39 The Four Aspects of Taking the Mind as the Path

20 Apr 2016

Alan says we will now return to the central theme of balance, grounding our shamatha practice in relaxation and stability. We will later move to being aware of the sensations and movements of the body but attending to them from the perspective of stillness. Subsequently we will apply this to the practice of taking the mind as the path. In this method, our practice of attending to the mind can energise or arouse leading to tightness, and therefore we need to maintain a sense of looseness in the practice by returning to relaxation. Alan then describes several aspects of this shamatha practice, from coarse to subtle. The essential instructions of this practice are the following: “Attend to the space of the mind and whatever arises within it, without distraction and without grasping”.

(1) The easiest thing to observe are the appearances that arise more objectively, which are primarily audio-visual to simplify a bit, like the face of your mother, a piece of fruit, discursive thoughts, etc. (like watching a movie in 3D, not flat-screen). If you are right there when they first arise, you rest in the stillness of your awareness, you are clear, you are still, and you are directed at the target such that if something comes up in that field you notice it immediately, in real-time. It is seeing a mental event as a mental event from the very beginning: in other words, when the mental event arises, in that moment you are lucid.

(2) Secondly, thoughts at time come from within, and as they arise in that first moment we cognitively fuse with them (e.g. we think about chocolate - we want chocolate). In that first arising (as a subjective impulse maybe by way of an image of chocolate for example) there is already cognitive fusion. It is like entering in the first moment of a non-lucid dream. In the first moment of a non-lucid thought, we are attending to the referent of the thought, e.g. chocolate. Then hopefully I return to the present moment, and then retrospectively I recognise with introspection “I was thinking about chocolate, I wasn’t here and now”. As soon as you see this, let your first response be: Relax. Then release the grasping, the cognitive fusion that captured your attention and directed it to chocolate. (You are not releasing the thought of chocolate, nor the desire for chocolate - they may remain, look at them). Finally return to the present moment from a perspective of stillness, and if there is a thought of chocolate and a lingering desire, that’s fine - observe them. They are not going to stay forever, sooner or later they are going to fade.

(3) Thirdly, during periods when there is no distinct content in the space of the mind, then the practice is sustaining the flow of cognisance - you are clearly knowing the space of the mind. (Alan says this is crucial and there will be more on this later in the retreat.)

(4) Finally Alan asks if we left anything out. Yes, there is awareness of awareness, which is also taking place in the space of the mind.

Meditation is silent (not recorded).

Following the meditation, Alan resumes the transmission of Karma Chagme’s text “The Cultivation of Shamatha”. Alan makes a range of comments in response to the text covering: experiential breakthroughs cannot be sustained without shamatha; avoiding being too rigid in our practice; one could realise emptiness and not realise rigpa; the importance of teaching the Dharma with a wholesome mind. At the end of the text’s preamble, Alan says we should understand this part is designed to engender motivation, enthusiasm and inspiration. In the next section, “I. The Cultivation of Shamatha with Characteristics”, Alan comments that the posture for meditation practice should be taken seriously but not dogmatically. For this reason Alan quotes the following passages:

·Vimuttimagga (by Arhat Upatissa, 1st c. C.E.): The standing and walking postures are particularly suitable for lustful natured personalities, while sitting and reclining are more appropriate for anger-natured personalities. [Ehara, N.R.M. et al. tr.,The Path of Freedom (Vimuttimagga), Kandy: BPS, 1995, 61]

·Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga (430 C.E.): Whichever posture is effective for developing concentration is the one to be adopted. (128)

Finally, as a foretaste of Dzogchen, he reads a quote from Dudjom Lingpa’s Vajra Essence and Essence of Clear Meaning.

Meditation is silent and not recorded.


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