10 Apr 2016
Alan explains that as we go deeper into the practice of shamatha, it appears more clearly that the three qualities of relaxation, stability and vividness are not only sequential, but they also reinforce each other in a reciprocal manner. In a similar fashion we have also the three higher trainings of ethics, samadhi and wisdom and among them ethics is the foundation: you can develop samadhi and wisdom, but if you do not have ethics you have nothing. The Buddha clearly said that the stronger your samadhi is, then the more powerful your wisdom can be, but if your samadhi is weak then your wisdom can be very sporadic, it cannot be sustained. The stronger your ethical foundation, the stronger your samadhi and the stronger the wisdom that can arise.
If the Buddha gave us just one interview, he may offer the instructions he gave to Bahya, which allowed him to achieve arhathood right after he listened to this: “Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bahiya, there is no you in terms of that. When there is no you in terms of that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of suffering.”
If I attend to another person, and while I do that my awareness is still, clear, bright, discerning and attentive to the person coming in, If I can sustain that quality of stillness, which is intelligent but still, then I might actually see and hear that person from the heart. You can sense them at a deeper level. The practice is simple: we settle body, speech and mind in their natural state to the point of stillness, and then we direct our awareness to a nonconceptual space, where there is no conversation within the somatic field (there are no thoughts, no mental images there) and then we simply attend to what is arising there. We sustain the stillness in the midst of the fluctuations of the coming and going of the breath. And then when we come off the cushion, we sustain that stillness as we go about all our tasks, and in the seen let there be just the seen, in the heard just the heard, in the tactilely sensed just the tactilely sensed, in the mentally perceived or cognised just being aware of what is coming up. And we might drop a question: in all these appearances, am I anywhere to be found, including the appearances of what is up close and personal (thoughts, images, desires, memories, emotions)? When I observe them, do I observe them as something that is me? The awareness that is observing them, is that me? Am I to be found anywhere among these appearances and the awareness of the appearances?
The meditation is on shamatha as a support for vipashyana (silent, not recorded).
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Olaso. The deeper you go into the practice of shamatha the more clearly, evident it becomes that these three qualities of relaxation, stillness, and vividness are not only sequential and in a very meaningful way they are, but we first emphasize relaxation, out of that stillness, and out of that clarity. That’s quite clear and that we shouldn’t invert those that leads to all kinds of problems. But it also becomes evident that these are synergistic, the more deeply you cultivate them, then you find that the more composed, the more still your mind is, that’s actually very relaxing. And as the mind becomes clearer and more and more vivid everything becomes more interesting. And that helps maintain the continuity of attention, we don’t get bored, we don’t get spaced out. So when you kind of slip into that wheel of shamatha where these three qualities are all accentuating, nurturing, reinforcing each other then you’re really on a roll. But in a similar fashion and in a broader context we have these three higher trainings of ethics, samadhi and wisdom. And once again ethics is the foundation. If you don’t do anything other than that, you’ve done something really meaningful. If you skip that, whatever else you’ve got to do isn’t meaningful. You can develop all the samadhi and wisdom you like, but if you don’t have ethics, you have nothing. Right? And so, and likewise for samadhi, Buddha was so clear that the stronger your samadhi, then the more powerful your wisdom can arise. If your samadhi is weak, your wisdom is going to be very sporadic, quite shallow actually, it cannot be sustained. So there’s a very clear sequence there. And it’s not doctrinal, it’s not simply a matter of dogma, it’s really radically empirical. This is the way it works. That the stronger ethical foundation, the stronger your samadhi, the stronger the samadhi, the stronger the wisdom can arise.
[01:53] But now we find again in this triad that it’s reciprocal. And that is, as you develop your skills, your faculties of mindfulness, of introspection, of discerning awareness, this of course enables you to be far more, you can fine tune your ethics. Really become, you know, the ethics becomes very, very fine and then likewise as you develop your wisdom this can enhance the samadhi. And that’s the point that I’d like to kind of venture over into now as we are approaching our third week. And that is how we can nurture, nurture and support our practice of shamatha by delving into the realm of vipashyana, right. And especially in between sessions. For most of us, most of our twenty four hours of the day is spent in between sessions and not in formal session. Not many of you are probably yet at practicing formally thirteen hours a day. So until then, then we should be giving a lot of attention to how we can enhance and uplift, elevate, the whole quality of our awareness in every way. In terms of the heart, our discernment, our discerning mindfulness and so forth, in between sessions. Now if that’s true during our eight week retreat then all the more will that be important when the retreat is over. If we just really get good at sitting on the cushion but then we go home and then you know, we’re no longer able to meditate six, eight, ten, hours a day, then how relevant was it? Or after the retreat, which is kind of like during retreat, after retreat. Eight weeks - eternity. [laughter]
[03:39] And so there’s a very juicy, very very concise discourse. It’s one of the briefest discourses the Buddha ever gave. And it seems one of the most potent. Because the person, it was a one on one. It was like you know the Buddha was not having a weekly interview, he just gave this person one interview. One interview. The person asked him three times for an interview. I want an interview. I want an interview. And then finally the Buddha said on the third time, he said he saw the time was ripe. And he said okay. Here’s your interview. And then he gave him this instruction. Are you ready? Some of you know what’s coming. Prepare yourself. [laughter] The fellow who was asking for the interview is named Bahya. And here is what the Buddha said. Bahya you should train yourself thus. In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. I’m going to give a tiny bit of commentary. There will be only the seen, let there be just the seen. That is just focus on what reality is dishing up to you rather than conflating it with all your conceptions, your super impositions, your judgements, categorizations, associations and so forth and so on, all this stuff we throw on, consciously and unconsciously project upon reality. Be there, be quiet and see what reality is dishing up. So you should train yourself in reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard only the heard. In referenced to the sensed, only the sensed. That’s referring to tactile perception. In reference to the cognized only the cognized. That’s referring to mental perception, what we mentally perceive, thoughts, images, and so on. That’s how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen. Only the heard in reference to the heard. Only the sensed in reference to the sensed. Only the cognized in reference to the cognized.
[05:41] So When you’re seeing these four domains of experience clearly without conflating what reality’s giving, with what you’re projecting upon it, when that happens, then Bahya, there is no you in terms of that.Appearances, you’re not going to find yourself there, in appearances. There is no you in terms of that, there is no you, there is no you in terms of that. When there is no you in terms of that, there is no you there. Objectively. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder, nor between the two. So the cognized of course includes awareness itself, not just the images and appearances arising to the mind. So within the whole field of appearances, and he highlights the visual, auditory, tactile, and the mental and then our awareness of them. When you see simply what is there, then you’ll see that you are nowhere to be found. You as an individual, you a person, you an ego, a self. Nowhere to be found in the appearances, nowhere to be found in the awareness of the appearances, therefore you see there is no evidence of your being there amidst the appearances, there is no evidence of you being here in the nature of awareness. When there is no you there and you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two, this, just this, is the end of suffering. Bahya heard that dharma talk that I just gave you and within a matter of moments he became an arhat. He went from ground zero to arhatship with one dharma talk. Would you like me to read it again? [laughter] In case you’re a bit slow on the uptake. The difference is I’m not a Buddha, and you’re not direct disciples of the Buddha so maybe it doesn’t work quite so well. But that was his discourse. I find it truly breathtaking. And it’s very relevant to what we’re practicing now.
[07:48] Between sessions, between sessions as you’re doing whatever you’re doing in the four postures, I would suggest really turn on the lights. Turn on the lights of awareness. And when you’re attending to, bring your attention to the visual domain, just let the visual domain present itself to you without conversation, without chit chat, without interrupting, without superimposing, without projecting anything upon it. So direct your attention sometimes to the visual domain. This is a nice place to do it, right. Direct your awareness to the auditory domain, in sounds let there be just sounds. The tactile domain as you’re walking and just feeling these sensations the somatic sensations, tactile sensations, arising arising, attend to them. And of course attend to the space of your mind. The thoughts, the images, but also the awareness, the awareness itself of course is also occurring in the domain of the mind. And in each case attend closely. And see if you can overcome our very very common cognitive imbalances of hyperactivity and deficit.
[09:09] So very brief commentary, I’m eager to get to the meditation. But we all know about ADHD it’s very obvious, attention hyperactivity you know about, that the attention is overactive, it’s excited, it’s agitated, it’s fragmented, it’s sprayed all over the place like a cascading waterfall. Like that, we all know that very well. And we also know that’s exhausting, draining, we can’t keep it up all the time. So after awhile we just get tired, fatigued, drained and then the awareness tends to enfold into itself, to withdraw, to sink and that’s called laxity, dullness, falling asleep. We all know that very well. And I’m suggesting there’s a strong parallel here in terms of cognitive balance. And that is in cognitive hyperactivity I think we’ve all experienced this. See whether this shoe fits, whether this corresponds to your own experience on occasion. And that is cognitive hyperactivity we get so caught up in our expectations, our beliefs, our assumptions, our preconceptions, our transference, our labels, our imagination that it’s obscuring what’s actually happening. We just don’t see it. And we have all these projections, all this conceptual stuff that we project consciously or unconsciously. And then of course we conflate what we projected with what reality’s dishing up. The actual appearances arising to our senses. That’s delusional. I mean in extreme cases that’s called schizophrenia, psychosis. Where a person has no ability, I met three people a long time ago, not recently. But three women who were schizophrenic and they had extremely limited ability to distinguish between what their mind was conjuring up and what reality was presenting to them. And none of them were happy. They were all actually desperately unhappy and had no sense of rest, no sense of peace, no sense of stillness whatsoever. The mind was constantly agitated, tumultuous, churning out. I sat up all night with one of them, literally all night, and she talked the whole time. Somebody had to be with her because we were afraid she would commit suicide and so it was tag and I was it, because I was there in the Dalai Lama’s doctors home, but it was amazing just to see how her mind was just spitting out noise and then there was no barrier between what her mind was spitting out and what was coming out of her mouth. So it was just a torrent of speech, but incoherent, very unhappy, and completely delusional. Okay.
[11:39] So it was helpful to me. I was very young, I was 21-22, to see there’s a mind that’s really profoundly dysfunctional and of course delusional and therefore truly unhappy.
[11:53] So we’re not there. I don’t think anybody listening is in that state, happily. But she’s not another species and I’m sure she’s not that way now. I think she received the treatment she needed. That was a long time ago. But we can see the spectrum, right? We can see the spectrum. There’s no cut off point. And so that’s it. Where we are just so caught up in our imaginations and projections that we conflate that with reality. And that’s what we’re seeing. But of course as soon as there’s projection, the projection, the conceptual overlays on appearances, on sensory appearances highlight those projections themselves, but then they obscure. Like if a cloud comes over the sun, then you can see the clouds very clearly but you can’t see the sun. And so when we are engaging in this conceptual, cognitive hyperactivity,where we’re spewing out all these projections onto appearances, of course, they obscure the appearances themselves. And so the appearances may be coming in, we have, maybe have perfectly good vision, our hearing is perfectly fine and so forth but because of the cognitive overlays we cannot see that which is in plain sight, you know. Cannot see that which is in plain sight. I’ve given the example earlier of like fathers a hundred years ago, who would be raising their children, maybe half girls, half boys and simply assuming none of these girls are fit for higher education, they’re not up to it. But the boys, well you know, boys carry on the family name. Boys carry on, carry on. And there it is, we all know now it’s so obvious it’s not even worth saying but the girls are as smart as boys and generically. You know, yes, and yet they couldn’t see it. Because of these stereotypes they were carrying about the limitations of women. There it is, your own girls who you love, and you just can’t see, that actually maybe they should be the one that goes to Harvard or to Oxford, Cambridge and so forth, you can’t see it. And yet there it is, they’re doing extremely well in school, they’re curious, they’re precocious, they’re intelligent, creative and so forth, can’t see it. No, but apply that to cooking. Apply that to child rearing because that’s what you’re naturally good at. [laughter]
[14:10] So it’s a silly one that makes us chuckle now, but nobody is chuckling a hundred years ago. Women couldn’t vote, nobody’s chuckling, it’s amazing. So it’s very easy to kind of chuckle at the kind of cognitive deficit disorder that most of the world suffered from a century ago. And then we really should get sober. What are we individually and generically, what are our blind spots now? Whereas hopefully our civilization will survive long enough that twenty, forty, fifty years from now they’ll look back and they’ll be chuckling, at us. Slapping their heads like, you’ve got to be kidding. You know, what are we not seeing that’s in plain sight?
[14:53] So this is what mindfulness is for. Discerning mindfulness to let us see what is there and not, number one, let us see what is being presented to our various senses, including very much our mental perception, the existence of which isn’t even acknowledged in modern cognitive psychology. It’s not there. I studied cover to cover a 500 page introduction to cognitive psychology, never once was mental perception even acknowledged. Never once did introspection play any role whatsoever in their investigations of the mind. Not once. And I looked at this as, you know, a person who had been a Buddhist monk for fourteen years and I thought, Why are they not seeing this? Amazing. Why is introspection not front and central in the scientific study of the mind? Amazing. How can they not see that? Okay.
[15:52] Central to this is the shamatha supporting the vipashyana, and then we’ll go onto the practice. What I’d invite you to do, and I’d like it to be a silent session now. So I’m going to take off my, the microphone and so forth when we start. But there is something, a key ingredient, we already know it, and I want to highlight it this time. And that is - if I attend to another person, any person, doesn’t matter. Any situation, but like a person, and when I attend to that person my awareness is still, it’s clear, it’s attentive, it’s discerning, but it’s still. The person comes in and I’m not already mentally talking. I don’t already have an agenda. I don’t already want this and hope for this and expect this and judge this and have all these preconceptions I’m about like a big dump truck to unload on the other person. But the mind’s like this, it’s still, clear, bright, discerning and attentive to the person coming in. If I can sustain that quality of stillness, that’s very intelligent, as intelligent as we can be, but still. Then I might actually see the other person. And I might actually hear the other person. And you see and hear them from the heart. I’m not speaking poetically or ooshy gooshy here. That you sense them from the heart at a deeper level than just what is the data coming to your eyeballs. You know, you’re sensing at a deeper level, an intuitive level. How is this person doing? And so that stillness. So we practice where it’s easy, where there’s not a whole lot of commotion, where it’s relatively simple. And that is we settle body, speech and mind in the natural state to the point of stillness and then we direct it to this non conceptual space where there’s no conversation within the somatic field, that’s not conceptual. There are no thoughts,there’re no mental images there. It’s a non conceptual space. And then we simply attend to what’s arising there. Maintain the stillness, sustain the stillness in the midst of the fluctuations, the coming and going of the breath. And then, and this will be the last comment, then when you come off the cushion and you’re doing what you’re doing most of the time and that is not being on the cushion, then sustain that stillness, sustain that stillness as you’re going about the most mundane tasks. Sustain that stillness. The fact that we’re generally not speaking - that helps a lot to sustain the inner stillness.
[18:35] Maintain that stillness. And in the seen let there be just the seen, in the heard just the heard, the sensed, the tactilely sensed, the tactilely sensed, and in the mentally perceived or cognized, just being aware of what’s coming up. And then you might just drop in, like little drop into a potion. A little drop of a question. In all these appearances, am I anywhere to be found? Including the appearances of course of what is up close and personal, thoughts, images, desires, memories, emotions and so forth. When I’m observing them, I’m not identifying with them. When I observe them, do I observe them as something that’s me? Are any of those me? The awareness that’s observing them, is that me? So we attend to these four fields especially, visual, auditory, tactile, and mental. And within that field of appearances, and the awareness of the fields, awareness of the appearances, attend closely to the question, is anything here that’s arising in terms of appearances and the awareness of the appearances, that’s presenting itself as me? Am I to be found? Am I to be found? Me, the person? Am I to be found anywhere among these appearances or the awarenesses of the appearances? Or are the appearances empty of me? The awareness of the appearances over here, empty of me? In which case I’m not out there, and I’m not in here, and I’m not in between, and that’s the end of suffering. How is that? [laughter] No arhats yet. Okay, I just wanted to check. Good. Isn’t that cool? This is so basic but it’s so, I don’t know, it blows my mind. It really does, it really does. And I’ve known about this for a long time but the freshness doesn’t wear off. Truly astonishing. Please find a comfortable position, we’ll start and it will be a silent session.
[21:28] Meditation bell rings three times at the start of a silent session.
[21:56] So just some very brief comments. While we’re speaking now that we’re going into this meeting of the Gelugpa and the Kagyu tradition, and of the classic lam rim tradition of Gelugpa and the Mahamudra, in the Kagyu tradition. And then of course as part of our retreat we’ll be going to segue , into this transition of this integration of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Within this field now that we’re venturing into during these eight weeks, we’ll be, we’re drawing from two approaches to spiritual practice and using Dzogchen terminology one is [?22:34 Tibetan] and the other one is [?22:36 Tibetan] effortful and effortless, effortful and effortless. And you might immediately say - tell me about the latter one[laughter] especially as you get older. When I was in my twenties and thirties effortful sounded pretty good. Now effortless sounds really good. [laughter] Well the effortful is recognizing that there’s a lot of room for improvement in, for example our minds. You know, we could be better. We could be further along the spectrum between psychosis and perfect awakening, we could moving more in that direction, modifying and purifying, transforming, training, developing, cultivating that’s [?23:17 Tibetan]. There’s really no substitute for it. But that’s not the whole picture. And the other picture is within this yang yin complementarity is that [?23:31 Tibetan] - the effortless, where we’re simply being present with whatever’s coming up. And that too is as important as the yin is to the yang, and the yang is to the yin, it’s a complementarity there. Which is really quite exquisitely beautiful. And so we’re in this current now of integrating these two, but that means we’ll highlight both. And so in the kind of theme that I emphasized this morning, it’s emphasizing more than simply being present with, you know, whatever’s coming up, present with. And so in the midst of the myriad type of thoughts, some of them very probably afflictive, a bit neurotic, disturbing, agitating, unpleasant. There’s that whole range of thoughts, emotions, desires and so forth. In the midst of that there’s good reason on occasion to get in there and fix it. You know, think different thoughts, adopt a new perspective, get out of that, you know, do something. Good. But there’s also good reason just to rest in your stillness while that’s happening, and let them resolve themselves, because they do. If you really learn how to maintain that stillness, that clarity, of discerning mindfulness in stillness then these afflictive thoughts come up and they’re orphaned. They’re orphaned, they don’t, they’re like a parasite that’s not finding a host. And even if it’s a parasite like a bacteria, like a terrible virus, or bacteria that could kill you, if it doesn’t find a host it’s not toxic. A virus, the most lethal, a bacteria, the most lethal in a vial, in a sealed vial, is not poisonous. It’s not poisoning anybody, it’s isolated. And so as these come up insofar as you can maintain that stillness, and you can be aware of them exactly as the Buddha was saying in the mentally perceived, let there be the mentally perceived. You will see them come up of their own accord, and you didn’t do it, and you will see them dissolve themselves of their own accord. And you didn’t do that either.
[25:43] That’s kind of good. So stillness in the midst of the motions of the mind and allowing the - whatever’s coming up, simply to release itself. But then likewise as we’re about to get off the cushion and venture into the main part of the day when we’re not formally practicing, insofar as you can maintain that kind of stillness in the movements of appearances at large. As you’re walking, the movements, appearances of tactile sensations arising where else? In the tactile field. And sounds arising in the auditory field. And visions, appearances, visual appearances arising in the visual field. And all of these arising in a coherent and interrelated way. These are not just chaotic, of course, there are regularities, patterns to them. In the midst of all these motions, if you can maintain that stillness of your awareness, then you may be still, your awareness may be still, even while there appears to be motion. Because you are still. Because you are not identifying with the emotion, you are not cognitively fused with emotions, the movements, the shift, the changes in your body, visual appearances, auditory appearances. Since you’re not identifying with them you’re not going for a ride. Since you’re not identifying with them they’re in motion and you’re not. Your awareness isn’t, your awareness is still. So insofar as you can maintain that stillness throughout the course of the day, even when your body appears to be in motion, that will be interesting. That’s good. So, let’s continue practicing.
Transcribed by KrissKringle Sprinkle
Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Final edition by Cheri Langston