Teaching Notes on
Shamatha & Vipasyana Meditation
His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche
at Vancouver, 2005
Today there are many old dharma friends gathered here and over the years you have received various teachings from different lamas on mahamudra, dzogchen and other such practices.
So there are some among you who understand the meaning of these teachings on mahamudra and dzogchen. How this is so, is that in former lives you have cultivated loving kindness, compassion and bodhichitta and these habits have remained in your mind stream. As a result you have fewer emotions and thoughts of attachment and aversion. If these are less and less in your mind stream then it is possible to immediately understand the natural state of the mind.
There are others among you, no matter how much effort you may make in the practice of the nature of mind and no matter how many teachings you may receive on it, still you have not had the experience of that, you have not recognize it. How this is so is that in former lifetimes you haven’t been able to train in loving kindness and compassion extensively. As a result you experience strong partiality in your mind, strong emotions of attachment and aversion. In this way the mind is like water that has been contaminated. It is impure and it has dirt and other contaminants in it. Although the basis of the mind is the same, for enlightened beings the mind is like clear pure water and for beings who
have not trained in loving kindness and compassion and who are giving rise to negative emotions of attachment and aversion, then the mind is like impure and contaminated water. So for beginners very often we have this kind of contaminated mind.
Even so the basis of mind of all beings is the same and this basis is referred to as “kun zhi” in Tibetan or “alaya” in Sanskrit. This is really the base consciousness. This base is the same for both buddhas and sentient beings. Of course sentient beings experience the phenomena of samsara and buddhas experience the phenomena of nirvana but the very basis is the same among all of us. This is similar to the body of water. In this world there are countless bodies of water, yet they are all of the same nature. They are all H2O. In a similar way the basis of the mind is the same for all buddhas and sentient beings. This point must be understood.
So we might ask that if both sentient beings and buddhas have the same basis fundamentally, how is it that they have different experiences. Sentient beings have not realized the natural state of the mind and thus they fall under the power of negative emotions and thoughts. Thus even though the very basis of mind is the same as the minds of the buddhas, even though it is like water, the minds of sentient beings have become like frozen ice whereas the minds of the buddhas are like free flowing water. We can do anything with that water as we wish. We can drink it. We can make tea out of it. We can make soup out of it. We can bathe in it. Thus the minds of the buddhas which are like free flowing water, are very versatile. We should consider how is it that the buddhas have reached this state of versatility. It is through the practice of shamatha or calm-abiding meditation. Through engaging in this meditation they have been able to conquer their negative emotions and thoughts.
So we should consider that the buddhas have found the method to become free from suffering and to melt this frozen block of ice into free flowing water. With regard to these supreme methods, who but the buddhas could understand them, who other than the buddhas could know how to become totally free from sufferings. Although in this world there are many different spiritual traditions, only the Buddha, the transcendent conqueror, has elaborated the means whereby sentient beings can become fully enlightened buddhas. In many different traditions it is fine to stay within segregate wisdom and experience the bliss and happiness of the three higher realms of existence. In these traditions there is no aim to attain ultimate enlightenment. Yet the buddhas have shown us the road whereby we can completely transcend segregate wisdom and attain completely enlightened buddhahood.
So when we speak of Buddhist, we are referring to those who engage in practice and experience the benefits in this life, their future lives and in the bardo or intermediate state. In order to practicing this way the taking of refuge is of principal importance. What is it that we are taking refuge for? We are taking refuge for the protection from suffering and to do so we take refuge in the Buddha. Does the Buddha show us the method to protect ourselves from suffering? That method is to abandon self-clinging and to accomplish the benefits of others. This teaching then is the sublime dharma. When we hear and understand these dharma teachings and when we put them into practice, then we become good people with good heart and we avoid doing harms to others. As such then we become a member of the sangha. In this way then we understand the three jewels, the Buddha, dharma and sangha.
If we want to give rise to the sublime dharma in our mind stream, it is a bit difficult to do so. But the method whereby we do so is to practice calm-abiding and special insight meditation or shamatha and vipasyana. Through the practice of shamatha we pacify negative emotions and on the basis of this we see the in-dwelling of the natural state of the mind. That is to say we see the innate buddhahood of our own mind stream. This mind then is recognized as no difference from the buddha’s. We experience the direct sign of the sameness of our mind and the buddha’s mind. Thus we understand if we make effort all sentient beings can attain the state of buddhahood.
There are some who understand thoughts to be the very root of suffering and on the basis of this understanding they engage in the practice of calm-abiding meditation but they do so without having given rise to bodhichitta. They do not follow after the thoughts that arise in the mind and this mind free from thought is the nature of bliss and this is the kind of meditation practice that they cultivate. Although they may realize the nature of selflessness, this will only lead to temporary happiness and they will create the causes of rebirth in the three higher realms of existence and in the formless realm and so forth. Yet they will not attain the state of fully enlightened buddhahood based on this meditation rather they will remain in the higher realms of cyclic existence.
We should understand the faults of self-cherishing. The entire container i.e. this universe and all its contents i.e. the sentient beings have been created by the deluded habit of self-clinging. We can look at our own bodies and investigate how is it that they had come into being. Through the habit of holding on to that which is selfless as though it were self, this body has been formed. This has been taught by the Buddha. So we must understand the nature of selflessness. If we really investigate the body we will understand that this thought that the body is mine is false. If we look at the natural state of the mind we see that it is like the expanse of space. There is no gross physical form or object of fixation there. Thus we see that all of the phenomena of samsara and nirvana have been created by the mind. When we recognize this then we will understand the fault of clinging to the “I” and fixation on the self. Even when we are requesting dharma teaching we have the sense of “I” am asking for dharma teaching. With that thought we are already reinforce this habit of self-clinging. So it is important that we recognize this habit.
Some thinks that the body is the root cause of suffering and on the basis of this thought they will commit suicide but we can’t abandon suffering by leaving this body. If we really wish to understand the nature of suffering we need to look at the habit of the karmic propensity of self-clinging. It is only through practice that we will be able to liberate ourselves from suffering. For those who have this notion that the body is the root of their sufferings if they liberate their consciousnesses from the body through killing themselves, they will experience even worse suffering in the bardo when the consciousness is wandering in the intermediate state. So this must be understood.
Some say that at the time of death then there is simply nothing. They understand the empty nature of mind to be another life. This is truly not the case. When we fall asleep at night and we have dreams, we engage in so many activities in this dream and we perceive them all as real. We experience the intermediate state. It is a similar one. We can’t say that the mind doesn’t exist at all when death comes and that there is completely blank, rather when the consciousness has been separated from the body, the consciousness is driven by karmic wind or karmic energies. Whatever negative emotion that is the strongest in our mind stream will influence our perception of phenomena in the intermediate state as well. We will experience the inconceivable sufferings of heat, cold, hunger, thirst and so forth in the intermediate state.
Now when we receive empowerments and so forth, there is mention of independence or being under one’s own power versus being under the power of others. We should understand independence to be about conventional bodhichitta. When we have this mind of conventional bodhichitta then we are under our own power or control. We temporarily will experience the happiness of the three higher realms of existence and ultimately experience the fruition of liberation. If we have bodhichitta, loving kindness and compassion in our mind stream then we understand the fault of negative emotions and as such we are able to transform them into positive emotions of loving kindness and compassion and so forth. When negative emotions arise we are able to recognize them through the power of vigilant mindful awareness and we can liberate the negative emotions of desire, attachment, greed, ignorance and so forth which are the cause of sufferings of the three lower realms of existence. Thus on the basis of conventional bodhichitta we can understand how the happiness of the three higher realms is experienced. When we have love and compassion in our heart then naturally we become free of the negative emotions such as attachment, aversion, ignorance and so forth and on the basis of this we attain independence.
The consciousness in the intermediate state gives rise to negative emotions and if we are not able to separate our mind from these negative emotions, we will powerlessly take rebirth in the three lower realms of existence. If on the other hand we are able to cultivate bodhichitta, this will be the basis for us to take rebirth in the three higher realms of existence. If we are able to engage in the practice of ultimate bodhichitta, then through this practice of vipasyana we will realize selflessness, we will realize the mind that is like the expanse of space and we will recognize all phenomena of samsara and nirvana to be like a dream. On the basis of this kind of practice we experience the inseparable dharmakaya and the mind of all the buddhas. We cannot then say that this mind is non-existent because all of the phenomena of the pure realm spontaneously manifest out of emptiness and appear like a rainbow. When we have realized this ultimate nature of the mind, then it is not necessary for us to take rebirth in the six realms of existence. We must understand that on the basis of self-clinging we give rise to the negative emotions of attachment and aversion. On the basis of these we engage in actions and create karma and on the basis of that take rebirth in any one of the six realms of existence depending on which negative emotions are the strongest for us. In this way then we should recognize the root of wandering in cyclic existence to be self-clinging and we must seek out the method to overturn the habit of self-clinging.
With regard to the actual practice what is it that we must understand? We should understand that this body has been created by the empty mind itself. To the habit of fixating on the “self” or on the “I”, to the habit of self-clinging, we give rise to a physical form and then when we die again we take rebirth through the habit of self-clinging and we do so again and again lifetime after lifetime. We should understand that all of the inner contents which are sentient beings, their physical forms have arisen on the basis of this habit of self-clinging. This applies not only to the beings in the form realm but also to the beings in the formless realm. If we understand that the body itself is the nature of impermanence and the mind which has created the body is the nature of emptiness and like the expanse of space, then our fixation to the self will naturally be reduced. Gradually then our negative emotions of attachment, aversion and so forth will become weaker and weaker. But first we must understand the nature of the mind, the empty mind, that is the basis then of all forms.
We should understand not only doing it to investigate the body but we also need to investigate the outer container which is this universe. It has completely come about due to the collective karma of sentient beings. It is naturally established although its basis is emptiness still it comes about through collective karma. In this way we can look at the body as being like an example of the outer container i.e. the universe and look at the inner afflictive emotions in our mind stream as being like the sentient beings that are contained in the universe. So it is like the body is a microcosm of the larger picture. The only difference is one of size but in any case we can contemplate the outer universe and all sentient beings or its parallel as the body and the inner afflictive emotions all of which are based in emptiness.
All compounded phenomena are the nature of impermanence and so the body, the sentient beings and the outer container i.e. this universe will eventually be subject to loss and destruction. Inwardly the mind is like the expanse of the sky. We should understand that outer appearances have been created through the mind. But that they have no actual reality, no actual gross substance, in the future they will become nothing. In this way we should understand that appearances have arisen from mind and mind is the nature of emptiness. Considering this then we will take a brief break.
With regard to these teachings on taking refuge, generating bodhichitta and recognizing emptiness, all of these teachings are contained in the text of 37 Practices of the Bodhisattvas. Likewise everything that we need to know about calm-abiding and special insight practice is also contained in this text. So I request that after lunch we should read this text together.
So we must be introduced to appearances as having been created by the mind. When we believe this and have confidence in it then we see it operating on ever more subtle levels. We will eventually come to understand that there is nothing that has not been created by the mind. With regard to the mind, the creator, it is the nature of emptiness and of impermanence. As beginners we really fixate on phenomena as being real and having some inherent existence. But in the future we will truly realize phenomena as being the nature of emptiness and created by the mind.
When we fixate on phenomena as being real and inherently existent that is what we call “delusion”. That is to say when we fixate on what is non-existent as though it was real and existent then your mind is deluded and this is the cause of all of samsara.
When we understand the meaning of this then we will recognize that all outer objects are empty at their very basis. Even to have a conceptual understanding of this will cause us to recognize that our habit of thinking of phenomena as being real is delusive. Eventually then our fixation will become less and less. Eventually it will become completely free of fixation, recognizing that the outer container which is this universe and the inner contents which are the sentient beings are empty in nature. Thus our fixation on objects as being real and inherently existent will become less and less, and on the basis of this our attachment will become less. Our aversion will even become less. That is to say when we recognize that phenomena are not real and inherently existent then we have less fixation to beautiful objects, likewise we have less aversion in the mind. We understand then that attachment and aversion are delusive states of the mind.
Again and again we should habituate this recollection of the empty nature of phenomena. Each time that we recognize fixation on phenomena as real arising in our mind, we should again and again recall that phenomena are empty in nature and they are not inherently established. Likewise we should focus again and again on the empty nature of the body and on the outer container i.e. this world. Thus each time fixation arises we should overcome it by remembering emptiness. When we think, “Oh, this world is such a wonderful, nice and comfortable place to be and then I want to go outside and take a walk” and so forth, at that moment I should recognize my attachment and fixation, and liberate that fixation and then go out on a walk. Likewise when we look at the inner contents i.e. the sentient beings we tend to think of self and other as being separate and distinct but the basis of mind is the same among all sentient beings. This we should recall again and again. In terms of our experiences of happiness, sufferings and negative emotions we are all the same. Likewise in terms of the very basis i.e. the nature of mind we are all the same. When we recall this again and again the distinction between self and other begins to blur. Eventually we will realize that there is no distinction between self and other. By practicing in this way thinking about the empty nature of the container and its contents and the basic sameness of sentient beings, our self-clinging will gradually, slowly diminished.
When we fixate on self and other we give rise to all kinds of dualistic experiences of happiness and suffering. But we should understand that at the very basis when we give rise to negative emotions and then we act on them we create karma and having done so the fruition will be experienced. For example we get angry at someone and then immediately we argue and fight with that person creating karma and then establishing karmic propensity of action. Without doubt the fruition of this action will have to be experienced at sometime in the future. In this way since timeless beginning in samsara we have accumulated negative emotions of attachment, aversion and so forth. Thus if we ask where have all our sufferings come from? These come from negative emotions. When we get angry at someone we should remember this. Because it is not the fault of that person that is causing our anger, it is our own negative emotions in our mind stream. When we understand this then we won’t focus on the individual as the object of our anger, rather we focus on the negative emotions in our own mind stream. We should remember at the very basis, the buddha nature of that person and myself is the same. When I practice in this way then eventually I will be able to lessen my anger.
All of the suffering in samsara has come about in the following way. We give rise to concepts in the mind and we fixate on them as being real and on the basis of this fixation we create karma and this obscures the pristine nature of mind. There are basically three types of obscurations. The first is the obscuration of objects of knowledge. What this refers to is, not recognizing the natural state of the mind, not seeing the face of selflessness. When we have this obscuration then we give rise to the second kind of obscuration which is that of negative emotions. We give rise to negative emotions and we fixate on them as being real. On the basis of this we engage in actions. Then this conditions the third type of obscuration i.e. the obscuration of karmic propensity. Once we engage in action then we create habit patterns of engaging in certain kinds of actions and those are karmic propensity.
How is it that the three spheres of existence, which are vast and deep, have been created? It is through the mind alone. If we really investigate the mind we will see that through fixating on phenomena as being real this entire universe has been created by the mind. Thus all of samsara are conditioned by mind alone. If we practice meditation liberating our fixation on phenomena and not following after the thoughts that arise in the mind, then no matter how many thoughts arise we don’t hold on to them. Thus they cannot do any harm whatsoever and we will not accumulate karma. We need to practice in this way. We will engage in calm-abiding meditation and by doing this the subtle thoughts are liberated one after the next. When we practice in this way then we become free of fixation on the outer container and the inner contents as being real and by habituating this eventually we will be able to overcome even the grossest thoughts that arise in the mind. If we don’t continue to do this practice at all times then you may do a little bit of calm-abiding meditation and liberate a few small thoughts but then again when the session ends more conceptual thoughts arise you become confused all over again. So the practice must be continued.
With regard to the practice of calm-abiding we can use the example of pure water and water that is mixed with contaminants such as dirt. When we sit down to meditate we should think that right now my mind is like impure water and then I need to purify it. If I have water that is mixed up with all kinds of dust particles and dirt and I pour it into a vessel, the way to separate the contaminants from the water is simply to let the vessel sit. Then slowly, gradually all of the dirt and impurities settle at the bottom of the container. In a similar way when we engage in the practice of calm-abiding we need to allow the mind to naturally settle in its own state and in this way pacify the conceptual thoughts.
If we want to leave the mind like this in its natural state first we must give rise to a belief and confidence that the basis of the mind itself is the same as the basis of the mind of all of the buddhas. When we have faith in the buddha nature then we can actually engage the extraordinary buddhist teachings of liberating thoughts. If we want to see the nature of the mind then we need to let go of fixation on thoughts. We should understand that it is through fixation on thoughts that all of the vast ocean of samsara has been created and if we want to liberate ourselves from this vast ocean, then we must let go of negative emotions and abide in the nature of mind. When we do not follow after the myriad thoughts that arise in the mind then we can look at the nature of the mind. This nature is like the vast ocean and the thoughts that arise in the mind are like waves on the surface of the ocean. They are of the same basic nature. That is to say as waves and the water are of the same nature so are thoughts and mind of the same nature. But this is only recognized when we do not fixate on the thoughts that arise. Then free of fixation the thoughts will arise and naturally subside. This point must be understood.
When we engage in the practice of calm-abiding we need to ideally realize the natural state of the mind and simply abide in mindful awareness that we call awareness or rigpa in Tibetan. We just simply remain in that. That is the ideal meditation. Yet for beginners who have no experience with calm-abiding meditation. It is advised to first again to practice with a support, that is to say, with a small object that can be the basis of our focus, for example a small white stone something that is not brightly colored. We set it before ourselves and we sit in a proper meditation posture with the spine straight yet the body still relaxed. We gaze downward in the direction of the tip of the nose and we look at the stone which is the support of our practice. We focus on this while abiding in state of awareness. The point is to keep free of all distractions and focus only on this object i.e. our support. We can do this for twenty minutes or half an hour again and again causing ourselves to focus and refocus on this object and to abide in awareness while doing do.
In this way whenever you look at the outer object i.e. the support of the calm-abiding meditation you will be able to abide with stability in the practice. Thus you should continue to look at the nature of mind while doing the practice and stabilize that. When later it won’t even be necessary to look at the object. You can simply recall it in the mind and still have that same unwavering attention. So in the beginning when we are doing the practice first we must stabilize it or habituate it. Then eventually once that has been stabilized we can focus on the mental object without any wavering from it whatsoever, whether the object is actually placed in front of you or not will no longer matter. Then for how long we do the session will depend on our own diligence and our own effort.
So first we engage in the meditation with an object that is a support. Some people would find that when they do this, immediately they are able to give rise to real stability of the mind. In any case whether it comes immediately or whether it takes some time, as soon as we find that the mind is abiding with stability, we should just stay in that state for a short time and then take a break, end that session while we are still remaining in that state of stability and then slowly arise from the meditation session and begin to engage in activities while holding mindful awareness. Look out into the expanse of the sky and merge your awareness with space and kind of refresh the body by breathing out forcefully. Then again later go back to the meditation in the form of meditation practice. By practicing in this way one will attain independence and freedom. We will find that we will be able to abide whenever we choose to. When we have this experience then we should go on to the meditation on calm-abiding without support.
There are other spiritual traditions that also engage in the practice of calm-abiding. Yet those practices can be endowed with various faults. The extraordinary Buddhist teaching instructed that we should give rise at the outset to refuge and bodhichitta and then engage in the actual practice of calm-abiding and then at the end of the session dedicate the merits. When we are engaged in the actual practice of calm-abiding then we should understand the practice in the following way. The root of all sufferings of all sentient beings is holding onto thoughts with dualistic fixation of subject and object. All sentient beings and myself have the very same basis i.e. the nature of the mind. Thus there is the connection between myself and all beings. Thus as I do the practice of calm-abiding and do not follow after the thoughts that are arising in the mind, I spontaneously benefit all sentient beings. That is to say if the basis of the mind is the same for all beings, then if I myself give rise to meditative stability it brings about benefit to all others. So with this motivation to benefit beings we really give rise to bodhichitta. So this is the kind of mind we must generate at the beginning of each session, first taking refuge and then thinking about benefiting beings through the practice of calm-abiding in the way that we have described.
We should meditate in short sessions, this is very important in the beginning. When we are in the meditation we should cultivate mindful awareness. When we arise from the meditation and engage in activities, likewise we should cultivate mindful awareness. We give rise to this thought, “I must meditate, I must practice well” and this thought should be carried from our meditation session over into all of our other activities. We should never be separated from this intention to hold on mental focus. Then when we rise from the meditation session we should do so with heedfulness going from one place to another, eating our meal and whatever activities we are engaging we should do so with
heedfulness and vigilant mindful awareness. As we are walking we should keep our gaze downward a few paces in front of us on the ground and not raise the gaze and look all around in all directions because this then becomes a basis for distraction. So it is said that until we really stabilize and habituate this practice of mindful awareness in our activities then we should keep the gaze lower and focus in front of us. The most important thing here is continuously cultivating heedfulness in all of our actions and really taking care as we engage in conduct so that we don’t become distracted from the meditation.
In all of our conduct then we should hold mindful awareness. When we stand up and go from one place to the next we should do so with vigilant mindfulness. As I am walking I should be looking at my mind asking myself “How am I going? Am I walking with mindfulness? I should be paying attention to the insects on the ground and taking care not to harm them.” Likewise when I am eating I should cultivate the same mindful awareness. When food tastes delicious to me I should observe my attachment in the mind. When I dislike the taste of food I should observe the aversion that is arising in the mind. In this way I become very tune to the activities of the mind and I recognize delusive states the moment they arise. Thus we should merge all of our activities with the practice of mindful awareness whether we are walking, sitting, standing or lying down, even as we are falling asleep we should continue the practice of mindfulness.
When we practice in this way we develop a real sensitivity towards the arisings in our mind, a real recognizing and feeling quality that enables us to be continually aware of the thoughts in the mind. Now there are two important points to be understood about maintaining this kind of heedfulness. When we practice mindful awareness we subdue our own mind that is to say the negative emotions, attachment, aversion, pride, jealousy and so forth become subdued through our continue cultivation of mindful awareness and that then is reflected in our outward conduct. It was said by the buddhist that when one has heedfulness one’s own mind is subdued and others’ minds are protected. What this means is that when we have heedfulness we subdued the negative emotions in our mind. That is reflected in our outward conduct which then protects others’ minds from giving rise to negativities and you in foreign countries will have a good understanding of this because you have many good social habits that are cultivated in this culture. When you are eating a meal, after you finish you always wipe off your mouth. This is a gesture of
heedfulness. When we have this kind of heedful mind it is reflected in our outward conduct and then this protects others from giving rise to negative thoughts. If I am setting down the lid of my cup I don’t just slam it down because this will then disturb others’ minds. So I set it down quietly. This is a reflection of my own inner heedfulness that then has an effect upon others. So within this practice of heedfulness we have encompassed both, the bodhisattva’s conduct and the practice of meditation. So these two important points of heedfulness must be understood.
When we are engaging in the practice of calm-abiding meditation it is said that this generally progresses according to four stages of meditative concentration. Rinpoche is referring to a text in order to give the following instructions. When we are first beginning the meditation in calm-abiding it is a little bit difficult for us because we are giving rise to a lot of conceptual thoughts. This is actually the first stage of calm-abiding meditation. It is labeled “having conceptual thoughts”. Now we all have these thoughts arising in the mind instead of it going natural that they should appear at the outset of our calm-abiding practice. The second stage of calm-abiding is “having investigation”. This is when we are actually aware of and investigating the thoughts that are arising. The third stage is “having joy” or “endowed with joy”. The fourth stage is “endowed with bliss”.
With regard to the first of these stages “having conceptual thoughts”, it is said in mahamudra instructions in the beginning of the meditation practice the mind is like a waterfall. It is not possible for the mind to abide for any length of time at all. You are continually carried off one thought after the next. Our awareness is lost again and again. This is due to the influence of thick and gross conceptual thoughts in the mind. When we contemplate that the outer container i.e. this world and the inner contents i.e. the sentient beings are without any inherent existence and that they are illusory and unreal, this become the cause for the grossest of our conceptual thoughts to become less and less. Likewise when we cultivate bodhichitta and contemplate the empty nature of phenomena, our very gross, thick conceptual thoughts of attachment and aversion eventually become less and less. Yet in the beginning when it is as though the thoughts are like strong crashing waves as tall as mountains the more we contemplate the empty nature of phenomena and bodhichitta and so forth, then it is as though our thoughts become smaller and smaller waves and eventually just like ripples on the surface of the water. So this happens gradually and in stages. With regard to the second stage of calm-abiding meditation this is the investigation. That is to say once we receive some instructions and you know the faults of our thoughts in meditation and negative emotions, then you remember that in the meditation and it seems as though our concepts are increasing. We give rise to a thought and then immediately we see the fault in that thought. Even though it seems as though our conceptual thoughts are increasing, still this is a necessary stage in the practice. Eventually as we do this practice we are cultivating the aware quality of the mind which recognizes the thoughts that are arising. When we continue to cultivate this then we no longer fall under the power of the arising thoughts and our gross conception become less and become softer and easier to deal with. Then when we have meditated for a long time and we have gained some direct experience in the practice, we no longer have to focus on the fact that thoughts and negative emotions are faults in the practice. Since we no longer fall under the sway and we are no longer influenced by them, then they on longer do any harm to our practice. So all of these come in successive stages. At this point then we are able to hold on to a one-pointed meditation sometimes. Other times we are not able to remain in a one-pointed state. But in any case as we progress through these stages we begin to pacify our gross negative emotions until they become less and less influential in our meditation and then finally we reach a stage that is free from the arising of conceptual thoughts and also free from investigation.
When we begin to practice calm-abiding we are looking at the nature of the mind. At first it seems that our conceptual thoughts are increasing, our hardship, difficulties and sufferings are only increasing, and it seems that the mind is becoming worse and worse. This is actually due to recognizing that which was not seen before. When we do the practice of meditation, we look at the mind and we observe that which we have not previously seen. In the past our thoughts were arising one after the next in an uninterrupted continuity but we didn’t notice it and now that we are engage in the practice we see just how many thoughts are arising in the mind. Now with regard to the kinds of thoughts that we have been engaging, they are thoughts of the three times, past, present and future. With regard to the first of these this is when we review the things that we have done and the things that had happened. We recall having gone out to a restaurant and having had this meal or that conversation. We remember the good things that had happened and as we remember that we laugh to ourselves. We think about the sufferings that we have experienced thinking, “Oh! In the past, I had this and that hardship”, and we replay these things in the mind. However many times we review them, we reinforce them in our mind and our suffering increases and the mind become bound by the karmic propensities that are being established and reinforced. Some people thinking again and again about the sufferings that they had endured actually commit suicide or they kill those who did those things to them during that time, or they do harms to their country and their countryman. All of these come about through reviewing thoughts of the past.
It has been taught by the buddhas that to examine past phenomena, to review them in the mind is a great fault and we can look at a few examples of this. In the history of China, Japan raged war on China, really inflicted a lot of devastation on the country. There arepeople who still reflect on this with resentment and review the war in their mind. But according to the buddhas to do so is really delusion. If we look at the situation as it is now we can see that all of the people who rage war are no longer living and they have all passed on. Many generations have passed since the war took place and so any basis, any object of anger that we may have had had actually gone, the people are no longer with us. So it has been taught by all the buddhas that we should abandon thoughts of the past. Another example is if there is a raging river in our area and many people have been carried off by this river and died in the waves and the rushing water. If we get angry at the water it makes no sense at all. If we review the fact that this water carried my father off so many years ago, he died in the river or all of my things were lost and carried away by the water and we get angry at the water. This makes no sense at all because the river is continually moving, continually changing, the river that carried off our possessions and our father is no longer here. In this way we see the senselessness of reviewing past phenomena particularly experiences of suffering in the past. Likewise if we had experienced bliss and happiness in the past this is due to the ripening of our virtuous actions. When we understand its nature there is no need perhaps for attachment or fixation to it. Likewise we had experienced the sufferings of the three lower realms of existence, for that too had passed away and so for us to fixate on our experiences of bliss or sufferings that had come in the past is really delusive. When we understand the fault of reviewing and following after our past experiences and then it will help us to let go of those thoughts, not to follow after them when they arise. So it is important that we recognize the fault of dwelling on past experiences and then leave those thoughts behind.
As we are to abandon recollections of the past, likewise, we are to abandon plans and thoughts about the future. It is said that past phenomena are gone and it is meaningless to contemplate them. Likewise future experiences have not yet arrived and so it is also meaningless to contemplate them. Of course we make many plans thinking I will do this and that in the future but we should understand that whether or not these plans are accomplished will depend on our karma. We can talk about big plan for the future such as those that are made by a nation or small plan for the future such as those that are made by a family or by individual. But in any case whether or not the plans are actually come to fruition is dependent completely on our karma and our accumulated merit. We don’t have a great deal of control over whether or not our plans are accomplished. Understanding this then we should see that there is no benefit to making a lot of plans or contemplating what we will do in the future and as such then we should leave these plans behind.
So again and again we should make effort to engage in the meditation and whatever thoughts arise in the mind we should abandon investigation of those thoughts. Then we find that the thoughts naturally dissolve, they dissipate and in this way we are able to abide in the nature of mind. So when the first stage of the shamatha or calm-abiding practice is with conceptual thought and the second stage is with investigation, when we go beyond of this then we are free of conceptual thought and free of investigation and on the basis of this freedom we experience the third and fourth stages of calm-abiding practice, the joyful stage and the blissful stage. When we see for example that we are gaining some stability in the practice that we are able to abide without a lot of thoughts then naturally we see that our meditation is going well and we have joy about that. Likewise when we experience directly the mind free from thoughts then we get a taste of the nature of the mind and this is a blissful experience and so we tend to give rise to fixation on the experiences of the joy and bliss.
So when we give rise to this joy and bliss and then we have fixation to the joy and bliss, we need to recognize that fixation and give rise to the thought, “O.k. if there is experiences arise that is fine. If they don’t, it is fine.” When we have this attitude, the clarity of the mind increases and the experience of the joy and the bliss actually dissipate. We’ll become free even from those experiences and as we do so the natural quality of the mind increases.
When we give rise to these experiences of joy and bliss and we recognize them as attachment in the mind. Some people will think that there is a fault in the experience of this joy and bliss itself but this is not the case. The fault is in our fixation on them. So instead of trying to abandon the experiences of joy and bliss, rather we should merely recognize the attachment that comes and liberate that attachment. The point is to be free of expectation and hope on the one side and free of fear or doubt that these experiences will not arise on the other side. Then we reach a place in which if these experiences arise that is fine, if they don’t arise that is also fine. Whether or not they manifest it is the same for us. On the basis of this kind of practice we can begin to recognize the equal flavor of all experiences of bliss and suffering. This is then a sign that our practice of meditative concentration has become stable and this is due to the power of calm-abiding practice. So Milarepa said where there is no distinction between bliss and suffering then one is giving rise to authentic meditation experience.
When we practice in this way then we abide in a state of great equanimity. But still we can give rise to fixation in the mind. In the text of 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas (No. 29) it refers to meditation free from the four formless absorptions. With regard to these four I cannot elaborate in great details but I can give a general idea of what they are. The first is when we see the nature of mind and we recognize mind to be like the expanse of space then we give rise to fixation on the concept that mind is like space. This then is the first of the four formless absorptions, that of “limitless space”. Then when we have an experience free from fixation and we recognize that the minds and the constituents of all sentient beings are the nature of emptiness, we can give rise to fixation to this experience which is the second of the four formless absorptions, that of “limitless consciousness”. Third we can have an experience in meditation that there is nothing at all, that there is no existent thing. Although we cannot say that phenomena are truly existent, still when we give rise to fixation to the non-existence of phenomena, we fall into the third of the four
formless absorptions, that is the “absorption of thinking there is nothing at all existent”. Sometimes in our meditation we can give rise to an experience to the fact that all phenomena of samsara and nirvana are not existent, neither are they non-existent. This experience can arise as we are looking at the natural state of the mind but then in the next moment we give rise to fixation on the fact that phenomena do not exist nor do they not not-exist. So the fourth then of the four formless absorptions is neither existent nor non-existent.
Although we can elaborate many stages of the practice of calm-abiding and we can talk about many subtle errors that can arise in the practice, from the perspective of actual experience it isn’t necessary to engage in all of these elaborations. For a practitioner we simply need to be free of fixation to whatever arises and to abide in the nature of mind. We simply engage in the practice free from fixation will be sufficient and if we do this we will not give rise to any error at all in the practice of meditation. On the other hand when we have meditative experiences and we fixate on them as being real, whatever the experiences may be the fixation itself obscures the mind. Then for example when we are practicing meditation and we have an experience that the mind is like the nature of space, if we fixate on the experience and we conceptualize about it and again and again we reinforce this notion in our mind, then we err in the practice and we create kind of habit of error in our practice of meditative equipoise. In order not to do this then we should simply abide without any thought at all in the mind, without any conceptualization whatsoever. Allow whatever arises to resolve in its natural state. On the basis of this then we will give rise to authentic practice. If we give rise to any kind of fixation on anything at all, the mind is obscured by the fixation. Sakya Pandita said, “When there is fixation there is no view.” So although we may give rise to experience in which we see that the mind is empty like the expanse of space, if following that we fixate on that experience as being real or we fixate on it as being unreal, the fixation itself is what is obscuring the mind. For example if we have pure water and we pour a little bit of anything else into that water, the water is tainted and so it is with fixation in the mind.
If we look at all that there is written in the text about the practice of calm-abiding according to the tradition of scholarship, then there is so much that it says, but if we really look at it from the perspective of actual practice and experience, it is not necessary to think in details about all of these subtleties. As we have direct experience then we will understand them through experience. If we reach a place in which we don’t have understanding, then it is time to supplicate the Root Guru, supplicate Milarepa, and through their blessing understanding will arise in our mind. This understanding will cut through conceptual thoughts. This is then an outstanding method which is easy to practice and free of error and obstacles. Milarepa said that one should not sever the root of phenomena, rather one should sever the root of mind. That is to say if we investigate phenomena, our doubts and hesitations will only increase but if we investigate the mind and we sever the single root of mind, then we will truly experience the blessing of this lineage, authentic experience will dawn in our mind stream and there will be no need for doubt or hesitation.
In this regard I myself have some experience. Although I have not had the opportunity of studying many texts and although I do not have great scholarship and knowledge of the working texts, I do have great faith and devotion in my Root Guru. Likewise my Root Guru has regarded me with great love and compassion. As a result I feel joy in my heart and freedom from doubt and hesitation about the Guru’s blessing. Thus I know that the thing we call Buddha is the mind itself. Although the Guru appears in an outer physical form, inwardly inside his mind is the Buddha. When I recall the form of the Guru, likewise I bring to mind the Guru’s mind and I have no doubt whatsoever at that time of the recollection. Then whatever qualities that the Guru has developed they take root in my own mind stream on the basis of that recollection with devotion. At the very basis my mind and the mind stream of the Guru is the same. In this way then I have faith in the capacity to receive the actual blessings of the Guru.
Yesterday we spoke about the practice of calm-abiding meditation. In general all of the practices that we do are mahamudra, dzogchen or meditating on the two truths, have their root in the mind, all of these practices are based on the mind. If we wish to convince the profound meaning of all of these practices into a single point it is the purification of mind itself. First we must settle the point that from the very basis the mind itself is the buddha. This is like settling the point that in the path an ordinary looking stone can be a precious jewel. Once that stone has been cut and polished, the natural radiance of the jewel shines forth.
When we are first introduced to the practices of mahamudra and dzogchen, at the beginning we must be taught the practices of calm-abiding and special insight or known in Sanskrit as shamatha and vipasyana meditation. With regard to calm-abiding meditation, when the thoughts that arise in the mind are naturally pacified through understanding that they have no real inherent existence and that they have no real basis, then we are able to look directly at the mind itself. If we have trained in former lifetimes by doing this kind of meditation or by training in the bodhisattva’s practices then we will immediately understand calm-abiding and special insight when we are introduced to them in this lifetime. Through that understanding we recognize that the mind is like the expanse of space free from fixation on any thoughts that arise. When we can practice in this way then thoughts are naturally pacified. They simply dissolve back into the natural state of the mind when we look inward at the mind with the mind. Then once we have trained well in this we catch glimpses into the mind’s nature through liberating one thought after the next. This is what is referred to then by “special insight” practice.
Yesterday we spoke about the practice of calm-abiding meditation. We should understand that from beginningless time in samsara until now, we have followed after the thoughts and negative emotions that had arisen in the mind and on the basis of this we have created karma which causes us to wander in the six realms of existence. Yet if through the practice of meditation we look directly at the actual nature of the mind with the mind, our thoughts are pacified and we no longer have to follow after the arising thoughts. So we turn our attention inward. We look at the nature of the mind with the mind. When we are beginners it seems that the seer and that which is seen are two distinct things, we maintain an awareness of whether thoughts are arising or whether they are not and this awareness and the thoughts seem like two different things. In this way then as beginners we need to turn our attention inward and look directly at the nature of the mind.
When we look at the mind and we investigate the mind, some people would think that the mind abides outwardly and because we see all outer phenomena and we perceive that outer phenomena with the mind. We will think that the mind’s basis is outside, others will determine that the basis of the mind is within in the body because it is within that we perceive difficult feelings and sensations and so forth. But actually we should resolve the fact that mind cannot be confined by these dualistic terms of outside or inside. The mind is not abided exclusively outside nor is it abided exclusively within. The mind like the expanse of space is all-pervading, so we cannot say that there is a single abiding place of the mind. It is that like the ocean and this must be understood.
We speak about the unelaborated nature of the mind. What is this? When thoughts arise in the mind if we have no fixation on the thoughts and we do not follow after them, then we do not fall under the power of the arising thoughts and that is the unelaborated state of the mind. If on the other hand we follow after the mental arising then we investigate one thought and we see that from this thought arises the next and the next like an unbroken rosary or mala. This is the elaborated state of the mind.
This unelaborated nature of mind is like space. The text that Rinpoche is teaching from is “the mind without discursive elaboration is like the state of space”. Here in the text Lord Jigten Sumgon is giving this example of mind being like empty space and within the expanse of space all of the phenomena of samsara and nirvana appear, yet space itself doesn’t influence the appearance of these phenomena. Space itself does not investigate the phenomena. In the same way there is no need for the mind to influence or investigate the phenomena that arise in our awareness. We do not need to fixate on phenomena as being real nor should we fixate on phenomena as being unreal. If there is no fixation in the mind at all then phenomena naturally arise without any elaboration on our part.
In the text this unelaborated mind is the single meaning that is clarified by four examples. The first of these is the one that has already been given, the example of space. The second is of the ocean. The third is of a crystal. The fourth is of a flower. If we think about these four examples they all point to the one meaning of the mind that is free from discursive elaboration and so when we look at the nature of the mind we should investigate the meaning of these examples. In the afternoon time when we do the meditation session then I will look at the mind with the mind in the context of these four examples, then we will be able to understand their meaning.
With regard to the second of these four examples that of the ocean, we should understand that in the ocean there is pure water, impure water, various animals and so forth, ships and other vessels, but because there is no fixation in the ocean then there is no harm done by any of these various phenomena in the ocean. Thus Milarepa advised one of his disciples to meditate on the nature of mind like the ocean. With regard on the third example that of a crystal, in a clear crystal all of the appearances of the outside world are reflected, thus the crystal is really the same as one’s eye ball. All phenomena can manifest within that. Yet even though these appearances are manifested in the crystal, there is no fixation in the crystal, there is no thought that some of the appearances are good and others are bad. Thus within this example we have both, the mirror-like-wisdom and the wisdom of equanimity reflected. That is to say that the crystal is like a mirror in which all outer phenomena truly appear, but then it is also like the equalizing wisdom, or the wisdom of equanimity, in that although these phenomena appear there is no desire for
those which are good or avoidance of those which are bad, there is no fixation whatsoever.
With regard to the fourth of these examples that of a flower, there are those explanations that can be given but principally there are two according to Guru Rinpoche and others. A flower is completely free from the taint of the muddy swamp from which it has arisen. Thus it is kind of like an example of being unstained by attachment and desire. The second example is about the body itself is like the muddy swamp and the mind is like pure flower that arises from it. That is to say it is in the body and through the body that we experience the five objects of sense pleasure and we give rise to sensations of happiness, bliss or suffering. So it is through the muddy swamp of the body that we give rise to all of the various feelings and sensations, yet the mind itself is clear like the flower and not necessarily stained by fixation and attachment.
With regard to the fourth of these examples that of a flower when we are engaging regularly in our practice of the nature of mind, we should really understand this example well. The body is illusory. All of the phenomena of samsara are likewise illusory. Yesterday I gave some brief introduction to this. The negative emotions that arise in the mind and all of our accumulations of karma are likewise dream-like and illusory. So when we go about our daily activities and we experience the five objects of sense pleasure, various forms, sounds and so forth. Initially we make it rise to attachment and aversion in our mind towards these objects. But when we understand that these delusive thoughts of attachment and aversion are illusory in nature, then we can train in enjoying the five objects of sense pleasure without clinging or fixation. When we speak of the view, meditation and conduct then, this enjoyment of sense pleasure free from fixation is the meaning of conduct. In this way then we should understand the example of the flower. It grows out of the muddy swamp which is like the body but the flower itself is like the pure nature of mind free from any clinging or fixation to phenomena.
Reading from the text here, it says, “Get custom as much as possible to the nature of the mind which is without discursive elaborations like the state of space, an ocean, a crystal or a flower, unobstructed, naked, clear, without thoughts and distraction.” Now these three adjectives, “unobstructed”, “naked” and “clear”, are parallel the last three of the four examples, an ocean, a crystal and a flower. So when we are looking at the mind with the mind it is said to be like an ocean and that ocean is unobstructed. Although there are various animals in the ocean, fish and so forth and different objects to be found in the sea, still they are abided in the sea without obstructing in any way the ocean. The mind is like this although phenomena appear in the mind, still the mind itself is the nature of emptiness and is not at all obstructed by arising thoughts. The second adjective, “naked” is parallel to a crystal. That is to say that although thoughts arise in the mind, they do not cover up or obscure the mind in any way. The nature of mind is “naked” like an unclothed person or like a fruit without its peelings, without its skin. This is similar to the crystal in which outer forms are clearly reflected, yet, the crystal itself is naked and clear in its nature. If we want someone to speak directly, we say in Tibetan, “to speak in naked words, words that are not clothed with clothes.” So the second adjective “naked” then is parallel to the crystal and the third of these is “clear” and it is parallel to the example of the flower. It is really referring to freshness. When we are looking at the nature of mind and the past thought has ceased and the future thought has not yet arisen, then we are abided within the view, we see the empty nature of the mind and that nature is clear. The mind abides in a state of freshness like a flower that has reached full perfection with excellent form and excellent smell. It is completely free of any taint of obscuration. So you should consider these three examples of like an ocean, a crystal or a flower and the adjectives of “unobstructed”, “naked” and “clear” which applied to them and then investigate the mind with the mind and see for yourself whether or not these examples apply. Then as you do so and if question arises you can answer to it.
With regard to this practice of the nature of mind which is like a flower, the root meaning is this, when we have understood the view, then we need to combine meditation and conduct. That is to say our meditation practice should be merged with our daily activities. This is taught in the traditions of mahamudra and dzogchen are like but it is a bit difficult to accomplish. Yet we are interacting with the five objects of sense pleasure. We often think that we need to abandon those objects to which we have attachment, but this is not at all the case. In the Aspiration Prayer of Samanthabhadra we are advised not to abandon objects of sense pleasure, rather we should look at those things for which we have great liking and fixation and understand the empty nature of the attachment and fixation in our own mind. These thoughts are not inherently established. If we can practice meditation on the empty nature of the thoughts, as we enjoy the objects of the senses, then there is no need whatsoever to abandon them. What we abandon is the attachment and fixation in our mind. If we can practice in this way then it is completely suitable to enjoy the objects of the senses. You regularly read this Aspiration Prayer of Samanthabhadra and in it the essential meaning of mahamudra and dzogchen, the calm-abiding meditation is clearly presented because it is a profound pith instruction. In the text it says that we should neither abandon sense pleasures nor accept attachment to desire.
Question: What is the nature of phenomena? Do phenomena cease in a non-elaborated clear mind?
Answer: Rinpoche says this term phenomena in Tibetan, is “cho”. There are few other words that sound like similar to it which we will elaborate in a moment. With regard to the term phenomena we should understand that within the nature of the mind, i.e. the buddha nature, all phenomena of samsara and nirvana manifest. These phenomena then can be divided into two classifications, ordinary worldly phenomena and sublime spiritual phenomena. If we really have cultivated precious bodhichitta then we have the basis for realizing that all of these phenomena, worldly or spiritual, are created by the mind. So when we abide in an unelaborated state, absolutely there is cessation or exhaustion of phenomena. This happens through not fixating on phenomena as being real and understanding that phenomena have no inherent existence. Now with regard to these terms, the first that I have mentioned, “cho”, applies to phenomena. There is another term “cho” which really points to kind of “changeable”, subject to change. Then there is the third term “cho” which means elaborated or fabricated. We can look at all of the created things in this world, for example we can look at clay or earthen objects that have been thrown. These are originated in the mind itself. First the concept arises in someone’s mind and then it is created by the hands. This concept arises out of the nature state of the mind. So if we really wish to resolve these three terms that have similar sounds i.e. phenomena, changeable and elaborated or fabricated, then we need to resolve them in the natural unelaborated, clear state of the mind.
There is an important point in this regard that I would like to make here. The mind that fabricates or elaborates is the creator of all of samsara of cyclic existence. That is we need to understand the distinction between the fabricated and unfabricated mind. For example if someone places a phony snake in the grass and we perceive that snake to be real. Immediately fear arises in the mind, the mind has transformed into a state of fear and that is an elaboration or a fabrication. The moment we understand that the snake is phony there is no longer any fear. So when we understand the snake to be an unreal appearance, then we can remain in an unelaborated state. So the Buddha taught that all appearances in cyclic existence are dream-like and illusory. When we recognize this then our minds are not shaken by appearances and we can abide in an unelaborated, unfabricated state and on the basis of this we attain independence and power of the mind.
So when we speak about the sublime, spiritual phenomena and ordinary, worldly phenomena we should understand that these encompass both conventional and ultimate truths but particularly we need to focus on conventional truth here. Conventional truth is the teachings on karma, cause and effect. We should understand that both virtues and non-virtues are fabrications or elaborations of the mind. For example when we give rise to the wish to accomplish other’s benefit, this is a fabrication, yet, it is virtues. Conversely when we give rise to self-clinging this is the basis of all non-virtues when we focus on accomplishing our own wishes and desires alone. Then we create the causes of non-virtuous sufferings. This likewise is a fabrication of the mind. On the basis of these fabrications cyclic existence is experienced. Now with regard to the sublime spiritual teachings then, all self-clinging gives rise to negative emotions. The six principal types of negative emotions condition either in the six realms of existence and in this way we continue to wander in samsara. These are the sublime dharma teachings. In this way then we should understand the difference between ordinary, worldly phenomena and extraordinary or sublime, spiritual phenomena. If we really understand the workings of karma, cause and effect, which is the conventional truth, then on the basis of this we can accumulate the merit which will enable us to realize the ultimate truth that transcends phenomena.
Question: Does recognition always implies the presence of conceptual dualistic mind, for instance, if during meditation we have an insight and recognize the space-like nature of mind, is that still a conceptualization?
Answer: When we meditate and we catch a glimpse of the nature of mind, that glimpse is not a conceptual thought. When base on that experience we think, “This is the nature of mind.” Then that is a conceptual thought. Or when we think for example, “This is mahamudra.” It is the same. As a beginner fixation like this will arise because fixation itself needs to be liberated. It is not that harmful for a beginner to have these kinds of thoughts. It is very natural. The important thing is that we recognize the fixation when it arises and we liberate it. When such experiences can arise and we remain free of fixation, then we remain in an unfabricated, unelaborated state. On the basis of dualistic view it is not possible for us to recognize the nature of mind. We speak of this recognition as non-dual wisdom. So as a beginner it seems as though the mind that is recognizing and the thing that is recognized are two different things. Yet that is just due to the habit of dualistic fixation. The more that we practice the more that the seer and that the seen will merged into one.
When we transcend dualistic fixation and see the nature of mind, we see both aspects of clarity and emptiness. With regard to clarity this is the aspect of the mind that knows whether thoughts are arising or not and that clearly sees the thoughts that are arising. But if someone asks you, “What is that clarity aspect that you have experienced?” You can’t say anything at all. Your response is that, it is nothing whatsoever and that points to the empty aspect of the mind. So when we look at the nature of mind we are witnessing both, clarity and emptiness.
When we are able to meditate on the clear nature of the mind then we should remain in this state and hold on to just this awareness and then within that whatever thoughts arise they are recognized and their empty nature is seen. As soon as they arise they are recognized and through the recognition they dissipate like bubbles on the surface of water. Then at times when thoughts are not arising still we should abide in the clarity aspect of the mind. Within this we will see that there is no outside nor inside. This clarity aspect is all-pervading. Likewise within that we will perceive the empty nature of the clarity aspect of the mind. So as we are meditating there is no need to think of clarity and emptiness as two distinct separate things. We will be aware when we are abiding in clarity and when we are not, when we are recognizing emptiness and when we are not, when thoughts are arising and when they are not. There is no need to engage in a lot of investigation regarding these things. We will simply maintain awareness out of them. The more experience that we gather in meditation, the loss that clarity and emptiness seem to be two separate things and eventually we will arrive at a clear recognition that clarity and emptiness are one and the same thing. This recognition will also lead to fixation on the notion that they are the same but then when we meditate and cause that fixation to dissipate then it gradually will also completely thaw away.
So when we empty out this fixation on clarity and emptiness as being one, then that conceptual arising has been purified. When in this way we purified all thoughts and all fixations, then we truly recognized the meaning of the purity of appearances, sounds and thoughts according to the teachings of secret mantra. These three then naturally and spontaneously arise in their inherent purity. So although we see various forms we remain free of fixation for those forms and they spontaneously manifest as pure vision and so it is with the sound that we hear and all of the five objects of sense pleasure that we experience. Within this awareness we recognize the natural emptiness of all of these. When this state be habituated that is buddhahood.
With regard to fixation there are various types of fixation that can arise, principally though when we are fixating on phenomena as being real, this is the basis of delusion. It is said that when dualistic fixation to subject and object is completely liberated, that is the king of views. When we remain in the state free of fixation, then thoughts arise and being free of fixation to the arising thought, the thought is liberated. Thus like waves rising out of the ocean and dissolving back into the ocean, so too we experience the rising and dissipation of conceptual thoughts. In this way we should understand that fixation itself is delusion.
Question: Can shamatha be accomplished through deity yoga? If the mind is so busy that one finds it difficult to just sit, is guru yoga, deity yoga, an acceptable avenue to attain a state of calm-abiding?
Answer: Yes, this is called stopping thoughts with thoughts. If we have great love for the Guru and we call to mind the Guru with devotion, then the Guru naturally appears in our heart, in our mind. Through this appearance then our ordinary conceptual thoughts cease and the same is true when we have great love for the yidam deity. For example we call on Arya Tara with devotion then all ordinary thoughts have lost as we focused on the deity. It is especially important to cultivate this guru yoga, for beginners if you only recall the Guru with devotion that will be sufficient to cause thoughts to cease.
With regard to the recollection of the Guru if our faith and pure view are strong then we will begin to perceive all gurus and spiritual guides as good. With regard to the actual perception of the Guru as the Buddha, from the time of the Transcendent Conqueror Sakyamuni to the present, the continuity of the mind stream of the buddhas remains unbroken and there is a connection between the minds of all of the buddhas and the sentient beings and this connection is the buddha nature. It is like the string of a mala that bind us together. If our dualistic view is strong and we perceive difference between buddhas and sentient beings then it is difficult for us to realize the enlightened qualities. If we create a distinction in our mind between buddhas and bodhisattvas, this likewise comes from dualistic view. But from the perspective of the ultimate truth such distinctions are without meaning. The Guru is the Buddha from the perspective of ultimate truth. The Guru’s mind stream is the non-dual union of emptiness and compassion. If we have not habituated this recognition of the Guru from the perspective of ultimate truth, then at the very least we should see the Guru as a bodhisattva from the perspective of conventional truth. This applies to all gurus and spiritual guides. You must really cultivate this kind of pure perception of all of them as buddhas if you can do so and at the very least as bodhisattvas. In this way understanding the unbroken continuity of the minds of the buddhas and sentient beings we should continue to train in this pure perception.
Question: Rinpoche said that we should upon arising from shamatha carry the experience into our daily activities with heedfulness. As we are busy ourselves around how do we recognize that we have lost it and what do we do to return to that heedfulness?
Answer: As a beginner mindful awareness will be lost many times throughout the day. When we receive the vow of refuge there are various trainings that we should engage in. Likewise in the secret mantra there are samayas that must be maintained and having received the bodhisattva’s vow there are commitments that should be kept such as taking care of living beings and removing insects from the path that we are walking on. All of these trainings are for the purpose of increasing heedfulness and mindful awareness. In this regard my own Guru, Khenpo Tenzin Sangpo said that, “It is taught that when there are prayer flags flying, it is not acceptable for us to step on their shadows”. He taught that the important thing is to perceive with mindful awareness. There are some situations that it is impossible to avoid stepping on the shadow of a prayer flag. In such cases then with mindfulness and heedfulness we should visualize that we are raising these prayer flags up into the sky and then proceed on the path. Of course it does no harm to the prayer flag whatsoever for us to step on its shadow. The point of the training is that we must cultivate heedfulness in all of our activities and on the basis of doing so we accumulate merit. This is the point of making offering of our food before we eat it and of removing bugs that are on the road. Likewise whenever we are traveling it is said that the buddhas of the five families abide in space continuously and so if we are going the direction of the east we should supplicate Vajrasattva who abides there and if we are going in the southern direction we should supplicate and pay homage to Ratnasambhava. In this way by engaging in the various trainings of the individual’s liberation vows, the bodhisattva’s vow and the secret mantra, recalls ourselves to bring to mind heedfulness many times throughout the day. Among these methods the most important is the vajra recitation of the syllables “Om Ah Hung” in connection with the in and out flow of the breath.
With regard to this vajra recitation of the syllables “Om Ah Hung”, this is a method for merging mind with wind energy. If we fail to do this kind of practice then mind and wind energy naturally separate. So it is important to bind these two together through the practice. If we focus just for one or two weeks on engaging this vajra recitation in all of our activities wherever we go, whatever we do, day and night, we’ll find that it is quickly habituated and this practice then will become the basis for us to cultivate heedfulness in all of our activities.
We speak about the two accumulations that of merit and wisdom. Everyone in this world endowed with qualities such as wealth and fame and so forth have achieved their positions based on their accumulation of merits. With regard to the root of merit it is basically two fold. The first cause of merit is transcendent awareness and the second is compassion. Each time we practice mindfulness we give rise to wisdom and this wisdom is the cause of attaining the enlightened state. Each time we practice compassion we engage in the accumulation of compassion. So these two should be inseparable, compassion and wisdom, that is to say, every time we give rise to mindful awareness we should do so endowed with compassion. Every time we generate compassion we should do so endowed with transcendent awareness. By practicing awareness and compassion inseparably we will create the causes of both temporary and ultimate happiness.
Question: The advance stages of calm-abiding meditation, are they the same as what we sometimes call sutra mahamudra? What is the relationship of sutra mahamudra and tantric mahamudra?
Answer: Basically they are the same. My own Guru Khenpo Munsel taught that the teachings on mahamudra and dzogchen go by various names. There are different modes of practice elaborated and so forth but from the perspective of the ultimate view and from the perspective of experience they are basically the same. If we practice calm-abiding properly it will be the basis whereby we can realize the view of mahamudra. Some will have partiality to one system or other. They would say I want to practice mahamudra and so forth. This partiality itself obscures the view. So if we look at the various texts there are many stages of practice that are elaborated. If we look at the various traditions of practice, there are different modes and methods that are used in this meditation on the nature of mind. Yet, when it comes down to the actual experience of mind’s nature there is simply one mind and there is no great distinction to be made there. The point is in this context of purifying the mind there is not a great deal of benefit to looking at the elaborations that have presented in various texts and scholarly traditions. We simply need to do the practice without bias, without thinking, “Oh! I am a great practitioner. That person is not. My system of practice is good and that one is not.” Rather we should just give rise to a mind of equanimity towards all of the various systems seeing that they are all good, that they are all authentic modes. This will bring about great benefit. In this regard as I mentioned yesterday, Milarepa said, “Do not sever the root of phenomena, sever the root of mind.”
So this afternoon we have many questions. When we get teachings such as this on the mind, it is a little bit difficult for people. There are some who have immediate understanding of the teaching and who are able to get some direct experience of this teaching on the nature of mind. There are others still who don’t have any understanding at all on what is being said and who don’t have any experience in it yet. For both types it is suitable and necessary to engage in meditation practice. So for the benefit of both types of people, those who have present understanding of the teachings and those who do not, I am giving this brief introduction to the actual practice of meditation.
So for those of you who have understanding of the teachings, then you have some experience of the mind abiding in its own natural state and you have some experience of the changeability of the mind. When you receive teachings such as this then you are able to identify the teaching with your own experience. You hear the words being taught and you think, “Oh! That is what that is call.” Having some experience of the changeable nature of mind, then you are able to cultivate freedom from fixation. When positive meditative experiences arise one should not be attached to them and conversely when difficulties and less than positive experiences are arising then one should be free of aversion towards them. In this way one should engage in practice that is free from the extremes of expectation on one side and doubt on the other.
When we engage in meditation practice we can give rise to positive and negative experiences. If we are unable to equalize these experiences it will be difficult to distinguish between liberation and delusion. When for example we give rise to these positive and negative meditative experiences then we tend to fixate on them as being real and this is delusion. On the other hand when we speak of liberation what we are really talking about is having no fixation at all to whatever is arising in the mind. This is like when a thief enters a house trying to steal something and once he goes inside he sees that it is utterly empty. That is to say when we truly liberate thoughts at the moment of their arising, they are rendered powerless. They are completely liberated and thus there is no subsequent thought that arises from them.
So when we are speaking of special insight what we are talking about here is, when we see directly that thoughts have no substantial nature, no substantial basis, when this is realized then the thoughts that arise in the mind cannot obscure the mind. In this way we remain in a state of clarity. If on the other hand we find that we are not able to liberate the thoughts that arise then there is no way that the power of special insight meditation can arise. It is said in the text of 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas, in number 29, “Having understood that disturbing emotions are destroyed by insight possessed with tranquil abiding, to cultivate meditative concentration which perfectly transcends the four formless absorptions is the bodhisattvas’ practice.” In this way when we give rise to various thoughts and negative emotions but do not fixate on them as being real, then they are spontaneously liberated. So the dividing line between whether or not we are able to practice special insight is whether or not we are able to conquer the thoughts that are rising in the mind.
For those who have practiced for a long time, sometimes they can give rise to kind of fatigue, mental fatigue or discouragement thinking that, “Now, I have practiced for many years but negative emotions are arising in my mind stream in just the same way that they did at the beginning of my practice.” But the truth is that negative emotions and thoughts will continue to arise in the mind. It is not a great deal of difference between a practitioner and a non-practitioner in terms of the way that thoughts arise in the mind. The difference is that a practitioner will recognize the arising thoughts with mindful awareness and know that right now a thought is arising in my mind stream. When we are not separated from mindful awareness then the thoughts are liberated in the moment of their arising and when this occurs then we are not accumulating karma.
For those who understand a little bit of the practice sometimes they can be in a rush to attain the fruition of practice. They really want to engage in the practice and experience the results right away. But the attainment of the fruition of meditation practice is going to depend on one’s effort over a long period of time. We can look for example at the life-story of Milarepa who also was set on attaining the fruition of practice. But in order to do so he diligently engaged himself in meditation practice over an extensive period of time. It was said that after receiving instructions from his root guru, Marpa, he went into serious meditation practice. In order not to become distracted at one point he even set a butter lamp on the top of his head so that he would not kind of nod off and fall asleep. This is the kind of diligence and effort that we should expect to apply if we really wish to attain the fruition and we shouldn’t be thinking about getting it right away.
When it comes to liberating thoughts and negative emotions we should expect that this is a gradual process. If for example we give rise to 10 negative emotions in a single day it is best if we can liberate all of them. Yet, what we will find is that in the beginning we liberate only a few. We should review our actions at the end of the day and think, “Oh! Today I was able to liberate only 3”, and resolve that tomorrow will do better and perhaps liberate 4. In this way we should rejoice in the fact that we are able to liberate some arising thoughts and negative emotions and aspire to be better and better in the future. I, myself, have much experience with this especially when one is enduring hardship and difficulty, one should really apply oneself to the liberation of arising thoughts.
So we shouldn’t become fatigue or weary in the practice of meditation on the nature of mind. Likewise we shouldn’t become discourage by thinking, “I don’t understand this at all.” Thoughts naturally arise in the mind. Who is it, who among experienced meditators is it that has no arising thoughts? No matter how many thoughts are arising in our mind we should not let ourselves become discourage. If we are able to liberate thoughts ten times or fifteen times in a single day then we should rejoice in that, in our capacity to do so. Likewise when we catch glimpses of the nature of mind free from thought, we can then combine our practices of calm-abiding and special insight through applying mindful awareness throughout the day. When we see these short glimpses of the nature of mind we should abide for as long as we can in that state of clarity. When we do this again and again over the course of many years it become habituated gradually, but we shouldn’t expect to have the fruition immediately. When we think, “I really don’t understand this at all”, the thinker of that thought is none other than the mind itself. There is only one mind. So when we are referring to the nature of mind or the deluded mind that can’t understand, still there is but one mind. So rather than hoping for an immediate fruition we should understand that these practices take time and cultivation just as when we first plant the seed in the ground, you can’t expect to have the blossom or the fruit immediately. The seed needs to take root, to sprout, to grow and then to develop a bud and then to develop a fully blossomed flower. So in the same way the cultivation of meditation is something that takes time. In order to support that then we should again and again recall and supplicate the Guru which will provide stability to our practice.
As a beginner we do not have a lot of experience of the mind’s nature, we don’t straight away recognize the nature of the mind, yet it can be introduced in teachings such as this. It is said that this mind is the non-dual union of clarity and emptiness. So although it is clear, it is also empty. Although it is empty, it is also clear. By means of commentary on this, Lord Jigten Sumgon says, “In that state there exists neither a linguistic nor an intellectual expression for the nature of the mind, but in spite of that the luminous and unceasing, crystal clear, genuine, naked, vivid awareness of that nature is something that can be seen but remain unseen, something that can be experienced but remain not experienced, and something one is confident or certain about, nevertheless it is inexpressible.” It is said that the mind’s nature is inconceivable and inexpressible. This is the complete perfection of transcendent awareness. This is said in the text “the Heart of Transcendent Wisdom”. Now when we look at our own mind directly, then and only then can we understand the mind’s nature. If one asks about that we are not able to articulate what it is in words. We cannot apply a name to the experience. Likewise it is said to be inconceivable. It is naturally and spontaneously arisen like the nature of space, yet, it cannot be known through conceptualization. So when one has a direct experience of mind’s nature it is understood from one’s own side, yet, it is inexpressible to others. For these reasons then the Buddha has taught that the nature of mind is inconceivable and inexpressible. The only way that it can be known is through direct experience in meditation practice. So if you hear this teaching then in the future when you engage in meditation and you gain some experience, you’ll recall the meaning of the words and from your own direct experience, have an understanding there of.
Just to recap, this nature of mind cannot be expressed through words. If I want to speak of the nature of mind I cannot authentically use language to express it. Likewise the nature of mind cannot be understood through conceptual thought. It can only be known through direct experience in meditation. I can try to explain the nature of mind and say that the mind is the source of all of the phenomena of samsara and nirvana. I can say many things about the mind, yet, I cannot settle or resolve what the mind is through verbal expression. It is utterly inexpressible and inconceivable, yet, if I engage in the practice of meditation I can resolve for myself what the meaning of mind is, I can understand it for myself, from my own side, through practice. Yet even the buddhas with their infinite wisdom if they were to try to express through words what the nature of mind is, even they could not express it.
With regard to the nature of mind, the bramin Saraha said these few lines and they are endowed with great blessing and so by way of the introduction I’ll read them. “If you dedicate yourself whole-heartedly to the instructions of the Guru and engage in them full of respect, there is no doubt that the inborn will arise.” Here it is necessary then to practice the Guru’s instructions with a mind of devotion and faith and on the basis of this it is said that there is no doubt that the inborn will arise and this inborn is the innate nature of mind which is presently abiding. The text continues, “Since it is without color, attributes, words, or analogies, I am unable to express it.” So this nature of mind is not something that processes form or color, it cannot be seen with the eyes and thus it cannot be expressed in words, not even the buddhas are able to express its meaning. If we look at the history, the life story of the transcendent conqueror Sakyamuni, upon attaining enlightenment, he resolves simply to remain in that state of meditative stability, thinking that the truth which he has seen, peaceful and clear could not be expressed and could not
be understood by others and so it is that this nature of mind is inexpressible. The text continues from here, “Yet, I should give a rough illustration, it is like the joy in a young girl’s heart to whom excellent Lord can it be explained.”
With regard to this nature of mind, Guru Rinpoche gave an introduction to Yeshe Tsogyal thereof and I’ll teach from this likewise, because it is endowed with great blessing. The natural state of the mind is said to be the union of clarity and emptiness and in response to a question about what clarity is, Guru Rinpoche elaborated it with the three types of clarity. The first of these is “self-clarity without object” and if we think about the example of an ordinary external light (translator’s comment: the term clarity and illumination are closely related in the translation of the Tibetan term) that light illuminates some object. But when we think about the clarity of the inner mind there is no object and subject duality, the nature of the mind is empty and everything that the mind can illuminate is also empty in nature. Thus there is no distinction to be made there and in this lack of distinction there is no object which is illuminated. This experience of luminous clarity can only be known directly through meditation practice. So this is the first of the three.
The second of these three types of clarity is “primordial clarity” and this is not a clarity which is suddenly manifested. For example if I turn on this light then immediately it illuminates the space around it. But the nature of the mind is not like this, it has been with us since beginningless time and since beginningless time it has never been obscured. Likewise in the present it is not obscured and in the future it will not be obscured. So the second of these three is “primordial clarity”.
The third of these is “natural clarity” and this is the clarity that has not been created by anyone. It has no cause, no condition nor any interdependent arising. Thus these three examples or these three types of clarity really point to a singular meaning which is the clarity aspect of the mind. So with regard to this clarity you can investigate for yourself whether or not the mind is clear. You can see from your own experience when you are abiding in clarity and when the clarity is temporarily obscured by thoughts and negative emotions. Although these three clarities are listed, still they only introduce one phenomenon which is the clarity aspect of the mind.
Likewise Guru Rinpoche elaborated four blisses. The first of these is the “self-apparent bliss” which is free of discordant contradictions. When we abide in the empty nature of mind then there is no contradiction to that and that freedom from discord is blissful. Arya Nagarjuna said that the great attribute of emptiness is that it cannot be contradicted. So within the empty nature of mind there is no basis for discord. This is then the first type of bliss, the self-apparent bliss. The second is the “bliss without characteristics”. It is called this because it is devoid of the pain of characteristics. What this means is that when we ascribe a name to a phenomenon or when it is endowed with characteristics then we can fixate on the characteristics. If someone applies a name to you, you’ll have attachment or aversion to that name. If someone says you are a demon, immediately you get angry. If someone says, “Oh, you are very wonderful”, then you feel happy about that. These emotions come from fixating on the name or the characteristics. This fixation then is the nature of suffering. So the second of these blisses is a bliss that is free of the pain of
The third bliss is “non-dual bliss” as it is devoid of the pain of dualistic fixation. When we look directly at the nature of the mind, the seer and that which is seen merged into one and we abide within that state. That is non-dual wisdom. When we do not see this nature of mind we experience suffering. Thus Guru Rinpoche here refers to the pain of dualistic fixation. In general we divide our perception into duality of self and other, samsara and nirvana and so forth. But from the perspective of ultimate truth all of these dualities resolve into non-dual wisdom. So within the ultimate view we realize the oneness of self and other, samsara and nirvana and so forth. This is the non-dual bliss. The fourth bliss is
“uncompounded bliss” as it is devoid of causes and conditions. It is said that all composite phenomena are the nature of impermanence but the mind itself is not a composite phenomenon. Thus it is not subject to the suffering of causes and conditions. This nature of mind that is uncompounded is Vajradhara. It is changeless bliss or great bliss.
So this evening I have given some introduction through words to the nature of mind but really it is something that can only be known through experience. In general it is relatively easy to recognize the nature of mind. What is difficult is to engage effort in the practice thereof. I myself have some experience with this. When I was a small child I recognize the nature of mind. I had met many gurus and received many pith instructions from them and received their blessings but I had doubts in my mind. Those doubts really kind of obstructed the effort in practice in my earlier years. Yet through the power of devotion, doubt can be cleared away. If we supplicate Milarepa with a mind of devotion then we will receive the blessings that clear away doubt and hesitation. Through the power of that we will, having recognized the nature of mind, be able to engage in the practice to stabilize that. So here we can conclude for tonight.