Why pray?

By the way, during that meditation I described on the meditation on the nature of the mind, the moment we notice we are distracted we can ask the same question, “What is it that is aware?” so that we return to the clarity of the mind, allowing the distracting concern to dissolve back into the clarity like a wave settling into a still ocean.

Pebbles-in-water501There are other legitimate things to do as well if we find ourselves too tempted to get involved with our thoughts — we can recall subtle impermanence, that these things are already gone, and in that way let them dissolve spontaneously away. Or we can recall the suffering nature of contaminated phenomena, that the end of collection is dispersion and so on, motivating us to deepen our meditation. These ways into the clarity of the mind were taught by Venerable Geshe Kelsang in his fantastic 2000 AD teachings combining Mahamudra and the four seals, and I’d love to get around to talking about them some day as they have helped me immeasurably. The main object of meditation is clarity, so once we have found that we stick with it; but we can use various contemplations to help us get there.

This article is part of a series of Mahamudra articles. Those of you who know about Lamrim, or the stages of the path to enlightenment, may wonder where meditating on the nature of the mind appears in the 21 meditations? It doesn’t explicitly, but it is our favored object of tranquil abiding (#19), and it does appear in many other places in the Kadampa books, such as How to Understand the Mind and Mahamudra Tantra, and in detail in two chapters of Clear Light of Bliss. It also features in Venerable Geshe Kelsang’s new book, The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, in which the first of the five stages of the actual practice of Mahamudra is identifying our own mind and meditating on tranquil abiding.

Prayers and blessings

You may have noticed that in this tradition we like to practice in conjunction with prayers (whether we say them out loud or not). When some of you first encounter the prayers, you think, “How wonderful, I love them!” … but there are not many of you. A lot of people’s initial response is “What? I thought they didn’t have this in Buddhism! I came to relax and now you want me to sing?!” And then we reconcile ourselves to the idea: “Ah well, I’ll settle my mind with the breathing meditation, let my mind rest and ramble during the prayers, and then focus again when I am back on the meditation.” That, of course, is not the idea. As Geshe Kelsang has warned us many times, we don’t want to get into the bad habit of parroting the prayers. Instead we can start off really well by communing with enlightened beings.

The main purpose of prayers is to change our mind in a good direction and to receive blessings. With blessings we are essentially connecting our mind to an enlightened being’s mind and, in doing so, adding a lot of power and fluidity to our meditations. This exponentially facilitates and deepens our experience.

This meditation on the nature of the mind is part of the Mahamudra practice, which is the heart essence of our lineage, the Ganden Oral Lineage, and lies at the very heart of our Spiritual Guide’s experience. So this particular Mahamudra lineage that we are receiving comes directly from Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the new Kadampa tradition; and it is exceedingly blessed. As Venerable Geshe-la says in Great Treasury of Merit, thousands of Je Tsongkhapa’s disciples gained deep experience through putting these methods into practice, attaining the illusory body, clear light, and full enlightenment.

It is very important for us to recognize and think about blessings, for otherwise, when we meditate, WE try to meditate. Meaning that while identifying ourselves in an ordinary limited way, we try to coerce our mind into having very profound experiences of the subtle dimensions of reality. Basically, we are TRYING in the wrong way. We are putting the onus on our SELF, and in particular our ordinary sense of self.

I think often when we sit down to meditate we immediately bring up an association with our self, the one that is not that good at meditating. We only think about this sense of self when it is time to meditate, when we feel we need to cajole it, “This time, you are going to do it!”, and then basically push to have an experience of the clarity of the mind. And of course what can happen is that we end up not having this experience, which in a rather subconscious gratifying way affirms what we knew all along, ie, that we are not very good at meditating. It reinforces our underlying sense of discouragement, a common type of laziness.

This is a great shame with this great gift of Mahamudra. Hence, blessings.

Buddha is not outside our mind

Everything we experience is not outside our mind, nothing is outside the mind. For example, is the sound of the bird inside or outside? You cannot separate it from your perception, you cannot draw a line between the perception and the sound; so it is inside. Your experience of your friend is your experience of your friend, inside, not out.

Homs Syria
Aleppo, Syria, February 2016. We need enlightenment.

So when we bring to mind Buddha, he or she is not outside my mind. There is no need to buy into the dualistic appearance of a gap or separation – my isolated meditation over here and the Awakened Ones having a great time over there. When we pray, we are not petitioning external forces but awakening our own potential by recognizing it is not separate from the minds of all enlightened beings. And we are doing this for everyone.

Venerable Geshe Kelsang says every single peaceful mind and happiness arises through Buddha’s blessings. (There is a great explanation of that in this guest article.) According to Geshe-la:

Enlightenment is the inner light of wisdom that is permanently free from all mistaken appearance, and whose function is to bestow mental peace upon each and every living being every day. Only human beings can attain this through practicing meditation. How fortunate we are! ~ The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, p. 3.

We can understand that whenever we develop a positive mind, in that moment, when we allow ourselves to be happy, we have disengaged from delusions to some extent. We have allowed our mind to come into alignment with a Buddha’s non-deluded reality, which is pervaded by peace, joy, love, etc; tapping into a profound enlightenment.

Settling

So we need to allow that to happen rather than the clutching “Yikes, grab my peace, it’s disappearing!” rodeo experience of meditating. Our meditation should not be a rodeo; it should feel instead like a settling. The word we use, in Clear Light of Bliss for example, is “Settling like a still ocean.” We use our own experience of peace to help settle into a vast transcendent experience of peace, joy, etc.finding happiness

My peace is already connected to Buddha’s peace, great! So we start not from disconnection but from connection, from refuge, and allow the prayers to deepen that experience naturally. Geshe Kelsang has likened prayers to an old man’s stick, a reminder to their meaning. So we let the words suggest the minds, as opposed to forcing the minds and getting tired and distracted. We enjoy what we’re saying, saying it from the heart, while abiding in that communion.

Then when it is time to meditate, we do so while continuing to bathe in that experience – we don’t LEAVE the blessings. It’s not like filling our car up with gas and then driving off, here I am all on my own again. We meditate WITH blessings, we can even let the Spiritual Guide do the meditation for us for he really wants to help and he is very good at this. Instead of combat with obstacles, nay-saying, and distractions, we can really relax. From the point of view of the Spiritual Guide, there are no obstacles, and we are already fantastic. We could do a lot worse than to get into the habit of seeing ourself through his eyes.

Look in the mirror

Do you want to know what else I do?! I look at a picture of my favorite enlightened being and think I am looking in the mirror. We don’t have to feel that we are unworthy or light years pebble in wateraway from our Spiritual Guide or the Buddhas. That is ordinary appearance, and they don’t ever see us as ordinary or limited.

So feel free at any time during the meditation to reconnect with the Spiritual Guide and simply ask, “Please help me with clarity.” If we throw a pebble in the pond and wait, ripples will gradually arise. We ask for some guidance or inspiration, and then we wait.

Do leave a comment to add anything else that is helpful or ask questions.

Clear mind

The meditation on the nature of our own mind has many benefits, the first being that it pacifies distractions. If we understand what we are meditating on, we’ll see how that works. For perfect instructions, please consult Geshe Kelsang’s beautiful new book, The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra.

The nature and function of the mind

meditation at lakeIn Geshe Kelsang’s various books and oral teachings, he has used a one-word description to point out the object of meditation, the mind itself: “Clarity”. We meditate on clarity, and the implications of that term. In particular, two things are being implied:

  • The mind is clear in that it has no form. It is the only thing that always lacks form. It is a formless awareness. A formless continuum. It has no physical properties whatsoever, it is not molecularly constituted. It has no shape, no size, no location. It has no color. You cannot touch it or squeeze it or look at it, and you cannot hear it. There’s already a lot there to contemplate. What does it mean for something to be not physical? We are looking for a non-physical thing. Or an inner empty space, as Venerable Geshe-la sometimes puts it.
  • The second implication of clarity is that it possesses power – the power to perceive, to know, to remember, to imagine, to create. The mind is like an inner empty space that is aware. It is awareness itself.

In 2000, Geshe-la said:

Mind is empty of physical form. It always lacks form. It has no color, no shape, nor any other kind of form. Yet it has so many powers. It has the power to recognize objects, to perceive objects, to understand objects, to remember objects, to perform actions. In fact everything – the world, beings, objects – is created by mind. There is no creator other than mind.

The location of the root mind

That is the pointing out instruction for this meditation. And we can also consider the location, at the heart. (This means our spiritual heart, our heart chakra, not our meaty beating heart.) This is because we are meditating on our root mind, and we experience this in our heart chakra, right in the center of our chest, halfway between the left and the right sides of our body, nearer our back than our front.

If our mind is formless, you may wonder, how can it have a location? In a way our mind is nowhere (and everywhere); but it is connected to certain energies or subtle winds in the body, and in particular our very subtle mind or root mind is connected unbreakably to the very subtle wind at the heart. (Check out Clear Light of Bliss if you want to know more.)

human conditionThis is why it can be helpful at the beginning of the meditation to drop from our head into our heart, or to do some breathing meditation to draw our awareness down into our heart, to feel we are meditating here. If we drop from our thinky head into our expansive, spacious heart, we will find it much easier already to overcome distractions; so it is good to try and do all our meditations here. It can take a bit of practice to get from the head into the heart because we are so used to being in our head — we are kind of disconnected from our hearts a lot of the time in our modern society, in exile from our hearts. This may be because we think way too much, heady stuff! But, and this is important, we mustn’t push it – we let our mind settle in the heart naturally instead.

When we hit that sweet spot, everything becomes vastly more spacious and open, less crunchy. And when we say the root mind is located in the heart, this does not mean that it is a tiny little thing in our heart. We feel we are in our heart meditating on our mind, but our mind is vast, dimensionless.

Using the example of light

Normally we latch onto objects, fixing all our attention on the objects of which we’re aware, for example the objects in this room or the objects of our thoughts. Rarely, if ever, do we concern ourselves with, “What am I aware with?”

Here is a useful analogy. When we’re walking around, we see a lot of things because of light. When the sun isn’t shining, we don’t see anything. That light is all pervasive, everywhere. It is illuminating everything. But we don’t focus on it — what we focus on are the things being illuminated. “Oh, look at the light!” we say sometimes, eg, when walking through the dappled woods. But most of the time we don’t, we only notice it relative to things eg, shining on the leaves, or brightening clouds.

dappled leavesThis is similar to the mind. Mind is all pervasive, but we don’t focus on the mind itself, we focus on the things our mind is illuminating, the various things that our mind is perceiving, or appearing. It’s worth noting here that Geshe Kelsang uses “to appear” as an active word, with the same meaning as “to perceive.” Our mind perceives or “appears” things. Things appear from the mind from the inside out, as opposed to appearing to the mind from the outside in, as it were.

The point being that, normally, just as we are not aware of the light itself, just the things illuminated, so we are not aware of the mind itself, just the things we are aware of. In this meditation, we want to become aware of the mind.

What is it that is aware?

In brief, one way to gain insight into the nature of the mind is just to focus on clarity, not worrying whether or not it is crystal clear; and, when distracted, to keep asking, “What’s aware?”, seeing in our own experience that it is also clarity. We are not in any rush to gain some experience – we are just hanging out, checking it out.

By the way, when we meditate on the mind, and indeed whenever we meditate on anything, it is good to do so gently without expectation. We are not pushing for a result or a deep insight. “I forced myself to have an insight into clarity, to see that vast vivid inner empty space I’ve heard so much about. I put myself in a headlock, twisted my arm… waterboarding myself might help next time.”

Dealing with distractions

To begin with when we are meditating we are going to be hearing all sorts of sounds and having all sorts of thoughts and sooner or later our knee is going to hurt. If we are practicing with a combative attitude, then when someone coughs, our thought is, “I wish they’d shut up.” Or “Oh no, that episode is replaying itself in my mind.” Or, “I wonder what so and so is doing today? darn, wish I didn’t have to keep thinking about them.” And so forth. But rather than pushing away or rejecting these appearances, we can just ask: “What is it that is aware of these things?” And we’ll see that that awareness is also clarity, is also mind. Just as we can use the leaves to help us see the light, so, when focusing on our mind, if a distraction arises we can use it to bounce us right back into the mind by asking ourselves, “What is it that is aware?” Appearances remind us of the mind.

VajrayoginiThat’s why this meditation helps us to pacify distractions The appearances that pop up would normally distract us away from our object, eg the breath, but now it doesn’t matter, in fact they remind us of our meditation object – for example, we can enjoy the quality of the light even though there are all sorts of leaves around.

Or, to use another example, it’s like we’re enjoying the blue sky and then some clouds appear. We don’t think, “Well, that’s it then, I can’t enjoy the blue sky any more — that cloud is freaking me out!” The clouds will eventually disperse back into the clear sky, they have nowhere else to go. If we simply hang out enjoying the clarity, gradually the distractions will disperse into the clarity as they are themselves clarity; and we’ll absorb deeper.

Hopefully, these examples are showing how we can pacify distractions without fighting. If you like, you can try the short meditation outlined in this earlier article to see if it works.

More here.