Reflections in a clear lake

flying crowMahasiddha Saraha was a Mahamudra master who gave some very helpful analogies to help us settle the mind, explained in Clear Light of Bliss. One is about a crow and a boat. In the olden days, before GPS, sailors would take a crow with them and periodically let it go to see if they were near land. If they were, the crow would not return; if they were not, it would fly around a bit and then have to return to the boat.

(I am continuing from this article on Mahamudra.)

Where do you want to land?

We can be the same with our various distractions – we do not give them anywhere to land. We don’t let them land, we just watch them. They’ve arisen from the mind and are the nature of mind so — although they’ll give us reasons as to why we SHOULD think them, fascinating or useful as they are — if we just wait they will rejoin the meditation object, the mind itself. And we don’t need to worry that we have lost anything, a useful train of thought for example, for we have lost nothing. In fact, we have gained a great deal.

Normally we are very good at giving our thoughts somewhere to land … indeed a sofa to sit on, a house to live in, a bed, a family, a history, a town … Distraction is like poison. If we get sufficiently stuck in one thought it can derail our entire life, it has that power. Any depression or fury that we’ve had started with one thought.

reflection in lakeSo in the meditation on the nature of the mind we learn to let go, and we learn that it is safe to let go, because the thoughts arose from and subsided into our own mind, nowhere else. And once they’re gone they’re gone but we are not missing much, if anything.

Delirium

Bear in mind, after all, that we are hallucinating like crazy most of the time! Whenever we are suffering from the delusions of anger, attachment, and even just our underlying ignorance, the engaged objects of our mind don’t exist, as explained in detail in How to Understand the Mind. I spent time in a ward for people with so-called “confusion” not long ago. Some of the patients were clearly hallucinating like crazy due to infections, “delirious” as the doctors put it, and, you know something, I couldn’t help thinking that they were not really that much more “delusional” than anyone else, it was just that no one was sharing these particular narratives with them. No more than people share our dreams. Not that it was pleasant for anyone concerned, but no hallucinations are pleasant, not really, and they just go on and on and on, which is why Buddhists have had enough and want samsara to end.

Let it be

When we are meditating and we get distracted, eg, by the sound of someone moving around, then instead of going immediately out to this distraction we can remember Saraha’s crow analogy and let it be. We can stay focused on the clarity and know that the distraction will rejoin it. One corner of our mind is observing that a thought is arising, but we also know that it will rejoin the mind. This is the same for any awareness or thought we have – they are all equally mind, or clarity, so however compelling, or however far they threaten to take us away from the meditation, in fact they can’t if we don’t let them.

So we are not conceptually pushing the thoughts away, rejecting them – there is no aversion, we are just letting them rejoin the object and dissolve away, quite naturally. We are relaxed – concentrated for sure, yet in a state of acceptance rather than resistance. And both our concentration and our wisdom are improving all the time.

Being alive

In How to Understand the Mind, Geshe Kelsang says that our very subtle mind “holds our life”. It seems to me that when we are tuned into the clarity of our mind, this is really feeling alive. I also think we can do this to a certain extent anytime, not just in deep meditation – be aware of the awareness rather than fixated on its objects. We tend to stay more in the heart too when we do this, which feels more peaceful and spacious.

We do not need to go OUT to objects any more than a lake needs to go out to its reflections – they are mere aspects/appearances. This really helps us stay in the present moment for how can a reflection in a lake be in the past or in the future?

Have you ever noticed what happens when you are starting to feel a bit disturbed or deluded – how your mind wants to go OUT? It starts to feel unsettled. We can feel our energy winds going outwards, if we observe carefully – trying like the crow to find somewhere to land. When we allow ourselves to absorb inward by remembering that there is nothing actually out there to go to, we experience contentment, and eventually non-dual bliss.

We can get a taste of how it is possible to enjoy endlessly, without craving, with the blissful Heroes and Heroines (the Tantric Buddhas) of Heruka’s mandala; and learn to bring everyone else in. As we pray in the Heruka tsog offering:

Please bless me so that I may experience delight with the messengers of the vajra mind family.

Quick meditation on the mind

Here are a few quick pointers to the Mahamudra meditation again.

With a decision to apply ourselves, we can breathe out our obstacles and open up the space in our mind to inhale radiant light, the nature of our Mahamudra master’s fully realized consciousness. We can draw peaceful blessings deep into our root mind at our heart with each inhalation. Through enjoying this process, we allow our own awareness to be drawn in too, until we feel centered within this light, peaceful, experience at our heart. 

While relaxing here, we ask: “What is the mind? What is it that is aware of the sounds, sensations, thoughts?” So that instead of focusing on these we use them to help us become aware of awareness itself, which is like an inner empty space that has the power to perceive. Then we abide within the experience of the mind itself, recognizing it as the root mind at our heart, moment by moment.

The moment we notice that our mind is distracted outward and wants somewhere to land, we can remember the crow analogy. We can ask, “What is it that is aware?”, and stay inwardly focused on the clarity of the mind.

Fancy winter retreat here at Madhyamaka Centre? It’s near (old) York, in England.

You may or may not have much time to practice this meditation over the holiday period, but I hope these Mahamudra articles so far have given some of you a little appetite for retreat in January 2019 (also Heruka and Vajrayogini month). Meditation retreats will be taking place at residential and non-residential Kadampa centers all over the world, for example in upstate New York. It’s always been my favorite part of the year.

Tantra: Transforming enjoyments

In this fifth article on Tantra, following on from this one, I’m going to describe a meditation I like to do on transforming my enjoyments into the spiritual path. This method is derived from Buddha’s Tantric principles rather than his Sutra teachings, but anyone can do it – you can do it, and you’re anyone. This is a simple exercise that can be practiced even without an empowerment, and that shows something both profound and liberating: we have the power within us to generate bliss. We don’t need another person, a physical act, or any external object to create it. pure potential

Why? Because our mind is naturally peaceful. It is only our delusions and distractions that prevent us from experiencing this. As it says in Introduction to Buddhism in the chapter What is Meditation:

When the turbulence of distracting thoughts subsides and our mind becomes still, a deep happiness and contentment naturally arise from within.

As our mind becomes subtler and less distracted, as dualistic appearances slowly subside, our mind becomes even more peaceful, nay blissful. The most blissful mind of all is our very subtle mind, our root mind — it is even called “the clear light of bliss”! It is our actual Buddha nature, our potential for enlightenment. We cannot access this properly without engaging in profound Highest Yoga Tantra practices, but we can get an idea of it straightaway and start to identify with it.

Once we know that bliss comes from within, we can start to transform attachment or uncontrolled desire into the path by considering, for example, that the enjoyment does not lie outside the mind. As Geshe Kelsang says in Clear Light of Bliss p. 4:

The bliss generated from attachment meditates on emptiness and thereby overcomes all the delusions, including attachment itself. This is similar to the way in which the fire produced from rubbing two pieces of wood together eventually consumes the wood from which it arose.

The meditation

We begin by simply sitting comfortably, getting into a good meditation position, keeping our back straight but not rigid, relaxing our shoulders, and resting our hands in our lap or wherever is comfortable. Our head is tilted a little forward and our eyes lightly closed or, if we prefer, slightly open to allow a little light through our eyelashes. Our mouth is closed, with our tongue resting on the roof of mouth.

We relax into this posture and forget about everything else. We come into the present moment, into the here and the now.

We drop from our head into our heart chakra, the center of our chest, our spiritual heart. We feel our awareness centered there, it is where our root mind is.

Already we are aware of a sense of spaciousness and peace, with less conceptual activity or thoughts.

To overcome our distractions we now think that everything outside our body melts into light and disappears.

Then, like a mist lifting, this light gradually dissolves toward our body into empty space, leaving nothing behind. Everything disappears, including the past and the future, what we did today or have planned for tomorrow.

All that remains is our body suspended in empty space.

Now to relax our body we briefly scan it from head to toes to become aware of any tension, tightness, or indeed pain that we are holding onto. We bring a gentle awareness to these parts.

We think, “I don’t need to hold onto any of this physical stress or tension, I can let it go.” We let all the heaviness fall away from our body, as if we were dropping heavy luggage that we have been carrying around too long.

Every muscle relaxes, our whole body melts into light, with just its merest outline remaining.

We think: “My body is hollow like a rainbow, light as a feather, and so comfortable that I am hardly even aware that it is there.” We enjoy this deep physical relaxation for a little while.

Now we remember that we are in our heart and become aware of the thoughts, sensations, and so on arising from our root mind. There is a constant stream of awareness arising as thoughts, feelings, ideas, images, physical sensations, and so on, and we watch these as they arise and disappear again into the clarity of the mind. We don’t have to follow them, think them, judge them, or react to them in any way — just let them come and go, rise and fall. We enjoy the space oceanbetween our thoughts, and finally feel the thoughts dissolving into the boundless clarity of our root mind, like waves dissolving into a boundless ocean.

We think: “This is my mind. This is where I am happy or sad, wise or confused. This is the source of creativity, the source of all thoughts and other mental activity. This is awareness. This is where everything happens, where everything begins and ends.”

Now we can change the energy of our mind by using our desire or attachment energy. We either remember or imagine the thing we’d most like to be doing right now, bring to mind the thing that would give us the most positive pleasure. This can be a sense pleasure or an internal meditative feeling, it’s up to us. (No one will ask you what it is afterwards :-)) It could be eating pizza, holding someone’s snow in Coloradohand, watching an exquisite sunset, skiing down a mountain, or something more X-rated. (As desire realm beings, we probably have plenty of things to choose from, so choose your favorite!) It could alternatively be a spiritual bliss we are familiar with, such as meditating on love or dissolving a Spiritual Guide or Buddha into our heart. Whatever we know gives us bliss, we remember or imagine it at this point

We notice how the energy of the mind completely changes… our mind is clearer and more relaxed, more alert and concentrated, more awake and blissful. Waves of bliss energy arise in our root mind at our heart.

We allow ourselves to bathe in this bliss energy in our heart.

Then we forget or let go of whatever it was we were imagining or remembering. We let it dissolve away, and focus entirely on the bliss waves, allowing ourselves to bathe in this ocean of bliss energy in our heart.

We feel that this bliss is our root mind at our heart.

If and when the bliss fades, we remember or imagine whatever stimulated it, and then when the bliss comes back we let it go. We can meditate like this for a few minutes.

Buddha Shakyamuni 1(Even if we do not think that we are experiencing much of anything, we still believe or imagine that we are going deeper within, absorbing into a blissful inner peace. Sometimes we just need to believe something for it to actually happen because this belief, if correct, creates the cause for the actual experience. Buddha described this as “bringing the future result into the present path.” Don’t under-estimate the power of conception; with our thoughts we create our world.)

We feel that we are absorbed into an ocean of bliss at our heart, the clear light of bliss. And with this blissful mind we can now understand something very important. This bliss is actually coming from within the mind, not from without. If we have concentration and mindfulness, we could keep this bliss going endlessly. Understanding this, we already have some wisdom.

The other thing we can understand now is that while our mind is blissful, everything appears blissful to it. Everything is a reflection of our mind.

So whatever understanding we have of this, we focus on it for the last few minutes of the meditation.

This bliss at our heart, however slight, shows our potential for limitless bliss and happiness — it is our Buddha nature. When this subtle mind of bliss is mixed with emptiness, the ultimate nature of things, we quickly destroy our ignorance, and other delusions and obstructions. Through this we fully purify our mind and become a Buddha.

Just like Buddha Shakyamuni, whom we can now believe, if we want, is appearing right in front of us. And with a determination quickly to realize our potential for the lasting peace of enlightenment, and understanding too that everyone has this potential, we can, if we like, recite the Liberating Prayer.

More next time on why this meditation is so good.

Moving from the head to the heart

This is Part 2 of Is Heaven Real? based on last week’s Newsweek article Heaven is Real.

Is heaven real, a Buddhist perspective In the last article I was mainly trying to organize some thoughts around the “object” side of things, what was appearing to Dr. Eben Alexander’s mind and whether it proves heaven or not. What about the “subject” side, the actual state of mind he was in?

Dr. A’s cortex was “offline” so where, we might ask, WAS that experience? “It’s all in his head”, some people grumble when they hear about trippy experiences like this one; only he wasn’t in his head.

Even if his cortex was “switched on”–as it has been in other people who have had similar experiences in their dreams or while awake–where in the brain can that all fit? The mind and body are different entities, different dimensions if you will. If anywhere, the seat of our consciousness is in our heart chakra, not our brain; nonetheless our mind is formless and therefore not constrained by matter. Not all our thoughts are in our head – one could argue that the most important ones are in our heart. (For an article on how the mind and the brain are not the same, see Buddha and the Brain, as well as the comments readers have left below it.)

Moving from our head to our heart 

For people who love to meditate, I think a real secret of their success is moving from their head to their heart. The more we center ourselves at our heart, the more concentrated and peaceful we feel, and the easier it is to meditate. When I experience even a little inner peace from even a short meditation, good thought, or blessing, I like to feel that peace at the level of my heart. It feels more moving from head to heart in meditationreliable and stable. I start every meditation there; in fact I try to stay in my heart as much as I can. It also helps me stay in the moment. We can also identify with this peaceful mind at our heart as our Buddha nature, our potential for limitless peace and happiness. I think this is creating causes to experience the non-dual mind of great bliss, when we can have “heavenly” experiences on tap.

The main thing this article did for me was to increase my determination to get from my head to my spiritual heart – to keep applying effort to gather my inner energy winds into the central channel in my heart chakra so that they can no longer support the development of gross conceptions of dualistic appearance. This is one of the main aims of spiritual practice, because with the resultant very blissful clear light mind, or very subtle mind, we can realize ultimate truth directly, or non-conceptually, and experience permanent freedom and inner peace. You can read all about this in Modern Buddhism, available free.

Nathan Dorje and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
Nathan Dorje and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

In transit in Washington DC, I read a Facebook update about my friend’s son Nathan Dorje, who is a handsome little boy with semi-lobar holoprosencephaly. He may not be able to do many of the things his brother and sister can do requiring complicated conceptual thoughts, but his infectious happiness and love are states of consciousness as “real” and significant as any others, and have brought a lot of joy and meaning into many people’s lives. I would bet that he feels these things at his heart.

When my grandmother was slipping into senility and upset at her brain’s deterioration and inability to remember the name of a tree we were looking at, I remember encouraging her to try and stay as much as she could in her heart where she could still feel love, peace, and purpose just like anyone else — these are what really count. She liked that. She asked for a Buddhist book, and Transform Your Life ~ A Blissful Journey followed her to her nursing home, even though she could no longer read.

Non-duality

I was interested less in the descriptions of fluffy clouds than in the sense of non-duality Dr. A felt, which I think is in common with all these kinds of experiences.

“It seemed that you could not look at or listen to anything in this world without becoming a part of it- without joining with it in some mysterious way. Again, from my present perspective, I would suggest that you couldn’t look at anything in that world at all, for the word “at” itself implies a separation that did not exist there. Everything was distinct, yet everything was also part of everything else.”

The subtler our mind, the less dualistic it is – the less pronounced the appearance of inherent existence, or things existing as findable entities, “out there” somewhere. Our deepest level of mind, called the very subtle mind or the mind of clear light, is naturally blissful and non-dualistic. Things do not appear “out there” to that mind.

interdependence connectionThe thing I like most about non-duality is that there is no sense of separation and therefore alienation from our surroundings or other people. There is no grasping in the mind at things we need or want because we already have everything. The wisdom of non-duality and compassion are two sides of the same coin. Instead of being trapped in the prison of self by our self-cherishing and self-grasping minds, as Dr. A’s account suggests we naturally connect with and identify with others as they no longer feel like “other”. We don’t have to think our way into it as we do with our grosser levels of mind. There is no basis for loneliness or selfishness. Love overflows everywhere, no longer constrained.

Given this, it is not hard to see why subtler levels of mind are also less distracted and more concentrated than grosser levels, so Dr. A experienced no distraction, or interruptions, from his vision. In his case, I couldn’t tell you which exact level of consciousness was functioning, but we know it was not his ordinary waking consciousness.

Levels of thinking

When we are falling asleep, or fainting and when we are dying, our sense awarenesses (associated with our eyes etc) first stop working. Then our gross thoughts, ideas, memories, and even our sense of self disappear. These may or may not have some association with our brain – and on one level it doesn’t matter to a meditator because we don’t meditate on our brain any more than we meditate on our eyeball in order to affect our state of mind, we meditate using the mind itself. You can read about the death process in detail in one of Geshe Kelsang’s first books Clear Light of Bliss. However, even during the death process our awareness itself never stops. It just becomes more subtle. Our thoughts become less “crunchy”, if you like, less solid and real, and, as mentioned, less dualistic.

Part Three of this article: “Relaxing in your heart”

Meantime, over to you!