04 May 2016
Alan reminds us of Padmasambhava’s pith instruction that makes the path to enlightenment so easy - to observe one’s mind. However, for most people this is not sufficient to progress as we have obscurations, particularly conative obscurations that are difficult to be rid of as we are all so busy, despite that for many of us our survival isn’t dependent on such busyness. Alan reviews the operation of some of the types of obscurations including the conative; attentional including the categories of laxity and dullness and of excitation and anxiety; cognitive such as the acquired delusion of scientific materialism that prevents taking introspection seriously, and the conate delusions. In responding to the bias of modern science regarding these cognitive obscurations, Alan mentions some recent research that concludes insects are conscious and Alan congratulates New Zealand has passed a law or declaration that animals are sentient beings. These developments are welcome in that they represent an overturning of the hundreds of year’s old mesmerising idea of Descartes that animals don’t possess consciousness.
The last type of obscuration – a big one – that prevents our practice development is the emotional. If the emotional obscurations and imbalances can dominate during our wonderful retreat environment, then what will it be like when we return to our regular post-retreat lives? Alan illustrates the range of methods to address an obscuration involving depression. Good mindfulness-based researchers and therapists have discovered that for severe depression, meditation instruction is useless and only skilful psychiatry and use of antidepressant drugs can ameliorate the symptoms. Then once the symptoms are being well managed, the use of talk therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy are effective. However subsequent to depressive symptoms being reduced there can be a remaining prevalence of general unhappiness and anxiety. So then for someone exposed to Dharma the teachings of Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara (Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life) and Buddhaghosa’s Four Immeasurables provide a profound set of skilful means for addressing emotional obscurations. However it must be recognised that other than for the initial stage of treatment for severe depression, the responsibility for overcoming the emotional obscurations increasingly depends on the individual’s own development of skilful means. For the Dharma practitioner, the same approach to taking individual responsibility applies in taking adversity onto the path. Then with the practice of settling the mind in its natural state, one can simply rest in the stillness of one’s own awareness and watch the mind heal itself. Alan says that vipashyana meditation can be exhausting and stressful with its demanding questions. In going deeper into the practice there is an increasing need to broaden our base of relaxation.
The meditation practice is initially guided on returning to the still point via the foundations of shamatha by directing the light of awareness on the body and mind, attending to the breath continuously, and mostly grounding the awareness in the tactile sensations. As the conceptual turbulence of the mind gently subsides, then gradually slide the emphasis into primarily being aware of awareness and peripherally noting awareness of the breath.
After meditation, Alan says that we each uniquely bring our body and mind to the retreat, which means that we each have our own strengths and limitations. Our new base camp or default mode post-retreat should be one of more detail of attentiveness and quality of awareness of people and situations as presented without getting caught up in the mental afflictions.
Meditation starts at 26:00
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