Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Crossing the chasm.

Vipasyana is the practice of looking at the mind and the nature of the self. Once we have cultivated a mind that is calm and clear, we use it to look at the nature of mind and the nature of reality. Since birth we have taken this self to be truly existing. Our bodies change over time, our ideas and beliefs might fluctuate and change, but there is a conscious aspect of the mind that seems to continue throughout our whole life, that seems to be permanent and true.

This minds existence is never really challenged, we simply know it experientially to be true.

There is a great chasm that we need to cross in our practice of vipasyana. We need to cross over the threshold of believing and apprehending of the self as being permanent, real, unchanging and true. On the other side of that chasm is the conception of a self that is impermanent, interconnected, constantly changing and flexible. Those two seem irreconcilable.

Our conception of the self as being real and unchanging leads to us feeling stuck and powerless in situations. We often find ourselves searching for external relief and trying to manipulate external conditions. We languish in our efforts to prop up the self by controlling outer circumstances. Reifying the self, we simultaneously invest great importance in our material conditions and our experience of the world around us. We believe deep down that if we can just get everything right, that our sense of self and our place in the world will all be secured.

When a gap opens up in our meditation, look at that gap. 

Look at our habitual perception and our ingrained conception of the self. Is it true? Who are we? What is the nature of this self that we hold so dear?

If we look at the self through the lens of the first turning of the wheel of Dharma, we can start to appreciate how the self truly abides. We can start to see that the self is composed of many facets- our body, emotions, perceptions, thoughts and beliefs, and of course our consciousness- all those are connected. We can start to appreciate how our consciousness itself is composed of many facets. We have emotions and experience them in our mind, but we are not our emotions. We have thoughts and ideas, but we are not our thoughts and ideas. We experience various sense appearances like sights, sounds and smells, but none of those are who we are.

Simply looking at the mind through this lens of the Dharma, we start to see our false notions and beliefs in who we think we are. We start to see our limiting conceptions and how our emotional imbalance limits our capacity to act as we intend. Simply looking at the present condition of our mind and self, we can see all of the factors that brought us to the here and now.

Simply see. Witness this appearance of the self free from judgement or bias. This is the essence of self-awareness.

Having this insight into the self, we start to see more truly. We still conceive of a self, but that is interconnected with a larger whole. The outer world still exists, but we can see that it is constantly changing and dynamic. We can appreciate this newfound perspective of mindful awareness, but it also carries with it a deep and profound sense of responsibility. We see how much we contribute to our own suffering and the suffering of others. We see how we perpetuate negative mental states and unwanted emotions. We also see the potential for freedom and a path forward.

We see all of that. We see ourselves standing on both sides of the chasm, not quite embodying either.

We don't just cross the chasm in a single leap. We cross it, and then we fall back into habitual patterns of conception. We leap over it, only to realize we landed back where we started. We stand on the other side, enjoy the view, only to be pulled back once again.

The path of seeing is the start of a long path ahead. It doesn't happen all at once, and yet it does time and time again.

Crossing the chasm might just require that you turn awareness back on itself.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The limits of perception.

Vipasyana is the practice of looking. It is a practice of seeing directly, gaining firsthand experience. But isn't all perception relative? Doesn't the mere act of seeing mean that others may see things differently?

All perception is limited by our thoughts and ideas about what we are seeing. Concepts define what we experience. Our own bias and value judgements color and shape our perception of the world and what we hold to be true. So if vipasyana is the practice of looking, can we ever see truly or are we simply seeing within the cage of our own confusion?

Vipasyana is preceded by the practice of shamatha because in shamatha we learn to let go of grasping to thoughts and following after trains of thought. The practice of shamatha gives us the skills and familiarity to recognize the limits of thoughts and ideas. Thoughts and ideas are not the thing itself. Concepts are not real. When we recognize this crucial flaw of concepts, we stop investing in them. We loosen the tight knots of limiting beliefs and perceptions.

Our view influences our meditation, and our view is largely formed by concepts and cultural influences that we have rarely examined fully if at all. Coming to a right view is an important first step to approaching meditation, but even more important is learning to engage in a practice that recognizes the futility of thoughts and ideas about the way things are. When we learn to simply look, free from mental elaboration and speculation, then we can start to appreciate what is right in front of us. Then we can start to explore the limits of perception and what is really true.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Reading is not enough.

How do you know something?

When it comes to the practice of vipasyana, how we come to know something is important. Over the past two thousand years Buddhist traditions have developed a rather extensive system of reason and logic. One of the subjects that was developed by Dignaga and Dharmakirti was the system of pramana, or valid cognition. How do we go about correctly knowing something?

Broadly speaking there are two types of valid cognition, inferential and direct. Inferential valid cognition is made using reason, logic and analysis to come to know something. We can study, read various works on the subject at hand, and debate others until we come to a correct understanding.

Direct valid cognition is a direct experience that is free from concepts. Direct valid cognition is seeing something directly, having your own experience. You can study the great stupa at Boudhanath, its layout and history, the various materials and methods used for its construction; but that is a very different experience than actually being at the great stupa, seeing it firsthand, feeling the energy of the environment and the various sounds, smells and interactions taking place. Direct valid cognition is a first-hand experience that is free from conceptual imputations or bias.

In the practice of insight, we are relying on direct valid cognition. The time to use inferential valid cognition is before the meditation session. Inferential valid cognition enriches and prepares us, but it is not a replacement for the actual experience. We should study interdependence and emptiness, we should be familiar with the different presentations of mind and how it manifests, and we should be familiar with how to recognize the nature of mind. We should read, a lot. But reading is not enough. At the time of practicing vipasyana, we need to set aside our ideas and concepts and focus on our actual experience.

Vipasyana is the practice of have a direct valid cognition of the nature of the mind and the nature of reality. This is our chance to see things as they are, don't waste your time and energy on going back to ideas and concepts. Look directly. What do you see?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Buddha eye.

The practice of shamatha leads to the development of a mind that is calm, clear and luminous. Our mind is naturally settled in a state of cognitive knowing that is free from the proliferation of thoughts. It is a mind that is like an unstirred candle, it is steady and calm, yet luminous and bright.

What do we do with this newly discovered awareness? We simply use it to look.

The practice of shamatha or calm abiding leads to the practice of vipasyana, or vivid seeing. In the practice of vipasyana, we use this mind that is focused and steady to look at phenomena, self and our own mind. This awareness is like a sharp weapon that we can use to dissect and cut through layer after layer of confused perception and bias. We can peel back layers of habitual grasping and fixation, layers of imputation and exaggeration.

The practice of insight is a continual process of digging deeper, moving from gross to subtle, moving from one to many and many to one. It is a practice of learning to ask better questions, not being content with the answers that you have before you.

The uniqueness of the Buddha's tradition lies in the practice of vipasyana. There are many forms of shamatha meditation, and many similarities among the various traditions as to how to calm the mind and rest in a peaceful state. The wisdom of the Buddha's teachings are what distinguishes it from the other forms of meditation. It is the Buddha's insight into the true nature of the self, how all things are interconnected, and how we can use this wisdom to benefit ourselves and others that makes it truly transformative.

The Buddha taught that your view is important. What you think about things influences your reality and your experience. Our perception binds us, it limits us and our abilities. Our ignorance causes us suffering, we just don't recognize that fact.

Vipasyana is the practice of seeing truly, and coming to the direct experience of that wisdom of the Buddha. It is the practice of developing the Buddha eye.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Eight remedial techniques.


The eight remedies are antidotes to the five flaws of meditation. 

Antidote to laziness
1.     Faith
Faith means to study and develop conviction in the teachings. This faith is based on reason and logic and our own experience of the Dharma.
2.     Intention
Intentions lead to mental actions, which eventually become habits. Be clear, be specific.
3.     Effort
Effort is the greatest predictor of progress in your practice. If it is difficult to develop a joyful effort towards practice, reexamine your faith and intention.
4.     Pliancy
Pliancy means that our mind and body become adaptable and dexterous. We become open to change, ready to change. Pliancy is like making friends with a horse and learning to ride it, at some point the horse becomes workable.

Antidote to forgetting the instructions
5.     Mindfulness
Mindfulness is strong and focused, it recalls our intention and the object of our meditation.

Antidote to dullness and agitation
6.     Vigilance
Vigilant awareness is sharp and clear. Vigilance is able to access the quality of our meditation, be aware of our mind, and notice problems as they start to come up. It notices agitation and dullness and can allow us to tighten up our mindfulness before we lose our focus.

Antidote to under-application
7.     Attention
Attention means that we recognize and respond to fault arising in our meditation. Vigilant awareness might notice dullness starting to creep into our meditation, but if we fail to pay attention that subtle dullness might turn into a lose of clarity or even gross dullness.

Antidote to over-application
8.     Equanimity
Equanimity is the mind resting naturally, free from agitation and dullness. It is a mind that is calm, clear and vibrant; like a calm lake during the daytime.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Five flaws of meditation.


There are five flaws (Tib. nyes pa lnga) of meditation that prevent us from developing a calm, clear mind.

1.     Laziness
Laziness is a flaw because it ensures that we don’t start. We may want to start a meditation practice, but when we try we run into the inertia of our own indolence. There are three types of laziness- lethargy, obsession with pointless activity, and discouragement.

2.     Forgetting the instructions
Forgetting the instructions means to not know the object of your meditation or how to meditate. We have sat down to meditate, but we have forgotten how to meditate properly.

3.     Dullness and Agitation
Dullness and agitation are the main problems that we experience during meditation.

4.     Under-application
Under-application means not correcting your meditation when you are aware of the faults of dullness or agitation. Failing to apply the remedy, our mind wanders and our meditation deteriorates.

5.     Over-application
Over-application means continuing to apply remedies when it is no longer necessary. When our minds are naturally resting on our object of meditation, we should not continue to manipulate or try to augment our meditation.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Training the Mind.

The fifth stage of the nine ways of resting the mind is called training the mind. When we have arrived at the completely settled state, our mindfulness can hold our object of meditation continuously without being distracted. We still notice thoughts, sounds and sensations arising in our peripheral awareness, but those appearances aren't strong enough to distract us from our focus.

In the fifth stage, we are primarily focused on overcoming subtle dullness in our meditation. As we are resting in the completely settled state, one of the errors that we can make is that we fall into a state of dullness or numbness. We might be focused on our object, but we've sunk into a mental state that is narrow and without clarity. We are focused on our object, but not really. There might even be the comfort and pleasure of a cozy, peaceful meditative state. We should recognize this error and try to prevent it.

The main goal of this state is to prevent that subtle dullness from overtaking our meditation. The way that we do this is to maintain and strengthen our vigilant awareness. As subtle dullness starts to set in, vigilance starts to collapse and weaken. Our alert awareness starts to shrink, to close in on itself. Everything starts to collapse onto our object of meditation, and we lose the vibrancy and alertness of vigilant awareness. We might maintain our attention on our object for a bit, but eventually this subtle dullness gives way to gross dullness or even sleep.

If we can catch vigilant awareness as it starts to weaken, we can make a correction and increase the intensity or the scope of awareness. We can expand our peripheral awareness, exert a little effort to make it more clear.

As we train our mind, we can eventually notice when subtle dullness is starting to creep in and make the necessary corrections to prevent it from arising at all. When we have eliminated subtle dullness, we move a little closer to resting in the single-pointed state.


Monday, October 30, 2017

The Scientist, Philosopher and Artist.

The Scientist.
Scientists like to experiment. They like to figure out what is really going on, and then to look to discover solutions to problems. The scientist pursues knowledge, but she does so through experience, trial and error.

The Philosopher.
The philosopher likes to examine and question. They want to know what is true, what is deceptive, and how these views influence and shape our world. The philosopher examines the very nature of our being and what can be known about our world by relying on reason, logic and critical thinking.

The Artist.
The artist is concerned with connection, relationships and impact. The artist conveys the value aspect of her work, her work creates meaning. Meaning is created through connection, change and impact. If no connection is made, or if no one is impacted, then the artist's work is undone. The artist's medium is reality, people and the web in which we are all connected.

Each of these three archetypes play a role in our practice.

When we sit down to meditate, we should sit down as a scientist. Your mind is your lab, what are you trying to solve?

Once we gain stability in our meditation, we should become a philosopher. Look deeper into your experience. Examine the nature of your own mind and the nature of reality. What is the true nature of the mind? What can be known through your experience?

When we stand from meditation, we stand as an artist. Use your daily life and interactions as the medium to create art. Share kindness, generosity and compassion. Use your trade to impact your community, create change and shape the world.

Don't be attached to any one role. Don't get caught up in the result or effect of your work. Simply attend to the different roles as they arise. There is a time to be a experiment, a time to analyze, and yes, even a time to dance.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Shamatha and vipasyana.

ཞི་གནས་
Tibetan: zhi-nay
English: calm abiding, peacefully resting, resting in serenity

ལྷག་མཐོང་
Tibetan: lha-thong
English: penetrative insight, clear seeing, higher perception

Meditation is the science of training the mind. It is a vehicle for awakening to our own true nature and the nature of reality. What we often call meditation can be categorized as two types of meditation, shamatha and vipasyana. Shamatha, or calm abiding, is the practice of bringing the mind to rest. The practice of shamatha involves choosing an intentional focus, whether it be the breath, an object, or even resting in the nature of mind.

The goal of the practice of shamatha is to cultivate an effortless, joyful, and peaceful equanimity that is accompanied by a very powerful and sharp mindfulness. When this mind that is resting in shamatha is combined with the practice of vipasyana, it can give rise to very clear and profound insights; insights into our own mind and the nature of the world in which we live.

We are all familiar with brief flashes of insight. We may be moving throughout our day and suddenly, catch a moment of clarity. These moments come and go, and they can fuel our well-being, joy and creativity. While we may have these insights frequently, they are often not transformative. The transformational power of the higher insights into the true nature of the mind and the nature of reality only occur when the mind is resting in shamatha.

The union of shamatha and vipasyana give rise to moments of awakening, as well as the final awakening to our true nature. These moments of awakening and higher perception are unpredictable and depend on certain conditions and the depth of your practice. The way that you can impact your chances of gaining these higher insights is to practice more.

Sit. Train your mind. Develop familiarity with bringing the mind to rest. Familiarize yourself with the stages of bringing the mind to rest, so that you can continuously and regularly rest in shamatha- a powerful mind that is joyful, effortlessly resting in peaceful equanimity. From this place of calm abiding, we can direct our discerning awareness to questions that explore the mind, our experience and the world around us.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Honor.

Not much is sacred anymore.

Everyone appreciates values such as self-reliance, independence, hard work and kindness. We all value honesty, integrity and optimism, whether it is in our homes, at work or in our communities. As young adults we start to explore our values, what impact they have on our lives and which values we want to live by. Our values shift and change over time, depending on the shape of our lives and the relationships that we forge.

I was fortunate to encounter the Dharma when I was in my early twenties. During my formative years as an adult, I experienced and explored values such as honor, reverence and humility. I had the privilege of sitting at the feet of great spiritual teachers; teachers like my own root teacher Younge Khachab Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama, Kusum Lingpa and Lama Tharchin. I practiced a tradition that had a long lineage of reverence towards teachers like the Karmapa, Patrul Rinpoche, Longchen Rabjam, Padmasambhava and all the way back to the Buddha himself. I was able to explore what it meant to be humble in the presence of these teachers, but also recognize a powerful sense of self-worth and innate potential. 

Nowadays, everyone has the right to say what they want. Everyone can choose to have a voice. Everyone can choose to lay out a vision. No one wants to exclude anyone. No one is wrong. There is no authority to be found, authority is seen as anti-egalitarian.

When we don't honor anything then nothing is sacred. Without any sacred values in our life, there is no authority to be found. Without authority, we end up with chaos, indecisiveness, and a lack of action. Without honor, traditions wither and die, movements stagnate, and communities suffer.

Honor gives rise to other values. It gives birth to authentic reverence and humility, which themselves rely on values like integrity, determination, self-respect and service.

I'm glad to have honor as one of my core values. What, or who, do you honor?

Friday, October 20, 2017

Goals for the state of unification.

The state of unification has two main goals:
1. Recognize the error of subtle dullness.
2. Persevere in the practice until effortless mindfulness unfolds.

As we gain stability in the immovable state, our practice transitions to the state of unification. Now we have considerable stability in our meditation. We are no longer bound by fixation on appearances such as thoughts, sounds and sensations. We strive to remain in this uncontrived, open presence for as long as we can, but the practice still requires a degree of effort at this state to eliminate potential errors.

The biggest error at this state is to confuse resting in rigpa with resting in the alaya-vijnana, or the foundational consciousness. The alaya consciousness is the unconscious aspect of our mind, in which reside our habit patterns, memories, karmic imprints, and various unconscious sense perceptions and emotional and cognitive obscurations.

We can rest in the alaya consciousness, which has a knowing aspect, but lacks clarity and vividness. Resting in the alaya consciousness is often stable and free from thought, and may even have a pleasant, peaceful feeling. This can also be described as being similar to daydreaming, where you are awake, but not really, as the mind drifts in and out of various mental states. 

We should recognize these signs of subtle dullness in our meditation and make an effort to correct for them when we see them. As a precursor to these signs of subtle dullness, often we can notice vigilance starting to wane and lose its alertness. Oftentimes though, by the time we notice vigilant awareness waning we are already on the slippery slope of being caught up in subtle dullness. It may even be necessary to move around a little, refresh yourself and settle back into meditation.

Knowing the errors of subtle dullness in our meditation, we simply must persevere in our practice. During the state of unification, we will experience many states of bliss, clarity and non-conceptuality, as well as many sessions where nothing seems to be happening at all. Stick with the practice. Continue to apply effort and be diligent. Don't let doubt, uncertainty and boredom create rifts in your practice.

As you are able to sustain and deepen your practice of resting in the uncontrived, natural state, eventually the effort of mindfulness falls away and you enter the effortless state of equanimity- a vast, limpid ocean of awareness.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Goals for the immovable state.

There are two primary goals for the immovable state:
1. Learn how to work with appearances in all their variety.
2. Increase the power of mindfulness and vigilance.

We start the practice by settling into and abiding in the natural state, the nature of mind to which we have been introduced. We simply want to maintain this state continuously, in an uncontrived and effortless manner.

In the beginning, as we sit for a few moments or minutes, stuff starts to come up in our experience. We encounter a variety of sights, sounds and sensations. Our mind wanders to various thoughts and memories. We might experience certain emotions. We become aware of all kinds of appearances within our field of awareness.

How do we work with these appearances?

We simply rest, which is not easy to do. Our mind quickly grabs onto various appearances, chases after pleasure and pushes away pain. Our vigilant peripheral awareness notices when our mind has wavered, and with the effort of mindfulness, we return to the natural state.

This might seem similar to meditating on the breath. We simply return the distracted mind to our breath, and refocus on our object. Our attention likes to be placed on something. It likes to be exercised. The challenge is when we are resting in an uncontrived open presence, we suddenly become aware of lots of things that our attention wants to grab onto. 

As we learn to work with appearances, it is important to remember that we are not concerned with the contents of our experience. What is appearing isn't important, even if it seems to be. It is more important how we are engaging in the practice, rather than what is happening. We should be aware of the activity occurring in our field of awareness, but not concerned with what is occurring. 

This is a really important distinction. Our goal isn't to stop appearances from arising, our goal is to cut through fixating on those appearances as they arise. This isn't easy, it is counter to everything our minds normally do. Our mind wants to hold onto its experience, savor its pleasure and take another sip.

Which brings us to our second goal of this practice, which is giving rise to powerful mindfulness and vigilance. Initially, our minds are overwhelmed by appearances. Whatever is occurring in our experience is too exciting, too painful, too intense. We get swept up and carried away by all the movement of our mind. By increasing the power of mindfulness and vigilance we don't get so overwhelmed by appearances. This takes time and effort. Eventually, through practice, we start to loosen up our fixation. We start to let appearances be, just as they are. We let them arise. We let them abide, We let them cease. Eventually, appearances don't disturb our meditation. Eventually, we don't waver. 

This is what we mean by the immovable state.

The way to increase the power of mindfulness is to practice. There is no other way that to simply become familiar with the natural state. Start with short sessions. Sit for 10-15 minutes. Then break for a minute, and then meditate again. Go in and out on purpose. Develop agility for resting in the natural state, not only on the cushion but off.

We can increase the power of vigilance by expanding our awareness.  You can see that when you are experiencing dullness, peripheral awareness closes down and has a sinking feeling. Everything is losing energy and shrinking, and you simultaneously lose clarity and alertness. To increase the power of vigilance, imagine expanding your field of awareness. Imagine your awareness is a transparent glass that can see everything inside and out, above and below.  This vast, powerful vigilance awareness simply witnesses the extent of space, both inside and out. Everything is clearly apparent, appearances naturally unfolding in all their variety.

Combining a powerful mindfulness with clear and alert vigilant awareness, we simply rest in the uncontrived natural state. As we continue to learn to work with appearances, we gain more and more stability such that we no longer waver. As stability further increases in this immovable state, we transition to the state of unification. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Unique Dzogchen Mindfulness and Vigilance

Everyone is familiar with mindfulness. Mindfulness is often described as focus or attention directed towards a particular object. We can be mindful of our breath, mindful of the way we walk or our daily activities, like washing the dishes. In this sense, mindfulness is synonymous with attention or focus.

Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as paying attention on purpose, in the present and without judgment. That is a useful definition, but again here the indirect meaning is that we are paying attention to some thing.

In Dzogchen we also employ mindfulness, but in Dzogchen there is no object of focus. The practice of Dzogchen is said to be without support

How do we be mindful, but not mindful of any thing?

We can define mindfulness in the Dzogchen tradition as an uncontrived, open presence free from judgment.

It is uncontrived because we are not directing our attention towards anything in particular and we are not trying to make anything happen. It is open presence because we are alert and aware, here and now. It is without judgment because we are not concerned with the contents of what is arising in our experience, whether it is good or bad, painful or pleasurable.

We simply rest in uncontrived, open presence free from judgment.

At first this takes a lot of effort. The habitual instincts of our mind is to be engrossed and fixate on our experience. We chase after sights and sounds. We follow trails of thought and get caught up in a web of stories. Our attention picks out objects, clings to them and gets caught up in distraction. This is where vigilance comes into play.

Vigilance is a clear, alert peripheral awareness that guards our meditation. Vigilance can be both extrospective and introspective awareness. We are aware of various appearances to our senses, but we also clearly see the array of thoughts and emotions coming up in our internal experience. In this way, vigilance is like a transparent looking glass, it sees everything but doesn't react to it. It is mindfulness which does the fine tuning, when it is necessary.

Vigilance notices when our attention has strayed towards an object or appearance. Noting that we have strayed, we use mindfulness to again rest in the uncontrived, natural state. As we train ourselves to rest in the natural state, the wandering of attention becomes less and less, eventually giving way to effortless mindfulness.

In effortless mindfulness, the strength of vigilance becomes further intensified and more powerful. It is like a sharp razor that cuts through appearances in all their variety. As we continue our training, eventually effortless mindfulness gives way to baseless mindfulness and the actual path of Dzogchen.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A simple aspiration prayer.

Every morning as part of my practice I recite a few prayers before settling into meditation. There is one verse that encompasses my intention perhaps more than any other:

Please bless me to see the dharmakaya as my own awareness, 
Please let me take undesirable difficult situations onto the path,
and quickly returning the kindness of all father and mother beings of the six realms,
Bless me to come to the perfection of generosity. 

It is a simple aspiration. It doesn't involve any sort of big project or magical feat. It is within reach at this very moment, but also pervades all times, places and activities. 

Simple, yet its impact on your own life and the lives of others can be profound.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Symbols for awakened mind.

A mirror perfectly reflects anything that is placed in front of it. The various aspects of color, shape and qualities is complete just as it is. Because the mirror is clear, there is no distortion. Whether the object is pure or contaminated, the mirror is not improved upon or brought to ruin.

So it is with awareness.

Space is without support and never comes into existence. It does not abide in any way and it is utterly beyond all description. Yet, anything and everything comes and goes within the sphere of space. Space is not defiled by the arising of impure phenomena. Space is not made more pure by the arising of pure phenomena. It is unchanging, completely unbiased, and encompasses all.

So it is with awareness.

The sun is forever utterly lucid, unobscured and radiant. The sun and its rays are inseparable, they do not come together or separate. Where there are light rays there is no darkness and warmth is felt without bias or expectation.

So it is with awareness.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Spontaneous Presence.

Within the expanse of spontaneous presence is the ground for all that arises.
Empty in essence, continuous by nature,
it has never existed as anything whatsoever, yet arises as anything at all.
Within the expanse of the three kayas, although samsara and nirvana arise naturally,
they do not stray from basic space- such is the blissful realm that is the true nature of phenomena.

Longchen Rabjam, from the Choying Dzod
When we enter into the state of spontaneous presence in our meditation, we have arrived at naked awareness beyond mind. This is the actual introduction to rigpa. Our teacher introduces rigpa through language and signs, but the actual introduction is based on our own experience. That is the real introduction. 

The expanse of spontaneous presence is baseless. We say that it is baseless because there is no ground, there are no concepts about emptiness or the way things exist. The spontaneously present luminosity of the mind is not divided into subject or object, there is no distinction between meditation and post-meditation, no distraction by thoughts, appearances or emotions. Everything dawns as the ornament of awareness, which is itself nothing at all. Longchenpa's quote captures how this single expanse of awareness, which is timelessly pure and spontaneously present, manifests as all that appears and exists whether it is of samsara or nirvana. 

Once we have been directly introduced to this unique state of the natural Great Perfection, our own awareness, we need to gain certainty and perfect its potentiality. To stop here, having been introduced, is not enough. We need to resolve all doubts and uncertainty in order to be decisive about this unique state, not to mention the uncertainty with how to work with this within the world. Once we can carry on this conviction regardless of what is coming up in our experience, whether on the cushion or off, then we can continue with confidence in liberation. 

The great master Longchen Rabjam in his Choying Dzod, the Basic Space of Phenomena, skillfully lays out this path of resolution. He takes a look at questions like:

How do we account for ordinary and pure appearances?
How are we to understand different types of beings? 
How do we approach confusion and suffering?
How are we to understand this unique state of the awakened mind?
How do we understand karma and dependent origination from this unique perspective?
Where are the potential errors and pitfalls in this approach?
What brings accomplishment, what is accomplishment?
How is this different than buddhahood? How is it the same?

Once we have come to a decisive experience that everything is subsumed by the expanse of awareness, we continue with confidence in liberation. The way in which we come to that decisive experience is through the practice of trekchod and thogal, which are the two paths of training in the practice of Dzogchen. 


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Equanimity.

The four foundations of Dzogchen naturally unfold in our meditation if we are able to maintain the uncontrived natural state. Each stage is marked not by a sense of accomplishment or progress being made, but rather by what we are not able to resolve in our meditation or where we are getting stuck.

Initially, we are distracted by the play of appearances and the diverse experiences that arise in our meditation. As we gain agility in working with appearances, we can have a very clear appreciation of our meditation moving from the immovable state to single-pointedly abiding in rigpa. As we continue to cut through dualistic appearances and to not fall prey to subtle distraction or dullness, the single-pointed state becomes like a vast limpid ocean. This is the state of equanimity.

In the state of equanimity, stability and clarity are equal. Whatever arises in our meditation is equal in being the dynamic energy of awareness, or rigpa tsal.

There is no need for other methods. There is no doubt, no excitement. Everything is equal.

Clarity and dullness are equal in nature, equal in experience. Clarity and emptiness are equal. Stability and clarity are equal.

Often in meditation, too much stability can lead to dullness. Here, abiding in equanimity, stability induces clarity.

Often in meditation, too much clarity can lead to agitation. Here, abiding in equanimity, clarity induces stability.

It is here that the subtle Dzogchen mindfulness that we employed moves from effort to effortless. Mindfulness here is really mindfulness of the instruction, of the pointing out. While previously, as we struggled to resolve appearances, we employed a subtle mindfulness that allowed us to cut through appearances. Here, that mindfulness becomes completely effortless.

As we gain greater stability in the state of equanimity, we eventually cut through to baseless spontaneous presence, naked awareness beyond mind. 


Monday, October 2, 2017

A flash in the pan.

A formal meditation session is composed of three parts- intention, main practice, and dedication.

Our intention is the why of the practice. Why are we sitting? What is our aspiration?

The main practice is applying ourselves to the meditation instructions.

The dedication is sharing the merit and benefits of the practice with others.

It is good to have a formal meditation session each day. Generally the morning or evening work best, but whatever fits your schedule is fine.

There is another type of practice that you will find yourself engaging in throughout the day. That is the sudden or flash meditation. These are the moments in your day when suddenly, awareness lights up and you recognize the meditative awareness. You mind is instantly calm, clear and at ease. Your attention is focused, yet expansive.

You might encounter these moments in conversation, during commutes, walking, or simply drinking a glass of water.

These moments of clarity and insight are important to your practice. Try to give rise to them throughout your day. Can the next meeting you have be one in which you enter with an open, calm and clear mind?


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Retreat Guide: Preparing for a solo retreat

A meditation retreat is an opportunity to immerse yourself in practice. A daily meditation practice is very powerful and can bring a lot of benefit, but doing occasional immersions can transform and deepen your practice in ways that a daily practice often doesn't accomplish. Many people that I know and have went on retreat with have shared a similar experience- it takes about two or three days to really settle into a retreat. If you cannot devote an extended weekend or a week to retreat, it can also be very powerful to do one day a week or one weekend a month. These shorter immersions can allow for greater depth and over time we are able to enter into the retreat with much more familiarity.

You don't need to go anywhere to do retreat. You can do it at home if your housing companions are supportive. You can also rent out a cabin or go to an actual meditation retreat center. I have done retreats in my bedroom, at cabins, and at retreat centers. They all work just fine. The best environment is one that supports your practice- ideally it would be quiet and peaceful, with all the resources necessary for your daily activities.

There are several key aspects to having a successful retreat experience. What does a successful retreat looks like? It is one in which we actually do the practice. We actually sit and meditate. We encounter all the resistance of not wanting to meditate. We struggle, let go, battle, and relax. A lot of stuff can come up during retreat, being prepared and having everything in order can improve the whole experience.

Preparation
Preparation is one of the major keys to a successful retreat experience. Plan your schedule, your food, your activities. Have all your retreat materials squared away. Resolve all of your everyday tasks. If you have to send someone an email, do it before retreat. You don't want to scheme and plan while on retreat. Do your scheming and your planning beforehand.

Schedule
Traditionally, meditation retreats follow a four-session schedule. You may adapt or adjust the times, and may change the focus for each session, but in general a four-session schedule keeps you focused on practice and not being idle or caught up in distraction. Here is a typical retreat schedule:

6-8am Morning Session 
8-9am Breakfast
9-12pm Mid-morning Session (15 minute tea break at midpoint)
12pm-2pm Lunch and Break
2-5pm Afternoon Session (15 minute tea break at midpoint)
5-6pm Break
6-8pm Evening Session and Dedication
9pm-5am Sleep

Food
Keep it simple. Plan your meals ahead. You don't want to plan and think about what you are going to eat or try to find a recipe while on retreat. Stick with nutritious and easy to digest foods. Drink lots of water and tea. Coffee is totally fine. For breakfast, I like to do oatmeal with some fruit- quick, easy and satisfying. For lunch and dinner, think about making a big pot of soup before the retreat and live off of that for a few days. You may even consider only eating breakfast and lunch, which is one of the pratimoksha vows a monk would uphold. If you are going to cook on retreat, integrate it with your practice. Be mindful, relaxed, present. Don't rush, simply cook.

Sleep
Sleep is important while on retreat. Go to be early and rise early. I usually try to go to bed by 10 pm and get up around 5am. Take a nap in the afternoon! Keep it short, but a 30 minute nap after lunch is refreshing and allows your mind and body to rest. You may find as you sustain your awareness into sleep that you will have more vivid dreams and sleep lighter. Retreat is a good time to practice Dream Yoga and to rest in the clear light nature of mind.

Activities
Retreat isn't a time for many activities, your time should be devoted to your practice. Turn off your cell phone and internet. Don't check email or your social networks. During the break between sessions, you may want to write, reflect, read, or simply be present and attentive to your surroundings. Sit outside. Today is a day for not doing.

Exercise
Movement and exercise are both important during retreat. Most of us are not used to sitting in meditation for extended periods during the day. You will likely find that your knees, hips and back can feel pretty tight. When our body is tired, our meditation becomes like a thick fog and we end up constantly fighting our bodies. Spend some time during breaks walking outdoors. Do yoga, qi qong or tai chi. Stretch, do some muscle stimulating movements. Do prostrations. Spending twenty minutes twice a day on exercise and movement will dramatically improve your overall experience. If you already have a strong practice routine like yoga, you could do an hour out of the mid-morning and afternoon sessions and devote it to that practice.

Silence
A major component of retreat is slowing down and being more present and attentive. Taking a vow of silence or having silence play a part in your retreat can be very powerful. If you are doing a retreat by yourself, silence may seem easy, but we still may find that we are singing, talking to ourselves, listening to music or just making noise. Try to cultivate silence for at least a portion of the day, preferably the morning if nothing else. Pour your tea, stir your hot water into your oatmeal, and enjoy your breakfast in silence. Use your eyes, your ears, your nose, your taste buds, your touch, but not your words.

Arrival
Your arrival to the retreat is a time of transition and change. Enter the retreat setting with mindfulness and presence. Unpack your stuff if you are traveling and setup your retreat space as planned. It is best to arrive the evening before your retreat officially starts, so you can take all the time you need to setup and get acquainted with the setting. It is also nice to do a brief session in the evening, making aspirational prayers and other offerings like Riwo Sang Chod to establish a positive connection and set the tone for the retreat.

Departure
Your retreat is finished and it is time to transition back to your normal routine. Dedicate your practice. Take some time to contemplate and write. Maintain your continuity of awareness and mindfulness as you return to your normal daily life. Retreat never really ends, it is we who eventually turn off and tune out. What does it look like to carry open presence, availability and responsiveness into your daily life? It looks a lot like compassion, generosity and kindness. Everything becomes practice, your life becomes the path.

A meditation retreat is often a very powerful and transformative experience. You don't need to live the way everyone else does. You can embody the teachings, even in our busy and distracted culture. If you have a teacher, consult them before the retreat for advice and some practice instructions. If you don't have a teacher, feel free to reach out to me or someone that you trust and feel comfortable discussing your practice with.

We all benefit through your practice. Thank you for your dedication and commitment.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Unification.

As we gain greater stability in the immovable state of the four foundations of Dzogchen meditation, we enter into the state of unification where we remain as long as we can in unwavering rigpa.

Without holding onto objects, without applying antidotes, we simply rest free from the elaboration of concepts.

Recognize the play of rigpa. Recognize the ornaments of awareness.

If your meditation is uncontrived, it is possible to sustain this state. It depends on whether or not you can cut the root of dualistic mind that differentiates between a subjective perceiver and objective appearances.

There is an aspect of abiding in this meditation, but there are also subtle degrees of agitation and dullness. If we are not able to resolve the appearances of the ground, we fall prey to a dualistic mind. There is also a real danger of falling prey to a subtle dullness without clarity, which is simply resting in the alaya consciousness, or the foundational consciousness which is the basis of samsara.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Immovable.

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. This inner joy and wealth fuels our meditation so that we can sustain it effortlessly for as long as we want.

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.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Six Forces.

The practice of shamatha or calm abiding develops on the basis of the six powers or forces. Without relying on these six forces, we will struggle to give rise to a calm and clear mind, much less to rest in a place of comfort and ease.

The first force is listening and studying the teachings. If we do not study or listen to teachings, we will not know what we should focus on in our meditation. The teachings are meant to show us the path. Knowing the path, we can choose to follow it. The first power ensures the first step of settling the mind.

The second force is reflecting and contemplating what you have learned. It is not enough to read numerous texts and acquire knowledge. We need to apply that knowledge to our own experience. Reflection and contemplation enable us to continously settle the mind.

The third force is mindfulness. Mindfulness brings us back. It is like a rope, we may wander off for a bit, but eventually the rope draws taunt and brings us back. We get distracted again and again in meditation, mindfulness is the process of coming back. With mindfulness, we accomplish the stages of continuously resettling and completely settled mind.

The fourth force is vigilance. Vigilance keeps a careful watch. It is the guard in the watchtower at night. Vigilance sees the faults of agitation and dullness. With vigilance we can ensure that we progress through the stages of training and calming the mind.

The fifth force is diligence. Diligence is the continued effort of overcoming the challenges and problems that arise in meditation. Diligence ensures that we move through the stages of complete calming and single-pointedness until all distractions and hindrances are eliminated.

The sixth force is complete familiarity. There is no more wandering, no more distraction. The mind rests in equanimity. The ocean is no longer stirred by waves of thoughts or emotions. It is lucid, calm and clear.

Relying on these six forces, we can give rise to a mind that is calm and clear. We can bring the mind to rest.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Nine Ways of Resting the Mind

There are nine stages that we pass through when cultivating a calm, clear mind through the practice of shamatha, or calm abiding. These nine are:

1. Settling the Mind.
We focus the mind on some object, whether an outer form like the image of a Buddha or an inner object such as a drop of light or the breath. This might be only for a moment.
2. Continuous Settling.
We prolong our focus on our object of meditation. We maintain our mindfulness for another breath. We aren't distracted by the first thought that floats through our head. A small stream of the present opens up.
3. Continuously Resettling.
We become distracted, recognize it as such and come back to our object of meditation. Vigilant awareness recognizes that we have wavered, that our attention has strayed. Mindfulness brings us back to our object. We wander, we come back and resettle.
4. Completely Settled.
Our mind is settled and our focus doesn't waver as thoughts, emotions or sensations rise and fall. Our meditation is more calm and clear. A more refined and subtle mind is apparent, but we still experience agitation and dullness, distraction and heaviness.

Stages 5-7 address how we work with this agitation and dullness. The completely settled state isn't inert. It is vibrant, dynamic, full of movement. The radiance of the mind continues to unfold. How do we continue to work with that experience and go deeper?

5. Training the Mind.
As we rest in the completely settled mind, we may experience various degrees of heaviness or dullness. Our mind is calm, but there is no light. We lack the fuel, the enthusiasm or the inspiration to continue to progress in our meditation. Reflecting on the positive qualities of meditation, engaging in virtuous acts, cultivating devotion or reverence for your teacher, all of these can breath fresh air into your meditation.
6. Calming.
Resting in the completely settled mind, we may experience restlessness and agitation. Thoughts stir, memories unfold, emotions rise and fall. We should recognize the faults of distraction and pacify any resistance to developing our meditative absorption.
7. Completely calming.
Interruptions are few and far between. Little of what we experience pulls us away from our focus. Our minds are not as enraptured by good or bad feelings, thoughts are like small clouds that float through the sky or like water bubbles.

As we gain agility in resolving agitation and dullness in our meditation, we progress to the final stages of shamatha.

8. Single-pointedness.
Whereas once our meditation involved a lot of effort and struggle, now it is without interruption and stable. There is still some subtle effort at play in this stage, still some remedial work using various applications to resolve distraction.
9. Resting in equanimity.
Our minds rest naturally in evenness, without the effort of having to apply any remedies. The mind is calm and clear, like a candle flame unstirred by the breeze. One rests in the state of total mental and physical pliancy, endowed with well-being, clarity and the absence of concepts or mental stirring. 



Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Settling the Mind.

Take your seat. Meditate for ten minutes using any method that you are familiar with. You might focus on your breath, visualize an internal drop of light, focus on a mantra, or rest in the uncontrived natural state.

What is your experience? What do you notice? What are some of the challenges or problems that come up?

One of the first things you will probably notice is movement.

You experience thoughts racing, sensations coursing through your body- pain, itching, tightness. You notice all of this movement, which normally goes unseen and unrecognized.

Movement is the first experience of meditation. Now you know how stirred up you are. You may have a conceptual idea of resting the mind and what that should look and feel like, but when you sit what you actually experience is movement.

Which is good.

What we are experiencing is our own mind- complete with thoughts, emotions, sense perceptions, habits and memories. We are having a direct encounter with our crazy monkey mind.

At this point in your practice it is important to rely on study. What is meditation? What are methods for dealing with obstacles? Really investigate what is mind, what is the nature of mind? What is the basis for what we experience in meditation? Are the things we experience momentary and fleeting or do they have some real substance? Investigate cause and effect, look at where you are stuck or what you are holding onto. Dig deeper into your experience.

Don't beat yourself up. Don't make your practice into a big project. Learn to relax. Let go.

It is okay if it doesn't happen right away. It is important to develop the habit of settling and resting. Put your effort into showing up without expectation or judgment. Be present, be here. Even if the present is loud and unsettled, it is enough for now. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

An exercise in love.

From On Being with Krista Tippett:

This tool that I inherited, that's in my toolbox, is right there:
I carve this little space each day for being,
in the me so I can be there more for the we,
and I am now really conscious of how core it is in an exercise in love,
so that I can be more agile and helpful, 
when more contentious moments happen,
the moment I turn on my phone or open my front door.

Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Questions to my self.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, 
 that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, 
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Such a simple statement, it seems as though we couldn't go astray with those words as our compass. And yet we have. We do. We have since that statement was committed to paper.

When we contemplate these rights, we might start to think about deeper questions like who are we? what do we stand for? what makes our life meaningful?

So much of the rhetoric that we see and hear is the shouting of the false self. It is the cries of the self-righteous, the small disconnected self that occupies a small world, the self that divides and exploits. The mind is a powerful thing, it has the potential to create change. Ignorance has an effect, and it is not pretty.

It is important to examine the self. The Buddha taught the examination of self as the foundation for understanding not only ourselves, but also the world around us.

The Buddha taught that the self was an aggregate. It was a heap of consciousness, a body, perceptions, feelings and mental formations. Each of those aggregates was furthermore composed of smaller aggregates. There is no autonomous self, it is connected, a network of parts and pieces that makes what we perceive as a whole.

The self arises from causes and conditions. It is not a single entity, self-manifest and self-created. We are created from our parents, communities, social and spiritual backgrounds. There is no independent self, we are connected, a network of causes and conditions that enable us to occupy a moment in space and time.

The false self feels isolated, lonely, rejected and powerless. The true self is connected, dependent, bigger than you, malleable, changing, dynamic. The false self builds walls, the true self embraces its diversity.

It is important to examine the self, who are we? Who are the we that hold these truths to be self-evident?

Of course the true self is also no self. Everything is connected as it were. When we realize this simple truth, that we are all connected, then there is a potential that we can respect and fulfill those inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.