13 Apr 2016
For the morning sessions, Alan says we will continue to focus on cultivating our shamatha practice, where a loose translation of shamatha is ‘peace of mind’ or, in Jackson’s translation of the Panchen Lama’s text, serenity. The surrounding peaceful Tuscan environment of ILTK and the graceful, kind and courteous staff are certainly conducive to practicing Dharma. Alan says that it brings him great satisfaction to obtain feedback from the ILTK Director that all participants are doing just that in their daily interactions. Yet how do we bring deep peace of mind, equilibrium, balance, stillness, clarity and the benevolence of an open heart – all aspects of eudaimonia – to every interaction, particularly outside of our formal practice or the retreat environment? Of course we start where it’s easy on retreat. However we need to cultivate sustainable peace of mind so that when we meet or interact with otherwise difficult people and situations we do not become caught up in or cognitively fused with our own or others’ mental afflictions. The key is the peace that awareness brings - this is the Dzogchen approach. The developmental approach is shaping the mind like Shantideva suggests, very effective. The other way is resting in awareness and not getting caught up in our own dramas that arise and in other people’s mental afflictions. This is the discovery approach: resting in awareness without cognitive fusion with the mental afflictions, resting there in the natural stillness, clarity and purity of our own awareness, observing the dramas, the upheavals arising and passing of their own accord with no ownership, and watch the mind heal itself. Prior to the meditation practice, Alan reads and comments on the ideas of the Stanford University cosmologist Andre Linde on the role of consciousness in science’s current understanding and investigation on the nature of reality.
The meditation is initially guided on taking appearances and awareness as the path.
After the meditation practice, Alan says that for us to continue to practice Dharma for the rest of the day, the starting place is to continually rest in the immediacy of Awareness and Appearances in our mental and sensory perceptions. We should bring an element of Vipashyana practice to this method by examining what we are superimposing on these perceptions. This is Dudjom Lingpa’s method of taking Awareness and Appearances as the path. It is to start every moment with the reality we have immediate access to.
The meditation starts at 19:55
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Olaso. So for the mornings I’d like to continue our focus on the cultivation of shamatha. And a very loose but nice translation of shamatha would be peace of mind, peace of mind. And when one is in such pleasant environment as for those of us who have the tremendous good fortune to be here in this lovely centre, and this surrounding environment. So peaceful, so peaceful. And the people taking care of us, so gracious, and I can say that I had a conversation with the director of the institute just a couple days ago. So delighted with our group. He said oh, you’re group are so amazing, they’re so kind, they’re so courteous, they’re so pleasant to work with. That gives me a lot of joy, you know. They really enjoy having us here. And I think for a very simple reason, you are all practicing dharma. And you engage with courtesy and respect, and people like that. Son of a gun, you know, [laughter] people are weird that way. But they really do. So this gives me great satisfaction as well. So here we are we’ve created this oasis in a world that is often not so kind. Not so peaceful. But we are in a very kind and peaceful environment with kind and peaceful people. But what about when we have to leave? And insofar as we have really cultivated peace of mind, then this is what we bring to every encounter. That’s what we’re bringing that’s the eudaimonia, that’s what we’re bringing to the situation rather than what we’re getting from the situation. So we can go to certain environments that make us feel very peaceful. Oh that place is so peaceful, I feel so good when I’m there. Or I so like hanging out with this person because he or she is so peaceful, I really enjoy and it makes my mind very peaceful. That’s hedonic, nothing wrong with it, but it’s hedonic. Whereas what we’re seeking here is not simply to enjoy Tuscany for 8 weeks on a dharma vacation, of course none of us are. But to be cultivating qualities here that will be sustainable. You know they have this big thing about sustainable energy, sustainable economy, sustainable happiness, sustainable well being, sustainable peace of mind. Which is easy, relatively easy, in an environment like this, this cloistered environment. If we are able to create a contemplative observatory, I think the most likely option at this point is right up the hill, if we get the permit. Then we’ll seek to that, create a very conducive environment, the incubator, to provide as optimal of circumstances as we can to help people achieve very durable peace of mind, actually achieve shamatha. Which then you can carry to Manhattan, you can carry it to anywhere you like. You know not a bad place, but a very high energy place, nothing wrong with that, but it’s maybe hard to maintain peace of mind in a place like Manhattan because it’s so energetic, to put it mildly.
[03:11] And so there are two approaches here, peace of mind. Again as Roger Jackson translates shamatha as serenity, it’s a good translation. Peace, calm abiding, serenity, tranquility, quiescence but there are two approaches there. But let’s keep this contextualized in this world and not just what’s nice when we’re on retreat, in a very pleasant environment, with pleasant people. If we are, if we cultivate, and we sustain, we maintain a sense of peace of mind, then when, even when we meet unruly people, or let’s not even put it that way, it’s not like there are ruly people and unruly people. There are people who are having upheavals of their mental afflictions and the same people on other occasions don’t. And I think we’re kind of all that way, until we’re arhats. We have our good days and our bad days. Very few people have just all bad days and only the exceptional will only have all good days. But if we bring to our relationships, to life, families, work and so forth, if we bring to these situations peace of mind, then we may be able to sustain that, this is the ideal clearly, to be able to sustain that equilibrium. That balance, that peace of mind, still, relaxed, still, clear, but also benevolent. That’s why we have that whole string of meditations starting with loving kindness culminating in bodhicitta. It’s not just still and clear it’s also one where the heart is open, it’s warm, it’s kind hearted. But it’s not easy, of course, but we try to, as the same theme that I emphasized yesterday, we start where it’s easy. In an environment like this, we don’t start in a really rough neighborhood where we could get mugged, shot, beat up, and so forth where also it’s not a rock quarry over there, you’re in the rock quarry. Where it’s just noise and it’s not where we start. The great bodhisattva may move there, to be of benefit, but that’s not where we start. So cultivating sustainable peace of mind, which is sustainable even when we meet or engage with other people who are experiencing upheavals of their own mental afflictions. If we don’t have peace of mind, then when we encounter people who are experiencing their own upheavals guess what, it will almost always certainly catalyze our own. That’s what happens. Other people are really angry, belligerent, condescending, contemptuous and so forth and it arouses defensiveness, anger and so forth and so on. Then samsara spins on and on and on. So sustainable peace of mind. So that even when other people are really very offensive, very difficult, we don’t respond in the same way. We don’t get caught up in the drama, we don’t have the cognitive fusion with their own mental afflictions. That’s kind of a big deal. That’s what we’re here for. We’re not here just to cultivate cloistered virtue which would be good only when we’re in optimal circumstances. We step out, and it all falls apart, there would be no point. I think we all have better things to do than that. So cultivating something sustainable, well there’s peace of mind but then we all know, all of us here, I think probably everybody listening by podcast, that even when sitting in the quietude of our room and it’s serene and there’s no unpleasant stimuli coming in, we can still be mugged, [laughter] still be tormented, still be upset and it’s our own minds doing it to us. There is no peace of mind. The mind is not peaceful, the mind is going through an upheaval for whatever reason, but it’s happens. So then there is no peace of mind, what can you do then? Peace of awareness. [07:07]
And this is really the Dzogchen approach. The developmental approach is cultivate, transform, purify, develop, purify, transform, develop, effortfully transform, keep on working with that mind until it finally shapes up and it’s good. Like training a dog, until it’s finally obedient. And that takes a lot of work. It’s certainly worth doing. Shantideva tells us in many many ways to cultivate the mind in very meaningful ways, and on the other hand, and that’s an effortful path, and it’s a noble path, and it’s proven effective in many many cases and on the other hand we have this way of just resting in awareness and not getting caught up in the drama, let alone of other people’s mental afflictions, which is easy to do. Even by way of the internet, we see stuff going on. Politics and so forth and so on it’s very easy to get caught up, in other people’s mental afflictions, people we have never even met, you know. Very easy, happens all the time. But let alone getting caught up in other people’s mental afflictions who are, appear on the internet, the news and so forth or people we meet in real life and their mental afflictions and let alone that. But not even being caught up in the drama of our own mental afflictions. That’s this approach, that’s this discovery approach, where our primary focus is not even on transforming and purifying the mind. It’s on resting in awareness without cognitive fusion with the mental afflictions. Resting there in the natural stillness, the natural purity, and the natural clarity of our own awareness. Observing the drama, the upheavals, the mental afflictions arising and passing. And observe them arise of their own accord with no ownership, and observe them dissolve away with no ownership. And watch the mind heal itself. Whew, sigh of relief, because the mind actually can, if we are not entering into the cognitive fusion. Now we know that’s hard, and this is why we are going to spend more time, still some more days in this practice of full body awareness, mindfulness of breathing . We know exactly where it’s going the next step is going to be settling the mind in its natural state. It will be very familiar when I start teaching it again. We’ll teach it with a new set of words from Panchen Rinpoche but nothing will surprise you, for those of you following here on podcast and so forth. There will be no surprises. But we’re spending a lot of time here now more than two weeks because this is riding the bicycle of settling the mind in its natural state with the training wheels of having something to hold onto. That’s what it is because we’re cultivating that stillness of awareness right now already, which is exactly the same stillness of awareness that we will be sustaining when we’re settling the mind in its natural state. But when you’re settling the mind in its natural state you have nothing to hold onto at all. Nothing, for your stability you don’t have a buoy, you don’t have a rock, you don’t have something in the howling winds of your mind . When you’re resting your awareness, settling your mind in its natural state, what are you holding onto? What you’re attending to is the howling wind. So what are you holding onto, to you know, keep secure? Well if you’re doing the practice correctly, you’re not holding onto anything. So then how can you avoid being swept away by the howling wind of your own mental afflictions? Well, resting without grasping, without distraction, that’s how. Not easy. And so we’re going to go back in this session which we’ll begin momentarily, to the more elementary analog of settling the mind in its natural state, settling the body in its natural state, in terms of the breathing. And having something to hold onto. Something to anchor the awareness. Your trainer wheels, if you’re out in the ocean something, a life buoy, something you can hold onto in the waves of the mind, the noise, the tumultuousness of our own minds, something to hold onto that’s rhythmic, that’s reliable, you can count on it for as long as you’re alive. And that is in breath out breath.[11:24]
Something to hold onto that doesn’t annoy, doesn’t irritate, doesn’t arouse craving, grasping, greed, and so forth. Pretty neutral. Something to hold onto. And then a little bit to do, since we’re so addicted to it. Okay do something. Arouse and relax, arouse and relax, do that. But mostly rest in the stillness of your awareness. And secondarily do this. So that’s for this session. So I think now that I’ve spoken about it, I don’t need to talk us through it again. But then we have in between sessions and here I’d like to be very brief. But I came across these quotes by an outstanding physicist. He’s very distinguished, he’s won at least one big award, he’s an astrophysicist at Stanford University, a man of great distinction, he’s a Russian physicist, but he’s been doing research, teaching at Stanford for many years now. His name is Andre Linde. And I can say very mainstream, and he’s highly respected, worked on the early inflationary period of the cosmos. A very distinguished physicist, very mainstream, but I have a couple of quotes here, that really give hope. Because when I cite, you know, people, a physicist, I mentioned a physicist, a neuroscientist, two philosophers, that you just kind of slap your head and say - how can they say that? There are no appearances, there’s no consciousness, there’s no mind, there’s no introspection; how do they become so divorced, so alienated from reality? How is it possible? Well we know we need to answer the question, they did, and we know why, because their minds are so mesmerized by materialism. They can’t see straight. But not everybody. And so here, see whether this rings a bell. These are from an essay he wrote. It’s a physicist writing, it’s a collection of essays by a very very fine physicist. And they’re grappling with the deepest issues. What’s the nature of reality? They’re doing that. What’s the nature of reality? Here’s some comments he makes: A healthy scientific conservatism, conservativeism, usually forces us to disregard all metaphysical subjects that seem unrelated to our research. Science does this all the time, never mind the big issues. Don’t go woo woo on us, don’t go woo woo on us. Don’t go metaphysical, don’t go philosophical, don’t go mystical for god’s sake. Get back to the research, get back to writing your paper, publish, you know. So it’s a healthy scientific conservativeism, avoid that kind of stuff. Let somebody else deal with it. However, in order to make sure that this conservativeism is really healthy, from time to time one should take a risk. To abandon some of the standard assumptions. Now this sounds dangerous. This may allow us either to reaffirm our previous position if it stands up to very careful scrutiny, good. Or to find some possible limitations of our earlier point of view. Isn’t that that refreshing? There’s more. Now let us return to consciousness Oh my god, are you kidding, ok what do you have to say? Now let us turn to consciousness, the standard assumption is that consciousness, just like space-time, before the invention of general relativity. Consciousness plays a secondary subservient role being just a function of matter and a tool for the description of the truly existing material world. This man I don’t think has any background whatsoever in Buddhism, or Madhyamaka. These are his words. But let us remember that our knowledge of the world begins not with matter, but with perceptions. There’s more. This model of material world, obeying laws of physics is so successful that soon we forget about our starting point. And say that matter is the only reality and perceptions are nothing but a useful tool for the description of matter. This assumption is almost as natural and maybe as false as our previous assumption that space is only a mathematical tool for the description of matter. We are substituting reality of our feelings, by the reality of our feelings, our immediate experience Not just, I like I like. We’re substituting the reality of our immediate experience of our feelings by this successfully working theory of an independent existing material world. We’re completely overriding our experience by a concept of an independent world that is completely material and truly existent. And exist independent of experience and the theory is so successful that we almost never think about its possible limitations. [16:38]
Ah! You can tell I’m enjoying this. I really don’t like criticizing, it’s really not enjoyable. This is enjoyable. But you have to clean out the dirt out of the house before you can lay out the flowers. These are flowers. Yesterday was, [pause] not flowers. [laughter] final one. Is it possible, writes this same physicist, Is it possible, that consciousness like space-time has its own intrinsic degrees of freedom and that neglecting these will lead to a description of the universe that is fundamentally incomplete. What if our perceptions are as real or maybe in a certain sense are even more real than material objects. What if my red, my blue, my pain, are really existing objects, not merely reflections of the really existing material world. Is it possible to produce a space of elements of consciousness and investigate a possibility that consciousness may even exist by itself even in the absence of matter? Just like gravitational waves, excitations of space, may exist in the absence of protons and electrons. There’s still more. Could it be that consciousness is an equally important part of the consistent picture of our world despite the fact that so far one could safely ignore it in the description of the well studied physical processes. Will it not turn out with the further development of science that the study of the universe and the study of consciousness are inseparably linked and that ultimate progress in the one will be impossible without progress in the other? [18:25]
And I’ve given you the full citation otherwise you’d think I made that up. [Laughter] Yeah, yeah, yeah April Fool’s, you got us. Here’s the title: Inflation, Quantum Cosmology and Anthropic Principle. That’s his essay in a volume which is an amazing volume, Science and Ultimate Reality: Quantum Theory Cosmology and Complexity honoring John Wheeler’s 90th Birthday. So that is a noble hope for the day. And there are people like that out there. And they’re open, but you know what they’re missing? They don’t have a method. These are brilliant ideas but he doesn’t have a method. People can’t have everything. They don’t have a method. Bring these two together, whew. Viva la Revolucion! Let’s really roll? So now let’s practice. Peace of mind. So that in between sessions we can attend to perceptions, to the reality of our own experience.
[20:03] Meditation bell rings three times.
So I’ll give just a few reminders to start you in the practice then return to silence. Simply put, the motivation of kindness. Kindness for yourself, kindness for everyone with whom you come in contact. With the aspiration to cultivate peace of mind and inner balance, of serenity, that holds a good heart, kindness. Settle your body, speech, and mind in their natural states.
[22:07] And find the stillness. Find it and know that you’ve found it. Let your awareness rest in stillness and know that the awareness is resting in stillness. Resting in its own place, holding its own ground.
[23:00] Then generally direct the light of your awareness to the entire somatic field, within that field selectively, direct your attention to those sensations corresponding to the in and out breath. So here’s something to hold on to. Something with continuity. Something to hold onto when you’re buffeted by the winds of memories, thoughts, desires and emotions.
Something to help you remain in the present moment without being swept away.
[25:58] And let your primary emphasis be on this inner looseness. One can even say, an existential looseness, a sense of ease, of letting go, allowing your awareness to remain still, unmoved by the fluctuations within the body and all the more importantly unmoved by the fluctuations of the mind. We are cultivating a skill of course we will not perfect it in the early stages, it takes time. But the way to perfect this skill is that whenever you note respectively that the awareness has strayed, has either fallen into forgetfulness as you spaced out or get dull or it’s carried away by distraction. When you see that you’ve been carried away again and again patiently, persistently relax. Let that be your first response. Then if you’re still entangled, caught up in that which stole your attention, release, and when you’re free, return. Whereas in the times that you retrospectively know that you’ve lost the flow of cognizance, that clear knowing, and you’re just sitting there, kind of spaced out, bored, nebulous, then refresh. Refresh your interest, refresh you focus. Restore, with a refreshed motivation. Restore your attention and with the intention, the resolve to retain a flow of mindful, discerning, engaged, attention. Let’s continue practicing now in silence. [29:30]
[43:38] Meditation bell rings three times.
[44:30] So then there’s the rest of the day, our formal sessions and then the rest of the day. And then the rest of the day is again more of the day than our formal sittings. Which then means it’s all the more important to fill that with dharma so that we don’t just have up and down, up and down. And so then let’s come back to the starting place that Andrei Linde the physicist brings our attention to and that is the starting place is our awareness of our perceptions, our awareness and appearances, that’s perceptions, that’s our starting place, whoever you are, you’re a philosopher, a poet, a gardener, artist, whoever you are, that’s where you are. Awareness and appearances. Awareness is obviously not physical. That’s it. Appearances, the colors we see, my red, my blue, that’s what he said. And the sounds that I hear, and the smells that I sense and so on. All of these appearances to the mind and to the senses, none of them are physical. Not one, they have no physical attributes, they can’t be measured physically, shouldn’t that be the end of the conversation? That everything we are immediately experiencing, is not physical. What we are immediately experiencing is our perceptions, which is to say, awareness and appearances. That’s immediate. That’s not to say that’s the only thing that exists, but that’s the only thing of which you are immediately aware. And so between sessions, let’s practice this very simple vipashyana, this isn’t cluttered and not complicated. And that is, just once you’re aware of awareness, and once you’re aware of appearances, you’re seeing appearances as appearances, it’s Buddha to Bahia. In the seen, you see that’s what I’m seeing, in the heard there’s the heard, and in the felt the felt, and what is cognized mentally you’re recognizing I’m cognizing mentally. Once you’ve scraped it back to what is immediately present. Scraped away all the barnacles of all the stuff we are superimposing on it. Starting there, this is where we start, this is what we know. This is much deeper than, I think therefore I am. Descartes tried the same thing, let’s get back to something that is indubitable. He didn’t go far enough, clearly, because the sense of I can evaporate and thinking evaporates but awareness and appearances are there even when the sense of I is gone and thinking is gone, this is more primitive, Descartes didn’t go far enough. The Buddha went far enough. So going back there is your baseline in between sessions, during sessions I would suggest go back to shamatha keep on cultivating this, you’re going to need that, it’s refining your tool, sharpening your knife. But in between sessions then see or be aware of the awareness and aware of the appearances arising. And then observe carefully this is where vipashyana comes in with just a little simple question: What am I superimposing upon these non physical flows of appearances, of non physical flow of awareness, what am I superimposing? And Andrei Linde tells us - the whole material world. Everything material is something that we’re designating on the basis of something that’s not physical. The material world is conceptual it’s conceptually designated and has no existence independent of conceptual designation. We’ll return to that later. [48:22]
But here it is, just keep on resting in the immediacy of the experience, the awareness of awareness, the awareness of appearances and as Dudjom Lingpa so majestically suggests, as he launches us on this very very straight and actually very short path of Dzogchen. The very first step after preparing the ground, doing your preliminaries is taking appearances and awareness as the path. That’s it, that’s what he called it. [48:50?Tibetan] that’s your launching point. The point of certainty, the launching point, a point of departure of certainty. What is there to doubt here? Do you really think you might not be aware? And you really think appearances aren’t occurring? I mean there are people [who] say that, but they’re fooling themselves, it’s a form of I don’t know, they drank the kool aid and the kool aid had datura in it. So we don’t need to worry about that. They’ll come out of their coma one of these days. But in the meantime we’re not in a coma and there’s something so obviously not to be doubted or questioned, awareness and appearances. So from the very beginning and in a very practical, tangible, and accessible way, he’s saying: What is your path? The reality you have access to. There are many levels of reality that we don’t have access to. You may not have realized rigpa yet, you may not have realized emptiness, you may not have realized whether there’s life on other planets. There are many things that are true, that we don’t know yet, but you start from that which is incontrovertibly true. And as real as anything we know :awareness and appearances. And then see what you add on. Okay good.
So let’s enjoy this rare environment to practice.
Enjoy your day!
Transcribed by KrissKringle Sprinkle
Revised by Cheri Langston.
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti