04 Stillness and Motion in Asanga’s Method of Meditation on Mindfulness of Breathing

31 Mar 2016

Alan explains that the theme of “Stillness and Motion” contains a simultaneous awareness of the stillness of the awareness and the movements of everything else. According to the vision of the shravakayana, the nirvana that an arhat experiences is still, so here “stillness meets stillness”. Ordinary sentient beings experience moving awareness that is aware of moving events, so here “motion meets motion”. In contrast a Buddha realises “non abiding nirvana” and is neither immersed in samsara nor in nirvana. He rather is resting in the stillness of nirvana while simultaneously being aware of the myriad activities and movements of samsara.

Meditation is on Mindfulness of Breathing combined with the theme of stillness and motion.

After the Meditation Alan emphasizes the importance of the continuity of the practice, especially for shamatha. In between sessions, he encourages us to keep our awareness grounded in the body and being conscious of the flow of the breath. It is also important to develop a healthy breathing habit with a relaxed belly that expands freely.

Meditation starts at 7:37

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O la so, so this morning, we’ll return to the practice ast we’ll do I think for a number of more days in the morning, this mindfulness of breathing practice as taught by Asanga, but I’d like to finesse it just a little bit, just a couple of minutes, and that is to highlight the point that will turn out to be very significant over the long term including during this retreat. It’s the theme of stillness and motion—stillness and motion— stillness and movement that comes up repeatedly in the Mahamudra and Dzogchen traditions, and then a very deep way. And so it’s the notion, very simply put, of the simultaneous awareness of the stillness of your awareness and of movements of everything else. [00:42]

Now, in the context of settling the mind in its natural state when you are observing thoughts and so forth, thoughts, images, memories, desires and emotions come and go, come and go, it’s all motion, right. But in the midst of that motion, insofar as you can release what is called cognitive fusion, that is the identification with these mental events, then in that release of grasping, or identification with, your awareness remains still, while thoughts and so forth come and go, come and go, right. Well, this has the ramifications of, the reflections of this continue from the very beginning of the path, throughout the path, and to the the culmination of the path, um, but let’s just contrast to visions of what enlightenment is. [01:25]

The shravakayana vision is that when one becomes an arhat and then you are out of samsara and you never look back. You are gone. And so, your awareness, that is nirvana itself, is devoid of motion, of course, it’s unconditional, unborn, unceasing, so there is no motion in nirvana. Your awareness of nirvana, and there are some Theravadins who believe that the death of an arhat implies annihilation. I think it’s fundamentally a false view, but then what is, what does linger, is never explained by the Buddha in the Pali canon. So it’s open, it’s explained quite clearly in the Mahayana, so but whatever it is, if the arhat after death is still experiencing nirvana and it would be extremely peculiar if he or she or it is not, then the awareness of nirvana is also still. You wouldn’t be having excitation, as a dead arhat experiencing nirvana. [laughter]. Not going to happen. And so it’s stillness meets stillness, there’s a complete symmetry there. Stillness of your awareness, absolute timeless stillness of your awareness and absolute timeless stillness, that is, it’s not moving and then it stopped. Timeless stillness and nirvana, it’s complete symmetry there, but of course, that means of course you’ve turned your back entirely, frankly, on all sentient beings. You know, send them you know a good luck note ] before you leave, but, you know, you are gone. [03:04]

Then, in contrast to us, samsaric beings like me, it’s motion meets motion. Movement meets movement, as we are engaging with the people around us, we engage with our thoughts, our physical sensations, everything around us is in motion, right, and our awareness is in motion, and in fact, one of the synonyms for sentient beings in Tibetan, sentient being being semchen, a synonym is dowa. Dowa is used, the term is used synonymously and dowa means to go. We are go-ers, we are get-up-and-go-ers, we never stop going and where are we going and why we are going, because we don’t want to be here. Why else would you go? Unless someone kicks you in the pants and then you’re going because someone kicked you in the pants. But when we deliberately go, it is because we don’t want to be where we are and we think some place else will be better. Hahaha. [03:42 laughs]. And we’re all running around samara looking for that some place that’s better. It is kind of like a crazy anthill. Like all these worker bees getting all these things done and moving around trying to find happiness and it’s just over the horizon, that horizon actually, right over there. Let’s all go that way, I think it’s probably better there. [04:26]

We’re in motion. We’re in motion because it’s like those poor greyhounds, greyhound race, they’re all running around in a circle, chasing an iron bunny. Imagine what it tastes like. [laughter 04:14] I mean if they got it, they finally clump their jaws on that little iron bunny, I think that will be disappointing. At least, you’d want a nice juicy fat tasty bunny, but chasing an iron bunny, which frankly does not make any sense, maybe that’s why they have small heads. If they have bigger heads, they would know it makes no sense to run after an iron bunny. Really, you know. But there we are, we’re running around like, you know round and round in circles, chasing an iron bunny and we are always in motion. And so it’s motion meets motion, our minds are in motion, filled with desires and anxieties, hopes, fears, etc., etc. I don’t need to tell you, you have a ringside seat to the chaos of your own minds and so it’s motion meets motion, there’s a complete symmetry there as well. Right? I wasn’t implying that my mind is any better, don’t think I put myself on a pedestal, that’s why I have chosen such a low seat here. There is no sense of hierarchy here at all. [05:40]

But then we have the enlightenment of a Buddha and it is, in Tibetan, [? 05:16]. It’s non- abiding nirvana. Because the Buddha is not a sentient being screwing after this, going after that, in delusion and suffering. Buddha is not, is forever free of samsara, but the Buddha is also not immersed in nirvana, so neither immersed in samsara nor immersed in nirvana, so not abiding in either. But now like the moon casting its reflection in myriad pools of water without any effort at all, but each of those reflections illuminates, right? You look at it and it is illuminating, every pool and you can have a thousand pools or a trillion pools and the moon’s up for it. It never says: “I had it, no more reflections, you know, I’m beat, you know. [laughs 06:06]. Sorry, it’s just too much. it’s been a long day.” All the reflections just keep on coming, spontaneously, effortlessly and each one illuminates. So it’s said in the same way that Buddha manifests—from dharmakaya to sambhogakaya to nirmanakaya, and so the dharmakaya is always still. Sambhogakaya manifesting to aryas-bodhisattvas and so on. And the nirmanakaya is manifesting in myriad ways, motion, motion, motion, but simultaneously resting in dharmakaya and manifesting in motion, simultaneously resting in nirvana, fully aware of nirvana, and aware of the myriad activities and movements of samsara, simultaneously and non-dually, that’s the part that’s inconceivable. But there it is. So we’re seeking to emulate the fruition from the very beginning of the path which happens a lot, OK, so I am not, no, please find a comfortable posture and we will literally jump in. [07: 45]

Meditation session.

Bell Rings [8:07]

[8:13] This practice may be the kindest thing you can do for yourself right now. So in the spirit of loving kindness, with this motivation, let your awareness descend from the head, if you feel you are located up there, right down to the ground, releasing thoughts, resting in this pure witnessing mode, simply being present with the tactile sensations. The sensations of your earth element where your body is in contact with the ground, the cushion, the chair.

[9:44] Settle your body with the qualities of relaxation, stillness and ease, and vigilance. Settle your respiration effortlessly flowing in, flowing out.

[10:58] And in the spirit of renunciation, release all mundane concerns, at least for the time being, pertaining to the future, past and even the present. Give your mind a rest, release all the activities and let your awareness come to rest in stillness, in the present moment, naturally bright and clear.

[12:32] Now let the light of your awareness illuminate the entire space of the body. Illuminate the fluctuations of energy, the various tactile sensations arising within the somatic field and specifically focus your attention selectively on those fluctuations, those sensations which correspond to the in-and-out breath.

[13.22] It is as if you are emanating your awareness into the space of the body, clearly aware of the sensations arising within this field, but at the same time, sustain the stillness of your awareness, your awareness resting in its own place, holding its own ground, knowing itself, knowing its own stillness. Be aware of the stillness of your awareness and the movements of these fluctuations corresponding to the respiration throughout the entire field of the body.

[16:00] To the best of your ability, let your attention be single-pointed. The point here of course is not a point but a field, the entire somatic field, and specifically within that field, those sensations corresponding to the in-and-out-breath. So whatever thoughts, images, mental events come to mind, don’t deliberately give any attention to them. Let them slip on by. Let your attention be unmoving.

[18:13] Without moving your awareness, you may adopt the method taught by Padmasambhava. The oscillation such that during the in-breath you arouse, you intensify, you concentrate your awareness, like turning up the voltage, really focusing non-conceptually and then as the breath flows out, you relax, you release. But all the while throughout the entire cycle, sustain a flow of mindfulness, continuously attentive, and with each in-breath and out-breath, note whether it is long or short. Let’s continue practicing now in silence.


[31.15] Bell rings

[31:45] Oh la so. So as I mentioned yesterday, let’s see the extent to which we can maintain the continuity of this practice, Tsongkhapa is one of the great, many great masters who points out specifically with respect to shamatha, that if you really would like to progress along those nine stages and eventually achieve shamatha, then one of the keys to success is the continuity of practice and that is to say not only that you are continuously engaged while you are on the cushion, but in between sessions. You don’t just drop it and do something else, that’s completely disengaged and do something else for a while and ok, now back to this, but you try to maintain it, and he is talking about, that is, the method that he highlights is focusing on an image of the Buddha, so he is suggesting if you are living in shamatha retreat then even in between sessions, you still peripherally maintain some awareness of the image of the Buddha, as you are walking about and so on ...so not so easy if you have to do anything complicated, but here for this practice, it is a natural and that is the object of meditation is being presented to you free all the time, you don’t have to generate anything, right, as long as you are breathing, when you stop breathing, then this lesson’s over. [laughter] But as long as the breathing is happening, then just breath by breath and throughout the in-course the inhalation, the exhalation, the breath is always presenting itself to you, potentially inviting you basically to attend to it. [34:02]

And so in between sessions, I really would strongly encourage you to do something very pleasant, soothing, calming, grounding, and that is, just let your awareness be in the body in between sessions and in the midst of that, your awareness ground in the body which is the opposite to having it up in the head and then wandering all over the place in rumination. Grounding in the present moment, grounding in the body, and being aware of the flow of the breath, but then also very deliberately as it’s important to develop good habits of sleep and it’s important to drink the appropriate liquids in the appropriate amount, and of course proper diet of the type of food, the amount of food, all of these are very very important. So I comment and say it’s kind of obvious, there are four types of nourishment we need on a regular basis—food, drink, sleep and air. And we can have, and many people do have very unhealthy breathing habits just like other people have food, food, bad, bad eating habits, right? Or they’re drinking too much of the wrong kind of substances and so forth, or they are not getting, or they’re just having very bad sleeping habits, so they are chronically sleep deprived. So we can do all of these poorly and we suffer as a result, but this is the one that is often overlooked. Sleep, oh it’s in the press all the time, eating and drinking, sure. But bad breathing habits— how often do we read about that in the press, you know, but it is just as important. [35:30]

So back in my mother’s era, like the 1950’s, Ihink women back then were told to tuck in your tummies, you know, tuck in your tummies, why not just bind your feet while you are at it, you know. It is really a terrible habit. Because you want your belly to be nice and loose, loose, soft so when you are breathing in, your belly expands, and take that guys, my belly is expanding, you can like that or lump it. Really. So this is true for anybody, children, men, women, young, old, that the healthy breathing is letting the whole body relax and the belly naturally expands, in a deeper breath, the diaphragm then expands, a deeper breath, the chest expands, finally like filling a vase with water from the bottom up, right? But It’s not only that the flow of the breath is unimpeded but also the manner of the breath. And as we don’t try to take over, don’t go into manual override in helping the liver purify the blood, we don’t that, it’s a good idea, it’s doing a good job all by itself and so other internal organs do perfectly well without our trying to get in there and tinker with them. Likewise I would say that the body does a best job of breathing much better than we know how. But that means we have to get out of the way, don’t mess with it, don’t inhibit it, but let it flow unimpededly. So here we have so little to do, you know, it is really wonderful. [36:55]

And so throughout the course of the day, many times, season, season the day heavily with moments of just really seeing that everything is flowing unimpededly, effortlessly, and that will serve you very well. So that’s it, enjoy your day and I will see you all at 4.30 today. [36’46"]

Transcribed by Shirley Soh.

Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti.

Final Edit by Cheri Langston


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