The Natural State Vs. Concentration Practices
-Making Sense of It All
Ben: One thing I've always had trouble wrapping my mind around in terms of Pemako's practice teachings is the reduced emphasis on concentration meditation. Techniques of gently focusing and resting the attention on the breath or a mantra or the space between eyebrows. These techniques were essential in the first five years of my practice. Awakening experiences, stabilizations, karmic purifications, all of these benefits arose from my concentration meditation practice.
For me, my meditation practice afforded me a stability, peacefulness, and a focus that made my subsequent tantric practice possible.
Then recently I had been listening to a Lion Faced Guru Podcast episode and something Kim Rinpoche said struck me. I have been contemplating it with a kind of marvel since then. To paraphrase him, he said: The tantric teachings of the Pemako lineage substitute the stability from shamatha with the stability of awakening and the natural state.
From a yoga advaita perspective, any stability mistakenly attributed to the ego self is really the misperceived stability of the Self. From the Pemako teaching standpoint, any stability found through concentration practices is not separate from the stability inherent to the natural state. Awakening to and stabilization of the natural state can therefore replace many years of meditation practice.
It was nice to have that discrepancy resolved in such an emphatic way.
Kim: Hi Dr. Ben. How have you been?
We do do mantra repetition in gentle manner (don't we?) and it is very important. Though this has changed lately, I churned mantras day and night for years and years, and had "stabilizations, karmic purifications, all of these benefits". Especially guru mantras have a strong pacifying effect but this pacification does not lead to momentarily silenced mind but to gradual recognition of the natural state.
I've talked about the problems of shamatha meditation so much that I think people here are sick of hearing it, ha, but I can't relate to when you say, "stability, peacefulness, and focus". Sure, I developed a lazer like focus but at the same time, even when the mind was quiet, I felt like I was on a ego trip. I didn't feel good or natural at all. I had done lots of drinking in my previous years and shamatha felt similar to that in the sense of bypassing issues and not having real sobriety! That didn't begin to change until I was able to cut through all layers of the mind with tantric practices. During my purification practice I went back to trying shamatha every now and then but it felt as weird as it did in the beginning. The ultimate meaning of shamatha/shi-ne is the natural state. Because it is possible to skip gentle concentration practices that not only are unable to reveal the natural state (because it doesn't cut through the formless mind, the substrate) and are also so time consuming, why not go directly to the bedrock, the ground (bhumi) beyond instability.
>To paraphrase him, he said: The tantric teachings of the Pemako lineage substitute the stability from shamatha with the stability of awakening and the natural state.
- My question is: Why would you spend so much time on gentle concentration practices when it doesn't lead to the recognition of the basic state? Because Shakyamuni is said to have practiced meditative absorptions that he learned from his hindu teacher after he is said to have attained full enlightenment, is probably the reason why there is still lots of confusion about this whole one-pointed concentration/samadhi/jhana/dhyana thing. This in turn makes buddhists unable to see the mistake that golden chains are still chains, whether they are made of negative destructive emotions or subtle states of meditation. I find it extremely weird how most in this religion that is considered a wisdom tradition, make such a drastic mistake. I recall Tenzin Palmo contemplating this aloud in an interview, saying that even Shakyamuni Buddha couldn't help people get awakened. One thing is the ancient influence of hindu meditations and another is the lack of practices that directly generate awakening. There are not many of those but there are some, like the 2PF. Then on the other hand when people think of buddhist practitioners they think of smiling peaceful monks with shaved heads who sit in silent meditation. There has been systematic propaganda of monasticism going on for thousands of years, and now everyone is paying a high price for it because it has such a strong impact on the whole world, wherever buddhism is taught. Buddhism has had 2.5 thousand years to make a difference ad it hasn't even reached step one that you could say that the people of the world can trust the buddhist teaching, that it will help them to remove their self-based suffering, here's how it all works, here's how it is done. Incredibly painful.
Tenzin Palmo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKoIK6pQMzY
Back to concentration practices.
I learned everything from the dynamicity of concentration from a Chinese martial art called yiquan, or yi chuan, lit. intention boxing. See this video. I had done gentle concentration for years in meditation and then, through the three types of intention taught in yiquan, realised that intention can be kept at low volume, which is what is done in shamatha meditation for extended periods of time, but it can also be taken to higher volumes. In yiquan, there is shi li, which means to momentarily increase the intensity of focus, and there is fa li, which is sudden explosive intention or maximum intention in the form of explosion. Now, all of these are different expressions of concentration or intention but the outcome is very different. If we look at this from the perspective of yogic practice, the former leads to mental quiet and ability to focus on one thing, while the latter has the power to shatter the whole construction of the mind, and through doing so reveals that part of the mind that isn't affected or spoiled by self-based beliefs or notions. Yasutani Roshi, Japanese zen master, in his talk about just sitting or shikan taza said that one needs to sit in such an intense way that if someone touches you, sparks will fly. I think he was describing shi li sitting which if done for longer periods is exhausting because you use your vital energy to keep up that heightened intensity. This also misses the point of recognition of the basic state. Explosive type of concentration or shamatha has the power to cut through the whole self-construction to make the original nature appear. This original nature is nothing else than oneself as a buddha, or mahasiddha grounds, bhumis.
Buddhist tradition started with the first awakening experience that Shakyamuni had, that he didn't get from subtle states of meditation. These meditative states neither removed his existential dissatisfaction.
So what we do in Pemako is to put the horse in front of the cart, rather than behind it, and drive like a horse cart should be driven. What we have here is the absence of false or misleading ideas that take practitioners to subtle but strange places that they believe is the true teaching.
As far as I am concerned, the only practice in yoga is to recognise one's basic nature that is fresh, clear, sober, settled and devoid of self-based marks or habits. To me there is no other buddhist dharma practice except to recognise it and to unify our psyche with it, meaning to see the emptiness of all mind phenomena. What is a sign of proper emptiness practice? Awakenings! Bhumi openings! Bhumi perfections!
There is no other solution to suffering and confusion of the unnatural state, than the natural state, and that has nothing to do with being focused or distracted, being in meditation or not.