Meditation and Nonmeditation
by Mingyur Rinpoche
See also these texts in this blog:
Tonight we will talk about calm abiding meditation, or shamatha [Skt].The title of the lecture series is "Meditation and Nonmeditation," and it seems that these two are contradictory to each other. But if we really understand what meditation is we will see that they are the same.
When we meditate on calm abiding, or shamatha, we make our mind more pliable, and thereby gain control of it.
This is why we practice shamatha, calm abiding: to bring forth the potency and strength that is in the mind in the first place. Further, when we practice this meditation we awaken what is called "inner peace," an inner peace that does not depend upon outer causes and conditions.
These are some general ideas about why it is important to practice meditation, shamatha.
In terms of the practice of shamatha, there are two essential points: the key points of body and the key points of mind.
In the early stages of the path of meditation, when we haven't achieved a high level of
realization, our body and mind relate to each other in the manner of support and supported. Our body functions as the support for our mind, which in turn is supported by our body.
In Buddhism we talk about three different qualities that make up the more subtle aspects of the physical body, which relate to our meditation. They are called channels, winds and essences.
When we meditate there are seven key points to our body posture that are very important. The first point is to cross the legs...
...we should pay heed to what our body is telling us; if it hurts us a lot to sit in that posture and if we try to force ourselves into it, even though we don't want to sit that way, then that really can hurt us a lot. So we should not do it. Even if we are sitting in a regular cross-
legged fashion, if our legs get sore it is no problem to extend them. Also we can sit in a chair.
The second key point of posture is to put our hands in the posture of equipoise, with our left hand underneath and our right resting on top of it, or with our right hand underneath and our left hand resting on top of it. The most important point is to rest them in a relaxed way. We can also rest our hands on top of our two knees.
The fourth key point is the most important point of all: sitting with a straight back.
The fifth key point is to bring the jaw inwards slightly taking the general weight of our head
onto our jaw, letting our jaw absorb the weight of the head.
The sixth key point of posture is that our mouth should be relaxed in a way that our upper and lower teeth are not touching each other, and our upper and lower lips are not touching each other, there is a slight space in between.
The seventh key point is to rest our eyes in the way that they naturally are. We can have our gaze going slightly downward, it can be going directly outward or it could be slightly upwards. It is actually better to shift our gaze from time to time. If we try to keep our gaze in the same place for a long time, it tires us out, so if we shift our gaze occasionally, that keeps things fresh. It is okay to blink when we meditate.
This completes the body posture. From among all these key points it is important to keep in mind that relaxation in our body is very important. We should sit with the muscles in our body relaxed. Let's try this together, just practicing the body posture. We don't need to meditate.
Sit up straight, with your body relaxed in general, and relax your mind as well. You do not need to think of anything in particular - we're just sitting with our body relaxed and our mind relaxed. We're not talking about meditation yet. We are just going to sit with our body and mind relaxed...
This relaxation is meditation. But I did not instruct you to meditate. But it is said, non-
meditation is the supreme meditation. Therefore we don't need to meditate. We relax our body and we relax our mind.
We experience these states of relaxation in our body and mind frequently in our everyday life. Why doesn't that benefit us when that happens? Because we do not recognize that it is happening. Just now we relaxed while knowing we were relaxing. This is what is known as mindfulness. Therefore, if we relax, mindfulness comes right along with it. Usually, we tire ourselves out and then relax after that, but we do not realize that we are relaxing -
our attention is always facing outward, looking at other things.
Here we are relaxing in our body and mind while being aware that that is what we are doing. By being aware that we are relaxing when we are relaxing, we come to gain
control over our mind. So that's easy, right? It is very easy. You do not need to do anything. You do not need to meditate.
When we relax in this way what is our mind like? Our mind is relaxed and comfortable but still we cannot identify it; we can't point at our mind and say "this is my relaxed mind" or "this is my comfortable mind." This meditation technique that has just been described is called shamatha or calm abiding meditation without object.
Beginners probably would not experience that type of meditation for more than two, thre
e or five seconds, but that's fine. We should practice in short segments many times.
We shouldn't think thoughts like "I need to sit for a long time," "I need to stop my thoughts," because thoughts will happen and we cannot stop them. We can't shoot our thoughts, we can't burn our thoughts, and even if we set off a bomb, that will not stop our thoughts. That is the nature of mind. We do not need to stop our thoughts. What do we need? We need mindfulness. The main point about shamatha meditation is mindfulness, or, in other words, awareness.
...when there is no mindfulness there is no meditation. We are not saying that when there
are thoughts there is no meditation, and when there are no thoughts that is meditation; it's not about that at all. The point is whether there is mindfulness or not.
So meditation in this way is extremely easy, but there is one difficulty: it is so easy that it is
hard. It's hard because we don't trust it. We are always thinking that meditation must be
referring to something very special.
Our expectations about meditation bind our minds. This way of meditating is so close to us that we do not see it.
Now I will give you a difficult method of meditation [laughter]. This one relates to the collection of consciousnesses that we have. Buddhism teaches about six different consciousness: the eye consciousness that sees form, the ear consciousness that hears sounds, the nose consciousness that smells, the tongue that perceives tastes, our body consciousness that perceives tactilenobjects, and our mental consciousness that perceives thoughts. The reason why all of our disturbing states of mind, our suffering and monkey-like behavior, happen is because of this very collection of consciousnesses that has six different parts.
When some people who are immersed in meditation consider the thoughts that arise from
seeing forms, hearing sounds, smelling smells, and so forth, they think that these thoughts
harm their meditation, are enemies to their meditation. But for those who really understand
the essential point of meditation, all of those thoughts can become supports and aids to our meditation. Let's look at the way in which we can make these thoughts supports for our
Meditation with Form
First, with regard to form, our eyes see two kinds of things: shapes and colors. So it would be best for us to start off with a small object. We can look at a very small object and at the same time that our eyes are looking at that object, our mind should also look. If our mind can look at that object, this is what is called shamatha with object. We do not need anything but for our eyes to be looking at the object one-hundred-percent. It is not necessary to try for two-hundred-percent. [Rinpoche holds up his hand.] You see my hand. Even if we were to look at it for one whole hour, would our mind be looking at the hand for the whole hour? If our mind can see the hand, then this seeing is shamatha. That's easy, right? We do not need to meditate on our hand. We don't need to visualize our hand in our mind, or worry what a hand is like. We need merely to see it.
Meditation for beginners is just like a frog-it jumps to one state then goes to the side again,
then back and off to the other side, then back and off in another direction. We focus our mind on a particular object and it actually focuses on that object but then scatters off to something else, comes back to the focus, scatters off to something else. We do not need to hold our mind tightly or put a whole lot of energy into our mind to try and bring it into focus. We merely need to see.
If we practice in this way, our mindfulness will become stronger and stronger. Seeing the form, our mind will extend for longer periods of time. We can practice this type of meditation now, together. You can choose any object to look at.
First, relax your mind. [Pause] Now look at a form. [Pause] Now, without particularly looking at a form, continue sitting with your mind relaxed. [All practice.]
Meditation with Sound
Now we can work with the technique related to sound. Do you hear any sound? What sounds? Is there a sound coming from the roof? We'll meditate together and pay attention to what we hear - it could be any sound, doesn't matter what. We do not need to focus on one sound. We simply look with the thought "what is my ear hearing?" We open up our
ears. If we do not hear anything in particular, then that will become shamatha without object, and then when we place our attention with mindfulness on what we do hear, that is shamatha with object. When practicing this type of meditation with sound we can
have both happening, in alternation with each other - shamatha with object and shamatha without object.
First sit with your mind relaxed. [Pause]
Now listen to sound. [Pause]
Now relax your mind. [Pause]
When we do these practices looking at forms and our mind looks at them too, listening to
sounds and our mind listens to them too - when our mind is also looking at the form or listening to the sound - we are practicing mindfulness and developing our mindfulness. The more our mind is able to stay with thoseperceptual objects, the stronger and more developed our mindfulness is becoming. Through continuing to practice in this way, our mind becomes more tamed, more peaceful, and more happy and joyous. We come to gain control over our mind and we gain pliancy in our minds - our minds become more supple.
Q: Do you offer meditation on the sense of taste?
R: Yes. Tomorrow I will teach tasting, touching with thought.
Beginners need to be relaxed. But when you become more familiar, you can do things fast and still have the presence of mindfulness. You can have mindfulness in doing things like that. When we apply meditation to our ordinary life we do not have to be robots.
Shamatha without Object
In terms of resting the mind naturally, I spoke last night about "shamatha without object" or
"shamatha without attributes." During this type of shamatha, we relax our body and we relax our mind in its natural state
Shamatha without object is so easy that we don't trust it, and so for beginners we need
something that is a little bit difficult- the practice of shamatha with object. Whether we're
practicing shamatha with object or shamatha without object, we should simply have the
attitude that we are going to try our best. We don't have to hold our mind tightly thinking, "It
is absolutely not okay if I do not have a good meditation session."
We should think: "If my meditation is good, let it be good. If my meditation is bad, let it be bad. If it is mistaken, let it be mistaken. If it is correct, let it be correct. If I am to be reborn in hell, let me go to hell. If I'm to be reborn in a Pure Land, let me be go to a Pure Land." The time of meditation is precisely this state of being free from cares. We shouldn't be
that carefree in our post-meditation stage, but when we meditate, we should definitely be as carefree as that.
Meditation is pretty much just sitting. It is just resting with your mind in whatever its nature is.
Meditation with Taste and Smell
In terms of shamatha with object, we discussed last night about meditating using forms and sounds as objects of meditation. We will continue with that explanation, start
ing off with smells, using whatever smells that are occurring as a support for our meditation – pleasant smells and unpleasant smells. Perfume, incense - whatever it is. It is the same as forms and sounds. We can look at whatever forms are in front of us,
and when we are using sounds, we listen to whatever sound is resounding at the time.
Smells are something that are perceived by our nose, and when we do shamatha with smells, we simply guide our mind to perceive the smells as well - we look at the smells w
ith our mind, but that is all.
It is the same with taste. We can take any taste as our object of our meditation - sweet, sour, bitter, spicy -whatever it is. When we eat food, our tongue faculty perceives the taste. In order to practice meditation, we merely bring our attention to it and have our mind merely notice the taste. That is all.
Meditation with Sensations
The fifth meditation is tangible objects or tactile sensations. From among all the five senses, the tactile sensations are the best to use with meditation.
Meditation with Thoughts
If you understand this meditation – without- object technique, you will attain Buddhahood very quickly... It is a very profound meditation but there is nothing special about it.
Our biggest obstacle in meditation is the movement of thoughts - thoughts of desire,
aggression, ignorance, jealousy and so on. There are all kinds of movement in our minds
- we usually think of these thoughts as getting in the way of our meditation and harming or
destroying our meditation.
But if we understand the key points of meditation, then those very thoughts actually will be
support for our meditation and will not harm our meditation at all. It is the same as how forms become support for our meditation.Thoughts are any type of thought: negative thoughts of mental afflictions... positive thoughts...
Any of these thoughts can become a support for our meditation simply by looking at our
thoughts. It is just like looking at forms and listening to sounds.When we meditated on tactile sensations and brought sound into our meditation, they became supports for o
ur nondistraction. They helped us to maintain undistracted mindfulness. In the very same way when we look at our thoughts, they help us to be undistracted in our meditation.
There are two different basic states that our minds could be in: stillness and movement. There is no third category for beginners on the path of meditation; there is no state of mind they could experience that is not stillness or movement. The technique of using thoughts as the support for our meditation relates with the state of mind when it is moving. So it is important to know that we do not have to look at one thought alone, we simply look at
whatever thoughts are arising. For example, thoughts are like this rosary or mala - one thought comes after the other after the other after the other after the other. Our mind usually operates like that, but when we do not look at thoughts, we are not aware of the process. We should look at them now.
...we look with our mindfulness at all of our thoughts.
As we look at our thoughts in this way, even a hundred thousand thoughts, that means you
have a hundred thousand supports for meditation. That is very good. The thoughts themselves become a support for holding our mind.
(Added link: Listen to a Guided Object Vipashyana Meditation with Awareness here in Finnish.)
Question: Rinpoche, is it necessary to label your thoughts, or is awareness simply
looking at a movement or hearing a sound?
Rinpoche: The most important point about it is recognizing that we are having a thought. But it is fine to use a label as a technique for doing that, because our mind does not work without labels. The entire work of this mind, the sixth consciousness, the mental consciousness that we are working with, is to join words and meanings, join words and the things to which they refer and cling to them as being the same thing. So to use the label would be fine, because that is how this mind operates.
When we work with shamatha with object, there is a subject and an object, a viewer and
viewed, a sense of duality, so the labeling process is fine. The looker/viewer is mindfulness, and the object being looked at is our thoughts. There is a quote from a Buddhist text that says, "Through relying on focus, the state of nonfocus excellently arises," and that is what is being pointed to here.
Meditation without Thoughts
When you are looking at thoughts, like this, and in particular for beginners, there are two types of things that can happen. Most people try to look at thoughts and don't see anything happening. There is a gap that happens, but it only lasts for about three or four seconds. Then another thought arises and we look at it. As soon as we start looking at it, we don't see it anymore. It goes back and forth in this way. A thought arises, we look at it, and we don't see it anymore; a thought arises, we look at it, and then we can't identify it. This is very good. It is just like sitting here. If you are someone who has already received pointing
-out instructions on the essence of mind, this type of practice is particularly beneficial.
(Added link: See here for information about thoughtless awareness or gzhi rigpa as presented by dzogchen master Vimalamitra: Basics of Natural Awareness (Dzogchen) Part 1: http://openheartopenheart.blogspot.fi/2016/03/basics-of-great-perfection.html)
The meditation during which we cannot see any thoughts becomes shamatha without object. The meditation during which we can look at thoughts becomes shamatha with object. Both of these are very good.
In meditation, one main point is to simply pay attention with mindfulness. We do not need to identify what we are paying attention to. It is the paying attention itself that is most important. When we continue practicing in this way, we begin with a sense of duality, with a viewer and viewed, or a looker and object looked at. As we become more and more familiar with the practice, the viewer and the viewed will become the same thing. When that happens, we are very close to seeing the essence of our mind. During the shamatha audience this morning, one student asked if it were possible for shamatha to turn into vipashyana, or insight, without applying any particular effort. In most cases, the answer is no. You would have to apply some other view, such as the view of emptiness. But there is one situation where shamatha could change into vipashana without bringing in any other technique. This is that very instance.
Meditation with Negative Thoughts
As we said earlier, there are three main types of thoughts we could have: negative, positive or neutral. For beginners on the path there is a special method for working with negative thoughts. When we have negative emotions, such as strong anger or aggression in our mind, the first thing is to recognize that "anger has arisen in my mind." At this stage we don't try to stop the anger, we simply recognize it. So don't hit the other person right away. Look at the anger not at your enemy.
For beginners, we chiefly look at the perceiving subject, instead of the perceived object. That is the key point, that is the key difference.
We can apply this technique for other negative mental states too, such as depression, fear or any other type of suffering.
Meditation with Neutral and Positive Thoughts
If we are working with neutral thoughts or positive thoughts, we can look at both subject and object.
If you looked at all those images as they are arising in your mind, it is the same thing as
visualizing a deity in the creation stage. It is the same thing as visualizing yourself as a deity inside a palace and another deity in the sky in front of you. It is also the same thing as taking refuge, and visualizing all the objects of refuge in the sky in front... from the
perspective of nondistraction and practicing mindfulness, accomplishing shamatha or calm abiding, there is no difference between the two.
If we keep meditating in that way, finally we will arrive at a state where the object we are
looking at and the looker become one, and all of our mental afflictions-desire, aggression,
jealousy, and so on -will be self liberated. The power of our disturbing emotions or mental
afflictions (kleshas) will be gradually diminished.
This has been an explanation of the sixth method of shamatha. The main point of shamatha is to gain freedom over our mind, to tap into the natural energy of our mind and tame the mind's wild monkey. When we do that, we will become like a well-tamed elephant. They don't go about following their every whim or harming people randomly. They walk with a purpose.What do we do with this shamatha mind that is like a well-tamed elephant? We put it to work on the path of liberation. In order to join fully with the path of liberation, we need to join with the practice of vipashyana or special-seeing, insight.
Vipashyana is of two types: the vipashyana of emptiness and the vipashyana of the essence of mind (link to a guided practice in Finnish). If emptiness and the essence of mind are joined with shamatha we attain the state of Buddhahood. That's all.
Q: If Buddhahood can never arise, how does one become enlightened, or how does one
transcend from the relative?
Rinpoche: We go back to the distinction between the way things appear and the way things are. Buddhahood, or the state of enlightenment, is actually the way things are, the way we are ultimately. But from the perspective of the way things appear, we appear as confused sentient beings. The way we appear is not really the way we are. So when we attain Buddhahood, when we recognize the way we really are, the way things appear and the way things are become the same thing.
This text is a condensed version from this original text given by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche in 2004.
Links embedded in the text
Nonmeditation Workshop Part 1 (Dzogchen/Mahamudra) 3/2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S1POGNwB50
Basics of Natural Awareness (Dzogchen) Part 1: http://openheartopenheart.blogspot.fi/2016/03/basics-of-great-perfection.html
Here is how to become awakened: http://www.en.openheart.fi/113