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Podcast Episodes from Fall 2012 Podcast: Shamatha and the Four Applications of Mindfulness

Teaching: Alan shares the conclusion of phase 1 of the Dudjom Lingpa’s Sharp Vajra of Conscious Awareness Tantra. Phase 1 covers taking the impure mind as the path aka settling the mind. You identify the impure mind that is dissolved into substrate consciousness. How never to be separated from the experience of the practical instructions when distant from sublime spiritual friends. A sublime spiritual friend reveals the path. It is important to distinguish between path and not path. We need to practice diligently in this phase, as shamatha is indispensable when we venture into practice. We know the taste of luminosity and cognizance of awareness. We know substrate and substrate consciousness. But shamatha is just a preliminary to the path. If we just stay put, we don’t actually get on the freeway to liberation. Whether or not we’ve recognized rigpa, if our mind still gets distracted or dull, we need to mount conceptual mind like a cripple onto the blind stallion of the breath. Tethering the mind with attention, uncontrived, primordially present consciousness will manifest, and it will be easy for the guru’s introduction to pristine awareness to strike home. Alan concludes with some suggestions for further reading/study/practice.

Q1. In awareness of awareness, I don’t understand the instruction to forcefully withdraw attention. Is it correct to contract back towards me when inverting?

Q2 What does o laso mean? 

Q3. Can we still have emotions in a lucid dream?

Q4. When I practice emptiness of awareness, there’s an open feeling that’s not there when I practice awareness of awareness.

Teaching: Awareness of awareness is also known as shamatha without a sign. Sign refers to a target, so there’s no vector of attention. During the meditation, when you do the warm-up exercise of directing awareness in the 4 directions, don’t meditate or visualize the 4 directions. Just send out your antenna, or expand the space of awareness.

Meditation: Awareness of awareness. With your eyes open, evenly rest your gaze in the space before you. Simply be present in the present moment. Accentuate your awareness of being aware. A) Do the following oscillation at your own pace (coupling with the breath if helpful). Withdrawing from all appearances and really focusing with effort, invert your awareness on being aware. Utterly relaxing, release your awareness into space with no object. Invert on your sense of being the meditator, the agent doing the inversion. Invert on your sense of being the observer or subject experiencing your own awareness, and observe closely. If there’s an appearance of self, what’s aware of that appearance? B) Direct your attention straight up into space as far as you can. Let it come to rest in its own place. Direct your attention to your right as far as you can. Let your awareness come back to the center. Direct your attention to your left as far as you can. Let your awareness come back to the center. Direct your attention straight down into the space below you as far as you can. Let your awareness come back to the center. With closed eyes, rest your awareness at the heart chakra. With open eyes, release awareness into boundless space. Rest your awareness in the sheer luminosity and sheer cognizance of awareness.

Q1. In awareness of awareness, what’s the distinction between awareness in space and awareness holding its own ground?

Q2 In awareness of awareness, I’ve heard 2 terms used. When I hear awareness of awareness, I think of awareness of awareness of awareness, etc… You’ve also mentioned sheer awareness. 

Q3. In awareness of awareness, is this supposed to be like a Zen koan because of the conceptual impossibility of knowing that I’m aware?

Q4. In awareness of awareness, if awareness is still, how can I move it?

Q5. What’s the distinction between letting your awareness descend into the body and letting your awareness illuminate the space of the body?

Meditation starts at 06:15

Teaching: Alan presents the conclusion from Karma Chagme’s Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Emanation of Padmasambhava’s speech, Atisha addressed how to combine all the teachings of the 3 yanas into one practice. The fivefold practices are: 1) bodhicitta as motivation, 2) meditation on one’s own body as the deity, 3) meditation on one’s spiritual mentor as the deity, 4) view of non-conceptuality (insight into emptiness and rigpa), 5) dedication. Alan also introduces the 4 reliances: Rely not on the person but on the dharma. Rely not on words but on the meaning. Rely not on the provisional meaning but on the definitive meaning. Rely not on conditioned consciousness but on primordial consciousness. Both coarse mind and subtle mind (substrate consciousness) are conditioned consciousness.

Meditation. Fivefold practice with shamatha, vipasyana, and vajrayana. Attend closely to sentient beings who all wish to be free from suffering. Arouse bodhicitta to be achieve awakening for the sake of sentient beings. Practice mindfulness of breathing to clean the space of awareness. Let your awareness illuminate the space of the body and tactile sensations therein. Monitor the space of the mind. Include the flow of knowing already present: awareness of being aware. Probe into the nature/referent of awareness, and know emptiness. Imagine personification of primordial consciousness Samantabhadra before you. Take refuge in the ultimate source of refuge. Samantabhadra comes to your crown, dissolves into light, flows down your central channel, and reforms at the heart. With every in breath, light of all the buddhas flow in from all directions. With every out breath, light flows out serving the needs of sentient beings, guiding each one to freedom. Dedicate the practice with your most meaningful aspiration.

Q1. How can we keep motivation for practice fresh and unwavering?

Q2. What advice for people who want to do retreat? 

Q3. In mindfulness of breathing, sometimes I’m very aware that mind is right there. If I go into mind, it slows rumination. I’m not sure this is OK. Please explain the image of the air mattress. 

Q4. In settling the mind, sometimes everything is very vivid like I’m in right in the thick of things. Does this mean grasping?

Meditation starts at: 35:30

Meditation: Settling the mind preceded by settling body, speech, and mind. 

1) settling body, speech, and mind. Let your awareness come to rest in its own place. There may be knowing of knowing. Let your unmoving awareness illuminate the space of the body and the objective/subjective experiences. Observe them like an out-of-body experience.

2) settling the mind. Let your eyes be open, gaze vacant. Direct mindfulness single-pointedly to the space of the mind and its contents. Begin with mental images and discursive thoughts. Awareness in stillness illuminates the movements of the mind without distraction, without grasping. Monitor with introspection. If distracted, relax, release, and return. If spaced out, refresh, refocus, and retain. Let mindfulness include subjective impulses like feelings and desires. Take special note of the intervals between thoughts. Can the space of the mind be ascertained? The space where appearances of the mind arise from, remain, and dissolve into. With the mentally perceived, let there be just the mentally perceived.

Teaching: Alan speaks about how to make the teachings on emptiness practical. These teachings are designed to cut the root of mental afflictions by critiquing our views of reality. According to the Prasangika Madhyamaka, all the phenomena we experience arise in dependence on conceptual designations. We can see this process happening in our experience. Mindfulness of breathing cleans the lab. In settling the mind, awareness stops being jerked around, and with discernment, comes to view mental events as mere empty appearances in both meditation and post-meditation. You come to non-conceptual certainty that nothing in your mind can harm you, whether or not thoughts have ceased. Upon achieving shamatha, the power of samadhi flows right into sleep. The dream yoga practice of emanation and transformation strengthens the conviction that there is nothing here from its own side, just a world of possibility waiting to be designated. Sentient beings reify everything they experience. In practicing the 4 applications, ask yourself, “Do I reify anything?” When you experience craving or hostility (arising from delusion rooted in reification), identify the referent and probe its existence.

Meditation starts at: 1:00

Teaching: Alan completes his commentary on the section on mindfulness of phenomena in Ch. 13 of Shantideva’s Compendium of Practices. Composite phenomena are impermanent and unstable, rising quickly and passing away. This points to impermanence and relative reality. Although this is just the way things are, people may react with depression to the hedonic present, anxiety to the hedonic future, and PTSD to the hedonic past. Composite phenomena are also unmoving and empty, like an optical illusion. This points to their absolute nature, empty of inherent existence. Composite phenomena arise in dependence of causes and conditions. They are neither always there nor passing into non-existence. As for objects, so too for consciousness. All speech is like an echo, momentary and without essence. Its coming and going is unobservable. The essential nature of phenomena is like space. Conditions are empty and nameless. Neither the names nor their referents have any inherent existence. Names illuminate phenomena, but as soon as we reify them, they obscure their nature.

Meditation. Mindfulness of phenomena preceded by mindfulness of the mind.

1) mindfulness of the mind. Let your eyes be open, resting your gaze evenly. Rest awareness in the present moment, mindful presence without distraction, without grasping. You are aware, and you know it. What is the referent of awareness? What has its qualities of luminosity and cognizance? What are its boundaries? 

2) mindfulness of phenomena. Turn your attention outwards towards appearances arising in the relative dharmadhatu. Whatever comes to mind, examine its nature. Does anything exist from its own side? All composite phenomena are empty and unmoving. They appear, and yet are empty, mere configurations of empty space. With awareness still and clear, attend to emptiness and luminosity of all appearances.

Q1. Is it possible to experience timelessness in shamatha or only in the union of shamatha and vipasyana?

Q2. In a guided meditation, I applied vipasyana to an unpleasant feeling and made it go away. I still get stuck on visual appearances, like the square panel on the ceiling. I haven’t conceptually designated it, so how is it empty?

Meditation starts at 37:50

Teaching: All the teachings are included in settling body, speech, and mind in their natural state. According to Asanga, sensations of the breath become increasingly subtle until prana dissolves into space. Conceptualizations diminish further and further until mind slips into non-conceptuality. Keep it simple. It’s the nature of the practice.

Meditation: Mindfulness of breathing preceded by settling body, speech, and mind. 

1) settling body, speech, and mind. Let your awareness illuminate the non-conceptual space of the body. Settle the body in ease and comfort. Settle the speech in silence. Let the breath flow in its natural rhythm. With every out breath, relax more and more deeply without losing clarity, utterly release the breath and let go of rumination, so your are especially silent and present at the end of each out breath. The in breath comes of its own accord. Release all thoughts of the past and future, and settle awareness in stillness in the present.

2) mindfulness of breathing. When the in breath is long, know that it is long. When the out breath is long, know that it is long. When the in breath is short, know that it is short. When the out breath is short, know that it is short. Let your awareness illuminate the space of the body and whatever tactile sensations arise therein, without distraction, without grasping. Awareness is not fused with the space of the body and its contents. Mindfully breath in and out, attending to the whole body.

Q1. In equanimity, does it mean we should react with satisfaction and contentment with things as they are? 

Q2. In formal and semi-formal shamatha retreat, should we hold the view between sessions by visualizing oneself as the deity and the environment as a pure land? If so, should we recite the mantra as well? 

Q3. As for the dying process, how can we help? How can non-buddhists prepare? 

Q4. How is remote viewing possible without dependence on the visual cortex? 

Q5. Returning to a socially engaged way of life, the qualities of relaxation, stability, and vividness will decline. Should we do intermittent short/long retreats for upkeep? 

Q6. According to the Madhyamaka, rigpa and buddhanature are also empty, suggesting nihilism. Rigpa and ultimate reality are in some sense real, but if we say they are real, that may be construed as eternalism. Nihilism is more prevalent in the modern world, and of the two, eternalism appears less dangerous.

Q7. How should we plan practice at home? Should we maintain a weekly structure as we have here, or do whatever we feel like? Practice shouldn’t be just limited to shamatha.

Meditation starts at 5: 35

Teaching pt1: Alan gives his commentary on the section on mindfulness of phenomena in Ch. 13 of Shantideva’s Compendium of Practices. This section challenges our view that we’re leaving the Mind Center and returning to the mundane world. Contemplating phenomena as phenomena can be understood in terms of the 3 turnings of the wheel of dharma. In the 1st turning, we closely apply mindfulness to phenomena. Because phenomena deceive, the 2nd turning instructs viewing them as empty, illusion-like.

Meditation: Mindfulness of phenomena preceded by mindfulness of the mind. In the 3rd turning, buddha mind is omnipresent, there is no difference between your mind and dharmakaya, and all sentient beings have the potential for perfect awakening. The lattermost points to pure perception where there is nothing where the qualities of the buddhas cannot be found. Phenomena are devoid of klesas, for when we probe into their nature, the 3 poisons arise from the 3 qualities of the substrate consciousness or more deeply, the 5 poisons are in fact the 5 wisdoms of primordial consciousness. There is nothing that brings about phenomena points to the ultimate truth. There is nothing that arises without a cause points to the conventional truth. In this context, mindfulness means to bear in mind this way of viewing reality.

Meditation. Mindfulness of phenomena preceded by mindfulness of the mind.

1) mindfulness of the mind. Let you awareness walk the tightrope of the immediacy of the present moment. What is the nature of awareness? Can you find it? Can you observe it arising and passing? What’s the border between awareness and appearances?

2) mindfulness of phenomena. Direct your attention to the world of phenomena. Whatever comes to mind, distinguish between the basis of designation and your designation. The basis of designation is empty of designation. The basis of designation isn’t arising out there. All appearances are empty of their own identity, and emptiness is none other than the luminosity of all phenomena. Sustain this flow of knowing.

Teaching pt2: We’re bringing our practice to reality. When we have some wisdom of emptiness and yeshe intuiting the blessings of the buddhas, we can perceive phenomena to be saturated by the blessings of the buddhas. Alan recounts a series of extraordinary coincidences along his own path.

Meditation starts at 55:22

Teaching pt1. Alan completes the 2nd cycle on the 4 greats with great equanimity. Literally, it refers to freedom from attachment to the near and aversion to the far. There is nothing closer than our own awareness. Thogyal—direct crossing over or leaping over—means traversing the bhumis in leaps and bounds to complete enlightenment.

Meditation. Great equanimity preceded by mindfulness of the mind.
1) mindfulness of the mind. Let your mind release all thoughts about that which has already happened and not yet happened, and let your awareness dwell in the fleeting present moment. Awareness is still, naturally clear, and rest in the flow of knowing of being aware. Can you identify from where it emerges? If it doesn’t arise from anything, it is unborn. Can you identify where it is to be found? If it cannot be found, it is non-existent. Does awareness cease? If it does not cease, it is ceaseless. Rest in awareness that is unborn non-existent, and ceaseless.
2) great equanimity. From that perspective, inquire 1) why couldn’t all sentient beings dwell in great equanimity free from attachment to the near and aversion to the far? 2) May we all dwell in great equanimity. 3) I shall bring all beings to great equanimity. 4) May I receive blessings from all the enlightened ones and the guru to do so. With every in breath, blessings in the form of light come in from all directions. With every out breath, light of purification flows out in all directions, dispelling all obscurations.

Teaching pt2. Despite India’s unparalleled history in exploring the mind, modern scientific materialism has become the dominant paradigm in its leading institutions. Modern science lacks testable theories of the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of consciousness. The practices of shamatha, vipasyana, trekchö, and thogyal lead to direct experience of primordial consciousness and its energy, putting the following theories to the test. Does primordial consciousness give rise to substrate consciousness which in turn gives rise to individuated consciousness? Does the energy of primordial consciousness—non-dual from primordial consciousness—give rise to life? Does the dharmadhatu—also non-dual from primordial consciousness—give rise to the environment?

Meditation starts at 7:30

Teaching pt1: Alan gives his and the Dalai Lama’s commentary on the section on mindfulness of phenomena in verses 105-112 of Ch. 9 of Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara. Just as the mind does not come into existence, in the same way, we come to certainty that no phenomenon comes into existence. That which we perceive cannot be more real than our perception of it. Two objections are discussed. 1) If conventional truth doesn’t exist, then does nothing exist at all? If phenomena are just apparitions to a confused mind, then wouldn’t whatever anyone says be true? According to the Madhyamaka, entities and non-entities (e.g., a rabbit’s horn) are both conceptual designations—i.e., neither exists from its own side—but entities i) have causal efficacy and ii) can be established by verifiable cognition (incl. both perception and understanding). The mind which conceives and the object conceived are simultaneously interdependent, so neither is inherently real. An action depends on an agent, and an agent depends on an action. 2) Wouldn’t the analysis of that which is analyzed lead to infinite regression? Awareness that apprehends the emptiness of an entity is focused on emptiness, not the entity. Inverting the analysis upon awareness, one establishes that awareness is empty and emptiness is empty. There is nothing more to analyze.

Meditation: Mindfulness of phenomena preceded by mindfulness of the mind. 

1) mindfulness of the mind. Let your eyes be open, gaze rested evenly. Simply be present without distraction, without grasping. Withdraw attention from all appearances and rest in the knowing of being aware. Probe into the nature of awareness. What is the thing that performs functions such as being still or following after an object and has these attributes of luminosity and cognizance? Can you find this awareness separated from all appearances? Know that absence and sustain that flow of knowing.

2) mindfulness of phenomena. Return your attention to objects of the 6 sense domains. Focus on one object, and probe its nature. What is really there from its own side? Rest in emptiness and sustain that flow of knowing

Teaching pt2: Alan speaks about William James who understood that introspection was the first and foremost method for the scientific inquiry of the mind. Although his vision has been ignored by much of the modern mind sciences, the contemplative observatory in Bangalore will offer a setting for contemplative knowing to engage with modern scientific knowledge.

Meditation starts at 57:03

Teaching. Alan continues the series on the 4 greats with great empathetic joy. When you become lucid in a dream, happiness arises from knowing reality as it is. As long as you remain lucid, nothing in the dream can cause suffering. Therefore, the instruction is to stay lucid by not losing the recognition of the dream as a dream. Shamatha helps you sustain lucidity. Vipasyana counters our ingrained tendency to reify everything. When you break through the substrate consciousness to primordial consciousness, the instruction is similar: don’t lose the recognition by sustaining the view of rigpa. There is nothing else to do.

Meditation. Great empathetic joy. Let your awareness permeate the space of the body and come to rest in the immediacy of the present moment. In the space before you, visualize Samantabhadra, the personification of your own primordial awareness, deep blue in color and radiating a sapphire light. Take refuge in the primordial buddha Samantabhadra, the dharma of all the buddhas, and the sangha of vidyadharas. Samantabhadra comes to the crown of your head, dissolves into indigo light, flows the your central channel, and reforms at your heart chakra. Your own body, speech, and mind become indivisible with Samantabhadra. Light permeates the space of your body and your empty mind. From this perspective, inquire 1) why couldn’t all sentient beings never be parted from happiness free of suffering? Arouse the aspiration 2) may we never be parted from such well-being. Arouse the intention 3) as long as space remains, as long as time remains, I shall do whatever is needed to bring this about. 4) May I receive blessings from the guru Samantabhadra and all the enlightened ones to carry through. With every in breath, light from all the buddhas flow in from all directions, saturating your being and purifying all negativities. With every out breath, light flows out in all directions, dispelling all negativities and doing whatever is needed to bring all sentient beings to lasting happiness without suffering.

Meditation starts at 13:21