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.

Life is like a flash of lightning

Two ways of thinking about the same thing

Geshe Kelsang has said that “arising, abiding, and ceasing are justwalking in rainbows three different ways of thinking about the same event.” Even arising and ceasing (or cessation) are two different ways of thinking about the same thing. When we realize this, we begin to let go of grasping; and it is really a question of allowing ourselves to float into that space. (Carrying on from this article on subtle impermanence.)

How can arising and ceasing happen simultaneously? Well one question in return is how could they not? If something is the nature of change, how could it remain the same, even for an instant?

What is the option if arising really precedes cessation? Is there is a little bit in the middle where it has arisen but not ceased? In which case that moment has a degree of permanence there, and so there is going to be grasping at it. And where do you draw the line? A fraction or two fractions? It is only when you say completely there is NO remaining that it starts to make sense.

walking through doorwayI heard once that Native Americans call all objects “events” (though now I can’t find it on Google.) This I find helpful. Everything is fluid.

If arising and cessation are the same event that is distinguished differently just by thought, another helpful example I find is this. If someone is going through a doorway, are they entering or exiting? It depends on perspective, on mind. I think this is similar to arising and ceasing.

The only continuation is what we impute as continuation. For example, a rainbow arises and ceases newly moment by moment in dependence upon causes and conditions, and stringing its moments together is done entirely by our mind. It’s a bit like watching a movie of many stills.

By the way, why do things change?! Our mind changes, and different appearances arise due to karma, like waves arising from an ocean. We also impute all changes with our mind. For example, perhaps we fell in love with someone who was totally fantastic and then later, bewilderingly, they changed into someone who was a total (add your own description here). Where did the person we fell for go?! We feel deceived. But where did they go?! What actually changed? Did they change, did we change? A bit of both? I’ll leave you to answer that one for now.

The doorway to realizing emptinessflash of lightning 1

If we can wrap our minds around subtle impermanence, this will take us very close to Buddha’s teachings on the true nature of reality, emptiness. Understanding subtle impermanence is said to be the doorway to emptiness, and emptiness is said to be the doorway to liberation. Geshe Potowa said:

My main meditation on the middle way is meditation on subtle impermanence.

This indicated that, for him, meditating on subtle impermanence intuitively led him into emptiness.

What do the realizations of subtle impermanence and emptiness have in common? They both help us to stop grasping. Subtle impermanence weakens our tendency to grasp, and the wisdom realizing emptiness removes it completely.

Moment by moment things are gone. But they weren’t really there to begin with.

Everything is like a flash of lightning, and even that flash of lightning doesn’t exist from its own side.

real life permanent dreamsI also think that even if we have a good understanding of emptiness, contemplating subtle impermanence has very practical benefit. Perhaps we already “get” the dream-like nature of reality. But perhaps there is still some part of us that is grasping at our dreams as lasting and as abiding – sort of like permanent dreams!

This is one of the greatest gifts that subtle impermanence can give us – at the beginning it improves all aspects of our life by helping us naturally drop our attachment and aversion etc.; and eventually it leads us to the realization of emptiness.

Hope you enjoy this series of articles on subtle impermanence.

Choose Freedom

It may sound counterintuitive, but a free mind is a controlled mind. Having no control over our own mind is the same as having no choice in our thoughts. If we cannot choose what to think at any given moment, we automatically default to our habits and react with thoughts that we don’t even like half the time, such as attachment, envy, aversion, bitter disappointment, non-faith, unkindness, impatience, or whatever.

true mental freedom, controlling the mind
The two wings of wisdom and compassion will fly us to freedom.

Freedom is the ability to choose any thought we want whenever we want it, regardless of what or who is going on around us.

Thoughts are just that — thoughts. They don’t have arms or legs. They are not physical. They only exert dominion over us because we have always let them. It is like the sky letting the clouds run the show, not realizing its own vast and profound power.

We all want to be happy, and we all have the limitless potential for happiness and even bliss – so why is it so darned hard to stay happy?! For example, when people first start to meditate, they often complain that they cannot even get their mind to stay still and peaceful for a few seconds, for three rounds of breathing meditation, let alone for an hour, a day, a week, a month, a lifetime. If we simply cannot stay happy, even when external conditions are going our way, does this not mean, effectively, that we don’t have enough control over our mind?

So, our usual response is to try to bypass this by controlling our world and other people rather than trying to control our thoughts, and look where that gets us.

A traditional Buddhist image showing how the stages of concentration bring our crazy elephant mind under control.
Wild elephant mind

Buddha described our mind as a rampaging wild elephant, stomping around creating havoc much of the time. As mentioned in this article, Buddha called unpeaceful and uncontrolled minds delusions. I remember first hearing a teaching on the so-called six causes of delusions at Madhyamaka Centre and how much I appreciated having this very practical, seemingly fool-proof way of making headway in taming and overcoming my uncontrolled and unpeaceful states of mind. I realized I could start to think the thoughts I wanted to think whenever I wanted to think them. I could choose to be kind, loving, blissful, faithful, contented, cool, and wise whenever I wanted once I had control over my own mind. No one could stop me doing this, regardless of what they do, or say, or think!

In fact, the more obstacles put in our way, the more of an enjoyable challenge it can become to react in the way we WANT to as opposed to the usual, boring, choiceless, instinctive, negative way we’ve always responded in the past. To me, that is real freedom, and I want it more than anything else.

The first three causes of delusion are the main causes—if we have these three, we automatically have a delusion arising in our mind. The last three are conditions that make it easy for the causes to come together. Our temporary states of mind are like clouds in the sky — if the right causes and conditions come together clouds manifest, otherwise they don’t. Knowing these causes and conditions means knowing the techniques for controlling our mind.

(1) The seed of delusion

 The seed of a delusion is the potentiality for that delusion to arise; it is the substantial cause of the delusion. ~ Understanding the Mind

seeds of delusions, seeds of sufferingWe have at the moment potentials for irritation, attachment, ignorance, and so on. According to Buddhism, these are like seeds in our formless mental continuum, which we’ve had since beginningless time. For example, I have the seed of anger within my mind even right now, while I’m feeling peaceful, but it won’t arise without other conditions, such as an annoying object and inappropriate attention. We also have potentials for almost unimaginable bliss, goodness, love, compassion, wisdom, and so on – also like seeds. Which ones are sprouting in our mind right now depends on other factors, but right now we have the potentials for the dark side and the good side.

The result of spiritual practice is to dig out the seeds for delusions once and for all from our mental continuum. So-called Foe Destroyers have done this and as a result cannot develop delusions regardless of what is going on in their lives. We can imagine what it’d be like to be permanently freed from anger, attachment, ignorance, pride, selfishness, and so on – just imagining it feels like a relief, and starts bringing it on.

Interestingly and luckily enough, we can never destroy the seeds of our positive minds because they’re part of our Buddha nature, whom we really are, and are also based on a realistic, unexaggerated view of the world, not on inappropriate attention.

Ignorant, not evil

All ordinary beings have these potentialities in their mind, and they can be eradicated only by attaining the wisdom directly realizing emptiness and meditating on this for a long time. ~ Understanding the Mind

Our root delusion, from which all the others grow, is ignorance. Living beings are not evil — we engage in evil actions, we can have evil states of mind, but we ourselves are not evil. We suffer from an inner sickness or inner poison – our delusions — and all these are rooted not in evil, but in ignorance. We just do not know how things exist, and we think that things exist in a way that they don’t exist, in fact contradictory to how they exist — namely independent of the mind, having nothing to do with our perceiving consciousness, solid, real, inherently existent, “out there”, existing from their own side. There seems to be a gap between us and everyone else, between our mind and our world, whereas the truth is that everything depends entirely upon our mind, just like objects in a dream.

life is like a dream according to BuddhaJust a dream!

In a dream everything feels real and vivid, it seems to exist out there, independent of our mind.  Yet when we wake up, we realize it was made up by our mind. “Ah! I made this up! It’s just a dream! I projected the whole thing, it’s gone! It just came from my mind and then I thought it was out there, and I got really het up about all these things, and hmm, what was all that about?”

We’ve been doing this for years and years already, just in this life, every time we fall asleep at night. We still haven’t got it, have we?! We wake up every morning, “Ah, that was just a dream!” We fall asleep again at night, “Hey, what’s going on here?” Panic. Falling in love with people. Running away from other people. We wake up, “Oh, it’s just a dream.”

We’ve done this thousands of times, and still it hasn’t alerted us to the fact that, every time we dream, everything that appears to us is a projection of our mind that we are grasping at as real.

When I have a problem that seems intractable I imagine having it in a dream. I was talking to a good friend the other day who has just been through divorce. Not un-understandably, he felt disappointed and let down, like a victim, like it had nothing to do with him. This made him feel helpless and angry, with no clear way forward. He has a good understanding of Buddhism so I asked him: “If you had divorced in a dream, who would have been responsible for that?” If we understand that everything is a mere projection of our own mind, like a dream, we can see how we are responsible for what appears to our mind, for what happens to us. Knowing this always gives us a way to move forward, by changing our mind rather than bashing our head against an intractable brick wall. And when we change our mind, the situation itself changes – the brick wall does come down. He didn’t become undivorced, but the situation no longer appeared dire, and he got his mojo back.