B. Alan Wallace, 13 Sep 2012
Alan comments that mindfulness of breathing and settling the mind are highly complementary. Mindfulness of breathing allows the prana system to settle and converge at the heart chakra which in turn allows the mind to settle. Settling the mind allows breath and prana to settle. In mindfulness of breathing, the breath can serve as the baseline. In settling the mind, the space of the mind can serve as the baseline.
In order for a shamatha retreat to bear fruit, it is also important to have as few activities as possible—i.e., dealing with people who are engaged with samsara. They will pull us out of shamatha, and we will be subject to the same samsaric oscillations. We need to be protected like a little baby in an incubator.
Meditation: settling the mind. Let eyes be open, gaze vacant. Direct mindfulness to the space of the mind and whatever arises therein. If needed, maintain peripheral awareness of the breath. Relax deeply and fully, breathing effortlessly. Take special interest in the intervals between thoughts when the space of the mind is most evident, and observe closely.
Throughout the day, allow the breath to flow naturally and mind to settle in its natural state.
Meditation starts at 7:20
Between the two practices of mindfulness of breathing and settling the mind, there is a marvelous complementarity, or a kind of symmetry between the two in the sense that as you practice mindfulness of breathing, really in any of the three modes, through that very quality of awareness you’re bringing to the respiration that is very attentive, very soft, very clear and non-invasive, just not messing with it at all, and what you are allowing to happen in this process is the breathing then settles in its natural rhythm. And then that’s the avenue for the whole prana system to be settling in a finer and finer and finer state of equilibrium. And what that means is internally, is that the pranas are actually coming into the central channel and up to the heart chakra which is where they converge when your mind dissolves into the substrate consciousness. Right? So that just happens naturally and it’s coming by way of the breath, so by way of settling your prana in its natural state. And it’s really like they naturally want to come into the center and we just keep on elbowing, elbowing them out with craving, hostility, hope and fear, “no I don’t want to achieve shamatha, I really don’t want to achieve shamatha, go away shamatha,” you know? If we just stop doing that and then they wanna come home.
(1:43) And so there we have it by way of prana the mind settles in its natural state. By settling the mind in its natural state conversely just by focusing in on the space of the mind then the pranas do the same thing the respiration also will settle in its natural state. Same quality of awareness and the complementarity there is really quite . . . well there’s a certain beauty to it . . .
(2:09) So in both cases you will on occasion find it very difficult to detect the events arising, namely the sensations of the breath in which case it’s very important that you do have a baseline, something that you can always ascertain, maintain an ongoing unbroken flow of knowing so within the space of body its the space of the body and the actually detecting that, whether it’s the little background radiation at the nostrils or whether its simply apprehending the space of the body, because there is such thing and you can perceive it, not just imagine it. And you can perceive with mental consciousness. Right?
(2:40) So ascertaining that and then you can see, you can perceive the fluctuations within that space which are actually emerging from the space that are the fluctuations of the sensations of the breath. Now of course the corollary is obvious, when you’re settling the mind in its natural state, the baseline, whether or not there are thoughts, sometimes there are, sometimes there aren’t, right? But what your baseline, what are you always ascertaining? And that’s the space of the mind, to ascertain that, to maintain that flow of knowing and then in that space then you see the fluctuations, the perturbations, right? And then you note them when they occur and then the mind just settles and settles and settles. Shamatha doesn’t have to be that far away, really.
(3:24) But especially if the occasion arises for any of you here to decide, ok, I’ve had enough of life without shamatha I’ve been there, done that, it sucks. And now I’m ready to try life with shamatha, a whole new dimension. Then for that duration when you find the appropriate environment, companions, you put all the inner and the outer components together, it’s very imperative that one of the inner components you really highlight and that is when you’re really intent on progressing along the path of shamatha, I’ve emphasized various things
be totally free of rumination, you’ve heard that one before,
being content, having few desires, you’ve heard that one before,
but another very crucial point is having few concerns and few activities as possible.
One of the things that’s a real killer is when (and I don’t mean literally) is when you are in shamatha retreat and you have to engage with people who are not in shamatha retreat, who are not really devoting themselves to practice which means they are devoting themselves to something else and it’s called samsara. And it’s all their dramas, their hopes, their fears, their hedonic fixations, their emotional fluctuations, all their samsara. And if you are engaging with them, and I don’t mean that you don’t love them or you don’t care for them, but if you are engaging with them, it’s very unlikely you’re gonna pull them into shamatha, it’s very likely they’re gonna pull you out of shamatha. Right? And they can just keep throwing boulders in your tracks again and again and again because there’s no end to samsara. When people are not devoting themselves to Dharma, their samsara will go on indefinitely, I mean like eternally until you actually get around to Dharma.
(5:20) The practice of shamatha doesn’t need to go on eternally but Atisha did say, you can practice for a thousand years and never achieve it if you live that long, a thousand years and never achieve it, if you have not satisfied the prerequisites, right? And one of those is keep it simple. Protect yourself. You’re in an incubator here (retreat center), little babies in an incubator need lots of protection, they don’t need to be exposed to outside viruses, and bacteria and contaminations and so forth, they just need protection because they’re really fragile and you take care of them during that time and then the baby can get out of the incubator, out of the nursery, grow up and then live anywhere the baby, the child, the adolescent, the person wishes but there is a time when you just really want to take care of that baby because it’s probably more vulnerable than any other time of his life and that’s in the incubator.
(6:07) So when you are practicing shamatha, we call this the mind center, the shamatha retreat, I call contemplative observatories, we might wanna call them contemplative incubators, you really want to be protected and if you’re not, you can just be facing an awful lot of frustration, just frustration, frustration, always getting these spikes, all the big oscillations up and down because you’re engaging with the outside world and it’s all ups and downs. That’s what samsara is, just loopity, loopity, loopity, loop, up and down forever. So give yourself a break. If you really withdraw from the world for a while, really do that strategic retreat and radically transform your mind at least with shamatha, better go on to vipashyana, go on to develop bodhichitta, real, authentic and irreversible bodhichitta and then you come back. Oh then you can really be of benefit. Then they’ll be glad that you were gone, thank goodness because [of] what you brought back. But if you allow the world to keep on nagging you, nagging you, nagging you, then when you come back you’re just one of the gang. “Hey samsaric person, I’m a samsaric person too.” You know? Not much benefit.
(8:13) In the spirit of loving kindness to really heal your body and mind to explore and to realize a deeper dimension of equilibrium, of balance, of equipoise than you have ever experienced before, to really do something very wonderful for yourself with such motivation settle your body, speech and mind in their natural state and calm the discursive mind for a little while with mindfulness of breathing.
(11:50) And now with your eyes at least partially open and your gaze vacant, single pointedly direct your attention to the space of the mind and whatever arises within it maintaining the flow of mindfulness without distraction and without grasping.
(13:14) If you are not yet accustomed to the practice and you may find it helpful to maintain a peripheral awareness of the respiration and making a special emphasis to relax ever so deeply and fully with every out breath, totally releasing the breath and allowing the in breath to flow in of its own accord without taking it, without encouraging it, without pulling it, just letting it flow in.
(15:20) And now take a special interest in the intervals between thoughts within the space of the mind that is most evident and observe closely that space.
(20:25) Consider that the space of the mind is always present and therefore always ascertainable, most evident between thoughts but consider that is the very space out of which thoughts emerge, the thoughts themselves are nothing other than configurations of that space present within it and it is the space into which thoughts eventually dissolve. Perhaps that is the very space that the Buddha was referring to when he said that: “all phenomena are preceded by the mind issued forth from the mind, consist of the mind”.
(21:18) Monitor the flow of mindfulness with introspection, apply the remedies as before and let’s continue practicing in silence.
Instructions after meditation:
(31:56) Throughout the course of the day, between sessions, during sessions if you allow your breath to continue to flow in its natural rhythm and allow your mind to
continue settling in its natural state and then regardless of what happens to you it will be a good day. Enjoy your day.
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by Aaron Morrison
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti
For those non-native English speakers following the text of this lecture, the following explanation is given with respect to Alan Wallace’s use of the phrase “boulders in your tracks.” “Boulders” are large rocks. The word “track” is another word for “path.” Thus, the phrase “boulders in your tracks” in this context refers to obstacles in one’s spiritual or meditative path.