25 Apr 2016
Alan introduces the afternoon meditation by making a few comments about space. Our most primal space is the substrate. In dreamless non-lucid sleep, in anaesthesia and at the point of dying the substrate consciousness dissolves into the substrate. Even at this point, however, a sentient being still has consciousness, as opposed to e.g. a glass of water. The essential nature of the substrate is ‘avidya’ - ‘not knowing’. The substrate is obscuring the deeper reality, i.e. dharmadhatu. It does not mean that dharmadhatu is somewhere else than the substrate. Right where the substrate is there is dharmadhatu - explains Alan. As if hidden in plain sight. When the karmic seeds stir the substrate, consciousness emerges from it. And from the substrate consciousness there arises mentation. First the subtle ‘manas’, subtle mentation is catalysed. The sense of ‘me here’ as opposed to ‘object there’. Then coarse mentation arises. Alan explains that in a manner of speaking the mentation “refracts” the primal space of substrate into six spaces: the mental space and the five domains of physical senses. Similarly, the substrate consciousness gets “refracted” into six consciousnesses: the mental one and the five physical ones. In the process of falling asleep the same is happening in reverse order. After this introduction, Alan “front-loads” the meditation. He instructs us to focus for the first half of the session on the space of the body by directing the mental consciousness onto the somatic field. In this way the two spaces - relative dharmadhatu (mental space) and the field of tactile sensations operate together, are superimposed. Let the dharmadhatu merge with the space of the body - advises Alan. Let the space of the mind be filled with non-conceptual sensations of the somatic field in order to empty the mind of conceptual thinking, of chatter. Then, in the second part of the session, direct your attention to the space of the mind. In this way you have better chances not to get caught up in the “waterfall” of thoughts, images, memories etc. Alan calls this meditation “Balancing Earth and Wind”.
The meditation is on observing first the space of the body and then the space of the mind, and it is silent.
After the meditation, we return to the text of Panchen Lama, starting from verse 15 of the root text. It describes the preliminary practices one should undertake before launching into the main practice. Alan notes that the shamatha practice itself (e.g. awareness of awareness) is ethically neutral and may even be used for negative, unwholesome purposes. That’s why we need to precede the practice by taking refuge and generating the motivation of bodhicitta. When practicing shamatha one ventures into unknown territory. Contemplatives are often surprised by what comes up. Sometimes there are demons in there. So go there with a sense of security - advises Alan. That’s what refuge is for. Refuge and bodhicitta make the mind spacious. Further in the same verse there is mention of making hundreds of supplications to one’s guru. Why hundreds of supplications? - asks Alan. Surely not because the Buddha or Guru Rinpoche or our own guru cannot hear us. It is actually for us. Because we have many desires coming up. So, if the desire to practice shamatha is only one of many, it may easily get lost. Therefore hundreds of supplications are made in order to crowd out the other desires. As we know, one of the prerequisites of practicing shamatha is having few desires. Next, Alan comments on the line “Your guru dissolves into you”, explaining that in order for this practice to be effective one needs to release reification of oneself and of the guru. The mindstream of every sentient being is already saturated with dharmakaya. So where you are there is your guru. Your identity is not replaced by the guru but you are indivisible from your guru. Alan also explains how helpful it is to adopt the perspective of the guru when your mind seems very small, when you are overwhelmed by what comes up in the practice. Try to view it from the perspective of the guru, of the Buddha. How would these thoughts be viewed by the guru, by the Buddha? Commenting on verse 16, Alan reminds us that the practice of settling the mind in its natural state does not entail modification of anything. One does not take the developmental approach adopted in many other practices but instead releases whatever appearances arise and lets the mind heal itself. Verse 17 of the root text gives a very succinct Mahamudra description of the practice of awareness of awareness. The object of the practice is consciousness itself, identified by its two defining characteristics: luminosity and cognisance. Alan notes that many of us have doubts about doing this practice correctly. He suggests to ask the following questions: Do you still know? Are you continually aware that you are conscious? Are you continually aware of consciousness? Next, Alan presents Tsongkhapa’s descriptions of this practice - one found in “Medium Lam-rim” (the quote is available in Alan’s translation in his book “Balancing the Mind”) and another one in the “Great Exposition”. Alan notes that most of us, while doing the practice, in the background have the sense of ego, of “I” meditating: “I’m watching my awareness”. Hence there is a clear sense of a subject and an object (even though the practice of awareness of awareness is considered shamatha without an object). Alan mentions that Tsoknyi Rinpoche, when asked about the difference between this shamatha practice and the Dzogchen meditation, answered that the difference was in grasping. The grasping to the sense of “I”, the bifurcation of subject and object. We cannot simply turn it off - says Alan. But this shamatha practice is an important step on the path. So that when we cut through to rigpa we will be able to sustain it. For those who are supremely gifted it may be possible to go from shamatha straight to rigpa and from the perspective of rigpa realise the emptiness of the mind. But for those who are not so gifted the path is shamatha and then vipashyana on the nature of the mind. Only when one has realised the purely nominal status of “I am a sentient being” can one realise rigpa. But if you are convinced that you are a sentient being, rigpa remains only a potential and it will take three countless eons before your realisation - warns Alan. The last passage from Panchen Lama’s root text read today is verse 18 on taking mind as the path. Very briefly two methods are described here: one is simply observing thoughts and the other is cutting them off as soon as they arise. Again, Alan presents a possible early source of this presentation in a quote from Karma Chagme’s text in the “Spacious Path to Freedom” where a description of the same two methods comes from mahasiddha Maitripa.
Meditation is silent and not recorded.
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