22 Apr 2016
We’re going to return to the practice of taking the mind as the path. When we are attending closely to the space of the mind, do we have a sense of just a sheer emptiness, nothing, and then something happens in it, or in that vacuity, is there something happening? Isn’t it more like a “background radiation”, a fizz, a foaming, a shimmering in space itself that has a mood of dynamism, of pregnancy, of potential, ready to display as an appearance, a thought, or as a dream? And, considering the practice as a whole, as we spend more hours practicing, and as overall we never know what is coming next, this ongoing novelty arouses the mind; so the nature of this practice is one of bracing. And it’s fine to have more and more clarity, but the higher the pyramid, the stronger the base - we’ll need to deepen the sense of relaxation, otherwise the pyramid is going to fall over. So for this silent session, Alan recommends that we go back to settling the body in its natural state for maybe the first half of the meditation. And during this practice, we can pose simple questions like, can we perceive the space of the body? Does that have borders? What is like to be embodied from a first-person perspective? As it is said in the book “The Embodied Mind”, by Francisco Varela, Eva Thompson and Eleanor Rosch, the body is the only physical entity in the universe that we can view from the inside out. So what is the space of the body? Does it have contours, color, is it black, transparent, does it have a shape? Of course we’re not questioning the body, but the space. Final point - observe the stillness of the space of the body itself and the motion of sensations and feelings arising in that space. And then, observe not only the stillness of awareness and the movement of appearances coming and going in the space of the mind, but the relative stillness of the space of the mind itself - relatively speaking, the space is stillness and the events are motion. And then, further down the road, when we take dharmata as the path, in the domain of the Heart Sutra, we’ll see that emptiness is stillness, form is motion. And finally, in the deepest level, rigpa is timelessly beyond coming and going, rising and passing, beyond all conceptual frameworks, primordially still, and yet constantly manifesting in all manners of displays. Stillness and motion - big topic, all the way through.
After the meditation, we come back to Karma Chagmé presentation of shamatha, in which he strongly emphasizes that the role of shamatha is to enable us to transcend the configurations, the constructs of thought; it is the technology to enable us to get enough thrust to be able to cut through all conceptual designations, and penetrate the domain of reality beyond the scope of intellect - that’s what we do with vipashyana, that can not be sustained without shamatha. So Alan starts reading and commenting on the Aṣṭasahasrikāprajñāpāramitā excerpt onwards. After the Vairocanābhisaṃbodhi excerpt, Alan pauses to comment on the theme of transcendence. All people have, explicitly or implicitly, a yearning for transcendence and there are so many ways of trying to get beyond your skin - joining political parties, becoming Buddhists, becoming a monk, a yogi and so forth. Galileo, through very sophisticated measurements of appearances and using Mathematics, tried to leap beyond the anthropocentricity and “think the thoughts of God”. That is one strategy and it’s being extremely productive for hedonic well being, technology and so forth. But as long as you’re embedded in thoughts you do not transcend to the ultimate. The contemplative approach for this is not by looking outwards, but by transcending thoughts and subjective appearances of the five senses entirely; then you transcend the anthropocentric bubble and you tap into ultimate reality. This is a different and complementary strategy that leads to eudaimonia. Then Alan continues reading and commenting on Karma Chagmé’s text and when he gets to the sessions “Flawed Meditation” and “Flawless Meditation”, he starts to unpack the text much more. He said his own comments, in the footnotes #63 and #64, are wrong; his latest interpretation of the first paragraph of this “Flawed Meditation” session is that Karma Chagmé is referring to the fourth mental state out of nine preceding access to the first dhyāna (the achievement of shamatha). At this point, the challenge is complacency, because you’ve reached a very peaceful, calm, stabilized state of mind and you may think you don’t need introspection, and you get drowsier and drowsier... and go into a trance. You do not exercise intelligence, expressed as introspection. Intelligence: use it or lose it! You may get into stupor and that is an unclear state of mind. This is flawed. We move to “Flawless Meditation” and Alan says emphatically that this is interesting if and only if one is really interested in reaching and proceeding along the path to enlightenment. Alan states that in the footnote #65, he does not reject only the first phrase, which is from Gyatrul Rinpoche: “Whereas in the flawed meditation the senses are totally withdrawn, in flawless meditation sensory objects do appear to the senses, but they are not apprehended.” The crucial point here is that in flawed meditation, the senses are withdrawn because you’re so dull, halfway asleep. But when you’ve achieved shamatha and you rest in self-illuminating mindfulness, there is nothing unclear about that. And then, Alan pauses before the second paragraph of this session with a question: when Karma Chagmé says shamatha, as he states that the eight collections of consciousness do not cease, is he referring to the access to the first dhyāna or to something less, like the eighth stage? Now please refer to Alan’s notes, Friday 22 April 2016, where he gathered many quotes to help us clarify this issue, by clearly defining what both access to and full achievement of the first dhyāna mean. Based on all these authors, including the Buddha himself, Alan concludes that when Karma Chagmé says shamatha, he is actually referring to the eighth stage (single-pointed attention) and not to the access to the first dhyāna. Alan’s interpretation is that what all these great Kagyu masters are saying is that you can achieve the eighth stage of shamatha, apply this superbly stable mind to vipashyana practice and then, sooner or later, achieve shamatha focused on emptiness. As a final comment, Alan said that Gen Lamrimpa, great yogi who meditated from 5AM to 1AM (not from 1AM to 5AM!), said: within straight shamatha, achieve just the stage five; at that point, you’re free of coarse excitation and coarse laxity. Then you go to the stage of generation; and then, if you really proceed along the path, you will achieve shamatha within the stage of generation. Or, from this fifth stage of shamatha, you can proceed and achieve shamatha within vipashyana, or Mahamudra, or Dzogchen. These are techniques, but none of them says - just skip shamatha!
Meditation is silent (not recorded).
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