B. Alan Wallace, 14 Sep 2012
Alan recounts the story of how Shariputra and Maudgalyayana first encountered the teachings of the Buddha. “Those phenomena that are causally created, the Tathagatha has shown their causes and he has also shown their cessation. Thus, the teaching of the Great Sage.”
Normally, we identify strongly with subjective impulses and objective appearances, but when we observe them, we see that they are just phenomena arising from and dissolving into the mind. This first-hand experience into the conventional nature of mind preps us for the dissolution of the coarse mind into substrate consciousness and for the ascertainment of the ultimate nature of mind.
Meditation: mindfulness of the mind via awareness of awareness. Let your eyes be open and rest gaze in the space before you without focusing on anything. Just be present, and sustain the flow of mindfulness in the present. Absent of grasping, there is a quality of knowing. Rest in that awareness. Note mental events emerging from the flow of awareness and watch where they dissolve into. Let the light of awareness illuminate single-pointedly the space of the mind and whatever arises therein. Observe the emergence of thoughts and images and their cessation.
Q1. In the explanation of the illusionist, whose alaya does the illusion appear in?
Q2. I have a question about the location of the mind. Javana occur in the dharmadhatu as does awareness. Do we need conceptual and/or non-conceptual guidance to pinpoint that location?
Q3. How can we make implicit knowing more explicit in our daily lives?
Q4. If the substantial cause of the illusion is the alaya, what is the illusionist doing?
Q5. My understanding of taking refuge and bodhicitta is limited. Can you explain their significance? Can they be taken at various levels? Is it possible to take refuge for a limited time? Is there danger in taking refuge too early? What happens when refuge is taken out of the motivations of fear and self-centeredness?
Meditation starts at 13:50
Alan recounts the story of how Shariputra and Maudgalyayana first encountered the teachings of the Buddha:
Two principal disciples of the Buddha, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana at the same time [and] in their youth, they both developed spontaneously [and] immersed [themselves] in some very strong renunciation and they decided to devote themselves to the pursuit of liberation. They followed a teacher (I think his name was Sanjaya) for some time who was probably quite brilliant, but a skeptic. But brilliant and a skeptic. But they just found that it didn’t go anywhere. I mean being a skeptic, being a skeptic, so what do you wind up being? A skeptic. And so after a while they just got disillusioned with that as well. And they decided: “Look let’s split up” – they were good buddies, really a team – and “let’s split up. Because if we stay together we can only cover you know, half the ground. But you go your way, I go mine. And we both know what we want. We want liberation. So which ever of us finds liberation, finds an authentic teacher, really finds the truth, then we have a pact, that we’re going to let the other one know real quickly, you know? But we’re going to split up so we can cover more ground.” So they did. They went off as wandering ascetics – sramanas (they’re called in Sanskrit).
And India contemplatively was a really a . . . a real civilization at that time. It was a contemplative civilization – not implying at all of course that the population was just filled with contemplatives. But the civilization of India 25 hundred years ago was mature enough, wise enough, that just as a culture they recognized that if there were people – and at that time there were only men (that’s changed with the Buddha) – but if there were people (men) who wanted to devote themselves utterly to the pursuit of truth, to liberation, then they deserve a free lunch, a life time stipend. You know? And so they did. So that was really an option. If you just wanted to devote yourself to liberation, pretty much you just didn’t have to worry about [things like] would you starve to death? No. The society recognizes what you’re doing. They respect it enough that they’re going to give you a free meal, they’re going to keep you going. You’ll not have the “lap of luxury,” but they’re going to make sure that you can continue doing what you’re doing. That to my mind is a contemplatively civilized society. And right now, we’re in a pre-contemplative era of modern civilization. We haven’t quite gotten there yet. Shariputra and Maudgalyayana at that time could follow an authentic path, an authentic teacher.
(3:51) So they set off and then in his various peregrinations, his wandering around India, looking for an authentic path, an authentic teacher, he was out walking and he saw a monk, a fellow sramana just walking on alms. His name was Assaji. And Shariputra basically took one look at him and it was just one of those intuitive things. That it was just by the way he walked. Just his sheer presence as he walked on his alms round… Shariputra just intuitive[ly thought ] “he’s found something, he’s got something real.” So he went up to him, he accosted him, he approached him and said: “Friend, who is your teacher, what’s your teaching, what are you doing, what’s your practice? And as I recall, Assaji said “I’m only new to the practice so I really can’t explain but this is as much I can say.” And I’ll give you the Sanskrit. And my Sanskrit pronunciation is terrible but I’ll give [it] just for the imprints of it. Because it’s become really a tradition to pass it on from generation to generation to generation. I recite it three times every morning. And I have for decades now:
ye dharmā hetu prabhavā hetun,
teṣāṃ tathāgato hyavadat, teṣāṃ ca yo nirodha, evaṃ vādī mahāśramaṇa
ye dharmā hetu prabhavā hetun,
teṣāṃ tathāgato hyavadat, teṣāṃ ca yo nirodha, evaṃ vādī mahāśramaṇ
ye dharmā hetu prabhavā hetun,
teṣāṃ tathāgato hyavadat, teṣāṃ ca yo nirodha, evaṃ vādī mahāśramaṇ*
*This quoted Sanskrit passage is taken from the Supplementary Notes to Alan Wallace’s Fall 2014 retreat in Phuket where he cites to this passage on page 18. These notes can be accessed online at : HYPERLINK “http://www.sbinstitute.com/sites/default/files/Supplementary%20Notes-1sep20.pdf” \t “_blank” http://www.sbinstitute.com/sites/default/files/Supplementary%20Notes-1sep20.pdf – Aaron Morrison
Oh yeah, I’m not fluent in Sanskrit. Tibetan, pretty good. But the meaning of it is quite simple:
(5:01) “Of those phenomena that are causally created, the Tathagata, the enlightened one, has shown their causes and he has shown their cessation too. That is the teaching of the Great Sage.” Want it again? It’s pretty simple: “Of those phenomena that arise, that are causally created, the Tathagata, has shown their causes and he has shown their cessation too. Thus, are the teachings of the Great Sage.”
(5:55) Assaji just shared this very simple verse with Shariputra and Shariputra immediately realized nirvana and become a stream-enterer. That’s why I said it twice. I wanted to give you two chances! I gave it in the Sanskrit, I gave it in English, I gave it in English twice. You want German? [Attempts German as a joke]. I can’t do it but I can try. But of course Shariputra was enormously ripe. He was just like a fruit just ready to drop into your hand. And it did. Just that one verse. And the fruit dropped and he became a stream-enterer, had direct realization of emptiness, of nirvana and he knew he had found something authentic. He’d found it. He was not yet an arhat but he was a stream-enterer so now he was absolutely in the flow to become an arhat. And of course being the good friend that he was, he immediately sought out his old friend, Maudgalyayana [and] he found him and said: “Hey chum [recites Sanskrit passage referenced above] and Maudgalyayana achieved stream entry.
(7:18) Then, of course they knew where the teaching came from. This teaching – I mean it’s just causality, right? The cause of causally generated things and their cessation. That was it. It’s all about causality. But then of course, they said, let’s trace this teaching to its source, they sought out and quite quickly I’m sure, they found the Buddha. Within one week Shariputra achieved arhatship. And I was quite curious, I just read this today. He received it directly in response to teachings given to him by the Buddha. And the teachings the Buddha was giving that just triggered him to achieve liberation were teachings on the elements. The elements. It took him one week. And Maudgalyayana (being a little bit of a slow-poke, relative to Shariputra), it took him two weeks. And the teaching[s] that triggered it for him [were] teachings on the nature of feelings, the second of the four applications of mindfulness. So as I commented earlier, you don’t need to necessarily have insight in to all four to gain arhatship. One will do. Because if you achieve nirvana, you’ve achieved nirvana. You don’t have to achieve it multiple times through different avenues. So I find that quite inspiring. And then I was reading just [about] the rest of his life.
(8:46) Shariputra was such a noble soul, just a noble soul. Then you really see that this word “noble” – “noble one” for arhat, for arya, really has the right feel to it. He was really a noble soul. Compassionate, kind, caring, wise, skillful means. It was said that sometimes when the Buddha would be teaching, he’d get a little bit tired. And when he’d get a little bit tired, then he would turn over to Shariputra, and [say] “Shariputra, take over for me.” And then Shariputra would take over. Quite extraordinary…
(9:18) So the causes of causally originated things and their cessation – it pertains directly to our meditation for this afternoon, as we continue to closely apply mindfulness to the mind. And what I’d like to do, I’m going to give a short preface, we’ll go into it, we’ll have more time for discussion. I’d like to bring the awareness right into awareness itself and then allowing, not suppressing, not cutting off, but allowing subjective impulses, mental factors, thoughts, impulses, desires, emotions and so forth, allowing them to arise and then as they arise, see if you can identify that from which they arise and then whatever subjective impulse, and again this is called “semjun,” that which emerges from “sem,” that which emerges from mind. And what kind of mind? Principal mind. Which principal mind? Mental consciousness. So those mental factors that are arising or mental processes that are arising from the primary continuum of mental consciousness, observe what they are arising from. See if you can be right there, just observing their genesis and observe where they’re coming from. And then they flower, they come out, they manifest but then of course they vanish. Observe what they vanish into.
(10:33) So of these causally generated things, observe the cause and as they cease observe how they cease and observe that into which they cease. So that’s for the subjective impulses, the “semjun,” the emergences from “sem” or they’re called mental factors or mental processes, so observe that from which they arise.
(10:55) But then of course we have these objective appearances, the discursive thoughts, the images and so forth and so let this be a system’s type of awareness, that is you’re not just focused subjectively or just focused objectively, but really closely apply mindfulness to the mind which includes mental consciousness but also includes the dhamadatu, that domain in which mental events take place. So let this be a system’s kind of mindfulness or awareness, such that when these more objective appearances arise you observe them also, you’re taking note of them, closely applying mindfulness to them. And if you can, observe that from which they arise, in other words, what Buddha was calling, “the factors of origination.” See if you can observe that from which they arise, and then they play themselves out and don’t worry if what’s coming out is trivial like infomercial or just some mental junk, likely it will be, you know? Probably not going to be, you know, quotes from the Buddha, Plato Aristotle, it’s probably going to be just ordinary junk. But the content is not what is of interest, but really as a scientist of the mind, not a historian, or not a biographer, “oh tell me what’s your story, oh what an interesting story you have, what’s going on in your mind? Oh you have such an interesting mind, let’s talk about your mind.” That has its place. I’m not being sarcastic regarding that, but it’s a different deal. Here, we’re just interested in what’s the nature of mind, let alone your mind, his mind, her mind, but what’s the nature of mind? What’s the nature of thought, let alone interesting thought, uninteresting thought? From what do they arise, into what do they dissolve? Observe the cause of these causally originated thoughts and observe their cessation too. Observe that into which they dissolve. That’s vipashyana. That’s really vipashyana. That’s really core.
(12:30) In a couple of years if everything goes as imagined, who knows whether it will but we’ll will have an 8 week retreat when we really spend 8 weeks really going into vipashyana during the day time and dream yoga at night and we’ll bring up this central theme, it’s really central to [the] Mahamudra and Dzogchen approach to viphasyana, focused on the mind. And it’s simply called [gives Tibetan description]. How does the mind emerge, how is it present and how does it dissolve? OK, really central. And of course it’s all about realizing emptiness, the emptiness of your own mind, the emptiness of inherent nature of your own mind. That’s really core, right?
(13:13) But for the time being we’re being a little bit more modest, we’re going into the shallow end of the pool. If we can trace the origination of these subjective impulses, these emergences from the primary mind, the “semjun,” the subjective impulses, if we can just trace them right back to mental consciousness, trace them right back to substrate consciousness, that would be something, right? And then similarly, for the objective appearances, if we can observe what they are arising from and that into which they dissolve, for the time being we can call that dhamadatu, the relative dharmadatu or when it’s un-configured then of course they are arising from alaya, the substrate and dissolving back into substrate. On a conventional level, relative level, it’s a pretty big insight. A pretty big insight.
(14:02) So let’s jump in, where do things come from? And where do they go? Ok?
(15:04) First of all let your awareness descend into the body. And as soon as it does so, as if your body were a snowman under the hot sun, as you let your awareness descend into and pervade the body, see if you can experience a type of melting, a dissolving, a loosening up, an unwinding. And wherever there is tension in the body, release it, let it melt and settle your body in its natural state, relax, still and vigilant.
(16:55) And then totally surrender all control over the breath. Let it settle in its natural rhythm.
(17:59) Then for a short time, calm the discursive mind with mindfulness of breathing.
(19:13) Now let your eyes be at least partially open. And evenly rest your awareness in the space in front of you without deliberately focusing on any object or subject. Don’t meditate on anything, don’t focus your attention anywhere. Just be present without wavering, simply sustain the flow of mindfulness in the present moment, without distraction, without grasping onto anything.
(20:52) And in that absence of grasping onto any sensory object, the absence of grasping onto any mental events and the absence of grasping altogether, a type of knowing may dawn on you like the moon coming out from behind the clouds, an unelaborated already present knowing. And that is simply the knowing of being aware, the awareness of awareness. Rest in that knowing without elaboration, without extending your awareness anywhere else.
(23:13) And as you rest in that nucleus, awareness resting in its own place, holding its own ground, knowing itself, note the mental events, the subjective mental processes that emerge from this flow of mental awareness.
(24:29) And if some subjective mental impulse arises, surges forth, don’t impede it, simply observe its manifestation and observe its dissolution. When it fades away, watch that into which it fades and into which it dissolves.
(26:54) Now let the light of your awareness – your mental awareness – illuminate single-pointedly like a spot light, the space of the mind and whatever arises within that space. And as you attend closely from moment to moment, observe (if you can) the very process of emergence, of discursive thoughts, of mental images, observe that from which they arise. And as they vanish, observe that into which they vanish, observe their causation and observe their cessation too.
Summary of teachings after meditation:
(39:23) It’s a very rich area of inquiry, potentially very fruitful as we gain clearer and clearer insight into how these subjective mental impulses arise to which we generally identify so strongly: my emotions, my desires, my hopes, my fears. . . kinda think it almost defines me, right? Let alone my thoughts, my imagination, my dreams, all of these things in my own personal cinema, all the appearances arising in my mind which we strongly identify, this is Ok. I may lose a limb, but at least I have my thoughts. At least I have my images, my mind. But when we carefully exam the manner in which both the subjective impulses as well the objective appearances arise, then it becomes just more and more obvious, [that] no one is doing it. There is no evidence that there is anyone doing it; that there’s any agent pulling the strings of the puppets. They’re just happening. They are just happening. The Tibetan term is you see them as [gives Tibetan phrase]. They are simply phenomena. They are simply phenomena with no additives, not mine, not male, not female, not human, they are just phenomena and they are just arising and then you see how they are arising and you see it’s impersonal. That is, there is no subjective autonomous agent who made them happen and who controls them. They are simply arising in dependence upon causes and conditions and then their fuel is spent, and they disappear like fireworks. They just fade right back into the sky. And that is equally true for the appearances arising in the space of the mind as well as the subjective impulses, these mental states that emerge from the core mind, the principal mind or fundamentally the substrate consciousness.
(41:07) So in that way one can have direct insight into the “anatta,” the not self, the not-self nature of that which emerges from the stream of consciousness, that which emerges from the dharmadatu, or the space of the mind. But then also as you are just lingering there, just staying home minding your own business, just being aware and since there is nothing else to do, you’re being aware of being aware; and that’s kind of your full time job. When you’re just getting that very close intimate encounter with just the experience of being aware, you see that also has no personality. It’s not old or young, it’s not male or female, it’s not human or not human, it’s just none of the above. It is simply what it is and what it is, is transparent, it’s luminous and it’s cognizant. That is, it illuminates appearances and it knows and that’s it. There’s really nothing more to say about it. But it’s not a person and if you say “yeah but it belongs to me,” exactly where are you? Where are you, owner? I’m seeing all that you think you own, but what I don’t see is you. Where is this owner? And then it’s [gives Tibetan phrase referenced above], it’s simply a phenomena, it’s simply consciousness, it’s not a person, an ego, a self, an “I,” it’s simply what it is. It is consciousness. Just like space is space, earth is earth and so forth.
(43:00) So in that way there can be a real freedom, a looseness, a relaxation, a spaciousness around this, not the tight cramped corners of feeling you’re caught inside your mind like a very heavy person caught inside a telephone booth. “Well at least it’s my booth, I can’t get even get my hand to my mouth, but at least it’s my booth.” It’s expansive, it’s spacious. And you also then notice there aren’t any borders to it. That whole notion of borders is just like the border between, I don’t know, this property and the adjacent property, does anybody know where it is? I don’t, but if you find out, it’s only because somebody agreed it’s so. So it’s just – there’s no borders. Consciousness without borders. Just, there it is, open. And in that open space, awareness arising, mental events arising. So, not a bad prelude to allowing your mind to dissolve into the substrate consciousness. So as it dissolves, you actually know what’s dissolving, there’s no mystery there. You’ve actually fathomed it. You see conventionally speaking, you understand the nature of these mental emergences, you understand the nature of the thoughts, appearances and so forth, you kind of “get it.” In other words you become lucid with respect to the subjective impulses and the objective appearances, you are seeing them as they are on this relative or conventional level. So when they dissolve, you say, “ok well at least I figured you out before you left.” And where they’re going to dissolve finally is at death and that’s when they’re going to dissolve right in the same place that they’re dissolving now. They’re going to dissolve right into the substrate consciousness and the appearances will dissolve right in the substrate. So if that’s all you gotten in a lifetime is to understand the nature of the events that arise from that substrate and the substrate consciousness and if you fathom the substrate consciousness and the substrate into which they dissolve, that’s pretty significant. It’s not liberation, it’s not nirvana, it’s not Buddha Nature, but boy, it’s better than yesterday’s is left overs. That’s really worth something. And if you’ve ascertained that and then you’re dying and you’re dying lucidly.
(45:08) And then you get dead and you actually know and say “yeah, I’ve been here before, this is familiar, this is home, this is comfortable, this is Ok, this is home, this is where all those things came from.” If you’re really relaxed there and knowing, maintaining lucidity, knowing substrate consciousness as substrate consciousness, you’re not that far. So when the next episode begins, one cinema has just come to an end, and now – what did they call it in the old days when they showed two movies back to back? Double feature, yeah. So the feature of this life’s mind has come to an end and then it goes dark and says, but it’s a double feature and now comes rigpa. That’s a pretty good show. And you are really quite poised to ascertain that, that would be very good.
(46:00) As a preparation for being able to venture in the teachings of Nagarjuna, The Perfection of Wisdom, The Madhyamaka Middle Way, this really makes it practical. Because my sense is that without this foundation in experience going into your own mind, not your thoughts about your mind, not your thoughts about Madhyamaka reasoning about the mind, but actually going into one mind and you can actually go into and actually getting some experience, some insight there, practical, then with that basis of knowing the conventional nature of the mind, you say, “yeah I know what they are talking about.” So the words are easy to say: primary mind, mental events, luminous and cognizant, nature and so forth, easy to understand and they’re devoid of an inherently existence autonomous controlling self. “Yeah but I not only know how to parrot the words, but I actually know what they’re referring to. To have that, to have as Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen Rinpoche, the tutor of the Fifth Dalai Lama says:
(47:17) If you have now through the practice of shamatha, you ascertained [gives phrase in Tibetan] the essential nature of your mind, what that means is you actually know the nature of mind, you know the nature mind, not just your mind, your mind, his mind, her mind but you actually know the nature of mind. You’ve got one and you’ve understood its nature which means then you understand the nature of everybody else’s mind, not the unique qualities, of course but if you’ve understood really one orange, then that pretty well takes care of oranges, right? And if you’ve really fathomed one mind, well that’s good enough, now you understand the nature of mind.
(47:49) But now when we leap ahead in this particular sequence, it’s probably going to be two years from now if things go as imagined, who knows? But having eight weeks or longer, eight lifetimes, whatever, to really do the ontological probe, really to try to realize the shunya nature, the emptiness of inherent nature of the mind, how exactly are you going to do that if you haven’t ascertained the conventional nature? How are you going to just say: “well I don’t really understand the nature of mind because all I’ve done is thought about it. But never mind that, I’m just going to go ahead and ascertain its ultimate nature.” I don’t quite see how that’s possible. I don’t really know.
How do you realize the empty nature of a banana if you don’t know what a banana is? I don’t know how you could do that? It’s just more words.
Trying to sum up what Alan said:
How could you understand the emptiness of the inherent nature of the mind if you have not yet ascertained the conventional nature of the mind, the nature of your own mind? In other words it seems that it is necessary to ascertain the relative nature of the mind through the practice of shamatha as a preparation to ascertain the emptiness of the inherent nature of the mind, the ultimate nature.
(49:30) I think that there is a lot to be said for actually understand the conventional nature of the mind and I don’t know no of any other better methods, than our shamatha methods, settling the mind, awareness of awareness and then the close application of mindfulness to the mind, so it’s pretty good. Namo to the Buddha.
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by Aaron Morrison
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti