18 Balancing the five faculties and putting a pin in the valve of your tire - and let's achieve shamatha in the homeland of Galileo

08 Apr 2016

Alan returns to the balance of the five faculties, starting with the different modalities of faith - appreciation, aspiration and belief - and the relation of belief with karma. The belief in karma depends much on the culture, but a confidence in Buddha and other great adepts who replicated his discoveries also may arise due to study, reflection, and meditation. Regarding the balance between intelligence and faith, including belief, Alan quotes William James: “Where preferences are powerless to modify or produce things, faith is totally inappropriate, but for the class of facts that depend on personal preference, trust, or loyalty for actualisation, faith is not only licit and pertinent, but essential and indispensable. The truths cannot become true till our faith has made them so.” ​ As a comment, Alan said, for instance, that it doesn’t matter what you think about gravity​ and, in his perspective, the same goes for the continuity of consciousness beyond death. What matters is that your beliefs will have a big impact on you. Beliefs have no influence on what is true. And that is where intelligence comes in - if something is true, the more deeply you investigate it, the truer it should appear; that’s a basic buddhist principle.

But there are some things that can be true if and only if people believe it. Looking in Israel and Palestine conflict, could be possible that somehow, maybe with a long term strategy, they find peace and coexist without hatred,without violence? If you’re sure it’s not possible, you’re right. If you think it might be possible, you’re probably right. But it will not happen unless Israelis and Palestinians do believe it’s possible.

Can you or people like you achieve shamatha? If you’re quite sure not, you’re quite certainly right. And if you think you could, you might be right. As His Holiness said, “the situation becomes hopeless only when you lose hope.” Alan asked Yangthang Rinpoche whether it was possible to “moderners” (more than Westerners or Easterners) to achieve shamatha and thereby gain direct knowing of past lives memories and so forth. And his answer was, “you’ll have to see”.

And Alan gave us another quote from William James: “In what manner do we espouse and hold fast to visions? By thinking a conception might be true somewhere, it may be true even here and now; it is fit to be true and it ought to be true; it must be true; it shall be true for me.”

So, maybe it’s true that there are individuals nowadays who will achieve shamatha in Tibet, India, maybe Brazil, Germany, whatever, it might be true! And it could happen here and now!

And then we have the balance of enthusiasm and samadhi. In Tibetan Buddhism, we have a great emphasis on prayers of supplication, arousing motivation of renunciation, and bodhicitta, taking refuge, reflect upon the benefits of achieving shamatha, realization of emptiness and bodhicitta and so for, guru yoga, receiving the four empowerments and imagining your guru as the Buddha coming and indivisibly merging with your own body and mind - all to arouse your motivation, enthusiasm, to receive blessings, and to arouse faith as well. Gyatrul Rinpoche advised Alan a long time ago, when he was in a very intense 6 month retreat, “do all of these just before you enter into the practice, and then drop it, go into the practice, and leave even your desire behind”. Because desire by nature is the desire of something you don’t have yet and it will take you out of the present. But there is a balance of practice and desire. You call for blessings and then you go into the practice and you just do it - that is samadhi - not doing anything else. And then you come out and dedicate merit. But don’t conflate the preparation with the main body of your practice. And then, focusing on shamatha, Alan remembered a comment that Lobsang Rapgay made some years ago. Lobsang Rapgay is a very dear friend of Alan, - he was trained as a monk with Alan, then he studied Tibetan Medicine, then he got a PhD in Psychology and now he is a researcher in UCLA - and he said to Americans, but it fits for all “moderners”, in a very gentle way: "you’re all suffering from “lung” disorders, nervous imbalances, and considering how sick you are, you are coping very well." We indeed are driven, we are overstimulated in every way with entertainment, with the pace of life, internet and everything else. For us, living in modernity, if we were tires, we’re all overinflated, ready to pop, or in the best case scenario, it’s a rough ride. So, for most of us, the first agenda is to put a pin in the valve, and “pssss”. Otherwise, if we get ourselves always pumped up, we’ll never achieve shamatha. The first thing is just relax and then keep on relaxing and breathing out, and releasing. That is the pin in the valve of your tire - psssss. And then, during the inbreath, if you’re losing clarity, when the breath flows in, gently arouse, uplift your awareness, quietly, non-conceptually for a short time, and then relax more deeply. Then you discover stillness that is left over, which will become your base camp, your default mode when you’re sitting, walking, standing, when there’s nothing to think or talk about.

Meditation starts at 26:46, first taking refuge, arousing bodhicitta, making every breath meaningful, and then moving to shamatha with emphasis on relaxation.

Alan commented that the onramp to enter the freeway of enlightenment is shamatha - the mind has to be superbly serviceable to sustain that level of bodhicitta, of insight and so forth. But this is so often overlooked. And then we raise the issue, is it possible for people like us, conditioned by modernity to achieve shamatha in this lifetime? For this to be realistic, the outer and inner causes and conditions need to be there. Alan has been orienting around 30 students all over the world who are fully dedicated mainly to shamatha and none of them have a really conducive environment. But the place is not the only issue - it is so important to have have the support, the group energy of fellow contemplatives. When Alan was receiving Geshe Rabten’s life story, especially about his very demanding, astonishing 4 years Madhyamaka training, much more intense than medical training in the West, he asked “how could you keep this pace up?” And Geshe Rabten said “well, everybody else was doing that”. None of Alan' students have a place like a contemplative observatory, with a conducive landscape, companions, a teacher and an experienced guide. The viable place for that seems to be 5km from Tsongkhapa Institute - Castellina Marittima - blessed by Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Khandro la. Decades ago, when Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa were looking for a place to start Tsongkhapa Institute, Lama Yeshe looked right to Castellina Marittima and said - “that would be good!” But it was not for sale. But now it can happen. We can purchase it as soon as we get the permit. And that is the missing piece. And also the scientists from Pisa for example, very close to Castellina Marittima, are open minded, interested and they would really love to come and collaborate. It seems quite ripe! So, as you dedicate merit, bring forth this aspiration “may it happen” as Claudio said, “in the homeland of Galileo”.

Meditation starts at 26:46

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