29 Mar 2016
Alan begins the retreat by thanking all the staff at ILTK, starting from the Director Filippo, his wife and everyone else who has been helping to offer such a wonderfully conducive environment. We will have teachings from the Gelug/Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra – Alan has received the oral transmission of this text from Geshe Rabten. Alan also received the oral transmission of the other text he will be teaching on from Gyatrul Rinpoche, which highlights the union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen (Naked Awareness). Alan also said that he will show how the various traditions are complementary. Before the meditation, Alan then gives some brief instructions about the retreat structure.
The meditation is on Settling the Body, Speech and Mind in their natural states.
Meditation starts at 31:00
After the meditation, Alan touches on the differences between practicing Dharma and reaching an irreversible path. When we reach the path, we have set out in such a way that we will never fall back. He also gives a brief update about the wonderful property nearby which could soon become a place where people can achieve shamatha.
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Welcome to you all, who are in Pomaia for this year’s 8-week retreat and also all throughout the retreat starting now, I am holding very much in my heart and mind the people who are listening by podcasts whether just slightly delayed from the time here, maybe one day later or whether they are listening months later; time after all is relative and there is a perspective from which all of this is simultaneous anyway. And so to all of those listening, participating in this retreat I want to give you a very heartfelt welcome. [0:53]
We have been holding these 8 week retreats since 2010. I don’t know that we’ve thus far,I have been here a couple of days …I don’t know that we’ve ever been in such a conducive environment. We shall see as the weeks go by, but it’s certainly starting off marvellously.
[1:19] And I have to you know … we are in Italy now ... I use my hands a lot anyway (laughter) but just expect it to be a bit overboard for the next 8 weeks, you know this is how you have to talk in this country and I am already in the vein. But I just want to thank our very gracious host, I have been here for a couple of days and I simply can’t imagine greater hospitality from what I have received from the Director, I’ve had some long conversation with him, that is Filippo, and his wonderful wife, Manu, the resident interpreter here Fabricio, so we’ve just had some really good conversations envisioning how we can be working together in various ways over the coming months, years, who knows, so I think we are off to a very good start. And the material that I will be sharing with you I have very deep faith in. You know, in gist, what we will be addressing during these 8 weeks. [2:13]
The first is a root text and the commentary by the first Panchen Lozang Chokyi Gyaltsen regarded variously as the, usually as the first Panchen Rinpoche, by the, and it’s, we will be looking at it quite closely, and it’s his root text commentary on Mahamudra in which he integrates the continua, the lineages of the Gelugpa tradition and the Kagyupa tradition. So we will be spending time on that and then we will be focusing on selected chapters from Naked Awareness, which is the kind of addendum of teachings given by Karma Chagmé Rinpoche following his The Spacious Path to Freedom. And I, of course, we taught that last year. So he finished the whole path and there was a lot more to it than is translated in The Spacious Path to Freedom, because when Gyatrul Rinpoche taught me this, he said, well let’s skip the preliminaries because there are a lot of teachings out there already, not that they are in any way not important, they are enormously important, but we have covered that, we’ve covered that many, many times, so now let’s go into what is distinctively this union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen by one of the great lineage holders the Karma Chagmé Rinpoche and Gyatrul Rinpoche himself is a lineage holder from that tradition.[3:27]
And so when I think back to the teachings that I have received, of the transmission, the explanations, the oral commentary, this was 40 years ago. My Geshe Rabten, one of my principal lamas with whom I have trained quite extensively throughout the 1970’s, he taught this to a small group of us in Rikon, in Switzerland, and Massimo Corona,, I think he is around here some place, not in his room, but he is nearby, he was there, so a number of old old lama friends were there for those teachings , and it was in that same year that Geshe Rabten really told me I should start teaching, I didn’t have much choice in the matter unless I just wanted to just you know, run away, and he authorised me to teach everything he’s taught me, that’s that’s where the lineage, the transmission, the oral commentary comes from, it’s from Geshe Rabten for this union of the Gelugpa or Gandenpa and Kagyu traditions and Mahamudra. [4:33]
So that was about 40 years ago, then it was 20 years ago that Gyatrul Rinpoche taught this text, Naked Awareness, the addendum to The Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. And he also authorised me to teach everything that he taught me. So that’s where this is coming from. [4:55]
In terms of practices themselves, we will be focusing really, well first of all, on bodhicitta, which sets the stage for everything else. And then in terms of the core meditations taught in these texts, we will be focusing on shamatha, and then vipashyana, and then we’re going right into the nature of rigpa and that’s where we will see the real union of the Mahamudra and Dzogchen traditions, so that’s in Naked Awareness. [5:25]
I presume all of you are familiar with the Spacious Path to Freedom because that really provides kind of the first floor. For the second floor, he is assuming that you have heard those teachings, that you have assimilated those teachings to some extent.[5:36]
And then having completed the whole path, I don’t know any other text like this, he taught the whole path, from the very basics, of the preliminaries, through every stage, right through the direct crossing over, the leap over to rainbow body, he finished. And then he went right back again and said, well, I can add a few points and then that was another 300 pages, where he addressed, he elaborated on some topics that were more lightly touched on and then simply took a different perspective and just really added some very rich materials. [6:10]
When I first selected these texts to teach during this retreat, I thought I will teach it sequentially, and so I thought we will spend maybe three weeks or so on the Panchen Rinpoche’s root text and commentary, and then go to Naked Awareness. But as so often happens, very frequently, actually normally, when I arrive some place to teach, after I’ve arrived, then I start revising what I’m going to teach, just it happens a lot, and that’s what happened here too. I happily had a couple of days of just rest after leading a retreat in Spain. Just quiet, then reflection and then it just became totally obvious that it doesn’t really... it is not optimal to teach these two texts purely sequentially but rather integrate them. And this is something His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is my root lama, he often does, when he is giving teachings, he’ll often take two texts, but by and large, when he does so, he doesn’t just teach one and then teach another one. He integrates the two. So he is going back and forth, back and forth, and that’s exactly what I intend to do for these two. [7:16]
So that’s the gist. What I know all of you have some spiritual practice, otherwise you wouldn’t be here, you already have a daily practice, you have some background and I would say with great confidence that whatever your unique background is, because you have different teachers, and all of you of course have somewhat of a unique practice, but whatever your practice is, that you are committed to, I am very confident that the theory and practices that we will be exploring here will augment, enrich,deepen what you are already doing. It was certainly never imagined that this would l be kind of like in competition with your practice. So what’s it going to be? Your practice or will I pull you over to my side? That’s a silly notion. So I have a lot of confidence in that, because whatever your practice may be, including any school of buddhism, but outside of that, Christian contemplative, Hindu and so forth, shamatha is simply indispensable. So of course we will include that. (7’52”)
And then whatever everyone’s practice might be, to really, to explore the nature of the mind. The mind we are experiencing everyday, but going right down to the ground, through the substrate consciousness, right down to the ground awareness, pristine awareness. That actually has to be central, finally, sooner or later, this exploration of the very nature of the mind has to be central to any buddhist practice, Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Ch’an, Zen, anything. [8:40]
So, in this way, this time we are going to be spending together I think is going to be very synthetic, in the sense of synthesising traditions, that might, at first glance, or a kind of superficial examination, seem to be at variance with each other, incompatible with each other. I have been tremendously blessed over last now 45 years to have had really superb teachers in the Theravada tradition and then all four of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. And I have always been taught, I have never, I have never trained under any sectarian teacher, I know they must be out there. But they are not among my teachers. And so all of my teachers have really highlighted the common ground and then been totally relaxed about the distinctive features, the unique features, of the Gelugpa tradition, of the Sera Je interpretation of the Gelugpa tradition, and then the Kagyu, Nyingma, Sakya and so forth, highlighting, delighting in the unique qualities and then recognising you know there are points of debate where the great masters of these differents traditions will be debating with each other. [9:54]
And certainly there is such a thing as wrong views, I mean one can have clearly misapprehensions of reality, but among these great teachers, these great teachers, really having a false view that will derail you from the path to enlightenment …Long chenmo, Lama Mipham Rinpoche, Tsongkhapa, Kadukche, Gampopa, Karma Chagme these are all great beings. So the notion that among them there’s going to be a rotten apple, somebody who’s really teaching people how to go astray, despite all the debates, and there are a lot of debates, I have debated myself for years when I was receiving my monastic training, but those are skilful means, they are skilful means. Clearly there are again false views, and I might even critique one or two of them, on occasion, (laughter), you’ll have no idea what unless you are really intuitive. But that’s not going to be the main point that we’re here.[10:54]
And so integration. The Gelugpa and Kagyu, two very powerful traditions, very complementary in many ways, bringing these together. And then we have the Mahamudra and the Dzogchen traditions, the Kagyu and the Nyingma, integrating these, Karma Chagmé Rinpoche who is a lineage holder for both, he’s integrating these. And then we’ll find in this text by Panchen Rinpoche a number of citations even from the Sakya Pandita, so the Sakya is brought into the fold as well. [11:27]
That’s how we will be spending our 8 weeks, and so then in terms of being here now … oh first of all, I just notice Glen here, I just want to give a special thanks to Glen. [11:39]
We would have only about 35, 36, 37 people here, were it not for Glen because I know exactly what my limitations are in terms of giving weekly interviews, and I maxed out at 36, but that’s just the way it is. I can tell you what I’m going to be doing here, unless I get sick or something really weird happens, my daily practice is about 9 hours of meditation a day, I do email. I teach and I sleep. There is not much going on. I don’t want to do anything else. I have done many times, I know how it works out. [12:12]
And once again I am in a wonderfully conducive environment, so 36, but we have obviously more than 36 people here, so I am very happy to have Glen, trusted dharma friend, a fellow teacher, to, you know, be co-captaining us on our voyage. There we have not a bad metaphor, and that is, we are, as we speak of crossing the ocean of samsara, we are, in the manner of speaking poetically, setting out on a 8-week voyage here. And I am sure all of you, at least for all the people who are resident here, I know a number of people are auditing, and are very welcome to do so, but for everyone here in this retreat physically who is residential, you all have your own private accommodation, I insist on that for the 8-week retreats, so we have a balance here, you know I am the Balance Walla, and so that’s a theme that comes up all the time. [13:10]
Here is one of the balances - and it is specifically for these 8 week retreats, , more than any other that I teach, and that is, you have your own individual rooms and we are spending relatively little time together, collectively, out of 16, 17 hours of awaking time each day. This is a small fraction of that. Half an hour plus, in the morning, sometimes it runs over, as the old-timers know. But basically half hour and in the afternoon, it’s going to be an hour and a half because dinner I believe is at 6. So it’s 4.30-6 and then basta! (Italian and Brazilian word which means: that´s enough) “basta” . Then , we are finished and then we are off.
And so that’s a small fraction, two hours, maybe maximum two and a half hours, and that’s it, of our time collectively together. Which then, everybody here, you are a sufficiently mature practitioner, otherwise we would not have admitted you, because this puts the whole responsibility of maintaining a very robust, completely dedicated, fully engaged daily practice. That’s your responsibility. [14:16]
There are teachers, and very good teachers, who’ll spend 8 hours a day, and I do that for short retreats, 8 hours a day with the students, and so basically show up, just show up in the presence of the teacher and then the discipline is provided for you. Ding ding dong ding dong and you know exactly what to do, right. [14:34]
But here, it’s not like that at all. Most of the time you are on your own, right. And so, the upside of this is that I have a chance to meet with you individually. Which I simply don’t when I am teaching 8 hours a day. There is no time. Even if it is a small retreat I still don’t have time. [14:50]
Because even then I’m trying to mediate, 6-7-8 hours a day, because that’s what keeps it fresh for me. I never, those of you who watched me teach over the years, how often if you teach, have you have seen me teach, that I kind of look bored? Like boy I have to teach this again, geez, alright, well, ok here we go to this old thing. It just never happens, it never happens. But I know why because I am coming out of meditation, I teach, and go back to meditation, then it’s fresh. [15:16]
And then I get to listen too, I get to listen and sometimes I find the teaching quite interesting. (Laughter). Not all the time, I’ve have heard some of them before. But sometimes I actually find the teaching quite interesting. [15:28]
So this is leading to this theme of balance.
On the one hand, for everyone here who has your own private accommodation, then this is your private retreat. And I’m here to facilitate that, support that,. you know, in my or Glen’s weekly interviews with you, give you personal guidance to really maximize the benefit, the value you can find in this time together.[15:52]
And so we have, I think it’s 55 people now including the auditors, 55 people the last count, so we have 55 individual retreats, that’s what we are dealing with here. 55 individual retreats, it’s as if you’ve gone off to a cabin in Tuscany, and you are hunkering down and just doing your practice. With a bit of help. [16:12]
So on the one hand, that ‘s it, you’re responsible for your practice, I’m here simply to help you, on the one hand. But now where’s the balance? Well, there’s one ship here, it’s called the 8-week retreat in Pomaia. [16:27]
We are here, collectively, we are here, so there’s two things happening, there’s one entity called the group of us, singular, we are a group, this group does, in the singular, and so we a collective and we are here to support each other in practise. Bottom line, not in any way to deter from or undermine each other’s practice, and so this calls for a collective vision, a collective awareness that this group here has a certain kind of cohesion to it. We have the people in the Master’s program and they have their cohesion in their group. We will be bumping into each other a little bit. But these are different groups, so I’d like you to hold these two in mind, that here as part of a fellowship, we all crew, you know, captain and co-captain, whatever you know, but we’re here together to engage in practices together, to discuss together, to practise, and so this balance of individual retreat but also collective retreat.[17:34]
And in terms of the collective retreat, there is a kind of bottom line, absolute, indispensable, non-negotiable foundation for our interrelationship with each other, and it’s very, .I don’t expect any problems here but I will say, I take very seriously, it is indispensable, and that is, on all occasions, without any exception for the next 8 weeks, we treat each other with courtesy and respect. That’s it. If you do that, everything’s covered. If we think of ethics and if we think of nonviolence and compassion, and nonviolence and benevolence, very good, but if we just bring it down a notch, just to ordinary speech, we all know what courtesy is, it’s not a mysterious term, and we know what discourteous is, when know when it happens to us, we know very well, and on some occasions I am sure we, we may have been discourteous to others, but not for these 8 weeks. This is bottom line. That courtesy but also respect, for very good reason; this takes a major sacrifice, a major commitment to take out 8 weeks of a life, devote it purely to dharma. That’s a very respectful thing to do, a respectable thing to do, worthy of respect. So it’s giving respect where respect is due. So that I would ask, as I would ask it of you for amongst each other, from you to me, and you can expect from me to you, this is completely reciprocal, there’s in this regard no difference. Right, so that’s quite clear. [19:09]
So, we have ethics, then we have samadhi. Ethics, samadhi and wisdom. And I’d really quite passionately like to encourage you to raise the bar, to raise the bar, not in terms of your meditative practice when you’re formally in meditation but in between sessions, in between sessions, I like to give you a real challenge here. And that is we know, that just generally speaking for the human species, but now more specifically for modernity, we know that scientists who study this, psychologists who study, found that about 80% of the time people are caught up in rumination, they are caught up in mind wandering, it’s involuntarily, obsessive, compulsive, kind of thinking that is not related to the reality at hand, and that’s about 75-80% of the time, most of this so-called rumination are unpleasant, and it’s a habit, it’s just that, it’s just a bad habit. [20:10]
Now if we look into the inner prerequisites for actually achieving shamatha, that the outer prerequisites of the environment - covered, we got that one covered. The inner prerequisites, I am not going through all of them, just the last one - if one is serious about really following a path of shamatha and not just practising shamatha, but developing through the nine stages. Then the final inner prerequisite that is highlighted in the classic literature which comes from the yogis themselves is I know it in Tibetan … [Alan gives the Tibetan 20:45].It just rolls up off the tongue.
It’s complete elimination, [pangba] means to abandon, to get rid of, to discard, like that, quite clear. Pangba - it’s thoroughly discarding, getting rid of compulsive ideation, this is the rumination, the mind wandering, involving desire and so on. OK, in other words, it’s the new baseline. It’s a new baseline, and that is in between sessions, that we establish a new baseline of inner quiet, settling the inner voice of the mind in its natural state which is effortless silence. And of course this is not anti-thought or anti-intellectual, at all. It has nothing to do with either of those. It is anti-unhealthy mind. Because it is simply not a sign of sanity. Nobody in his right mind will think it is sane, it’s healthy, it’s really really good, to have a mind that is out of control, that keeps on talking and talking and talking, meandering around, blah, blah, blah, 80% of the time. And to think, wow, that is a major characteristic of one mind, when it is also mentally sound, that’s not mentally sound at all, that’s kind like, that’s really a problem but it’s so endemic, that it’s considered normal, and it is normal. But normal sucks. [22:09]
And so that’s where we are going to start tonight, is to set, you know to raise the bar, a new benchmark. And just to experience what it is like to be at ease, and silent and clear, and then when you want to think, think and when you have finished thinking, like drinking a cup of tea, put it down and don’t drink anymore. When you’ve stopped thinking, then stop. When you want to think creatively, then think creatively, when you want to daydream, daydream, when you want to reminisce, reminisce. But these are voluntary acts, and when you finish, you put them down. And you return to your new baseline. And the baseline is being at ease, inwardly not only outwardly still, but inwardly still and clear. Cognizant. Now that’s healthy. Just flat out. Let alone dharma, path to liberation and all that. That’s an indication of a sound mind, a sane mind, a balanced mind, for starters, right. And so that’s what I’d really strongly encourage you. To support that, I raise the issue that again it is not black and white, that it’s not just kind of a hard and fast, but more, a manner of principle, and that is, today being Tuesday, let’s say Wednesday and Thursday, I’ll encourage you to just socialise over meals, to get to know each other, learn each other’s names, as much as you wish to, cultivate a sense of community, so today’s Tuesday, so Wednesday and Thursday, all three meals. If you don’t want to, that’s of course your choice but I am encouraging you to highlight this aspect of community, that we are here as a group and not just a bunch of individuals staring down at the floor and ignoring everybody around us. So that’s Wednesday and Thursday. And then Friday. (Laughter). Friday let’s return to silence. But it’s silence that is not, I don’t think that, you know people often call it noble silence, I don’t think there is anything really noble about it unless the motivation is noble. It’s just you’re not talking so what’s the big deal, you know (Laughter). Noble silence. But let that be your default mode. Because we are in a retreat. And we know that, I mean it’s pretty obvious, that when we are just chatting, killing time, just you know, just socialising and just talking about whatever comes up, “0h, did you see the latest headlines... oh oh my mother this, oh, my dad, ... blah, blah, blah, … it’s just disperses the mind, it just disperses the attention. And then you have to do all the remedial work to get back to where you were before you went into just kind of chatting. So I would suggest no chatting at all, you know, meaningless just you know, idle gossip, what the world does, when there is nothing else to do, they just start talking, you know. Or going for entertainment. And so this is a place of no chit-chat and no entertainment. At the same time, a couple of things, and that is, sometimes it’s just really useful to be able speak a little bit, because something comes up, that needs to be discussed. Then discuss. It’s like, you know, how do we say? Consciously thinking, then consciously speak, then stop speaking. When the job is done, stop speaking.
[25:28] And then another point is, I have already been exploring a little bit, places to walk in the area. I asked Filippo , the director here, can you suggest any good places to walk and he went (gestures) (laughter): “Where is not a nice place? What’s wrong with everything?” So I have already found my little, I’m a person of routine, when I am in a retreat, I just really like routine. I don’t need anything new, I just really like to go deeper into a nice pattern, and I’ve already found it. But if on occasion, you have a dharma friend here, it could just be a friend, it could be a spouse, it could be a new friend, anybody, and you feel, with this mutual consent, that you just feel that you’d like to go for a walk and that will be more meaningful for your practice, than to maintain straight silence, then go for it. No one is going to be monitoring. Nobody judging. So if I am out walking and I see the two of you talking, that’s your business. We are all adults here; and we’re not here just to follow rules. So I will kind just ... Number One, I am not going to give much thought to it because I am just doing my practice. But if I am giving any thought to it, I’m just going to assume you are probably talking about something very meaningful. Because you don’t need to travel all the way here to waste time. Waste time at home. It’s easy and it’s free.[26:48]
So there’s the balance. Oh yes and so we have, actually certainly for all of the people who are resident, and then it’s your call for those who are auditing, I would really ask you before, tomorrow evening, since you will be talking over meals, to find a buddy, a buddy, OK, … buddy system. We do have certain commitments coming to the retreat like this and that is, we tend to be focused. Anybody knows me punctuality is to my mind not an indication of being uptight but an indication of courtesy and everybody was here, so that’s good, I was the last person in, I was one minute early by my watch, so punctuality I would really ask that, always, for each of the sessions. But then if you get a cold or some emergency comes up, just something, it’s your call, where you simply can’t make it, that can happen, occasionally it does happen, then I simply asking let your buddy know. Let your buddy know. I won’t be able to come to the afternoon session. I’ve just heard of a major family crisis and they need me to speak with them. That can happen. My father just had something. Had an accident, so I needed to be on call even though I’m eight thousand miles away, just to be aware, to be engaged, and so that happens, so let your buddy know. If you get sick and you’re not able to come, let your buddy know. We want to be sure that if anyone gets injured, you fall or something like that or you get sick, let you buddy know. We all, very much including myself, we want to know that you are being taken care of. They have very good medical systems here. I had my teeth fixed here when I was in Florence last year. So the medicine is fine. So we just want to sure you are being taken care of and maybe the Sangha can take care of you, maybe your buddy can take care of you, but we want no one to feel overlooked as if nobody cares about you. Because people do care about you and we’d like you to know that. OK, so please find a buddy. Your choice of course.[28:53]
So those are the major points. I think that’s pretty much it. Ok, on that note then, please find a comfortable position. I’d like to do the expected, sometimes it’s good not to be surprised. I’d like to have a one 24 minute session. In all sessions, we have a fair amount, not a whole lot, but back there in the back I see there is floor space, some of you have already carved out your turf but anytime there is space here as well,I see two of those, two of those blue cushions, in a length, they would make a very nice platform if you want to go supine. And I would strongly encourage you, soon, like starting tonight to learn how to meditate in the supine position. I am just becoming, well I’ve been appreciative of it for a very long time and my appreciation of that as an alternate to the sitting in the formal posture is only growing. You don’t need to do here of course. Sit or meditate in whatever posture is most conducive, but I really strongly encourage you, if not here, then in between sessions, in your own room, really learn how to meditate in the supine position. There are so many advantages to it and I will probably talk about them over the next several weeks. So, but at any time, in any of the sessions here, if you’d like to be supine, I see there’s still floor space, so you are always welcomed to do that, you don’t have to ask. And we simply ask that if you are more or less here, that your feet are pointing away from the objects of refuge here, simply a basic Buddhist courtesy, and besides that, let’s go right in. So the sessions will all be 24 minutes - one ghatika taught by I think it was Kamalashila, as a good starting point. [30:41]
Meditation session begins.
[31:17] Bringing forth your most meaningful motivation for this entire retreat, and as an impression of loving kindness for your yourself, let the locus of your attention, your awareness descend from the head right down to the ground. If you are sitting on a chair, down to the chair, down to the ground. If you are sitting cross-legged, or in a supine position, right down to the ground.
[32:26] Like a fragrance filling a room, let your awareness fill the entire space of the body. Be mindfully aware of the tactile sensations arising throughout the entire space.
[33:14] Set your body at ease in a posture of relaxation, of comfort, of looseness. [33:17].
[33:46] And if you feel areas of your body that feel tight, as you breathe in gently attend, or focus your awareness on these areas. And as you breathe out, relax deeply surrendering the muscles to gravity, loosening up, softening with every out-breath.
[34:37] Bring your awareness to the face, soften the muscles around the mouth, the jaws. . The forehead which often contracts and tightens in times of anxiety, stress and so on, let your forehead feel spacious, open, relaxed. Let there be a spaciousness between the eyebrows.
[35:31] Soften all the muscles around the eyes and soften the eyes themselves.
[36:29] And insofar as your body does feel relaxed and comfortable, for the brief duration of this 24-minute session, you should find it quite easy to remain still, with no unnecessary fidgeting. Just the movement of the breath.
[37:32] Whether you are sitting or lying, let your spine be straight. If you are sitting, of course it is erect. You slightly raise the sternum, keeping the abdominal muscles loose and relaxed. So that when the breath flows in, you feel the belly expand and fall back as breathe out. The same in the supine position. You don’t raise the sternum, but in a posture of utter relaxation, feel the sensations of the breath go down to the belly, expanding as you inhale, falling back as you exhale.
[38:53] This way we settle the body in its natural state, a state of dynamic equilibrium, in which the body is relaxed, still and vigilant.
[39:17] We settle the speech in its natural state, which is one of effortless silence. The outer speech. For the outer speech, this is easy, you’ve already accomplished it. But such silence with regards to the speech of the mind, of course is a greater challenge. Not forcefully suppressing thought but so setting the body-mind at ease, that the flow of obsessive, compulsive ideation subsides, and the key to this is the breath, settling the respiration in its natural rhythm, effortless and unimpeded.
[40:47] The key here is the out-breath. Take advantage of every out-breath, during and between sessions. Of a time time to release the breath all the way to the end holding nothing in reserve. This does not entail pushing the breath out or expelling it but rather letting it flow out effortlessly all the way to the end. The very end of the exhalation is critical, because if you mentally talk through it, chit chat, rumination, you will miss it. The mind needs to be quiet and attentive. Relaxing deeply so you fully exhale and as you exhale, with each out-breath relax the body more and more deeply. With each exhalation, release the breath all the way to the end. And with each exhalation, release any thoughts or memories that may come to mind. Just let them vanish right back into the space of the mind from which they arouse. Returning to silence, returning to the present moment. Three fold release of body, breath and mind with every exhalation.
[43:14] Once you have fully released the breath, do nothing to prevent the next breathe from flowing in, but nothing to help it flowing in either. Let the breath flow in effortlessly. With no mental effort, whether it is deep or shallow, fast or slow, do not intervene, do not try to regulate or influence the flow of breath in any way, release all control and breathe in and out egolessly.
[44:21] And finally, we settle the mind in its natural state by first of all setting the mind at ease. This takes a lot of preparation to succeed in that because it entails releasing for the time being all concerns, hopes and fears about the future and the past which so preoccupied our minds, releasing it all, and allowing yourself the leisure and the opportunity to rest in the present moment, free of grasping, free of desire and aversion. And when the awareness is free, or insofar as the awareness is free of grasping, it is naturally still. Still like an unflickering candle flame. It is relaxed, still and clear. Rest in that stillness and clarity of your own awareness.
[47:00] Simply rest your awareness in its own place, without extending it or directing it to any object, either sensory or mental, just let your awareness rest, resting in its own place, holding its own ground.
[48:27] Sustain the flow of mindful presence without distraction, without grasping. Without distraction means without allowing your awareness to be drawn outwards, to any appearances, sensory or mental. Remaining still. And without grasping means without identifying with, any subjective mental process such as thinking, desiring, imagining and so on. Let thoughts, images, memories come and go. Like clouds passing across the sky. But let your awareness remain still and relaxed.
[50:07] The central theme of our meditation practice is, throughout all our time together, will be the awareness of stillness and motion, the stillness of your own awareness in the midst of the motion of sensations throughout the body, activities of the mind, and appearances from the surrounding environment. The world is in motion but let your awareness be still. [pause]
[53:42] Bell rings.
[54:30] Oh la so. So within the Buddhist context, certainly in the kind of teachings that I received over the last 45 years, the phrase [? Tibetan], comes up a fair amount, and the meaning of that is, when teachings are given, who is the intended audience, that is who are they for. It’s like medicine, you know you don’t just say - I got medicine, who wants some? But this is a particular type of medicine for people with a particular type of ailment, it is not generic, right? And so for the teachings here, I will make an informed speculation that these teachings, the root text and commentary by the Panchen Rinpoche, and these teachings by Karma Chagme Rinpoche, both from the 17th Century by the way, they were contemporaries, the Panchen Lama, being the guru of both the 4th and the 5th Dalai Lamas, so great scholar, great adept, Karma Chagme Rinpoche renowned in the Kagyu and the Nyingma traditions, again a man of tremendous erudition and very deep realisation. [55:34]
And so why were they giving these teachings? Because they are such a wide band-width of teachings one might give for general audiences, specific audiences, there is this sort of “lekur” in Nagarjuna’s teachings that was specifically intended for a king, right? So if you are a king, those are for you, or if you’d like to be a king, but I am going to make an informed speculation that for these two authors that they gave these teachings, which are clearly, how’d you say, very deep teachings. They were giving these teachings for people who are very intent on reaching the path to enlightenment and proceeding along it. Not simply people who want to practise dharma. You don’t need this if you want to practise Dharma. There’s all kinds of dharma you can practise without doing any of this and have a very good dharma practice as well. [56:26]
Gautama himself did not leave home at the age of 29 to practise dharma. He could have been a very good king, father, husband and so forth, at home. He didn’t need to leave. Geshe Rabten, one of my principal teachers, again he is the one from whom I received the lineage for Panchen Rinpoche’s text, he left home at the age of 19, not to practise dharma. He had a very loving father, he had a very nice situation back in Kham, he could have been a good cowboy because that’s what he was. A ranch hand, he could have ran the ranch, and would have been a very virtuous layperson, what’s wrong with that? Well, for some people it’s just not enough. Looking for greater meaning, looking for a path, and by this, I mean something very specific, but very characteristically Buddhist, when we speak of path, we are referring to a mode of practice which includes a way of viewing reality, a shifting of one’s priorities, a way of conducting oneself throughout one’s daily activities, and then specifically like the cutting edge of the knife, is your meditative practice. This matrix that gives rise to irreversible transformation and liberation, that’s a path. [57:45]
There’s a lot of dharma one can practise that will propel you to a really nice place for a while, in samsara—very fortunate, human rebirth,deva rebirth and so forth, and then the karma that propelled you there runs out, and then you just fall back. But a path suggests, within a context of one life, that you’re really seeing some evolution, some transformation, some growth, maturation, that you’re not spinning wheels, you’re not just doing repeat performances, but there is something really taking place, and that’s not only in the context of one life, but again from life-time to life-time. But a path means not only you’re getting to some place you’re progressing, but a path, to reach the path, [Tibetan Lamtopa] to reach the path, means you have set out in such a way with such depth and commitment that you will not fall back. [58:40]
So I was first introduced to this whole notion, in 1971 or 2, by the Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey , the first lama from whom I received very extensive teachings, and as soon as I have heard about it, it kind of really ignited my mind. That’s I thought there’s the meaning of life, I mean I was only 22 or so at the time, I wasn’t too old and I was thinking, well, that’s it. And he said, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey said, you know, speaking to people of my generation, we’re all young back then , there wasn’t anybody over the hill, like 30 years old, [laughter] nobody was that old, we’re all young and he said you know that when you are starting young like this, then really achieve bodhicitta in this life-time, I mean, otherwise you have wasted your life. And that is within the Mahayana context. That is really is the key, essential ingredient that determines have you reached the path or not, and I am referring to classic Buddhist teachings that some people I suppose treat more academically, theoretically, a matter to debate about, talk about then move on to the next topic, that’s just not the way Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey introduced us to it. ]59:46]
There’s Abhisamayalamkara, [ Alan mentions the names of more teachings 59:50] is pith instructions. These were pith instructions that Maitreya gave to Asanga and Asanga’s passed on and we have it now, 15 hundred years later. It’s often treated as an academic, something you spend years on, and then you debate and understand, and you teach. I don’t think that was ever the intention, that was just kind of the academic side, whereas you have the pith instructions, the meditation that’s over in the lamrim, over in Dzogchen, or something like that, I don’t think so. Infact I think that that whole demarcation is false. I really do. I think all the teachings that many people got to see as heretical are all entirely intended for practice. That is Tsongkhapa’s view. I would say that with total confidence. He was not just saying - well do all the intellectual stuff, oh because the intellectual stuff is so much fun, but then we’ll get to meditation later - no way, absolutely contrary to his whole approach. [60:41]
And so within this context, we have these five paths, the path of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation and then no more training. And this is within the Mahayana context, the Mahayana path of accumulation, it comes in the initial, medium and the great stage, and you reach the small stage, the initial stage of the Mahayana path of accumulation, you have entered that path when bodhicitta arises effortlessly, spontaneously, your mind is bodhicitta. And it flares up, it manifests, with just the slightest catalyst, and it just comes up, you don’t have to keep on pumping away at it, you know, generating, generating, pushing, pushing, pushing. You have cultivated, cultivated, and so there comes a point where it’s just now, you are still cultivating it, but it arises effortlessly. It is called [ Tibetan 61:35] uncontrived, unmodified, unfabricated, naturally rising, spontaneously arising bodhicitta, and when that arises, you are now a bodhisattva, that’s when the other bodhisattvas throw a party, you’ve got another member of the Club, the Bodhisattva Fraternity, Maternity, Sorority, whatever. That’s when it happens. [61:58]
And according to the lineage, now there’s some debate here, I respect the debate, but in terms of the teachings I’ve received from Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, Geshe Rabten, from Gen Lamrimpa and others, for bodhicitta to arise in that way, we can all cultivate it, starting now, we can cultivate it, but to go so deep, that it’s arising spontaneously, in terms of this lineage that I have received, for that to occur, you have to have a very balanced mind. You have to have a superb quality of mental balance. In fact, the five obscurations, you remember them, ill will, sensual l craving, craving for hedonia, ill will, laxity and dullness, exaltation and anxiety, afflictive uncertainty, you’ll get very familiar with those if you are not already, those should be subdued. Those should be subdued. Because the Buddha himself said, I love quoting this because it’s so important and I don’t hear many people talking about this, is , the Buddha himself said, “As long as your mind is still under the influence of those five obscurations, you should consider yourself to be indebted, by the bad kind of debt that you don’t know how to pay off, that’s bad debt. You should consider yourself indebted, and then sick, consider yourself ill, third you should consider yourself in bondage, you know, ankles, and enslaved, and lost in the desert track”. [63:32]
So just, you know for a 15-second, 30-second visualisation exercise, imagine yourself overwhelmed by debt you can’t possibly pay off, you’re sick as a dog, you’ve got leg-irons and handcuffs on, somebody just bought you, they’ve sold you into the slave market, but then they popped you in a helicopter and dropped you in the middle of the Sahara [Desert], and said, good luck. That’s how Buddha characterised the mind that is still under the domination of the five obscurations. So that’s what he said. What do you think, with a mind like that, what do you think your chances are of developing spontaneously arising, effortless bodhicitta and being a bodhisattva? With those five qualities? A bodhisattva who is deep in debt, sick, in bondage, enslaved and lost in the desert track? Oh but a bodhisattva too, you know. It actually doesn’t make any sense. So how do you get rid of the five obscurations? Shamatha. You don’t eradicate them, but you do enough to make them go dormant. And so, who are the [Tibetan words for ] the students, the practitioners, for whom these teachings are intended? People who have a passionate commitment to reaching the path and this means to achieve shamatha, to achieve bodhicitta, that enters the path, and if you’d like to seal your entrance into the path, so it is irreversible, you’ll never be a non-bodhisattva, you will either be a bodhisattva or a buddha but you will be nothing else from now on, you will always be a bodhisattva until you are a buddha. With no exceptions, you will never fall back, the you need to seal that bodhichitta. Support it by shamatha. [1:05:06]
You need to seal it, protect it like armour with insight, with wisdom, vipashyana. And then you move on to the second stage of the Mahayana path of accumulation. And now you can take a little bit of a breather like oh, Phew. So, this doesn’t mean that if one has great inspiration, aspiration, commitment to do so, that as soon as the retreat’s over, you will necessarily be going off for a long term retreat. Some of you have that opportunity, it’s fantastic. Not everyone does. I don’t. I have more commitments this year. So I cannot simply go off and do a solitary retreat. But it should be in mind that when the time is ripe, when the time is ripe, to go off and achieve shamatha, just watch when it’s ripe, maintain the motivation. Call for blessings, call for all the conducive circumstances coming together. Inwardly and outwardly, but have it in mind, have it in mind. And shamatha in the same breath, shamatha for the sake of really accomplishing bodhichitta, for the sake of deepening wisdom, for the sake of irreversibly setting out on the path, for the sake of achieving perfect enlightenment, for the sake of serving all sentient beings. And then breath by breath, your practice is tremendously meaningful. Ordinary inhalation and exhalation, that type of motivation, it moves mountains. [66:38]
So I am retirement age, [laughter], I could be collecting social security now. I could be just sitting in my meditation hut and saying, listen to the podcasts. Or I’ll stay here and teach by Skype but don’t come. I have my little meditation hut in Santa Barbara I could do that. I’m not, for the time being. But the inspiration which keeps me still in motion, my mouth in motion, is to do all I can to help people reach the path. [67:22]
There are many outstanding dharma teachers; Christian, Buddhist,Theravada, Mahayana, and so forth. Really good, there is no dearth of many many good teachers. A lot of very good dharma. But my own teachers starting from Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey , then Geshe Rabten, and then His Holiness, and Gyatrul Rinpoche and Gen Lamrimpa, they’ve really, over the last, you know all these years, the teachings I have received from them, and there’s nothing special about me, I am just telling you what I have received, they keep on coming back to the path, again and again and again and again. That’s what the teachings are for—to reach the path and to proceed along the path. That’s why I am still teaching. Because to get that type of momentum up, and that kind of clarity of the practice, theoretically and then both meditatively as well, it is helpful to have an actual teacher, and not simply listen to podcasts or even by skype, it actually can be helpful. I know because I’ve received that kind of guidance myself. I sought out my teacher Gyatso Rinpoche just a couple of weeks ago I had some core questions for him. He answered it unequivocally. And I wanted to be with him. I could just have called him up and said, please, ask his attendant, please ask him these questions and get back to me. I wanted to hear from his lips, it was my question. So there is no substitute, so that’s that. [68:42]
So I welcome everybody who is listening by way of the podcasts and so we will continue tomorrow, we will start in the morning, of course we have just guided meditation, in the afternoons then we will again be starting meditation, and then we will start going into the text.
And so what we will be doing now, for people listening by podcast or watching by podcast, is now, I would just like to invite everybody to introduce themselves, so there is no need to record this, if you want to record it you can, but for the podcasts there is no need ... ah, so that’s the end of the session tonight for people listening by podcast, I will join you again tomorrow. [69:24]
Transcribed by Shirley Soh.
Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti.
Final Edition by Cheri Langston.