35 How To Stroke The Sun And The Moon With Your Hand

18 Apr 2016

The session starts with meditation focused on the mind. Alan instructs us to discern the origin of mental events, to observe where those mental events arise and manifest, and to determine where they dissolve. After the meditation we return to the theme of siddhis. Based on this morning’s teachings, some of the siddhis seem plausible - if one masters the nimittas and if the hypothesis put forward by Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli is right. But there is still a nagging thought - says Alan. How to caress the sun? How to stroke the moon? How are these siddhis possible? Before launching into a series of quotations from various sources, Alan reminds us of the conclusion of this morning’s session: that among all the archetypal “signs” the one that is primary is the “sign” of the mind. Comprehend the mind and you comprehend all phenomena. The first passage Alan reads is from Dudjom Lingpa’s “The Foolish Dharma of an Idiot Clothed in Mud and Feathers“ which describes a practice similar to the one we did at the beginning of the session. Dudjom Lingpa instructs the readers to “identify the primacy of the mind”. One should then carefully investigate “the so-called mind” in terms of its place of origin. Here Alan explains that the point of the practice is to identify the referent of the word “mind” in our own language - what we call “mind”, what we understand by “mind”. He also notes that all one needs is one thought, one mental event. It is not necessary to see, to investigate the whole mind, just one of its many facets. Continuing the quote from Dudjom Lingpa, one should then investigate the mind’s location and its final destination. Next, “investigate the mind as the agent”. The mind is an agent, the mind does many things - stresses Alan. It conjures thoughts, it causes the “mind-effect” misleadingly called “placebo effect”. Further instructions from Dudjom Lingpa are: seek out the mind’s shape, its form, beginning and end, whether it really exists or its existence cannot be established. When you have determined with confidence that it cannot be established in any of these categories - you have entered the path! This practice is quintessential Dzogchen - remarks Alan. It is the sky, so now we turn to the earth: the Pali canon. Here Alan reads the story of bhikkhuni Vajira from the Samyutta Nikaya. While meditating she was assaulted by Mara who asked: By whom has this being been created? Where is the maker of the being? Where has the being arisen? Where does the being cease? Vajira recognised him as Mara and counterattacked, saying that “being” is a mere heap of constructions, where no “being” can be found. Just as with an assemblage of parts the name “chariot” is used by convention. [Note: this and all the other quotations will be made available in “Retreat Notes” on the SBI website]. Mara is a personification of afflictive uncertainty - explains Alan. Vajira’s response refers to the notion of skandhas which are empty of self. However, in bhikkhuni Vajira’s story an example of chariot is used as well which appears in more details also in another Pali text - the dialogue between arhat Nagasena and king Milinda. There Nagasena demonstrates that the chariot is none of its individual parts and it is not the assembly of all its parts and it is not another thing. So where is the chariot? When does a chariot arise and when does it dissolve? The interpretation of the Pali canon is limited to the identitylessness of persons, not of all phenomena. But Nagasena’s story goes further to conclude that the “chariot” is a mere convention. Obviously this must be true for any other phenomena. This is a Madhyamaka view. A criticism of metaphysical realism. From the classical Buddhist texts Alan moves to modern thinkers, starting with Hilary Putnam. He reads a passage which constitutes a criticism of metaphysical realism, as well as of subjectivism. Putnam identifies the extremes - substantialism and nihilism - and rejects them both, proposing instead a view which he calls “internal” or “pragmatic” realism. He writes among others: “elements of what we call ‘language’ or ‘mind’ penetrate so deeply into what we call ‘reality’ that the very project of representing ourselves as being ‘mappers’ of something ‘language-independent’ is fatally compromised from the very start”. This is classic Madhyamika - comments Alan. But Putnam’s sources were exclusively Western, including Kant, William James and Wittgenstein. Next, Alan continues with a quotation from Werner Heisenberg, including among others the statement that “what we observe is not nature herself but nature exposed to our method of questioning” and “let us not attribute existence to that which is unknowable in principle”. So the crucial point is this: we have been educated to believe that there is a reality out there and science offers the only valid interpretation of this reality. There is only one story: from the Big Bang to the present. And there is only matter. But the quantum mechanics destroyed this view. There is no reality out there independent of the methods by which it is observed and the conceptual designations by which it is conceived. In fact everything arises in dependence of the questions we ask and the methods of observation and measurement we use. Hence, the universe appears physical because all our questions and methods of measurement concern only the physical. Now, relativity theory and quantum mechanics shook this worldview. Alan reminds us of Descartes’ primary qualities, including size, shape, weight and movement. From the point of view of relativity theory these are no longer stable but dependent on the frame of reference. There is no objective reality out there, and all we perceive arises in dependence of the observer and the methods of observation. As further support Alan quotes the Austrian physicist Anton Zeilinger saying among others that: “it is obvious that any property or feature of reality ‘out there’ can only be based on information we receive”. Alan refers also to the notion of “strange loop” by John A. Wheeler, namely that physics gives rise to observers and observers give rise to at least part of physics. If this is so, then both are empty - concludes Alan. Similarly the triad: information, that about which there is information (the informata) and someone who is informed. If any of these elements are missing the other two vanish. So these, too, are empty of inherent nature. According to metaphysical realism matter gives rise to information. But according to quantum view matter is a category derivative of information - it has no existence independent of information. Alan concludes today’s session by quoting another great contemporary thinker - Stephen Hawking. According to his latest view, every possible version of the universe exists in a quantum superposition state. There is no single true past. We choose the past by choosing what questions to ask. The past, the reality rises relative to our methods of observation. And what about stroking the sun and the moon? Alan gave us 24 hours to ponder on today’s teachings and promised to give an explanation tomorrow. So stay tuned!

In the meditation Alan invites us to explore the origin, location and destination of our own mind.

The meditation starts at 1:00

Please contribute to make these, and future podcasts freely available.

Download (MP3 / 50 MB)


This lecture does not have a text transcript. Please contact us if you’d like to volunteer to assist our transcription team.


Ask questions about this lecture on the Buddhism Stack Exchange or the Students of Alan Wallace Facebook Group. Please include this lecture’s URL when you post.