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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Olaso. So I’d like to return briefly just to add a few closing comments, or additional comments, to this, this balance of the five faculties, and starting with the intelligence and faith, and understanding these different modalities of faith—of appreciation, of aspiration and then of belief. Belief. So there were references yesterday to karma. You believe it or you don’t. And then, why would you believe it? Well, you may believe it just because you’re living in a culture where everybody believes it. Just like we believe in viruses and germs, or bacteria. I doubt many of you’ve seen them, but who among us doesn’t believe in viruses or bacteria? I do. But it’s based on authority. I mean I just assume other people actually know what I believe and therefore I know by the power of their knowledge.
[01:05] But when it comes to karma, how? Well, by sustained study, by reflection, by meditation, it’s possible that greater and greater confidence may arise in the individual, the Buddha himself, and then the many great adepts after him, who replicated his discoveries. That’s the big thing. That’s unusual in Buddhism. We don’t find a whole bunch of of replications of Jesus Christ in the Christian tradition. Like you were the first one, but then in this century, had another one, then another one. I’m not saying there should be, but he was in a class by himself, right. In the general view, he was THE one and only. But whereas in the Buddhist tradition, especially in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, the Buddha made these discoveries but then they’ve been replicated by many, many times, by arhats, and then again in the Mahayana tradition, by later Buddhas.
[02:00] But I’m citing somebody outside the Buddhist tradition who was never actually formally religious in any sense but profoundly sympathetic, and that was William James. And there are two quotes here that I think really highlight from a secular perspective this balance of intelligence and faith, including the faith of belief. Okay, ready? So these are two of my favourite quotes so I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do. So here’s Williams James and I’m sharing the notes with you as well as the sources, if you’d like to kind of check out the context. But here in terms of the intelligence, okay, this balance between intelligence and faith, here is William James’ insight: Where preferences are powerless to modify or produce things, faith is totally inappropriate. And that is whatever you think about gravity or the inverse square law of gravity, it doesn’t matter what you think. It just doesn’t matter. You can think it’s an inverse cube law or you can think that it’s linear, whatever you like, but doesn’t matter. It’s inverse square law. That’s the breaks. And there are many other things like that. There are many other, just aspects of reality that whatever you believe or don’t believe it doesn’t matter. Something’s true, right?
[3:13] And I would say from my perspective, I’ve been looking into this for 45 years, the continuity of consciousness beyond death, the notion that there’s an individual continuum prior to conception following death, is just one of those things. Doesn’t matter what you believe. It just doesn’t matter, well it matters in the sense that it will have a big impact on you but your beliefs or lack of beliefs have no influence whatsoever on what is true. Something is true regardless of whether you know it or whether you’ve checked it out for yourself. And so from my perspective, this is a done deal. You know. And I’ve been looking into Western, primarily the materialistic, and the more I look into them, the more I just don’t want to refute them. I just start laughing. Because it just doesn’t look like they even have anything to refute. They don’t even have a scientific theory. They have beliefs. So the wheels, the kind of the, what you call it, something has been changed, it’s been turned around. Back in the time of Galileo, it was the church that had all the beliefs, but hardly any ways of empirically testing the beliefs. And Galileo came along with empirical evidence and he just overturned one belief after another with empirical evidence.
[04:45] And now the church of scientific materialism has a whole slew of beliefs. The greatest threat to this great ship of the titanic of society of materialism is the torpedo of contemplatives. Not philosophers, they never agree on anything anyway. And the scientists as long as they’re studying brain behaviour, they’re not going to make any headway, they haven’t, they won’t. If I were a scientific materialist I’d be terrified of contemplatives. Because they have the torpedoes that sink the great big ship, this titanic massive inertia with so much wealth and power and prestige, this scientific materialism. So I don’t really care about debating this much anymore. It feels like the debate’s already won. You know, really it’s already won. You either recognize that or you don’t. So that’s my perspective.
[05:48] So he says there are issues like that and I think a lot of people would agree, it doesn’t matter what you believe, your belief has no effect on whether there’s continuity of individual consciousness before and after death or not. Something’s true. The materialists are by and large totally convinced they’re right, and I understand they do. They’re wrong but I understand they think they’re right. But your belief has no influence on it, but now here, but that’s faith, that’s 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. Where as if some hypothesis is false, the more deeply you investigate it the more false it will appear. That’s a good principle, you know? That’s where intelligence comes in, right, to determine what is simply true, regardless of whatever you believe about it.
[06:40] But then William James adds: But for the class of facts that do depend, that depend on personal preference, trust or loyalty for actualization [his words are so beautifully chosen here] but for the class of facts that depend on personal preference, trust or loyalty for actualization [he says] in quotes, faith is not only licit [that is appropriate, suitable and pertinent] but essential, essential and indispensable. The truth cannot be become true till our faith has made them so. So there’re some things that could be true but if and only if people believe it. Right.
[07:29] When we look at the Israeli-Palestine conflict, it’s been going for so long. Could be possible that somehow, maybe not in a near term, but could there be some long term strategy that they could actually find peace and co-exist, without hatred, without animosity, without violence. Is that possible? If you’re sure it’s not possible, you’re right. And if you think it might be possible, you could be right. But it will not happen unless there are Palestinians and Israelis who believe it’s possible. Doesn’t matter what Americans and Russians think, we’re outsiders. It’s their business.
[08:25] So there are some things that will not be true until your faith has made them so. Can you achieve shamatha? [laughter]. Can people like you, you, you, any of you, can people like you achieve shamatha? If you’re quite sure not, you are 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. Right. So this is one of them, I just love that quote: The truth cannot become true, till our faith has made them so. In other words, there’s a possibility and the possibility is true. There is a possibility ... I asked Yangthang Rinpoche about this. Could modern Westerners, you know, with our way of life and so forth, could modern Westerners, not just one or two, but could modern Westerns, or moderners, Jeffery and so forth, you’re not a Westerner but you’re a moderner as much as anybody else, right. Singapore, very modern city, right? Doesn’t matter whether it’s Ulaanbaatar, Shanghai, Singapore, Brisbane. We’re moderners, right, that’s much more important than how far East or how far West is it. And so I asked him, you know, is it possible for people, did he think, for people living our lifestyle, moderners, to achieve shamatha and thereby to gain direct knowing of past life memories and so forth. And he said: “I’ll have to see.” [laughter]. Possible.
[09:50] So that was good. He didn’t say: “Are you kidding?” or “Forget about it.” Nor did he say: "Oh yeah, sure, sure, sure.” You know. That would be like all you have to do is wait, because Yangthang Rinpoche said it, it’s going to happen. Oh, good, well let’s see who does it, who does it, who does it, you know. So he put it right there. It was like I hit a tennis ball to him and he hit it right back. The ball’s in your court. So there’s one of my favorites, I really love that one and you now have it. It’s really, that’s really, really good. It’s that intelligence, that is exactly that balance isn’t it? Of intelligence and faith, and see where faith is licit, where’s pertinent, where’s relative, where faith has power.
[10:43] Ya, and then there’s a second one. It’s a different source but it’s William James again: In what manner do we espouse and hold fast to visions? That’s a cool question, isn’t it? And you recall our initial four-fold vision quest, right? What would truly make you happy and so forth. Visions, the vision of achieving Shamatha, the vision of gaining realization of rigpa and so on. In what manner do we espouse and hold fast to visions? And then he answers the question: By thinking a conception might be true somewhere. Maybe it’s true that there are individuals nowadays who have achieved shamatha in Tibet, India, maybe Brazil, Germany, whatever. It might be true. How do you know? It could be true. It might be true.
[11:38] By thinking conception, an idea, possibility might be true somewhere, it may be true even here and now. There might be somebody here who’s achieved it, I don’t know, I don’t know. Then I might say what are you doing here? [laughs]. But 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. How’s that? The image that just came to my mind was like a boxer in a ring and looking at doubt, looking at certainty, looking at afflictive uncertainty. So, Jeffery, I’m sorry, but you are going to have to be my afflictive doubt. You’re ready? Okay, so you’re my afflictive doubt, and I say: It may be true. Even here and now. It’s fit to be true. Po! And it ought to be true. [makes sound]. And it must be true. [makes sound]. And it shall be true for me. [makes sound]. Jeffery’s out. [laughter]. Knocked out. Right. It’s a way really to pummel afflictive uncertainty into submission. I really dig that. Okay, that’s yours.
[13:08] And then we have the other balance of enthusiasm and samadhi. Gyatrul Rinpoche has been enormously helpful for me in this regard. We have in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, more than any other I’ve seen, such an emphasis on prayers of supplication, arousing motivation, motivation of renunciation, motivation of bodhichitta, taking refuge, reflecting upon the benefits of whether it’s shamatha, realization of emptiness, bodhichitta and so forth, reflecting on all your lam-rim practitioners, you know how enormously big this is. Reflect upon the advantages, if you were to achieve it, what would be the benefits, right. Big time. And then Guru yoga and making supplications, receiving the Four Empowerments, calling for blessings and then imagining the Guru indivisible from your yidam, that personal manifestation of the Buddha that touches your heart most deeply, imagine the Guru, the Buddha coming, indivisibly merging with your own body and mind. That’s arousing, all of that is to arouse motivation, enthusiasm, to receive blessing, to arouse faith of course as well.
[14:20] And so as Gyatrul Rinpoche told me very clearly when I was in a quite intensive six month retreat many years ago, he said: "Do that before the session. All of that. Whether is lam-rim meditation, the seven-phase on devotion, the seven-part devotion, that Karma Chagme Rinpoche discussed that we practised yesterday morning. All of these, the Guru yoga, the supplications, the aspirations and all of that, do that just before you enter into the practice. And then, you just drop in. Then you just go into the practice and you leave even your desire behind. Because the desire, by the very nature of desire, is the desire for something you don’t have yet. Right. And so that takes you out of the present. It takes you into ego. It takes you into grasping. It takes you into hope and fear and so forth and so on. So he says, but there’s a balance for this. It’s not just practice with no desire, then you wouldn’t practise. You’d say why would I practise? You just told me don’t have any desire. So I’ll just sit here and not desire anything. Except I’m desiring to sit here. So I’m not quite sure what I am supposed to do now. Now I’m actually stuck. I’ve no idea.[laughter]. Because he said, “don’t desire anything.” That’s silly. You … it’s like a skater, like a skater who really pumps, pumps, pumps and then glides. Right. You arouse the motivation, you arouse the energy, the vision, the aspiration, the enthusiasm, you call for blessings, and then you go into the practice and you just glide. Then you just slip in, and you just do it. That’s samadhi, that’s just single pointed ‘now I am doing it and I am not doing anything else.’ I am not thinking about future benefits, I am not hope, fear, I’m not desire or aversion. I’m just, I’ve already thought about it, that this is meaningful, so I’m clear on that point. And now I’m just not doing anything other than doing it. Boom! Samadhi. You come out of it and then you may dedicate merit: "Oh, in the future, may this lead to this and this, and this and this and this. Great, wonderful, marvellous prayers of dedication, good, but when you’re doing it, don’t conflate the preparation or the conclusion with the main body, and the main body’s just doing it. So when it comes to that, I’m now just focusing on shamatha.
[17:14] A good friend of mine, I’ve known him now for more than 40 years. Losang Rapke, He’s, we’re trained as monks together, then he studied Tibetan medicine extensively, then he got a PHD in psychology. He’s now a research psychologist at UCLA. Quite an interesting man. Old, very, very dear old friend. And years ago at a, I think we had a at an international Tibetan medical conference in Washington D.C., and he was speaking I think from his background, which was quite extensive in traditional Tibetan medicine. He studied with Yeshe Dondrup. Yeshe Dondrup was like my father in Dharamsala, and speaking in a very gentle way, he’s a gentle soul, but he really knows the West, he’s lived in America now for many many years, and he said: “You know, all of you [speaking to Americans but I think he’s speaking to all moderners as well just everywhere, he said] you know, you’re all suffering of lung disorders [and lung disorders is nervous imbalances] I mean you’re all, you’re all screwed up. You’re already afflicted, you’re suffering from nervous imbalances. Considering how sick you are though, you are coping very well.” [laughter]. You know. And I think actually you know he’s quite literally right. It’s not to say that everybody in Tibet, prior to the invasion and the genocide, that they were all you know, just like hobbits, just enjoying their hobbit land. It was of course not true, it was not a Shangri-la. And no serious person believes that Tibet was a Shangri-la.
[18:45] But it’s also true, if like Geshe Rabten for the first 19 years of his life, your major source of entertainment was playing your flute and you’re watching yaks all summer, and then it’s less interesting in the winter, you’re just not going to have a nervous system wired like ours. It’s just, it’s going to be wired differently. And that’s for traditional people all over the world. It’s just wired differently. For most of the history of human species according to modern science, about 200,000 years, our nervous systems were not preparing us for the 20th century, of just this massive, massive overload of stimulation, of anxiety, of fight and flight, the adrenalin rush, you know, just living in a mode of tension. Living in downtown in Manhattan. I visited there like going to a zoo. (laughter]. It’s like, whoa, it’s kind of nice to visit for a short time, but then I really want to get out and quickly. I know there are people who were born and raised there, and I consider them mutations. [laughter]. Not bad mutations, I consider them, I don’t mean bad mutations, it’s not deprecating. It’s just like you’ve adapted to that environment. And that’s quite amazing. Because I can’t even imagine living in that until I’m maybe an arya bodhisattva and then maybe I could handle it. But that degree of intensity, just the intensity, right? Some of you have lived in New York. It’s intense. The city never sleeps. It’s just on all the time. And nature is a little park in the center of the city, surrounded by tall buildings and insanity, you know. Insanity of modernity but kind of condensed.
[20:40] And so we’re driven, we’re overstimulated in every way—with work, with entertainment, with the pace of life, with the internet and everything else. And so, for us living in modernity, it’s like if we were tyres, tyres on an automobile, we are all over-inflated. And you know an over-inflated tyre on the one hand, on the worst scenario, it’s ready to pop. On the other hand, in the best case scenario, it’s a rough ride, because the tyre is so dense, so tight, that it doesn’t give any cushion for all the gravel and potholes beneath. So it’s a rough ride, a lot of wear and tear. Right? And so when it comes to shamatha for those who are, maybe, still struggling with rumination—maybe it still comes up once in awhile, and the wandering thoughts in between and during sessions, I really say for the likes of us, and frankly this is true for a lot of Tibetans now, they’ve been infected by modernity, a lot of them, most of them—is the first agenda is to put a pin in the valve and pssssss! Let off some of that excess air. Just we’re over-inflated. We’re just so pumped up. And that’s considered to be a good thing. In athletics, okay, guys, now let’s pump yourself up, pump yourself up. We’re ready. Okay. We’re all pumped up. We pump up for exams, we pump up for all kinds of stuff. Get yourself pumped up, pumped up we say, you know, to perform optimally, totally pumped up. Crazy. Think you’re going to achieve shamatha that way? No. Snap, crackle. Snap, crackle. [makes sound]. That’s what happens, not shamatha. Snap, crackle. [makes sound]. Rice crispy approach to shamatha. So the first thing is just relax and keep on relaxing, and keep on relaxing. And go supine. And just keep on breathing out and breathing out, and then breathe out some more and breathe out some more. The big emphasis … just keep on breathing out. You know. And with every out-breath, just keep on releasing. Until your body is just going totally ... [makes sound]. Soft. Soft. Soft. Breathing out. Keep on releasing. That’s the pin in the valve of your tyre. Pssss!
[23:16] Because you know they speak of myoclonic jerks when the body just undergoes brief spasms. What came to mind in my meditation this morning is that when we’re sitting quietly, just trying to breathe in and out, we have these, what I would call conceptual spasms, conceptual myoclonic spasms, of just you know, the mind spouting off with this and that, anything. Anything. It’s just kind of like it’s an involuntary conceptual spasm of thoughts coming up with no meaning, no purpose, no coherence, nothing constructive, just [makes sound] like we’re having an epileptic seizure in the mind, you know. And so, relax. Just keep on releasing energy that is manifesting in these conceptual spasms, until finally it just kind of calms down, and not because you’ve been the stern parent bearing down and disciplining your mind, but you’ve been the loving parent that just comforts, soothes, releases, rocks, gentles. Let your mind have some rest.
[24:34] And then during the in-breath, if you find that you kind of getting so relaxed that you’re also losing clarity, that you’re actually on the trajectory of falling asleep, then when the breath just flows in, when it’s given, it just kind of flows in, then gently arouse, uplift your awareness, quietly, non-conceptually. But then doing that only for short time because you’re ready to relax again, even more deeply the next time. Just come releasing, releasing, releasing. So then you’re discovering stillness in the absence of the tightness, the agitation, the grasping, hoping, fearing and all of that, You are discovering the stillness is what’s left over, when you release, release all that grasping. And that then can become your norm, your base camp, your `default’ mode, when you’re walking, you’re sitting, you’re standing. Then when there’s nothing to think about, you don’t think about anything. Just like if there’s nothing to talk about, don’t talk. That’s simple. So. A practical way.
Olaso. Let’s practise.
[26:47] Bell rings.
[27:18] It’s by more and more deeply taking refuge that we can bring about an existential sense of ease, of relaxation, of fearlessness. You’ve taken refuge, you’re safe, you can relax now. And it’s by arousing bodhichitta that every breath becomes meaningful, every breath another step on the road, on the path to your own awakening. It’s with the Guru Yoga that your practice becomes infused with blessings, something you don’t earn, something that simply arises by itself.
[28:48] And we speak of the preliminary exercises of settling body, speech and mind in the natural state. But as with preliminary practices, this is not something we simply do at the beginning and then we’re finished with it. Thank goodness that’s over. But as the Panchen Rinpoche himself comments I think later in the text, this is on-going. Continue throughout the session. This deepening sense of ease, of stillness, of vigilance in the body. The ever deepening sense of letting go all control, all influence over the flow of the respiration, breathing egolessly, simply being present, as the body breathes in and breathes out.
[29:49] And sustaining that stillness of awareness utterly at ease, still and clear. Which illuminates the space of the body and remain cognitively engaged, but not cognitively fused with the sensations throughout the body corresponding to the in- and out-breath.
[31:43] Throughout the session, now and then, introspectively check upon the body, especially the face and especially the area around the eyes, see they’re soft, relaxed. See that the flow of respiration is effortlessly released, releasing the breath completely, fully fearlessly, with every out-breath. And then simply allowing without impeding the in-flow of the next breath.
[32:47] And sustaining this core sense of ease, of looseness, relaxation, whatever thoughts or memories come up, let them come up by themselves. Let them dissolve by themselves. And let’s continue practising in silence.
[47:10] Bell rings.
[47:44] So just a footnote on the earlier comments. For this issue, which is this one piece within the grander vision of the path, what I like to call like the on ramp to the great freeway of the bodhisattva path, the on ramp to actually be able to enter the path, the free way to enlightenment is shamatha. The mind has to be really superbly serviceable to sustain that level of bodhichitta, that level of insight and so forth. The mind has to be really, really healthy. That’s often overlooked. Really very, very often overlooked. We bring all our neuroses into Vajrayana practice and Zen and Vipassana and so forth and so on, and kind of think that will somehow sort itself out. Whereas it’s really shamatha that was designed to make the mind sane, relaxed, stable, clear. And so to raise the issue—is it really possible for people as screwed up as we are, you know we’re conditioned by modernity, to achieve shamatha in this lifetime? If that’s going to be a realistic belief, then it has to have some real strong, obviously some basis in reality, the cause and conditions need to be there, otherwise you know, we’re just dreaming. Fantasy. So there are the outer cause, the inner cause. They’re very, very clear. And they’re extremely well, how do you say, well based on an enormous amount of empirical evidence. What are the inner qualities you need and what’s the outer conducive environment you need.
[49:20] And so it’s been now about nine years since I have been leading people in long term shamatha retreats, starting from the shamatha project itself in 2007. And over that period, generally about 30 people, 30 students of mine all over the world are devoting themselves right now, now and five years ago and and three years ago, to full time practice with shamatha at least being a very central feature of what they’re doing. And I’ve been you know, engaging with them, doing what I can to help from afar. There’s one common denominator for pretty much for all of them. None of them have a really conducive environment. Never have. Conducive environment, you may just say it’s just designed to help you achieve shamatha. And you have not only the environment, it’s safe, it’s clean, the food and all of that, and you’ve no visa problems, no financial concerns. You can just sit down and do the work, you know. Do the work at hand. But not just a place. Place’s, you know, quiet place’s not that hard to find. But then having the supports and this group energy of fellow contemplatives. You’ve some group energy there.
[50:29 ] When I was receiving Geshe Rabten’s life story, and especially when it came to the Madhyamika after about 8-9 years of his training, that four years when you’re just training in Madhyamika, I was just astounded when he told me kind of just what was their daily routine. And I just asked him, how could he do that. It seemed like they’re hardly sleep. They’d have debates that would start in the evening and go until dawn. On a regular basis. And they’re memorising hundreds of pages. And they’re studying and they’re receiving instruction. And I just thought, I asked him, how did he keep that pace up. I mean it was just like [makes a sound ]. It’s much more intense than medical training in the West. I know that’s very intense. This is more. You know. This is just like ... I ask, and he said: “Well, everyone else was doing it.” [laughter]. It wasn’t literally true. Not all of the scholars at Sera Jey College were as intense and absolutely dedicated to the training as he was. But he did have a lot of companions. Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey was a companion. Geshe Sopa was a companion. And there were many others. And there was that group energy. You’d kind of look around, everyone else was doing it, well I don’t want to be a loser here. [laughter]. Carry on.
[51:48] So similarly if you were in a contemplative observatory and you know the people everyone around you are meditating 12 hours a day, and that’s just normal, then if you start slacking off, you think—well what am I doing here? Maybe they’ll notice and kick me out. [laughter]. You know and so it’s just how it get’s so none of them have that. And none of them have been in an environment where they have the conducive landscape, and the food and all of that, and the companions, and a teacher there, an experienced guide to really be right there, available for them. None of them had all that.
[52:24] So right now, on this date, in my little, from the centre of my mandala, like everybody else, the most viable place for that seems to be about 5 kilometers from here. [? 52:38 Italian] The little castle by the sea. Been blessed by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, by [? Datur] Rinpoche, Khandro-la. Some really wonderful things stated about this. One of the, at Tsongkhapa Institute people told me that when Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa were here decades ago looking for a place to start a centre. They told me this. I wasn’t there. And Lama Yeshe was cruising through this area, he looked up on the hill there and said, “that would be good.” And he was pointing right to [? 53:17] right to that area, he said, “that would be good.” And there was no property there for sale. And so then he looked down the hill and saw this castle and then the rest is history. But even he back then 40 years—”oh, that would be good.” Because it’s up on the sides of a mountain. It makes the view here look kind of shoddy. [laughter]. Oh, you’re way down here. Why aren’t you up there?
[53:49] So it can happen. We’re waiting very patiently. Very, very patiently. Italian patience. Really patient to see whether they’ll grant us the building permit, because we have guaranteed we can purchased it. That’s guaranteed. We’ve a memorandum of agreement and the price is very, very … ridiculously low. I mean 150 euros for 5 hectares. It’s cheap because it’s agriculturally zoned. As soon as we get that permit, it’s going to be worth a lot more. But we already have an agreement with the owners, who would love us to have it. That if we get the permit, that’s the price. 150 thousand. It won’t go up. It’ll be worth much more then, but we’re not going to sell it. We like to make it. And so to my mind, that’s the missing piece. And also I’m just saying the growing number of scientists right here in Europe, right just down the road in Pisa for example, who’d really like to come and collaborate. Open-minded, interested, and would just like to learn, you know, and so it seems quite ripe. And so as you dedicate merit, as you bring forth the aspiration, in this, as Claudio pointed out some time ago, in the homeland of Galileo. [laughter]. Because he was raised in this area, he went to the university at Pisa. He taught at the university at Padua. You know. He was an extroverted contemplative, that’s what he was. I’m serious. He was trained as an contemplative at a famous monastery, what’s it called? Just up [?] or something like that. That’s a very famous Christian contemplative monastery, very well known, only about an hour and a half from here. And he went there when he was a youth. He went there to be trained as a contemplative. He loved it. He wanted to spend the rest of his life as a contemplative and it’s still operating. It’s a magnificent place. I can’t quite remember the name but it is easy to find. And his dad wouldn’t pay for it. Because somebody had to be a sponsor and his dad said: “No. Get a job. [laughter]. Become a doctor.” So he went to the university, I think, the university of Pisa and started studying medicine. He hated it. Then he found he was good at something else and that was mathematics. And then, then history. But he was an extroverted contemplative. That’s what he was. Because he was seeking, since he wasn’t allowed to stay in the monastery and seek the mind of God, within, which is the classic tradition within Christianity, within Christianity, within Neo-Platonic Christianity—you go within—well, his father wouldn’t support it, nobody else would. So then he, in his own words, sought to understand the mind of the creator by way of the creation, inferentially. That’s another route, right. Well, it turned out pretty well, in many respects. I mean, that’s science. The god’s eye view. The god’s eye view. It’s worked out very well hedonically. Hasn’t given us much of anything, eudaimonically. But then why should we have to choose? Why not have both? The hedonic in the service of the eudaimonic, everything is in order, ya. We just need a little castle by the sea.
Enjoy your day. [57:09]
Transcribed by Shirley Soh.
Revised by Cheri Langston.
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Special thanks to Tsanka Petkova for contributions of partial transcripts.