14 Alan’s Advice on Addressing Obstacles in the Practice of Mindfulness of Breathing

06 Apr 2016

Alan says that the aspiration for Awakening and Bodhicitta takes us out of the present with a goal that has great significance and provides direction in our lives – the path of Dharma. One understanding of Dharma is as a way of viewing reality that brings forth a sustained well-being. This eudaimonia is genuine well-being that arises independently of pleasure or stimulation as occurs for hedonia which is ephemeral, thin or just a fleeting memory. Alan amusingly suggests that the practice of Mindfulness of Breathing is not exactly hedonic, is it? Boredom can set in, along with withdrawal symptoms from the all too constant world of hedonic stimulation. However, we should not try to “jazz up” our practice. Peace is the way in shamatha, and we should get through any habitual need for stimulation by giving peace a chance - relax! We should weather any boredom or desire for stimulation by releasing and relaxing and being careful to ward off dullness. The Buddha’s instructions clearly shows that this practice will bring first a peaceful mental state, then a sublime one and afterwards also an ambrosial state of mind. In doing so, we enhance the psychological immune system so that when any of the mental hindrances or obscurations arise, e.g. attachment to hedonia, we do not become infected. The practice of Mindfulness of Breathing opens the door to overcoming the variety of obscurations as they arise. Then Alan recalls a question from a student in Spain, where he was asked if there is any way to bypass the nyams (desires, memories, all sorts of mental afflictions, etc.), specifically as they arise when practicing “Settling the Mind in its Natural State”. Alan says there are two types of responses, each valid. By disposition, some people have devotion, faith, worship and reverence, and all of these come very naturally. For such people, if they generate an image of the Buddha with a rich understanding of the life, the teachings, the blessings, the lineage of the Buddha etc, it is quite sublime. With that type of devotion, people find that this sustains them by giving the juice to go deeper and deeper in the practice of shamatha. Since you are looking at the object of your Refuge, this brings tremendous joy. If the person is also gifted at visualisation, together with the devotion this can be a winning package. That can be very powerful and can bring a person all the way to achieving shamatha. The dredging will also take place, bringing up stuff, but it will be like background noise because you are not attending to it (it’s outside the focus of your attention, like the rock quarry noise here in Tuscany). So that’s one bypass. Another type of bypass is by practicing awareness of awareness. This is for people fascinated by the nature of awareness and want a direct track to Mahamudra & Dzogchen. By resting in awareness of awareness, whatever somatic experiences and psychological stuff (memories, desires, emotions, etc.) arise they are there in the periphery, you don’t give them any attention at all. To conclude, why then practicing Settling the Mind in Its Natural State at all? The reason for it is insight.

The meditation is silent (not recorded).


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