68 Two Routes to Liberation & the Power of Loving Kindness

B. Alan Wallace, 08 May 2016

This morning’s session outlined that there are two routes to liberation – one of faith and one of contemplating enquiry. The route we are studying during this retreat is the latter. Alan explained that the near enemy (or false facsimile) of Loving Kindness is self-centred attachment. He guided us to look back and examine the multiple manifestations of ourselves that we perceive as we function in a socially engaged world – some we like, others we dislike, sometimes we are virtuous and sometimes not etc. As we deepen our practice we come to know that these are all mere appearances. In modernity, it is sometimes said that we need to have courage to love – because pain is anticipated when the “object” of our love is lost. This is a manifestation of self-centred attachment and implies that love is not sustainable. This is not so with the authentic love experienced in Loving Kindness – it is not “lost” as it is not conditional on the object with which we become attached. We are encouraged to practice and to know ourselves and others as being inherently lovable and worthy of being loved unconditionally and not based on false appearances – seeking something deeper than mere surface appearances on which modern conditional love is based. The authentic love of Loving Kindness cannot be based on attachment to mere appearances as it arises from Buddha nature itself. Developing the ability to drop our self-centred attachments will establish a good foundation for practice and transformation that is not dependent on any religious belief or faith. We can develop this by coming to rest in Awareness of Awareness (our closest approximation that we can attain of resting in the equipoise of shamatha) and from this perspective turn inwards to examine our own way of being present, how “I” appear, How “I” exist (or apprehend “my” self). Alan read a quote from the Buddha that describes Loving Kindness as a characteristic of citta (the brightly shining mind), which is already there waiting to be uncovered. He explained that rigpa is always present – as the sun is present even if the sky is cloudy – and that rigpa shines through the lens of the substrate consciousness to illuminate whatever is perceived. This light is not like a torch light being shone through the lens, it stems from our own indwelling mind of clear light, the ultimate ground, which is non-dual and transcendent. Alan reminded us “Don’t look for the Buddha outside yourself”.

Meditation on Loving Kindness starts at 55:12

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[00:04] Olaso. So, this morning I’d like to return to the shamatha practice of Metta-Bhavana or the meditative cultivation of loving-kindness. And I emphasized a couple of days ago the immediate trigger or catalyst which immediately arouses such genuine loving-kindness, so we’re very familiar with that, that quality of – loveable quality of lovability. There’s another crucial element, though, in Buddhaghosa’s brilliant analysis of each of the Four Immeasurables, now, specifically, with respect to loving-kindness, and that is for each of the Four Immeasurables, he highlights what he calls the “near enemy,” that which can easily be mistaken for the sublime virtue of any of these Four Immeasurables, and as I think many of you know, the near enemy, or the false facsimile in modern – modern terminology, the false facsimile of loving-kindness is self-centered attachment, self-centered – so it’s attachment.

[01:03] Attachment’s all about appearances. One can be attached to a car, a place, beautiful Tuscany, attached to one’s reputation, one’s physical appearance, the physical appearance, the personality of another person, another person’s voice, another person’s – and so forth, appearances, appearances. And so pleasant appearances arouse attachment, unpleasant appearances arouse aversion and hostility, and neutral appearances arouse ignorance; we ignore them. We don’t find them interesting. They’re neither a threat, nor are they something that could be of benefit to us, and therefore we can afford to ignore neutral things, right. The pleasant has the promise of some pleasure coming. The unpleasant holds a threat of pain coming. The neutral, uninteresting, therefore, to be ignored. And so we can see how we can apply this to people, to people, appearances. Pleasant people, pleasant in any way, obviously physically attractive is one possibility, but people can be – can be pleasant or attractive in a myriad ways, including virtue. When people are very virtuous, when they are displaying kindness, generosity, and so forth and so on, then we find they’re very pleasant, and it’s very easy to be attached to such people, not just, you know, their attractiveness, but also virtue. And conversely, of course, if people are manifesting very unvirtuous, nonvirtuous behavior, that can easily arouse aversion, hatred, hostility, contempt, and so on.

[02:37] And as this is true for those that we attend to outwards, those around us in our surrounding society, likewise, of course, when we attend to the space of our own minds, we attend to the society of our own minds, then we see these multiple manifestations of ourselves, and some of them we may find quite pleasing. We may look in the – on the most superficial level, we may look into the mirror and like what we see and then be attached to our physical appearance, you know, feeling good about ourselves. The whole issue of extreme makeovers, the whole issues of weight loss, whole issues of cosmetic surgery and so forth and so on to make people feel better about themselves, so they like themselves, they’re more pleased with themselves, is all about appearances. It’s all about attachment. There’s nothing, actually nothing to do with loving-kindness.

[03:31] And likewise, when you look into the mirror, and we see something unpleasant, whatever aspect of our physical appearance we find unpleasant, it’s the same thing. It’s just aversion. Or just we find ourselves neither attractive nor unattractive, then we just find [ourselves] boring, and we ignore.

[03:45] But going deeper than that, just you know, flesh and bones, just the physical appearances, we know that much more important to us for most, I think almost everybody, most – more important than just the outer appearances is: is this person appealing or unappealing, right? Is the person appealing or unappealing? And then we’re looking for behavior, attitudes, ways of expressing themselves, and so forth. And then, similarly, ourselves.

[04:13] So, as we direct the mind inwards, and this is very, very much a contemplative, an inwardly directed, contemplative route that we’re following here on this shamatha-vipashyana-Mahamudra track, as we direct our awareness inwards upon ourselves and the various ways we’ve manifested on so many occasions throughout the course of our lives, setting aside the physical, which is, again, the most superficial, going deeper, there are certainly moments, if your life’s at all like mine, moments when we think back of ways we behave, we engage with others or the way we were simply present in the world, the way we appeared that we’re quite happy with, quite pleased with, ourselves, you know, proud of ourselves. And, of course, this can also lead to a sense of superiority, that I was, I was really quite exceptional. It can lead to narcissism, a self-satisfaction, and it’s all attending to appearances, appearances, right, and the appearances of one’s intelligence or one’s generosity or kindness or skill in this or that or another thing and be quite pleased with ourselves and – and then one can easily mistake that for self-directed loving-kindness, where in fact it’s self-infatuation. It’s just self – it’s self-centered attachment because one is pleased with the appearances, right. And the appearances come and go.

[05:38] And then on other occasions – we have all these phrases in English, and I think you’ll find it in other European languages: self-loathing, self-contempt, self-hatred, low self-esteem, lack of self-worth. How many words are there, you know? And the psychologists are so well aware of this because – I think a lot of your clients, a lot of your patients will be suffering from various forms of this, of just the multiple permutations of just a lack of self-worth, that we have all these variations, many of which can’t even be translated into Tibetan, just because it just didn’t seem to be so prominent in that tradition or culture.

[06:14] But we can – but then, again, coming back, not just to those people over there who are suffering from low self-esteem and self-hatred, unlike myself, we can think, if you’re all like me, you can think back to occasions in your life where you – you look at these episodes, how you manifested, the behavior, the appearance, the way you spoke, the way you acted, the kind of attitudes, thought processes, and so forth that you manifested, and you may be just disgusted, I mean embarrassed, disgusted, feeling humiliated and feeling even like, you know, that episode, overall, do I hate myself, no, but, boy, in that episode, that guy was disgusting, or that was – the D-word – despicable. That was – that was one of my worst days. That was a bad period. That person really, yuk, can’t stand that person. I’m okay, but that one there, ugh, like that, you know, because we have so many permutations. Maybe some of you are more homogeneously just nice, but when I – you know, when you’ve been 66 years, it’s not homogeneously nice.

[07:22] So we can look back on these appearances and find some that we feel very embarrassed of, or humiliated by, or really quite self-loath – or not – yeah, self-loathing: I just don’t like myself and certainly didn’t like myself at that age. And then many, many others, we just look back and see nothing attractive, nothing virtuous, nothing unattractive or nonvirtuous – boring – and we just find ourselves boring and therefore can ignore as just kind of aloof indifference, self-directed aloof indifference, right. It can all happen, yeah?

[07:58] And so all of these are flak, flak, and that is we’re – this is a terrible metaphor. I’m going to use it anyway. It just comes to mind. And that is, I’ve seen it in movies when a missile is coming in to like a ship from a hostile, hostile ship, for example, a missile’s coming in; then they’ll send up flak to try to detonate the missile in midair, right, very common. I think it’s been going on a long time. Then the missile never strikes home, right, and you’re safe, but it’s flak. It’s something that deflects, and then the whole issues is, you know, then the – it didn’t work. Well, we’re – we’re sending a missile now, a benevolent missile, into our – into our buddha nature, into our buddha nature, and up comes the flak. As we seek to go deeply into our own substrate consciousness, into buddha nature, up comes the flak of pleasant appearances, unpleasant appearances, boring neutral appearances, and then we get derailed, and that’s where loving-kindness gets derailed. It blows up. It goes neutral. It self-detonates in mere self-centered attachment. And in English, and I think it’s Europe, I think it’s much more widespread than that, but I know our – I know our language, in English language quite well, and it’s a conflation that’s almost universal: you can’t love, you can’t love, you can’t truly love without setting yourself up for heartbreak. Anybody ever heard that one? You can’t – you have to be courageous to love, because you know that it makes you vulnerable, and heartbreak and so forth, and the other person may disappoint you and so forth, but be bold, be courageous, have attachment, and hope it works out well [laughter]. And even if it doesn’t, and there’s heartbreak at the end, well, it was worth it before the heartbreak hit, wasn’t it [laughter]?

[10:00] Conflation, total conflation, almost universal [conflation]. You find it’s not conflated in Christianity when you really go deep. You don’t have to go that deeply, but unconditional love, the love of Jesus, that’s not self-centered attachment. That’s not self-centered. So, it’s there, it’s there in the wisdom traditions, but in our common vernacular, love is completely conflated, loving-kindness where there is affection, so it’s not saying, you know, romantic love is just stupid, goofball, crazy, crazy. No, in fact, it often has strong elements of genuinely caring for the other person. Loving-kindness for the person, affection for the person, self-sacrifice for the other person. That can be all built in, right. We know that. People are deeply in love, maybe may make strong sacrifices for each other. Even when the other one is throwing up and really disgusting, the love is still there, you know, so it’s not just good guys and bad guys, but we completely conflate this of the love which is really self-centered attachment with loving-kindness, and we put it in one word, L-O-V-E, you know.

[11:05] And Buddhism, the Buddha – the Buddha himself and Buddhaghosa and all of the great Buddhist masters homogeneously have so clearly defined here is self-centered attachment, here is the definition of attachment, and it has nothing to do with loving-kindness. And here is loving-kindness, and it’s completely empty of self-centered attachment. They bring in – like brain surgeons, they bring in the scalpel and say, look, if you have – insofar as you have a relationship with another person or yourself that is fundamentally one of self-centered attachment, it may feel very good for a while, and it will lead to heartbreak. It is not sustainable, it’s not a sustainable type of happiness, right; whereas you have loving-kindness for yourself or loving-kindness for another person, it’s not a timebomb waiting to fall into heartbreak, disappointment, you know, loss and all of that, not at all. I mean, there’s no downside to loving-kindness at all, never, and there’s always a downside with self-centered attachment, because it’s built into it. That’s an enormously important distinction, and it’s not out there in the air. Show me in the popular media where this distinction is made, even in psychology; I don’t know, I don’t know, but in Buddhism, crystal clear.

[12:27] So we see the flak, that which is, as we seek to cultivate loving-kindness, the flak that comes up, that can make that endeavor just go [makes sound simulating things falling apart], like that, you know, just go awry, because we’re so caught up, especially in this materialistic era, we’re so caught up in appearances, appearances all the way through to the point of saying robots are conscious because they appear to be conscious; we’re not conscious because we could be robots, you know. I mean, there are people, Daniel Dennett, that said we are mindless robots, mindless robots, and he’s not crazy, and he has followers who believe that. Ray Kurzweil says the next stage of human evolution, when we hit the singularity, is we’re going to transmute into robots, you know. And so, you know, there’s a lot of – by intelligent people. Ray Kurzweil, the head of, head of Research and Development for Google, you don’t get that position by being stupid, you know, a very brilliant man, but he really does think we’re already robots, and we just have to be better ones, you know. And so it’s all appearances. It’s all appearances. That taboo of subjectivity has really struck deeply into the very core of our modern civilization, and we’re going right into the core of subjectivity in this whole track of shamatha-vipashyana and then the Mahamudra.

[13:49] So to not be beguiled, misled, derailed by appearances. As a mother may love her child, and that love for the child may be totally bound up with self-centered attachment. Totally, feels like, like bacon is fused with fat, you know. It can just have so much self-centered attachment: my child, my child. And then when does that love really come up? When the child’s just adorable. We’ve all seen adorable. Who doesn’t smile, like Ursula’s smiling right now, when you just see an adorable child chuckling and giggling away and, you know, cooing and doing all those little things that little children, little babies, little children do? You just kind of think, oh, but they’re so adorable, adorable. And then – and then [laughter] during the time of the terrible twos and then for the rest of their life [more laughter], there’s a time when the child is just like, give me a break, would you quit whining, would you quit screaming, would you quit just doing everything you’re doing, because it’s so annoying. And would you like to go for adoption, at least for a little while [laughter], because the way you’re appearing to me is like give me a break, I’m so exhausted with you; you just can never be pleased. You want to just be always contrary: no, no, no, no. You’re no longer adorable. Get over it. So even with children, you know, they will appear, infants, children, adolescents, right through to, you know, death do us part, appear adorable on some occasions and then quite unadorable, quite annoying or disgusting on other occasions.

[15:40] There’s one – there’s one lovely Mexican woman living in Los Angeles. I quote her very often. She’s a very loving mother, and she has lovely daughters now, I think in their late teens, early adulthood. But she said when – she had like three daughters, all close to the same age, and so when she had these three daughters, and they’re all quite young, she said she would look at her daughters, and she said they were just so adorable, I wanted to munch them. I just wanted to chew, gobble them up, you know, they’re just so adorable, these cute little girls. And then as they got older and older into teenagers, and then she said, and sometimes when I look at them as teenagers, I wish I had [laughter]. And her daughters, by the way, have turned out very, very well. I’ve met them as young adults; they’re lovely people. But I think we all relate to that. That’s why we’re laughing. We don’t think, oh, what a weirdo. I guess those Mexican moms are terrible [laughter]. No, we all recognize that.

[16:44] So we come back to this theme of the loveable, what is loveable. Well, children giggling, playing, happy, healthy, and so forth, that’s loveable, but then – then they’re not. And we ourselves display on occasion being loveable – otherwise no one would ever love us – and then on occasion not, right. And so there’s positive, negative, and then there’s just neutral, where, just that, nothing special.

[17:11] So we see the classic mode that I would say is a religious mode of Maitreya, of Asanga, of setting out on the path of bodhichitta, and it’s a religious mode in the sense that it’s relying on assertions that we take on the basis of authority, and that’s what in religion people always do, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, that there’s an authority. It’s a prophet, it’s the Son of God, it’s a Buddha, it’s an arhat, but there’s authority, and it’s not something that in the foreseeable future you have any way of possibly verifying for yourself, but you have sufficient faith in the Bible, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Pali Canon, and so forth that you say, well, this is – I regard this as an authority. I regard the person behind it or the being, the supreme being behind it, as an authority; therefore, yes, I will bet my life on this, because that’s what religious people do, and so do atheists and materialists. They’re betting their life on another authority. It doesn’t crystallize around one person, like Thomas Huxley or any other atheist, but they’re also relying on authority, right. So, there’s a religious route. And for those moderners who either are in the modern world raised in a Buddhist culture or have a lot of momentum, karmic momentum from past life, then these classic traditional teachings that we find in the Lam-rim, we find all over Mahayana Buddhism, all sentient – you’ve had countless, countless, limitless past lives in beginningless samsara, it can be hard to check that one. Do we have ten, twenty, one million, a hundred and thirty-three thousand, two hundred and twenty-nine, or is there more? It’s going to be hard to test that one in the foreseeable future. So, there’s one statement. You accept it on authority or not, but it’s going to be hard to test, right, limitless previous lives.

[19:05] And then in limitless previous lives in this universe with one hundred billion galaxies, all sentient beings have at one time or another been your mother, without exception, every single one has been. Okay, all right, you accept it, or you don’t, but it’s religious faith, and I say that with no sarcasm, no, nothing, but it is religious faith. To be able to test that, not in the near future, right. So, if one has that faith, and it’s very firm faith, phyir mi ldog pa’i dad pa, irreversible faith, then, if it is, then that can be the foundation for developing loving-kindness, the sense of gratitude to all sentient beings, the affinity with all sentient beings and developing loving-kindness, compassion, and proceeding right on to bodhichitta. It can, it has, still does, still can. But if you don’t have that kind of faith, and we do have a problem in modernity. I think everybody in this room, probably everybody listening by podcast, we’ve been exposed to multiple authorities. I was raised in a Christian family, very, very Christian, my father being a theologian. But then I was immersed in science. I got more authorities to deal with, were teaching something, a worldview very different than what I heard once a week. Five days a week, in school, I heard one worldview; one day a week, on Sundays, got a very, very different worldview. So, then I was exposed to multiple authorities, right. And then, let alone hearing about other religions, oh, you mean not everybody’s Christian or everybody’s Protestant. I’m not sure about those Roman Catholics; they’re not quite Christian, not quite sure, it’s a bit dodgy, because they’re not quite like us Protestants, you know. And then many Roman Catholics think, you Protestants, a near miss but a nice try but, you know. You didn’t follow the one true church. Let alone those Jews, I don’t think they’re even trying to become Christian [laughter]. They just missed the boat. What’s – what are you waiting for? The Messiah has come. Why don’t you jump aboard, you know, hop aboard. And then those heathens, oh, my goodness, those pagans, those heathens, off in Asia, they don’t even believe in Abraham or the one true God. I mean, they’re really out to lunch, but they think they’re authority. So, by the time we’re exposed to these multiple authorities, it’s hard to have a very, very kind of irreversible faith in authority. Not impossible, but we are exposed more than ever before to plurality, pluralism, in terms of the authorities that we may embrace or not.

[21:43] So a more empirical approach, where the knowledge is not so distant is this approach here. It’s the approach of Shantideva, Maitreya [snaps fingers] – Manjushri and Shantideva, the approach here, and that is, as we’re seeking out the loveable quality that’s something deeper than, more abiding than the appearances that are pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral, arousing attachment, aversion, and indifference, what’s deeper than that? And this – I want to keep this close to, close to the heart this morning, because if we haven’t sorted – sorted out ourselves, if we haven’t developed an abiding in a sense of loving-kindness for ourselves that is not fair-weather loving- kindness for ourselves, fine as long as you’re in retreat and we’re living with lovely people, and we’re kind of pretty lovely ourselves, but then we step out, and we’re not surrounded by Dharma practitioners, and we’re not always manifesting in accordance with Dharma, and sometimes we deplore the way we respond to each other, other people, situations, and we respond with regret and then feeling guilt and feeling like, oh, you know, I’m still such a failure in Dharma, then loving-kindness for oneself can just wither on the vine, you know. And it can wither the day we leave this retreat as soon as then we’re behaving in ways that are not loveable. And if our sense of loving-kindness for ourselves is fair-weather, comes and goes, comes and goes depending on how are you today, how are you appearing today, are you loveable today, what have you done for me recently, that kind of thing, then, if that basis of self-directed loving-kindness is wobbly, flaky, come and go, come and go, up and down, then there’s no hope, really, I think there’s literally no hope that the sense of loving-kindness for others will be in any way sustainable. That nice word, sustainable economy, sustainable well-being, sustainable loving-kindness. I think there’s no chance. If it’s not sustainable inwardly directed, where we can see our thoughts and our emotions and our mental afflictions and so forth, if that’s not sustainable, if we dislike ourselves, as soon as the mental afflictions come and take charge of the mind and maybe even come out the mouth and so forth, then, what chance do we have? I think it’s like that of a snowball in a hot hell. We have to have that caveat in Buddhism. Snowballs in cold hells, they can last a long time, but snowballs in hot hells, a very short lifespan.

[24:25] So what can we do? Because as much as we’d like to say, well, I’m just going to be good from now on, I’m going to be pleasant and likeable from this day forward, because I never want to be unlikeable, I always want to like myself, and I’m going to be always likeable and always pleasant and always nice, and I’m just going to go – I’m going ride that wave of niceness and pleasant appearances, even if we could, and there’s some people who are – do – their virtue is so deep, the great bodhisattvas. Their virtue is so deep, they don’t have bad days. They don’t have mean-spirited days. I mean, it’s true, there are such noble people, mahasattvas, great beings. But if that’s all we’ve got, if we should arise to that level, and our whole loving-kindness is based upon our pleasant appearances, our virtuous appearances, what can it – how’s that going to turn out when we turn our attention to other people and say, whoa, I’m just maintaining a constant stream of virtue here, but you’re not. You were nice yesterday, but today you stink. And I was nice yesterday, and I’m nice today, but, boy, you really are in the – in the trashcan today. Man, I can’t stand you. At least, I’m not – I’m okay; you’re not okay, you know. And so one might have this façade, this false facsimile of loving-kindness for oneself. Of course, that’s going to collapse as soon as you direct the attention outwards, because the world around us, it doesn’t seem like it, at any point in the near future, is going to be arising with just virtuous, kind people happening all the time. We may have to wait for a long time for that to happen. So, there has to be something deeper than pleasant appearances if this loving-kindness – we’re starting there, I mean, that’s the base of the pyramid, right, immeasurable loving-kindness. Then we go to compassion. We start moving up into the Greats, then, finally bodhichitta, but the foundation is down here, right, and if the foundation is all a mixture of self-centered attachment and genuine loving-kindness, anything built on that sandy foundation is going to be just as unsustainable. So I think the foundations are really, really important, aren’t they? It has to be when we – we know what we’re cultivating is cultivating loving-kindness, and it’s not an alloy or a mixture of, you know, seventy-five percent loving-kindness, twenty-five percent self-centered attachment.

[26:43] So how’s that possible? And I think here’s a way that doesn’t require some very deep faith, religious faith in such things as countless past lives, all sentient beings have indeed been our mothers. What is the way of abiding – you remember this – to my – it really struck me for the first time, and I haven’t seen this text for a long time, but as you are resting in meditative equipoise – so he’s assumed you’ve achieved shamatha or something very similar to it, right. From the state of equipoise, like that minnow swimming through the water, you know, the clear water, the limpid water, then, you examine – another way of translating is your way of being present. It means to be present, to be abiding, to be there. How are you present? How do you appear? And then how do you apprehend yourself? I think this – I’ve never actually seen that anywhere else, and it’s very much in tune with the Mahamudra. It shows he’s really doing a deep fusion here of the classic Kagyu Mahamudra approach, which I’ve never seen, but that, I’ve never seen that in the Mahamudra. But nor is it classic Gelugpa, where, first of all, you intellectually identify the subtle object of negation, then you apply analysis to it. It’s not that either. It’s resting in meditative equipoise, and from that basis, examining introspectively your own presence. How are you present? How do you appear? And how do you apprehend yourself? How are you present once you’ve achieved shamatha, and you’re simply present there, present in the bhavanga, just resting in that bhavanga? How are you present? And here’s what the Buddha said. I’m reading this now for a second time, and hopefully we’ll see it afresh, as if for the first time. Here’s what the Buddha said of resting in the bhavanga and what that bhavanga is like, that ground of becoming.

[28:56] He said, “I know of no other single process which, thus developed and made much of, is pliable and workable as is this citta.” Pliable and workable when developed and made much of – when developed, cultivated, is so pliable, so workable as this citta. In other words, you can be a mass murderer, like Milarepa, with some very deeply ingrained resentment, hostility, vengeance and so forth. His mind was conditioned in that way, but then when he cultivated and developed it, even a mind that is deeply ingrained, deeply habituated to greed, hostility, malevolence, and so forth, he – the Buddha himself says, I see nothing more workable, malleable, transformable than the human mind. I think he’s referring to minerals and lumber and rocks and the five elements and so forth. Nothing is as malleable as the mind itself, you know. That’s incredibly inspiring, that whatever your past is, this is your mind.

[30:08] There’s – there’s a nice phrase from the Christian tradition: every – every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. I like that one a lot. I really like that one a lot. And so nothing more pliable or workable as this citta. This citta is the bhavanga.

[30:28] “Monks, the citta which is thus developed and made much of” [developed and cultivated] “is pliable and workable.” There’s hope, there’s enormous hope here. However you regard yourself, however you regard your mind, however your conditioning of your mind may be, there is hope, enormous hope.

[30:45] “Monks, I know of no other single process so quick to change as is this citta.” And that may happen. I know – again, I’ve been listening for a long, long time. A person may be on one track, one life that’s entirely hedonic, all about, you know, the extrinsic values of money, wealth, prestige, and so forth, and power, and then – you’ve all heard this. It’s really rather common. Then the person has a terrible automobile accident, comes to within just a hair’s breadth of death, right, survives, and then everything changes. You know, we’ve all heard that. A person who almost dies of cancer and then – or a person who goes through another kind of trauma, maybe the loss of one’s whole family or other, you know, traumatic events, they don’t always turn out this way or that way, but on occasion there’ll be so much momentum, and then so quick, one thing changes, and then the person’s whole worldview, set of values, way of life dramatically changes. And why? Mind changes and the speech and behavior, that just follows suit. But one event like that can change everything.

[32:01] You can meet one person. This also happens. It doesn’t have to be traumatic, but if the individual’s – I’ll tell you one example, and it’s very public. I’m going on and on here, but I love this material. Lama Yeshe, who’s the head Lama of the Samye Ling in Scotland, is a lovely Lama. I got to know him a bit. And when he was in his adolescence and young adulthood, he was the playboy’s playboy, drugs and party, party, party, party. His older brother was a great tulku, and all those other tulkus that were in his older brother’s club, they said, whatever, don’t become like his little brother, you know, Yeshe, don’t become like him, what a goof-off, what a jerk. Everything just, hedonistic, living in New York City, the center of hedonism, you know, for North America, because it has everything you could want, you know, if you want hedonic pleasure. He got totally sucked up in that.

[32:51] And he met – you know, he’s from a Buddhist background. His brother’s a tulku and all of that, so he met various Lamas, just no real impact. And then he met the 16th Karmapa, met the 16th Karmapa; he said, whoa. Then everything changed; that’s it. He just met that one person; okay, this is it; the show’s over, new start, reboot, shut the whole thing down, reboot, I’m going to become a monk, and I’m not only going to become a monk. I can’t become a monk like most monks, living in a monastery, doing all kinds of stuff. I have to be a monk and go immediately into full retreat and be only a contemplative monk, no other hope, and it changed everything. He’s a sublime monk, so pure, so joyful. He just lives in eudaimonia. His mind is just always cheerful. I know him. What I’m saying is actually true. So benevolent, so kind, just a flowing of kindness, a flowing of happiness, you know, just flowing in a river of eudaimonia. Meeting one man turned everything around. Okay? He’s not the only one.

[34:06] So nothing’s so quick to change as this citta. “Monks, this citta is brightly shining; it’s clear light.” This monk – this mind is clear light brightly shining. [? 34:21 Sanskrit bhava saram, citta bhava saram, bhavasaram citta]. But it is defiled by adventitious defilements. So it’s brightly shining but defiled; it’s obscured, it’s covered over, it’s veiled by defilements that come and go, come and go, right. When they go, well, then we just leave it at that.

[34:38] “Monks, this citta is brightly shining, but it is free.” So, this citta is brightly shining, but it is defiled by adventitious defilements. “Monks, this citta is brightly shining, but it is free from adventitious defilements.” What he’s saying there, it’s always brightly shining. It’s not an appearance, like the weather, that’s sunny, and then it’s cloudy and it’s stormy and it’s calm. It’s always there. It’s always brightly shining. It’s always pure, covered, not covered, right. So, when it’s not covered, then virtue comes up quite spontaneously, and the durability and the friendliness, the virtues and so forth. Oh, that person’s such a nice person. I like that person a lot. And then it gets obscured by the defilements. Oh, I can’t stand that person, disgusting, unappealing, so unattractive. Don’t wanna be – yuk, that just makes me want to throw up, you know. But what’s always there, between the adorable person and the unadorable, disgusting person, is that brightly shining mind, always there, right. And it can be so quick to change and so full of possibility when developed and cultivated.

[35:46] We’re looking into the way of presence, the way of abiding, what abides throughout the whole course of a lifetime, from our worst days to our best days and then the boring days. What’s always there? And then from the Anguttara Nikaya there’s a passage there that implies that loving- kindness – this is again a repeat, but now listen to it afresh. It implies that loving-kindness is a quality of the brightly shining mind and says it leads a person to meditatively develop one’s citta. That’s caring, right. Why would you develop your mind when you could just go out and get drunk or ride a motorcycle really fast or see a great movie or listen to wonderful music or go party, party, party? Why would you do that? Because you care, and you’ve already kind of got it figured out that doesn’t go anywhere. Cultivate your mind and this yearning of caring, of loving-kindness, could actually lead you where you want to go. It’s a deeper, more wise caring than simply pursuing immediate sensual gratification. And, so, it leads a person to develop one’s citta. It is that impulse of caring. This passage implies that the brightly shining citta, which is always there to be uncovered, is already endowed with loving-kindness providing a sound basis for any conscious development of this quality.

[37:17] So Amy asked a very good question by internet once, by email, and that is: Is it not true, though, that this bhavanga, or the substrate consciousness, is widely regarded as ethically neutral, ethically neutral, because from this can come out anger, from this can come out loving-kindness, virtue, nonvirtue, mental afflictions, wholesome mental states, and it just carries on constantly, so doesn’t that mean it has to be ethically neutral because it can give rise to everything from the most vile to the most you know, demonic and angelic? And the answer is, yeah, the substrate consciousness is ethically neutral, the bhavanga is ethically neutral. But then the question very keenly proposed, well, then, how can it be ethically neutral and of the nature of loving-kindness?

[37:59] And I responded to this, now, very, very briefly. It’s an interpretation clearly, but can something simply be of the nature of loving-kindness and ethically neutral because loving-kindness is a virtue? That’s it. It’s on the positive side of the ledger. But when you’ve so, how do you say, dissolved the coarse mind with all its complexities and so forth, dissolved that into the subtle continuum, you’re one giant step closer to buddha nature. All that stands between you and resting in rigpa is just two veils of clouds. One is the reification of your own mindstream. That’s the concrete, you know, resting there and not being able to go deeper because you’re reifying this, this flow of subtle mind with its bliss, luminosity, and nonconceptuality. Reify that, grasp onto that, tenaciously hold of that, that’ll keep you stuck. So, there’s one obscuration.

[38:56] Even if you break through that with vipashyana, where we’re going soon in this text, and you realize the emptiness of inherent nature of your own consciousness, your own subtle mind, you realize the emptiness of that, that’s big. Now you’ve realized shunyata [emptiness], not just the, just the substrate, which is a mere vacuity, and yet if you’re still conventionally identifying with this subtle continuum of consciousness, which is the stream of consciousness of a sentient being, empty of inherent nature, if you’re still identifying with that – that’s me or that’s mine or that’s my basis – if that’s still the basis of designation of you, which it very easily can be, our coarse mind can be the basis of designation. If you say, I’m intelligent, I’m stupid, I’m worried, I, I, I, the basis of designation is fluctuations, activities of coarse mind. Well, on subtle mind, even if you realize it’s empty of inherent nature, that doesn’t mean you’ve become obliterated, there’s no person any longer. Your basis of designation, having achieved shamatha and even insight into the emptiness of your own mindstream can still be that subtle, empty of inherent nature mindstream basis of designation, where you say, with confidence, I am a sentient being, not inherently but I am a sentient being. Fire is not inherently hot, but it’s still hot, and I’m not inherently a sentient being, but I’m still a sentient being, and there’s where I stand. That’s the final obscuration. That’s also an obscuration, because if your resting point is there, then rigpa will be an object of your mind, right, an object of your intellect, which, in fact, of course, it can’t be. So, then rigpa is reduced to a mere potential. I’m a sentient being, empty of inherent nature, and I have the potential to one day, in the future, achieve enlightenment, so I’ll stride diligently. And that’s what the stage of generation, stage of completion are for. It’s a system that really works; [I] wouldn’t kick it, wouldn’t knock it, wouldn’t criticize it. I don’t but what I learned twenty years after I began studying Dharma is that it’s not the only show in town, not the only avenue. That’s a developmental approach; there’s the discovery approach, and that is where you release even the subtle grasping, not reification, just the identification with or the imputation this is the basis of designation of myself as a sentient being, and you make a conscious choice. You see that there’s a choice. If you think there’s no choice, then you don’t have one, but if you see, as His Holiness said, Longchenpa Rabjampa, in his teachings on Dzogchen, as if from the perspective of a Buddha, but Tsongkhapa is giving teachings of the path as if from the perspective of a sentient being, then, you say, oh, you mean, you mean there’s a choice? I’m not locked into one, only one possible reality, and that is, when all is said and done, I’ve got no choice about the matter; I am a sentient being. You mean there’s another perspective? And the answer is, yeah. Where your subtle continuum of consciousness is right now, which is the subtle continuum of consciousness of a sentient being, that’s just true, where that is, that subtle continuum is permeated, completely suffused by rigpa. They’re both there, they’re both there, so now it’s your choice. You’re going to designate yourself – that just happens. Even when you’re a Buddha, you still designate yourself, right. The Buddha referred to this buddha, that buddha. One great Lama referred to another Lama and so forth and then referred to themselves. But then you see you have a choice: if I’m not inherently a sentient being, then I’m not just covering over inherent sentient being with make-believe, now I’m Vajrasattva, now I’m Manjushri, now I’m Padmasambhava, make-believe, like children playing cops and robbers. Not like that, no, that subtle continuum of consciousness which is a continuum is not a human being, is not a sentient being. It’s simply a continuum of consciousness, but right where it is, there’s also rigpa, the indwelling mind of clear light. That’s my new translation through collaboration with a good friend of mine in America, that innate mind of clear light, and I went to primordial mind of clear light; now I’m going to indwelling; I think it’s best, subtly; they’re all fine. But where that subtle continuum is, there is the indwelling mind of clear light.

[43:40] And now I choose, since I know the other one is empty of inherent nature, that subtle continuum is not by its own nature the necessary basis of designation of me. It’s one of myriad options, because I could also have as the basis my body or my face or my intelligence. None of them are inherently me, and so since I’ve got choice, then, my choice is I’m going to designate myself on the basis of my own buddha nature. And where my speech is is the speech of – the Vajra speech of the Buddha, where my body is is the Vajra body of the Buddha, and I now choose, right now, that that is the basis of designation. And then you may cut through right to rigpa, which is already there. That becomes a choice.

[44:32] So, now it’s quite late, oh, terribly late, too bad. This is all commentary on loving-kindness because that’s what really matters, right. We may or may not realize rigpa in this lifetime, who knows. We can definitely in this lifetime realize loving-kindness, and we can take it with us, but we have to recognize what it is and not confuse it, as society around us confuses it every day in every way – not everybody but in general. I think it’s a good generalization.

[45:07] So, as we go and we settle the mind in its natural state, which is what we’re going to do now, then I can speak very little during the session, settle body, speech, and mind in their natural state, settle your awareness in its own nature, settle in your own nature, settle in your own natural state, which is the close, closest approximation today of resting in the bhavanga, this brightly shining mind, pure by nature, permeated by loving-kindness and the source of the aspiration to proceed on the path to enlightenment. As you’re resting there, you’re resting in a mode of presence, a way of being that abides, like the sun is always in the sky, day or night, cloudy weather, sunny weather, it’s always there. You’re abiding in that self-illuminating sun-like quality of your own substrate consciousness.

[46:07] To answer the question from – from – comment made by Amy, “And why do we say it’s loving-kindness?” Because it’s so little veiled that the infinite loving-kindness, the relative bodhichitta that springs spontaneously from the ultimate bodhichitta of rigpa is shining right through it. So, it’s a metaphor, I think, of the substrate consciousness as being like – like a lens, brightly shining, transparent, but a lens. But the light, when we say it’s brightly shining, where’s the light coming from? Is it originating like light from a flashlight? Is it originating from the bulb of the substrate consciousness? And I would say, no way. If it were, if the luminosity of the substrate consciousness were originating there, then the luminosity of rigpa would be unrelated, irrelevant, and separate, right. So, the sheer luminosity of the substrate consciousness, it’s not originating from the substrate consciousness. It’s a lens, and the luminosity of the substrate consciousness is pouring forth from rigpa. And, likewise, if as far as you can see – in the Theravada tradition, the Pali Canon, there are no references to buddha nature. If, as far as you are willing to talk about, to probe is the bhavanga, then, you say the bhavanga is brightly shining, because there’s no references to buddha nature, to rigpa, primordial consciousness in the Pali Canon. But if you do have that broader view from the Mahayana, from Vajrayana, from Dzogchen, then the very light of the substrate consciousness stems from the indwelling clear light of pristine awareness, [innate], yeah, so buddha nature.

[47:55] And then, likewise, then it’s kind of obvious, what appears to be loving-kindness emanating from the substrate consciousness, well, it’s not emanating from the substrate consciousness; otherwise, the relative bodhichitta that emerges spontaneously from buddha nature would be irrelevant, separate, disconnected, not related. And, so, the loving-kindness that is the very ground state of that or permeated that substrate consciousness, and the yearning to cultivate the mind, to set out on the path, the yearning, the quiet yearning for liberation, for freedom, for something more – as the Dalai Lama said, that yearning for something more, whether religious or non-religious, you find it if you plumb only as deep as the substrate consciousness. You find that there, that deep impulse of caring, that deep impulse for transcendence, for loving-kindness, for bliss, for clarity, you find it there. But all of this, that’s a lens, and all of that is coming from the ultimate ground. So, the lens is ethically neutral; the ultimate ground is transcendentally nondual.

[49:10] So, the loveable, this dimension of every sentient being is constant. Crocodiles, human beings, orangutans, people manifesting in evil ways and wonderful ways, it’s always that. It’s a way of abiding; on a relative level, it’s a way of abiding that’s always there. And the mother – to go back to the analogy I gave of the mother gazing, I didn’t, I quite consciously did not choose the mother gazing at her child who’s cheerful and giggling and just so incredibly adorable. I didn’t give that example. I gave the example of her child asleep, and then the little child’s friend in the next bed over, asleep, right. So, there’s really, between two sleeping children, there’s, you really can’t, apart from just face – you know, physical beauty, there’s no difference. I mean if one’s adorable, the other one’s adorable, right. And, so, it’s attending to something deeper than my child is prettier than your child, or my child is more likeable, more pleasant, more cheerful and so forth. No, it’s not that, that’s not it. The mother’s seeing with her heart and not just with the eyes. She’s not doing a beauty contest: my child is actually a bit more attractive than that child or more pleasant than that child and so forth, smarter than that child, more precocious, no, no, no, no, no; the child’s asleep. She’s seeing with the eyes of wisdom, seeing with the eyes of the heart that there’s someone who’s loveable there while deep asleep. The child’s mind is rested in the natural state. The child’s mind is resting in bhavanga. That’s what happens when you sleep; it’s all that’s there, the bhavanga, right.

[50:49] So, in this meditation that we’re finally going to get to, to our best approximation, rest in the bhavanga, but knowing this is not simply a matter of faith, that one day if you’re really good and you achieve shamatha, then you’ll discover what you don’t have a clue about now. A lot of you here already know that’s not the case. A lot of you, just doing a simple practice like mindfulness of breathing or any of the methods we’re doing, have already found at least spikes of bliss coming up. You didn’t have to wait for, you know, a year, five years to achieve shamatha. You already know that’s true. Other ones, resting, you found surges of loving-kindness coming up, of serenity coming up, of stillness coming up, a sense of well-being coming up, a sense of purity of the mind coming up. Of course, it gets obscured, it gets covered over again. As we dredge the psyche, more stuff comes up. But we keep on getting glimmers, like the – like the cloud patterns shifting in the sky and shafts of light coming – coming down and getting covered over again. But then you see, okay, okay, this isn’t coming from nowhere; these are not manufactured by my intelligence, by my coarse mind. This is something streaming up from a deeper level, and it’s good, it’s good. There’s the bliss, there’s luminosity, there’s the nonconceptuality, there’s a sense of well-being, there is benevolence, there’s loving-kindness. And beyond all the vicissitudes of the adventitious obscurations, the defilements veiling and not veiling, that’s your ground and that is definitely loveable, and it’s abiding all the time, sometimes more evident, sometimes less, but it’s always there. And when you know that, this is a big pitch for achieving shamatha. When you’ve achieved shamatha, then you just know this without mediation. I mean you just – you totally get it, and not only you got it at one time, but you can access it any time you like. You can access that continuum of your own consciousness, which manifests as being loveable. The javana, the activities that come out. The bhavanga is when all the javana have subsided, and then you activate your mind, the javana, the activities of the mind come out, and some are pleasant, some unpleasant, some virtuous, some nonvirtuous. We’re back to that, appearances, pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. But your ground is not a computer turned off; it’s not a blank slate. It’s not a vacuum. It’s not nothing. It’s not just flat neutral. It’s not aloof indifference. The ground is luminous, pure, saturated by loving-kindness and a deep, deep impulse of caring, and that’s loveable. If you know who you are on that level, let alone cutting through to rigpa, then no need for any of these words, but here on this level, which is not something we can just hope for one day, you know, we can really access this. Then you see this is my ground state, this, when I’m resting in my natural state, here it is. When I’m resting in my natural state, I’m loveable. When I’m just resting in my natural state. I am already loveable, and not because I did something really nice or loveable. It’s not obscured by tainted virtue, and it’s not obscured by tainted nonvirtue or mental afflictions. It’s just what is always there, and what is always there is loveable, right. If that becomes real, you really know that what we attend to is reality, if that becomes real, then when you gaze at the children, you say. of course, it’s real, I can see it right there, and that child and that child and that adult and this adult, and you see all the appearances coming and going, pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, and say, as for me, so for you. This is – this is – this is you when you rest in your natural state, and that’s loveable, and it’s not self-centered attachment, and it’s not fixation on appearances.

[55:01] Olaso. That was much more than I thought [laughter]. Hopefully, it wasn’t a waste of time. So please find a comfortable position.

[Guided meditation starts at 55:10]

[55:27] With the foundation of taking refuge in your own buddha nature, the ground state of your own awareness, and with the motivation of bodhichitta, step by step, settle your body, speech, and mind in their natural states.

[58:00] To the best of your ability releasing all grasping, all grasping to the activities of the mind, all grasping to the coarse mind, the psyche, releasing it into space and resting in what remains, a simple flow of luminosity and cognizance, brightly shining, serene, pure, and permeated by an impulse of caring.

[59:25] And although this continuum of the subtle mind is not a person. It’s not I, it’s perfectly suitable to designate yourself upon this. It’s a choice you can make, and it’s a valid choice, one of many. This is who you are at a deeper level than your age, ethnicity, gender, the phases of your life, the myriad activities you’ve engaged in. This is abiding. This is the way you abide, the way you are present, the basis from which the manifold appearances emerge, as they say in Pali, the ground of becoming, the ground from which all the appearances of you manifest. But here’s your home, here’s a deeper sense of your own identity. It is and you are then worthy of love, loveable, and you may apprehend yourself by designating yourself on the basis of this, on this basis of designation. It’s as valid as any other, but this is more meaningful than most.

[1:01:30] And this flow of consciousness is already permeated by that impulse of caring, which easily manifests as loving-kindness just as easily as compassion. So, let’s highlight in this practice that positive valence of loving-kindness, attending to ourselves, vividly aware of the wish to find happiness and greater happiness, greater fulfillment, supreme fulfillment, knowing how quickly the mind can change and how malleable it is when developed and cultivated, the tremendous potential of the mind for transformation, for spiritual evolution, aware of all of this. And visualize, if you will, the deepest dimension of your awareness, your own pristine awareness once again as a radiant orb of light at your heart, the source of the light, of your bhavanga, your substrate consciousness, the wellspring, the ultimate wellspring of genuine happiness and of loving-kindness, the ultimate purity of your own being. Visualize this symbolically as an orb of light, and with each outbreath arouse the yearning, May I be well and happy, hedonically well and genuinely happy.

[1:03:53] And with every outbreath imagine rays of light flowing forth from this orb, filling your entire being, symbolic of the natural purity, the indwelling loving-kindness and the indwelling joy of your own mindstream filling your entire being with every outbreath.

[1:06:07] And now consciously bring to mind, drawing from your own memory, your personal memory, events, occasions from your past that brought out the worst of you, where this brightly shining mind was deeply veiled by clouds of obscurations, its bliss, luminosity, and nonconceptuality manifesting as hatred, greed, delusion, the appearance very negative, nothing loveable. Other people didn’t see you as loveable; you didn’t see yourself as loveable, because you weren’t; the appearances were not. But the appearances veil the deeper reality that was always there, as it is now. So, look upon these manifestations, these embodiments, these reincarnations of yourself in the past, which appeared in no way loveable, see through the modes of appearances to that which abides, always abides, and with every outbreath wish these manifestations of yourself also that each one may be well and happy, that each one may be free of these obscurations and find the happiness that you seek.

[1:09:35] And, again, cast your memory or your attention back to your own past, to those occasions when you manifested, you behaved in ways that were loveable, beautiful, virtuous, admirable, when you could really feel good about yourself and like yourself, where this brightly shining mind was less obscured, but see through the mode of appearances, which come and go unpredictably, and attend to that dimension of your being that abides continually, always worthy of loving-kindness, always loveable, and breathe out with every exhalation the light of loving-kindness to these incarnations of yourself, free of self-centered attachment, clinging to appearances. Seeing through them to a deeper reality which is always loveable and wish yourself well with every outbreath.

[1:12:51] And finally attend to those manifestations, those incarnations of yourself that were neither virtuous or nonvirtuous, neither attractive nor unattractive, ordinary, and see through the bland neutral appearances to the underlying reality, with every outbreath, homogeneously arouse the same aspiration, the same wish for loving-kindness: May you in all of your manifestations be well and happy. And breathe out this light of loving-kindness to yourself.

[1:14:35] Breathe out this light of loving-kindness to all the beings you have ever been in the past, in this and in prior lifetimes, and breathe out this light of loving-kindness to all the beings you will be during the incarnations you will take in the future, from beginningless to endless, breathe out loving-kindness.

[1:17:33] Then release all appearances, all objects of mind, release all aspirations and for just a short time rest in the natural purity, the natural clarity of your own awareness.

[1:19:11 – end of meditation]

[1:20:00] Olaso. So, we began here in Tuscany at about a minute after 9:00 a.m. in the morning, so 9:00 a.m., which was a minute after midnight on the West Coast of the United States, which means we began on Mother’s Day in the United States, a big celebration, Mother’s Day, the day for remembering the kindness of our mothers. So, good, so we just began Mother’s Day, and a good time to reflect upon the kindness of mothers, without whom our whole survival would be terminated. So, good, it’s very good.

[1:20:38] But also, also we can internalize this. Not everybody’s memories of mothers are homogeneously positive, but where the other mother left off, because we’re all adults here, so they’re probably looking after us now in the same way as when we were children, of course, we can look after ourselves, you know. And to bring that same quality of love that a mother so often brings to their children, bring that to ourselves as we’re raising ourselves, bringing ourselves up, you know, bringing ourselves up in Dharma. We’re already brought up hedonically. That already happened – for better or worse here we are – but we continue growing, maturing spiritually until we’re enlightened. So we modernists, I think actually modern, not just Western, it happens so often, we can be very tough on ourselves. I see it very often, very, very often. I know it because I’ve done it myself so much, but you know, in spiritual practice, we can be so tough on ourselves, sometimes harsh, sometimes quite stern, sometimes unforgiving, sometimes unkind, like a very harsh parent. Time to stop that. The mind is very quick to change, so even if we’ve been doing that for a long time, we can stop, you know, like Bob Newhart, his five-dollar counseling, for, what, three minutes, I think, three minutes, whatever the problem was, stop it [laughter]. It worked for me. I really like that one. I could be a therapist, and I can say that quite forcefully. Either phat or stop it, either one you like. I’m multilingual, you know. But there are some things we actually can stop, you know, and we can stop that. It’s a bad habit. And replace a bad habit with a new one, and that is, guide yourself in the practice like a loving mother, ever patient, infinitely patient, infinitely optimistic, infinitely loving, and persevering all the way through to the end. And then the Tibetan word for Lama, the Tibetan word Lama, which is the Tibetan translation for guru, la means unsurpassed; ma, as in virtually every language, mama means mother. So, etymologically the word Lama means unsurpassed mother. So, be your own unsurpassed mother, yeah. Outside Lamas come and go, you know, they die, they get old, they travel. Be your own unsurpassed mama, be your own mama. Take no external refuge. Do not look for the buddha outside yourself. From the Pali Canon right up to Dzogchen, same method, same message. Oh, yeah, very good.

[1:23:40] So [laughter] today the interviews will be exactly one half-hour late – actually exactly on time for today. They’d be late if it were yesterday. Cheerio, see you later.

Transcribed by Claire Lamme

Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Final Revision by Kriss Sprinkle


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