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In this recent article on the absorption of cessation of gross conceptual thought, Emergency aid for a troubled mind, I talked about the practical, easy, but also surprisingly effective practice for quickly overcoming disturbed minds and distractions so that we can go deep in meditation.
When we do this meditation we have a chance to shut down our gross conceptual thoughts, which seems to me a bit like switching off a movie projector.
In his Medicine Buddha teachings of 2006, when Geshe Kelsang explained this practice in some detail, he says that conceptual thoughts are our mind thinking, “This is a microphone, this is my friend, this is my body, this is my car, this is me”, and so forth, and then imputing a name. The verbal name comes from the conceptual thought. He goes on to say:
All our daily delusions — such as our anger, our attachment, our ignorance of self-grasping — are gross conceptual thoughts. When we awake from sleep during the day, we use only gross minds (including sense awarenesses) and gross conceptual thoughts. We have no ability to use our subtle mind.
(Just to reiterate, “subtle” means a deeper level of awareness and “gross” means as opposed to subtle — not as in “yuk”. My dad wanted me to point that out.)
Our peaceful subtle mind manifests when we fall asleep (and die), but our memory or mindfulness is really not much use at that time and so we cannot take advantage of it. Which is a shame because it means we are doomed in general to only being able to use our rough often uncontrollable waking minds. However, we can learn to do something about this, including this meditation:
We can accomplish this absorption through training in meditation. Whenever our gross conceptual thoughts cease, our self-grasping and other delusions also cease, because they are gross conceptual thoughts.
If we get good at this, we can even bring about a cessation of painful feelings related to being ill, which would be — to put it mildly — a very useful skill:
Normally when our body is seriously ill we experience painful feelings because we are grasping at it strongly. If we stop this grasping, there is no problem.
This meditation is therefore a wonderful method for bringing about a temporary cessation of delusions, providing us with some sorely needed relief, and giving us space and peace.
Deprogramming at a deeper level
Of course, to get rid of delusions permanently we need to train in the stages of the path to enlightenment, and especially in emptiness. Combining this meditation with transforming the mind at a subtler level allows us to liberate ourselves quickly from deeply embedded painful habits such as anger, hurt, and compulsions, as well as our limited sense of self.
The meditation is explained here. As a quick reminder of how to do it, after relaxing into a good posture and dropping into our heart, we can follow Shantideva’s advice in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:
First, I should check to see how my mind is;
And, if I see it is polluted with negativity,
I should remain unmoving,
With a mind as impassive as wood. ~ Guarding Alertness, verse 34.
We usually try to sort out our appearances or projections, solving our problems and finding happiness outside our mind rather than inside it, rather like wandering over there somewhere to rearrange things on the movie screen instead of simply switching off the projector at the wall. But now we are not thinking or feeling or projecting anything.
Normally the subtle mind manifests when we are falling asleep and the gross levels of mind dissolve away naturally – we stop projecting today’s waking world. It is not real, existing from its own side – it is just appearance with nothing behind it, so it can and does disappear.
We think the things that appear to our sense awarenesses are so solid and real, somehow more real than the objects of our conceptual thoughts – but they are perhaps the flimsiest objects of all because our sense awarenesses are highly fleeting and unstable. Yet, curiously, almost all our objects of attachment and dread are sense objects, for example food, sex, movies, jobs. There is no deep pleasure to be found here, unless we combine our enjoyment with an understanding of their infinite empty nature. There is no depth other than emptiness.
Take a nap
By the way, while not a substitute for this meditation, and while we don’t have to go as far as suggested in The Week, falling asleep can sometimes help a bit:
Being awake is frequently a horror show! Thankfully, naps are the safest way to gently disengage from reality while also getting to recharge in a world that otherwise demands you run on all cylinders.
My teacher’s teacher (my Grandteacher!) was a Tibetan Buddhist Master called Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, who was highly beloved and revered throughout his life. He recommended just falling asleep sometimes as emergency aid for a troubled mind — saying that whenever we are deeply unhappy and can’t do anything about it, just go to sleep, and naturally, when we wake up, our mind will have changed.
In this context, it is worth mentioning that the six stages of Mahamudra show us how to meditate in our sleep. Read Mahamudra Tantra for how to do that. And check out this guest article, Can I use sleep in my spiritual path?
The imperative to overcome distractions
When Geshe Kelsang taught the six stages of Mahamudra in 2003, he said:
Distraction is the real enemy of inner peace, of concentration, of meditation. Distraction directly interferes with our inner peace. Although many people want to accomplish Dharma realizations, pure concentration and meditation, the good results of meditation, and so forth, the main problem is that it is difficult to control distractions. Our objects of distraction are the objects of attachment, anger, jealousy, or ignorance. There is no pure object in this world! All we see are the objects of either self-grasping or attachment or anger or jealousy, so it is very difficult to maintain mental peace, a peaceful mind. Therefore, there is no real happiness in this world.
Dissolving away all our sense awarenesses and gross conceptual thoughts allows us to dive below the surface waves & froth of our mind, accessing a deeper less distracted mind. Because inappropriate attention now has nothing to go on, delusions such attachment and anger cannot be sustained. Even our gross self-grasping ignorance is decreased, bringing us at least temporarily closer to an experience of emptiness.
Within the six stages of Mahamudra, this is part of the important journey to identifying and realizing our very subtle mind and attaining enlightenment. But, as mentioned in the last article, we can also use it per Shantideva to overcome distractions in general.
With this respite from distraction, we can use our subtler more peaceful awareness now to meditate on Lamrim truths, healing our mental continuum at a deeper level. It’s like shutting down and rebooting the mind. If we don’t like the movie, we can simply learn how to project a new one.
Seems amazing, really, to still have this spiritual technology available for us to use whenever we want – if we would just shut down our overly thinky minds long enough to try it out 😉 Geshe Kelsang says:
From skillful wisdom, through giving skillful instruction, we have a special method for identifying our subtle mind during waking time – this is the close instruction that belongs to the Ganden Oral Lineage, which came from Je Tsongkhapa’s wisdom.
Over to you. Comments welcome.
Emergency aid for a troubled mind
This article is perfectly timed for me. I am studying ‘Meaningful to Behold’ at the moment, the section on mindfulness and alertness. This has always been a difficult area for me as I have attention deficit so mindfulness is not .. did I leave the iron on? ..
I also, thanks to my kind teachers like you, have an understanding of how gross, conceptual thoughts arise. So my main practice, in the meditation break, at the moment, is using mindfulness and alertness to stop paying attention to the mind stream, letting the thoughts go before I am hooked into their drama.
It is all my gross thoughts about the past and the future that cause me anxiety, sadness, anger, shame. This only happens if I follow the gross thoughts down these rabbit holes. If I just them go, they dissolve back into clarity and I remain more peaceful.
To understand how to do this I first had to learn on the cushion but now I try and do it all day. It’s hard and I am not doing brilliantly but if I remember my Guru at my heart I am encouraged. Feather and the rock. it is all creating merit as I remember to set the intention and dedicate frequently too.
I feel this is exactly the right practice for me, working with my most obvious difficulty.
This article focuses totally on my practice in a very practical way and is immensely encouraging, thank you ❤️
So love this beautiful article. Such wisdom
Just love reading your pieces of wisdom art.
Thank you. Blessings to you.
Thank you so much for for this amazing wisdom.gonna keep practising this technique to get through difficult times 🙏🏻😊
I am so glad it’s helpful 😀
Thanks for sharing the story about our grand teacher🙏 I love this meditation❤️ It’s such a helpful aid for daily life and to go deeper in our meditations
Yeah, it really is ☺️