Meditation on clarity and non-duality

Right now, reading this, what is the consciousness you are having of your screen, or the room around you? That consciousness is not physical. You cannot see it with your eyes or with any physical instrument, however subtle. You cannot touch it, you cannot sit on it, you cannot photograph it, you cannot reproduce it, you cannot measure it, etc.

(I’m carrying on from this article.)

universal love 1Try this brief experiment if you like: close your eyes and generate the wish, “How wonderful it would be if everyone was happy and had the causes of happiness!” Hold that thought.

Got that? Now ask, still with your eyes closed: “What is that wish? Where is it? Is it physical or is it non-physical? Is it in my body? My brain? Or does it feel like a different entity, a different dimension?”

That was universal love. (Nice job! Shows it is possible for us to develop that precious wish if we just put our mind to it and, through training, deepen and expand it.)

And for the purposes of this meditation, we can observe clearly that this love was not physical – it had no shape, color, size, location … It was clear awareness, a different entity to the body, and somehow both nowhere and everywhere.

No expectations

Another good way to get to the clarity of the mind is just to observe our thoughts for a while and then ask: “What is that thought? Where is it?” Or “What is that perception of the sound? Where is it?” We are not going to find it anywhere in the physical world, are we? We meditate on that awareness itself, which is clarity.

We let that clarity dissolve into the clarity of the root mind where it came from, and come to feel that we are meditating on the root mind at the heart.

“When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick. Every time a stick is thrown, you run after it. Instead, be like a lion who, rather than chasing after the stick, turns to face the thrower. One only throws a stick at a lion once.” ~ Milarepa

If, while meditating on our root mind, we hear the sound of a car, we can ask ourselves: “Is that sound of the car inside my mind or outside my mind?” Up until now, if we find we get distracted in our meditations, it could be because of our instant assumption that it’s out there, and I either like it or don’t like it. There’s an instant narrative based on duality and separation: “I have time to go out shopping in my own car later. Which reminds me, I am out of ketchup. Oh, and darn, my Florida driving license has expired!” Or, “It’s so noisy here! How am I ever supposed to get good at meditating?” etc. Or the person next to us shuffles around and it takes us outwards instantly to the time they annoyed us earlier, and reminds us that, oh yes, this person is proving to be a cause of irritation in my life, and now would be a good time to plot a way to get rid of them. We spend most of our life caught up in these narratives. “Elaborations” is the word Buddha used.

I used to do this clarity of mind meditation a lot on the beach when I lived in Florida. To begin with, I’d hear a crunch and my mind would immediately be after it, going out to the sound and creating a narrative, so, so fast. How big is that dog? Where is he? What’s he up to? Is he coming over here? I wonder what he looks like.” Sometimes I’d make myself so curious that I’d open my eyes to peep, and every time the appearance was completely different to my distracted imaginings.

This was illuminating as I realized that I was doing that all the time with everything. Living in an hallucination that is appearing as if outside my mind, and as if it’s really happening; but I created it and now I’m stuck in it. I’m craving certain bits and rejecting others, and getting depressed, then excited, then depressed again. There’s a lot of inappropriate attention. But it’s a dream. And once we realize it’s a dream we’re free. We’re free to create our dream, the dream of enlightenment.

In the meditation, once we feel we are in our heart, we recognize simply that we are experiencing our own mind, clarity: an inner empty space that always lacks form and is the basis for perceiving objects. We abide with it. Then when we get distracted, we ask “What is it that is aware?” Don’t run after the object, don’t go out. Let your thoughts dissolve inwards. We let the wave-like or bubble-like thoughts dissolve back into their own clarity, with no fighting. It is so relaxing, such a relief.

Don’t be perfectionist

I beseech you, when doing this meditation on clarity, please do not be perfectionist. “I’ve tried this already, I know what’s coming, I’m going to fail. I am a failure. Thanks a lot!” One of the biggest obstacles to any meditation is perfectionism. This basically means grasping at results — having an idea of what we SHOULD be experiencing and then being unhappy with what we ARE experiencing.

In this meditation we have to be in the moment, very present, moment by moment; and within that, stop having the idea that I should be experiencing an inner empty space devoid of thoughts and appearances, vast, peaceful, spacious, joyful etc., but instead I am experiencing a mass of confusion! It’s all grey! I can’t do this meditation! That’s like saying I should just be experiencing light but all I’m experiencing is a bunch of trees with light on them. See the point?

blue sky with cloudsWe can use analogies both to get a feel for our mind and to stop us struggling with our distractions, eg, a crystal clear sky or a boundless ocean. Then we are not pushing thoughts out of our head but just letting them dissolve – we are not bothered after all by clouds drifting across an empty sky or water bubbling up in a blissful clear ocean. We know there is nowhere else for these to go, so we let them be, pay them no heed, and let them dissipate or pop themselves. We don’t push in this meditation — we just let thoughts go. We drop them. Pay them no attention and they naturally dissolve back. If we are not thinking them, thoughts disappear.

With our thoughts we create our world

Our mind creates everything – we come to see this in the meditation. Normally we are so busy focusing on objects rather than thoughts that we don’t realize how creative our thoughts actually are! We are so conditioned to assuming that the world we created with our thoughts has nothing to do with us — it is just there and we bump into it. Shifting our focus from the perceived to the perceiver, from the object of consciousness to consciousness itself, really gives us a feeling for how our mind is the creator of everything, including the mind itself.

If we understand the power of our mind, we can see how we need to exert control over it as it can and does take us in any direction, including to immense suffering. Examples of the destructive power of uncontrolled minds, anger for example, can be seen every day, eg, in the 254 mass shootings there have been in this country just this year alone. There is crazy stuff going on all over the world, all the time.

Instead of continually changing externals, we have to understand that we need to change the mind and then help everyone else do the same – otherwise, this world will remain an out of control reflection of out of control minds.dreamscape

That power of the mind is the most powerful force there is. The deeper we go into this meditation, the more we understand through our own experience that everything is created by the mind. Everything is the nature of the mind, which means there is nothing outside the mind. We cannot find anything outside the mind. This is why one of the benefits of this meditation is to set us up for the experience of emptiness — not just of the mind, but also in general.

If you are in any doubt about the creative power of your mind, just consider what you did last night. In your dream, you created a whole world. You didn’t even realize you were doing it at the time — in fact you assumed the dream world was outside your mind and reacted accordingly. But it was always projected by your own mind. In the same way, if you were to look now, you could not find anything outside of your experience of your world, for example your own experience of sitting here reading this blog.

The other day in the Denver Botanical Gardens I was looking at reflections in a lake (pictured) and asking myself: “Where is that reflection of the sky? Inside the lake or outside?”  It seemed that the sky reflected was not other than the clarity of the lake reflecting it.

From the lake’s perspective, the sky is already there – so there is no need to go out to it.reflections

Is the object we hanker after inside our mind or outside? And after all, who else even has exactly the same reflection in their lake-like mind, and therefore the exact same hankerings? Seeing everything as the nature of the mind is an effective way to reduce attachment (see what Geshe Kelsang says about the Chittamatrins in Joyful Path of Good Fortune.) We already have what we need inside the mind so there is no need to go chasing it somewhere else where it isn’t. We can, if we are skillful, even use our worldly pleasures to stimulate bliss, which was already and always will be inside the mind, not outside.

If we think we can find the object of attachment outside the mind, we can always go looking for it, as in the meditation on emptiness, more coming later.

What’s the point of rearranging the screen?

This meditation helps us understand the futility of putting all our energy into externals when the world is not outside our mind. The world is a projection of our conceptual thoughts, mere imputation – putting all our efforts into changing it outside is a bit like getting up during a movie and trying to rearrange the actors on the screen. To clean up our world, we need finally to clean up the projector of our mind, change the movie reel. Of course we can still DO things – the definition of a person is to create actions and experience their effects, and our actions are mental, verbal, and physical. But what is going on in our mind is key.

Next installment here.

Looking back at this life

We will all be dead soon, waking up in our next life. This’ll happen within a few hundred months at most, or maybe even next year, or next month, or next week, or tomorrow, or even today. All that’s going with me is my mind, more or less purified and controlled, and the karmic potentials from the actions I have done.

Trish, a friend of mine aged around 55, once asked me with great interest: “What would you do if you had only two months left to live?” This wasn’t just a theoretical question — she had just been diagnosed with cancer and deathdied two months later. And if you think about it, this never is just a theoretical question, for we have no idea how long we have left in this life.

A very helpful practice, I find, for instantly getting perspective on what is valuable today is to think that I’m already in my next life looking back on this life, which is now my past life, and seeing whether I am satisfied with what I did in this life? Would I thank myself?! Would I have done anything differently? What is important?

(You know those interviews where people describe, for example, “52 things I wish I could tell my younger self”?! It’s a bit like that, only on a more cosmic scale.)

This makes me appreciate what a precious human life I have now, and how, as Buddha said, this world is not my permanent home, I am just a traveler passing through.

Life is suffering, of course, while we remain in samsara, and we have many challenges. Lots of horrible, sad things happen, including the loss of everything we like sooner or later, having to encounter things we don’t like on pretty much a daily basis, and so on. However, a characteristic of a precious human life, such as the one you have now, is that we are not so overwhelmed by our sufferings that we can do nothing about them.

What upsets us the most?
chickens scratching in dirt
Looking in the wrong place?!

I think it’s always worth remembering is that whenever we do not succumb to inappropriate attention, delusions cannot arise, and our mind remains peaceful and free. It remains peaceful and free because it is naturally peaceful and free. Our mind free from delusions is happy, content, and whole. We have everything we need. The ONLY thing that upsets our happiness and makes us experience mental pain is our delusions. The delusion of ignorance also make us believe that both solutions to this pain and ways to be happy are to be found outside the mind, so we waste our time scratching around; when in fact there is nothing there outside the mind.

However, the sooner we are convinced of the entirely creative power of our own minds, the sooner we will know that we can make ourselves happy; and that if we can gradually gain control over our thoughts and lives, the good times, no the best times, lie ahead, not behind, starting now. This is a proper relief. Looking back, I know I will appreciate the times I stopped myself following just my short-term preoccupations, and used my thoughts to fulfill my deepest wishes for happiness and freedom rather than subverting them. Instead of wasting valuable time thinking, for example, “Oh woe is me! I wish that person would talk to me! My life is going nowhere! My job is exhausting! My taxes are stressing me out!” I could be thinking “I’m so darned lucky, I have everything I need to make spiritual progress every single day and hour. I don’t care if that person talks to me or not, my happiness doesn’t actually depend on them but on love, and I can love them unconditionally whether they like it or not. My life is so going places because I’m training my mind. My job gives me a chance to help people, practice patience, remember other’s kindness, etc. Nothing will stress me out if I look at it the right way and I have that choice.”

Those are just examples, of course, off the top of my head – but whenever we notice ourselves experiencing any disgruntlement or mental pain whatsoever, it’s guaranteed that inappropriate attention is at work. We can learn to change our thoughts to take our minds and lives in another happier direction, on the path to liberation and enlightenment. Looking back, we’ll be very pleased that we did.

planet earth from spacePlus it’s a win-win because with the same positive thoughts we also enjoy ourselves now, in this life, as well as setting ourselves up for a great future – the same minds work for both.

Imagining ourselves as the person we’ll be in our next life and looking back at this one also helps us stop identifying so tightly with the self and hang-ups of this life – maybe a bit like someone in space looking back at Planet Earth. Space solves problems, grabbing on tightly does not.

Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha

Geshe-la meditating in his roomWhen I look back, what always strikes me the most is how lucky I am to have found my teacher, Geshe Kelsang. I feel like he’s been around me this entire life. His real nature is omniscient bliss and emptiness, and I consider him to be the kindest emanation of enlightened beings, who will take me wherever I want to go if I let him. I want to be sure that I never take this cosmic connection for granted, but to make it stronger in this life. I need for him to follow me into the next life and to stick around until I attain enlightenment. That is the one thing that is guaranteed to end my suffering and enable me to help others once and for all.

Looking back at this life from the next, I am quite amazed at this unprecedented opportunity to generate renunciation, love, compassion, wisdom, and Mahamudra realizations. These have the power to solve my problems both now – instantly – and in the future, and to make me and others totally happy. I have not found a problem yet that cannot be solved by applying the so-called “five seeds” of renunciation, bodhichitta, the wisdom realizing emptiness, generation stage Tantra, and completion stage Tantra. And I have access to all of these, maybe for the first time in aeons, if ever; as well as the companionship of tens of thousands of people also practicing this Dharma, including some spectacular friends. My life need be no different to the lives of the past Yogis, Mahasiddhas, and scholars whom I so much admire, who took advantage of their teacher and the Buddhist teachings. This includes of course Geshe-la himself, whose devotion to his own teacher Trijang Rinpoche I find inspiring.

If I look back and see that I have wasted my chance to gain deep realizations — to partake of this banquet of delight while it was all laid out before me — what would I say to my past self?

Forget the sideshows

side showWhat kind of relationships do we really want to have had with others, once we are looking back at these? Surely not sticky relationships that are built on the inappropriate attention of attachment? For not only do these end in pain, but in retrospect they seem like a massive waste of time, sideshows distracting us from the main attraction of this life.

An arresting (for me) verse in Geshe Kelsang’s new book The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

Like mistakenly  believing
A poisonous drink to be nectar,
Attachment with grasping at objects of desire
Is the cause of great danger.

I have been deeply attached to every single living being at one point or another over countless previous lives, I have suffered grievously on their behalf; and where exactly has that got me, or us? Also, because attachment undermines our interest in anyone other than our object of attachment, it thwarts our love and compassion too, it seems to me. It’s about time I gave up the attachment that has sabotaged all my previous lives, and cultivated bodhichitta in its place.

Kind people

speaking of kindnessI find it helpful to look at my connections of this life and see how I would have wanted these to go if I was looking back at them, especially perhaps for people who have been kind to me. Hindsight is 20/20 after all. Today, for example, thinking about my parents, I realized again that I could never have asked for better ones, I couldn’t have invented better ones. Half a century of unconditional love and support, and counting. Wonderful people, kind examples; and my life has been interesting and brilliant thanks to them. Even Geshe-la said, rubbing his heart, that they were “very spiritual”. Chances of having such good parents the next time around?! Very slim. Depends on creating a huge number of good causes. So, am I making the most of these ones? And am I doing as much for them as I can? Maybe I need to ask them – hey, anything more I can do for you, ma and pa?! (They are reading this, because they also support my blog 😉  They are probably also embarrassed because they are modest and British. But, hey, life is short, and why wait to say stuff like this in the obituaries.)

I’d be interested to hear the perspective you gain when you look back at yourself in this life?

Experience and reality

The mirrormirror 2

Another example for helping us shift our perspective from the perceived to the perceiver in the meditation on our own mind is the mirror. When we look in a mirror, normally we are very interested in the spinach stuck in our teeth or whatever – but imagine if we shifted perspective from the object in the mirror to the mirror itself, from the reflected to the reflector. It is similar with this meditation – we shift focus from the object of awareness to the awareness itself. We are watching the watcher, or observing the observer. That awareness is clarity – formless awareness that has the actual power to perceive. Our mind understands, remembers, creates.

meeting hermit in mountainSpace

I recently did a retreat on Mahamudra in Rocky Mountain National Park. The air quality is amazing there, so clear, you can see for miles, you can reach out and touch the distant mountains. In fact according to the Denver Botannical Gardens science museum, Colorado has similar topography, air quality, and climate to Mongolia! I didn’t find it hard to see how the great Yogis and Yoginis of yore, including my teacher Geshe Kelsang, experienced blissful retreats in the Himalayas. Geshe-la was on solitary retreat there for 18 years.

Our minds are far clearer than the clearest sky. A whole different dimension of clear. Still, when we rise from this meditation, it can help while wandering from A to B to look at the sky, especially on a clear day. Also, rather than just honing in on objects, looking at the space between them can remind us of how clear our mind actually is.

Clarity is amazing

Your mind is hands down the most amazing thing in your life. The fact that someone can say or write words to you and you can understand them is incredible. The fact that we can see each other. The fact that this whole world is appearing. The fact that within our mind we have the capacity for peace, joy, transcendence, love etc, and that the deeper we go the better it gets. The fact that we can commune with enlightened beings. Plus our mind is naturally peaceful — indeed naturally blissful. It is all quite unbelievable, really, and we are walking around with this treasure all the time. But what do we use it for?! Live tweeting. A global expression of nonsense. “Yes, I’m really alive!”watching stupid shit

Only kidding, Twitter has its uses. However, it is too easy for us (me) to stay entirely occupied with the most superficial of appearances and neglect to step back and recognize that there is this inner light, inner luminosity, that is allowing us to experience all the various things we are experiencing, which is always present, always accessible.

I would rather live my life inside the experience of the actual nature of things, which are all the nature of the mind, and therefore experience everything in a non-dualistic fashion. As Venerable Geshe Kelsang said in his amazing Mahamudra teachings in 2000:

Using the root mind as our object of meditation — always trying to perceive the general image of our mind – means that we realize the subject mind very well, and understand the relationship between mind and its objects. The huge mistaken understanding that objects are there and the subject mind is here – that between them there is a large gap – will cease, and we will gain the correct understanding of how things really exist. If we clearly understand the real nature and function of mind, then we also understand how things really exist.

We are in fact deeply connected to everyone and everything. It is not my mind over here and everything else out there – the appearances are inside my mind, to my mind, of my mind.

Ocean and waves

oceanOne traditional example to help us understand that everything is the nature of the mind is the ocean and waves. Just as waves stirred up on an ocean by the wind are not separate from the ocean — we cannot draw a line between the ocean and its waves as it were — so all our thoughts and their objects such as forms, sounds, etc arise like waves from the ocean of the root mind. Which appearances and experiences arise like waves depends on which karmic potentialities are ripening. Everything is the nature of the mind; nothing exists outside the mind. As the Chittamatrins says in Ocean of Nectar page 228:

Just as waves arise from a great ocean
When it is stirred by the wind,
Likewise, because of it potentials a mere consciousness arises
From the seed of all, which is called ‘basis-of-all’.

(In the Tantric Prasangika view, it is also held that all objects are the nature of mind, arising simultaneously with the minds apprehending them from the same karmic potentialities on the root mind; except, unlike the Chittamatrins, they do not assert the mind is truly existent. However, I won’t get into that here.)

Geshe Kelsang said in his Mahamudra teachings in 2000:

The reality is that everything – our subject mind and all object things – came from this root consciousness. ‘Appearance’ means all objects such as the world, its beings, its environments, and all objects of enjoyment, including our body and our self. All the many different types of subject mind or conceptual thought to which things appear are like waves of an ocean, and our root consciousness is like the ocean itself. The waves of the ocean come from the ocean itself, and similarly the waves of appearance and all the different types of mind come from the ocean of our consciousness.

If we check, we can see that we cannot in fact separate out the objects of our thoughts from the thoughts or awarenesses holding them, any more than we can separate out a wave from an ocean or a reflection in a mirror from the mirror itself. There is no such thing as an object not known by mind, which is the definition of object, “known by mind”.

Can you even think of an object that is not known by mind? There is no world outside of our experience of the world. What is going on for you right now, for example, is your experience of what is going on – if you go looking, you cannot find anything going on out there. Your whole world cannot be separated out from your experience of the world – you cannot point to any world outside of your experience of it. As soon as you do, you’re experiencing it.

Waves are the nature of the ocean, not outside the ocean. Appearances are the nature of the mind, not outside the mind.

More about this here … meanwhile, your comments are most welcome.

Do you really want freedom?

Meditation should never be abstract, but grounded in our own experience.

friend or enemyThe self we normally see doesn’t exist. But it is hard to spot that self if we are clinging too tightly onto it, too closely identified with it. So here is a meditation that will hopefully help us to sit back and look at it, and to witness how samsara twists around it. This will naturally lead us to the light, happy mind of renunciation, wishing to be free from the creeping vine of self-grasping and all other delusions.

First we can do some breathing meditation to settle into the peaceful experience of our mind at our heart. We breathe out whatever’s on our mind in the form of thick smoke, and experience our in-breath as clear radiant light that has the nature of peace. We can ride these light rays into our heart chakra, where they join the inner light of our own peaceful good heart, our Buddha nature.

Even if our mind is only slightly more peaceful, we let ourselves rest there — recognizing that this peace is part of the indestructible quality of our mind, within which is the potentiality for limitless peace. No rush. No agenda. No “Ok, got my peaceful experience, check. Next!” We give ourself time and permission to enjoy this, to identify with it, thinking “This is me.” Pausing in the pursuit of happiness to just be happy. I don’t have a care in the world.

Connecting to our limitless potential is a crucial stepping stone – renunciation is the wish for permanent peace and freedom, but if we don’t believe this is possible how can we develop this wish?

Also, abiding in this peaceful experience we have a heart connection to the peaceful mind of all enlightened beings, their blessings.

beautiful heartWe can allow that Buddha’s peace to manifest as our Spiritual Guide in the aspect of Buddha Shakyamuni, if we wish, do the Liberating Prayer, and spend a little time receiving blessings in the form of lights and nectars or just feeling the mind to mind transmission. Again, we give ourselves permission to abide there, enjoying that, feeling our Spiritual Guide’s bliss of permanent liberation flowing into our own mind. With our mind empowered by our Spiritual Guide’s realizations, we can easily gain his experience of renunciation and the wisdom realizing emptiness. We can believe that we already have his experience.

We get an intuitive sense of what liberation is like so it is no longer an abstract idea but grounded in our own experience and we WANT it and know we can have it. We are sampling it – a bit like how in Trader Joe’s the other day a store assistant gave me a sample of delicious pineapple juice and I decided to buy the whole carton.  So the wish to attain liberation is already growing within us naturally, even before we get to our actual meditation!

In general, suffering has inner causes. These are the negative actions or karma that are created by our delusions, the root of which is self-grasping ignorance.

Now we can bring to mind the self that we normally see. That self appears all the time and in different aspects so we can start with a very manifest version, perhaps a painful one, when we felt hurt for example. We stay in the peaceful space of our heart and see how we believed this sense of I, poor hurt me. Grasping is believing.

delusional unicornThen we built our samsara around it. We wanted to serve and protect this I (self-cherishing) — we wanted to arrange the world to make this I feel better, for example by getting the other person to be nice to it again; and uncontrolled desire was born. And anything that got in the way made us upset, and anger was born. In dependence upon those three poisons and other delusions, we then engaged in actions or karma to protect this limited self and fulfill its wishes. All this entrenched us in contaminated life, subjecting us to yet another episode of its continuous unrelenting suffering.

We can witness this dynamic in action and ask, “Is this what I want?” Compared with the peace we are experiencing in our heart at the moment, that would be a definite “No” to self-grasping and “Yes” to liberation from it. We also need some forward thinking. The danger is that we have been building up these samsaric (not-so-)merry-go-rounds since beginningless time, and if we keep doing this we will continue to suffer. The best we can hope for while grasping at a limited self is temporary liberation from particular sufferings, and this is not good enough for this life or countless future lives.

Naturally, then, the wish to attain permanent liberation arises — not because a wise person is urging us to develop this wish or because we think in some vague abstruse way that we ought to, but because we are seeing the unviability of self-grasping for ourselves. Our own insight leads us to the certain knowledge that we need to destroy our self-grasping ignorance once and for all. We want to realize directly that the self we graspignorance is not bliss at and cherish does not exist so that we no longer have any inclination to grasp at and cherish the stupid thing. How wonderful to have this freedom! We hold this wish for as long as we can so as to become deeply familiar with it.

Then we can apply this to others to develop compassion, for everyone is traipsing around from life to life in a futile attempt to protect and serve a painful, limited self that doesn’t even exist. And just as no one else really knows what sense of me we are desperately clinging to and protecting most of the time, so we have no clue what private hells others are concocting for themselves on a daily basis.