B. Alan Wallace, 11 Apr 2016
Alan addresses the theme of continuity which is essential for the path. In our shamatha practice we may often wonder if we are doing the practice right. Alan points out that the answer lies in whether we are staying in the ongoing flow of cognisance. As we move from coarse mind to subtle mind it is crucial not to lose cognisance (which is what happens when we fall asleep) but to sustain the flow of knowing and not infuse it with a conceptual framework. This is continuity in the formal practice. When doing shamatha we are seeking to put both the body and the coarse mind to sleep. This is similar to falling asleep. The difference is sustaining the flow of cognisance. Next, Alan explains that the tactile sensations are not taking place in the physical space. Likewise, the visual appearances are not out there, in the molecules or in the air. The colours and shapes are not out there and not inside the brain either. Photons do not come in colour. Alan stresses especially that the qualia, the appearances are not inside the brain and not in any physical space. The same goes for tactile sensations which are what we attend to in the practice of mindfulness of breathing. They are present in the dhatu, the space of awareness. Alan explains that the point of continuity in our practice is taking appearances and awareness as the path. Specifically appearances that arise in the mind. Alan remarks that the majority of us still spend most of the time outside formal meditation. In order to help us maintain continuity between the sessions, Alan introduces a shift in the way of viewing reality. In-between sessions we should bear in mind that all appearances that we are seeing arise in the space of our own awareness. In this way, Alan invites us to see the reality as illusion-like, i.e. to maintain an ongoing view of all appearances perceived by the six senses as arising in the space of our own awareness. These appearances are dream-like, because just like in a dream they seem to be really out there whereas in fact they arise in the space of awareness. Alan stresses at this point that we are of course not negating the existence of real people etc. What is being challenged here is naive realism - the belief that things exist the way they appear to us. For example when we view someone as kind, intelligent etc. we should be aware that this is only our perception of this person, not the way this person exists in reality. To conclude, Alan observes that we are now venturing into the field of dream yoga. During formal sessions we cut off outer perceptions, we go into retreat, as if trying to fall into a lucid deep sleep. Between sessions, on the other hand, we are open to appearances arising but view them as dream-like, which he likens to practicing daytime dream yoga.
After the meditation, in conclusion, Alan uses the symbolism of yin and yang to describe the two elements - dark and light - that should complement each other in our practice. Sessions which seem very quiet (dark) need to be complemented by the light of awareness whereas during sessions in which our mind is agitated we need stillness. Similarly, outside the formal sessions, when many appearances arise we need to maintain stillness. Thus we go into the dark with the light of awareness and stay in the light with the dark of stillness.
Meditation is silent (not recorded).
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Olaso. The theme I would like to briefly address this morning before the session is continuity, continuity. It’s of course absolutely essential for the whole theme of the path. So you don’t have a path that is broken up into little chunks and big empty spaces in between. So in our shamatha practice, the shamatha practice, while we arouse, focus, concentrate the attention during the inbreath and then relax during the outbreath, of course what is crucial in the midst of that is the undulation that oscillation is that ongoing flow, that ongoing flow of knowing. So the question as been raised at least once that how do I know whether I am practicing right? Whether I’m spacing out or whether I’m getting dull or so forth. And this will be an issue again as we move into the later shamatha practices and the answer to that is quite simple. And that is are you staying in the very clear flow of cognisance or of knowing? Like right now I think as far as I can tell everybody’s engaged, so there is an ongoing flow of knowing. Engaging with or attempting to what I’m sharing with you right now and as I mentioned before so I’ll try to be very brief but by and large in our day to day activities our way of knowing the flow of cognizance is embedded within a conceptual framework. It’s embedded in language and so forth which it’s fine. So that’s the knowing of the ordinary mind. The psyche that is arising in heavy dependence upon the brain activity. But what we’re seeking to cultivate here as we move from coarse mind to subtle mind that’s a transition we’re making. Is that as we move from coarse mind to subtle mind we’re not losing the flow of cognisance (which is exactly what happens everytime we fall deep asleep, into deep dreamless non lucid sleep. Well we don’t know anything, we don’t even know we’re asleep so we’ve slipped in a subtle continuum of consciousness but it’s veiled by unknowing so then all we get is a good night’s rest out of it. What we’re seeking to do here is to overcome that natural pattern, that effortless pattern of slipping into unconsciousness more or less unconsciousness when we fall deep asleep. And sustaining the flow of knowing clear, discerning sharp but not embedded within or cognitively fused with conceptualization or language. So there’s a flow of continuity, that’s the third element attending to the whole body one breathes in attending to the whole body one breathes out. Theravada interpretation is the whole body of the breath in and out, you’re always on, it’s full engagement. So there’s one point. The second point familiar to a number of you as we engage in this shamatha practice but in general any but here it’s very explicit, we are in a manner of speaking seeking to put the body to bed as if it’s going to fall asleep as if the body is actually falling asleep, close facsimile. And likewise on a subtler level we’re seeking to put the coarse mind to sleep. We’re deactivating it, releasing it, releasing, releasing all the activities of the mind remembering, imagining, desiring, hoping, fearing, all the things we normally do. We’re putting it to bed. We’re putting it to sleep right and yet what’s the difference between this and just taking a nap of course it’s exactly the same point sustaining the flow of cognisance on a subtler level. Now recall the statement by Atisha that I’ve cited many many times and that is that shamatha is the portal, achieving shamatha is the portal to developing, manifesting, realizing a range of extra sensory perceptions. Modes of remote viewing, precognition, knowing others minds, knowing one’s own past lives. So believe it or not but this is widely accepted in all of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism as well as Hinduism and so forth. So as you can tell I take it very very seriously but again not simply as a religious belief. Number one, I’m fairly informed here so I think my faith is not blind but this is something that is inviting scientific research. Say true or false, good. As Eric Lander, I’m rambling a little bit, but at MIT at the mind and life conference in 2003 at MIT after the Buddhists had spoke, I spoke of shamatha, Georges Dreyfus spoke of Buddhist psychology, Matthieu Ricard spoke of stage of generation, Amaro Bhikkhu spoke of Satipatthana. Eric Lander the superb scientist at MIT world [renowned] expert in genetics. He listened with respect, with openness, what more could we ever hope for. He was just really wonderful and gave in his concluding comments he said you know I’ve listened to the Buddhists and what you’ve been saying and it’s really interesting. I would like to know more, can you show us? Can you show us, and he said this in a friendly open way, wasn’t skeptical or anything like that except for in a good healthy sense of skepticism, but can you show us, you know we scientists we deal with evidence that’s how we make a living and can you show us? Do you have people who have achieved shamatha? Do you have people who have achieved let’s say Dream Yoga, who have achieved Great Compassion, who have achieved Stage of Generation? Who have profound insight into Satipatthana? We’d really like to get together with them, scientist to scientist, evidence to evidence, rather than the scientists having this massive array, marvelous array of empirical evidence of discoveries they’ve made over the centuries and the Buddhists having a good talk. Of course that’s just not true, the Buddhists don’t just talk but that’s all we were doing. We were talking and that’s fair enough it was a conference, it wasn’t show and tell. [laughter] Ok Mathieu levitate, Bhikkhu Amaro read everybody’s minds, you know we weren’t asked to do that. But it’s a perfect question of course, that’s the whole rationale behind contemplative observatories. That’s come show and tell. Show and tell. Let the scientists show let the Buddhists show and let’s get some clarity here. [6:20]
Continuity, as we’re tending to these fluctuations within the field of the body it’s tactile sensations, we don’t need any esoteric terminology here just the tactile sensations corresponding to the breath. The tactile sensations themselves of course have no mass. They’re not made out of atoms. They have no charge, no spin, they have no physical attributes whatsoever. And of course you all know that people will have sensations in phantom limbs. Which means can have an amputation and still itch where they don’t have an arm anymore. Everybody knows that, right?] But that’s exactly where they’re experiencing it, they’re experiencing where the arm would have been if they still had an arm and that’s very frustrating. Trying to scratch in midair and not be able to get rid of the itch. Which clearly indicates if we needed any further evidence that these tactile sensations are not taking place in physical space. Anymore than the visual appearances you are experiencing right now, the colors you see, I keep on looking out the window, this beautiful environment, the green it’s so green here and the soft blue of the sky, they are not out there. They are not out there in the molecules that make up the grass and trees and so forth. They’re not in the particles of air whatever in the sky. The colors are not out there and the brain doesn’t, despite all the, I’m being a little bit silly here, but the brain doesn’t really light up, everybody knows right. When they take an MRI the brain doesn’t light up. It doesn’t turn paisley. The images on the screen are but you know the brain doesn’t right? I’m pretty sure. So your visual cortex doesn’t turn blue. That would be really wild and psychedelic. [laughter] Blue and green and yellow and whee my visual cortex is really lighting up like a christmas tree. It’s dark in there, you know there’s no light in there. And so the green and blue are not out there. Ask any physicist, neuroscientist who’s worth their salt. Of course they’re not and no parts of the brain light up. They don’t turn green or blue and Photons do not come in colours. That would be so cool that would be also psychedelic just seeing these little stream of bb’s coming in, blues coming in, green coming in. That would be very cool, not true but that would be really psychedelic. Yes I did take LSD a long time ago. [laughter] But then I think we finished the discussion. The blues and greens that we perceive and we’re seeing all the other colors and these forms and shapes, they’re not out there. They do not exist independently of visual perception. They’re not inside the brain. And many people believe they are, but there is just no evidence for that whatsoever. The correlates, the activities in the visual cortex, corresponding to the perception of color, of course they’re there. Those are activations of neurons but the colors that we see, the qualia, the appearances are not inside the brain. Two things being correlated doesn’t mean that they need to be located in the same place. Simply, obviously true, straight logic no evidence let alone no compelling evidence at all that the images are inside the brain. Which means if they’re not out there and not in between and not inside the brain they are not in physical space. And that goes for sounds and smells and tastes and tactile sensations. None of these are physical, none of these exist in physical space. And it’s those appearances that we’re attending to when we are practicing mindfulness of breathing which are not in physical space. If they’re not in physical space where are they? The term that comes up a lot in the Mahamudra and Dzogchen tradition especially is well, they are present in the dhatu. In sanskrit the dhatu, or the yin, space of the mind, the space of awareness. That’s as good as any, I mean they’re not in physical space. We certainly do see them in a space. I am seeing the colors within space and so it’s the space of awareness. And awareness itself is not physical, it too has no physical attributes. And so these two are coupled, awareness and the space of awareness. [10:38]
And the space of awareness, that space, this multi modular space of the mental and then the five sensory spaces, a multi modular space which is not physical and one is aware of it with an awareness that is not physical. And none of these exist. None of these appearances through any of the six sense domains or overall the space of awareness exist independently. They’re not out there. They do not exist out there, they do not exist inside physical space, inside the head. So the point of continuity here and I would like to wrap up pretty quickly. Is going to be segueing into our next shamatha practice which we’ll get to in good time. Taking the mind as the path but another term that’s used by Dudjom Lingpa aka Padmasambhava is, [ Tibetan] taking appearances and awareness as the path. That’s a term for the same practice, taking appearances and awareness as the path. In that particular practice you’re taking specifically the appearances of that arise in the mental domain, thoughts, images, and so forth. One out of the six domains you’re taking those appearances as the path and your awareness of them as the path. That’s your vehicle, that’s your conveyor to take you from where you are right now right down into the substrate consciousness. That’s your car. Awareness, appearances, and awareness. So continuity, most of you I think are still spending here in the retreat are probably still spending more time not in formal meditation than in formal meditation, that’s quite understandable. If we divided the 24 hours into three periods with 8 for a good long night’s sleep and then 8 for in between sessions, 8 would be a nice round sum for all the meditation. I wouldn’t suggest it as a goal but that would be kind of nice, a nice balance there during the waking state that yin yang in and out, that even, even time of formal meditation, even time of continuing to practice, but not in this form, the formal, formal setting, so what I would like to focus on now concluding here, is how do we [maintain] continuity, because that’s the theme for the morning, the continuity for probably what is more hours per day right now than our formal sitting or supine position or practice, continuity. Well, I’m introducing now a view, a view, not simply a belief, but a shift in the way of viewing reality. That’s the big deal, belief comes up and it’s important but what is central to buddhism is not just how many beliefs do you have and did you, you know, all of that. They’re not relevant but that’s not what gets the emphasis. It’s view, meditation and way of life; not belief system, meditation, and way of life. And view is, this is where the rubber hits the road, as we say. This is where you live. How are you actually viewing yourself, other people, the environment, appearances. This is real, this is where you live right. And so here’s my point in between sessions you’re off the cushion, you’re engaging with the world around you, unlike in shamatha you’re not withdrawn from everything that’s outside of your skin, you’re coming outside of your skin to the surrounding environment, other sentient beings, people and so on, to bear in mind this is not enriched mindfulness, bear in mind that all appearances you are seeing as you’re walking, eating, standing, going about activities of the day, all the appearances that you’re seeing, are all arising in the space of your awareness. [14:35]
Doesn’t seem that way. I just saw a bird fly by. And it seems like the appearance is way over there it’s just oh here comes another one, oh there it goes, there, there oh no it’s coming. Like the appearance is way over there. As if I’m seeing something that is over there objectively out there. This morning I just want to limit myself, the conversation, to just appearances, in other words, I’m not challenging ontology. How things exist, the ultimate nature of reality, is the world external, is there are phenomena inherently existent. We’re going to get to that but not right now, right now I’m going to go for easier prey. [laughter] or low hanging fruit [laughter] for which there is a lot of agreement among physicists, neuroscientists and Buddhists and that is the appearances aren’t out there. The physicists will tell you that, the neuroscientists even the really hard core materialists like Antoine Demassio who says look colors are not traveling through space and smacking you in the eye like a paint gun you know, they’re not traveling through space. They’re not out there and they’re not getting to you. The photons, whether you like the photon theory, whether you like the electromagnetic field theory, either way they don’t have any color to them. And so no colors are coming to you, no colors are in there they are arising in dependence upon the brain, in dependence upon consciousness. But the appearances seem to be out there. And what I would invite you to do know in between sessions is, if you understand this and you accept it and if you have disagreement, great, ask Glen, [laughter] go for it, knock yourself out. I’m going to be betting on Glen by the way, if you want to debate with him. I’m going to be betting on Glen, we’ll have a little pool going. [laughter] Two to one odds in Glen’s favor. But the appearances aren’t out there, but they seem to be out there, that’s we’re stuck, we’re entering into the whole theme of the illusion like nature of phenomena. [16:39]
Which physicists are very keen on. This comes up a lot in physics, in modern physics. Not aerie fairie physics, hard core physics, holographic universe and so forth and so on. They’re pretty serious about this, that what we’re seeing here, whether you’re looking through a telescope or just looking with your naked eye, things are not as they appear, they are not as they seem. And that’s just a common theme, common theme. It seems that the sun is moving around the earth well it seems that way but you know. And so here we are to maintain throughout the course of the day an ongoing view, a way of viewing appearances, all appearances, of all of the five and six senses the appearances to the mind of course as well. And seeing all of these appearances are rising in the space of your own awareness. They do not exist independently of your awareness of them. And in this way they are dream-like, they’re not dreaming. We’re not saying dreaming and waking state are the same, they’re not. But they’re dream-like because when you are in the midst of a dream all of the appearances you see seem to be really out there. The people you see, the environment, and so forth seem to be totally out there independently of your mind right and then we react to them as such we reify, grasp onto them as inherently existent. Whereas in the midst of the dream all that you’re experiencing consists of appearances to awareness and have no existence whatsoever independent of your awareness. So what we’re not saying, and I have to say this even though it’s obvious, of course what we’re not saying is that people don’t exist if you’re not aware of them or that the environment doesn’t exist, there’s nothing out there when you’re not looking, not saying that. This is why I’m saying it’s psychological statement for right now. [18:25]
And what I’m challenging is something that is widely challenged in science, it’s called naive realism, naive realism. And that is things are exactly as they appear. There really are colors out there, there really are sounds out there and smells out there and in which case our five sense doors are more like fly paper. They just pick up the flies that are out there. Just pick up the colors that are already there, the sounds that are already there. I don’t actually know anybody who believes that. But it comes naturally because the appearances seem to be out there, this food smells bad and that smells really good and etc etc and of course it goes to a deeper level when we consider how other people appear to us. And what I’m referring to here of course is not simply how they physically appear, but how they appear to us in terms of our experience of them. How do they seem? Does this person seem kindly, has integrity, honesty, good motivation, or contrary? What we’re dealing with are appearances. Where are those appearances? When we evaluate, when we have a sense of who other people are, what kind of people they are, where are those appearances? Existing nowhere outside of our own minds. We didn’t pluck them from them, we didn’t pick them like a flower from their garden. All these appearances that we have of other people, sensory but also mental, they have no existence apart from our own awareness. So that’s it. To sum it up we are venturing now into dream yoga, venturing into dream yoga. So when we’re in meditative equipoise, that’s the term [ Tibetan sounds like Nam Chak] when we’re in meditative equipoise practicing mindfulness of breathing, this is like falling asleep. We’re on the trajectory of the five senses imploding into mental awareness. And then slipping into simply a vacuity, a space where we may still experience just the rhythm of the breath, just that, but really we’ve gone into retreat. So that would be like sleep. Lucid sleep but then the session is over and we come out and then this is like a dream. That all these appearances that seem to be really out there, they’re not. But that also emphasizes the space of your mind is not inside your head. That the space of your mind is as big as the sky. As big as appearances if you look in the night sky it’s big it’s where the stars are. And so attending to all of this, in between sessions, more like daytime dream yoga practice which I’ll talk about more later. And when you’re in formal session going into shamatha then like learning how to fall deep asleep lucidly. So lucid dreaming, lucid dreamless sleep parallel ok sound like fun? Ok, let’s go for it then, one silent session.
[21:52] Meditation bell rings three times. Meditation is silent (not recorded).
[22:14] Meditation session ends bell rings three times.
[23:15] So just a very brief comment to conclude. The yin-yang symbol has been around for a long time, for a good reason. And it’s not just the complementarity but it’s a little dot of white in the black and a little dot of black in the white, very, very useful. There are times when you are meditating and it’s very very quiet right. So it’s like dark, like a vacuum, like the substrate, but if you’re doing the practice correctly it needs to be instilled with the light of awareness, the dot right. And then other times, a lot of appearances are arising maybe your mind is really [whoosh sound] turning out a lot of stuff. So a lot of light a lot of appearances and what’s needed if you’re practicing correctly is the dot of stillness. Where going into meditation is like falling asleep lucidly and entering into lucid dreamless sleep. Into the dark but with the light. And when we come out of our session, out of our formal session when we’re engaging with this myriad world of appearances and in the midst of all that we sustain the stillness. Then we have a little continuity of practice. And if you continue this right as you’re falling asleep then you can start to increase the bandwidth for your practice. And not stop practicing when you fall asleep. That’s that, enjoy your day. [24:56]
Transcribed by KrissKringle Sprinkle
Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Final edition by Cheri Langston.