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Mindfulness and Awareness
Path Is the Goal,
Having laid the basic groundwork regarding the practice of meditation, we can now go further and discuss the point that the practice of meditation involves a basic sense of continuity. Meditation does not involve discontinuing one's relationship with oneself and looking for a better person or searching for possibilities of reforming oneself and becoming a better person. The practice of meditation is a way of continuing one's confusion, chaos, aggression, and passion—but working with it, seeing it from the enlightened point of view.
That is the basic purpose of meditation practice as far as this approach is concerned.
There is a Sanskrit term for basic meditation practice,
which means "development of peace." In this case, peace refers to the harmony connected with accuracy rather than to peace from the point of view of pleasure rather than pain. We have experienced pain, discomfort, because we have failed to relate with the harmony of things as they are. We haven't seen things as they are precisely, directly, properly, and because of that, we have experienced pain, chaotic pain. But in this case, when we talk about peace, we mean that, for the first time, we are able to see ourselves completely,
as what we are,
absolutely as what we are.
This is more than raising the level of our potentiality. If we talk in those terms,
it means we are thinking of an embryonic situation that will develop: this child may be highly disturbed but he has enormous potentiality of becoming a reasonable, less disturbed personality. We have a problem with language here,
an enormous problem. Our language is highly involved with the realm of possessions and achievements. Therefore, we have a problem in expressing with this language the notion of unconditional potentiality, which is the notion that is applicable here.
Shamatha meditation practice is the vanguard practice for developing our mindfulness. I
would like to call your attention to this term,
when we talk about mindfulness, it has to do with a warning sign, like the label on your cigarette package where the surgeon general tells you this is dangerous to your health—beware of this, be mindful of this. But here mindfulness is not connected with a warning. In fact, it is regarded as more of a welcoming gesture: you could be fully minded, mindful. Mindfulness means that you could be a wholesome person, a completely wholesome person, rather than that you should not be doing this or that. Mindfulness here does not mean that you should look this way or that way so you can be cured of your infamous problems, whatever they are, your problems of being mindless. Maybe you think like this: you are a highly distracted person, you have problems with your attention span. You can't sit still for five minutes or even one minute, and you should control yourself. Everybody who practices meditation begins as a naughty boy or naughty girl who has to learn to control himself or herself.
They should learn to pay attention to their desk, their notebook, their teacher's blackboard.
That is the attitude that is usually connected with the idea of mindfulness. But the approach here has nothing to do with going back to school, and mindfulness has nothing to do with your attention span as you experienced it in school at all.
This is an entirely new angle, a new approach, a development of peace, harmony,
The practice of meditation, in the form of shamatha at the beginner's level, is simply being. It is bare attention that has nothing to do with a warning. It is just simply being and keeping a watchful eye, completely and properly. There are traditional disciplines, techniques, for that, mindfulness techniques. But it is very difficult actually to explain the nature of mindfulness. When you begin trying to develop mindfulness in the ordinary sense, a novice sense, your first flash of thought is that you are unable to do such a thing. You feel that you may not be able to accomplish what you want to do. You feel threatened. At the same time, you feel very romantic: "I am getting into this new discipline, which is a unique and very powerful thing for me to do. I feel joyous, contemplative, monkish (or 'nunkish'). I feel a sense of renunciation,
which is very romantic."
Then the actual practice begins. The instructors tell you how to handle your mind and your body and your awareness and so on. In practicing shamatha under those circumstances, you feel like a heavily loaded pack donkey trying to struggle across a highly polished stream of ice. You can't grip it with your hooves, and you have a heavy load on your back. At the same time, people are hitting you from behind, and you feel so inadequate and so embarrassed. Every beginning meditator feels like an adolescent donkey, heavily loaded and not knowing how to deal with the slippery ice. Even when you are introduced to various mindfulness techniques that are supposed to help you, you still feel the same thing—that you are dealing with a foreign element, which you are unable to deal with properly. But you feel that you should at least show your faith and bravery, show that you are willing to go through the ordeal of the training,
the challenge of the discipline.
The problem here is not so much that you are uncertain how to practice meditation but that you haven't identified the teachings as personal experience. The teachings are still regarded as a foreign element coming into your system. You feel you have to do your best with that sense of foreignness, which makes you a clumsy young donkey. The young donkey is being hassled by his master a great deal, and he is already used to carrying a heavy load and to being hit every time there is a hesitation. In that picture, the master becomes an external entity rather than the donkey's own conviction. A lot of the problems that come up in the practice of meditation have to do with a fear of foreignness, a sense that you are unable to relate with the teachings as part of your basic being.
That becomes an enormous problem.
The practice of shamatha meditation is one of the most basic practices for becoming a good Buddhist, a well-trained person. Without that, you cannot take even a step toward a personal understanding of the true buddhadharma. And the buddhadharma, at this point, is no myth. We know that this practice and technique were devised by the Buddha himself. We know that he went through the same experiential process. Therefore, we can follow his example.
The basic technique here is identification with one's breath or, when doing walking meditation, identification with one's walking. There is a traditional story that Buddha told an accomplished musician that he should relate to controlling his mind by keeping it not too tight and not too loose. He should keep his mind at the right level of attention. So as we practice these techniques, we should put 25
percent of our attention on the breathing or the walking. The rest of our mental activities should be let loose, left open. This has nothing to do with the vajrayana or crazy wisdom or anything like that at all. It is just practical advice. When you tell somebody to keep a high level of concentration, to concentrate 100 percent and not make any mistakes, that person becomes stupid and is liable to make more mistakes because he's so concentrated on what he's doing. There's no gap. There's no room to open himself, no room to relate with the back-and-forth play between the reference point of the object and the reference point of the subject. So the Buddha quite wisely advised that you put only tentative attention on your technique, not to make a big deal out of concentrating on the technique (this method is mentioned in the
Concentrating too heavily on the technique brings all kinds of mental activities,
frustrations, and sexual and aggressive fantasies of all kinds. So you keep just on the verge of your technique, with just 25 percent of your attention.
percent is relaxing, a further 25 percent relates to making friends with oneself and the last 25
percent connects with expectation—your mind is open to the possibility of something happening during this practice session. The whole thing is synchronized completely.
These four aspects of mindfulness have been referred to in the
as the four wheels of a chariot. If you have only three wheels, there's going to be a strain on the chariot as well as the horse. If you have two, the chariot will be heavy to the point of not being functional—the horse will have to hold up the whole thing and pull as well. If, on the other hand, you had five or six wheels on your chariot, that would create a bumpy ride and the passengers would not feel all that comfortable. So the ideal number of wheels we should have on our chariot is four, the four techniques of meditation: concentration,
openness, awareness, expectation. That leaves a lot of room for play. That is the approach of the buddhadharma, and we know that a lot of people in the lineage have practiced that way and have actually achieved a perfect state of enlightenment in one lifetime.
The reason why the technique is very simple is that, that way, we cannot elaborate on our spiritual-materialism trip. We all breathe, unless we are dead. We all walk, unless we are in a wheelchair. And those techniques are the simplest and the most powerful, the most immediate, practical, and relevant to our life. In the case of breathing, there is a particular tradition that has developed from a commentary on the
written by Gampopa. There we find the notion, related to breathing, of mixing mind and space, which is also used in tantric meditative practices. But even at the hinayana level, there is a mixing of mind and space. This has become one of the very important techniques of meditation. Sometimes this particular approach is also referred to as
shilhak sung juk,
which is a Tibetan expression meaning "combining shamatha and vipashyana meditation practices."
is a Sanskrit term for awareness. It is often translated as "insight."
The term for awareness in Tibetan is
which literally means "clear seeing."
Combining shamatha and vipashyana plays an important part in the meditator's development.
Mindfulness becomes awareness. Mindfulness is taking an interest in precision of all kinds, in the simplicity of the breath, of walking, of the sensations of the body, of the experiences of the mind—of the thought process and memories of all kinds. Awareness is acknowledging the totality of the whole thing. In the Buddhist tradition, awareness, or vipashyana, has been described as the first experience of egolessness. There is an expression in Tibetan:
lhakthong dagme tokpe sherap,
which means "the knowledge that realizes egolessness through awareness."
Vipashyana is the first introduction to the understanding of egolessness.
Awareness in this case is totality rather than onesidedness. A person who has achieved awareness or who is working on the discipline of awareness has no direction, no bias in one direction or another. He is just simply aware,
totally and completely. This awareness also includes precision, which is the main quality of awareness in the early stage of the practice of meditation.
Awareness brings egolessness because there is no object of awareness. You are aware of the whole thing completely, of you and other and of the activities of you and other at the same time. So everything is open. There is no particular object of the awareness.
If you're smart enough, you might ask the question, "Who is being aware of this whole thing?" That's a very interesting question, the sixty-four-dollar question. And the answer is, nobody is being aware of anything but
The razor blade cuts itself. The sun shines by itself. Fire burns by itself. Water flows by itself. No-body watches—and that is the very primitive logic of egolessness.
I'm sure the mahayanists would sneer and think that this is terrible logic, very crude. They probably would not hold high opinions of it. But from the point of view of hinayana, that's extraordinarily fantastic logic. Razor blade cuts itself, fire burns itself, water quenches thirst by itself. This is the egolessness of vipashyana practice.
we have the term
Pali, which means resting in one's intelligence. This is the same as awareness.
Awareness here does not mean that the person practicing vipashyana meditation gives up his or her shamatha techniques of, say, anapanasati—mindfulness of the coming and going of the breath—or of walking in walking meditation practice. The meditator simply relates with that discipline in a more expansive way. He or she begins to relate with the whole thing. This is done in connection with what is known as the four foundations of mindfulness:
mindfulness of body, of mind, of livelihood, and of effort.
If you relate with every move you make in your sitting practice of meditation, if you take note of every detail, every aspect of the movement of your mind, of the relationships in everything that you do, there's no room for anything else at all. Every area is taken over by meditation, by vipashyana practice. So there is no one to practice and nothing to practice. No "you"
actually exists. Even if you think, "I am practicing this particular technique," you really have no one there to relate to, no one to talk to.
Even at the moment when you say, "I am practicing," that, too, is an expression of awareness at the same time, so you have nothing left, nothing whatsoever, even no "I am practicing." You can still say the empty words, but they are like a lion's corpse, as it has been traditionally described. When the lion is dead, th lion's corpse remains lying in the jungle, and the other animals continue to be frightened of the lion. The only ones who can destroy the lion's corpse are the worms who crawl up from underneath and do not see it from the outside. They eat through it, so finally the lion's corpse disintegrates on the ground. So the worms are like the awareness, the knowledge that realizes egolessness through awareness—vipashyana.