Meditation: Awareness of Mental Afflictions and Tonglen

B. Alan Wallace, 13 Apr 2020

13 Apr 2020

Awareness of Mental Afflictions and Tonglen

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20.1 - 2020 - Awareness of Mental Afflictions and Tonglen

This time I will recite the verses of refuge and bodhicitta in English followed by the seven-line prayer also in English. Reciting each one just once.

In the Buddha, the Dharma and supreme community, I take refuge until my enlightenment. With the collections gather to my cultivation of generosity and so on, May I achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings.

Hūṃ In the northwest frontier of Oḍḍiyāna, in the heart of a lotus sits the one renowned as Padmasambhava, who achieved the wondrous supreme siddhi, and is surrounded by a host of many dākiṇīs. Following in your footsteps, I devote myself to practice. Please come forth and bestow your blessings. Guru Padma siddhi hūṃ

With your practice, the remainder of the session then imbued with the sense of taking refuge and imbued with a profound aspiration and resolve of bodhicitta, imbued with blessings. And we settle body, speech and mind in their natural states. As you rest in that sense of ease, stillness, and clarity of awareness, awareness resting in its own place, let your eyes be at least partially open. Bring your awareness out into space. It is always spacious, it’s actually coextensive with the space of awareness in which all manner of appearances arise, sensory and mental. Let us never have the notion that awareness is something small, contained within some dark container like the skull.

And as a brief preliminary exercise to calm the mind, to soothe the turbulence of the conceptual mind, let’s count just seven breaths, one stacatto count for each cycle of the respiration and between counts let your mind to be silent and as mindful as possible.

And now, continuing to rest in this simple, quiet, stillness of awareness, self-knowing, self- illuminating, observe the activities of the mind. Can you detect introspectively when your mind is relatively unperturbed, balanced, relaxed, still and clear? Can you recognize it when the mind is relatively uninfluenced by the rising of mental afflictions, calm, clear, undistorted, unafflicted, balanced?

This can be an enormously helpful exercise to establish in terms of your own experience the baseline of your mind, what it feels like, how you experience your mind, when it’s not being overtly and explicitly afflicted. Not by ego, greed, craving, hostility, jealousy, or any other of the afflictions of the mind. There’s a serenity there, a balance. The mind is healthy. And then even in the course of this session you may find you lose that balance, something arises that collapses your mind, torques your mind, disturbs the balance of your mind. The ability to recognize mental afflictions when they arise is of the utmost value to our well-being. It’s like knowing when you’re sick, knowing when to rest, when to isolate yourself and not continue to behave as if you’re well, thereby potentially injuring yourself, exacerbating the disease, let alone the harm you may wreak upon others.

When you’re resting in the stillness of awareness, can you detect when an intention arises? It could be the intention to bring back your attention if your mind has wandered, it could be the intention to move your body, that some part is feeling uncomfortable, or there’s an itch, any type of intention. Can you see when it arises? Can you recognize wholesome or virtuous, unwholesome, non-virtuous and ethically neutral intentions?

Can you recognize the emotions when they come up? Happy, sad, can be agitated or peaceful, afraid or serene, angry, resentful, and so on? Can you observe emotions rather than simply being caught in their grip as soon as they arise? And having your attention focused on that which arouses the emotions, can you observe emotions without being caught in their grip? Resting in the stillness of awareness observing the movements of emotions without expressing them, without necessarily acting upon them. Herein lies your freedom to make wise choices.

Either wholesome emotions, afflictive emotions, emotions worthy of being expressed, another one’s worthy of being quarantined, contained without expression. And likewise, for desires. Can you observe them rather than simply being absorbed by them and focusing on the referent?

Can you observe thoughts not simply thinking them with your attention riveted on the object of the thoughts? Can you observe thoughts as they arise especially the inner conversations, the commentary of the mind, the speech of the mind, can you observe it and recognize some thoughts maybe quite afflictive, toxic, others neutral and others beneficial?

Some of the most valuable knowledge you’ll ever gain in terms of its practical benefit is the ability to discern in your own experience, afflictive versus non-afflictive, thoughts, desires, emotions, intentions. And afflictive or non afflictive ways of viewing reality, ways of viewing others that are harmful in the very nature of the viewing itself, in others with contempt, condescension, aversion, hatred, and so on. Viewing others as simply objects of one’s own gratification, of craving and attachment, viewing others with jealousy. Recognizing these mental afflictions when they arise in the mind and knowing, for the sake of your own benefit, let alone others, which ones are worthy of expression and which ones are not.

And being like a piece of wood when you see that your mind is afflicted. This is your freedom. We don’t have freedom now for afflictions never to arise again. But we do have the freedom to limit the harm they inflict by not expressing them, and not identifying with them, observing them, applying antidotes if you find it helpful or otherwise simply observing them and watching them release themselves.

The most foundational wisdom and understanding and intelligence that we have is our ability to distinguish wholesome and unwholesome behavior and the will to cultivate the wholesome and counteract the unwholesome. This is the key to genuine well-being from the bottom up.

As we come to the remaining minutes of this session, let’s move now back to the practice of tonglen, visualizing once again symbolically our own pristine awareness as a radiant orb of light at the heart. And now, let your awareness grow large, expand the field of your awareness, the field of caring to all these beings around you, each one wishing for happiness just like we do, each one wishing to be free of suffering.

But attend with compassion to all those beings [who] have no idea what mental afflictions are. They don’t know how to distinguish between afflictive and non-afflictive mental states, not clear about what is wholesome and unwholesome behavior, not knowing what are the true causes of genuine well-being and the true causes of suffering.

For those of us who are ignorant, as Shantideva says “while seeking to be free of suffering, we hasten after the very causes of suffering, and out of delusion, while wishing to find happiness, we destroy the causes of our own happiness as if they were our foes.” Are we not prone to doing this on occasion ourselves, and is it not also common—ever so common in the world around us? We engage in harmful behavior because we don’t know better, we are ignorant to view all sentient beings with the eyes of compassion, the heart of loving-kindness.

And as you breathe in, arouse the yearning may each person, every sentient being like myself be free of suffering and its causes and imagine breathing in and drawing in the darkness of ignorance, of mental afflictions, and the resulting suffering, draw it all in, and extinguishing the darkness in your heart, taking it upon yourself and then extinguishing it.

With every out-breath, breathe out this light from your heart with the aspiration, may all beings be imbued with the eyes of wisdom. Recognizing the true causes of suffering and those causes of genuine well-being and may each one with such wisdom, such vision, cultivate the causes of happiness and find the well-being that is their heart’s desire and breathe out the light of loving-kindness embracing each one.

Then release all appearances, all desires, all activities of the mind, and for just a few moments rest in the utter simplicity and natural purity of your own awareness.

[Meditation ends]

Transcribed by Walter Morita

Revised by Sueli Martinez

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti


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