24 Taking Appearances and Awareness as the Path, Both During and Between Session

B. Alan Wallace, 12 Apr 2016

The Dharma talks have been so good so far that a bird found us in the field as we were walking over to the meditation hall. He followed us over and hung around outside the hall before the session thinking about coming in to join us. This morning’s session was no less inspiring. Alan continues his strategy of addressing Ultimate Bodhicitta in the morning and Relative Bodhicitta in the afternoons. He discusses the hypothesis from all of Buddha Dharma that the nature of reality has been discovered, that this discovery has been replicated many times, and that this discovery can bring freedom and the fulfillment of our innermost desires. He contrasts this with the most prevalent system of scientific discovery which proves a wealth of knowledge to promote hedonic well-being, yet embraces scientific materialism which leads some of the great minds of our time to draw the conclusions that the mind, consciousness, appearances, and introspection don’t exist. He then gives us the fastest refutations of scientific materialism. (If you don’t get the first two, you are a gradualist and should practice shamatha and vipashyana.)

We are invited to investigate both cognitive deficits (which deny the existence of the mind, appearances, and the like) and cognitive hyperactivity (where we mentally impute onto appearances) and start investigating the indubitable - taking appearances and awareness as the path. Both during sessions and especially between sessions, we are invited to notice the tendency towards cognitive hyperactivity and imputation. He then talks a bit about the connate cognitive hyperactivity that causes us to deny the three marks of existence, where, among other things, he talks about LaSalle and tells us how samsara ends (Spoiler alert: It sucks. It turns out badly.)

The meditation is silent (not recorded) and is at the end of the session.

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[Light laughter, inaudible voices]

Alan: In the Santa Cruz mountains years ago I was giving some teachings on Dzogchen and there was a Chukar, a Chukar bird is a game bird in India. And there was a nearby farm creating these for food and the bird escaped and kept on, it was just like this, it kept on pecking at the window to get in. It wouldn’t leave until finally they left it and the bird came in and sat in the front row and I was giving Dzogchen teachings but it only came for one talk. [burst of laughter] Maybe that was enough, or maybe that was enough. [more laughter Alan chuckles]

[00:55] Olaso. So you see we’re following the avenue of ultimate bodhichitta in the morning and relative bodhichitta in the afternoon. There’s a certain balance there. It follows Atisha’s approach, in the lamrim you’re following the relative bodhichitta first and you culminate, you end in the ultimate bodhichitta. And that was also Atisha’s approach. In his Light for the Path to Enlightenment, but in his Seven Point Mind Training after the preliminaries, after settling the mind, then he goes to ultimate bodhichitta first. It’s for people of sharp faculties. Which brings us to this astonishing hypothesis from all of buddhadharma, and that is that the nature of reality has been discovered. And it’s been rediscovered, the discovery has been replicated many, many times. And that the knowing, the direct knowing of the nature of reality does in fact bring freedom. Does in fact bring us the fulfillment of our inner most desires. Knowing reality is the path to freedom, or - the truth shall make you free.

[02:20] So it is quite an astonishing hypothesis because over the last four hundred years with this magnificent rise of modern science we almost have this sense that knowing reality is in the future, that we’re moving towards, asymptotically perhaps, but one day in the future but it’s like we’re progressing toward it in the future and no notion that maybe someone has discovered it in the past. But there’s another thing about the rise of modern science and that is for all the benefits hedonically, which are tremendous, I would say it has done nothing for us eudaimonically, not even positive psychology. Even positive psychology frankly is almost entirely hedonic. So, and then one can say well then how much has Buddhism done for us in terms of understanding the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, the nature of the brain, its functioning and so forth? Oh, pretty much nothing. It’s all a matter of what are the questions you’re posing. Galileo turned his attention outwards to the objective, physical, quantifiable world and started the wheel of science rolling so we know a vast amount about the objective physical, quantifiable world. And it’s been such a success over the last four hundred years in comparison to the frankly to be very blunt, the lack of success of philosophy over the last four hundred years in the sense of coming to some kind of a consensual knowledge that has tremendous practical applicability. As science does. Philosophy doesn’t. There’s no growth of consensual knowledge any, now any more than there was four hundred years ago. Just check it out, you’ll find that they all disagree with each other. Unless they slip into group think and then they agree with each other but for no good reason except for everybody else says so.

[04:18] And theology also, my father is a theologian, there are many brilliant theologians, but in terms of coming up with consensual knowledge, with tremendous applicability, I think it would be hard to state that there’s been progress in theology over the last four hundred years as there has been in science. So that gives some people, many people, the impression and quite reasonable impression, false but very reasonable, that the only way you can know reality is using scientific method. Many people believe that now. It’s the only way, ever heard that one before? In Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, we have the only way, we have the only way. Well of course now we have a new ersatz religion it’s called scientific materialism. That science is the only way, the only way. And I understand why they’d come to that conclusion. If you look, if you’re looking from a Eurocentric perspective and simply assume that non Eurocentric perspectives don’t exist or nobody outside of the Mediterranean basin and our progeny have ever discovered anything, then, you know, the Buddhists, the Taoists, the Hindus and so forth, they never came up with anything. Just assume that for starters. That only the Eurocentric came up with anything. Then the notion that science is the only way to study reality, understand reality, in a very myopic delusional way, seems quite rational.

[05:49] But then what comes out of this in what I can only characterize as a type of mass self hypnosis is that since scientific methods, the third person methods, looking outwards to the objective, physical, quantifiable sense, that the only way to know reality than anything that is not measurable objectively, physically, quantifiably, doesn’t exist. Recite that like a mantra 100 thousand times and you’ll come to the conclusion like the imminent or very distinguished physicist Michio Kaku that mind doesn’t exist. There’s no mind body problem, because mind doesn’t exist. Recite it another 100 thousand times - you come to the conclusion of Michael Graziano at Princeton, a neuroscientist, consciousness doesn’t exist, published in the Atlantic monthly, the New York Times, his articles. Recite it another 100 thousand times, you come to the conclusion of Daniel Dennett, that appearances don’t exist [laughter] and he is the most famous philosopher of mind in the United States. Appearances don’t exist, qualia don’t exist, he’s famous for that. He’s famous for saying we are mindless robots made up of mindless robots. And he’s written a book amazingly called, Breaking the Spell. In which he, in a very ignorant, crude way dismisses religion without ever waking up to the fact that he himself is hypnotized at the deepest level of denying experience.

[07:37] Recite it another 100 thousand times you come up with John Searle that says introspection doesn’t exist. He’s the second most famous philosopher of mind in the United States. Mass hypnosis, cognitive deficit of the highest magnitude. Dogmas are, dogmas stupefy. When people become dogmatic they stupefy. Whether it’s religious dogmatism, philosophical, political dogmatism, but I really don’t know that a dogma that stupefies to this extent of scientific materialism, to the point that you say, that you say, and you hear yourself saying - consciousness doesn’t exist, experiences don’t exist, introspection doesn’t exist, mind doesn’t exist. And you actually believe it. That is deep hypnosis, deep pathology. Time to wake up! And smell the roses!

[08:38] So if you’d like to see the fastest refutation, demolishing devastating refutation that I know of, of the whole of scientific materialism, you ready for it? Okay ready, you have to listen very carefully, okay. [silent pause] Want me to give it again? [laughter] Okay the second fastest. I’m serious, the second fastest utter refutation of scientific materialism. That was the first but if you didn’t get it, if you’re not a person of sharp faculties, [class laughing], you may be a person of medium faculties, and if you’re a person of medium faculties are you ready for the second fastest refutation of scientific materialism? You ready? [Alan says loudly] Phet. That should pretty well do it. If that didn’t do it, then you’re a gradualist and then you need to practice shamatha and vipashyana. [laughs]

[09:47] So the real aspiration here is to know it is true, to know it is real. With the hunch that that might actually be helpful. That might be instrumental in fulfilling our deepest, innermost aspirations, to be free of suffering irreversibly, and to find happiness, the highest happiness that never lets us down. But we’re to set out on this great and greatest of all adventures, the greatest of all expeditions, then we need to start from a place of certainty. If we’re starting from a place of a leap of faith or something nebulous or vague or uncertain that means all the rest of it will be the edifice, will all be rooted in sand. It will be flaky, it can fall down at any time. So we need to start at a point which is as about as undeniable, irrefutable, indefatigable, incontrovertible, as possible. [Alan speaks with an English accent] Indubitable as possible, as the British would say, indubitable. So what is indubitable?

[11:03] Well I think Dudjom Lingpa called it, he gave it the name, let’s take as he makes very brief reference to preliminary practices and then sets out on the path, he checks to see whether you are sharp, medium or subtle[snaps fingers] or dull, sharp, medium or dull. But if you’re dull, if you’re dull like me, then okay then you’re back to shamatha vipashyana and the vipashyana, the shamatha approach that he takes he calls, this is Padmasambhava actually, and the scribe, the mediator, the brilliant illuminated mediator is Dudjom Lingpa. Is taking the [Tibetan 11:40] taking appearances and awareness as the path. And it’s also known as shamatha focused on the mind, it’s known as settling the mind in its natural state, it’s known as taking the impure mind as the path. But I like this one, taking appearances and awareness as the path. If you’d like to know the nature of reality, if you feel this is important actually the most important thing to do, in fact it’s the very meaning of life. And if we don’t pursue it there’s hardly any point in being human at all. Then we’ll start there. Appearances and awareness. So appearances, [chuckles] what Daniel Dennett refutes, and awareness, what Michael Graziano refutes. Okay. When people are that sound asleep, you probably just should let them sleep, not refute them. There’s no point. There’s a point where there’s just no point, and that’s it. I debated once with John Searle, I’ll never do it again. No point. No point. We don’t need to, it’s not our job. This is the beautiful thing about Buddhadharma, it’s offered when it’s requested, but it’s not evangelical. We don’t run after people.

[12:58] I mean that’s, I’m rambling but after the Buddha’s, you know the story, I’m going to tell it very briefly, but after the Buddha sat under the tree for 49 days enjoying his awakening and then he saw he moved by compassion, he set out on his walk, the long walk from Bodhgaya to Sadana seeking out his five companions, all right, knowing that they had little dust on their eyes, they would be of sharp faculties. You recall the first person he encountered was this wandering ascetic, they just kind of bumped into each other, you remember this story? And the fellow asked Buddha, the freshly awakened Buddha, who’s s your teacher, what’s your teaching? And the Buddha said I’m awake. I’m perfectly awake. I’m free. And that guy said, whatever dude! [laughter] And walked away. And that’s a very literal modern translation. And his face, it just, it says in the sutra it says his face was something like, rolling his eyes, whatever dude. And then he walked on you know, and the Buddha did not run after him. He eventually came around, he became an arhat. But it took him a long way around. Yeah it’s a very interesting story you can find.

[14:18] So what is indubitable? Appearances and awareness. What could be more obvious? [snaps fingers] Appearances and [snaps fingers] doesn’t happen by itself, there needs to be an awareness of [snaps fingers] in order for [snaps fingers] to be. So why don’t we just start there? Appearances, awareness. But also we know that we are prone not only to cognitive deficit, of not seeing the blatantly obvious, like in some cases [chuckles] not seeing appearances and not aware that you’re aware, unbelievable. Such is the depths of stupor to which scientific materialism plunges the human mind. Unbelievable. But in any case here we are. We’re all prone to varying degrees to cognitive deficit of not seeing that which is in plain sight. But we also are prone to cognitive hyperactivity of so inundating appearances with our own projections, the noise of the mind. The blah blah blah, the preconceptions, the associations, the labels, the categories that if we are going to approach this in a truly scientific way, like a good scientist, then if you set up your instrument whether it’s a, you know, electron microscope, whether it’s a telescope, you want to make sure you’re getting a clear signal. Because when you turn it on if all you’re getting is noise generated by your system, by your measuring device if that’s all you’re getting then you’re not measuring anything, you’re just creating noise, right.

[16:02] So noise to signal ratio, it’s a big topic in science. Noise to signal, signal is what you’re actually measuring, noise is that which is clouding, obscuring, filtering, distorting, the signals. You want to have a very low signal to [Alan corrects himself] noise to signal ratio, very little noise, very clear signal. If you have a lot of noise and a very weak signal well that’s kind of useless. If you have only noise, you’re delusional. If you have no signal, you’re asleep. So no signal is ignorance, massive noise is delusion. Those two are the roots of all suffering. [Alan laughs] So how can we get a really good low noise to signal ratio? When we’re using the only instrument known to humans for directly observing the nature of the mind, and that is awareness. Well of course we’ve all recognized, we’ve been here for 2 weeks now, you’ve noticed a wee bit of a noise. A wee bit of noise in your minds. And it doesn’t, oddly enough it’s not voluntary, is it? You can’t say, you can’t just say basta[Italian/Portuguese word which means ‘enough’] and have it stop. Because it says basta to you right back and then keeps on talking. [laughter] Enough of this meditation. Let me in, let me in.

[17:28] So that’s where some training comes in. And it’s the very very first step and it’s one very clearly and very helpfully identified in the whole mindfulness movement. It’s very good, this is why, one reason why it’s so popular, and so beneficial in a number of respects and has attracted so much scientific attention which is a good thing. This basic, raw primal mindfulness of so Be Here Now, we go back 40-50 years to Ram Dass, we go to the Power of Now, we go to you know some really best selling books of the time and that is come right into the presence and be attentive without judgement and just see what’s happening. In other words try to increase your signal to noise ratio, because the noise is all the junk we’re projecting on reality. All the judgements, I like, I don’t like and so forth. And all the associations, the preconceptions, the labels, and so forth. And so it’s a very good first step. The only problem is when they say the first step is the only step and you’ve now arrived at the essence of all of Buddhism which is more hysterical ridiculosity. It’s kind of like saying preschool is the essence of all education. Okay if you’ve not been beyond preschool then that’s very understandable but let’s grow up there’s more to come.

[18:51] So we come back here, the session again is going to be silent because what I would like to really turn the attention to is what is still for most of us, most of the day. And most of the day is not in formal session, not on the cushion, not in the supine. And so like filling a bathtub with water, or any other pool, the level of the water rises evenly, right, and so if we would like to see that whatever quality of awareness, whatever refinement, whatever development of relaxation stillness and clarity and so forth arises during the meditative practice. If we’d like to see that it doesn’t erode, dissipate, and vanish quickly, as soon as we’re off the cushion or as soon as we’re out of the remaining six weeks of our retreat, because we’re already a quarter finished. If we’d like to see that whatever takes place here in this retreat that is meaningful and of value doesn’t simply become a memory after the retreat’s over. Then we need of course to place a very very high emphasis on equally raising, elevating the quality of awareness, the openness of the heart, that’s relative bodhichitta track. And the clarity of awareness, the stillness of awareness, that we’re cultivating in the morning, and see that these two are infiltrating, suffusing, permeating, our experience between sessions as much as possible. Otherwise this is just a brief outing.

[20:34] Your time on the cushion is a brief outing. A little vacation and then it’s over. An eight week dharma vacation [snaps fingers] and then it’s over, you know. So while we are here, for those of us who are here, and of course everybody’s here. [chuckles] Wherever you are, there you are. But while here, while listening to the podcast, while attending to them in person, be thinking - to make this a very high priority. All very well to listen to dharma talk, podcast, to have some time meditation but how does that deliver? What does that deliver to the rest of the life? So the baseline is exactly this - it this bringing this stillness within the midst of motion, right. I mentioned yesterday afternoon in the talk on bodhichitta, the culmination then is for your own sake - relation of dharmakaya, for the sake of all sentient beings - realization of sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. And what is that? The simultaneity of the primordial stillness, the timeless stillness of dharmakaya. And the infinite, effortless activity of the rupakayas, form bodies, stillness and motion simultaneously and non dually, beginning middle and end.

[22:03] So we, but we don’t need to stay in preschool all the time. That is, it’s a good place to start. That simple awareness, that momentary awareness, that utter presence in the present moment, the stillness in the midst of motion. The attentiveness to what’s arising in the body, the sensory fields and the mind. The awareness of the stillness of awareness in the midst of these moving, coming and going appearances. But as I said yesterday it’s never too soon to start cultivating bodhichitta, and it’s never too soon to start cultivating vipashyana. Never too soon to cultivate relative or ultimate bodhichitta. Never too soon. And so to start to infuse this awareness throughout the course of the day in between sessions with insight. And bear in mind that mindfulness means bearing in mind. It’s not just this moment to moment awareness. That’s a very primitive, initial level of mindfulness and so often it’s touted as the beginning, middle and end. That’s silly. It’s marmot. But the classic definition that has proven its value over millennia is that mindfulness is this bearing in mind whatever we’re attending to, without distraction, without forgetfulness so we can have mindfulness that is simply attentive and bearing in mind whatever’s occurring in the present moment. That’s very useful.

[23:38] But we can also gain an insight that we didn’t have before. That we see is important. This could be life transformative. So then we can utilize enriched mindfulness and that’s where we have an insight and then we infuse our experience with that insight and it shifts our view of reality. Right. We’re not talking about belief system here. Beliefs are cheap. But view is not. And view is that we’re actually viewing, experiencing, attending to reality in a different way. And the way we view it becomes imbued with deeper and deeper insight. I think it’s enormously important to bear in mind that really Buddhadharma is eudaimonic science. And all of modern science is hedonic science and it’s wonderful that we have access to, that we have access to both, but overwhelmingly Buddhadharma is about eudaimonia, it’s about identifying the nature of suffering, both stimulus driven suffering but also genuine suffering, the type of restlessness, feeling ill at ease, unhappy, discontent even when there’s nothing negative happening to us, that’s one interesting one. What’s the source of that? And then what is the source not only of hedonic pleasure but what is the source of eudaimonic well being?

[25:01] These are the fundamental questions that drive all of the buddhadharma, and it’s radically empirical. We don’t go off into abstractions, we go just the opposite, right into the immediacy of experience and we attend closely. So motivation why are we engaging this practice? To understand the full bandwidth of suffering and its source, to identify it, to know it. To understand, slowly slowly the full bandwidth of well being from hedonia all the way up to the heights of eudaimonia, to see the bandwidth, to understand the bandwidth and then identify its source. Then we know what to release and what to cultivate. And that’s the whole path. What to release, what to cultivate, there’s nothing more to the path than that.

[25:58] So we have these two questions. What can I do to find the happiness I seek and the other question is what can I stop doing that I’m already doing that’s preventing me from finding the happiness I’m seeking? That’s perpetuating my own suffering. And so through in between sessions here we’ll get to our formal session very soon now, time’s running out. But especially in between sessions, as we maintain this stillness of clear, discerning awareness in the midst of the myriad appearances arising throughout the course of the day. We could note a certain tendency that we human beings, all of us, are born with. We not only have connate primordial minds, but we also have connate mental afflictions, born with them. And one of these is a tendency to grasp onto whatever’s happening as being more durable, more static more unchanging, more reliable, more enduring than in fact, is. Our own identity, our own appearance, our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our environment, etc everything else.

[27:18] The grasping onto that which is impermanent as being permanent. It’s not something we learn it’s something that we are born with and [chuckles] resting in that habit, just makes us go from one surprise to another. [laughs] Because we’re so shocked when things change you know. How could it happen? How could, everything was so fine and then suddenly, I was just I was in the relationship and then suddenly she just left. How is it? How’s it possible? If you know from the beginning she’s going to leave you, you’re going to leave, and it’s already a done deal, then there’s just no surprise in there at all. It’s already done, you know. And for everything else, whatever is born dies, whatever’s acquired is lost, wherever there’s meeting there’s parting. And whatever goes up goes down. No surprise, I just told, I told the end of the story, of every story. [laughter] I just [chuckling] what is it called? What’s it? [inaudible voices from class] A spoiler! I just gave the spoiler to samsara. [laughing] I told you how it turns out, it SUCKS! [laughter] All pursuits of hedonia including the scientific ones, you know, it sucks. It turns out badly. So there we are.

[28:52] So there’s one of them. Attending closely with a question - everything you’re experiencing, every object, every appearance is it changing or is it static? Does it fade away or does it remain? Second one, we want happiness that’s for sure of all these appearances that arise to the mind are any of them veritable sources of happiness? You name it, sensory or mental. Pleasant ones, those are the ones you want to look at. Are any of them truly sources of well being? If they are, every time you go to them you’ll be happy. And the longer you stay the happier you will be. That’s a source. Is anything that ever happens to you, any appearance, any appearance of any kind, is it, are any of them veritable sources of happiness? We think they are and then we get disappointed and therefore we call them unsatisfying. Dukkha, not because they’re dukkha, not because they’re intrinsically inherently from their own side dukkha, it’s just that we put too many expectations on them. You think your relationship with this person, or having children or not having children, getting this job, going to this place, acquiring this possession is going to make you happy? Well just watch. Dukkha is a time bomb that always goes off. It’s only a matter of time and you will be dissatisfied, and you will look for another relationship, another job, another place to go, another acquisition or an extreme makeover. [laughter] And try to start from scratch. I’m going to now look twenty! [laughs] So look at that one in case you have dukha. Because misapprehending that which is not a source of genuine happiness as being so is a source of unending, unending, literally unending dissatisfaction and dukkha.

[30:47] And the final one you know of course. We tend to identify with a lot of stuff. My favorite one of all history is LaSalle, the French explorer, on a barge floating down the Mississippi river looking to his right and say(ing), I own all of that. Wherever this water is flowing from all of that I own on behalf of France. France I give it to you. I just think that is just incredibly marvelous, to just look over your right shoulder and say, I own all of that. [laughter] And anybody who’s there. And then Thomas Jefferson took him seriously and he bought it. He bought it from Napoleon for eleven million dollars. It’s basically the whole Pacific Northwest. They bought it for eleven million dollars because LaSalle looked at it and said that’s mine. [laughing] We Europeans we are really quite a trip. Nobody else did that. Ghengis Khan at least had the decency to go conquer them. [more laughter]

[31:56] LaSalle just looks at it, he didn’t conquer anybody he sat on his barge and looked to his right, that was what he did. I don’t even think he had a gun. I don’t even think he killed anybody. He just said, it’s mine. I like that. I got some [laughing] I got some really bad news for the Italians. Yeah really bad news. I like it here, this is mine. [all laughing] Now I feel at home. Let’s meditate. It will be a quiet meditation.

[33:10] Meditation bell rings three times for silent meditation.

[33:36] Meditation ends bell rings once.

[33:58] Olaso. So the interviews this morning will be five minutes late. Enjoy your day.

Transcribed by KrissKringle Sprinkle

Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Final edition by Cheri Langston


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