B. Alan Wallace, 06 Oct 2012
Teaching pt1: Alan continues with his commentary on the section on mindfulness of feelings in Ch. 13 of Shantideva’s Compendium of Practices. When experiencing a painful feeling, develop great compassion for beings who fixate on feelings, totally identify with them, hold them close, misapprehend them, and ruminate about them. Let the feeling arouse compassion. One may also use a wisdom approach by inquiring who is the one who experiences the feeling? By gaining insight into the emptiness of the experiencer, one penetrates the entire system of simultaneous interdependence with the object and the feeling as mode of experience. Finally, one views feelings from the perspective of rigpa—i.e., peaceful, pure, and luminous. The first step is recognizing the feeling as a feeling, by being able to distinguish between the stillness of your own awareness and movements of mind. Only then, can we choose to react wisely, such as following Shantideva’s advice of remaining as still as a log of wood in the presence of klesas.
Meditation: Silent session with mindfulness of feelings following the compassion or wisdom method outlined above or another practice of your choice.
Q1. You’ve taught 3 methods of shamatha. It appears that in all of them, the practitioner takes the throne of awareness, and only the objects differ. The practices could be called awareness of the breath, awareness of the mind, and awareness of awareness. Upon achieving shamatha, is it possible to focus on any chosen object without effort? What is the role of the counterpart sign? Is it reasonable to switch back and forth between the 3 methods?
Meditation starts at 26:30
This afternoon we return for the last time, for the time being anyway, to the close application of mindfulness to feelings returning to a couple of paragraphs from this second text of Shantideva, A Compedium of Practices - and I can mention that I finished the translation of that chapter 13 on the four applications of mindfulness, finished the first draft anyway and we have already have it at the front desk.
So right so it’s straight forward, just two paragraphs and then we can go directly to the meditation, two paragraphs of two citations from different sutras. The first of these is:
The Ārya Akśayamati Sūtra states, “When one is struck by a painful feeling, one arouses great compassion for all sentient beings who are born into miserable realms of existence and who have no leisure. They fixate on feelings, totally identify with them, hold them close, attend to them, misapprehend them, and ruminate about them.”
Alan reading and commenting:
The Ārya Akśayamati Sūtra states, When one is struck by a painful feeling, one arouses great compassion for all sentient beings who are born into unfortunate realms of existence - remember I’m changing ‘unfortunate’, it seems a little bit weak, we are going into ‘miserable’ realms of existence because it’s not just unfortunate if you are born into hell realms, like – oh shucks, it’s a bit heavier than that. Okay, so one arouses great compassion for all sentient beings who are born into miserable realms of existence and who have no leisure. So that would include of course, human beings - so called fortunate realms of existence – but if you have no leisure, no opportunity, then you’re born, you get old, you die, that’s it. So I have already modified this a little bit since I have sent it to the front office, so you might just want to remember this, the current version says -
“They fixate”, that is - these beings for whom you are arousing great compassion, they fixate on feelings, or one could say - we can fixate on feelings- it’s the tendency of the sentient beings in samsara. But we will just leave it at ‘they’. Because it is those beings for whom one is arousing great compassion, Mahakaruna. They fixate on feelings, totally identify with them, hold them close, attend to them, misapprehend them in a myriad of ways – grasping at them as permanent, as inherently one way or another, as being, having an owner, having, being a self and so forth and they ruminate about them.
So what are the myriad ways in which we are really afflicted by feelings? Because we fixate on them, totally identify with them, hold them close, tend to misapprehend them and ruminate about them. So there is the whole topic for meditation.
(4:02) And when one is feeling suffering oneself, then you already have something to work with, as you know exactly what other people are experiencing, but the bodhisattva - because this is what he is referring to - the bodhisattva is experiencing feelings like anybody else, if one is like a basic bodhisattva, but then has all of the wisdom, all the insight to apply to it to really being able to learn from it and to transform it onto the path. So one experiences pain but then uses it as a spring board, as a launching pad for developing great compassion for all other sentient beings, who also experience painful feelings but not having the wisdom of dharma, they fixate on them, totally identify with them and so on. So there’s the first meditation, just one paragraph but it’s a full meditation.
And then our final paragraph in this presentation:
(4:59) The Dharmasaṅgīti Sūtra also states, “Feelings are revealed as experience, but apart from the feeling, who is the one who feels? If the one who feels it is not other than the feeling, then who feels it? Just as enlightenment is peaceful, pure, and luminous, so do the wise closely apply mindfulness to this feeling.” That is a summary of the close application of mindfulness to feelings.
“Feelings are revealed as experience”: so an unfelt feeling is no feeling, it’s a mode of experience.
“Feelings are revealed as Experience”: so again as experience - they are in a subjective mode, they are not something simply appearing to you, so we’ve looked at that repeatedly.
“but apart from the feeling [the experience itself], who is the one who feels?”: so now we turn this into vipashyana practice once again. The feeling is very obvious, we are vividly aware of it, sometimes it seems to engulf us, but again there’s always that person pronoun in there, the “I”, the one who is tormented by the feeling, experiences the feeling, troubled by the feeling and so forth; great - what he is suggesting here is now probe right in, do that cognoscopy, probe right into your experienced sense of being the one who is experiencing the feeling, the agent, the subject, the one who has it, the one who feels. Examine that closely of course, where there’s no question that such being does conventionally, or relatively exist - but the problem lies in the delusion of reifying the feeling, the referent of the feeling - that is the actual object about which we are having feeling, and then the one who feels. The sutra continues:
(6:14) If the one who feels is not other than the feeling, then who feels it? So if one just wants to collapse the one who feels with the feeling, then whatever became of the subject? The person who is actually experiencing, who feels? So he’s leaving that as a subject for investigation, and I would suggest that again we can keep on weaving all the teachings together, I don’t know how many people would read that and think – oh yeah, this is just like John Wheeler. But then we have been there repeatedly, the whole notion of the informata, that is - that which about we have information, the whole flow - the experience of acquiring information of being informed. Like the experience of feeling, it’s a transmission, it is a feeling, it is a subjective experience, and then there is the one who is informed, the scientist, the person who is experiencing suffering and so forth, so the parallel is actually perfect. And so what holds for one of those processes holds for the others as well, if you take out any one of three, I mean it’s really astonishing, but if there is nothing about which you are gaining any information, then suddenly there is no information and there is no one who’s informed. Remember? Take out the one who is informed and then there is no information, and then there is nothing about which you are getting information, because you couldn’t posit it without having information about it, you can’t just say it hovers there all by itself, because it’s an empty set, there’s nothing there. And then take out the flow of information, well then there’s, you can’t possibly speak, it’s meaningless to speak of that about which you are gaining information when there isn’t any.
(7:57) And likewise - take out the flow of information and then there is no one who is informed. So it’s one of those really, that’s kind of a sharp edge, that difficult entrance to realizing the mutual interdependence. It’s not a sequential dependence like the sprout depends on the seed - yeah, first came the seed then comes the sprout, no they’re all simultaneous, and they seem to be quite separate. There’s that which about which you are giving information, here is the one who is being informed, they seem totally separate, oh yeah, then there’s the experience – with the information. It seems that way, but then when we probe in we see – no, that’s not the way, right?
(8:32) So as with the flow of information - likewise with the flow of feeling. Flow of feeling, the experience of feeling is a subjective mode of experience and you must be experiencing something, there has to be an object. You cannot experience nothing whatsoever, absolutely nothing because then there would be no experience of absolutely nothing, in which case the experience would vanish and also the experiencer would vanish. So, when we’re experiencing some feeling - there has to be some referent, it has to be knowing, apprehending, engaging, something has to be appearing to you so that there is a feeling component in your experience of that appearance object, whatever it may be.
(9:12) So he is giving us multiple angles here to come in and really probe into and realize the emptiness, either of the feeling itself, then the other two vanish, or here he is suggesting - why not come in and just kind of probe right into that sense of being the autonomous self-existent, inherently existent, feeler of the feeling, experiencer of the feeling, and at that, upon you, not just intellectually or verbally and what have you, but if you actually gain some insight into the sheer emptiness, the sheer absence of this separate self-existent, inherently existent, experiencer of the feeling, if that’s found to be nowhere to be found, that’s found to be empty, then how can you have a self-existent feeling hanging out there with nobody experiencing it? So one will do it for the two, you don’t need to necessarily clobber all three, clobber one and you get three for the price of one, because the others can’t stand on their own. So very profound, very short almost like again a koan quality.
If the one who feels it is not other than the feeling, then of course you don’t have one who feels it, then who feels it? In other words it collapses it’s really like a koan. And then we move on, and there is a surprising direction:
Text: Just as enlightenment is peaceful, pure, and luminous, so do the wise closely apply mindfulness to this feeling.
(10:55) I think what he is suggesting here, again the analogy is in the awareness of awareness or also the settling the mind in its natural state, would be even closer.
In settling the mind in its natural state, oh – sister Mary, Venerable Mary. In settling the mind in its natural state what’s the first criteria that you open the door into the practice and you’re now venturing into it correctly? What’s the first criteria before the four mindfulnesses? If you don’t remember, you don’t remember, no big deal. You don’t remember? Okay, now’s a good time to remember, it’s actually quite important. Jean what’s the first criteria? Okay, got ya yeah, exactly – it’s noting the distinction between the stillness of awareness versus the movement of the appearances of the mind, those are thoughts, images, memories, desires and the emotions which then includes feelings. So there it is already in that simple shamatha practice, simple but incredibly profound, is if you’ve got the taste of that, if you know what’s like - to be resting in the stillness, unmoved by the feeling, experiencing the feeling, your awareness illuminating the feeling, but not absorbed by it. It’s almost like, like take an emotion - being grumpy, sometimes grumpiness just happens right? But instead of simply being totally absorbed by grumpiness and viewing reality from the grumpy view, you know, not even aware that you are grumpy, just grumpy and not even aware of it, like you kinda suck today, Daniel, I don’t know what’s wrong with you today but you suck. And so does Chitra, yeah, so does she for that matter, Judy kinda sucks today – and not noticing that it is not in the object, you know because you are totally immersed in the grumpy view, ok, well that’s just samsara - where we are totally fused with whatever emotion, mental affliction and so forth, comes up.
(12:58) But if you are aware with stillness - aha, I see that the mind is grumpy, you little rascal! And if through that grumpy lens I look over there at Judy, she is going to appear not at her best, because of the lens, because of the lens stupid, you know it’s kind clear, but it’s clear if and only if you have been able to distinguish the stillness, the natural clarity, the luminosity of your own awareness, with that temporary veil. Because nobody can be grumpy all the time, it’s too tiring, so you recognize - ah my mind is now, right now, filtered with the lens of grumpiness and I recognize that, from the luminosity and clarity of my own awareness, I see my mind is grumpy therefore probably as Shantideva says, going back to the fifth chapter, introspection chapter, - when you see with that clarity of awareness - ah, my mind has become grumpy, my mind has become petty, my mind has become sarcastic, my mind has become self-centered and attached and so forth, he gives a whole list of mental afflictions.
(14:03) When you recognize that, Patrice what do you do? What does Shantideva do? Because you must have heard those teachings, what do you do when you see that your mind is overcome by mental afflictions? Think of wood. Remain as still as a log, remain as still as a piece of wood, so in other words, when you see that your mind has gotten caught in what psychologists call - a refractory period, being grumpy is a refractory period, everything looks grumpish, even nice looking Judy there, sitting quietly like a little Buddha, even she can look grumpish, anything can, a snowbank can look grumpish if you are viewing it through the lens of grumpiness, right? So when you see that and you see - if I should act upon this, if I should view the reality through grumpiness and then start responding, snarling here, being impatient here, irritable there, then there’s nothing good coming out of that. So when you see that your mind is dominated by some mental affliction, the best favor you can do to everybody, be still let it pass. Very much like having contagious cold or flu, you can’t just make it go away, you can’t snap your fingers and say be gone, but what you can do is not sneeze on people, quarantine yourself- you know it’s just basic – it’s just good manners. So when you see that your mind has been dominated by some contagious mental affliction, be courteous and keep it to yourself. But we can do that if only if you do have that distinction, and that is the stillness of your awareness and seeing the various moods almost like seeing clouds scuttle across the sky, sometimes it’s dark, sometimes it’s gray, sometimes it’s clear but just recognizing, ah, it’s darkness now I think maybe now is not the time to act, or oh now it’s clear, okay now full speed ahead, now I can talk again I am temporary out of the refractory period.
(16:10) And so in that same fashion, now we return to this text here: “Just as enlightenment is peaceful, pure, and luminous, so do the wise closely apply mindfulness to feeling.”
And that is, they are viewing their own feeling with the best approximation of viewing it from enlightenment, from rigpa itself, and that is enlightenment. Rigpa could see and it does, rigpa does see that is if you are not enlightened yet but you’ve gained some realization of rigpa, the sheer fact that you’ve gained some realization of rigpa, you’re dwelling in rigpa, doesn’t mean that all mental afflictions suddenly never happen again, that they are completed eradicated, it’s not true, they’ll arise but you’re viewing them from the perspective of rigpa which means that you are viewing them from a perspective that is peaceful, pure and luminous, right? In which case those mental afflictions cannot afflict. So perhaps I am reading it too much but what I’m reading is, I know it’s very good because it’s from the Dzogchen tradition. So,
“Just as enlightenment is peaceful, pure, and luminous, so do the wise closely apply mindfulness to this feeling.”
What kind of mindfulness? Mindfulness that fixates on feelings, totally identifies with them, holds them close, attends to them, misapprehends them, ruminates about them, of course not, that would just be more samsara.
Attending to same feelings, but to your best approximation, at least your approximation of the substrate consciousness, clear, luminous, not ultimate but nevertheless not bad, and if you penetrate through to rigpa then your best approximation of that.
Again I am going to read that one more time: “Just as enlightenment is peaceful, pure, and luminous, so do the wise closely apply mindfulness to this feeling.”
Whatever the feelings of the moment is, attending to it with the purity, the luminosity and the stillness, the freedom of grasping, of your own awareness, attend closely apply mindfulness with that awareness and then you don’t get bogged down in it. It would like a biochemist or a medical researcher very carefully handling some kind of a toxic virus or bacteria but keeping it in the test tube, or if it is not in a test tube, then covering very well, protecting it very well. So you are handling a lethal substance here, that if you breathe it in, it could give rise to dire consequences, but you want to understand it, if you really want to understand it, maybe you’re trying to find an antidote whatever, maybe you could use it for something good. I saw a headline, I did not read it but some apparently poisonous snake venom they found out can be useful, medically for something. I didn’t pursue it, but that’s interesting and that was enough for me. But there it is, it’s poisonous, yeah but then some scientist, wonderful medical researcher said – yeah it’s poisonous, but might it be good for something? And they found, lo and behold - it was. But when they were doing the research, would they touch it with an open wound? Oh that would be ridiculous, you handle it with great care understanding you might actually be able to use it for something.
(19:09) Oh, isn’t that exactly what they do in Vajrayana where you, from that perspective of rigpa, Stage of Generation and Stage of Completion, you observe the five poisons arising, delusion, craving, hostility, envy, pride, you observe them arising, these are toxins, but rather than just slipping into the same familiar rut of identifying with them and then suffering, and sowing the seeds of suffering, you see them arise and then if you are a Vajrayana practitioner, then it’s defined , if you are a genuinely, authentic Vajrayana practitioner you must have some understanding of emptiness, if you don’t then you are just not practicing Vajrayana you are going through a shallow charade. That’s the breaks, that’s the way it is, but if you really have some realization some at least clear understanding of the lack of inherent nature of these five poisons, these five really fundamental mental afflictions, then you see there is nothing from their own side that is inherently afflictive any more than this snake venom is poisonous all by itself, does that even make sense? You’ve got snake venom in a vial, why is it poisonous? It’s just a complex chemical compound, it’s not poisonous until it comes in contact with something that it poisons, and then you say oh, that was poisonous, and it is, but all by itself is that intrinsically poisonous?
Well peanuts are really tasty and nutritious for some people and for other people who are violently allergic to them - it’s death, they take a handful of peanuts and the throat can constrict so quickly they can be dead in a matter of minutes, they have a very strong allergy. So what’s the scoop? Are peanuts poisonous or not? Of course, you can’t ask the question all by itself, if they are poisonous, nobody would eat them, if they are intrinsically, if they were good, intrinsically, everybody could eat them. So for peanuts - so for snake poison - and so for the five poisons of delusion and so forth, not intrinsically.
(21:43) So what do you in Vajrayana? You first of all you must realize the empty nature, realizing their empty nature - then you may designate them a different way, view them in a different way – with pure vision, and them see each one as a manifestation of one of the five facets of primordial consciousness. In which case even the mental afflictions are like turbo power to propel you along the path of awakening, even the mental afflictions let alone bodhichitta, realization of emptiness, the six perfections and all of that.
(22:11) So by the time you most virulent toxic mental afflictions can also propel you to enlightenment as well as virtues like compassion and wisdom, then you’re really set, you are in a good shape. But it all comes down to developing the basic tools, and you get those in shamatha, so if you don’t have shamatha then you are not able, I mean you can’t, how would you do it, how would you separate the stillness of your own awareness with the movements of the mind? If you say - oh no I can’t do that but I am a Vajrayana practitioner. Yeah, I don’t think so, I don’t think so.
So there it is, that’s the complete presentation of the close application of mindfulness of the feelings we go from there onto the mind which we will start on Monday. So for a meditation what I like to do on Saturdays is have them silent, so I will just give the quintessence again - of these two very rich paragraphs. When suffering of any kind arises in a body or the mind, it’s very easy then for the mind to go into a kind of bunker mentality, when you’re being attacked the mind then closes down and says, don’t bother me, I’m busy, I’ve got some real problem of my own I really can’t deal with your stuff. And then what we do? We fixate totally identify, etc, etc, don’t bother me I am really busy, I got a world of pain here and it’s a full time job. It is very easy to do, very understandable, right? But it just perpetuates the cycle.
(23:33) When that happens, and again, such important point, and that is to make this practical so my teaching right now doesn’t sound like a taunt, or like scolding, that is that sometimes we go into bunker mentality and feeling, oh, yeah, I am doing exactly the opposite, I am really a crappy practitioner, and then compounding one’s own suffering. But as a dharma strategy where can we take this on? We, deliberately when we have the possibility, we take this on when the suffering is not too overwhelming. You don’t look for the biggest suffering you experience and say – I’ll try that one. Not going to work, you’ll just be slammed, right? But when we are more mild discomfort arises in the body, yeah that’s suffering but it’s not overwhelming me, or there’s some mental dismay, some discomfort, some unhappiness in the mind, yeah but it’s not crushing, good ok, I’ll take that on, this one I think is more my size, you know middle way, middle weight or so called light weight, bantam weight vs bantam weight, bantam weight doesn’t take on heavy weight, you’d just get crushed every time, right? So if you are a bantam weight take on a bantam weight feeling, especially of the unpleasant sort so here you have a real chance of then applying the dharma to it, gaining understanding and actually wining some rounds, right? And then just like a boxer who is learning how to box maybe puts on a bit of flesh, a bit of weight, maybe goes to a higher weight class, as he is really getting better and better,
(25:14) then as you become adept at really applying dharma, you’re understanding exactly this type of suffering, with this kind of practice where you are turning it into compassion, if you find yes I’ve succeed, I had some mild discomfort in the body, mild discomfort in the mind and I took Shantideva to heart and then I extended this and then instead of going into the bunker mode, into the closed down mode, I extended this out and extended this to compassion to all beings, and actually it was helpful, I could transmute it, that is really lojong - I was shifting , transforming the mind, through training.
Then as you do that and you succeed - I can do that and actually it was helpful, then when the next type of suffering comes up, maybe it’s a bit higher a bit more intense, see if you can transform that one and after some time then Shantideva says: “there’s nothing that doesn’t become easier with familiarization”. And even when really intense suffering comes up, if you’re well prepared you can transmute that as well. You want to find a gentle path here, that we don’t simply feel overwhelmed and then feel, oh I failed, I tried to do the practices, I just couldn’t do it; of course we can, not when the bantam weight gets in the ring with the heavy weight.
(26:12) So there’s the first meditation, very much transmuting the experience of suffering into compassion, and then the second one - straight wisdom approach, when the feelings are revealed as experience then probed right into who is the one who is experiencing the feeling, and seeking to do so from the perspective of an awareness that is peaceful, pure and luminous, therefore does not get caught in cognitive fusion with the feeling itself , so while closely attending to the feeling when one doesn’t become absorbed by it.
Our session will be silent, those are two options, and having said that I’ll reiterate what I’ve said other Saturdays, and that is, if there is another practice you’d rather do, maybe a simple shamatha practice, whatever’s most helpful.
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by Cheri Langston
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Posted by Alma Ayon