8th October 2016 - Public Talk Part Two - Meditation Instructions
This is an unedited transcript of a talk given on 8th October, 2016 - the 3rd Anniversary of Akong Rinpoche's Parinivana - by Drupon Rinpoche, from Karma Kunga’s Oral Translation.
During this one-week retreat then there will be two main topics taught.
The first is Shi-nay, or Calm Abiding. I know you love that, and so we’ll … I thought it would be good to teach it.
And then the second topic is: When practising the Dharma, when receiving Dharma teachings, what is the motivation that we should have? What conduct should we maintain? And then: Who is it that we should receive the Dharma from? What type of person do we need in order to receive the Dharma from? And then, when we’ve found the right person, then how do we rely on them? And so this I feel to be important.
Now generally, regarding the Dharma, when we hear the Dharma again and again we see that it is very profound and that it can be thought about from many different angles. And so for the good and enthusiastic Dharma students, then even though … if the name of the topic is the same, then it will be new and fresh. Whereas those who are not so keen on the Dharma, then even if they're taught a brand new topic, then they won't see it to be all that beneficial, they won't see it to be so special, but maybe a little bit boring and a little bit of a hard work, a bit of a struggle to listen to. And in struggling along, then they actually may become even more fed up and … worse off again.
And so, first, so first, I’m going to teach you your favourite. And although it may be your favourite, it is the most difficult. You like meditation, don't you? And so I will teach you Shi-nay, Calm Abiding. But it is also the most difficult. Why? Well, when we come to the practice of Calm Abiding then there is the correct physical posture that we need to keep and it’s very difficult, isn't it? We get sore knees, well we end up just sore all over. And it’s not something we can do. And so, there’s the first difficulty, or the first reason why it is difficult. And the second reason it is difficult is that our mind needs to settle. But having too many thoughts, we find our mind shooting all over the place, or we end up asleep. And so, although the methods for placement, placement of both the body and the placement of the mind are taught, they are extremely difficult.
And so, among us here, then I’m sure most of you have received teachings on Calm Abiding, and so maybe what I'm going to say now is repetition, but as I‘ve just said, maybe it is repetition but it is received as being fresh and new or maybe it is received with the thought: “Well, I've heard this loads of times.” Nevertheless, then I will briefly explain what it is that we need to be doing with our body and what it is that we need to be doing with our mind and then we’ll continue with this over the week.
It’s very important how we start out. And so when it comes to the … the placement methods for the body or for those of the mind, then we should engage them with enthusiasm, thinking that this is very beneficial, this is something wonderful, this is something excellent. That, we need to feel. We shouldn't start out with, sort of, fear and anxiety: “I can't do that. I'm not going to be able to do that. I’m physically sick, you know. I’m mentally sick, you know. I’m not able to do this. I’m not able to do that.” Because the way that we first set our attitude is very, very important. Our mental approach is … is essential and so we should be fearless. Because there is nothing to fear, there is nothing to worry about, because no-one's going to force us into anything, no-one can force us into anything, even if they wish to. And so it’s only as much as oneself decides to do.
And so we just … start out with an easy mindset, fearless and: “I'm going to do what I can. I‘m going to do as much as I can, and so regarding the physical posture I will do what I can, regarding the … the methods for the placement of mind, I will do what I can.” And we let our … we do as much as our diligence allows and after that there is nothing to worry about or nothing to fear.
Whereas if we’re starting out with the … the mindset of “I can't do it. I'm not going to be able to do it.” then we're starting out on the wrong foot. Because if we start out with the attitude “I will do what I can.” then we will be able to do something. And doing something is better than doing nothing. And so, among the different parts, or features, of the practice, yes, we may not be able to do them all for an hour straight, but if we're not worried about that because “I’m going to do what I can.” then we may be able to do a minute and doing a minute will bring us a minute's worth of benefit. And if we don't do that one minute because we started out with this worrying mindset, “I'm not going to be able to do it.” and therefore we don't do anything of it, then we don't even do a minute and don't even get that one minute’s worth of benefit. And so we do what we can. We start out with enthusiasm, with that easy‑going mindset of “I'm going to do what I can.” and then if it starts to become painful, then we let it go for a while and we rest for a few minutes. And that what we have done will be of benefit. And in that way we will gradually build ourselves up and get used to the techniques and so the second day we may be able to do a little bit more than we were able to do the first day. The third day a little bit more than we were able to do the second day and in this way then our body is becoming … our body and mind are becoming accustomed to the techniques, we start to feel more enthusiasm because we are progressing and that helps us again to do that little bit more and so in that way both the physical and the mental aspects of the practice will gain strength and our practice will go well.
For example, if one person approaches another person with … a smile, or if … sorry: if one person looks at another person and then they smile rather than sort of scowl, then the other person is very likely to smile back. It will put the other person at ease, they're not likely to start to feel anxious. And then if you approach them not only with a smile but a “Hello.” then they are likely to reply. Previously I didn't understand the function of ‘Hello’. I used to think it meant “Excuse me.” And so if I said, “Hello.” to someone and they just walked passed me, I thought “That was rather rude.” Anyway, if you say “Hello.” to somebody they are likely to say “Hello.” in return. Whereas if, on encountering somebody, if you sort of shy away from them, or not want to look at them, then the other person will be put on edge and they may not want to talk to you, or they may feel anxious about approaching you.
And so it’s the same when it comes to meditation with the body and the mind. If we are approaching the … approaching the practice with a degree of anxiety of … sort of … holding back a little bit or being a little bit fearful, then one won't engage with the practice. I mean, it’s not like the body and mind are separate things like two different people, but with the right approach then there can be this friendly coming together of the two, a smile returned with a smile. And just like when two people are meeting, when they smile at one another and say “Hello.” to one another, they can end up having quite a nice time together. And so, in this same way with the correct approach to the meditation techniques, then the … the body and mind can come together in some sort of harmony and the practice can then develop.
But if we are starting out with the attitude or the thought that “This is going to be difficult. I might get sick. I may … may damage myself.” or “Things may go wrong.” then that affects how we then engage with the practice. We won't make that true connection with the practice, but we’ll be holding ourself back. And so we have to keep in mind, again, that nobody is forcing us to do this. When it comes to the physical aspects of the practice, if it starts to become painful, then we can let the posture go, can't we? No-one’s saying that you have to maintain the posture the whole time. And the same with the aspects of the mind. If the mind is becoming tired or … or tight or stressed, then we can let that go for a time being. And so there’s nothing to fear. But we should approach … approach the practice with a smile, with the thought of “I’m able to do this. I’m able to do at least something of this.”
And then we've got the right attitude and the right approach. People are very capable. When somebody sets their mind to something, it’s amazing what they can achieve. You can do anything when you set your mind to it. And so we should come to the practice with the right attitude: not be scared, anxious, but we should be joyful and positive. And that will bring the … and that will be an approach that is conducive to having good practice. Because if we think about what we want from the practice and we think about what the practice offers us, the … the practice is what will bring peace and joy physically and mentally, something which will benefit us physically and mentally, and we like that, don't we? And so in that way we should approach the joy … the practice with joy and … and … enter into the … techniques with that sort of attitude.
First we’ll look at the … the placement of the body and when this is taught it’s usually taught starting with the lower parts of the body first and then working one's way upwards. And so we start with the legs and the legs should be crossed in Vajra posture. And so there are those who are able to sit like that and those who aren't. And it’s not the case that if we can't sit in Vajra posture then we can't meditate. That's not how it is. We can still meditate even though we’re not sitting in Vajra posture. And so … but again we should start it with … should approach it with the right attitude. If, right from the start, we’re thinking, “Oh! If I sit like that, that’s going to damage my legs, that's going to damage my knees.” … if right from the start we are thinking like that, then we've got the wrong approach.
For example, if we are able to sit in the Vajra posture, then I think sitting like that for two or three minutes isn't going to harm us physically in any way. I can't imagine that would be the case. And so, if we’re able to sit in Vajra posture then it means we can sit like that for two or three minutes, you know or, you know, some amount of time each session. It’s not like if we can sit in the Vajra posture, then we have to sit … continue sitting like that until something gives way! And so, we need the right approach. And thinking that “Oh! I can't do it. Full stop.” is not the right approach, but also going to the other extreme: “I can do it, so I’ll just keep on doing it until I hurt myself.” … that's also not the right approach. And it's not like anybody’s going to come along and tie us up when we … when we get there, then we have to … or somebody has to sort of tie our legs in place. Then, our legs may really get damaged, but that's not the case, is it? And so, if we can do two minutes, then we can do two minutes. And then if we … feel we can't sit like that … for longer, then we let our legs down and we sit in another posture with our legs. And that's each person's own choice, isn't it (how long they choose to sit like that for)? That would be the … the correct approach: “I’ll do what I can.” rather than thinking, “Oh! That’s going to hurt.” or “That’s going to damage me, I'm not going to do it.” And so, if we are able to sit like that for a few minutes, keeping in mind that sitting like that has benefit, there's a reason why it's taught, and so, if we can sit like that for a few minutes, we get a few minutes’ worth of that benefit.
But if we just sort of cancel it out straight from the start, “I'm not able to do it. Full stop.” then we will never get those benefits. And so, just because we can't, say, sit in Vajra posture, then we shouldn’t give up on the other aspects. “OK, I can't sit in Vajra posture, I really can't.” but one can still apply oneself to the other areas, the other areas of the physical posture, the other areas of the mental posture, let's say. So, just because we can't do one part, we shouldn't let all the other parts go. And by doing what we can, if we can only do a few minutes of any part of the posture, then doing it for a few minutes one day will enable us to do it a few more minutes, you know, maybe in a few days’ time. We will gradually get used to that posture and be able to do more and be able to do it better.
And so having this correct approach means that our mind will be very open: open and easy-going. The way of thinking is very free. Like … we … sort of … we … it’s a way of thinking that is conducive to having self-control. Whereas if we are very tight-minded: “I can't do it.” and that's it, then our way of thinking is lacking freedom. We have fallen under the sway of fear, we are in the grip of fear or anxiety, and that is … that is holding us back. Whereas if we’re thinking “Well, I’ll do what I can, and if I can do it, great, I will do it and if I can't do it, then I won't do it.” then the mind is very open and the way of thinking is very relaxed and it is a mind that has freedom. And it is an approach that will lead to a very healthy state of mind: a mind that has good habits, good mental habits. Whereas being fearful and holding oneself back because of fear, then it … it breeds bad habits of mind and it’s a state which is conducive to losing the freedom and control of our own mind. And so that’s what we need: we need a mind that is free. Free in terms of … that it … we are in control of it and … we are calling the shots. And that’s very, very helpful.
If one is not able to sit in the Vajra posture, then one can sit in what is called the Sattva posture, or the Bodhisattva posture, which is the normal cross-legged posture. And we can sit like that and we can change over our legs and so on. It’s not like once we’ve sat down in one posture, we have to maintain that, no matter what. And then if we’re not able to sit like that, then we can sit on a chair. But, when I say that, it’s not to say that we don't need to sit in the Vajra posture. Just because we can't do one aspect doesn't mean … you know, it wouldn't be right, to sort of let go of the meditation in full. Because if one is able to do the Vajra posture, then we get the benefits that come along with that. But, if one can't do it, one can't do it. But, one can still do one's best to meditate, one can still meditate.
The next part of the posture is to have one's hands in equipoise, the posture of equipoise. And so that’s where one has one's right hand on top of the left and then one brings one's fingers … one's thumb-tips together and then one places it just below the navel. And the elbows should be away from the sides of the body. That is what is taught. You know, they shouldn't be, sort of, tight to the body. The benefits that come with each part of the posture are taught – the specific benefit of the specific point of posture – they are taught. Now, you don't usually hear people talking about … “Sitting like this with my hands here … it’s sort of … it’s physically harmful in this way, or physically harmful in that way.” or “I find it very painful.” You don't usually hear people say that sort of thing, but at the same time you very rarely see people sitting with their hands in this posture of equipoise. And so, I guess that’s a matter of laziness or not seeing the posture to be very important. It’s, sort of, the only possibility, really, because it’s not something that we find painful. It’s not something that we find difficult to do physically, but at the same time many people don't do it. And so, I guess maybe there is some difficulty involved by having one's hands like that, but nevertheless physically you would think that it wouldn't be a big deal. It is something that we should be able to do. So, that is a point we should pay attention to.
And if it does become uncomfortable, painful, then again we can leave the posture, shake out our arms, or whatever. If we are sitting there with our hands in the posture of equipoise and it does become very painful, if we were then to grit our teeth, then … so that … all we could think about is the pain in our arms, then it’s unlikely the meditation is going to go very well. It would just be rather pointless. And so, instead, then we should let go of the posture and shake out our arms. I think we wouldn't need to do it for more than a minute and then we can resume the posture and then we haven't wasted any time, you know, we've only wasted a short amount of time of not keeping the posture.
Generally we do have this habit of being anxious or fearful and thinking in such a way that takes away our own inner freedom and that's not helpful for meditation. And so the approach is not just to give up on everything, not to just forget it all, but to take a relaxed approach and an approach in which we are in control, in which we are like … we are, sort of, independent and … we are … in control, I think, is the best translation, so we’re in control and we’re taking this gentle approach. And it is that which will be conducive to meditation.
We can't let the aspects, or the features, of the physical posture over… overtake … overtake us before our mind even starts to settle, before we even get into the practice we are, sort of, overwhelmed by the physical posture or the discomfort of the physical posture. So instead, then, our physical posture, our body, should be, sort of quite naturally placed, relaxed, at ease, controlled and we should have enthusiasm and joy for the posture and the benefits it brings.
The next point is to have the spine very straight and this is an extremely important point for the posture, to have a straight body. If we are slouched or leaning from side to side then it has many consequences. It can stir up thought and agitation. It can make us sleepy and dull. And so, to have the body very straight is important.
And then, the chin should be tucked in slightly, slightly lowered … maybe ‘tucked in’ is better. And that’s helpful for straightening the body.
And the lips should not be open, but not clamped shut, but just, sort of, naturally brought together and the same with our teeth: not, sort of, parted, but not, sort of, clenched: just naturally left.
And then the tip of our tongue should be towards the roof of the mouth, placed behind the teeth on the palate of our mouth. The reason for that is that if our lips are slightly parted and we were to sit like that for a long time, then our mouths may become dry. Whereas if … whereas if we have the tongue towards the palate of the mouth, that will stop the air or … the air coming directly into the mouth and drying the mouth. And so it helps to retain the moisture of the mouth. It's helpful for those who are meditating for long periods.
And then our eyes, our gaze. It should be set at a distance of four finger-widths before our nose, in front of our nose. So, that's just to set the direction of our gaze. And so, we’re not looking upwards but the gaze will come slightly downwards, if we set our gaze at a length of four finger-widths’ distance from our nose, so it's not like we’re staring into that particular area, but we’re just letting our gaze, sort of, rest, at that sort of level.
But we have to take into account the different lengths of noses of the different types of people [laughs]. Tibetans tend to have quite short, stumpy noses and so they do need to set their gaze at four finger-widths away from the nose, but you Westerners, having quite long noses, then you don't need the full four finger-widths … just one or two should suffice. So, measure it for yourself and see if it works or not. A little joke there! But this is just to set the gaze, so that we’re not looking too high … the eyes are not, sort of, looking upwards, but nor are they looking downwards. In the practice of Dzogchen the gaze is very important and at different times the gaze is set at different levels: sometimes looking upwards, sometimes looking straight ahead, sometimes looking downwards, and it is said to have a big effect on our thoughts.
It is very important that our … our eyes are open. Many people end up meditating with their eyes closed. I mean, that's fine if you're … if you've got amazing meditation then you can … you do as you like, that’s fine. But for beginners, those who aren't so skilled, those whose minds aren’t so stable, it’s very important that the eyes are open. Now, of course, if we forget, then we forget. But we should pay particular attention and … and be aware that our eyes need to be open.
There are those who say that “Well, if I close my eyes, my mind … settles more easily, whereas if I keep my eyes open then I have more thoughts, and therefore I’d rather close my eyes, I don't like to have my eyes open when I meditate.” There are those who say that. But this way of thinking is slightly mistaken. It is possible that, by closing our eyes, then we do have fewer thoughts. But together with that, our awareness will be not be so clear, or sharp. Our thoughts, or our meditation, will lack clarity. There will be, together with, maybe, the decrease of thoughts, there will be dullness.
It's connected … it's connected with the state of mind that we have when we are approaching sleep. When the mind starts to … draw inwards then there are fewer thoughts. But together with that, the mind has no strength to it: no power. And when it’s lacking strength and power, it is not able to work, it’s not able to do a job.
And when … and when meditating, then what we are trying to do is strengthen the mind. We are trying to empower the mind. When the mind is strong, it cannot be led away by negative aspects. Just being without thoughts, by itself, is not of any benefit if the mind is not … if it’s lacking power. So, basically, it’s of no benefit to our practice.
When somebody is thinking “I have to meditate well.” then they never let themselves fall asleep. They fight sleep when they’re trying to meditate well. And when we are sleeping, there are no thoughts, that's obvious. We know that, don't we? So when meditating, then our mind needs to be very awake: it needs to have strength and power. And when our eyes are open then the mind is much clearer, the mind has more strength.
If all sorts of thoughts are manifesting, appearing, that is not a problem if we are aware of it. If we are aware of the thoughts, it is not a problem, because they will be held by awareness. They are being held by awareness. And so it is not that when we are meditating we are … we are not thinking, that nothing is happening mentally. This, we have to understand. Being in a state where there is nothing coming to mind is not meditation. When nothing … when nothing is coming to mind, that is being asleep. And so when we are meditating, then there are things coming to mind. And if we have many thoughts occurring and we are aware of them, those thoughts become meditation.
When we are aware of the thoughts, we know what is occurring, at that point the mind is very clear: there is great clarity. The mind is being, sorry, the thoughts are being held by awareness. And so therefore the thoughts … give us opportunity for great training in meditation. They increase our awareness. They give … they give strength to the mind. The mind does not get lost to the thoughts at that point. When it happens that we feel that no thoughts are occurring and our mind is firmly focused on the focus for our meditation, we find that our mind is … remaining with the object of focus, then there needs to be a sense of freshness. Whatever the object of meditation is, then it should be very alive, like, fresh.
If it happens that the mind is very clear, but also very wild, and … not held with awareness so that we are getting distracted, it's helpful at that time to wear lighter clothes, to wear lighter clothes and … and cool the body. If the body is slightly cool, it’s helpful to deal with that, to deal with this agitation and when we’re becoming distracted.
Sorry, I got that the wrong way round. When you are feeling dull and sleepy at that point it’s good if the body … to wear lighter clothes. If the body is cool, it helps to deal with that … to deal with dullness and sleepiness.
And then it works the other way round for when the mind is wild and becoming distracted. At that point, we should wear warmer, thicker clothes. But generally then we shouldn't wear too many clothes when meditating, because for those who are meditating for longer periods, they are more prone to sleepiness. Those who are meditating for shorter periods are more prone to agitation, like a wild mind.
And our work also plays a role here. If we are very busy, then sometimes when we meditate then we fall asleep when meditating, or maybe if at work there are a lot of problems and difficulties, then maybe we’re not able to meditate, the mind is too, sort of, stirred up to meditate.
I've just noticed we’ve gone a little bit over time, so we’re going to have to leave it here but we’ll continue over the next few days – tomorrow and the next day - on this topic.