shamatha

Both mindfulness and discriminative alertness are needed in responding to sensory input of the three types–attractive, unattractive and neutral. Once again, in this tradition mindfulness does not mean simply to witness. It is a more discriminative kind of thing. You are asking yourself, “What is my response?” and then actively responding by applying the antidotes to attachment and hostility. The word mindfulness is a little bit different in different contexts. Here, Mindfulness refers to the mental faculty of being able to maintain continuity of awareness of an object. Vigilance is concerned with the quality of mind, watching to see, for example, if the mind is veering off to other objects.

Gen Lamrimpa (Ven. Jampal Tenzin).

Photo by Thomas Fehlfokus.

Approaching Vajrayana - Part One

By Jakob Leschly

The path of liberation can be seen in terms of two approaches: the gradual path of the Sutra teachings and the resultant path of the Mantra Vajrayana teachings. In the Sutra approach, we purify confusion and gradually uncover wisdom; in the Vajrayana, the practitioner takes that innate wisdom as the path. This first of four bi-monthly articles discusses the foundation of Buddhism, and how the view and practice of the Sutra teachings naturally serve as the foundation of the Vajrayana. Neither an academic analysis nor an actual Vajrayana teaching, this series aspires to clarify the Mantra teaching as we encounter it as laypersons in a modern context.

THE FOUNDATION OF BUDDHISM

The premise for Buddhism is the potential all life has for awakening, and the empirical fact that we can experience more or less confusion, more or less happiness. We observe how our positive and negative states of mind don’t just happen randomly, but happen due to causes and conditions. With less confusion we feel more at home in our reality, more awake, more at ease with our world.

The Buddha taught that we are in a position to do something about these causes and conditions, yet, the premise is the abiding unchanging reality of enlightenment, our true abiding nature, referred to as Buddha nature. The Sutra path approaches the path through working with the immediate reality of our ordinary confused mind; the Mantra path approaches it with the recognition of the innate abiding reality of the timeless wisdom of Buddha nature.

Although the Buddhist understanding of consciousness extends beyond the scope of contemporary psychology or neuroscience, it still operates within familiar parameters of human experience. The discussion of the practice of the path also does not extend beyond a rational and recognisable dimension of human potential.

The Buddha’s first teaching, on the Four Noble Truths, recognises the observable fact that while every one of our actions is based on a desire for happiness and pleasure, the truth is that we fail in our objective; the first Noble Truth is that we suffer.

The second Noble Truth is to identify the cause of suffering. According to the Buddha’s teaching, suffering is not inflicted upon us by some higher power, nor is it inevitable in a meaningless universe of random chaos. The second Noble Truth is that our suffering is caused; our suffering is due to a confused consciousness that mistakenly conceives of a self that, when investigated, doesn’t actually exist.

The Buddha discovered that confusion and suffering are not basic to us. We are not trapped in our delusion. The Buddha discovered the cessation of suffering, which is the third Noble Truth. He discovered freedom from the conceptual constructs that rule our consciousness.

The fourth Noble Truth is the Buddha’s prescription for how to practically address this condition of confusion. Nobody can save us, but we can apply practical measures to address the cause of suffering. The Buddha taught a remedial path of ethical action, of training the mind through meditation, through which wisdom emerges. Hence the Buddha empowered the individual, and taught how any person can attain the same freedom and awakening.

These Four Noble Truths are basic to all Buddhist teachings and paths. In these four truths, we can see that the Buddha did not introduce any mystical or metaphysical assumptions. His teaching never extended beyond the familiar pragmatism of remedying a problem.

It is not just contemporary people who appreciate such pragmatism. Assaji, one of the Buddha’s disciples, defined the Buddha’s teaching as follows:

All phenomena originate from causes; these causes were explained by the Tathagata [the Buddha]. The cessation of these causes was also explained by the Great Renunciant.*

NO-SELF AND BODHICITTA

The delusion of self is never an essential reality: self is a non-essential construct that arises from ignorance, on the basis of non-essential causes. This condition, known as samsara, is extensively described in the teachings on the Twelve Links of Dependent Arising (Pratityasamutpada). As long as we suffer from this delusion, we continue to wander in the cycle of rebirths.

The Buddha taught that if we investigate, we will find no absolute self, neither in the subjective aggregations that we refer to as our “self,” nor in the objective aggregations of outer phenomena that we refer to as “other.” This does not mean there is no functioning person or phenomena, but it means that if we investigate, we will not find any absolute essence. The Buddha encouraged us to look, because it is this blind assumption that is our downfall.

Through mindfulness, or shamatha, meditation, the practitioner discovers the wider perspective of selflessness — vipashyana — and continues to gradually enhance this experience in ordinary life. Selflessness, or emptiness, is not an otherworldly experience, but a very real sense of presence, of relinquishing fixation on mental content, and providing wider perspective. With such vipashyana, the practitioner ceases to define his or her outlook in terms of self. This ultimately leads to freedom from the conceptual constructions of the ordinary mind (nishprapanca) and the realisation of complete awakening.

The sage’s vision of selflessness leads to renunciation of a private nirvana, and a corresponding vow to assist all sentient beings and liberate them from suffering, which is known as the bodhisattva vow. Such a vow ensures that wisdom doesn’t fall into self-absorption, and also ensures that compassion doesn’t become a personal project. A sage possessing wisdom devoid of warmth would be pitiful, as would a sage possessing love and compassion, yet with the dualistic strings of expectation.

This vision of awakening is called “bodhichitta” — a mind or heart of awakening — and is the core of the bodhisattva’s spirituality; it informs a greater vipashyana, and a greater courage and commitment to the world. Bodhichitta is the heart of the Mahayana path.

We might not be sages ourselves, yet we can appreciate the magnanimous qualities of the bodhisattva. This appreciation reflects a corresponding nature within ourselves — that we have the pure DNA that resonates with wisdom and compassion. This purity is innate to all life as the abiding ground of reality, and to realise this purity is the difference between ordinary sentient beings and a Buddha. All life has basic purity, while Buddhas have the additional purity of awakening.

SUTRA AND MANTRA PERSPECTIVES

In the Sutra path, this two-fold purity is realised gradually. Delusion is eliminated gradually through the practice of the path, in which realisation of wisdom and compassion dawns gradually. The Mantra view sees the same reality from a “glass-full” perspective: as much as we might be neurotic and suffering beings, innately we are Buddhas. Otherwise why practice the path? Unless the condition is curable, why treat it? The good news the Buddha had for us is that our delusional condition is very curable indeed.

While both the paths of the Sutra and Mantra are based on our humble recognition that we are indeed confused and suffering individuals, the Mantra Vajrayana approach banks on the undeniable fact that, being curable patients, we are in reality in possession of the same healthy disposition as the physician, the Buddha. So while this physician prescribes a gradual treatment, the implication is that he or she is empowering our innate untarnished potential to be just as it is.

As the practitioner travels the Mantra path, confusion is purified, giving way to the vipashyana that sees the abiding innate ground of wisdom. Here mind is no longer seen as entirely a confused subjectivity, but rather is seen as a deity, with the world around seen as a pure realm. This is the dawning of sacred reality, also called pure perception, which is the scope of the Vajrayana yogi.

We may temporarily perceive and construct ourselves and others in terms of our delusion and our confused projections, yet the truth is that these constructions are merely temporary fleeting conditions. As it says in the Hevajra Tantra:

Sentient beings are Buddhas;
Temporarily obscured as they might be by fleeting stains,
When these stains are eliminated, they are actual Buddhas.

We are not dreaming up some new reality. We are embracing reality as it is, and this is why even in our obscured state we are presently able to recognise and value wisdom and compassion. While both the gradual and resultant vehicles consist of gradually eliminating obscurations and their causes, and gradually realising our potential, the resultant Vajrayana path acknowledges our true nature as the ground of our journey. We might perceive ourselves as ordinary beings, but we travel the path with an empowered perspective of our true worth.

*Ye dharma hetuprabhava hetum tesham tathagato hyavadat tesham ca yo nirodha evamvadi mahashramanah. The value of this statement is reflected by the fact that in Buddhist ceremonies, this is chanted as an auspicious invocation of the power of truth.

Meditation:
  
  
The actual practice of meditation is to go beyond concept and simply rest in the state of nondual experience. The ability to rest in that way comes from contemplation, from analytical meditation, which gradually leads us to the stage of nonconceptual meditation.
  
Shamatha meditation is a practice that supports the development of a stable, one-pointed concentration, which brings the mind to a state of peace and tranquility. Thus, it is also known as “resting meditation.”
  
Vipashyana means “clear seeing” or “superior seeing.” Fundamentally, it consists of methods that bring about the recognition of the nature of mind, and is marked by a sense of openness and spaciousness.
—  Dzogchen Ponlop, Mind Beyond Death

eldiazenrique  asked:

How can i just meditate without having to close my eyes? Like i'm walking and meditating, or talking and meditating, is it possible?

This depends on who you ask and what you mean when you use the word “meditation”.

When I speak of meditation, I refer to the practice of sitting with the eyes closed and with attention merged in awareness. Meditation is essentially the application of attention.

Some meditations use mantra repetition while others use visualization. Certain meditations may engage the non-conceptual intellect or sensory perceptions. 

Those are all good techniques. The outcome of all of them are the same: the settling down of the restless word-bound mind. To the extent that the mind truly settles, awakeness shines. The mind settling down is not a trance or state of mind, nor is it any kind of blankness or sleepiness. Where does it settle? Into awareness. For whom does it settle? Awareness. 

Awareness is awake beyond waking or dreaming, ecstatic as if never having known an iota of suffering, and intelligent without any content whatsoever. 

Sitting and closing your eyes is a very direct and challenging method with which to start a meditation practice. All meditation practices engage your attention in some manner. The kind I advocate, Jangama Dhyana, is resting your mind and eyes gently on the spot between your eyebrows. Then remain as a witness to whatever should occur, not getting up until the meditation is over. It’s very similar to zazen and shamatha.

However, compared to something like mantra meditation, Jangama Dhyana is more challenging. That’s because in mantra meditation you are given something to focus on in the form of sound. It acts as a place to anchor your mind and an easy spot to which to return when you have noticed your mind wandering. I did about six months of mantra meditation for fifteen minutes a day before taking up Jangama Dhyana regularly. 

The point in doing deliberate “formal” spiritual practice daily is that it provides a more intense and immersive opportunity. There is another collection of attention based practices, which specialize in moment to moment awareness. That is generally called mindfulness practice. Those are various approaches, be they as simple as keeping the attention here and now or as complex as spontaneous tonglen. 

There is no question as to whether one should do sitting practice without mindfulness practice or vice versa. One should do both. Many nondual paths such as Zen and Advaita cease to discriminate between sitting meditation and mindfulness throughout the day. And rightly so, but that’s also some profound shit. 

My advice is to practice sitting meditation daily and aspire to abide mindfully throughout the day. Then transcendence of technique may happen on its own. It’s just important not to confuse that with existential laziness. :P

Namaste my friend. Hope this long-winded expostulation was useful. 

Training the mind well is a useful activity. You can see this even in draft animals, like elephants, oxen, and water buffaloes. Before we can put them to work, we have to train them. Only when they’re well trained can we use their strength and put it to different purposes. All of you know this.

A mind well trained is of many times greater value. Look at the Buddha and his noble disciples. They changed their status from being run-of-the-mill people to being noble ones, respected by people all over. And they’ve benefited us in more wide-ranging ways than we could ever determine. All of this comes from the fact that they’ve trained their minds well.

A mind well trained is of use in every occupation. It enables us to do our work with circumspection. It makes us reasonable instead of impulsive, and enables us to experience a happiness appropriate to our station in life.

—  Ajahn Chah
If we have ambitions—even if our aim is enlightenment— then there is no meditation, because we are thinking about it, craving it, fantasizing, imagining things. That is not meditation. This is why an important characteristic of shamatha meditation is to let go of any goal and simply sit for the sake of sitting. We breathe in and out, and we just watch that. Nothing else. It doesn’t matter if we get enlightenment or not. It doesn’t matter if our friends get enlightened faster. Who cares? We are just breathing. We just sit straight and watch the breath in and out. Nothing else. We let go of our ambitions. This includes trying to do a perfect shamatha meditation. We should get rid of even that. Just sit.
—  Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Why do we do shamatha or mindfulness meditation? It’s said to increase two things. One is vividness. Our experience becomes much more vivid as detail and subtlety emerge in all the things we usually miss when we’re speeding through life. The other is stability. We train our mind to be less thrown around by the ups and downs of life. These two qualities mix well with anything we do and permeate and radiate out into our lives.
—  David Nichtern
Falling apart

As I made my way through this week I stumbled much more than I normally do. I think I may have apologized to more people this week than in the past month or more.

They say that once you start walking the Path in earnest the world starts to fall apart. It certainly feels like it lately.

But I realize that falling apart is necessary. In order to conquer my ego I have to notice it. What better way than to have it bruised constantly during the same time I’m building up my ability to be aware of it?

I only hope I don’t leave too many casualties in my wake.

Best to keep trying and be aware of my sharp edges before they cut someone…

I am not the same Trungpa you saw a few days ago. I am a fresh, new Trungpa –right now! And I will always be that way. I will be dead and gone tonight, and right now, this very moment, I am dying and being born. So the next time I give a talk, I will be entirely different.

You can’t rely on one particular reference point. In some sense that is extraordinarily fresh and feels good, but on the other hand it may be sad, because you wan to hang onto the past, constantly. Until there’s enough familiarity with the mentality of shamatha and vipashyana, you won’t understand this. And that pracitce of shamatha/vipashyana goes on, up to the level of vajrayana discipline as well.

—  Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche from “The Heart of the Buddha”, pg. 12
The Art of Stopping

‘Buddhist mediation has two aspects - shamatha and vipashyana. We tend to stress the importance of vipashyana (”looking deeply”) because it can bring us insight and liberation from suffering and afflictions. But the practice of shamatha (”stopping”) is fundamental. If we cannot stop, we cannot have insight.

There is a story in Zen circles about a man and a horse. The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts, “Where are you going?” and the first man replies, “I don’t know! Ask the horse!” This is also our story. We are riding a horse, we don’t know where we are going, and we are powerless. We are always running, and it has become a habit. We struggle all the time, even during our sleep. We are at war within ourselves, and we can easily start a war with others.

We have to learn the art of stopping - stopping our thinking, our habit energies, our forgetfulness, the strong emotions that rule us. When an emotion rushes through us like a storm we have no peace. We turn on the TV and then we turn it off. We pick up a book and then we put it down. How can we stop our fear, despair, anger, and crazing? We can stop by practicing mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful smiling, and deep looking in order to understand. When we are mindful, deeply touching the present moment, the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy.’

- Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of The Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation.

Making Friends With Yourself

‘We get angry with ourselves, saying, “I could do better than this. What’s wrong with me? I seem to be getting worse, I’m going backward.” We’re angry at the whole world, including ourselves. Everything we see is an insult. The universe becomes the expression of total insult. One has to relate with that. If you are going to exert your power and energy to walk on the path, you have to work with yourself. The first step is to make friends with yourself. That is almost the motto of shamatha or mindfulness meditation experience. Making friends with yourself means accepting and acknowledging yourself. You work with your subconscious gossip, fantasies, dreams - everything. And everything that you learn about yourself you bring back to the technique, to the awareness of the breathing, which was taught by the Buddha.’

- Chogyam Trungpa, The Pocket Chogyam Trungpa.

One who neglects the branches of tranquillity (shamatha), even though he struggles mightily to meditate for millennium upon millennium, never will attain concentration (samadhi).

When the tranquillity of yogins is attained, so too are the transcendental faculties (abhijna). Nonetheless obscuration is not destroyed without the perfection of insight (prajnaparamita). 

Sacred texts teach that bondage arises when insight (prajna) is severed from means (upaya), and means is cut off from insight as well. Therefore, never neglect this union.

– Atiśa

Do Nothing

‘I’m going to talk a little about shamatha meditation, and I thought it would be good to try and actually do the mediation as we go along. The actual technique is very simple. All the great meditators of the past advised us to sit up straight when we mediate. When we sit up straight, there is a sense of alertness, a sense of importance - it produces the right atmosphere. In this particular instruction, I’m going to suggest we don’t use an external object, such as a flower, but instead follow the standard Theravada tradition of using our breath as the object. So we concentrate on our breathing: we simply follow our breath in and out. That’s it. Our mind is focused on the breathing, our posture is straight, our eyes are open. That’s the essential technique: basically doing nothing.

Lets do that for a while.

Short Meditation Session:

We simply sit straight and we watch our breathing. We are not concerned with distractions, with all the thoughts that occupy our mind. We just sit - alone, by ourselves, no reference at all. Us, the breathing, and the concentration. That’s all we have.’

- Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinoche, Do Nothing: A Guided Mediation, from the Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.