Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Two excerpts about meditation by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche had a unique way of expressing the most profound points of training the mind in simple language. Here are two excerpts from some of the chapters in Quintessential Dzogchen, a collection of that has many teachings by this extraordinary master.

The traditional phrase is: cultivate shamatha; train in vipashyana. Buddhism never says that shamatha and vipashyana are superfluous and should be ignored or totally set aside. Nor would I ever teach that. But there are times when I seemingly put down shamatha a little bit. There is a reason for that, and that reason is found only in a particular context.
The context of the general teachings is one of talking to a sentient being who is experiencing uninterrupted bewilderment—one thought or emotion after another like the surface of the ocean in turmoil, without any recognition of mind-essence. This confusion is continuous, with almost no break, life after life. To tell such a person that shamatha is unnecessary is definitely not the correct way of teaching, because that person’s mind is like a drunken elephant or a crazy monkey; it simply won’t stay quiet. Such a mind has grown used to the habit of following after what is thought of, without any insight whatsoever. Shamatha is a skillful means to deal with this state. Once confused thoughts have subsided to some extent, it is easier to recognize the clear insight of emptiness. It is therefore never taught that shamatha and vipashyana are unnecessary.
Teaching styles are adapted to the two basic types of mentality: one oriented toward perceived objects, the other toward the knowing mind. The first mentality pursues sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and mental objects and is unstable in buddha nature. This is the situation with the threefold bewilderment—the bewilderment of object, sense faculty, and sense perception, which causes rebirth in an ordinary body. Due to this deep-seated habit of getting caught up in one thought after another, we traverse through endless samsara. To stabilize such a mind, the first teachings need to show that person how to calm down, how to attain or resolve upon some steadfast quality within the turmoil. It’s like the example of muddy water: unless and until the water is clear, you can’t see the reflection of your face. Likewise, instructions on shamatha are essential for the individual who gets carried away by thoughts.
Thoughts come out of our empty cognizance. They don’t come only from the empty quality. Space doesn’t have any thoughts, nor do the four elements. Sights, sounds, and other sensations do not think. The five sense doors do not think. Thoughts are in the mind, and this mind, as I have mentioned so often, is the unity of being empty and cognizant. If it were only empty, there would be no way thoughts could arise. Thoughts come only from the empty cognizance.
The general vehicles hold that the method of shamatha is necessary in order to abide peacefully. To counteract our tendency to constantly fabricate, the buddhas taught us how to rely on a support. By getting accustomed to this support, our attention becomes stabilized, able to remain steady. At this point it is much easier to have pointed out that the attention’s nature is empty cognizance. But please remember that merely abiding, merely resting in the stability of shamatha practice, does not guarantee the recognition of the naked state of self-existing wakefulness.
Generally speaking, mind has many different characteristics—some good, some bad, some calm, some untamable. Some people grasp with desire, some are more aggressive; there are so many different kinds of worldly attitudes. If you want your mind to become quiet and still, it will become quiet and still, provided you train long enough. It will indeed—but that is not a liberated state.
The process of becoming quiet is like a person learning how to sit down instead of roaming about bewildered and confused. Still, looking at him from a distance while he sits doesn’t necessarily give any indication of his true character. And, as you know, people have different personalities. One person may be very gentle, disciplined, and kind—but while he is just sitting there, you won’t know that. Another one may be very crude, short-tempered, and violent, but you won’t know that either. These characteristics only show themselves once a person’s thoughts begin to move again. When thoughts move, we usually become caught up in delusion. At the same time, our nature is primordially free of the obscuration of emotions and thoughts. Thoughts and emotions are only temporary. The actual character of mind is one of self-existing wakefulness, the state realized by all buddhas.

From this Dzogchen perspective, shamatha is the unchanging quality of innate steadiness, while the natural sense of being awake is the vipashyana aspect. Neither of these is produced or fabricated in any way. Saying that shamatha is not needed refers to the stillness of mind-made fabrication. When I told you before to not meditate, it was to not meditate in the sense of mind-made meditation. It was that kind of shamatha I told you to stop.
Clear seeing, vipashyana, is your empty cognizance, your naked awareness beyond waxing and waning. This sentence has incredible meaning. In Dzogchen it refers to the true recognition of rigpa, while in Mahamudra it is called the innate suchness. This is when the real is recognized. It can be called many things, but in short it is the seeing of mind-essence simultaneously with looking. “Seen the moment you look. Free the moment it’s seen.” There is not a single thought that can stick to that state. However, after a bit of time you discover that you are again looking at something seen. That is when thought has arrived. Then you need to apply “remindfulness,” and once again, immediately, the looker is dropped. Relax into uncontrived naturalness!
When remaining without doing anything whatsoever, there is total letting go. In the same moment there is also a sense of being wide awake; there is an awake quality that is unproduced.
Simultaneous with the disappearance of thought, there is an awake quality that is like the radiant flame of a candle, which exists all by itself. That awake quality doesn’t need to be supported through meditation, because it is not something that is cultivated. Since its recognition lasts for only a short while, it is necessary to remind yourself again. But honestly, how far away is it to get to that moment? When you put your finger out in the air to touch space, how far do you need to move your hand forward before you connect with space? In the same way, the very moment you recognize mind-essence, it is seen the very moment you look. It is not that at some later point you will see it or that you have to continuously look, look, look for it. There are not two different things going on here.
The recognition of emptiness is accomplished the moment you look. “Seeing no thing is the supreme sight.” When seeing emptiness, you don’t need to do anything whatsoever to it. The key word here is uncontrived, which means you don’t have to alter it in any way; just leave it as it naturally is. At that moment, you are totally out of a job; there is nothing you need to do to it. In other words, no act of meditating is necessary at this point. That is what I meant by “Don’t meditate.” Because at that moment whatever you do to try to keep or prolong the natural state only envelops it in more activity and complexity, which is not really what we need. We have been doing that nonstop anyway, for countless lifetimes.
The perfect dharmakaya is when thought has been allowed to subside. Ordinary beings have fallen under the influence of thought. It is a matter of either recognizing or not. In Dzogchen, the essence is seen the moment you look. Yet, dharmata is not a thing to be seen. If it were, it would be a product of mind.
Sentient beings hold on to this moment. In the present moment, the past has ceased and the future has not arrived. Be free of the three times; then there is nothing except being empty. Trekchö is like cutting through a string; there is no thought conceptualizing past, future, or present. Free of the thoughts of the three times, your present, fresh wakefulness is rigpa.
The shamatha I told you to be free of, in the sense of not meditating, is mind-made peace. It is extremely good that you have dropped it. Mind-made peace is not the perfect path to liberation. Existence and peace, samsara and nirvana—we need to be free of both of these. That is the perfect state of enlightenment.
The natural state of totally naked awareness has the quality of being unimpeded; that is true freedom. Recognize the moment of totally open and unimpeded awareness, which does not hold or dwell on anything whatsoever. This is not the mere absence of thought activity, as in induced serenity. That is one major difference. That is also the main reason that shamatha is not by itself the true path of liberation; it needs to be conjoined with the clear seeing of vipashyana on every level, all the way to complete enlightenment.
The ultimate achievement through shamatha practice, with partial but not the full and clear seeing of vipashyana, which is the recognition of mind-essence, is to attain the nirvana of an arhat, but not the nondwelling true and complete enlightenment of a buddha. We should always aspire toward the complete enlightenment that dwells neither in samsara nor in nirvana.
It is also possible to have a sustained meditative state of serenity and yet not be liberated. Here is a story about that. Once I was with my father at a benefactor’s house. The man who brought in the tea was a meditator. While carrying the tea in through the door, he somehow suddenly froze, the teakettle lifted in midair. One of the boys wanted to call him, but my father said, “No, let him be—if he drops the pot of boiling tea, it will make a mess; simply leave him be.” He stood there for hours, and as the sun was about to set, my father gently called his name into his ear. He slowly regained his senses. Someone said, “What happened?” He replied, “What do you mean what happened? I am bringing the tea.” They told him, “That was this morning. Now it is afternoon.” He said, “No, no, it is right now, I just came in with it.” He was interviewed more about what he experienced, and he said, “I didn’t experience anything at all—it was totally vacant, with nothing to express or explain, just totally quiet.” When he was told that so many hours had gone by, he was quite surprised, because to him it didn’t feel as if any time had passed.


sherabray said...

i heard some of my senior dharma brothers told before about the way how Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche give the point-out instruction which is quite amazing. Anyone got the story?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. Especially the story of the fellow with the teakettle - this has happened to me a couple of times (both times in very public places) and no one has ever explained it - or asked me about it and I have never inquired either. Perhaps my effort is misplaced - I don't ask about experiences because I let them be as much as possible and don't grasp onto them - and no one ever asks me either (even teachers!) - so I never have any explanations - the fault is mine for not knowing what's what - it usually doesn't bother me - not knowing - but sometimes I see it isn't useful. Sometimes I think this practice is too hard. And I can't do it. That's what I've been thinking lately.
Thank you again.

Erik Pema Kunsang said...

Dear Anonymous ...

My teachers seem to all agree on this point: It is essential to ask questions and get clear replies -- at certain times during once's life and development. Then at some stage one knows the general principles and can deal with experiences. The need to repeated ask questions falls away -- one's confident mind takes over as teacher.
This is a very pragmatic sequence. Don't you agree?

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's a very pragmatic sequence - but the sequence didn't exactly work out like that with me. Somehow, I do think that my confident mind has taken over as teacher but along the way I never asked many questions so I don't exactly know what's happened to me. It seems strange - I have so many questions, like - "what was that?" and "what happened there?" (like the fellow with the teakettle)and "what does that mean?" - much of it mostly seems like intellectual questions, or the names of things. But sometimes my questions are things like "what should I do next - what should I be doing?" I have always kind of envied students who were close to teachers - who spent time with them
and could converse causally and ask questions - I've been at this for more 25 years and in all that time I've only been granted 4 interviews that I can remember - once I asked to speak with someone and waited 7 months - this is my karma I realize (and in it's own way it is painful). I've also been embarrassed to ask for a teacher's time - (and I've also been ridiucled for asking "dumb" or stupid questions) - sometimes I have found out too late something important - and found it out just through dharma/sangha gossip which is notoriously unreliable - so what to believe? I think I'm whining a bit here - and I'm sorry for that - but that's how it's been. Perhaps I just don't have that much courage.

Anonymous said...

maybe try and look into finding an authentic teacher who holds an authentic lineage would be of benefit for you. Once one finds this and has confidence in that, then the path is quite safe and secure under the protection of the teachers mandala. Theres never a need to hold beck with the teacher, or hesitate, they only want to help us know our minds, thats their main aim. The Dharma has to come from a teacher who has an unbroken transmission and wants to work hard for the benefit of others, book knowledge is only an aid to further our intelctual grasp. These points have been useful for me and I hope thay can be for you as well.

all joys

Anonymous said...

I apologize for my whining about waiting so long for an interview. I know you waited more than 10 years to see you're teacher again. I'm sorry.

Anonymous said...

It was written above that perhaps finding an authentic teacher from an authentic lineage would be of benefit - this implies that there are inauthentic teachers and inauthentic lineages. How on earth can one tell the difference - unless the observer is already enlightened to know the differecne - and then I guess you assume one wouldn't need an authentic teacher in the first place. Especailly when one begins to hear stories of outrageous behavior which fill the Vajrayana -what is the discerning hallmark?

Erik Pema Kunsang said...

You're right, to find an authentic teacher from an authentic lineage is not necessarily easy. In practical terms, it's probably a combination of luck (good karma) and using sound judgement. I have been very lucky that way but I know of people with problems, temporary problems, from giving the "rope to their nose" to quickly to some teacher who either didn't have the aim or the ability to lead others to freedom and enlightenment. When diving, the rule of thumb is: look first, then jump.

michael said...

There are simple straightforward signs one can also look for. Remember that the qualities of both teacher and disciple are clearly described in by numerous texts. It is also recommended that each should study the other and not commit until being sure that the other has the proper qualities. As i understand it the most clear, obvious and unmistakeable qualities to be looked for in a teacher are a pleasant nature, compassion, kindness and the ability to clearly explain the teachings in a way that the student can understand. I think a lot of the difficulties arise from preconceived notions of what a "guru" is and making decisions based on labels like "Lama" or "Rinpoche" rather than looking at and dealing with the actual person before one and one's personal relationship with them. And if you don't trust your teacher, then how will you ever develop the confidence required when they point out the nature of mind? The student-teacher relationship isn't anything abstract but very matter-of-fact and direct, much like the relationship with one's parents or children. After all: if you never get to see the doctor, how are you going to get a cure for what ails you? And if you don't trust them, i doubt you would let them operate or take the pills they prescribe...

Anonymous said...

Being an older woman and having worked in the medical field, when I read the above comments I couldn't help but think of all the women who dutifully and faithfully took Thalidomide and DES prescribed by their doctors and then had babies who were deformed (from Thalidomide)and female children who predictably developed cervical cancer (from DES). Not everything that is called medicine cures. My point being that there is no medicine without risk and are no omniscient doctors. The Buddha referred to himself as a physician but he also counseled people to test things out for themselves - not to just take the teachings (and one presumes the teachers) at face value. Trust/lack of trust/faith/questioning all are serious issues when two (or more - think of how many countries are reading this blog!!) cultures meet. How to understand each other? How to forsee the consequences of actions?
When things go badly - how to re-establish trust? Serious questions.
Blind trust can also be nothing more than ignorance. When I was a new (read: young) practitioner I completely went along with the program - jumped in. Didn't ask questions because I trusted the structure, the teachers, the tradition. Now when I look back I think, boy, was I ignorant. We were all ignorant and I have come to label my early years as a Buddhist student as "an education in ignorance". I do trust less now, am more cautious, don't see teachers as much. Just maybe - a lack of trust is it's own kind of medicine.

michael said...

Ah yes, that is what i was attempting to say: it is not a question of blind faith or faith at all. trust as i am using the term is the confidence built up over time and experience. it is premised on increasing one's own knowledge and confidence and testing and confirming (or not) what one has been told. it's all common sense really and what we do in our daily lives all the time. you only trust those you have a close personal relationship with and who have come through for you time and time again. one only trusts those who never appear to have lied to one, etc. etc. sadly, people far too often seem to abandon their own values and common sense when entering a shrine hall or meeting someone in robes. but as they say in Tibet, "You shouldn't leave your common sense at the door with your shoes."

David said...

Just reading this material has a calming effect. However i live in a place where
there are no teachers. What can i do?

I also suffer from Bipolar Disorder (mainly depression), which while now largely under control through medications, places limitations on my life.

I would welcome some sound advice. Please email me at: FrentebroNO@SPAMyahoo.com. (Omit NO SPAM of course.)

I am also interested in whether Dzogchen is applied in the treatment of emotional disorders or whether it is conceived of solely as a discipline for "normal" people.