B. Alan Wallace, 21 Sep 2012

Teaching: Alan talks about the fourth of the five obscurations excitation and anxiety. Excitation is associated with restlessness and agitation. Anxiety is also known as guilt, remorse, shame, or regret. Bliss and joy are the natural antidotes. But since these qualities cannot be called up at will, discursive meditation on the pros and cons of the practice (in this case, shamatha) can be helpful. As long as we have not achieved shamatha, we are subject to the 5 obscurations characterized as being: 1) sensual craving = indebted, 2) ill-will = sick, 3) laxity/dullness = bondage, 4) excitation/anxiety = enslaved, 5) uncertainty = lost in a desert tracked. Achieving shamatha is the ultimate retreat, makes both body and mind supple, places the 5 dhyana factors at our disposal, and allows us to truly help others. It also greatly facilitates the realization of bodhicitta, vipasyana, and for buddhahood in one lifetime according to Dudjom Lingpa, threkchö and thogyal.
Meditation: mindfulness of breathing per Asanga. If needed use oscillation as in awareness of awareness until your mind comes to rest in the center. As you breathe in, focus your attention from the nostril down to the navel, and without visualization, as you breathe out. Note the 4 stages: 1) inhalation, 2) pause at the end of inhalation, 3) exhalation, 4) pause at the end of exhalation. Note the end of the in and out breaths. With each out breath, total, complete release. With each in breath, just take in whatever presents itself.

Meditation starts at 30:14

Download (MP3 / 31 MB)


Instructions for one that is reading the transcript: the next paragraph and others writing in black is part of the summary that we are using as title for the next theme.

Alan talks about the fourth of the five obscurations: excitation and anxiety.

Oh la so, this morning we turn to the fourth of the five obscurations. It is a pair; the first one is very familiar. It is excitation, the agitation, the restlessness of the mind driven by the mental affliction of craving. The second one is a bit more ambiguous or multifaceted. That is afflictive regret, a kind of lingering, ongoing sense of guilt or shame, which then ties immediately with low self-esteem. All of these being afflictive, undermining one’s spiritual practice and often strongly associated with the agitation and restlessness - excitation of the mind. So there is one meaning of the term - afflictive guilt or shame, remorse - but the Sanskrit and Pali also suggest anxiety, so excitation and anxiety. Anxiety of course is very intimately coupled with attachment because as soon as we are attached to anything, anxiety is built into it, built into the equation. If you are not being anxious, you are just not awake, because if you are attached, you are in a precarious situation.

Bliss is the natural antidote for excitation and anxiety.

(1:52) So those are the obscuration, that is, the fourth obscuration - the pair of them - and they are put together obviously because they are intimately connected. Then in terms of the natural antibody, the natural remedy that is built-in, that comes right through the very practice of cultivating samadhi by way of shamatha. It is the fourth dhyana factor and that is bliss or joy, prtti in Sanskrit, bliss or joy. Well, we cannot just turn that one on. It would be nice if we could, but that does not happen, it is something that does occur and some of you have tasted it, at least having the nice spikes of bliss, some real joy coming up in the practice but then it goes away and becomes a memory and you do not know when it will come again, you want to but you do not quite know which knobs to turn. So, I can assure you that as you go deeper and deeper and deeper in the practice, especially up to the heights, stages 7, 8, up there in that realm then it really becomes a much more steady state, you do not wonder where it is gone and when it is gone you wonder where it went. But then what do we do in the meantime? Because by the time you are up at 7 and 8 the problem of excitation is gone anyway. Well, it does not just start then, number one. That is, none of these qualities of bliss, luminosity, non-conceptuality, none of those simply start sometime much, much later. People in a one-week retreat may experience bliss. It can come up at any time and for some people it can come up more prevalently. It is part of the practice and likewise; relaxation, stability, vividness - these are part of the practice. So a sense of enjoyment, even if it is not really a sharp bliss, but really enjoying it, this can come up, and repeatedly along the path and the deeper you go then the more consistent it is. But in the meantime, the problem of coarse excitation is the big issue on stages 1, 2 and 3, and if there is not a whole lot of bliss coming right from the meditation during that time, it looks like you could be kind of stuck. That is, the antidote is way up there, as something really constant way up there at 7 or 8, you are stuck down at 1, 2 and 3 saying “hello antidote, could you come down here and give me a hand” and it does not work that way.

Discursive meditation on the pros and cons of the practice (in this case, shamatha) is an outside help as antidote for anxiety and excitation.

(4:25) Then we need to call in some outside help, that is the antibody will arise, it will arise, and then it will ward off. Why do you think that all the excitation is gone at 7 and 8? Because something has taken over that is warding it off. The antibody is working, like an antibiotic that is finally really getting to the bacterial infection. But we need outside help until that bliss is coming right from your meditation, from the inside out. Then we need a little bit of help to arouse it from outside in and this is where intelligence comes in, intelligence, imagination, listening, faith, and confidence. With these all come in and specifically looking on, and this is classic, anybody who knows the lamrim teachings and so many of the others teachings. If you are aspiring for something very noble, whether it is realization of bodhichitta, of nirvana, of Buddhahood and so forth, what do you do? You reflect upon what are the disadvantages of not achieving it and what are the advantages of achieving it and you really reflect upon those again and again and again, and then that will arouse the enthusiasm, the zeal, the inspiration: “Wow, maybe I really could!” So that goes for everything, for getting college education, for starting a business and so forth and so on. You reflect: well, if I do not do it, then what is the downside, and if I do do it, what is the upside, and then get into gear, right? It is a standard practice. So let’s review this briefly.

As long as we have not achieved shamatha, we are subject to the 5 obscurations characterized as being: 1) sensual craving = indebted, 2) ill-will = sick, 3) laxity/dullness = bondage, 4) excitation/anxiety = enslaved, 5) uncertainty = lost in a desert track.

(6:04) Right now, for this practice of course is focusing on shamatha. What is the opposite of shamatha? All of your past lives until now, and pretty much your whole life until now, and highlighting because obviously our lives have many good qualities to them, many joys, successes, sorrows, challenges and so forth, but in the midst of that there are these five obscurations and the achievement of shamatha, namely the access to the first dhyana, that is the exact remedy to really subdue the five obscurations. So now what did the Buddha say about these five obscurations? From his perspective I have spoken of the four realities for aryas. What things look like if you are an arya? Oh, the reality of suffering looms very large on all three dimensions and its source is this; the cessation they know, the path they know and so that is what looms large. From a Buddhist perspective, what is a Buddha’s evaluation, what was the Buddha’s evaluation, what is the impact, what is the significance of not having abandoned or really subdued the five obscurations?

(7:19) And he says so, he says exactly what he feels, what it looks like from a Buddha’s perspective, he said: “one who has not abandoned the five obscurations regards himself as indebted, sick, in bondage, enslaved and lost in a desert track”. Sound like fun? He gave five, so I think he probably meant five and he put them in a sequence, I’ll bet you, that he meant a sequence as in the sequence of the five obscurations. So consider it, try it on for size. The first of the five obscurations is fixation on hedonic pleasure, the bounties of the desire realm. And he says if you have not abandoned that one - and of course it is not enjoying - it is that fixation upon, that attachment to, the craving, the clinging to, wealth, fame, power, and all the stuff that could be got by that, the eight mundane concerns, and so he likens this to being indebted, in deep debt, and not just having debt here and I will pay for it tomorrow, but being in debt and not having the finances to get out of debt. How would you feel? There are whole countries that are dealing with this issue right now. I do not think that it feels good, and there are individuals all over the world, families and so forth that are looking at crushing debt, and considering they are losing their home, they are losing this and that and they cannot pay. So exactly how happy can you be when you are in debt and you do not have the resources to pay off your debt? I think anxiety is just coming in like a dark cloud over your head and there would be no lightness, no joy, no sense of being carefree because you are just screwed. I mean you are in a pit of debt and there is no way out. In the old days they just put you in prison, remember jolly good England? Maybe only two hundred years ago or so, and I don’t think it was unique. If you are in debt and cannot pay your debts, we will just put you in prison that will solve the problem - pretty tough!

(9:08) Well, is that a good analogy, and of course you can guess where I’m coming from. I think that it is spot on. That if you are fixated on, if you are investing your life in hedonic pleasure as really delivering satisfaction, fulfilling your hopes, leading the good life and so forth, well of course you are facing aging, sickness and death. You are screwed, you are just screwed, there is no way out, there is no good ending, it never turns out well. No dharma, aging, sickness and death - exactly how does that turn into a happy scenario? Let alone all the misery that you are encountering as you are pursuing hedonic pleasures and meet with frustrations, success but then you cannot hold on to it, wherever there is meeting, there is parting, whenever there is acquisitions, there is loss, wherever there is birth, there is death, wherever there is ascent there is descent. Exactly how is that cheerful? Am I speaking pessimistically here? And often it is said that Buddhism is pessimistic. Yeah, if you come to a doctor and the doctor says that you have terminal cancer, he is not being pessimistic, he is just telling you; “I am sorry, it is a brain tumor”. It is not being pessimistic, either it is a correct diagnosis or not. So we can simply look at this; is this correct or not? If you think it is incorrect, there is no reason for shamatha, enjoy your good life - and I’ll watch you. So there is the first one, I think it is a spot on powerful analogy. Insofar as you are just fixated, attached, totally invested in the pursuit of hedonic pleasure as means to the good life, then you are indebted and there is no way to pay your debts off.

(10:56) The second one is kind of obvious. Ill will, we all know what it is like, it is awful, when the mind is just filled with hatred, with enmity, and we are grinding our teeth because we want to harm someone else. Man, how is that anything other than sick. At least with the fixation on hedonic pleasure, sometimes it feels good. But this one, it is like having a sledgehammer land on your forehead. There is just no happy part of that one at all, that’s just sick. No one gets any benefit, none for you and none for anybody else, it is just misery. And why not just call that sick. Sick until death.

(11:40) The third one: laxity and dullness. It says you are in bondage. Have you ever experienced laxity and dullness? Do you know what is like when the mind is dull, it is foggy it is inert, heavy, sluggish, lacking clarity? Is it not like walking around with two fifty-pound weights on each ankle: “I need to go to the bathroom” and you cannot even go to the toilet. It is so heavy you cant get anything done, nothing mundane, nothing spiritual. The mind is bogged down in a morass of mucus. Like being one of those poor dinosaurs that get caught in a tar pit. Blub…blub…blub, “you see my bones”… So that’s in bondage, that’s for sure.

(12:41) And then we all know what rumination is like, nobody needs to tell you about it - the forth one we’ve just been looking at: excitation and call it guilt or anxiety. How is that not enslaved? You do not have freedom. You linger for the rumination, the excitation, the agitation and all of that. When you cannot sleep because your mind is so caught up, you cannot focus on anything because your mind is so topsy-turvy, so restlessness, so carried away, so enslaved. I think it is a perfect analogy; you are just enslaved, you have no freedom. You do not even have a mind - the mind has you. If you tie a dog to the back of a car and then you drive off, the dog does not have a car. It is just getting dragged to death and is not that exactly what it is like when your mind is just caught in the vortex of rumination, of excitation of blablabla and you think; “give me a break, cut the rope!” The poor dog is enslaved and there is no way out except to get the car to stop. That is the only way out.

(14:10) And then finally uncertainty. I have never been told this, but I think it is true. I think these five analogies are so spot on, one by one to those five obscurations and uncertainty is lost in a desert track.

(14:32) My wife and I went out to “the Gobi” (desert area) years ago, we were going out to some very holy site, especially to Shambhala. We arrived at the edge of the desert where the trains stop and the sun was going down. It was like Mars, almost no vegetation, it is red, and you see these little tracks going this way and then the tracks split and it is all dirt so you cannot really drive anywhere. Dirt, sand, it is like Mars, and you have just these different tracks going in different directions, and it is just wide-open vast desert. Our driver got on the road and said as we were heading out: “I am sure we’ll find it.”

“Oh, yeah? Where is this track we are going to take? There is no signpost, there is no nothing - just this little track in a flattened desert and the tire tracks are going in this way, that way.”

And the driver said: “I am sure we’ll find it.”

“And what if we don’t?”

You are lost in a desert track, that is what you are, in the middle of “the Gobi” (desert area) and that is uncertainty, that is exactly what it feels like and that is, you do not know whether to go forward or backward, left or right because the tracks are going in all different directions and it is like, Ah, Ah, Ah and meanwhile you are getting older, older, and older and you go ahhhgghhh… and you are dead - and that is what uncertainty does to you. It just leaves you nowhere, with no clear direction and meanwhile the sands of time are running out and then you are dead. So, welcome to “uncertainty-land”. It is “the Gobi” with no signpost.

So there it is. So those are the disadvantages, that is what we have being putting up with, that is what we have been tolerating and thinking “it is ok, I am not a yogi, I am not a tulku, I am not a Rinpoche, I am nothing special, it is ok, it is not that bad having five obscurations. After all everybody else does”. That is why it is called an ocean of samsara. So reflecting upon that, and the Buddha was giving these powerful analogies so that we would view these more from his perspective rather than from the perspective of “I am merely human, what do you expect, this is just human nature.” In others words, it is just the human nature to be wallowing in suffering and the causes of suffering with no way out. So, at one hand to be completely disillusioned, not with something that the Buddha has concocted or some believe system - and I am not saying that a believe system is incorrect at all. I am saying that what do we really know about the six realms except for our human and a little bit about the animals, but to build all of your renunciation upon a belief system that you do not know whether it is true or not. It is a little bit fragile, right? And insofar as our renunciation is based upon something somebody else says, even if that person is saying truth and I have a lot of faith in Buddhism and I think you all know that. Nevertheless, how stable is it really when we know some things and other things we merely believe and what the Buddha is getting at here is: “hey, do you know about these five obscurations or not?” and now start looking into them carefully.

Am I exaggerating or not? Because I am giving you a glimpse of what these look like from my perspective and my perspective is the most optimistic perspective that you will encounter in your whole life. Because pretty much everybody else says: Oh, just get used to it or maybe there is some medication that will do it. I think it is the most optimistic. The materialistic view I think is the most pessimistic. The most pessimistic. I think it is death on wheels. But I think you know my views about materialism.

And then we go to the other side of the ledger, really getting a clear look not by simply believing, believing, believing even believing people who has tremendous authority and believing doctrines that are true, but actually knowing by investigating your own experience and attending to the experience of others, is this true or not, are those five obscurations true or not? And then - the upside, the achievement of shamatha. Difficult, to be sure. But then why would it not be, otherwise everybody would have achieved it and nobody would talk about the five obscurations, except as some historical artifact. “You know, in the old days when people were really deluded they still had the five obscurations”. So of course it is difficult, what do you expect? But then consider that people have being achieving it for twenty five hundred years, minimum. That is just in the Buddhist tradition, and then reflect upon the qualities being able to just immerse yourself at will, take this ultimate free retreat vacation, just resting in the substrate consciousness. Even the Buddha himself would do that, it says in the Pali canon, sometimes when he would be tired. There was one case when some monkeys were bickering about some aspects of vinaya (monastic discipline) and the Buddha came and said: “can I help, you are having a big conflict, a big argument here, can I help to clarify?” And they basically said: “we will deal with this, thank you”. Can you imagine that? And the Buddha said, “ok”, and he went off to the jungle and just rested in the dhyanas. “Ok, they do not need me now.” He just went off and rested in the bliss of samadhi. Later the monks not being able to solve the problem by themselves, came asking the Buddha if he could help them and he said “sure, I will be happy to help” and then he solved the problem for them.

Achieving shamatha is the ultimate retreat, makes both body and mind supple, places the 5 dhyana factors at our disposal, and allows us to truly help others. It also greatly facilitates the realization of bodhicitta, vipashyana, and for Buddhahood in one lifetime according to Dudjom Lingpa, threkchö and thogyal.

(20:37) So having that at your fingertips but not just the ultimate retreat, being able to just rest there. Ever so more important is having a body that is supple, light and buoyant that is a good basis but then of course the pinnacle, what is the real point is you have all of these five dhyanas factors at your fingertips, coarse investigation, subtle investigation, a sense of wellbeing, bliss and single pointed total unification of the mind, and that is just normal. That is what you bring to every endeavor, every encounter, every situation, every task. The mind supple, buoyant, light and that is just shamatha. And of course you do not practice shamatha just for the sake of achieving shamatha. But now, as Atisha said, you have achieved shamatha, now you can simply open the portal, open the doorway right next door now, to achieving a wide variety of extrasensory perceptions, paranormal abilities, doing this with wholesome virtues, benevolent motivation, it is a tremendous beneficial. As he said, with that combination: shamatha and developing these powers, he said you can accrue more merit in one day than in a hundred lifetimes, that is Atisha.

So considering that, we all want to do good in the world I think everyone here (mind center) probably everyone listening by podcasts would like to be of service, good, one day versus a hundred lifetimes. What do you think the greatest service is? And without shamatha of course we can help in a myriad of ways hedonically, that is very important. Very important. But if you achieve shamatha and develop such abilities of the mind, then you are really poised to help people actually find the path to liberation, to awakening, to help them in a way to would be of benefit for all future lives. Whatever hedonic help you give to people is beneficial for this life at most and that is it, when you die it is finished. Whatever good health, education, money and all of that you accrue, that is all good, it is valuable, but when you are dead you lose it all. Whereas when you help people eudaimonically, help people in terms of dharma, this could be something where the gift keeps on giving until they are perfectly awakened. How to be effective? Well, gain these abilities, because Atisha said that you really cannot help, he raised the bar very high. He said, you really cannot help, unless you have such paranormal abilities.

(22:53) But then for your own benefit as well, thinking if I have achieved shamatha, achieved that level of purity and these five dhyana factors right there, oh, I am so close if I especially in the process of that I have been cultivating the four immeasurables, sweetening the mind, opening the heart. If you have being doing that all way along, how close are you then to bodhicittta, with such joy in the mind. The mind is so clear, so stable and so radiant. Why would you not then say, the first thing is I want go back to bodhicitta but I want to cultivate now with just this incredible and empowered and clarified, stable, lucid, blissful mind and I want to pore all the juice of the mind, investing in the cultivation of bodhicitta until it just arises spontaneously and my mind has become bodhicitta. My mind has become body and mind that is not something I practicing, cultivating, inspiring to - it is the mind that my mind has become [bodhicitta]. So now we fulfilled Dondumba’s counsel: “give up all attachment to this life and let your mind become dharma”. Well, when your mind has become bodhicitta, I think you can see that your mind is dharma and actually become a bodhisattva. So all the Buddhas throughout the three times would be throwing a party, they would be so happy seeing another bodhisattva has come, to join the party, join the family.

(24:25) But then of course you are poised, you have not gotten there yet but you are poised with shamatha and bodhicitta, you are so close now to bringing about irreversible transformation to truly setting on the path from which you will never fall back ever, in any lifetime, you are so close with bodhichitta and shamatha and then apply yourself to vipashyana, for example, the four applications of mindfulness, exactly what Asanga taught, that is, his teaching from Maitrea, the five paths: Achieve bodhicitta and then stabilize it, enforce it, make it irreversible with wisdom and specifically with the four applications of mindfulness and there you are and now you have achieved irreversible good, which means every lifetime from now until Buddhahood itself. Every single one without exception will be meaningful because you are a bodhisattava in every single one. Wherever you chose to be reborn wherever your prayers, yours virtues and so forth leads you, you will always be as a bodhisattva, every single one forever until you are a Buddha.

That strikes me as very inspiring, but let alone future lifetimes as important, immensely important as they are. Achieve shamatha, achieve genuine bodhichitta, and reinforce that with some genuine insight in terms of vipashyana, the four applications of mindfulness. Now this statement about achieving enlightenment, full enlightenment of a Buddha in one lifetime, this is not like communism propaganda, which His Holiness says, you know without those thinking Oh, yeah, three years, three months, three days you can achieve enlightenment. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama said, you know all of this stuff about three years retreat, Oh, yeah do a three years retreat is like wining a lottery. You too, take three years retreat maybe that would be enough, you may achieve perfect enlightenment and the Dalai Lama said: “yeah, that is communism propaganda”. I just like the good old farty word; bullshit, because it is not going to happen, if you already so close to enlightenment then, ok, but otherwise forget about it. You do the three years retreat without having achieved shamatha, without bodhichitta and without realization of emptiness and in three years you can become omniscient. I think you are more likely to become Santa Claus, or maybe the tooth fairy. It is more likely. I can imagine dying and taking birth as a tooth fairy. I don’t think it is likely, but I think it is possible. But achieving Buddhahood without these three qualities - that is not possible. And this sleek path, this streamline path with no barnacles, actually with no culture, with no accretions, nothing added on. Just shamatha, vipashyana and threkchö and thogyal. Shamatha is shamatha, vipashyana is realization of emptiness, threkchö is breaking through to rigpa and thogyal is fully drawing forth all the potential of the Buddha mind. There it is, there is the straight, direct, unelaborated path taught by Dudjom Lingpa tracing back to Garab Dorje, Padmansabava and so forth and that is all intended, exactly intended for those who wish to achieve enlightenment in this lifetime and then manifest it as rainbow body, so it is clear to everybody. And there it is, and if you achieve shamatha and vipashyana and bodhichitta then why not, what would hold you back?

(28:07) So, if one reflects upon these, the downside of simply continuing the “same ol’ same ol’”, the status quo, “it is probably not that bad, I can get by, really, samsara is not that bad”. When you see it is actually pretty bad, it is in debt, it is sick, it is in bondage, it is enslaved and lost in a desert track, that is not a pretty picture, and that is what we call normal and then there is this upside. Then by reflecting, using one’s intelligence, as you can tell, I am not talking about blind faith here, not simply allegiance to authority or adopting some ideology or worldview, a belief system and so forth. I am not talking about that, I am talking about using one’s intelligence and seeing for oneself what is it like to have a mind so encumbered by the five obscurations and then considering: “gosh, maybe the whole Buddhist tradition has not been lying to us for 25 hundred years and there are people who have achieved shamatha and have achieved vipashyana, have realized bodhichitta and it is not just ancient history”. So, some joy arises and what happens here is through such reflections - now of course I am talking about discursive meditation - then one desire rises up and puts all the others desires into shadow, the desire of bodhichitta for what it really is; the aspiration to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings and in order to do that, to fully manifest the qualities of Buddha mind, in order to do that to realize Buddha mind, in order to do that realize emptiness, in order to do that realize shamatha coupled that with bodhichitta and therefore I will now sit down and I will practice shamatha like the luckiest person on the planet and that should be enough joy to focus your attention so you do not get caught up in the forest of rumination, of guilt and anxiety because this desire rises up and overwhelms all the other desires, they have no time for you, life is short and my opportunities here are precious beyond all descriptions, therefore I have no time for anything else. This is the one that inspires me. So let’s practice right now.


(31:31) As an act of loving kindness, directly for yourself and indirectly for all sentient beings, let your awareness come to rest, grounded, quiet and serene as you let your awareness descend into the body, right down to the ground, then settling your body in its natural state, your respiration in its natural rhythm.

(33:35) And settle your mind in its natural state: relaxed, still and clear.

(34:55) You recall that in the shamatha practice of awareness of awareness that it may be very helpful to enter into the oscillation of release and withdrawal, release and withdrawal until you sense that sense of balance, the mind becoming grounded, calm, clear in which case you simply come to rest in the center and let shamatha arise up to meet you. In a similar fashion now let’s continue with mindfulness of breathing, let’s say a temporary phase, let’s consider another interpretation of Asanga’s teaching and that is as you breathe in go ahead and let your attention move, the focus of your attention, from where you feel the breath first coming in at the aperture of the nostrils, then the sensations of the movement of the prana right down to the navel as you breathe in, noting the very end of inhalation, the interim inhalation, the beginning of exhalation and then without visualizing, simply focus your attention clearly on the sensations of the flow of prana from the level of the navel back up to the aperture of the nostrils, clearly noting the very end of exhalation, the interim exhalation and the beginning of the next inhalation.

(39:20) With each out breath see that you hold nothing back, that it is a total, complete release all the way through the end, allowing for the interim exhalation, without trying to extend it or cut it short, let it be and let the next breath flow in effortless and simply accept it without taking it. Receive what is given, whatever it may be - long or short, deep or shallow.

Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Revised by Joakim Gavazzeni

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti


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