better than following some teachers just making up stuff that doesn’t have a clue or doesn’t really know what the path is, and what is and is not a path. Then rather than following such person why not really seek out and familiarize yourself with the practical instructions, that’s meditation instruction of the vidyadharas, people who have actually gained direct realization of rigpa? This text is all about Dzogchen. Why not seek out their teachings even it’s one, two, five, ten, fifteen generations removed at least you know you are tapping into something totally authentic that has worked.

(14:37) And so these vidyadharas of the past who achieved siddhis by way of this path so they follow this and its manifested the benefit, evident, visible, empirical and they’re very powerful actually.

So that’s the end of his instructions on: how never to be separated from the experience of practical instructions.

(14:28) At this point I can mention, happy to mention that this text, I think it’s only ten pages but the commentary’s a hundred pages and I’ve translated them both, is the very essence I think all of his mind treasures on Dzogchen. I just have to say it absolutely speaks to me at the deepest level and so I’m so utterly taken by this text and the commentary. Frankly I really want to practice this for the rest of my life and others practices, feeding and I’ve cited so many others great masters from the past but all feeding into this. That is just personal, not saying this is true for anybody else, it’s true for me and so because of my profound reference, way beyond respect for this Sharp Vajra of Conscious Awareness Tantra and its commentary, I am now teaching it more and more frequently, and I teach it just in small pieces, twice now in Santa Barbara and once in Holy Isle in Scotland, off the West Coast of Scotland, I taught just phase one and so the whole commentary and anybody can listen it, you don’t need empowerment, initiation, you don’t need to be Buddhist.

If anybody’s interested, people listening by podcast or people here, if anybody is interested in listening to the oral commentary and then you will get the text as well of phase one, then you can either write to info@sbinstitute.com, Santa Barbara institute they sell it, or our dear friend that is here, Elizabeth at emwest1944@gmail.com she has a beautiful edition very handsomely produced from the oral commentary I gave this past summer I think it was June on the Holy Isle, it was really quite a wonderful retreat, sheer delight for me, the place, the people, everything, it was like all the perfections coming together at one time. And then in terms of phase two and three, I’ve taught that once thus far, that was in Santa Barbara and the commentary is also available in Santa Barbara, I haven’t taught it elsewhere yet. And then I’ll be teaching phase four this fall in November in Santa Barbara and the oral commentary for that will be also available together with the text in each case. So if you find anything remotely like my inspiration for this text, then you can follow it that way.

(16:58) Now we go to his final section in phase one, bear in mind six more phases to come, and this is the synthesis:

  • Dudjom Lingpa’s second advice: The Synthesis


In short, even if you strive diligently in this phase of these practices for a long time,

( This phase, phase 1, shamatha)

Taking the mind as the path

Does not bring you even an iota closer to the paths

Of liberation and omniscience,

And your life will certainly have been spent in vain!

So understand this, you fortunate people.

So as he said already this is indispensable, so I quote that one again: indispensable, you should know they, those five topics, which is all in phase one, settling the mind, you should know they are indispensable when first venturing into practice and you must cherish that knowledge by gaining firm certainty and proper understanding.

(17:49) So on the one hand, venturing into this phase indispensable, but if you stay there then you have wasted your whole life, right. If that is all you do then you’ve not even moved an inch to actually getting onto the freeway, getting onto the path, you’ve just gotten to the on ramp, and then you turn off the engine and say - isn’t nice to be on the on-ramp? Well that means you’ve not actually moved onto the freeway at all, you may as well have stayed at home or just wandered around in traffic. So he’s making a very important, crucial point, and again, it’s nowhere contested in Buddhism that I’ve seen, shamatha is indispensable, that is in terms of classic sources and masters, shamatha is indispensable by itself, it’s really not even on the path at all, it’s the preliminary to the path.

(18:33) So here’s the commentary:


In short, these practices from śamatha to luminous, cognizant consciousness and the substrate consciousness, as taught previously, constitute the phase of taking the aspects of the mind as the path. (again, even the commentary is very, very dense. These practices from shamatha, that’s when you first start practicing shamatha, and then as you venturing into this practice as taking the impure mind as the path, more and more clearly along the path, before you achieve shamatha, you simply will have a clearer and clearer sense, when they say that awareness is luminous and cognizant, what does that mean, and you will know, just as once you’ve tasted grapes, you know what grapes taste like, or anything else, once you’ve tasted it that’s it, and then you can recognize it in the future, and so that’s it, you will know the taste of the luminosity of awareness and exactly what that word refers to which is not at all self- evident to the people who have not done the meditation, they will think something luminous is what lights do, bright, and cognizant, what does that mean, you’ll know exactly what that means so there you are, you’ve entered shamatha and along the path you get a clearer and clearer sense of this cognizant nature of consciousness, namely the defining characteristics of consciousness, and then finally when you have settled your mind in its natural state, you realize substrate consciousness and you know exactly what that word refers to, you know that is the substrate, this is the substrate consciousness, and as taught previously, these practices constitute the phase of taking aspects of the mind as the path. So once again I emphasize because I think it’s really interesting, is that this is such a naturalistic approach, there are many authentic approaches to achieve shamatha, like focusing on a Buddha image or on a seed syllable, methods that are specifically Buddhist, a Christian may focus on an image of Jesus, or one of the saints, why not, perfectly good, and all of those would be religious ways of achieving shamatha, nothing wrong with that at all, absolutely, but the way he is teaching here, is taking something that is already part of your being, and actually a core part of your being, and taking that as the path. Right, so it is taking a central aspect of reality as your path to deeper reality, so I think again, this lends itself to, how do you say, a real engagement with a scientific approach to how to study the mind, okay. ) But as long as ( so now he’s coming, summing up here, so that’s shamatha, so as long as it, that is this phase as taking the mind as the path as long as) it is divorced from the vipaśyanā of knowing the nature of existence, ( most specifically of course – emptiness, realization of emptiness, shunyata, as long as your shamatha practice is divorced from the vipashyana of knowing the nature of existence) , this does not bring you even an iota closer to the path of liberation from the suffering of mundane existence and the path of omniscience that liberates from the two extremes. (the extremes of Samsara and Nirvana) Thus, even if you strive diligently in these practices for a long time, this does nothing more than perpetuate saṃsāra. (So it takes you to a form realm, maybe a formless realm, the petrol that got you there gradually gets used up, karma gets exhausted and then you are just right back where you were, no big deal) So understand how your life will certainly have been spent in vain! With these words he offered compassionate advice to fortunate people who are following this path.

(22:45) It’s compassionate advice, here’s the entrance, don’t stay there, move on. Tremendous compassion.

Now the very end, the final paragraph:

However, whether or not people have identified pristine awareness within themselves, those who become muddled due to distraction and sloth should first mount their discursive mind, ( conceptual mind) which is like a cripple, onto their breath, which is like a blind, wild stallion.


So after all this talk within Dzogchen, nature of mind and settling the mind and so forth, then he says, if you’re still having problems here, that is whether or not people have identified pristine awareness, bear in mind people can get a pointing out instruction, some glimmering, some glimpse long before they’ve achieved shamatha, but whether or not you’ve had some glimpse of rigpa, right, whether or not, if you mind still is relatively unserviceable, keep on getting muddled, just kind of falling into laxity, just flat out dullness and distraction, maybe just getting heavy with sloth, losing some of your inspiration and so forth, then what should you do, you take your discursive mind, this little chatterbox mind, which is like a cripple and then you mount it, you conjoin it, you engage it with the breath, goes back to mindfulness of breathing, how interesting, discursive mind which is like a cripple and get the cripple onto, basically there’s the metaphor - you take the cripple who can see, but legs don’t work, and put the cripple upon the back of a blind wild stallion, sound like an interesting combination, if it worked out well, the stallion’s got all the muscle to carry you from here to there, but of course he’s just going to be walking into things all the time, but if the cripple who can’t walk but sees clearly, really takes the reigns of the horse, then they both win. The cripple takes the stallion to green pastures and the stallion takes the cripple to hospital or whatever, alright.

So there is, I find it fascinating frankly that he comes back to mindfulness of breathing.

By tethering it (that is the discursive mind]) with meditative experience and sustained attention (so that they can meditate uninterruptedly), eventually all coarse and subtle obsessive thoughts will appear to be dispelled and uncontrived, primordially present consciousness will manifest.

Uncontrived, that’s a stem consciousness, uncontrived, that’s not male or female, Mexican or Brazilian, it’s uncontrived, it’s there, the naked stripped down version. Causal, uncontrived primordially present, is always there, it’s always there, sometimes implicit like when you are in a deep, deep sleep, comatose you fainted, you just gotten dead, whatever, but it’s always there, through the bardo, through dreaming, the waking state, primordially present uncontrived, uncontrived primordial present consciousness will manifest.

I’m going to read that sentence again.

By tethering, so here again is the rope of mindfulness, by tethering it, the discursive mind, with meditative experience and sustained attention, so they can meditate uninterruptedly, eventually all coarse and subtle obsessive thoughts, we call it rumination, will appear to be dispelled. Finally the mind calms down. The mind dissolves into the substrate consciousness, and uncontrived, primordially present consciousness will manifest. Okay, so far so good.

When one alights upon the great non-meditation of pristine awareness (and now we’ve gone beyond shamatha, okay, and bear in mind Padmasambhava says, when you are resting in awareness of awareness and you are doing that probing in, with that probing in you might just break through right there, without going out into vipashyana and other practices, you may go directly from really penetrating shamatha and just breath right through to the substrate consciousness into rigpa, okay, that’s a possibility) and that’s what he is refering to here -)

When one alights upon the great non-meditation ( in other words taking nothing as an object, no striving, no effort, just revealing that which already is. When one alights upon the great non-mediation) of pristine awareness, it is easy for the guru’s introduction to pristine awareness to strike home.


So when you are, there may be getting some glimmerings of it just from your shamatha practice, it’s kind of like shining through your substrate consciousness so to speak, when you are that close, then if you seek out a qualified Dzogchen master and that person gives you these pointing out instructions, he said it’s very easy for those teachings to strike home, and then really let awareness, pristine awareness know pristine awareness.

Given how very important it is for disciples not to stray onto false paths, this needs to be clearly taught, as was implied in the preceding passage. (the preceding passage on phase one of Sharp Vajra Tantra) This concludes the synthesis of this phase, revealed in The Sharp Vajra of Conscious Awareness Tantra.

So there we are, that is his summary.

So I think that’s very, very relevant to all of us here as we are parting ways, some of us will be quite far from spiritual friends and that is Dudjon Lingpa’s advice. I don’t know how that could be possible topped, ok, between Karma Chagmé’s advice that is actually Atisha by way of Karma Chagmé yesterday, and then Dudjon Lingpa, both five, five, interesting, five full practice of Atisha, these five aspects, but just on the first phase of the practice from Dudjom Lingpa, quite extraordinary.

So one of you asked about reading, possible reading, there are so many good books, many, many, many, that I would give just a tiny sampling of some that would be quite a smooth transition for what we have being doing here, that’s all, that is with the baseline among my books:

Alan’s books: Genuine Happiness, Attention Revolution, Four Immeasurables, Minding Closely, those were the basis for what we have done for the last 8 weeks.

Then moving on, I don’t know in terms of wanting a very stream-lined path, I don’t know any text I could more highly recommend than this Sharp Vajra Tantra. So there it is and it will be hopefully published I think next year with a bit of luck, because as far as I know all of his mind treasures on Dzogchen have been translated, we’ve translated all of them, and we found a publisher, we just need to do the final polishing and printing, but beyond that, in terms of a very smooth transition, just to refer to some texts I have cited a number of times – over these eight weeks.


First of all one I have not cited but it’s a marvelous book, and it’s His Holiness Dalai Lama’s teachings that he gave about ten years ago, in Lerabling in the South of France. Sogyal Rinpoche’s center, there were 10,000 people, and I was invited there by Sogyal Rinpoche, so it was a tremendous privilege just to be there, and His Holiness was teaching Dzogchen, and he taught a text by Longchen, Rabjampa, and this was very, very beautifully translated, edited, by a team of people, I was actually part of the team that translated the text, that we then delivered to everybody that was receiving the teachings, so we were back in the cave, and there was about four or five of us translating the text because we had to translate very quickly because it would be taught the very next day, this small core group of us translated the text and then another group translated His Holiness’ teachings, and these were published several years ago, under the title by His Holiness -

H. H. Dalai Lama: Mind In comfort and Ease. So if you’d like to see a really smooth, eloquent, extremely well informed and very informative presentation on Dzogchen from one of the great Gelugpa masters of the modern world, but who also has such a deep understanding of Dzogchen, here it is, His Holiness. And he shows, he contextualizes Dzogchen within the broader framework of Buddha dharma in general, but of course with his extremely strong Gelugpa background, so any of you who are coming from a Gelugpa back ground, if you have any kind of qualms – is this really compatible with the teachings you’ve heard thus far, well take it from His Holiness, it doesn’t get much better than that. It’s a marvelous book, really an outstanding book.

So that would I think be for starters, and then there’s this two volume set that I translated with my Lama Gyalchen Rinpoche’s wonderful oral commentary, The first being - A Spacious Path to Freedom, 2) Naked Awareness, these are both on the union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, The Spacious Path to Freedom and Naked Awareness, beautiful set, really so informative, lays out the whole path, the whole path, Mahamudra, Dzogchen, even both phases of Dzogchen, even the Thogyal which is not very often taught, even that is included there, with some of these, the mapping onto the five paths, this wonderful concluding chapter that I cited yesterday, it’s really a beautiful text, very practical, all entirely orientated for practices, that’s all that my Lama Gyalchen Rinpoche taught me, he never taught me any more scholastic texts, for people who really want to become scholars, there are scholars, I’m totally not. He didn’t teach me one text of that sort, and there are a lot of them. The Seven Treasures of Longchenpa, if you really want to be a good scholar of Dzogchen you study all of them, I haven’t studied any of them except for this one tiny one His Holiness taught. And so my lama, knowing where I was in my practice and what I really yearned for, I didn’t want to become a scholar, I never had any aspiration to become a scholar of Dzogchen, I think it is a very noble thing to do, but I was starting at the age of 40, I wasn’t ready to start another scholarly quest. So he just taught me practice. One practice text after another. The Spacious Path to Freedom and Naked Awareness, and then a follow up and that’s -

Natural Liberation by Padmasambhava, beautiful text, covers six bardos, six opportunities for achieving enlightenment. While you’re dead, while you’re dreaming, while you’re awake and so forth and so on. So six bardos, each of them presented as a launching pad for achieving awakening. Extraordinary text, really one of the great classics. So that will get you off to a good start.

So we have about ten minutes, questions about the practice, anything still lingering?

Question about awareness of awareness – the term you are using, forcefully withdrawing attention from the sensory appearances.

A - In the sense that now’s the time to arouse, it’s not just all relax, relax, relax, sometimes there’s a time for really paying attention and this is straight from Padmasambhava, now’s the time for concentrating, focusing, arousing, but of course you can always overdo it and then deplete yourself. (34:09)

You don’t want to be focusing in a certain physical place. I will put it this way, it’s a parallel issue, that is when you withdraw your interest from everything else, while maintaining clarity of awareness, but when you withdraw your awareness from everything else, again like the sensory deprivation tank, you’ve just had 3 cappuccinos you’re bright eyed and bushy tailed, wide awake, but now when you’re put into a situation that there’s just nothing to attend to at all, no objects at all, even with Merlin’s magic wand and all your thoughts vanish, then the process of elimination leaves you with a kind of knowing that had to already be there, you’re not going to freshly get that by jumping into a sensory deprivation tank, and what is that awareness that’s left when there’s nothing else? That’s awareness of awareness, which already was there, even when you’re eating a hot dog, there you are, really focusing on the hot dog and even when you are doing that, I’m choosing a totally mundane activity, but it’s still there at that time, so similarly, you’re doing the practice right, when you simply, to the best of your ability, withdraw your interest, the focus of your attention, from all appearances, from all appearances, interior and exterior. So you’re not looking at thoughts, images, you’re not attending to your feelings and emotions and memories and so forth, just a withdrawal from all of that as if somebody’s just picked you up with a pair of tweezers and put your right down in the sensory deprivation tank. So this is what I am saying though, if you have a sense of withdrawing from what you are aware of, and then what you are left over with at the end, that’s fine. If on the contrary you’re saying – okay, now I want to find my center, where is that okay, into the center like you’ve got a rifle about to shoot a target, okay I think that’s my center, let’s go into the center – then you are coming into something. Actually you’ve got a target, and this is simply away from everything, subtle distinction, but that should be enough.

Alan continues answering the question -

Number one it’s not a problem for everybody, that’s why Tsongkhapa could get away with just two phrases, you know, sheer luminosity, sheer cognizance, and then he stopped. For a person with the brilliance of Tsongkhapa that’s probably quite sufficient, because I wonder if he ever experienced mental dullness. Tsongkhapa and mental dullness in the same sentence? They just don’t seem to belong together, you know, so I suspect that is quite sufficient for him, but for people who have ordinary minds, the downside, the danger of just saying I am just going to follow Tsongkhapa, I’m just going to sit here and be aware of being aware, is zzzzzzz (snore and sleep) you just fade out, just gradually, like a light bulb, starting at 100watts then going 99, 95, 80, 70, you could just kind of slip into a nice kind of nebulous space. It’s really possible. Not necessary, but it could happen. Since we are bringing such habituation of dullness and so forth already to anything we do, so to avoid that, to avoid that, he’s giving us this exercise and once again it’s like working out in a gym. There is time when you have to give effort, then ah, out and so it’s like that. The people are preparing to come in soon, so without turning your head, keep your eyes this way – but can you hear them? Can you hear whether they’re coming or not? Now listen more carefully - it’s just that – it’s just that. You didn’t have to grit your teeth, you didn’t have to frown, you didn’t have to – I’m trying. Can you hear anything behind you? No? Listen again, can you not hear that they’re coming? I see one person walking, can you not hear them?
So, it’s that. You see how non stressful it is, but you really are attending more closely. So that’s it, that’s it, it’s attending more closely, greater interest, and then releasing. But the ambience of it is also important. We don’t want to turn this into drudgery, into just hard labor, and so here’s a nice metaphor.

Let’s imagine you’re in a large auditorium, imagine Andre Segovia is still alive, and he is playing one of his last concerts, he is about to retire, it’s a little hypothetical, but he is such a grandmaster of the guitar, classical guitar, and you’re in a large auditorium, ten thousand people listening, and they are not going to screw up his magnificent guitar with a microphone and having to put it through an electronic sound system, otherwise just listen to a CD at home, right. So he starts, and perhaps he starts out with quite a vigorous piece, and so everyone can hear it quite easily, you know it’s got a lot of liveliness to it, but then after he’s played that, imagine he turns to something very tender, a very soft piece, very soft, you can imagine the audience when they’re hearing his one where he is almost thumping away, I mean you can really hear it, they are kind of enjoying it, ah, beautiful, but then when he comes to the next piece, and it’s really soft, you can imagine, it’s so beautiful, you can imagine that now is the time, now everybody really be quiet, because you’ll miss it, you hear the delicacy of the way his fingers touch the strings, you have to listen really closely, - like that.

So sometimes of that quality, and frankly, ya, just leave it at that. Sometimes that quality, and then sometimes just whoosh! You know, that utter release, but then holding on, like a child holding onto a kite with a string, just holding onto the string, doesn’t need that much effort.

So you are just holding onto the string of the awareness of awareness, you’re not just spacing out, in other words you’re not engaged and knowing and then spacing out, and then engaged and knowing and spacing out. That’s no way to achieve shamatha. But there is nevertheless a sense of release while holding the string, and then a concentration, which would be a much more vivid attempt and then the point of that is that when you are doing that inversion, this is the point, this is where you have a wet stone, to sharpen the knife of your mindfulness and introspection, and that is that as you are inverting, you are then by that very act, overcoming any predisposition toward laxity and dullness, as you’re really inverting, but then knowing it’s for such a short time. Even if you set the rhythm at 20 seconds in and 20 seconds out, that’s a 20 second session, that’s a short session. And many of you told me when practicing awareness of awareness, you can do it. But you say, but if I do it for very long then I can’t do it anymore. That’s because you’re holding in mind – this is getting long. But if you have just 20 second sessions, and you know that at the end of 20 seconds, then you are finished, and it’s – ah I’m finished, ah I think it’s long enough, I am ready for another session and then it’s (whistles). So it’s a whole bunch of short sessions. In that way then every inversion overcomes laxity, increases vividness and the sense of unveiling it, it’s like you are coming closer to the light, because of course the vividness is only coming from that which you are attending to – awareness itself, by nature luminous.

And then the release every time just overcoming more and more and more coarse, medium and subtle excitation as you’re just doing a finer and finer cleaning, like a sweeping out, sweeping out even the fine dust, so even the quiet murmuring of rumination, releasing, releasing.

The fine art of Shamatha without a sign. Beautiful art, and the payoff is very big.

So good, anything else?

Q: What does o laso mean?

That’s one of the great secret teachings I give out only to people who’ve achieved 8 weeks of retreat first. It’s very secret, have you received Tantric empowerment? O laso, you ready? Because once I have said it you won’t forget it, it’s one of those really, pointing out instructions - O Laso doesn’t mean anything at all. But it is Tibetan, so it is hard to find a phrase in a language that is definitely part of that language, because O Laso is definitely part of Tibetan, it’s not Hindi, or any other language that I know of, it’s definitely Tibetan, and it doesn’t mean anything at all. But it’s Tibetan and I don’t know quite how you translate it into English without losing its meaning, but it’s something like UM or how about this – WELL THEN , what does that exactly mean, “well then”? Well then, Ladies and Gentlemen. What exactly have I just said that imparted some information to you? (45:42) ‘Well then’ as opposed to ‘ill now’? O laso is kind of like that. It comes up a lot and it’s just become part of my speech pattern, and I haven’t seen any reason to break it, and also it sounds nice. O laso, o laso, and very often, because I have received many teachings from lamas, at the beginning they often say o laso, and that lets everybody know, hey, we’re about to begin, folks. O laso, so it’s a nice way to begin, it’s so smooth, almost like a mantra, o laso. And then when you finish, when you’ve finished something – o laso. Like that, okay? It’s a way to begin and a way to end.

Q3. Can we still have emotions in a lucid dream?

A- You know you can. (the person who asked the question had experienced emotions in a lucid dream) Number one you’ve already had that, the answer is yes of course, number one, the most common emotion, especially when you first become lucid is euphoria, it feels good, you feel happy. So lucid dreams and emotions, sure, it’s like Nico asking can he have any emotions when he is practicing settling the mind in the natural state, yeah, absolutely, definitely, sure. That just kind of raises a host of interesting questions. And that is, if you are very clearly lucid, and you see an automobile crash, as far as you are lucid, you know this is a dream, then you know, no one actually suffered, because there is no one there, I mean literally no one there. It’s not that they just have conventional existence, but there is no one there. It’s like watching a cartoon, or special effects, where everything you see on the screen is computer generated and you are seeing a computer generated car crash, maybe 3D, high definition on the screen, and you see body parts flying in all directions and so forth, I mean it can be quite a gruesome imagine, but if you know you are watching television or a movie, then you know that there is actually nobody there at all. So then in that way, the emotions that arise would be different. Could one cultivate compassion? Because I thought that’s where you were going, could you cultivate compassion if you witness a tragedy like a car crash, while you are lucid, could you cultivate compassion as you witness a car crash, knowing there is no one there, and no one suffering at all. Could you? What do you think, Will? Could you in a lucid dream, witnessing some misery, some adversary, tragedy, could you experience compassion, could you actually cultivate compassion? Will says yes. Sure, it doesn’t have to be compassion for someone who isn’t there, but this is, and imagine, could you cultivate compassion for someone while reading a novel? Definitely yes, and you know it’s a novel, nobody pulled a fast one on you, you know it’s a novel, so you know everybody there doesn’t exist at all, period, but could you cultivate while reading a novel, while watching a movie? And the answer is yes, for sure.

Q4. When I practice emptiness of awareness, there’s an open feeling that’s not there when I practice awareness of awareness.

A: Your description is a bit general, and I want to give a meaningful response – what I understand from what you’ve just said is that when you are really engaging in the vipashyana practice, really seeking to fathom, to experience, to taste the empty nature of your own awareness, there is one type of experience that arises from that, as opposed to simply , without investigating or analyzing, simply being aware of being aware and just resting there, that those are two quite distinct experiences. Did I understand correctly? First of all I sympathize, it’s hard to find the words, it really is because this is so subtle, and so intangible, if I say banana or chocolate, okay we’ll wrap our minds around that very easily, but when we are going into the realm of awareness and then the emptiness of awareness, we still have to use, in this case, ordinary English, we don’t have some special esoteric terminology because we’re still using ordinary words and emptiness and awareness is a very common term and so forth, but I think the general answer to your comment is that yes, the experiences of awareness of awareness and the experience of the emptiness of inherent nature of awareness are definitely different. The first one is, when you are practicing shamatha of any sort, it’s simply a placing of your awareness upon the object, whatever you are attending to. In this case it’s simply awareness decending in its own place and being aware of what’s already happening. Being aware, but it’s just a placing. Likewise if I were visualizing a Buddha image, I would simply place my mind, place my awareness upon it and I would be satisfied with that. I wouldn’t be investigating or anything like that.

So it’s simply a placement, it doesn’t entail investigation, analysis, probing, any of that kind of business. Like right now, I simply place my awareness upon your face and I know who I am looking at, just from the front part of your body, it’s perfectly clear, we’ve met many times now, you’re very familiar to me, and so I am satisfied, I don’t need to go any further and so now I can just be focusing on Sandra and that’s enough. But then, if I want to now shift it into high gear, and say alright, but now what is the nature of Sandra? Is she the front part of her body, is she her face, is she her mind, does she have a body and mind? Now I am starting to probe in and then that not finding, that not finding a target that’s really there from its own side, that’s the target that is the referent of the label, Sandra. Then it is qualitative but very different. Because you are manifestly appearing to me, you have shape, you have color and so forth and so on, many qualities that I can attend to, whereas when I am seeking out the Sandra that exists from her own side by her own nature, I’m coming up with a not finding, and a finding of not finding, a finding of un-findability - that’s knowing, that’s not just not finding, not just where are my keys I can’t find them, that’s not it, it’s knowing the un-findability, knowing there is nothing to be found and likewise for awareness of awareness. When you’re probing right into its nature, this awareness that is self- defining, has its own awareness, has its own boundaries, its own distinctions between awareness and not awareness, and you are looking for that nuclear core of your awareness, and then not finding it, you don’t just suddenly go unconscious clearly you’re still aware, but you’re aware of an emptiness. And that’s the simultaneous experience of emptiness and luminosity. Because you’re still aware of being aware, that doesn’t stop, but you’re aware of the emptiness of the inherent nature of awareness. So that’s why, especially in multiple traditions, one of them being the Mahamudra tradition, it came up a lot in that first yoga of single pointedness, is the big theme there for the union of shamatha vipashyana was realization of emptiness and luminosity, simultaneously and non- dualy. But it’s not just the emptiness of the substrate, it’s the emptiness of inherent nature and that’s what really cuts to the root of samsara because when you realize that, then you turn your attention outwards, then the emptiness of all phenomena, all appearances, all objects of the mind, follows pretty readily.

Okay, nice grand finale of a question, very good.

Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti & Cheri Langston

Revised by Cheri Langston

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti


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