Wednesday, September 20, 2017


The first of the four foundations of Dzogchen meditation is immovable. As a preparatory practice we want to settle the mind and be able to recognize and abide in the nature of mind. Having been introduced to the Dzogchen view, we can sustain that view and eliminate errors and deviation through the practice of the four foundations.

First, we rely on the three immovables.
Immovable body, like a mountain.
Immovable gaze, like a lion.
Immovable awareness, like the sky.

Immovable body, like a mountain. The body is relaxed and uncontrived, seated in the Vairocana posture. Don't chase after feelings or sensations, simply rest the body, breathing naturally. Don't itch, don't alter, don't adjust.

Immovable gaze, like a lion. Leave the sense organs open and uncontrived, free from grasping. The gaze is open, like looking over a vast mountain valley, but steady like a lion. A dog's gaze chases after everything that appears before it, hopping from one focus to another. We don't want to focus on any particular object or point, keep the gaze steady, but expansive, like your field of vision is the space around you.

Immovable awareness, like the sky. Whatever clouds or weather moves through the sky, the sky remains unstained. There is no good or bad, nothing to accept or reject, nothing to hold onto or push away. Relax in an uncontrived, open awareness free from thoughts or fabrication.

We can also describe the immovable state in terms of outer, inner and secret.

Outer is the body in the Vairocana posture.
Inner is uncontrived, without altering or chasing, without effort. Free from expectation, hope and fear.
Secret is kadag, original purity. Recognize the potency of rigpa arising from the ground of original purity and let everything dissolve back into the ground of original purity, free from any reaction or judgement.

Relying on the unique Dzogchen mindfulness we sustain the view of rigpa. Without being distracted by appearances or the internal display of mind, we simply rest in an experience of unceasing clarity.

As we gain greater stability in immovable state, we enter the single-pointed state.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Three essential points.

In the practice of Dzogchen, we are introduced to rigpa, or intrinsic awareness. We cannot be directly introduced to rigpa without relying on the mind, so we need to recognize the way the mind arises, abides and ceases.

All that appears and exists within samsara and nirvana is the play of one's mind. If we understand this, then we are able to recognize and work with the appearances of the mind, whether they are thoughts, sights, sounds or emotions. It is not sufficient to simply recognize appearances as mind, we need to exhaust them into the basis of the mind itself. We need to sustain transparent awareness.

There are three ways of describing the apparent quality of rigpa.

rtsal is the potency or dynamic energy of rigpa
rolpa is the display, such as thoughts or negative emotions
rgyen are the ornaments of awareness as external appearances in all their variety.

Relying on this understanding, we can rely on three essential points to bring us closer to recognizing rigpa:

1. Recognize the nature of mind.
Through instruction, recognize your own face without doubt. All appearances manifest from the nature of mind and mind itself has not been found.

2. Mind settles into the ground itself.
When negative emotions, thoughts or appearances arise, we are able to recognize and let them settle in their own place, such that we do not fall prey to their arising.

3. Ability to gain freedom from mind.
Through practice, mind is no longer prey to whatever is coming up in our experience, even death, bardo, sickness or rebirth. Mind is free in its own place.

This upadesha was given by Younge Khachab Rinpoche on September 15, 2012.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Toolbox.

Meditation is a tool, and as a tool there are many different forms that it takes. Some types of meditation are better at calming the mind, others for inducing clarity or insight. Some give rise to bliss, others to peace and equanimity.

In our practice of shamatha, we have several different types of meditation that we should keep in our toolbox and gain familiarity with.

Meditation with an Object

The Breath. The breath is probably the most common meditation technique. The mind and breath are intimately linked, so as we work with the breath we work on the mind. The technique is simple, simply observe the inhale and exhale of the breath. Some people focus on the feeling of the breath passing by the nostrils, others prefer to focus on the gentle rise and fall of the upper stomach as you inhale and exhale. Whatever method you prefer, simply connect with the inhale and exhale of the breath. It isn't necessary to count, just breathe naturally.

A thigle of light. A common technique within the Tibetan tradition is to focus on an internal drop or thigle of light. This thigle is often focused on within the heart chakra or some other chakra, and serves as a visualized support for your practice. Focus on a brilliant white drop of light in the center of your heart, then connect with the inhale and exhale of the breath. As you inhale, imagine that light becoming more brilliant, as you exhale imagine it becoming more stable. There are many alternative methods for working with thigles in meditation.

Vajra breathing. Similar to focusing on the breath, you can visualize yourself in the form of your yidam or as a clear body of light. As you inhale, recognize the resonance of the breath as OM. As the breath abides, recognize it as AH. As you exhale, recognize the resonance of the breath as HUNG. In this way we connect the breath with mantra. Initially this practice can be rather conceptual and you may find yourself reciting OM, AH, HUNG. As you gain more familiarity with the practice and the sound of mantra the words will fall away and you can simply observe the breath as inseparable from mantra.

Enhancement techniques. When you are drowsy or your meditation is dull, you can focus on a white thigle of light at your third eye. Alternatively, you can imagine the white thigle at your heart shooting up through your crown and extending further and further into the sky, almost like traveling up an elevator. When you are experiencing distraction or agitation, you can visualize a black heavy thigle in your navel, pulling you down into the ground like a heavy weight. Alternatively, you can imagine it shooting down into the ground, anchoring and grounding you. These enhancement techniques can be used initially to cultivate a calm, clear mind, or they can be used as remedial techniques to work with distraction and dullness during meditation.

There are many other forms of object based meditation, including practices like Guru Yoga, mantra meditation and other tantric practices. If you have instruction in those meditation techniques feel free to use them as you have been taught. 

Meditation without an Object

Resting in the natural state. This type of meditation is unique to Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Simply relax the body, breath and mind. Don't worry about the past. Don't speculate about the future. Simply rest, without judging the present or cultivating expectations. Relax into the uncontrived natural state. In this meditation we want to recognize and rest in the nature of the mind, which is unceasing luminous emptiness. That can be difficult at first, as we learn to work with mind and its appearances. Any attempt to manipulate, correct, adjust or fix is mistaken. Simply relax in open presence.

Sitting in a comfortable meditative posture,
Our body is left open, relaxed.
The shoulders, neck and face are relaxed,
The eyes are left open, gently gazing into the space before oneself.
The breath is natural- gentle and uncontrived.
The senses are open, free from fixation,
Let whatever appears be as it is.
Don’t fixate- on feelings, thoughts, sights or sounds.
Just relax and settle, like waves on water.
Slowly, like mud settling out,
The mind will become calm and clear.
Rest in the natural state.

Any of these techniques can be used in our meditation. Become familiar with each of them. Develop your toolbox. Some you will naturally gravitate towards, others may be useful in certain situations. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Metaphors for the progression of your practice.

The process of developing our shamatha practice of calm abiding develops through five stages of experience. This progression of experience can be described through five metaphors.

Waterfall. The first experience of shamatha is movement. When we sit down the first thing we discover is that our thoughts, feelings and sensations are raging like water cascading down a steep cliff. This is the first experience which is like a waterfall.

Torrent in a deep ravine. The second experience is attainment. Our mind, which was once cascading and all over the place is being channeled and brought to focus. We discover in the stages of settling the mind and continuously settling that the mind is incredibly powerful and provides a lot of resistance to being directed towards our object of meditation. Effort is required to keep bringing the mind back to its focus. This is the second experience which is like a torrent in a deep ravine.

Meandering river. The third experience of shamatha is familiarization. The raging waters of our mind have calmed considerable, and we have discovered a gently flowing current. Within this river of meditation, we still experience the currents of agitation and dullness pulling us away from our focus, but we are able to come back and rest much more easily.  This third experience which is like a meandering river is like the stages of completely settled mind and the subsequent stages of training and calming the mind as we continue to work with the movement of the mind.

Ocean free of waves. The fourth experience is stability. The waters of our mind have merged with the great ocean which is free from waves. This is the fourth experience of resting in single-pointedness in which the mind does not waver, like an ocean free of waves.

A candle flame unstirred by any breeze. The fifth experience of shamatha is consummation. This is the stage of resting in equanimity in which the mind rests naturally in a state of limpid clarity, like a candle that is unstirred by any breeze. It is the state free from effort in which we experience the total pliancy of mind and body.

These five metaphors describe the progression that takes place in your meditation as you deepen your practice of shamatha. You can further understand and appreciate these experiences by contemplating the four ways of working with the mind and the eight remedial techniques that eliminate the five flaws of meditation.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A key distinction.

When we have arrived at the completely settled state, we can enjoy a degree of peace and clarity. We have found a place of rest and have attained an approximation of the result of practicing shamatha.

What distinguishes this completely settled state from the state of resting in equanimity?

Total pliancy of mind and body.

When we are resting in the completely settled state, there is a sense of being enough, but the movement of the mind stirs ever so gently and we end up cycling through various thoughts about the past, future or our present condition. There isn't that sense of deep inner wealth that continues to fuel our meditation.

Our mind and body also continue to act as problems for our meditation. We get physically and mentally tired, we experience soreness or pain, and we lose our focus. We fight what is coming up in our mind and body as we strive towards our goal of resting single-pointedly.

The state of resting in equanimity is effortless. We aren't involved with struggle or achievement. Our minds simply rest naturally, and we can enjoy a deep sense of well-being, clarity and freedom from the elaboration of thoughts.

The completely settled state is not far from resting in equanimity, but we have much more work to do.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Movement within stillness.

When we first sit down to meditate, the first thing we experience is movement. Through continued effort and relying on proper meditation instruction, we can arrive at a place of stillness and peace.

When the mind is completely settled, a lot of the gross thoughts and emotions that might disturb our focus have settled down. We can direct our mind and rest simply in a state of calm clarity. Within this stillness, we discover another layer of movement. How we work with that movement determines our progress and the rest of the path ahead.

The nature of the mind is unceasing luminous emptiness. Being empty, it is groundless with nothing to find or hold onto. Being luminous it arises as the variety of thoughts, appearances, sounds and sensations without end.

If we cling to the appearances arising in our meditation, we get caught up in the cycle of distraction and agitation. If we learn to leave thoughts and appearances free in their own place, our focus does not wander and we sink deeper into a state of single-pointedness.

So much of the training is how we work with movement, how we resolve sights, sounds and appearances.

Go sit. Bring your mind to a place of rest. Notice the movement within stillness.

How do you work with it?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Four ways of working with the mind.

As we are learning to bring the mind to rest, settling into a calm and clear mind, we will encounter four different ways of working with the mind.

First, we encounter involvement with effort.

When we first sit down to settle the mind, we encounter movement. Lots of movement. It is not easy to rest the mind, to focus it on our intended object. The first stages of bringing the mind to rest require effort. If we don't bring effort into our meditation, we simply rest in our monkey mind and that will not bring any result, at least not the result we are looking for. We need to apply effort to settle our mind and to continuously settle as we experience distractions.

Second, we encounter involvement with interruption.

We have started to settle the mind and prolong that experience. Then, we experience interruption in the form of thoughts, emotions and sensations that pull us away. Using mindfulness and vigilance, we recognize that we are distracted and come back to our object of meditation. Settle. Wander. Come back. Our practice is involved with interruption from the stages of continuously resettling the mind through the stage of completely calming the mind, as we continue to learn how to work with agitation and dullness.

Third, we encounter involvement without interruption.

Once you have gained agility working with agitation and dullness, you arrive at the stage of single-pointedness in which you are no longer affected by these waves of thoughts and emotions. There is still some subtle effort of mindfulness and vigilance at play here, but one does not fall out of meditation into states of distraction.

Fourth, we encounter effortless involvement.

Having settled the mind into a state of equanimity, you can effortlessly maintain the practice without the need for additional applications or remedies. Applying effort at this stage would be a fault, contriving something to be done. One simply rests in complete evenness. The mind abides in a state of limpid clarity, with no stirring or wavering.