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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 1: Getting Started > Listening to, Thinking about, and Meditating on the Dharma > Session Five: Concentration and Other Mental Factors Needed in Meditation

Listening to, Thinking about, and Meditating on the Dharma

Alexander Berzin
Moscow, Russia, May 2009

Session Five: Concentration and Other Mental Factors Needed in Meditation

Unedited Transcript
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We’ve been discussing the whole process of meditation and how it’s part of a three-fold process of listening to the teachings, thinking about them, and then making them into a beneficial habit through meditation. And we were speaking yesterday about how Tsongkhapa describes the meditation process; and he emphasizes that we need to know the causes, the foundation, upon which the state of mind that we wish to develop rests. So for instance if we want to meditate on bodhichitta, then we need to understand that this is a state of mind that we build up to through various steps. And so, perhaps you’re familiar with the two standard methods for building up to developing bodhichitta, starting with equanimity with which we rid our minds of attachment, repulsion and indifference to others. So we’re not attracted to some, we’re not repelled from others, we don’t regard some as strangers, but we are equally open to everybody.

And then recognizing everybody as having been our mother at some time in a previous lifetime, which only makes sense if we understand and have confidence in beginningless mind. This is actually a very, very difficult realization to get, of recognizing everyone as having been our mothers because, for most of us, it’s very, very difficult to understand beginningless mind. And if we don’t understand and have confidence in beginningless mind, then this whole thing of everybody having been our mothers is a bit of nonsense. But, it’s important if we want to be able to have a Mahayana scope. A “Mahayana scope” means that we are directing our wishes toward absolutely everybody.

And then remembering the kindness of motherly love, and really feeling very grateful and appreciating that kindness, and therefore wish to help in return. And then heart-warming love – which is, when we think of others, it makes our hearts feel so warm and wonderful and if anything went wrong with them we would feel really terrible. This is regarding absolutely everybody. And then love: we wish for them to be happy and have causes for happiness. And compassion: the wish for them to be free of their suffering and the causes of suffering, which means that we have to have a very good understanding of the first and second noble truths.

We’re not just talking about helping them find a job. We’re talking about the all pervading suffering of uncontrollably recurring rebirth and the most fundamental unawareness or ignorance of reality that is generating the samsaric existence; and confidence that it is possible for them to be free from this. It means the understanding of the basic purity of the mind, and the realistic understanding of how we can actually help them. And with compassion, we take some responsibility to help them; and then with what’s called the “exceptional resolve” we take responsibility to help them all the way to enlightenment.

“Exceptional resolve” – usually it’s translated as pure wish, but that’s not the best translation. “Exceptional” means out of the ordinary, and “resolve” means that it’s a very strong – not only the wish, but the decision to act on that wish. I make a resolution that this is what I’m going to do. And then, on the basis of that, we realize that the only way we can truly help others is if we achieve enlightenment, and so we get the bodhichitta aim to achieve enlightenment to be able to benefit everyone. So, unless we have built up all these steps before – this is what the state of mind of bodhichitta depends on – then it will be very difficult to actually generate that state of mind of bodhichitta.

So when we’re doing the second step, thinking, then we could go through these lines of reasoning and these stages to get to bodhichitta, but there we are trying to become convinced that this is possible, in this thinking process, and to try to understand it. When we are at the stage of meditation, then we already understand this and we already are convinced of the validity of this. And at the beginning stages of our meditation, which may of course last for many, many lifetimes before we get beyond that beginning stage, we would at the beginning of the meditation still need to go through these lines of reasoning, these steps, in order to generate the bodhichitta aim. But eventually when we become advanced in our meditation, we would be able to just generate the bodhichitta aim instantly.

You have to know all this to be able to meditate on bodhichitta. But with the bodhichitta aim, actually there’s always a first step of – regardless of which stage we’re at – of generating love and compassion. Whether we have to go through all these steps, these seven steps, or whether we’re just able to generate bodhichitta instantly, still there’s going to be two steps here. One is generating the love and compassion, and then bodhichitta.

Love and compassion are focused on other beings, and so what appears to us would be all beings. Well, how do you visualize that? It’s not so simple, but in general Mahayana practice we try to imagine a huge audience of beings around us as we’re doing our practice and we’re benefiting everyone. When we read the Mahayana sutras, we read in the beginning the audience that Buddha’s teaching to: tens of hundreds of millions of beings all around, so this gives an idea of the scope that we’re trying to imagine. And with compassion, for example, as I said yesterday, we’re focusing on the suffering of those beings, and the way in which our mind relates to it is the wish for them to be free of that. So that’s not bodhichitta. That’s compassion or love that you focus on their state of mind and wish them to be happy and have the causes for happiness. But this needs to be underlined. This is the support for bodhichitta. Isn’t it? So we have to know all these different aspects, all these different pieces that are there.

And then, as Tsongkhapa says, you have to know what you focus on in this state of mind. So what is bodhichitta focused on? So, we’re focusing on our own individual enlightenments that have not yet happened. So that’s important. I don’t want to get too technical here, but it’s not our future enlightenment which is already existing now, that’s quite different. That’s the Western way of thinking. We’re talking about a not-yet-happening thing. Not-yet-happening is not happening now. So that’s what we’re focusing on, and it’s individual. My enlightenment is not your enlightenment, although the quality is going to be the same.

So how do we focus on something that is not yet happening? We focus on the causes for it, so we’re talking about our Buddha-nature factors, which means the various aspects of the nature of the mind. So that means we have to really understand what we mean by “mind” in Buddhism, and what we really mean by “Buddha-nature,” and then on the basis of that we can impute a not-yet-happening enlightenment as a result that can occur on the basis of the cause. The cause is happening now; the result is not happening now. To have bodhichitta, you have to have the confidence that you can achieve enlightenment; otherwise you are aiming for something that you don’t even believe that you can achieve, which is then silly.

So what actually appears to our mind in the meditation? It would be something that represents our enlightenment that is not yet happening. So we can visualize the Buddha and that can represent our enlightenment that hasn’t happened yet. We can imagine our guru, our teacher as being inseparable from the Buddhas or from Chenrezig or whatever meditational figure we’re practicing, because that adds a quality of inspiration which helps to give us more energy to reach that enlightened state.

Seeing the guru as a Buddha, here, is that in this sense we’re focusing on the guru as a representation of our purified Buddha-nature. Doesn’t mean literally that the guru is a Buddha and knows the telephone number of every being on the planet. And it doesn’t mean that we want to become one with the guru, and just melt into the guru in a devotional way and become like a soup with the guru. Not Buddhism. Alright? We might find that in some Sufi teachings, we might find that in some Hindu teachings, but please, that’s not Buddhism.

So, now we need to know what we focus on. What appears to the mind with bodhichitta and now next point Tsongkhapa says is how your mind relates to it. So it’s two intentions; underlying is the intention to benefit all beings because all of this is on the basis of love and compassion. That’s very, very strong because otherwise why would we want to reach a presently-happening enlightenment? This is not a not-yet-happening enlightenment: you don’t obtain something that is not yet happened. When you obtain it, it is presently happening.

Alright, I mean really to work with this you have to understand the voidness of the three times. Not very easy. So, I mean, only this moment now is happening. Nevertheless we can talk about the not-yet-happening and the already-happened of things. Anyway, I won’t go into that topic. That’s a very long discussion.

And then there’s the intention to actually achieve that enlightenment; and as I say, with an understanding of voidness. It’s not that that not-yet-happening enlightenment is sitting there in front of me and here is “me” dualistically over here, you know this poor helpless thing and I’m going to go over there and get it. Certainly not that; so we have to have a much deeper sophisticated understanding of the voidness of enlightenment, and voidness of ourselves, voidness of the path, etc. And, we also have to know what actually does it mean to be enlightened in order to aim for it; so all the qualities of a Buddha. So, when we are meditating on bodhichitta, that’s actually an incredibly sophisticated meditation and it’s certainly not just sit there and wish everybody to be happy. So there’s nothing wrong with sitting and wishing everybody to be happy and developing that, but don’t think that that’s bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is much, much, much more than that.

So, Tsongkhapa is very clear here that, if we’re going to meditate, to try to generate a state of mind or generate a focus on something, you have to know exactly what you’re doing. And also, he points out, that we have to know what is going to be beneficial and help us for developing this and what’s going to be detrimental and harmful, like selfishness for example. And we have to know also when we achieve that state that we’re aiming for, that state of mind, what will the benefit of it be and what would be the disadvantages that we have when we don’t have that state of mind. So we will be able to benefit all beings with this bodhichitta equally. However, we have to have a realistic attitude about what this means. A Buddha isn’t someone that can put their hand on somebody’s head and you’re saved. That’s certainly not it.

And what are the shortcomings of not having bodhichitta? Well, even if we were very highly developed, we won’t be able to benefit everyone. And, when we try to help others, we won’t really know what we’re doing because we don’t understand all the background of why somebody is in their present mental state, and karmic state. We won’t know all the causes. And we won’t know: if I teach this person this specific teaching, what the consequences will be, because this is going to have consequences not just on that person, but on every person that that person interacts with as a result of those teachings. And then that mushrooms all the way out, and then you think of future lives as well, and the consequences can be enormous.

That’s why we have to become a Buddha. We have to become omniscient; we have to know completely the most important thing – not everybody’s telephone number – but the most important thing is all the causes for why each person is the way they are, and the consequences and effect of anything that we teach them, so that we know what’s the best way to help.

If we really understand beginningless mind and endless mind of absolutely everybody, then we realize that everybody is interconnected and has interacted with each other, so anything that we do with any individual person is going to affect everybody. So that’s why we need to become a Buddha, and if we aren’t a Buddha then we’re taking a risk in anything that we teach somebody, because it might have not very nice consequences. So before becoming a Buddha, we try our best. We don’t just sit and wait until we become a Buddha before we help anybody, but if we really want to do the best job, we need to become a Buddha, and therefore we need to become convinced that it is possible for the mind to become omniscient.

And Tsongkhapa also says we have to know what to do in between sessions and so we need to, he says, read various scriptural texts, let’s say hearing about bodhichitta and bodhisattvas gives us inspiration. And build up a tremendous amount of positive force and do a tremendous amount of purification to help us overcome our mental blocks – we have two types, emotional and cognitive – so we need to overcome both types of what’s called “obscurations.” Maybe that’s enough of this point, but what I want to emphasize here is how sophisticated this meditation process is. It’s not just sit down and relax and be quiet.

And as I explained the first evening, we have two aspects of meditation: first is discerning meditation. So we work through either a line of reasoning, or the various steps, as we did in the thinking process, so that we can build up to this state of mind that we’re trying to familiarize ourselves with. And then we have that object of focus, like in this case for bodhichitta, a Buddha representing our enlightenment, our individual enlightenment that hasn’t happened yet. And then we have to discern it, regard it in that specific way. Here it’s with these two intentions: to help everybody and to reach that state.

And it’s a very active state because it’s accompanied by what’s called “gross detection” and “subtle discernment.” These are technical terms, but basically it means really understanding all the details and having that understanding be very active. And if we are focusing on something that we’re visualizing, don’t get caught up in trivial aspects, you know like how the robe is folded and stuff like that. I mean this is trivial; you’re missing the point. It’s what it represents. Does Buddha have a belly button? I mean really, come on.

So that’s discerning meditation. So you just stay in that state of mind. We’re not going “blah blah blah” in our heads, and if that discernment becomes weak, then you go through that line of reasoning again, those seven steps again. Alright? You have to generate that active state of mind and maintain it. So what you really need to notice is: Have you lost it or not?

And then the next stage is called “stabilizing meditation,” in which now you just focus on that Buddha with this intention and just let it sink in. You’re not so concerned with discerning all the details. And if that becomes weak, then you go back to the discerning, starting again with the steps to generate this state of mind. So that’s the process of meditation; how you integrate something, habituate yourself to it. And whether we’re talking about a type of meditation in which you focus on an object, or a type of meditation in which you just sort of remain in a state of mind, whatever it might be, it’s exactly the same in terms of all these procedures and all these details. Okay. Let’s just let that sink in for a moment.

Now, I don’t know if you have any specific questions on specifically what I’ve just been explaining. Evegything is clear what I've explained?

Participant: We have three stages: hearing, thinking and practicing or meditating. How much time should we spend on each stage? For instance, in monasteries there are of course some educational structures. How much time do monks spend with debating, with hearing of the teachings?

Alex: Well, that’s very hard to generalize. The listening to teachings, if we include in that the memorization of the teachings, which is the Tibetan method of learning, then up until the age of twelve – they usually enter a monastery when you are seven or eight years old – all you do is memorize the various texts and the various teachings, specifically texts and ritual texts as well; no explanation. It’s for both monks and nuns. So now you become very certain of the words. Remember? That this is what Buddha actually says. You become certain of the words. You hear it.

And then they start the debating, usually around the age of twelve or thirteen, and this is together with explanations from a teacher, so you have classes every day. And then after the class you debate for many hours with your fellow students. And depending on the monastery, depending on the tradition, and depending on the ability of the student, this can last for twelve years, fifteen years, twenty years even. And during the course of that time, depending again on the individual, you might engage in what we would call formal meditation. But you have to realize that a great deal of the so called meditation practice that they do is not really meditation according to the definition. It’s basically recitation of a particular ritual text and they might not have a good idea of what you would visualize during it. You just do it and say some mantras and so on but they haven’t gotten to the stage where they can do actual meditation according to the definition.

In other words, they don’t quite know what they’re doing. They just do it because it is actually very beneficial in terms of developing discipline, patience, concentration, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the full thing. And it’s like that; I mean how many people really do deep meditation? I don’t know; that’s hard to say. Even if you’re doing the three year retreat, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing meditation in the formal sense. You could just be learning how to do a ritual and repeating a ritual without much understanding. So it depends very much on the individual. You could be sitting in retreat for three years reciting mantras and in the end you’ve accomplished nothing. You haven’t really changed your mind because you haven’t worked on your state of mind, your attitude, you’ve just repeated things. Okay. Yes?

Participant: What are the methods for developing stabilizing meditation?

Alex: I don’t think that there are instructions that are specific to the stabilizing meditation, because what one thinks of here are the instructions to how to concentrate, and that would be relevant to both the discerning and the stabilizing meditation. So, we have these general instructions on concentration, and it’s very interesting to realize that when Shantideva, the great Indian Buddhist master, discusses all of these methods in his text, Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, he discusses it in the context of developing ethical discipline. So, first we have to develop these methods in our gross behavior of how we act, how we speak, etc., and then you can apply it to the mind, how we’re thinking.

So, this gets us to the next topic that I wanted to discuss, so it’s very nice that you ask. There are many, many instructions here. So, there really isn’t time to go through all of it. You’ll find this on my website, in an article entitled “Achieving Shamatha,” which gives all the instructions about what’s the ideal place, and how you prepare and how you overcome laziness and all these other things.

So, what we need first of all is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the mental glue. The English word “mindfulness,” I don't know how it is translated into Russian, doesn’t quite give that connotation. We’re talking about the mental glue which holds on to a state of mind or a way of behaving. It is the same word as “to remember,” but we’re not talking about remembering in the sense of taking something out of the memory file and recalling it. It’s not that. It’s holding it; remembering. So, what we have to have the mental glue on, what we’re holding, is that object of focus and the way in which the mind is relating to it.

And then you use, Tsongkhapa is interesting, he mentions “gross detection” rather than “subtle discernment,” which means that with gross detection we are noticing what is the state of our mind, or with discipline, how are we behaving. Are we coming under the influence of disturbing emotion or mental wandering or dullness? We’re not using here “subtle discernment.” “Subtle discernment” would be too involved with checking and your attention is really not on the state of mind that you’re trying to generate. You’re being the policeman and checking too much, so you have to be a little bit relaxed; and it’s interesting that he uses this word, the “gross detection,” and not the “subtle discernment.” There’s a big danger in meditation that you get too paranoid that you’re going to lose the object and that you’re going to start to wander and you become very stiff and this makes a big problem. On the other hand, you don’t want to be relaxed and sloppy; that doesn’t help at all.

Then we have alertness; alertness is like the alarm system. So, when we detect that we’re losing the object, or losing the state of mind or whatever, then alertness sets off the alarm. “Ding ding ding ding ding,” something has to be corrected. And then we use attention, to pay attention again, to bring the focus back. So, these are very specific technical terms and it’s very important to really understand what actually they’re referring to, otherwise the instructions become much too vague.

Now, the faults that we are trying to work with here come under two categories, two main categories, and these are “flightiness of mind” and “mental dullness.” We have a more general word which is “mental wandering,” another word which is called “distraction.” That could be for any reason. But here they point out “flightiness of mind,” which is when we have mental wandering because of attachment or desire, and in most of the texts the main object that they always discuss is sexual attachment. And perhaps this is because of the influence that the main audience at that time are celibate monks and nuns, for whom the whole issue of sexuality and working with that and overcoming that type of attachment, is very central. But attachments to other people, attraction, sexual aspects are a very, very strong force to cause mental wandering. So they point this out as the strongest. But there could also be attachment to food and to whatever, your music, these sorts of things. So we have different degrees of it and here what we’re working with is the placement of attention.

So with “gross flightiness,” you lose the hold completely on the object and you start thinking about all sorts of other things. So mindfulness, remember the hold, the glue is so weak that you let go of the object and think about something else. “Subtle flightiness” of mind is that you don’t let go completely, but at the same time as holding the object, you have an undercurrent of thinking about something else. And the subtlest level is when you don’t have that undercurrent of thought, but there is an itchiness intention to leave the object, or to start thinking something. That’s when the hold is too tight.

Then there’s mental dullness and mental dullness is dealing with what’s usually translated as the “clarity” of the object, but this has to do with the aspect that is giving rise to the state of mind, the appearance if it’s a visualization, or the feeling if it’s love. So we’re talking about what I call the “appearance-making” factor of the mind. And so the grossest level is that this is so weak that our mind doesn’t give rise to any appearance, any visualization or any feeling, like a feeling of love. That’s gross dullness and this can be accompanied by two other factors, but not necessarily. It can be accompanied by what we call “foggy-mindedness,” which is a very heavy feeling of the body and mind, and it could be accompanied even more, even worse with sleepiness and sleep. Okay, that’s the gross dullness. The middling or middle level of mental dullness is when the mind gives rise to the appearance, but the hold on it is not tight enough so it lacks sharp focus.

Translator: What is not strong enough?

Alex: Your ability to generate it and the hold, you know, holding that appearance-making. You have to maintain it and you’re not able to maintain it very well so it’s not in sharp focus. So we’re not just talking here about focus on details of the visualization, but an emotion could also be out of focus, like love. It could be just a very vague feeling, you know; ah love, peace, I love everybody. Alright? You’re generating a feeling but it lacks the specific focus that is the wish for everybody to be happy and to have the causes for happiness. Remember: every detail, every aspect of the state of mind that we’re trying to generate is very, very specific. It’s not vague.

And then subtle mental dullness, so we give rise to the object, to the state of mind, there’s sharp focus, but again the hold, the maintenance on this, is not sufficiently tight and so it’s not what’s called “fresh.” Fresh means vivid and alive. Alright? Not like stale bread that has gotten very old and hard and isn’t very nice. It has to be fresh in each moment.

And when we talk about being “spaced out,” actually it could refer to any of these faults. So we have to detect when any of these things arise. First you set the mental hold, the mindfulness, the glue, and that’s what is the most important thing. Hold on, not too tight and not to loose. The example that I often use is when we are on a diet and we walk past the bakery shop and there are all these beautiful cakes in the window, that you have to hold onto the diet, hold on, and not go into the bakery shop and buy a piece of chocolate cake. Alright? They’re serving ice cream to everybody at the table and you hold on, “No thank you, on the diet.”

Then we have detection, to see if we’re going astray; then alertness, the alarm, “ding, ding, ding,” if it’s going astray, and attention brings it back. And is the mistake that the placement, the attention, there’s something wrong with that, or is the mistake that the factor of giving rise to this state of mind has something wrong. These are the two dimensions that we work with.

So Shantideva introduces this in terms of our behavior, discipline, that we use all these factors to deal with, you know, “Am I starting to say something stupid or something cruel, or act in a cruel destructive way?” and to hold on to the discipline, and correct it; but without being a paranoid policeman. And this dualism of the “me” that is the policeman and the “me” that’s meditating, and, you know, “Oh oh oh, the stupid one or the victim. I have to watch myself” – that’s really strange if you think about it. So, obviously we need to have some understanding of voidness here of the self, otherwise it becomes a very dualistic, paranoid, uptight, stiff process, and that’s not at all what is intended. Okay? That is with discipline, and with concentration, with meditation, in all these areas. And this concentration that we need, we need that when listening to teachings; you can’t just mentally wander about something else and not pay attention. You need it in the thinking process; you need it in the meditating process.

But specifically how you let something stabilize, how you let it just sink in, that’s a little bit difficult to describe. There’s something specific to that, it just says in the instructions that you no longer use this active state of discernment. Okay, I mean one can get more technical here, but I don’t think that’s helpful at this point, because actually, when we’re working with detection, it’s conceptual, because you’re dealing with the projection that you have, rather than the object itself. Detection is a conceptual process, as I said, I don’t want to go into detail, but there are reasons why in the stabilizing meditation you don’t have this detection, this examining, this seeing, you know, in an active way, because what you are examining is actually the conceptual image. So, with everything that we have in Buddhism, there are always more and more subtle explanations, and complicated explanations, so you just be aware that there are such things.

And there are nine levels, nine stages for gaining shamatha. Shamatha – or shinay in Tibetan – as I say, it gets very technical, very complicated; there are very full instructions of what you work on in each stage in terms of getting rid of this flightiness and dullness. And there’s a huge list of different objects that can be objects upon which you get shamatha or vipashyana. We shouldn’t think that it’s very limited. It’s not. There is a huge number of topics that can be used.

Just to indicate a little bit here; “shamatha” is a stilled and settled state of mind. That’s literally what it means. Shi means it’s stilled, quieted, and nay means it’s settled, placed on something. So it is stilled or quieted of all mental dullness, and mental, flightiness of mind. And it’s settled, placed on the object, without leaving it.

Through these nine stages of getting rid of the dullness and flightiness – and you know there are many other factors that are involved here – eventually we achieve what’s called in Sanskrit “Samadhi.Samadhi, I translate it as “absorbed concentration,” so it’s concentration totally absorbed into the object. So perfect concentration. That’s not shamatha yet. Shamatha is one step beyond perfect concentration. It has in addition to this perfect concentration a mental factor called “a sense of fitness.” And it’s both in a physical and a mental sense. So it accompanies physical cognitions involving the body and also the mind. And it’s a very exhilarating state of mind, but not at all in a disturbing way,

And it’s like when you are physically fit as an athlete you have this feeling you can do anything. You can run forever, you can swim forever, and you know, you just feel great. This type of feeling of fitness: here, we’re referring to the mental state. And so it’s this sense of fitness that I can concentrate on anything for as long as I want. Actually, by definition you have to be able to have this concentration and this sense of fitness for four hours with absolutely no break. That’s shinay, that’s shamatha and that I can sit, you know, for that whole time, and no pain, no problem. And, you know, “Arhh, I can do it.”

And remember, we’re not just talking here about quieting the mind. You know when we talk about flightiness and mental wandering and so on, we’re not just talking about verbal thinking. That’s only the grossest level. We can have a silent pornographic movie going in our mind without saying anything. That equally is flightiness, flying off after an object of desire. And even more subtle, that you want to get rid of the gross disturbing emotion that’s there. You’re not saying anything, there’s no movies going on, but I feel this strong desire and attachment.

That also, you know, that’s flightiness of mind. So flightiness is not just shut up the voice in your head. It includes that, but that’s only step number one. Or, it doesn’t have to be in that realm of desire and attachment; that’s just the strongest. It could be: we’re sitting there and we’re still feeling angry, we’re still feeling upset, we’re still feeling hurt about something. We’re not saying anything in our mind, there are no pictures, but that’s a very distracting feeling or emotion. That also has to be quieted. Okay, so we have shamatha.

Then vipashyana is on top of shamatha. There is no vipashyana without shamatha. If it’s vipashyana it is pervasive that it is combined shamatha and vipashyana. We’re talking about the actual achievement of vipashyana – lhagtong in Tibetan. So vipashyana adds, on top of this sense of fitness of being able to concentrate and sit for as long as you want, also a second sense of fitness that you’re able to discern and understand anything and everything. And as I said, shamatha and vipashyana can be achieved focused on… there’s a whole long long list of the different objects that can be used.

So in terms of the two kinds of meditation, the discerning and the stabilizing, the stabilizing is emphasized in shamatha, and the discerning in vipashyana. So often people in the West are instructed to practice shinay, shamatha, and often it is focusing on the breath, which is the simplest object because it’s always there. But we need to realize and understand that it’s not just speaking about a simple thing of sitting there, focus on the breath and quiet the voice in your head. It’s much, much more than just that. It includes that, but it’s much more. Don’t trivialize it in other words. Okay?

First of all let’s just digest a little bit of what I’ve said and then we’ll have some questions. Also I should mention that the skill of concentration that I’ve just described are skills that we need in daily life and that’s a very good place to apply it. So I bring this in in the sensitivity training that I developed, Developing Balanced Sensitivity. For instance, when we are speaking with somebody, somebody’s speaking to us, you have to pay attention, you have to concentrate, not you know, mind thinking about lunch and when are they going to shut up and go away. So it’s a perfect area to practice concentration, and of course in our work and other things, that we combine all these things.

Somebody asked the question: “Well, is meditation just restricted to when you’re sitting on your meditation cushion?” Absolutely not. It’s something that you practice all the time in real life. Let’s just spend one moment digesting.

Let’s just bring in an example, excuse me. I’m thinking of the example of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. When you speak with him, or even when you’re just in a group and His Holiness looks at you, he’s a hundred percent there. That’s because he has shinay, shamatha; there’s no mental wandering, there’s no anything. He’s just a hundred percent focused, but not in this stiff sort of, you know, “grrr” type of way; relaxed. And everybody feels, “Ahh.” You know when you’re the object of that and it’s too tight, then it’s like somebody’s looking at you to see if there’s something wrong with you. It’s not like that. But it makes you feel really, really wonderful in his presence.

Most people when you speak with them, or when we speak with other people, although this is not a very Buddhist way of saying it, it’s like part of you isn’t there. That’s a totally non-Buddhist description. That’s absolute nonsense from a Buddhist point of view. How could part of you not be there? That’s ridiculous. But that’s at least the way we say it in English. Okay. What questions do you have? Yes?

Participant: In the first part of the lecture you told that when we are visualizing a Buddha, we need to understand what is the enlightenment, or what is the nature of a Buddha, but what is it?

Alex: Well, what’s the nature of a Buddha? I mean the nature of a Buddha is the same as the nature of everybody. And so, we’re talking here about what is the basic nature of the mind, speaking about the subtlest mind, and the subtlest energy – that’s a different aspect of the subtlest mind. And that subtlest mind, the nature of mind, is capable of understanding anything and everything with a perfect clarity and so on. Because the ability to give rise to some appearance, some understanding, some hologram representing anything, that is part of the basic nature of the mind, and to be able to, be aware of that, it’s the basic functioning; that’s what we mean when we talk about mind. It has certain qualities that are part of this.

In terms of the energy for example, the energy is able to emanate and go out infinitely and relate or communicate with others, interact with others, interact with everything. And basic voidness of the mind; that none of this exists in impossible ways. We project all sorts of impossible ways in which the mind and ourselves and everything exists, but that is not referring to anything real. So that’s what voidness means. But, on that subtlest level, the mind is not stained by anything that is obstructing it. But, on grosser levels, there are these obscurations that limit the ability of the mind to know everything, that limit the body, the energy from relating to everything. And on grosser and grosser levels makes more and more limitations; in terms of disturbing emotions and impulsive behavior and all sorts of things.

But that subtlest level and its nature is unstained without having these obscurations. That unstained state in dzogchen is called “rigpa,” pure awareness. But that subtlest state maintains the habits of all these obscurations. How do the habits go on? Why do these things continue from lifetime to lifetime, these obscurations? It’s because the habits of them can be imputed on that subtlest level. So when we talk about clear light mind, it’s either with those habits or in its pure state, you know, even purified of those habits. So, it’s not just a matter of getting down to rigpa, you have to get rid of these habits as well.

But a Buddha is someone who has gotten rid of forever all those grosser levels, so where all these obscurations occur, as well as the habits from the subtlest level. Because Buddha’s gotten rid of the habits as well, then they never will reoccur. And so then a Buddha is somebody in which all these limitations are gone, in terms of what the mind is able to know fully, and all the limitations in terms of how the energy can relate to everyone and communicate perfectly with everyone. And all the qualities are fully operational, the good qualities are fully operational because there are no limitations, nothing blocking them.

So that’s a Buddha; when we talked about, when we’re talking about a Buddha and that basic nature of the mind, that we have as well, are the Buddha-nature factors that will allow us to become like that if we get rid of these obscurations. So when we’re focusing on our not-yet-happening enlightenment, we’re focusing on that basic nature, pure nature, which is there all the time anyway, but the attainment of it, the attainment of that purified basic nature in which all these obscurations are gone forever, that attainment is what we are aiming for with bodhichitta. And that state can be represented by a Buddha, can be represented by various things, so we can focus on it. Otherwise it’s a little too vague for us beginners. If you’re more advanced you could focus on, in mahamudra, the clear light nature of the mind, or rigpa if you can do that, to focus on that representing the not-yet-happening state of enlightenment. That’s much more difficult. Okay? Good.

So let’s break for lunch and we’ll continue in the afternoon with a discussion of visualization.